Sunday, 31 July 2016
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What does a man gain for all his toil under the sun?” (Eccles).
Ecclesiastes is one of my favourite books of the Bible, because it is a remedy to many mistaken views of what it means of be a Christian.
Often, the impression is given that being a Christian means having your brain extracted and wandering with an unexplained grin. ‘Jesus wants you for a sunbeam’. You MUST be happy if Jesus loves you!
In contrast, the book of Ecclesiastes (also known as Qoheleth, or the book of ‘The Preacher’, a book that is part of every Christian’s Bible) faces the harder realities of life. It’s a book that was written by someone having a really BAD day. It progressively looks at every aspect of human existence, and says that it is ALL meaningless, all pointless, ‘all is vanity, and a chasing after the wind’.
Pleasure –is not enough
Youth and beauty –seem nice, but they fade
Money –brings as many difficulties as reassurances, and can all be lost
Whatever a man builds, ultimately turns to dust.
Or, as Jesus said to the rich man in the parable, when you die, ‘whose will your money be then!’
Qoheleth, in the midst of his rantings, does not understand, but he concludes at least with a certain truth: at the end, what is left? To ‘fear God and keep the commandments’.
-sometimes that IS all we can figure out, and it is wise (if cheerless) advice.
The early Fathers of the Church looked at the book of Qoheleth as an example of what life is like without Christ: meaningless, vanity.
The problem Qoheleth poses is this: What does a man gain for all his toil?
The answer is laid out in Colossians, as we heard in our second reading, “You must look to the things of Heaven, where Christ is” (Col 3:1)
And, as our Gospel text recorded, Christ’s parable told us of the pointlessness of trying to ‘store up treasure’ in this world, but He also told us of another treasure: to be “rich in the sight of God” (Lk 12:21).
If a man toils for THESE riches, he will never lose them, they cannot be corrupted.
Life has meaning in Christ because He is the SOURCE of life, the pattern and purpose of it. The world was made for Him.
It is only if we see the divinity of Christ that all life’s toil can have meaning –meaning because it is united to Him.
WORK –He created it, He gave it as one of the first gifts to Adam and Eve in the Eden. He gave it dignity by sharing it as a carpenter in Nazareth.
If we work WITH Christ and FOR Him, offering our work to Him, then it have a value and reward that last forever. The same work we must do for earthly lords we can transform to a higher end by offering it to Him.
AGE, PAIN, and DISCOMFORT –these were not part of God’s original plan for us.
They are with us because of the effects of Original Sin. But because of the Incarnation and the Cross, they are things that point to Christ. As with work, we can offer it to Him, with His strength, as a prayer for ourselves or for others.
JOY too –you don’t have to have a permanent brain-dead grin on your face,
but joy is part of what God wills for us, it is a fruit of love, and a fruit of the love we can have for the Lord –if we do all things with Him and for Him.
‘Vanity of vanity, all is vanity’ –so it can seem, without Christ
‘What does a man gain for all his toil under the sun?”
If he works for himself –little, and nothing when he dies
If he works for his neighbour and family? Hopefully, love
If he works for God, which includes our duty to work for neighbour and family but elevates it to a higher end,
He gains a reward that will never end
Sunday, 24 July 2016
Sunday, 17 July 2016
As I think you all know, I'm moving. And one of the things of have been realising these last few weeks is that moving is hard work, is complicated, and brings plenty of stress. I've been busier these past few weeks than I've been for a long time, and that is presumably going to just accelerate as I head to my September moving deadline. Some of you have told me how you move every two years and have a confident, calm moving strategy; others have told me stories that feel more like mine at the moment.
There is a particular point I want to make about this: at a time of extreme busy-ness, when our time is squeezed, when our thoughts are all jumbled, it can be easy to forget to pray and to forget God. And this temptation is as real for a priest as it is for anyone.
So, what should I do when time is pressed, when it seems impossible to give time to God in prayer? Well, These are the days when it is MORE important to pray, not when it is LESS important. Praying CHANGES our lives. It brings ORDER and CALM to our day. It makes us USE the time we have BETTER.
As a consequence, many saints describe how prayer causes us to GAIN time, not lose it. St Josemaria used to speak of the “multiplication of time” that prayer brings.
The words of the Lord Jesus in today’s gospel text about Martha and Mary are on this theme.
Many of you, like me, feel a strong sympathy for Martha. Stressed, working, feeling that all the burden has fallen to her: “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do all the serving by myself?”(Lk 10:40)
People often refer to our Lord’s reply to Martha as a condemnation, but, my theory is that it is actually a word of consolation. Yes, it includes correction, but:
It is a correction that seeks to bring her to the consolation that Mary already enjoys.
