Sunday, 26 January 2014

Religion Causes Peace, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

1 Cor 1:10-13.17
I want to say a few words today about why religion is a force for peace and good in the world.
As we all know, the reverse is often asserted, we are often told that religion divides and brings wars. And sadly, as we heard in our second reading today, there are real divisions: we heard St Paul berating the early Christians for the factions among them. And in different ways there are divisions among the Christians churches today, which is why we’ve been praying for unity in this annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The divisions among us are, rightly, seen as something that contradicts the very message we proclaim, and make it more difficult for us to proclaim that message with conviction. In the light of this we might recall that The Lord Jesus, on the night before He died, prayed that His Church might be one, "in order that the world might believe”(Jn 17:21).

Let me note three things, however. First, the divisions within Christianity are often exaggerated by our non-Christian critics. Yes, they are real. Yes, they are problem. But when unbelievers point to them and say things like, "Religion is the main cause of wars in human history”, they exaggerate to a point that has lost touch with the facts. Don't look at it now, but I've included in the newsletter an article summarising some statistics (that you can check further online) that indicate that actually the vast majority, 93%, of all wars have not been about religion.

Second, it is religious figures more than any other that are the forces for peace and reconciliation in human history. We might think of old figures like St Francis of Assisi, but I was very struck this week by the repeated media photos of priests in the Ukraine positioning themselves between the guns, and praying for peace.

Thirdly, on a deeper level, let us think about the TYPE of unity and peace that we proclaim as Christians:
The unity and peace Christians proclaim is not primarily a HUMAN unity and peace, it is rooted in something else:
It is union with God, union with the most important being that grounds everything else, that gives a peace in us that enables peace with others.

Let me take an analogy from family life. If a man argues with his wife, argues with the most important human being in his life, then there are consequences: all of his other relationships are thrown out of kilter. If he subsequently resolves his problem with his wife, resolves the problem with the most important person in his life, then all of his other relationships are able to re-acquire balance and their proper place too.

God is even more foundational to our existence than a wife is to her husband.
God is the one our very existence comes from. God is the one who gives us life and grace and strength. God is the one who teaches us how to live and behave.
Our relationship with God is the one we damage whenever we sin.
And, God is the One who, as the ground of everything, is the One who can forgive us, forgive us in a way that restores all our other relationships.

So, to bring this to a focus and conclusion, this is why, far from being a cause of division, God is the One we need to turn to, above all, to heal our divisions:
To have, as little ones before Him, the humility to put other people before ourselves, rather than put ourselves first -which is the source of so much human division.
To have, as little ones before Him, the detachment to let go of pet peeves and ideas and preferences that we can often most clearly recognise as small when we place them before the Almighty.
To have, as His inner gift, the love to care enough about the OTHER rather than the self that we enter into dialogue and LISTEN to the other.
Whether the divisions at issue are social, political or religious, this is why being at union with God is a heart of any lasting solution to be in union with each other --far from religion being the enemy of peace, religion is its only solid foundation.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Altar Rails, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Jn 1:29-34
We just heard one of the most memorable lines in the Gospels, a line so significant that the Church has the priest repeat it in every Mass, saying as he holds the Eucharistic host for the congregation to see, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

St John the Baptist recognised the Lord when He came. But, as we know, many did not recognise Him. Ultimately, those who didn’t recognise Him had Him crucified.
For ourselves, thinking of the Eucharist, it’s important to ask ourselves, again and again, “How FULLY do I recognise the Lord here?”

Let me quote from a book I recently read by Bishop Schneider, that takes a similar line in the Gospels: After the death of the Lord the disciples went back to fishing on the Sea of Galilee. The Risen Lord appeared there on the lakeside, and when one of them saw Him and recognised Him, he cried out, “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21:7)
In our reception of Holy Communion we need to always strive to foster within ourselves those things that enable us, too, to look at the host, look at the One we are to receive, and not see not a thing but a person, not bread but the One who is ‘The LIVING Bread come down from heaven”(Jn 6:51), enabling us to say, “It is the Lord!”
Often we can find ourselves thinking instead of the Sunday lunch, or of the hymn book you’re holding, or the coat of the person in front of you. You get to the front and suddenly the host is thrust at you by the priest, and you’ve barely had a chance to think about it at all.

