Wednesday, 25 December 2019

God made Visible, Christmas

Today I want to talk about how Christmas shows us what God is like; Christmas tells us what God has shown about Himself.
And this is important because some people think you can’t know God, whereas, in fact, Christmas means the “invisible” God has become “visible”.
Let me note 3 ways.

First, Christmas shows us that God is CLOSE in the details of our lives.
Sometimes we can think that God is far away, and removed from our lives, however, at Christmas we recall:
God, who eternally existed, entered time and was born of the Virgin Mary.
He entered REAL life, hard life: 
There was no room for Him at the inn: He was born in a stable;
When He grew up, He became a carpenter, doing real work;
He wept in sorrow when His friend Lazarus died;
He sweat blood;
He suffered and died on the Cross
-in all this and much more, Christmas shows God to be CLOSE in human existence, present in the details. 

Second, Christmas shows us that God is ACTIVE in our world.
Sometimes we can think that God is powerless, that He doesn’t DO much, however at Christmas we recall: 
Even before He was born, centuries before, there were PROPHECIES of His birth:
WHERE He would be born (Bethlehem); 
WHICH tribe He would be born to (Judah); 
That He would be born to a VIRGIN
-no one else has ever been announced before His birth!
There were miracles at his birth:
angels sang and guided the shepherds to the manger;
a star appeared and led the wise men;
When He grew up:
He cured the sick: the blind saw, the lame walked, the deaf heard;
He taught the ignorant -about life, about heaven;
He even raised the dead, and rose again after His own death.
Christmas shows that God is ACTIVE.

Third, and finally, Christmas shows that God is REAL:
He took FLESH when He was born of the virgin.
You can only take flesh if you are REAL.
Sometimes people think that God is just an IDEA, a nice but vague thought.
However, Christmas shows the opposite.

The eternal God is transcendent, beyond us, invisible.
But in the event of Christmas, He is invisible no more.
When you next wonder, “Can we know God?”
Think of the crib at Christmas:
the God who sometimes seems distant, has shown Himself to be close and involved;
the God who sometimes seems inactive, has shown Himself to do much;
the God who some speak of a vague spirit, has shown Himself to be definite and to take flesh.
In Christmas we recall that we can know God because He has made Himself known.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Asking for a Gift, 4th Sunday of Advent, Year A

Isa 7:1-14
Today I want to say a few words about asking God to give you a gift this Christmas,
and about how this is a good way to PREPARE for what He wants to give you this Christmas.

In our first reading we heard the Lord God tell King Ahaz to ASK Him for something, in his case: “a sign”.
God, in fact, is a generous giver.
He wants to give us things.
He wants us to TRUST Him enough to ASK Him.
God was upset that Ahaz didn’t trust Him enough 
-Ahaz was instead fearful of ‘testing’ God (Isa 7:12).
Lots of physical gifts are going to be given to people in a couple days. 
I’d suggest to you that this is a good moment to consider what SPIRITUAL gift you could ask God for 
-God gives us many different graces through the different liturgical seasons;
we do well to focus ourselves to receive these different graces in these different seasons.  

I remember, when I studied spiritual theology, being struck by the saints and theologians of the Church talking about all the graces that are LOST to us because we don’t ASK God for them.
The Lord, “Ask, it will be given to you”(Mt 7:7)
The saints tell us to be SPECIFIC in what we ask God for (St Thomas ST II-II q83 a5).
to repeat:
-Our heavenly Father wants us to trust Him enough to ask Him for things.

What might I ask God for this Christmas?
I might ask for guidance, as we heard Him guide St Joseph in the Gospel.
I might ask for better obedience, that I might do what others ask me to do, as St Joseph did what the Angel told him, or, to phrase that differently, to be better at accepting what OTHERS want to do rather than what I want to do.
I might ask for more patience
or more strength.
God wants to give me something, and He wants me to ask.

