Sunday, 25 December 2016

Star Wars and Christmas 2016

I want to say a few words about Christmas, Star Wars, and Jesus.
As most of us are aware, the new Star Wars film was released this week. And it's been wonderful trip down memory lane for me, because the very first film I can remember be taken to see as a child was Star Wars, the original. I remember queuing up for what seemed like hours –it was a great cultural and personal moment!

After that, as a child, I dreamed of going to a Jedi academy, training to be a Jedi knight, and learning all about the ways of the Force
Instead, when I grew up, I went off of seminary, and trained to become a priest.
And one of the things I learned is that being a priest is very different from being a Jedi knight.
And I learnt that God is very different from the Force.
Yes, a priest deals with light and dark, good and evil.
But the God who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ is very different from the Force.

For those of you who don't know, or don't remember:
In the Star Wars movies, “The Force” is the life, the energy pervading the whole galaxy.
And the power of the Force is used by experts in it, Jedis and Siths.
Some people think that God is like that: He’s a kind of energy out there. A vague and unknowable thing.

What, in contrast, do we recall at Christmas?
At Christmas we recall that a child was born at Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
At His birth angels appeared to shepherds and heralded His birth, and those shepherds went and worshipped the new-born king, laid in a manger (Lk 2:8-20).
A star appeared in the sky and wise men from the East came likewise did Him homage (Mt 2:1-12).
Nine months earlier the Angel Gabriel had appeared to a virgin and told her she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by man, so that the child would be “the Son of the Most High” [i.e. of God] (Lk 1:32)
And when that child grew up He worked miracles, gave signs, and taught profound wisdom.
He claimed to be the Lord God Himself, and when He was put to death for this claim He rose from the dead, manifesting that He was indeed God come down from heaven.
And He said to His disciples that He called them “friends”(Jn 15:15) -in His very self the Lord God almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, had reached down to us in our human state, taken human flesh, become one of us, and enabled us to know Him, and relate to Him, such that He calls His followers His “friends”.

Well, what of Star Wars, and Christmas?
What the birth of God as Jesus in Bethlehem shows is that:
God is not just some vague energy;
God is not something mysterious and unknown.
Rather, God is personal.
An energy cannot love you, but God loves you.
An energy cannot know you, but God knows you.
An energy cannot call you His friend, but if you will follow the Lord Jesus, then this is exactly what He will call you.

So, while I’ve been very excited this week at the release of the new film, I’m also very clear that it is fantasy not reality.
What we recall at Christmas, the birth of God as a baby 2000 years ago, reveals what God is like:
He is personal;
He loves you;
He knows you.
And He has taken visible human form in Jesus Christ so that we might know and love Him too.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Gaudete Sunday, 3rd Sunday Advent, Year A

Phil 4:4-5 (ent antiphon); Mt 11:2-11; Isa 35:1-6,10
If your preparing for Christmas is leaving you a little overwhelmed –unsought presents, unwritten Christmas cards etc,
The let me point out a small but symbolic detail in our West Moors liturgy today: the rose colour of the candle for today on our Advent wreath. Rose, not purple. Twice a year the Church's liturgy, midway through Advent and midway through Lent, calls for the purple to be interrupted by rose. Both Lent and Advent have a certain 'heaviness' about them, and that is lifted in today's liturgy. The heaviness of Lent consists of penance and ‘giving things up’. The heaviness of Advent consists in its focus on The Lord's future coming and our need to PREPARE ourselves for it.

Today's liturgy, however, shifts the focus, it reminds us of something of decisive importance, something that we need to recall WHILE we are waiting:
Even though we are looking for His future Coming in glory,
even though we are getting ready to celebrate his past coming in the flesh,
Even so, He is already among us. He comes to us each day, each moment that our hearts are open to Him. He is present with His grace, in His sacraments, in the teaching and shepherding of His Church, in the guiding hand of His Providence in our lives.

Thus our entrance antiphon said, "Rejoice in The Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, The Lord is at hand."(Phil 4:4-5).
It did not, "Rejoice, He WILL be at hand", but rather, "He IS at hand".