So, How do we better focus?
Well, as I reminded you at Corpus Christi, we are called upon to make “an act of reverence” (GIRM 160) before receiving Holy Communion –this helps us focus.
But, as of today, I’d like to change the processional movement of the congregation, to do on a Sunday what we’ve been experimenting with for some months on weekdays, namely, to have you line up along the altar rail, and have me come to you along the rail.
This will mean:
(1) You have an additional choice, namely, whether to stand or kneel (a choice the GIRM of 2002AD explicitly mentions). Now I know that some of you are bound to not want this change, so let me point out that this is giving people a choice, so even if you don’t want this choice yourself, there are other people who do want this choice, who are very excited about having this choice –a choice they haven't had until today. Feel totally free to stand or kneel, as you prefer, whichever you find helps you better focus of the fact that it is the Lord God Almighty coming to you. Judging from what has happened elsewhere when this has been introduced, I expect half of us to do one, and half to do the other –so none of us should feel a need to conform to what others are doing. (If you kneel, there is no need to make a further act of reverence by bowing your head.)
(2) You will have a moment to pause and focus your thoughts, as you wait for the priest or deacon to come to you. At weekday Masses people have said that this is very helpful. Talking to another priest just last night, who introduced this in his parish previously, he too said that actually this was by the far the biggest change –the pause it gives you before receiving Holy Communion.
(3) The whole process will be speeded up (ironically, despite you have more time to pause individually) because the slowest delay in distributing Holy Communion previously was the movement of the congregation. (Though I’m sure there will be an initial period where it all feels a little unsure, and slow, and confusing.)

Back to where I began, the general problem in our lives of needing to recognise the Lord. There was a wonderful JOY that we can detect in those declarations in the Gospels when individuals recognised Him. When we, too, recognise the One our hearts are built to yearn for, the One who satisfies the weary heart, the Lamb of sacrifice who takes away our sins, the food of the eternal heavenly banquet that fills us –when we, and as often as we, truly recognise Him, then we too are filled with joy: “it is the Lord!”

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 3:13-17
There are certain things that a Catholic can be seen to do every time he or she enters a church. Today I'd like to speak about the significance of one of those things:
Dipping your fingers into the holy water stoup by the front door, and making a sign of the cross. There are two aspects of this: the holy water, and the sign of the cross.

The sign of the cross as been used by the Church from our earliest beginnings. Even when the early Church was persecuted and little was written down, we find Tertullian, in the second century, writing about how it was standard for all prayers to be started and concluded by making a sign of the cross.

The combining of this with water is not something random:
The words of the sign of the cross are said over us in our baptism ("I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit"). And that baptism, as St. Paul puts it (Rom 6:3), immerses us into the cross, into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We dip our fingers into the stoup by the door, the entrance of the church, as a reminder of the water of baptism, as a reminder of our spiritual beginnings.
The ritual of the baptism ceremony starts at the door. It is there that the priest greets the family, because the doorway is itself a symbol of baptism: the door enters us into the physical building; while baptism, as the first of the sacraments, baptism enters us into the spiritual life of the Church, enters us into our new life with God.

A few simple points about the new beginning that is involved:
First, Water and washing: baptism is about being made clean, and with that it is about the new start that comes from being clean.
Second, Sin and forgiveness: baptism is not about physical cleaning but about the spiritual. The cleaning it achieves is from sin. It washes away “the stain of original sin”, and when adults are baptised it washes away their personal sins too.
And that is a new beginning that we re-start in every confession, and we symbolise our need for our re-start in dipping our waters in the holy water stoup.
Third, the Holy Spirit. The new birth that is worked in us is not by our own power, but by the Holy Spirit, who appeared at Christ’s baptism. And every re-start in us is likewise by His power.
Fourth, Jesus Christ. He didn’t need to be baptised: He was already sinless, already in union with the Holy Spirit. He was baptized that we might be united to Him in our baptism, baptised into His death and resurrection.
Finally, this new start is symbolised as we enter the church by our dipping our fingers in the holy water, but let us note, too, that it is symbolized at the end also: we are sent out of Mass with the words, “Go forth, the Mass is ended” –we are sent forth in another new beginning, sent forth to bring others into this new start too. We leave to extend it to others, to invite others into the family of God.

So, to sum that up. We dip our fingers into the Holy water stoup as a reminder of our baptism, and a reminder of our new beginning.
We remind ourselves of that, on entering church, at the beginning of Mass.
We remind ourselves of that at the end of Mass, as we are sent forth in another beginning of our daily lives. As the priest or deacon says, “Go forth, the Mass is ended”.
And as we have started the New Year now in January, let us recall with that our new beginning in baptism, in union with Christ in the His baptism, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

No sermon this week

I've no post this week because our deacon preached this weekend, for the Epiphany