Sunday, 29 July 2012

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Jn 6:1-5; 2 Kgs 4:42-44
In the Church, we start today 5 week series of Sundays (Weeks 17-21, Year B) where the readings are all about the Eucharist. The Eucharist is God’s greatest gift to us because it is His very self that He gives to us, and during the coming weeks I’m going to draw out some of the quite varied parts of that. But I want to start, as the readings today direct us, to start by focusing on the simple fact that God PROVIDES for us –the Eucharist being the key SPIRITUAL provision He makes for us.
In the Gospel we just heard of how Jesus fed the 5000
But I want to point something out to you: the people did not come to Jesus looking for food.

In the Gospel, the people didn’t get fed because they demanded food from Jesus –
There were times in the gospels when they DID demand food, and demand signs, and Jesus then refused (e.g. Mt 12:39).
They got fed in this case because what they demanded was Jesus Himself. He is the one that life is all about, He is the one who created us, He is the one who came to save us, to shows us what life is truly about. The life we seek with Him lasts for eternity in heaven, it doesn’t just fade away like an old TV screen.
“Seek ye FIRST the Kingdom of God”(Mt 6:33), and these other things will be added too.
The crowds flocked to Jesus because they saw this. They flocked to Him with such eagerness that they went out into the wilderness to be with Him,
with such eagerness that they didn’t think to take food for the body.
And if we’re honest this is rarely our own attitude to the Lord: I can grumble about waking up early in the morning to come down to pray to Him, or about other ways in which going to be with Him ‘interferes’ with my life.
What we NEED is to seek the Lord first.

Having the Lord provide for us is only something that comes about in a secondary way, and in this there is a big principle of the spiritual life. It’s possible for us to spend all our time demanding THINGS of God, praying just for material things –and they may be important material things, but focusing on the material things.
And if we do this, we may get some of these things we need. But we’re putting the cart before the horse, we’re valuing our passing body more than our eternal soul.

This Gospel text, and the first reading that is a foreshadowing of it by the miracle of Elisha, these readings remind us that it is a PERSON who provides for us in life: it’s the Lord. Jesus provided food for the crowds, to feed them even before they seem to have asked for food –the apostles were asking, but the people didn’t seem to have asked yet.
And Jesus fed them so abundantly that there were 12 baskets left over (Mt 14:13-21).
And it is that PERSON that we must seek before all else.

Life is not always easy,
We have times when we are in need, in many different ways,
But the providence of God promises to watch over us in all things, promises that His plan guides us in all things: “all things work to the good for those who love the Lord” (Rom 8:28)
He doesn’t promise an easy life: there will be trials and tribulations. But as St. Paul says, “these are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of Him who loved us”(Rom 8:35ff). If we seek to be close to Him, then He will remain with us, and He will feed us today as He fed the crowds so long ago.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Mk 6:30-34

Probably the common complaint that is ever made about a sermon is that it is too long. While people do complain about boring sermons, or complicated sermons,, or other things, people seem to be most concerned about the LENGTH of sermons.

The Lord Jesus, I would suggest to you, had a different set of priorities, and I think the final verse of today’s Gospel makes that clear:
He came ashore and saw the crowds “harassed and dejected”(c.f. Mt 9:36), “and He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd”(Mk 6:34). The key fact I want to draw your attention to, however, is what He DID when “He took pity of them”: “He set himself to teach them at some LENGTH”.
He gave them a LONG sermon BECAUSE He took pity on them.

TEACHING is what Jesus came to earth to do. Yes, He came to die for our sins; and to establish the Sacraments and His Church as the means for us to encounter Him down the ages. But TEACHING is an essential part of what He came to do.

And what did He come to teach? He came to teach us the TRUTH. Truth being something so essential to His work that He identified Himself with it: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”(Jn 14:6), He said. Not the truth about football or farming or any other thing that is a PART of life but about life ITSELF: about what “Life” is about, about the “Way” to live, and He put these two together with “Truth” as an indivisible whole.

