Living the Life of the Kingdom: Micah 3:5-12, 1Thess 2:9-13, Matt 24:1-14

Our blessed Lord began His public life on the Mount of the Beatitudes, by preaching, ‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the earth.’ He finished His public life on the hill of Calvary by practising that meekness: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’

Fulton J. Sheen The Cross and the Beatitudes, 1937: 3

The Prophet Micah has some tough words this morning for those who lead people astray. Those who tell people what they want to hear will be the downfall of Israel. It is something which can easily be the downfall of any organisation: just tell people what they want to hear, don’t make any demands on them, just make them feel comfortable, all motherhood and apple pie. The church can and does easily fall prey to this and its fruit is apathy. People don’t want a church to make them feel comfortable, but to challenge them, and inspire them to be something better, by the grace of God. Thus we are called to holiness of life, or as St Paul puts it, ‘to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.’ (1Thess 2:12) We put our faith into practice – walking the walk and talking the talk, together in an act of witness to the world, to call it to repentance, and to be formed as part of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, where we are forgiven and built up in love.

It is probably a good thing that Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was not an advertising executive. Fundamentally He tells it like it is – there is a simplicity and a directness to Him that is not always comfortable. He does not tell us what we want to hear, but rather he tells us what we need to hear, which is often far from pleasant or comfortable. He has been teaching in the Temple, about the Kingdom of God, and how to live out the faith in our lives and now He turns to the future.

The Temple was the single most important place on Earth for religious Jews, it was the centre of their life; it was where they came close to God. The prospect of its destruction was surely the most dreadful prospect, something not to be countenanced at all. Yet it would happen, and rather than hide behind the false hope of a pleasant image, he teaches people the plain unvarnished truth. Rather than a sugar-coated pill he gives us a bitter draught, so that we can be prepared.

False teaching is always a possibility for the Church – people want to pervert the Gospel, to twist it for their own ends and to suit their own agenda – it is happening now, and has always happened. We need, therefore to be vigilant, to know what we believe and why, so that we can discern the true from the false, the good from the bad.

In human terms, the future looks bleak – human beings have an immense capacity for doing the wrong thing, and yet in the midst of all this we know whom we can trust, whom we can look to, where we can place our hope and our confidence. The possibility of being tortured or killed for professing faith in Jesus Christ is still very real, here and now, in the world in which we live. It’s a deeply unpleasant thought, and while none of us I suspect would like to undergo such treatment, we have to be prepared for the possibility, we have to be willing to stand up and be counted, to know that we place Christ before and above all things.

At one level it is quite understandable, what Christ stands for, what we stand for: love, forgiveness, selflessness, are never going to be popular in a world obsessed by power and wealth. But we’re not here to win a popularity contest, but rather to bear witness to the truth of Christ, and to know that we are set free by it. The love of many may grow cold; indeed it has, so we need to be that love in the world to make Christ known and to call others into His loving embrace. Against a human nature which takes a perverse delight in selfishness and sin, in not living how God wants us to, we need to take a stand.

Fundamentally the calling to be a saint is there for each and every one of us. We are called to be like Christ, and through our baptism to die to the ways of the world and live for him. In our baptism we are given the grace of God and His Holy Spirit, we are given all that we need to get to Heaven, because Christ loves us, and gave Himself to die for us, to take away our sins, to show us what love and forgiveness really look like, so that we can do the same.

On our own, each one of us individually doesn’t stand much of a chance, it’s far too difficult, it’s not how it is supposed to be.Rather we need to live out our faith together, as a community of believers, helping each other, supporting each other, praying for and forgiving each other, being built up in love together, so that together we can truly be the people of God, forgiving each other, loving each other, and helping to make the Kingdom a reality here and now.

