Sunday, 26 March 2017

Mothers and Seeing, 4th Sunday of Lent, Year A

Jn 9:1-41
Today's readings are about seeing, true seeing, spiritually seeing the truth of things.
And about blindness, inner blindness, spiritually failing to see the truth of things.

The blind man who was cured, started physically blind.
He wanted to see physically.
But, he also wanted to see spiritually, he was open to the truth.
And so he spoke to Jesus, and listened to Jesus in a way that was seeking the truth: seeking the truth about whether Jesus was the One who fulfilled that ancient title reserved for the Messiah, the title, "The Son of Man". And he came to see this spiritual truth, not just to see physically.

In contrast, the Pharisees both started and ended spiritually blind.
They started with a spiritual blindness that wrongly blamed the man's sins for his illness, saying to him, "you, a sinner through and though from your birth".
And they also ended spiritually blind, failing to recognize Christ for the Messiah that He is.

Let me make a diversion for a moment and mention mothers, today being Mothering Sunday.
It occurred to me when reading the first reading that mothers often see in a way that is different to how others see things, in particular, they see their own children differently.
Our first reading said, "God does not see as man sees, man looks at appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart".
How often have children found others reject them, others look at "appearances", but then found their mother look at them and see something more, see something loveable? (Of course, we can't pretend that all mothers are perfect, that all mothers do this, but we can acknowledge that by and large this is the experience of mankind -mothers, and a mother's love, sees something more than just the "appearances".)

Let me consider that from another angle, namely, generosity, thinking of the fact that we are called to generosity especially in this season of Lent, this season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Generosity changes how we look at people, how we see them.
Do we see Christ in the needy?
Recall the parable the Lord told in Matthew 25, about those who saw Him in the needy, the hungry, thirsty. “In as much as you did it to the least of my brethren you did it to me”(Mt 25:45).
This is a form of spiritual sight, to see Christ in the needy, something that a generous person is able to do.

BUT, it also works the other way, BEING generous changes our capacity to see, habituates us to look outward not inward, and enables us to see Christ in ALL kinds of needs and people.
So, in our Lenten almsgiving, and we’ve had two retiring collections in Lent, this outward orientation changes our capacity to see the truth. An open heart is open to the truth about reality, especially the ultimate truth about Christ.

So, to conclude. We are considering all this in Lent, when we are applying the three ‘remedies for sin’ of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
These actions not only atone for past sins, not only free our heart from present and future sin, they also enable us to SEE with that spiritual sight that is Faith: to see Christ.
They enable us to see, the way a good mother is able to ‘see’ her child beyond mere ‘appearances’, to see her child with love and see what he is called and able to be, not just what he is already.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

No Chocolate in Heaven, 3rd Sunday Lent, Year A

Jn 4:5-42; Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-8
I want to share with you something that I’ve been thinking about this last week, something that may come as bad news for some of you. And the thing is this: there is not going to be chocolate in heaven. Now, some of you may hear that and think that you've ALREADY given up chocolate for Lent, and you are already counting the days until your next chocolate bar on Easter Sunday morning, and yet NOW you hear me say that there will be no chocolate in heaven either! Of course, there are some of you who have not given up chocolate, and are not particularly upset about this because you've given up BEER for Lent, however, to you my news is that there will be no beer in heaven either!

I make this point to highlight something being taught in all three of our readings today, because our readings focus on the question of WHAT will truly SATISFY this, on the question of what it is that we HOPE for. Our first reading (Ex 17:3-7) referred to the thirst of the people of Israel as they wandered in the desert, and how God satisfied that thirst with water flowing from the rock. But that satisfaction of thirst was a symbol of the deeper SPIRITUAL thirst that only GOD can satisfy, that neither chocolate nor beer can satisfy. There will be neither chocolate nor beer in heaven because what will satisfy us in heaven will be God Himself, in His fullness. This spiritual thirst is what we heard Jesus referring to in our Gospel text, the thirst that Christ said He Himself would satisfy: "anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again" (Jn 4:14). This water will become "a spring inside... welling up to eternal life"(Jn 4:14). And what is this water, this spring? It is the life of the Holy Spirit.

The pouring of that Spirit into our hearts was referred to in our second reading from St Paul to the Romans. He spoke also about how a Christian must be “looking forward”(Rom 5:2) not to things of this world but to the ultimate glory. And he said that "this hope is not deceptive"(Rom 5:5) . Referring to the Holy Spirit, and making yet ANOTHER reference to something being "poured" out, he said that this “hope” of future glory was not deceptive "because the LOVE of God has been poured into our hearts" (Rom5:5).

