Sunday, 10 December 2017

Why Confession?, 2nd Sunday Advent, Year B

Mk 1:1-18; Isa 40:1-5.9-11
We’re now at the 2nd Sunday on Advent, the second week of preparing for the coming of the Lord.
Today there is one specific thing I want to talk about in terms of preparing, namely, our need to go to confession before Christmas. And I thought I’d talk about this by telling you some of the reasons why I, personally, go to confession.

The first and simplest reason why I go to confession is because I realise that there is something wrong between the Lord, and me, something that is not to do with Him, but to do with me.
And I want to put that right.
I know that even after going to Confession I fall again, and again.
But I also know that, again and again, I can be restored by the Lord, and start afresh.

A second reason relates very directly to Advent: I want the Lord to come to me more fully.
I hear the promises of the Lord, like in our first reading today, offering so much:
“Console my people, console them”(Isa 40:1)
-one of the most beautiful promises of the Old Testament.
-but I know that, so far, that consolation has only come to me in a very partial manner. I know that the Lord WANTS to come more, that His coming isn’t stopped by anything wrong with Him, its stopped by the SIN that is in me.
As a prayer at Mass this week summed it up, “our sins impede” His coming (Thursday of the first week of Advent).
Thus, in this 2nd Sunday of Advent, the Church always repeats to us the call of St John the Baptist:
“Prepare a way of the Lord, make His paths straight”(Mk 1:3).

Another reason I go to Confession is that I seek to rise above the minimum.
I sometimes hear people ask me, “How often to I HAVE to go to Confession?”
Are we only interested in what we HAVE to do? With the minimum?
Rather than with what is GOOD to do?
If a man asked, “What is the minimum I need to do in order for my wife not to leave me?”
-he clearly wouldn’t love his wife much
Yet, this can so easily be our attitude to God: the minimum.
If you seek the minimum:
Church law REQUIRES that you go to Holy Communion once a year, at Easter, and that with this that need to confess once a year.
The Church RECOMMENDS much more: monthly confession, frequent Communion.
As our last Bishop (Christopher Budd, 1998 pastoral letter) put it: It’s not enough to go to confession just at Advent and Lent, we need to go regularly.

Love does not seek the minimum.
Love seek to do MORE.
Love seeks to look within my heart and find the wrong that is the opposite of that “more".
If you look at the examination of conscience inside the newsletter you’ll see a list of the 7 deadly sins, and many others sins that flow from them. Such an examination seeks to help us rise above the minimum, seeks to helps us rise to the demands of love.

A final reason why I go to Confession:
I know that it is part of God’s plan to work THROUGH other people, through His Church, through His priests.
He said, “He who hears you hears me”(Lk 10:16), to His apostles, the first priests.
He said, “Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them”(Jn 20:23), to His apostles the first priests.
And He knows that I need to hear those words of forgiveness, “I absolve you…”, not as some words on a print page of the Bible, but by His living representative on earth: the priest.

The history of the Church is full of holier men and women than me, men and women who knew their sins and knew their need of confession, even better than I know it.
Pope Francis, like his predecessors, tell us he too goes to confession. He says, "How good it feels to come back to Him whenever we are lost!"(Evangelii Gaudium n.3), to know the JOY of the "encounter"(n.1) with the Lord in this way.

I urge you, especially in this holy season, review your own practice in this regard.
Resolve to come to confession more frequently -times are listed on the newsletter.
And, especially, resolve to come before Christmas.
“Prepare a way of the Lord”(Mk 1:3).

The examination of conscience referred to in the sermon can be viewed at:

Sunday, 3 December 2017

1st Sunday of Advent, Year B

Mk 13:33-37; 1 Cor 1:3-9
I was talking to a friend earlier, and he causally made reference to the fact that the Lord Jesus might come again in glory at any time, that, in fact, He might be coming this afternoon. And I, quite spontaneously, said, “But I’ve got some things I need to finish first”.
This is how I’ve often heard other people refer to the Second Coming of Jesus: as something they don’t want to happen just yet. “Go away Jesus, could you come back later, maybe Tuesday? There are a lot of things I need to do first. I’ve not written any Christmas cards, I’ve barely started to think about presents, and basically I’ve just got a lot on right now.”

