Saturday, April 25, 2009

Homily / Sermon for Easter Three

A ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.

This is a remarkable and interesting story. Let me tell you why.

There are lots of stories that speak of ghosts and spirits, of the dead who live and are still present. From Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol to Harry Potter to television programmes to films and books there are so many stories that speak of the dead who come back to visit the living. Some stories are frightening - for adults - others are funny and intended for children.

Even so, in most of these stories, a ghost is not a good thing. They are shady and often malevolent. They are up to little good. Sometimes they seek vengeance. They can sometimes be seen, but mostly they are cut off, isolated from the physical world in some way. They are like a bad, musty smell. They are found particularly in darkness, in the old house with creaking floorboards, in distant spine tinglng screams.

Yet, these ideas, so familiar to us, may make it difficult to understand what is meant by Jesus’s rising from the dead, and what our own life after death might be like.

The Gospel makes it very clear that these ideas are far from reality.

Here, in this account, the Risen Jesus sits and eats with his friends. He talks with them and teaches them. This is no vision. They can see him and touch him. They can see the wounds which led to his death, but he is now alive again and meets with them.

This is no Ghost. He lives not in darkness, but in the light. And the risen life of Jesus is a physical life, with a real body and a presence which can touch and be touched.

And when we, through baptism, live now his risen life we live to value and cherish the world God has made, and the bodies he has given us. Here, in this world, we can already experience the life to come.

And when we try to understand life beyond this life, we know that finally it will be a physical life, when our souls are given new bodies,  in a new heaven and a new earth and we live for ever in his Presence.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Homily for Easter Two / Low Sunday / Divine Mercy Sunday

Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.

We associate the sacrament of reconciliation, confession, penance, especially with Lent, don’t we? Lent is the time, surely for us to creep to confession, queue in the church, sneak into the dark box for a few minutes of awkwardness, the mention of a few routine sins and a lot of what-I-cannot-now-remembers. It’s an important duty, but an uncomfortable one.

But today’s Gospel reminds us of something that we should always have known, that the forgiveness of sins is first and foremost an Easter blessing. Before the resurrection, it is Christ who dispenses the forgiveness of God - here in this Gospel as we are clearly told - gives this wonderful gift to the Church.

So when we fall from grace, when we say the harsh word, omit the important duty, are thoughtless or greedy or dishonest or unloving, and when we acknowledge our guilt and our failings, the Church can free us from our sins in the power of Christ. This is what is meant by salvation and redemption. This is what is meant by the victory of the cross and the power of the resurrection.

Yet too often - like Thomas - we think we know better. We hide or excuse our sins. We shrink from recognising our need of God. We hesitate in approaching the Church, and if we are reluctant in this way, we remain in the narrowness of vision, and the hardness of hard and the coldness of faith which sin brings.

Rejoice and praise God. Raise your hearts. Utter with Thomas, My Lord and My God - because through his resurrection, Christ has given the Church the power to release us from our sins.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Homily for the Easter Vigil

Very early in the morning on the first day of the week they went to the tomb, just as the sun was rising.

There are two small but important details held in these brief words in the Gospel for this mass. Firstly, the women came to the tomb ‘just as the sun was rising’. When they arrived Jesus had already risen from the dead - so the resurrection took place not at dawn, as people sometimes like to think, but in the darkness. That’s the first little detail. The second is this: it was the first day of the week. Notice that the Gospel does not give the name of the day - for good reason, because generally speaking days of the week didn’t have names either for the Jews or the Roman - it is just the first day.

Each of these little details tells us much.

Firstly, the resurrection occurs not in the emerging light of day, but it breaks into the fleeing darkness of night. This is important. This is why we light our Easter candle, why we sing ‘Christ our Light’ ‘Lumen Christi’ - the light is not the first light of the sun, but the light of the Son himself which overcomes the darkness. We share a faith which celebrates victory over darkness, triumph over suffering, the defeat of Satan and the utter vanquishing of death. Christ overthrows the strongholds of night before ever the arrival of the expected dawn.

Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!

And secondly, this day, this wonderful day, is not the last day of a hard week, but the first day of a glorious life. How sad it is that people seem to have forgotten that the day we call Sunday is actually the first, not the last day of the week - look at your diaries and calendars at home to see what I mean. Don't confuse Sunday with the Jewish day of rest, even though it has some features in common. In Genesis it is this first day on which God begins his creation by separating light from darkness; in the New Testament it is the day in which God begins his new creation with the defeat of darkness.  Sunday is not for us the day of rest after the work of creation, but it is the day of resurrection, the celebration of the new creation.

May Christ, the Morning Star, who came back from the dead, shed his peaceful light on all mankind.

Homily (Sermon) for Good Friday

Who are you looking for? 

Three times this question comes at the beginning of today’s passion. Three times, Jesus asks ‘Who are you looking for?’

The question calls to mind the basis human quest for meaning, for purpose, for truth. The philosophers search for meaning. The teenager questions the truths which have been passed on to him. The sick and the bereaved often ask the question ‘why’ or ‘what if’? Scientists seek the origins of life and the beginning of the universe. Even the atheist - especially the atheist - searches for truth, and believes, with a fervour, that he has found it.

Human beings seek truth. The Catechism tells us that every person has a yearning for God - though everyone might not see it in this way. St Augustine put it even more poetically: “Our hearts are restless, till they find their rest in you”.

