Sunday, November 22, 2009

Homily for Advent Sunday

Stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand. (Luke 21)

We think of Advent, perhaps, as a kind of mini-Lent: purple, no flowers, no Gloria. And in a way that is true, like Lent it is a time of preparation for Christmas. A good time to go to confession. A very good time (though perhaps a difficult time) for a quiet day, a retreat, for some spiritual reading.

But in other respects Advent is very different from Lent. In Lent we still sing 'alleluia'. We 'rejoice, rejoice' that Emmanuel is coming. It is a time of excitement and eager expectation - not just for the wide eyed children aching for Christmas morning - but for all God's creation as we yearn for the coming of the King.

While all around us may be bad news, war, disaster, tragedy, Christ commands us to hope not fear, to trust not doubt, to rejoice not grieve: "Stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand."

We learn from the New Testament that one of the prayers of the first Christians was "Maranatha" "Come, Lord Jesus!". May it be our prayer, too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Homily / Sermon for the feast of Christ the King (34th Sunday of the Year)

Homily for the feast of Christ the King.

"So you are a king, then?" (John 18:37)

Jesus seems hesitant in answering this question, and throughout the Gospels we find Jesus shrinking from any claim to be a king. When they call him a King or Son of David, he tells them to be quiet. When Peter proclaims him to be the Messiah he tells him to keep it quiet. When James and John ask to sit by his side in the kingdom, he warns them to expect not glory, but suffering. Time and time again, when the disciples speak excitedly about his coming kingdom, he reduces their expectations, warns them of consequences, orders them to keep silence.

And perhaps our first explanation is that Jesus, if we call him a king at all, is a king of hearts and minds, not clubs and weapons. His kingdom is not of this world. He has no army, no armoury, no territory, no generals. He is weak and vulnerable, or so it seems. He is gentle, meek, mild: the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, not the general who sends them like lambs for the slaughter.

But there is more to say. This king is not weak - he is powerful, immensely powerful. And his kingdom is not only a kingdom within the heart or soul. He healed the sick, he made the lame walk, he even raised some from death. Yes he suffered and died, but with great nobility he stood dumb before his accusers and in great victory he defeated even death itself. He rightly prevents the disciples for proclaiming that he is King, because is far more than a King, he is the Eternal Word of God, through whom all things were made, who for us, for our salvation, came down from heaven, and who will come again to judge the living and the dead.

So why did he hesitate to call himself a King? Not because he did not have the power of an earthly king, but because no earthly king has the power of the Son of God. 

For bidding prayers, click here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:26)

When we hear these stories about the final conflict at the end of the world, I think as Catholics we may well feel a little uncomfortable. Just as we may struggle with stories about the creation, so the stories about the end of the world trouble our rational and scientific minds. They remind us of the extreme evangelicals, or the Jehovah’s witness who warn us - and have been warning us for centuries - that the end of the world is just around the corner. And so, just as we might keep a diplomatic silence about Adam and Eve, so we rarely mention the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds with great power. Death and bereavement is enough for any of us, I guess. The idea that all will be destroyed is just too much.

But if we take such an attitude we miss out on something very important, and not something terrible, or confusing, or difficult to grasp - but something wonderful and marvellous.
These stories found throughout the Gospels, in the prophecies of the Old Testament and especially the book of Revelation, and if we ignore them we lose an important dimension of our faith.
These stories and make prophecies make two things clear above all.

Firstly, that the spiritual life is a conflict with evil all around us. Sometimes it is the hard and wicked power of evil, of cruelty and deceit. But very often, much more often, it is a cold evil. Boredom, distraction, lethargy. It is the feeling that every idea is much the same, every belief just as valid. The cold and dull conviction, Pontius Pilate, that there is no truth, and of course ... no hope. And to embrace the truth means to be prepared for ridicule, and hardship and some conflict, not only without, but also within. It may mean struggle in prayer, not being understood by family members, being ridiculed at work or school.

And secondly, the stories make another thing clear: that there will be a victory. These sorrows and hardships and persecutions. This lack of vision or clouded understanding is for a time only. Our lives our short, but eternity is very long. At the last, Michael will rise up and defeat the powers of evil, and Christ will come on the clouds of heaven to institute a new heaven and a new earth.

And this victory is the heart of our faith. We often think that the great hope is just that reunited with our loved ones we will share eternal life with God. That is true, but too small, too narrow, too limited. Eternal life is this: a new heaven and a new earth and the final victory of Truth and Love over coldness and hositility.  

In 1994 Pope John Paul II said these words:

"May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: 'Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power' (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world."'

Here is the prayer of St Michael.

Holy Michael, Archangel,
defend us in the day of battle.
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Power of God -
thrust down to hell, Satan and all wicked spirits,
who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

They have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed. (Mark 12:44)

Even in Jerusalem - so it seems - even there in the temple - the religious authorities asked for money and complained about how little the people give. Nothing has changed very much, has it?

So how much should we give?

Now there’s a question. Should it be ‘as much as is needed’? Or ‘as much as we can afford’? Should it be what we have left over - or should what we give be our first thought rather than our last? Should it be ten per cent - a true tithe - as the Bible appears to suggest and as some Christian groups tell us. Should we give the change which is left in our pockets, or the same coin or note which we have been giving for the past however so many years?

The answer which Jesus gives us is at first most reassuring, then - once we reflect - impossibly challenging.

At first he seems to say, it’s all right to give a little, if a little is all you can afford. And those are welcome words. But look again. Jesus’s words are not meant to provide comfort - they are meant to disturb.

‘They have all put in money they had over’, Jesus says, ‘but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed.’

Give everything, and nothing, he says. Do not give what you can afford, or what you have calculated, for your giving is a measure of your commitment and your love. Do not give from your wealth - as that would just be vanity, but give all your wealth. Do not give from the heart, but give the heart itself. Limits to giving are limits to love.

And at this time of year we remember especially those who have made the ultimate and absolute gift. As in November we recall all those who have passed from this life to the next, this weekend we recall those whose passing itself has been an act of service and sacrifice. We deplore the need for war, we shrink from its horror, and we honour those who gave their lives in the service of others. Theirs was a gift without limit. Our gratitude should match the extent of their gift.