Sunday, 17 November 2019

Apocalypse, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Lk 21:5-19; Mal 3:19-20
Today I want to address the issue of living in a troubled world, a world where we worry about where it’s all heading.
I want to start by noting that many people seem to think these are worrying times:
We have climate activists telling us the world will end;
We have people concerned that Brexit will empower racists and xenophobes,
While we have others concerned that the Establishment will crush Brexit and thwart the 2016 referendum.
Then, in a different way, many are anxious about the decline of religion in our society, the loss of values, and so forth.
Many people are anxious.  Where is the modern world heading?

The key point I want make today is that our Christian faith addresses this.
The Lord did not promise us life would be easy.
The Lord did not promise us a world free of violence. 
In fact, the Lord prophesied violence and disasters, such as in today’s gospel text (Lk 21:10-11):
“Nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs on the heaven”.
The last book of the Bible is called the ‘Apocalypse’, and is a whole book on the subject.

The word ‘apocalypse’ is used today to mean a final disaster and catastrophe.
The Biblical and original meaning of the word, however, is something else:
A ‘revelation’ -which is why the final book of the Bible is also called ‘The Book of Revelation’.
So, what is the thing that will be revealed at the end of time?
What is the thing that was already revealed 2000 years ago in Christ and His Bible? 
-even if it isn't fully and definitively manifested yet

The ‘apocalypse’, the ‘revelation’, is this: 
That evil will not, ultimately, triumph;
That God will triumph;
And, in fact,
That God is active ALREADY -even in the midst of all the reasons we have to be anxious.

This is the message running right the way through all of the history that the Bible records.
God is at work, even amidst evil:
The Jews were in slavery in Egypt, but God was preparing the Promised land.
There was warfare obtaining the Promised Land, but it ended child sacrifice and temple prostitution.
There was the Exile in Babylon, but it purified the Chosen People and enabled them to Return restored.

There were many times for the Jews of the Old Testament when it SEEMED that God wasn’t active.
The Bible was written TO POINT OUT to them all the ways that God was active amidst their tribulations.
And, what the Lord Jesus promises, is that amidst all the travails of the world:
History has a goal: Him.
He will come again, in glory, and all will be put right.
Where is the world heading?  Its heading towards Him.
This is His promise.  This is His ‘revelation’, His ‘apocalypse’.
And He’s given us reason to TRUST His promise:
He died.  He let evil APPEAR to triumph.
He, instead, HE triumphed -He rose from death.
And what does He say to us, who live in a world of anxiety and turmoil:
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, 
but be of good cheer, because I have overcome the world.”(Jn 16:33)

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Praying for the Dead,Remembrance Sunday, 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

2 Macc 7:1-14; Lk 20:27-38
Today our nation observes Remembrance Sunday, and pauses to honour those who died in the wars of the past century.
For us, as Catholics, this is a good moment to recall how our FAITH helps us face death.
Our first reading, from 2 Maccabees, described ancient Jews (our forefathers in the faith) who faced death with incredible bravery, and did so BECAUSE of what they believed: their conviction of life after death.

We only had a short passage from Maccabees today, but it was an important era in Jewish history:
It was after the Exile: the Jews had been purified of their nation’s sin and restored to the Promised Land:  
They had the land, they had God’s holy city of Jerusalem.  
Most important, they again had the Temple in Jerusalem, to be able to worship the one true God who had made Himself known to their ancestors (like Moses).
Then, however, they were tested:
Their land was conquered by the Greeks.  The Greeks forbade them to worship as God had decreed, and demanded that they disobey God’s laws, like eating pig flesh, as we heard in that text.
When we read this part of the Bible we can see that although God allowed them to be tested with persecution, He also strengthened them, strengthened them with a PROMISE:
In the two books of Maccabees God’s promise of life after death, of a final RESURRECTION of the body, is more clearly revealed that anywhere else in the Old Testament.
The promise of the resurrection enabled them to have hope, and enabled them to be brave -the bravery of these soldiers, and martyrs, is incredible.

