Sunday, 28 April 2019

Persecution, 2nd Sunday of Easter

Jn 20:19-31
Most of us, I’m sure, have seen the reports of the explosions in Sri Lanka last Sunday.
I want to make two points about them. First, about the reality of persecution of Christians today.
Second, about the union of the Lord with His persecuted flock.

Last week, as we safely gathered here to celebrate Easter, our fellow Christians were being martyred for the faith in a series of explosions specifically targeted to kill Christians at Mass, in Sri Lanka.
Worldwide there is a rising tide of violence against Christians.
We hear, as on this occasion, of Islamic violence against Christians.
We hear, on other occasions, of Hindu violence against Christians (see here).
And, among other examples, of the oppression of Christians by the Chinese government (see here).
In fact, Newsweek reports that there is more Christian persecution and bloodshed today than in any time in history (see here).
Teresa May’s Easter message acknowledged this worldwide set of persecutions and pledged to stand up for such Christians (see here), while the Foriegn Secretary also highlighted the persceution of Christians in his Easter message (see here).See also here

Meanwhile, for us in the West, there is another form of persecution. What Pope Francis has called a “polite persecution” that “takes away from man and woman their freedom, as well as their right to conscientious objection”(here).
Whether it is doctors and nurses being pressed to cooperate in euthanasia or abortion,
or teachers being told that their views must conform to the latest bizarre trends on gender theory.
Christians in Britain run an increasing risk of being told that we are free, but only when our opinions don’t contradict the politically correct secular establishment.
There was a very interesting article in the Catholic Herald on this in February: here.
The point is this:
To be a Christian, to be a Catholic, is to be DIFFERENT from the secular world around us.
We must expect to be different.
We must expect, also, to have varied forms of persecution to go with that.

Where, however, does Jesus stand in the midst of our persecution?
There was a photo of a statue of Jesus that has been widely circulated (see here), after one of the Sri Lanka bomb blasts.
The statue is splattered with the blood of the Lord’s followers.
But the statue survived, standing upright, erect and unbowed.
The image has been circulated because people have seen a symbolism in the statue standing erect, undefeated.
Let me, however, contrast that image with the account of the Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel.
In the Gospel, the Lord stands triumphant before them after His resurrection, but, He is showing them His WOUNDS
-He is not separated from our suffering, He is with us in the midst of it. He has felt everything we feel, and worse.

The Lord Jesus said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first... Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.”(Jn 15: 18-21)
If our being faithful to Him leads us to suffering, then we can be sure He is with us in the midst of it.
He will triumph, as He stood triumphant when He appeared to His disciples after His resurrection.
We will triumph, if we stand with Him.
And in as much as we feel the wounds in our own hands and feet, in as much as we feel the weight of carrying the Cross, let us never forget that He is with us.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Transformed, Easter Sunday

Col 3:1-4; Ps 117:1-2.16-17.22-24
We are gathered here today because of a change that happened 2000 years ago, a two-fold change: the first, in Christ; the second, in His disciples.
The first change, in Jesus, namely, His rising from the dead –that change tends to be our focus on Easter Sunday. Preachers typically point to the evidence for that change, such as: the fact that the tomb was empty and His body was no longer there, and that none of the various explanations that atheists try and concoct adequately explain why the tomb was empty. Preachers also point to the evidence of the witnesses, of the straightforward and plain style of their testimony, of the way that the witnesses record different details but all report what was clearly the same event -an indication of reliable testimony.

But the second change, in His disciples, is what I wish to focus on this morning, because it also points to us the change that must be produced in OURSELVES if we are to benefit from this incredible event. But, before I continue, let me point out that this also is another piece of evidence: that fact that the followers of Jesus were all changed from being fearful and despondent to being joyful and bold –this change in them demands an explanation. What suddenly made them so altered? The simple answer is that their encounter with the Risen Lord produced a change in them. And, consequently, the fact of this change in THEM is another piece of evidence pointing to the fact that there was truly a change in HIM –because it was their encounter with the changed Him that changed them.

So, this change in them, a change that altered them, as I said, from being despondent and fearful to being joyful and bold. However, the real point I wish to draw your attention to today is that this change was in fact only part of a deeper change within them, a change that we can rightly call the ‘re-creation’ of humanity, the re-creation of all those who seek new life in Christ.
We exist as what we call ‘Fallen’ humanity, in state of suffering, of sin, wounded in our nature. The re-creation of humanity offers us the Resurrected grace of Christ, a grace that can re-make each and every person who turns to Him and seeks to made new in Him.

