Sunday, 17 February 2019

Resurrection, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C



1 Cor 15:12.16-20; Lk 6:17-26; Jer 17:5-8
Today I want to reflect on St Paul’s teaching about the importance of the physical reality of the Resurrection, as we heard in our second reading.

The Corinthians that St Paul was writing to lived in the midst of Greek philosophy.  The descendants of the philosopher Socrates valued the mind and the soul, but had a low opinion of the body.  In fact, Plato spoke of the body as being a prison for the soul, something that the soul wants to be liberated from.  For these Greek philosophers, the whole purpose of philosophy was to escape the body.  Death, as a consequence, was seen as a great release, a release from the prison of body.

Imagine, therefore, what these Greeks thought when the early Christians spoke about a resurrection of the body, of the soul be re-united with the body.  To the Greeks, this would sound like being re-imprisoned.  The early Christians came along and spoke of the Lord Jesus being resurrected, and the Greeks laughed -not so much because they thought it unlikely, as because they thought it undesirable (c.f. Acts 17:18).

St Paul, as we briefly heard, was writing to those who were “saying that there is no resurrection of the dead”(1 Cor 15:12) -he was writing to those under the influence of these Greek philosophers.
St Paul was emphatic that everything hinges on the physical resurrection.  In fact, a very large part of the whole first letter to the Corinthians dwells on this truth.

To believe in the Resurrection is to believe in a TRANSFORMATION of this world.  
To believe in the Resurrection is believe not in escaping this world, but of it being made anew.
The body of the Lord Jesus not only came back to life, it was transformed, it became a thing of glory. 
If this is true, it changes the whole manner in which we relate to this world:

On one hand, we treat the things of this world as real.
We care for the sick and poor, because they are real.
We seek to transform the world with love, because the world is real and valuable.
The things of this world will pass and change, but they are real.

On the other hand, we relate to this world as a thing passing, a thing that will be changed and transformed.
Thus, as both our first reading and Gospel texts insisted, we do not live for “riches” (Lk 6:24) or for the pleasures of the “flesh”(Jer 17:5).
The Christian is thus called to “deny himself” (Lk 9:23) if he is to follow the Lord Jesus.

St Paul is very emphatic about a conclusion of all this: if we live “for this life only, we [Christians] are the most unfortunate of all people” (1 Cor 15:19).
-we will have denied ourselves pleasures, we will have regulated and disciplined our bodies, but there will be no future body to come.

For us who live TODAY, in the 21stCentury, there is an implicit challenge in all this:
Do we live for this world, or for the transformed resurrected world to come?
Do we truly deny ourselves in this world, in the hope of the resurrection to come?
Do we give to the poor, to the extent that it affects our ability to enjoy riches ourselves?
If we TRULY believe in the Resurrection, then the answer to these questions should be logical.
If, however, we only half-believe it, 
if we actually live in the same way as those who think there is ONLY this world to live for, 
Then, to apply St Paul’s words differently, “we are the most unfortunate of all people”(1 Cor 15:19).

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Love in Action, 4th Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C




1 Cor 12:31-13:13
For the past month, I’ve been reading the spiritual diary of Pope St John Paul II.
There is a quote that he refers to often, cited in the Catechism (1022), and from St John of the Cross:
“At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love”.

There are many things we do in life, but it is whether we do them in love that will be the basis of our judgment.
This is a very powerful way to focus on the meaning of the second reading we heard from St Paul, which was on love. 
Love needs to be the thing that animates all our activity.

When I start my day, the alarm is going.   I will have ahead of me a range of tasks, 
some complex, some mundane, 
some enjoyable, some taxing.
When the alarm goes off all that lies ahead is before me.
But if it all is to have VALUE, then it needs to be done with love.
Otherwise, to quote St Paul, I might “move mountains, but without love, I am nothing at all” (1 Cor 13;2), 
and my activity is nothing at all.

I might need to clean and tidy things up today.
I might do that efficiently, but with no real consideration of others.
I get the task done, it is finished.
But woe betide anyone in my way!
However, if I clean and tidy up, and do it with love, then I clean and tidy up very differently.
I am aware of the REASON I am doing this 
-so the house will be clean FOR OTHERS
-they come here, or live here, I want it to be nice FOR THEM
And, or, I clean my kitchen
-so my kitchen will be clean FOR GOD 
-it’s God world, it’s Gods house, He wants it to be its best, so I clean it FOR HIM.