(pause) Many people today deny there is any such thing as “truth” –it’s all just a matter of opinion they say, or it’s all relative, or the ‘truth’ for you is not the ‘truth’ for me.
Famously, when the Lord said that He had come to witness to the Truth, Pontius Pilate scornfully said, “What is truth?”(Jn 18:38).
Philosophically, the attitude of “scepticism” has dominated much of Western thinking since the 16th Century, with thinkers sceptical of any claim to know the truth.
More recently, the philosophy of Nihilism, a word derived from the Latin for “nothing”, claims not merely that we cannot know the truth but that there is no truth.

Now, it can be noted that these claims are self-contradictory:
The Skeptic's claim that “No-one can know whether something is true” is itself a claim to know that at least that that statement is true -which would then be contradicted.
Similarly, the Nihilist claim that “There is no truth” is itself a statement claiming to be true, which would be a self-contradiction.
But, more existentially, these denials of truth have an immediate effect on our lives:
To believe there is no truth results in the phenomenon of despair –there can be no hope unless there is meaning and purpose, unless there is truth. I’m sure many of us know people who think life in general is pointless, and that their own life in particular is pointless –it’s not a happy state to be in. And this is why truth is not only ‘true’ but IMPORTANT –our happiness depends on us knowing the truth.

Our happiness DEPENDS on us knowing the truth. That’s why, to come back to that scene in the Gospel, when Jesus saw the crowds and “took pity on them” He TAUGHT them –because they needed the truth to be happy.
So the next time we find ourselves grumbling at a long sermon let us remind ourselves that a priest of Christ has that Truth to impart to us, and be grateful for that much at least!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

on Eph 1:1-14; Mk 6:7-13; Amos 7:12-15.
This week a previously secret government report on UFOs and possible aliens was made public. Such things frequently attract a lot of attention.
Many of you will remember the 1990s TV series ‘The X-files’ that was about government dealings with aliens, and claimed to expose a sinister “Masterplan” -a grand conspiracy between aliens and government agencies to eventually set up Earth as an alien colony.
A more recent example, right now in the cinemas, is yet another re-working of this notion of secret alien plans at work in human history in the film Prometheus which envisages that aliens have left ancient secret messages in various records of pre-historic cultures. So the movie characters set off to find “the origins of humanity” in the stars.

And of course, these are just a couple examples of the many alien conspiracy theories that claim to uncover the meaning of human existence in secretive hidden plots: Plots by aliens, plots by freemasons, plots by huge financial companies, revelations made in star signs, or messages telling us that we must prepare for the awakening of galactic consciousness at a date written in crop circles.

One might be tempted to dismiss all this as junk, and say that it is simply an example of G.K.Chesterton's saying that when people reject God, when they start believing in nothing, they end up believing in anything!
But actually all these books and writers point us to a simple fact: People want to know the truth about the plan of life because knowing it is the only way that people can hope to get the best out of life. And most people can see enough to see that there IS some plan in life. Seeing how other people are seeking should remind us Christians about the precious truth that we already know, because we do know the plan and purpose of human life.

In our second reading today, Saint Paul tells us that God's masterplan was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has revealed the mystery of His purpose, and given us the knowledge of the plan of salvation. This plan is no longer something hidden, it has been revealed by Christ so that we can experience it. It's not a plan that is deviously complex, it's a plan that is simple in its aim, and can be briefly stated.

Even before the foundation of the world, God had chosen each one of us and destined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ. We were made to share in the one sonship of Jesus Christ -the son of the Father. Christ became incarnate so that by joining our humanity to His divinity, we too might become heirs of heaven. This plan was disrupted by our sin, but Christ redeemed us by His blood. And this redemption becomes effective in us through our incorporation into Christ by faith and the sacramental life in the Church. This is how the Father's plan for us to become His adopted children was realised.

This is the REAL plan that is at work in the world we live in. It's a doctrine that is so familiar to us that we might easily lose sight of its significance. God didn't just give us the gift of life and then left it at that. He didn't choose to later abandon us when we had sinned and abandoned Him. He didn't choose to forgive us but leave us with just an earthly life with no hope of heaven.

