Sunday, 4 August 2019

Meaningless, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Col 3:1-11; Lk 12:13-21
I've spent this past week with a couple hundred youth Catholics at the Faith Summer Session. And it's always encouraging to see how our Catholic Faith can give meaning and purpose to life, especially when we're young.
I want to share with you some perspectives from those young adults, especially as they relate to our first reading.

Our first reading, from the book of Ecclesiastes, is one of my favourite passages of the Bible. It’s a deeply gloomy text, but it powerfully expresses those dark moods that can come upon so many of us in difficulty:
“Vanity of vanities. ALL is vanity!... what does a man gain for all his toil under the sun?” (Ecc 1:2;2:22)
The word our translation renders as ‘vanity’ is more literally ‘vapour’ or ‘mist’ -i.e. nothingness.
Other translations render this as “meaningless”
-i.e. our labour is all for nothing, it has no purpose, it is meaningless.

There are two levels of interpretation of this text.
The first is literal:
Much of life does indeed feel hard, an effort, for little gain.
At the literal level, the text shows that the Bible, our inspired Scripture fully engages with the REALITY of life.
We don’t need to pretend that life is easy.
When I feel overwhelmed, HERE is a passage of the Bible that expresses how I feel.

In addition, however, there is a deeper level of interpretation: the Patristic interpretation.
This interpretation says that life is meaningless WHEN it is a life without Christ, and IF it is life without Christ.
I have no purpose,
if I do not know the Creator who created me with a purpose.
I have no meaning in life,
if I do not Him who said of Himself: “I am THE way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

Back to the young people.
I spend a lot of my time and effort as a priest working with youth. Especially within the Faith Movement, which is a national organisation focused on youth apostolate.
One of the repeated observations of young people who DO believe, is that their life has a meaning and direction that unbelievers around them don’t have.
-Young Catholics who have made the CHOICE to believe, at that level of maturity when it has truly become their OWN choice, such young people realise in a very personal way how important knowing Christ is if we are to have meaning.

Young people can see a wealthier society than previous generations knew.
But they also see much uncertainty,
and, as the saying goes, “Money can’t buy you happiness”.
The rich man is today’s parable couldn’t take his money with him when he died -money doesn’t last.
When you’re young it's important to know where life is heading.
So, as our second reading put it, “You must look for the things of heaven, where Christ is”(Col 3:1).
And, of course, at the end of life, the elderly also need that meaning and purpose that comes from knowing where life is heading.

So, to close, let’s reflect today on the importance of knowing the meaning of life.
Let’s reflect on the importance of knowing Christ.
Because without Him, “Vanity of vanities. ALL is vanity!” (Ecc 1:2)

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Jesus is the Good Samaritan, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 10:25-37
WHO was the Good Samaritan?
We’ve all heard the parable about him countless times, and we might well think we have nothing new to learn about it.
But I want, today, to offer you an interpretation of the parable so ancient that it has been largely forgotten. When the original 12 Apostles died, the generations of bishops and writers who came after them are given the title, ‘the Fathers of the Church’.
These ‘Fathers’ were all unanimous in how they interpreted the parable, and in WHO they thought the Good Samaritan was:
The Lord JESUS is the Good Samaritan.
And, when we hear the parable with this understanding, his actions in the parable acquire a whole new level of significance.
You can read about the Fathers’ interpretation in the collection the Catena Aurea (see here).

The Fathers start by noting that the MAN going from Jerusalem to Jericho signifies ALL of humanity, departing from Paradise (signified by Jerusalem) and going to the world (Jericho). Fallen humanity has departed from God.
The Fathers then interpret the BRIGANDS who assail the man as the demons assailing us;
and the WOUNDED STATE they leave him in as the wounded state we experience our fallen human nature in -prone to sin, weak, inclined to evil.

