Sunday, 25 September 2016
This is the second Sunday in a row that we have heard the Lord Jesus speak to us about money. Last week we heard His warning, “You cannot be the slave both of God and of money”. Today, I’m going to speak about Lazarus and the Rich Man, a man tradition calls Dives ("dye-vees", Latin for ‘rich’).
First, Lazarus, the poor man begging at the gate. The parable’s focus, and sermons on it, usually focus on the Rich Man, but Lazarus himself shows us something.
Lazarus was cleared suffering –covered in ‘sores’, hungering for scraps of food.
Lazarus was clearly being wronged. He had a need and his need was being ignored by someone able to help him, someone who had a duty to help him.
Yet, he did not curse the other man, or hate him, or even complain.
He bore it patiently. And when he died, he was carried off to heaven.
Many of us will have something in our lives that makes us relate to Lazarus. Something in our lives where we feel that a clearly obvious need is being ignored by others, maybe even ignored by our family and those we live or work with.
The example of Lazarus calls us to bear it charitably, with love for the very people who ignore our needs.
Similarly, the example of Christ in His suffering calls us to do the same. To not curse others but to love and pray for them, and even to help them even while they neglect to help us.
The Rich Man, Dives, is interesting. Interesting because he didn’t do anything DIRECTLY wrong, all he did was indirect –he IGNORED Lazarus’s need.
Did the rich man take away Lazarus’s food? No.
Did he beat him? No.
Yet, by neglect, he was the cause of the other man’s suffering.
And Dives was cast into Hell, “in agony”(Lk 16:24), for eternity.
People sometimes tell priests, “I don’t do anything wrong, I’m a good person”
But, the standard by which we each need to measure ourselves by is not just what we DO but what we FAIL to do.
What do we say in the Confiteor at the start of Mass? “In what I have done and in what I have failed to do”.
And I know in my own confession (because priests also sin and priests also need to go to confession, on a frequent basis –frequent confession because I am a frequent sinner)
when I go to confession, what takes the most time is what I have failed to do.
And the account of Dives’s eternal damnation in Hellfire, if it teaches us anything, teaches us that we will be judged as severely for what we fail to do as for what we do directly.
There is another point to note also, Dives KNEW what he SHOULD do. When he pleaded with Abraham he did not claim that didn’t know what he should have done –he did not plead ignorance. He had Moses and the Prophets to warn him.
We too have had plenty of warnings. We have heard the Gospel. And Judgement will come –for some of us it will be good news, for some of us it will not.
Do I hear and not listen? Do I profess the Creed but make it meaningless in my actions?
Lazarus and Dives. For many of us there is a bit of each of them in us. So we can learn from each of them.
Learn from Dives that we must not neglect the needs of those around, and ,must not neglect the teachings we know we have heard.
And learn from Lazarus to be patient in our sufferings and not resort to hatred of the man who neglected him. We too must love –love those who fail to love us. And if we love, then, like Lazarus, we will be carried off to Heaven and eternal consolation.
Dives is pronounced…
The OED says "dye-veez"
Merriam Webster says “Di·ves” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Dives
Sunday, 18 September 2016
Today I want to start talking to you about my vision for the parish, and, in particular, to talk to you about the changes I will be introducing. A number of people asked me, my very first Sunday, what I would be changing. There is a simple answer to this. What will I be changing? Everything, absolutely everything. If, five years from now, there is some aspect of parish life I have not changed then I will have failed.
Now, having made such a sweeping declaration I need to clarify it by indicating what I mean.
I am taking as my starting point the statement by Pope Francis that the demands of the New Evangelisation have to “transform everything”(EG 27) in parish life.
How do we greet people at the door?
What does the entrance feel like?
How complicated is the missal book? etc.
Everything needs to be evaluated in the light of the OUTSIDER.
If the New Evangelisation is to be a reality then it's not just about explicit moments when we talk to unbelievers about Christ (though we do need to enable those), it's also about all the little details too.
AND, of course, the outsider includes YOU too: if we make the outsider welcome in a way that makes the insider unwelcome then we've somehow contradicted ourselves.
Let me add, however, that this is not just about welcome.
It's also about what we COMMUNICATE to the outsider, including how we communicate by our BEHAVIOUR, including our behaviour in church at Mass.
