Friday, August 22, 2008

Twenty-first Sunday of the Year

You are Peter - and on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.

In these words, Christ conveys to us two essential truths about the Church.

Firstly, it is indeed a human institution. Peter is the Rock on which the Church is built. The Body of Christ in this world is led by a man. It is a human institution, with a human face. The Church dwells in and amongst society with its cares and anxieties, its joys and its achievements. The Church celebrates the joy of the newly weds, the life of the newly born, and prays at the bedside of the sick, consoles those who grieve, guides and reconciles those who fall on the journey of life. The priests and the bishops are the shepherds of the sheep, the Holy Father the supreme shepherd of the universal Church and all of us are called to show the love of Christ to all human beings. As humans we love. We also fail. Sometimes those sheep, those shepherds, make mistakes, serve imperfectly, fail to convey God's love - but as Christ is human, so the Church lives in humanity ... it is Peter on which the Church is built.

Yet, secondly, the gates of the underworld can never hold out against the Church. Though made up of human beings, the Church is the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Spirit, the Pilgrim People of God. The Church's only purpose is to serve God and to lead all people to heaven. And God guides and protects his Church. The Papacy, the line of the successors of Peter, is the longest continuous institution in the world. Through wars, and heresy, and schism, in spite of wickedness and greed, despite opposition and persecution and ridicule, the Church persists, not only in our hearts, but as a visible institution reaching into all parts of the world, all areas of human learning and concern. The Church reliably, unfailingly, teaches us God's truth. The Church is holy, not because we are holy, but because God is holy.

In the words of St Paul in today's second reading:

How rich are the depths of God
how deep his wisdom and knowledge ...
To him be glory for ever!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

19th Sunday of the Year

Courage! Do not be afraid!

But we are afraid! And is fear always a bad thing?

I am fear for my own safety and the safety of others. I take care when driving and crossing the road. I find some of the rides at Alton Towers terrifying. I am not especially keen on going to the Dentist. I’m also a little afraid of heights. Surely in lots of ways this is only natural, and mainly a good thing. Fear keeps us safe and helps us keep others safe. When a parent fears for their child, they are protecting them, nurturing them and educating them. If we have no fear, then we are foolhardy and dangerous.

In this way fear is good.

But fear can also be a terrible handicap. Fear of danger may mean we never get anything done. Fear of authority may mean we never speak out against injustice. Fear of suffering may prevent us from undergoing essential medical care. Fear of bad news may lead us to avoid hearing any news. Fear of the danger in the world around us may mean that we never take a risk, never step out of the front door, and parents - if they are not careful - can prevent children from encountering the knocks and scrapes of life for fear that something worse may happen. We have a word for this kind of fear - it is called cowardice.

Christ calls us to be neither cowardly nor foolhardy. He commands us - remember - to be as wise as serpents, but also as innocent as doves. He calls us to trust in him, but not too much in ourselves and not too much in the empty promises of the world around us. This is what we call Courage. It is facing the trials of the world with eyes open, with an awareness of the dangers and challenges, but also a trust in his purposes and his love. In courage we may have to take risks, face suffering, let go occasionally of those in our care. In courage we must trust God - not always place safe, but neither put God to the test.

Courage is not about the thunder and lightening and clatter which we hear about in the first reading - but the gentle breeze, the quiet voice with which it ends. The trust in God who is there with us - even if we think he is fast asleep in the back of the boat.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

18th Sunday of the Year

Give them something to eat yourselves

Jesus challenges the disciples. Don’t send the people away to fend for themselves, he says - you can feed them!

Often we lack confidence in our own abilities. We do not think we can cope with a situation, or a crisis, or a particular difficulty. Can we cope - or should we just pass the buck? Jesus challenges us, like he challenges his disciples. Yes - you can do it!

But what can we do, and how can we do it?

Well when the disciples have go - they find that what they have is meagre - five loaves and two fishes - how can what I have possibly make any impact? As the Carol says ‘What can I give him, poor as I am’? What change can I possibly make? The little that I can do - could it make any difference?

Certainly - if we think we can achieve everything on our own then we will either become very arrogant or very disappointed. By our own efforts and abilities we can do so much, but only so much. We are human, we have our limitations and our frailties.

So it is Jesus who takes what little can give, and makes them very great. He takes our few gifts and multiplies them like the loaves. He takes the weakness of humanity and makes it strong enough to conquer even death. He helps us face our anxieties and worries, our trials and struggles. He comforts us, he strengthens us. He gives us joy and leads us to happiness.

And the small gifts that we give become the greatest gift that we can receive.

When Jesus says to the disciples ‘Give them something to eat yourselves’, the food which they give is Jesus himself, the Bread of Life. What we can do is only small if all we give is ourselves. If the gift which we offer to others is Christ, the Bread of Life, the Shepherd of the lost, the consoler of the sorrowful, the hope of those in despair - if he is the gift which we give, then we give the greatest gift, Hope, Faith, Love - the food of eternal life.