Sunday, January 29, 2017

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12)

 

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It is said that when new employees begin work at Cadbury’s in Bourneville, they are allowed to eat as much chocolate as they like. The point is, of course, that once they have done that for a few days, the will never want to do it again. 

 

True or not, this practice makes an important point - the things we enjoy, the things we really like doing, the things that we think will make us feel really happy work, but for a short a time only. Sooner or later we get fed up with them (literally). 

 

Simple pleasures, which might seem fine in moderation, when consumed to excess, and can cause many problems. They no longer satisfy, and even become destructive. As we grow we discover that pleasure is not the same as happiness.

 

This understanding helps us make sense of Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel. When we here these words, we are likely to feel troubled and confused. 

Happy are those who mourn? 

Happy are those who are persecuted?

Happy are those who hunger and thirst? - Even if, in the cause of right, this hardly sounds pleasurable, enjoyable, does it? 

 

But of course, happiness and pleasure are not the same, though we might often confuse them. 

 

St Augustine explains it like this: 

All human beings want to be happy. And the search for happiness is a  kind of restlessness, it is a search for fulfilment.  We think we can find it in things, pleasures, but while they might give temporary happiness, they cannot be fulfilling, because they do not last. 

St Augustine explains that our yearning for happiness is in fact a yearning for that which does last for ever. And when our basic needs are filled by love, by hope, by faith, by God, which last for ever, then we are no longer restless.  Finding God, living with God, is true happiness.

 

And here, in the today’s Gospel, the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us that this happiness is not a vague hope of life in heaven, but a really possibility now. He tells us:

Happiness is not found in wealth, or in things : happy are the poor in spirit. 

Happiness is not found in pride, or power: happy are the gentle, the meek

Happiness is not found only when things go well for us: happy are those who mourn

Happiness comes through healing broken hearts and the wounds of division:  Happy are the peacemakers

Happiness comes through overcoming injustice and evil: Happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right

Happiness comes through compassion, mercy and love: Happy are the merciful

 

These are practical, principles of action for this life, which we have already seen most clearly in the life of Jesus himself:

 

As Pope Francis tells us: 

The Beatitudes are the path that God indicates as an answer to the desire of happiness inherent in man … 

The Beatitudes are Jesus' portrait, his way of life, and they are the way of true happiness, which we also can live with the grace that Jesus gives us.”

Saturday, January 14, 2017

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)

 

Dieric Bouts, Ecce Agnus Dei

We perhaps shouldn’t be too surprised that Sheep and Lambs feature so frequently in Scripture and particularly in the teaching of Jesus. 

 

Already in the Old Testament we hear of the ram which is caught in the thicket and which is sacrificed in the place of Isaac. It is the blood of the lamb which is smeared on the lintels of the houses of the Hebrews so that they are protected from the Angel of Death, and are able to escape from slavery in Egypt. We hear the prophet Ezekiel compare God and his people to the sheep and a shepherd. 

 

And in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels, references to sheep and lambs abound. The Shepherds are keeping watch over the sheep when Jesus is born. Jesus tells the parable of the shepherd who took great risks to rescue the lost sheep. The crowds who come to hear Jesus are described as being “like sheep without a shepherd”.

 

It is only natural, perhaps that we have all these examples, and more, because, after all, this was a land and a culture which was sustained by farming and the keeping of livestock. Just as Scriptures mentions vines and vineyards, sowing seeds and gather grain, so we would expect to sheep and shepherds to be frequent images and examples. 

 

But there is more to it than just this. The shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks by night, because the ewes were lambing. As the Lambs were being born, so Jesus himself was born. Years later, while other Lambs were being sacrificed in the temple for the Passover, Jesus was being sacrificed on the cross. St Paul tells us that “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us”. And in today’s Gospel - from St John, a Gospel which has no story of shepherds and mangers and angels and kings - after 28 verses of preparation and anticipation, Jesus makes his very first appearance, and the Baptist proclaims instantly “Behold, the Lamb of God”. Into this Gospel too, the Lamb is born. 

 

Why a lamb? Well, because a lamb is newly born, and innocent, and pure. Because it is the blood of the Lamb which saves the people from slavery, from injustice, from captivity. Because lambs were destined for sacrifice. As Christ is destined for sacrifice. 

 

And so we are reminded of this time and time again during the Mass. Christ is “Lord God, Lamb of God, son of Father”. He is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, and then, just as he comes to dwell amongst us, just as he is born again on the altar, just before we  receive his life into ours, we are told: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold him him who takes away the sins of the world!”

 

 

 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent 4 : Homily / Sermon

The Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23)

 

Posting Christmas CardsDespite the rise of twitter and Skype and email and FaceTime we still send and receive Christmas Cards. I got mine from the Archbishop the other day. It has got his signature on, but it looks as if it is printed. 

Cards can convey love, and affection, respect and courtesy, though all too often we send them because we have to, and we receive some from people we barely know or might even have forgotten. Cards may be important, and still popular, but they can also be very routine, and even empty of any real feelings.

Much better than the card, of course, is the actual visit - when we go and see someone in order to exchange greetings. And instead of an address, written on an envelope, we meet face to face, and address one another by name.

In today’s Gospel we hear of a meeting - well, too meetings. The angel meets Joseph in a dream and tells him of another meeting, when the angel had met Mary, and gave her the great commission from God.

And here too, names are important. In today’s Gospel two of the names of Our Lord are set before us. Jesus - which means God saves, and Emmanuel - which means God-with-us.
And it is the names which tells us what Christ’s coming is all about. He saves us by being with us.

We might reasonably ask the question, why did God come and live amongst us as Jesus. Why did he take flesh? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die for us? Could not God have just acted, just waved his hands like a magic wand and put all sins and sufferings right?

Perhaps. But that would be doing things at a distance, almost disinterestedly, rather like sending a card with a polite greeting to someone we are not really close to. It would be an act of courtesy, but it requires little effort.

But God does more than send a card. He comes to visit. And God does more than visit. He comes to dwell amongst us. He becomes one of us, and shares our joys and sorrows, our cares and our concerns. He takes our sins upon himself. And that is how he saves us.

And today Mary and Joseph stand before us. She was chosen by God to carry Christ and bear him into the world. Joseph is included in the same mission.. They are not like some postman who carries a card, passing on a message or a greeting. They are humanity. Mary, especially, is us - the one who receives this great gift on our behalf, the one who welcomes this wonderful saving visitor.

And he is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He has come to meet us. He knocks at the door. And all we need do is open the door and let him in.