Sunday, 24 April 2016

Love Wills the Good, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C

Jn 13:31-35
Today, I'd like to offer some very simple but practical thoughts about what it means to, “Love one another, just as I have loved you”(Jn 13:35) –the “new commandment” we just heard.

Let me first note two very common mistakes that we can make about “loving” someone.
The first, is to think it all about emotion. To think that I am only loving someone if I FEEL loving towards them. It is important to note a distinction made in moral theology between “affective” love in our emotions and “effective” love in our deeds. What the Lord wants from us is not primarily about feelings but about choosing, in our will, good deeds for others.
The second common mistake, one that is common in many of us who are trying to be “better”, is that we reduce loving people to a list of tasks, a list of “to do” items for others. Feeding the children, washing their clothes, smiling at someone etc. Love, however, is more than a list of tasks.

For some time now I've been trying to focus myself better in this regard, and to do so by drawing on the definition of love that is given by the ancient philosopher Aristotle, elaborated by St Thomas Aquinas, and taught in the Catechism:
“To love is to will the good of another.”(St Thomas, ST I-II q26 a4, cited in CCC 1766).

What does this mean?
It means that my will looks at another person, sees some “good” that they do not have but would be better off with, and “wills” that good to them by some effective deed on my part.
For example, I see someone lonely and I will the good of “companionship” to them by choosing to listen to them.
If I have a nice feeling, and emotion, then that helps, and it might indicate that both my behaviour and my emotions are successfully integrated together. But, love itself is about the WILL and what I choose for that person, not a feeling.

This notion of love involves something else, it involves LOOKING at the other person, and seeing what THEY need, seeing what “good” that they lack.
Love is therefore not just a list of tasks on MY agenda, but a response to what I see in needed in someone else.
Obviously, despite the fact I said love us not all about tasks, it does nonetheless involve a great many tasks: babies need to be fed, families need a wage-earner to get them money to live on, etc
But the difference between “loving someone” and “fulfilling a task” is this very point:
That I am oriented towards the other PERSON, not towards the task as such.

Now, you might think I am stating the obvious, and in many ways I am!
But, I am also trying to state what can help purify and deepen our love.
We can purify our love by focussing our intention better, by seeking to habitually orient ourselves to people as people, to look at them and ask ourselves:
“What ‘good’ do I need to be willing to this person now?”
And focussing ourselves this way will infuse our actions with a new quality.

Let me close by noting another obvious point: love involves sacrifice.
To think of others, and what is good for them, involves not thinking of ourselves.
And no one shows us this more clearly than the Lord Jesus. He sought the “good” of our eternal life (c.f. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life’(Jn 3:16).)
For this end He was willing to leave heaven, live in poverty on earth, suffer, and die for us. In all of this He sought our good, not His own. In all of this He looked at our needs, not His own. In all to He looked to see the “good” we needed, and He willed it to us.
Let us therefore, “Love one another, just as I have loved you”(Jn 13:35).

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Making a Better Confession (Talk)

The audio is above, and the notes I used to give a talk for the London Faith Forum on 'How to Make a Better Confession' can be downloaded here

The talk refers to different examinations of conscience which can be viewed as follows, in each case the page also has a link to download it as a Word document:

For parishioners, based on the seven deadly sins, here

For teenagers, here

For children, here

For priests, here

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Old Sermon on Sheep listening to their Shepherd

There is a pastoral letter from our Bishop this weekend on the need to pray for vocations to the priesthood. As usual, the letter should appear on the Diocesan website in due course.

A sermon from 2013 for this Sunday can be read by clicking here

Saturday, 9 April 2016

3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C, Vigil Mass

This was the sermon at the Saturday vigil Mass. There were Confirmations at the Sunday Mass.

Jn 21:1-14 c.f. Lk 5:4-11
In the account we just heard of the Lord appearing and working the miracle with the catch of fish, we have a model of how the Lord perseveres in reaching out to us in our lives, even when we we are slow to be aware of Him, and slow to be aware of what He is up to.

Let us note how the account begins: It begins with Peter and the others going out fishing.
It might be easy for us to fail to grasp the significance of this, after all, Peter and most of the apostles were fishermen.
The thing, however, is that they had STOPPED being fishermen. In fact, at this stage it seems that they hadn’t been fishing for three YEARS! At the very start of the Lord Jesus’s public life He had called them from their boats, called them to no longer be fishers of fish, but to be “fishers of men”(Lk 5:10).
They had then been with Him three years.
And then He had died.
Their returning to the fishing seems symbolic of their returning to their life BEFORE Jesus.

Now, the Lord had already appeared to them twice after rising from the dead.
But, it seems, they hadn’t really grasped the significance of this.
He had appeared, and then gone.
It somehow hadn’t fully sunk in WHAT they were to do in response to this.
So, they had returned to their OLD way of life: fishing.

