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”.