Friday, 25 June 2021

Farewell Camp Gray: Coming Down the Mountain

Friday Week 12 Ordinary Time
Mt 8:1-4 
Those of you who have seen the ‘Paradox’ YouTube about Camp Gray, may remember its image of the mountain: 
Camp Gray is a mountain where people can come and ‘go up to the Lord. 
But, just as Peter, James, and John had to come down from the mountain, 
We all have to one day come down from the mountain, 
because there is work for us to do in the valley. 
Staffers have to leave, 
Priests have to leave, 
And, today, I have to leave. 

 In our Gospel text had the Lord Jesus come down from the mountain. 
My time with you has begun and ended with the lectionary gospel texts being with Him teaching from the mountaintop. 
It seems very ‘Camp Gray’ to leave with Him coming down the mountain. 

What does He DO when he comes down the mountain? 
Immediately, He is back to His ‘normal’ work of healing the sick. 
The leper is hesitant in asking, saying, “If you want to…” 
But He immediately returns to His work: 
“of course, I want to, be healed” 

 It is a continual pattern of our Christian living that 
 we go FROM the Lord 
 TO be WITH the Lord. 
We go:
From the Tabernacle in the Chapel 
To serving Him in the person of His little ones, 
 at table in the dining room;
From receiving Him in Holy Communion 
To serving Him in the person of His little ones, 
 adjusting the straps on their bike helmets. 
Always with the Lord.

This must be our vision: “Always with the Lord”. 

Not too many weeks from now, you too will have to leave the mountain. 
Let, “Always with the Lord” be your vision. 
Now: 
In the tabernacle 
In Confession 
In Mass 
In service of His little ones. 
Then: 
In your daily duties: 
Study, 
Love of family 
Love of friends 
Regularity in prayer. 

Always the Lord: 
On the mountain, 
in the valley. 
We don’t get to stay always on the mountain, but we do get to ALWAYS be with Him.

___
Camp Gray have two posts about me on their Instagram: 
A skit on my accent, here;
A little intro post, here, featuring a photo of me before competing in one of the games.

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Sermon: Hope, 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Mk 9:2-10
Today I’m going to speak to you about hope. 
Today, the second Sunday of Lent, is one of my favourite Sundays of the year. 
 I feel that in many ways it sums up the whole Christian life 
 -at least in this world. 
We pass through this world, as a vale of tears, Just as we are currently passing through Lent. 
We are given reasons to hope, as we live in their world, Just as the transfiguration is always given to us as a vision of hope this second Sunday of Lent. 
So, hope. 

 First, let’s note hope is something absent from our culture today,
 and absent from your generation. 
My parents’ generation, the people of the 1960s, they had hope. 
Admittedly, not real hope: it was Hippy-hope 
They sang of a better world to come. 
Their science fiction habitually pictured a happier future. 
The problem, is that world was poorly grounded: 
Hedonism, selfishness, rejection of discipline -this hasn’t built a better world. 
Today, science fiction is dystopian. We picture the future, and we picture something we fear will be awful. 
So, what we need is hope. 
2 questions: hope in WHAT? And hope with what BASIS? 

 The transfiguration, 
and the promise of the resurrection, 
and the awareness that this passes through the Cross, 
All this synthesises the Christian message of hope. 
But we can unpack it in more detail. 

 Two pivotal points: 

 (1) The REASON, the BASIS, for our hope? 
God is ACTIVE in our world. 
 The transfiguration was manifested at a pivotal moment: 
He had just predicted His death (Mk 8:31) 
He had just said that to be His follower you must “take up [your] cross”(Mk 8:34) 
AND He manifested His glory in precisely THAT context: 
The transfiguration is thus a testimony that God is ACTIVE through the suffering on the Cross; 
God is active through our sharing in it. 
And if He is active THERE on the Cross, If He is active in the greatest evil in human history -namely, God being killed, Then He is active through EVERYTHING. 
 This, surely, is half of the whole message of the Scriptures: 
It is a record of the deeds of God, 
It is record of how, again and again when we might mistakenly FEAR that He’s absent, Actually, He’s there, He’s doing stuff: 
Slavery in Egypt? The Exodus 
Exile in Babylon? Purifying His people and preparing to lead them home 
Both in the big picture, and in the small picture: He’s active, even amidst our suffering. 
The promise, the example, the testimony that this is so: 
This is the REASON to have hope. And the Transfiguration was given as pivotal promise and sign of this. 

