Sunday, 15 October 2017

Evangelisation, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Mt 22:1-14; Isa 25:6-10
I’d like us to consider where we fit in today’s parable. The Lord Jesus just described “the kingdom of heaven” and there were a number of characters in that parable. I would like us to start by noting the “servants” of the king:
Those servants were SENT out, sent with invitations to the banquet.
I would like to point out that this role is exactly what Pope Francis and the recent popes before have said is OUR role:
You and I have been SENT out to the society we live in to invite people to the banquet of the Lord.

The “wedding banquet” is a common image in the Scriptures.
Being a “wedding”, it symbolises the love between God and His people.
Being a “banquet”, it symbolises something desirable & satisfying, something we should WANT to attend.
In particular, being “the Kingdom of Heaven”, it offers:
the fulfilment of all desires in Heaven,
the meaning and purpose of life on earth,
and the joy of being with the Lord who loves us -a joy we can know both in this world and the next, as much as we are open to it.
The “wedding banquet” invitation is an invitation to “marry” God -and there is nothing greater that one might wish for.

My point to you today, is that the Lord’s parable indicates that there are those “sent” to “invite” others.
Someone has the task of communicating that invitation.
And that someone is you and me.
The word we use of this task is “evangelisation”: making known the Good News about Jesus Christ.

Before saying anything more I want to dispel a certain image of “evangelisation”, namely, the image of the man standing on a soap box shouting out passages of the Bible to random strangers as they walk by. There is a place for this, but it’s not the primary or even most common form of evangelisation.
Such a type of evangelisation requires specialised training, but Pope Francis makes the point that actually communicating this message is a task we ALL have -evangelisation is NOT a job for specialists (EG 120-121).

The people we are to communicate this “invitation” to is everyone.
That means it is primarily to the people we meet most frequently. This, of course, is what can make it so difficult. In many ways its easier to talk about God to a stranger than to someone in our own family.
But if we love our family members more than we love the stranger then we should WANT to tell them about the Lord.

This brings me to my last and final point:
What IS evangelisation? What is the “invitation” we are communicating?
At its heart, it means telling someone about the Lord Jesus.
Evangelisation happens when someone “encounters”(c.f. Evangelii Gaudium 7) the Lord Jesus,
and someone can only meet the Lord Jesus if someone INTRODUCES them to the Lord,
and introducing someone to the Lord means TALKING to them about Him.

In a week and a half we’re going to re-launch our Parish Evangelisation Team (because it took a break over the summer). Everyone in the parish is invited to these meetings. All we do in them in go around in a circle and each share one single attempt we’ve made in the past month to talk to someone about the Lord. It’s a simple methodology to enable us all to learn from each other how to do this simple but difficult thing:
to talk to another person about God;
to invite another person to the fulfilment of all their desires, the “wedding banquet” of the Lord.
Like the servants in today’s parable, it’s an invitation we’ve all been sent to spread.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Fatima Centenary, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Isa 5:1-7; Mt 21:33-43
People often wonder if God still does anything, still works miracles, is still active in people's lives.
We read in the Bible of Him doing great things. But what does He do today?
We heard, for example, in our first reading and Gospel text of God’s care for His chosen “vineyard”. That vineyard, in the Old Testament, was His chosen people Israel. In the New Covenant, in Christ, that is the body of believers, the Church. But we sometimes hear the concern expressed: Does God still care for His Church? Is He still active today?

This week marks an important milestone that can focus us on that issue, namely, the one hundredth anniversary of Our Lady appearing to 3 shepherd children in Fatima, in the year 1917.
You may recall that Pope Francis went to Fatima earlier this year and canonised two of the visionaries, Jacinta and Francesco.
You might also recall that Pope Francis consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, before the statue of our Lady of Fatima, a statue he's had specially brought to Rome from the sanctuary in Portugal. You may recall, too, that just after he was elected Pope, he had his papacy dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima by the bishop there.
Fatima is one of those many places where God has manifested His power in a mighty fashion, and here, as in similarly many occasions, here He manifested that power through the hand of our Blessed Mother & His.

In the year 1917 three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francesco, aged 10, 9, and 8, in the remote village of Fatima in Portugal claimed to have seen a vision of Our Lady. For a long time their families called them liars, the parish priest doubted them, the local mayor (in a violently anti-Catholic government) arrested them and threatened to boil them in oil unless they denied it. But on the 13th day of six consecutive months ever-increasing crowds came to see the children as they had their visions. The apparition promised that on the 13th of October, the anniversary of which is this week, a miracle would be worked in public. 70,000 people came that day, most believers, but many came to scoff, and secular journalists came to report what they presumed would be a disappointed crowd. Yet, it is those journalists who give us some of most dramatic accounts of what they all saw, 'the miracle of the sun', which is described in more detail in the parish newsletter, and even more detail at www.fatima.co.uk Some people today have tried to claim this was just a mass-hallucination, yet never in human history has there been such a well-documented miracle, and never have such a mixture of unbelievers and believers had the same "hallucination".