For us, as Catholics in this month of November, there is a very important aspect of this:
The Maccabees PRAYED for their dead, they offered SACRIFICES in the Temple for them.
This is the Old Testament Biblical foundation for our Catholic practice today, especially in November, of praying for the dead (see more about this here).

We pray for the dead for three reasons.
First, very simply, we pray for mercy in the judgement.  
We all depend on the mercy of God while we live, 
and it is for that mercy that we pray for our deceased. 

Second, we pray to help the dead through the passage of purgatory.
Heaven, the New Testament is clear, is a place of PERFECTION.
We, however, pretty much all of us, die still imperfect, still in our sins.
We must CHANGE before we are ready for heaven.
We must be purged of our sins, and so this place is called ‘Purgatory’.
Change, as we know in this world, is not easy.
It’s not easy to change the body, when we diet, or when we exercise.
Change is painful.
Change in Purgatory is filled with hope and JOY, because those there know they will eventually be going to heaven, and they delight to be GETTING READY for it.
But, it is still painful.
-that’s why our prayers are so important.
Countless visions given by God to the saints confirm our Catholic doctrine, namely,
That our prayers can bring COMFORT to those in purgatory -so this is the second thing that we pray for them,
And, that our prayers can SPEED this process -so this is the third thing we pray for the dead.

In summary, today our nation pauses and thinks of death.
We, as Catholics, have a particular way of doing this, a way that is filled with hope for the future, and action (in the act of praying) for those who have died.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

The Joy of Salvation, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 19:1-10
Today I want us to consider what “salvation” looks like.
We just heard the Lord Jesus say, “Today SALVATION has come to this house” [of Zacchaeus].

Many people would probably not think Zacchaeus needed “saving” from anything:
He had a lot of money;
He had a big house -big enough to invite a whole lot of people along (with the Lord).

Zacchaeus, it would seem, felt otherwise
-he thought he needed something more.
He was out looking for Jesus, “anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was” (Lk 19:3).
And, the text is clear, the Lord was also looking for Him:
“Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry because I must stay at your house today” (Lk 19:5).

Let’s note what salvation LOOKS like, as described in this account:
There is “joy” in Zacchaeus;
There is him “welcoming” the Lord into his house;
There is a CAUSE of his joy: God coming to him; the Lord Jesus being with him.
This is what salvation LOOKS like: the JOY of having GOD with you.
We were made for life with God,
we are radically incomplete unless God dwells in this ‘house’ within each of us.
But, when he does FULLY dwell in us, then we have the joy of Zacchaeus.

There is one pivotal element I have thus far failed to mention:
Zacchaeus was a sinner.
Zacchaeus was far from God.
And this is the whole PIVOT of the significance of this event:
Zacchaeus knew his money and big house wasn’t enough.
He knew his comfortable living had left him far from God.
He knew he was “lost” (Lk 19:10).

Do WE know we are lost?
This parish has many nice houses and presumably many nice bank accounts.
There is an inner Zacchaeus in many of us,
like him, we can have that sense that there is something MORE out there
something more IN here [in church] -if we will but seek Him out.
The self-complacent, who criticised the Lord for going to Zacchaeus’s house,
they, it would seem, didn’t have that humility Jesus taught,
that humility we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel, “God be merciful to me, a sinner”(Lk 18:13).
If we want to have the joy of Zacchaeus,
then we first need to know our NEED of the saviour.
I need to be able to look into my heart and say I’m lost, say I’m a sinner, say I need a saviour.

Zacchaeus gave half his property to the poor (Lk 19:8),
but he kept the other half -The Lord didn’t tell him to give it all.
Money can DISTRACT us from God.
A comfortable life can SMOTHER that inner voice that tells us we need to do more to follow Him.
But money isn’t a problem in itself.
Zacchaeus shows us a model of salvation:
looking for God, humble to see our sins,
and knowing the joy of the loving welcome of the God who came for the “lost”.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Inadequate Prayer, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 18:9-14; Ecc 35:12-19
Today I want to talk about prayer, and about how many of us feel that we’re not very good at praying.