 He’s active, but… 
(2) What is God active DOING? 
Remaking man. 
The transfiguration shows a vision of man remade. 
Looking glorious 
Looking “whiter than any earthly bleacher can make him” (Mk 9:3) 
Making him anew. 

 This goal, however, isn’t just about heaven. 
We are being remade upon earth. 
Man is CAPABLE of being remade, even now on earth -this is the message and promise of the Gospel. 
In Lent: 
 Our penances, our prayers, our almsgiving, are remaking us on earth, even now. 
The New Adam:
 Who was shown forth as Christ on the mountaintop,
 He is being remade, now, through our Lenten works. 


Back to our modern dystopian fears. 
We have hope, even in this world, 
 Because we have the promise of how man can be remade: 
Through the transforming power of His grace, 
Through sharing in the mystery of the Cross, 
To become new men, new men in Him. 

This gives us reason to have hope. 
There is something great in man, 
Something even more significant than the sin and suffering and concupiscence that weighs us down. 
This greatness was shown forth at the transfiguration, 
And it makes us look at fallen man with new eyes, eyes of hope.


To drawn that to a focus and conclusion: 
What does such hope do to my Lent? 
In Lent, possibly already in this second Sunday, 
It can be hard
The discipline, the hard work, the struggle of our penance 
The transfiguration gives us a vision to keep us going.
This failed flesh that I carry as my body, it CAN be transfigured like His.
It can be Pelagian
The heresy of doing it all by my own effort 
very English, also, very American.
The Transfiguration calls us to a change IN HIM 
As I struggle, I must look to HIM 
As I resolve, I must look to HIM 

Those 2 things again: 
(1) God is ACTIVE in this world, 
 as He was active through the Cross and leading to that glorification 
(2) God has a goal: 
 remaking man, remaking YOU.
Lent is long: 40 days is long.
Lent is hard.
  It’s a kind of sacrament of this whole ‘vale of tears’ 
It’s a sign 
But causing something: the bringing of a reality beyond: 
A share in the glorified Christ 
Manifested at the Transfiguration 
Achieved at the Resurrection 
Can be ours through our participation in Lent

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Sermon: For this purpose I have come, 5th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 1:29-39; 1 Cor 9:16-19,22-23

What was it like to meet the Lord?

It was to meet someone who utterly knew what He was about, His purpose, His mission

In reading today’s Gospel text, I was struck by this:

The crowds at Capernaum were demanding,

Peter and the apostles demanding…

But HE,

He knew he had somewhere else to be

He knew he had another group who needed Him

“… for this purpose I have come”

 

To meet the Lord was to meet someone who utterly knew what He was about, His purpose, His mission

He spoke to you, knowing what He was about

He came to you, knowing what His mission TO YOU implied

He preached

He healed

He cast out demons

-doing these, and all things, knowing what He was about

 

The Lord comes to us, too, today 

And He still knows what He is about

He knows what YOU need from Him

The teaching YOU need, 

what you need to hear TODAY

The sickness of soul YOU need to be cured of, 

right now

The demons YOU need have cast out: 

the oppression, the weight, the sin, 

that you need release from TODAY

The crowds, as we heard, flocked to Him

What is OUR eagerness in coming to Him?

 

(Pause)

The Lord knew what He was about,

 He knew the purpose for which He had come.

St Paul, too, knew what He was about.

