Saturday, May 28, 2011

Easter 6 Homily / Sermon

If you love me, you will keep my commandments

There are many words we may say without really meaning them. We say “Sorry” just to get us out of a situation. We say “Thank you” when we are not really grateful. We say we love someone out of routine or habit or to get what they want.

Yet the person who is truly sorry not only says so, but shows that sorrow by their attitude, their anguish, their desire to make amends. The person who is really grateful shows their gratitude by their generosity of spirit and their joy in receiving. And the one who truly loves does so not routinely or selfishly, but with caring and compassion.

Words are powerful, but deeds are more so. We may say we are sorry to God for our sins, but it is true contrition, real regret which deserves from him the fulness of forgiveness. We may thank God in prayer and song, but it is the gratitude which comes from the heart which really fills us with joy. And we may say that we love God as he loves us - but it is the heart that loves God in the neighbour, that truly dwells in him.

‘Keep my commandments’ does not mean follow all the rules, but open your hearts to him, be filled with his grace, receive the gifts of the Spirit, the Spirit of truth who is with us for ever. It means that if we love him, we will love our neighbour, and love his commandments, because they are the gift of our life to him.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Easter 5: Homily / Sermon


Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. (John 14:1)

Stephen Hawking 008In a recent talk, the famous physicist Stephen Hawking said that heaven ‘is just a fairy story for people afraid of the dark’.

It’s just one statement of course, which is part of a much bigger talk about a wide range of things. And it’s not a new idea or point of view - non-believers have being saying similar things for centuries.

But it has always struck me as an odd idea, and one strange for a scientist to hold, as it seems to fly in the face of evidence.

You see it is simply not true that people of faith are those who are afraid of death (that’s what he is really talking about) and that people who have no faith are not. You don’t have to be a believer to see that just isn’t the case.

Look at the lives of the martyrs, who in courage and faith are willing to surrender their lives, praying for their persecutors and submitting to death. Look at the lives of other saints, good and faithful servants of God, who give themselves in service of others and approach death not with fear but with hope and joy. And look at the words of Christ, who invites us to cast fear and doubt aside and embrace the love of God: “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, he says. “Trust in God still, and trust in me”.

And I am reminded that this Gospel reading is read so often at Funeral Masses and Funeral Services. It is a time when, as a priest, I see most clearly how people deal with grief, loss, and the reality of death. And I can tell you this, the greater the faith of the one who has died and of the people who mourn him, the more serene, the more positive, the more realistic the experience of grieving - and the weaker the grasp of faith which the bereaved have, the harder the whole experience of loss is, the greater the pain, the more acute the suffering. It is those who have faith who do not shirk from words like death - and those who struggle with faith who avoid the word, with talk about ‘passing away’ ‘moving over’ ‘going to his rest’.

And I can truly say that some of the most inspiring acts of worship I have ever been part of, have been the funerals of faithful Christians. Now none of this is to say, of course, that believers do not grieve. Of course we do. Or that we are not aware of the reality of death. Of course we are. We can face the pain of loss and the reality of death because we have a hope.

If Stephen Hawking, and those who agree with him, think it is praiseworthy and honest to remain in the dark, then that is their choice.


But its much better to come out into the light.


Monday, May 09, 2011

Easter 4 - homily / sermon

Jesus the Good Shepherd Del Parson

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10)

I am sure that we think of the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd as something very comfortable, or comforting, and almost a little sentimental. The image of Christ carrying a lamb on his shoulders, nursing the lost sheep, is a very appealing one.

But there is also something very hard about this image. No doubt the life of a shepherd was a tough and quite dangerous one. The safety of his sheep might be brought at the risk of his own safety. And the good shepherd is the one who leads down the right pathway. There is one gate to the sheepfold, though there are many who would try and deceive the sheep.

There is something very un-modern about this. We try to be tolerant. We try to live and let live. We even try to give respect to the beliefs of others. All of this is good. But it is not good if it suggests that all beliefs are the same, all paths are just as valid, all roads lead to the same goal. Belief is not just a matter of choice or preference or taste or even upbringing. Life choices are not like preferences for food, or football teams, or holiday destinations.

Some choices are right and some choices are wrong.

I am the gate.

Anyone who enters through me will be safe: 
he will go freely in and out 
and be sure of finding pasture. 
… I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.

To think of Christ the Good Shepherd is indeed comforting, and consoling - not because we are right whatever we may believe or do, but because he is the way, the truth and the path that leads to life.

Follow the way.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Easter 3 - Homily / Sermon

New Roman Missal ED

Did not our hearts burn within us as he explained the scriptures to us. (Luke 24:32)

Today's Gospel has surprisingly much about words and conversation in it. There is discussion, debate, prophecy, explanation, rebuke, exhortation and more. At a deep level it is about language and symbolism, and the encounter through these to the Risen Christ.

And there is a striking comparison made here by St Luke, which is sadly lost in this translation. Early on, Jesus rebukes the disciples for being "slow of heart"  - our translation just has "slow to understand". I think this is a pity, because at the end of the Gospel, the disciples echo Jesus's words - “did not our hearts burn within us as he explained the prophecies to us?”

It sees this would be a good point for me to preach for the first time on the new translation of the mass, because today's Gospel makes the points for us.

First, people rightly ask 'why a new translation'? Well, there are several reasons. The first is that the present translation is 40 years old, and English is a living language and has changed much in this time. A revision is long overdue. Secondly, while Latin has not changed, the Latin missal has - there are more saints,  greater variety of prayers, all which need to be brought into English.

But there is further reason. The translation we know so well was produced in something of a hurry, and took a particular approach to translation which simplified the meaning of the original.

Let me explain.

Words in different languages generally have direct translations, but the ways in which we use those words may differ. As a simple example, consider what we say when we answer the phone. In English we say “Hello” (a word which was made up for the telephone) but in Italian we would say “Pronto” - word which really means ‘Ready!’. Similarly, when we greet someone in French we would say “Bonjour” - that is “Good Day” - which sounds old fashioned and formal in English (unless you are Australian, of course). So, a word for word translation often does not work - you will know this very well if you’ve ever tried to follow the instructions for self-assembly furniture!

When the present Missal was translated, sometimes a quite flexible approach was taken to the language, and the translators worked hard to make the English immediately understandable. This meant that sometimes they lost some of the imagery and especially the Biblical references.

Here’s a couple of examples. In the Latin, when the priest says “The Lord be with you” we all reply “And with your spirit”. This phrase is used many times by St Paul in his letters. The translators asked themselves “what does this mean?” - clearly something like “with you, too” - that sounds too informal, so they settled on “And also with you” (and so lost the reference to the Spirit, and to the writings of St Paul).

Similarly, before we receive communion, in Latin we would say “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”. These remind us of the words of the Centurion (in St Luke’s Gospel 7:6) who asks Jesus to heal his servant. The translators 40 years ago removed the reference to the roof - and just said “receive you”. This was probably meant to suggest receiving a guest into our houses, but I think we have come to assume it just refers to communion. And the reference to our soul was lost too.

The new translation restores these references to Scripture and recovers a lot of the imagery and depth which is in the Latin but which was simplified away in the English. It may mean that to begin with we will find the new translation a bit cumbersome and awkward, though I am sure that will pass, and we will find it enriching and inspiring in the longer term.

But for the most important point, we need to return to today’s Gospel. The hearts which were slow to understand became also the hearts which burnt within when the words were explained to them - but it was in the breaking of bread that they recognised the risen Lord.

The meaning is very clear. The words are important, very important - but it is the heart which burns with understanding and insight, not just the mind.

And we recognise Jesus fully, in the mass, not in the words we utter, but in the sacrament which we share.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Divine Mercy / Easter 2 - homily/ sermon

Divine mercy 3

We live in a society which seems hardly to understand forgiveness, still less contrition. We have a very strong sense of blame - and guilt, but little sense of contrition and sorrow.
We see this in personal relationships, in public life, and in legal relationships. When we feel wrong is done to us, we seek someone to blame, but when we may be responsible for a wrong ... we seek someone else to blame.
And I think this approach affects, or is perhaps a symptom of the way in which people approach life.
Sorry was always a hard word to say - and nowadays it is a word we often hear demanded, but seldom see granted.
At the root it is recipe for human arrogance and pride. We see contrition as a sign of weakness - and denial as an indication of strength.
Today's Gospel, by contrast, suggests something very different. It is not about pointing the finger of blame, but about accepting the need for God’s grace. It is not about self-justification, but about confession.
It is about human frailty and weakness being healed by the risen Christ.
In the story of Thomas, it is about our lack of faith and our difficulty in believing and trusting in God.
And earlier in the Gospel, in these words about forgiveness, it is about the mercy and love offered to us by the Risen Christ through his Church.
And for our society, the problem is not that God’s mercy is not enough, but that people do not feel any need for it.
After all, if is always someone else who is to blame that person deserves not forgiveness, but punishment, vengeance.
The Risen Christ offers us not punishment, but forgiveness; not compensation, but Reconciliation; not blame, but His Mercy
And there is only one thing we need to do to receive this wonderful Gift. It is simple and in its simplicity it is wonderful. It opens the gates to Grace.
To receive this wonderful gift of the Divine Mercy, all we must do is know our need of it, and from our hearts ask for it. 
And that is precisely what modern society cannot do.