Saturday, October 15, 2016

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily / Sermon

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. (Luke 18:1)



Don’t think for a moment that in this parable Jesus is telling us that God is like an unjust judge. No - of course not. He is not teaching us about God, but about prayer. 


I remember, many many years ago, being taught that there are four kinds of prayer, which can be remembered by the word ACTS - A is for Adoration, which is Meditation or Worship, C is for Confession, T is for Thanksgiving or Praise, and S is for Supplication or Intercession. And I was also taught that they should be done in that order - worship, adoration must come first … and asking for stuff should only come after thanksgiving. 


There are those who think the prayer of intercession is a lower, less worthy form of prayer. After all, isn’t it more than a bit selfish - always asking God for something? 


And isn’t also a bit risky - putting God (and for that matter our own faith) to the test? If we ask Him for something, there is the danger we might be disappointed - better, surely to play safe and avoid asking. Isn’t it much better to praise God in prayer, to thank God in prayer, to meditate upon God, or the mysteries of the faith in prayer? These might seem more noble, more inspiring, and after all, less likely to prove disappointing. 


But those who think, write and teach that way are making a big mistake, I dare to say. While we certainly should not be selfish in prayer, the prayer of asking, intercession, supplication is by no means a lower kind of prayer. 


Prayer is about asking. The very word “prayer” means “asking”. The word “bead” of which the rosary (and other things) is made, comes from the word “bid” and refers to the work of asking God for something in prayer. And even those with only the slightest mustard seeded sized faith can be moved to prayer out of need. The knowledge of God, the stirring of faith, very often begins with the yearning of prayer. 


No one should play safe in prayer, or to be afraid to ask of something in prayer. God knows what is in our hearts even before we say it, so prayer should be risky, bold, courageous, because life is risky, faith requires courage, and our hope is in things yet unseen. 


In the confessional, people often admit to being distracted in prayer, of failing to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary, or losing track of the beads, or finding themselves at mass thinking of anything but the readings or prayers or - heaven forfend - the homily. 


But often, these “distractions” should be prayers, because they are our lives, our concerns - small or great they matter to us - and if they matter to us, they matter to God. 


Of course, the prayer of meditation is a good thing - if you can do it. And the prayer of thanksgiving should always emerge from our knowledge that our prayers are heard by God. And the prayer of praise, while it might not be the first reason to pray, always underlies our prayer, because the very asking of prayer comes from the idea of God’s goodness and greatness. 


But the prayer of petition, of asking for our needs, is the heart and soul of prayer, because in bringing our needs before God we are inviting him into our lives, we are laying before him our needs, we are sharing with him our hopes. If we have worries, they must be carried to God in prayer, because worries are just prayers we have kept to ourselves and not shared with him. If we have fears, we should bring them into the light of God’s love, that he may lead us out of the darkness. If we have troubles, we must take them to Christ in prayer, that he may shoulder our burdens as we carry his cross. 


In prayer, Christ joins us in our lives. He sits at our table as we eat, by our sides as we travel, in our homes as we rest. He holds our hands in our labours, hugs us in our joys, and dries our tears in our sadness. 


All we need to do is pray. All we need to do is ask. And never give up on Him. For he never gives up on us.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) : Bidding Prayers / Intercessions / Prayer of the Faithful

Your faith has saved you. (Luke 17:19)


On the face of it, this story seems to have a very clear message, one perhaps as applicable to children as to adults - “Remember to say thank you!”

But when we dig a bit deeper, it might seem more complicated. 


In addition to this obvious message, we might be struck also by a second point - the example of the faith and gratitude of the one who is an outsider, the Samaritan, and the corresponding lack of faith and gratitude of those who should have known better. Here is another possible message.  


Or thirdly, at the end of the story, we might find another point, when we hear these words: "Your faith has saved you". So, perhaps the story is told to us to impress upon us the importance of faith in the miracles of Jesus?


And fourthly, given that we have a contrast here between the Jews and Samaritans, as in so many other places, perhaps we being led to reflect upon unity and equality of different races, creeds and ethnic groups? 


But there’s a problem with all four of these ideas and interpretations. Though Jesus told the faithful, grateful Samaritan, “your faith has saved you”, the other 9, were healed too. They showed little gratitude (the first point), and seem have less faith than the foreigner (second and third points), and appear to turn their backs on the Samaritan (fourth point). Yet these nine are healed too. Any point we might want to draw from the story seems to be contradicted, overruled  by this fact. 


