Sunday, 30 July 2017
Mt 13:44-52; 1 Kgs 3:5-12
If you're wondering where I was last week, I was on retreat with the Dominican Sisters in the New Forest.
And I want to share with you an observation that I’ve made every time I visit nuns and monks:
They live poverty and simplicity, and yet they are the happiest people I know.
The only things they possess is the Lord Jesus, “the pearl of great price"(Mt 13:46), as we heard in today’s Gospel, and yet possessing that one thing they have everything.
When I was a teenager I can remember visiting a young woman I knew who had entered the Community of the Beatitudes, and I was very struck then by the way that every member of the community had a bedroom that had the same regulation bed and furniture, and even the very same alarm clock.
I’ve visited Poor Clares and been amazed at their ability to survive without heating.
Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity amaze me even more, by their living out of poverty in depending on holy Providence to bring them their food, often not knowing what tomorrow's meal will be.
Now, if you put ME in any one of those scenarios I fear that I would not be happy man, I would be looking back to what I used to have, I’d be thinking about what I had not:
NOT having central heating, NOT having my choice of food etc.
And yet, my repeated experience of nuns and monks is that they are the happiest people I know
-to live in Holy Poverty does not bring misery but rather brings happiness.
Nuns and monks live out in a very dramatic way what we heard Jesus speak about in today's gospel. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price, a pearl so precious that it is worth giving everything else away in order to have that precious pearl.
A similar illustration was given to us in our first reading, when we heard the famous example of Solomon, and how the Lord appeared to him and offered him anything he might choose, and yet he didn't choose selfishly but he asked for the gift to be able to discern between good and evil.
The "pearl of great price" is of course Jesus Himself, He is, as the ancient Fathers put it, the Kingdom-in-person (Origen, c.f. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (NY: Doubleday, 2007), p.49).
Those who have given up everything to be with the "pearl of great price" have put themselves on the path to the greatest happiness. JOY is the fruit of real LOVE, especially love of GOD. And as St Thomas Aquinas very simply explains, the more the heart cleaves the one thing the less it must cling to another, and so holy poverty enables us to love God more by detaching us from the goods of this world.
“It is abundantly clear that the human heart is more intensely attracted to one object, in proportion as it is withdrawn from a multiplicity of desires. Therefore, the more a man is freed from solicitude concerning temporal matters, the more perfectly he will be empowered to love God.” (St Thomas Aquinas, De Perf. Spirit. Vitae., ch. 6)
For ourselves, who live in the midst of the word, not in the cloister or the enclosure, how are these truths to be applied to ourselves?
Well, what we want is to be FREE to love. Holy poverty makes us free to love.
DETACHING ourselves from the goods of this world enables us to grow in that interior JOY that comes from loving the GREATEST Thing, God, rather than lots of lesser things.
The nun or monk choses holy poverty in totality. But we can at least choose it small “bit size” decisions:
In everything I possess I can strive to possess it in such a way that I am willing to LET GO of it,
to possess it in such a way that I remember that I exist in this world as a WAYFARER,
a pilgrim seeking to journey THROUGH this land to our true home of heaven (c.f. Phil 3:20-21).
And repeated acts of small self-denial, saying “no” to something desirable, is living holy poverty.
Another way of putting it is to note that it’s about priorities: My happiness in this world and my happiness in the next, depends on GOD being the FIRST priority in my life. St Augustine famously said, "You have made us for Yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You"
-our attitude to our possessions is a powerful test of what our hearts are attempting to rest in.
If the Lord appeared to you in a dream this night, and offered you a choice of anything you might desire, how many of us have recognised the "pearl of great price" sufficiently to be content to say:
You Lord, you are what I desire.
Sunday, 23 July 2017
I'm not much of a gardener.
I like to see flowers that others have planted. I like to see bushes others have trimmed. But I don't have the patience for gardening.
I do know, however, the DISAPPOINTMENT that weeds bring.
I was looking at my back patio and wondering about the weeds:
How is it that weeds are so strong?
Where do they come from? Who put them there?
Seeing weeds is disappointing.
We hear that disappointment in today's parable, the workers ask:
Who has done this?
Who has planted the darnel weeds amidst the good seed?
This sense of disappointment is obviously what God so often feels when He looks at us:
He has planted good seed in us,
Yet, we produce lukewarmness, selfishness, a life that forgets Him.
And it would be fully understandable for God to burn the whole field down in frustration.
But, the point of the parable is that He doesn't.
He is patient.
The way a good gardener is patient.
A gardener was telling me recently that you can “over weed”:
We naturally pull up weeds when we find them amidst our flowers.
But, if you pull out too many of the weeds, too deep, you end up doing more damage than good.
A good gardener needs to know the right balance.
A good gardener needs patience.
The way that God is patient.
The parable works at many different levels.
Most simply, it shows us God's patience.
It also, as I implied, shows us His SKILL, the way a good gardener is skilful.
The parable can be applied within us or between us.
Between us, it remind us that at the end of time there will be a sorting and judging, a distinguishing between weeds and good crop, the damned and the saved.
Though God is patient, there will come a time for judgment.