Most of us have been praying for a very long time -since childhood.
We have memorised set prayers we say, like the Hail Mary & Our Father, and Rosary.
We have moments of brief spontaneous prayer, like when we ask God to help us be patient while we’re queuing in the Ferndown traffic.
Most of us, also, have times of longer prayer, what St Teresa of Avila calls ‘mental prayer’
-that simply being alone with the Lord, in a time and place we have set aside for Him;
-that speaking to Him as ‘heart speaks to heart’, to quote Cardinal Newman;
-that speaking TO Him and seeking to LISTEN to Him.

And yet, most of us also have many times when we think we’re not very good at praying.
In our discipleship film this week the speaker said, “We’re all beginners when it comes to prayer” -and there is a lot of truth to that.
In reading today’s Gospel, however, it struck me that something of this experience is actually of the very ESSENCE of authentic prayer.
Authentic prayer is humble.
Authentic prayer always feels LITTLE before God, inadequate before God, always feels like “we’re not very good at prayer”.

God is awesome.
God is infinite.
I, in contrast, am small.
Worse, as the publican in the parable reminded us today, I am “a sinner” (Lk 18:13).
If, in spite of this, I approach God and approach my prayer as if I am an ‘expert’,
then, I’m probably more a fool than an expert.
One of the lessons of today’s parable of the publican is that it’s OK to feel inadequate when we pray.
In fact, its RIGHT to feel inadequate when we pray.
A parent expects an infant to be an infant;
and God expects us to pray as we are, because He knows what we are.

That said, obviously, we want to try and be LESS inadequate.
Our discipleship film reminded us of the need to have PLAN in our prayer pattern:
A regular TIME each day when we pray;
A regular PLACE where we know we can be quiet and undisturbed and focussed.
We also need a BALANCE in the different forms of prayer we use
-each form of praying is different and serves us differently:
(a) we all need some formal memorised prayers -to use words that aren’t our own, to use words that take us outside of our narrow thinking;
(b) we all need some quiet mental prayer -for that intimacy with the Lord;
(c) we all need some communal prayer -which is one of the reasons we attend Mass every Sunday.

If I can close by offering you a prayer TOOL.
If you have access to email and the internet, then then look inside the newsletter today and sign up for the ‘daily devotional’ email at which will give you a daily text to help you pray.
A daily text helps put something good INTO our minds, so that our hearts and minds have something suitable to talk to God and listen to God about.

To close where I began: Most of us have times when we feel we’re not very good at prayer.
True prayer, the Lord Jesus tell us, must be humble.
So, don’t come to Him pretending to be an expert -just come to Him.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

The Bible, 29th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

2 Tim 3:14-4:2; Ex 17:8-13; Lk 18:1-8
Today I want to talk to you about why and how the Bible is USEFUL, as we just head St. Paul say in our second reading, it’s so useful that it merits being called “PROFITABLE”(2 Tim 3:16).
Most of us, however, don’t find it useful -we find it strange.
We read bits of it and it puzzles us.
We read names like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and we think: that’s not my world, that’s strange, that’s difficult to understand.

The Bible, it’s true, is strange and unfamiliar to us.
But the point I want to make to you today is that one of the reasons it is useful to us is precisely connected with the fact that it is strange.
The Bible tells about something amazing, namely, God.
We should expect that to be beyond our usual experience.
Yes, I experience God daily, BUT He is BEYOND the limitations of my personal experience.

Let me rephrase the issue differently:
One of our dangers is that we reduce God to something that He is not.
One of our dangers is that we reduce God to our own individual experience.
In contrast, when I read the Bible I hear of God OUTSIDE my own personal experience -and this is a major part of why the Bible is so USEFUL to us.