Yet Perhaps there is another point which is being made, or which we can draw. Let me illustrate this with a little story from history. 


In the 4th Century there was an emperor called Julian. He was a fascinating figure. He was born into the imperial family and brought up a Christian (this was long after Roman persecution if Christians had ended). As an adult He left the Church, and returned again to the old Roman religion. When he became Emperor, made it his purpose to revitalise and restore the worship of the Roman gods. He saw how successful The Church was, and tried to reform paganism in its image. He did not ban Christianity, or persecute Christians, -  on the contrary, he declared that there should be freedom of religion - but he tried to make paganism as attractive as the Church itself. 

He set up an organisation and structure rather like parishes and Diocese, Bishops and Archbishops. 

And more than anything else he set up a social welfare system, to help those in need - because he believed that the success of the Church over the old religion, of Christianity over Paganism, was precisely because the Church didn't just help its own people but came to the assistance of anyone in need. 

“These impious Galileans,” he said, “not only feed their own poor, but ours also; … they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.”

It was a fascinating venture. It was the first attempt probably to set up a state run welfare system, though ultimately it failed.


He'd missed the point of course, Christians don't help others, even non Christians, because that is the way to get converts, like children are attracted with cakes,  but because this is the way in which they follow Christ, who gave himself for all. 

Charity is not a tool for conversion - that would be cynical, and as Julian found, bound to fail - but our Charity succeeds because it is our freely given response to the love of God. 


So the message we can draw from today's Gospel actually is this: God gives to good and bad, rich and poor, Jew and Samaritan alike. He deserves our gratitude, but gives whether he receives it or not. And so should we. This is the fundamental principle of Christian charity. It is the principle that drives Cafod, which inspires the Food Bank. As Christians we do not care for others because they are good, or faithful. We do not care for other people because they too are Christians. We care because Christ cares, and our charity is for Christian and atheist, Muslim and Hindu, European and Asian, Grateful and Ungrateful, Saint and Sinner, Good and Bad alike. 


We do not seek faith or conversion in response to  our charity - because our charity is already the response to God’s infinite love. 


The image is of a statue of the Emperor Julian (Julian the Apostate) which is in the Louvre in France.

Friday, September 30, 2016

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily / Sermon

The apostles said to the Lord "Lord, increase our faith". (Luke 17:5)



Today's Gospel looks as though it's in two parts, with two differing messages. Firstly, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. In the second part, he speaks about the importance of being a good and faithful servant. On first reading they might appear disconnected. 

But are they? 

Faith, not surprisingly, is a frequent theme in Jesus' teaching. He often rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith. At the stilling of the storm, for example, when they wake him in the boat - "O men of little faith" he says. He remarks on their lack of faith too, when, after the transfiguration unable to heal the epileptic boy - and then, the father of the boy says "I have faith, help me where faith falls short!"

In hearing such teaching, we, like those in the story, might feel rather inadequate. How can we ever have enough faith? What can we do to be more faithful? 


But here, we have words of great encouragement. 


Firstly, the apostles see one thing very clearly.  "Lord, increase our faith", they say. For their faith to increase - well that must be an act, or gift, or rather grace of God, not something they can do simply by their own efforts. We might think that if only we believed more, prayed harder, said more rosaries or attended more masses, then we would have more faith - but no. We can stand in the way of faith, but fundamentally faith is a gift of God, not an achievement of humanity. 


Secondly, we should not worry about faith, as if it could be measured, weighed, valued. We, like the apostles, might feel we have little faith, but - Jesus says, even the tiniest amount of faith, faith as tiny as the mustard seed, can achieve extra-ordinary things. "You've got only a little faith?" Jesus seems to say, "You'll be amazed what it can do!  


And thirdly, and this is where the two parts of today's Gospel are joined together - living in faith is not about being impressive, or important, or super holy. How do we live and keep the faith? The answer is beautiful in all its simplicity. It doesn't require great knowledge or understanding or extra-ordinarily impressive holiness. Just this - Be a good and faithful servant. Do your duty. Perform your service of God. Do not feel inferior or superior. Just do what you know to be right. Offer him your worship and show love and compassion to all people. Love God and love your neighbour. No more and no less is required. 


"We are merely servants, we have done no more than our duty" the Gospel says. This is sanctity. This is holiness. This is faith!