Sunday, 30 July 2017

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Isaiah 55:1-3; Romans 8:35.37-39; Matthew 14:13-21

During the week I made the mistake of buying one of those take-away salad rolls which I suspected had been sitting there behind the glass with its egg and lettuce and its ham and cheese companions for quite some time. I was right. It was horrible! But it now makes me wonder what the bread and fish handed out by the disciples would have been like? I can't imagine it would have been steaming like bread just out of the oven but neither would it have been stale like my salad roll.

The wine Jesus made at the wedding feast of Cana was apparently superlative: but you have saved the best till now (Jn 2:10), exclaimed the astonished headwaiter.

One can only suppose that the bread, and the fish that went with it, would likewise have been exceptionally good, and would have made the people loudly express their delight and satisfaction. Their sick had been healed, they had had the word of God preached to them, and they had been richly fed.

And what are we to make of the twelve baskets of scraps left over? The disciples had so matter-of-factly told Jesus: All we have is five loaves and two fish. It reminds me of what Mary said to the Lord at the wedding feast (Jn 2:3): They have no wine; and of what Peter replied when Jesus told him to put out for a catch (Lk 5:4): Master, we worked hard all night long and caught nothing.

And it reminds me, too, of the many times I have said to the Lord: I can't, I'm not enough, Lord. I'm only me! Just five loaves and two fish.

The Lord's answer is always: Bring them here to me. Mary puts it in another way: Do whatever he tells you. And Simon Peter says: If you say so...

The disciples find themselves with twelve baskets left over; the wedding couple find themselves with six twenty-five gallon stone jars of the best wine; and Peter: netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear.

So what is all this saying to you? In my own words it says:
  • Wherever Jesus is, there is nothing to worry about.
  • There is nothing I cannot do if Jesus is with me.
  • Jesus and me make a majority.
  • Close to Jesus I have everything.

In the words of Sacred Scripture it says to me:
  • My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness (2 Cor 12:9)
  • Trust wholeheartedly in God, put no faith in your own understanding (Prov 3:5).
  • There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength (Phil 4:13).
  • God is my strength, my shield, my heart puts its trust in him (Ps 28:7)

In a few moments we will again bring bread to the Lord, a few humble wafers. Let us pray now, and again later, in the words of the Prayer over the Offerings: Graciously sanctify these gifts, O Lord, we pray, and, accepting the oblation of this spiritual sacrifice, make of us an everlasting gift to you. Through Christ our Lord.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Isaiah 55:1-3; Romans 8:35.37-39; Matthew 14:13-21

The fourteenth chapter of Matthew's gospel from which today's reading is taken is crammed full of issues and tensions and disturbing events not to mention the avalanche of complex human needs by which Jesus is assailed, and which, moment by moment, pile up over his head and threaten to entirely bury him.

Herod Antipas, a man enslaved by lust and human respect deals treacherously with John the Baptist and has him executed for speaking the truth. John, the precursor to the Messiah, humbly offers his life for the truth he was sent to speak.

Would Jesus have grieved more over the heroic death of his beloved John than over the craven betrayal of Herod? His heart would have been broken for both men and deep anguish would have penetrated into his soul.

Today we would be encouraged to take 'compassionate leave' from work and perhaps some weeks of counselling to help us cope.

Jesus, too, feels the need to withdraw, the call to prayer, and heads by boat to 'a lonely place' where he could be alone with his disciples but the people thwart his plans. Instead of rest and healing he finds 'a large crowd'.

Could you imagine reading: Jesus instructed the Twelve to go to the crowd and tell them that the Master had just had some bad news and wasn't feeling too well. He said 'Tell the crowd to come back in a few days so I can have some time out'?

Instead we read: So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick.

What would you call that? Generosity? Compassion? Self-forgetfulness? If this had been an exceptional occasion of putting the other first we might be content to call it something like generosity. 'Oh, remember that day, when he was looking for peace and quiet but the crowd was there instead; wasn’t he generous?'

It seems to me there must be another word for it, something to capture the mad extravagance of his total 'being there for me'.

Perhaps divine generosity is a better term. Divine generosity is not just something to thank God for; it brings us to worship him. It is a 'goodness without limits' perhaps best imaged by the twelve baskets full of scraps left over from the miracle which follows. They stand there in a heap, perhaps under a tree, tantalising the imagination much like the stone jars of wine left over from the feast at Cana.

Jesus is just like that. More … always more. Impossibly more! More patient, more forgiving, more loving, more understanding, more merciful, more self-giving - divine generosity - and with those capable of understanding I sink to my knees in adoration.

The crowds have received more than a free meal; it is a free meal pointing them to a fullness of life sustained by a food beyond their capacity to purchase. This was the burden of Jesus' entire mission - to lead them (and us) beyond the material to the spiritual - where true life is to be found.

Isaiah, in the first reading, cries out with the very words of God, imbued with a kind of desperate longing for our response: Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Why spend money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy?