Now, when phrased like this, it obviously sounds silly. It is not for us to be telling God when He can or can’t come in glory.
And yet, it is with thoughts of the Second Coming that the Church starts our Advent preparations for Christmas: We are to start our preparations for the celebration of the anniversary of His birthday, of His FIRST coming, by thinking about His future SECOND Coming.
And when we do that a lot of things change their focus. Let me note three.

Firstly, when I think about the fact that Jesus might come, that time might end this afternoon, it suddenly changes what I think is really important. All my priorities shift. So, for example, I might still be aware of the Christmas cards I’ve not sent –but I’d be MORE aware of how much or how little LOVE I have put into those cards.
And I’d still realise that I hadn’t bought many presents yet, but I’d more clearly realise the extent to which this expressed (or not) a lack of love or concern for the people I wasn’t ready for.
So, my priorities would shift if I recalled that Jesus is Coming.

Secondly, I’d be less STRESSED about many of those details. I’d value those details in a different way, in some things I’d value them much MORE -because of the re-focusing on what they mean to others, and what they mean to God. But in MOST things I’d value those details in a way that was less focused on myself and my achievement and was thus less STRESSFUL.

Finally, with all of my life presented before me in the judgement, I think I’d be more aware of what I need to be GRATEFUL for. In our second reading we heard St Paul saying that he “never stop[ed] thanking God for all the graces you have received”(1 Cor 1:4) –and he moved straight from that thought to the revelation of the “last day, the day of the Lord Jesus”(1:8). Seeing things in the light of eternity is a good way to be less focused on our problems and more focused on what God has given us, what we have to be thankful for.

To sum that up: We are to start our Advent preparations for Christmas by thinking about the Second Coming in glory at the End of Time –a moment that could be any moment. Thinking about ‘the end’ helps us re-focus on what is important, and at Christmas it is precisely those ‘important’ things we need to be have before us. So, as we heard the Lord say, “Stay awake, because you do not know when the time will come”(Mk 13:33).

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Christ the King, Year A

Mt 25:31-46; Ezek 34:11-17
Today I want us to consider why we should want a king.
The past couple weeks we’ve seen the deposing of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. He was something like a king, and they didn’t want him.
Angela Merkel in Germany is currently struggling to get re-elected. Somewhat like Theresa May, she seems at risk of going from complete control to being a power of yesterday.
Earthly rulers rise and fall. They are inherently transitory.
The Lord Jesus, however, is king forever.
But why do we want a king? Especially, given that we live in a democratic age.

The image of kingship we hear in our readings this year, Year A, is both frightening as comforting.
Frightening, because the king will come to judge. How many of us feel truly comfortable being judged on the criteria the Lord listed:
Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, caring for “the least of these”.
Being judged in frightening.
But, it’s also an indication of power:
If you’re going to have a king, its good to have a king who is powerful enough to DO things.

What of comfort? The king is also portrayed as a shepherd.
This is a consistent Bible image of the Lord’s rule: He governs by shepherding.
And what does a shepherd do?
He leads the flock to water, he takes them to be fed in good pasture, he brings them to shelter in cold, and he defends them against wolves
-this is all good stuff that we need.

Let me note something else, however:
There is something the modern western mentality that is more concerned with FREEDOM than it is with food, water, and flourishing.
“No one’s going to tell ME what to do”, might be the typical attitude.
Better to starve in freedom than to be fat in slavery -who wants a king?

The point is this:
When we look to the Lord Jesus we see that this is a false opposition:
He BOTH gives us freedom, and, cares for us.
Until the final judgement, we are free to sin or free to love -we are free.
And His caring for us doesn’t oppose our freedom.
He shepherds us by teaching, sanctifying and governing.
He teaches us the truth that is His very self, so we know reality, know how to live, know fulfilment in His commandments.
He sanctifies us by His grace, by His sacraments, nourishing us by the food that is His very flesh in the Eucharist.
He governs us both through His Church and through His providence -directing the events of our life to the good, even to bring good out of evil.

So do we want a king?
The devil has no king. He reigns in Hell. He says, “I will not serve”.
The saints of God, however, see that the Kingship of Christ is a kingship that deserves our allegiance. A shepherd king.
Let us each, today, choose to serve.
Serve our neighbour, the “least of these” mentioned in the Gospel text today.
Serve our King, the shepherd. A king worth serving.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

No sermon text this week

Our deacon is preaching this weekend.