Our Psalm said, “This day was made by the Lord, we rejoice and are glad”(Ps 117:24). “This day” meaning the day of Resurrection, a day that is “made” more than other days are made in the sense that it is the day of re-making, re-creating, such that, as Christ says in the book of Revelation, “Behold, I make all things new”(Rev 21:5).
Our second reading, from Colossians, also elaborated this theme. It said, “you been brought back to true life with Christ”(Col 3:1). This being “brought back to life” implies that you WERE dead, and for many that they STILL are dead –which is something of a problem for the many who refuse to recognise that there is a problem in this world, that there is a sense in which humanity is dead in sin. And, of course, even after the turning to Christ, we need to continually re-turn to Him as often as fall, as often as we succumb again to sin. Thus that reading from St Paul was calling on the Christians, again, to “look for the things of heaven”(Col 3:1).

Christ, the one Eternal Son of the Father, true God, came from heaven to earth and became also true man, and in His death and resurrection He has re-made man. Re-created every one of us in as much as we turn to Him and seek to have Him live in us. That change that can be in us, that change is what Scripture indicates happened in the first disciples by their encounter with the Risen Lord, and that change can also be in us, if we let it, if we recognise what happened this day 2000 years ago. “This day was made by the Lord, we rejoice and are glad”(Ps 117:24).

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Sleeping Guards, Easter Vigil

Baruch 3:9-15.32-4:4
I'm going to focus my Easter Vigil sermon on the image on the new Paschal candle, which this year I chose to be the image of two Roman soldiers asleep (which is one of the common images available for paschal candles).
This image, obviously, depicts the soldiers who stood guard outside the Lord’s tomb. The fact that they are asleep, oblivious to the stupendous reality that is about to burst forth from the tomb, is an image of two different ways of engaging with the event we commemorate tonight:
We can be alert and attentive, ready to welcome the Lord;
Or, we can miss what happens, miss salvation, let our Saviour pass us by.

What happened that Easter night was the most dramatic event since the creation of the world. Of course, many dramatic events had happened since the creation of the world:
The Fall of our first parents in Original Sin;
The Ten Plagues that were inflicted upon the Egyptians for their refusal to release God’s Chosen People;
The parting of the Red Sea – as we heard in our first reading;
And, moving along, the Incarnation, when the Almighty Creator took flesh in the Virgin Mary;
Later, the drama of Satan’s apparent victory over God-made-flesh when He was crucified, died, and was buried on Good Friday.
Then, it seemed, the drama was over. Evil had won. And God lay dead in a tomb.

When the Lord burst forth from that tomb, however, He showed that He had not been defeated.
Even in those thee days in between He has not been dormant: Scripture says that He went and preached to those souls who had died, who were waiting for Him to open the gates of paradise (1 Pet 3:19).
He had been active while the guards lay asleep.
He burst forth, and the victory of light over darkness was manifest, as our liturgy recalls tonight with the Easter fire and Paschal candle.

Light was created in the creation of the world.
Light burst forth in the Resurrection of the Lord.
The choice for us, now, as for every generation, is how to respond to that light.
We can sleep through it.
Or, we can let us lead us to something more. Our vigil reading from the prophet Baruch is offered to us for this purpose. It refers to “the light of the eyes”(Bar 3:15), it refers to Him who “sends the light”(3:33), and invites us to “seize” (4:2) that light and walk in its “radiance”(4:2) to light.
And what is this radiance Baruch refers to? It is the radiance of the wisdom, the “commands”(3:9), the “Law”(4:2) of the Lord.
In the context of the New Testament, we are to recall that it is CHRIST who is THE Word of the Father, THE wisdom, THE Law, THE way of life: “the way, the truth,and the life”(Jn 14:6), as He said of Himself.
So,bee are to take this radiance of resurrection light and let it lead us to even greater light.

To come back to those sleeping guards:
We can sleep through reality,
Or, we can wake up to it, let it lead us to the fullness He offers. He is “the light of the world”(Jn 9:5), He has proven Himself to be such by His Resurrection,
And if we turn to Him in His resurrected glory then He will lead us, as He has led others, from glory unto glory (2 Cor 3:18).

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Maundy Thursday

Ex 12:1-8.11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26
The Ceremonial (n.297) says that tonight's liturgy is “first of all” the memorial of how the Eucharist is “the Lord’s Passover” in which He “perpetuated among us the SACRIFICE of the New Law” –and this will be my theme tonight.

