Saturday, September 16, 2017

24th Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.’ (Matthew 18:21)

 

Is there any sin which cannot be forgiven? Or more to the point - is there someone who you just cannot forgive for what they have done to you or to someone you care about? It is not unusual, in families, and after the breakdown of relationships, for people to claim that there is no way that they could possibly forgive someone for what they have done. 

 

I remember many years ago at an RCIA/Journey in Faith group the parish priest was speaking about this very subject. God, he said, can and will forgive any sin, however great, if the sinner is truly sorry, truly contrite. One group member was a bit alarmed by this: “What?” He said. Do you mean that he will even forgive Hitler?” It wasn’t the question which the priest was expecting, but nonetheless he said “Yes, God can even forgive Hitler”. “Well,” the man replied to the whole group, “if I meet him in heaven, I won’t talk to him!”

 

It is a similar sort of question which Peter asks Jesus at the beginning of today’s Gospel: “How often must I forgive someone? As many as Seven times?”

 

And, not for the first time, nor even the last, Jesus replies with a story which turns our usual expectations on their heads. You see, the man in the story, the “unjust servant”, far from being unusual, or particularly wicked, is just like the rest of us. He is very good at repenting but absolutely hopeless at forgiving. 

 

We teach our children to say sorry if they have done wrong. We know that we must be genuinely contrite to receive absolution. We know that when we have done wrong we should apologise. We only find it hard to say sorry - if we do - if we find it hard to accept what we have done was wrong. But we do know that when people do bad things they must apologise. And Nowadays we even expect politicians and leaders of institutions to apologise for things done many years ago by those they now represent. 

 

And this means that we think of forgiveness only as a response not as an initiative, something that we might give or withhold, not something that we would ever want to offer. 

 

If we have been hurt our natural response might be to get our own back, to seek revenge, a form of justice, or just some nastiness that we think will make us feel a bit better. This all seems very natural. And even sensible. We see it on the world scene, especially in the way the US threatens North Korea - sow the wind, Trump says, and you will reap the whirlwind. It has a logic to it. We apply it also to our own lives, often without thinking. It just seems right. 

We taught our children not to fight - not even to hit back - because Jesus said we should turn the other cheek. Nevertheless, our oldest son got into a fight with one of his friends. When he took his to task, he said in protest “But he hit me back first!”

 

Ah well “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/revenge-is-a-dish-best-served-cold.html)  as the saying goes. 

 

But there is another saying, which more closely follows the teaching of Jesus “an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind”. (https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/12/27/eye-for-eye-blind)

 

In fact, Jesus does not so much disagree with the “an eye for an eye”, but instead radically shifts our perspective. His focus is not upon faults, but on forgiveness - not on the sin, but upon the reconciliation - he puts the initiative not with the one who has done wrong, but on the one who has been hurt. What is most important is not contrition, but conversion

 

We see this not just in this parable, but throughout his teaching, and indeed his life. 

 

In today’s Gospel, he says We should forgive, because we have been forgiven. In Sermon on the Mount, he warns us against seeing the speck in other peoples’ eyes, but not the log in our own. As we have already noted, he tells us to “turn the other cheek”, and in the prayer which he taught us to say, we say so frequently “Forgive us our trespasses - as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And of course, from the cross, he declares in the moments of his sacrifice: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

 

No - we should think not about how and why we may refuse forgiveness, but seek instead ways we can offer it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Assumption of Our Lady : Homily / Sermon

From this day forward all generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:48)

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There’s something about Mary

 

This was a film made many years ago. It had nothing to do with the Catholic faith, nor indeed with Our Lady, but it’s a great title. There is something about Mary. 

 

She is mentioned only on selected occasions in the Gospels, and we know very few of her words, yet she has dominated the art, the music and the faith of the world for centuries. She has sometimes been the centre of disputes amongst Christians, but she has also been at the heart of the inspiration and devotion of so many. Catholics and Orthodox unite in calling her Mother of God. Protestant Christians recognise her importance in the Christian story. Even the Koran devotes several chapters to her. 

There’s certainly something about her. 

 

And what is it? 

We could put it in theological terms, and say that she has a crucial role in the story of salvation, she is the closest human person to Our Lord himself in this life and the next, she most certainly dwells with God. That, in a nutshell, is more or less what is meant by the Assumption, which we celebrate today. 

 

But we could also put it in a more human, personal way. Mary is always about meeting, about encounter: look at the Gospels - the Annunciation, when she is greeted by the angel; the Visitation, when she greets her cousin Elisabeth; the Crucifixion, when Jesus greets her from the Cross; the day of Pentecost, then and after, when she prays with the Apostles ... and Lourdes and elsewhere, when she greets Bernadette and others. 

 

Mary is special because she meets us and we meet her - in special places and in our prayers. She is one of us, she is with us, and she dwells in the heart of her Son, as he dwells in her heart. 

Through her heaven came down to earth - and with her we share the life of heaven.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

Courage! Do not be afraid! (Matthew 14:27)

But we are afraid! And is fear always a bad thing?

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I fear for my own safety and the safety of others. I try to take care when driving and crossing the road. I find some of the rides at Alton Towers terrifying. I am not especially keen on going to the Dentist. I’m also more than a little afraid of heights. Nothing unusual here, perhaps. In lots of ways this is only natural, and mainly a good thing. Fear keeps us safe and helps us keep others safe. When a parent fears for their child, they are protecting them, nurturing them and educating them. If we have no fear, then we are foolhardy and dangerous.

In this way fear is good.

But fear can also be a terrible handicap. Fear of danger may mean we never get anything done. Fear of authority may mean we never speak out against injustice. Fear of suffering may prevent us from undergoing essential medical care. Fear of bad news may lead us to avoid hearing any news. Fear of the danger in the world around us may mean that we never take a risk, never step out of the front door, and parents - if they are not careful - can prevent children from encountering the knocks and scrapes of life for fear that something worse may happen. We have a word for this kind of fear - it is called cowardice.

Christ calls us to be neither cowardly nor foolhardy. He commands us - remember - to be as wise as serpents, but also as innocent as doves. He calls us to trust in him, but not too much in ourselves and not too much in the empty promises of the world around us. This is what we call Courage. It is facing the trials of the world with eyes open, with an awareness of the dangers and challenges, but also a trust in his purposes and his love. In courage we may have to take risks, face suffering, let go occasionally of those in our care. In courage we must trust God - not always play safe, but neither put God to the test.

Courage is not about the thunder and lightning and clatter which we hear about in the first reading - but the gentle breeze, the quiet voice with which it ends. The trust in God who is there with us - even if we think he is fast asleep in the back of the boat.