This impassioned invitation from the Lord himself is searching for ears capable of hearing and valuing it; for men and women, and children, who have somehow learned to pierce the gaudy brightness of this world's offerings and have glimpsed the eternal beauty and joy of the world beyond.

Moneywages … can buy food for this life; for eternal life we must draw close to Lord.

When the crowds have gone Jesus sends the disciples across to the other side of the lake and himself goes up into the hills to pray. He shows us the source of the strength and the integration of his inner, psychological life. Jesus lets absolutely nothing stand in the way of his prayer; not a busy day, not a tragedy, not the acclaim of a crowd, not even his death on a cross. Jesus, in fact, died praying.

Chapter fourteen goes on to describe how, just before dawn Jesus goes to the disciples walking on the waters of the stormy sea. The Twelve are terrified on seeing him and Peter steps out to go to the Master who must reach out a saving hand to stop him sinking.

When they reach the shore more crowds come to meet him and he must spend another day, teaching, healing, giving, pouring himself out. What a truly awesome Saviour we have!

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Isaiah 55:1-3; Romans 8:35.37-39; Matthew 14:13-21

In our gospel today we meditate on the awe-inspiring power of God to use littleness to achieve greatness.

So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick - When evening came, the disciples went to him.

There is a startling contrast here between the great size of the crowd and the small number of the Apostles, twelve men, and very ordinary men they were too by the world's standards – fishermen, tax-collectors - nothing much to work on there.
  • The weak, impulsive, unfaithful Peter to make into ‘the Rock of the Church’.
  • The sinful taxman Matthew to make into a model of honesty and reliability.
  • The 'sons of thunder' James and John to make into meek and gentle martyrs.
  • The doubting Thomas to make into a pillar of faith.
Five loaves and two fish really. How did he do it?

It makes me think of the situation here in this parish, in most parishes really. Many thousands of people living in the district and here we are, a small handful of Catholics called to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world - five loaves and two fish.

And what about at home, in so many families, where everyone seems to have given up listening to God, given up coming to Mass on Sundays or going to meet him in Reconciliation, or receiving Holy Communion worthily or having any kind of prayer life at all? They don't care and they are constantly inviting the rest of the family not to care either.

What am I among so many? Just five loaves and two fish!

When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, "This a lonely place, and the time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food."

Five thousand people and Twelve Apostles - five thousand hungry stomachs and five loaves and two fish. The Apostles were not stupid. They knew how to divide, add and subtract - only Jesus knew how to multiply - and the figures were not promising. No wonder they told the Lord to send the crowd away. What could they do for them?

And no wonder, Lord, we Catholics give in so easily when it comes to taking our place in the world. What can we do about abortion, euthanasia, pornography, materialism, secularism, relativism, individualism? What can we do when there are so many today who have given up that they even make us wonder whether we are not simply being scrupulous, fanatical or worst of all, pre-Vatican II!

And no wonder so many catholic partners in a marriage give up trying to practise their faith or even hold on to it. No wonder so many of our parents give up trying to discipline their children, pray with their children, or even take an interest in their spiritual development, when they feel that the odds are so stacked against them. No wonder so many of our catholic youth give up trying to hang on to their jobs - or their virginity - when they see that just about everyone else seems to be having a 'good time' but them.

The forces of evil seem just too strong and we can easily develop a saviour complex - waiting for a knight in shining armour to come and solve our problems for us. What can we do? We are just five loaves and two fish.

Jesus replied: There is no need for them to go; give them something to eat yourselves.

The Apostles must have been shocked when Jesus said these words. They must have wondered at him and thought, ‘He can't be serious. He knows as well as we do that five loaves and two fish wouldn't even make an entrĂ©e. How can he expect US to do something for these people?’

That was the magic word, wasn't it? That's what frightened these followers of Jesus as they stood there before this gigantic problem, that he should dare suggest that they should, that they could, do something themselves.

Twelve men - five little loaves, two little fish.

So now we have been brought to the sharp point of this gospel - to the real point of what it means to be a Christian in today's world – to what it means to be a true follower of Jesus and rely totally on his power. He has brought his Apostles and all of us to the heart of the Christian challenge.

We have done our arithmetic - stated the problem - pointed out the difficulties - and now he raises his arm and points his finger at us and says, ‘Do something about it YOURSELVES.’

What a frightening word that is - that little word - ME!

My Lord, Jesus, how can I do anything about changing things?
  • How can I go and see my member of parliament about this euthanasia business?
  • How can I write to the principal about what they are teaching my kids at school?
  • How can I do something active in the parish?
and lastly, Jesus,
  • How can you expect ME to be a saint?
You obviously don't know how busy I am, how untalented I am, how nervous I get in public, how hard I find it to pray and to be good. You obviously don't know me at all. I am just five loaves and two little fish.

'Bring them here to me,' he said ...

Are you listening?

'Bring them here to me," he said - then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining, twelve baskets full.