There are many things we recognise when we meet someone who knows what they are about,

But, I’d suggest to you, one of the most striking, 

is when we meet someone who is clearly “about” OTHER people.

Someone whose busyness isn’t with their OWN agenda, 

but with what they see OTHER people need 

-maybe not what other people WANT, 

but what they need.

St Paul, in a phrase that I sometimes find terrifyingly exhausting as a pastoral model, 

said in today’s epistle:  

“I have become ALL things for ALL people, 

that I might save some of them”.

To live our lives focussed on others,

To live our lives so focussed on others that we can talk:

liturgy with the trads, 

biceps curls with the jocks, 

and Star Trek stuff with the nerds 

Continually shifting, 

continually becoming all things for all people, 

because that’s just a part of what love is about.

 

(Pause)

It’s often said that if you have the honour to meet certain ‘great’ people, 

they radiant the sense that 

when they’re talking to you, they are utterly interested in YOU.

I’ve often read such comments from people who met John Paul II and Mother Teresa.

It must have been so, 

to a superlative degree,

to be with the Lord.

And,

This is the terrifyingly exhausting bit: 

if we would be His priests, 

then we must strive to make it so with us too.

To day by day, 

hour by hour, 

minute by minute, 

be continually shifting to be “all things to all people”.

 

Where do we get the power to be such a person?

Prayer.

“Rising very early before dawn, He left and went off to a deserted place, where He prayed.” (Mk 1:35)

If I would be like Him:

To about a man of purpose

To be about others

To be about love

Then

I must come to Him, 

meet Him, 

be with Him.

Peter went off looking for Him, 

and finding Him said, “Everyone is looking for you”.

Let us also look for Him, 

That we might become, like Him, 

men of purpose, 

men for others.

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Sermon: Conversion of St Paul


There is one simple point I wish to focus on today: the PRIMACY of God’s action in our lives.

 

Today is the feast of the conversion of St Paul.

When we speak of  ‘conversion’ we speak, usually, of someone who changed their mind:

“He’s a convert” -usually means: he used to not be a Catholic

Now, he is a Catholic,

AND, If you ask him, he’ll tell you what intellectual conviction led him to the Catholic Church.

The problem with that narrative is:

That God doesn’t fit into the conversion account

-this description is about the man changing himself, changing his MIND

-this description isn’t about GOD changing him.

Perhaps most worryingly, 

not just about “the convert” but about “the seminarian”

-this description is one that lends itself to PRIDE

I have MADE myself into this GREAT man you see before you

I, the perfect seminarian.

I, the perfect formator.

 

Saint Paul was not a self-made man.

In contrast, we might say: SAUL was a self-made man.

But God took that “Saul” guy and knocked him off his horse, both literally and symbolically

God took him, and by His mighty providential planning,

By His mighty works of miracles -the voice, the blinding, the healing,

By His mighty grace -worked an inner transformation that made a NEW man:

Saul no longer, but Saint Paul.

 

 

 

(Pause)

I read a meme this week, quoting Fr Garrigou-Lagrange, who was probably the greatest theologian of the 20thcentury.

It said:

There are two doctrines that preserve us from pride:

One, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo

-If I have been created out of nothing, what pride can I take in myself!?!

Two, the doctrine of the primacy of God’s grace

-Even my ability to RESPOND to His grace is itself a work of grace within in.

We might note, not on that particular meme, but in St Thomas:

Concerning freedom, 

(for those of you who get concerning pondering this)

When God works in us by His grace

He moves us such that we become MORE free because of His action

Not less free

In a crude analogy:

When a father lifts a child so the child can reach something,

The father increases the child’s freedom, he doesn’t diminish it.

-even more so with God’s grace in us.

 

 

Back to Saul.

Saul, as we know, was what the early Christians would have seen as a boogy-man:

A man to frighten little children by telling tales of him.

Determined, organised, out to get them.

Travelling city to city, getting the proper documentation and authorisation to hunt and destroy them.

