Sunday, 26 January 2020

The Bible as Guide: Word of God Sunday, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Mt 4:12-23; Isa 8:23-9:3
Over Christmas, I did a lot of driving.
As usual, I used ‘Google Maps’ on my phone to guide me.
When I left my parents, Google Maps immediately told me there was an accident on the M5 near Gloucester with a 45-minute traffic delay due to congestion.
Then, after about a half-hour, it told me that the traffic had cleared and my predicted arrival time was now reduced
When I got to Gloucester, however, I discovered that the M5 was not delayed -it was closed!
Google Maps had detected the lack of traffic on the motorway, but hadn’t realised the motorway was only clear because it was closed! It had wrongly concluded that all was well!
And Google Maps offered me no alternative route.
Google Maps failed me.
Fortunately, however, a have another app, Waze which took me on backroads and got me there.

The point is this:
What do we rely on to get to our destination?
Do we rely on the right thing? And how reliable is it?

The most important destination we should be seeking is eternal life.
Death is the roadblock that lies in our way.
But there is ‘an app for that’: the Bible.

The risk, if we don’t know the Bible,
and if we don’t know the teaching of the Church that interprets and explains the Bible,
The risk is this:
We end up following our own imaginary God
with our own imaginary rules,
And it all SEEMS clear, until we get to that ‘roadblock’ and find the way ahead closed.

Our first reading and gospel speak to us today of the people who USED to walk in darkness, but then, saw a great light (Mt 4:12-23; Isa 8:23-9:3).
That light was God revelation:
His revelation manifested IN and AS His Son -the one who declared Himself to be “the light of the world”(Jn 8:12),
His revelation entrusted by Christ to His Church -to be “the pillar of truth” (1 Tim 3:15) to explain His sacred Word down the ages,
The Bible says that the Word of God is “a light to my path”(Ps 118:105)”
-even before cars, and before sat navs, people got lost, people needed “a light for their paths.
The Bible, God’s holy Word, is the light He has given us.

His holy Word guides us in many ways.
It teaches us about life, how to live:
It shows us EXAMPLES of holy living:
The faith and trust of Abraham (Gen 15:5; Rom 4:3)
The faithfulness and friendship of David and Jonathan (1 Sam 18:1-5),
The patience of Job (Job 1:22; James 5:11),
And much more.

To put other people before ourselves (Phil 2:4),
To not be proud and haughty and full of ourselves (Prov 16:18),
To not look at others lustfully (Mt 5:28),
and not to live by the pleasures of the belly (Phil 3:19).

Pivotally, it tells us about GOD Himself.
It tells us of His faithfulness and generosity to the people His chose and called,
It tells us of His desire to expand that Chosen People to even include the gentile nations like us,
It tells us of His self-sacrificial love that led Him to the cross,
It tells us how He works to the good in all things (Rom 8:28), even through His cross, even though our crosses.

And, maybe most basically, it tells us of the destination: Heaven.
We all know problems in this world,
The Bible tells us of place that makes all this pales in comparison
A place where every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21:4).

To get there, we need to follow the right ‘app’,
The app that is infallible,
His holy word: written in the Bible, explained and taught by His church.

Pope Francis has established today as ‘Word of God’ Sunday, to focus on the Bible.
Our English and Welsh Bishops have established this whole year as a 'Year of the Word'.
In the newsletter I have made three simple suggestion to you for this day and this ‘Year of God’:
(1) Resolve, now, to do a daily reading plan in Lent -we’ll give you leaflets for that when Lent comes;
(2) Plan, now, to attend the Bible School weekend we’ll run in March -the dates are in the newsletter;
(3) Decide, today, which of the 3 study days on the Bible you’ll attend this year.

Google Maps failed me. It’s not inerrant.
The Bible is about a much more important destination.
and it offers a much surer way.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

The Lamb of God, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Jn 1:29-34
Last week our Gospel text, and my sermon, focussed on WHO the Lord Jesus is and was: the SON.
We just heard, in today’s gospel text, this question of His identity get a different answer, not an answer rooted in His identity (Son), but an answer rooted in His ROLE (what He came to do):
We heard St John the Baptist point to the Lord Jesus and declare He was the “chosen one” of God (Jn 1:34).
But, ‘Chosen’ for what?  St John the Baptist’s immediate answer, to be:
“The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”(Jn 1:29).
This answer strikes at the core of His role, but, it’s a role much neglected in our contemporary society.