Let me pause and define love. The Catechism, quoting St Thomas Aquinas, defines love this way:
"To love is to will the good of another"(CCC 1766, citing St. Thomas, ST I-II q26 a4).
I think of someone;
I think of what is GOOD for that person;
And I choose to WILL the good for that person.
If this is how I am doing every task, then it transforms every task.
Working with love, brings JOY to the task, because I am thinking of the beloved.
Working with love, brings SATISFACTION to the task, because I see its value for the person I am loving.

One final example: relaxing.
Everyone needs to relax, just like the body needs to sleep.  
There is a way of relaxing that is selfish -it’s all about ME.
There is another way of relaxing, that truly relaxes, but knows this relaxation is what enables to serve others at other times.  THIS way of relaxing brings love, even into the relaxation.
Why am I relaxing now?  So I can serve others later.


“At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love”(CCC 1022).
That might sound, on one level, like a sweet thought, but it can also be a fearful one: what if we have not lived a loving life?
In fact, Friday night, the night of the day when I had written the first draft of sermon, I examined my conscience and saw an absence of love that day.
It had felt a busy day, a full day, a day of many divergent parts.  
But I reflected that there had been little love in that busy-ness.
If, near the of life, I have the same sense, the solution is the same: repent.
Confess my lack of love to the God who is love.  

Back to the text from St Paul: love is the only thing that truly lasts.
If we’re busy moving mountains, but not for love, then those mountains will crumble to dust.
But if we move those mountains, or even those molehills, with love, 
then the activity I launch into when my alarm goes off  -the mountains I build will endure in eternity.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

What is the Bible?, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C



Lk 1:1-4; 414-21; Neh 8:2-10
Today I’d like us to consider the importance of the Bible, and what the Bible is.
In our first reading we heard how all the people gathered around Ezra and listened as he read the Scriptures to them and explained the ScripturesProverbs Gospel text we similarly heard how the people gathered around the Lord Jesus in the synagogue to hear Him read from the Scriptures.
We are gathered following that same pattern.
But what are we reading? What is the Bible? And, can we trust it?

First, we need to note how our holy scriptures are different from those of other religions.
Our scriptures don’t contain myths, the way Greek fables of their pagan gods did.
Our scriptures don’t, for the main part, contain instructions on how to live -though they do contain a few books of proverbs and a few books of law.
Rather, our scriptures are primarily about recording certain events of HISTORY, records of certain EVENTS.

The Jewish-Christian claim is that God was active in history:
In a particular place, in a particular people, the “Chosen people” of the Jews:
He did things among them, and for them.
He revealed Himself to them, and revealed how He wanted them to live.
If you want to know ABOUT the one true God, then you need to see what He has DONE.
There is a unity of WORD and DEED in Him, as the Hebrew word “dabar” indicates.
As a consequence, if we are to know God, and know what He teaches us, then we need to know what He has DONE in those events called, “salvation history”.

This leaves us with a problem, however, because the scepticism of the modern mind has taught us to doubt everything.
In particular, it has taught us to doubt the accuracy of the history recorded in the Bible.
Now, we can note that not ALL parts of the Bible have the same historical accuracy:
The Genesis accounts often summarise hundreds of years in a few sentences.
The Creation accounts likewise summarise, and mix symbolism with fact. Was the devil a literal serpent? Was the Original Sin eating a literal fruit? There is no need to think so.
That said, the key thing about the Bible is that it is recording a narrative, recording a history of events, a CHAIN of events, recording it from the beginning to the end, from Creation to the Apocalypse.
God showed Himself in what He DID.
And so, when we gather at Mass, we READ about what He did.

The culmination of what He did and said was in Jesus Christ, when God took FLESH.
This is why the historical accuracy and specifics of the 4 Gospels is very detailed.
This is why, as we heard St Luke say at the start of His Gospel:
The Gospels record only what “eyewitnesses” (Lk 1:2) saw -witness that they knew and questioned,
About “events that have taken place among us” (Lk 1:1) -not myths far away,
And recorded in “an ordered account” (Lk 1:3).

The narrative that the Bible unfolds is the account of God’s relationship with His Chosen People, of His “love story” with His chosen people.
YOU are a part of that narrative, a part of that history.
You are called to be grafted onto the life and promises that God gave to His Chosen People.
But you can only become a part of that lifestory IF you know that story,
if you know that history.
And that is why we read the Bible, at home, and at Church
-to know the history and narrative that we are a part of.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

The Epiphany of Cana, 2nd Sun Ordinary time, Year C



Jn 2:1-11
Today I’d like us to consider what God is like, to consider what God has SHOWN Himself to be like, and, in particular, what He has shown Himself to like as He relates to YOU.
It is the unique “arrogance” of the Christian religion is that we claim to know God Himself. We make this claim, not on the basis of what we have figured out ourselves, rather, we make this claim on the basis of what God has said and shown in Jesus Christ, we make this claim because we accept Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus has manifested, shown, what God is like.

Today, in our reading, we close a threefold epiphany, a series of three Sundays of epiphanies.
There is a great hymn, which sadly were not singing this year, “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”, which recounts this threefold epiphany.
The word ‘epiphany’ means a manifesting, a showing.
We had the epiphany to the wise men who came from the east.
What did this manifest? It manifested that God’s plan included all the nations.
His plan was particular, in a single nation, the Jews -this is where and how He showed, manifested Himself.
But His plan reached out from that particularity to call all the nations, to call non-Jews like ourselves.

Then, last week, we had the epiphany at the baptism of the Lord Jesus.
At the Baptism the voice from heaven and manifested, “You are my Son”.
As I said last week, that showed God’s plan for us to become adopted children, to become “sons in the Son”, by becoming united to His only Son, Jesus.

Finally, today, there is another epiphany, at the wedding feast of Cana.
What did the Lord reveal in this miracle? Two things.
First, very basically, that He is a God of power.
He is not simply a source of wisdom, not just teacher of how to live, rather, it showed that He is active, He DOES things, as He DID something in that first miracle He worked at Cana.

There is, however, a deeper symbolism in this miracle, that our first reading points us towards:
Marriage as symbol of how God relates to us, of how God relates to YOU.
From before all time, God chose you.
From before all time, He called you and wanted you.
And the image He uses for how He desires you is MARRIAGE.
All religions across history have marriage.
But only the Jewish-Christian religion has this epiphany that marriage is a symbol of how God desires you and wants you, and wants YOU to want HIM.

This is an amazing thought.
How does God want you? How much does God want you? The way a bridegroom yearns for His bride.
And the relationship He wants us to return to Him is the love of a bride for her bridegroom.

This image is so important in the Bible that it occurs again and again in the Old Testament, and in the New.
The Jewish people, God’s CHOSEN people, were chosen by Him as a bridegroom chooses a bride.
But they were repeatedly unfaithful to Him.
They repeatedly sinned against Him, followed false gods, mixed a bit of true religion with a bit of worldliness, as we can try and try and mix worldliness with our following of Christ.
But the pattern of the Old Testament is that God was a faithful husband even when Israel was an unfaithful wife. He stuck with her, He allowed her to comeback, and come back, and come back.
And HE does the same for you and me.
We, like the wise men who came from the east, have been grafted into the Chosen people.
We, have this beautiful marriage image of how God has revealed Himself:
He loves you, He yearns for you, as a bridegroom for His bride.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Baptism & Reception into Full Communion, Baptism of the Lord



Today is wonderful day for the parish, with two adults becoming Catholic: Ian Wheeler is being baptised and Marjorie Isaacs is being Confirmed and received into Full Communion.
They’ve both been preparing for a year, because it’s a major step.
It a useful moment for each of US to think about what this all means, and today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a good moment.

Why was the Lord Jesus baptised?
He didn’t have any sins, so He didn’t need to have His sins washed away.
And He didn’t need any of the other things that baptism gives.
So WHY was He baptised?
For us.
So that WE might have a way of being UNITED to Him.
When we are baptised, we join to HIM who was baptised.Our baptism is about being united to Him.

St Paul puts it this way:
The “old man”, Adam, must die in us, in order that the “new man”, Christ, might live in us (Rom 6:4-5; 1 Cor 15:22).
So when we are baptised we descend into the tomb with Christ, that we might rise from the tomb with Him.
St John thus calls it a new birth, saying we must be “born again”(Jn 3:5), by baptism.