We just heard the Lord say in the Gospel that you cannot serve both God and money (Lk 16:13).
But does our behaviour at Holy Mass,
does our very building,
does it communicate the sense that we rank God above the material things of this world?
Is there a sense of awe and wonder in our liturgy?
Does our liturgy and building convey that there is a Lord and Creator of all things, a transcendent all-powerful God, who dwells in this place and who we approach with humility, with awe, with love?
Does the way we handle the sacred vessels, and administer Holy Communion speak of the presence of God?
What about the position and reverence given to the tabernacle?
And, what about the love and joy that are visible, or not, in us in the way we approach the Lord?
All of these, and more, are also crucial issues for the New Evangelisation.
And, they are also issues that help or hinder that Gospel being imbedded in our own hearts and lives.
Why does this matter? Why should we care about the outsider? Why can't we just respect the unbeliever’s unbelief and leave him where he is?
Well, first, it matters to God. He is ‘Lord’ and ‘Creator’ of all people already. But He is only Father to those who are adopted in His Son Jesus Christ. And, as we heard in our second reading, “He wants EVERYONE to be saved and reach knowledge of the truth. For there is only ONE God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, Himself a man, Christ Jesus”(1 Tim 2:4-5).
The Gospel isn't just for those born Catholic, or who have already stumbled their way in: it's the truth, the relationship with our loving Father that He wishes for each and every member of the human race.
Second, it should matter to us. If we value what we have, we should want to share it. And the Faith is one of those gifts that grows by being given away.
I'm going to have to stop now. I'll be outlining a lot of what this looks like in the talk series starting Thursday nights and in the book reading book that will follow on after that. Please come. Please get involved. And please be ready to allow the priorities of the New Evangelisation to transform our parish.
Sunday, 11 September 2016
As I think most of us know, meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous always start by someone saying, “Hello, my name is XXX, and I’m an alcoholic”. (Now, actually, I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not teetotal like Fr Patrick, I enjoy real ale, red wine, and American bourbon. But I’m not an alcoholic.)
To return to that image, members of Alcoholics Anonymous start by declaring their weakness, their being an alcoholic. And they do this because they need to start with a declaration of the truth and a declaration of their state.
We do something similar when we come to Holy Mass: we start with an act of contrition, we start by acknowledging, “Hello, I’m Father Dylan, and I’m a sinner”.
There are two ways that we can make such an acknowledgment, a statement like, “I’m a sinner”.
One way, is to do so ALONE, looking in the mirror, looking at nothing but myself.
I see the truth. I see my ugliness, and I despair. I see my sin, and I despair.
And I despair because I look at my sin alone. I look at it seeing nothing but my inclination to sin and sin again.
There is another way, however, of looking at my sin, namely, not by looking at it alone, but by looking at Jesus.
I still see my ugliness. I still see my sin. I still see that truth.
But I see it with an even bigger truth, namely, I see my sin and myself with the LORD. And the Lord is the one who promises to save me from that sin.
And so I see my sin, but do NOT despair.
In the 12 steps program of Alcoholics Anonymous the alcoholic does not just admit his weakness, he also submits himself to a ‘higher power’, a power greater than himself.
We, as Christians, don’t just submit ourselves to some vague ‘power’ but to a person: the Lord Jesus.
And there are two reasons why that person saves us from sin:
First, because He is powerful. Yes, I am weak. Yes, I have sinned and continue to sin. But, His power is greater than human weakness, and so I call upon it.
Second, because He is merciful. Yes, He has seen my sin. Yes, He did not want me to sin. Yes, my sin saddens Him. But, He is merciful, and so He reaches out to remedy the problem rather than reject me because of it.
St Paul expressed the heart of this in our second reading with his great summary of the Gospel: “Here is saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”(1 Tim 1:15).
This said, there is a different problem that often present itself. A problem that I have often known in my own life, and the problem is this:
I may see and acknowledge my sin TODAY. But, somehow, by TOMORROW I have dressed it up differently. By tomorrow I have told myself that I am a ‘decent’ person really.
And then I become unable to move on.
