March 10, 2014

HOMILY for the feast of St John Ogilvie

Isa 50:5-9; Ps 76; 2 Cor 1:3-7; Jn 12:24-26

"What are you giving up for Lent?" That’s the question that many people ask themselves and one another at this time. And perhaps we decide to give up things like chocolate, or drink, or some sleep. And although we’ve just begun Lent, we may find ourselves flagging already. But those are just the things we think we can afford to give up. However, I have heard people say, for example, "I can give up coffee but I couldn’t live without sugar". So, there are some things too vital for us to let go of.

But what about St John Ogilvie? What did this martyr give up in Lent? His life. 

For so many of us, material things like coffee, chocolate, wine and so on are the consolations of life. We like our comforts and luxuries, and we can become so attached to material goods that we even say that we can’t live without them! But the example of today’s saint, and indeed of all the holy martyrs, reminds us of how superficial we can be. For they not only gave up luxuries and comforts, but even that which is most precious: their life. Because the one thing they could not live without wasn’t sugar but the sweetness of the Catholic Faith. They detached themselves from all created goods – and even life when it was demanded of them – so that they could attach themselves to Christ who is the Truth. And the consolation they sought in this life was not material comforts but God himself who is our Life.

The example of St John Ogilvie thus gives a sharp focus, I think, to our Lenten exercises. We ask “what are you giving up”, but we should ask “Why am I giving things up?” Our Lenten renunciations are more properly called mortifications. We detach ourselves from material things in order to die a little – to die to our wants, our worldly attachments, our creature comforts, but more importantly, to our old habits and selfish attitudes. True penance, then, is not based on a calculation of what we can afford to give up, what luxury we can cut down on. Rather, it means giving up even what we need, what we once thought was vital! Thus Pope Francis said in his Message for Lent: “No self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt”. 

I don’t think this means that we should hurt ourselves physically. But it does mean that we could stretch our hearts to love better: to be kinder to those we find difficult; to look out for ways to help others; to serve the common good. We could die to our pride and learn humility: we restrain our craving for attention; stifle our petty irritations and prejudices; hold our tongues and guard our opinions. All these kinds of spiritual mortifications form our internal character so that a renewed, more loving and Christ-like Me emerges from Lent into the new life of Easter. So, external acts like giving up food and drink are meant to lead to this: a transformation of our heart so that we love better God and our neighbour. Otherwise, they’re futile. 

Our mortifications and penances, then, whether during Lent or every day of our Christian lives, train and prepare us for that great mortification of Love, of self-sacrificial giving, of following Christ, that we’re each called to, and of which martyrs like St John Ogilvie are the supreme example. May he pray for us that we too will give up what is necessary in order to be one with Jesus Christ.

March 8, 2014

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HOMILY for the Saturday after Ash Wed

Isaiah 58:9-14; Ps 85; Luke 5:27-32

One of the images of Lent is that of going into the desert or the wilderness, for so Jesus did for forty days, and the people of Israel for forty years. However, what comes with the image of the desert is a place of blistering austerity, of hard stones and discomfort, of unpleasantness. No wonder, then, that so many people dread or fear the rigours of Lent; it can appear almost masochistic!

But I think we need to look at Lent from God’s perspective. Today’s Collect prays for God to “look with compassion” on us, and to give us his “protection”. In the book of the Apocalypse, the Woman clothed with the Sun, who stands for the Church, is taken by God “into the wilderness” for her protection, to keep her safe from the Dragon (Apoc 12:14). And, the prophet Hosea says that God will “bring [his beloved people] into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” there (Hos 2:14). So, during Lent, God leads us, his beloved Church, into the wilderness for our protection, so that he can allure us and woo us, and show us his compassion. Hence in the reading we’ve heard from Isaiah, he says: “The Lord will always guide you, giving you relief in desert places” (58:11). 

And how does the Lord show compassion? How does he give us relief? How does Lent protect us? In the same way, I think, that the Sabbath does. The latter part of Isaiah’s reading for today, the Saturday after Ash Wednesday concerns the Sabbath, which was given to Mankind as a gift from the Lord. All too often we can see it as an inconvenient commandment – that we are to keep the Sabbath holy – which, if we even remember it, gets in the way of work or shopping or other things we’d rather do than go to church. But as Jesus has said, “The Sabbath is made for man” (Mk 2:27). So, it’s not for God’s sake that we keep the Sabbath holy, or go to church, or cease from servile work – it’s for our sake. 