The Lord Jesus has come to “take away sin”.
When we look through human history, in all sorts of ancient writings and ancient archaeology of temples (pagan as well as Jewish) there is a constant striving by humans to offer sacrifices to take away sins -to whatever they imagine the god or gods to be:
Animal sacrifices; crop sacrifices; even human sacrifices.
All of this desire to make sacrifices was rooted in an awareness that we do in fact SIN, 
and we need to offer up something to take this sin away.

Any yet, What can we offer that would be worthy of a god?  Let alone the One eternal true God?
Only the one “chosen” by God could be worthy of God.
Only the one sent, the one who is God Himself, can be worthy of God.
Thus Jesus, the eternal SON of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God
-only He can be a worthy sacrifice to take away our sin.
And it should utterly amaze us that God should do this!

Modern society, however, typically denies that we have a sin problem.
Popes since the middle of the twentieth century have spoken about “the loss of the sense of sin” in modern society (for example, click):
We forget that there is a personal God, 
and thus we forget that our behaviour can be a personal offence against Him.
Yet, it’s His world, we are His creatures, and when our behaviour disobeys His commands it offends Him -this is what we call “sin”.
And we need it taken away, we need it forgiven -forgiven by a power beyond ourselves.
“The Lamb of God” is the sacrifice that can take away our sin.

Let me take that in a different direction:
To whom do we come in the Mass?
Into WHOM is the bread and wine converted?
Who, when the priest holds up the consecrated host before the time of Communion, WHO does the priest identify Him as?
“Behold, the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sin of the world” 
-the priest quotes St John the Baptist.

In a world that thinks no one sins, in a world that thinks we are all already worthy, the liturgy reminds us of the opposite, as we respond,
“Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” (c.f. the words of the centurion Mt 8:8).
We are reminded that we need to strive to make ourselves worthy, in the same way that St John the Baptist called the people to do so long ago:
Repent, he told them -so we must repent, continually;
Confess your sins -as they did to him in the river Jordan, so we must do in sacramental confession;
Thus frequent confession is necessary for frequent communion
Otherwise, as St. Paul says, we eat and drink condemnation upon ourselves (1 Cor 11:28).  
Following this teaching of Scripture, the new Catechism(1457) and the Law of the Church (Canon 916) remind us, that if it is a serious sin in question:  we must repent and go to confession before we receive Holy Communion.
Because we cannot acknowledge Him to be the Lamb who takes our sins, if we do not also desire to have our sins taken away.

To receive him who takes away our sins, we must prepare.
And IF we prepare, then it is a blessed thing we can enter into 
-we a share the eternal banquet of heaven even while we live on earth.
“Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb” 
-this being an image from the book of Revelation’s description of heaven (Rev 19:6).

To conclude:
Last week, I spoke of how the core of the Lord Jesus’s IDENTITY was that He is “SON”,
and that we are called to share in that by adoption -to be ‘sons in the Son’.

This week, our liturgy tells us that the core of the Lord Jesus’s ROLE is the “LAMB” who “takes away our sin”
-let’s acknowledge our need to have our sin taken away,
let’s approach Him humbly, in repentance, and confession,
and rejoice to have Him take away our sin.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Daydreaming: Enemy of happiness; enemy of holiness

A talk to our parish men's group

West Moors 9th July 2019; 
Shaftesbury Feb 2015

Mortifying wandering thoughts 
         A big thought in any saint’s writings
A particular focus of St Josemaria: 
daydreaming as enemy of being rooted in your own life, of being able to care about and sanctity that everyday life

Talk plan:
Why daydreaming is an enemy of happiness
Why daydreaming is an enemy of holiness
St Josemaria: Dream of being holy as a monk, 
not work to be holy as the layman that am
How to avoid daydreaming: 
mortifying imagination,
Inc. Mortifying impurity 
As a habit to focus on the good that we have, rather than on the good we don't have
Sacrament of the Present Moment 

Preface: Imagination is a tool, and a useful one
To pray:
Many saints propose methods prayer using the imagination
St Ignatius: take a Gospel scene, 
imagine our Lord in it, talk to Him there etc
E.g. I meditate on the Cross by mentally taking myself there
By picturing it, smelling it, hearing it
Then, talking to God about it

Imagination is a tool to prayer
St Josemaria: “Make it a habit to mingle with the characters who appear in the New Testament.”(Friends of God, n.216)

To plan:
Envisage a new project by imagining it
Envisage a new achievement by imagining it
I don't just do the thing physically in front of me
I picture the task for next week
I imagine its details and circumstances, 
I imagine what could go wrong
I imagine what I need to do to ensure it goes right 
My imagination enables my planning
My imagination becomes a TOOL to engage with reality
Not a diversion from it
For planning –if engaged with reality, to envisage change 

Neither of these is the same as ‘woolgathering’ or idle daydreaming

What do I mean by daydreaming?
Answer: That mental behaviour by which we escape reality

(1)        Daydreaming is an enemy of happiness

How achieve true happiness?
Not by escaping from reality 
Not by living in daydreams!
Living in daydreams means:
We fail to ENJOY the good things that we have
Because we fantasise about other things that we don’t have
We fail to REMEDY the problems we need to remedy
Because we fantasise about another life, rather than move ourselves towards it

Daydreaming is very easy
It is EASIER than confronting reality 
I can daydream instead of praying, or while praying,
I can start by praying:
Lord, I thank you for the many things you have given me,
I thank you that you have put me in Dorset,
I thank you that you have made me a priest,
I ask that you will help me to be good,
Help me to be a good priest,
Help me to be a super priest
Being superpriest would be great
What kind of powers would superpriest have?
And before I know it my mind has wandering into daydreams 
Of what outfit superpriest would wear
And whether his X-ray vision of souls would be more important than his being able to fly around the parish
The imagination can DIVERT me from reality
Rather than ENGAGE me in it

Magnifies difficulties
Uncontrolled imagination sees problems that are NOT there
It can make us TIMID and indecisive 
Spanish proverb:
“The man who daydreams has little stomach for the fight”
(Through Wind and Waves, p.122)

(2)       Daydreaming as the enemy of holiness

Holiness is hard work
Holiness requires engaging in the reality I am situated in
Not daydreaming 

In particular,
St Josemaria was concerned about holiness for laypeople
About how a layman can become a saint
Yet, he noted that many laymen can make their being a layman an excuse to not be saint:
I'd have time to pray if only I didn't have this job
I'd have time to be recollected if only I didn't have the noisy children
I'd have time to be a saint if only I was wasn’t married
What all of these ‘if only’ statements have in common is that they daydream in an escape from reality

Yet, few of us are called to ‘escape’ the lay state, even though ALL of us are called to be saints:
As Scripture says, “Every one should remain in the state of life in which he was called”(1 Cor 7:20)
And, “What God wills is your sanctification”(1 Thess 4:3)
Giving glory to God in each and every vocation:
 “Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do at all, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31)

And of course,
Having fled to the monastery we find our lack of holiness has followed us there,
And the monk, too, can live in fantasy:
I'd be holy if only I was the guestmaster and not the sacristan etc

The truth is:
I can be holy exactly where I am, 
in the state of life that God has called me to

St Josemaria:
St Josemaria:
 “Stop dreaming.  Leave behind false idealisms, fantasies, and what I usually call mystical wishful thinking: If only I hadn't married; if only I had a different job or qualification; if only I were in better health; if only I were younger; if only I were older.  Instead, turn to the most material and immediate reality, which is where our Lord is” 
(St Josemaria, In Love With the Church, n.54, cited in Holiness for everyone p.119)

(3)       Thanksgiving: a remedy

One way to root ourselves in reality is a habit of thanksgiving

Giving thanks for what we have means:
We RECOGNISE the good things we have,
Rather than fantasising about other things that we don't have
We acknowledge that these things are actually GOOD:
Your job, wife, house, and childen are not distractions from God,
But are rather GOOD things given to you

Thanksgiving brings me into ENGAGEMENT with my reality

In practice:
If I am in the midst of mental wandering, daydreaming, what happens when I give thanks for God?
I immediately am shifted away from fantasy, 
And, focus on reality: focus in something about what is HERE
I don't fantasise about another parish
Rather, I give thanks for something REAL, here

HABITUAL thanksgiving:
How do we make a habit of this?
(a) Every night thank God for three things
Maybe something unusual, or maybe something routine
Examination of conscience to see my sins, and apologise for them
Recall the good things of the day, and give thanks
(b)         Every morning –some people thank God for a new day ahead
(c) During the day:
Pause to give thanks
Try to create a HABIT of this

