Saturday, November 24, 2012

Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King (Luke 23:35-43) Power in weakness

In the book of the Apocalypse (also known as Revelations) Saint John at one stage has a vision of a being that terrifies him.  He describes what he saw like this:
I saw one like a Son of man… His head and his hair were white with the whiteness of wool, like snow, his eyes like a burning flame, his feet like burnished bronze… out of his mouth came a sharp sword, double edged, and his face was like the sun shining with all its force (Rev 1:13-16).

John writes that he was so afraid when he saw this being that he fell down as if dead.  He passed out.  But then the being in the vision touched him and said: ‘Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One, I was dead and look—I am alive for ever and ever and I hold the keys of death and the underworld’ (Rev 1:17-18). 

Who was this being?  It was of course Jesus, the one that John had lived with for three years.  Why would Jesus who was so close to John, appear to him in this very frightening form?  Probably to remind John and us, who he is; not just the Jesus whose name we carelessly throw around as a swear word, but Jesus who is Son of God, who will come to judge the living and the dead.  This is the one we believe in.  When we die we will all come before him face to face and all people of every religion will understand who He is and what He has done for us.

At the moment we are seeing huge changes in the world around us.  So much earthly power which seemed to be untouchable has collapsed over night.  Even the great structures of the Church seem to be crumbling.  In many ways it is a very disturbing, even frightening time, but I think we need to remember who it is we believe in and who it is we put our trust in.  If we put our trust and hope in earthly power we will be disappointed, as you know only too well, because people will let us down.  If we rely too much on the human side of our Church we will be disappointed, as we have been.  But the one we trust in and believe in is Jesus Christ who is God.  All things are in his power and all things are completely subject to him. 

Sometimes you get the impression especially from Hollywood, that the battle between good and evil, between God and Satan, is an equal one; either could win.  It is not.  There is no question of evil being equal to God.  All things are subject to God and I think we need to be reminded of that.

As a priest I need to keep reminding myself that Jesus is the one I worship as God and try to serve.  If I stay focused on the world around me I find myself getting depressed or disillusioned.  Also if I spend too much time worrying about the state of the Church I also find it hard to keep going.  But the Lord keeps reminding me that He is the one I need to stay focused on, because He is the one in charge.  He is master of all things.  What we see happening in the Church at the moment is the work of his power purifying his Church, because He loves us and will not allow his people to continue while there is poison festering under the skin.  And so God allows his Church to be purified and renewed, which is what we see happening.  I have no doubt that what is happening in the world is also a kind of melt-down which God is allowing which will bring many people back to him.  Nothing like a crisis to focus the mind!

When people have a certain amount of power they like to show it off and make it felt.  People who are really powerful don’t seem to feel the need to show it off as much.  But God who is all-powerful, goes one step further and shows his power in weakness.  This is an extraordinary thing and something we find very difficult to get our heads around.

The greatest demonstration of God’s power was shown to us in the death of Jesus on the cross.  The Lord God did the exact opposite to what we would do and showed his power by not doing anything; by appearing to be a failure.  So the people laughed at him and mocked him, not realising that what they looked at was a demonstration of the power of God.  This is why we use the symbol of the cross and why it is so powerful.  This is also why Satan hates the symbol of the cross, because it is a symbol of the extraordinary power of God and it is a reminder of the event that broke the power of sin and death. 
St. Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians says,
We are preaching Christ crucified; to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jew or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God (1Cor 1:22).

What the power of Jesus on the cross also shows us is that in the bleakest and darkest situations of pain and suffering, loneliness and abandonment, Christ is there with us, in his strength.  We are never alone no matter what we are going through.  God is with us.

Jesus Christ is our king, the most powerful king of all. If we accept him as our king, we also share in his power, but it is not a power as we understand it and this is where many people find it hard to accept.  We want something that we can see and touch.  We want to know that we are important and that our King is the greatest of all.  But God in his wisdom knows that this isn’t the most important kind of power.

If Jesus is Lord and God as we say we believe He is, then we have nothing to be afraid of.
Every being in heaven, on earth and under the earth,
shall bend the knee at the name of Jesus;
and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10-11).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

33rd Sunday Yr B (Gospel: Mark 13:24-32) Christ will come again

At this time of the year before Advent begins, the readings always focus on the end of the world and the second coming of Christ.  We do this because it was one of the things that Jesus taught.  Jesus taught that he would come again, and that when he does come it will be for a time of judgement.  All people will be judged.  We say in the creed, ‘he will come again to judge the living and the dead’.

It is tempting for us to discard what we don’t understand, especially if it sounds a little silly.  The idea of Jesus appearing in glory and coming to judge the world may seem hard to swallow. However, it would be a great mistake on our part if we began to just take the parts of Jesus’ teaching that ‘make sense’ and leave the other ones.  I think it would be more humble of us to say we accept all his teachings, but we don’t understand many of them.  ‘I don’t understand, but I believe.’  That’s what faith is.

If the Lord is to come to judge the living and the dead, it implies two things.  First, that there must be a heaven and a hell.  Otherwise there would be no point in judging us if it were going to make no difference.  Heaven is the total happiness that being in the presence of God will bring.  This is something that we can not understand because we have no experience of it yet, but this will be the most complete happiness we could ever know and this is what God has planned for us; it’s what He wants for us. 

Then there is the total loss of God for those who reject him, and this is hell, the loss of everything that can bring happiness.  Jesus has taught us that this is real, otherwise it would make no sense that we have free will, the power to accept or reject God.