Among the many things that are true about Christmas, it does bring certain problems: there is an obvious irony that for many of us it can be a time of stress and preparation:
Have I finished sending my Christmas cards? Have I bought the presents? Will the presents be good enough?
For others, it can be a time of loneliness, or lost memories.
And, I think we can note, it's because Christmas is such a wonderful thing when it is right, that it can be so difficult when things about it are not right.
This is why it's important to remember what it is REALLY about, and today's "Gaudete ['Rejoice'] Sunday" can help us in this regard.

Even when we've been told something important once, even when we've seen something important once, we can easily forget it. And, in today's context, the important thing we can forget is that The Lord has already come, that The Lord is already with us.
In today’s Gospel: St. John the Baptist had already told his disciples that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, but it seems they had forgotten, or not really got the point. Because he sent them again to Jesus so that they could ask Him the question themselves: "Are you the who is to come?"(Mt 11:3)
The Lord's answer is very simple and powerful. He doesn't simply say, "Yes". Instead, He points out that He is doing all the things that it was promised the Messiah would do, as we heard promised in our first reading from Isaiah 35:1-6. The eyes of the blind were opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, the lame lept, and the dumb were given speech.

For us today, in our issues, worries, burdens, The Lord is here too. We just need to remember how, and put our faith again in His promises, to trust again in His wisdom.
Do you feel burdened? Turn to Him, for He said, "Come to me all you who are weary, for my yoke I easy and my burden light, and you will find rest for your souls"(Mt 11:28-29).
Is the Christmas planning getting to you? Turn to Him, for He said, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has worries enough of its own" (Mt 6:34) "Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God, and these other things will be added"(Mt 6:33).

So, a rose candle in the midst of Advent purple.
Lifting our mood in the midst of the burden of preparing.
Don't just look forward to His coming, don't just remember that He came once, but rejoice that He is here right now.
"Rejoice in The Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, The Lord is at hand."(Phil 4:4-5).

Thursday, 8 December 2016

40th Anniversary of Church, West Moors; Immaculate Conception

Lk 1:26-38 (RSV), Eph 1:3-6.11-12; Gen 3:9-15.20
Today we, as a parish, celebrate 40 years of our having a church to celebrate Mass in.
Some of you who have been here a long time have told me how they remember the old wooden church, that became too small to be fit for purpose.
Other have told me how they remember celebrating Mass in the hall, before the church as built -a space big enough, but not worthy enough.
Today we recall that a church was built, built to be space worthy enough for the Holy Mass. I’d like us to take a moment, therefore, to reflect on the importance of building a place for Mass, building a place to pray.

In the frantic, hectic pace of our modern world, modern architects often build ‘mutli-purpose’ spaces -so we eat, watch TV, relax, cook, all in the same extended area. I would suggest to you, however, that there is something dehumanising about this, something too rushed about this -and that this ‘multi-purpose’ approach to buidlings certainly doesn’t hold with respect to prayer.
When archaeologists dig up old cities there is something that we find in every civilisation:
There are different buildings in the city for different functions;
there are different rooms in a house for different purposes.
The gymnasium, the bathhouse, the sleeping quarters, the eating area for the family to gather etc
And, in every civilisation, there is place put apart to pray, a temple.
Archaeologists don’t ask IF there will be a temple, merely what KIND of temple it will be -it’s a basic part of our human nature to have a place set aside for the sacred, a place set aside to pray.

In the Jewish religion, our Old Testament roots, this was very emphatically laid out -God decreed what size the walls would be, of what materials etc
And, when we look at our early Christian history we see the same pattern:
Even when the Church was in hiding and persecuted in ancient Rome, the early Christians set aside houses for worship.
And, when the Christians grew and became the majority, they did this with great splendour, building massive basilicas: It wasn’t just sufficient to have a SPACE put aside, it needed to be a SUITABLE space, a DIGNIFIED space.
The Christian Church is the place where heaven touches earth.
The Christian Church is the place where man reaches out to God,
And where God comes down to man: In a way that has no parallel in any other world religion, God becomes flesh, here on the altar, under the appearance of bread.
And for such a thing to happen, we need a worthy place: a church building.
Which is why a church was built here.

