Sunday, 13 August 2017

Looking to Jesus in the Storm, 19th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A



Mt 14:22-33
I want to speak today about our need to look to the Lord when we are in difficulty.

The Gospel text we just heard is one that is powerfully symbolic of our need to look to Jesus. We heard about how the disciples were in their little fishing boat on the storm-tossed sea, and then they saw Jesus walking towards them, walking on the water. Then Peter, responding to the call of The Lord, stepped out onto the water, stepped out into the storm, and walked on the water TOWARDS Jesus.
The point I want to reflect on, however, is one that the patristic commentators note, that Peter then SANK into the water. Why did he sink? Well, the text tells us: "as soon as he felt the force of the wind he took fright, and began to sink" -he looked AWAY from Jesus and TOWARDS his problems, and he began to sink. But then looked again towards Jesus, calling "Lord, save me!", and The Lord lifted him up.
And this holds a symbolic lesson for how we too can sink: we sink in our problems in as much as we don't look towards Jesus, or, we walk on the stormy water when we keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus.

Let me briefly note how this works in three types of problems, three types of storms in my life.

First, the storms that are caused by my own mistakes. Lots of my problems are caused by my own incompetence, my own weakness, my own mistakes. I start something and then make a mess of it. Now, as long as I am just looking at myself, and looking at my problems, as long as I think it is all about MY effort, then I sink. I stare at my problems and they just seem to become bigger and bigger. But when I look to Jesus, i see something all together different, something good, and, in addition, He lifts me up with a strength that is beyond me.

Second, there are the storms caused, not by my weakness and incompetence, but by my sins. Now in these I can sink in a different manner. In my sins I can look solely to my guilt, and risk despair. When I could, and should, simply look to Jesus, tell Him I am sorry, tell Him I resolve not to sin again, and have Him forgive me.
He lifts me from the mire of my sins, and my guilt is left behind.

Third, and finally, there are those storms in my life that come from a source a simply do not know. And about these I never really understand. I can wonder why The Lord allows it, just as the apostles might have wondered why He sent them away from Him onto the sea -did He not know the storm was coming? Why did Jesus allow the storm at all? He could have calmed it, after all, He did eventually. I just don't know.
But I DO know that if I look to Jesus I can weather any storm.

So, to summarise.
Peter could walk on stormy water as long as he looked to Jesus.
But he sank when he looked away.
And you, and I, as long a WE keep our eyes on Jesus, turn to Him in prayer, turn to Him in repentance, turn to Him in the sacraments, then you and I can also walk the stormy waters of life.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Pretty or Ugly in Heaven?, Transfiguration



Today I would like you to consider what you might look like in heaven, because we will all look different.
Some of us will look better than we do now, some of us will look worse.

Today’s feast of the transfiguration gives us some indicators.
It was given as a vision to the Apostles Peter, James and John, to sustain them through the cross, by giving a glimpse of what He would look like in His glorious resurrection. He had just predicted that He would die and rise again; here He gave them a vision of glory of that future resurrection.
So, by application, let us consider what YOU will look like in the resurrection of the dead.

First, let us note that you will have a body.
The Lord Jesus rose in a body; He ascended with that body into heaven; He still has that body.
Having a body is simply part of what it means to be human.
This truth contradicts certain fashionable ‘New Age’ notions that we will all disperse into nothingness at death, or just disperse to become part of ‘the great life spirit’ of the universe.
No. You will have a body; you will remain a distinct person. United to God, but not absorbed into Him in a way that destroys your uniqueness.

Second, let us note that your future body will not be like your current body.
This difference was manifested in the Lord Jesus by His glory shining through His body.
Fulton Sheen speculates that this glory shining was our Lord’s natural state, and that it took a continuous act to suppress His glory from shining through.
The point is this: the body is proportioned to the soul; the soul is the form of the body.
The Lord’s soul was glorious, and His body was glorious.

What of MY body?
My current body will die and decay, and be no more.
At the end of time, according to Scripture, the Lord Jesus will return “to judge the living and dead”(as we say in the Creed).
With this General Judgement there will be a ‘General Resurrection’ when we will all rise with NEW bodies.
Those new bodies will be made to be fitting for our particular souls, to be proportioned to our particular souls.
When I die, by the deeds of my life, I will have made fashioned my soul to be beautiful or to be ugly, or to have a mixture of beauty and ugliness. My new body will be made to fit my soul.

The saints, in many and various visions on this topic, have described how those with souls made ugly in sin will rise at the judgment, not merely rise to condemnation, but rise with ugly bodies: bodies suitable for them, bodies that physically express what they are.

The Saints, in contrast, will rise at the judgement with beautiful bodies, bodies that physically manifest their virtues and glory.

In fact, already in this world we get a glimpse of this in the way that we can sometimes see someone’s goodness or see someone’s hatred and bitterness manifested physically in their face.

And what of me, in the final judgment?
The purifications of Purgatory might be of some help. If I am not so evil as to merit final condemnation, then the fires of Purgatory will purge away my ugliness.
But, and this is a point worthy of pondering: my eternal glory, WHETHER I am and HOW MUCH I am “beautiful”, will depend on how I live now on earth, will depend on what kind of person I will have fashioned myself to me, how I will have formed my soul.

To sum that up and come to a conclusion:
The vision of the Transfiguration showed Christ’s transfigured state to give His disciples a vision to motivate them through the difficulties of the suffering that lay ahead.
By application, the thought of our own future transfigured state, transfigured in glory or transfigured in condemnation, gives us a motivation to persevere in virtue.
What will you look like in the final resurrection?

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Poverty & Joy, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A




Mt 13:44-52; 1 Kgs 3:5-12
If you're wondering where I was last week, I was on retreat with the Dominican Sisters in the New Forest.
And I want to share with you an observation that I’ve made every time I visit nuns and monks:
They live poverty and simplicity, and yet they are the happiest people I know.
The only things they possess is the Lord Jesus, “the pearl of great price"(Mt 13:46), as we heard in today’s Gospel, and yet possessing that one thing they have everything.
When I was a teenager I can remember visiting a young woman I knew who had entered the Community of the Beatitudes, and I was very struck then by the way that every member of the community had a bedroom that had the same regulation bed and furniture, and even the very same alarm clock.
I’ve visited Poor Clares and been amazed at their ability to survive without heating.
Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity amaze me even more, by their living out of poverty in depending on holy Providence to bring them their food, often not knowing what tomorrow's meal will be.
Now, if you put ME in any one of those scenarios I fear that I would not be happy man, I would be looking back to what I used to have, I’d be thinking about what I had not:
NOT having central heating, NOT having my choice of food etc.
And yet, my repeated experience of nuns and monks is that they are the happiest people I know
-to live in Holy Poverty does not bring misery but rather brings happiness.

Nuns and monks live out in a very dramatic way what we heard Jesus speak about in today's gospel. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price, a pearl so precious that it is worth giving everything else away in order to have that precious pearl.
A similar illustration was given to us in our first reading, when we heard the famous example of Solomon, and how the Lord appeared to him and offered him anything he might choose, and yet he didn't choose selfishly but he asked for the gift to be able to discern between good and evil.
The "pearl of great price" is of course Jesus Himself, He is, as the ancient Fathers put it, the Kingdom-in-person (Origen, c.f. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (NY: Doubleday, 2007), p.49).