We all need to be taken out of ourselves.
We need to know what God has said ABOUT HIMSELF, not what my personal experience says of Him.
The Bible tells us of a set of experiences that are not mine and are not yours, a set of experiences of what is called “Salvation History”, a set of experiences with a people He chose as His own.  
In that history God acted and revealed Himself.
He acted and revealed Himself so completely that He said EVERYTHING He has to say.
He spoke His “Word”(Jn 1:1), namely, His Son, and, to repeat, quoting the Catechism, He said everything He has to say, “In Him He has said everything” (Catechism n.65; 73).
So, if I want to know what He is like,
if I want to know the meaning of life, and how to live it,
Then I need to know what He has said.

Let’s have an example.
Prayer, intercession.  Most of have the experience of asking for things and not getting them.
Every week you ask God to win the lottery, and it doesn’t happen.
What does God’s Word in the Bible say about intercessory prayer?
What is revealed in the events of salvation history?
Our first reading gave the example of the Amalekites (Ex 17:8).
You might ask, Who were the Amalekites?
and immediately we are taken out of ourselves, into a strange world, the world of the Bible.
They lived in Canaan before the Jews, and, very briefly, they were bad people.
The Canaanites sacrificed their children to false gods, made them walk through fire, and more.  ("It is because of these detestable practices that the Lord is driving these nations out before you"(Deut 18:1-18).)
More directly, the Amalekites repeatedly attacked the Jews, the true God’s chosen people, who were coming with a different religion and a different a way -and authentic way of life.
The key point is this: when Moses prayed, God heard, and the Amalekites were defeated.
God heard THAT prayer.  Prayer changed things.
In this example, an example in the definitive history by which God has revealed Himself, prayer was heard. 
Then, add to that what Jesus taught: pray, He said.  Keep praying, He said.(Lk 18:1)
So, one example, if I want to learn, I need to be taken outside myself by entering the world of the Bible, and I learn something I wouldn’t know if I limited myself to my own experience.
I know God, and know life, more fully, more truly.

But what is the Bible useful FOR?  For what purpose?
St Paul gives a long of purposes it serves, but, most of these are not things “modern” people want.
It is useful for “correcting” -but we need to want to be corrected.
It is useful for “refuting error” - but we need to want to be refuted.
It is useful for “calling to obedience” - but we need to want to obey.
It “guides” us to be “holy” and “equips” us with what we need to be holy.
But all of this takes us out of our normal world.

That, to come back to where I began, that makes the Bible strange to us.
The Bible doesn’t tell us what price milk is at Tesco.
The Bible doesn’t tell you the weather forecast.
The Bible takes you to a world outside your normal experience.
That’s why it feels strange, that’s why it can be hard to understand.
But it’s also why it essential that we make the effort.  
It’s about what gives MEANING to everything else.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Trust Him, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 17:5-19; 2 Tim 1:6-14; Hab 1:2-3:4
As a priest, I often have people say to me that they’re not sure what they believe, they’re not sure if there is a God, they’re just not sure.
In that context, today’s Gospel gives us a very important line from the Apostles, namely, a reference to what we are to do when our faith is weak:
The apostles made a prayer, “Lord, increase our faith!” (Lk 17:5), which pretty obviously means that they felt their faith was weak.
This echoes a similar prayer we hear uttered in Mark’s Gospel: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”(Mk 9:24)

Obviously, faith is a great thing.
When our faith is strong, we are strong.
When our faith is strong, we can do things that otherwise are IMPOSSIBLE, like casting mulberry bushes into the sea (which, by the way, none of the 12 Apostles ever did -they never took that literally, c.f. St John Chrysostom in St Thomas Aquinas’s Catena Aurea, vol3, p.581).
But, and this is my point to you today, sometimes our faith can feel weak.

In our second reading, we heard St Paul tell Timothy about “timidity”, because it seems Timothy was being weak, “timid” in the face of “hardships”.
In our first reading, we heard of hardships of a different kind: the suffering and “oppression” that the prophet Habakkuk witnessed -often people find that their faith is weakened in the face of such evils.
What are we to do when our faith is weak?