I might ask for a BMW, or something silly and selfish. 
c.f. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly”(James 4:3)
Or, I could ask for something that He knows is good for me, 
something He WANTS to give me 
-but He’s waiting for me to ASK.
Probably not a BMW, but material things are among fitting things to ask Him (St Thomas ST II-II q83 a6).

The HEART of what He wants to give us is: HIMSELF.
The child to be born will be Emmanuel, “God-is-with-us”.
Most of us, probably, can say that there are areas of my life where God is ALREADY present.
But, unless I’m going to claim to be a sinless as the Blessed Virgin, 
and to claim that I am super-human and strong and all self-satisfied and complete,
then, there are other areas of my life where He is NOT fully present
-those are places I can pray that He be BORN in me anew this Christmas.

This final Sunday of Advent, Our Lady is presented to us as the perfect Advent figure:
She was ready for the Coming of the Lord, and so He came to us in her.
Asking God, in prayer of petition, is one way of MAKING ourselves READY for what He wishes to give us.
(St Thomas ST II-II q83 a2c)
King Ahaz refused to ask God, let is not make the same mistake:
What gift are you going to ask Him for Christmas?

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Rejoice while Waiting, Gaudete, 3rd Sunday of Advent Year A

James 5:7-10; Isa 35:1-10; Mt 11:2-11
Today I want to speak about how ALL of Christian life is a type of Advent, a type of waiting, and I want to talk about why this should be a reason to REJOICE.

Today is one of my favourite moments in Advent, and favourite moments in the liturgical year:
Today is ‘Gaudete’ Sunday, a Latin word meaning ‘rejoice’.
As a consequence, we interrupt our Advent purple and I wear, not girly pink, but manly ‘rose’.
We interrupt what might seem like the SADNESS of our Advent waiting, and the Church bids us remember our reasons to rejoice -rejoice even while we wait.
 “Rejoice… the Lord is very near” (Phil 4:4-7, second reading Year C) - the words in our entrance antiphon.

We are in Year A, and our readings this year give us a different focus from Year C:
our reason to have PATIENCE in our waiting (James 5:7).
When we wait for something it’s easy to be IMpatient, to be constantly checking our watch.
“Has Jesus come yet?  No?  How much longer is He going to be?”

Let me suggest a different type of waiting:
A waiting in which we are so filled with gladness at what lies ahead, that we are rejoicing in it EVEN BEFORE it comes.
Children often show us this: 
they can be almost as happy in the build up to Christmas as on Christmas itself.
One of the reasons Children can anticipate this joy is that they TRUST their parents 
-trust that Christmas will come.
We, likewise, need to trust that the greatness of God’s coming will be true.
So, our liturgy today gives us some reminders of why we should trust.

Generally speaking, we trust someone because they have shown themselves to be trustworthy:
the way they have behaved in the PAST shows they are RELIABLE.
Our first reading and Gospel text are given to us today to make that point:
In Isaiah, God prophesied that He would come,
He promised that He would give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf (Isa 35:5), and so on.
In the Gospel, we heard the Lord Jesus point out that this is exactly what He was doing:
The blind saw, the deaf heard, the dumb spoke, the lame walked, etc (Mt 11:5)
The Lord proved that He was the fulfilment of the promise that the Messiah would come.

Then, He said something a little obscure, but that is pivotal for us if WE are to rejoice today:
He said, “Blessed is the man who does not lose faith in me”(Mt 11:6).
If we stop trusting in Him, if we ‘lose faith’ in Him, 
then we lose our reason to rejoice.
Whereas, IF we trust Him, confidently trust Him,
then we can rejoice EVEN WHILE we wait -because we are confident in His coming.
and confident in all He has said He will DO when He comes, namely, put all things right.

God promised in the past, and He was faithful to His promises.
He has SHOWN He is trustworthy.
So, let us be patient while we wait.

It’s a wonderful thing to have been promised something great.
It’s a DELIGHT to know that great thing IS coming.
All of a Christian’s life that this FORWARD-looking dimension, this hope-filled dimension.
If we are faithful, then He will be faithful.
‘Rejoice… the Lord is very near” (Phil 4:4-7, second reading Year C).