They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining - twelve baskets full.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

1 Kings 3:5. 7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-46

Built into the word 'treasure' is the notion of something hidden - but also waiting to be found. I guess this is why the word treasure is so alluring; it's an invitation to adventure, to seeking.

Some would say the adventure itself is a kind of treasure; we learn so much from the journey.

Most treasure just makes us richer, it only 'incrementally' changes our lives. The treasure Jesus is speaking of changes everything; it is the greatest treasure in existence.

The man of the gospel finds the treasure (I wonder if he was looking for it?), and he hides it again. It seems the treasure belongs in the field and he can only own the treasure if he owns the field.

The man goes off happy. Look at the smile on his face and the bounce in his step! But where is he going? He's going off to sell everything he owns so he can buy the field. Can you believe it? Everything he owns!

There is another man in another gospel who is offered the treasure by Jesus himself. He too has to sell everything he owns but he doesn't, he can't. He goes away sad because 'he was a man of great wealth' (Mk 10).

Perhaps the difference was that the first man discovered the treasure for himself and had a personal experience of its beauty and worth, while the other was offered a treasure he couldn't yet see and therefore didn't understand. We can only hope that one day he would have the experience.

At any rate, it seems there is something about the treasure which judges a man; something which discovers the true orientation and 'attachments' of his heart.

The parable leaves us with various questions. What is the treasure, in fact? Is it enough to say that it is the kingdom of heaven? And what is the field? Why can the treasure not simply be removed from the field? And what was the 'everything he owns' that the man sold?

The beauty of Jesus' parables is that their content of truth can be expressed in many ways and at many different levels.

Some of you are familiar with the chasuble I wore at my ordination. It was made for me by a seminary classmate who was a master tailor in a former life and who is now a priest.

This chasuble has a simple image of a cross standing in a field. Buried below the cross is the treasure and from the treasure burst golden rays of light reaching heavenward.

The field, of course, is me, or you. The treasure is the reign of God, the Kingdom. To take posession of the kingdom (to let God reign in us) we have to take possession of ourselves, and that's where the cross comes in. We have to divest ourselves of 'everything we own', not always an easy task.

One of our most beloved possessions, I think, is the control we exercise over the direction of our lives, in other words, our plans for ourselves. We all have them. They are the pathways to the treasure we imagine we want. Our plans lead to the place where we think our happiness is to be found, and all too often our treasure, and the happiness we imagine it will bring, has little to do with God's plans.

The fulfilment of our plans usually depends on external circumstances; things have to go right. God's treasure is not like that. God's treasure is entirely within us and in order to reach this place we have to entirely abandon our plans. We have to surrender our plans to his, even when things appear to be going wrong.

The man in the gospel glimpsed the treasure and hurried off eagerly to set himself free from all that had now suddenly become worthless to him. It would be a wonderful thing if such a sea-change could be definitively made in a person's life with no second thoughts or clumsy stumbles. Unfortunately, the temptation to take back what we have given is always present; we are so attached to the earthly.

But then we are dealing with a God who understands all that, and who works with us so that our goal of total possession of both field and treasure may one day be realised.

Patiently, every now and then, at a time of his choosing he takes from us one or other little trinket, some little plan we had been hiding from him and clinging to. Each time he does so he gives us another opportunity to renew our commitment to both the journey and the goal.

It seems appropriate at this point to finish with a reminder especially to the young people here that God invites each one of you, as an individual who stands before him in all your freedom, to let him show you the treasure buried in the field of your true self, the place where your true happiness is hidden, and waiting to be found.

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

1 Kings 3:5.7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-52

How does a man or woman living in the midst of a modern, technological world with all its material attractions and preoccupations and pleasures come to believe in the existence of a soul? How does God communicate himself to them?

This is the third week in a row that Jesus offers the crowds a parable containing the image of a field.
  1. First there was the field in which the seed of God's word was sown.
  2. Then came the field into which the enemy sowed the darnel seeds.
  3. This week we are presented with a field which contains a hidden treasure.
The treasure can be understood in different ways. We are told a number of things about it:
  • It is hidden in the field, buried within it – they go together.
  • We have to take possession of the field if we wish to own the treasure.
  • The field will cost us everything we possess.
  • This treasure for which we give everything is the ultimate riches.
Jesus' parable tells us the treasure is hidden in the field and that it can be found. This should give us hope. On one level the field can represent our body and then the treasure is our soul. Deeper still, the field can represent our soul, and the treasure is then the indwelling Trinity. However we take it the parable points us inward to that invisible, interior part of us which we all need to recognise if we are to become spiritual men and women.

To put the whole matter very plainly we can say that Jesus tells us in his parable that deep inside each of us there is a treasure and that it can be found. But how? To answer this question we will consider the way most of us, but not all, seem to find it.

Usually, our experience begins to tell us that the material world is not enough. This is often a slow, gradual discovery which dawns in our consciousness after many years of searching for happiness in all the places the world points out to us - possessions, pleasure, leisure time, power, prestige, financial independence personal freedom to do what we want when we want. The young are very much preoccupied with these things.

