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.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

4th Sunday of Easter Year A 2020

4th. Sunday of Eastertide (A)

(Acts of the Apostles 2:36-41; 1st. Letter of St. Peter 2:20b-25; John’s Gospel 10:1-10)

In today’s Gospel passage, dear People of God, there is mention of shepherds and their approach to, relationship with, their sheep; and this is of practical interest for us today since parents, teachers, political leaders, and indeed many others, can be regarded to a greater or lesser extent as included in that word ‘shepherds’.

Jesus tells us that He Himself:

            Came so that they (the sheep of His flock) might have life.

There were many who had put themselves forward as shepherds to God’s people in the long course of Israel’s history and more especially in quite recent times; but they had all shown themselves, or had been shown, to be not shepherds for life and salvation but bringers of death and destruction as Jesus goes on to say:

            All who came before Me,

pretending to be saviours and guides, offering victory, life and fulfilment –were in fact:

            Thieves and robbers.

Come only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.

He calls them ‘thieves and robbers’ – very strong language for Jesus – because:

Jesus said, ‘I am the gate for the sheep.’

Whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

They (did not and) do not enter the sheepfold through the gate but climb over elsewhere.

Now, the background of our Gospel reading is to be found in the thirty-fourth chapter of the book of the prophet Ezekiel.  There the first part is – as in today’s Gospel reading from St. John – about worthless, ruthless, shepherds who feed themselves not the sheep; who, pursuing their own purposes, let the flock be scattered over the face of the earth and become prey to wild beasts.

Then the prophet (vv. 11-16) continues:

Thus says the Lord God: Behold I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out.  I will seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the crippled, strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice. 

Therefore, when Jesus -- in fulfilment of that prophecy -- said ‘I am the gate’, He was speaking divine truth, as He went on to explain saying:

I am the good shepherd ... and I know mine as mine know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I will lay down My life for the sheep.  I have come in the name of My Father.

Those pseudo-leaders, those false shepherds whom the Jews had followed before Him had in no way entered through Him, the only true gate; that is, they had not prepared the way for Him (the only-begotten Son of the Lord God of Israel), they had in no way spoken of, invoked, or witnessed to, Him.  They had done all for their own glory, in their own names:

You do not accept Me (Who have come in My Father’s name); yet, if another comes in his own name, you will accept him.   (John 5:43)

Nevertheless, Jesus, was indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the gate through which the God of Israel was coming to shepherd His flock.  In and through the very Person of Jesus -- Son of God and Son of man -- the Father Himself would feed the flock, as the prophecy of Ezekiel (vv. 25ss.) foretold:

Thus says the Lord God: My flock shall know that I am the Lord; they shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they are My people, the sheep of My pasture. 

Therefore, although God’s Chosen People of the New Covenant will still have shepherds to lead them in Jesus’ Church, nevertheless, they also will – as living members of the Body of Christ -- be able to recognize God’s Truth in the depths of their own hearts: 

(Jesus said:) My teaching is not My own but is from the One who sent Me.  Whoever chooses to do His will shall know whether My teaching is from God or whether I speak on My own.  Whoever speaks on his own seeks his own glory, but whoever seeks the glory of the One Who sent Him is truthful and there is no wrong in Him.  (John 7: 16-19)

Notice then, dear People of God, the great freedom of God’s flock in Christ: ‘I am the gate.  Anyone who enters through Me’ -- that is, whosoever enters God’s sheepfold through faith in and love for, Christ – ‘will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture.’   The flock do indeed see, hear, and confidently follow God-given shepherds going before them to a future, as yet unseen, divine fulfilment.

Though still on the way they can, however, in times of need or deep personal prayer, be strengthened, even thrilled and delighted, by an awareness of the mysterious presence of God Himself -- the most merciful and bountiful Cause, the great Hope and supreme Aspiration, of all that is beautiful and harmonious in their lives – in the dedicatedly secret shrine of their own loving and obedient mind and heart.

This has most important consequences for us.

First of all, the People of God – ‘those who choose to do His will’ -- can never, as a whole with the Pope, be led astray by false teachers; for Jesus Himself promised most clearly (John 7:17):

They shall know whether My teaching is from God;

That is, they will be able to recognize the divine truth of Christian teaching causing peace and hope to rise up within their own God-seeking hearts; for Jesus, Head of the Church which is His Body, and the Spirit, the Father-given and Jesus-sent ‘Helper’, are inseparably with the Church in all her trials.

