Sunday, 27 February 2011

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 6:24-34
We just heard in today’s Gospel text a beautiful example of Our Lord’s intimate and compassionate knowledge of our human nature. We heard Him speak about worrying –that thing that we can spend so much time and effort doing.
Over these past weeks we’ve heard Our Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: Sometimes we hear Our Lord’s words uttered as words of authority, of command, sometimes we hear Him speak hard words that we know are not easy to follow. But today, as I said, we hear this same Lord, who was and is both fully God and fully human, we heard Him speak very human words to us:
words about worrying, words that show He knows exactly what we are like.

Most of us have at least some occasions when we worry. Many of us will have nights when we lie in bed worrying about things. And worrying is an odd thing: it’s not like planning or decision making when we actually achieve something, when we actually become better able to deal with what we must do. No, worrying does not help us in any way. As Jesus beautifully put it, “Can any of you, for all his worrying, add one single cubit [or hour] to his span of life?”(Mt 6:27)

And yet, we do worry, and we often spend great energy worrying.
So, how can we avoid worrying? Perhaps in addressing this question Jesus’s words do get a little more pointed and challenging, because He directly turns His focus onto WHAT it is that we so typically worry about, i.e. as to whether it is selfish or materialistic worrying, or whether it is actually concern about heavenly things, “you cannot be the slave of two masters... of both God and of money [mammon]” (Mt 6:24).

Most of us have probably had moments when we realise that so often when we worry about something we worry about it because of how it will affect ME, not about how it will affect others -that even when we worry about family our worries can we filled with anxiety not for their sake but because of some way in which we fear matters will affect us: affect our time, our reputation, or something else. This is one aspect of worry that the Lord calls on us to identify within ourselves and to seek to “let go”, to detach ourselves from our selfish attachment, and to attach ourselves instead to God: “see ye first the kingdom of God” (Mt 6:33).
So, one cause of worry is materialism and the remedy to this is to remind ourselves that “life means more than food and the body more than clothing”(Mt 6:25).
A deeper cause of worry is our selfishness, and the remedy to this is to be bold enough to seek to love others first, and love God first and foremost, because when we do this our worries often take on a much reduced significance.

There is, however, yet another cause of worry, and that is our lack of trust in God. And here Jesus berated His disciples for being “men of little faith” (Mt 6:30). He pointed out that God cares for the flowers of the field and the birds of the sky, and yet God loves us much more than either of these.
This type of worry can often we rooted in a sort of mistaken attempt to do everything ourselves and by our own power. And the remedy to this is to call of God’s grace, trust in His strength, and trust in His plan for our welfare.

“So do not worry about tomorrow”, and as more literal translations put it in a beautiful parody of our own worrying: “tomorrow will worry about itself” (NIV) “tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (RSV), “Each day has troubles enough of its own”.

Clergy are not immune from worry, as I’m sure you’re aware. Popes are not immune from worry. As Pope John XXIII supposedly used to pray each night as he pondered the problems in the Church, “It's your Church, not mine, Lord. I'm going to sleep now”.
If we seek to put God’s things first, we use our talents as He has given them and work, plan, and make our decisions, then we should be able to take the good pope’s attitude for ourselves:
it’s His world, His problems, and we can entrust them to Him.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

7th Sunday in Ordinary time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 5:38-48; Lev 19:1-2.17-18
The Lord Jesus, as we know, had a great many questions that people put to Him. Like, for example, the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”, or the question relating to the commandment to love our neighbour, "Who is my neighbour?"
Perhaps, a more interesting question would have been for someone to ask Him, "Who is my enemy?"
I have days when I think that I could answer that with quite a long list! It's a question I could answer quite easily, but I might need a lot of ink in my pen to do write them all down!
You too probably have days when you could draw up quite a list for that one as well.

However, nobody asked Jesus the question, "Who is my enemy?"
If they had I think I might dare to venture and tell you what answer I think that Jesus would have given: I think this would have been another example of an answer where Jesus would have turned the question on its head.
If Jesus was to answer the question, "Who is my enemy?", I think He would have answered NOT by describing who treats us as our enemy, but rather, but how we should treat the person who is our enemy, namely, the answer I think He might have given is this:
"Who is my enemy?"
“Your enemy is your neighbour” –because Jesus took the command to love our neighbour and said that we must love our enemy too.

Now, of course, pretty much by definition, my enemy does not SEEM to be my neighbour, does not seem to be the person I should love.
Jesus, however, taught the crowds and teaches us the fundamental reason why my enemy and I are on an equal footing:
the same good God loves both of us.
The same "Father in heaven... causes His sun to rise on bad men as well is good, and His rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike”(Mt 5:45)
and we might add that Jesus died out of love for those who killed Him just as truly as He died for those who followed Him. He died for Caiaphas and Pilate as much as He died for Peter, James and John.
So Jesus concluded, "You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect"(Mt 5:48), i.e. love your enemy just as your heavenly Father loves him.

"Who is my enemy?"
I could answer that by saying: he is the person who frustrates my plans, he is the person who speaks ill of me, he is the person who stops me having an easy life.
Or, I could answer by saying: he is someone made by the same God who made me, he is someone made in the image of God just as truly as I am in the image of God, he is someone that God wishes to save just as truly as He wishes to save me.

And finally, HOW do I love my enemy? After all, for some reason he IS my enemy. What does loving him mean practically?
To love someone means to seek his welfare, his good (c.f. St Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II Q28 a3 ad3).
Sometimes that involves correction, involves pointing out where he has wronged me.
But always it involves me doing this, and other things, for HIS benefit, because it is good FOR HIM. This is love. This is love for my enemy.

