Sunday, August 26, 2007

21st Sunday of the Year (26th August 2007)

Readings for this Mass

Try your best to enter by the narrow door.

It may be very mischievous of me, but mention of the narrow door prompts me to think of Winnie the Pooh. You remember the story - Winnie went through the narrow door - actually a window - to get to the Honey. He could only get so far, but far enough to eat the honey. And when he had ate the honey he found he was very tightly wedged in the hole. Perhaps that story had a particular impact upon me as a child. I could have been that bear!

Actually our Old Testament and Gospel readings seem to give something of a contradiction. In the first reading, everyone, all nations, are called to the Kingdom. In the Gospel it is only a few who get past check-in. What are we to make of this?

Well, together they both boil down to the same question: who gets to heaven? And perhaps a second question which we might ask: if God loves everyone, how can he turn anyone away from heaven?

Well the passages - and the Church's teaching - give a fairly clear answer.

Firstly, everyone is called by God to heaven. The first passage, from Isaiah, makes that very clear: 'I am coming to gather the nations of every language'. And the Gospel too: men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places in the kingdom of God. In fact Isaiah even says that God calls 'the distant islands that have never heard of me or seen my glory'. So God doesn't just call catholics to heaven, but protestants, and sikhs and buddhists and muslims and atheists too. All are invited. Even if they have never heard of him or seen his glory.

But, there is a second point. Just as valid, just as important as the first. Many will try to enter and not succeed, Jesus says. It is a narrow door, and some of you will be turned away. In fact, Christ will say 'I do not know you'. The big difference here, the really big difference, is that while Isaiah talks about them, Jesus speaks to you. They are all invited to the Kingdom - but will You be there to take the place allotted to you?

We tend to want to ask an abstract or theoretical kind of question, becasue we feel more comfortable with it: will other people go to heaven? Ah well, says Jesus, they are all invited. God's love is boundless, his forgiveness is without limit, his will is that all people should be saved. He made us and loved us. Yes, yes, yes. That is a question God can answer.

But then Christ turns to us. And looks us in the eye. And he asks not an abstract theoretical hypothetical question, but a direct one. He ask a question which only we can answer. Indeed - a question only I can answer.

And YOU, he says. Will YOU take your place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Do not judge others. Or ask God to reveal to you his judgement of others. I cannot carry out God's judgement. But I will be judged. Will I be ready? Can I enter through the narrow door?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

20th Sunday of the Year (August 18th)

Readings for today

I come to bring fire to the earth!

Fire is a tremendously powerful thing. And it represents many things to us.

Firstly, it is is comforting.
When we gather in front of the fire, we feel its warmth and a sense of security. If gather around a camp fire there is a strong sense of community. One of the less positive aspects of central heating is that we no longer need the fire in our homes for warmth - yet we still enjoy the logs and the coal fire, especially on a windy, rainy or snowy day. The fire and the hearth speak of home, and comfort and love.
And this is true also of course of our faith. It is a comfort in times of sorrow and distress. It is a refuge for the weak, and not so weak. It is our home, our assurance of God's love, our hope for life beyond this life.

Yet, secondly, fire is also destructive, and because of this, it may also be purifying.
Fire can cause terrible damage - we have seen that in the news all too recently - yet this very power to destroy is also purifying. Fire burns away the dross. It destroys the rubbish and leaves what is really valuable. In days gone fire has been very important to this city. At one time the sky would light up over the whole of this area when the fires of Shelton bar burned hot and red in the manufacture of steel. Fire also bakes the pots and fixes the glaze. Similarly, fire burns away garden rubbish, destroys harmful bacteria.
And similarly, the fire of the faith, casts away the darkness of sin. It reveals the truth, burns away falsehood and bakes the pots of justice. Let us not be deceived that this can be a very painful process. It be decisive and hurtful. Faith might always give us comfort - but it is not always comfortable. Christ brings fire to the earth, and in a purifying fire, something and someone will surely get burnt.

And finally, fire is transforming.
The coal which was hewn from the ground round here went to fire the furnaces and machinery of the factories. Trains and ships crossed the nation and the world, powered by its fire. And still today, fire powers our cars, provides us with electricity and cooks our food - especially the Sunday roast we look forward too. It is a great power which does not only destroy, but it also changes, transforms. And when we are strongly motivated, angry or in love, we say that we have fire within, burning in our hearts.
And so, the fire of faith must burn in our hearts. It enthuses us, encourages us, enlivens us, transforms us. It is no coincidence that when the Spirit was given to the apostles at Pentecost he is described as 'tongues of flame', or when Jesus met the disciples on the road toEmmaus they described their feeling as a burning within. Neither it is coincidence that the Heart of Jesus is so often pictured as a heart surrounded by flames.

The fire of faith burns us, consumes us. It brings us comfort. It challenges, disturbs and purifies us. And it changes and transforms us.

'I have come to bring fire to the earth', says Jesus 'and how I wish it were blazing already'

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Assumption of Our Lady (August 15th 2007)

Today - August 15th - we celebrate the resurrection.

Yes we do - but not simply the resurrection of Jesus, but because of his resurrection which we celebrated at Easter, we now celebrate the resurrection of all humanity, summed up in the Mother of Christ and the Mother of all faithful people, Mary herself.

When we were baptised, we received that gift of grace and the freedom from original sin which Mary rceived at the first moment of her existence, at her (immaculate) conception.

Today we celebrate the ending of Mary's earthly life, when her body joins her flesh, her Son, in heaven. In the Assumption, Mary shares in her Son's resurrection. Our prayer is that when we come to the end of our lives, and our judgement is complete, after a time of purification, the time in purgatory, we too will share in the life of Christ's resurrection, with Mary,

We differ from Mary in really only one respect - that she was always 'full of grace' (as the angel told her) - that she is the most blessed of all women (as Elizabeth told her), that she is the Mother of the Lord, that all generations of people call her blessed. She was able to believe the promise made her by the Lord because she never lost vision of that wonderful gift of grace - as we so often do.

To regain that grace, we must repent, beg forgiveness of our sins, and come to confession to receive those blessings again.

Mary has no need to do this. From her flesh, the Word became flesh. From her obedience, God incarnate dwelt amongst.

And her love and her devotion and her piety and her faith and her sinless is crowned by her entry into heaven. Most blessed of all women. Queen of heaven. Immaculate Mary. Mother of God.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

19th Sunday of the Year (12th August 2007)

‘See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit’

This week some of us have been in Lourdes. Those who have been there will know that a highlight of the pilgrimage is the torchlight procession. Each evening, at 9pm, thousands of people gather in Rosary Square to walk in procession in honour of Our Lady, to recite the rosary, to sing hymns and say prayers.

What makes it so wonderful?
Well first, it is so beautiful. As the sun sets in the heat of the evening (unless it’s not raining of course) hundreds of lamps light up the darkness and make sea of light swaying through the evening. If you have not been, have a look at the photographs – it is an amazing sight.
But that of course, cannot be all.
It is also wonderful because we are joined with so many others who share our faith. It is not embarrassing to say the rosary in public, to sing hymns in the open air, to live our catholic faith out in the open. We realise that we are not one or our own, or a small number gathered together, but rather a great cloud of witnesses, a multitude who praise God. Sometimes we can feel discouragement in our faith. Our family members no longer go to Mass. Friends, even good people, do not understand why the faith is important to us. To be part of such a great throng is an inspiration.
And thirdly it is wonderful because we walk. Yes, of course some stand by and watch. Some climb up the arms of the basilica and gaze upon the crowd below. But most of us walk. We join the procession. We do not just watch, but we must do. Happy are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Like those in the gospel we are dressed for action – the master finds us at our employment. We know to believe the catholic faith is not just talk the talk, but to walk the walk. It is about not just what we believe, but even more about what we do.

The night may sometimes seem dark. Shadows may be all around. We may feel we are alone in our worries, or isolated in our faith – but Do not be afraid, says Jesus. We carry our torches high as we sing our Aves for he has given us the Kingdom.