We come to be nourished by Him, to be fed by the Word of God, nourished in our faith, to be fed with His Body and Blood, to be given a foretaste of heaven, fed by Him, fed with Him, to be built up in love together, strengthened and nourished to live out our common calling to sainthood, and to encourage others to join us, as this is what God wants us to do – this is life in all its fullness, following the Truth which sets us free from the ways of the world – its selfishness, its lust for power and control, its fear and anger, all those things which separate us from God and each other.

So let us come to Him, let our lives be transformed by Him, so that we can live out our faith together, in our common calling, and encourage others so to do, so that they too 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.

from Priesthood in Liturgy and Life by Fr Alban Baverstock SSC

The Christian priest pre-eminently exercises his priesthood at the Christian altar, offering the Christian sacrifice.  But it is surely clear that the Christian priest cannot satisfy the obligations which his share in the Eternal Priesthood lays upon him by the sole act of celebrating, occasionally or frequently, the Christian Mysteries.  At the altar or away from it, he is still a priest; and this priesthood must express itself in a life which is throughout an ordered ministry to God.  In other words the life of the priest must be liturgical.  His mass must be the summary for him, as for the great High Priest, of a life of self-oblation.  In the mysteries he offers himself in Christ.  His whole life must be a showing of Christ, impersonated in him, to God.  He must always be saying Mass.

A ready parallel meets us here in the apostolic injunction to ‘pray without ceasing’ [1Thess. 5.17].  This is rightly explained to mean more than that Christians are to be often at their prayers.  It means that the whole life of the Christian should be in a sense prayer, a coming to God, an energizing towards him.

And the parallel suggests an important conclusion as to the relation of the formal liturgy to the liturgical life, parallel to the relation between formal prayer and the life which is itself a continual prayer.  For the life of prayer, as experience abundantly proves, involves of necessity a due and constant attention to formal prayer.  Similarly the liturgical life, the life which is throughout a ministry to God, an oblation by the priest of himself in Christ and of Christ in him, depends very much on his formal celebration of the holy mysteries.  And the converse is true.  We shall never pray as we ought in our formal prayers unless our whole life breathes the spirit of prayer.  The priest will never say mass as he ought unless his whole life is imbued with the spirit of the mass, the spirit of oblation.

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A thought from Henri Nouwen

All of this is simply to suggest how horrendously secular our ministerial lives tend to be. Why is this so? Why do we children of the light so easily become conspirators with the darkness? The answer is quite simple. Our identity, our sense of self , is at stake. Secularity is a way of being dependant upon the responses of our milieu. The secular or false self is the self which is fabricated, as Thomas Merton says, by social compulsions. ‘Compulsive’ is indeed the best adjective for the false self. It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation. Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated or despised. Whether I am a pianist, a businessman or a minister, what matters is how I am perceived by the world. If being busy is a good thing, then I must be busy. If having money is a sign of real freedom, then I must claim my money. If knowing many people proves my importance, I will have to make the necessary contacts. The compulsion manifests itself in the lurking fear of failure and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same – more work, more money, more friends.

These very compulsions are at the basis of the two main enemies of the spiritual life: anger and greed. They are the inner side of the secular life, the sour fruits of our worldly dependencies. What else is anger other than the impulsive response to the experience of being deprived? When my sense of self depends on what others say of me, anger is a quite natural reaction to a critical word. And when my sense of self depends on what I can acquire, greed flares up when my desires are frustrated. Thus greed and anger are the brother and sister of a false self fabricated by the social compulsions of the unredeemed world.

Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who making them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.

It is not so strange that Anthony and his fellow monks considered it a spiritual disaster to accept passively the tenets and values of their society. They had come to appreciate how hard it is not only for the individual Christian but also for the church itself to escape the seductive compulsions of the world. What was their response? They escaped from the sinking ship and swam for their lives. And the place of salvation is called desert, the place of solitude.

Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, London: DLT, 1990: 14-16

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A thought for the day from Fulton Sheen

Abandonment to God

We always make the fatal mistake of thinking that it is what we do that matters, when really what matters is what we let God do to us. God sent the angel to Mary, not to ask her to do something, but to let something be done. Since God is a better artisan than you, the more you abandon yourself to him, the happier he can make you.

Seven Words of Jesus and Mary

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Fulton Sheen on the Signs of Our Times

These words were spoken in 1947, and are as true now as they were when they were first spoken. Fulton Sheen preached the truth which the world still does not wish to hear.

What can we do? Love God, and each other, and hold fast to our faith in this time of trial, safe in the knowledge that Christ has conquered sin, evil, and death. Let us be hopeful and confident.

A Thought for the Day from St Benedict

If we do not venture to approach men who are in power, except with humility and reverence, when we wish to ask a favor, how much must we beseech the Lord God of all things with all humility and purity of devotion? And let us be assured that it is not in many words, but in the purity of heart and tears of compunction that we are heard. For this reason prayer ought to be short and pure, unless, perhaps it is lengthened by the inspiration of divine grace. At the community exercises, however, let the prayer always be short, and the sign having been given by the Superior, let all rise together.

Homily for Lent I

It is all too easy to see the forty days of Lent, the season of preparation for our celebration of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection as a time of sadness and misery. Too often it is seen in entirely negative terms: we focus on what we are giving up. Now the practice of abstaining from bodily pleasures is a good and ancient one, not in and of itself, it is not some sort of holy diet, but rather we turn away from something we enjoy so that we may focus upon something else. The other practices of Lent: prayer and almsgiving are there to focus our minds upon God and other people, so that we may enter the desert of repentance with joy, thinking of the needs of others and growing closer to the God who loves us and longs for our healing, our repentance.
     
  In this morning’s first reading we see a covenant between God and humanity, a sign of God’s love for us, and a promise of reconciliation between God and the world which underlies what Jesus does for us, it allows us to have hope, to see things in an entirely positive way, and to see behind what we do, that it is a means, a means to an end, namely our sanctification, rather than an end in itself. In our second reading from the first letter of Peter, he draws the link between Noah’s ark, which saves people through water, and baptism, which is prefigured in it. Lent is a season of preparation for baptism, so that we can die with Christ and be raised like him and with him to new life in him. For those of us who have been baptised it is good to have a chance to spend the time in Lent praying, drawing closer to the God who loves us, and living out our faith in our lives – we can all do better, especially when we try, and try together, supporting each other, so that we might grow in holiness as the people of God.
When St Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying ‘Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria.’ When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried to the city. When he had found the tanner …. he said to him, ‘Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you.’
He replied, ‘I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of the city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds while I will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart.’
When St Antony heard this he said, ‘My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near to the measure of such words.’
It is a very human failure, for far too often we make things far too complicated when all we need to do is to keep things simple. In the story from the Desert Fathers, which we have just heard, St Antony, the founder of monasticism, a great and a holy man, is put to shame by a man who spends his days treating animal skins. The key to it all is the tanner’s humility, his complete absence of pride, and his complete and utter trust in God – his reliance upon him alone.
In this morning’s Gospel we see the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry – he is baptised by John in the River Jordan before immediately  going into the desert for forty days. He goes to be alone with God, to pray and to fast, to prepare himself for the public ministry of the Proclamation of the Good News, the Gospel.
During this he is tempted by the devil: he faces temptation just like every human being, but unlike us, he resists. The devil tempts him to turn stones into bread. It is understandable – he is hungry, but it is a temptation to be relevant, which the church seems to have given into completely: unless we what we are and what we do and say is relevant to people, they will ignore us.
There is the temptation to have power, symbolised by worshipping the devil. It leads to the misuse of power. The church stands condemned for the mistakes of the past, but in recognising this there is the possibility of a more humble church in the future – a church reliant upon God and not on the exercise of power.
There is the temptation to put God to the test – to be spectacular and self-seeking. Whenever we say ‘look at me’ we’re not saying ‘look at God’.
Jesus resists these temptations because he is humble, because he has faith, and because he trusts in God. It certainly isn’t easy, but it is possible. It’s far easier when we do this together, as a community, which is why Lent matters for all of us. It’s a chance to become more obedient, and through that obedience to discover true freedom in God. It’s an obedience which is made manifest on the Cross – in laying down his life Jesus can give new life to the whole world. He isn’t spectacular – he dies like a common criminal. He has no power, he does not try to be relevant, he is loving and obedient and that is good enough.
It was enough for him, and it should be for us. As Christians we have Scripture and the teaching of the Church, filled with his Spirit, to guide us. We can use this time of prayer and fasting to deepen our faith, our trust, our understanding, and our obedience, to become more like Jesus, fed by his word and sacraments – to become more humble, more loving, living lives of service of God and each other.  It leads to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ Words as true now as then, which the world still longs to hear, and which we need to live out in our lives, 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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A Thought for the Day from S. Anthony the Great

The brethren came to the Abba Anthony and said to him, ‘Speak a word; how are we to be saved?’ The old man said to them, ‘You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.’ But they said, ‘We want to hear it from you too, Father.’ Then the old man said to them, ‘The Gospel says,”if anyone strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.”‘ (Mt 5:39) They said, ‘We cannot do that.’ The old man said, ‘If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.’ ‘We cannot do that either,’ they said. So he said, ‘If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil,’ and they said, ‘We cannot do that either.’ Then the old man said to his disciple, ‘Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.’

It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.

He also said, ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalise our brother, we have sinned against Christ.’

Trinity XXI The Conversion and Sanctification of Man

Canon Henry Liddon was quite right when he spoke to the clergy saying ‘Our end is the conversion and sanctification of man’. It’s what the church is for, and its ministerial priesthood, sharing in the priesthood of Christ, calls the common priesthood of the baptised to be conformed more and more to the image of the Crucified Lord, Our Saviour Jesus Christ.
       This is achieved by a variety of means, but particularly by prayer: where humanity speaks to and more importantly listens to God. It is a mark of the intimacy of our relationship with the divine that it is to be a regular constant conversation so that God may be at work in us. In our prayer we praise God, not because He needs it, but because it is right and good humanity, the creature to praise its Creator. We intercede for our own needs and for those of the world, and we plead the sacrifice of His Son which alone can heal the wounds of sin which mar our fallen human nature. In our humble talking to God and in the silence of our hearts there can a space for God to speak to us, to transform us, in the power of His Holy Spirit.
       When Paul writes to Titus, in this evening’s second lesson, he is concerned with the ordering of public worship, and particularly prayer. Here in a Cathedral we are not unacquainted with decent ordered worship, as one might well expect. We have standards, which are rightly high, and can serve as an example and an encouragement, but we are first and foremost a community of prayer, which invites people to draw ever closer to the God who loves us, who saves us, and redeems us.
       We pray for the Church and the World, for the living and the departed, for the sick and those in need, which is excellent and acceptable to God. We do so in order that we may strive to live an ordered, quiet, peaceable life, and thus may be drawn ever closer to the godliness which is the path to true holiness of life in Christ. His Salvation which is for all people is both an event – His sacrifice upon the Cross of Calvary, and a process – through the outpouring of His Sanctifying Grace in the Sacraments of the Church, nourished by the Word of God in Holy Scripture, the Revealed Truth of God’s love for us, and through remaining close to God in prayer, that our human nature can be transformed and perfected in Christ. It is the will of God that all people may be saved, the invitation is offered to all, freely, it costs nothing, it may be resisted and even refused, yet God in His love and mercy offers it. We do not deserve it, we cannot earn it, it is a gift which is offered and has to be accepted.
       There is one mediator between God and humanity, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all, bearing witness to the love and mercy of God, and offering himself freely as a sacrifice upon the altar of the Cross, where as priest and victim he makes the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. This simple world-changing fact is at the heart of our faith: Christ died for our sins, yours and mine, and was raised to give us the hope of eternal life in Him. This is what we preach, it is what we pray, and what we live, so that we may be drawn closer to Him.
       It is wonderful, and yet it is not easy – for two thousand years the church continues to call humanity to repentance, and while our human efforts may be haltering, nonetheless the call to conversion and sanctification is a constant one, of which we need to be constantly reminded, each and every one of us, so that we can support and forgive each other, and pray for and with each other.
       I would like to end with some words of Mother Mary Clare slg:
       Today we can easily become
       paralysed by a sense that
       there is nothing we can do
       in the face of so much suffering,
       such lack of love and justice
       in man’s relationship with man,
       but the Cross of Christ
       stands at the heart of it all,
       and the prayer of Christ,
       now as always
       is the answer to man’s need.

Be Prepared – Matthew 25:1-13

The Scouting Movement has as its motto ‘Be Prepared’ which rather sums up the message of this morning’s Gospel. As people who live in the countryside we are more than used to having a supply of candles and batteries ready at hand to deal with the inevitable winter power cuts caused by bad weather. It makes sense, so that we are not caught out – having to endure the cold and dark.
      The Gospel speaks of a more serious preparedness, one which we must all face.  Our earthly lives are finite, and we have to be prepared for our end. We know that as Our Lord came among us born as a baby in Bethlehem, so he will come as Our Judge, and we have to be ready to meet Him. Rather than face this future with a feeling of uncertainty, of dread, we can as Christians have hope, we can watch and wait in hope, in the darkness, in the knowledge that Christ loves us, that he gave himself for us, he died to take away our sins, and that we can live for and through Him. It need not catch us unawares, as we have been warned, so that we can be prepared, we can be ready, with the lamp of faith and good works ready, trimmed and burning – a light burning in the darkness.
      It is a very human fear, and clearly the Christians in Thessaly around ad55 were more than a little concerned about what might happen. They can have the hope that ‘so we will be with the Lord forever.’ (1Thes 4:17) and therefore confident in that hope, they can begin to live out their faith here and now. They can live out the justice and righteousness which is pleasing to God, as it is how he wants us to live, so that we can have life in its fullness in Him.
      If what we believe in our hearts and how we live our lives are in perfect sync with each other, then we need have no fear, as the promise of sharing in Christ’s Resurrection is there for us – we do not need to be afraid, and we can get on with the business of living our lives secure in our faith. When we do this we can begin to see something of the just and gentle rule of Christ, as we will transform the world, and will be truly alive, living the life of heaven here in earth. Each day, as Christians, we pray, and we say the prayer that Jesus taught us which includes the petition ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. So that our words are not empty, as well as praying for the coming of God’s kingdom, we have to do something about it – we have to show how prepared we are by listening to God and doing what he tells us.

      We pray, we are nourished by the word of God, in reading the Bible, we are nourished by the sacraments of the Church, by the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, so that we may be strengthened in our faith, strengthened to live it out in our lives, living out the sacrifice so that we may be drawn into its mystery, carrying our own Cross, and being conformed ever more and more to the example of Our Lord and Saviour, living in Him, living like Him, living the life of the Kingdom here and now, so Christ’s kingdom may come here on earth, that His will may be done. 

A thought for the day from St John of the Cross

Wait upon God with loving and pure attentiveness, working no violence on yourself lest you disturb the soul’s peace and tranquility. God will feed your soul with heavenly food since you put no obstacle in his way. The soul in this state must remember that if it is not conscious of making progress, it is making much more than when it is walking on foot, because God himself is bearing it in his arms. Although outwardly it is doing nothing, it is in reality doing more than if it were working, since God is doing the work within it. And it is not remarkable that the soul does not see this, for our senses cannot perceive that which God works in the soul. Let the soul then leave itself in the hands of God and have confidence in him. Let it not trust itself to the hands and works of others, for if it stays in God’s care it will certainly make progress. 