Because, again and again people have come to me saying that they are stressed, over-worked, and feel enslaved to their desks and jobs. Like the dragon of the Apocalypse, our work and the demands of a competitive work culture, our deadlines and economic targets can threaten to consume us. But Life lived like this is imbalanced. So, the Sabbath is God’s way of ensuring a balance is kept in our life, that we not only work, which is vital for mankind’s dignity – there is something debilitating about unemployment as well as idleness – but that we also rest. For in the Sabbath rest we discover God who is a communion of persons, we discover the divine dignity that is fundamental to our humanity. Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, thus explains that the Sabbath is the “still point in the turning world, the moment at which we renew our attachment to family and community… [It is] the one day in seven in which we live out all those values that are in danger of being obscured in the daily rush of events; the day in which we stop making a living and learn instead simply how to live”.

So, too, Lent is like an annual Sabbath. As Jesus called Levi away from his work in the tax office, so we are called to follow him into the wilderness each Lent. For God calls us into the desert to protect us; to speak tenderly and compassionately to us; to restore our spirits and strength, and recall us to “live out all those values that are in danger of being obscured”. So, during Lent, if we take up the opportunities it provides, we learn to re-discover community through almsgiving; we learn to re-balance our life and its priorities through fasting. And, most significantly, we learn “simply how to live”, indeed, how to love through prayer. For through prayer know that we are loved; through prayer Christ calls us away from the wild-ness of our world to follow him into the Lenten wilderness where we can rest in God’s love, where God can speak “tenderly” to Man.

March 3, 2014

HOMILY for 8th Mon per annum (II)

1 Peter 1:3-9; Ps 110; Mark 10:17-27

St Peter says: “Now for a little while you may have to suffer many trials” (1 Pt 1:6). Perhaps this is true, but one thing can help us alleviate the suffering, and even avoid life’s trials: money. How often have we said to ourselves: if we had more money we could do this, enjoy that, and avoid such and such a hardship? And this is true: money does provide opportunities and does save us from certain pains, or at least, I’ve lived with the destitute and seen the terrible impact of a lack of money. So, we do need money in this world, and it does buy for us good things. The problem arises when we forget who is the Giver of all good things and our priorities go askew. Hence, we heard in yesterday’s Gospel: “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be yours as well” (Mt 6:33). 

If we look at a US dollar bill or coin, we’ll see these words: “In God we trust”. So, it can remind one that the good things that money buys ultimately come from God; we should trust him even above those good things. But, very often, the God in whom people really trust is the very thing on which this slogan is imprinted: Money itself, or at least, what it buys. Thus the slogan becomes a taunt. Hence Pope Francis has spoken of a “new idolatry of money” in which we “calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies” (Evangelii Gaudium, §55). And the thing about idols is that they are very well-disguised. 

The rich young man who comes to Jesus in today’s Gospel did not even recognize the dominion of wealth over him until Jesus exposed it. And Jesus does this because he looked at him and loved him. Thus, by asking him to sell all he had, Christ unmasked the idol that took the place of God in the young man’s life. 

We might wonder today, especially as Lent approaches: What are the idols in my life? What are the things that I cannot, indeed, will not, give up for Christ’s sake; for the sake of the Faith; for the living out of the Sermon on the Mount which we’ve been hearing these past Sundays? This coming Ash Wednesday, the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed for several hours in this chapel. I encourage you to come to Our Lord and adore him; look at him. Or rather, let him look at you and love you as he loved the young man in today’s Gospel, so that Jesus will reveal to you what are the hidden idols in your life. What are the gods, truly, in which we trust? 

The point isn’t that money or worldly things are bad. Rather, when an earthly good – even another human person – or spending time with friends, or our work, or a desire for money and its security and consolations has displaced God who is the highest Good, then we have begun to trust in idols. Hence, because Jesus looked at the young man and loved him, he invited him to “Come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). This Lent is an opportunity to do this. But do we dare let Jesus look at us, love us, and so, expose our idols that we cling to and trust in so implicitly? Will we, as St Peter suggests, allow ourselves to be tested by the purifying fire of God’s love so that our faith becomes “more precious than gold” (1 Pt 1:7). If we do, then, as Jesus promises the young man, we will have “treasure in heaven”, namely, God himself. 