We have all heard of contented cows. You put them in a paddock with sufficient grass, you give them a tree to stand under and a water trough to drink from and you have contented cows. They want nothing more.

Humans are different. We are acquisitive by nature and we have the ability to reflect on our own behaviour. As the new house is built, as the perfect wife or husband is found, as the dream job comes along, as the children (usually no more than two of them) are born, as each one of our hopes and dreams comes to fruition, why is it that we find ourselves asking: Is this all there is? Is this as good as it gets?

We begin to realise that the noisy, modern, technological, material world we live in has made us a promise of happiness which it can't really deliver. We come to realise that the world has lied to us.

The voice which asks these questions speaks deep within us at first and it can, in fact, be overpowered by our hectic lifestyles or by the sin in our lives. Nevertheless, some people eventually have to admit, and sometimes they do it out loud: I’m looking for more, and I don't mean more of the same.

This 'there-must-be-more' moment is a wonderful intersection in life which is full of hope and profound possibility but it is not yet the discovery of the treasure; it is merely the discovery that the treasure is not ‘out there’ in the world.

At first this often only increases our dilemma. If we allow this inner voice to have its say in our lives we cross a painful threshold which puts all the familiar, practical, material things in our lives into a new perspective. Every spoonful of food we put into our mouths now speaks of a much deeper hunger within us, which cannot be satisfied by food. Every glass of water - or wine (even the most exquisite) - speaks to us of a thirst which lies deeper than water or wine can reach. The shiniest car, the ideal partner in life, the dreamiest home, the ultimate holiday - begin to carry within themselves a little sign saying .. 'I'm not enough for you because I won't last'.

As all that the world has to offer is found wanting we begin to ask - Where then is my happiness?

If we allow this inner voice to speak - if we allow the volume of this inner voice to increase in our lives - we find ourselves entering the world of the spiritual. We become spiritual people on a spiritual search. You might ask how the volume of this inner voice can be increased and I would reply that it is actually not so much a matter of turning up the volume as of decreasing the background noise - the silence of prayer and a gentle withdrawal from unhelpful preoccupations.

Having honestly and humbly entered the world of the spiritual, the world of the hidden treasure within us, we now begin to experience a strange new confidence. We begin to grow in confidence that the spiritual hope we have discovered within ourselves, our longing to love and be loved in a perfect manner, our longing to live forever, to experience perfect happiness and peace, joy and acceptance - we grow in confidence that all this longing and hope was placed in our hearts as the good gift of a good God and that he means one day to fulfil it. This is the beginning of religious faith.

We begin now to search for the name of this good God and will eventually come to the proposition that it is Father, Son and Holy Spirit who dwells within us. To accept this proposition in faith can be an arduous journey in itself. How can we know it is true?

If I were to propose to you that mankind came from a golden egg laid by a golden snake on the banks of a magic river you would probably find it easy enough to discount. All I can say is that the Christian proposition, we call it revelation, makes entire sense of my life, its hopes and its sufferings. It is not just that it makes better sense than the other propositions, it is that it makes perfect sense of human existence.

And so, further along this journey to faith we discover that the human face of the invisible God is Jesus. We discover the followers of Jesus, the Church, and its teachings. We discover the living truth of the word of God in the hierarchy of the Church and in the Sacred Scriptures. We discover the Sacraments of Jesus which give joy and strength and build divine life in our souls. In short, we have discovered the Kingdom of God and are now ready to give our all to embrace it.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Body and Blood of the Lord - Year A

Deuteronomy 8:2-3.14-16; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58

Modern man has a great love - the mind; or more exactly - his own mind.

The mind of modern man is sacred territory on which no other person may set foot and which he defends with powerful sentinels called opinions. Within this territory he dwells secure, luxuriating in the confidence his impenetrable fortifications afford him. Should an enemy approach, a piece of clear logic, a reasoned argument, or merely a wise thought, he can simply direct one of his innumerable sentries to completely disarm the invader with an invincible: But in MY opinion

Insulating the mind in this way from all external threats has several wonderful spin-offs, the most significant of which is that it enables modern man to say: I am always right. An even more satisfying way of putting this is: I am never wrong.

Eventually, when this liberating conviction has totally taken charge of him he is ready for the great discovery: I can do whatever I want. And then finally, though he will never dare to utter the words, at least not within earshot of others, he will find himself silently mouthing, perhaps in the mirror: I am God.

An unfortunate and unavoidable negative about all this is that the actual size of the modern mind shrinks, and although it can vary from person to person, it is often reduced to no more than the size of a drink coaster or even, in some rare cases, a postage stamp. This shrinking is a necessary side effect of reducing reality to manageable proportions by denying those bits and pieces of it which make him uncomfortable. Actually, it's all about control; if you can't control it, it mustn't exist.

The main casualty of all this, apart from the horrible wound he inflicts on his own dignity, is that whole 'continents' of reality are excised from his awareness, and modern man finds himself occupying a tiny territory bordered at all points of the compass - by modern man. He begins, as it were, to live in a sadly impoverished world of his own creation whose horizons have shrunk to what he can understand and control.

