If you are looking at a particular sermon and it is removed it is because it has been updated.

For example Year C 2010 is being replaced week by week with Year C 2013, and so on.

Friday, 27 March 2020

5th. Sunday of Lent Year A 2020

 5th. Sunday of Lent (A)
(Ezekiel 37:12-14; St. Paul to the Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45)

In our Gospel reading we heard how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  However, despite the fact that Lazarus’ sisters -- Martha and Mary -- had sent a note telling Him of their brother's sickness, Jesus had, nevertheless, remained where He was for two days, with the result that He only arrived at the sisters’ home some four days after Lazarus’ body had been put in the tomb, when it was, of course, expected to be already smelling of corruption.  Jesus had very deliberately kept away until there could be no possible doubt that Lazarus was dead.  Why?  Obviously, He had some reason and, equally obviously, that reason had to be extremely important because Martha and Mary, dear friends of Jesus, had been caused much suffering and grief.  Let us find out something of that reason.

The Son of God had become Man only after the Jewish people had been guided and prepared over two thousand years to hope, long, and pray, for the coming of the Messiah.  And having become Son of Man, Jesus was now having to prepare His disciples for His own death: He needed to deepen their hope that, though He should die to this earth, they would still be able to appreciate and, as it were, ‘contact’ Him beyond the grave in the glory of His heavenly Father.  It was absolutely essential that they should have such ‘beyond-death-hope’ in Him, because, just as Israel of old -- alone of all mankind -- had hoped and prayed for His first coming as Messiah, so the Church -- the new People of God -- might be uniquely empowered and enabled, in this sinful world, to hope and pray for His present and abiding help before His ultimate return in glory as Lord of all creation and Judge of mankind; for, without such hope, the ultimate Gift of God – the most Holy Spirit -- could not be given.  If their faith in Jesus were to flower into divine charity, it had to be accompanied by an enduring hope preparing them to fittingly receive and embrace the coming of the Holy Spirit; therefore, Jesus behaved as we have heard in order to instil and root this hope-beyond-death into their hearts and minds.  This apparent human neglect on the part of Jesus was, therefore, an essential element in His preparation of the disciples for their mission to proclaim His Good News to the whole world.

Jesus said to (Martha), "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?" 

Notice that Jesus did not simply state that He had power over life and death as the miracle of bringing Lazarus back to life would soon show.  A right appreciation of the nature of that power was necessary for the sisters who, as I have just said, had suffered so much from Jesus’ absence in their time of need; but – above all -- a right and indeed most profound appreciation of Jesus’ exercise of power had to be unforgettably implanted in the minds and hearts of  His future apostles.  That is why He declared so emphatically to Martha:

I am (that is, eternally) the resurrection and the life.

Let us now just stop our progress and consider the fact that Jesus deliberately allowed Lazarus to die and his sisters to suffer without comfort from Himself.  Surely this can tell us something about the question that inevitably troubles many Christians: why is suffering -- apparently at times both meaningless and purposeless – still to be found in the lives of good Christian people?

Jesus’ own death was close at hand; had He not prepared His disciples to hope beyond death His subsequent Resurrection would not have been rightly understood, and His most Holy Spirit could not have been poured into such closed hearts and uncomprehending minds, with the result that His Gospel might never have been proclaimed as the Good News for all mankind.  However, because of the indisputable death and the manifestly public raising of Lazarus from the tomb, an appreciation of the ultimate purpose, meaning, and significance of Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection, was being prepared: here Jesus’ disciples could begin to appreciate Him as the Lord of LIFE in its fullest meaning: life that begins with the cradle, extends through death, and blossoms into eternity:

I am the resurrection and the life.

Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.  (Matthew 28:20)

The suffering of Martha and Mary was their share in the forthcoming Passion and Death of Jesus, a sharing that would further His supreme purpose of giving glory to His Father and winning salvation for mankind: it was a solemn example of the significance and glory of Christian suffering.  The phrase ‘offer it up with Jesus’ used to be a commonplace expression of suffering piety that could – too often at times – be almost trite and blasphemous, but its sublime meaning and significance can be learnt from the sufferings which Jesus willed for His dear friends, Lazarus, and his sisters Martha and Mary.

            I am the resurrection and the life.

Jesus said that because, those who would henceforth believe in Him, those in whom His Spirit could thereby make His home, would never die the death of fallen mankind, for Jesus, dwelling in them through His Spirit, is eternally the resurrection and the life.

He then went on to say to Martha:

            Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.

Having entered the world through human sinfulness, death could neither claim nor hold Jesus the Holy One of God.  Jesus chose to die for love of His Father and on our behalf, in order that when death would prove to be unable to hold Him -- the Resurrection and the Life -- His rising to life again would mean the destruction of death’s power over sin and death and provide the opportunity for all who would henceforth live by faith in Him, to receive His Spirit and be prepared thereby to share in His victory and participate in His eternal blessedness in heaven.

I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?

We belong to Jesus through faith, therefore the only question for those who turn to Him is “do I believe in Jesus' words firmly enough to hope in Him through and beyond death?” 

Don't imagine that such a hope is impossible or foolish.   Listen to St. Paul again:

Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.

Pleasure, pride and power, seem to offer something delightful, something exciting and promising, to those who are young enough, foolish enough, or evil enough, to become hooked on them; and those who have grown old in such addictions -- like inveterate gamblers who never lose hope of a big win and can frequently be found still risking their money, for example, despite the fact that, with death close at hand, no win could afford them either comfort or security; like those who, delighting in the flesh never give up hoping for further pleasure no matter how old and ugly they may have become: they still seek to remember past pleasures again and again, even though the memory of such things is being gradually smothered by the increasing pains of an approaching, and sinful, death.

Such radical and ultimate frustration, however, was no part of God’s original plan for human kind, and therefore there are other people, many other people who, as St. Paul tells us, are being made more authentic and more fulfilled as human beings by their faith in Jesus:

Live according to the Spirit, (and) set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Yes, People of God -- we servants of the Lord -- are called to learn from the Gospel and to root our lives in Christian hope, hope in Him Whose promises are unfailing and Whose power is eternal.  No matter what the situation may be, People of God, hope in the Lord, for He is able and willing, to help and to save us no matter what our difficulties might be; and if Jesus should will some of His servants to suffer, it is always an invitation to share more closely with Him in His work of salvation.  Even though He may seem to delay -- as indeed was the case for Martha and Mary --  His apparent absence is for our greater good: He is wanting to form us more and more in His own likeness for the Father, so that we  too, in Him and with Him, might overcome not only the world and its blandishments, but also Satan himself, together with His principalities and powers, who vaunt themselves over fallen mankind with the threat of death.  For, the death of a true believer in Jesus, one in whom the Spirit of God has made His home, is not like the anxious, painful, leaving-behind-death of a sinner; rather it is filled with a hope which Jesus Himself expressed on hearing of Lazarus' passing away:

            This death is for the glory of God.

Jesus shared our death, and by embracing it for love of His Father He destroyed the dark shroud of abandonment, sorrow, and despondency which had come to envelope the world.  His rising to life again offers us the glorious hope of sharing with Him in the life and blessedness of heaven: a sharing which will fulfil beyond all measure our deepest longings and aspirations, a sharing wherein heaven will be our dearest home, and God's  presence, the embrace of the One Who is our truest Father. 

People of God what makes you a true disciple of Jesus is not so much whether you keep ‘the rules’ but whether you have the Spirit, as St. Paul said:

            Unless you possess the Spirit of Christ you do not belong to Him.

However, we can only possess the Spirit if we allow Him to make His home in us and direct our ways.  Therefore, when Jesus -- Who is the Resurrection and the Life -- says to us, as He did to Martha:

Whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?

then, we too must let the Spirit within us give answer and, setting our minds on the things of the Spirit, reply wholeheartedly with Martha:                            

Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God.

