Sunday, 31 July 2011

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 14:13-21; Rom 8:35.37-39
This week I've had a problem, and five days I've fretted about it, it was something that I had to do for God, and for the parish, but I couldn't see HOW to achieve it.
Then, suddenly, I remembered to turn to the Lord about it
-not just rely on my own power
-not act FOR Him but by myself
-but, asking Him to help.
And, instantly, my problem was solved.

Now, we ALL have problems, and today's gospel of the feeding of the 5000 shows us how to address them. I want to take you through this by thinking about a ‘who’, a ‘what’, and a ‘how’.

First, ‘who’ -who must we turn to when we have a problem. Obviously, I'm going to say that we need to turn to the Lord. And yet, if it is so obvious, why is it that we so easily and so often FORGET to turn to Him?
In the feeding of the 5000 the Apostles realised that they had a problem, realised that the people were hungry. They also realised that they needed to turn to the Lord Jesus for a solution to their problem. And Jesus did solve their problem.

Second, ‘what’ -what we must we do when we have a problem. It is not enough simply to say to turn to the Lord, it is not enough simply to turn to the Lord in prayer. I'd suggest to you that the example in today's gospel points out to us that we need turn to the Lord in activity AS WELL AS in prayer: the Apostles brought what they had to Jesus, they brought the five loaves and two fish, they didn't just say we have a problem, rather, they said they had a problem AND they offered what they had TOWARDS a solution, they offered it to God.
Similarly, in our struggles and difficulties we need to not only pray to God, we also need to bring our efforts, our talents, our plans, our everything -we need to bring it to God.
Turning to God for help does not mean failing to use the ‘talents’ that He is given us, rather, turning to God is about the proper way of using the talents He has given us.
We might take another example from the Mass itself, from what we will do in just a few moments: we will bring forward the bread and wine, our offerings, which are symbols of the offering of our whole lives and talents and plans, and He will transform that offering into something we could hardly have imagined: His very self in the Eucharist.

Finally, ‘how’ -how God helps us. I want to point out that God does not always help us in the way that we expect, the way we plan, and sometimes not even in the way we want –but He does help us.
When the Apostles brought the five loaves and two fish to Jesus I very much doubt that they were expecting Him to do something He had never done before, namely, I very much doubt they were expecting Him to suddenly multiply food to feed the 5000. They knew enough to bring the problem to Him, but surely couldn't have known HOW He would resolve it. This, I would suggest to you, is a good illustration of the fact that we never know how He will resolve the problems we bring to Him.
But, we know that He will resolve our problems, and will do so in abundance, just as He not only fed the 5000 but fed them so much that there were "12 baskets full" left over.
He is a good God, He cares for us, He has the power to aid us, and the Church gives us the account of the feeding of the 5000 as one of so many examples of how He has done so in the past, and will do so in the future -if we just bring to Him our problems.

As we heard St Paul remind us in our second reading, though we do have problems these are not things that separate us from the Lord but are the trials in which He will aid us:
"Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are troubled or worried... or lacking food or clothes... For I am sure of this: ...nothing can come... Between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Rom 8:35-39)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 13:44-52; 1 Kgs 3:5-12
If you're wondering where I was last week, I was on holiday in Wales, and had a nice summer break.
While I was on holiday I visited an abbey of Cistercian nuns at Whitland, and while they showed me around the abbey I was very struck by the simplicity, the holy poverty of their setup. And it reminded me of the poverty I’ve seen lived by so many Religious in other places too. 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 Religious is that they are the happiest people I know -to live in Holy Poverty does not bring misery but rather brings happiness.

Those who live what we call "Religious Life”, taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as 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).

As I said, 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? The growth in freedom to love that is enabled by holy poverty, that is enabled by voluntarily choosing to detach ourselves from the things of this world, and the growth in interior joy that accompanies the growth in love, these things can be something we aspire to in our daily living EVEN IF we are not called to the vowed life of the monk or nun.
In everything I possess I need to continually 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 in every priority I establish in my life, 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 the 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 us 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, 17 July 2011

17th July 2011

There is no sermon this week because Fr Dylan is on holiday

Sunday, 10 July 2011

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 13:1-23; Rom 8:18-23; Isa 55:10-11
We just heard the parable of the sower, and the parable of the sower is one that most of us probably think that we know so well that we don't really need to listen to it at all -which is kind of ironic because the parable is all about people not listening!
Yet, if someone asked you WHY, in that parable, why it was that Jesus said that people didn't listen, I suspect most of us wouldn't know the answer.

The Lord Jesus gave His various detailed descriptions of how people failed to respond to the Word of God, failed to properly listen, like saying that thorns choking the growing seed are like the worries and riches of this world choking the Word,
however, preceding all of these detailed descriptions He gave a more fundamental reason why the people failed to hear:
they didn't WANT to hear
and the reason they didn't want to hear is that they were AFRAID.
They didn’t listen “for fear they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart"(Mt 15:13 quoting Isa 6:10).

Now fear might strike us at first glance as an unlikely reason why we should fail to listen to the word of God.
And yet the more I have been pondering this issue this week the more it seems to me that, dare I say it, I think the Lord Jesus is right!
Because there are many things I can see within myself that make me wary, make me fearful of truly being open to hear the Word of God.

The basic reason why we don't wish to hear the Word of God is that what He has to tell us may involve change, “fear [that they] be converted"(Mt 15:13).
Some of us may feel that our life is uncertain enough already, that we have enough burdensome difficulties already, that I'm only just about hanging on, and the last thing I need right now is to hear God telling me something MORE that I need to be doing.
Others of us might feel the reverse, that our life is pretty good right now and I don't want anything to disturb it, so I don't want God telling me something that might unsettle that.
And of course, many of us feel that although we are not perfect we are pretty much content to stay the mediocre selves that we are, so, again, we don't want God telling us something that will inconveniently stretch us to be something more.

But surely, haven’t we already heard and seen enough of the truths of the Gospel, enough to realise that God wants what is ultimately for our good, so that we should trust Him, trust Him enough to listen to what His Word is telling us?
Whatever "something more" that the Lord is asking me, it is only with the promise of an even greater "something more" that He will offer me terms of the grace and strength to carry it out, and the reward of a hundredfold (Mt 13:23) for doing so.
The words of the Lord Jesus that we heard said that the Word is preached to us that we might "be converted" but not merely that we might be converted but "be converted and be HEALED by me”(Mt 15:13) -this is for our benefit not merely for our obligation.

In our second reading, from St Paul to the Romans, we heard another reminder of how God is seeking what is for our good. St Paul spoke about the "glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us"(Rom 8:18), glory so great that "all creation is eagerly waiting" for its revealing.
And yet, we “fear”, we fear to trust God enough to listen to what His Word is calling from us.
If, instead, we listen: in prayer, in regular reading of the Bible, in attentiveness in the Mass, then that small seed will produce a great reward of the hundredfold (Mt 13:23) within us.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

14th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 11:25-30
I’m going to be brief today –because we have an appeal at the end of Mass and I know that your time is limited.

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 are 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)