Sunday, 23 February 2020

Gossip: Love your Enemy, 7th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 5:38-48
We just heard the Lord Jesus Jesus give us the command to “Love your enemy”.
This is one of the most beautiful, but most difficult, parts of the Lord’s teaching.
Today I want to focus this on the issue of gossip, on what we do with our WORDS, because this is one of the primary examples of how we can fail to love our enemy.
And this, in different ways, is very easy for us to fail to do.

In the Gospel, the Lord spoke about those we “hate”(Mt 5:43).
Most of us tend not think that we “hate” people:
We might dislike people we find disagreeable,
We might feel hurt and wounded by people who have done us harm.
But, we tend not to think that we “hate” them.

However, let’s think about what hatred is.  
The great master and teacher of the moral life, St Thomas Aquinas, says that hatred is when we wish ill to someone.
I want someone to lose his job,
I rejoice when someone’s fence blows down, etc.
Love, in contrast, wishes the opposite:
Even though that person cost me my job, I want him to get a pay raise.
Even though that son-in-law is bad for my daughter, I want him to be healthy.
["To love is to will the good of another"(CCC 1766, citing St. Thomas, ST I-II q26 a4).]
Sometimes, it can be really difficult to love someone, 
It can be really hard to will-the-good for someone.
The model here is God:
God wills good weather to both the evil man and the good man (Mt 5:45),
God wills salvation to both; He wants both to convert and be saved.
And the Lord tells us that we must be perfect as He is perfect (Mt 5:48).

How does this work with speech, with words?
When there is someone we dislike,
When there is someone who is opposing what we want,
It can be hard to speak well of him,
It can be hard to think well of him,
It can be hard to love him.

To speak evil of someone, however, is to do evil to them.
To criticise someone’s character, is to DAMAGE them. [C.f Summa Theologica II-II q73]
St Thomas notes that a person’s most valuable social possession is his reputation, his “good name”.
Without a good reputation we cannot function in society
-no one will engage with us, we are alone and bereft, or at least partially so.
[c.f. Catechism n.2477: "Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury."]
When we damage someone’s reputation, we steal from them something we have no right to take.
Gossip is thus sometimes compared to theft, 
though other saints compare it to murder -wounding another; social death.
The saints teach us that gossip is a mortal sin, a sin so serious that we can go to hell for committing it.

Sometimes people say to me, “I don’t gossip, I just say what it is true”.
BUT,  usually it’s not our place to say something, even if it is true.
AND, frequently, things we think are true are only partially true,
Or we don’t know some other fact that changes the overall assessment.

Why am I saying all this?
In part, because I think there is serious habitual problem with gossip in our parish, something that seems to have been in this parish for many years.  [Postscript: I was told after this sermon that Canon Patrick Chrystal preached one of his last sermons here on the problem of gossip in this parish, a 'much stronger' sermon than this one.  This reinforces the impression that this is a long-standing issue in this parish.]
Two weeks ago I praised our parish (see here), for all the good that has been done and is done here:
the charitable work, the food bank support, the visiting of the housebound etc.

-all that is real and true, but sadly there is a darker side to our parish life.

This week, I need to do the opposite of praising this parish.  I am saying this about gossip, here in this parish, because I think this is a particularly big problem in our parish:
speaking ill of others.
Now, some of you, I know, will hear this and be surprised 
-you never gossip, and the parishioners you mix with don’t.  If so, that great.
-there are some truly beautiful souls in this parish who are either oblivious to this, or, better yet, see it and rise above it.
Others of you, however, will hear this and deny it 
-you’ll say that your words of criticism are needed, you’ll deny that you gossip.  
I have been amazed, in my nearly 4 years in this parish, how blatantly people will speak ill of others 
-in front of the priest!
Not one occasion, but many occasions, by many people, continuing over 4 years.
So, Gertrude will say, “The problem with George is that…”
And George will say, “The problem with Peggy is that…”
And, when I, as parish priest, have gently tried to correct the lack of charity in someone’s speech, my words have been either brushed aside or not even understood
-the gossip and criticism and wishing-evil-to-others are so HABITUAL that the criticism isn’t even understood.

So, what I am asking today, is that we all examine ourselves carefully on this point:
Does what I am saying DO GOOD for the person I am speaking ABOUT?
Do I really have a right to say such a thing?
AND, because it always takes two people for gossip to happen:
Have I LISTENED to gossip?  
Have I interrupted and told someone that they shouldn’t be criticising others?
God causes sunshine to pour down on the evil man as well as the good,
Who am I to DO evil to someone that God does good to?
Who am I to SPEAK evil of someone that God does good to?
Who am I to tolerate it when someone else speaks evil of another?

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Re-Consecration of England as our Lady's Dowry: 'Go deeper'

Mt 5:17-37
Today I want to speak about one particular method to, in those words of the Lord, make your virtue ‘go deeper’.
That method is the national ‘consecration’ that our English Bishops are urging us all to prepare for, about a month from now (see here and here and here).