God's plan for us is that we should be His adopted children, heirs of heaven. This is the plan and purpose to our lives. None of the animals share this glory, not even the angels have this honour. Only WE have it offered to us in Christ Jesus. Each of us is chosen and called just as certainly as the prophet Amos was called in our first reading and the Twelve Apostles were called in today’s Gospel text. This is the plan at work in creation, once hidden, but now made known to us. Our happiness lies in following this plan.

Back to where I began. If you want to know the secret government plans about what to do if they find alien visitors, then you can now read it online.
If you want to know what happens to the people who go to the stars to find “the origins of humanity” then you can go to the Salisbury Odeon and watch the film Prometheus.
If you want to know the details of the X-files’ masterplan then you can watch it on endless re-runs on SKY television.
But if you want to know the REAL masterplan, God's masterplan, the one revealed in and by Jesus Christ, then we need only recall the words of Saint Paul, "Before the world was made, He chose us, chose us in Christ... that we should become His adopted sons"(Eph 1:5).

Sunday, 8 July 2012

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

A few weeks ago I was visiting with my family, and my little niece got a talking doll, but her doll wasn't talking. She’s barely 4 years old yet she was able to confidently say that it needed new batteries. And this struck me as interesting, because she doesn't know what batteries are, but she’s heard that this is the problem.
And it seems to me that in this regard she actually sees more than many grown-ups: she sees that there is more to life than what she can understand for herself.
A child’s faith accepts what it does not understand –and this is why Christ praised those who have the faith of little children.

We live in a secular pseudo-scientific world that judges only by what it can see –as many people say, they cannot see God therefore there is no God.
In contrast, Christian Faith, and the eyes of faith, enables us to see a whole different world.
Let me point to three examples in today’s readings:
(a) 2 Cor 12:7-10, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee’
-we often demand to see God present in our life, in our suffering, in the thorn in our side.
But God’s presence isn’t limited to what we can see, rather, He is present most of all in our weakness, when we are most obviously in need of Him, even when we deny it and tell ourselves that we’re somehow alright without Him.
(b) Ez 2:2-5 ‘They shall know they have a prophet in their midst’
How shall they know? By God’s power being manifested –but only if their eyes are open to see it.
(c) Mk 6:1-6 ‘Prophet recognised as such everywhere but in his home country’
They didn’t recognise that God was present in His teaching and person
And so He worked few miracles among them
Because their eyes of faith were blind -God’s power was there, but they refused to see it, refused to call upon it.

We know electricity is present by its effects
We know grace is present by its effects -We know it is lacking by its effects, too:
We know the lack of grace in our stress and overworking:
–thinking we can survive without God, working on our own power, forgetting about God during the day because we somehow have ‘more important’ things to do.
We know the lack of grace in our sin:
Either, when we fail in love, and sin -In impatience, in selfishness, in hardness of heart
Or, in our blindness to sin, when we somehow fool ourselves into thinking we’ve not sinned -that there is nothing more that I owe God, my family, my neighbour -that I’m perfect!

These are a couple of the many signs to us that God is present, and that God is absent (absent in that we fail to let Him act in us)
To return to the example of my little niece,
She knows that there is more activity in the world than just what she can see
More than just what she can understand
If we would know that ‘there is a prophet here among us’
Then we must open our eyes too
Whether you’re heavily working, or whether you’re retired,
Or whether you have a hectic household with children,
just about to get more hectic as the summer holidays begin
Whatever our state of life, for all of us, we must open our eyes EVER MORE, Minute by minute,
To know that God is present, that God is active,
And He wishes to be MORE active in us
He is present in the Mass, in prayer, by His grace,
But it a presence we can only see if we open our eyes to see with the eyes of faith

If we do open our eyes to see then we will not have said of us what was said of the people of Jesus’s hometown: ‘He did not work many wonders among them, because of their lack of faith’

Sunday, 1 July 2012

No sermon

There is no sermon text this week because we have a visiting priest while Fr Dylan is away