Sunday, 20 October 2013
Who do we turn to when we have problems?
Mum? Dad? A trusted friend? Ourselves?
Today's first reading and gospel remind us that we should turn to God, especially in prayer, when we have problems. In our first reading we heard how the Chosen People were in peril in battle against the fearsome Amalakites, but then prayer of Moses was powerful enabling them to triumph.
Our gospel text, however, closed with what might seem a puzzling text, with the Lord Jesus suddenly talking about the End of the World. To make sense of that, we need to know the verses that preceded this section: It describes Jesus warning His disciples about the trials and tribulations that will come at the end of time.
And, how then are they to behave in the build up to that time? That is the question today's Gospel text addresses: in the midst of those trials, they are to pray continually and not lose heart.
So, when the Lord closes this passage by lamenting that few people will actually respond with faith when the Son of Man comes, it's a tragic comment that even in the midst of difficulties, even when it should be all the clearer to us that we need to pray and call on God's help rather than feebly replying on our own strength, EVEN THEN few people will respond in prayer.
For example, if I've had a tough week this week, at what stage did I bring that to God in prayer? Did I wait till I'd sorted the problem, wait till I had 'time' for God, and only then come to Him?
I was thinking about this from another angle this week, reading a newspaper article about the declining living standards in Britain. It was something that some old school friends and I talked about when we were at our annual get-together (about half a dozen of us met up once a year), the hard fact that our living standards will be less than those enjoyed by our parents: only being able to afford to live in smaller houses than an older generation when houses were cheaper; higher fuel costs, and so forth –I know that I’m cushioned from much of this myself because I live in the Church’s property, and don’t pay the fuel bills.
But I also know that such worries beset many members of this congregation.
Well, at what stage do we turn TO GOD in our worries? Do we only 'find time for God' when things are sorted already? Do we only get to Sunday Mass when life is easy and steady and we 'have the time'?
Or, do we turn to Him 'constantly, and never lose heart' (Lk 18:1) -as we heard Him say in today's Gospel text.
The point is this: we NEED God ALL the time, and we must pray to Him continually, and go to Mass each and EVERY Sunday.
The danger is that we live as if we were, by behaviour, functional atheists: we live as if God didn't really exist, as if we didn't really depend on Him, as if whatever we do in our problems (and we ALWAYS have problems in 'this vale of tears') depends on us rather than depends on HIM!
To close by returning to our Lord's point in the gospel: even at the End of the World, even when the trials and catastrophes that accompany it are falling down, even then people will be failing to turn to Him in their need, 'When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?'(Lk 18:8)
Yet, He is worth having us put our faith in Him. He is kind, and caring, and listening, and, if we bring Him our needs, then, as we heard the Lord promise, "He will have justice done for [us], and done speedily" (Lk 18:8).
Sunday, 13 October 2013
People often wonder if God still does anything, still works miracles, is still active in people's lives.
We read in the Bible of Him doing great things. So, for example, our first reading described the healing of the leper Naaman by the prophet Elisha. While our Gospel text described the healing of ten lepers.
But, is the Lord unable or unwilling to work His power in OUR age as He did in the past?
To phrase this Scripturally, because it actually an old question that gets asked in pretty much every age, "Is the arm of the Lord shortened?" (Isa 59:1; Num 11:23). Does He not reach as far as He used to?
Today, Pope Francis is doing something that should remind us of the power of God still today. As you've no doubt heard me say repeatedly by now, today the Pope is consecrating the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, before the statue of our Lady of Fatima, a statue he's had specially brought to Rome from the sanctuary in Portugal. You may recall, too, that just after he was elected Pope, he had his papacy dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima by the bishop there.
But what is Fatima all about, and why should it matter to us?
Fatima is one of those many places where God has manifested His power in a mighty fashion, and here, as in similarly many occasions, here He manifested that power through the hand of our Blessed Mother & His.
In the year 1917 three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francesco, aged 10, 9, and 8, in the remote village of Fatima in Portugal claimed to have seen a vision of Our Lady. For a long time their families called them liars, the parish priest doubted them, the local mayor (in a violently anti-Catholic government) arrested them and threatened to boil them in oil unless they denied it. But on the 13th day of six consecutive months ever-increasing crowds came to see the children as they had their visions. The apparition promised that on the 13th of October, the anniversary of which is today, a miracle would be worked in public. 70,000 people came that day, most believers, but many came to scoff, and secular journalists came to report what they presumed would be a disappointed crowd. Yet, it is those journalists who give us some of most dramatic accounts of what they all saw, 'the miracle of the sun', which is described in more detail in the parish newsletter, and even more detail at www.fatima.co.uk Some people today have tried to claim this was just a mass-hallucination, yet never in human history has there been such a well-documented miracle, and never have such a mixture of unbelievers and believers had the same "hallucination".