Not only am I unable to move on, but I have rejected the truth of the Gospel. I reject it in practice, even though I don't reject it in theory. I reject it because I don’t admit my impatience, or my irritability, or my selfishness, or my laziness, or my critical judgments, my lust, my pride, or my gluttony, and more.
If I cannot admit these and other sins then I have refused to accept the AA starting point: my failure.
Today’s Gospel spoke to the joy that is experienced in heaven over one sinner repenting (Lk 15:1-10).
There is another joy, however, that Pope Francis repeatedly remind us of: the joy of the sinner who repents and comes home, the joy of the sinner who knows he is welcomed back, the joy of the sinner who experiences forgiveness. “How good it feels to come back to Him whenever we are lost!”(Pope Francis, EG 1,3)
Admitting I am a sinner is not a negative self-defeating thing.
Admitting I am a sinner, and bringing it to the Lord, is the path to truth, to forgiveness, and to joy.
Hello, I’m Father Dylan, and I’m a sinner.
Sunday, 4 September 2016
So, as you're aware by now, I'm Fr Dylan James, your new parish priest.
Changing parish priest can be an odd time for a parish. You, as a parish, have known for some time that you were losing your parish priest, Fr Patrick. You’ll have been thinking about the priest you've lost, you've been aware that someone you've come to know, and understand, is leaving you.
I've known Fr Patrick as a priest of the Dorset deanery for the past decade and a half, known him as a well-liked and popular priest, and I imagine that you've grown a real affection for him.
And now some stranger comes along: Me.
I've known that I'll be coming here for 4 months, and I've been thinking of this parish and praying for all of you for some time. I've been looking forward to coming here and starting here.
Even though you've probably been more aware of what you've lost in losing Fr Patrick.
I gather that this is an active parish with many things going on, and I realise that Fr Patrick has left quite a legacy here, large shoes for me to fill.
But given that it falls to me to fill those shoes, I'd like to tell you a little about myself and a little about my hopes for the parish, especially this first year.
As a priest, I'm somewhat unusual, in that I always knew that I had a priestly vocation, even as a very young child. I went off the idea in my late teenage years, thinking I'd pursue money, and pleasure, and all the things that we just heard the Lord Jesus warn us can lead us away from being His disciple.
I came back to my vocation while I was at university because of the example of some good priests who showed me how important a priest can be in someone's life.
I came back to my vocation because I realised that secularism and materialism, money and the pleasures of the body, are not the answer:
they don't satisfy the needs of the human heart.
I came back to the idea I because I realised that we all need HELP to reach the goal of happiness and fulfilment IN CHRIST, and that a priest can be a pivotal part of someone reaching that goal.
The goals of money and pleasure and comfort are what our modern society is built upon.
And yet, we all know times when those dreams turn to dust, when either material or emotional suffering strikes us, and its only if our lives are built on a more solid foundation that we can stand.
In the Gospel passage that we heard today the Lord Jesus spoke to us about what is involved in following Him, in particular, about the need to rank Him above all else if we are to follow Him. He noted the difficulty of following Him, and said that if we are to “build” that “tower” of being a disciple we need to “first sit down and work out the cost to see” if we will complete it.
I imagine that I was like many of you, in that I drifted into my following of the Lord without having a serious moment of “first” ‘counting the cost’.
But one of the things I have realised is the fact that being a disciple is not something we can do alone. We need support, we need guidance, we need teaching. And a priest can be an important part of that.
Like any new parish priest I have come to a community that already has disciples of the Lord. But, it is also my role to help you in that. Let me indicate two things I aim to do between now and Christmas, in particular.
First, I want to find out about what is particular to this parish as opposed to other parishes, what is different here. So I plan to do a lot of listening, and visiting. I want to hear from the parish what is already going on here, what is already ready strong.
And, as I said, I gather this is already an active parish.
Second, I want to engage in some things that are NOT particular to this parish, things that are being initiated in parishes elsewhere. Namely, I want to help clarify an even more explicit focus on what has been the defining theme of Pope Francis and our new Bishop Mark, namely, the new evangelisation.
The new evangelisation is all about making ‘disciples’:
on one hand, enabling parishioners to become better disciples,
and, on the other hand, making opportunities for those who haven't yet come to know Christ, come to encounter Him in His Church.
In order for me to know how to do that I going to need, again, to listen to what is already in place here.
