Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ascension of the Lord : Homily / Sermon

Why are you men looking into the sky? (Acts 1:11)
[Words spoken by the men in white who spoke to the Apostles].

Just as the apostles gazed into the sky, with astonishment and amazement, so It is difficult for us to picture the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven.
In art, the Ascension is often pictured - a little oddly - by the sight of a couple of feet just visible, poking out of the bottom of a cloud. Sometimes, perhaps slightly better, it is shown as Jesus floating in the air - levitating in front of the apostles.
To the modern mind it is difficult to imagine, it seems like a magic trick, or like something out of Dr Who or Star Trek.

But perhaps the trouble with understanding the Ascension is that we think it is about the absence of Jesus - not his presence.

There’s good reason why we should think of it as explaining his absence. After all, he prepared his disciples for his departure. Rather enigmatically, he told them, You will see me, then you won’t see me. He told them that he was leaving them. The Gospels tell us he was taken from their sight, that he disappeared into the cloud, that he was carried up into heaven. It seems that the Ascension is the end of that time of appearances and physical presences of Christ. Now these 40 days are concluded, he is taken away, to be seen no more.

But if we remain only with this image, this idea, we entirely miss the point.
There are other things that Jesus says.
I will not leave you without comfort, he says.
I will be with you always, even till the end of time.
Where two or three are gathered together, I am in the midst of them.
This is my body, this is my blood, do this to remember - recall - me.

Before the Ascension, Christ was present in just one place, now he is present in every place.
In his earthly life, he sat and eat with his disciples by the lakeside, now we receive his body and blood, the bread of life, in every country, in every city of the world.
He walked the dusty paths of Palestine, yet now he strides through every land, borne by his Church.
He dwelt in one man and one place, yet now he dwells in every person who has been baptised into his life.
He healed a few of the sick, yet now he blesses millions of the sick through the sacrament of anointing.
He taught the crowds in the market place, from the boat, and on the hillside, yet now his words are read from every Church and chapel and pulpit.
He prayed in solitude on the Mount of Olives, yet now he prays in every believer.
In his body suffered for us on the cross, yet now we receive his risen and mystical body and blood in the Mass.
He showed love and compassion to the weak and vulnerable, yet now his people bring that compassion to every community of the world, caring for the hungry, the distressed, the victims of hatred and terrorism.

Now - we do not need to gaze up into the sky, like the apostles did: he dwells with us, he lives in us, and is not absent - but among us for ever.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Easter 6 (A) : Homily / Sermon

If you love me, you will keep my commandments
(John 14:15)

There are many words we may say without really meaning them.

We say “Sorry” just to get us out of a situation.
We say “Thank you” when we are not really grateful.
We say we love someone out of routine or habit or to get what they want.

Yet the person who is truly sorry not only says so, but shows that sorrow by their attitude, their anguish, their desire to make amends.
The person who is really grateful shows their gratitude by their generosity of spirit and their joy in receiving.
And the one who truly loves does so not routinely or selfishly, but with caring and compassion.

Words are powerful, but deeds are more so.

We may say we are sorry to God for our sins, but it is true contrition, real regret which deserves from him the fulness of forgiveness.
We may thank God in prayer and song, but it is the gratitude which comes from the heart which really fills us with joy.
And we may say that we love God as he loves us - but it is the heart that loves God in the neighbour, that truly dwells in him.

‘Keep my commandments’ does not mean follow all the rules, but open your hearts to him, be filled with his grace, receive the gifts of the Spirit, the Spirit of truth who is with us for ever.

It means that if we love him, we will love our neighbour, and love his commandments, because they are the gift we make of our lives to him.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Easter 5 : Homily / Sermon

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. (John 14:1)


There’s been a little fuss in the press recently about the reporting of Stephen Fry to the authorities in Ireland, alleging that he may have broken the law against blasphemy. What he said was over two years ago, in response to a question on television. The interviewer Gay Byrne asked him what he would say to God if he were to meet him at the pearly gates. He said he would tell him that he must be a monster to allow the world to be full of suffering: the example he gave was of children suffering with bone cancer. 


These are hard questions, of course, and he puts them in a way which might seem hard, angry and even arrogant. No doubt, some people may be offended. 


But actually, it would be very mistaken for any law to make such comments illegal. Not because we call have a right to free speech - important though that it is. Not even because some people might be upset to read them - as may be the case. No - it would be mistaken because to make these words illegal, is to ignore what is written in scripture itself. 


Time and time again we hear voices in Scripture questioning and challenging God. 

The Hebrews cry out to God in the wilderness 

Jeremiah 12:1 Why does the way of the wicked prosper?

Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

Job 3:11 Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?

Ecclesiasticus 7:15 

I have seen everything; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evil-doing.

And Psalm 22 begins with the words “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”  - words which Jesus himself shouts out from the cross. 


No - where Fry is wrong, really wrong, is in supposing that comments like this are new or unusual, as if we had never heard them or thought of them before - and if we are offended by them, then we play into the hands of those who attack our faith. 


It is not that belief in God is undermined, or weakened by words like that. On the contrary, it is the sorrow of the world which is the reason why people believe - why we believe. 


Look at the lives of the martyrs, who in courage and faith are willing to surrender their lives, praying for their persecutors and submitting to death. Look at the lives of other saints, good and faithful servants of God, who give themselves in service of others and approach death not with fear but with hope and joy. And look at the words of Christ, who invites us to cast fear and doubt aside and embrace the love of God: “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, he says. “Trust in God still, and trust in me”.


The questions we and other raise are hard, and painful, and take us to a dark place. Yet challenges inspire faith, far more often than they destroy it. 


When there are atrocities or natural disasters - what do people do - well first they pray, visit churches, light candles. We may not understand why things have happened, but we seek meaning … we don’t reject it. 


And next, in the response to tragedy, faithful people act - to help and console the afflicted, to come to the assistance of those wounded, physically, materially and emotional. So many charities are Christian or religiously inspired and they come to those in need. 


And I am reminded that this Gospel reading is read so often at Funeral Masses and Funeral Services. It is a time when, as a priest, I see most clearly how people deal with grief, loss, and the reality of death. 

Faith helps at times like this. Times when we are troubled. Times when we walk through the valleys of darkness. Times when we fear. It motivates and gives hope. 

We may walk through a dark tunnel - but through the darkness we can glimpse the bright light of Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.