If I would love the good God who loves me,
if I would love those whom the good God would have me love,
then I must love not merely the brother who is agreeable and pleasant to me,
I must love not merely the neighbour who is at least not un-pleasant to me,
but rather, I must love my enemy .

Sunday, 13 February 2011

6th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 5:17-37; Ecc 15:15-20; Ps 118; 1 Cor 2:6-10
I want to say a few words today about why the law that we Christians follow is a better law, a law that we should be happy to follow.
Now, it may be that you don't think of yourself as following a "law”, but actually, every way of life has some form of "law" that embodies it:
a golfer plays golf according to the rules of golf, according to its laws;
the driver drives his car according to “The Rules of the Road”, or Highway Code;
within every family: every family has certain ways of doing things, places that things get kept in the kitchen, chores that are either shared or the responsibility of a certain individual -and if you visited, or if you live in, a house where there seem to be no agreed "rules", then that is actually a way of living, a "rule" in itself!

But some sets of rules are more important than others. In particular, religious rules. Every religion embodies a different philosophy, a different way of living, or, as we heard St Paul say in our second reading, a different "wisdom"(1 Cor 2:6). Some religions express the way of life they call for in very precise rules, while some do not. We know that the Jews of our Lord's time had very precise rules about ritual washing: “For the Pharisees, and all the Jews...when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze”(Mk 7:3-4) etc.

What governs the rules that we Christians live? The answer to this question is what we heard articulated by the Lord Jesus in today's gospel. We know from other occasions and other texts that He was very critical of the Pharisees, that He was critical in particular of their approach to the law. The Pharisees had surrounded the Law of Moses with a great many other laws, laws that Jesus condemned because He said they actually AVOIDED the purpose of the law (c.f. Mk 7:1-13).
Jesus said that He had come to "complete" or “fulfil” (Mt 5:17) the law. The virtue that He calls us to is one that He says goes "deeper"(Mt 5:20) than that of the Pharisees. And He illustrates this with a series of examples. In each example He quotes a law and then indicates a "deeper" more fulfilled practice of the law. “You have heard it said of old... But I say to you...”.

I want to make an observation, however, about the greater depth that Jesus calls us to: the greater depth He calls us to is a TOUGHER law to follow, but a BETTER law, a law we should be even HAPPIER to follow. There are many ways of life, many philosophies of this world, many sets of rules, that claim an easier way of life, but they are ultimately not as convincing as the "rules" that Jesus calls us to.
Jesus says it is not enough to not “kill” your neighbour, you must not be "angry" with him either. He says it is not enough to avoid physically committing "adultery", you must avoid “looking” with lust. And further examples that He gave in the Sermon on the Mount and that we will hear in following weeks all point to an "deeper" living of the purpose of the law.

Obviously, in the short term, to avoid killing is much easier than to avoid anger.
Obviously, what Jesus is calling us to is something tougher.
But, it does not take much reflection to see that what He is calling us to is exactly what He says it is: a more "complete", “deep”, “fulfilled” living of the purpose of the Law.

To return to my opening observation: every way of life is embodies in some form of "law". But the law that Jesus calls us to is a better law, a law we should be happy to follow.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

on Mt 5:13-16.
I don't know what you think when you hear that phrase in today's gospel, "You are the light of the world". I'm sure some people think, "Yes, I'm a lamp burning brightly", but I often feel more like a dead light bulb, or a candle flickering in the wind. Because I know I'm a sinner, and that my sin obscures my ability to be a light.

But Jesus knew we were sinners when He called us to be the light of the world.
Jesus said in the gospel that we must be light, "so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven", and I think that it is in this we see a key as to how we are to be light to the world:

If people were supposed to see us do good actions and think that we were great ourselves, then maybe we'd have to give up. But the fact that the credit for the good is supposed to go to God, reminds us that it is actually from God, and from Him alone, that all grace and goodness comes.

Many of us will know times when we've been surprised at the good that has been done by someone we might not have expected, we can sometimes even be surprised by the good we do ourselves -and this is one of the ways that we can see that there is a source of goodness that comes from outside of us, from God.

People that see us and know us, know that we are weak, know that we are sinners.
So hopefully, when they see us doing good they may realise that the strength to do so comes from God, and they may be led to a greater faith in God.
And so our good deeds should not be self-glorifying, but God-glorifying.

If we think that we are weak, then we'd do well to look at the Scriptures.
Time and time again we see in the Bible, how when God chooses people, He chooses weak people. And He chooses weak people because it in them that His power can be more obviously seen as God's power and not human strength.
Moses was so inarticulate that he had to get his brother Aaron to speak for him, and yet through God's power he led the Children of Israel to freedom.
David was the youngest and smallest of his brothers, and yet through God's power he defeated Goliath and became a great leader of his people.
The 12 apostles were constantly making mistakes, slow to understand. Peter himself denied Jesus three times. And yet through them God established His Catholic Church across the world, the longest lasting institution in human history.

In our own day we too have had great examples of God working through weak people. Take Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Physically she was no-one at all, and yet few would deny the great goodness worked through her. It was largely through seeing the action of God in her that the famous Malcolm Muggeridge came to have faith. And there are many less famous examples, people, I am sure, that we have known ourselves.

God has chosen US too, He wants us to be His witnesses, His light.
The title that Christ gives us is one of great honour because it is one He uses of Himself, He said, "I am the light of the world". And by giving us that title Jesus was identifying us with Himself. He is calling each one of us to become other Christs, to become Christ Himself.
While we know we don't have the strength to be such lights ourselves, we do have the strength in Him.
As scriptures says, his grace is sufficient for me; and with His grace we can do all things, we can even be light to the world.