For God alone is our treasure, our worth, our security and Giver of all good things. “In God we trust”: let this slogan become no longer a taunt but true. 

March 27, 2013

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HOMILY for Wed in Holy Week

Isa 50:4-9; Ps 68; Matt 26:14-24

“The love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10), St Paul says to St Timothy. Over the past few days, we’ve glimpsed that this may have been Judas’ main problem. He was entrusted with the common purse but he’d been embezzling the money, thus betraying the trust of the community. He was entrusted with Christ’s friendship but Judas betrayed that too. He knew where Jesus would go and pray – in Gethsemane – and he revealed that most intimate location to the guards, betraying Christ with the kiss of false friendship. And all for the sake of thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave. But, as these actions show, it was poor Judas who was the slave, chained by his love for money.

But it’s not money, per se, that one loves, is it? After all, those printed pieces of paper and discs of hard metal are not much use in themselves. It’s what money can achieve and acquire for us, and what it stands for that makes money so desireable. For money stands for survival, security, self-esteem. It enables independence, insurance, and influence. It makes life more pleasant and comfortable. And none of these is necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, it’s often the lack of money that is the root of so many of the world’s evils like poverty, starvation, and homelessness! 

However, many of the world’s evils also arise when we desire money and its gains too much, to the detriment of genuine loving relationships and of not sharing what we have more equally. Judas’ sin is not that he needs money, or uses money, or even wants more money. It is betraying his friends, failing to love, turning away from the community and its needs that is his sin. For a greed for money engenders not just independence but isolation, not just security but selfishness. The love of money leaves little time or energy for the genuine love of people, and it is this lack of love that leads to the lack of good, to evil. 

So, ultimately, Judas’ sin is a lack of love, and it is on this basis that he – and every one of us – is judged. As St John of the Cross says: “At the end of our life, we will be judged on love”; not on what we have or do not have, whether we’re rich or poor, but on love. On this basis, we’re all equal. 

The past forty days, then, have invited us all on a movement of love, away from self and towards others; from Judas to Jesus. Hence, our journey culminates with him on the Cross. There, stripped of all possessions and status, completely poor but also most free, the greatest Love dies for his friends – for you, for me, and also for Judas. With Christ, all that we ever desire, all that money stands for is ours, for free!

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March 8, 2013

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HOMILY for Fri in Week 3 of Lent

Hos 14:2-10; Ps 80; Mark 12:28-34

As the crocuses paint the Meadows with spring colour, and the spring flowers behind the altar bud forth, and the gentle rain soaks into the ground, we know that spring is approaching. Hosea uses the image of the return of spring as a sign of God’s love; it is a sign of hope. Ever faithful, no winter of human sin can be an obstacle to God’s love, and God renews his Covenant with Israel, with us, not because of who we are, or because we deserve it, but because of who God is. 

God is a faithful and loving God, a merciful God whose generosity and goodness is like the spring, bringing life and colour where there is pallid cold and death. So, the Lord says: “I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely” (Hos 14:4). It is God’s divine initiative to love us and heal us despite what we have done and who we are.

And because God has first loved us, so, we can love him (cf 1 Jn 4:19). For loving God is a work of his grace, relying on his initiative. As Hosea says: “from me [God] comes your fruit” (Hos 14:8b). On our part, we only need to be open to God’s grace and love, like the soil that is receptive to the gentle soaking rain. As God’s grace imperceptibly seeps into our heart and his love warms it, so, what had been cold and dead through sin will gradually show signs of new life. 

First, the tender shoots of understanding that strengthens in the light of the knowledge of God’s goodness to become the strong upright stem of the will, choosing to obey God’s commandments, which finally flowers in charity – active deeds of love for God and neighbour.  Again, as the prophet says: “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them” (Hos 14:9). 

So, during Lent, let us rejoice and be confident of the faithful love of God, and allow his grace to penetrate our hearts, for this is our springtime, a time of renewal, growth, and being strengthened in the Lord’s love. 

 

February 18, 2013

HOMILY for Mon in Week 1 of Lent

Leviticus 19:1-2,11-18, Ps 18; Matt 25:31-46

Yesterday’s Gospel simply says that after going without food for forty days and nights in the wilderness, Jesus was hungry. In this way we see how the Spirit immediately led Jesus after his baptism to a testing, a sacrifice of love, that anticipates the Cross. For the Lord chose to suffer the pangs of hunger, starvation, in order to experience what is a daily reality for so many people down the ages, including our own time. Nearly a third of our global population, and millions even in Britain, experience hunger because of “deep poverty”. 

So, Jesus, who is God-with-us, suffers in solidarity with all who are hungry, and also with all the poor, needy, and oppressed. This is what today’s well-known parable impresses upon us. Indeed, Jesus so identifies himself with the hungry and poor, that when we see them and help them, it is Jesus whom we help and serve. 

This is such an important element of our Christian faith that the Catholic Church is still the largest charitable organization in the world. This Lent, SCIAF, the official aid and international development charity of the Catholic Church in Scotland, wants to help the people of Burundi. Regarded as the third poorest country in the world, SCIAF reckons that 2 in 3 people in Burundi go to bed hungry each night. 90% of the population rely on subsistence farming, so SCIAF aims to help build peace in broken communities, and teach people new ways of farming so that they can grow enough food just to live. We can contribute to this work of justice and mercy by picking up a ‘Wee Box’ after Mass, and, throughout Lent, filling it with change. It’s a small thing for us, but together we can make a big difference to people’s lives. 

But most importantly, whether our acts are big or small, let us act with love. For without love but mere obligation or duty, we may not actually see Christ in the poor and needy, in the people around us, sitting next to us. How can we grow in love, and have our eyes opened so that we recognize Christ in the world? Through prayer, especially in the Eucharist. As Blessed Teresa of Kolkata said: “Jesus made himself the Bread of Life to satisfy our hunger for God and for his love”. So, it is here in the Mass that we are filled with God’s love, that we contemplate Christ Crucified and love him. For it is on the Cross that Christ is poor, hungry, naked, and suffering, and, then, we shall be taught to see the face of our beloved Lord in anyone who is poor, hungry, naked and suffering. And we can love Christ in them, love them because they are human beings, created in God’s image and deeply loved by him. Thus, prayer grounds our Lenten almsgiving so that they become acts of love.

We may not be able to solve the world’s social justice problems, or end world hunger, but with love, our “wee” contributions become something beautiful that we can offer to God this Lent, and indeed, throughout our lives. 

February 16, 2013

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HOMILY for the Saturday after Ash Wed

Isaiah 58:9-14; Ps 85; Luke 5:27-32

It’s striking that right after Levi left everything, rose, and followed Jesus, he should throw a feast. It’s a mark of generosity mirroring the divine generosity which calls all to receive God’s mercy. And it’s a mark of celebration, too, reflecting the joy we have of being forgiven. For the one who follows Jesus is the sinner who has known God’s mercy and forgiveness, and so, has cause to be joyful and to be generous. 

Hence, in this season of Lent, we’re called once more to “taste and see how gracious the Lord is” (Ps 34:8) through repentance. This involves leaving behind those things to which we’ve become too attached, and rising to follow Christ more closely. Like Levi, we follow Christ through acts of generosity, through sharing what we have, and through making room for others in our lives. As Isaiah put it: “Pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted” (58:10).

Then, as the Preface for Lent says, with the “joy of minds made pure”, we can come to the Lord’s   own feast – not just the banquet of Easter, but also the ultimate feast which our Easter festivities and this Mass anticipates: the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in heaven. So, let us come to him, who desires to heal sinners with his mercy and compassion, who calls us to follow him, and let us enjoy his hospitality. 

April 4, 2012

HOMILY for Wed in Holy Week

Isa 50:4-9; Ps 68; Matt 26:14-24

Thirty pieces of silver is reckoned in the Old Testament to be the price of a slave, so Judas becomes a slave trader. But the irony is that, in fact, the roles are reversed. 

As we’ve heard on previous days, Judas had an inordinate love for money. And it is greed, or an unchecked desire for material comforts and pleasure that can enslave us. The greed for more money, and more stuff, can cause us to look for ever more opportunities to enrich ourselves, to spend more hours at work, and so, neglect our families and friends. It is a betrayal of sorts, and certainly a kind of enslavement. 

