Sunday, 20 May 2018

Our Lady and the Holy Spirit, Spouse of the Holy Spirit: Pentecost

There is a phrase that we hear repeatedly in the New Testament, namely, acting under the “power”(Acts 1:8) of the Holy Spirit. Now, many of us can wonder quite HOW that works –how do you get the Holy Spirit’s power to work in you? Also, we might wonder what is LOOKS like to have the power of the Holy Spirit at work in someone.
I want, today, to speak about the unique relationship between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit, and say a few words about how Our Lady can show us both what having the “power” of the Holy Spirit in us LOOKS like, and also HOW we can let that power work within us.

One of the titles of Our Lady is “Spouse of the Holy Spirit”, a title that indicates that she has a unique relationship with Him.
He is referred to at the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel told Our Lady that she would conceive not in the normal way but when “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”(Lk 1:35).
He is referred to again when Our Lady then goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth while they were both pregnant, she with the Lord Jesus and Elizabeth with John the Baptist. At the greeting of the Blessed Virgin “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” and she said that “the babe in my womb leapt for joy”(Lk 1:41;44), so that John the Baptist is said to have been filled with the Spirit even before he was born.

But it is perhaps in the next thing that happened we see something most relevant shown forth: Our Lady then burst out into the beautiful “Magnificat” (Lk 1:46-55) in which she declared the praise of God for what He was doing, in particular that He had “cast down the mighty”(Lk 1:52) and raised up the lowly. This is relevant in two ways: first, her bursting forth into this hymn of praise was itself an action of the Holy Spirit within her; and second, the words she said indicated why SHE was suitable for the Spirit to act in her: namely, she was lowly and humble herself.

When we are proud we are unable to listen to others.
When we are mighty and content with our state we struggle to turn to others for aid.
In either case we are not suitably disposed to let the Holy Spirit be at work in us –we can’t really hear His promptings; and, we’re too full of our own misguided thoughts of our power to depend on HIS power.

Our Lady, in contrast, was humble not proud. Although she was doing a great thing herself, namely, being mother of the Lord, she did not ascribe this greatness to herself but rather TO GOD who had chosen her in her lowly state.
And, and as a consequence, GREAT things did happen in her, and the “POWER” of the Holy Spirit was active in her.
He was active in her not least in the most daily every-day aspect of her life: her sinlessness. She wasn’t sinless by her own power but by the “power” of the Holy Spirit, a power she was humble enough to co-operate with. She co-operated with His power not once, not occasionally, but every moment of her existence: from her sinless conception, in every moment of her life, such that she was exactly what the angel called her: “full of grace”(Lk 1:28). Such a CONTINUAL commitment to Him is another reason it suitable to think of her as His “spouse” –a life-long relationship.
And that same Spirit also gave her strength to do what we might think would be impossible, so that she was faithful to stand at the foot of the Cross and watch her son suffer.

So, to conclude: for ourselves, if we want to have that same “power” of the Holy Spirit in us, then:
We must be humble and lowly as she was humble and lowly –we must not have mistaken views of our greatness or self-power.
And if we are lowly before the Lord, call on His strength, COMMIT ourselves to Him as she did as His spiritual spouse, then we will allow the space in us for Him to come and come with “power”

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Loneliness, 7th Sunday of Easter, Year B

Jn 17:11-19
I want to say some words today about loneliness.
On one level, loneliness is one of the basic human conditions.  We are made for love, and yearn for something that will satisfy this. Thus Genesis describes Adam, alone amongst all the animals, looking for a soulmate, lonely without one.  
On another level, as study after study sadly shows, loneliness is particularly a feature of our modern age.
We see it in youth today. Studies point to mobile phones and tablets in this regard -youth connected to their devices, but tragically isolated in their rooms, and statistically vastly more likely to be lonely than just a decade ago.
At the other end of the age spectrum, many of the elderly among us can speak of a different loneliness. 
And, in between, you can be lonely at work; lonely in marriage.
Loneliness is one of features of human existence.