It is a correction to bring her to that spiritual recollection that would enable her to work and pray at the same time.
It is a correction that would bring love into her work, not just duty and effort.
It is a correction that would enable her to have the Lord God present in her work, the Lord who loves her present in her work, to have the joy that comes from knowing we are loved –to have this present as she works.
This is correction that aims at consolation.
“Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so ,any things, and yet few are needed, in fact, only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part”(Lk 10:41-42).
What has Mary “chosen”?
She has chosen prayer, recollection, to be with the Lord and to focus on Him.
This is what we all need to do too.
And, the only way to do this is to have times and patterns in our day when we dedicate ourselves to prayer and prayer ALONE. Not just praying while driving, not just praying while walking, not just praying while doing other things. But rather, praying for praying’s sake. Praying because it is worthwhile and necessary in itself. To be with the Lord simply in order to be with Him.
I would call on all of you to take the reading of this Sunday’s Gospel as a moment to review what pattern of prayer you have. When in the day and the week do you set aside just for God? 5 minutes in the morning or night? A longer period?
It is only if we have explicit dedicated times of prayer in our lives that we are able to bring that spirit into the other parts of our day, into our work and rushing.
It is only in as much as I have dedicated times of prayer for prayer’s sake, that I am able to ALSO pray while driving, pray while walking, pray while working.
And, in all that, to know the presence of the Lord in my work, to know the joy of being loved by the Lord in my work.
So, when moving, when stressed, when time is squeezed, this is the time to rededicate myself to the importance of prayer. “It is Mary who has chosen the better part” (Lk 10:42) –let us follow her example.
Sunday, 3 July 2016
It's sometimes said that when a priest leaves a parish a third of the people are sad, a third of the people are happy, and a third of the people don't even notice that he's been replaced by a new man!
As you've probably read in the newsletter by now, I’m leaving: the Bishop has appointed me to West Moors, near Bournemouth, leaving September. For me, personally, this is a very sad moment in my life. These have been the happiest years of my life: I love this parish, these parishioners, this church building, and this town. But I've been here 9 years, and it's time for Shaftesbury to have a fresh face, a breath of fresh air, someone new.
Your priest changing is a good time to reflect on why you need a priest here at all.
In the Gospel today we heard of the sending of the 72. They weren't priests, but in many ways they show us aspects of what a priest of Christ is to do for you.
First, we can note that their role is so important that the Lord said, “the labourers are few, so pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to His harvest” (Lk 10:2). So, can I ask you, please pray for your new priest being sent here. He's a good man, a good priest, I know him, I’m glad he's coming here for you –but he needs your prayers if he's going to do good for you.
Second, the 72 didn’t stand in their own right but for the Lord Jesus: their mission was intimately connected with His: They were to go to the “places He Himself was to visit” (Lk 10:1), to prepare the way, to enable Him to come to the people.
They were to bring greetings of “peace”(Lk 10:5) –not their own peace, but that of the Lord.
They were to bring healing –not their own healing, but that of the Lord.
A priest, at an even deeper level, does the same.
He brings peace at the deepest level of the human heart, brings peace between God and man by forgiving sin in Confession.
He brings healing of our deepest sickness: sin, guilt, the corruption of evil.
A priest does this for you by using the instruments that Christ established for His new covenant: the seven sacraments, the teaching office of His Church, and the governance of Christian community.
Christ established these things in stages, and the sending of the 72 was an earlier part of His ministry, but their function in many ways was the same as the fullness of the priesthood: namely, it was about bringing Christ and preparing for Christ.
Let me point out something important here: The role of the 72 had nothing to do with their personalities, their style of speaking, their ability to joke, etc.
Their role was to prepare for Christ and bring Christ’s peace and healing.
It is the same with a priest. What a priest does for you is so important that it transcends the difference between one priest’s personality and that of another priest.
It's about Christ, not the priest.
The priests utters the words of forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession, but it's not the priest’s forgiveness that is given, but Christ's.
The priest utters the words of consecration in the Mass, “This is my Body…”, but it is not the priest’s body that becomes present, but Christ’s.
The priest preaches in the sermon, but the truth He proclaims is not His, but what He has received from Christ and in turn passes on to you.
So, to conclude. One priest is going, and another is coming.
What a priest does for you is not to bring himself, but to bring Christ. This is what makes a priest’s role so important: he's not about Himself, he's about the Lord.
Like the 72, he goes ahead to the places the Lord Himself is to go.