Within us, however, the parable can also be applied:
There are both weeds and good crops within me.
Because God is patient with me, He lets the good have the space to grow.
I, however, need to use this opportunity
If I do my own weeding within me, repenting of my sins, then the good crops can dominate.
To sum up and repeat:
Like a good gardener, God is patient.
Like a good gardener, He is skilful.
He knows how to bring out good growth, and He wants good growth.
What we need to do is use His patience for good,
So that it will be the crop and not the weeds that grow within us.
Sunday, 16 July 2017
Sunday, 9 July 2017
I’m going to be brief today because we have an appeal at the end of Mass.
I want to make a simple but significant point today, to point out that humility and meekness is not about being a wimp.
We just heard the Lord Jesus tell us that we should “learn” (Mt 11: 29) from Him, and it is often noted that this is the only place in ALL of the Gospels where we hear Him tell us to "learn" directly from His example.
And the thing He tells us to learn from His example is His meekness and humility.
Now I just said that meekness and humility is not about being a wimp. And this is something we see in the Lord Jesus when we look at how He lived. He was quite capable of being strong when it was appropriate:
He rose from the dead,
He healed the sick,
He raised Lazarus,
and, perhaps more significantly, He drove the moneychangers out of the Temple -He manifested in that action a holy anger, a holy zeal, not to defend Himself but to defend His “Father's house"(Jn 2:13-18).
And yet, this Lord and Messiah, who was capable of being strong when He needed to be, was also willing and able to DEFER to the needs of others, to put others before Himself.
Allowing Himself to suffer and die for our salvation meant humbly and meekly putting others before Himself.
That took strength.
And every action that chooses to not be selfish but put others before ourselves, every such action requires strength
-a strength that we do not have of ourselves but that is we can have by calling on His grace.
Being humble and being meek requires strength on our part, and this is the example that our Saviour has left us:
“Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart"(Mt 11:29)
Sunday, 2 July 2017
In today’s Gospel we just heard the Lord’s command that we must each “take up [our] cross”(Mt 10:38) if we would follow Him. I’d like to take this as an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the Cross for us.
As Christians, the cross is our definitive sign:
All across the world, this is this sign that distinguishes our buildings and monuments: Muslims have a crescent, Jews have a star, we have a cross.
In our prayers, all through history, we start and end our prayers by making a ‘sign of the cross’ -this practice is so old we find it written about in the 2nd century, the immediate generations after the Apostles (already written about by Tertullian).
When we are blessed, it is with the sign of the cross.
It is our definitive sign.
This said, as Christians, we believe in the Resurrection. It is the Resurrection that proves the truth of all that Jesus claimed -death could not hold Him.
Thus St Paul says that if Christ had not been raised then our faith would be in vain (1 Cor 15:14).
Nonetheless, our Christians liturgy, signs, monuments, and hymns all draw us to the Cross. Why?
One reason relates to what it shows us of God:
It is the sign of His love;
It is the sign that He is with us in our suffering;
It is the sign that He has sacrificed Himself for our sins;
It is the sign of His victory -by showing us the Cross we see, repeatedly, what He has overcome. The Cross is thus traditionally hailed as “our hope”.
Another reason is what it shows us of ourselves, and, how we are to live:
The definitive characteristic of an authentic Christian is that if we would “follow” (Mt 10:38) Him we must each “take up [our personal] cross”;
Christ crucified on the Cross shows me what it means to love others;
Christ crucified on the cross shows me that I must deny myself if I am to love others;
It is the sign that Christian living involves self-denial, as He lived self-denial;
It is the sign that I must be humble, as He was humble and put others before Himself;
It is the sign that it is only through dying that we can come to new life;
The Cross shows me how to live -following Him.
I want to bring this to an important, but controversial, practical focus for our church building. A proposal that I know will be the most unpopular charge I will propose in my time in this parish:
I would propose that we introduce a crucifix for you to see at Mass.
If you go to our neighbouring church in Wimborne, you will see a large crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar.
If you go to our neighbours in Kinson, you will see an even larger crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar.
But you don't have one to see in our church.
There is one I can see behind you on the back wall; there is a small one I can see here on the altar.
But the 2011 General Instruction of the Roman Missal insists on an image of “Christ crucified” (n.308) that is “clearly visible to the assembled congregation” (c.f. GIRM 117, 122, 306) -and there isn't one currently "clearly visible" for you here.
My proposal to you is that the beautiful large crucifix in the hall, that was originally above the altar when Mass was celebrated there before this church was built, my proposal is that we move that crucifix here into the church, to be on the back wall above the altar.
As you know, I am also proposing to move the tabernacle into the centre of the Church, that Christ might be at the heart of our building. I would like the definitive image of Christ, the crucifix, to also be at the heart of our building.
Sometime over the summer months I hope to get specific sketches and proposals to put to you, and to have a public meeting to discuss various aspects of this. But I want, today, to note one of the reasons for one of the changes I’m proposing:
The cross is our definitive sign as Christians;
Christ upon the Cross is our definitive image of God;
Christ upon the Cross is our definitive image of how we are to live as Christians following Him;
The crucifix is the natural visual focus in a Catholic church.