Sunday, 28 February 2016
What would you say if someone asked you whether you had met God?
As a priest, this is question I sometimes get put me by random strangers, sometimes on a train station platform, or in a pub. Quite how I start my reply depends on the questioner, whether he is hostile or curious, whether he looks ready for a long conversation or just a one-liner.
The answer, of course, is that I met God every day, and that I meet Him in many different forms. I meet Him in the love of neighbour, I meet Him in prayer, I meet Him in sacraments. I meet Him in unexpected acts of goodness I receive, that remind me that there is a source to all goodness. And, almost in reverse, I meet Him unexpected events that bring me low, sometimes in sickness, when my weakness and smallness reminds me that there is One Who is great and strong.
But when people ask, “Have you met God?”, what they usually are thinking of is something like the drama of what we heard in our first reading, of how God spoke to Moses in the burning bush. And my reply to that line of query would be twofold.
First, ordinary people having mystical experiences is more common than people are often willing to publically talk about. (Cardinal Newman once said, much is lost by people keeping their personal experiences of the divine to themselves.)
Second, this said, it is not in the strange and unusual that we should look for God. The Bible records many such occurrences. But even in the Bible the texts repeatedly make clear that although God only very occasionally makes dramatic appearances, He is with them ALL the time, even in the undramatic parts of our lives.
One of the messages of the scriptures is that God is active, God is near, it is HIS world, and He is with us all the time -the tragedy is that so often we are not aware of Him.
How then are we to become more aware of Him in the everyday?
It is, above all else, in moments of PRAYER that we can encounter Him, and carry that encounter into the rest of our lives, so that we then recognise Him in the other moments of our lives.
Pope Francis speaks often about the need to “encounter” the Lord; about how the apostles experience great “joy” when they encountered the Lord (Evangelii Gaudium n.13).
There is one place, in particular, that the Lord has chosen to make Himself present to us, and that is in the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament upon our altars.
This week, between Friday evening and Saturday evening, Pope Francis has called for many churches across the world to be open all through the night, for there to be, “24 Hours for the Lord”. Our church will be one of those churches. We’ll start with 7pm Stations of the Cross Friday night and close just before the Saturday evening vigil Mass. In between there will be continual Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament: the consecrated host (that was once bread and has been changed by His very words into His Body, His very self) will be raised for display on the altar that we might gaze upon Him and Adore Him.
Pope Francis is offering this opportunity to the Church as a specific gift for the Year of Mercy.
The Pope wants us to encounter the Lord here, the merciful Saviour.
This is a special opportunity, so can I ask you to please come. We need people to cover all the hours of the night. After Mass Louisa Preston will be taking the names of volunteers to cover each of the hour slots from 8pm Friday to the following Saturday 5pm.
Pope Francis, as is his pattern, is also asking us to look outside and invite others to this encounter. So we also need other volunteers to stand outside and offer a prayer card and leaflet to shoppers walking by inviting them to come in, say a prayer, and light a candle. If you can cover an hour slot during Saturday, then please tell Louisa.
To return to where I began, “Have you met God?” Many us of have had mystical experiences of meeting the Lord, but this, really, isn’t the point. The point is that we can ALL meet Him, in prayer, especially in the Eucharist, and that meeting Him here enables us to see Him everywhere else.
Sunday, 21 February 2016
Recently I came home to find that someone had put a leaflet through my front door advertising a slimming program. At first I wondered if someone has chosen me specifically. Had someone noticed that my size 15.5” neck shirts have become significantly tight this past half-year? Has someone overheard me mumbling to myself about whether I need to “upgrade” from a 32 to a 34 inch waist trouser? I don't know, but the leaflet was there, all alone, waiting for me.
Diets, as many of us know, are easy to start but harder to stick to. People often start with good and clear intentions, but often after just a week it's all gone!
We’re now just over a week into Lent, and I want to make the very obvious comparison between Lent and such diets. We have finished the first week; we are now in the SECOND Sunday of Lent. Possibly some of us have failed to stick to our resolutions, maybe some of us are wavering. What we need now is a VISION of something to keep us going, or to re-start us on the path.
And, in fact, this is what the Church always offers us on this 2nd Sunday of Lent: we are given the Gospel account of the Lord Jesus transfigured in glory, we are shown His transfigured human flesh on the mountaintop, a vision of what OUR transfigured flesh will look like if we follow Him through the carrying of the Cross to the glory of the Resurrection.
Now, the dieting leaflet that was put through my door similarly had a vision of transfigured human flesh. As is typical, the dieting leaflet had a photo of someone whose body looked absolutely perfect, with words to the effect of, “YOU can look like THIS, in just 40 days on this diet”. Great promises. High expectations.
A 40 day diet... or 40 days of Lent.
Let me point out some similarities and some differences.
Both offer a vision of transfigured human flesh.
Both make a promise.
Both have a trainer: your diet coach, or, the Lord Jesus.
Both involve self-denial and typically abstaining from the pleasure of food.
Both involve suffering: “The Cross” is intrinsic to any form of training and discipleship.
You can't be an athlete unless you undergo the suffering of the gym. You can't be a disciple unless you undergo training. You can't be a follower of the Lord Jesus, He said, you cannot be His disciple unless you take up your cross daily and follow Him (Lk 9:23).
Having noted similarities between Lent and a diet, let me also note that there are very significant differences:
The Lord Jesus has PROVED the truth of His promise, by His many miracles, and in particular, by His rising from the dead,
Whereas far too many diets seem to lack such proof.