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Confession, 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A

Isa 11:1-10; Mt 3:1-12
We’re now starting the second week of Advent, the second week of our getting ready for Christmas.
Last Sunday, the Church's liturgy focussed on WHO it is we are preparing for -by dwelling on the Second Coming.
This Sunday, the Church’s liturgy focuses us on what we need to do to PREPARE for Him to come.   The collect prayer at Mass this Thursday expressed this very beautifully when it said,
“hasten the salvation which only our sins delay” (current breviary translation).

What stops the Lord coming to me?
Nothing on HIS part -He WANTS to come.
What stops His comes, “impedes” it, is my sins.
Each time I sin I choose to let something else come into my life, something incompatible with Him.
I choose laziness, because I don’t get around to what the Lord wants me to do.
I choose irritability and impatience, because I’m focussed on MY priorities rather than those of other people.
I choose over-indulgence in food, because I value these pleasures more than they are truly worth.

Let me look at this a different way:
Christmas is about peace: 
We hail the child to be born as “the prince of peace” (Isa 9:6);
Our first reading from Isaiah poetically described the peace His definitive reign will bring:
the wolf and the lamb lying down together (Isa 11:6).
When I sin, I damage the peace and harmony that should exist in every one of my relationships:
between God and me;
between my family and me;
between my work-life and me;
and even my inner peace -I damage the harmony within myself.

The solution to this, however, is not complicated:
The solution is to turn to the very One whose coming my sins delay.
To turn to Him and seek forgiveness.
In the Gospel we heard the powerful call of St John the Baptist:
Prepare a way for the Lord”.
If we would prepare for His Christmas coming, then we need to do the very same.
And, like the people who came to St John, we need to “confess” our sins (Mt 3:6).

The sacrament of Confession is a beautiful thing, it reconciles us to God.
When we go to confession we CONTACT forgiveness -not just as words on a page.
It’s part of God’s plan to work THROUGH other people, through His Church, through His priests.
He said, “He who hears you hears me”(Lk 10:16), to His apostles, the first priests.
He said, “Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them”(Jn 20:23), to His apostles, the first priests.
And He knows that we need to HEAR those words of forgiveness, “I absolve you…”, from His living representative on earth: the priest.

Pope Francis, as I think most of you know, goes to confession every 2 weeks.
The standard advice for parishioners is to go every month:
That’s a timeframe that means we can still remember our sins;
That’s a timeframe that can help us be suitably prepared to be ready to receive Holy Communion. 
As our last Bishop (Christopher Budd, 1998 pastoral letter) put it: It’s not enough to go to confession just at Advent and Lent, we need to go regularly.

Many of you go to confession in other churches -I know because I sometimes see you there when I’m at Ringwood or the Oratory to go to confession myself.
Our newsletter lists the times of nearby confessions, and in just over a week we’ll have 4 priests here for our Advent confessions service.
Our newsletter this week contains an examination of conscience on peace (see here) and our various damaged relationships -I hope it helps prepare you for Christmas.
I urge you, especially in this holy season, to get to confession before Christmas.
“Prepare a way of the Lord”(Mt 3:3).

The examination of conscience referred to in the sermon can be viewed at:

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Winter in the Church: An Analogy

The Faith Movement has a monthly meditation. I wrote this one, for December:

We are now, in terms of weather, in what is usually the grimmest period of the year.  There are many ways in which this might seem a metaphor for the state of the Church today.  In winter, there are few leaves on the trees, and the few there are passing remnants of the summer.  In the Church, there are fewer Catholics than there used to be, and it can sometimes feel as if the few here are remnants of the past rather than tokens of a future.  I want to dwell on this metaphor to consider the hope that lies beneath the apparent gloom.   