The Lord Jesus wanted us to be united to Him, and so He established the sacrament, the ritual, of baptism, so that by adoption, we might share in what He possesses by nature.
When the Lord Jesus came out of the water a voice spoke from heaven and said, “You are by Son, the Beloved”.
By baptism, we also become adopted children of our heavenly Father.
When the Lord Jesus came up out of the water the Holy Spirit visibly descended on Him in the form of a dove.
By baptism, we receive gift of that same Spirit.
Water washed the body of the Lord Jesus.
By our baptism, the Original Sin we inherit from Adam is washed away,
and, if we are adults, our personal sins are washed away too.

Baptism, however, is not the END of our union with Christ, rather it is the beginning.
The FULNESS of the Holy Spirit is given in another sacrament, Confirmation.
The RENEWAL of baptismal forgiveness of sins is restored each time we go to the sacrament of Confession.
Marjorie was baptised as an Anglican, years ago.
Today, Marjorie comes to the fullness of what she received in her baptism, a twofold fullness:
On one hand, the fulness of the Holy Spirit, in Confirmation.
On the other hand, the fulness of Communion with the universal Church, the Catholic Church.
What she already had as an Anglican was real, but it lacked the FULNESS she will receive today.
Baptism makes us adopted children of our heavenly Father.
Baptism thus makes us part of the “family” of God, which is His Church.
Today, by being received into that Full Communion she gets the fulness of her baptism.
For Ian, He receives all of this today.
For him, the process is different, in that he now must rise to cooperate with all those graces.

What of all of us?
Today is a moment to remember the grace of our own baptism and confirmation, to recall the greatness of being part of the universal Church, God’s family.
And today is a moment, too, to recommit ourselves to our own baptism, to daily die and rise with Christ.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Epiphany



Mt 2:1-12
Today we keep the feast of the Epiphany, when we recall the ‘wise men’ who came from ‘the east’(Mt 2:1). Today, I’d like us to focus on the wise men themselves, and see what their behaviour might teach us.

First, let us consider WHAT they came to do.
As we heard them say to King Herod, “we have come to do Him homage”(Mt 2:2).
WE, in contrast, come from a culture when before we do anything we habitually are taught to consider,
“What’s in it for me? How will I benefit?”
They, in contrast, came from a culture where it was natural to give honour, “homage”, to others.
They WANTED to do this.
They would have no expectation of benefit to themselves -it was foreign king, in a foreign land -but they felt it was right to honour Him, and so they came.

Second, let us consider WHY they came.
Again, the text told us, “we saw his star as it rose”(Mt 2:2).
Let me point something out to you:
millions of people would have seen that same star, but only these three men knew what it meant, only these three men came.
Why did THEY know?
They knew because they were attentive: they were looking, they were listening.
They were looking at the stars.
They were listening and reading the SCRIPTURES.
As I’ve noted in previous sermons on the Epiphany, they were from “the east” (Mt 2:1), they were called “magi”, meaning ‘wise men’ of the religion of ‘the east’: magi of the pagan seer ‘Zoroaster’. And they were attentive to his prophecy that,
“A VIRGIN will conceive and bear a son, and a STAR will appear blazing at midday to signalise the occurrence… When you behold the star follow it… Adore the mysterious child, offering him gifts with profound humility” (the magi Zoroaster).
And so, they saw the star, they brought gifts, and they did homage.

Third, let us consider WHO they listened to. I said they were attentive, I said that it was only because they were attentive that they knew what the star meant. But WHO were they attentive to?
Who ruled Palestine? The Romans.
Yet, the Magi didn’t go to the Romans, they went to the JEWISH authorities. Tales of the expectation of a JEWISH Messiah had spread through the region and the east, they thus came to see, as they said, “the infant king of the JEWS”(Mt 2:2).
And even though Herod was a wicked king, he was a JEWISH king, and so he was able to refer them to the JEWISH Scriptures and the prophecy that he would be born in Bethlehem (Mt 2:5-6).
They listened to the right people, and they thus came to the right place.