You can read and listen to an old sermon by Fr Dylan for this week here

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Catacombs & Resurrection, Remembrance Sunday, 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

1 Thess 4:13-18
Today our nation keeps Remembrance Sunday, when we remember all those who died in the great wars of the last century.
I would like to share with you, in particular, what it means for us AS CHRISTIANS, to remember the dead, and to do so by commenting on what we saw in our recent youth pilgrimage to Rome when we visited the catacombs.

In our second reading we heard St Paul speak about those who have died in Jesus. He spoke also about grieving, and he said that he didn’t want them to grieve in the way that “those who have no hope” grieve. This is an important distinction: both Christians and unbelievers both grieve, both are sad at their separation from their departed loved ones:
but the Christian grieves “with hope” -and this makes a colossal difference.
St Paul would have seen this difference between the pagans of his day and the Christians, and that difference is also something that we can see visibly manifested in the ancient catacombs of Rome.

The catacombs, as our pilgrimage group saw, were underground tunnels specifically dug to be places to bury the Christian dead. There were a great many such catacombs in Rome but the one we saw, of St Callistus, compromised 12 miles of tunnels, carefully dug in 4 levels, more than 20m deep. The catacombs were dug to be a sacred and dignified place to bury the dead, and the walls and slabs sealing the graves were decorated with many symbols that expressed what the Christians believed about life after death.

But the most basic and important symbol expressed was the reverence shown to the dead body itself. This contrasted with the rather confused and conflicting notions that the different pagans held about what happens after death.
Some, held a very physical but limited view of the afterlife, they left food and coins to be used by the dead after death, and would pour oil and food into holes in graves -thinking that the dead somehow needed such sustenance.
Others, like Plato, said the body was a thing to be escaped from in death -all that mattered was the soul. This was expressed by the practice of burning the body in cremation and scattering ashes.
Christians, however, held that the body is a good thing, and that there will be a resurrection of the body. Thus they reverenced the body in burial.
But they believed the resurrected body would be transfigured and glorified and thus did not need to be buried with trinkets, coins, food etc.
The vast catacombs thus testify to the greatness of the faith of those Christians that the body would rise again.

As a pilgrimage group we celebrated Mass in one of the underground chapels in the catacombs.
In doing that we joined in the practice of the ancient Christians who offered Mass in those chapels to pray for those who had died.
It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone who has died UNLESS you have HOPE that there is something more that lies ahead for him or her. The Bible makes in point in the 2nd book of Maccabees, where it comments on Jewish temple sacrifices that were offered for those who had died, and notes that we only pray for the dead because we believe they will rise again (2 Macc 12:44).
We today, and especially in the month of November, likewise pray for those who have died:
We pray that God will have mercy on them in the judgment;
We pray that God will comfort them as they pass through the purifications of purgatory;
And we pray that God will sped and hasten that purification for them.

To bring that to a conclusion: How do we remember the dead?
As a memory or the past? Or, as those who have a future, a resurrected future symbolised by the respect we show their bodies?
How we remember them with affect whether we grieve like pagans, or grieve like those “who have hope”.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

He Practiced what He Preached, 31st Sunday Ordinary Time Yr A

Mt 23:1-12
Today I’d like us to consider WHO it was that truly “practiced what He preached”.
The phrase, “to practice what you preach”, is one is one of those that everyone still knows today, even though they have forgotten the Jesus who first coined the phrase.
My point to you, today, however, is that the Lord Jesus truly DID practice what He preached, and I’d like us to consider just a few examples of that.

He taught that we should pray.
And the Gospels record that He prayed: waking early before His disciples and ascending the hill to pray; going to the Temple and the synagogue to pray.

He taught that we should hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 5:6).
And He hungered for it so much that He reached down from heaven, became one of us us, and sought out the lost (Lk 19:10).

St Thomas Aquinas remarks that we see this especially upon the Cross -the Cross is the model of every virtue:

He taught that we should forgive our brother when he offends us (Mt 18:22).
And He forgave as He hung upon the Cross (Lk 23:34).

He taught that we should be meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:29).
And He humbled Himself to die upon the Cross (Phil 2:5-8).

He reaffirmed the 4th commandment to honour our mother and father (Mk 10:19).
And as He hung upon the Cross He cared for His mother by entrusting her to St John (Jn 19:26).

He taught that we should trust our Heavenly Father, who cares for the lilies of the field and the birds of the sky, and much more for us (Mt 6:26).
And as He hung upon the Cross He entrusted Himself to the Heavenly Father saying, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”(Lk 23:46).