The death of winter is never terminal.  The death of winter is always a step towards spring.  The death of winter, in fact, is never as dead as it seems: under the ground, out of sight, nature is working and moving to make possible the new growth that will come with spring.  If the old leaves and mulch didn’t decay in winter, if the worms and bugs didn’t keep working through the cold of January, then the warmth of April would never produce the growth of spring.  This gives us an important, if un-glorious, image of our own apostolate in the Church in our day -we must be the worms and bugs that will create the groundwork to enable more a visibly fruitful apostolate in the future.

To shift from metaphors to history: If our Scottish and Welsh readers will indulge me, our English Catholic past gives us at least two examples for us.  First, we might recall how the pagan Vikings came and conquered the flourishing Catholic faith of Saxon England. It seemed that not merely England but the faith itself was lost.  The monasteries and nunneries were burnt and ruined, the churches desecrated, the bones and relics of saints destroyed. Little could those who lived through those days have envisaged that the splendour of Catholic medieval England was still to come!  Little could they have imagined that in a few generations those Vikings would be converted to the Lord.

We recently celebrated Newman’s canonisation, and many will have recalled his hope-filled Second Spring sermon.  My second example, however, draws its lessons from what might be called the ‘Second Winter’ that Bishop Challoner lived through.  Challoner lived in the 18th century, after the time of the glory of the reformation martyrs but before the time when the numbers of Catholics began to increase.  For 40 years he laboured as vicar apostolic, a time period when Catholics statistics were only ever on the decline. The law of the land allowed him and his followers to live, but the establishment stacked everything against them.  Far from being a figure of despair, however, Challoner was determined and visionary. He established patterns of devotion, and books to sustain them, that not merely kept the Old Faith alive but developed it to new counter-reformation heights.  He only ever worked with small numbers of people, but he kept going. He created apostolic centres and pastoral structures that built a new foundation, a foundation that made the likes of Newman and his Second Spring possible. It seems to me that we, today, can chose between spending our time weeping that Newman’s Second Spring didn’t produce a Second Summer, or we can choose do our little part to prepare for a third spring we can’t yet foresee.

The Catholic Church in England went through a winter under the Vikings, under the Protestants, and is in another winter now.  The Catholic Church is Scotland likewise saw winters before St Columba and while Mary Queen of Scots lost her head. Few people like to live in winter, but it would seem it is our lot.

To live in ecclesiastical winter takes both faith and hope.  It takes faith to believe that the truth and the world is different from what those around us would have us think.  It takes hope to continue working amidst small numbers and worshiping amidst declining and elderly congregations. Both only come, and can only bear fruit in love, when we trustingly look to the Lord.  If we do, we can come to see reality with “the eyes of faith”, to “see all things with the eyes of Jesus”(Lumen fidei n.60).  He is the one who told us that His Kingdom works unseen, like a seed under the ground (Mk 4:27).  It is working in the winter, even if it is only seen come spring.  Let us ask the Lord to fill us with the faith and hope, and maybe the humility, to be the worms and bugs that work through the winter, and not despair that we’re not green shoots of spring.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Aslan & Advent, 1st Sunday of Advent Year A

Mt 24:37-44
So we’ve just started Advent, and was thinking at the start of this week, even before Advent began, about how much I LOVE Advent.
Advent is a time of expectation;
A time of looking ahead;
A time of hope;
A time characterised by the fact that although we have the Lord with us, we also look ahead to a time when He will come in a new and definitive way.

Then, while I’m was in this lovely Advent mood,
then, to ruin it all, I read the readings that the Church gives us for this First Sunday of Advent.
And, to put it mildly, they are bit of a downer:
They speak of the judgment -of the fearful warning that the Lord Jesus gave;
He spoke of how many of us will NOT be saved   -50/50 is the ratio that Jesus indicates;
Many of us will not be ready.

Many of us will not be ready.
Then, I also thought about how I’m not ready for Christmas
How many presents do I have sorted? None
How many cards written? None 
There are still 20 shopping days till Christmas
and 16 days when I can still post a second-class Christmas card
But, if Christmas came NOW, I wouldn’t be ready.

