Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Homily – ‘Presentation of the Lord in the Temple at Jerusalem.’ 02.02.14. Year A: 2014

I've been a bit slack posting my homilies. Here's a preview of next Sunday's. As usual, may change - especially in delivery!

Homily – ‘Presentation of the Lord in the Temple at Jerusalem.’  02.02.14. Year A 2014

Today we celebrate Mass 40 days after Christmas Day. Therefore, this Feast of the ‘Presentation of the Lord in the temple at Jerusalem,’ completes our celebrations of the birth of our Lord. He the Word made Flesh, the True Light has come into the world. Amen.

Mary, purest Mother and Virgin undefiled, goes to the temple to be “purified” in accordance with Jewish Law, accompanied by her husband Joseph. They were poor or of at least very modest means. The Jewish Law required that ideally a lamb should be offered for sacrifice, or if the mother could not afford a lamb, then a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. The irony of course is that Mary carried within her arms someone more important than a lamb, she was carrying the true lamb, the Lamb of God, who in time would sacrifice himself for us on Calvary in an act of terrifying love, and a sword would pierce Mary’s heart.

There would have been a shared sense between Mary and Joseph that they were fulfilling a ritual practice that was common to all new mothers, and probably didn't expect the events that unfolded. Can you imagine the conversation when they got home! “What was all that about Mary?” “ I don’t know Joseph, I'll have to give it some thought.”  

Waylaid by an elderly couple who seemed to spend most of their time hanging around the temple, Anna certainly did. Luke tells us that she never left the temple. Simeon, dedicated to observance of the Law, would have also spent a lot of time at the Temple. Both of them would have been respected by the Temple authorities. The Temple would have been a busy place, with people coming and going all day long about the business of official Temple administration and worship. 

Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus would have looked just like any other young couple, undertaking their religious business. Nothing to look at here folks, keep moving.  However, Holy Simeon and Anna, are to be used by God as witnesses to a moment of public encounter between God, the Jewish people and indeed the whole world. Until now only the shepherds and the wise men from the East have seen the baby Jesus. It’s been a bit of a private affair.  

Holy Simeon, whose name means, God has heard us and Anna, whose name means grace, mercy, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit are in the right place at the right time. They have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to be public witnesses and prophets to the arrival of the Messiah. Two elderly frail human beings, these are the people whom God uses, to publicly reveal himself to a nation, that has waited and prayed for a Messiah for so long. In the busyness of the Temple no one else recognises him! Only, Holy Simeon and the prophetess Anna.  He comes not in circumstances of great power, wealth and influence, surrounded by a royal entourage, like other royal babies, but in a condition of poverty,  weakness and vulnerability. He comes in a condition that would be taken full advantage of on Calvary.
Holy Simeon represents the historical expectation of Israel for a Saviour; he is the first public witness to the presence of the promised Messiah amongst the Jewish people. On the other hand Anna, being a prophetess suggests, that a new era has at the same time begun as well as the old one being fulfilled. In this new era, the living voice of God will continue to speak, but now in a far more personal and direct way, through his chosen one, Jesus, the promised Messiah. Anna is the first in a line of prophetic disciples who will speak about Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel. She is the first evangelizer for the Good News of Jesus Christ.

What can we draw for our meditation this week, from this public presentation of Jesus? God has his faithful people here, Holy Simeon and Anna, who play no extended role in the history of salvation. We’re not talking about Moses or King David type figures They have limited but significant "bit parts." Their characteristics are that they are people filled with hope regarding God’s promises; they are loyal and put God first above all things. They are prayerful people. And because of those characteristics, they are sensitive to God's voice, and available to respond to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when God prompts them.  In that respect they are good role models for us. Well worth of our prayerful meditation for the week ahead.

