Saturday, February 26, 2011

Homily / Sermon for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)


‘No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’ (Matthew 6:25)

We are very familiar with the question posed to Jesus by the Pharisee: “So Lord, who is my neighbour?”. It is in answering that question that Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. We are perhaps not so obviously aware of the question which Jesus poses to us, though he does it on many occasions: “So, Man - who is your Master?”

Yet the relationship between Master and Servant (or Slave) comes up time and again in his teaching. The servants who care for the vineyard while the master is away. The servants who are disturbed in the night when the Master returns. The servants who toil in the vineyard. The servants whose debts are cancelled.

It is interesting perhaps, that in a country and at a time when their would have been much religious diversity, and the worshipping of strange gods, Roman Gods, Greek Gods, we never hear Jesus warn again that kind of idolatry, so clearly condemned by the first commandment.

It seems Jesus was little concerned with Zeus, Apollo, Diana or Jupiter. When he speaks of idolatry, of the worship of false Gods, of the following of a false master, he does so not to rail against those who are culturally or ethnically different, but instead to shake everyone’s foundations.

Who is your Master? He challenges us. It is personal comfort? Is it pleasure and leisure? Is it our own piece of mind, or security in the false knowledge that we are better than others? What do we really treasure?

Are we at ease being dishonest, if we get some benefit from it (and are unlikely to get caught)? Do we put respect for others above our own concerns? Is choice for ourselves, our own opinions and wishes, more important to us than what we have been taught is right and good?

Jesus challenges us to trust not in our own choices, but in our commitment to a Generous and Loving Master, who is our teacher and our guide. You see, it is not really money which is the problem. Money just makes more choices possible. It can be used for good or ill. No, if we make Money our Master, it is really Ourselves we have made Master.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Homily / Sermon for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38)

Phew! This is a tall order!

Jesus does not say "TRY to be perfect". He does not say "Do your very best" or "Try your hardest". No, he says, "Be perfect".

They seem hard words, and we shrink from them. But there is no mistake here.

Think of the act of contrition which follows confession. The words which nowadays we usually teach to school children and have printed on cards for penitents run like this:

"O my God, because you are so good, I am very sorry that I have sinned against you, and by the help of your grace I will not sin again."

Again and again I hear people say "by the help of your grace, I will TRY not to sin again". Of course, we think. We can only do our best! But that is not what the prayer says. What is going on here?

It is very simple, and very important.

Perfection is not about trying - it is about being. Living in Christ is not about our own efforts, but about God's love. Entering into heaven is not something we achieve, but something which he achieves. Goodness is not what happens through my hard work, but through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

It might seem strange to begin with, but then we realise that this is really what Christian life is all about. If heaven is for those who have done best, achieved the most, worked the hardest, then it will be a place for those who are spiritually the strongest, a place of arrogance and superiority, a place for human pride. It cannot be so.

No. In fact it is those who believe they have no sin, who should be pitied the most.

Christ has told us, blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God. Blessed are those who know their need of God, who know their own sin, who are aware of their need for God's grace, who know that Heaven is a Gift not a prize. Blessed are those who say "Have mercy on me a sinner". Blessed are those who live in humility not in pride. Blessed are those who realise that their greatest achievements are always not their achievements, but the work of Christ within them.

We become holy, not through our works, but through His sacraments.
We are made perfect, not by our efforts, but because He is Perfect.

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Homily / Sermon for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. (Matthew 5:17)

Is breaking the law the same as committing a sin?

I think most of the time we think it is. To kill is against the law. To steal is against the law. To lie and deceive - especially in the witness box - is against the law. All these are certainly sins.

And then lessers laws, intended for our well being and protection, should not be broken. Speed limits and tax regulations however irksome, we know should be followed. To break them cooly and deliberately is probably sin.

But law has its limits. Every sin is not against the law, by any means. It is not against the law to commit adultery, however selfish or damaging that may be. It is not against the law to covet, or disrespect your parents, or worship false Gods, and nowadays at least I don't think we would want it to be.

And sometimes the law is just wrong. Some laws remove people's rights, or restrain free speech, or imprison people unjustly. Some governments engage in torture, and even enforce abortions. Sometimes civil laws go against the moral law.

And the message of Jesus, given at at different time and in different circumstances tells us both the extent and the limits of law. Yes it is wrong to kill and to betray and to deceive, but the outward observance of the law is nothing - just a jot or tittle - without the inward observance of the heart.

Laws may be able to limit the worst excesses of humanity, but without conversion of the heart, it remains empty and we may become contemptuous. Yet if the purpose and direction of the law is clear to us, then we no longer have need of its chapter and verse.