The coming of the Lord will be a GREAT thing.
When He comes in glory and might at the end of time, it will be wonderful.
It will also be awesome, in the sense of fearsome.
He will come on HIS terms not on ours.

Yes, He is my friend, my brother, the One who loves me.
His coming will bring delight for His chosen ones.
He is also judge, ruler, master, creator, God.
He can be a GREAT friend because He is indeed GREAT.
But that means we do not relate to Him as equals -we must treat Him with AWE, we must be ready.
The Bible calls Him “the Lion of Judah”(Rev 5:5),
and lions are not tame.
Many of you will be familiar with CS Lewis’s Narnia novels, and their Christ-figure Aslan.  To relate a conversation in that novel that sums this point up: 
Mr Beaver said, “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." 
"Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite SAFE? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"...
"Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn't safe. But he's GOOD. He's the King, I tell you.”

Advent is a time of expectation, of looking ahead.
It’s a time to get ready, to get ready for Christmas.
The Church bids us start to get ready by remembering His FINAL coming in glory and power.
We do this as a way of remembering WHO it that we are preparing for
-not just a cuddly baby in a crib, but our Lord and God.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Apocalypse, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Lk 21:5-19; Mal 3:19-20
Today I want to address the issue of living in a troubled world, a world where we worry about where it’s all heading.
I want to start by noting that many people seem to think these are worrying times:
We have climate activists telling us the world will end;
We have people concerned that Brexit will empower racists and xenophobes,
While we have others concerned that the Establishment will crush Brexit and thwart the 2016 referendum.
Then, in a different way, many are anxious about the decline of religion in our society, the loss of values, and so forth.
Many people are anxious.  Where is the modern world heading?

The key point I want make today is that our Christian faith addresses this.
The Lord did not promise us life would be easy.
The Lord did not promise us a world free of violence. 
In fact, the Lord prophesied violence and disasters, such as in today’s gospel text (Lk 21:10-11):
“Nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs on the heaven”.
The last book of the Bible is called the ‘Apocalypse’, and is a whole book on the subject.

The word ‘apocalypse’ is used today to mean a final disaster and catastrophe.
The Biblical and original meaning of the word, however, is something else:
A ‘revelation’ -which is why the final book of the Bible is also called ‘The Book of Revelation’.
So, what is the thing that will be revealed at the end of time?
What is the thing that was already revealed 2000 years ago in Christ and His Bible? 
-even if it isn't fully and definitively manifested yet

The ‘apocalypse’, the ‘revelation’, is this: 
That evil will not, ultimately, triumph;
That God will triumph;
And, in fact,
That God is active ALREADY -even in the midst of all the reasons we have to be anxious.

This is the message running right the way through all of the history that the Bible records.
God is at work, even amidst evil:
The Jews were in slavery in Egypt, but God was preparing the Promised land.
There was warfare obtaining the Promised Land, but it ended child sacrifice and temple prostitution.
There was the Exile in Babylon, but it purified the Chosen People and enabled them to Return restored.

There were many times for the Jews of the Old Testament when it SEEMED that God wasn’t active.
The Bible was written TO POINT OUT to them all the ways that God was active amidst their tribulations.
And, what the Lord Jesus promises, is that amidst all the travails of the world:
History has a goal: Him.
He will come again, in glory, and all will be put right.
Where is the world heading?  Its heading towards Him.
This is His promise.  This is His ‘revelation’, His ‘apocalypse’.
And He’s given us reason to TRUST His promise:
He died.  He let evil APPEAR to triumph.
He, instead, HE triumphed -He rose from death.
And what does He say to us, who live in a world of anxiety and turmoil:
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, 
but be of good cheer, because I have overcome the world.”(Jn 16:33)

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Praying for the Dead,Remembrance Sunday, 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

2 Macc 7:1-14; Lk 20:27-38
Today our nation observes Remembrance Sunday, and pauses to honour those who died in the wars of the past century.
For us, as Catholics, this is a good moment to recall how our FAITH helps us face death.
Our first reading, from 2 Maccabees, described ancient Jews (our forefathers in the faith) who faced death with incredible bravery, and did so BECAUSE of what they believed: their conviction of life after death.

