Friday, March 20, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent : Homily / Sermon

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single grain. (John 12:24) 

Did you see the eclipse yesterday? Well of course, you shouldn’t have looked at it directly … But at least for us, Unlike most of the country, we did have sight of the sun through the clouds. 

It was brief, and perhaps not so very different from an overcast day, but the time when the moon moved over the face of the sun here led to an eerie light, unlike anything we normally see. 

An eclipse is one of those events and features of nature that is now well understood and so well documented, and yet still takes us by surprise and makes us amazed. Perhaps, unlike the ancients, we do not see it as an omen of bad fortune, but are nevertheless surprised and awed by it - however predictable it may be. 

The dimming and relighting of the sun in a way mirrors what is happening in this very season of Lent. It is time in which we are aware of an approaching darkness as Jesus draws to Jerusalem, and we are await the predicted doom. 

Yet is is also a time when we move, bit by bit, from the darkness of winter to the brightness of spring. 

As we entered January, and the season of festivities is set behind us winter becomes a dour and dark, a cold and cheerless time. The hours of daylight are short, and overcast and gloomy. The trees stand bare and lifeless. And the mood of the earth is one that we too might share. February, when it comes is a miserable time. No wonder it is then when Ash Wednesday usually falls. 

And then March arrives, and moves towards April. Still cold, and often windy, though the sun may shine. In the midst of showers there is bright sunlight. Shoots emerge from the ground. Leaves form on the trees, and the grayscale around us becomes punctuated with colour: a little green, the yellow of daffodils, the pinks of early blossoms. 

As, during Lent, we do without this or that, the loss of colour and warmth which has been forced upon us begins to draw back, like the Sun remerging from its eclipse. Sunlight, warmth, colour, and the freshness of the spring breezes enlivens us again.

Here in nature - even in the nature of our lit streets and our centrally heated homes - here in nature is a vivid parable of the mystery of our faith. 

Drabness gives way to colour, darkness recedes in the sunlight, sorrow surrenders to joy and death gives way to life. 

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single grain, but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. 

There is no gain without pain, no light without shadow. We must travel through darkness to light, through sacrifice to reward. We must give in order to receive. We must surrender our lives in order to gain them. 

In this final fortnight of Lent - what used to be called Passiontide - this is the overwhelming message, written into creation itself, fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and shared in our own lives: it is death which leads to fulness of life, and as we share in His death, so He gives us His life.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Lent 3 (Year B)

Jesus “was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body.” (John 2:21)

What happened in today’s Gospel is remarkable and not a little shocking.

It is a little shocking to us, perhaps, because Jesus appears to be angry - he seems to lose his temper. Surely, we suppose, it is wrong to be angry, wrong to lose our tempers. Isn’t Gentle Jesus supposed to be Meak and Mild? And free from sin? Yet one of the many sins we may feel called to confess in this time of Lent, surely is anger.

Of course, we might rationalise a little - he doesn’t lose his temper. He isn’t even really angry - this is enthusiasm, or zeal, or what we might call righteous anger, because he is protesting against something which is wrong and unjust - trading in the temple, exploiting the poor …

Yet it is even more shocking than that. Even if Jesus is right to complain about the traders in temple, it seems an extreme act. After all, they were only providing the things that were need to perform the rituals and sacrifices (not so very different from selling Bibles or Rosaries). And while he may be speaking about the Temple being a place of prayer, turning over tables and shouting protests seems an odd way to do so. A bit like talking loudly at the back of the Church about how awful it is that people show so little respect nowadays. His actions cause great offence to the religious leaders of the time.

Yet, we might argue that this was little more than a symbolic act, rather than a real act of disruption. The Temple was vast, and its courts exensive. The market took place in the outer court. And It had its own police force, the Temple guards. So a bit of a protest in one part might be hardly noticed in another. No, we could argue, Jesus is making a point - but not defiling the sanctuary.

Yet perhaps the most shocking detail, is not what Jesus does, but what he says.

We need to understand that for the Jewish people of time, and to an extent still today, the Temple mount and the Temple itself is not just the central place of worship, but the only place where the fulness of worship can take place. Only here, in the sanctuary, could the sacrifices be performed. Here, to this very day, the Jews gather at the “Weeping Wall” - the only wall which remains from the old temple - to lament the sufferings of their people. The Synagogue became a place of prayer, and study and preaching, but the Temple was the only place where the fullness of Jewish worship and sacrifices, (described in great detail in what we call the Old Testament), could take place, and once that was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, these liturgies, rites and cermonies passed into history.

So, When Jesus speaks about the destruction and the rebuilding of the Temple, Jesus takes the extraordinary step of sweeping away the temple itself. This is surely, for the Jews, is a great blasphemy, much worse than a protest or a little dsiruption. It is clear from the Gospel stories this sets in train the campaign to remove Jesus, the plot which leads us to Holy Week and Easter.

Suddenly, in a phrase, just a few words, and words which perplexed all his listeners, words which even his followers would remember but not understand until much later, he tells us that the God is present not in the Old Temple, but in the very Body of Christ himself. No longer is worship to be in Temple which had been built by Herod the Great, no longer is God present only in the sanctuary which had been established on mount Zion by King David, now God is fully and truly present in a human being, in God become man, in the person of Jesus Christ.

And so we are taken in an instant from the temple mount to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane and to the Empty Tomb. Here, Christ points us already towards Maundy Thursday, the gift of his Body and Blood, Good Friday, the sacrifice of his body on the Cross, and Easter Day, the rising of his Body to eternal life on the Third Day - the risen body which becomes the true sanctuary, the object of worship.

God is no longer only in the temple, or only to be found in any other building - rather it is in the Body which is his Church, and the sacrament of his Body, and in the community which gathers together, in the Church understood as poeple not as Archetecture, where God dwells amongst us, and where we meet him, in the risen Christ.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Lent 3 : Bidding Prayers / Intercessions / Prayer of the Faithful

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Priest: Let us turn to God, our Father in heaven, for the needs of the Church and of the world:

Reader: For Pope Francis; clergy and religious; and for the whole Church. May we work together in our calling to be faithful witnesses, and so draw all we meet to experience the love and power of the Gospel.
Lord in your mercy

For vocations to the priesthood, permanent diaconate and religious life. May the Holy Spirit guide the hearts and minds of those called by the Lord and give them courage to commit their lives unstintingly to the service of others. Lord in your mercy

For the sick, the elderly and those who are housebound, especially for the people of Sierra Leone; those who have died from, or are affected by Ebola; those now orphaned; and for all doctors, nurses, carers and aid-workers. May they know the comforting love and the healing power of Christ. Lord in your mercy.

For all who have departed this life, that Christ, the light of the world, may draw them to new life and fullness of redemption in the heavenly kingdom. Lord in your mercy

We ask Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, for her intercession, as we pray: Hail Mary…

We pause in silent reflection with our personal intentions.

Priest: Father, hear the prayers of your people, and grant us the strength and courage to be faithful to the mission you have called us to live. We make these and all our prayers through Jesus Christ, your Son, Our Lord. Amen