Sunday, 31 January 2016

Missionary Discipleship (2), 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Jer 1:4-5.17-19; Lk 4:21-30
Last Sunday I spoke to you about what it means to be a disciple. I said that it was a type of student, a student committed to a specific teacher. I referred to the image of a group of students gathered around and sat at foot of a wise master, a master who formed them in how to live.
This Sunday I want to focus on 2 rather different aspects of being a disciple: the aspects of being (1) called and chosen, and (2) being missionary -and the first of these aspects is quite particular to being a disciple of the Lord Jesus. On earth, there are many types of teachers and disciples, but in the human sense the disciple CHOOSES his teacher, chooses WHO he wants to be formed by. Now, it is true that the Lord Jesus also leaves is free to choose. BUT it is even MORE true that He chose us long before we chose Him. And to be a disciple of the Lord we must recognise this, must recognise that we are responding to a call.

In our first reading we heard of the call of the prophet Jeremiah. What the Lord said to Jeremiah He also says to each one of us:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you came to birth I consecrated you”(Jer 1:4).
Everyone here who has been baptised has been “consecrated” in baptism, consecrated to the Lord.
And before you were baptised God knew you already.
Before the stars came into being,
before the rock of the earth coalesced after the Big Bang,
God already knew you, loved you, and chose you.
Being a Christian disciple means recognising that He called us long before we decided and chose to allow ourselves to be formed and trained by Him;
it means recognising that He, as God, has a unique claim to expect us to be taught and trained by Him.

Let me take this in a new direction, however. Pope Francis, who as I said last week uses this Biblical term “disciple” frequently, Pope Francis almost invariably uses the term with the clarification, “missionary disciple”(c.f. Evangelii Gaudium).
You and I have been called and chosen. We have been set apart and made special. But it is not the Lord’s intention that we jealously hold on to this as a some sort of private gift. No, we are to go out are share this gift with others.
In today’s gospel text we heard the Lord Jesus saying how He wasn't just a prophet for His home country. And this was not a welcome message: they tried to kill Him, it made them so angry.
The Jewish people knew they had been called and chosen, set apart from the nations as special, as the chosen people given a promised land. And yet, as the Lord Jesus reminded them, God had repeatedly indicated that this calling was to be spread to all the nations. Thus Jeremiah was sent not just as a prophet to the Jews, but, as we heard, “a prophet to the nations”(Jer 1:4).
As English Catholics we probably don't RESENT the notion that God wants us to share our glory as God’s special Church by calling the rest of the people to join us. BUT we DO tend to think that being Catholic is just our private affair. But it's not.

If we are disciples of the Lord Jesus,
if we are formed in the pattern of His life and thinking,
then we must remember that His life and thinking reached OUT.
We, likewise, as Pope Francis is forcefully reminding us, must be willing to venture OUT too.
We must be taught by the Lord, formed by the Lord, live the life He shows us.
But we must also bring others to the Lord, so that others can be formed by Him, and others know the life He calls us to.
We are here because we recognise, AT LEAST in part, the calling the Lord has made of us. Let us ask ourselves how often this past week we have actively desired and sought to share that with others? And let us ask ourselves whether the week ahead will be the same or different.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Discipleship, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Neh 8:2-6,8-10; Lk 1:1-4,4:14-21
Today I want to try and introduce you to a new word, and that word is, “disciple”.
Now, obviously, this is a word that you have heard many times before. But I'm pretty sure that for most of us it is not a word we would struggle to precisely explain.
For example, the gospels refer to “apostles” –meaning those who are “sent” out.
The gospels also refer to “the 12” and “the 72”(Lk 10:1) meaning different groups within the mass of those who followed the Lord Jesus who were singled out for a particular rank and role.
But there is another term that is used frequently, and that is the term “disciple”.

The term “disciple” and the concept of “discipleship” have become very fashionable in the Church in recent years. In part because it is Biblical, and post-Vatican Two Catholicism seeks to make us more Biblical. In part, however, because the concept of what a disciple is is very relevant for what we need to focus on NOW in our contemporary British culture if we are to grasp how to be a Christian in the midst of our secular relativistic era.
Pope Francis speaks a lot of about “disciples”. He did before he became Pope (c.f. Apacecida 6.2.1), and he does so now as Pope (37 times in Evangelii Gaudium).
Our new Bishop, +Mark, likewise has had it as part of his vision –I think well before Pope Francis was elected.
And, in our parish, this spring I hope many of us will respond to our Bishop’s call for us to study the book, ‘Forming Intentional Disciples’ –as the insert sheet inside the newsletter describes.