Fr Patrick has already indicated some things that I need to do here,
things that he explicitly left for his successor to start up (knowing that they didn’t make much sense for a priest who about to retire to start, and I’m grateful that he was considerate enough to allow me this opening).
In particular, Fr Patrick indicated that I would need to launch a group to focus on the book Bishop Mark has recommended to us (Forming Intentional Disciples, by Sherry Weddel).
I intend to precede that with a series of talks on the new evangelisation more generally, and what changes it means for this parish, or any parish.
So, that recommendation from Fr Patrick will be my starting point for the main new things I’ll seek to offer between now and Christmas.
So, to sum up: as your new parish priest I come here to build on a foundation that was laid before me.
I come here to add to that foundation, in particular, to focus on how to enable us to become better disciples of the Lord
I know I'm a stranger to you now, but I'm looking forward to being here and getting to know you all over the years ahead.
Sunday, 28 August 2016
Today I'd like us to consider our second reading, from the letter to the Hebrews, and consider “what [we] have come to” (Heb 12:18) by coming to Mass.
As the unbelieving world sees it, this is a gathering of human individuals.
As the world sees it, there are a hundred people here in a stone building, facing an empty space.
As the unbelieving world sees it, we are gathered to utter words to a Being that is not here.
“What [we] HAVE come to” (Heb 12:18), in fact, is not something capable of being seen.
What we have come to is some ‘Thing’ beyond the realm of the seen.
We have come to the One who is the Creator, as we say in the Creed, of things “visible and invisible”.
We are here because we recognise that there is more to the world than what is seen, there is more to the world than can be known by the senses, more to the world than what my touch and taste and sight can tell me.
And, and this is the crucial point: we are here because we recognise that this ‘Thing’ that cannot be seen or sensed is actually what gives meaning and purpose to everything that we CAN see and sense.
We are here because knowing and meeting the Creator changes how we experience the world of the senses.
How did our second reading put it?
“What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire [unlike Moses, who had God speak to him from a burning bush],
or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them [unlike the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness who had the Lord manifest Himself to them in such external glory].”(Heb 12:18-19)
He continues, “You have come to come to God Himself”(Heb 12:23).
That text made many allusions to the Jerusalem and Temple of the Old Covenant, and when we read those words in the Mass, the liturgy of the NEW covenant, it should remind us that God is present HERE.
In the Old Testament He was manifested in power in the Temple, but He was not present in the flesh.
In the NEW Testament, however, as a result of Him having instituted the Mass, He IS present in the flesh, is present “in His physical reality”(Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, n.46)
BUT greatness of His presence, His reality, so far exceed our capacity to see Him that He has taken a small insignificant thing, bread, and made it into Himself. So that we don't confuse worldly glory with His real glory.
But He IS present. Recognising that is a crucial part of realising that there is more to life than the senses.
Let me put that another way, in thinking of the fact that the most important things in life are the things that cannot be seen:
What is more important, the house your family lives in, or, the love in your family? The love, obviously. But love is an unseen thing, though real. Seen in its effects, but not seen in itself.
Even more, this is true of God: He’s the unseen reality that gives meaning to the seen.
Today, as most of you know already, is my last Sunday in Shaftesbury. I've been here 9 years and I've been thinking about what I've done in those 9 years, in the light of this text from Hebrews.
I've not built anything visible. Some priests build new churches, or church halls, or schools. But I'm not leaving the parish with any changed or new building. Any change I have left here will be in the realm of the unseen. But, actually, that's fine. That's actually the more important things.
What have I built unseen?
For a priest, especially, that’s a difficult question to ponder, because any REAL work I've done actually hasn't been MY work, but God’s work.
And, any REAL work I've done, similarly, isn't my work but YOURS –your allowing God to work in you.
That said, I've known in my time here many cases when I've been privileged to a PART of that, to be a help in that happening, to be an instrument in the Lord being active in your lives.
The most important examples are things I can never speak about, which is typically the case for a priest. But, again, that's ok. I deal with the realm of the unseen. I deal with the more important realm.
Thank you, for letting me be a part of your lives, and a part of your encounters with the Lord.
Thank you for your support and encouragement in the apostolate I've sought to work among you and in you.
It's been a pleasure to be here. I feel this is a great parish, and it does a lot, especially for such a relatively small rural congregation.
To return to where I began this sermon: “what [we] have come to” (Heb 12:18) by coming to Mass.
We have come to God Himself.
We have come to Him whose Presence and working are beyond the realm of the seen, beyond the realm of the senses.
He works THROUGH the senses: He takes sensible bread to become Himself.
But He is more than what our senses are capable of detecting.
And what is unseen, be it love, or the presence of God, it is the unseen that is the most important and gives meaning to everything else.
Sunday, 21 August 2016
Sunday, 14 August 2016
On today’s feast of Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven we think about Our Lady’s being taken up to heaven body and soul. Of course, ALL saints will have bodies in heaven at the resurrection of the dead, but what is different about Our Lady is that HER body was taken up to heaven directly upon her death. And, when her body was assumed it was obviously transfigured and glorified into the state of the glorified bodies that is their heavenly state. I want to say a few words to try to illustrate the glory of Our Lady's heavenly state, and to do so by referring to the BEAUTY of her heavenly body. I want to make that illustration by quoting some words that I heard a few years ago when I went to Lourdes, the words that St Bernadette used when she described how Our Lady looked when she appeared to her in her visions: St Bernadette referred to the BEAUTY of Our Lady:
She was “gracious and smiling”, she said
Years later she would recall: “her eyes were blue”,
“So beautiful that when you’ve seen her once, you can’t wait to die and see her again”
“When you’ve seen her, you can’t love this world any more”
Speaking of her beauty: “Ah! If men only knew! Ah! If sinners only knew!”
After that, all her life, St Bernadette never found statue that looked beautify enough to be Our Lady.
I want to comment on this at both a simple and at a technical level.
At a simple level, this beauty of Our Lady’s heavenly body is exactly what we should expect:
The Lourdes vision identified Our Lady as “the Immaculate Conception”;
We should expect the form of her heavenly appearance to match this Immaculate-ness. Her soul was sinless; Her soul was beautiful; How could her body be otherwise? When her body was assumed into heaven it was glorified and beautified even more.
To think of this more techincally:
Theology tells us that the soul is the form of the body;
Philosophy tells us that matter is always proportioned to form.
For example, if you want a chair, the form of a chair cannot work in the matter of jelly
-the form of a chair needs matter like wood or metal
To consider a more human application, in the Resurrection of the Body:
The Resurrected Body will not be like our present body
–it will be glorified, transfigured, free of suffering etc.
But just as we will each have faces that are different and distinct,
So will our bodies be different,
And our bodies will each be appropriate to our souls.
In heaven, our degree of glory will depend on the degree of merit we gained on earth,
and that degree of merit is measured very simply, says St Thomas Aquinas,
is measured by the degree of love, of divine charity, within us.
Our beauty of our bodies will be proportioned to the love in our souls.
And Our Lady, she who was conceived “full of grace”,
She who cooperated with that grace all through her life such that she GREW in grace,
She who cooperated with grace and the plan of God such that,
as the prayers of the Church express it:
“the birth of Christ your Son DEEPENED the virgin mother’s love for you,
and INCREASED her holiness” (Common of the BVM n.1, prayer over gifts)
How beautiful must she be?
She was born beautiful as “full of grace” and her body was planned to be appropriate to that fullness of grace,
by God’s foreknowledge and predestined plan.
Then she was transfigured in Heaven at her assumption to be EVEN MORE beautiful still,
to correspond to the even greater grace that had grown in her.
If WE would be beautiful in heaven, we need to strive to reject sin, strive have grace fill our weakness.
Even in this world, we see how a beautiful soul carries it body with a type of gracefulness & charm;
in heaven, this will be even more so,
and this is what we see in the Lourdes apparition of Our Lady and in so many other apparitions of Our Lady, in the portrayal of her Assumed glory: “Her eyes were blue”, she was “so beautiful”, because she was and is “the Immaculate Conception” and is thus now in glory in heaven.
Rene Laurentin, Bernadette Speaks (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000), p.572.
 P.567, also on p.437: “I made the sacrifice of not seeing Lourdes again... In heaven it will be more beautiful”.
Posted by Fr. Dylan James, Catholic Priest in Shaftesbury, England at 07:50