All this would be sad enough if it didn't get even worse. The same dreadful process has been taking place in the Church. Many, many Catholics are now living in a sadly impoverished church of their own creation whose horizons have shrunk to what they can understand and control.

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi; the Body and Blood of the Lord. As I sat down to prepare a homily I was struck by the awful truth that  some of you would not accept a single word I said. During Mass this nags at me, tugs at the edges of my consciousness - that I am celebrating the sacred mysteries for people who don’t believe what they are celebrating. Are you one of them?
We have become so infatuated with the discoveries of science, with unproven theories which pose as fact, with technological and medical advances which distract us from our own vulnerable mortality that we have let go of the divinely revealed truths for which Christ died. We no longer walk the  narrow way of faith in the footsteps of the Lord, but a wide, easy path laid out for us by man - by blind guides!

Betty doesn't believe in angels; John doesn't believe in hell; George won't accept indulgences; Mildred doesn't like the teaching on contraception; Fr Rupert rejects adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; while Fred rejects the Sacrament of Confession. But they all vehemently proclaim themselves to be good Catholics!

To be honest, I don't understand. What I do know is that they all live in a funny little church which is no longer capable of offering salvation. It's just a figment of their imagination. If they did what those who were unable to accept the 'hard saying' of the Lord did and just walked away, at least we would know who it is that we have to evangelise.

Science cannot touch the mystery which today the Catholic Church celebrates; bread which at the consecrating words of the priest, becomes God - the Bread of Life. Bread which becomes God. Can you believe it?

As the Sequence for today's Mass proclaims:

This faith to Christian men is given -
Bread is made flesh by words from heaven:
Into his blood the wine is turned:
What though it baffles nature's powers
Of sense and sight? This faith of ours
Proves more than nature e'er discerned.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Pentecost Sunday - Year A

There’s a little prayer I’ve been saying for years now as part of my morning prayer and it begins: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, send now your Holy Spirit over the earth. Let the Holy Spirit live in the hearts of all nations that they may be preserved from degeneration, disaster and war.

Although this prayer has a global focus it reminds us, too, that in the life of the individual the presence of the Holy Spirit preserves – from degeneration, disaster and war and, of course, this applies particularly to families. Who, in this church today has not received the sad news of a serious family quarrel or marriage breakup?

“Betty is no longer talking to her father since he divorced her mother. She still talks to her mother but her mother will not talk to Betty’s husband. He won’t talk to Betty’s brother or sister and they are no longer talking to their mother, or letting her see the grandchildren.” You think I’m making this up? Not so.

The Holy Spirit is not a good commodity to run out of. From the moment a person stops going to Mass, stops making a good Confession, neglects daily prayer - they lose the gift of the Holy Spirit and begin, so to speak, to live on the capital of their Christian upbringing. Things will go OK for a while. They will even marry and settle down to what looks like a happy, normal life. Their children, of course, are beautiful and beguiling. Children usually are. But bit by bit things change and the rot begins to set in.

“Did you hear that Mary and John are having problems? Fred has left Wilma; he says he doesn’t love her any more. Jane and Bill are living separate lives now. I heard young Peter was interviewed by the police last week about drugs, and his sister has started hurting herself. And so on, and so on, and so on ....”

The fact is that a life without God is a life without the Holy Spirit of God and unfailingly leads to degeneration, disaster and war. And sadly, this is true of individual lives as much as the life of a nation or even, of the whole world.

But why is the Holy Spirit so crucial to a happy life? Why can’t we do without him?

Firstly because the Holy Spirit brings along with himself seven gifts: the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember what they are? The Catechism lists them: wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord.

No human life, no national life, and no global life can be lived without these gifts, at least, not for very long. These are the gifts which raise us up above the level of human possibilities. They make  us capable of what humans are not naturally capable of. They are supernatural gifts from God which come into action at the very point where we can only surrender to our weakness. Where we say ‘I can’t anymore’; they say not only ‘Yes – we can’ but they add, ‘not only can we go on, we can to on to inconceivable greatness’.

To lay our lives open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit we must live the Christian life in full authenticity. The more genuine and sincere our lives as Catholics the more open we are to these seven gifts. They flower in the faithful soul and mature into twelve fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, forbearance, gentleness, faith, courtesy, temperate-ness, and purity.

In the time remaining let me quote Fr Mark Kirby OSB on the first of these gifts – on the gift of wisdom.

“The Gift of Wisdom gives a taste for the things that will make us truly happy. The wise person is one who consistently and habitually chooses the things that will make him happy, not with a fleeting, deceptive happiness, but with the happiness that comes from being in right relationship with God.

...The Gift of Wisdom is that by which one “sets nothing before the love of Christ” (RB 4:21).
One graced with wisdom knows what will make him happy because he has tasted it; he sings with the psalmist, “O taste and see that the Lord is sweet; blessed is the man who hopes in him” (Ps 33:8).