Now, the "love of God" is something that we need to have a profound grasp of if we are to appreciate what HEAVEN will be like.
There are two senses in which we can speak of the "love of God": (1) the love that He has for us, and, (2) the love that we have for Him. Both of these produce an effect in us, a transforming effect, the transformation of complete joy. As I've said to you before, even in this life, we all know something of the relationship between love and joy. Concerning love “for us”, the experience of knowing that somebody else loves us is an experience that fills us with joy. Similarly, the experience of loving someone else, especially the experience of loving someone else who we know loves us, this experience fills us with JOY.
And, the deeper that love the deeper the joy.
And, Heaven is the place where this experience will exceed anything we now know because it will be an experience not at our finite human level but an experience of the INFINITE love of God.
In the face of such an experience the pleasures of chocolate and beer will be left behind.

To bring this to a conclusion, why are we talking of this in Lent?
In part, because people across the world are preparing for Easter baptism in this season, baptism that will bring them that outpouring of that regenerating water, with the Holy Spirit.
But, for all of us, the season of Lent is a season to purify and test what it is that we have our "hope" set upon, to test what it is we are attached to. The fasting and self-denial of Lent, the giving something up for Lent, should help purify us of an excessive attachment to the pleasures of this world and remind us of the "hope" of spiritual joy, and of the hope of that joy in life eternal, such that we “will never be thirsty again”(Jn 4:14).

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Giving Things Up for Lent, 1st Sunday of Lent

This Friday I spent almost the whole school day at St Catherine’s Primary School, talking to them about Lent, so I thought I might share with you what we spoke about.

I talked with them about ‘giving things up for Lent’. I asked them, if you say, “I’m going to give up hitting my little sister for Lent”, does that mean that when Lent is over you give her big huge WHACK? After all, Lent would be over, and you were no longer giving that up.
No, we were all agreed, it wouldn’t then become right to hit your little sister.
Now, this is important to note, because it tells us something about ‘giving things up’:
The things we are giving up are things that are GOOD in themselves, they’re not things that are sins -things that we should never be doing anyway.

‘Giving things up’ is a small form of fasting. So why do we fast? There are a number of reasons.
The first of those reasons, is to be in union with Jesus in the desert. The Lord Jesus, as we heard in that Gospel passage, went into the desert and fasted and prayed for 40 days. The Lord Jesus had times when He fasted and times when He feasted, and so His disciples have seasons when we fast and seasons when we feast. The path to a fulfilled life lies in following Jesus. Lent is 40 days in union with Him in the desert, fasting, at least by doing the small fasting of ‘giving things up’.

But what is fasting? When we fast we take something that is good in itself, namely food, and we don’t eat it.
We don’t do this because food is bad -it’s not like giving up hitting your little sister.
Food isn’t bad. The problem isn’t with the food, the problem is with ME. I am attached to things, and to food, in a way that simply isn’t right. All too easily I get over-focused on THINGS.
As I said to the children at St Catherine’s, if I stuff my face with chocolate, if I’m focussed on my iPad and my TV, do I see the people around me? No.
And if those people around me need my help, do I see? No.
I am UNABLE to love, because I’m focused on the wrong things.

What fasting achieves, is it FREES me from my self-absorption and so frees me to LOVE.
What fasting TRAINS me in is self-control and self-discipline, which are really important because I need them all the time in my dealings with others.
So, that growth in inner freedom is a second reason why we fast.

A third reason we fast is to offer the Lord a sign of our sorrow for our sins.
I pointed the children towards Jesus on the cross (sadly we don’t have a crucifix here for you to see in this church, though we should have)
And I explained to the children that what hurt Jesus the MOST wasn’t the physical pain, but the wounds to His love that we make by our sins. Every sin rejects His love.
I gave this example to this children: if you’ve really upset your friend, you can show you want to make things right by giving him something. If you and your friend both know you love Dairy Milk chocolate, and you give your friend your bar of Dairy Milk, that gesture of love, that act of ‘reparation’ helps heal the wound we have caused.
And that’s another important reason we ‘give things up’ for Lent.

So, in summary, there are three things that characterise this holy season: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Its not about doing one OR the other. For someone to say, “I’m going to so something positive for Lent rather than give something up”, would be like saying, “I’m going to love God rather than love my neighbour -you need BOTH!
So let’s each add a little extra prayer, resolve on that thing we’ve given up, and spend this time: (1) in union with Jesus in the desert; (2) freeing ourselves from our attachments, so we are freer to love and give to others; and (3) offer reparation to the wounded Heart of our Lord