Saturday, February 28, 2015

Second Sunday of Lent : Homily / Sermon

‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ (Mark 9:7) It can sometimes be very difficult to know how to understand Scripture. On the one hand we may come across those who tell us that the Catholic Church is false and corrupt, because it puts itself above the Bible, the word of God - which they say is “inerrant” (infallible) truth. And on the other hand there are those who have no faith at all and who claim that stories from Scripture such as that in our first reading, the (so-called) Sacrifice of Isaac, are hideous and cruel and show that the Bible has no relevance to the world today. The Catholic Church has always steered a middle course, guided by the central beliefs of our faith, by the our traditions and by sound learning and reason. Scripture, the Church teaches, is the very source of our understanding of God and of his showing of himself to us. Most importantly of all, it is Scripture which presents to us with the Word of God - not ink on paper, but the Living Word, who became flesh and dwelt amongst us. So all Scripture must be understood as pointing to Christ and illuminating him, and no verse or story in scripture can be understood alone, apart from the rest, and apart from Christ. Our very mass makes this clear - all other readings lead up to the Gospel, so while we sit for them, we stand to hear Gospel. And todays readings are a perfect of example or how we must read Scripture - in the light of Christ, in communion with the Church. Take this story in the Old Testament. On the face of it, on its own, this is indeed an horrific story. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, and Abraham, out of blind faith, almost carries out the order. Only at the last minute does God pull back hold Abraham’s hand. Is this the sort of thing God does? Well, we would find it hard to say yes. But when we read this story in the light of Christ, and particularly in the light of the Gospel, our eyes are opened.
The Gospel reading also tells us about a mountain, a Father, a Son, a Sacrifice, and a Lamb. And this time the Father is God himself. On the first mountain faith is clear, but the will of God is not. God rescues, and gifts a promise from a sorry situation. And on the second mountain the voice of God speaks clearly and his Glory is revealed. In the first reading Abraham is blessed not because of the action he did not carry out, but because of his utter devotion to God. In the ancient world, even more than today, family was everything. The clan, kith and kin, the succession, this was at the heart of the fabric of society. Abraham realised that faith in God is greater even than this. And in the Gospel we hear that the sacrifice is not the sacrifice of an unwilling son, but the gift of God himself, a willing Son. Just as in the Old Testament, God replaces the brutality of human sacrifice with the sacrifice of a Ram, so in Christ it is the Lamb of God, who takes our sins upon himself. The Gospel is shadowed by the Old Story. The Old Story hints at the Gospel. And all becomes clear in Christ. The Gospel makes clear, in showing us a glimpse of Glory before Christ heads on the road to Jerusalmen where he will give himself in Sacrifice for us all, that the Divine Sacrifice is, at the end of it all, not about violence, but about love. It is not about taking a life, but about giving life. It is not about blind faith, but about the hope of resurrection, the resurrection of the One clearly seen in all his glory. The Divine Word lives for ever, not in pen and paper, but in body and blood, in the lives of his people, in the faith of the Church. * ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ (Mark 9:7)*

Sunday, February 08, 2015

5th Sunday of the Year (B) : Homily / Sermon

In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. (Mark 1:35)


Saturday mornings for me, as a child, always seem to have included Junior Choice on the radio. It was I think originally called Children’s Favourites, and on the Light Programme which then, in the late 60s became Radio 1 and Radio 2.

It was a request show, and in the days before the Hit Parade (that’s what the charts were called in those days) had much impact on children, so the same songs were played week after week after week.

I remember Bernard Cribbins singing about Diggin' an' 'Ole; and there was Puff the Magic Dragon; “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”; “Three Wheels on my Wagon” … and a song which oddly came back into my mind as I was preparing this homily - Terry Scott, singing about "My Bruvver".

Who put salt in the sugar bowl? Who put fireworks in the coal?
Who put a real live toad-in-the-'ole? My brother!
Who put jam in mother's shoe? Who made real caterpillar stew?
Who locked Grandad in the loo?... My brother!
My brother said it wasn't he, who put shampoo in Grandma's tea
My brother said that it was me – my brother's rotten.

What on made me think of this song?
Well - it was these words.

`e don't think my mum knows `ow to brings us up right... I
don't think so either.
You know, every night when we're wide awake, she makes us go to bed.
And then in the morning when we're fast asleep, she makes us get up.

Funny how some words fix in your mind. And as we grow up, the only thing that really changes is its now not our Mum's who do this to us, but we force our ourselves.

It s like the story about the son, comfortably cosy in bed who is woken by his mum

Wake up! She says. It’s time to go the Mass!
I don’t want to go to Mass! says the boy.
Why not? asks the mother.
I’ll give you three reasons, says the boy.
Firstly, it’s boring.
Secondly, I’m old enough to make up my own mind, and
Thirdly, nobody likes me there anyway.

Well you’ve got to go, says the Mother.
Firstly, it’s half past ten.
Secondly, it’s Sunday
And thirdly - you’re the Parish Priest.

Well, these are not modern sentiments only. Two and a half thousand years earlier. Job said much the same, in our first reading:

Is not man’s life on earth nothing more than pressed service …
Lying in bed I wonder, ‘When will it be day?’
Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes!’
Restlessly I fret till twilight falls.

We've all been there I guess. If you are working - it's that Monday morning feeling ... And that yearning for Friday afternoon for the rest of the week. Or, if you are not working it is that glancing at the clock or the watch and being convinced that it must have stopped.

Today’s Gospel presents us with something else, though - a day in the life of Our Lord:
Afternoon in the synagogue, then to Simon Peter’s House -
in the evening receiving the sick -
in the morning moving on to preach and heal somewhere else.

The time is flying by ... it sounds a bit like some of my daily routine ... No two days the same ...
He Never stops.

So which are you - the one who moves relentlessly from task to task, need to need, place to place? Or the person who peers carefully through the curtains, praying for another ‘snow day’?

And it needn’t change so much if you don’t have to go to work anymore - after all, some of us get up in the morning eager to embrace the day … while others hide under the sheets, avoiding the day for as long as possible.

Now let’s not be misled or be made to feel guilty by our readings today.

Being busy may sometimes be necessary, but isn't a good or virtuous thing just in itself. Some people are so active that they never stop and think. Some are so busy that they forget the needs of the people around them, especially family and friends.

That is not the example of Jesus. Jesus is a man of action, but he is also a man of prayer. He embraces the crowds, but also goes off to a lonely place to pray. Work without recreation is mere drudgery; Activity without reflection is just busy-ness; Productivity without prayer is empty.

We don’t have to be busy, manic activists to please God. We do not need to wear ourselves into the ground to please him. And we must always remember that prayer is not another activity, to be somehow prised into the day, an extra job or chore to be carried.

It should not be bolted on to our lives, but built in to them.

It is the refuge from the rush of life. It is the reminder of our responsibilities, rather than just a listing of our tasks. It is the powerhouse, the fuel, the motivation, which gives us our purpose and our focus. It is the Grace, from which all our action flows.

A Junior Choice playlist can be found on the BBC Website: