Sunday, 28 April 2013

5th Sunday of Easter, Year C, Shaftesbury

Rev 21:1-5
I'm going to give a briefer than normal homily today because we have an appeal at the end of Mass and I'm going to ask you to give your time and attention to that. I do, however, want to say a few words about the fact that when we die we do NOT become angels.

As Christians, we believe in the “the resurrection of the dead” as we say every week in the Creed and as we’ll say again in just a few short minutes.
In contrast, you sometimes hear people attempt to offer words of consolation when someone has died and say something like, “Don’t worry, he (or she) is an angel now”. These words seem nice. Seem reassuring. However, they are not true. And, here is an important point: these words are not as reassuring as the truth, namely, that there is a resurrection of the body.

Angels, Scripture tells us, and our Catholic Faith has solemnly defined, are spiritual beings, purely spiritual. They have no body.
We, however, as humans, do have a body. Having a body is part of what we are. We also have a spiritual soul, but what makes us different to the angels is that we have a body. When we die, our body dies, though our spiritual soul lives on. But that is not the end. We receive a new resurrected body. If we have been good and lived with Christ, then that new body is transfigured and glorified like Christ’s resurrected body. We don’t get our old bodies back, but new transfigured bodies.

Our second reading today, and all through Eastertide, is from the book of Revelation. And it describes a series of apocalyptic events that pretty much culminate in the truth we heard in the text today, that there will be “a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth”(Rev 21:1) will disappear. And who will do this? Who will work this change? The Lord of life who Himself rose from death, the one who “sits on the throne”(Rev 21:5). “Through Him all things were made” (Jn 1:3) in the beginning, and through Him all things will be re-made, “Behold, I make all things new”(Rev 21:5).
This is what we celebrate all through Eastertide.

And that making of all things new includes the re-making of our bodies. And that is something better than the angels have.
The Lord Jesus became a man. He has shared our nature. He did not become an angel. He has not shared the nature of angels. As a consequence, we enjoy a greater glory and a greater union with God than that enjoyed by the angels.
And what this means is that “the resurrection of the body” is a much greater thing than becoming an angel.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

4th Sunday of Easter, Year C, Good Shepherd Sunday, Shaftesbury

Jn 10:27-30
Those of us who live in the country, as we do here, sometimes get puzzled by the description we just heard from the Lord Jesus about how sheep know their shepherd’s voice and follow it (Jn 10:27). He made the statement even more explicitly a few verses earlier: “the sheep follow [their shepherd], for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers”(Jn 10:4-5).
Now, such words might fool those city boys in London, who get no closer to sheep than seeing fluffy white dots out a train window. But for you and I who daily walk through the fields here about, we are bound to stop and say, “I’ve seen a lot of sheep in my time. Sheep are stupid. I’ve NEVER seen them recognise a shepherd’s voice” etc.
However, we tend to think this because we actually don’t know sheep as well as we think we do. The way we herd and treat our ENGLISH sheep, in large flocks, rather anonymously, gives them neither motivation nor opportunity to manifest their intelligence. Whereas, in fact, scientific studies have shown that, and I here quote Wikipedia, “Sheep can recognize individual human … faces, and [even] differentiate [human] emotional states, [and] sheep may learn their names and many sheep are trained to be led by halter for showing and other purposes
So, in ancient Palestine, where flocks were smaller, and shepherds had a more intimate relationship with them and slept out in the fields with them to ward off wolves and other predators, in that context what Our Lord was saying would have seemed obvious to those who heard him.

You didn’t think you’d learn all this about sheep when you came to Mass this morning, did you? But I know many modern English people get puzzled by this, so I think it’s worth commenting on. More directly, let me focus this with a question:
Is your relationship to Christ like an English sheep or like those Palestinian sheep that Jesus spoke about?
And the test is whether we recognise the Shepherd’s voice. It is only those who “listen to my voice” that can be said to “belong to” Him (Jn 10:27).

For you to recognise your Shepherd’s voice you have to be CLOSE to Him. You have to live intimately with Him.
You can choose to be part of a large anonymous flock. As such, your intelligence will never be manifested, you’ll never be trained.
or, you can seek to live close to our Lord, intimate with Him.

We hear the voice of what we are intimate with:
If I am intimate with shopping and buying "nice" things, I will hear the voice of greed.
If I am intimate with myself, then like the stupid English sheep, I will just hear my own sheepy voice -it is the voice of selfishness that I will hear.
If I am intimate with the needs of my family members, then it is their inner voice I will hear even before they speak it.
If I am intimate with the needs of others, in general, then the voice of generosity will be readily heard by me -generosity calling me to love more freely, more givingly, more cheerfully. To not love with a slow grudging heart.
And, integrating it all:
If I am intimate with The Lord in His teaching, and in prayer, especially prayer at the start and close of the day, then it is HIS voice I will be able to hear.
And with such intimacy we shall be like trained intelligent Palestinian sheep, hearing and recognising our Shepherd’s voice.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C, Quo Vadis, Shaftesbury

Jn 21:1-19; Acts 5:27-32.40-41
I don’t know if you’ve every wondered what size shoe Jesus takes, but the answer is a size 10, and the reason we know this connects an ancient Tradition with the prophecy in today’s Gospel.
Many of you will be familiar with Domine Quo Vadis account. This isn’t recorded in the Scriptures but we find it written about in a non-canonical source called the Acts of St Peter. It describes how, near the end of St Peter’s life, there was a persecution of the Christians in Rome. And Peter fled. He fled out of the city along the Appia Antica, the ancient road out of the city. And as he was hurrying along he saw the Lord Jesus: Jesus was coming the opposite direction, carrying His cross, heading to Rome. Peter asked Him, ‘Domine Quo Vadis’ [Where are you going Lord?]. To which the Lord answered, ‘I am going to Rome, to be crucified again’. The vision vanished, but left His empty footprints on the rock. Peter was called to fill those empty footprints. Peter knew from this that he was called to return to Rome himself, to suffer and die for the Lord, as the Lord had prophesied so many years previously on the side of the Lake of Galilee. And so Peter died Saint Peter.

The gospel account we heard taught us a lot about St Peter’s call. He was established as the shepherd over the other shepherds: the prince of the apostles. He was called to suffer martyrdom: to be taken where he would rather not go. He was, in all, called, in those final words, to “follow me”.
But, if Jesus called him to so much, what did Jesus ASK him in His questions of him? Only one simple thing. A simple thing that was so important He asked it three times: ‘Do you love me?’

What of us? Do we love Him?
Why should I love Him? Well, the answer to that might lie in why Peter loved Him.

The answer to why Peter loved Him lies, at least in part, with the change that the Resurrection brought about. A change that indicates why it is the RESURRECTION and not only the Cross that is what enables us to carry OUR cross.
Before: Peter was weak, he ran away when Jesus was arrested, he denied Him three times.
After: he was bold, strong, as we heard in the first reading: he was ready to be whipped and suffer for Jesus.
We know that Peter was strong because of Grace, but I think there is another reason:
Peter now knew Jesus in a way that he had only imperfectly known Him before.
Peter had an experience of Him as something more.

Why did Peter love Him?
He knew Him: He knew Him as one who forgave Him: threefold profession = threefold forgiveness
He knew Him as one who loved Him: sought Peter out after the Resurrection
-the Lord didn’t look for a new set of better apostles
He knew Him as a triumphant Lord, risen from death. He knew Him as his God.
He knew Him as the meaning of life.
As Peter had professed previously, when they couldn’t comprehend Jesus’s claim to be the Bread of Life, to feed them with His own flesh. ‘Will you, too, now leave me?’, ‘Lord, to whom would we go, you have the words of eternal life’
He knew Him as one who would provide for him: produced the miraculous catch of fish
-provided for him by His own self as food: fish as food:
Greek word for Christ was fish: Ichthus
-provided for him even if it meant WITH the Cross of suffering to share.
The resurrection made it possible for Peter to love the Lord in a way he had never loved Him before. To follow Him as he had never followed Him before.

These same reasons are why I should love Him. Are why I should accept all the little sufferings, and big sufferings, that my call to follow Him involve. To be good, to be patient, considerate, thoughtful of others, to accept my illnesses and weaknesses, to offer them as a prayer to the Lord.

So, how do I know that Jesus takes a size ten shoe? Because I take a size ten shoe. And, like you, I know that I am called to fill the shoes of the fisherman: to suffer as he suffered. Because, like Him, I know my following of the Lord is founded on that same question, ‘Do you love me?’

The full text of the account in The Acts of St Peter (XXXV):
“And as they considered these things, Xanthippe took knowledge of the counsel of her husband with Agrippa, and sent and showed Peter, that he might depart from Rome. And the rest of the brethren, together with Marcellus, besought him to depart. But Peter said unto them: Shall we be runaways, brethren? and they said to him: Nay, but that thou mayest yet be able to serve the Lord. And he obeyed the brethren's voice and went forth alone, saying: Let none of you come forth with me, but I will go forth alone, having changed the fashion of mine apparel. And as he went forth of the city, he saw the Lord entering into Rome. And when he saw him, he said: Lord, whither goest thou thus (or here)? And the Lord said unto him: I go into Rome to be crucified. And Peter said unto him: Lord, art thou (being) crucified again? He said unto him: Yea, Peter, I am (being) crucified again. And Peter came to himself: and having beheld the Lord ascending up into heaven, he returned to Rome, rejoicing, and glorifying the Lord, for that he said: I am being crucified: the which was about to befall Peter.”
The presence of the Apostle Peter in this area, where he is supposed to have lived, appears to be confirmed in an epigraph in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian that reads Domus Petri (House of Peter). A later epigram by Pope Damasus I (366–384) in honour of Peter and Paul reads: "You that are looking for the names of Peter and Paul, you must know that the saints have lived here." There are two footprints on a marble slab at the centre of the church which are a copy of the original slab that has now been moved to the nearby Basilica of St Sebastian at the catacombs.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Papal Motto and the Divine Mercy, 2nd Sunday of Easter

Jn 20:19-31; Acts 5:12-16
Today we keep what is called “Divine Mercy Sunday”, and I’d like to share a thought about that mercy by drawing on some words of our new Pope Francis. In particular, by thinking of how the Lord LOOKS at us with mercy, because this is the motto of our new Pope.

The new Pope’s motto is “Miserando Atque Eligendo”, the same motto he had as a cardinal. And when it was first announced lots of people attempted to translate that motto as something like, “lowly and chosen”. However, the meaning actually derives from the original context of these words, which are taken from a homily by one of our great English saints, the Venerable Saint Bede, regarding the calling of St. Matthew by Jesus. In the homily St Bede describes how it was that the Lord chose Matthew. The Lord did not look at him and despise him as tax collector, or look at him with anger as a sinner. No. As St Bede says, the Lord "saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: 'Follow me.'
This is how the Lord looks at us, with “eyes of mercy”, and so He chooses us, chooses and calls us to follow Him.
[The Vatican website states: “The motto of His Holiness Francis is taken from a passage of the venerable Bede (Homily 22 on the Feast of Matthew) which reads: ‘Vidit ergo Jesus publicanum, et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi, ‘Sequere me’.’ [Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, 'follow me'.]
or the Catholic News Agency translates the motto as “because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him"]

Pope Francis had a personal experience of this at the tender age of 17. As a Vatican statement as revealed, “Following confession, he [the young future pope] felt his heart touched and he sensed the descent of the Mercy of God, who with a gaze of tender love, called him to religious life”.
Our new Pope, as we all already know, has manifested a life of consistent concern for the poor and outcast, and in his sermon two weeks ago [Palm Sunday] he gave us an insight into how this care for the poor seems to be connected with LOOKING at people with the eyes of God, the “eyes of mercy”. He made a contrast and noted that “in the eyes of the world” there are many “who do not matter”, especially “the humble, the poor, the forgotten”. But, when Jesus came and walked among men, those who were lowly felt great “hope” because they sensed that He looked at them with different “eyes”. “He [Jesus] understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God’s mercy, he has bent down to heal body and soul. ….This is the heart that looks on all of us, watching our illnesses, our sins.”

So, He looks on us and sees “our sins” and “our illness” and our need. And though the “eyes of the world” reject such, He looks with “the eyes of mercy”. And looking at us with such He does not just leave us, but chooses us, calls us to something more.
Today’s Gospel text for this Divine Mercy Sunday is always the text in which we hear Jesus entrust the mission of mercy and forgiveness in the sacrament of confession to the Twelve Apostles, “those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven…”(Jn 20:23). As I said, the young man who has now become Pope experienced the “eyes of mercy” himself after going to confession. Many of us will have had similar experiences of realising how mercifully God looks at us, and had that experience in this same sacrament of mercy.

But, to conclude, there is something that follows: if we have accepted that the Lord has looked at us with “eyes of mercy” then we too need to look at others with such “eyes”. The people we heard about in our first reading hoped that “the shadow of Peter” (Act 12:15) would fall upon them. The merciful shadow of our new Pope, St Peter’s successor, seems destined to fall on those poor and destitute, and to call us to do the same. Showing mercy to others because we have experienced it ourselves.