So, what IS a “disciple”?
To grasp the notion of a disciple we need to see him in relationship to his MASTER.
A disciple is a type of student, one who is learning.
But, more particularly, he is learning from a specific teacher, and learning not just academics but learning a way of LIFE and way of LIVING.
With this, we have the word, “discipline”, which implies training and formation.
When we look at the Gospels we see that the Lord Jesus had many who are called His “disciples”. They learnt from Him, listened to Him, followed Him, and committed themselves to Him.

But in our modern culture today we tend to be much too INDIVIDUALISTIC to be willing to commit ourselves to a master, to become the disciple of anyONE in particular.
For example, if we think how how many people learn today, people flit among many different websites, people choose bits of wisdom from bits of different books from many different “wise men”. People today generally don't commit themselves to one teacher or one source of wisdom.
The point is this: the Lord Jesus wants just that sort of commitment. He ranks so much higher than any other teacher that we either commit to Him, and follow Him, or, we’re not following Him at all –we’re just following ourselves.
If I listen to Jesus, and follow Him on SOME points, but pay pretty much the same amount of attention to the TV, to a food expert I like, and a diet expert I follow, and a exercise expert, and a fine wine expert -and all these people rank pretty much the same as Jesus -then I'm not following Jesus, I'm just following what I think myself, I'm just following myself.
And this thing about just “following yourself” is very much the spirit of our age. And it's a problem! It fails to recognise God as God, and Jesus as His unique Son, and as our unique teacher and master.

Let us compare this with the image we heard in the first reading, about the priest Ezra.
As we heard, Ezra read “the Book of the Law”(Neh 8:3) to the people.
And the people were gathered to hear it. They're didn’t flip between many different religions. They didn't choose a bit of this and a bit of that.
No. Instead they engaged in what is part of being a “disciple of the Law”, namely, seeking to learn the Law of the Lord.

So, to sum that up. The Church is offering us a renewed focus on this word, “disciple”.
And what discipleship and being a “disciple” means is that I commit to the teacher, the master, the Lord Jesus.
I learn from Him.
From His example,
from His teachings,
from what His Church passes on to me still today.
And if I commit myself to such a pattern of forming my life on Him, then I will have the full benefit of what He offers:
the fullness of life. As our psalm today put it: “Your words are spirit Lord, and they are life”(Ps 18:15).

Sunday, 17 January 2016

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Jn 2:1-11
Today the liturgy completes one of my favourite series of readings: the readings around epiphany, which are especially complete this year, in year C of the lectionary. The word ‘epiphany’ means ‘manifesting’, and in this season the Church is pointing out to us all the things that are ‘manifested’ about Christ in His coming. We complete today a three week series of readings:
Two weeks ago we had the epiphany to the wise men who came from the east to worship the new born King of the Jews, manifesting that He was to be the saviour not just of the Jews but of gentile peoples –indicating that salvation is now possible not only for the Jews but also for Gentiles like the wise men and like the English, if we will but worship the Messiah of the Jews;
Last week we had the epiphany in the river Jordan at His baptism, when the voice from heaven spoke and manifested Him as the “Son, the Beloved”(Lk 3:22) –indicating that we too are to be loved and be adopted as children of our Heavenly Father if we will unite ourselves with Jesus in baptism;
This week we complete this series of epiphanies by recalling the very first miracle that Jesus worked, at the wedding feast at Cana.

So, what does His first miracle manifest about Jesus? As we sing in, “Songs of thankfulness and praise” (the hymn for this threefold epiphany), in this event He is “manifest in power divine, changing water into wine”.
The point very simply is this: in His appearing has has revealed Himself to be a God of power, a God who DOES things. The miracle at Cana, the start of His “public life” (as we call it), manifested what would be a pattern throughout His public life: He worked miracles, God’s power was displayed. He gave sight to the blind, health to the crippled, He opened the ears of the deaf, He raised the dead, and He crowned all these displays of divine power by His own rising from the dead, three days after His crucifixion.

This manifesting, this epiphany, as I said, is that He is a God of power, a God who does things.
Now, as we know, many people in our world today are oblivious to the action of God. They see the beauty of the world, the order of the cosmos, the rationality that has been put into the laws that govern physics, but they someone fail to see that all these things have a source –God.
If we think about the miracle at the wedding feast at Cana we can note that it was the same there. Everyone tasted the new wine, they even said, “you have kept the best wine till now”(Jn 2:10), but it seems that, some of them at least, they failed to ask enough to know that this new wine came from the miraculous power of Christ.