He taught that we should turn the other cheek when we are struck (Mt 5:39), and when Annas’s soldier struck him He simply took it (Jn 18:22).

He taught that, “Greater love has no man than that He lay down his life for his friends”(Jn 15:13), and He DID lay down His life for us -even without us having proved ourselves worthy of being called His “friends”.

How might we sum up everything He did?
We might remember that the crowds said of Him, “He has done all things well”(Mk 7:37).

How might we sum up the effect of His teaching?
We might recall that the first time soldiers were sent to arrest Him they returned empty-handed, they returned to their masters and said simply, “No one has ever spoken like this man”(Jn 7:46).

Why did His teaching have such an effect on the people? Because He practiced what He preached.
And He calls on us to do the same: To preach what He preached; and, to live as He lived.

To conclude, He is thus the ultimate teacher, the ultimate “rabbi”.
And though the Church has never taken the second half of today's Gospel literally: we call our earthly teachers, “teacher”, and our earthly dads and priests, “father”, nonetheless, none deserve these titles as purely as Christ did -which is what the Lord is indicating in this text.
He practiced what He preached.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Fallen Idols & Vomitoriums, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

1 Thess 1:5-10
This week, as I think most of you know, was the parish youth pilgrimage to Rome. We saw a great many things, and on their behalf I’d like to thank you all for your generosity in subsidising it with your donations.
Today I want to to illustrate our second reading by referring to some of what we saw in Rome.

As Catholics we associate Rome with the Pope, but this wasn’t the original Rome. Ancient Rome was pagan, worshipping almost countless numbers of pagan idols.
Pagan Rome did not welcome the early Christians. Two things about Christianity threatened pagan Rome:
First, the absoluteness of Christ’s claim: there is only ONE god, not many; that He is “THE way, the truth and the life”(Jan 14:6), not just one way among many. In contrast the Romans had lots of little competing gods.
Second, the LIFESTYLE of Christians repudiated that of the Romans. The Ancient Romans lived a life of self indulgence and debauchery. The rich banqueted with vomitoriums in their halls, so they could empty their stomachs and continue to practice yet more gluttony. Sexual orgies were likewise a major part of their culture, with contraception, abortion, and leaving unwanted infants to die on the hillsides.
The Christians came with a new way of life. Early records, from the pagan Roman themselves, state that it was the lifestyle of the Christians that converted many. The Christians rescued unwanted infants left to die, fed the poor, cared for the elderly. They did not serve the idols of food, sex, or wealth, or the statues of the pages gods associated with them. As we heard St Paul refer in our second reading, “you broke with idolatry when you were converted to God and became servants of the real, living God”(1 Thess 1:9).

Such a contrast was not welcomed by the imperial powers of Rome. Nero burnt the Christians at the stake, Diocletian fed them to the lions, and this pattern continued for centuries. Our youth group saw the site of the huge Circus Maximus where most of those Christians died, the awesome spectacle of the Colosseum where many others were put to death, and saw the remains of the mighty pagan temples on the Via Sacra.
The might of Ancient Rome bore down hard on the early Church.
And yet more and more of them converted to Christ.
And the might of pagan Rome fell. Circus Maximus is just grassland now. The marble of the Colosseum and the pillars of those temples now adorn the churches of the living God.

There is a painting we saw in Rome that symbolises this change. On the ceiling of the Constantine room in the Vatican Museum is a painting that shows a pedestal that had held a mighty pagan idol. The idol is smashed and discarded on the floor, and in its place stands a humble image of Christ, Christ on the Cross. The truth that is Him, and “the sort of life”(1 Thess 1:5) He teaches us, swept aside all that went before Him AND all that has come after.

The Church is the oldest institution in human history. It has seen empires come and seen them go. Napoleon invaded Rome, and he is gone.
Stalin mocked “the divisions” of the Pope, and the Soviet Empire is likewise no more.

The Church is the Body of Christ.
The Church endures because what Christ offers is ETERNALLY significant.
Let me close by noting, however, that the clash between the idols of the world and the God shown in Christ, the humble other-worldly values shown on the Cross, that clash against the idols of self-indulgence, of food and sex and comfort, that clash is alive again in our era today.

The Church will endure because Christ promised it, “until the end of time”(Mt 28:20).
But whether you and I endure with it, whether England endures with it, is a choice we need to be a part of.
Do the words of St Paul to the Thessalonians also apply to us? “You have been converted from idolatry to serve the living God”(1 Thess 1:9).