Humanity, weakened by having departed form God,
wounded in our inclination to fall and fall again in sin,
humanity NEEDS someone to come and rescue us.
And Jesus comes, He is the ‘Good Samaritan’.
(1) The OIL and WINE that given to the wounded man are symbolic of the Sacraments that He gives for our healing and strengthening.
(2) The man is LIFTED up “on to his mount” -symbolic of how the Lord Jesus lifts us up:
(a) As Isaiah prophesied, He “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa 53:4); and,
(b) He has lifted us up in the sense that He helps us carry what we cannot carry alone -all of our daily toils.
(3) The TWO COINS He used to pay the innkeeper: the Fathers interpret these, too:
(a) He paid the DEBT our sins;
(b) He has paid them WITH everything He had to give: two coins symbolising His humanity and His divinity.
(4) He is the one who “took pity” (Lk 10:37) on us.

To sum up:
That MAN who was laid upon by brigands, that man is humanity, you and me.
The one who CAME and RESCUED us, the Good Samaritan, was the Lord Jesus.

You and I, if we are Christians, are called to imitate Christ.
Which means that the closing verse of the passage, “Go, and do likewise”(Lk 10:37), takes on a whole new level of significance.
Our “NEIGHBOUR” is, in fact, you and me.
Christ has “taken pity” on us.
We should do the same to all those in need.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Missionaries, 14th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 10:1-12.17-20
We just heard about how the Lord sent “the 72” out to preach, to go to the places that He was to go to, to prepare the way.
This is a good moment, therefore, to think about the different ways that EACH of us have been chosen and sent by God, sent to prepare the way for Him, sent to make Him known.
We can tend to think that only “expert” missionaries, professionals like priests and nuns, are sent. But the constant teaching of all the recent popes, all those calling us to a “New Evangelisation” -it’s their repeated teaching that ALL the baptised, each and every one of us, of you, are called to be missionaries.
The LAITY who live in the MIDST of the world, in the midst of the UNBELIEVING world, are the ones who have the PRIMARY task of bringing knowledge of Christ to the people in that unbelieving world.
Let me note three things in this regard, three things if we are to be effective.

First, we need to be clear in our own minds that people NEED God, even when they deny it.
We can see that a life without God, a society with God is not happier society.
People have their iPhones and cars and central heating -but without meaning, without God, there is an EMPTINESS to it all.
People need to know about God, and if WE are the people MEETING such people, then we are the ones who need to convey this to them.

Second, we need to prepare the way for the Lord by the witness of our own lives, our example.
The most BASIC thing here, for a society that has forgotten GOD,
is to see that WE have not forgotten God.
Our lives need to give testimony to the reality that God exists, that there is a Creator, a Lord of earth and heaven.
The first and greatest commanding, according to both the Lord Jesus and the Old Testament, is to love God FIRST. Do our lives show this? The pattern of a simple practicing Catholic should show this.
A world that has forgotten God, should see that:
A practicing Catholic prays daily,
A practicing Catholic goes to Mass every Sunday
-and that in my planning this, my priorities put God first.
A world that has forgotten sin, forgotten that our deeds can offend God:
Should see that a practicing Catholic goes to confession at least once a month.
A world that is immersed in selfishness and consumerism and me, me, me:
Should see that we fast, give things up in Lent, abstain from meat on Fridays
-we don’t just live for pleasure and comfort.
These are SIMPLE things, but our living them, our faithfulness to them, says something.

Third, and finally, if we are to prepare the way for the Lord, then we need to be ready and willing to TALK about Him to others.
This can be the most embarrassing thing, most awkward thing.
To talk to people about this person they cannot see,
To talk to people about this God I love,
-who loves me and who loves them -it can be embarrassing to talk about love.
And it can be awkward, also, to talk about lifestyles and sin,
and about how certain behaviour is contrary to what God has told us.
But we can’t prepare the way for Him to come if we’re not willing to speak about Him,
if we’re not looking for opportunities to talk about Him.
We have been sent to do so.
If God matters, then it matters that we lead people to Him.

Three points, in summary:
We need to be clear that it matters, that He is real, and that life is better with Him.
We need to embody a pattern of prayer and worship that shows that we put God first.
We, finally, to be willing to talk about Him.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Being Catholic, St Peter and St Paul

Today’s feast of St Peter and St Paul gives us a great occasion to reflect on what it means to be Catholic, to be part of the UNIVERSAL Church, to be part of something bigger than we are.