Finally, let me note their experience towards the end of this narrative: “they were filled with delight”(Mt 2:10).
Joy, as I have repeatedly noted before and will note again, joy is a typical fruit that we see produced in people who meet the Lord.
BUT not everyone experiences joy:
The Pharisees and Sadducees were filled with envy, and so just hated Him;
Pilate was too busy with his own concerns, and was just perplexed;
but to those open to Him, to those who repent of their sins in the wonder of encountering the-Lord-made-flesh, to those He brings joy.

To conclude, what do the lives of these ‘wise men’ have to teach us?
First, the need to be focused on giving, not receiving.
In particular, giving honour to God, and not asking whether we benefit from it, or whether it is easy
-it wasn’t easy for these men to travel over a thousand miles by camel.
Second, the need to listen to the right people.
If we are to understand God speaking in the events our lives, then we need to read the BIBLE regularly, and listen to God’s Church
-just as the wise men could understand the star because of their attentiveness to the right things.
Finally, the fact that meeting the Lord will bring us joy.
We should not serve God just because it benefits us,
BUT it does benefit us, and this gives us yet another reason to love Him.
All this is what we see in the lives of the ‘wise men’ who came from ‘the east’.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Family Religious Practice, Feast of the Holy Family



Lk 2:41-52
I want to talk today about how the Holy Family, of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, can be a role model for religious practice in the family home. I’m aware that many in West Moors have grandchildren rather than just children, but hopefully you feel these are points we all need to ponder. And I’m aware, also, that in many ways I am preaching to the converted -if you’re here at Sunday Mass just a few days after Christmas, then you probably already take your religious practice seriously. Nonetheless, looking at the Holy Family can hopefully confirm you in that practice.

Let me start by pointing out a detail in the Gospel text we heard: “When he was 12 years old, they went up for the feast as usual”(Lk 2:42). The point I want to highlight is the “as usual” -they, as a family, had a REGULAR religious practice of going up to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Passover.
In our own families, as we all know, children pick up most of what they learn from their parents by osmosis -just absorbing what their parents do, and becoming like their parents in lots of little habits and manners.
This is why it’s really important that we have RELIGIOUS influences in the home.

Let me return to the Gospel text on another point: The boy Jesus makes it clear that being “busy with my Father’s affairs” (Lk 2:49) means that GOD is His REAL Father.
Now, for Jesus, this was true in a unique way.
But there is another sense in which it is true of the children in your home too. They belong to God even more than they belong to you. They are loved by God even more than they are loved by you.
Our heavenly Father entrusts the raising of His spiritual children to their physical parents. He wants you to raise them in such a way that you introduce them to HIM, their SPIRITUAL Father.
In our first reading while we didn’t get the whole story to hear the background, Hannah gave her child to God. She did this because she recognised that her child came from God, and so she offers him back. Something of that same attitude needs to be in every mother and in every father.

So, HOW do you introduce your child to God, his spiritual father?
You need to talk to your child ABOUT God, and teach your child about God.
You need to teach your child how to pray, how to talk TO God, just as you no doubt introduced your child to his grandparents and so forth.
And, returning to the image of the Holy Family having the regular family tradition of going up to the Temple for the Passover, we need to have little traditions in our families that imbed God into our lives.

What traditions can this include?
Most basically, the practice of attending Mass each and every Sunday. How does your child learn that God is a fixture and not just some disposable commodity? By the priority that you give to worshiping Him on HIS day, the Lord’s Day, Sunday. I’m very fortunate that when I was growing up I always experienced that Sunday Mass was a priority that was unquestioned. When we planned our weekend, we planned when Sunday Mass would be. When we travelled, we found out where the Catholic church would be, and what times it had Mass. And when my parents planned which out-of-school activities I would do, making those activities revolve around Mass, rather than the other way around -this taught me lessons even before I ever realised it.
Another simple practice is night prayers as a family. I’ve enclosed a sheet with some example prayers in the newsletter (click here). But there are many simple prayers a family can learn to say together at the foot of the bed. Learning to thank God at the end of the day. Learning to apologize to Him for the sins of the day. Asking Him for what I will need the next day.

To sum that up: the Holy Family had customs, family practices, that built God into their family life.
Our families, likewise, need to have customs, little traditions, things we regularly do, so that a child grows up having his or her physical parents introducing him or her to God the HEAVENLY Father.
Lets think today what those practices are in our own homes, and what more they could be.
And be thankful for what we ourselves experienced over life, for good or ill, that led us to be here today with God the Father.