In addition, as our training coach, the Lord Jesus ACCOMPANIES us in our suffering much more deeply than a diet instructor. A diet instructor might also be someone who diets, as he or she might tell you to. But the Lord Jesus suffers not along side us, but WITHIN us, and He strengthens us with His grace. When He tells us that to be His disciple we must “take up our cross and follow Him”(c.f. Lk 9:23), we only ever call our sufferings a “cross” because of their UNION with the Lord Jesus –a union that is spiritual and internal, not just an external example.
A final difference, however, and a difference that is crucial, is that these two practices are aimed at two every different goals. Dieting is aimed at the health of the body, which is a good thing, but a passing thing, not the thing of highest importance. In contrast, the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of Lent are aimed at the good of the soul. And, even saying this is only partly true: they are NOT aimed at “the good of our soul” in the manner of some self-help improvement course. RATHER, they are aimed at UNION with the Lord Jesus.
Let me close by reminding you of the notion of “discipleship” that I've been talking about (see here and here), and that our parish reading group will soon be meeting and reading about:
I’ve preached twice recently about discipleship, and my point to you today is that you cannot be a disciple of Jesus, you cannot be trained and formed by Him in His way of life, unless you undergo the training of the suffering of the Cross –this is something we must choose to take up daily if we would be taught by Him, trained by Him, formed by Him.
In today's account of the transfiguration we are offered a vision of transfigured human flesh to show us the goal, to inspire us to keep going. But in addition to the recalling the goal, let us also recall that the WAY to get there, the discipleship of the Cross, is an intrinsic part of what it means to be a disciple of the Lord.
Sunday, 14 February 2016
Past sermons for the first Sunday of Lent can be read:
For this liturgical year, Year C:
from 2013, on the difference between 'giving things up for Lent' and 'giving up sin';
from 2010, on the 'joy' of giving things up for Lent
And from other liturgical years:
from 2008, possibly my most popular sermon in why we should give things up for Lent,
from 2012, on why we should give things up even when life seems tough already,
from 2011, on being a 'cheerful giver' in what we give ups for Lent,
from 2009, on why fasting changes us in a way that is different from a secular de-tox diet
Posted by Fr. Dylan James, Catholic Priest in West Moors, England at 00:30
Sunday, 7 February 2016
In a few moments it's going to be my great pleasure to receive Kate Lavan into Full Communion with the Catholic Church. As many of you know, Kate and Dominic got married here 8 years ago, attend here with their daughters Emma and Louisa, and Dominic chairs the parish finance committee. This is a lovely moment for us as a community.
It's also a useful moment for all of us to consider the significance of what this act implies, and what it should remind all of us who are already Catholic.
Every Sunday Mass we all stand and recite the Creed together. This Sunday, as a pivotal part of the symbolism of what she is doing, Kate will stand in front of the congregation to recite that with us.
That Creed summarises the Christian Faith.
Neither you nor I wrote it, rather, we RECEIVED it. It was handed on to us. The Latin word for ‘handing on’ is ‘traditio’, from which we get the word, ‘tradition’. As Catholics we hold that what the Lord Jesus said, did, and taught, is something we only encounter by this very process of ‘tradition’, or it being ‘handed on’ to us.
In our second reading we heard St Paul describing this process, saying, “I taught you what I had been taught myself”(1 Cor 15:3). He then recited a credal formula summarising the Resurrection of Jesus. He handed on what he had first received. He made an act of tradition. And by that act he enabled others to receive it. By that act he made it possible for others to hear and know the Christian Faith.
What does it mean to say, “I believe”?
It does not mean, “this is what I think myself, this is what have seen myself”.
No. When I say, “I believe you”, I am declaring that I TRUST the witness who is telling me something. I declare that I ACCEPT what they say, because I trust them as a RELIABLE witness. I declare that I accept what they say, even though I haven't seen it for myself:
This is the nature of faith: to accept what we have heard, even though we have not seen it for ourselves.
As St Paul’s letter to the Romans puts it, “Faith comes from what is heard”(Rom 10:17).
I, personally, know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, died on Calvary, and rose in the third day.
I, personally, saw NONE of these things.
But I trust the witness of ‘the Church’, that body that included the 12 Apostles, Our Lady, and many others.
I trust the witness of ‘the Church’, that body which did not just exist 2000 years ago, but still exists today as a living spiritual organism.
I trust the witness of the Church, and so I come to Faith in all that she holds, all that she received from the Lord Jesus.
And by that act of faith I know many things more than what I have seen with my own eyes.
I have never seen Africa, but I trust the witness of those who tells me it exists.
I have never seen what the Bible records, but I trust the witness of the Church which passes on to me the truths revealed in Christ Jesus.
This is also what Kate will shortly declare. She will say, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God”.
Some of those things, many of those things, I have sought to explain to her in preparing her for this day.
But there are other things that she, no doubt, does not yet know in any detail.
But she knows enough to choose to accept the package. To choose to accept it because she trusts the witness, the Church founded by Christ, the Church that Christ has promises to infallibly guide in her teaching so that what she hands on to us she hands on with our any error..
That’s NOT an easy step to take.
But it's of the nature of true faith, to accept the package, because we trust the witness.
And it's necessary if we are to have access to what Christ wants us to hold on to.
And, it's what the congregation does every week when we recite the Creed.
We declare that we hold, we “believe”, what has first been passed on, “traditio”, to us.
So as we give thanks for Kate taking this step.
Let's also give thanks for all that we ourselves are able to know and hold on to by that same act of faith.