Walking on Water

Fear is a very human feeling, we acquire it through learning, and yet it can be overcome, if we trust in God. Christains in Iraq, China, North Korea & Palestine – they face real danger, real persecution (we’re safe and comfortable by comparison) – and yet they trust, they pray (and so should we) and we should do all that we can to help them.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
This morning’s Gospel carries straight on from the miraculous feeding last week, as Jesus goes to send the crowds back home, he sends disciples ahead so that they might be ready.
 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.
Prayer is important, it is as important as the food we eat, the air we breathe, because it is about our relationship with God. Throughout the Gospels Jesus spends time alone, spends time close to the Father as this relationship is crucial. Where Jesus leads we should follow, follow his example.
When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.
It’s getting dark, and the disciples are out in the middle of the lake, in deep water; will the boat sink, what can they do?
And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear.
But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
The disciples cannot believe that they are seeing Jesus, so he encourages them, his presence can give them confidence.
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’
As usual, Peter is the first to react, he takes the lead – Jesus speaks a single word to him, ‘Come’ he speaks it to each and every one of us as Christians, to come, to follow him, to be close to him, to live out our faith in our lives strengthened by prayer.
 So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
 And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
Peter listens to what Jesus says, and obeys him, and does something miraculous, something extraordinary, until he is distracted by the world around him, and becomes frightened, likewise we, in our lives can in the power of God do wonderful things, if we are not distracted by the cares of the world around us, if we listen to what Jesus tells us and do it.
Peter becomes frightened; he starts to sink, as do we all when the cares of this world overwhelm us. His reaction is to cry ‘Lord, save me’ which Jesus does, indeed, through his offering of himself upon the Cross he saves each and every one of us, taking the sin of the world upon himself so that we might be freed from sin, fear and death, that same sacrifice which will be made present here, so that we the people of God, can be fed by God, with God, with his Body and Blood to be strengthened to have life in him, to be close to him.
Peter is told off for lacking faith, because it is important, we need to trust God, to have faith in Him, so that He can be at work in us and through us.

At the end, once the wind has died down the disciples worship Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ The end of it all is worship, it is what we as humans and as Christians are for, to worship God, in our love and our prayer, so that all of our lives are an act of worship, drawing us ever closer to the source of life and love. So that all we say or think or do may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

Dying to Live: Trinity I

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
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, 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 – to be fed by Himand fed with Himso that we may share His life, nourished by Him and given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.
          He calls us to follow Him by taking up our Cross and prizing our relationship with Him over all the things of the world. It’s a bit more tricky, it’s a bit more of an ask, in fact for many people it’s pretty much impossible – such are the enticements of the world, and the fact that the world around us wants us to relegate religion to the private sphere: it shouldn’t affect our lives, it’s something which one 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.
          While this may be tempting, 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 will cost us our lives. And yet we should give them up gladly, even though the world may well deride us, call us fools. In the Gospel Christ says to His disciples, 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, will last forever, it is a glory which can never fade – it is ours and is offered to the whole world for free.
          To follow Him 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, whose 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. 

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable; His love exists not on account of our character, but on account of His. Our highest experience is responsivenot initiative. And it is only because we are loved by Him that we are loveable.
Fulton Sheen Rejoice, 1984, 9
One of the great things about the Christian faith is that we worship a God whom we can trust, who keeps his promises. The prophet Ezekiel looks to a future when God’s people are sprinkled with clean water and gathered together. It is a promise which finds its fulfilment in the Church – we are given a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone – a generous, loving heart, one filled with the love of God, and are called to share that love with others.
          The event which the Church celebrated on Thursday, and continues to celebrate today: Our Lord’s Ascension, can be a tricky one with which to come to terms. However, just as Jesus came to earth, by the power of the Holy Spirit and took flesh in the womb of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to share our nature, and to heal and restore us, so now Our Risen Lord, having triumphed over death and hell, rises in glory to take our human nature into the Godhead, to point us to our ultimate destiny – eternal life  with God The words of the angels in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles also points to His second coming at the end of time. His words to his assembled followers apply to us as well – you be my witnesses to the ends of the earth and you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. Their reaction is to constantly devote themselves to prayer – they have an intimate relationship with God. They don’t simply say ‘Oh well that’s lovely, let’s get on with the rest of our compartmentalised life’ but rather they trust in God, they do what he tells them to do, and all of them pray together. In having prayer at the centre of their lives God can be at work in them, and through them in the world, in the power of His Holy Spirit.