We only had a short passage from Maccabees today, but it was an important era in Jewish history:
It was after the Exile: the Jews had been purified of their nation’s sin and restored to the Promised Land:  
They had the land, they had God’s holy city of Jerusalem.  
Most important, they again had the Temple in Jerusalem, to be able to worship the one true God who had made Himself known to their ancestors (like Moses).
Then, however, they were tested:
Their land was conquered by the Greeks.  The Greeks forbade them to worship as God had decreed, and demanded that they disobey God’s laws, like eating pig flesh, as we heard in that text.
When we read this part of the Bible we can see that although God allowed them to be tested with persecution, He also strengthened them, strengthened them with a PROMISE:
In the two books of Maccabees God’s promise of life after death, of a final RESURRECTION of the body, is more clearly revealed that anywhere else in the Old Testament.
The promise of the resurrection enabled them to have hope, and enabled them to be brave -the bravery of these soldiers, and martyrs, is incredible.

For us, as Catholics in this month of November, there is a very important aspect of this:
The Maccabees PRAYED for their dead, they offered SACRIFICES in the Temple for them.
This is the Old Testament Biblical foundation for our Catholic practice today, especially in November, of praying for the dead (see more about this here).

We pray for the dead for three reasons.
First, very simply, we pray for mercy in the judgement.  
We all depend on the mercy of God while we live, 
and it is for that mercy that we pray for our deceased. 

Second, we pray to help the dead through the passage of purgatory.
Heaven, the New Testament is clear, is a place of PERFECTION.
We, however, pretty much all of us, die still imperfect, still in our sins.
We must CHANGE before we are ready for heaven.
We must be purged of our sins, and so this place is called ‘Purgatory’.
Change, as we know in this world, is not easy.
It’s not easy to change the body, when we diet, or when we exercise.
Change is painful.
Change in Purgatory is filled with hope and JOY, because those there know they will eventually be going to heaven, and they delight to be GETTING READY for it.
But, it is still painful.
-that’s why our prayers are so important.
Countless visions given by God to the saints confirm our Catholic doctrine, namely,
That our prayers can bring COMFORT to those in purgatory -so this is the second thing that we pray for them,
And, that our prayers can SPEED this process -so this is the third thing we pray for the dead.

In summary, today our nation pauses and thinks of death.
We, as Catholics, have a particular way of doing this, a way that is filled with hope for the future, and action (in the act of praying) for those who have died.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

The Joy of Salvation, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 19:1-10
Today I want us to consider what “salvation” looks like.
We just heard the Lord Jesus say, “Today SALVATION has come to this house” [of Zacchaeus].

Many people would probably not think Zacchaeus needed “saving” from anything:
He had a lot of money;
He had a big house -big enough to invite a whole lot of people along (with the Lord).

Zacchaeus, it would seem, felt otherwise
-he thought he needed something more.
He was out looking for Jesus, “anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was” (Lk 19:3).
And, the text is clear, the Lord was also looking for Him:
“Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry because I must stay at your house today” (Lk 19:5).

Let’s note what salvation LOOKS like, as described in this account:
There is “joy” in Zacchaeus;
There is him “welcoming” the Lord into his house;
There is a CAUSE of his joy: God coming to him; the Lord Jesus being with him.
This is what salvation LOOKS like: the JOY of having GOD with you.
We were made for life with God,
we are radically incomplete unless God dwells in this ‘house’ within each of us.
But, when he does FULLY dwell in us, then we have the joy of Zacchaeus.