As individuals however, we all have, for our part, the obligation so to live our Christian and Catholic lives that that God-given ability to respond to divine truth is never obscured, tainted, let alone poisoned, in what should to be the spontaneous appreciation of our hearts; for sinful living, pride, indulgence, worldly cares and preoccupations can turn disciples aside from their Christian commitment and ideals, and gradually lead them to mistake error for truth and to follow false prophets and hirelings instead of true shepherds and even Christ Himself.  Therefore, it behoves us, St. Peter writes, to:

Be sober and vigilant for your opponent the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  (1 Peter 5:8)

Above all, however, let us confidently adopt positive endeavours let us ‘put on Christ’ by sincerely following the teaching of God proclaimed by Mother Church in its fullness, and by our own personal prayer and patience, that thus we can be gradually led to humbly recognize and joyfully experience a clear echo and loving response to God’s truth in our souls.  That response will come to mean more and more to us because God has indeed most truly given us an inner divine life which, when fully developed, pulsates in rhyme and rhythm with, positively thrills in response to, His Fatherly call and teaching.

If, on the other hand, the truths of faith, the life and promises of Jesus in the Scriptures, and the Christian practice of your vocation of loving obedience to God and service of your neighbour, seem cold, impersonal, and fruitless to you, then it might perhaps be a fact that God is testing you for your greater good, as He has done with many great saints and even with Jesus Himself.  However,  such dryness or distaste may also –and much more probably – prove to be a fault in your way of living the Christian life: perhaps you have been only existing, not really living in Christ, neither loving His Person sincerely nor committing yourselves trustingly to His divine Providence and His guiding Spirit of Truth and Love.  But, whatever be the cause of any such personal lassitude, divine trial or personal fault, we do know most certainly that Jesus came, as He said, for one supreme purpose: that we might have life in all its fullness:

            I came so that (you) might have life and have it to the full.

Therefore, as we proceed in our celebration of this Mass, the great sacrament of Jesus’ life and death for us, let us beg Him for a deeper -- oh so much deeper! -- share in His Spirit of life and love so that we may be enabled thereby to respond with all the love and devotion of which we are capable to His divine truth and beauty in all the myriad forms in which we can encounter it here below.  For such is the whole purpose and aim of our new and heavenly life: that we come to recognize and appreciate the original meaning of God’s self-revelation in His beautiful creation, and that we learn to whole-heartedly vibrate in harmony with the heavenly music of His saving purpose, our redemption through Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son-made-flesh ever witnessing here on earth to His Father by His Spirit bestowed on Mother Church for the salvation of all men and women of good-will throughout time.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

3rd Sunday of Easter Year A 2020

3rd. Sunday of Eastertide (A)

(Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 22-33; 1st. Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35)


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus appeared Personally and in human form to the Apostles and to some women who had served Him in His public ministry because of the close relationship He had formed with them during His days on earth.  Today, however, we have heard of His choosing two other disciples -- one Cleopas and the other unknown to us -- who were walking to Emmaus, which archaeologists have recently discovered and literally un-earthed, and which seems to have been a wealthy village in close, Sabbath-proximity, that is, to Jerusalem.  Though Jesus appeared to Cleopas and his companion in human form, He only became Personally known to them in the same way that He wills to reveal Himself to us and all His disciples throughout the ages, that is in and through the Scriptures and the celebration of the Eucharist. 

Jesus appeared and said to them, "What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?"

Their hearts and minds were filled with memories of Jesus and thoughts of His crucifixion: they had been lovingly and painfully talking together on what had happened to Him, and what sort of future there might be in store for them without Him, since, with the death of Jesus, the very bottom had been knocked out of their world as we would say:

We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.

By His choice of these two men on the way to Emmaus Jesus shows us that He wills to reveal Himself only to those who love and obey Him, as He Himself said:

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15)

and these two men had enough love and obedience to be truly suffering for loss of Him.

It is both gladsome and exciting to hear how their hearts thrilled and their attention became spellbound as Jesus -- walking beside them along the road -- gradually made them aware of His presence in the Scriptures:

They said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?"

As I have said, these men had been bound to Jesus by love and obedience, and they showed their enduring love for Him by their appreciation of and concern for this man whom they still did not know, when, as:

They drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther, they constrained Him, saying, "Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent." And He went in to stay with them.

Despite the fact that there was nowhere to go further along the road:

            Jesus indicated that He would have gone farther;

and had their charity not obliged Him He would, perhaps, just have walked on into the darkness and disappeared from their lives.  As it was, however, He accepted their invitation and turned aside to stay the night with them.

As they had walked together along the road Jesus had rewarded their belief in Him by interpreting the Scriptures for them; now, at their shared meal, He rewards their love, their fraternal charity, with His Eucharistic self-revelation as you heard:

He took bread, blessed and broke It, and gave It to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.

Leaving Jerusalem, they were disciples wanting to hope in the Lord, and Jesus’ revelation of His presence in the Scriptures gave them inspiration to hope.  They now needed strength to face up to the difficulties looming on the horizon: and His Eucharistic Presence and blessing endowed them with the strength of mind and heart required to trust and serve Him no matter what those trials might turn out to be.  Now, indeed, they were very close to understanding that the Lord would always be with them, in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist.

