Sunday, 5 July 2020

Rejoicing to see God Again, 14th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A

Zech 9:9-10, Mt 11:25-30

Today I want to think about us rejoicing when we see someone again, and especially today, when we see God again -here in church.


I saw my parents recently.  I hadn’t been with them for 4 months, in this lockdown.

-we very naturally rejoiced

-we, here in Church, after so long, should naturally rejoice too.

 

Thinking more specifically, our first reading told us to rejoice.

It says:

Rejoice, because He comes (Zech 9:9).

Actually, in our case, it is us who come to Him, for the first time in months.

But the points applies nonetheless

What is He like? This One who comes?

Humble,

            Riding on a donkey -not a BMW, or an ancient chariot

Humility puts others before ourselves.  

And this One who is God, somehow, comes for OUR benefit, not His benefit - to save us, to help us

Then, linking to our Gospel text , 

He calls the “weary and heavy laden”(Mt 11:28).

He takes our yoke and invites us to take His yoke

And what does He offer us, promise us?  He promises:

“Rest”, rest for “the weary”

Well, I am weary of this lockdown, 

weary of this fear, 

weary of this lack of normality 

-He promises rest for my weariness 

 

How do I gain that rest?

By bringing it all to Him.

Not carrying the load alone

In an ancient Palestine yoke there would have been two cows yoked together, side by side 

-so this image implies Him alongside us, 

we don’t carry our weariness alone.

He KNOWS what weariness is like

-tired, walking the country of Palestine

-tired, dealing to endless complaining people 

-weary, in the agony in the garden

-burdened, as He carried our load on the Cross.

He invites us to bring our weariness, 

and be yoked alongside Him.

 

Even humanly, sharing a load, sharing a yoke another, makes it so much easier.

Even humanly, for many of us, a phone call, a video call, has made this lockdown easier.

Even more so when the one we are ‘yoking to’ understands us not partially but FULLY

Loves us not partially but FULLY

 

Today in our nation there are many thing to rejoice in:

The pubs are open!

We might also rejoice in seeing other parishioners today -which is a true cause to rejoice.

But, I’d suggest to you, the DEEPEST reason to rejoice today is that we are here again WITH GOD.

Rejoice, your saviour comes to you

-and, once again, after so long, we can come to Him.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Fear amidst the Virus, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A


Mt 10:26-33

Today I want to speak about fear, because fear has become a big thing amidst the current crisis.

And today, in the gospel, we heard the Lord Jesus say some important words about fear.

 

Our context, for many, is a context of fear:

The media have, it seems to me, often revelled in daily updates of deaths and strategic disasters.

The broader context, even if the media are revelling in disaster-reporting, the broader context is undeniably one of uncertainty on a range of issues:

How does the virus spread? Who is most affected? Why? Can the government, or we, really do much about it?

Uncertainty can easily breed fear.

 

What does the Lord Jesus say?

“Do not be afraid” (Mt 10:26,28,31) -which he says 3 time sin this short passage!

Let’s start there: He tells us not to fear.

We know, from recent experience and longer experience, that fear is a crippling thing, a thing that makes you shrink in on yourself and do nothing.

Fear destroys us, SPIRITUALLY, even if it’s a reaction to the possibility of  a real PHYSICAL destruction.

The Lord tells is not to fear.

 

More specifically, He focuses us:

Don’t fear those who can destroy the body, but can not touch the soul.

We need, He is saying, to get our priorities right -and if we do this it TRANSFORMS fear.

We need to think more broadly, more deeply.

 

The important thing to fear, is, the salvation of our soul.

Our soul lasts for eternity, whereas our body will not -the virus, or food poisoning, or SOMETHING will kill the body.

The soul is what really matters.

 

In the matter of our soul, as with our body, the remedy to fear is, ultimately, TRUST.

If we have someone we can trust, trust to aid us against what we fear, then we have no need to fear.

And, the key point:

The Lord tells us that there IS someone we can trust:

Trust in the ultimate issue of our soul, 

and trust, in another way, for the body.

God knows us, and He cares.

“Every hair on your head has been counted.  There is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Mt 10:31).

Regarding the soul:

We need to live in humility, in trust, in seeking forgiveness -even if we have lived badly, we can die well if we die calling out to God for forgiveness, like the thief who hung by the Lord in the Cross.

Regarding the body:

God doesn’t promise a life free of problems.  In fact, He warns us elsewhere, “In the world you WILL have tribulation”.

But He also tells us that He has conquered.

He also tells us He cares,

that He directs and guides and strengthens us, even amidst the tribulations.

 

And fear?

Well, yes, fear is a real thing.

Most us fear, at least at times, and many of us have feared at different times in recent months.

But, to repeat and conclude, the remedy for fear is trust.

His teaching TELLS us to trust;

His own life in earth has SHOWN us reason to trust.

God cares for the lilies of the fear and the birds in the sky,

“So there is no need to be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Mt 10:31)

 

 

 

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Absence from the Lord making our love grow stronger? Corpus Christi, Year A





Deut 8:2-3,14-16; Jn 6:51-58
We all know the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.
Today, I’d like to consider the saying with respect to the Holy Eucharist, because for almost all of us, we’ve been deprived of the Eucharist for 3 months now.
In that time, has our Eucharistic Lord GROWN in importance in our lives, or diminished?
Because there is also another saying, "Out of sight, out of mind".

I want to start by acknowledging the hard reality, namely, that it would be easy for Our Lord to have diminished in our minds:
If you’ve not been as physically close to Him,
If you’ve not been able to attend Holy Mass,
If you’ve not been able to receive Holy Communion
Then,
It would be easy for Him to drift out of your mind, your life, your soul.
Sadly, there will be some Catholics who will never come back.

In contrast, I am aware, there are many for whom being deprived of our Eucharistic Lord has done the reverse:
It’s made you realise what a treasure His Presence is;
It made you yearn for Him MORE.
But, I would suggest to you, that even if you THINK that you’re in this second category, it might be worth examining ourselves on this point:
HOW deeply true is it?
Have I enjoyed Sunday mornings without Mass?
Has the comfort and ease of doing less become a habit.

Let’s think Scripturally for a minute.
In our first reading today, Year A in the cycle, we heard words of Moses addresses to the people.
He was speaking to them about their time wandering in the desert.
He told them how the Lord had tested and tried them.
The Lord tested and tried them in order to make them FEEL their need of Him:
“He humbled you, He made you feel hunger”(Deut 8:3).
For many in our society today, this whole crisis has done something similar, has made us revaluate our priorities.
What is the TRUE bread we need?
What are the things that REALLY matter in life?
Is it the money we’ve lost?
Is it the shopping at H&M or M&S that has been denied us these months?
Or, is it the Lord? Is being deprived of Him, in the Eucharist, the most vital thing these past months?

Back to our scripture text:
After Moses referred to the fact the people had been tested, He reminded them that God didn’t just test them, rather, after the testing, in the midst of the testing:
“He fed you
with manna that neither you nor your fathers had known.”(Deut 8:3)
And the conclusion of this testing and feeding?
“To make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3).

This has been a hard time for our nation,
and it isn’t over yet.
But, our Faith promises us,
and words from many of you have told me,
The Lord has sustained us though this,
and WILL sustain us through this.
He has fed us in other ways,
though feeding us in a way that will hopefully have had us YEARN for Him even more fully in that COMPLETE Presence and food that is HIM:
“The bread I shall give you is my flesh, for the LIFE of the world”(Jn 6:51).

To conclude, we are slowly emerging from the lockdown.
The church, some churches, will be re-opening for prayer, at least partially this week.
Has our absence made our hearts grow stronger?
Let us resolve that it will be so.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Lockdown and the Trinity





There are many things that can be said about the Trinity, but there is one that I feel very aware of at the moment:
the issue of community.