This concept of BELONGING is very counter-cultural.
Lots of people today talk about the LOSS of a sense of COMMUNITY,
and almost every single community organisation in the UK is in numerical decline.
There is a very weird contradiction here:
people talk about community, and mourn its loss,
but few seem to recognise the things we need to DO to belong:
-for example, I need to commit, to commit to something other than myself.
The modern mindset is very individualistic:
I do my OWN thing, I think my own thoughts
-and no one else can tell me what to do.
One of the problems with this, however, is that it’s a very LONELY approach to life
-just me figuring out life on my own,
which is lonely when you’re YOUNG with your whole bewildering life ahead of you,
and lonely when you’re OLD and you’re facing whatever comes next.

In contrast, to be a Catholic is the opposite of being alone
-it’s to be a part of a group with over a billion members.
And it’s the opposite of “doing your own thing”.
-to be a Catholic is to seek to do CHRIST’s thing, not my own thing -to think HIS thoughts.

The bigger reality that we belong to as Catholics stretches in two directions: space and time.
St Paul typifies the thing of “space” because he was the great missionary. Chosen by Christ in a special vision and sent to take the truth about Jesus Christ to all the gentile nations -in his own brief time he went all around the Mediterranean basin.
He symbolises the universal “Catholic” Church in that the Church has a mission to spread to every corner of the world -we tend to think that we are universal now because we are spread on every continent, but our real sense of being universal is that BELONG everywhere, we have a MISSION, a sending by Christ, to BE in every place, to bring ALL people into the unity of His Catholic Church.

The other dimension, time, is typified by St Peter, and expresses our Catholicity in a different sense.
-the modern mindset often just lives for today,
but the Catholic mindset finds meaning in our today by seeing how it links to the past and the future.
-the future, where Christ will come again in glory and take His faithful home;
-the past, where Christ came in Galilee and revealed the truth.
The Church belongs everywhere because it proclaims a set of truths that belong everywhere.
The Church belongs everywhere because it is rooted in Christ.
St Peter, the first pope, was the first entrusted with that teaching mission.

Before I conclude, let me note that the media frequently tries to point out the sins and failings of the members of the Church. Sometimes, we can feel embarrassed to be associated with such people by belong to the same Church as them, especially when its clergy.
The Church, in every age, needs to purify herself of filth, “ecclesia semper reformanda est” (said Vatican 2).
The members of the Church are human, we are sinners, but the reality that constitutes us is something more, something Divine -and THAT, not sin, is what we belong to by being Catholic.

So today, on St Peter and St Paul, let us rejoice to belong to something bigger than ourselves,
let us rejoice to belong to the Body of Christ.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

First Holy Communions -Our Daily Bread, Corpus Christi

Today is one of the most joyful of all of the days in the parish year, and for the children here making your First Holy Communion it should rank as one of the biggest days not just of this year but of your life. So I'd like, this morning, to say some words directly to the children making their First Holy Communion, and then to their parents.

So, children: today is your special day.
But it is special because it's about something other than you: it's about The Lord Jesus, and how He is going to come to you for the first time today in Holy Communion.
I want to remind you of a line from a prayer that you say all the time, a line of the Our Father:
"Give us this day our daily bread".
That prayer is about Holy Communion. What is the "daily bread"? It's Jesus, in Holy Communion -the bread that is no longer bread but has become Jesus Himself.

Jesus loves you. And He cares for you in lots of different ways, and He gives you lots of different things: the sun that shines on us, the roof over your head, the food on your tables, and so forth. And all of these things we pray for when ask, "Give us this day our daily bread".
But the oldest saints in the Church, the ones we call the 'Fathers' of the Church, they explained that this prayer refers especially to the Eucharist, to Holy Communion (and this interpretation is given in the GIRM n81)

Let me remind you what I've said about the Eucharist: that it is Jesus.
I pointed out to you that many things in life don't look like what they are.
This here, the processional cross behind me, this crucifix looks like Jesus, but it isn't Jesus.
And, I have a photo of my little nephew, and it looks like him, but it isn't him.
Well, the Eucharist is like that: it looks like one thing, but it IS something else: it looks like bread, tastes like bread, but it IS Jesus Christ: His Body, His Blood, His Soul and His Divinity -all present in Holy Communion.