There is one pivotal element I have thus far failed to mention:
Zacchaeus was a sinner.
Zacchaeus was far from God.
And this is the whole PIVOT of the significance of this event:
Zacchaeus knew his money and big house wasn’t enough.
He knew his comfortable living had left him far from God.
He knew he was “lost” (Lk 19:10).

Do WE know we are lost?
This parish has many nice houses and presumably many nice bank accounts.
There is an inner Zacchaeus in many of us,
like him, we can have that sense that there is something MORE out there
something more IN here [in church] -if we will but seek Him out.
The self-complacent, who criticised the Lord for going to Zacchaeus’s house,
they, it would seem, didn’t have that humility Jesus taught,
that humility we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel, “God be merciful to me, a sinner”(Lk 18:13).
If we want to have the joy of Zacchaeus,
then we first need to know our NEED of the saviour.
I need to be able to look into my heart and say I’m lost, say I’m a sinner, say I need a saviour.

Zacchaeus gave half his property to the poor (Lk 19:8),
but he kept the other half -The Lord didn’t tell him to give it all.
Money can DISTRACT us from God.
A comfortable life can SMOTHER that inner voice that tells us we need to do more to follow Him.
But money isn’t a problem in itself.
Zacchaeus shows us a model of salvation:
looking for God, humble to see our sins,
and knowing the joy of the loving welcome of the God who came for the “lost”.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Inadequate Prayer, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 18:9-14; Ecc 35:12-19
Today I want to talk about prayer, and about how many of us feel that we’re not very good at praying.

Most of us have been praying for a very long time -since childhood.
We have memorised set prayers we say, like the Hail Mary & Our Father, and Rosary.
We have moments of brief spontaneous prayer, like when we ask God to help us be patient while we’re queuing in the Ferndown traffic.
Most of us, also, have times of longer prayer, what St Teresa of Avila calls ‘mental prayer’
-that simply being alone with the Lord, in a time and place we have set aside for Him;
-that speaking to Him as ‘heart speaks to heart’, to quote Cardinal Newman;
-that speaking TO Him and seeking to LISTEN to Him.

And yet, most of us also have many times when we think we’re not very good at praying.
In our discipleship film this week the speaker said, “We’re all beginners when it comes to prayer” -and there is a lot of truth to that.
In reading today’s Gospel, however, it struck me that something of this experience is actually of the very ESSENCE of authentic prayer.
Authentic prayer is humble.
Authentic prayer always feels LITTLE before God, inadequate before God, always feels like “we’re not very good at prayer”.

God is awesome.
God is infinite.
I, in contrast, am small.
Worse, as the publican in the parable reminded us today, I am “a sinner” (Lk 18:13).
If, in spite of this, I approach God and approach my prayer as if I am an ‘expert’,
then, I’m probably more a fool than an expert.
One of the lessons of today’s parable of the publican is that it’s OK to feel inadequate when we pray.
In fact, its RIGHT to feel inadequate when we pray.
A parent expects an infant to be an infant;
and God expects us to pray as we are, because He knows what we are.

That said, obviously, we want to try and be LESS inadequate.
Our discipleship film reminded us of the need to have PLAN in our prayer pattern:
A regular TIME each day when we pray;
A regular PLACE where we know we can be quiet and undisturbed and focussed.
We also need a BALANCE in the different forms of prayer we use
-each form of praying is different and serves us differently:
(a) we all need some formal memorised prayers -to use words that aren’t our own, to use words that take us outside of our narrow thinking;
(b) we all need some quiet mental prayer -for that intimacy with the Lord;
(c) we all need some communal prayer -which is one of the reasons we attend Mass every Sunday.

If I can close by offering you a prayer TOOL.
If you have access to email and the internet, then then look inside the newsletter today and sign up for the ‘daily devotional’ email at which will give you a daily text to help you pray.
A daily text helps put something good INTO our minds, so that our hearts and minds have something suitable to talk to God and listen to God about.