During the lockdown, that we’ve lived through these past few months,
we’ve all suffered from a LACK of human CONTACT.
Some of us, totally alone.
Some of us, see people at work, but not our normal SOCIAL circles, and not our normal FAMILY circles.
I’ve experienced that, and I know through many phone calls with you, you’ve all experienced that too.

In point I want to make is twofold:
First, this experience of the LACK of human contact,
has shown us just how DEEPLY human contact is NECESSARY to us.
We, as humans, are built for community, made for love.
As it says in the Creation account, It was not good for man to be alone 9gen 2:18).
There are hermits, alone in caves;
there are celibates, consecrated in the single life, like myself
-but these are exceptions to the norm,
and they exist as a sacrifice, to serve the wider community.
Man is made for community, made for human contact.

My second, point, this Trinity Sunday, is that this shows us something about the nature of God Himself.
The Bible tells us that man is made in “the image of God”(Gen 1:27).

So, let’s think of the Triune God:
He is not alone.
He exists always as three persons:
As our Faith teaches us about Jesus Christ, the one eternal Word, the eternal Son of the Father,
"there was never a time when He [the Son] was not".
And likewise with the Holy Spirit.
And these three persons exist in an ETERNAL RELATIONSHIP of love.
Such that God can never be ALONE in Himself, never be lonely.
Each of those persons is ALWAYS in relationship and HAS ALWAYS BEEN in relationship.

WE are made in that image.
Our lockdown experience of needing human contact, is, in reality, just a TASTE of how deeply the Triune image is imbedded in our nature.

And, maybe, this can be a lasting gift of the lockdown to us:
Our society, for decades, has been increasingly individualistic,
increasing thinking of people as if the community didn’t matter
-the OTHER didn’t matter.
The lockdown has taught us the opposite, in a rather brutal lesson.
Our nation has, during this, witnessed an incredible community spirit:
people getting groceries for neighbours they didn’t even know the names of before;
people willing to accept lockdown restrictions for the sake of the COMMON good.

When the lockdown lifts, the risk is that we go back to before.
Let us, as Christians, resolve that that won’t be true of us.
And, specifically, let’s accept this as a little glimpse of the image of God, the image of the Trinity within us.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Faith Movement: Christ, Eternal High Priest





Today I’ve been asked to offer Mass for the Faith Movement,
as the first of a series of such Faith Masses,
to seek to spiritually hold us together
when the lockdown has been keeping people very physically separated.
Today is the feast of ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Eternal High Priest’,
A feast so new that it’s not in your ‘new’ 2011 Missals.
And as soon as I thought of this feast,
I thought how it seems to parallel MY existence this past months.
And, in another way, teaches an important part of the laity’s role in this lockdown.

The Lord Jesus is our High Priest, away in heaven, offering sacrifice for us.
I, as a priest in the lockdown, have been away from my people for over 2 months.
But I’ve still been praying for my people,
I’ve still been offering the sacrifice of the Mass for my people.
And you, in Faith, are hopefully aware that we are Faith priests
keep you very much in our pastoral focus,
in our concerns, in our prayers, in our offerings.
We’ve been offering sacrifice for you,
even when physically isolated in the lockdown.
It would be EASY TO THINK that that isn’t really very important, b
ut today’s feast reminds us that IT IS.
It’s important that sacrifice is offered for the people.
Sacrifice needs to be offered for a number of reasons.

First, to glorify God.
The world was made to give glory to God (CCC 293).
Man in particular, glorifies Him, in a way the plants and animals cannot:
The glory WE are called to offer Him is that of rational beings,
of beings who can love,
of beings who can CHOOSE to offer themselves back to Him who gave them life.
The worship and glory we offer, sadly, is far from adequate.
But, in Christ, the Word made flesh, there is one who can, as one of us, offer fitting glory to the Father.

Second, to offer sacrifice for sin.
The Lord Jesus, the eternal Word of the Father, has taken flesh and made Himself a sacrifice for sin.
To quote Revelation, He is the sacrificial Lamb who forever stands as if slain, (Rev 5:6),
offering Himself for us.

Third, to intercede for the people.
Again, our intercessory prayers, like our worship and our reparation, are not adequate:
We forget to pray for others,
We are half-hearted when we pray for others.
In today’s feast we recall that there is One who does not forget,
who is not halfhearted,
who is totally committed to the cause of being our priest.

In the Bible, we read of the importance of the role of prayer,
of sacrifice,
of the priest.
When Moses and Aaron interceded for the people, great things happened:
The waters of the Red Sea parted;
The Israelites were victorious in battle against the Amalekites who would have wiped them out;
And, when the anger of God was such that He would have destroyed the people He had rescued from Egypt because of their fickleness and sin, the priestly prayer of Moses spared them.

We know of priesthood in our state of sin and fallenness:
We are weak;
We need someone to speak out FOR us.
As part of the Faith Movement,
we might well speculate that our human nature,
as social beings,
would still have called for us to have a representative,
a ‘priest’ to sacrifice for us
-priesthood isn’t just about sin.


There is one in heaven who intercedes for us continually, Christ our Eternal High Priest.
But,
Today’s feast day ISN”T JUST about Him, alone in heaven.
Rather,
There are two other aspects:
First, The ministerial priesthood, sharing in His sacrificial role.
As I started by referring to us isolated lockdown priests doing for you.
Second, the common priesthood of the faithful.
The laity also, truly, are called upon to share in this role
of priestly intercession,
for the needs of the world,
Of priestly worship,
being that part of God’s creation that can offer Him rational loving praise.

When you can’t get to Mass,
When you can’t get to confession,
When you can’t join with others in worship, physically,
You CAN unite yourself spiritually.

The image of The Lord Jesus, AWAY from us as our priest in heaven,
Away from us,
yet one we are called to unite ourselves to,
This is an image that can remind us of the value of what we do
-even in the lockdown.
A priestly people,
uniting themselves with Him,
even when He and His sacraments seem far away.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Our Lady and the Holy Spirit, Pentecost in May





This is one of my last sermons in West Moors, my last May-time sermon here and my last Pentecost-sermon here, so I want to return to a favourite topic of mine: the relationship between Our Lady and the Holy Spirit
-but I’m going to say some different things about that than you’ve heard me say before.
Our Lady, as you know, has as one of her titles, the ‘Spouse of the Holy Spirit’, and she shows us how to live in relationship with the Holy Spirit.

To many people, the Holy Spirit can seem a little remote and odd, pictured as DOVE not as a person.
But, though He’s difficult to picture, He is easy to recognise in his EFFECTS:
Scripture tells us of 12 FRUITS the Holy Spirit produces in those who allow Him to enter their hearts. Among these are peace, joy, patience, and love/charity (Gal 5:22, also: self-control, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity, modesty, chastity cf CCC 1832).

But, maybe, even those things can seem a little vague and abstract.
So, let’s turn to Our Lady, because in her we see these things in their perfection:
She had patience and peace –she endured the foot of the Cross.
She had joy –the Magnificat.
She had charity –when she heard she was to be pregnant and that her cousin already was, she didn’t think of her own needs but she went straight to go and care for her cousin Elizabeth.

But these things in the life of Our Lady didn’t spring from nowhere, they sprang from her unique relationship with the Holy Spirit.
At the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel said ‘the Holy Spirit will overshadow you’ –and she was filled.
At the Visitation to Elizabeth, the babe in her cousin’s womb leapt ‘filled with the Spirit’ when it sensed Our Lady’s presence (bearing The Child within her).
At the Cross, when, the Spirit was breathed forth by Christ as He died on the Cross, it was there that she was.
[At the Res’n appearances, when the Risen Lord showed His wounds and breathed forth His Holy Spirit again.]
At Pentecost, when the Apostles panicked and were in fear, we read that it was around HER that they gathered waiting for the HS to come.

