Sunday, 21 January 2018

Hard Sun, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20
The last couple weeks I’ve been watching a new Sci Fi series on the BBC called “Hard Sun”.
I’ll spare you the details, but it’s about the world being ended in a disaster by a catastrophic sun event (currently unspecified).  In the TV series, the world isn’t going to end for 5 years: not today, not tomorrow, but you know its ending in 5 years.
The drama of the TV series is about how people might react to the certain knowledge that the world is ending.
I’m not recommending the TV series to you, because it’s basically rubbish (my sophisticated analysis), but it provides a moment to for us to consider today how we SHOULD react to knowing that the world will end.
Despair?        Indifference?                        A last blow-out indulgence of gluttony?

As Christians, we have a rather significant angle on this. 
As we heard in our second reading, from St Paul to the Corthinians, “The order of this world is passing away”(1 Cor 7:31).
As the Lord Jesus revealed, repeatedly, when He returns, He will return in glory and judge (e.g. Mt 25) and transform this world.
As the book of Revelation describes, “there will be a new heaven and a new earth… for the order of the past [will be] no more”(Rev 21:1, 4).
On one level, a major part of this is obvious to any man of reason: every time I look in the mirror and examine my receding hairline, I think, “The order of this world is passing way”. But we, in addition, have a particular Christian grasp of this fact.
But, how should we FEEL about that?

One reaction is despair, to be so rooted in this world that the thought of it ending brings unquenchable sadness.
Another reaction is self-indulgence, to grab pleasure while you can, to live just for yourself, because we take the wrong practical conclusion from St Paul’s warning, “the time is growing short”(1 Cor 7:29)

A completely different reaction is to decide to live what time is left by the values we have thus-far FAILED to properly live:
Generosity, kindness, self-sacrifice; 
Giving my time to prayer, being more frequent at weekday Mass, and so forth.

The Christian teaching that, “the order of this world is passing away”, is a crucial part of the Lord’s call for us to live with our heart set on ANOTHER world.
There is much in world that is a “vale of tears”(Ps 84:6),
            and to live as if this world was ALL there was to live for, is the greatest sadness.
One event, beyond all others, should change our sense of which world we are living for, namely, meeting the Lord Jesus.
In the Gospel text we heard today, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, were all busy about the affairs of THIS world: they were fishermen, mending their nets, working in their boats.
But then THE LORD came and called them, “Follow me” (Mk 1:17).
He said practically nothing about what He was calling them TO, but, as I noted last week, they had already spent time with Him, they had already encountered something NEW in Him.
And so they left their nets, and accepted the call to “Follow” (Mk 1:17) Him.
They stopped looking to the world they had, but to WHATEVER lay ahead in the Lord.

One day this world will end, maybe by an explosion of the sun, as on the BBC TV series,
maybe tomorrow or next year,
But it will definitely end -and that’s a GOOD thing!
            There is much good in this world, even with its tears, but something BETTER is available.
If WE accept that “the order of this world is passing away”,

THEN we should be ready to live a new life, whatever following Him involves.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

5 minutes prayer a day, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

1 Sam 3:3-10.19; Jn 1:35-42
We heard in our first reading about how God called to Samuel, and something that you and I need to remember is that, right now, the Lord is calling out to you and me. He has something to say to you, now. Something that is relevant to your time and place. Maybe a message of consolation, of strength in your pain. Or maybe a message of direction, advice to persevere or advice to stop.
The problem, however, is that we so easily fail to hear what God is saying. And, on this point, today’s readings give us some useful indicators.

Samuel had the voice of the Lord speaking to him from heaven, speaking more directly than you or I are ever likely to experience. And yet, Samuel wasn't able to recognise the call of the Lord.
Samuel was, it would seem, a good boy: He did his master’s bidding. He came running to him.
But, he didn't recognise the call of the Lord.
Why? The text we heard gave the reason why, “Samuel had as yet no knowledge of the Lord”(1 Sam 3:7).
Now, let us recall, Samuel was a Jew; son of devout mother; he lived in the Temple. And yet he didn’t “know” the Lord. Just as you are I can be Catholic without really “knowing” the God that our faith gives us access to.
And, if we do not really know the Lord then we cannot recognise His voice calling to us.
And how do we get to know Him? By spending time with Him.

On that point, moving on to today’s Gospel text, the text does not yet have the Lord issuing His call, “Follow me”(Jn 1:43) –that call is recorded in the next verse, and what is recorded in today’s account is an important preparation for that call.
In today’s account we heard about how disciples of St John the Baptist went to Jesus and asked Him, “Rabbi, where do you live?”(Jn 1:38). Now, they weren’t just curious about whether He had a flat or a bungalow! They wanted to know HIM.
And they knew they had to spend TIME with Him to know Him.
And, having spent time with Him, having gotten to know Him, they were ready to hear and accept the call to “follow” Him that He then gave them.

