Sunday, 8 July 2018

A Prophet’s Reward, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 6:1-6; Ezek 2:2-5
In today’s Gospel we heard the Lord Jesus refer to Himself as a prophet, while in the first reading we heard God sending the prophet Ezekiel to the people.

Being a prophet isn’t an easy thing.
Being a prophet is a deeply unpopular thing -prophets carry words from the Lord that people usually don’t want to hear, almost always being words calling for repentance, to change your life.
The typical pattern, therefore, was that the prophet was killed. So typical a pattern was this that we hear, elsewhere in the Gospels, the Lord Jesus pointing out the irony of people building monuments to honour the prophets, but these same prophets had been killed by their forefathers (c.f Mt 23:29; Lk 11:47).
Being a prophet is deeply unpopular.
There is thus an old warning sometimes given to priests, “If you play the prophet, you’ll receive the prophet’s reward”

Why then did the Lord want to be prophet?
I think this is a useful question because it points out to us that, as with everything, He did it not for His benefit but for ours.
What did He receive?
Hatred, and the Cross. Yes, ultimately, the definitive reason they killed Him was His claim to be God (see Palm Sunday 2017 sermon). But His long-term unpopularity with so many was the fact He played the prophet.
What this highlights, however, is that He calls us to repentance, He calls us to change our lives, not for His benefit but for OURS.
He loves us so much that He is even willing to receive “a prophet’s reward”, just as long as He is able to proclaim to us what we need to repent of.

As I was pondering this, I thought about two prophetic words of the Lord, two prophetic criticisms, two calls to repent and change, that might be particularly relevant in this HOT weather.

The first concerns purity and chastity. I think that for men, in particular, this is a difficult season to be chaste:
There is much uncovered flesh paraded down the high street and is requires EXTRA vigilance on a man’s part to avert his eyes, and to guard his subsequent thoughts.
Yet, this is exactly what the prophetic words of the Lord say:
Anyone who “LOOKS at a women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”(Mt 5:28).
Elsewhere He warns that it is precisely what is WITHIN a man, the ”evil thoughts” and the “sexual immorality”(Mk 7:21) that makes a man unclean.
Yet, the thing is this: the reason He gives the unpopular prophetic moral criticism is to enable us to achieve the promise that comes with it:
He promises that the “PURE of heart... will see God” (Mt 5:8) -those who have not let their eyes and thoughts and heart wander to the flesh, they will have hearts pure enough to see God.

A second prophetic words for the hot weather:
The call to not WASTE our TIME.
In the heat we can all be prone to wilt and do less, to fail to get on with those errands and tasks, to fail to live the fulfilled life God call us to.
And, among other texts, the parable of the talents warns us USE our time, use our abilities.
Again, a prophetic moral critique, offered to enable us to achieve the goal he call us to to: fulfilment, not a wasted life, a life of wasted talents.
As a prophetic word in the heat, we might ask ourselves how well we’ve done so.

To return to where I began:
The Lord Jesus was a prophet. He called people to repentance and change.
And that’s an unpopular thing.
He did it, He endured unpopularity, for our sake, to point out to us the life we can live.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Talitha kum, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 5:21-43
Who do we turn to when we have a problem?
Something we often do is, we turn to those we have seen help others in a similar situation.
The point I want to make to you is that we have a powerful example of how the Early Church did this with respect to the Gospel miracle we just heard:

The account we just heard passes on to us one of the extremely rare words of Aramaic recorded in the Gospels. Why is this significant? Because it indicates that these were the EXACT words spoken by the Lord Jesus. In hearing the words, “Talitha, kum”(Mk 5:41), we hear not a summary of Jesus, not a translation, but even 2000 years later we hear the EXACT words He said.
The Gospels were written in Greek because that was the international language of the day. But the Lord Jesus and the disciples would have used other languages: Hebrew, for certain official prayers; Latin, for dealing with the Roman rulers; Greek, for business transactions; but their everyday language use was Aramaic.
In this passage, written in Greek, St Mark hands on to us not a translation of the Lord but His exact words.
The Early Church, as it spread beyond Palestine, treasured and handed on certain exact phrases of the Lord, and this is one of them.
“Talitha kum” -but why it is significant?

Literally, as St Mark comments, it means, “Little girl, get up!”
The Early Church treasured this text because it saw in these words a significance even broader than being yet another miracle of the Lord.
WHO is the “little girl” that the Lord raises up?
THE CHURCH -she is, according to Scripture, she is the “bride” of the Lord Jesus (c.f. St Bede, cited in Catena Aurea).
The Lord came from heaven because she was in need: weak in sickness of soul, lost in her sin.
And the Lord said to her: “Little girl, get up”.
Yes, this was a particular girl: Jarius’s daughter.
But she is symbol of how the Lord raises up the WHOLE Church, and each of us as members of her.

I know this has been MY experience:
There are times when I’ve been weak and defeated, crushed by the trials and woes of life, and yet I’ve somehow felt an inner strength move me on, something beyond me -He has said to me, “Get up!”
There are times when I’ve been dead in my sin, rendered lifeless by my own iniquities, and yet He has spoken to me, “Get up!”
And across this congregation: you know the same.

Let us think, also, of how often we have been like Jarius:
Jarius was not sick himself; he didn’t have a problem.
It was the problem of one he loved that troubled him: the sickness of his daughter.
Like Jarius, when we carry the problems of others, we must bring them to the Lord, we must bring them to the only one who has the power to say, “Talitha, kum”, “little girl, get up!”

A final point: Jarius had people try to stop him bring her to the Lord:
Some people told him not to bother the Lord, she was dead already9mk 5:35);
Other people scoffed at the Lord, they “laughed”(Mk 5:40).
My point is this: there are many around us today who likewise scoff as they see us bring our problems to the Lord. “Do you really still believe all that?”, “Do you really think there’s a God up there?”
Yes, actually, I do. I believe that nothing comes from nothing; and that something comes only from something; that this amazing ‘something’ all around us is only here because of a Creator.
And yes, I believe He cares about us, that He listens to our pleas. And I light candle with my prayers.

Because the One who raised up that little girl of Jarius;
The One who raised up the “little girl” of the Church, when weak and lost;
That same One can also raise me up today. And I come to hear His call, “Talitha, kum!”

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Birth of St John the Baptist

Today we keep the feastday of St John the Baptist, and you might not be aware of this, but its incredibly rare for Church to allow an individual saint to replace the normal Sunday Mass.  So its worth while remembering why St John the Baptist is considered important.

Let’s recall who he was:
He was “the Baptist” -in the River Jordan he baptised huge crowds of people who came to him from all over Palestine.
He was great 
-he had so many many followers, and was held in such admiration, that many people thought that he must eb the long-awaited Jewish Messaish.  So many people thought this that he had to make a point of saying that he WASN’T the Messiah (Lk 3:15-16);
-he was so great that the Lord Jesus said of Him, that there was no one greater born of women (Mt 11:11);
-God blessed his birth with miracles: an angel appeared to his father and first struck him dumb and then his speech was restored, events so unusual that “all marvelled”(Lk 1:63) and everyone said, “What then will this child turn out to be?”(Lk 1:66).
He was the cousin of the Lord Jesus
-his mother was Elizabeth, a cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Having noted all those details, let’s come to the crucial point: 
WHY was he baptising?
As he put it himself, he was ‘Preparing a way for the Lord’(Lk 3:4):
His was a ‘baptism of repentence’(Lk 3:3);
He told people how to change their lives: the tax collectors, the soldiers, the multitudes;
And the point is this:
None of this was for himself, it was all to get them ready for someone else: the Lord Jesus Christ, who WAS the long-awaited Messiah.

A brief application to ourselves: How is all this relevant to ME?  
4 very brief points:
(1) God had a plan in St John the Baptist, a long plan with many miraculous details, a plan that was part of a wider plan: for the Messiah.
If God had a plan for him, it’s a reminder that He also mas a plan for me, and a plan for you.
(2) A different point, St John the Baptist deferred to the Lord Jesus.  St John the Baptist said, He must increase and I must decrease”(Jn 3:30).
I, too, must be ready to put the Lord before all else -he and I are not on an equal footing.
(3) Third, the entire work of St John the Baptist was oriented towards the something GREATER that lay ahead: the coming of the King, with a new type of Kingdom.
There is something greater ahead, available for you and me too: Heaven.
(4) Finally, let us think about how St John the Baptist first reacted when meeting the Lord Jesus. 
People often recall his life of penance in the desert, his eating locusts etc.  
BUT when he first met the Lord, when their pregnant mothers greeted, and the two babes in the wombs miraculously reacted to each other, his mother Elizabeth said, “The babe in my womb leapt for JOY”(Lk 1:44).
Joy can be our reaction too, every time we meet the Lord, at a deeper and deeper level.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

By Faith not by sight, 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34
If you’re wondering where I was last week, I’ve just been away on an 8 day retreat.  8 days of silence, speaking only to my retreat director, and only to him once a day. 
Such a retreat is hard work.  We use the word ‘retreat’ in English, but in other languages they call them the ‘exercises’.
To use one analogy, it’s a bit like staring in the mirror non-stop for 8 days. You come to see every imperfection, every thing about yourself that you don’t like, everything that you need to CHANGE -you can become rather sick of yourself.  

That analogy has a serious flaw, however:
A Christian retreat isn’t about looking at yourself in a mirror.
A Christian retreat is about looking at Christ, looking at Him long and hard.
-like a mirror, we come to see ourselves in a new light.
But whereas a mirror only leads you to yourself, and fails to show you HOW to change -you only see what is ugly and wrong,
in contrast, when we look at Christ, we see not so much what is WRONG, but what could be RIGHT, in Him.

I want to focus this on a useful and oft-quoted statement we heard in our second reading, from St Paul to the Corinthians:
“We walk by faith, and not by sight”(2 Cor 5:7).

I might know I need to change; know I need to move on, 
But none of us have SEEN that place where we are supposed to be going, 
we don’t know it “by sight” -to use St Paul’s term.
So how DO we know it?  How can I know HOW I’m supposed to journey onwards?
            St Paul says we do so, “by faith”.
Faith, it’s important to be clear, it’s NOT a vague attitude or feeling.
Romans 10:17: “Faith comes from hearing” 
I hear what the Lord has told me, especially in the Bible, 
and I choose to accept Him, and, accept what He has said.
I say, “I believe you”, to the Lord Jesus,
I say that I believe all He has told me about:
The destination, life in Him, life united to Him;
The path, which is also Him, He is “the way”(Jn 14:6).

For myself, as for you, the Lord has told us many things for us to believe, to “walk by faith”.
He has revealed, in Himself, just how wondrous, how desirable, that destination is.
He has also revealed what I need to do to get there:
To daily, if not hourly, repent of my sins;
To see myself more truly in Him, to examine myself, to know what sins to repent of;
To live for Him, and for others for His sake, rather than living for myself, 
not living for my comfort, for my accomplishment, my pride, my vanity, my pleasure;
He has also revealed His strength and assistance on the way:
Our gospel parable, of the seed that grows unseen, is just one of many promises of how He DOES work, even when we don’t see it;
He promises to come with His strength in the sacraments, because I can’t get to heaven by own power:
I need His feeding in Holy Communion,
I need His restoring forgiveness in regular Confession.
I haven’t yet seen the goal, but I’ve been told of it in faith.  
“We walk by faith, and not [yet!] by sight”(2 Cor 5:7).

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Our Lady and the Holy Spirit, Spouse of the Holy Spirit: Pentecost

There is a phrase that we hear repeatedly in the New Testament, namely, acting under the “power”(Acts 1:8) of the Holy Spirit. Now, many of us can wonder quite HOW that works –how do you get the Holy Spirit’s power to work in you? Also, we might wonder what is LOOKS like to have the power of the Holy Spirit at work in someone.
I want, today, to speak about the unique relationship between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit, and say a few words about how Our Lady can show us both what having the “power” of the Holy Spirit in us LOOKS like, and also HOW we can let that power work within us.

One of the titles of Our Lady is “Spouse of the Holy Spirit”, a title that indicates that she has a unique relationship with Him.
He is referred to at the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel told Our Lady that she would conceive not in the normal way but when “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”(Lk 1:35).
He is referred to again when Our Lady then goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth while they were both pregnant, she with the Lord Jesus and Elizabeth with John the Baptist. At the greeting of the Blessed Virgin “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” and she said that “the babe in my womb leapt for joy”(Lk 1:41;44), so that John the Baptist is said to have been filled with the Spirit even before he was born.

But it is perhaps in the next thing that happened we see something most relevant shown forth: Our Lady then burst out into the beautiful “Magnificat” (Lk 1:46-55) in which she declared the praise of God for what He was doing, in particular that He had “cast down the mighty”(Lk 1:52) and raised up the lowly. This is relevant in two ways: first, her bursting forth into this hymn of praise was itself an action of the Holy Spirit within her; and second, the words she said indicated why SHE was suitable for the Spirit to act in her: namely, she was lowly and humble herself.

When we are proud we are unable to listen to others.
When we are mighty and content with our state we struggle to turn to others for aid.
In either case we are not suitably disposed to let the Holy Spirit be at work in us –we can’t really hear His promptings; and, we’re too full of our own misguided thoughts of our power to depend on HIS power.