          Thus, the prayer of Jesus before His Passion takes on a deeper significance in that it finds fulfilment in the day of Pentecost. We are called to pray, to stay close to God, nourished by Word and Sacrament, and in the power of the Spirit, poured upon us in our Baptism and Confirmation, to bear witness to Christ in the world. In the Eucharist we are fed by God, and fed with God, so that we can share His risen life, and experience the love of God, the love of God seen in Christ, who gives himself for love of us, as a sacrifice, where he is both priest and victim, to restore us and our relationship with God and each other. Having prayed and being nourished by the word of God we prepare to be nourished by God, to be strengthened to pray for His Holy Spirit, and to share the love of God with others, so that we grow together in love and unity.

A prayer for the Day


O
 God, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to them that seek first thy kingdom and thy righteousness, all things necessary to their bodily sustenance: Send us we beseech thee, such seasonable weather that we may receive the  fruits of the earth to our comfort, and to thy honour; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Homily for the 32nd Sunday of Year C


God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable; His love exists not on account of our character, but on account of His. Our highest experience is responsive, not initiative. And it is only because we are loved by Him that we are loveable.
Fulton Sheen, Rejoice, 1984: 9
At this time of year our thoughts turn quite naturally to things eternal. We have prayed for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed, and remember those who gave their lives in the past century. As Christians we know that our earthly life is not all that there is. This morning’s first reading is, despite its rather gruesome subject matter, one which contains hope – the hope of eternal life, the promise of a loving God, in whose image we are made.
          This hope is part of our faith, which is to be lived out in love: costly, and self-giving. This is our calling as Christians. This is what St Paul is encouraging the church in Northern Greece to live out. As a result of this we are called to prayer and the spread of the Gospel, that the message of God’s love and forgiveness, of healing and wholeness in the message and person of Jesus Christ. Through his giving of himself on the Cross we can have hope; hope that this world is not all that there is, that our destiny is something greater, something richer. The Sadducees can only ask a question to try and support their denial of life after death. Christ can only start from the reality of eternal life with God. It is acknowledged by Moses, it is the heritage of Israel, and thus for the Church as the new Israel.
          This is why we as the Church pray for the living and the dead; it is why we are fed by Word and Sacrament – nourished by God and with God, given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, to prepare us for an eternity with God. Such is the comfort which God gives us, such is the grace poured into our hearts. Such a great gift should provoke in us something of a response – a fashioning of our lives after the self-giving love which is the heart of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In this we can truly become what we were created for. We can realise that Love increases the more it is given, freely, not counting the cost, in the faith and hope that this life is not all that there is – that we are called to live out love in our lives. To live it out so that world may be filled with love, that it may believe, freed to sing the praise of 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.