Faith, hope, and charity are, as you well know, the three theological virtues, and -- as St. Paul tells us -- the greatest of these is charity because charity persists and flowers in heaven.  Here on earth we cannot practice charity without confessing faith and cherishing hope: because it is faith that determines Whom we love supremely and into Whose likeness we are to be formed, while it is hope that enables us to persevere and grow into loving God and our neighbour with authentic Charity

I am the resurrection and the life: by faith we acknowledge and confess those two words of Jesus, I am; by hope, we embrace the promise He offers us when He speaks of  the resurrection and the life; and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we grow in the supreme virtue of charity as we try to live our life on earth in accordance with the light of that enduring confession of faith and the confidence of that unshakeable hope.

Friday, 20 March 2020

4th Sunday of Lent Year A 2020

 4th. Sunday of Lent (A)
(1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41)

As Jesus passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.

Now, there was nothing so unusual about a blind beggar in Jesus’ time, why should He have specially noticed this one?  The disciples had apparently been talking among themselves about the man; and it would seem that at least one of them knew him, because they were discussing the fact that the man had been born blind and they were expressing opinions as to why that was.  Not being able to reach a satisfactory conclusion they turned to Jesus and said:

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

Jesus was always alert for and responsive to the least indication that His Father was at work, and at His disciples’ question He immediately ‘resonated’, sensing that His Father was behind both the blind man’s presence and the disciples’ animated discussion among themselves and their questioning of Him.  And so, He answered them directly:

Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but it is so that the works of God might be revealed in him.

Very shortly Jesus will be told about the sickness of Lazarus, ‘Lord the one You love is sick’ and again, His answer will be more or less the same as ‘today’s’ answer to the disciples’ question regarding the man born blind:

            This sickness will not lead to death, but is for the glory of God.  (John 11:4)

Notice the answer in both cases, People of God: Jesus tells his disciples “This man’s blindness, Lazarus’ sickness, has been brought to My attention today in order that I should, through them, make known the will and the work of My Father.”

Night is coming when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.

Oh, how responsive was our Blessed Lord to His Father’s working!  Oh, how we Christians and Catholics should live more, ever more, with Our Lord ‘on the alert’ for God’s, for our Father’s, goodness and solicitude ever watching over us by His Spirit to further our salvation in and with His most-beloved and only-begotten Son!! 

Jesus, looking at the man born blind, spat on the dusty ground and made a paste.  What a strange, what a striking, thing to do!  It was bound to draw attention, not only that of His disciples watching Him but of the Jewish leaders who would soon hear about what Jesus was now publicly about to do: something of the utmost significance to the Jewish leaders so very familiar with their Scriptures’ description of God originally creating man:

The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

Now, Jesus, the Word of God through Whom all things were made, being about to renew a man’s life, symbolically foreshadows the creation of a new People of God from those till now regarded as being born spiritually blind:

When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.  

Having utilized dust of the earth to coat the eyes of the man born blind, only the bringing of those eyes to life was needed for the symbolic re-creation; and in order to do that, Jesus performed another symbolic action, like that of Elisha the prophet sending Naaman, the Syrian army commander, to go and wash in the  Jordan:

"Go," He told (the blind man), "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So, the man went and washed, and came back seeing!

At the last Supper Jesus would say to His Apostles:

            You are clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (John 15:3)

Here, the blind man having heard and obeyed the words Jesus spoke to him, on having washed himself was able to see again! Moreover, on seeing aright he found himself morally and spiritually able and willing to believe in, suffer for, and confess Jesus as his Saviour.  All this symbolized a new People of God to come who, washed in the waters of baptism and confessing their faith in Jesus, would thereby receive the Gift of God -- the Holy Spirit -- the breath of divine Life, as Jesus said:

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)

The Pharisees, of course, heard of what Jesus had done, as indeed Jesus intended they should, because He wanted them -- celebrated because of their supposed ‘spiritual awareness’ -- to learn from an occurrence where not only the man and the miracle, but also the time and the place, were of His Father’s own choosing:

It was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.