Our Lady, in contrast, was humble not proud. Although she was doing a great thing herself, namely, being mother of the Lord, she did not ascribe this greatness to herself but rather TO GOD who had chosen her in her lowly state.
And, and as a consequence, GREAT things did happen in her, and the “POWER” of the Holy Spirit was active in her.
He was active in her not least in the most daily every-day aspect of her life: her sinlessness. She wasn’t sinless by her own power but by the “power” of the Holy Spirit, a power she was humble enough to co-operate with. She co-operated with His power not once, not occasionally, but every moment of her existence: from her sinless conception, in every moment of her life, such that she was exactly what the angel called her: “full of grace”(Lk 1:28). Such a CONTINUAL commitment to Him is another reason it suitable to think of her as His “spouse” –a life-long relationship.
And that same Spirit also gave her strength to do what we might think would be impossible, so that she was faithful to stand at the foot of the Cross and watch her son suffer.

So, to conclude: for ourselves, if we want to have that same “power” of the Holy Spirit in us, then:
We must be humble and lowly as she was humble and lowly –we must not have mistaken views of our greatness or self-power.
And if we are lowly before the Lord, call on His strength, COMMIT ourselves to Him as she did as His spiritual spouse, then we will allow the space in us for Him to come and come with “power”

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Loneliness, 7th Sunday of Easter, Year B

Jn 17:11-19
I want to say some words today about loneliness.
On one level, loneliness is one of the basic human conditions.  We are made for love, and yearn for something that will satisfy this. Thus Genesis describes Adam, alone amongst all the animals, looking for a soulmate, lonely without one.  
On another level, as study after study sadly shows, loneliness is particularly a feature of our modern age.
We see it in youth today. Studies point to mobile phones and tablets in this regard -youth connected to their devices, but tragically isolated in their rooms, and statistically vastly more likely to be lonely than just a decade ago.
At the other end of the age spectrum, many of the elderly among us can speak of a different loneliness. 
And, in between, you can be lonely at work; lonely in marriage.
Loneliness is one of features of human existence.

I want to take this I two directions: thinking of God, and, thinking of our parish community.
In the Gospel text we heard the Lord Jesus praying to the Father.  He spoke about being “one” with Him.  This is very important in the context of loneliness.
God is one, in Himself. Yet, He is also a community of three persons -never alone, never lonely.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit -always existing in love and in relationship.
We are made in His image.  
We are made to love and to be loved.  
In as much as we fail to experience these two things we are lonely. 
The solution, at its deepest level, is to be drawn into the love of God, to be one with Him.  Thus the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father, “may they be one like us”.
Thus spiritual loneliness can be addressed by a regular life of prayer, regular contact with God in His Bible and in His sacraments, 
at Mass for union with Him, 
at Confession for healing our disunion from Him.
In this regard, it is possible to be physically alone, but, not feel lonely.  There is a difference between being PHYSICALLY alone and FEELING lonely.  You can feel lonely in the midst of a crowd; you can feel content by yourself.
I can remember life in my last parish: I was physically more isolated than in my entire life, in the rural countryside, far from friends and family, yet rarely did I feel lonely.

That was one direction of thinking with respect to loneliness: God.
Another direction is our parish life.  There is much that can be done in a parish to ease physical loneliness, and I want to point to two particular things in our parish culture in this regard.

The first, is the hugely important work that our SVP group do here in the parish.  Among the needs they address is visiting the housebound. This is an important way for us, as a parish community, to be helping combat loneliness.  
Yet, I’m aware that we need more SVP members to do this work.  And so I would like to take this as an opportunity to appeal for more people to join.  If you’re interested, sign the sheet in the porch or speak to an SVP member after Mass.

The second, concerning Mass. Some of those who used to welcome people at Mass by standing in the porch and offering people a newsletter are now too infirm to do so.  
I’d like to therefore appeal for more people to volunteer for this important role.  It would be good to have a team at each of the 3 Masses to do this in rotation.  If you’re willing, please sign the sheet in the porch.

These are two very particular things, but both relating to how we function as a parish community to help ease loneliness. 

So, in summary, the Lord Jesus prayed that we might be one as He and the Father are one in the Spirit.
We are made for love and made to feel loved.
We can help each other as a parish community by addressing physical loneliness.
But the deepest cause of loneliness in the human heart can only be addressed by our union with God.