Those who have given up everything to be with the "pearl of great price" have put themselves on the path to the greatest happiness. JOY is the fruit of real LOVE, especially love of GOD. And as St Thomas Aquinas very simply explains, the more the heart cleaves the one thing the less it must cling to another, and so holy poverty enables us to love God more by detaching us from the goods of this world.
“It is abundantly clear that the human heart is more intensely attracted to one object, in proportion as it is withdrawn from a multiplicity of desires. Therefore, the more a man is freed from solicitude concerning temporal matters, the more perfectly he will be empowered to love God.” (St Thomas Aquinas, De Perf. Spirit. Vitae., ch. 6)

For ourselves, who live in the midst of the word, not in the cloister or the enclosure, how are these truths to be applied to ourselves?
Well, what we want is to be FREE to love. Holy poverty makes us free to love.
DETACHING ourselves from the goods of this world enables us to grow in that interior JOY that comes from loving the GREATEST Thing, God, rather than lots of lesser things.
The nun or monk choses holy poverty in totality. But we can at least choose it small “bit size” decisions:
In everything I possess I can strive to possess it in such a way that I am willing to LET GO of it,
to possess it in such a way that I remember that I exist in this world as a WAYFARER,
a pilgrim seeking to journey THROUGH this land to our true home of heaven (c.f. Phil 3:20-21).
And repeated acts of small self-denial, saying “no” to something desirable, is living holy poverty.

Another way of putting it is to note that it’s about priorities: My happiness in this world and my happiness in the next, depends on GOD being the FIRST priority in my life. St Augustine famously said, "You have made us for Yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You"
-our attitude to our possessions is a powerful test of what our hearts are attempting to rest in.

If the Lord appeared to you in a dream this night, and offered you a choice of anything you might desire, how many of us have recognised the "pearl of great price" sufficiently to be content to say:
You Lord, you are what I desire.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 13:24-30(short version); Wis 12:13.16-19
I'm not much of a gardener.
I like to see flowers that others have planted. I like to see bushes others have trimmed. But I don't have the patience for gardening.

I do know, however, the DISAPPOINTMENT that weeds bring.
I was looking at my back patio and wondering about the weeds:
How is it that weeds are so strong?
Where do they come from? Who put them there?

Seeing weeds is disappointing.
We hear that disappointment in today's parable, the workers ask:
Who has done this?
Who has planted the darnel weeds amidst the good seed?
This sense of disappointment is obviously what God so often feels when He looks at us:
He has planted good seed in us,
Yet, we produce lukewarmness, selfishness, a life that forgets Him.
And it would be fully understandable for God to burn the whole field down in frustration.
But, the point of the parable is that He doesn't.
He is patient.
The way a good gardener is patient.

A gardener was telling me recently that you can “over weed”:
We naturally pull up weeds when we find them amidst our flowers.
But, if you pull out too many of the weeds, too deep, you end up doing more damage than good.
A good gardener needs to know the right balance.
A good gardener needs patience.
The way that God is patient.

The parable works at many different levels.
Most simply, it shows us God's patience.
It also, as I implied, shows us His SKILL, the way a good gardener is skilful.

The parable can be applied within us or between us.
Between us, it remind us that at the end of time there will be a sorting and judging, a distinguishing between weeds and good crop, the damned and the saved.
Though God is patient, there will come a time for judgment.
Within us, however, the parable can also be applied:
There are both weeds and good crops within me.
Because God is patient with me, He lets the good have the space to grow.
I, however, need to use this opportunity
If I do my own weeding within me, repenting of my sins, then the good crops can dominate.

To sum up and repeat:
Like a good gardener, God is patient.
Like a good gardener, He is skilful.
He knows how to bring out good growth, and He wants good growth.
What we need to do is use His patience for good,
So that it will be the crop and not the weeds that grow within us.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

No Sermon this week

Our deacon is preaching this weekend

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Strong Humility, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A


Mt 11:25-30
I’m going to be brief today because we have an appeal at the end of Mass.

I want to make a simple but significant point today, to point out that humility and meekness is not about being a wimp.

We just heard the Lord Jesus tell us that we should “learn” (Mt 11: 29) from Him, and it is often noted that this is the only place in ALL of the Gospels where we hear Him tell us to "learn" directly from His example.
And the thing He tells us to learn from His example is His meekness and humility.

Now I just said that meekness and humility is not about being a wimp. And this is something we see in the Lord Jesus when we look at how He lived. He was quite capable of being strong when it was appropriate:
He rose from the dead,
He healed the sick,
He raised Lazarus,
and, perhaps more significantly, He drove the moneychangers out of the Temple -He manifested in that action a holy anger, a holy zeal, not to defend Himself but to defend His “Father's house"(Jn 2:13-18).