The Lord of the Sabbath was at hand to bring about the fulfilment of the Sabbath.

Their interpretation of the Law held the majority of these Pharisees firmly bound to fixed and unbending legal trivialities:

Some of the Pharisees said, "This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath." Others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" And there was a division among them.

The majority, blind in their opposition to Jesus, after much arguing and discussion rejected the man whom Jesus had healed:

They said to him again, "What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?"  He answered them, "I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing."  They answered and said to him, "You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?" And they cast him out.

Being thrown out of the synagogue involved social ostracization which was why the man’s parents feared being involved in their son’s relationship with Jesus, as St. Paul himself would experience:

I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.  (Philippians 3:8)

This alienation from their son was as Jesus Himself envisaged:

If anyone comes to Me and (is not prepared to) hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  (Luke 14:26)

The man whose eyes had been dead and were now living, had subsequently been rejected by the Jewish leaders because of Jesus, and so Jesus sought him out in his isolation.  The actions Jesus had performed on the man had, as I said, prefigured God’s creation of a new People of God, and now the man himself was ready to have his whole being -- not just his eyes -- made truly alive; and so, we read:

Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, "Do you believe in the Son of God?"  He answered and said, "Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?"  And Jesus said to him, "You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you." Then he said, "Lord, I believe!" And he worshiped Him.  And Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind."

People of God, wonder at the sublime wisdom of our God; admire Jesus the perfect and beloved Son, so eager and ready to follow and fulfil His Father’s will: Jesus our Lord and Saviour Who has sought out each one of us and joined us to Himself by giving the light of faith to our eyes that could so easily have been blinded by the glittering allurements of the world, and by infusing loving hope into our souls previously obscured, darkened, or perhaps even weighed down by sin! 

But I would have you also recognize the warning, with which our reading from St. Paul closes:

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them; for it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

We know of such shameful deeds long going on all around us – and now are bringing down upon us God’s dreadful punishment -- and we know that we must take care to have no part in them; however, we should realize that such avoidance of sin in no way exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, which is the minimum required by Jesus of His disciples.  Israel and Judah had been sent to exile in the past because the people, as a whole, had ‘given up’ on the God of their fathers … doing what came naturally, following the example of the surrounding nations.  Today, the same is happening in Mother Church with so many nominal Catholics slackening the reins of their obedience and commitment, and doing what unbelievers do, while trying to persuade themselves that ‘it doesn’t matter, God doesn’t seem to see’.  On their return from exile to the Promised Land certain of those erstwhile deportees had resolved to serve God and His covenant more faithfully: people such as the Pharisees and Scribes were very devout and deeply committed.  However, over time their very religiosity became a stumbling block: they came to love themselves more than God and trusted in their own observances instead of hoping in His mercy and goodness.   And today we have, in the Church, modern versions of such failings: from scholars, not Scribes, from enthusiasts not Pharisees; but all showing – in their lack of humility before God and the Church – the same failings as their forerunners.

People of God in the present situation of Mother Church in our world today each of us needs first of all to be convinced that in the eyes of God, we matter, each of us individually … and that awareness should give us, along with confidence in Him, also a renewed sense of personal responsibility for the welfare and good esteem of Mother Church.  This is what St. Paul had in mind when he told his Ephesian community:

Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, (let) Christ give you light.   See that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.   Do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is; for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of the light, (as true children of Mother Church.)

Friday, 13 March 2020

3rd Sunday of Lent Year A 2020

Third Sunday of Lent (A)
(Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we have readings which Mother Church has put together from diverse books of the Bible to show us something of the wonderful wisdom of our God in His words and works for man’s salvation from times both old and new, in lands both near and far.  Such was, indeed, the intention of Mother Church guided in her choice thanks to the Spirit of Wisdom bequeathed to her in unique fullness by her Lord and Saviour; the Spirit whereby she is able to say to us her children: “read here, feed there, and you will find light for your faith and food for your soul.”

