The Twelfth Sunday of Year A (Mt 10:26-33)

 

The death of Our Lord on the Cross reveals that we are meant to be perpetually dissatisfied here below. If earth were meant to be a Paradise, then He who made it would never have taken leave of it on Good Friday. The commending of the Spirit to the Father was at the same time the refusal to commend it to earth. The completion or fulfilment of life is in heaven, not on earth.

Fulton Sheen Victory over Vice 1939: 99

We are not used nowadays to seeing religion being couched in negative terms, but its effects can be salutary. If I were to ask you the question, ‘What does Jesus say that we should not do most often in the Gospels?’ what would your answer be? Something to do with sin? It is, ‘Do not be afraid!’ Jesus tells us not to be afraid, to fear no-one, and to trust in Him.

Fear is a feeling induced by a perceived danger or threat, but if we are close to Christ and trust in Him then we need not be afraid. No perceived danger or threat can really harm us: we may suffer pain or even death, but if our trust is in Christ, if our identity is in Him, then we have nothing to fear. He created us, he has redeemed us, and our eternal destiny is to be with Him for ever.

Living a Christian life is at one level a very simple thing: we follow Christ – we do what he told us to do, we fashion our lives after the example of His. We pray because He told us to; we read Scripture which finds its fulfilment and truest meaning in Him. We are baptised like He was, and we come together to do just what He did with His disciples on the night before He died because he told us to ‘Do this’, so we do. We are fed by Him and fed with Him so that we may share His life, and be given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.

Jesus calls us to follow Him by taking up our Cross and prizing our relationship with Him over all the things of this world. It’s a bit tricky, it’s a bit of an ask! In fact, for many people it’s pretty much impossible. Such are the enticements of the world, and the fact that there are those who want us to relegate religion to the private sphere. They argue that our faith shouldn’t affect our lives, it’s something which we can take out of its neat little box and wear for an hour on a Sunday morning, like a hat or some gloves, and then forget about, having done one’s public duty. Religion is not a matter solely for the private sphere, it affects who and what we are, and the world around us.

While may be tempting to follow the Enlightenment ideal of privatised religion, it simply will not do. We cannot truly follow Christ if we are not willing to lay down our lives for the sake of Him who died and rose again for us. Baptism and the Eucharist are free, but living out the faith which they encapsulate will cost us our lives. And yet we should give our life gladly, even though the world may well deride us, and call us fools.

In the Gospel Christ says to His disciples, and he says to us, ‘Do not be afraid … have no fear of them … Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul’. We can laugh at those who pour scorn upon us for all that they promise is of this world, fleeting, and of no real value; whereas what Christ promises us is of God, it will last forever, it is a glory which can never fade – it is ours and is offered to the whole world for free, if only they would accept it.

To follow Jesus we need to die to sin, we need to turn away from all the selfishness which separates us from God and each other, and instead live out the radical love of the Kingdom – a love which forgives, a love which thinks of others before ourselves. It is no good seeing this in individual terms; it affects us as a society. We need to do this together – you and me. Each and every one of us needs to live not enslaved to sin, but as slaves for Christ. His service is perfect freedom, freedom from the ways of the world and freedom to live the new life of the Kingdom of God, here and now.

We are called as a church to live out our faith together, praying for each other, supporting one another, and relying upon God, and His grace, that unmerited kindness and free gift, which we do not deserve, but which has the power to transform us, to conform us to the pattern of His Son. This He pours out upon us in the Sacraments of His Church, so that we might be conformed to His will: fed by God, with God, to have life in Him. We can only do this if we rely upon God and do it TOGETHER, built up in love.

Only then can our lives, our words and our actions proclaim the saving truth which can change the world.

For two thousand years the church has been changing the world, one soul at a time, so that God’s will may be done, and His Kingdom may come here on earth, as in Heaven. We are radicals, and revolutionaries who believe that the Love of God can transform our Human nature. That water, bread, and wine are the most powerful things we have, when, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they wash us clean, and feed us with the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We are still being persecuted for this, by those who are afraid of what we are, and what God’s love can do.

Whatever they do, they cannot win. We cannot lose. We have nothing to fear, only a message of love to live out so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now, and forever.

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11th Sunday of Year A (Mt 9:35-10:28)

Sheep are lovely creatures, their lambs gambol in fields, their wool keeps us warm, their meat is tasty. They do, however, have something of a bad reputation – they are seen as simple, stupid creatures, who munch grass all day and are a bit dozy and clueless. They can be seen very negatively, as an unthinking herd, or as wandering off and getting caught in thickets. It is no wonder then that one of the images in this morning’s Gospel is likewise not generally seen as positive. ‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd’ (Mt 9:36) Jesus has compassion on them, Matthew uses a word which means to be moved deep inside, it is a gut feeling, a feeling of compassion, of love and care. Like sheep without a shepherd they can wander aimlessly. They need direction; they need help.

We could be forgiven for thinking that that such feelings belong in our past. We’ve grown up, we’ve moved beyond all that. But, if anything the events of the last few weeks tell us clearly that where there is an absence of leadership people get worried. They start to panic. They’re not sure what is going on, or how they are going to find safety and security . So the world around us is a mess, our politicians don’t seem to be much help, and we’re not sure that the Church is any better. It is a sad indictment of the age in which we live, but THERE IS HOPE. We can always, and in all things trust in Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, and who lays down his life for the sheep.

After Jesus has said this He proceeds to call labourers for the Lord’s harvest. He summons the twelve apostles to share his work of proclamation and healing. They are to be sent out for the healing and reconciliation of the nations and to preach the Good News of the Kingdom. He gives them power and authority to do God’s work in the world. It is no easy task – they are to be flogged and handed over for trial. They are to face persecution in the world for doing the work of God. As co-workers with the Lord, fellow shepherds, they too will lay down their lives for their flock, and such is the lot of those called to serve God as bishops, priests and deacons.

In the book of Exodus Moses is addressed by God: ‘Indeed the whole earth is mine but you shall be for me a priestly people and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’ (Exod 19:5-6) As the church is the New Israel, bought through the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood, then these words apply to us. We are to be priestly and holy. We are to honour God and worship Him, and encourage others so to do. We do this by being close to God in our reading of Holy Scripture and our participation in the sacraments of the New Covenant – primarily Baptism and the Eucharist.

Christ has compassion on the people and gives them the shepherds that they need and want, to guide and direct them along the right path, to feed them, and lay down their lives for the sheep, as in all things they will look to Jesus as their pattern and example. His entire life and ministry points towards His Death and Resurrection, where He lays down his life in obedience to the will of the Father to reconcile humanity to God and to each other. It is this sacrifice and self-oblation which the church sees re-presented in the Eucharist, where on one hundred thousand successive Sundays the Church, through its priests and bishops has done what Jesus did on the night before He died with his apostles in the Upper Room. The Eucharist makes the holy people of God, because in it we are fed by Christ and fed with Christ, fed with the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We are given here and now a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet – humanity eats the bread of Angels, pointed to by the manna in the Desert. We are called to share in the Body and Blood of Christ do that we might live in Him and He in us.

Words cannot adequately describe the wonder of this mystery, that we poor, frail, sinful humanity are called to share in the life of God, to be nourished by it, strengthened by it, to live the life of faith here and now. So to a world desperate for answers, which has given up trusting in God, and indeed in just about anything, we can say ‘Come and see’. The church can offer something that people can trust, someone whom they can follow. A true shepherd to guide them, guard them, and lead them.

So let us cast our cares aside and follow Him, let us be nourished by Him, and invite others to so that they may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and for ever.

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Corpus Christi – Dom Gregory Dix on the Eucharist

Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, London, 1945p.743-4

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.

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Trinity Sunday

We celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity today because in 1334 Pope John XXII decided that on the Sunday after Pentecost the Western Church would celebrate the Trinity. It was already a popular feast. Nearly two hundred years previously Thomas Becket was consecrated a bishop on this day, and kept the feast. Its popularity in the British Isles is shown by the fact that we number the Sundays between now and Advent not ‘after Pentecost’ but ‘after Trinity’. It defines the majority of the liturgical year for us.

This morning, at the very beginning of our service, the following words were said, ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ We said ‘Amen’ to signify our assent and many Christians make the sign of the Cross as the words are said. At the end of the Eucharist I, as the priest, will pray that God will bless you as I invoke the name of the Trinity and make the sign of the Cross. These words and gestures are not random, or the result of a whim, but are part of our tradition of worship as Christians. This is how we express and declare our faith; through words and actions. These help us to reinforce what we believe and help us to live out our faith.

In this morning’s epistle we heard the closing words of Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. Their relations have not been been easy or pleasant. Paul has written urging reconciliation, something which the church always needs, and something at the heart of our faith. This is because it is what Jesus achieves on the Cross, our reconciliation with God and with each other. Paul urges the church to embrace in love, as we will soon do during the Peace. He ends with words which are very familiar to us: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ (2Cor 13:13) We often repeat these words, and call them ‘the Grace’.

This Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the unmerited kindness we have received through him, which we do not deserve. We have not earned it, but receive it through Him. The Love of God is such that He gave His only Son ‘that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ (Jn 3:16-17). The Love of God sees Jesus take flesh by the Holy Spirit, to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, preach repentance and the nearness of the Kingdom of God, and die for us on the Cross. Then he rose again, ascended, sent the Holy Spirit to us at Pentecost, and promised to come again as our Judge. Fellowship, or Communion is what the persons of the Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – have between each other, and which we the Church are invited to share. It is the imparting of the grace, the undeserved kindness of God. In the act of Holy Communion we are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we might share in the divine life here on earth.

We can do this because we have been baptised. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus tells the apostles to go and make disciples ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28:19). This is the central act of our faith, it is how we enter the Church; how we put on Christ; how we are saved. It defines us as Christians.

