Thursday, January 28, 2016

4th Sunday Year C (Gospel: Luke 4:21-30) I will make you into a pillar of iron and a wall of bronze

Last week I was at the march for Life in Washington DC and we got stranded in the blizzard, which is why there was no sermon!

I heard a story about a priest who was going to stay with his niece and her partner.  It was an awkward situation because they were both into occult practice and he was a priest.  They also knew he knew they were into this, but for the few days that he was with them he never once mentioned a word about it, or made any remarks or comments.  Instead he was just very loving towards them and showed great respect for them.  They were so moved by his that it actually won them over to Christianity.

Frank Duff, the man who founded the Legion of Mary, had a lovely saying: ‘Win an argument, lose a soul.’  Arguments don’t win people over; love does.

Today’s readings present us with two things.  First of all, the prophet, or the person who speaks the word of God, the message of God, is going to meet opposition.  While that applies especially to the one who has to preach it, it also applies to all of us who try to live it.  As you know it is ‘cool’ to be just about anything except Catholic at the moment.  We are in the minority now and the Lord is putting it to us to try and be faithful in the midst of so much opposition.  In the first reading God says to the prophet:
Brace yourself for action… Do not be dismayed in their presence… I will make you into a pillar of iron and a wall of bronze to confront all this land (Jer 1:17-18)

The Lord continues to say the same to us.  ‘Don’t be afraid because people are opposed to you, or to your way of life, or what you believe in.  Instead, stand your ground.’ 
They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you—it is the Lord who speaks (Jer 1:19).

It is a big temptation for us to take what might seem like an easier option, or just to take the bits of our faith that suit us. After all, that can seem much more ‘reasonable’. However, that is not what the Lord tells us to do. The Lord tells us to try and be faithful to his word, because that is the path that leads to life. That is the path that will bring us to fulfilment more than anything else. Following the way of his teachings is not easy, but it is completely worthwhile.

From the beginning of his preaching Jesus met continued opposition. In today’s Gospel we read how in a matter of minutes the people went from admiring the beautiful words that came out of his mouth, to wanting to kill him. Another time when the apostles came and told him that everyone was looking for him because they wanted to hear him, he said, ‘Let us go elsewhere to the neighbouring towns.’  He knew what he had to do and whether he was popular or not, he just kept going about what the Father in heaven had sent him to do.

The Lord is telling us something through all this.  He is calling us to be faithful.  We may be in the minority and there may be plenty of opposition, but it doesn’t matter. God has given us something extraordinary in his teaching and although we are free to take it or leave it we will never find anything else that could compare to his teaching. 

The second thing that we are presented with in today’s readings is the call to love.  Nothing is more important than this. Love is patient, kind, gentle, tolerant. This is what we are called to try and live. We will say more to the people around us by the way we live than by any arguments we could make. In the beginning the Christians were a small group and people were very suspicious of them, but it was the witness of their lives that convinced others as to what they were about. People were amazed at how they loved each other and how they tried to live. The same holds true for us.

In one of his famous speeches, Martin Luther King said something very similar:
To our bitterest opponents we say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  We shall meet your physical force with soul force.  Do to us what you will, we shall continue to love you… Throw us in jail, we shall still love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half-dead and we shall still love you.  One day we will win freedom, but not only for ourselves.  We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process. (Martin Luther King, Strength to Love)

The ‘secret’ of being able to live this way, is for us to root ourselves in God, because it is only through our relationship to God that we receive the ability to love those around us; to be tolerant with those who are different to us or who directly oppose us. That is why each week we keep coming back to listen to God’s word and see what he is saying to us; and we keep coming back to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, because if we try to live the way of Christianity by our own strength we will quickly fail. The Lord doesn’t expect us to live it by our own strength and neither should we. Our strength comes from staying close to him.

In the end there are three things that last: faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:13)

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Commandments of the Lord 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul.'

The Burren, West of Ireland

When I was a child I remember getting lots of orders and warnings from my parents. In fact sometimes it seemed to be nothing but warnings. ‘Don’t do that’ and ‘Be careful not to fall!’ ‘Stay away from the fire.’ It’s only later in your life that you realize how important all these commands and warnings were. They are part of what formed us, taught us, and probably kept us alive a lot of the time. A few days ago I saw a little boy almost run out under a car, but thankfully didn’t. He was met with a sharp reprimand from his mother and hopefully he learned from it.

We are also given commandments by God. They are not suggestions, they are commands and they are also there to help us. Everything God gives us is to help us. The fact that they are still relevant 2500 years later tells us something. The word of God is timeless and I always find it helpful to often ask myself, do I believe the Scriptures are from God? If I do, then there is nothing more important that I could listen to.

The Lord knows exactly what we need to do in order to survive, flourish and  blossom as a society. His commandments are a kind of blue-print for living. If we ignore those commandments we will slip into chaos. Look at what is happening to our world at the moment. Why? because people are ignoring God and what God has taught us. The whole Middle East is falling apart because of lust for power and basically ignoring what God has taught us and so people think they have a right to take over land and to kill whoever is in their way. They will be held accountable for their actions, just as all of us will.

The first thing that God commands us is to recognize him, to worship him and to put him before
everything else; everything else. So when we come to church on Sundays it is not just about seeing what our parish has to offer us this week, it is about making the sacrifice of our time to worship God because God deserves to be worshipped. There is no other reason needed. Everything we have is from God and we would not exist except that God willed to create us and so the very least we can do is to give some of our time to give thanks and praise to our God and that means making the sacrifice of some of our time. We are constantly being told that we shouldn’t have to make any sacrifices and that we should be able to have almost everything our way. That is not the teaching of Jesus and we must decide who it is we follow.

Keeping Sunday as a holy day—which the Lord also commands us to do—means that we give of ourselves to God. It also means we should think a little about how we spend the day. Is it based on, giving time to God, recreation and family, or is it just another day for shopping? Remember these are God’s commandments, not the Church’s suggestions.

The Lord also tells us that his name is holy. It is not to be used lightly, or as a swear word. Think of what the name of Jesus means. It is because of Jesus that we will be able to go to heaven if we make the right choices.

The last commandment I want to mention today is the commandment to honor your father and your mother. It is interesting that it doesn’t say ‘love’ your father and your mother. Why is that? Sometimes when we have been hurt by our parents we may find it hard to love them for a particular reason, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t honor them and give them the respect and care which is their due. I have often been told by grandparents that for some reason their children will not speak to them or let them see their grandchildren. Unless there is a very serious reason for this, it is wrong and it is breaking the fourth commandment. The Lord commands us to honor our parents and we must take that seriously because all of us will be held accountable for our actions.

While the Lord teaches us that He is infinitely merciful, God also makes demands of us, just as our parents made demands of us and didn’t let us have everything our way. Whatever God tells us to do is for our own good, and even if we cannot always see that, the Lord asks us to trust that He only has our best interests at heart. Whatever God asks us to do is for our own good.

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind... You must love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-40).

Friday, January 8, 2016

Baptism of the Lord Year (Gospel: Luke 3:15-16, 21-22)

“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35).

One of the many benefits that comes from a more mixed society, where we have people from many different parts of the world living together, is that it helps to broaden our minds. At various times I lived in religious communities where there were people from different parts of the world. One morning when we came down for breakfast two of us noticed that someone had cut the loaf of bread not from top to bottom into slices the way we usually do, but from one side to the other across the middle. In other words they had done the complete opposite of what we were used to. The two of us who noticed this at the same time both began to complain saying, ‘Who is the idiot that did this!’ but then almost immediately we both began to check ourselves and say, ‘I suppose there is no law that says you can’t do it this way!’ and we laughed at ourselves and how fixed we can be in our ways. It was a Taiwanese priest living with us whose culture is very different from ours. Something as simple as this helped us to see how small-minded we can be in our ways. 

In the second reading today St. Peter says he realised how anyone can be acceptable to God if they do what is right. That might seem obvious enough to us, but it wasn’t obvious to them at that time. The Jewish people believed that they were specially chosen by God, and that meant anyone else who was not Jewish was not so important to God, but then the Lord began to teach the Apostles that in fact He was there for everyone, of every nationality and creed.  It took them a while to come around to this way of thinking. In fact the first few times some Gentiles (non-Jews) received the gift of the Spirit, the Apostles were quite surprised. They hadn’t expected this. They didn’t think that Gentiles would be given the gift of the Spirit. God was helping them to gradually broaden their horizons. Everyone, of every nationality and creed was being called into God’s family. The Lord showed this to St. Peter through a vision (See Acts 10:9-16). Peter saw a vision of a great sheet being let down from heaven filled with all kinds of animals and birds. Then he heard a voice saying:
“Now Peter, Kill and eat!” But Peter answered, “Certainly not, Lord; I have never yet eaten anything profane or unclean.” Again a second time, the voice spoke to him, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane.” This was repeated three times and suddenly the container was drawn up to heaven again (Acts 10:13-16).

This vision helped Peter to understand that no-one was ‘unclean’ in God’s sight if they tried to live the right way. The Lord was helping Peter to see a bigger picture, but as with most of us, this happens gradually. Everyone is called to be part of God’s family.

After Jesus was Baptised in the Jordan a vision was seen of the Spirit coming down on him in the form of a dove. The Father in heaven was empowering him with the gift of the Spirit, to enable him to live the mission that the Father had given him, to teach the people about God and to offer himself for the sins of the world. The Spirit gave him the strength and wisdom He needed for this difficult mission. 

Perhaps another reason why people were allowed to see the Spirit descend in bodily form was to remind us of what happens when we are baptised. We are given the gift of the Spirit to enable us to live the Christian life. It is not a way of life that we can live by our own strength; it would be too difficult. This is why God gives us the gift of his Spirit to guide, strengthen and teach us. Jesus said to the Apostles that after He had ascended into heaven He would send the Spirit, ‘Who will teach you everything’ (John 16:13b). Our minds can only take so much, and we are continually learning about the ways of God. As we continue to pray and try and live the Christian way of life, the Lord teaches us more and more. So much of what our faith is about is completely beyond us, and so the Lord teaches us little by little.

When we are baptised we state what it is we believe in and we commit ourselves to this way of faith. For many of us someone else will have spoken on our behalf when we were baptised as we were infants, but this is done on the understanding that we will be taught about our faith as we grow up, otherwise it would make no sense. If we come for baptism as adults we will be examined before-hand to make sure we understand the commitment we are taking on. But the greatest part of Baptism is the gift of the Spirit who will teach us all we need to know, and who will continue to challenge us in different ways so that we grow ever closer to God. As long as we remain open to the gift of God’s Spirit we will be drawn deeper and deeper into God. Only in God will we find our true happiness and fulfilment and so the more we give ourselves to this journey the more fulfilment we will find.

“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35).