The children of Israel had set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped in Rephidim.  However, since there was no water for the people to drink:

The people complained against Moses, and said, "Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?"  So, Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!"  And the LORD said to Moses, "Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go.  Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it that the people may drink." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

The people of Israel were actually being delivered from the slavery they had long endured in Egypt; it had been a long and degrading experience, replete with humiliations and constant supervision, forced labour and frequent beatings, and, above all, with the deliberate and systematic slaughter of their new-born male children.  And yet, here in the desert – suffering at the moment from shortage of food and water -- their experience of slavery had brought them so low, had degraded them to such an extent, that they could only call to mind one aspect of that horrendous time in Egypt,:

Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full!  For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger. (Exodus 16:3)

Yes, some of them were looking back with longing for the pitiably few and wretched pleasures of Egypt once again.  They were thinking of becoming slaves again, if only they could enjoy the pleasure of a regular meal; they were beginning to imagine themselves enduring the sufferings, putting up with the countless personal indignities, and overlooking their loss of freedom ... all for the miserable compensation of Egyptian ‘pots of meat and bread to the full’!  They had indeed become true slaves and they were finding it hard to endure being weaned from their slavery by the Lord their God!

Here, surely, we can recognize our own world of today, for although it is true that in our society we do not, generally speaking, find people enslaved to others who are their owners, but nevertheless, we do have so many people who find it too difficult to overcome their addiction to drugs and smoking, abusive sex and drink … to mention but a few of the problems of modern society.  Everywhere, at all levels of society, there are many who spend their lives entirely consumed with the avid search for pleasures of all types; and for such people, despite the fact that their pleasure threatens them with an early and degrading death, it is an addiction that so enslaves them that they are hardly able to imagine or want freedom again, let alone undertake the Christian moral exercise of God-given will-power and self-restraint.  The order of the day is to pronounce psychologically overwhelming circumstances in such cases and invoke socially-approved human counsellors to lead the sufferers through the humiliating process of detoxification and hoped-for (perhaps only temporary?) rehabilitation.

Although such enslavement is a dreadful and extreme form of addiction for a minority of people, nevertheless, many do have pet pleasures, weak points, and selfish tendencies, which, though they cannot prevent them from doing God’s will, still, can and do make it more difficult for them to do that which they approve and admire, or reject what they recognize as wrong.  Therefore, the Sacred Scriptures, even at the most ancient level, are still actual today for their teaching is as relevant for us who are being led by God from our own servitude to the freedom of the children of God, as it was for the people of Israel so long ago; and we can and should both learn from their failings and profit from their experiences, so as to allow God to make our journey across the desert of trials in this world as peaceful, as hopeful, and as fruitful, as possible. 

The Lord said to Moses:

“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it that the people may drink." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

That water would refresh the people and enable those who were courageous and resolute enough to continue on their way towards freedom.

St. Paul, speaking later of that episode from the history of Israel, tells us in his first letter to the new-born Christians and Catholics in Corinth (10:4), that Christ was for them -- as He still is for us -- the Rock:

They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

For the Israelites had been called, by the word of God given to Moses, to turn in faith to the rock on Mount Horeb that would be struck by Moses at God’s command, just as we too -- through faith in the Word of God made flesh – are called to look to Jesus our Rock, stricken on Mount Calvary by order of one to whom Jesus had said:

You could have no authority at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.  (John 19:11)

Saint Paul elsewhere tells us why we Christians are to regard our lives as on earth as a  constant pilgrimage: for, although we are not being led through a barren desert like the Israelites of old, nevertheless, we are in the process of being formed to become an integral part of that holy temple of which Christ already is the corner stone:

On the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself (is) the chief cornerstone in Whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in Whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.   (Ephesians 2: 20 --3:1)

Christ is our rock of salvation: “Strike the Rock” and water, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, will pour forth.  Our Rock was pierced by a lance as He hung from the Cross on Mount Calvary, and from that open wound flowed water and blood, the Spirit and the Sacraments; and when Jesus was on the point of death He bowed His head, and finally breathed forth His Spirit as His last and greatest Gift to His Church.  The Holy Spirit has indeed been most rightly called the Gift of God from the beginning of the Church.