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday of Year C

Humility is not self-contempt but the truth about ourselves coupled with a reverence for others; it is self-surrender to the highest goal.
Fulton Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living, 1955: 121
Most of us, I suspect, almost all of us don’t really like paying taxes; we know that we have to, but we’d rather not. There were taxes in Jesus’ day and tax collectors were privatised in the Roman Empire: they had to pay for the contract to collect the taxes, and recouped the cost of gaining the contract by over-charging people. They were not popular people, they were resented, they were hated, and with good reason.
          We know that in this morning’s Gospel that he’s supposed to be the villain of the piece, the Pharisee, a religious authority, is supposed to be the person to whom we look up, the example one might expect to follow. The parable, then, turns our understanding of the world on its head. The key to understanding the parable lies in Luke’s opening comment regarding those: ‘who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt’ (Lk 18:9). There is a fundamental problem with the difference between how they think of themselves and others. The Pharisee isn’t praying, he isn’t talking to God, he’s praying to himself, justifying what he thinks of himself, saying to God, ‘Look at me, am I not good?’
          But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner! (Lk 18:13). His prayer is that God will be merciful. He is so conscious of his own sin and need of God that he opens up a space in which God can be at work. It is in this space that we all need to be. We need to recognise that we need God to be at work in us, that we need to rely upon him to change us, to transform us – so that we can become the people that God wants us to be. All the prayer, all the rituals, all the externals of religion, are of no use unless they go hand in hand with an attitude which recognises that we need God, that we are sinful, and need his love and his mercy to transform us.  
          That is why, as Christians, we pray, why we come to Mass each and every week to be fed by word and sacrament, so that God’s grace and transforming love may be at work in us, transforming our nature, making us more like him. Everything that we say or think or do needs to be an outworking of our faith, so that our exterior life and our interior life are in harmony with each other – so that our lives, like St Paul’s, may proclaim the Gospel. This is what we are called to, and how we are to live. Unless we start from the point where we know our need of God and rely upon him, where we too make that space where God can be at work in us, in our souls and our lives, we are doomed to be like the self-righteous Pharisee, talking to ourselves, massaging our own egos, wallowing in selfishness and narcissism, proud and cruel.
          Is this the kind of life we really want to lead? Is this really the path of human flourishing? Or are we called to something better, something greater, something more lovely? So let us put our trust in the God who loves us and who saves us, let us know our need of him and his transforming grace to fill our lives and transform all of his creation so that the world so that it may believe and be transformed to sing the praise of 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.

A thought for the day from S. Ignatius of Antioch

Constantly pray for others; for there is still hope that they may repent so as to attain God. And so, allow them to learn from you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger show meekness; to their boasting, be humble; to their blasphemies, offer up prayers; to their wandering in error, be firmly rooted in faith; to their savage behaviour, act civilised. Do not be eager to imitate their example. Through gentleness we should be their brothers. And we should be seen to be eager to imitate the Lord. Who was mistreated more than he? Or defrauded? Or rejected? Do this so that no weed planted by the Devil may be found in you and you may abide in Jesus Christ both in the flesh and in the spirit, with all holiness and self-control.

To the Ephesians 10

More advice from S. Teresa of Avila

Beware of a certain kind of humility suggested by the devil which is accompanied by great anxiety about the gravity of our sins. He disturbs souls in many ways by this means, until at last he stops them from receiving Holy Communion and from private prayer by doubts as to whether they are in a fit state for it, and such thoughts as: ‘Am I worthy of it? Am I in a good disposition?  I am unfit to live in a religious community.’

Thus Christians are hindered from prayer, and when they communicate, the time during which they ought to be obtaining graces is spent in wondering whether they are well prepared or no.

Everything such a person says seems to them on the verge of evil, and all their actions appear fruitless, however good they are in themselves. They become discouraged and unable to do any good, for what is right in others they fancy is wrong in themselves.

When you are in this state, turn your mind so far as you can from your misery and fix it on the mercy of God, His love for us, and all that He endured for our sake.

St Isaac of Nineveh on the Mercy of God


 

As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God.

Just as a strongly-flowing fountain is not blocked by a handful of earth, so the compassion  of the Creator is not overcome by the wickedness of his creatures.

Someone who bears a grudge while they pray is like a person who sows in the sea and expects to reap a harvest.

As a flame of fire cannot be prevented from ascending upwards, so the prayers of the compassionate cannot be held back from ascending into heaven.