To me, however, the real miracle of Fatima was not the sun, or the healings of the sick and crippled, but the prophecies that Our Lady gave, prophecies of the horrors that would be unleashed on the world during the 20th Century. We think of the two world wars. But we are less likely to be aware of the 27 million Christians martyrs killed last century, more than twice the number in all the previous 19 centuries put together, whose accounts Saint John Paul II documented at the end of that century. All that human and Christian suffering was foretold in those visions at Fatima.
But, and this is the point, it was not foretold in some passive unavoidable way, but as a warning, with a remedy that, if followed, could have prevented much if not all of it. That remedy was prayer (especially daily Rosary), penance, and to entrust ourselves to her Immaculate Heart. That remedy was followed by many, and Pope John Paul II, as indicated in the parish newsletter insert, attributed his being spared in the assassination attempt of 1981, to Our Lady. Her hand guided the bullet and spared his life, he said.
And the point is this, as Cardinal Ratzinger is quoted in the newsletter saying: prayer changes the course of history.
And it can change the course of my life, and your life.

To conclude:
Is God still active today? Does He act to care for His vineyard the Church, today?
Fatima gives us a powerful example of the fact that, yes, He is.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Others before Himself, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Phil 2:1-11
I’d like us to consider one aspect of what it FELT like to MEET the Lord Jesus.
We know that the Lord made quite an impression on people as He travelled, and talked, and met people. Today, I want to reflect on an aspect of what we heard St Paul speak of in our second reading (Phil 2:1-11).

Let me start with a more general observation: When we meet someone, do we experience that person as thinking more about himself or more about YOU?
I think we’ve all had the experience of meeting someone who is so self-absorbed he doesn’t really see you. He might not be unpleasant or bad, but he’s so absorbed in something else that he fails to see your situation, fails to bring you a cup of tea, or a chair.
Or, if he does these things he’s someone done them for himself before he’s done them for you.

My point is that it was the other way around with the Lord:
When we read the Gospels we repeatedly read about someone who is focussed on the “other”, focussed on YOU, not focussed on Himself.
And when we recall that He was the Lord God almighty, its pretty amazing that He should be so focussed on us rather than on His own majesty.

To think of just two examples:
We might recall the occasion when He and His apostles were so exhausted with preaching and healing all day that He took them across the lake to a lonely place to rest awhile. But when they got there they found a whole new crowd waiting for Him. Did the Lord get exasperated and say, “Look, I just need some space right now! Leave me alone!” No, the Gospels tell us that He looked at the crowds and “felt compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd”(Mk 6:34; Mt 9:36).
He thought of them before Himself.
We might also recall a similar scene when He met the Samaritan woman by the well. Again, He was tired and resting in the heat. Yet, He thought of her needs and her salvation first, and spoke to her at length and offered her the water that will forever satisfy. (Jn 4:4-26)
Again, He thought of others ahead of Himself.

In our second reading we heard St Paul telling us that this is exactly what a Christian should be doing:
Putting other people’s interests ahead of his own (Phil 2:4).
And St Paul says a Christian should do this because Christ did this.

St Paul goes on to spell out the definitive PLACE where Christ did this: on the Cross.
On the Cross, the Lord didn’t work for His own good but for OUR good.
On the Cross, the Lord put us ahead of Himself.
This is why the Cross is the definitive sign of what the Lord has done, and still does, for us.
This, ALSO, is why the Cross is the definitive sign of what we must do if we would FOLLOW Him.
If we are focussed on ourselves, and on our own needs, then we can’t truly love others.
If we are focussed on ourselves, and on our own needs, then we can’t truly be following Christ.
To love means to die to self, just as Christ died on the Cross.
This, to repeat what is said earlier this year, is why the Church calls for an image of “Christ crucified” (GIRM n.308) that is “clearly visible to the assembled congregation” (c.f. GIRM 117, 122, 306).
An image of Christ crucified shows you what the Lord does for you,
and shows you what you need to do to follow Him.

To close where I began, what did it feel like to meet the Lord Jesus?
To meet the Lord was to meet someone who was interested in you, who was focussed on you.
Just as, in His fullest expression, He was focussed on you as He died on the Cross for you.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

No sermon post this week

Our deacon is preaching

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Forgiveness is a Choice, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Mt 18:21-35; Ecc 27:30-28:7
I want to talk about forgiveness today.
Forgiveness is one of the defining characteristics of Christianity, both that we can receive forgiveness and that we must offer it.
Forgiveness, however, isn’t easy. In fact it’s precisely at those moments when it’s most important that it usually becomes most difficult to offer.
So I want to say some words about a few related things: to dispel some misconceptions about forgiveness, to indicate why we NEED to offer forgiveness, and to indicate what we need to do to offer forgiveness.