The Holy Spirit can speak to us and show us things that others cannot know or understand. The Holy Spirit promised Holy Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he died. But we are unlikely to hear God's voice, the Holy Spirit, unless we prepare ourselves to do so by living in God's will for us, by imitating the behaviours of Holy Simeon and Anna. That means prayer, reading our Bibles, penance, participation in the sacramental life of the church and right living. Allowing ourselves to be drawn deeper into God's amazing and fantastic friendship.

Devout people are full of praise, as were Holy Simeon and Anna. Worshipping God can be a worthy full-time occupation. Some people give their lives over to God as monks and nuns, where there primary task is scheduled prayer through the day. All the church asks of us is to attend Mass once a week. But we know in our hearts, don't we, that we want to give more of ourselves to prayer. Yes?

Jesus offers hope, light, and salvation to all people. The Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in this public presentation of Jesus. When we are really convicted by the Holy Spirit that Jesus is Lord, we have that personal relationship with him, then we will not be so shy to speak about him to others. We don’t have to proselytise and ram religion down people’s throats. But perhaps this week we could look for opportunities to speak to someone at our place of work about Jesus. We don’t even have to start the conversation. We just answer their questions, if they know we go to church on Sunday and ask why, or notice that we abstain from meat on Friday, or ask about the rosary beads or small crucifix, or pocket prayer book lying casually on our desk. Or perhaps they’ve seen something about our Catholic faith on our FaceBook page?

Holy Simeon and Anna are now long since gone and completely with the Master. The job of carrying on their work in terms of letting others publicly see the salvation that has been prepared for them,  and talking to them about the answer to their deepest needs, that is Jesus, falls to us.

Just as Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple, a very public place in Jerusalem, we need to take Jesus to the public places where we go. And just like Holy Simeon and  Anna, we are all called to be his witnesses and prophets. 


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Homily Week 30 Yr C 2013

Here's me homily to be preached this 30th Sunday of Year C 2013. I've put a link to the readings here:

Homily Wk 30 Yr c 2013

I heard of a survey undertaken amongst a group of Catholic University students which asked them, “if you were to die tonight and appear at the gates of heaven, what’s your admission ticket?”  Nearly all of them said it would be their good character and behaviour. Perhaps many of us might have said the same. I think I might have. As if in some way access to heaven is some kind of beauty contest based on how good I have been and all the good stuff I have done whilst alive. Thank God it’s not, because if it was, I know that I have very little to offer. If I am realistic, I probably deserve admission to a place that is a lot  hotter  than heaven!

The response those students made is similar to the strategy used by the Pharisee in the parable that we’ve just heard in this Sunday’s Gospel, about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Tax collectors were particularly despised by the Jewish people, as they collected taxes on behalf of the occupying Roman Empire, and consequently were considered as sinners.
As we listen to this parable today, the Pharisee strikes us as conceited.  His real problem, though, is that he, like the students, maybe some of us, is out of touch with reality.  And, by the way, being out of touch with reality is the definition of insanity.

The Reality is that we are creatures and God is the creator.  Heaven is the experience of sharing intimately in God’s inner life, participating in his immortality and friendship.   On the basis of our own merits, we have little claim to any of this, to heaven.

In fact, standing on our own merits, we have absolutely no claim whatsoever on God.  A claim is based on justice.  Justice is about receiving our due and paying what we owe.  We receive our very existence and all we need to sustain that existence from God.  Therefore we owe him everything – perfect love, perfect honor, perfect obedience, and perfect worship.  Showing up at mass  from time to time, tossing a few quid in the basket, and trying to be basically decent people, doesn’t quite cover what we owe God. There is a huge gap between us and God. 

That’s why the Father sent the Son. Through his act of perfect humility, perfect obedience and perfect love on the cross, Jesus paid the debt that the entire human race owed to God, he justified us – that is, HE put us right with God.  That’s justice.  And the justice of God is always accompanied by mercy. Mercy. Another name for God’s grace. A share in the divine life.