I began by saying that the Lord has something to say to you, something relevant for you today, in your current circumstances. And, like Samuel, we can struggle to “know” the Lord well enough to able to hear His call.
Well, the point is this: there two things I am recommending to you today to address this: (1) prayer, and (2) reading the Gospels –the Gospels being the part of the Bible that most directly tells us about the Lord, so that might “know” Him.
Let me be more specific still, and suggest to you a daily pattern to follow (one that many of you already use, and a good number of you do even more than this):
(1) daily reading a paragraph of the Gospels, and
(2) then spending 5 minutes in prayer: silent, private, talking to God and listening to Him.
And inside today’s newsletter is a list of 7 excerpts from the Gospels, to take you through each day this coming week, so you can make this week the start of something new.

5 minutes is short enough that every single person here should be able to achieve it.
But I’d also assert (and I think I can say I witness this in many people) that 5 minutes a day can be enough to start you out on a new trajectory.
A new trajectory that can start you on a path such that you might hear what the Lord is calling out to you –just as Samuel was eventually able to say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”(1 Sam 3:10).

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Seeking God More. Epiphany

Mt 2:1-12; Isa 60:1-6
Today we keep the feast of the Epiphany, when we recall the ‘wise men’ who came from ‘the east’(Mt 2:1).

First, let’s consider the DISTANCE they came.
I went to Google Maps, and depending where in Persia they came from, they travelled between 1000 and 2000 miles -that’s a long way to travel on a camel.
They came because there was something they were looking for, and they were willing to travel long way to find it.

Second, let’s consider WHAT they were seeking: they were seeking the fulfilment of a prophecy.
Tales of the Jewish expectation of a ‘Messiah’ had spread throughout the east.
The Jewish prophecies, as we heard in our first reading, spoke of a “light” that would come (Isa 60:1).
The Zoroastrian texts of the magi also expected a star to appear to herald the birth of “a mysterious child” to be born of a “virgin”.
“A VIRGIN will conceive and bear a son, and a STAR will appear blazing at midday to signalise the occurrence… When you behold the star follow it… Adore the mysterious child, offering him gifts with profound humility” (the magi Zoroaster).

Third, let’s consider what they already KNEW -and this is where I think they can be most valuable for us to take as a lesson to imitate.
So what did they know already?
As magi of Zoroaster, they knew there was a god. They knew that there was one god, not many.
But, their coming to the Jews meant that they also knew that there was more to God than what their religion had to offer them.
The Jews had a very “exclusive” knowledge of God
-they claimed that God had worked in their history in a way that He had not worked in other peoples;
-they claimed that God had revealed Himself to them in a way that He had not revealed Himself to others;
-and, they held to a promise of more to come: the Messiah.
For these magi to come to the Jews could not have been any casual act
-it was deeply significant, they were seeking MORE in their knowing and meeting the Lord.

And what did they find?
They found exactly what they were looking for:
God among us, Emmanuel, “the infant king of the JEWS”(Mt 2:2).
Let us also note, however, that they were only able to recognise Him by their faith and trust:
They believed the promise, they had trust in the Lord, and so they recognised Him in this baby lying before them.
They had known Him in part, in the writings of their pagan religion.
They had sought to know Him more, in the God of the Jews.
They found what they were looking for, and “we have come to do Him homage”(Mt 2:2).
And in finding Him, as the text recounted, “they were filled with delight”(Mt 2:10).
Joy, as I have noted before and will note again, joy is a repeated fruit that we see produced in people who meet the Lord.

What of ourselves?
We, if we are Christians, already have the fullness of God -“the Word became flesh”(Jn 1:14).
There can never be another religion for us to seek to find Him more.
BUT we can seek to come closer to Him, as the magi came closer.
If they travelled over a 1000 miles, how much should we be willing to do to fin Him more?
The joy of knowing and loving Him is not automatic:
-the Pharisees were filled with envy, and so just hated Him;
-Herod was too busy with his own concerns, and is just perplexed;
-we might have been Catholic our whole lives, but there is always more we can do to come closer.

Let me close by offering you two specific ways of coming closer to meet the Lord:

First, the free book on your benches (‘Rediscovering Jesus’, by Matthew Kelly).
It’s an easy readable book, as some of you have already been telling me.
Someone was so impressed by the book that he bought a free copy for everyone across our Diocese.

Second, the Alpha course, which we’re starting here Thursday 25th January.
On one level its an introduction to Christianity, something for you to invite a friend to.
On another level, as many people have found over the years, it can be a profound opportunity to meet the Lord at a deeper level.
Each evening has a hot supper, a 30 minute film, and 30 minutes for discussion in groups.

The magi travelled 1000 miles to seek God. Let us never stop seeking Him more.