For the moment, however, they were not quite there, for though they had truly heard and seen, loved and revered, the Lord, suddenly He had gone from their sight again.   Whatever might have been the original purpose of their journey to Emmaus it was forgotten now, since we are told that:

They rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the Eleven and those who were with them gathered together,

Being true disciples of Jesus, they were -- unknown to themselves -- already under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, for after that encounter with the Risen Lord they immediately relinquished their previous intentions for something far more important in Jerusalem with the Church.  There, they learnt that Jesus’ encounter with them was but one of several such apparitions, all of which were -- it would seem -- not just isolated events but for the comforting and for the strengthening in faith of the whole Church, and most especially was that the case with His appearing to Peter. 

Together, the whole Church -- including Mary the Mother of Jesus -- prayed over what had happened and Peter came to understand something of the meaning of these appearances and was able to proclaim in the name of the Church, as we have heard:

Men of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, Whom you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death, God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. Therefore, being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.  

Once again, the two Emmaus disciples found themselves being shown how to understand the Scriptures about Jesus: and now, they were able to realize that Jesus was not just, somehow, living again but that He was indeed living for and in the Church: that He was speaking to them once again, through the voice of the Church.  Moreover, they would experience in the Church that which they had seen the Lord do -- bless, break and offer the Eucharist -- for the Lord had commissioned the Apostles to do that in memory of Himself.  In that way, they would come to realize that their meeting with the Risen Lord on the way to Emmaus was not irrevocably past, for, in the Church, they would always be able to thrill to an ever deeper understanding of the Scriptures, to share with ever more grateful and appreciative love in the celebration of the Eucharist, and to constantly find cause for rejoicing in the enduring presence of Lord to His Church in His Word, His Body and His Blood!   

At this point, we should make special note that Jesus revealed Himself to those two disciples in the course of the celebration of the Eucharist.  There is no mention -- although we need not doubt it -- that the disciples actually received the Bread Jesus had blessed and broken; but the point is that it was in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in the blessing, the breaking, and offering of the bread that the disciples recognized Him

As He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them: then their eyes were opened and they knew Him.

Or, as a more narrative form of translation strikingly puts it:

He asked God's blessing on the food and then took a small loaf of bread and broke it and was passing it over to them, when suddenly -- it was as though their eyes were opened -- they recognized him! (TLB)

This is particularly important today, People of God, because some --- because of present necessities – may come to think that a televised or ‘streamed’ Eucharistic service is pretty much as good as participating in one’s parish Mass especially where, in certain parishes, Mass even in normal times was being omitted during the week in favour of one or two Eucharistic services.  However, such substitutes for the parish celebration – as a people convened-and-gathered-together In the name of Jesus, and manifesting their present-day obedience and love for the Lord -- are not good enough, except in grave necessity.  The Church is called to continue and bring to fulfilment the mission of Christ: that is, to give glory to the Father and make available God’s offer of salvation to the world.  Only full celebration of Mass as Sacrifice and Sacrament -- liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist -- can give supreme glory to God and build up the Church as the Body of Christ living to the full by the Spirit of Christ.    It is too easy today, at times, for simple and insufficiently educated Catholics to pick up the idea that Mass is really only necessary for the Sunday collection, for the pomp and circumstance of days of obligation, only necessary occasionally for stocking up Hosts for the coming week. After all, they would say, the only thing that really matters is that we are aware of Jesus' love for us and try to live good lives in return.  That is quite wrong.  At Holy Mass, the whole Jesus – glorified Lord with His Mystical Body – is called to give supreme glory to the Father in fulfilment of the original purpose of Creation, and all men and women of good will are– by a right celebration and understanding of the actions and words of Scripture and reception of the Holy Eucharistic --  to be offered salvation by faith in the name Jesus and the power of His most Holy Spirit guiding and directing our lives along Jesus’ ways.     

We should be careful never to allow ourselves to slip into thinking merely of our own self and our own relationship with Jesus.  We must, on the contrary, be constantly aware of Jesus’ abiding presence in and with Mother Church, pouring out His Holy Spirit on us through her sacraments, above all the Eucharist, so that He, the Spirit, might form us, as individuals and as members of the Church, in the likeness of Christ, so that the Risen and Glorious Lord might ultimately be able to lead us all into the presence of the Father, veritable sons and daughters in the beloved, only-begotten Son, for the eternal praise and glory of the Father.

Our spiritual pilgrimage and deepest joy on earth consists in recognizing and appreciating more and more Jesus’ presence-for-us in, with, and through, the Church, and, the same Peter who, in the name of the Church, proclaimed the significance of Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension and the Gift of the Holy Spirit, also taught us, in our second reading, the sort of response we should give to Him Who does such great deeds and offers such glorious promises to those who are true disciples of His Son:

If you call on the Father Who, without partiality, judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here (on earth) in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ.