The second thing that the Lord’s coming implies is that we must make an account of our lives to God.  We will be held accountable for our actions.  I often think that when we hear about so many of these tribunals which show the wholesale corruption that goes on, it can be very frustrating, because the people who get away with the most never seem to have to pay, either because they are powerful enough, or because of the legal system, they get off the hook.  It’s wrong and it happens every day.  But if a young man steals something from Dunnes Stores, you can be sure he’ll be brought to court and he’ll pay for it.  But even the rich and powerful must remember that their power and wealth won’t be with them when they die.  They too will have to make an account of themselves to God.  And nothing is hidden from God.  I find this consoling, not because I wish evil on anyone, but because at least I know that in the end there will be justice.

Is this a reason for us to be afraid?  Not unless we are deliberately trying to fool God.  If we try to live as the Lord teaches us, then we have nothing to fear.  If we just get on with the day to day tasks that we are presented with and try to be honest before God, then we have nothing to worry about.  The fact is that we are all sinners, none of us ever get it exactly right, but God isn’t put off by this. The Lord sees the heart.  God knows when we are doing our best and trying to live as best we can.  He knows all the pressures that we’re under.  He knows how difficult it is to try and survive in the world.  The Lord looks at each of our hearts and judges us by what is in our heart.

It is even more important to remember that God is infinitely merciful, and mercy is something which is not deserved.  God’s justice and mercy go together.  Think of all the times that we see people in the paper convicted of some terrible crime, and we say, ‘I hope he gets life, or I hope they kill him…’  It’s just as well for our sake that God is more merciful with us than we are with each other, or none of us would stand a chance.  Another reason why we can never judge someone else is because we don’t know what’s in their heart.  We don’t know what has influenced another person’s actions, or what pressures they are under.  That’s why Jesus teaches us, ‘Do not judge and you will not be judged’.  Only God can judge, and only God will judge perfectly justly.

There is a lovely story of a young man who was in Napoleon’s army.  He deserted for whatever reason, but he was caught.  The punishment for desertion was death.  But his mother met with Napoleon and pleaded on her son’s behalf.  She explained that this man was her only son and all that she had in the world.  She asked Napoleon to show him some mercy, but Napoleon replied, ‘He doesn’t deserve mercy.’  The woman said to him, ‘If he deserved it, it wouldn’t be mercy.’  This is what we also try and remember about God.  God is infinitely merciful and so if we make an effort at all, we have nothing to be afraid of.

Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, and it is something that we can rejoice in when it happens, because we belong to him, we are his children.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

32nd Sunday, Year B (Gospel: Mark 12:38-44) The Lord provides

I heard a story about an old Dominican who died recently.  Maurice Fearan was his name.  He was giving a retreat in Kashmir (India) in a place called Shrinagar beside the Dall lake. It is 7000 feet above sea level and a big tourist attraction; very beautiful.  So many people came to the retreat that they could not give him accommodation where the retreat was being held.  Instead they put him on one of the tourist boats.  So each evening after the retreat he would go back to the tourist boat, have a light meal and sleep there. 

One evening when he was eating, a young lady from Argentina joined him.  While they were chatting a storm began to blow up on the lake and it started to come towards them.  Eventually there were flashes of lightening near them and they were both getting nervous, especially since they were on water.  Then she leaned towards him and said, ‘Father, I’d like to go to confession.  But before I go to confession I want to tell you something.’  And then she said, ‘Father  I don’t believe in hell.’  Maurice said, ‘Why don’t you?’  She said, ‘I am an only child and my father loves me completely and I know that no matter what I do, my father would never reject me.  Sometimes he may do things which embarrass me, but I could never do anything which would embarrass him.  No matter what I do he would never reject me.  And so I don’t believe God would ever reject me either.’  Isn’t that powerful?  I think that is the approach we should take too. 

I think we often ‘pray to small’ as you might say.  We are afraid that we can’t have the very best, or that God might frown on us if we expect too much.  And yet Jesus taught the very opposite.  ‘How many of you would give your child a snake if he asked for a fish; or a stone if he asked for bread?’  And then he said, ‘If you who are evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father look after you?’  It is a wonderful teaching and probably one that we should reflect on more.  The Father wants to give us everything.  He wants the very best for us always.

In the first reading, God is showing us never to be afraid, because if we trust in his word He will never let us down.  The woman had almost nothing left and the prophet Elijah asked her to share it.  She was afraid, but Elijah said, ‘Trust in the word of God and you will be alright.’  So she did trust him and she was alright.

God invites us to do the same.  We are so often afraid that we won’t be able to manage and yet the Lord keeps telling us, ‘Trust in me and I will look after your every need.’ And He does.  ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these other things will be given to you as well.’

Something that the Lord has taught me as a priest is never to be afraid to give away money to people who need it.  I don’t just mean people who come to the door asking for money, but people I come across who I know are in trouble.  They are the ones who rarely ask, but the Lord often lets me see their need.  People often give me money as a priest and I just see it as part of my work to pass it on whenever the Lord shows me such need.  But I have always found that every time I have given away money, sometimes reluctantly as I feel maybe it’s too much or that I might be stuck, within 24 hours I will be given the money back by someone else and usually more.  This has happened to me so many times that I always believe it is God’s way of teaching me to trust him.  He looks after all our needs and He will never be outdone in generosity. 

In the Gospel today Jesus sees the poor woman putting in what seemed to be a very small amount.  But he knew it was everything she had.  God sees what we do and He constantly encourages us to be generous, especially with those who are in need.  Remember God will never be outdone in generosity.  If we are generous, God will be far more generous.  Our Father in heaven is the Lord of all the universe and He has lots of money, so let us never be afraid.