Saturday, December 03, 2016

Advent 2 : Homily / Sermon

Prepare a way for the Lord - make his paths straight. (Matthew 3:3)

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Last week I mentioned a character who is familiar to us from a popular Christmas Film - well, a book really - the character of Scrooge - this week I choose another one.
His name is George Bailey … an ordinary sort of chap who lived a fairly ordinary life in a very ordinary American town from the 1930s into the 1940s. He has a loving wife and a large family and a fairly comfortable life - but he had been a young man with dreams! He had damaged lungs, after rescuing his younger brother from a freezing pool as a child, but has great ambitions - to travel the world, to see Europe - but he doesn’t even get to serve in the war, as his brother does, with great distinction, because of his disability. The problems of the Great Depression means he has to stay in the small town to maintain the family business, a small mutual bank, a Savings and Loans company, which helps provide affordable homes for the folk of the town.
And then a crisis comes, for which he can’t see a way out, and he realises that his entire life has been a failure, a disaster. None of his dreams have come to pass. He has not seen the world, or served his country, or done any of the wonderful things he had dreamt of as a young man.
This wonderful film - it’s called “It’s a Wonderful Life” - then traces how George Bailey is shown, by a very unconventional angel, what the lives of other people would have been without him: how many people would have been without homes if he had never lived, how his brother would have died, so never have become a war hero, how him Mother would have become a bitter broken woman, his wife a lonely spinster, and the wonderful house which they renovated together for their family of many children would have stood as a ruin. He realises that his life has in fact made a difference.
Well, its a lovely film, set at Christmas, complete with snow and angels. A bit sentimental indeed, but cheering none the less.
But what - you may be thinking - what on earth has George Bailey to do with today’s Gospel, and its strange and uncompromising figure, John the Baptist?

Prepare a way for the Lord - make his paths straight, he says, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near at hand.

Well, the thing about all the prophets, John the Baptist included, is not that they predict the future, nor that they accuse us of being wicked sinners, but that they are sent to convince us that we can make a difference.

We may think that we are not important, that we make no impact, that God has not chosen us for anything in particular, that our actions have very few consequences. And yet they do!

The listening ear, the words of comfort, the loving hug, the acts of generosity and kindness - they all make a difference. And so do the occasional dishonesty, the moderate selfishness, the passing hardness of heart.

George Bailey, dare I say, came to see that God had a plan for him, and he did make a difference, an enormous difference - though his modesty was such that he had hardly noticed it. And John the Baptist tells us today that that whoever we are, whatever our age or job or condition of life, we can and do make a difference: Prepare a way for the Lord.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Advent Sunday : Homily / Sermon

As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 24:37)

 

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As I get older I become more sympathetic to Scrooge. Its not just because I’m becoming a grumpy old man - though that is perfectly possible - but it’s because, perhaps, in just a little way, his take on Christmas is a bit more realistic than those around him. 

 

In Dicken’s wonderful story, Scrooge is a bitter and disappointed man, indeed, who has little sympathy with the people around him. But he is more complicated than that. He dislikes, really dislikes the jollity, the false jollity - the “humbug” as he calls it - of the Christmas carollers and partiers. Life, he knows, is harder, more disappointing, than this temporary festivity can imagine. 

 

Of course, things change and he comes to see things very differently, but I wonder whether his first bitterness is not so unreasonable, nor indeed, unusual. 

 

The jollity of the season - and here to the modern mind, perhaps, Scrooge makes his biggest mistake - is often about forcing an empty indulgence upon people in order to make money (something which Scrooge approved of!) And the greetings, the music and the festivities can often mask pain and anxiety and unhappiness which is only under the surface. On the other hand Scrooge’s sense of loss and bitterness is plain for all to see. 

 

This season, this month, can be for many a dark time. The lights and the music stand in contrast against short, cold and damp days when without them our moods might match. It is a terribly hard time for those in financial difficulties. A sad time for those feeling the pain of loss and bereavement of family breakdown. Christmas, as many experience it, is short lived and superficial, that’s exactly what is meant by Scrooges’s word “Humbug”. 

 

So thank God for Advent! It is not a time for celebration - yet. It is not a time for jollity which thinly papers over the cracks of hardship or stress. It is about waiting. And Hope. In the darkness. Our readings make it very clear that this is a time which is not ignorant of calamity, or disaster, or pain or loss - but in Advent we stand, as it were, gazing into a dark tunnel with a pinprick of light guiding us to its end. 

 

Advent is hard to keep. It is much easier to feign jollity than to wait in hope. But remember what changed Scrooge. He was not in fact changed by the carol singers, or the party goers, or the merriment of all around him - but by the fearful vision of a future without hope, the consequences of his lack of human concern. He changes not just for the one day, or for the season, but for the rest of his life. 

  

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)

 

Prayer

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.