So, People of God, rejoice in the Lord always, honour Mother Church and receive her sacraments with reverent love and heartfelt gratitude; pray the Holy Spirit to come and rule in your mind and heart; and in all situations try to share with Jesus and Mother Church in giving constant worship and praise to God the Father Who is All in all.


Friday, 17 April 2020

2nd Sunday of Easter Year A 2020

 2nd. Sunday of Easter (A)

(Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47; 1st. Peter 1:3-9; St. John’s Gospel 20:19-31

Peace be with you!

That was the ordinary Hebrew greeting, ‘Shalom’; a word to which we have become accustomed through our modern hymns.  But in today’s Gospel passage it has no merely conventional meaning: it is repeated twice, and in both cases is the first word in the clause; two details which tell us that the word ‘peace’ is being strongly emphasized.

At the Last Supper Jesus had promised His disciples (John 14:27):

Peace I leave you, My peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give you.  

To be able to give peace was generally considered a royal prerogative: that is what kings were for, to win, protect, and confirm peace and prosperity for the people.  But, in Jewish society chosen, taught, and formed by God over thousands of years, it was above all the divine prerogative to give peace.  Jesus as the promised Messiah --- the ‘Prince of Peace’ foretold by Isaiah --- gives His own special gift of peace as the Messianic King; moreover, He does not give it as would worldly kings, for they give a peace won through victory in war and maintained by coercion and struggle.  Here in England, when the Romans invaded so many centuries ago, they waged a bitter war against the native inhabitants, and thereby provoked a British chief to remark, ‘Where they make a desert they call it peace!’

Such was never Jesus’ way.  Quite the contrary, He – the Messianic Prince of Peace – won peace for us by sacrificing Himself; and now having risen from the dead, He gives His peace – the fruit of His self-sacrifice – to His disciples, showing them, at the same time, the wounds whereby He had won that peace.

The disciples were filled with joy,

we read, just as Jesus foretold at the Last Supper when He had said:

You are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will rejoice with a joy that no one can take from you.  (John 16:21s.)

For Jewish aspirations in those days, peace and joy were distinguishing features of the final glorious time when God would rule as King, giving harmony to human life and to the whole world.  That time was now dawning:

Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’ and showed them His hands and His side.

Mankind finds peace before God because Jesus – Son of God and Son of Man – died sinless in His human flesh by fidelity to, and love for, God His Father; and then -- by rising from the dead -- He destroyed death along with its ‘sting’, which is sin.  In Jesus and by His Spirit all men and women of good-will can now overcome sin for love of God. 

 Peace be with you!

Notice, however, that this Paschal gift of peace belongs not to individuals as such, but to the whole Christian Community, as a whole.  It was first given to the community of disciples gathered together for common prayer in the face of a common threat; it was given, that is, to the Church both militant and witnessing.  Jesus does not make His presence manifest as some prophetic prodigy for the amazement of the world, but to the assembled brethren, as divine Head of His mystical Body, His Church, and only here, at this sacred encounter, does He say, ‘Peace be with you.’  And that, incidentally, is why, when we sin and lose our peace with God we have to confess our sins to a priest; because peace is the gift of the Risen Christ to His Church, and in order to regain our individual peace -- if and when lost, broken, through our sin(s) -- we have first to be received back into full communion with the Church and come to share again in her prerogative: peace with God and man, in Jesus the Risen Christ.  

Jesus then declared:

            As the Father sent Me, so am I sending you.

Once again these words of the Risen Lord Jesus pick up a thread in His discourse at the Last Supper.  There Jesus had prayed for His own who were to remain behind in the world, saying:

Consecrate them in the truth.  Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, so I sent them into the world, and I consecrate Myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.  (John 17:17-19)

That is, before the disciples could definitively go out on mission in the name of Jesus for His Church in the world, they had to be themselves renewed and re-sourced through the truth (John 17:25s.):

Righteous Father, the world does not know You, but I know You; and these know that You have sent Me.  I made Your name known to them and will make it known 

by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, Who I will give to sanctify My disciples, forming them in My likeness through obedience and love, and holy as He -- My Spirit -- is holy, so that thus consecrated in Truth I can say to them:

“As the Father sent Me, so I send you.”

And when He had said this, He breathed upon them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

In the book of Genesis we read (2:7):

The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.

The word ‘breathed’ occurs again in the book of Wisdom (15:11):

            The One Who fashioned him … breathed into him a living spirit.

From these texts we understand that this moment when Jesus breathes His own Spirit into His disciples, is the moment of a new creation, endowing them with the Spirit of supernatural holiness and life, for themselves and for those they serve in the name of Jesus.

For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven;

not just ‘forgotten’ by God, but forgiven, by the restored gift of holiness and life by the Spirit, whereby the sinner is also restored to peace of mind and heart.