First misconception. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean saying that what they did didn’t matter, it does mean saying it’s “alright”, and it’s doesn’t mean making excuses for them.
When the Lord Jesus hung on the Cross, as the Gospels record, He offered His forgiveness to His murderers. He didn’t ignore their crime: they’re were committing the greatest evil in human history: they were rejecting and killing God. Yet, He freely chose to forgive them.

Second misconception. Forgiveness is not a feeling, rather, it is a decision.
I must choose, in my will, to forgive the person who has hurt me, long before my emotions have caught up with that. I may still feel anger, but forgiveness is a choice, not an emotion.
I must CHOOSE to forgive.

Third misconception. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
Sometimes I must forgive my brother even though there is no realistic chance of us coming to harmony and talking to each other happily. Yet, my decision toward him but be one of forgiveness.

Fourth misconception. Forgiveness is rarely over in an instant, rather, it is often a long process involving many stages. Often I must renew my decision to forgive daily. I must, repeatedly, look at the evil that has been done to me and at the person who has done it, and say, yet again, “I choose to forgive”.

But why? If it’s so hard, WHY must I forgive?
Well, most importantly, because Jesus commands it. He commands it so emphatically that He says we will not be forgiven ourselves unless we forgive others.
We might also note the logic of this: I need forgiveness for my own sins, so I have no right to refuse it to others. If I say, “But my sins are not as big as the sins of this person against me”, well, I then seeking justice not mercy. And if justice is what I want, then justice it what I will get: condemnation, not salvation.
The Lord make this point so often that I could fill the entire length of Mass by citing the occasions.

Let me close, however, by offering a more human motive for forgiveness:
When we fail to forgive then we deny ourselves the possibility of inner healing.
Often we can see the evildoer merrily continuing on. He doesn’t seem affected. But unless I forgive I can’t let go. I cling to this event. Unless I forgive it will continue to weigh me down and afflict me.
If I forgive, however, a path to a new life is open to me.

Some significant recent books have been written on the healing power of forgiveness. I would like to commend to you one in particular, “Forgiveness is a Choice”, by Robert Enright
We have a few copies for sale in the porch.

To sum up: I forgive because Jesus commands it.
I forgive because Jesus forgave.
I forgive BECAUSE what has been done to me is evil, not pretending that it wasn’t.
I forgive even when my emotions are not with my decision of the will.
Forgiveness is a daily process, but the only path to life and healing.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Milk comes from Cows, Harvest Festival, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A



Rom 13:8-11
Today we’re keeping our Harvest Festival, something that I hope will become a regular annual event in the parish.

Some of you might recall a news report from a few years ago that reported a survey that showed that a surprisingly large number of people didn’t know where milk comes from. A lot of people seems to think milk comes from Tesco, and didn’t have any idea where Tesco got it from! In our increasingly urbanised world it’s easy to forget what happens on a farm. It’s easy to forget where things come from.
And today’s parish Harvest Festival is a valuable way of remembering where things come from.
So, for those of you who don’t know, milk comes from a cow.
But, what we really recall at a Harvest Festival is that all good things come from the good God above.

I want to make two simple points today:
The habit of giving thanks to God changes us in two ways:
It changes our relationship with God, and, it changes our relationship with our neighbour.

In our modern individualistic world we tend to have a rather selfish view of ownership.
We tend to think: this is MY money, I worked for it; this is my possession, I paid for it; no one else has a right to it.
In contrast, when we give thanks to God for our good things we trace that train of cause back further, and more honestly, and we realise that there is nothing I have than I don’t owe to God.
This changes how I feel about my ownership of things, it makes me see my ownership in a more relative sense.
It also implicitly reminds me that other people also come from the hand of the Creator; other people also have a right to the good things of Creation.
When we have this sense we are better able to live that “love” that our second reading says fulfills all the commandments (Rom 13:8-10); we are better able to see other men as our “fellow” men, not as rivals to our possessions.
A habit of giving thanks to God thus prepares us to live love of our neighbour.

Perhaps more obviously, a habit of giving thanks changes our relationship with God.
Again, this is particularly important in our modern world. We live in a culture of immense material prosperity, but in the quest for more and more things, there are two things we can forget:
(1) We can forget the God who makes all things, and by forgetting Him we forget what gives meaning and PURPOSE to all things -and a life without purpose isn’t much of a life, even if it is a life with the latest iPhone.
(2) More ironically, we can forget to enjoy the things we have: the quest to possess more and more frequently stops us pausing to appreciate and enjoy the good things we have. While I’m yearning for the iPhone 8 I forget to appreciate how amazing my iPhone 5 is.
So a habit of thanksgiving brings us joy.

In summary, today we are keeping a Harvest Festival.
This reminds us that milk comes from cows.
It reminds us, even more, that all good things come from God.
This reminds us that there is a Creator, that thus life does have purpose, and that that purpose is to be found in Him.
It remind me that my fellow man also depends on God, and that he and I are thus in mutual relationship, and that I must love him.
And finally, in giving thanks I experience joy because I pause to see the goodness of what I have.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

No sermon this week