The Gift of Wisdom makes one take delight in the companionship of the saints, in the example of their lives, and in their writings. The saints are wisdom’s children. A proverb says, “Tell me with whom you keep company, and I will tell you who you are.” The wise Christian never tires of reading the lives of the saints; he prays before their images, kneels humbly before their relics, and, in their company, discovers wisdom’s secrets.

One who lacks wisdom makes foolish choices. There will be disorder in his priorities: an inability to put first things first. One who lacks wisdom will have little or no taste for the things of God, for things holy, heavenly, and divine. He will forever be looking elsewhere for happiness. The unwise person lacks stability. In his search for happiness he knocks at all the wrong doors, passing by the one door open to receive him: the pierced Heart of Christ.”

Saturday, 20 May 2017

I'm going to hell ...

So you are a sinner. So you are a big sinner. So you have committed sins so big and so often you burn with shame at the very thought of them. You tell me you deserve hell. You tell me you are going to hell - but I say, hang on, there is one sin you haven't committed yet and that sin is the only sin that can send you to hell.

Only when you reject the hand of mercy the Lord is holding out to you, only then do you deserve hell; only then will you go to hell because - to reject the mercy of God is the ultimate sin.

Oh, and don't forget, Jesus himself said: "The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy."

Saturday, 22 April 2017

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) - Year A

Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

By coincidence a few weeks ago I was puzzling over what to say for Divine Mercy Sunday this year when a friend knocked at my door. I put my problem to him and his answer was interesting. He told me he had been to many Divine Mercy celebrations in his parish and the one thing he had never heard the priest speak about was the topic of indulgences. I promised him I would do my best this year and so here goes.

To understand an indulgence we have to understand sin. There are of two types of sin:

Firstly, the kind of sin that is so grave it deprives us of the life of God within us. We lose our friendship with God and become incapable of eternal life – and for this reason this sin is called mortal.

The second kind of sin is called venial. It wounds our relationship with God but does not deprive us of communion with him.

These words, mortal and venial, are not dreamed up somewhere in a Vatican office they are part of every person’s experience of sin. Every married couple know, for example, as does every young person in the school playground, that there are some actions they can do to their friends, or which their friends can do to them, which destroy friendship and some which only wound it. The same applied to our relationship with God.

So, if you want a working definition of sin you can say: Mortal sin destroys our relationship with God, venial sin weakens or wounds it.

Naturally, many questions remain to be answered on this subject of sin but we don’t have time to go into them here. Above all we remember that mortal sin is forgiven in face to face confession and venial sin is forgiven in various other ways – through a good act of contrition, at the penitential rite at Mass, through Holy Communion, and so on.

To understand indulgences we have to realize that sin has a double consequence.

Since mortal sin makes us incapable of eternal life we say that it carried with it an "eternal punishment" unless, of course, and hopefully, it is forgiven in the Sacrament of Confession. But every sin, even venial sin, has its corrupting effect within us which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory.

To give a simple example, I might decide I’m going to give up smoking or drugs. The decision I make is a good and wonderful decision but, generally, a huge battle will take place in the following months as my body and mind and will come to accept that it can no longer have the cigarettes or the drugs. Sin is like that.

We have within us a tendency or an attachment to certain sins. Try making a resolution to forgive someone who has hurt us. That’s the easy part. The battle to ‘become’ that forgiving person can often be long and difficult. What the Catechism is wisely saying is that if we don’t complete the process here on earth, the merciful God will give us time to complete it in Purgatory. I, for one, thank God for giving us Purgatory, when he does for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves, and removes every last vestige of attachment to sin in our hearts and minds, since nothing impure can enter heaven.

So we see that the eternal punishment of hell goes on forever; the temporal punishment of Purgatory comes to an end when the soul has been purified from all attachment to sin. There is a difference between having been forgiven for our sins and having been purified of those sins. Or again, there is a difference between having the guilt of sin removed and the punishment due to that sin remitted.

Take another example from daily life. Imagine a man or woman who had stolen money from their workplace for many decades, so that it eventually added up to a very considerable sum. One day they confess their sin. The guilt is removed but justice requires the money be repaid; the guilt is removed but the punishment remains. This money can be repaid here on earth, or, if this is not possible, real prayer and penance can be undertaken until eventually this ‘temporal punishment’ is remitted.

This is precisely where indulgences come in. An indulgence is a gift from the Church by which a person, who fulfils certain conditions and is properly disposed, gains a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to his or her sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.

We must not doubt that the Church has the God given power to do this. The treasury of Christ’s redemption has been put in her charge and she, like her merciful Master, shows mercy to us poor sinners by ‘indulging’ us in this way.

There are two kinds of indulgences: a partial indulgence or a plenary. A partial indulgence removes part of the temporal punishment due to sin and a plenary indulgence removes all punishment due to sin. Furthermore, we can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.