Prayer is one of the most vital things we need to do when our faith is weak.
Even if we’re not sure we believe.
Even if we’re not sure we trust.
These are the very times we need to gather up what little faith we have, and call out to Him:
“LORD, increase our faith!”(Lk 17:5)

There is a poem that I have on a plaque, that I have often recited when life seems dark:
“Trust Him when dark doubts assail thee.
Trust Him when thy strength seems small.
Trust Him, when to simply trust Him, 
Seems the hardest thing of all”.
We shouldn’t feel surprised at the fact that it’s sometimes hard to trust, hard to believe.
The 12 were with the Lord non-stop for 3 years, yet still their faith was weak.

St Paul reminded Timothy that when he was ordained, the laying on of hands (2 Tim 1:6) had imparted the Holy Spirit to him. 
He told him to “fan into a flame” that gift that already lay within him.
When we feel weak, we should do the same.
Even if the flame seems small and flickering, fan it into a flame.
Hold to what little we have 
–“keep” the “sound teaching” (2 Tim 1:13) rather than looking further at what weakens it.
Take that little faith, and lift it to Him.
Lift that little trust, up to Him.
and pray as they did, “Lord, increase our faith!”(Lk 17:5)

Sunday, 29 September 2019

The Soldier of Christ, 26th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

1 Tim 6:11-16 (second reading)
What will you look like when you are revealed at the end of time?
God has a plan for you, a vision of what you can become.
At the end of time you will be revealed.
The Lord Jesus, as we heard, will be revealed at the “APPEARING” (1 Tim 6:14) in glory at the end of time.
Scripture also tells us that ALL mankind will be revealed (e.g. Mt:25), each of us for what we truly are.

God has called me to greatness, to share in His glory.
This is His plan for me.
But to achieve this is not automatic, and is not easy.
A few weeks ago, I used the image of the athlete in training, as an image of the disciple seeking to be trained by Jesus -as an athlete is trained by His coach.
But our second reading today uses a different image:
The soldier.
The soldier also trains, is formed, and BECOMES something.
The soldier fights. You and I are called to fight.
The New Testament uses this image repeatedly, for example:
“be a good solider of Christ” (2 Tim 2:3); and “put on the armour of Christ”(Eph 6:11)
But WHO am I fighting?

Elsewhere in the New Testament our enemy, our threefold enemy, is spelt out repeatedly:
The world, the flesh, and the devil (c.f. Eph 2:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:15-17).
As a result of the Original Sin at the dawn of time, there is a disorder in the world and a disorder within each of us.
There is constant battle (Gal 5:16-17) within me between the greatness I could be and the fallen nature that pulls me down.
We cannot rise above this by accident. We must fight. We must strive.
The peace that the Lord promises (Jn 14:27) only comes as a result of the struggle.

Now, obviously, there is a problem here, in that often we don’t want to strive.
We want a comfortable Christianity, that can just recline in my armchair.
A lazy Christianity, that doesn’t need to do battle.
This is, however, a LOVELESS Christianity:
I fail to strive because I don’t LOVE the Lord enough to want to become what He asks of me.
That said, we don’t fight alone. It is His GRACE within us, strengthening us, enabling us to rise.

So, what must I do if I would strive, if I would be the soldier He calls me to be?
To come back to the issue of discipleship I preached on a few weeks ago,
I need to train, to be formed, to identify the enemy within me, to know how to fight Him, to know what WINNING looks like.
Our discipleship formation programme starts this Thursday, with sessions both in the morning and the evening.
We can’t expect to win the fight if we are fighting alone, if we are doing to no more than attending Mass each Sunday -we each need more.

When “at the due time” the Lord Jesus is revealed as “the King of kings and Lord of lords”,
when He who is now “in inaccessible light” appears in glory,
then, He will want each us to have fought so that we are fit to “take your place in the kingdom” (c.f. 2 Tim 4:18; Mt 25).
Let us not be afraid to get up and fight.