For those whose sins you retain however, they are retained;

There is no peace, no gift of the Holy Spirit, apart from the Body of Christ.  God does not deal with ‘loners’, He has only One beloved, His only-begotten Son, Whom He sent as Jesus, a Man-among-men, for their appreciation and love, and as Christ for their salvation; One Whom He recognizes as Head of the Body which is His One Church, the gathering together in conscious and willed community of all those who believe in Him as the only-beloved One sent by His heavenly Father for their salvation and their adoption as children of God.

Here we see the essence of the Holy Spirit’s work amongst men on earth: to make manifest, give judgment against, and abolish, sin; because He is the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit of the all-holy and all-loving God and Father of us all.

Of course, it is undeniably true that He is the Spirit Who worked wonders of all kinds in and through chosen individuals throughout Old Testament history; but His greatest wonder is shown here in the gradual obliteration of sin in the world and the ultimate re-making of sinful men and women into a holy, consecrated, family of God.

Yes, in the Old Testament the Spirit won salvation for Israel on many occasions; but here under the new covenant, salvation cannot be brought about through any occasional triumph in battle, but only through the destruction of sin and the forgiveness of sinners.

Yes, in the old dispensation the Spirit foretold future events, but here in the New Testament His greatest pronouncement is the word of God which consecrates in truth.

Jesus Himself, here on earth, once sent out some of His disciples on a mission to go before Him to the towns and villages where He Himself was to visit, and we are told:

He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out and to heal every disease and every infirmity. (Matthew 10:1)

That sending had been only a trial run, so to speak.  Here, in today’s Gospel we have the real sending, the real mission, of the disciples; and here too we have the real ‘gift’, the real ‘power’ bestowed upon them by Jesus to enable them to fulfil their mission: victory over sin in themselves and authority over sin in others by virtue of themselves having been sanctified in the truth.

And yet the Apostle Thomas himself refused to accept and be sanctified by the truth proclaimed by the infant Church!  As you are aware, Our Lord, knowing Thomas through and through, had pity of his weakness and his ignorance, and allowed him the sight he wanted; but He gave him a very strong rebuke, the words of which abide for an eternal lesson to mankind:

Have you come to believe because you have seen Me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed!

The beloved disciple John who tells us of this was well aware of the privilege he himself had been granted by God which enabled him to enter into the tomb and to believe; but here he tells us about the Apostle Thomas in order to show us where the greatest privilege of all is to be gained: by believing without seeing, believing, that is, on the testimony of the Church.

People of God, if we wish to be part of God’s new creation, if we long for such a purification that we might be able to enter upon a supernatural life of eternal fulfilment in awareness and appreciation of divine beauty and truth, goodness and love, we should pray that we might ourselves be sanctified in truth by the Spirit of truth; that we might know and appreciate through faith God’s message of salvation -- still proclaimed by Jesus in and through His Church -- ever more fully, and love it ever more deeply.  The only proof that we have indeed received the Holy Spirit into our hearts and are allowing Him to rule there, is the objective fact that we sincerely seek to overcome our sinfulness by the Christian discipline of letting the one, true, faith determine and form our way of life.   As Saint John says:

            This is eternal life, the keeping of God’s commandments.

And those commandments are not difficult because God’s Holy Spirit has been given to us.  Therefore, let us open wide our hearts to receive anew the Holy Spirit of Easter peace, and then go from this blessed assembly to bear joyful, personal, witness to Jesus by lives of loving, Catholic, obedience.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Easter Sunday Year A 2020

 Easter Sunday (Year A)

(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4; Saint John’s Gospel 20:1-9)

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, on this glorious day let us look at one verse in our Gospel passage which is rarely noted and which speaks volumes about our Risen Lord.

You heard how John and Peter ran to the tomb and how John glanced inside and saw that there was no corpse there:

He bent down and saw the burial cloths there but did not go in.

Next Peter came up and, characteristically, went straight into the empty tomb and, we are told:

He saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered Jesus' head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up (folded up) in a separate place.

John, the author of John’s Gospel that is, tells us that John looked in at the strips of linen lying in the tomb and that is all.  He does not say that John believed then, at that moment.  It was only after he entered the tomb after Peter that he saw the face-cloth that had been around Jesus' head folded up by itself and separate from the linen, that we are told that he believed.

Notice that fact dear people: John only believed after seeing the burial face-cloth neatly rolled up, folded, and separate from the much larger cloth that had covered Jesus’ body.  Peter, on the other hand, running more slowly and arriving after the younger John, directly entered the tomb and saw, immediately, that the face-cloth was placed apart from the other cloths.