When people refer to “Passover” they typically mean the Jewish annual meal.
But that meal, as we heard in our first reading, is actually an annual commemoration of the ORIGINAL Passover in Egypt, by which the Jews were rescued from slavery. They were rescued from physical slavery and led onto a path towards a promised land. In fulfilment of that, Christ, the Passover of the New Covenant, rescues us from spiritual slavery to sin and brings us onto the path to heaven.

In both Passovers, the Jewish, and Christ’s in the Eucharist, the rescuing is by a sacrifice.
But, at first glance, both the Eucharist and the Passover seem to be about a meal rather than be about a sacrifice. However, in the Scriptures, and even in the pagan religions, these two went together: a meal and a sacrifice -you frequently ate the thing that had been sacrificed (but not always: there was a wide variety of Old Testament offerings). Just as, for us now, the Eucharistic sacrifice is also ordered towards us consuming it in Holy Communion.

More specifically, the Scriptures of the Old Testament teach that it is through “blood” that “atonement” is made for sins (Lev 17:11) and the rabbinic commentaries interpreted the blood of the Passover lamb as likewise being about sacrifice and atonement.
The blood of the Passover lamb was smeared on their door posts, and when the angel of death saw it he passed over them and spared them.
The blood of Christ, the New Passover, is spiritually smeared on us, so that the punishment that might otherwise come to us likewise passes over.

St Paul therefore says, “Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us”(1 Cor 5:7). St John similarly portrays Christ as the lamb of the new Passover:
He records John The Baptist hailing Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29);
He describes how Jesus was crucified, sacrificed, at the very moment that the lambs of the Jewish Passover were being slaughtered in the Temple (cf Jn 19:14);
And he describes how not a bone of Jesus was broken on the cross (Jn 19:32,33,36) just was the bones of the Passover lambs weren't broken.
Jesus is the Passover Lamb of the new Passover of the Eucharist, the Mass.

Let me focus this by noting that all this amplifies what is meant by St Paul’s words at the end of our second reading, that what is “proclaimed” in the Eucharist is the “death” (1 Cor 11:23-26) of the Lord.
The Eucharist does not “proclaim” His feeding us,
Does not proclaim His Resurrection,
Rather, as St Paul said, the Eucharist proclaims His “death” –because the Eucharist is the sacrifice, His sacrifice of the Cross, that takes away our sins.

To sum that up, the Passover meal was a commemoration of the original Passover.
In that original Passover the death, the sacrifice of the Passover lambs was the sacrifice that spared the Jewish people.
The new Passover is Christ. His death is the sacrifice for our salvation.
The Eucharist is that sacrifice made present of our altar.
And it is that sacrificial death that is proclaimed in each Mass.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Darkness, Passion Sunday

When we think of the crucifixion of the Lord there are a number of visual aspects we might focus on. Today, I want to point out the darkness.
The Gospels (Mt 15:33; Mt 27:45; Lk 23:44) note how darkness descended on the whole earth when Christ was crucified.
Darkness, and God hanging dead on a tree, and the dead God being laid in the tomb to lie dead in the darkness of the tomb: such darkness fittingly expresses the mood of this moment.
Jesus, “the light of the world”(Jn 8:12), had entered His world (Jn 1:4), and He allowed the darkness to overcome Him.

(pause) Darkness is something we naturally fear.
In particular, as children, many of us experienced the fear of the dark.
What can reach a child trembling with fear in the dark?
In this context, Pope Benedict noted that what will reassure a child in the dark in the presence of one who loves them.
And the point, very simply, is that we each have many things in life that we experience as darkness.
We each have many moments when that fear and loneliness we know in the dark can descend upon us.
There is, however, One who has gone into the darkness before us.
He is One who is present in the darkness with us.
Even in my apparent aloneness, the Lord is at my side.

When I feel darkness descend upon me,
When I feel alone in that darkness,
I should remember the darkness that descended on Calvary when the Lord chose to die there,
I should recall the darkness in the tomb as He lay there for three days.

Sometimes we want an “answer” to explain our suffering.
But, while Scripture gives us very significant teachings about suffering, its deepest “answer” is not so much a “why” as a “Who”:
I ask the Lord why He allows me to suffer,
and He answers by showing me He is WITH me in my suffering.
This, in fact, is worth more to me than “why”,
And this, in truth, is something more VALUABLE to know.