To close where I began: Most of us have times when we feel we’re not very good at prayer.
True prayer, the Lord Jesus tell us, must be humble.
So, don’t come to Him pretending to be an expert -just come to Him.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

The Bible, 29th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

2 Tim 3:14-4:2; Ex 17:8-13; Lk 18:1-8
Today I want to talk to you about why and how the Bible is USEFUL, as we just head St. Paul say in our second reading, it’s so useful that it merits being called “PROFITABLE”(2 Tim 3:16).
Most of us, however, don’t find it useful -we find it strange.
We read bits of it and it puzzles us.
We read names like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and we think: that’s not my world, that’s strange, that’s difficult to understand.

The Bible, it’s true, is strange and unfamiliar to us.
But the point I want to make to you today is that one of the reasons it is useful to us is precisely connected with the fact that it is strange.
The Bible tells about something amazing, namely, God.
We should expect that to be beyond our usual experience.
Yes, I experience God daily, BUT He is BEYOND the limitations of my personal experience.

Let me rephrase the issue differently:
One of our dangers is that we reduce God to something that He is not.
One of our dangers is that we reduce God to our own individual experience.
In contrast, when I read the Bible I hear of God OUTSIDE my own personal experience -and this is a major part of why the Bible is so USEFUL to us.

We all need to be taken out of ourselves.
We need to know what God has said ABOUT HIMSELF, not what my personal experience says of Him.
The Bible tells us of a set of experiences that are not mine and are not yours, a set of experiences of what is called “Salvation History”, a set of experiences with a people He chose as His own.  
In that history God acted and revealed Himself.
He acted and revealed Himself so completely that He said EVERYTHING He has to say.
He spoke His “Word”(Jn 1:1), namely, His Son, and, to repeat, quoting the Catechism, He said everything He has to say, “In Him He has said everything” (Catechism n.65; 73).
So, if I want to know what He is like,
if I want to know the meaning of life, and how to live it,
Then I need to know what He has said.

Let’s have an example.
Prayer, intercession.  Most of have the experience of asking for things and not getting them.
Every week you ask God to win the lottery, and it doesn’t happen.
What does God’s Word in the Bible say about intercessory prayer?
What is revealed in the events of salvation history?
Our first reading gave the example of the Amalekites (Ex 17:8).
You might ask, Who were the Amalekites?
and immediately we are taken out of ourselves, into a strange world, the world of the Bible.
They lived in Canaan before the Jews, and, very briefly, they were bad people.
The Canaanites sacrificed their children to false gods, made them walk through fire, and more.  ("It is because of these detestable practices that the Lord is driving these nations out before you"(Deut 18:1-18).)
More directly, the Amalekites repeatedly attacked the Jews, the true God’s chosen people, who were coming with a different religion and a different a way -and authentic way of life.
The key point is this: when Moses prayed, God heard, and the Amalekites were defeated.
God heard THAT prayer.  Prayer changed things.
In this example, an example in the definitive history by which God has revealed Himself, prayer was heard. 
Then, add to that what Jesus taught: pray, He said.  Keep praying, He said.(Lk 18:1)
So, one example, if I want to learn, I need to be taken outside myself by entering the world of the Bible, and I learn something I wouldn’t know if I limited myself to my own experience.
I know God, and know life, more fully, more truly.

But what is the Bible useful FOR?  For what purpose?
St Paul gives a long of purposes it serves, but, most of these are not things “modern” people want.
It is useful for “correcting” -but we need to want to be corrected.
It is useful for “refuting error” - but we need to want to be refuted.
It is useful for “calling to obedience” - but we need to want to obey.
It “guides” us to be “holy” and “equips” us with what we need to be holy.
But all of this takes us out of our normal world.

That, to come back to where I began, that makes the Bible strange to us.
The Bible doesn’t tell us what price milk is at Tesco.
The Bible doesn’t tell you the weather forecast.
The Bible takes you to a world outside your normal experience.
That’s why it feels strange, that’s why it can be hard to understand.
But it’s also why it essential that we make the effort.  
It’s about what gives MEANING to everything else.