My point to you today is a very simple one: we too need to be aware that all the good things in our lives come from God.
In countless acts God has manifested Himself, has given us epiphanies of what He is like, and one of the things He has revealed is that He is a God of power.
Day by day He manifests Himself in our lives and in what happens to us - even when He leads us by the hard path of the cross.
We can choose to be attentive and recognise Him and His activity, or we can be oblivious to it.
“At Cana in Galilee He let His glory be seen, and His disciples believed in Him”(Jn 2:11).
Let us be like them, let us “believe in Him”, and recognise the glory He has manifest for me and for you.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Baptism of the Lord, Year C

Isa 40:1-5.9-11; Lk 3:15-16.21-22; Tit 2:11-14, 3:4-7
I'm going to point out to you a detail in our readings today that only those of you who are extremely attentive will have noticed: our first reading, for Year C of the post-Christmas feast of the Baptism of the Lord, is the same text that we hear in Year B for the pre-Christmas 2nd Sunday of Advent. The reading speaks of the “consolation” of God’s people, “ ‘Console my people, console them’, says your God”(Isa 40:1).
So, somehow, we both need to be consoled BEFORE Christmas in preparation for the coming of the Lord, and, AFTER Christmas in the context of the Lord having already come.

But if we've just had the great celebration of Christmas, why should be need consoling?
Well, in contemplating this text during the week it occurred to me that this is EXACTLY the time when a good many people DO need consoling: exhausted with Christmas activities, events, families, tucker-out by the “New Year”, NOW is a time when many of us need consoling.
And part of what we need consoling FOR is in order to face the new year.

Today’s readings are part of a three-week revelation: we had the revelation to the Gentiles at the Epiphany to the wise men last week, we have the manifesting in power at the Lord Jesus’ first miracle at Cana next Sunday, and this Sunday we have the revelation of The Lord in His Baptism.
Thus our readings spoke repeatedly of being “revealed”(Isa 40:5), “seen”(Isa 40:5), “revealed”(Tit 2:11), “Appearing”(Tit 2:13), and a voice speaking form heaven (Lk 3:22).
And WHAT is being revealed?
Firstly, the “glory of the Lord”(Isa 40:5), “the Lord coming”(Isa 40:10), “the Son, the Beloved”(Lk 3:22) on who, the Father’s “favour rests”(Lk 3:22).
And with this, something is revealed that affects you and me:
“salvation made possible”(Tit 3:11), a people “purified”(Tit 2:14), and “set free from wickedness”(Tit 2:14), a people who are “heirs”(Tit 3:7) of the Father, who are sons in the Son.

And the thing that purifies us, that sets us free, that means our sin is atoned for, is the union of these two realities in baptism:
The Lord Jesus was baptised, not because He needed it,
But so that we might be united to Him, cleaved to Him, by being baptised ourselves.
The Holy Spirit descended on Him “in bodily shape, like a dove”(Lk 3:22);
The Holy Spirit descended on us in our baptism, and descends on us anew every time we turn back to the Lord as seek a new start in Him.

So, if we start the new year tired, deflated, dirtied with our sins,
Then this “appearing” is a reminder of how we can start afresh in the Lord.
And this is a message of “consolation”.
The Lord has been revealed as our new beginning.
Whatever new beginning we need at the start of this new year, the grace of the Lord, revealed publicly at His Baptism, is the sign and promise of us being able to make such a new beginning.
We make this new start, we ever, not by our own power but by His.
And every time we do that voice speaks again, to us, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you”(Lk 3:22).

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Epiphany (Sunday)

I'm not going to give you a full sermon today because at the end of Mass you're going to hear a few words from Brother John, a young American with the Community of St John.

In many ways Brother John, being a Religious and thus dedicated to contemplation, is an example of a point I have made to you before about the wise men who followed the star:
The star was in the sky for everyone to see, and yet only three ‘wise men’ understood what it meant and followed it.
Those wise men were ‘magi’. They didn't yet know the fullness of truth in the Lord Jesus, but they knew enough to pray, to contemplate, and had probably heard the Jewish prophecy of Messiah. They also had words of pagan magi Zoroaster: “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” (see last year's fuller sermon here).
Because they prayed and contemplated and studied they were able to recognise the star.
Because they were detached from their worldly goods they were able to leave them behind to follow the star.
And because they did this they knew, as we heard in that Gospel text, they knew the joy, the “delight” (Mt 2:10) of encountering the Lord, laid in the manger.

You and I, likewise, need to pray, to contemplate, and to study the Scriptures,
And if we do then we will see the signs of the Lord speaking to us,
And we too will encounter Him,
And we too will know the spiritual “delight” of His Presence.