So now you are going to ask, ‘Ok, so what are the ‘certain conditions’ we have to fulfil and what are the proper dispositions?’

The usual conditions for every plenary indulgence are:

1. sacramental confession, within abut 20 days before or after.
2. Eucharistic communion, preferably on the day, or the days before or after.
3. prayer for the intentions of the Pope (the prayers are not specified).

The specific conditions for the plenary Indulgence offered for the Feast of Divine Mercy are:

1. in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honour of Divine Mercy.
2. or, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!").

Saturday, 18 February 2017

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Leviticus 19:1-2.17-18; 1Corinthins 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

I'm updating my Volkswagen Golf. Great car! Love it! Except for the indicator switch which is on the left hand side where the window wiper control should be. You’d think Mr Volkswagen would have … oh, never mind!
The point is that this little change has entirely brought me undone a number of times, especially in moments of pressure. Contrary to my instructions, my right hand continues to believe that it alone is permitted to turn on the indicators and habit is adamant there must be no change, no role reversal. To misquote St Paul: I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate.
Habit is a terrible prison because it runs so deep in us. I remember when someone reminded me I should not be saying 'Go forth our Mass is ended.' The correct phrasing is not ‘our’ Mass but ‘the’ Mass. Do you think I can manage to remember the change? Only about once in every ten Masses – but I got there in time because, like changing hands for the indicator switch, this change is only a very minor habit which will not require me to change my inner self.
If only every change were like that! But there are, as we all know from experience, habits that can only be changed by changing ourselves. Anyone who’s ever given up smoking or alcohol will know what I’m talking about. Changing these habits can be very, very daunting. They require motivation, will power, support from others and perseverance. They also require the virtue of hope: hope that the victory can indeed be won.
I gave up smoking 39 years ago and distinctly remember that horrible feeling of waking up to the awful realisation I could never put another cigarette between my lips again. It was like a death in the family. A dark void hovered over me which told me I would never be happy again. It was a lie, of course. Gradually that darkness began to break up and every now and then bits of sunlight broke through until, one morning, I woke up and knew I was free. And this brings us to the real reason for getting rid of bad habits and thereby changing our inner selves: so that we might be free.
So that a man might be free to love his wife faithfully Jesus last week taught that if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. In other words, learn to keep your eyes to yourself – become pure in your heart! How many of us have made a resolution to do this? How many have persevered in the struggle? Those who have will have experienced what St Paul really meant by the words: I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate. \
So that we might be free Jesus says: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. How many of us have sincerely resolved to obey this command of the Lord? – to so change the inner composition of our unyielding, proud, revengeful hearts that we become capable of actually loving our enemies?
Lest we think this is impossible we should recall the opening words of last week’s first reading from Ecclesiasticus: If you wish, you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power.
Naturally enough we will require the grace of God to achieve every inch of progress. Nothing is possible without God’s help and fortunately, he is always ready to give it.
There are so many areas of life we Christians blithely neglect, either because we think them unimportant or because we believe them impossible to achieve. How many prospective converts are turned away from a parish when they see the lack of inner conversion in parishioners who constantly gossip about one another; who judge others in their community with small-minded nastiness; who criticise whatever fails to meet with their personal approval?
Each of these sins is worthy of insertion into a good resolution to change.
The call to conversion is real; the need to respond is essential. Why? Because we are children of God and much of our behaviour is not worthy of our heavenly Father. Indeed, I imagine he would be ashamed to call many of us his children.
I have made a few resolutions in my life and some, like giving up smoking, I have kept. The Father has a resolution for each of his children and he requires that we give it our full attention. It is slightly more difficult than the one Mr Volkswagen requires of us but it's far more fulfilling: You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Sirach 15: 15-20; 1 Corinthians 2: 6-10; Matthew 5:20-22, 27-28, 33-34, 37

Some time ago I had a lengthy conversation with a Catholic woman about the Church’s authority to teach in the name of Jesus. Her forceful response was ‘I don’t believe that!’ Of course this effectively scuttled the conversation and we moved on to other things.

I don’t believe that! How sad for a Catholic to even dare to say those words! Nevertheless, this is part of the freedom God gives every human being – to accept or to reject: He has set fire and water before you; put out your hand to whichever you prefer. Man has life and death before him; whichever a man likes better will be given him.

Fortunately no one can judge another person. We simply pray and trust that light will be given.

The world chooses very differently from the way a Christian chooses. That’s because the world has a different framework of judgment, and a different starting point. The starting point for making choices in the world is self-centred while for a Christian it is other-centred, the other being God.

The world’s choices are pragmatic, driven by money and ideology, and therefore, rather unenlightened and with a short use-by date. They depend on human intelligence and powers of reason, particular circumstances, anticipated outcomes, vested interests, external pressures, and a complex of other considerations, including what was had for breakfast that morning.

