Sunday, 24 June 2018

Birth of St John the Baptist

Today we keep the feastday of St John the Baptist, and you might not be aware of this, but its incredibly rare for Church to allow an individual saint to replace the normal Sunday Mass.  So its worth while remembering why St John the Baptist is considered important.

Let’s recall who he was:
He was “the Baptist” -in the River Jordan he baptised huge crowds of people who came to him from all over Palestine.
He was great 
-he had so many many followers, and was held in such admiration, that many people thought that he must eb the long-awaited Jewish Messaish.  So many people thought this that he had to make a point of saying that he WASN’T the Messiah (Lk 3:15-16);
-he was so great that the Lord Jesus said of Him, that there was no one greater born of women (Mt 11:11);
-God blessed his birth with miracles: an angel appeared to his father and first struck him dumb and then his speech was restored, events so unusual that “all marvelled”(Lk 1:63) and everyone said, “What then will this child turn out to be?”(Lk 1:66).
He was the cousin of the Lord Jesus
-his mother was Elizabeth, a cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Having noted all those details, let’s come to the crucial point: 
WHY was he baptising?
As he put it himself, he was ‘Preparing a way for the Lord’(Lk 3:4):
His was a ‘baptism of repentence’(Lk 3:3);
He told people how to change their lives: the tax collectors, the soldiers, the multitudes;
And the point is this:
None of this was for himself, it was all to get them ready for someone else: the Lord Jesus Christ, who WAS the long-awaited Messiah.

A brief application to ourselves: How is all this relevant to ME?  
4 very brief points:
(1) God had a plan in St John the Baptist, a long plan with many miraculous details, a plan that was part of a wider plan: for the Messiah.
If God had a plan for him, it’s a reminder that He also mas a plan for me, and a plan for you.
(2) A different point, St John the Baptist deferred to the Lord Jesus.  St John the Baptist said, He must increase and I must decrease”(Jn 3:30).
I, too, must be ready to put the Lord before all else -he and I are not on an equal footing.
(3) Third, the entire work of St John the Baptist was oriented towards the something GREATER that lay ahead: the coming of the King, with a new type of Kingdom.
There is something greater ahead, available for you and me too: Heaven.
(4) Finally, let us think about how St John the Baptist first reacted when meeting the Lord Jesus. 
People often recall his life of penance in the desert, his eating locusts etc.  
BUT when he first met the Lord, when their pregnant mothers greeted, and the two babes in the wombs miraculously reacted to each other, his mother Elizabeth said, “The babe in my womb leapt for JOY”(Lk 1:44).
Joy can be our reaction too, every time we meet the Lord, at a deeper and deeper level.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

By Faith not by sight, 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34
If you’re wondering where I was last week, I’ve just been away on an 8 day retreat.  8 days of silence, speaking only to my retreat director, and only to him once a day. 
Such a retreat is hard work.  We use the word ‘retreat’ in English, but in other languages they call them the ‘exercises’.
To use one analogy, it’s a bit like staring in the mirror non-stop for 8 days. You come to see every imperfection, every thing about yourself that you don’t like, everything that you need to CHANGE -you can become rather sick of yourself.  

That analogy has a serious flaw, however:
A Christian retreat isn’t about looking at yourself in a mirror.
A Christian retreat is about looking at Christ, looking at Him long and hard.
-like a mirror, we come to see ourselves in a new light.
But whereas a mirror only leads you to yourself, and fails to show you HOW to change -you only see what is ugly and wrong,
in contrast, when we look at Christ, we see not so much what is WRONG, but what could be RIGHT, in Him.

I want to focus this on a useful and oft-quoted statement we heard in our second reading, from St Paul to the Corinthians:
“We walk by faith, and not by sight”(2 Cor 5:7).

I might know I need to change; know I need to move on, 
But none of us have SEEN that place where we are supposed to be going, 
we don’t know it “by sight” -to use St Paul’s term.
So how DO we know it?  How can I know HOW I’m supposed to journey onwards?
            St Paul says we do so, “by faith”.
Faith, it’s important to be clear, it’s NOT a vague attitude or feeling.
Romans 10:17: “Faith comes from hearing” 
I hear what the Lord has told me, especially in the Bible, 
and I choose to accept Him, and, accept what He has said.
I say, “I believe you”, to the Lord Jesus,
I say that I believe all He has told me about:
The destination, life in Him, life united to Him;
The path, which is also Him, He is “the way”(Jn 14:6).

For myself, as for you, the Lord has told us many things for us to believe, to “walk by faith”.
He has revealed, in Himself, just how wondrous, how desirable, that destination is.
He has also revealed what I need to do to get there:
To daily, if not hourly, repent of my sins;
To see myself more truly in Him, to examine myself, to know what sins to repent of;
To live for Him, and for others for His sake, rather than living for myself, 
not living for my comfort, for my accomplishment, my pride, my vanity, my pleasure;
He has also revealed His strength and assistance on the way:
Our gospel parable, of the seed that grows unseen, is just one of many promises of how He DOES work, even when we don’t see it;
He promises to come with His strength in the sacraments, because I can’t get to heaven by own power:
I need His feeding in Holy Communion,
I need His restoring forgiveness in regular Confession.
I haven’t yet seen the goal, but I’ve been told of it in faith.  
“We walk by faith, and not [yet!] by sight”(2 Cor 5:7).