But there is something more:
God entered the darkness,
God chose to be Hidden and cloaked on Calvary and for three days in the tomb,
But He did not stay there.
He burst forth in power.

When I lie in darkness and loneliness, He is with me.
And He has entered into the darkness with me to LEAD me OUT.
Sometimes the “three days” I lie there seems long,
But lead me out He will.
As Pope Benedict put it, “Even in the extreme darkness of the most absolute human loneliness we may hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes ours and leads us out” (Pope Benedict, 2 May 2010, Turin meditation, “The Mystery of Holy Saturday” (quoted in Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence, p.109)).

And however long those “three days” seem, they can become bearable WITH HIM.
Like the child afraid and alone in the dark,
the Presence of the One who loves me, is with me.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Mercy and Confession, 5th Sunday of Lent, Year C

Jn 8:1-11
I want to speak today of the importance of coming to ENCOUNTER the mercy of God.
I spoke about ‘meeting God’ in prayer two weeks ago,
but meeting Him in mercy is a theme that occurs often in the words of Pope Francis.

We heard a powerful example of encountering the mercy of the Lord in the Gospel text that was just read to us. Let us consider, for a moment, what that experience was like for that woman. She had, presumably only shortly beforehand, been “caught in the very act of committing adultery”(Jn 8:4). She was then brought before the Lord to be judged. Let us think of the immense power that the Lord had over her at that moment. The Lord had it in His power to condemn or to acquit her. He could have had her stoned. Instead, He not only persuaded the crowd to not condemn her, He then Himself declared, “neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more”(Jn 8:11).
What must that experience have been like for the woman? To experience the mercy of the Lord when she encountered Him!
The Gospels record many experiences of sinners meeting the Lord, and experiencing His mercy.

Pope Francis has spoken often about mercy because he wants more people to meet, to encounter this mercy, and to do so especially in confession.
In just over a week, for Lent, there will be 4 priests hear your confessions, and the regular Saturday slots here and elsewhere continue -as advertised in the newsletter.

Mercy is not a long or complicated thing.
People sometimes are surprised at how brief the priest’s words of forgiveness can be in confession.
The words of Jesus to that woman were very brief.
But mercy is a powerful and important thing, even if it can be brief.
Though, to appreciate the importance of those words we need to bring the right inner attitude to the experience.

What then is the right inner attitude we need?
Pope Francis, when he was asked what advice he would give a penitent in order to help him or her make a good confession, he said that the penitent needs “to FEEL like a sinner, so that he can be amazed by God. In order to be filled with his gift of infinite mercy, we need to recognise our need, our emptiness, our wretchedness”(Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy, p.41).
The Pope went on to note, with sadness, that often people don't recognise their sins. They see some good things in their lives, they mistakenly think that they are “OK”, and they don't “feel like a sinner”.
And, if you don't feel like a sinner you can't be sorry for your sins.
And, if you don't feel like a sinner you can't resolve to turn away from those sins, to follow the words that our Lord spoke to that woman, “go, and sin no more”(Jn 8:11).

What then am I to do if I don't really “feel” like I am a sinner?
Well, I can read through an examination of conscience, like the one inside your newsletter, and try to honestly compare my life to the questions being asked.
And, as Pope Francis advises, if someone doesn't feel like he is a sinner, “I would advise him to ask for the grace of feeling like one!” Because “even recognising oneself as a sinner is a grace”(p.30), is a gift from God, so we should ask Him for this gift.

So, if at the end of a day, you pause to make an examination of your conscience in your night prayers, and you can't think of any sins that day, then turn to Pope Francis’s advice.
First, ask God for the gift of seeing your sins.
Be confident that there is SOMETHING in this day to repent of. You are not yet “perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”(Mt 5:48) –ask the Lord to show it to you.
Second, think of the different parts of your life in your day, think the different people, think of the different possible sins: Laziness, selfishness, greed, gluttony, lust, neglect of the needs of others, critical and judgmental thoughts of others, judgemental words etc.
And, in humility, ask the Lord to help you see. Make the prayer of the blind man your own prayer, “Lord, that I may see!”(Lk 18:41)

So, to sum that up. In this season of Lent, especially, there is a renewed call to us to come and encounter the Lord in mercy, in confession.
He is inviting us to reexamine our hearts so that we can see our sins, and to pray for the gift to be able to see our sins, and seeing them to be sorry for them.
And, having seen our sins, to approach confession with confidence. The Lord has shown what He is like, and He is mercy.