The Word become flesh, here on this altar, here in this place.
Today, we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception: we celebrate the truth that Our Lady was conceived without sin, and lived without sin.
That happened in order that her womb might be a worthy dwelling place for the Word to become flesh.
The Lord prepared, from all eternity, a place to dwell. As we heard in our second reading, from Ephesians, “before the world was made, He chose us” (Eph 1:3) -and this applies especially to the womb of the Blessed Virgin, His dwelling place.
I’d suggest that this gives us a suitable image for the need to prepare a place for Him to take flesh in the Eucharist -the need for a Church.

To sum that up:
Today we celebrate having a church building.
We need, as humans, a place to pray, a place set apart from the hustle and bustle of modern noisy life.
We need a place, as Christians, that is worthy for the Word to become flesh in the Eucharist
Our Lady’s womb was the worthily-prepared place for Christ to become flesh 2000 years ago.
A church is a dedicated place for the Word to become flesh in sacraments, still today.
And that is something worthy to give thanks for.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A

Mt 3:1-12; Isa 11:1-10
What it is that moves you to repent of your sins?
Last week I pointed out two contrasting responses to the Coming of The Lord that were in our readings: joyfully going out to meet Him; and, fear of His judgement.
This week, similarly, I'd like to point out to you two contrasting motives for repenting of our sins: Fear of judgment, and, a desire to be ready for Him.

Our Gospel text opened with St John the Baptist's call to repent of our sins. Let me point out, however, the first REASON he gives why we should repent: he said,
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand"(Mt 3:2)
This kingdom of heaven is a joyous thing, and, from this angle, our motive to repent is to get ready for such a wonderful place.

St John the Baptist, however, was not all sweetness and light. Even among those who came to him to be baptised and confess their sins, even of these he gave a harsh greeting to those he felt were insincere. Note his response to the Pharisees and Sadducees: "Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming?"(Mt 3:7). Now, we should also note that he did OFFER them repentance, but, his insisting that they produce the "fruits" of repentance might well alarm us. He accused them of complacency, of "presuming to tell [themselves] that, 'We have Abraham for our father'."(Mt 3:9)

We, as Catholics, would do well to ask ourselves how often we similarly "presume" that we're "all right" with God. You might tell yourself that you come to Mass every Sunday, tell yourself that you're the most religious person you know (because it's quite possible that few among your friends and family come to Mass). You might tell yourself that you give to charity. BUT, the Pharisees also gave their dues, and attended their services. However, this was somehow not enough, there needed to be something deeper at right with them before the Lord, even though they did not recognise their faults. And so the Baptist warned that "retribution" was coming to them, as it might well come to us, if we do not produce the "fruits" of repentance.
So, in this holy season of Advent, when we are called to get ready, we should fear the judgment if we do not recognise the sins within our hearts that we need to repent of.

But, to return to the first reason to repent of our sins, the 'happier' reason, so to speak.
Advent is time of waiting, of getting ready for His coming. And His coming will bring with it everything we are yearning for.
For the bored, God will excite and satisfy them beyond our imagining.
For the distressed, God will calm and rest their weary lives.
Yet, He will be unable to offer us any of these things unless are ready for them. A sinless perfect place, heaven, is something we will only be ready for IF we GET ready with "works of repentance".

In a week and a half we'll have our Advent penitential service with 4 priests here to hear your confessions.
Also, after each Sunday Mass all through Advent I'll be available in the confessional for confessions. And, the usual times of confessions either here, or in Wimborne, or in Kinson, are as advertised in the newsletter. In addition,
The washing of sin available to us in this sacrament is much greater than the mere symbolic cleansing offered by the Baptist in the River Jordan. So let is make the most of it.
Whether our repentance is motivated by fear of judgement, or the desire to get ready for the joy of his coming, let us use this season to prepare:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand."