Friday, September 30, 2016

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily / Sermon

The apostles said to the Lord "Lord, increase our faith". (Luke 17:5)



Today's Gospel looks as though it's in two parts, with two differing messages. Firstly, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. In the second part, he speaks about the importance of being a good and faithful servant. On first reading they might appear disconnected. 

But are they? 

Faith, not surprisingly, is a frequent theme in Jesus' teaching. He often rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith. At the stilling of the storm, for example, when they wake him in the boat - "O men of little faith" he says. He remarks on their lack of faith too, when, after the transfiguration unable to heal the epileptic boy - and then, the father of the boy says "I have faith, help me where faith falls short!"

In hearing such teaching, we, like those in the story, might feel rather inadequate. How can we ever have enough faith? What can we do to be more faithful? 


But here, we have words of great encouragement. 


Firstly, the apostles see one thing very clearly.  "Lord, increase our faith", they say. For their faith to increase - well that must be an act, or gift, or rather grace of God, not something they can do simply by their own efforts. We might think that if only we believed more, prayed harder, said more rosaries or attended more masses, then we would have more faith - but no. We can stand in the way of faith, but fundamentally faith is a gift of God, not an achievement of humanity. 


Secondly, we should not worry about faith, as if it could be measured, weighed, valued. We, like the apostles, might feel we have little faith, but - Jesus says, even the tiniest amount of faith, faith as tiny as the mustard seed, can achieve extra-ordinary things. "You've got only a little faith?" Jesus seems to say, "You'll be amazed what it can do!  


And thirdly, and this is where the two parts of today's Gospel are joined together - living in faith is not about being impressive, or important, or super holy. How do we live and keep the faith? The answer is beautiful in all its simplicity. It doesn't require great knowledge or understanding or extra-ordinarily impressive holiness. Just this - Be a good and faithful servant. Do your duty. Perform your service of God. Do not feel inferior or superior. Just do what you know to be right. Offer him your worship and show love and compassion to all people. Love God and love your neighbour. No more and no less is required. 


"We are merely servants, we have done no more than our duty" the Gospel says. This is sanctity. This is holiness. This is faith!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

If they will not listen either to Moses or the prophets, they will not convinced even if someone should rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)


The rich man - who is not given a name, notice - wants Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers that they must change their way of life. Yet, Jesus says, there is no point - they already have all the warning they need. Why should a great miracle make a difference? 


There's an important and very broad point being made here, one which we hear several times in the teaching of Jesus and elsewhere in the New Testament, and it is this: all this has been foretold, all this is plainly to be seen in the teaching of Moses and the prophets (what we Christians call 'the Old Testament'), no one should be confused or surprised. 


Yet they are. Frequently, Jesus chides his disciples for their failure to understand. After the Crucifixion, the disciples on the road to Emmaus need the prophecies explained to them by the risen Christ. From the day of Pentecost onwards, Peter and other other apostles must explain in their preaching how the coming, suffering and resurrection of Jesus perfectly fulfil what was promised. And St Paul, again and again, argues and explains the old scriptures to show how they point to the new, the Christ, the one who suffered and is risen. 


And the point, perhaps is this. People ask for proof. Prove God exists they say. Prove that God is love. Prove that prayer is not a waste of time. Prove that the world is created and didn't just come into existence as a sort of accident or co-incidence. Give - us - the - evidence. 


Yet the proof is already there. We can't show it to them - because they can already see it. We can't convince them of it - because they are already ignoring it. They see, and refuse to believe their own eyes. 


The beauty of the world. The wonder of the planets and stars. The miracle of life. The compassion and generosity of humanity. The conviction and self sacrifice of the saints. It’s all there. It is before them. 


It is not the evidence that is lacking, but the eyes that are closed, and ears that refuse to hear.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) : Homily / Sermon

‘You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’ (Luke 16:13)

New Polymer £5 Note

This week the Bank of England issued the first plastic banknotes - specifically a £5 note. To be more accurate, these are polymer notes, and can can be dipped in a hot cup of coffee, wiped clean, and will even survive going through the washing machine. It is said that they will last five years longer than the paper fivers … though my fivers last hardly any time at all!

But it does lead us to pause and think about this incredible thing called money.

After all isn’t it just metal and paper or polymer, or perhaps not even that? Surely, money is nothing more than numbers on screens, and characters kept in data centres, words spoken over phone lines, flitting across hyperspace? And yet people work for it, and dream of it, and will even kill for it.

But of course, it is not money in itself which they are all after, but what it can do.
It can make us rich. It can make us powerful. It can make us comfortable. It can make us happy.

But can it make us happy? Certainly, many people can be lifted out of misery and suffering by sometimes just a little money – a little to avoid hunger, a little to provide medical care, a little to provide education. And we often suppose that if we just had that lottery win or the unexpected inheritance it would lift us out the need every work again, and give us a life of comfort and luxury.

And yet, the truly rich – do they stop working? Do they stop looking for ways to get more money, more possessions, more power? Not at all, because the pursuit of material things is never ending. It is almost like an addicts compulsion. There can never be enough, because the happiness that we think wealth will bring never actually arrives. They may not suffer from the misery of poverty, they may have all the cars, clothes, gadgets and holidays the rest of us yearn for, but none of these bring true friendship, loyalty, commitment, happiness and love. The most important values and virtues, honesty, courage, reliability, generosity – none of these can be bought.

And this is why Christ says we cannot be slaves of both God and money. To seek happiness in money, power, possessions, material things, is to seek fulfilment where it can never be found. It is a pursuit of happiness which will runs into a cul-de-sac, ending in dissatisfaction, restlessness, bitterness.

To serve God is to put material concerns second and true human values first.

You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.