I want to take this I two directions: thinking of God, and, thinking of our parish community.
In the Gospel text we heard the Lord Jesus praying to the Father.  He spoke about being “one” with Him.  This is very important in the context of loneliness.
God is one, in Himself. Yet, He is also a community of three persons -never alone, never lonely.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit -always existing in love and in relationship.
We are made in His image.  
We are made to love and to be loved.  
In as much as we fail to experience these two things we are lonely. 
The solution, at its deepest level, is to be drawn into the love of God, to be one with Him.  Thus the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father, “may they be one like us”.
Thus spiritual loneliness can be addressed by a regular life of prayer, regular contact with God in His Bible and in His sacraments, 
at Mass for union with Him, 
at Confession for healing our disunion from Him.
In this regard, it is possible to be physically alone, but, not feel lonely.  There is a difference between being PHYSICALLY alone and FEELING lonely.  You can feel lonely in the midst of a crowd; you can feel content by yourself.
I can remember life in my last parish: I was physically more isolated than in my entire life, in the rural countryside, far from friends and family, yet rarely did I feel lonely.

That was one direction of thinking with respect to loneliness: God.
Another direction is our parish life.  There is much that can be done in a parish to ease physical loneliness, and I want to point to two particular things in our parish culture in this regard.

The first, is the hugely important work that our SVP group do here in the parish.  Among the needs they address is visiting the housebound. This is an important way for us, as a parish community, to be helping combat loneliness.  
Yet, I’m aware that we need more SVP members to do this work.  And so I would like to take this as an opportunity to appeal for more people to join.  If you’re interested, sign the sheet in the porch or speak to an SVP member after Mass.

The second, concerning Mass. Some of those who used to welcome people at Mass by standing in the porch and offering people a newsletter are now too infirm to do so.  
I’d like to therefore appeal for more people to volunteer for this important role.  It would be good to have a team at each of the 3 Masses to do this in rotation.  If you’re willing, please sign the sheet in the porch.

These are two very particular things, but both relating to how we function as a parish community to help ease loneliness. 

So, in summary, the Lord Jesus prayed that we might be one as He and the Father are one in the Spirit.
We are made for love and made to feel loved.
We can help each other as a parish community by addressing physical loneliness.
But the deepest cause of loneliness in the human heart can only be addressed by our union with God.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Friendship with Jesus, 6th Sunday Easter Year B

Jn 15:9-17
Today I'm going to speak to you about friendship with Jesus Christ.
Now, it might seem that Jesus being our “friend” is a small and uncontroversial topic, however, it's actually a pivotal issue that sets us apart from our two main competitors in today’s marketplace of religious ideas, those two competitors being Islam and atheism.

Atheism says that Jesus cannot be your friend because God doesn't exist.  Or, even if some 'god' does exist then we can't really know anything much about Him.

Whereas, in Islam, the word, “Islam”, means “submission”, and this sums up a lot of what Islamic thought says about God: 
God is not your friend, rather, you are His servant, you OBEY Him.  
Linked with this is the notion that God is utterly unknowable in Himself.  We do not know Him, we only know how He has commanded us to live, His commandments.

The Lord Jesus, however, says something else, as we heard.  In that text we heard Him say, “I call you friends”(Jn 15:15).  
Yes, He is Lord.  
Yes, we submit to Him.  
Yes, there is always something “more” to the infinite God than our finite minds can exhaust.  
BUT He nonetheless says, “I call you friends”.  
Note, in addition, the phrase He utters next, the REASON He says we can be called His friends: “because I have made KNOWN to you everything I have heard from my Father”.
-in Jesus we KNOW God.

You can only have someone as a friend, you can only love them, if your KNOW them.  
And the Lord Jesus has made Himself known to us by coming from heaven to earth, and with that He has made known to us EVERYTHING there is to say about God: 
the Bible says that Jesus is the one “Word” of the Father(Jn 1:1), 
and, as the Catechism puts it, in speaking this Word He has told us all there is to know (CCC 65).

Because of Jesus I can KNOW God; 
and, I can call God my friend.
And this is the great gift that the Christian religion imparts.

Now, we might add, that the reason this is so WONDERFUL is that He is a friend beyond other friends, for at least two reasons:.
First, because, He loves me more than other people love me; 
He loves me more than I will ever be able to love Him: 
as we just heard Him say, He lays down His life for His friends (Jn 15:13).
Second, He is a wonderful friend because He can DO more for me than any other friend.  
He can walk on water, feed the five thousand, and so forth.  
AND the Church gives us this reading NOW, in Eastertide, so that we might think of His friendship in the light of His rising from the dead.  
He is a POWERFUL friend. 

To sum that all up:
Atheism says God is not your friend because God is an illusion, or at best unknowable.
Islam says God is your master, but not your friend, again because God is unknowable.
The Lord Jesus claims otherwise.  HE claims He has made God known, that He can thus be our friend.
And His rising from the dead proves the truth of this great claim, and proves the greatness of His friendship.