Friday, August 30, 2013

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, 
and the man who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11)


Jesus’ teaching often seems to offer simple, practical advice which is then laced with unrealistic or impossible directions. 

On the one hand it is certainly sound 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 too 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. 

But look again. Jesus gives an extreme example to make 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 24, 2013

21st Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

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!

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Assumption of Our Lady : Homily / Sermon

He has looked upon his lowly handmaid (Luke 1:xx)



Time and Time again in scripture we read a small insignificant people who make an enormous impact. There is David, who defeats goliath! We are the story of Gideon who defeats the Midianites with just a small band of people. There is Elijah, the only prophet of the Lord left, who nevertheless overcomes the many prophets of Baal. The prophet Jeremiah too, risks his own safety and loses his liberty, by speaking out against the king and his counsellors.


And Mary, too, is placed before uses one of these small and insgnificant people who has such an important place in God's plan.


People often notice this about Our Lady. Scripture tells us very little about her. Mark’s Gospel tells us little more than her name. St Luke’s Gospel - which we hear today - tells us the most. She is mentioned rarely during Jesus’ ministry; at the foot of the cross she stands with the disciple John; and on the day of Pentecost, she is at prayer with the disciples. Many of the other details which have come down to us about Our Lady - that her parents were called Joachim and Anne, that her last home on earth was with St John in Ephesus, have been handed down through tradition, not scripture. 


On the face of it then, Mary did little and achieved little. No real great claim to fame here, perhaps. Few accomplishment. Little to make a fuss about. 


But of course we do not need long stories, many details. She is the one who is blessed because she believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled. She is full of God’s grace. She is our Mother in the Faith. Her honour comes not so much from what she did - because what she did was so very simple - but from who she is. She lived her calling to full and at the end of her life was gathered up by her Son to share the fullness of his life.


And we can say more - because Mary's story does not end with her entry into heaven - it begins here. 


Though 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. 


We could summarise all this  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, the lowly handmaid,  heaven came down to earth - and with her we share the life of heaven.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. (Luke 12:35)



Jesus certainly has a way with words, and in his teaching he uses examples, makes comparisons with life, which are sometimes shocking. 


He compares the faithful Christian to a fraudulent steward; he compares God listening to our prayers, to the bad tempered neighbour reluctant to stir from sleep, and here he says that the coming of the Son of Man, the return of Jesus at the end of time, will be like the visit of an unexpected burglar. 


If you’ve even been burgled, you might have some idea of what he means. Though it is usually a case of closing the stable door when the horse has bolted, once someone has entered your house and stolen from you, you become very aware that it could happen again, that the visitors may return, and though they probably won’t, you fear them and try to be ready for them. 


True. But why does Jesus use this image? 


It is unfortunate, I think, that Christians who have tried to take passages like this seriously, have often concentrated on the wrong thing. They have focussed on the day and the time when Jesus will return: the end is nigh, they have proclaimed at street corners, from sandwich boards and sometimes on our doorsteps, because of course there is little point talking about the day and the time of Jesus’ return unless it is very soon. 


But the point of all these passages is not the date and the time for the second coming of Christ but of our readiness to meet him. 


Here is the question: are we prepared for him? Are we ready to greet him? The trouble is, much as we want to meet Christ we are never quite ready for him. It was St Augustine who said "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!" We want to delay the moment, put off the day. The great Roman Emperor Constantine, the one who took Christianity from an illegal practice to the official religion, was baptised only on his deathbed. Others too, wait till moments of safety or the quietness of a kind of retirement to take the Big Step. And many of us, perhaps most of us, make compromises in our lives, or tell ourselves we’ll sort it out later. 


Yes, the fear of the burglar passes as we settle back into our routine. We cut corners again and take chances. 


But for Christ we must always be vigilant - not because he might catch us out, but because it is right to be ready now. Honesty cannot wait for our death beds. Compassion is does not only come with contrition. Saying sorry is easy, but living a caring, devoted and prayerful life requires something more. 


Tomorrow will be good - but do not wait till then to live with God.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) : Homily / Sermon

‘So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.’ (Luke 12:21)



There are plenty of adverts on the telly about becoming rich. If its not the lottery, its some other cash prize or draw that can make us unimaginably rich. 


And for ordinary people - all of us - the thought of becoming suddenly wealthy is very attractive. Like the rich man in the second half of the parable: Most people would give up work- for life if its really enough money - go and live in a villa in Spain, or the Caribbean, or somewhere else that is hot and where the pace of live slow. Most would want the win to remove the pressure and stress from their lives, take away the need for toil and give them years of comfort and leisure. 


But the odd thing is that people who are really rich - really really rich - don’t see things in this way. Like the man at the beginning of the Gospel, the really rich don’t give up work and rest back on their wealth, but want to acquire more, more than they can ever use of spend. The really rich - who let’s face it, one way or another have worked to get where they are - they are not satisfied with their wealth. It can never, ever, be enough. 


And here we hit on the message of Jesus. Remember the rich young man who came to see him? He asked “What must I do to get eternal life?” In riches and wealth and material things there is some pleasure and enjoyment, but it is never adequate. 


Whatever our musings and dreamings, the question each one of us must ask ourselves is simple yet demanding: What do I really want? 


What is my treasure? 


Is it luxury and leisure? Is it fine things, material goods? Is it ever increasing wealth and possession? 


Or is it friends and family? Honesty and loyalty? Companionship and commitment? Truth and self-respect? Love and Devotion? 


This life - or the next?