People of God, we cannot walk through the desert of this world’s sin relying on our own, personal, will power: constantly watching our eyes, ears and mouths, in the attitude of “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”.  Some might consider that a laudable endeavour but it would be a supremely foolish one, because it is totally negative and doomed to failure.  In order to live as children of God, in order to do the Father’s will, we must learn to live our lives with Jesus, to act under the prompting of His Spirit from love, not fear; we must learn to open ourselves up, not shut ourselves off; we need to seek and love all the good not merely try to avoid all that might be bad.  In other words we have to turn to the Rock, Jesus our Saviour, Who has been struck for us, and receive from Him the Gift of His Holy Spirit; for it was by the Spirit Who had led Him into the desert to confront and confound Satan, that Jesus Himself had been able to say:

My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. 

People of God, only that same Holy Spirit, the Gift of God, and Jesus’ own dying Bequest breathed upon the Church from the Cross, can enable us, in the name of Jesus, to do the will of the Father Who calls us, in Jesus, to Himself.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus, seated by the well of Jacob at Sychar, asked a Samaritan woman – who regularly came to that well to draw water -- for a drink.  She expressed surprise at such a request because she saw that Jesus was a Jew, and Jews would not normally use a Samaritan’s bucket to draw water.  As you heard, Jesus said to her:

If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is Who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.

The woman was puzzled: how could this man give her living water?  You must recall that “living” usually means water from a flowing source, much more appreciated then well-water, even that of the deep well -- the only one source of water in that neighbourhood -- given to her people by Jacob centuries ago, the well where Jesus was now seated and where she had come to draw the water she and her husband (and family ?) needed.  So, she answered:

Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well (the only source of water in the neighbourhood as she was well aware) is deep. Where then do You get that ‘living’ water?

A the thought came into her mind, “Surely he doesn’t think he can show us another well here does he?”

Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?"

Jesus always lived in the presence of His Father and He always looked with compassion on humanity enslaved by sin and burdened by suffering.  It was compassion which motivated His Incarnation; and on occasions -- such as when He met the widow of Nain following the coffin of her only son for his burial, or again, when He wept over Jerusalem -- we can glimpse something of the depth of that divine compassion.  He had come as a Jew, but here, in our Gospel story, He meets a Samaritan, a non-Jew, in fact one can say, He meets all of us who are of Gentile origin in this woman.  He is filled with compassion, knowing how sinful mankind strives endlessly and unsuccessfully to satisfy their needs, just as this woman has to come -- day after day, week in, week out -- to this well, always returning to the village with the same heavy load and no prospect of ever being free from the task.  It brought so much into His heart and mind, above all our blind and enduring servitude to sin, that He was, as I said, filled with compassion for her and for us; and so:

Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."

Later on, St. John makes perfectly clear what Jesus had in mind here when he tells us (7:37-39) that:

On the last day, that great day of the feast (of Booths, in Jerusalem), Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  

People of God, our Faith, and the practice of our religion, is not meant to be a great burden such as some of the Israelites considered their rescue from slavery to be in the desert, nor as fruitless and wearisome as the Samaritan woman’s endless journeying to the well to satisfy a need that constantly raised its head again.  Jesus has called us to Himself and He said:

Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-30)

Israel was refreshed in the desert by water that flowed from the stricken rock.  We too, must turn to One stricken for us, to Jesus, and ask for His Gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus fulfils our request whenever we fittingly receive Him in the Eucharist, for there, Jesus is really present to embrace us Himself and breath anew into us His most Holy Spirit.  Let us therefore beseech that most Holy Spirit of Jesus to rule in our lives, let us ask Him to form us, in Jesus, for the Father.  Oh, dear People of God, fellow Catholics and Christians, if we allow Him to do that in our lives He will indeed make every former burden light, every former task a joy; and above all, He will turn every faint-and-flickering hope of everlasting life and eternal fulfilment into an ardent fire of conviction and love!