Now Peter, an older and much more humanly-experienced and emotionally-developed man than John, and the disciple the one who loved Jesus most, coming up, straightway entered the tomb and saw ... and what he saw caused him thoughts so intensely personal that he did not open his mouth to chat with, indeed not even to comment to, his younger companion, fellow-disciple though he was; no, he just slowly left the tomb and walked away quietly, lost in deep, absorbing, thought -- in some likeness to Mary’s own behaviour – treasuring in his heart what his eyes had just seen: Why had his Lord so carefully folded the face-cloth which had been placed around His head to preserve His human dignity -- though that of a corpse -- and prevent His jaw from sagging in death?  Why had Jesus so lovingly rolled up what He had just so decisively and carefully removed from around His head?

Jesus had, at His trial, told Pilate (John 19:27):

For this was I born, for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.

and now He was risen from the dead His mouth had to be most obviously free in order to symbolise His enduring proclamation of that truth through the Church, His Church, that will carry on His work -- in His Name and by His authority -- to the end of time!  How gently He folded that cloth which His mother (who else??), with the help of Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James, and Salome -- had put round His head with such love and reverence. Never again would He be silenced, and His lovingly detaching and folding the face-cloth from His head and mouth was His first symbolic-statement on rising from the dead: His faithful disciples throughout the ages would continue to proclaim HIS truth, under the guidance and protection of HIS Spirit,  to all mankind, in and through His Church!  

Do we need, People of God, the author of John’s Gospel to tell us that Peter also had believed along with John??

Just recently we read the Gospel passage about Jesus’ miraculously bringing Lazarus back from the dead and from the tomb:

Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."  (John 11:43-44)

There you see, Lazarus did indeed come out at Jesus’ command but with:

His hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

He was not able to free himself; Jesus had to authoritatively tell those around:

Take off the grave clothes and let him go.

As you can see there was a big difference between Lazarus’ being raised from the dead and Jesus’ resurrection.  When Jesus Himself rose to life, He simply left the linen cloths behind, though giving special and most meaningful attention to the face-cloth so lovingly placed in position to retain His human dignity, but now yielding place to serve His proclamation of saving truth for the whole world.

Recall now how Jesus appeared to His disciples for the first time:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" (John 20:19)

Those strips of linen binding His hands and feet in the tomb, in common with the solid, locked doors of the upper room in Jerusalem, could neither restrain nor obstruct the risen Lord of Life because the Risen Lord was glorious.  Lazarus had been called back to ordinary, human, earthly life; Jesus, however, had risen to a new LIFE, not of this creation, but rather of that heavenly Kingdom which He had said was close at hand.

Why then did He not just leave the stones covering the entrance to the tomb?  He could have done that, but just think, who would have known then that the body was no longer in the tomb?  Had He done that and then appeared to His disciples, they would indeed, and for good reason, have thought they were seeing a ghost!

We should now turn our attention to the Resurrection no longer from the point of view of Jesus the Son of Man but from that of Jesus the Son of God, and glimpse something of the supreme Christian mystery: the most Holy Trinity.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit: three divine Persons, one God.  How are we to think of our Risen Lord in that respect?   God the Father, to be Father, must have a Son.  God the Father eternally begets His beloved Son Who is like Him in all things save that the Father begets and the Son is the only-Begotten.  The Father from all eternity loves and most intimately knows the Son He begets, and the Holy Spirit is that power of begetting, that power of infinite knowledge and love, uniting Father and Son.  That is why the Holy Spirit is called Gift, for in and through Him the Father and the Son give themselves to each other in total love.

Therefore, you will understand that when God determined that the Son should become man, the Son sent by the Father was conceived of the Holy Spirit; and that is why when the Son -- after His Passion and Death -- was raised to new and eternal life, we read in the Scriptures that both the Father and the Spirit raised Him.

We hear Paul preaching the Gospel to the Jews at Perga saying:

We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.'  (Acts 13:32-33)

Yet when writing his letter to the Romans (8:10-11) the same Paul says:

But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.   And if the Spirit of Him Who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He Who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, Who lives in you.

And in the letter to the Hebrews (9:14) we see the Holy Spirit again uniting the Son to His Father in Jesus’ very act of dying:

Christ, through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, to cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Jesus rose from the dead because He was glorified by the eternal Spirit of glory, love, and power, Who is One with the Father and the Son, the eternal Bond in the one living God.  The human flesh of Jesus had been brought to perfect Sonship through His Passion and Death as the letter to the Hebrews (5:8-9) tells us:

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.

Jesus, learned that obedience as Man for our sake, for our example and consolation, and His human flesh now glorified in the Spirit, is the channel through which we can in full confidence and hope receive the divine Spirit into our poor, sinful, lives.  In the power of the Spirit, the Bond of love and power uniting Father and Son, the humanity of Jesus Itself becomes a bond, uniting us sinners -- as adopted children in Jesus -- with the All Holy God.  Jesus comes to us now, and offers us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist so that, by receiving His glorious flesh and blood we -- who are of His flesh and blood -- might receive, and hopefully be filled with, His most Holy Spirit, so that Spirit of holiness --  abiding in Mother Church and now given to us -- might begin to form us in the likeness of our beloved Lord and Saviour as children of God, by recalling to Mother Church all that Jesus taught us, and leading her into all truth and grace, so that we, in her and as her faithful children, might be formed into true adopted Children of the heavenly Father.

