Friday, August 27, 2010

Homily for 22nd Sunday of the Year

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.
(Luke 14:11)
Sometimes the Gospel seems to speak to us so directly that it is shocking. Imagine my surprise when I began preparing my homily for the weekend of my eldest son’s wedding to discover that this is the Gospel - some direct advice about the seating arrangments at wedding feast. 
And like so much of Jesus’ teaching this appears immediately to present sound and sensible advice with unrealistic or impossible directions. 
On the one hand it is certainly sound advice not to assume that at any party to which we are invited that we will be the guest of honour. Take the lowest place, and we may be complimented - assume to much, and we could be greatly embarrassed. This much is wise, and is common sense. 
But the next bit is not so easy. 
“When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, ... No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”
There are very few wedding breakfasts, if any, which follow this particular advice. Here is a sure way to upset your relatives, offend your neighbours, lose your friends and worst of all outrage your in-laws. Goodness gracious, aren’t these occasions stressful enough without such a reckless policy? 
But look again. As so often in Jesus teaching an extreme example makes a telling point. Don’t invite those close to you, he says, in case they repay you - invite instead those who cannot repay. 
Jesus is challenging us to consider not our giving, but our motives for giving. Do we give to others in order to get something back, a gift, a favour, a friendship - or do we give to help those who cannot give? Is our generosity self-serving, or self-giving?
Do we think about what we will get from our act of giving, or consider what the benefit will be to the one who receives our gift? 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Homily / Sermon for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29)


Hindsight is a great thing. When we read in the Gospels of people from east and west, north and south - all over the world - coming in to the kingdom, and when we hear of the apostles being sent out to the whole world, we are reading this through the eyes of hundreds of years of Christian history - a history in which our faith spread from Palestine to Asia, Asia to Europe, Europe to Africa and the New World. We know a history of martyrs who died in Japan, Uganda and Peru. We know of Churches built almost from nothing in Fiji, Scandinavia and even in Hanley. It is a remarkable story - a remarkable set of stories. Christianity is now followed by about a quarter of the world, is known in almost every country, and Catholicism is by far its largest representative. 

But these words were spoken and written down long before all that. They were spoken when Jesus followers were quite a small group, popular amongst the people, but with an uneasy relationship with the authorities. And they were written down when Christians were already persecuted, considered either a novelty or even a perversion by the society of the time, living in small communities separated by long distances, held together by strong leaders and the many letters which travelled the roads of the Roman Empire.

And yet there was that extraordinary vision: the vision of Jesus, of a kingdom peopled by those from all over the world; the vision of the Apostles, sent out with few resources to call those people to join them; the vision of the Church, which has never ceased, boldly and in the face of opposition and persecution to proclaim the truth and call people to its communion.  

We live in society where we are encouraged to forget that vision. We encounter not persecution, but indifference and ridicule. We are not painted as a dangerous novelty, but a spent force from past ages. 

And we worry about declining numbers, a shortage of priests, the dropping off of practice of those who go by the name Catholic. 

Yet they had it much more difficult. Fewer numbers. Greater hardship. Tough times. 

Yet they had a hope, and a vision, in the Kingdom of God, the truth of the Gospel, the certainty of their hope, the reality of the future growth and prosperity of the Church. 


And they were right!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Homily for the Assumption of Our Lady

From this day forward all generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:48)


There’s something about Mary

This was a film made many years ago. It had nothing to do with the Catholic faith, nor indeed with Our Lady, but it’s a great title. There is something about Mary. 

She is mentioned only on selected occasions in the Gospels, and we know very few of her words, yet she has dominated the art, the music and the faith of the world for centuries. She has sometimes been the centre of disputes amongst Christians, but she has also been at the heart of the inspiration and devotion of so many. Catholics and Orthodox unite in calling her Mother of God. Protestant Christians recognise her importance in the Christian story. Even the Koran devotes several chapters to her. 

There’s certainly something about her. 

This week some of us have been in Lourdes, the most famous shrine of Our Lady in the world, a place where she is said to have appeared to a young girl, Bernadette, just over 150 years ago. 

About six million people make a pilgrimage there every year. Why? 

There’s something about the place. Something about the Lady. 

And what is it? 

We could put it in theological terms, and say that she has a crucial role in the story of salvation, she is the closest human person to Our Lord himself in this life and the next, she most certainly dwells with God. That, in a nutshell, is more or less what is meant by the Assumption, which we celebrate today. 

But we could also put it in a more human, personal way. Mary is always about meeting, about encounter: look at the Gospels - the Annunciation, when she is greeted by the angel; the Visitation, when she greets her cousin Elisabeth; the Crucifixion, when Jesus greets her from the Cross; the day of Pentecost, then and after, when she prays with the Apostles ... and Lourdes and elsewhere, when she greets Bernadette and others. 

Mary is special because she meets us and we meet her - in special places and in our prayers. She is one of us, she is with us, and she dwells in the heart of her Son, as he dwells in her heart. 

Through her heaven came down to earth - and with her we share the life of heaven.