So, this 'bread' is not bread, it is Jesus.
And the most important 'bread' we need is the food that satisfies not just our bodies but our souls, the heavenly food.
This is why this 'daily bread' is better called our 'bread of tomorrow' because in receiving it we receive and are strengthened by the food from heaven that will take us to heaven.
And it's because this is so important that you've been preparing for this all year and learning about this all year.

Now, parents:
You are here because you want something important for your children. You are here because you care about your children. You have brought them to be prepared during this year because you want this precious thing for your children.
Let me tell you, however, that all of that is a waste of time if it does not become a REGULAR repeated thing. Receiving Holy Communion will only be possible for your children if you are bringing them to Holy Mass each and EVERY Sunday: this is the only way they can benefit from this precious gift that they are receiving for the first time today.
I know that there are many things you want for your children, many things that compete with God and compete with Mass. But the most important gift to give your children is the food that LASTS, the food of heaven, the "bread of tomorrow" that we pray that we be permitted to receive 'today' -that Jesus has promised to give us today.

That is the great gift that those here are to receive for the first time.
So, children, be ready. Pray to Jesus. Ask Jesus to help you focus your thoughts. So that you will be ready to receive this great gift.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Medjugorje, Trinity Sunday, Year C

Rom 5:1-5
I’ve just come back from Medjugorje, where I was with some of our parishioners on pilgrimage.
It was a wonderful experience. I first went there when was 20 years old, and was first convinced of the authenticity of the visions by the abundant signs of God’s grace being out poured on people, on people CHANGING and converting their lives -it seems to me that God can choose where He pours His graces, and I don’t think He’d pour them so abundantly on the site of a forgery, so I think its genuine.
This summer Pope Francis formally approved Medjugorje as a shrine for official public pilgrimages.
As yet, however, a verdict hasn’t been passed on the visions themselves, or alleged visions -I imagine such a verdict will only be passed when the visions cease, when the event is complete, or claims to be complete. So, any words that follow are conditional on the future judgment of the church on their authenticity.

That’s said, I’d like to refer to how, according to the alleged visionaries, Our Lady speaks of unbelievers. She refers to unbelievers as “those who have not experienced the love of God”.
She speaks also of her own love for us, and says, “If you knew how much I loved you, you’d cry of joy”.
And, to EXPERIENCE this love is transforming, all-absorbing.
One of the visionaries, Mirjana, speaks of the experience of having her visions, how when she’s with Our Lady her only desire is to be with her, and even her beloved family almost “do not exist” -so all satisfying and all-absorbing is this experience of heavenly love (c.f. Mirjana Soldo, My Heart will Triumph, p.271).
If WE experienced God’s love fully, we would likewise be totally enthralled, entranced, satisfied.
“God is love”(1 Jn 4:8), so teaches the Bible, and to experience God is to experience love.

There is a particular relevance to this today, i.e. on Trinity Sunday.
The Trinity is not some irrelevant doctrine, rather, it teaches us about God, and it teaches us about ourselves.
“God is love”(1 Jn 4:8), so teaches the Bible. He is three persons in an eternity of love, loving each other, outpouring that love into each other.
The unique teaching of the Christian religion is that God isn’t just an “entity”, or force, or energy, rather, He is PERSONAL and loving
-and the doctrine of the three PERSONS of the Trinity is the heart of our understanding that God is personal, that God is loving
You and I are made in His image, you and I are (a) made to love and (b) made to experience love.
Thus, Our Lady refers to unbelievers as those who have not experienced God’s love.
And, thus our second reading, chosen for Trinity Sunday, spoke of “the love of God [being] poured into our hearts”(Rom 5:5) by our experience of the Triune God.