In public prayer, at the end of Psalms and Canticles, we end with the words, ‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit ; As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.’ This is a doxology which means ‘Words that praise God’ We say these words because they express our faith.

Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and others cannot accept the fact that as Christians we say that we do not worship three Gods, but One God. That we believe that  the Son is God, not less than the Father, likewise the Holy Spirit, and yet there are not three Gods but one God. These are not manifestations, but persons which share the same divine essence and yet are distinct. The Father uncreated; the Son begotten; the Spirit proceeding. It is why we stand up and state our beliefs. It matters. We do it regardless of the cost. Simply believing the Christian faith and declaring it publicly can lead to imprisonment or death in some countries around the world today.

Our faith matters. It can change lives. It can change the world. It isn’t a private concern, something to be hid away politely. It is the most important thing there is. It is something to fill us with joy. It is something that we should share with others, so that they might believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Pentecost 2017

The feast of Pentecost was well-known to Jews in Jesus’ time. Fifty days after the Passover, they celebrated God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai. It was an important feast as the Jews saw their whole life as tied up with the observance of God’s law. Jerusalem was full of people from all over the Mediterranean world who had come to celebrate this festival.

Although they are present in Jerusalem, the disciples have other things on their mind. Fifty days after our Lord’s death and resurrection, the disciples are carrying out Jesus’ instructions given just before his Ascension, to stay in Jerusalem and pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. An amazing thing happens. Suddenly, men who were once afraid to leave a locked room get up and go out to tell people what God has done in his Son, Jesus Christ. They are inspired. They are on fire.  Filled with the love of God, they are able to go and share the Good News of the Kingdom.

At the Annunciation the angel Gabriel proclaims to Mary ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’ (Lk 1:35). Jesus Christ takes flesh in the womb of his mother by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are told that the Spirit hovers over him at his Baptism, like a dove. All His life and ministry is totally connected with God the Father in the power and union of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus’ Ascension God gives the Holy Spirit to the church. This is what we celebrate today!

In the Gospel passage we have heard today Jesus twice greets the apostles with the words ‘Peace be with you’. What he offers them is not simply an absence of noise or distraction but something far more wonderful. It is something we cannot fully understand though it is something which we can experience. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have peace with God and each other. The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of love and peace. Jesus then gives the apostles a commission: ‘as the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (Jn 20:21). They are sent to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom in word and deed, laying down their lives in God’s service.

Jesus breathes on them, to empower them, that they may receive the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus tells them that whoever’s sins they forgive are forgiven. This is an extraordinary claim. But Jesus can make it because he is God. Through Him the church has become a place of healing, where we may be reconciled to God and to each other. Surely my brothers and sisters, this is is the most tremendous thing, a gift of a truly generous God.

The Jews in the Acts of the Apostles are amazed to hear the Good News in their own language, spoken by a rag-tag assortment of Galilean fisherman and other ordinary men. It is incredible. It is miraculous. And it points towards the present reality where there is not a country on this earth which has not heard the good news of Jesus Christ. But there is still work to do and it is wonderful to read that the Bible is currently being translated into 250 new languages.

Thus the work of proclamation is not finished. It is thanks to the preaching of the Good News started by the Apostles at Pentecost that we are Christians today, and that millions of people have come to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ. So, for those of us who are in Christ, who have entered the church through our Baptism, we have an important job to do. We need to tell people about Jesus.

The church is wonderful in its diversity, because we are all different, we don’t speak the same language, or have the same culture. We don’t look the same, we are not clones or robots. We are empowered through our having received the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, in our Confirmation, indeed through all the sacramental actions of the church; the outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace. This is how the Holy Spirit works, how it builds us up in love. Through the sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, the Eucharist, we are nourished spiritually to keep doing what God wants us to do.

Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth give us a vision of how the Holy Spirit unifies the Church. When we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come’ in the Lord’s Prayer every day we are praying for the Church and the world to be filled with God’s love through the Holy Spirit. That we might be drawn ever closer together, so that we may truly be one. This is Christ’s prayer for the Church in the Garden of Gethsemane in John 17. That the church should be one, united in love and in faith. It is God’s will. We cannot ignore it. We have to do all that we can to work towards it, and it is this desire for unity in the church which has seen an initiative ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ started by The Most Rev’d Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, be taken up across the world, so that in the days from Ascension to Pentecost the church has prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit to bring us closer together, in love and unity, to proclaim the good news, the people may come to know Jesus. It is the start of something great, where the church is renewed through the Holy Spirit, and it is something we can join in with. So let us pray:

Renew your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost.

Grant to your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of Blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen.

Come Holy Spirit, in your power and might to renew the face of the earth.

Almighty God, your ascended Son has sent us into the world to preach the good news of your kingdom: inspire us with your Spirit and fill our hearts with the fire of your love, that all who hear your Word may be drawn to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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