WE often do not feel the Holy Spirit.
WE often can think He is distant or vague.
We can hear of His peace and His joy and His patience, but these seem far away.
Who can we turn to to find Him? Our Lady.
Two things in her example:
(i) She was docile to the Will of God,
and so the Holy Spirit found room to dwell in her heart.
If we are docile, rather than being filled with ourselves, then Holy Spirit can dwell in us.
(ii) She prayed.
Scripture repeatedly refers to her contemplative nature, ‘she pondered all these things in her heart’.
And it was around her prayer that Pentecost occurred.
So we too must pray if Holy Spirit is to come.

MORE THAN HER EXAMPLE, she is the Mother in heaven that Jesus has assigned to watch over me, and watch over you.
The saints repeatedly teach that whatever she asks of God, God grants. ‘He denies her not.’
Why?
Because while she was on earth she was sinless, she denied Him not.
So, she is a powerful Mother to care for me, a care for you.

I want the gifts of the HS.
I want the fruits of the HS to be manifested in my life.
But, by myself, I don’t know how.
He can seem strange to me.
Those gifts were manifested before:
in the life of the sinless Virgin, our Mother.
She can ask for a fresh outpouring of HS into my heart.
She can ask for me to be aided in removing the obstacles to the Holy Spirit in my life.
And, if we turn to her,
if we entrust ourselves to her in this month of May,
then those fruits of the Holy Spirit can be ours too.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Ascension, Year A





There are three truths that we are called to remember on the feast of the Ascension: Christ has gone before us to Heaven; Christ yet remains with us; and, as the liturgy phrases it: “Where He has gone, we hope to follow”.

That Christ has GONE is the most self-evident of these truths: even a person without faith can tell that He is not with us as He was originally with the 12 two thousand years ago.

The fact that He REMAINS with us even though He has gone is, without doubt, a more subtle truth. A truth that can only be known by faith, and by ‘faith’ I don’t mean a vague feeling but I mean that definite response in our will and intellect to what He has told us and promised us. He promised us, as we just heard, “Lo, I am with you always, yes, till the end of time” (Mt 28:20). This He promised, and so this we know must be true –even if it cannot be seen as easily as the visibility of His absence.

We heard in our first reading, from Acts, about His promise to send us His Holy Spirit, and it is by means of that Spirit that He is present in His other ways. But He is present also, at the physical tangible levels we know as Catholics, like the sacraments. That’s why we just heard how Christ sent out His Apostles.
Christ said that He had all authority, and He gave that authority to His Apostles. Why? So that they might take HIM, make HIM, present to all the nations.
That’s why He’d promised to be present by means of His apostles, His Apostles of whom He had said, “He who hears you, hears me”. His Apostles to whom He had given the command to celebrate the Mass, “Do this in memory of me…”, to whom He had given His mercy in saying, “Those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them…”, and, as we just heard, He commanded to go forth and baptise the nations.

When I want to find Christ present today, I can look to His tabernacle.
When I want to find His forgiveness today, I go to a priest in Confession.
Christ IS with us.
And He is with us in a physical, tangible way.
As the Easter hymn sings, “Though we see his face no more, He is with us as before”.

The third and last truth I mentioned, “Where He has gone, we hope to follow”.
This truth is the REASON behind the other truths. He has gone, “to prepare a place for” us. He remains, to lead us there. We cannot get there alone, unaided, we need His presence on the way.

And we cannot even know WHICH way is the way UNLESS He is with us to teach us.
Which is why He commanded His Apostles to teach, why they appointed bishops to teach, and why they all know that it is not their own word they must teach, but HIS. Because otherwise it is not the way to HIM. Because what they must make present is not themselves, but Him. “Teach them to observe all I commanded you”, He said, because that teaching is a pivotal part of how He remains with us on the way.

The commands, the life of virtue, this is HOW we get there.
But WHERE we are going this, too we need to be taught. Until He comes in glory, we can only know of the greatness of the place He has gone by hearing the repetition of the words and teaching of what He spoke of: Heaven is beyond the grasp of our unaided mind, and so we need Him to tell us of it, tell us of the place, “eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what God has ready for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9).

On this feast of the Ascension, this is what we recall: He is gone; He remains with us to lead us there; we hope to follow.