At the beginning of the baptism service, the priests asks the parents “What do you ask of God’s Church for your child?” Usually they answer simply, “baptism”, but they may answer “Hope”, “Love”, “Eternal Life”, “Salvation”.

The trouble is, all humans ask the question, but many come up with different answers.

Some of those answers, as Jesus said to the Rich Young Man, are not far from the Kingdom of God. In this liturgy, for example, we pray for the Jewish people who of all peoples are bound in a covenant with God and of all those who do not yet embrace Christ, are closest to his Kingdom. There are others we pray for too, who do not believe, yet who - as we will say ‘might find [Christ] by sincerely following all that is right’. One theologian described these good people outside our faith as ‘anonymous Christians’.

But there are those whose answers are far far away from the Kingdom.

‘Who are you looking for?” Jesus asks - and the answer which comes back “Jesus of Nazareth” sounds like the correct one, the true one. Here is all truth, all love. Here is the perfect man, like us in all things but sin. Here is the Son of God, the Word made flesh. But they come not to worship like the Wise Men of old, but rather, like Herod in the same tale - to destroy the Truth - because they fear it.

And in his actions, Jesus shows us what the Truth really is, what the Meaning of Life really is, what the Purpose of all things really is. Not a set of ideas - though they are important; Not a scientific explanation - though that may have its part; Not an easy simple answer, expressed in a few words - though words do matter.

No, what He shows us is that Truth is a Person, the giving of Life to gain Life, a Sacrifice, an Act of Love.

Homily / Sermon/ Poem for Good Friday

The eyes which looked from the manger into his mother’s loving gaze
The eyes which looked with compassion on the rich young man
The eyes which wept over Jerusalem
are now cold and lifeless.

The ears which heard the song of the angels
The ears which heard the voice say from heaven “This is my beloved Son”
The ears which heard the crowd cry out “Crucify him”
now hear none of the sobs made over his body

The lips which said to the paralysed man “your sins are forgiven you”
The lips which told the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son
The lips which said “I am the resurrection and the life”
now, drained of colour, smile and speak no more

The hands which stilled the storm
The hands which blessed the children
The hands which healed the blind, deaf and lame
now rest motionless, pierced and bloodied.

The feet which climbed the mountain to pray
The feet which walked on the water
The feet which were washed with the tears of the penitent woman
are now twisted, maimed and mutilated.

The heart which beat for love of sinners
The heart which longs for the peace of the world
The heart which beats with our hearts
beats no more.

Christ has died. He is laid in the tomb. The Great Silence begins.

But the story has just begun.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Homily for Holy Thursday / Sermon for Maundy Thursday

What is it with the washing of feet?

For us, in our heavily shoed and socked culture (well, for men, anyway) the washing of feet seems a rather odd custom. After all, unlike Jesus’ day, it is not something we normally do to welcome visitors to our house. We might expect them to remove their shoes to protect the carpet, but for us to wash their feet ... I don’t think so. And while ladies may often bare their feet, men do rarely. Couldn’t we rather just note the symbolism of the gesture, the warmth of the welcome, the humility of Christ.

Yes, we could, but let us not lose sight of the physicality of the gesture. In fact, Holy Week is all about physicality. Jesus does not say the disciples are welcome, or portray a humble attitude, but he washes their feet. He does not sit and meditate in silence, but he prays out loud, ‘Father take this cup away from me’. He does not just say our sins are forgiven, or pray for reconciliation with the Father, but he suffers and dies on the cross. He does not just tell us that one day we shall dwell with him in heaven, but his body rises from death and eats with his disciples. It is not simply ideas, or thoughts, or beliefs. These are actions, events, physical encounters.

And so too with the Mass. He does not simply say - you are in communion with me - you are close to me in spirit - I will always be in your heart and your memories. No, he says do this to remember me. He takes bread and wine. He blesses, breaks and shares. He says this is my body and blood - not represents, not stands for, nor reminds you of - but is. Physically, really, truly.

Whatever our ideas, or thoughts, or beliefs, however much or little we understand, what we never must neglect is what we do. Actions speak louder than words.

That is why we wash the feet.


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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Homily (Sermon) for Palm Sunday

Is it wrong, I wonder, for me to say that I love Holy Week?

It seems a bit wrong - after all - it is an immensely sad time, when we recall betrayal, torture, suffering and death. The music with its minor keys takes up the sad tone. The ceremonies in their plainness and their drama are poignant and moving. It is Easter, after all, which is the time of joy  … not Holy Week.

But of course, we embark on Holy Week knowing already the end of the story. We traipse the way of the cross guided by the light of the resurrection. The betrayal and agony in the Garden of Maundy Thursday would be bleak, were it not for the promise of new life revealed in the Mass. The suffering and sacrifice of Good Friday would be crushing, were it not for the laying of his body in a tomb which waits for a new dawn. And as we set the new fire on Holy Saturday - we already know that the sacrifice has burnt away sins and his light leads us on to his new life.

And today, as we hold our Palm Crosses, which at the same time represent both the cheers and jeers of the crowds, we share in this hard road which leads to his victory. It is a Holy Week not because it is sad, but it is a Holy Week because together we walk this road with Christ. And that I think is why I love Holy Week - because like life itself, it is journey which we never walk on our own.


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