Consequently, we do not need to be under an illusion like the Pharisee, that we deserve salvation based on our good deeds. We might list our achievements when applying for a job, or the good things we do in the parish when applying for a school place for our kids, but in regard to our eternal salvation, it doesn’t work like that. What was it the first reading from Ecclesiasticus  said? It said ‘the Lord is a judge, who is no respecter of personages.’ Lists of our good deeds and behaviour don’t impress God. That’s why the tax collector went home at rights with God and the Pharisee didn’t. Even though he was a ‘good’ man. But that goodness was only based on how good he was at keeping the 613 commandments in the Jewish law. Many of us probably struggle with the 10 Commandments and that’s assuming we can remember them! We’ll have a test in a minute! For myself, I can remember the two that Jesus gave us, love of God and love of neighbour.

So the message clear — it’s all grace! 

 Whatever natural blessings we enjoy — health, job, family, education – are gifts.  Did we have to work at  all to attain what we have?  Usually.  But we were created out of nothing.  Our very existence and ability to work is a gift.  If we enjoy a personal, intimate relationship with God as our Father and Jesus as our brother, that’s all gift as well.  Do we have to work spiritually to do God’s will and walk in the path of good works that God has marked out for us? Of course.  But the very ability to know God’s will and love as God loves, is pure grace.
The tax collector was under no illusions: he knew that he deserved nothing but judgment alone.  So he asked for mercy.  This is the sane thing to do.  The Pharisee, under the illusion that his works made him righteous, didn’t think he needed grace, so didn’t ask. 

In fact the God he prayed to – was himself. That’s insane. He was seriously out of touch with reality.

Let me close, with a little anecdote.

In Vienna in Austria there is a church in which the former ruling family in Austria, the Hapsburgs, are buried. When royal funerals used to arrive the mourners knocked at the door of the church to be allowed in.  A porter inside would ask ‘Who is it that desires admission here?’ A guard would call out, ‘His apostolic majesty, the emperor’. The porter  would answer, ‘I don’t know him’. They would knock a second time,  and again the porter  would ask “Who is it that desires admission here?’ The funeral guard outside would announce, ‘The highest emperor’. A second time the porter would say, ‘I don’t know him’. A third time they would knock on the door  and the porter  would ask,” Who is it that desires admission here?’ The third time the answer would be, ‘A poor sinner, your brother.’
The royal family were then allowed into the church for burial, because they had admitted that their deceased, the most important person in the land, was in fact, a poor sinner in need of the mercy of God.

My friends, we are all called to make the journey from pride to humility,   to arrive at the point where we can say like the tax-collector, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Amen.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Homily Wk 27 Yr C 2013

Homily wk 27 yr c 2013

The story is told of a man who fell off a mountain cliff. Half-way down the cliff he succeeds in grabbing a branch of a tree. There he is, dangling on the branch, unable to pull himself up yet knowing that letting go of the branch he would definitely fall to his death. Suddenly the man gets an idea. He looks up to heaven and shouts, “Is anyone up there?” A voice comes from heaven, “Yes, I am here. I am the Lord. Do you believe in me?” The man shouts back, “Yes, Lord, I believe in you. I really believe. Please help me.” The Lord says, “If you really believe in me you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Have faith. Now let go of the branch.” The man thinks about it for a moment and then shouts back, “Er, is anyone else up there!?”

Many of us chuckle at the story because we can recognize ourselves in this man. We believe in God, but when the going gets tough and things do not work out as we expect, we tend to look for help elsewhere, giving up on God, rather than waiting on him in faith.  We believe  - but have little faith. And by faith I mean that complete giving over of ourselves to God – mind and heart, that what he has revealed to us in Jesus Christ, about himself as a loving God with a plan for our eternal happiness, starting here and now  in this life is true.

The apostles too, the gospels tell us, are men of little faith. They believe in Jesus and follow him, but they know their faith lacks something. So in today’s gospel, they come to Jesus and say to him, “Lord, Increase our faith!"

In the parable that follows their question, Jesus is saying that if we have mature faith we would put the will of God first in our lives at all times.  If we have faith we will not grumble and complain that we have been working for God all day long, now we are tired and it is God’s turn to attend to our needs. Rather we will forget ourselves, having faith that God will come to our aid when and how He deems right.
God’s unconditional love for us demands only one proper response from us, in return our unconditional love for  Him. The truth that today’s gospel shows us is that mature faith consists not in how much God attends to our immediate needs, but in how willing we are to serve God unconditionally, without counting the cost. Being true and faithful disciples. Let us today join the apostles and the whole Church in asking the Lord to increase our faith.

I am sure we all struggle with our faith at some time or another. When God unexpectedly intervened in my life and brought me back to the practice of the Faith after 10 years , I had many questions. Some were resolved. Some are still ongoing! Even when I was away from the Church during those years I still believed in God. The problem was that my faith in God had decreased over the years until it was as good as lost. That’s a dangerous place to be in.   
So I think that a good starting point is to recognize that faith - is a gift to us from God.  It is grace. That is, a free share in God’s divine life.  The seed of faith has been given to each of here. With this seed of faith we can do amazing things – move mulberry trees as the Gospel says! All we need to do is to accept the gift of faith and to understand it. We need to do the things that we are expected to do, the things Jesus asks us to do – love God and our neighbour as ourselves. If we work at these things, we will be increasing our faith. It is expected of us.

We are coming now to the end of the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Emeritus Benedict some months before he resigned. So let us think this week about how we are doing in what is expected of us. Perhaps some type of examination of conscience now, while we are here:
·       What steps have we taken in the past year to develop our faith?  
·   Have we been on retreat, if our circumstances or finances permit it?
·       Perhaps a day of recollection?  
·       Spent more and regular time in prayer every day?
·       Frequent recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation (Confession?)
·       Read our Bible more?
·       Studied our Catechism to learn more about the teachings  of our beautiful Catholic faith?
·       Kept a spiritual journal?  
·       Or spent some time with Fr Roger or myself,  to share what the Lord is doing in my life and discern what more he might want of me? 

These are some of the ordinary means through which the Lord increases our faith, if we but make time for him. Sunday Mass every Sunday without fail is important, but in a way it’s not enough. We have to actively live our faith from one Sunday to another. Faith is like a muscle.  We have to exercise it for it to grow! To get a Holy Six Pack!

To begin in these areas- of our examination of conscience-  is to plant the smallest of seeds, from which great works of faith can be accomplished. As Paul said in his letter to Timothy,  ‘you have been trusted to look after something precious; guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit.’

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Homily, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

I'm preaching at all Masses this w/e. Here it is: 

Homily,  22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. 

Here's the link to the Mass readings:

We heard during the first reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus a strong emphasis on the virtue of being humble, humility, that is, not putting a lot of emphasis on one’s own importance. Compared to God, no-one is very important. And we know that God is no respecter of persons.  Indeed Ecclesiasticus says that if you are a great person, you have to work harder to make yourself more humble, because God rewards and reveals his secrets to the lowly, unspoiled person.  

In the Gospel of Luke today we also hear Jesus talking about humility.  The Gospel acclamation said. “I am gentle and humble of  heart.”  Indeed this quality of humility is one for which Jesus is very much a role model.

The  Scriptures speak to us about how Jesus lowered himself to become like us – God becoming human!?  How much more humble could he be? Born in a cave. Died on a cross. So when Jesus talks about humility we know that he is “walking the talk!”
The fact that Jesus was invited to eat at the home of a Pharisee was some indication that he was being taken seriously, even if they only invited him to find out more about him, catch him out, monitor him.

Jesus tells them a parable, or a story as we might call it.  He was probably noticing how the Pharisees were moving around to get favored spots at the table. We are told later on by Luke that the Pharisees liked to have the place of honor at banquets.
One of the elements of Luke’s Gospel is that Luke often places Jesus in opposition to the Pharisees. There is a dynamic in Luke’s Gospel where the Pharisees distrust Jesus more and more the closer we get to the Jerusalem and Passion section in Luke’s Gospel. Read the Gospel for yourselves this week. This is especially true in their understanding of what the kingdom of God is, and what Jesus’ understands it to be. 

So, Jesus’ parable is about status and maintaining one’s honor. And it is basically just good advice really. He says that rather than be embarrassed at having to give up your seat to one higher in position, and then take whatever seat remained, wouldn’t it be better to take the lowest seat, knowing that you would be brought up higher by the host?  Even if it were just a little higher, you would feel honored by the move, not humiliated as if it had gone the other way.  So, good practical advice from Jesus. 

But!  Jesus’s parables, are always about more than they seem to be. The kingdom of heaven does not follow the rules and logic of any culture.  God’s ways cannot be understood in human terms. Social position means nothing to God. In fact, Jesus tells us that God is compassionate and drawn to the lonely, the poor, the downhearted, the disabled. God has a preferential option for the poor.  To be satisfied. Rich. Wealthy in the eyes of this world, attached to possessions, is an affliction, a curse, that puts one at risk of eternal damnation, rather than eternal salvation. 

The poor are the ones who will be exalted in the kingdom of heaven.  Having nothing but their ability to trust in God, they will be rewarded in heaven far above those who had position and honor and wealth in the earthly kingdom. 

Indeed, that reward begins in this life, God’s kingdom is here and now at the heavenly banquet, the Eucharist we are to share but shortly.

This idea of the exaltation of the poor is actually a strong theme in Luke’s Gospel, and it is the same theme that we read in the first reading: The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord.  And again in the Responsorial Psalm: In your goodness 0 God, you prepared a home for the poor.

Luke introduced this theme in the first chapter of his Gospel, with the beautiful Magnificat of Mary: He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty. Luke will end the theme with Jesus at the Last supper taking on the role of servant, washing the dirty smelly feet of his disciples. That’s pretty humble to me.

After that first parable, then, Jesus directs his second parable to the host himself. It seems  that there was a strong – you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours – type of tradition at the time of Jesus. If the person was of no use to you, they were not invited unless they were a family member.

Again Jesus’ advice is so counter-cultural.  No host in his right mind would think of inviting the people that Jesus suggests to his supper! In fact, the Pharisees would have thought that the crippled, lame and blind were impure – sinners!  – they would have nothing to do with them or they themselves would become impure. But, as we know, these are exactly the people that Jesus said that he was sent to help, and those for whom he came.

Jesus’ counter cultural messages are not easy to put into practice. Even today this presents a challenge to those who are rich, privileged, have status and power in our society. And those in the Church, who might be living a ‘comfortable discipleship.’ And I include myself amongst them. It’s one thing to preach and hear this – but another to let it change us – to live it!

So this week, perhaps something we can do is to reflect on the practice of  humility in our own lives, especially if we are in positions of power or privilege in our workplaces, or elsewhere. How can we allow someone to go to the head of the line this week in place of ourselves, figuratively speaking? 

How do we treat people we come into contact with that society deems  as “low?”   

It can be as simple as stopping to speak to that Big Issue seller, or buying a begging homeless person the same lunch we just bought ourselves at the shop, or forgoing something to let someone else have a chance at it, perhaps in a meeting, letting someone else shine for a change and look good, rather than us, letting someone else take the credit.

It’s all about playing in our part in subverting the ways of the world, helping to bring about the revolution that is the kingdom of heaven through the practice of humility. 

I had a look in my Catholic Encyclopaedia this week to read the definition of ‘humility’, it says that ‘humilty’ is, ;a quality by which a person considering their own defects, has a lowly opinion of themselves, and willingly submits themselves to God and to others, for God's sake.’

And this is the challenge of the Good News we’ve heard today. Quite simply, following the example of Jesus, the humble one.