Friday, 6 March 2020

2nd Sunday of Lent Year A 2020

2nd Sunday of Lent (A)

(Genesis 12:1-4; 2nd. Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9)


In our Gospel reading St. Matthew told us:

A voice out of the cloud said, "This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!"  When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified.

Such fear of the Lord on the part of the disciples was traditional in Israel.  They were the Chosen People, the first to be called as such by God, that through them He might ultimately draw all mankind to Himself in likeness and love.  To attain that likeness He was manifesting Himself and His majesty – His intimate awareness of our human hearts and His cosmic power over all creation – and that they might learn from His teaching, those sinful, divisive and selfish, early Isrealites had, first of all, to fear and obey God physically in order that they might then be able to gradually understand mentally and spiritually embrace His teaching in the Law and the Prophets and finally come to love His likeness in a new holiness of life.  Our Blessed Lord Jesus -- God’s only-begotten Son made flesh -- was the Father’s supreme inducement to love Him, and we, as disciples of Jesus Our Lord are now learning from Him by His Spirit and want wholeheartedly to conceive a fear both spiritual and true as an unbreachable safeguard for our life of love as children of God in the Family of God.

We read in the book of Deuteronomy:

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (10:12)

Such were the words of Moses in his last testament given to the People of Israel just before he died on the threshold of the Promised Land.

The Psalmist handed on this tradition, and drew from it the conclusion that those who truly fear the Lord should fear no man:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the defence of my life; whom shall I dread? (Psalm 27:1)

Let us , therefore, look at this question of 'fearing the Lord' because it is a subject that troubles some traditionally devout Catholics on the one hand, who are inclined to see sin too frequently and fear punishment excessively, while others of a more modern and liberal persuasion claim that the Gospel of Jesus has done away with all memories of such an Old Testament attitude as fear of the Lord, which they, consequently, either ignore or deride, often enough displaying a mistaken and unpleasant attitude of conscious superiority.

First of all, we should just regard the facts.   For us human beings fear is an essential part of our make-up: we fear fire because it burns and is always – potentially -- very dangerous for us; we, who have faith, fear God, instinctively, because He, the Almighty, will be the ultimate Judge of our individually sinful lives.  However, our fear of fire does not in any way prevent us from learning about it, to respect and appreciate it; in like manner, fear of God should not paralyse believers but, on the contrary, help them to relate to God in a fitting manner.  All our natural fears: the fainting we experience before the overwhelming power of volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, cosmic powers and the immeasurable abyss of seemingly endless and empty space, and indeed the threat of suffering and death, all these are but faint reflections or intuitions of the supremely sensible ‘fear of the Lord’.   Listen to Jesus:

I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!    (Luke 12:4-5)

We know, as Christians, that Jesus came as our Saviour, and that He was sent to us by the God Who wants to be our Father and to make us, in Jesus, His true children.  This Gospel of grace, proclaimed by Our Lord, is, as I have said, the pretext given by certain un-fearing pseudo-Christians who would persuade us that we should have no fear of God now that Jesus has come.  Jesus, however, did not come to lead us to ignore the reality, the truth, of our relationship with God and most certainly not to mock it; rather He came to help us to understand it, so as to be able to embrace it, and then live it to the full as His disciples.  He Himself, the Father's beloved, only-begotten Son, was the only one – being both perfect God and perfect Man -- who could teach us, as human beings, how to appreciate the Father aright and how to live in filial relationship with and loving response to Him whatever our life situation might be.   Indeed, Jesus came to enable us to realize that the distance that separates us from God and which is at the root of our religious fear of God, is, when rightly appreciated, the ultimate measure of His love for us:

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love He had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ.  (Eph. 2:4-5)

Therefore, taking 'fear of the Lord' seriously we are led both to truthfully acknowledge reality and appreciate something of the love that surrounds us here on earth, and also to learn to entertain hope for the glory, that God tells us, awaits us in our heavenly home.  In that way, our Christian attitude to life is not only realistic, but also supremely positive and fruitful.

