Thursday, March 24, 2011

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent Year A

You worship what you do not know. (John 4:22)

Mount Gerizim

If there is one God, we may ask, why are there so many religions? Or, to put the question another way: are other religions false or wicked or wrong – or do all these different ways lead to the same God?

We would love there to be a clear question and answer in the words of Scripture, but it does not seem to be there. However there is a very clear teaching of the Church, even if it is not well known, and that is based very firmly on Scripture, including today's Gospel.

Firstly, there is good is almost all faiths, and those who believe in conscience, even following another faith, manifest much good. Jesus does not condemn the Samaritan women for the faith of her people. He does not condemn her faith. He does not refuse to sit and talk with her. He sees into her heart and touches her with his grace. He knows that she too worships the Father. The same God who is worshipped by the Jewish people. The One God. And indeed, Jesus says, Salvation comes from the Jews. Other faiths, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and also ways in which God is worshipped. They deserve our respect, and on occasions their followers deserve our admiration.

But this is not all. You worship what you do not know, he says to the woman. There is much good in other faiths, but they are not equal ways to God. There is only one true path, only one Messiah, one Christ. There is one person who comes as the Saviour of the World, and to truly believe is to turn to him. Other faiths may show much good. They may be preparations for the Gospel, but there is only one Gospel, one Church, one Faith, one Baptism, one Lord, who calls us all to worship him in Spirit and in Truth.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Homily / Sermon for Lent 2

Christ in gethsemane p

We are fallen people, wounded people, scarred by Original Sin. It makes temptation difficult to resist. It clouds our vision and our understanding.


We all have doubts from time to time. Something happens, a thought passes through our mind, or there is an aspect of our faith we don't quite understand. Is God really there? we ask. Does he really love us? Can we really trust and believe what the Church teaches? If a priest lets us down or we have a bad experience or even if we just hear about what happens to others it can trouble us in faith, shake our foundations. We may drift away, or feel a little less confident inside.


And of course, there are arguments, persuasions that can deal with some of our troubles. A question  can be answered. A doubt explained away. A disappointment with one priest satisfied by the kindness of another. And there is no question that we could all be better informed about the faith. Often when we are challenged, we don't have the knowledge or information to answer the one who questions, or troubles, or even ridicules us.


And the most convincing argument, the answer to all our doubts, the greatest attraction to faith will not be one argument won or lost. It will not be a book or a pamphlet. It is unlikely to be the persuasive words of a preacher heard on street corner or doorstep or television or radio.


It is the personal encounter which makes all the difference. The family member who perseveres with the faith year after year; the neighbour or friend whose kindness and compassion is so impressive; the personality, hardly known, whose life-story is compelling and challenging; all of these turn the heart and challenge us in our belief. And more than anything, the encounter with Christ himself, in worship, in prayer, in the stillness of our hearts, in the love and generosity of others. Meeting his heart makes our heart beat with greater certainty and purpose.


Not that this encounter of the heart teaches us everything, or even anything very much. Like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration we know that it is wonderful, but we do not yet fully or understand or even quite know what to say. But the meeting with Christ touches our hearts, and turns us to him so that we may listen to him, and learn from him, and grow in the  understanding of what we believe.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Homily / Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent A

[Note: I'm not yet happy with this. The homily tries to do a bit too much, and gets a bit heavy/confused. Come back here later to see if I have tidied it up]



Why is there such a thing as evil? If God is so good, why do bad things happen?

Questions like these often trouble us, either in general, or in our reflection on the lives of others – at the hospital bedside, as we listen to the news. Why?

Lent is a journey which explores this mystery.

We are gathered here together because we believe. But it does not mean that we have all the answers.

We worship together because we share a hope: but this does not mean that we ignore the pain and suffering and imperfection of the world.

Today's readings begin to give us an answer.

Firstly, we hear the story of the first sin, the sin of Adam and Eve, the account of what is called 'the Fall'. The Church does not expect us to believe that this is some kind of historical account. It is clearly a kind of story, a legend, a myth, or parable. But the Church does expect us to believe the basic truth which this story teaches. The fundamental sin of humanity, the basic betrayal, is not to disobey an arbitrary command, a vague instruction – the sin which makes all the difference is to think that if we free ourselves from the service of God, then we  make ourselves like him. 'Eat this fruit,' the serpent says, 'and you will be like gods'.


We look at the world, and say 'If God is so good, if He made the world, why is it not perfect'. But we might also ask, why do human beings think that they have no need of God; that we can determine what is right and wrong; that we can solve all problems and answer all questions, at least given time. Man has no bounds, the serpent says, the world says. This is basic arrogance, a fundamental flaw, original sin. Not the work or creation of God, but the decision , the choice of Humanity. The imperfection of the world starts here. This is the Fall, which taints us all. This is Original Sin, which we have all been born into.


So what can we do about it? We are responsible. Human faults require human correction. But if we think we can correct our own sin, then we just add to our arrogance. Only God can create, surely. ....


The Gospel gives us the answer. The man sent from God, the Son of the Father, the Word made flesh. He comes to us, free from sin, yet like all of us, afflicted by temptation.


Temptation for us can be so difficult to resist, often impossible. We pray to be delivered from temptation, but in a world which is fallen, temptation is all around us. It cannot be avoided. It is the power the devil has, to tempt us to leave the path of goodness. Even Christ – especially Christ – the man entirely free fron sin – is afflicted by powerful temptation.


And Only humanity can finally destroy the serpent. Only God can create anew. This is the mystery of Christmas, the Incarnation. It is the mystery of the Fall and the Rising. It the promise made in baptism, received in the Eucharist, celebrated in the sacraments. It is also the mystery of this journey of Lent.



Sunday, March 06, 2011

Homily / Sermon for Ash Wednesday

When you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites (Matthew 6:16)

Ash wednesday

The message of Jesus in this Gospel is a very clear one: let your giving, your fasting and your praying be done not for show, in public, but in private for love of God. Those who practice their faith in the public eye - Jesus says - already have their reward.
How times have changed! At the time of Jesus - and up to perhaps only 30 or 40 years ago - to practice the faith in public, to be seen at prayer, going to Mass, to be observed giving large amounts to the Church, to be seen to be thoroughly observant - a ‘big catholic’ as they used to say - well that counted for something. And not just for catholics, either. The ladies in the parish churches with their big hats and disapproving looks, the insistence on the Sunday best, attendance at chapel or Sunday School were expected practices in society. Not so any more.
Now, the practice of religion might attract curiosity or ridicule. At work or school - even a catholic school - it may be very unfashionable, uncool, to practice religion.
So what does the Gospel say to us?
Well of course, Jesus isn’t saying that it is the open practice of the faith that is wrong, but the practice of the faith for the wrong reasons. The practice of our faith must never be to attract attention to ourself, to gain approval from others, to make ourselves important or respected.
We live our faith not for ourselves, but for God. We help others because it is right to help others. We pray because we need to pray. We fast, or say the rosary or go to Mass or whatever it might be because in that we draw closer to Christ so that he may grow within us.
And so if we are known for our faith, or looked upon as unusual or strange or odd: to God be the glory!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Homily / Sermon for the 9th Sunday of the Year

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. (Matthew 7:24)


Jesus parables are often a challenge to me. He speaks from the experience of people around him, so they are often about agriculture - like the parable of the sower - or occasionally from his own profession - the building trade.

I’m afraid I am a very poor gardener - not in the sense that I can’t get things to grow - but they all grow too fast and too many of them in the wrong places. It’s shameful really as it was my grandfather’s profession and as a little boy I spent many happy hours helping him in his greenhouses.

And then when it comes to DIY  … well, I can change a light bulb, and I am safest as far as possible away from any other practical project.

So how can I approach the parables? Well thankfully you do not need to be skilled in either area to understand them. No technical terms, notice, in this story about the houses, but they do have both a practical and a spiritual sense.

The practical meaning is pretty obvious to all. The quickest way to achieve something is not necessarily the best. The house built on sand was built much more quickly and more easily. It would have looked just as good - perhaps even better - than the house on rock. But it had a fatal flaw.

And there is also a spiritual meaning. Faith is a hard road. It may not make life easier. There are those who seem to have more fun, less anxiety, are richer, healthier. Those who follow the faith may struggle forcing foundations into the rock. It may take time to see results. There may be hardship, sorrow, crises of conscience along the way. Faith does not rescue us from suffering, but it does give us a hope. The house on sand is beautiful till the storms come. The storms batter the house on rock too, but it has the foundations to stand firm.