Saul was a very UNLIKELY CHOICE for an apostle.

But if God can make something out of nothing,

He can, even more easily, make an apostle out of a persecutor and sinner.

 

 

 

 

Now, where does this leave us?

I have many things in my life that don’t seem to change

Or, that seem to change only very slowly.

As long as I think my change is about ME,

Then my failure to change is a cause to despair.

But,

If my change, my conversion, is about HIM,

Then the whole problem looks different.

GOD is in charge,

GOD knows what He is doing.

If He can make an apostle out of Saul

Then He can make a saint out you and me.

He orders all things mightily,

As St Paul would later put it,

All things work to the good, for those who love the Lord,

For all He has called according to His purpose, called to be saints. (Rom 8:28)

He can take my being one who “loves the Lord” 

Even if I only live Him weakly,

He can take that, build on that, and work all things to the good. 

 

 

One of my favourite booksthe Spiritual Combat, by Don Lawrence Scupoli,

Expounds at length about how, even in His permitting my specific sins and falls:

He works to help me grow in humility,

Helps me grow in awareness that I need to place my confidence IN HIM.

Even in my failings,

“All things work to the good, for those who love the Lord”.

Why did God strike Saul from his horse?

Why did He blind him?

Because He had a plan for him, 

Because He loved him.

And it has been the same in my life, and yours,

He allows your sin,

To lead you humility

To lead you to more

He sometimes slaps us around a bit,

Because He has a plan for us

Because He loves us

 

To conclude,

Today we celebrate a conversion;

Today we celebrate the working of God’s grace;

God’s grace converted Saul, 

It was not Saul who converted Saul.

Let us rejoice to think: He can even convert us.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Sermon: He knows our weakness, Monday Ordinary time week 2, Year I

Heb 5:1-10

The law of the Church, in multiple places but most immediately in the General Instruction at the front of the Roman Missal, says there’s always to be a crucifix on clear display by the altar,

An image of “Christ crucified” (n.308) that is “clearly visible to the assembled congregation” (c.f. GIRM 117, 122, 306).

Why?  

Because the sacrifice on the altar is the sacrifice on the cross.

Devotionally, however,

the crucifix in a church means much more than, dare I say, “just” its relationship to the altar, 

and our first reading from Hebrews gets to the heart of it in speaking about how the Son “knows human weakness”.

 

The last four years, before I came here,

 I was stationed in a church that didn’t have a crucifix, 

with a congregation that had lived its entire existence never knowing a crucifix.  

I can remember having a public meeting explaining plans to install a crucifix, 

I can remember things the people said.

One said, “I don’t want a dead man hanging there”.

Another sad, “When you see him like that, it just makes you sad”.

Such words are words I’m afraid, that aren’t seeing with faith.

And, it is with faith in what the crucifix portrays

that we revolutionise how we think God interacts with us and with the world.

 

Is He a distant God?

Is a disconnected God?

On the Cross, as Hebrews tells us, 

we see the Son, sharing our weakness.

God is close

God is among us

In the everything when it FEELS like He is absent, 

the Cross shows us that He is not.

 

Do you feel lonely and isolated and fed up with the isolation of quarantine?

He knew loneliness and isolation in His last night in earth when they locked Him in a cell.

Do you feel tired and fed up?

He knew tiredness, 

Whatever you feel of human weakness: 

He knew mourning, He knew “silent tears”, He knew and knows it all…

 

All this tell us about God.  

And it is a revolution.

And, sadly, there is a comfortable middle class false God that tries to hide from suffering, that does not like like cross,

 

(pause)

But, the Cross, and the letter to the Hebrews,

 it also tells us about the priesthood,

 and about your vocation to the priesthood.

Pope Francis speaks about “accompaniment”, 

that the priest is to accompany his people, 

that the priest is to smell of the sheep.

 

You are weak and human

and your future parishioners need to know that you FEEL weakness WITH them.

