Friday, November 28, 2008

Advent Sunday

“Be on our guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come”(Mark 13:33)

We are now well into the time of Eager Expectation. Whatever the financial crises and difficulties, I am sure people will be determined to have a good Christmas. And the children will be writing their lists and singing their songs and writing their letters to Santa for that Wii or DS or whatever toy or whatever item it may be. For some, the excitement of it all can be prove to be just too much, and we know that this time of year can be a time of great family stress and upset and anguish. How many times do you hear someone say in the queue in Tesco or ToysRus “I don’t know why we do it”

Eager expectation!

Of course this is far away from the eager expectation we hear about in the Gospel.

The prayer of the first Christians, the final word of the Bible are about eager expectation - the expectation of the the coming of Christ: Maranatha, they prayed, Come, Lord Jesus. The first Christians would meet together on a Saturday not for a short mass, but for a long vigil throughout the night, as they waited expectantly for the coming of Christ when they celebrated Mass at dawn. Every Saturday-Sunday vigil remembered not only the resurrection of Jesus, but also looked forward to the coming of Christ at the end of time.

We have lost something of that excitement, that anticipation. December is an exciting time for us because of the pressures of preparing for Christmas, and sadly not because in Advent we are keenly looking forward to the coming of Christ.

So - tough though it may certainly be, let us try to recover something of the wonder and awe which those first Christians had. They read scripture and prayed through the night, so that with the new day, as they shared the Eucharist, they knew that Christ was already with them in the sacrament – not yet clearly seen, maybe, not yet known by all people, perhaps,  and yet really and truly present in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Let us prepare ourselves for Christ this Advent.
Let us renew ourselves in prayer: before we come to Mass – in quite times spent at home – on the journey to the Church – in a real sense of expectation that we will meet Christ here.

Let us also deepen our knowledge of Christ in scripture – by reading in advance the readings for Sunday Mass – by spending each day reading part of the Gospels, or of the Psalms, or using one of the many guides to the reading of Scripture which are available.

Let us take time to recapture the true wonder of this season. Let us recover the joy and eager expectation so that we can see Christ in the Sacrament, and truly meet him – by preparing our hearts for this beautiful encounter.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

33rd Sunday of the Year: The Parable of the Talents

The Parable of the Talents

Sometimes we may doubt whether this parable is really for us. Do I have a talent?

And of course, on one level it is a fair point. Not many of us are international swimmers, X factor singers, or skilled sculptors. Oh yes, we are good at some things more than others, but is that a talent?

Take care over the details in the story. It is money which the man gives to his servant to invest, and the currency is called ‘talents’. It might just as well have been pounds, or euros or dollars (in their thousands of course). The connection with great skill is an interesting one, but it isn’t exactly there is the original story.

You see the story is for us. We all do have gifts, gifts from God. We have all been given something by him, a vocation, an aptitude, an ability. It may not be prizewinning, but it is no less valuable for all that.

Yours may include being a mother, or grandmother. You could be a teacher. Or a listener. You may be good at odd jobs, DIY, and can use that gift to help family, friends and neighbours. You may have a good singing or reading voice. Or a good sense of humour. You may be good at writing letters, or understanding complex documents or ideas. Or perhaps you just know how to get the DVD recorder to work. Any or all of these may be gifts, talents, granted by God.

Thank him for them. And don’t bury them. Put them to good use, and they will double, they will grow, and they will be to your credit and to the praise of God.

This is the warning here. Do not hide your light under a bushel, but rejoice in your blessings and put them to proper and frequent use. Glorify him in using the things with which he has blessed you, for to do so is not to take pride in yourself, but is to rejoice in making repayment to the Master, from whom come such blessings.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica | Remembrance Sunday

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rebuild it

These words are words of defiance.
I will stand my ground, Jesus says, against those who oppose me, against those who deny me, against those who attack me. They are words of courage and conviction and of service. Do what you will, Jesus says, I will not flinch or succumb or surrender.
When we stand for the truth, we echo these words. When we speak out against injustice, Christ stands alongside us. And as we remember those who have given their lives in the service of their country, we remember those whose sacrifice has been total and complete.

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rebuild it

These words are also words of hope.
Whatever destruction you may wreak against me, Jesus says, however much pain or anguish you may inflict, I have the promise of something much greater, a new life, a new heaven and a new earth. The Christian hope looks beyond death to resurrection. Christ brings that hope - and as we remember those who have died - in particular in the service of their country and in time of war, we share a hope in life beyond life.

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rebuild it

These words are also words of prophecy.
Christ is the temple, the true centre of all our worship. Today we thank God for the Lateran basilica, the Cathedral Church of Rome and Mother Church of the whole world. We thank God not for bricks and mortar so much, but for what they represent and convey, the presence of Christ among us. And as we remember the valiant dead, we do not honour war and suffering, nor even their sacrifice and our country, but we honour Christ, the true temple, who we meet in our Churches, in our monuments, our ceremonies, our poppies and all those physical things which call to mind our dead.

He is our life, and hope. He brings peace from hatred, good from ill. He carries our sufferings on his shoulders, makes and rebuilds us in his image. He loves us and saves us. To him be glory for ever.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

All Saints Day

Happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:2)

When we hear this Gospel we may be surprised - “Happy are those who mourn”? - “Happy are those who are persecuted”? - “Happy are the poor”? Really? Surely not?

The trouble is, we live in a world and a society that barely knows the difference between happiness and pleasure, between joy and enjoyment, between choice and vocation, between selfishness and blessedness.

You remember that last week I mentioned the atheist slogan on the London buses which ended “Enjoy your life”. I guess that for many people nowadays, if you were to ask them what is their aim in life, then they would say just that - “Enjoy my life”

But this is deeply selfish. Not “Do good”. No idea of love. No service of others. No commitment. Just enjoy your life, because you are the only one who matters.

The trouble is, life often isn’t enjoyable. We struggle to achieve our goals. We work hard for little reward. We are disappointed in relationships, beset by illness or tragedy. The command to “enjoy your life”, provides no hope or comfort.

Did the saints set out to enjoy their lives? St Therese, who died in her early twenties? St Maria Goretti, murdered at the age of 12? St Bernadette, who suffered ill health for all her short life? St Peter, who betrayed his Lord and was executed for his belief? St Maximilian Kolbe, and St Teresa Benedicta who died in the Nazi death camps? Did they enjoy life?

But were they unhappy? Ah - they embraced their various vocations no doubt with fear and trepidation, they knew the reality of their pain, but also the truth of Gospel and the certainty of the hope which they shared. They inspire us because despite everything they happily made sacrifices for a greater hope, not enjoyment or pleasure, but the joy and happiness of the blessedness of God.

The Christian vocation, which is for us all, is a pursuit of happiness, not enjoyment. Along this path there may well be moments of sorrow and mourning, of striving for what is right and good, of opposition and conflict, the challenge to both purity and mercy. The vocation of every Christian is not an easy road, not one of convenience, not one without difficulty. To be a Christian is to be called, not to pick and choose.
But it is a vocation which leads, through commitment, and love, and sacrifice to true blessedness, true happiness. We are all called to be saints. As John Paul II said “Do not be afraid to be saints”!