But HOW do we experience the love of God?
In many ways:
(1)By being loved by others -thus those how have not experienced human love can often struggle to understand that God loves them.
(2)Also, by seeing the evidence of His care and providence in the world -seeing that the world is good shows us that God is loving.
(3)More particularly, by reading of His loving work in the Bible -with this often comes the experience of recognising that we are sinners and realising what God has done in forgiving us.
But, in all these ways, and others, I think that ultimately to experience that God loves you is a GRACE, a supernatural gift, a mystical experience of some form.
-for some people, that experience comes dramatically, in precise moments,
-for some others, it’s a cumulative experience.
But, I think that for all of us, in as much as we have experienced it, we have experienced something of God HIMSELF -He who IS love.

To be a believer, a believer in Christ, a believer in the Triune God, is to “experience the love of God”.
In as much as our faith is weak, in as much as we have failed to experience that love, let us pray this day that we might ever more have “the love of God… poured into our hearts”(Rom 5:5).

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Hope of Heaven, Ascension Year C

Lk 24:46-53; Eph 1:17-23
It might be asked, ‘What relevance is the Ascension?’
I’d like to offer part of the answer to this question by contrasting the ‘joy’ of the apostles with a certain despair people sometimes have today.
The Apostles left the scene of the ascension ‘full of joy’ –they’d had a glimpse of Heaven.

I can remember talking about Heaven to a woman once, and she said, most bizarrely, “I hope there is no heaven. It would be awful to think about this life going on and on and on. Life is so full of suffering that I hope it just ends at death”.
A particularly gloomy way of expressing it, but a thought that many people have in different ways.
The problem with this thought is that it thinks of Heaven as just being a continuation of Earth.

Heaven is not just a mere continuation of Earth.
All through Easter, the second reading at Sunday Mass has been taken from the book of Revelation –a book full of much complex symbolism, with talk of dragons, beasts, and battles, but a book that makes one thing clear:
The Lord who rose from the dead will also be victorious in a final vanquishing of the Devil, and he will vanquish all that the Devil has caused: sin, suffering, sadness.
“Never again will they hunger, never again will they thirst… God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:16-17)
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain, for order of THIS WORLD is passing away”. (Rev 21:4).
Heaven will NOT be like the world we know now.

So, What will heaven be like?
Well, some things we don’t know. As St Paul says, ‘Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
But, we do know some things. Beyond knowing that there is no suffering, we know that every need and hope of the human heart will be satisfied. This is a central part of what the Ascension teaches us –Christ took His body to Heaven, and our bodies will be bodily satisfied there.
We will not be angels in Heaven. As I preached recently (see here), we will not be mere spirits
As we say in the creed, we believe in ‘The Resurrection of the Body’
Every need and desire my body now has will be satisfied in Heaven, and more.

One of the mistakes that believers have made through the ages, and that the apostles made frequently before the Holy Spirit came upon them, was to think that the Kingdom of Heaven would be like a kingdom on Earth
-even in that opening passage from Acts, the apostles were asking the Risen Lord if He was going to restore an EARTHLY Kingdom to Israel.

Our Gospel passage ended with the Apostles, ‘full of joy’. Why? Because they had seen a glimpse of Heaven. They had seen the Lord glorified as He was ascended. They had begun to grasp what it was all about.
They, like us, live to follow our Lord.
He died, and we must die to sin.
He rose, and we hope to rise to a new life of grace.
He ascended, and we hope, if we are faithful, to enter the glory of Heaven with Him.
While we live on this world, we carry our Cross, as He carried His cross.
But the life of the Cross will not last forever. Suffering will end.
As St Paul said in our 2nd reading, the Lord has “promised” (Eph 1:20ish) “rich glories” to the saints.
And, “the one who made the promise is faithful” (Heb10:23 –alt 2nd reading)

If we look to Heaven, if we look to our Ascended Lord, then the joy of the apostles will also be ours, because we will have faith to share His Glory.