Saturday, August 13, 2016

Assumption of our Lady

He has looked upon his lowly handmaid (Luke 1:48)



Time and Time again in scripture we read a small insignificant people who make an enormous impact. There is David, who defeats Goliath! There is also 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 us as one of these small and insignificant people who has such an important place in God's plan.


Scripture tells us very little about her. 


Mark’s Gospel tells us little more than her name. There is not much more in St Matthew. St John’s Gospel includes the accounts of some important events - most notably the turning of the water in wine at Cana in Galilee, and as she stands at the foot of the cross. But it is St Luke’s Gospel - which we hear today - and the beginning of the Acts of Apostles - which Luke also wrote - which tell 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 accomplishments. 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 the 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.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Homily / Sermon : 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Luke 12:40)


The belief that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead is of course part of the creed which we recite every week, and even though the Church has been reciting these words for almost 2000 years, in almost every age there have been Christians who have taken passages like this very literally and proclaimed that they are about to be fulfilled. “The End of the World is Nigh” they proclaimed. 

From what we know of the first generations of Christians, it seems that many of them believed that end was about to come, very soon. It was also a common belief at other points in history - at time to time throughout the Middle Ages, in Elizabethan England, and at the start of the nineteen century. Some groups - like the Jehovah’s witnesses - base their whole faith on a conviction that the world will end soon, and there have been plenty of tiny cults and sects in ancient and modern times who have been convinced that the end is indeed very close. And this belief has not been restricted just to the religious - political and environmental activists have also shared a conviction that everything soon will come to an end in a nuclear or environmental catastrophe. 

Well, whatever the merits or craziness of any of these convictions and ideas, they are not a very intelligent understanding of the teaching of Jesus.

Jesus is not speaking about the date and time of his second coming, but rather of our readiness to meet him now. 

He is describing to us not the events of tomorrow … but rather challenging us in the way we live our lives today.

Here is the question he poses to us: are we prepared for him? Are we ready to greet him? The trouble is, much as we may say that we want to meet Christ we are never quite ready for him. 

And we are in good company. 

It was St Augustine who said "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!" 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 the time is just right - which of course may never come - to take the Big Step. So many of us want to delay the moment, put off the day. And many of us, perhaps most of us, make compromises in our lives, do deals, stretch the truth, cut corners, and tell ourselves we’ll sort it out later. 

Yes, even if once we feared the burglar, who Jesus speaks of, in time we settle back into our routine. We speed the same shortcuts, run the same risks and chase the same 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, Truth, Commitment cannot wait for our death beds. We can’t save regret only for when we are caught out. Compassion does not only come with contrition. Saying sorry is easy, but living a caring, devoted and prayerful life requires perseverance, tenacity, practice.

When we pray “thy kingdom come” we do not mean soon,  we mean now. 

So we have no reason to fear tomorrow - but neither should we wait till then to do the will of God.