You sin, and go to confession,

and your future parishioners need to know that you FEEL this WITH them.

 


(pause)

To conclude, 

All Christians need to see themselves on the Cross.

Need to learn to take up their own cross WITH Him

Need to learn to hang there with Him.

A priest,

a seminarian,

Needs to learn a devotion to the crucifix that sees himself there.

So that he can learn, even more,

“to sympathise with those… in weakness”.

 

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Sermon: Stay with Him, 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time, Year B




Jn 1:35-42; 1 Sam 3:3-10,19

I want to return to one of my favourite themes:

what it was like, as an EXPERIENCE for the apostles to meet the Lord.

That first encounter;

The Baptist had said, “Behold!”

And WHAT did they behold?

when God, the infinite, the Almighty,

-when He took flesh and was THERE before them?

That first seeing Him

 -what did He look like? how did His body move?

 

Pope Francis makes an observation about the text we heard in the Gospel, about that description of the first encounter between the Lord and what was presumably the disciple John:

Saint John wrote that text many YEARS later, possibly many decades later,

Yet, he still remembered the precious moment, the exact time, he first met Him:

“The apostles never forgot the moment when Jesus touched their hearts: ‘It was about the tenth hour [four o’clock in the afternoon]’ (Jn 1:39).”(Evangelii gaudium n.13)

And, what did they do?

“They stayed with Him the rest of that day” (Jn 1:39).

 

You and I are here today because we also have encountered the Lord.

We have encountered Him in many different ways:

Childhood catechesis,

My First Holy Communion,

Confession 

Most of us, also, have had moments when we could specify something tangible:

When I was in THAT church, in THAT year of life, after THAT problem/blessing/event

-but the Lord does not have ONE path He calls by, 

and our experiences are manifold

 

What is common to us all, is that we have met and been called by the Lord.

Maybe by a voice that was clear, like Samuel in our first reading;

Maybe by a silent breeze, like Elijah.

But, regardless,

We are here because we were called.

And even if you don’t yet know if you’re called to be a priest, you know that HERE in this place,

You are called to “They stayed with Him that day” (Jn 1:39).

 

 

Seminary, as know, can have its trials.

But, even speaking as someone who went to a very bad seminary,

Seminary is place of unique blessing, 

Because, it is a place to “stay with Him”.

 

 

(pause)

Most of us, I’m sure, are returning from a nice rest and break.

But many of us, I know, found it hard to PRAY while we were away,

Found it hard to “stay with Him” while we were away.

The laity are also called to be with Him,

But we are uniquely fortunately to have way of life STRUCTURED around making that possible.

So, how are we going to USE that opportunity this semester?

 

This semester is going to be rush.          

Less than 11 weeks of being physically resident.

No mid-term rest.

Still restricted in our movements off-campus.

But whatever else this semester is going to be, 

We need to make it time to “stay with Him”.

The apostles stayed with Him 3 years non-stop before He sent them off.

 


(pause)

Returning to our Gospel text:

What did John and Andrew DO when they “stayed with Him that day’?

Presumably, some of the things we need to do:

They listened, 

as we need to listen to hear HIS voice through our lectures and talks and reading these months.

They looked, 

as we need to be ATTENTIVE to have Him communicate to us, amidst events, amidst people.

And, most simply, 

they were PHYSICALLY there, 

as we need to be with Him in prayer, with Him here in the chapel.

And, today, in class, in prayer, 

the Gospel texts especially need to be what we are reading, 

where we are seeking to find Him.


 

To conclude.

“Jesus looked hard” at Peter

And He has looked hard at you.

He chose Peter,

And He has chosen you.

He found Peter worthy, worthy to be given a chance to become something more,

And, somehow, He’s found you worthy too.

 

This is our first Sunday together,

We could do worse than take this image for our semester: 

To “Stay with Him that day”

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Sermon: Comfort my people, 2nd Sunday of Advent Year B


 

Isa 40:1-5,9-11; Mk 1:1-8

Today I want to speak of God’s plan to comfort us

 -His Advent plan to comfort us by His coming

 

Today is our last Sunday together

When we are next together for a Sunday the year 2020 will be over, 

and few of us will be sad to see it go.

 

Now, it’s true, there have been many other, worse moments in history.

If we think of the history the PCJ has lived through:

Mgr Jessing had to fight through the Prussian war with Denmark

Members of the PCJ must also have been through 

WWI and WWII

We’ve not had starvation and famine, many have.

We’ve been separated from family, 

but at least we had telephone and zoom -other generations did not.

Yet

This has been a pretty lousy year

A horrible year

And,

I want comfort

I’m pretty sure YOU want comfort

WHO will comfort us?

 

Who?

God promised

God did

God does in every generation

 

HOW does He comfort?

In His coming

-this is a truth so perpetually available that we easily forget it,

 

His coming makes all things bearable, even joyful.

The presence of a loved one, the present of a friend, makes all the difference:

I might have a shake from Steak and Shake

A burger from Chick-fil-et

And a cookie from the PCJ kitchen

but alone, without a friend -it doesn’t feel like much.

Whereas even the worst ordeal become a lighter with a friend.

 

And

WHO is coming? 

Your best friend, your greatest friend 

And He says that He comes with “comfort”

The message His commands His prophet Isaiah to proclaim to you is “comfort”

 

 

(pause)

Let’s recall the context of that first promise of coming (Isa 40:1-11):

The chosen people were at their lowest point:

They no longer had the land,

They knew their sin had caused The Lord to take it from them,

They were in exile, in Babylon, with no reasonable cause for hope.

 

 

The cause of hope they had was not natural, but Divine:

A promise

Yes, they had sinned, 

but, the promise says, 

their time of guilt has been expiated

Yes, they were still in a foreign land, 

but, the promise says, 

their God is coming, 

His Glory will be revealed

The valleys will be filled in,

The mountains laid low

The rugged ground made plain

In a phrase I always feel sums it up:

He is “Coming in POWER”

-He is a God who DOES stuff 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(pause)

I’m going home tomorrow

I’ll have 14 days of quarantine,

BUT I’m going home

And that’s a comforting thought.

I want to make the point to you, however,

Is that it would be a mistake to make my deepest COMFORT be about going home

My real comfort has to be about the presence of God.

 

 

(pause)

He is coming

But

There is something WE must do:

We must prepare

Isaiah said we must, 

“Prepare the way of the Lord”

John the baptist says, 

“prepare the way of the Lord”

 

He will not comfort me if I’m are not ready

He will not comfort me if I’ve not prepared 

He CANNOT comfort me if I have not prepared 

-within us, we need to be ready for what He WANTS to do in us and for us

 

But,

If I’ve prepared,

As much as I’ve prepared,

He comes

He comforts.

 

 

 

To return to my opening thought about the year 2020:

 

What does 2021 hold?

We might point to worldly indicators of what it holds, and some of those look good:

At least one of the 3 vaccines could restore normality to society before 2022. 

It seems, with that, an end to lockdowns and restrictions,

 in society and in the PCJ

-an end will be coming!

But, it’s still not going to be an easy year

 

So, let’s think of the non-worldly indicator of what 2021 will bring:

Yes, It’s going to be a LONG year again

But, HE could be with me in it

He WANTS to COMFORT me in it

Comfort me by His COMING

NOTHING can make life as bearable as His Presence

As one of our English martyrs said,

“First friend He was,

Best friend He is,

All times will find Him true.”(St Robert Southwall)

He was even true to me through 2020.

I can make it more so in 2021, if I let Him come

 

 

“Comfort, comfort my people…

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…

Fear not and cry out

And say to the cities of Judah:

HERE is your God!

He comes with power…His reward with Him…

Like a shepherd He feeds His flock”