Dear People of God, glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit in holy mother Church for ever and ever; and may these Easter joys fill and delight your minds and hearts through the faith -- the Catholic and Christian faith -- which has been bestowed on us, which we have received and now embrace with most loving and grateful hearts.  Amen.


Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Maundy Thursday 2020

 Maundy Thursday
                 (Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; 1st. Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15)  

The disciples, even though their time with Jesus was coming to its end, were still far from perfect in their following of Jesus and, apparently -- according to St. Luke -- they had just been quarrelling about who was the greatest among them.  It would seem that for the Supper Judas Iscariot had taken the highest position to the left of Our Lord around the table, while John who, as we know, leant back on the breast of Jesus to ask Him a personal question, would have been reclining on Our Lord’s right.  Peter meanwhile, having taken to heart Jesus’ words chiding them for their lack of humility had, typically, responded whole-heartedly and taken the lowest place, opposite John.  In that way Peter was able to speak directly to John telling him to ask Jesus whom He had in mind when He said that one of them was to betray Him.  This arrangement also explains how Judas could ask Jesus “Lord, not me surely” and Jesus could answer him affirmatively without any of the other disciples hearing His words. 

In the Gospel reading we have heard how Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, exemplifying the humility He wanted them to learn.  He would seem to have begun with Peter seated in the lowest place.  Peter’s loving impetuosity would not allow him to see Jesus humbled before him:

"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."

Why was this washing of the disciple’s feet so important?  Obviously, it was of symbolic importance: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” were Jesus’ stern words.  He then went on to explain:

A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.

“And you are clean” Jesus had said, but still the feet had to be washed, or else Peter would have no share with Jesus.

How had the disciples, apart from Judas Iscariot, been made clean?  We are told, by Jesus Himself (John 15:3):

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

Clean already in mind and heart by the receiving and believing the truth of Jesus.  That faith, however, had to be translated into works:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me... If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  (John 15:1-8)

We can perhaps recognize a reference to Judas in the branch that is thrown away and which then withers before being thrown into the fire.  On the other hand, those who remained true to Jesus, who treasured and believed the words He had spoken to them, would now have to let those words bring forth fruit in their lives.  That is why their feet had to be washed, even though they were clean in mind and heart.

We can think of the words of a modern hymn: “Walk with me, oh my Lord, through the darkest night and brightest day, be at my side o Lord, hold my hand and guide me on my way.”  There we describe the course of our lives, the way we respond to all of life’s circumstances, the aims we set for ourselves, as a walking with the Lord.  So it is with the disciples whose feet Jesus must wash if they are to have a share with Him in the Kingdom of God which is now beginning and will ultimately triumph.  What they have received from Him is meant to make them the light of the world and the salt of the earth; their light must shine because it has to enlighten the whole of God’s house:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

In this movingly memorable scene Jesus gives His disciples -- that includes you and me -- strong teaching to match His strong words to Peter: teaching which not only tells us but also warns us that to have heart and mind washed clean in Christ is not enough if the feet are not daily consecrated by sincere endeavours to walk further along His way and in His service.  That is not all, however, for by so humbly and lovingly washing their feet Jesus indelibly prints on their minds the manner in which they must serve Him: wherever they walk and in all that they do they must seek always to give humble service to each other and to their neighbour.  This attitude will first of all establish unity among the disciples, above all among these future apostles.  No more arguing about who might be the greatest, they must all be willing to humbly serve each other; and then serve with each other the greater good of the flock of Jesus which He has chosen them to lead (Ephesians 4:3):

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Never again would these chosen ones who had seen their Lord and Master humble Himself by washing their feet, allow personal pride to break their apostolic witness to Jesus; on this St. Paul most insistent in his teaching for the churches he established:

There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

We are called, People of God, to be apostles of Christ in our degree.  The teaching and the example so lovingly given by the Lord are for all of us.  Let us aspire more and more to walk along the paths of the Lord in the power of His Spirit: let us not try to kid ourselves into thinking that nice thoughts about Jesus and the Church are enough.  We have to bring forth fruit for the Father’s glory by seriously try to serve Jesus by doing His work with His attitude: finding strength from our unity in the faith of Mother Church and cherishing the joy of true charity in our parish and personal life.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Palm Sunday Year A 2020

 Sermon 172: Palm Sunday (Year A)

(Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66


In Matthew's account of the Passion of Our Lord we heard the High Priest say to Jesus:

I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.  