And yet, this Lord and Messiah, who was capable of being strong when He needed to be, was also willing and able to DEFER to the needs of others, to put others before Himself.
Allowing Himself to suffer and die for our salvation meant humbly and meekly putting others before Himself.
That took strength.
And every action that chooses to not be selfish but put others before ourselves, every such action requires strength
-a strength that we do not have of ourselves but that is we can have by calling on His grace.

Being humble and being meek requires strength on our part, and this is the example that our Saviour has left us:
“Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart"(Mt 11:29)

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Why the Crucifix?, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Mt 10:37-42
In today’s Gospel we just heard the Lord’s command that we must each “take up [our] cross”(Mt 10:38) if we would follow Him. I’d like to take this as an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the Cross for us.

As Christians, the cross is our definitive sign:
All across the world, this is this sign that distinguishes our buildings and monuments: Muslims have a crescent, Jews have a star, we have a cross.
In our prayers, all through history, we start and end our prayers by making a ‘sign of the cross’ -this practice is so old we find it written about in the 2nd century, the immediate generations after the Apostles (already written about by Tertullian).
When we are blessed, it is with the sign of the cross.
It is our definitive sign.

This said, as Christians, we believe in the Resurrection. It is the Resurrection that proves the truth of all that Jesus claimed -death could not hold Him.
Thus St Paul says that if Christ had not been raised then our faith would be in vain (1 Cor 15:14).
Nonetheless, our Christians liturgy, signs, monuments, and hymns all draw us to the Cross. Why?

One reason relates to what it shows us of God:
It is the sign of His love;
It is the sign that He is with us in our suffering;
It is the sign that He has sacrificed Himself for our sins;
It is the sign of His victory -by showing us the Cross we see, repeatedly, what He has overcome. The Cross is thus traditionally hailed as “our hope”.

Another reason is what it shows us of ourselves, and, how we are to live:
The definitive characteristic of an authentic Christian is that if we would “follow” (Mt 10:38) Him we must each “take up [our personal] cross”;
Christ crucified on the Cross shows me what it means to love others;
Christ crucified on the cross shows me that I must deny myself if I am to love others;
It is the sign that Christian living involves self-denial, as He lived self-denial;
It is the sign that I must be humble, as He was humble and put others before Himself;
It is the sign that it is only through dying that we can come to new life;
The Cross shows me how to live -following Him.

I want to bring this to an important, but controversial, practical focus for our church building. A proposal that I know will be the most unpopular charge I will propose in my time in this parish:
I would propose that we introduce a crucifix for you to see at Mass.
If you go to our neighbouring church in Wimborne, you will see a large crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar.
If you go to our neighbours in Kinson, you will see an even larger crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar.
But you don't have one to see in our church.
There is one I can see behind you on the back wall; there is a small one I can see here on the altar.
But the 2011 General Instruction of the Roman Missal insists on an image of “Christ crucified” (n.308) that is “clearly visible to the assembled congregation” (c.f. GIRM 117, 122, 306) -and there isn't one currently "clearly visible" for you here.
My proposal to you is that the beautiful large crucifix in the hall, that was originally above the altar when Mass was celebrated there before this church was built, my proposal is that we move that crucifix here into the church, to be on the back wall above the altar.
As you know, I am also proposing to move the tabernacle into the centre of the Church, that Christ might be at the heart of our building. I would like the definitive image of Christ, the crucifix, to also be at the heart of our building.
Sometime over the summer months I hope to get specific sketches and proposals to put to you, and to have a public meeting to discuss various aspects of this. But I want, today, to note one of the reasons for one of the changes I’m proposing:
The cross is our definitive sign as Christians;
Christ upon the Cross is our definitive image of God;
Christ upon the Cross is our definitive image of how we are to live as Christians following Him;
The crucifix is the natural visual focus in a Catholic church.