Saturday, September 22, 2007

25th Sunday of the Year (23rd September 2007)

Readings for today

You cannot serve both God and money

In the last couple of weeks we have seen extraordinary events on television as people queued up outside the branches of the Northern Rock bank to withdraw their money. They call it a "run on the bank". Such things have been almost unheard of, in this country at least for more than 50 years. And it seems that those people need not have worried anyway.

But it does lead us to pause and think about this incredible thing called money. After all it is just metal and paper, or perhaps just even plastic, or often not even that. It is numbers and words recorded on computers and spoken over telephone lines. And yet people work for it, and dream of it, and will even kill for it.

But of course, it is not money in itself which they are all after, but what it can do.

It can make us rich. It can make us powerful. It can make us comfortable. It can make us happy.

But can it make us happy? Certainly, many people can be lifted out of misery and suffering but sometimes just a little money – a little to avoid hunger, a little to provide medical care, a little to provide education. And we often suppose that if we just had that lottery win or the unexpected inheritance it would lift us out the need every work again, and give us a life of comfort and luxury.

And yet, the truly rich – do they stop working? Do they stop looking for ways to get more money, more possessions, more power? Not at all, because the pursuit of material things is never ending. It is almost like an addicts compulsion. There can never be enough, because that happiness that we think wealth will bring never actually arrives. They may not suffer from the misery of poverty, they may have all the cars, clothes, gadgets and holidays the rest of us yearn for, but none of these bring true friendship, loyalty, commitment, happiness and love. The most important values and virtues, honesty, courage, reliability, generosity – none of these can be bought.

And this is why Christ says we cannot be slaves of both God and money. To serve God, must always be to put material concerns second. To serve God is to put true human values first. To seek happiness in money, power, possessions, materials things, is to seek fulfilment where it can never be found. It is a pursuit of happiness which will always lead to dissatisfaction, restlessness, bitterness – to unhappiness.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

24th Sunday of the year (16 September 2007)

Readings for today's Mass

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity

There is so much that could be said about today's Gospel – but I want to concentrate on just one aspect, one figure in the story, and even as little as this one verse - While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity.

I'm told that the father would have seen his returning son, probably because he could recognise his walk, and probably because he was standing on the flat roof of the middle eastern house. He could also see his returning son because he was waiting for him. The son had fled the home. He had caused great hurt. He had done great sin. He had been foolish, stupid, and also very hurtful. He had turned his back on his father and his family – but his father had always looked out for him.

And when the lad returned, the father was filled not with anger, or bitterness, or resentment. He was not filled with the pain of the hurt caused, nor with a desire that the son should put things right – but with pity, with mercy, with compassion, with a spirit of forgiveness, with joy, with love.

Today is Home Mission Sunday, and the national agency of the Church for evangelisation, called CASE, tells us that with other Christian bodies it is planning a campaign for Christmas called "Come Home for Christmas". In this we are encouraged to reach out to those outside the Church, especially the lapsed, those who were once part of our church, who followed the faith but are not with us now. We need to be ready, like the father, to welcome them and encourage them.

There are many who have left the Church for some many reasons. They got out of the habit after illness or work circumstances. They have had a marital breakdown, or now live in marriage or relationship not blessed by the Church and feel awkward that they cannot receive communion. They had a row with a priest or another parishioner and have stayed away. They drifted away in their teens and now feel it hard to return, though they may like too. They think everyone will stare at them when they turn up for mass.

The trouble is, we can often be like the elder son, rather than like the father. We focus much more on the fact that they should never have left, than on the importance that they return. And when they return, we might pass judgment or make demands.

The Father makes no demands, but waits for the sorrow of the one who is returning. He looks upon him not with anger or resentment, but with pity and love. He yearns for his return and rejoices when he comes.

Like the Father, we need to patient for the return of those who have left, invite them back, not pass judgment or lay down immediate demands or conditions. There is much time for so many things. We need to open welcoming arms to those who have felt cut off from the Church. Our doors are unlocked – but our hearts must be open too.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

23rd Sunday of the Year (9th September 2007)

Readings for today

Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Some people think that faith is all about comfort. It is about escape from the realities of life. In this point of view, people have faith to escape from the pain of bereavement, or the guilt of wrong-doing, or the misery of poverty or the sadness of loneliness. The promise of heaven, of forgiveness, of the communion of saints and a better life to come all give tremendous comfort. Religion, faith, belief, so this argument goes is all a delusion, as escape from what the world is really like.

Well, like all popular points of view, there is an element of truth in this. Faith does give comfort and hope. It does provide some answer to questions. It does give meaning and hope and strength.

But not always. Those who embrace the Christian faith have often encountered ridicule, and persecution, and even death. The history of our faith is littered with martyrs. In the last century, it is said, there were more martyrs for the faith than in the whole of the previous 19 centuries. Today, Christians carry their cross in China, in parts of Africa and especially in some muslim countries where churches have been burnt and believers attacked and killed. Christians in Iraq, now suffer far more than they ever did in the past.

And there is another cross which believers may have to carry.

September 5th was the fifth anniversary of the death of  Mother Teresa, or Blessed Teresa of Kolkata as we now call her. There was some fuss over a book published this week, a collection of her diary entries and letters. They reveal something which no one knew – that for most of her life, Mother Teresa was afflicted by what she called 'the dark night of God's silence': it was a deep sense of doubt, of the questioning of God's existence, God's presence, God's love. Mother Teresa was racked by doubt. To be sure, she had a profound experience of the presence of Christ as a younger woman, but for most of her life she sat not in the light of that experience, but in its shadow. Yet her conviction never wavered, he commitment did not shake, she gave her life for the desparately poor and the destitute, the sick and the dying. In an extraordinary way, she carried the cross of darkness and doubt.

One of her biographers put it so beautifully:

Mother Teresa, she said, converted "her feeling of abandonment by God into an act of abandonment to God." She proclaimed that there was "more hunger in the world for love and appreciation than for bread." She lived her doubts, not for an hour on Sunday, but every day as she tended the poor and dying in utter, relentless squalor.

The darkness of God's silence was her cross.

May we be able to carry our crosses with such grace and generosity and love.