The supreme representative of Judaism in that way expressed both his animosity towards Jesus and his contempt for Him, using the very same words with which Peter had earlier expressed his own deepest faith and heartfelt love for Jesus:

Jesus said to (His disciples), "But who do you say that I am?"  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16)

Those words, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God", are the embryonic source of all that the Scriptures, the Church's proclamation, and the faith and wisdom of the saints and doctors of succeeding ages, can tell us about Jesus; and they were echoed once again in the simple confession of the pagan Roman soldiers who had witnessed the crucifixion and death of Jesus:

Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"  (Matthew 27:54)

Let us, therefore, look more carefully into those words of faith, "Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God".

St. Paul leads us along the way:

Although He existed in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus, setting aside the glory that was His as Son of God, lived most of His years in humble obscurity before entering upon His public ministry.  There He quickly encountered such mounting opposition and deepening enmity, that ultimately, He was led to embrace the disgrace, torment and emptiness, of the Cross out of love for His Father and for us.  In the course of His short life He thus experienced all the sufferings foretold by the prophet Isaiah for the One who was to come, the Suffering Servant of the Lord:

I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.  For the Lord GOD helps Me, therefore, I am not disgraced; therefore, I have set My face like flint.  And I know that I will not be ashamed, He who vindicates Me is near.

There is, however, yet more for us to appreciate about Jesus' sacrificial love, more even than what was apparently involved in dying on the Cross; because the Gospel tells us of the last few audible words spoken by Jesus in His agony, words which introduce us into the secret drama of His sublime love and crucial prayer.

The agony was terrible, His strength was well-nigh gone; therefore, the spoken words were few, but the prayer continued to the very end of His life in the depths of His Personal communion with His heavenly Father:


By summoning up His last dregs of energy in order to utter those few audible words He wanted us to know not only the words of His final prayer but also to appreciate aright the attitude of His soul going into death.   Taking upon Himself the ultimate burden of our sins, Jesus willed to experience  what was totally alien and absolutely abhorrent to His personal Self and very being, He chose to embrace for us the ultimate human agony resulting from sin: the human feeling of being abandoned by God; and for that ultimate humiliation of Himself for us men He also prepared His ultimate healing by choosing a prayer taken from Scripture, it was Psalm 22.

After those few audible, opening, words, the psalm, as I said, is continued in Jesus' heart and mind as He was hanging in silence on the Cross before His Father: a heartfelt prayer, recounting and embracing the sufferings He was enduring, then going on to express His prayer for deliverance, before finally exploding into praise of God and prayer for His brethren in the great assembly:

I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You.   My praise shall be of You in the great assembly. Let the humble eat and be satisfied; let those who seek the LORD praise Him.  May your hearts live forever!  All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before Him.  For the kingdom is the LORD's, and He rules over the nations.  All who sleep in the earth will bow low before Him; all who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage; and I shall live for Him. A posterity shall serve Him. Future generations will be told about the Lord and proclaim His deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that He has done this.

So, Jesus on the Cross prayed that, beyond His imminent death on that instrument of torture and shame, He might be able to humbly serve His disciples yet further, even to the end of time.  It was not His will to rest totally in that glory which was His with the Father before time began, and which would be His again in His Resurrection and Ascension.  He willed also to continue His self-oblation, self-emptying, and self-giving, in and through His Church: His word in her proclamation; His Blessing in her ministry; His food, indeed His very own Body and Blood, by the hands of her Apostles and priests chosen and ordained to offer His most Personal act of love and self-sacrifice for her nourishment and fulfilment: Jesus to the end of time humbling Himself in her and for  her in order to win and lead His earthly brethren back to the Father of all Glory! 

Dear People of God, all you who are called to be true disciples of Jesus, never forget that even in the utmost depths of apparent abandonment prayer is still possible for you, Jesus says; even at the very threshold of feared retribution, your prayer can still be acceptable to the God Whose love is pledged and unending.

Jesus continued His saving work even on the Cross, even t-h-r-o-u-g-h His agony, even into the peace of His total abandonment to, and complete trust in, His Father; and the letter to the Hebrews tells us that He was heard in this His prayer:

In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.  Although He was Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him. (5:7-9)

And so, to this very day, Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, is present to His Church in His Word and in His Eucharist, be it for honour, or neglect, for love or despising; and He continues to work in us and in our world, by His Spirit, through you and me, and through countless others like us.  And even though our inadequacy, our weakness, and at times our sinfulness, continue to humble Him; nevertheless -- and this is His supreme desire -- His love will never fail to invite, to support, and to inspire us.

Let us therefore pray that we may sincerely and whole heartedly revere Him at Mass, both in His Word and in His Eucharistic Sacrifice and Presence;  and let us beg  that we may thereby be so freed from sin as to allow the Spirit He gives us to work  ever more fully in us and through us, for the greater glory of His and our Father, and for the salvation of all men and women of good will in our suffering world.