To me, however, the real miracle of Fatima was not the sun, or the healings of the sick and crippled, but the prophecies that Our Lady gave, prophecies of the horrors that would be unleashed on the world during the 20th Century. We think of the two world wars. But we are less likely to be aware of the 27 million Christians martyrs killed last century, more than twice the number in all the previous 19 centuries put together, whose accounts Blessed John Paul II documented at the end of that century (see online link to Vatican website). All that human and Christian suffering was foretold in those visions at Fatima.
But, and this is the point, it was not foretold in some passive unavoidable way, but as a warning, with a remedy that, if followed, could have prevented much if not all of it. That remedy was prayer (especially daily Rosary), penance, and to entrust ourselves to her Immaculate Heart. That remedy was followed by many, and Pope John Paul II, as indicated in the parish newsletter insert, attributed his being spared in the assassination attempt of 1981, to Our Lady. Her hand guided the bullet and spared his life, he said.
And the point is this, as Cardinal Ratzinger is quoted in the newsletter saying: prayer changes the course of history.
And it can change the course of my life, and your life.
If we entrust ourselves to our heavenly Mother, and entrust and consecrate our suffering world to her Immaculate Heart, in union with the consecration the Pope in making on our behalf this very day.
"Is the arm of the Lord shortened?" No.
Yes, we have difficulties. Yes, we have fears.
But if we bring those to her, she will not let us down.
"Be not afraid", said Pope John Paul II as his repeated refrain, citing the words of our Lord when He had Risen and had shown His power over death itself.
And when we come to her, we have one who can save us from whatever would make us fear without her.
Sunday, 6 October 2013
There are many things I don’t know about you, this congregation, but there is one thing I am certain about: none of you has ever said to a mulberry tree: “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”(Lk 17:6) and had it obey you.
Now, rather than let that discourage you, discourage you because you just heard the Lord Jesus referring to doing just that, let me remind you of what I pointed out three years ago when commenting on this text:
None of the saints down the ages have ever done this, none of the apostles ever did this, and not even Jesus did this.
The Lord Jesus is speaking about the ability of faith to achieve great things. He says this in a particular context, however, and His apostles are asking for an ‘increase’ in faith in this particular context: the context (not read to us today, but in the preceding verses), the context of difficulty of forgiving. Jesus had just taught His disciples that they must each forgive their brother not just once but seven times a day: as often as he turns to you repentant asking your forgiveness.
And I know there are times in my life when I would rather cast mulberry trees into the sea than forgive someone who has wronged me in the very same away as he has kept doing before.
This is a GREAT thing to do, and yet, in another sense, Jesus seems to be referring to it just a necessary thing to do, “we are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty”(Lk 17:19).
There are many things that can be a struggle, a mighty thing to do in fulfilling the basic requirements of being good. Sometimes just responding to the alarm clock to give God yet another day can seem like a MIGHTY deed (giving Him the ‘day’ isn’t half as difficult as just giving Him the first minute!).
To come back to the apostles’ request, their request in what would seem to the face of a difficult challenge, what did they ask for? An increase in love? In hope? No. interestingly, they asked for faith: “Increase our faith”(Lk 17:5).
Often, it is my lack of Christian faith that makes it hard for me to love, hard to do good, hard to be patient.
For example, when the Faith reminds me that this difficult person in front of me is made in God’s image, that God loves him, that even if he is a sinner he a sinner LIKE ME, when the Faith reminds me of such things I am enabled to do good in a way that I struggle to when I lose sight of what the Faith shows me.
Pope Francis, in his first encyclical earlier this year, on 'The Light of Faith', speaks about how faith changes how we look at the world. He speaks about how 'the eyes of faith' (Pope Francis, The Light of Faith (2013), nn.30; 60) change how we see things. But he speaks also of the lack of faith in our modern society, about how people have lost the sense that God is present, and active, and doing things in their lives. That's why I'm having a series of talks this Autumn reminding us of the reverse, of how God is present. And this Wednesday’s talk will focus on how He speaks to us.
Much of the time we look out on the world, and we look out on people, and we fail to see it as God see it, and fail to love it as God loves it. If our Faith is stronger, if we see the world as God has shown it to us in Scripture and in His own dear Son, then we are empowered to relate to it differently. So, to use that phrase in our second reading, we need to “fan into a flame” (2 Tim 1:6) that gift of faith we each have. Some of us think we have pretty strong faith, some of us feel that it is weak, but faith is a response to what God has shown us, and if we are here at all we are responding, and so we must have some little bit of faith at least.
So, whatever we’re struggling to do, let’s ask to see the world as God sees it, as He’s shown it, and ask Him, “Lord, increase our faith!”