How then does the Lord respond?
Does He get angry and impatient? Does He say, “I’ve already shown you the holes in my hands and my feet, what more do you need me to do?!!”
No, He reached out to them in a more patient way. The way a true teacher is patient with pupils who are slow to understand.
He worked a miracle with their fishing.
AND, the point is this: He works the SAME miracle that He had worked at the beginning when He called them.
When they were fishermen, at the beginning of His public life, the miracle had the same pattern: They had worked all night, caught nothing, He tells them to throw the nets to the other side, and they get a haul so HUGE it is miraculous.
And, recognizing the same miracle, by the same Jesus, John cries out, “It is the Lord!”(Jn 21:7).
And then the Lord calls to a new beginning, saying, “Follow me”(Jn 21:19).

At the first miraculous catch of fish they had followed Him while He walked on earth, for three years.
At the second miraculous catch of fish they were now to follow Him in a new way, sent out in a new way. But still to “follow” Him.

You and I can, likewise, be slow to appreciate what the Lord has done and is doing in our lives.
You and I can, so often, return to our former ways of life. Ignoring whatever the Lord has done for us previously: and He has given all of us many different new starts.
The point is this:
He reaches out to us again, as He did to Peter and the others even though they had returned to their old way of life.
He was there among them, even before they recognized Him.
He was working among them, miraculously, even before they recognized Him.
And He is with you, and with me, even when we forget Him and fail to recognize Him.
And He calls us, again, to “follow” Him, by living His resurrection power, by being forgiven for our sins, and by living His love in the midst of whatever “fishing” He calls us to do.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Divine Mercy Sunday, 2nd Sunday of Easter

Jn 20:19-31
This year, as you hopefully recall me saying many times, has been dedicated by Pope Francis to Mercy. And this Sunday, in particular, is the Divine Mercy feast day previously established by Pope St John Paul II. So, to help us think about mercy I want to use two images to try and show how the Lord God, because He is merciful, transforms dirty corrupt things into beautiful wonderful things.

My first image is the changing of water into wine, Our Lord’s first miracle at Cana. And I want to point out a detail that Pope Francis notes, namely, the type of water jars that were used. These weren't any random water jars. Rather, they were the water jars used for the ritual purifications of the Jews, the ritual purifications to purify them from their sins. So the Lord Jesus took this thing associated with sin and transformed it into wine, transformed it into something new, and wonderful, and celebratory. And not just any old wine, but, as you hopefully recall, the wine was called “the best”(Jn 2:10).
So, in mercy, the Lord doesn't discard what is associated with our sins, but transforms them into something glorious.

My second image relates more obviously to today’s feast: the pierced hands of our Lord. Our Lord had suffered on Good Friday. He had been crucified. His hands and feet had been pierced with nails. They had become things of ugliness and suffering and corruption. And, we might note, this piercing was because of our sins. As Isaiah says, “He was wounded for our sins”(Isa 53:5, c.f. “They will look on the one who, they have pierced”(Zech 12:10; c.f. Jn 19:37)
But, what does He do after His resurrection? He publicly displays them to Thomas and the others as signs of His triumph, as marks of His glory. He transformed something that had become gross and ugly into a thing of beauty, triumph, no glory. No longer bleeding and painful but alive –not discharged and hidden, but transformed
This, Pope Francis is reminding us, is our Lord’s continual pattern. He takes what is worst in our lives and uses it to make something glorious.

So, HOW does the Lord do this? In particular, how does He do this with our sins?
The answer is partly linked with His mercy, which CHOOSES to reach out to lowly things,
And partly linked with our HUMILITY, when we choose to acknowledge our need, and lowliness, and sin, and bring it to Him.
Our sin, our ugliness, can be something that leads us to recognise our need of a saviour, and lead us to therefore turn to the Lord Jesus as the definitive Saviour.
Whenever we do this, whenever our sin leads us to turn to God, His mercy transforms our rottenness into something good and glorious.
And, to repeat, this is our Lord’s continual pattern. That’s why Scripture speaks of His making a “new creation” out of the old, rather than of His discarding the old.

We, as humans, have a problem, repeatedly, in that we often forget that we NEED God.
Our sins remind us, if we are honest about them, our sins remind us that we DO need God.
And thus God can transform our sins into opportunities to call on Him and be transformed by Him.
Grace cannot work in the self-satisfied. It cannot work in the person who says, "I've not sinned".
It CAN work in the sinner who humbles Himself to come to the Lord.

To sum that up, at His first miracle at Cana the Lord made “the best wine” out of the water used for purification from the dirtiness of sins. After His resurrection He took the wounds that had been ugly and associated with sin and transformed them and displayed them as things of glory. And, now, for you and me, if we acknowledge our sins, and we confess them and bring them to Him, then our very weakness and lowliness and SIN will be not only be forgiven by Him but transformed into an opportunity of grace and glory –because His “grace is made perfect in weakness”(2 Cor 12:9).