Many of us can realise that we need to “go deeper” with the Lord, but not be sure where to begin.
Part of the answer is to realise that we have to “go deeper” with a power that is beyond ourselves, and the consecration our bishops are calling us to roots us in our BAPTISMAL power, our beginnings.
To consecrate something means to SET IT ASIDE for something.
In baptism, every Christian is set aside for God.
In baptism, every soul says “yes” to God.
But this “yes” is something we need to keep renewing.
Especially for those of us who were baptised as infants, this is something we need to renew personally, and repeatedly.

Who can best help us say “yes” to the Lord?
Surely, the one who most perfectly said yes to Him herself:
The Blessed Virgin Mary, who said “yes” in response to the request made of her via the angel, 
who agreed to be the Mother of God.
A “Marian Consecration” is a special way of uniting ourselves to her perfect “yes”,
a special way of “going deeper” in our following of the Lord.

On the 25th of March this year all our bishops are uniting together, and asking us to unite with them,
in consecrating our nation, England, back to Our Lady.
England was once so devoted to our heavenly mother that it was known as “Our Lady’s Dowry”, 
meaning, that is was that part of Christendom especially put aside for HER.
And it meant that she led England especially close to her Son.

The focus of this, physically, is at the shrine in Walsingham.
As many of you know, Walsingham has a life-size replica of the Holy House of Nazareth 
-the house where Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived,
-the house where Our Lady made her perfect “yes” to the Angel.
And our English bishops are uniting themselves through this shrine that once was the focal point of England being close to her, and her being close to England.
-OUR homes can be like THAT home: places to say “YES” to God.

If you want to”go deeper” in your “yes”,
then you can unite yourself to this on two ways:
First, most minimally, our parish will be praying together on the Sunday our bishops will be re-consecrating our nation -so choose now to unite yourself to that.
Second, there are over a hundred copies of a booklet in the porch for you to make a special short daily prayer, every day between February 21st and March 25th, to make the special month consecration.  I strongly URGE you to join in this.
It’s rare for our bishops to all come together like this.  
It will be a moment of great grace.  And you can be a part of it.

To sum that up:
We can “go deeper” in renewing our baptismal consecration
by re-consecrating ourselves through Our Lady, a “Marian Consecration”.
Let’s turn to her, who once said “yes” to the Angel, that we might say a more perfect “yes” ourselves.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

The Church does Good in the World, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 5:13-16; Isa 58:7-10
Today I want to reflect on that phrase of the Lord: being “the salt of the earth” and “light to the world”.
I want, to make 2 points:
First that, as a Catholic, you are a part of an organisation that is a powerful force for good in the world, an organisation that does SO MUCH good that it merits being called the “light of the world”.
Second, I want to make the point that reminding ourselves of this fact can help motivate us to do more in that regard ourselves.

Now, as we all know, serious scandals have beset the Church in recent years.  
Scandals of horrendous evil-doing.
One of the risks with this is that we get DISHEARTENED and stop doing good ourselves.
We stop doing to Mass;
we stop giving to charity;
we stop praying.
However, stopping going to Mass because there are sinners at Mass is like stopping going to the gym because there are fat people there 
-in fact, the fat people are at the gym because they know they need to do something about it;
-and, sinners are at Mass because they know that this the place to stop them being even more sinful.

The FULLER picture of the Church,
the more AUTHENTIC picture of the Church, is not seen in her scandals, but in her good deeds.
Those of you with the internet, who can look at this sermon text online, can follows some links about this.

Historically, we might note that things like hospitals and health care for the weak we ONLY have because of Christianity:
The ancient world, the Romans & the Greeks, left the weak and poor to die, left them as failures.
the ancient Romans, in fact, were puzzled by the way that Christians would give to the poor 
Even today there are many parts of the world where this pagan worldview remains.
It was Christians who rescued discarded babies in the ancient world 
see here 
and here 
It was Christians who founded the first hospitals and care homes for the sick and the destitute, see here 

Today, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organisation in the world.
see here
and here
Every day the Catholic Church feeds, clothes, shelters and educates more people than any other organisation in the world,
see here
You can see a list of what the Church does in Africa alone:
see here
and watch youtube here
Feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, educating the poor.  

And you, and your own parish, are a part of this.
Financially, as you can see on the parish website, we recently gave to St Timothy’s project in South Africa, we funded 2000 ‘buckets of love’ -food for the needy at Christmas.
see here
Our parish gives vast amount to our local food banks.
And at a personal level, one-on-one locally, our SVP group visits the housebound 
see here

We heard in today’s Gospel text the Lord Jesus tell us we are called to be "the light of the world"(Mt 5:14).  
Often the work the Church does is not showy, is not really seen, 
it’s more like the other image we heard the Lord use: "the salt of the earth"(Mt 5:13).  
Salt is not something you SEE in food, 
but it is something that affects the whole food item it is within.  
Salt is a small thing, a colourless thing, but we notice its presence.  Colourless but not flavourless. 

To return to where I began, 
as a Catholic, you are a part of an organisation that is a powerful force for good in the world, an organisation that does SO MUCH good that it merits Christ calling it the “light of the world” and “the salt of the earth”;
reminding ourselves of this fact can help motivate us to do more in that regard ourselves.