And, in fact, the man whom Judas has just sold is the most free. As Jesus says elsewhere, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn 10:18). And he demonstrates this freedom in what takes place next in St Matthew’s Gospel: he gives his Body and Blood to his disciples, and institutes the Eucharist. Jesus’ radical freedom is this freedom to love, to give himself totally for the good of another. With his own life, Jesus pays the price for our freedom from the slavery of sin and death. 

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March 31, 2012

HOMILY for Sat in Week 5 of Lent

Ezekiel 37:21-28; Jer 31:10-13; John 11:45-56 - preached at a Day of Renewal at the Gillis Centre, Edinburgh.

The chief priests and Pharisees are afraid. They’re afraid of drawing the unfavourable attention of the Roman forces. They’re afraid of losing everything they hold dear: the Temple and their nation. So, St Augustine said, “there is no cause for fear save the loss of what we love, when we possess it, or the failure to obtain what we hope for”. But, if we pay attention to St Augustine, we notice that we can only lose something we already possess; it is the loss of that something which we love, that induces fear. 

But did the Jewish authorities actually possess the Temple? Was there really a Jewish nation? Or, were these not already lost to the power of Rome? Ezekiel says that the sons of Israel had been scattered, and the people were divided and defiled by idolatrous practices. So, in fact, the Temple was already lost; defiled and in need of purification, as Jesus’ prophetic act of cleansing the Temple at the beginning of St John’s Gospel indicated. And the nation, too, was already lost; dispersed in many nations, and subject to foreign powers. Thus the chief priests and Pharisees had nothing to fear from this perspective, because, in fact, they had nothing to lose.

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March 29, 2012

HOMILY for Thu in Week 5 of Lent

Genesis 17:3-9; Psalm 104; John 8:51-59preached at a Mass with Baptism in St Albert’s Chaplaincy

NB: Names have been changed for the sake of the privacy of the family

Three things happen to Abraham in today’s First Reading. Firstly, God chooses him, and makes a covenant with him. The tendency is to think of a covenant as a contract, but contracts usually exchange property, goods, and services, not people. But what we have here is something personal and relational. For a covenant is an exchange of love between people. Marriage is a covenant, and so too is baptism, which is an exchange of love between God and his child. God says to us, the spiritual children of Abraham, that he will be our God; he gives himself to us. In exchange, we give ourselves to him in love, and so, we create a family bond with God. Relationship, love, and faith or trust, are all hallmarks of any family. Just as you, Laura and Mike, will help Rose to grow in your family, to form relationships with her grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and to increase in love and trust, so, too, you will need to help Rose to grow in love for God, introduce her to him through your own example, so that she too may have faith and trust in him; so that she will have a living relationship with him. 

Secondly, Abraham is given a new name by God. The gift of a name is a sign of a new state of life or vocation. Abram had been called by God to be the father of his people, and because he entered into a covenant with God, he was given a new name, a family name, you might say, to indicate this. So, too, Rose Elizabeth has been given names – family names, of course, but also names drawn from the wider family of the Church, from the saints. For, in baptism, she will share the universal Christian calling, which is to become a saint through openness to God’s grace. In particular, I am delighted that she is called Rose, which is the name of the first saint of the Americas, the Dominican St Rose of Lima. 

Finally, Abraham is given a royal dignity and the promise of land, a kingdom. So, too, Rose will be anointed just as the kings of Israel were anointed, just as Christ, the Anointed One was. And so, she will become another Christ, an anointed one, who shares in Christ’s royal, prophetic, and priestly dignity. But, moreover, through baptism, Rose will be adopted into God’s own family. So, she will have the dignity of a child of God, a divine dignity, as God enters into a covenant with her, and gives himself to her entirely so that, through grace, the Holy Trinity dwells within her soul, making her a temple of God’s holy presence, filled with his love. And this is the promise that he makes to her today. That she will inherit, not just any kingdom, but the kingdom of God. She will inherit eternal life with God. 

This is the greatest gift anyone can receive because union with God is the only thing that will satisfy the longings of the human heart. By bringing Rose here today, you, Laura and Mike, who have already co-operated with God in giving her the precious gift of life, are also rightly thinking of her deepest happiness, and so, labouring with God to plant the seed of eternal life. May what God has begun this day be brought to perfection through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the working of all his saints – by which I mean not just those in heaven, but also us in the Church who all share in God’s covenant of love. 

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