Remedy: acquire a habit of giving thanks
Thanksgiving focuses me on the good I have
Rather than the imaginary things I don't have

(4)       Mortification of the Imagination another remedy

Mortify means to put to death
Some things in me need killing, like trains of bad thoughts

E.g. Fantasy of killing boss
E.g. Fantasy of sex with another woman 
-I can recognise that I have engaged upon a chain of thoughts

HOW mortify thoughts?
(A) first, simple ‘no
I say ‘no’ to the thought of killing the Bishop
(B) second, if sinful, v.brief prayer asking for divine help, 
or from my guardian angel
I recognise that I am tempted, so I call for help
“Lord, help me not consent to this”
(C) third, divert chain to some other topic
If a serious sin, then a random idle thought is better
BUT habits of idle daydream thoughts make us lazy
I.e. generally, not idle thoughts
I divert my mind from killing the Bishop to a thought of:
(i)            The plot of a book I am reading,
(ii)          A plan for my summer holiday,
(iii)        Or, something serious: 
A work dilemma
-but an issue that brings me to the real world
(iv) Or something pious:
e.g. Jesus dying in the Cross
(D) think of reality
your wife, your task, your fun, your novel

Same pattern with daydream:
‘no’ I do not wish to live in my dreams, I ask God’s help, I think of reality 

handout for purity, c.f. Mortification of impure thoughts

(5)       Another Remedy: The Sacrament of the Present Moment

A classic art of the spiritual life:
Seek to live in the current moment 
Seek to not be lost in YESTERDAY or in TOMORROW
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”, ”Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”(Mt 6:25; 34)

A sacrament: a place where we meet God
In the Mass: physically present
In confession: meet Him in forgiveness
The present moment: 
this is the most basic place to meet God

Pause during the day and:
Place yourself in the presence
Place yourself before God
And don't be lost in idle fantasies 

Summary Conclusions:
Daydreaming is an enemy of happiness
Daydreaming is an enemy of holiness
St Josemaria: Dream of being holy as a monk, 
not work to be holy as the layman that am
How to avoid daydreaming: 
mortifying imagination,
Inc. Mortifying impurity 
As a habit to focus on the good that we have, rather than on the good we don't have
Sacrament of the Present Moment

Spiritual Reading
From ‘Holiness for Everyone’ by Eric Sammons, excerpts from pp.117-120

We will find it no easy task to achieve holiness through our work…
we may be tempted to think that if we could just change our state in life, we could avoid those struggles. In ancient days, very few people had the opportunity to change their lot in life, so few even considered it. But today, when people change jobs — and even spouses — as easily as changing their shirts, such temptations can weigh very heavily indeed. We look at our life circumstances — a disappointing career or limited resources, for example — and believe that if these circumstances would just change, then we could really serve the Lord fully. …we whisper to ourselves, "If I could just get out of this job, I could really spend more time serving the Lord in prayer and good works;' or "If I hadn't married, then I could have served the Lord completely." 
Although we believe that different life circumstances would lead to a holier life, a holier life depends much more upon how we respond to our circumstances, and less on the circumstances themselves. 

For a number of years I went to the same priest regularly for confession. Young and enthusiastic, Fr. Woods was always compassionate and merciful to me while I recounted my sins. With one exception. I mentioned to him once that I was struggling with the responsibilities of being a husband and father, and made a comment that a life of holiness would be easier if I were single or a priest. Although I considered it an offhand remark, Fr. Woods immediately — and surprisingly — admonished me. He recognized my comment as a dangerous thought even to entertain, for he knew that such an attitude could grow and end up destroying my soul. He stressed to me that every vocation and state in life has its challenges, and it is spiritual suicide to fantasize that some other vocation — any vocation other than my own — would lead to a better, holier life. Although I was initially taken aback by his strong words, I came to realize the wisdom — and love — behind them.

No matter where we are in life we are going to meet challenges. … In these situations there are two possible responses: fight or flee. Will you fight to serve the Lord through these challenges, or will you flee to supposedly greener pastures? The saint faces these challenges and offers them to God for his glory; by befriending the difficult co-worker and embracing the demanding tasks, he unites these difficulties to the Cross and makes them part of our redemption.