It is easy for people, at times, to let themselves slip from 'thinking' attitudes to 'instinctive' ones; and when this happens in the case of religious people, ‘fear of the Lord’, which should be a considered, appreciated, and supernatural fear, becomes degraded to totally natural, 'feeling fear': an anxiety before the God Who is both mighty and awesome in Himself, and mysteriously above and beyond us.  For those in this state of mind, God's exaltation easily becomes suspect, and suspicion of God is the first dose of the devil’s poison; when that happens, God’s exaltation and glory come to be seen as alienation and threat, and the devout soul can then easily fall in the thrall of blind emotion and instinctive fear, rather than walk under the guidance of faith and understanding.

God’s majesty and power, His wisdom and holiness, in other words, His transcendence, is essential and unquestionable for us who believe, but it must be understood in the light and grace of Jesus' Gospel if it is to be rightly appreciated.  God’s might and majesty, His all-seeing knowledge and wondrous wisdom, are various aspects of the One God and Father who first of all called us to Jesus, and Who now offers us a share with Him in the bliss of heaven where Jesus is now seated at His right hand.  Therefore our awareness of the greatness of God should enable us to realise the wonder that Jesus came to help us recognize and embrace:  namely, the wonder that God, so glorious and majestic of Himself, actually loves us; indeed, He has given His only begotten Son to us and for us, and, ultimately, wants to give us, in Jesus, a share in His own eternal blessedness.  Moreover, that glorious God Who is, indeed, so far above us, can see all that would approach to harm us, and He is so mighty that nothing in heaven or on earth can penetrate the loving shield with which He surrounds us; He Who is all-knowing and all-seeing has a compassion for us that is all-embracing: He knows our every thought, our every feeling, even all the secret chemical changes that can affect our physical bodies or the spiritual powers that would invade our personality.  With such a God to defend us we should be supremely confident, as was the psalmist of old who cried:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  (Psalm 27:1)

This total confidence in Him Who is exalted is not just the stuff of great occasions; those unknown authors of the Psalms and the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth, life, and death on the Cross, show us that the very fabric of every-day living -- replete with every-day situations – can be shot through and through with that same saving thread of total confidence and trust in the One Who, though unseen, is more real than all worldly appearances:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.   You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  (Psalm 23:4-6)

Do not fret because of evildoers.   For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.  Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land (that is, His Church), and feed on His faithfulness.   Find your delight in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:1-4)

When we turn to the New Testament, St. Paul expresses this trust in and commitment to God in sublime words that only a great, great, lover of Jesus could have used:

If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? … It is God who justifies, who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

And finally, and supremely, Jesus Himself could say on the Cross:

            Father, into Your hands I commend my Spirit.

And so, dear People of God, let us recognize the folly of those who would scoff at the words "fear the Lord"; for their attitude is tragically wrong and reveals both a mind overcast with dark clouds of folly and a heart severely wounded and belittled by pride; for only those who know the fear of the Lord can, in turn, experience the sublime confidence and joy that enable true Catholics and Christians to overcome the world with Jesus: just as, indeed, our father Abraham was enabled, as you heard in the first reading, to leave his pagan background and set out, through unknown and hostile terrain, for the distant land of promise; and just as St. Paul learned never to be ashamed to bear testimony to Jesus but rather was positively inspired to regard suffering for Jesus and the Gospel as the supreme privilege and joy life could offer.