For a Catholic the starting point is the teaching of the Church as it comes to us through Scripture and Tradition. We live our lives guided by the Church because we believe she was founded by Jesus Christ. We live by her teachings, her moral precepts, her authority and her way of worshipping God. St Paul’s words to the Corinthians can be quoted here: The hidden wisdom of God which we teach in our mysteries is the wisdom that God pre-destined to be for our glory before the ages began.

The hidden wisdom of God, the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, was given by Christ to his Church. This is why a Catholic cannot turn away from the Church and claim to be still following Christ. For all the faults, the many faults, the horrible faults of her members, including the hierarchy, the Church is still the spotless bride of Christ for whom he gave his very life.

Those who have reached maturity have grasped this truth and have remained faithful; those who imagined that Jesus built his Church on the ‘goodness’ of his Apostles rather than on Peter’s ‘faith’, have discovered the weak link in their understanding and have quit the Church.

But how does an individual make a decision to entirely believe what the Church believes; how does one get to that point? The answer is one which the world cannot and never will understand - it is through the wisdom bestowed by the Holy Spirit. These are the very things that God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God.

The Holy Spirit who knows the depths of God is given to us at Baptism and Confirmation so that we ourselves might come to know the depths of God. The Holy Spirit shares with us, to the extent that we are capable, the knowledge of God.

Perhaps you were struck, as I was, by the opening sentence of the first reading from Zephaniah a couple of Sundays ago: Seek the Lord all you, the humble of the earth, who obey his commands. Somehow, seeking or knowing God always goes hand in hand with obeying his commands. If you really desire to know God you will be following his way - what Moses calls: the way I have marked out for you... .

The Holy Spirit is not given as warm fuzzy ‘I believe’ feeling. The Spirit is given also for keeping God's word. The response to the psalm today shows us what the payoff for doing this is: Happy are they who follow the law of the Lord. Jesus, too, repeatedly made this clear: Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it! (Luke 11:28)

A few challenging questions to finish with: Do you believe with all your heart that the Church speaks with God’s authority? Do you dissent from important Church teachings? Are you behaving in a way contrary to those teachings? Perhaps it’s time to make a serious and mature examination of conscience about all this?

Thursday, 2 February 2017

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Isaiah 58:7-10; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
A while ago I read of a person who blamed the Catholic Church (that's you and me) for the lack of peace in the world.

He claimed that heaven had many times promised peace to the world if prayer and penances were offered for the sins of the world. These promises, this person said, were made to Catholics and only to Catholics, and since there was still no peace it was obviously their fault.

Now while you are thinking about this you might recall the words of Pope St Pius V who said: All the evil in the world is due to lukewarm Catholics.

And while you're thinking of that you might notice that Jesus in the gospel today exclusively directs his words to one special group of people: his disciples (again, that's us).

It was to 'his disciples' that Jesus said: You are the salt of the earth ... you are the light of the world.

As disciples of the Master we can only take these words seriously. They are spoken to us, they are for us, they are about us. If we don't take these words seriously can we continue to call ourselves disciples? Does a disciple ignore his Master?

Listen again to the words of the Entrance Antiphon of today's Mass: O come, let us worship God and bow low before the God who made us, for he is the Lord our God.

Come ... worship ... bow low. It would be a cruel kind of hypocrisy to say these words but not mean them, to bow low before Jesus but then to ignore his words. That would be a deception which condemns rather than saves.

A disciple is called to be all that the Master is. When Jesus describes us as 'salt of the earth' and 'light of the world' he is not giving us a compliment; he is giving us a vocation, a mission, a responsibility which carries with it serious penalties for failure.

And so now comes the interesting part. How? How do we become like the Master?

There are many answers to this question but all of them might be reduced to this simple, easy, do-able, enticing answer: Spend time with him. This is what God himself wants from us.

The Lord does not need our talents or our gifts however extraordinary and impressive they might be. They are all his anyway. He gave them to us. And he has far more talented and gifted people than us to use for the building up of his kingdom.

Nor does the Lord need our money. The Church needs your money but God doesn't because God does not go shopping. He has no bank account, no fixed deposits, no stocks and shares. Besides, there are people richer and more generous than we are who are ready to give money.

All God needs is our time – your time and my time – particularly my time. I don't know about you but my time is one of my prized possessions. I love my time. My time lets me do all the things I want and so, perhaps selfishly, I prefer to have it all.

No one can give God my time but me and it's the one thing he wants from me. Like all my friends God enjoys my company but more than this, God needs my time if he is to be able to change me – to make me into that disciple we were talking about before.

Just as the sun needs my time to make me tanned, and the fire needs my time to make me warm, so, like a heart surgeon, God needs my time to operate on me.

One last question remains and it's a good question: How much of my time does God want? And the answer is, naturally, as much as you want to give him. It depends on how much work needs doing and how much work you want him to do on you.

When you come to think of it, this question of giving time to God is a great test of our desire for him. Some will say they have no time, they are too busy. Others will make time for God, every day. So perhaps the only real answer to the question – How much time should I give God? – is really: Only you can decide - but beware of the trap of confusing 'I don't have time' with 'I don't want to'.