April 2, 2014

HOMILY for Wed in Week 4 of Lent

Isaiah 49:8-15; Ps 144; John 5:17-30

In medieval English parish churches, two great images faced you as you looked from the nave towards the sanctuary and altar: a Rood Screen with the Crucifixion, and painted on the archway above that, the Last Judgement, or the Doom. So, the medieval parishioner would have had the Cross and the Final Judgement in sight whenever they came to church to worship. And so should we today. 

What does it mean to have these images, these eternal realities, in mind? In looking at the Cross, we contemplate God’s mercy and the depths of his saving love. But the Cross is also our judgement. For as Jesus’ enters his Passion and takes up his Cross, he says: “Now is the judgement of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out” (Jn 12:31). For the Cross reveals the cruelty and violence that sinful humanity inflicts on Man; it also shows the suffering and torment borne by all those who are victims of this sinful world. Hence, the world is judged, that is, to say that our world is faced with the stark truth of its sinful choices. For we are judged by the truth of what we do. Hence, Christ who is Truth itself, hangs on the Cross. Very often, people cannot bear to look at the Crucified One and contemplate the Cross, because we just cannot face up to the Truth. This, too, is why so many fear the thought of judgement, fear even confession, because they cannot face up to the truth of who they are and what they have freely chosen to do. 

But to be only filled with fear or shame would be to forget that the Cross is also proof of God’s undying love and mercy for sinners; a Love who seeks us in order to raise us up to new life. I was in the Sistine Chapel last summer, and I was able to stand at the High Altar, looking up at Michelangelo’s great depiction of the Last Judgement. But as I stood there I noticed that the huge Crucifix on the Altar stands right in front of the painting of the Gates of Hell. So, the Cross of Christ literally blocked the way to Hell. But for it to do this I had to look and see the Crucified One. This is to say, I have to own up to the truth of my sins, to be judged by the reality of my sinful acts. But at the same time, as I acknowledge my sins, then I experience, too, God’s mercy and his saving love on the Cross. But we can’t just have love and mercy without the truth of our sinfulness. This is what judgement means. 

Thus, in a poem on the Last Judgement, Pope Bl John Paul II (whose 9th anniversary of death is today) wrote: “It is granted man once to die, and thereafter, the judgement! Final transparency and light. The clarity of the events – The clarity of consciences –”. Judgement brings clarity; the light and transparency of truth to shine on what we have done but that light which shines on our deeds is also the light of love. The Doom, or Last Judgment painted on the walls of our churches were a reminder, then, of this final judgement, and St John speaks of it in today’s Gospel: “the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice” (5:28). It is the voice of Truth.

However, St John’s Gospel, unlike the other Gospels, also has a more imminent view of judgement. We hear today: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (Jn 5:25). So, the Doom painted in the medieval church, or in the Sistine Chapel, is a perpetual reminder of our daily judgement. For every day, in the deliberate acts and moral choices we make, we are making judgements which reveal the truth of who we are; what we truly love in life, and where we’re headed.

Do we listen to Christ’s Word? Do we honour him by obeying his teachings? Ultimately, do we act with love? If we do, then we rise from the deadliness of sin and move towards Jesus. If not, then as the Catechism put it: “By rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself [and] receives according to one’s works” (CCC 679). Thus the Crucifixion scene, too, was a daily judgement because it reminded us of Christ’s sacrificial love, and called us as disciples to do likewise every day until, as St John of the Cross says, “in the evening of life we will be judged on love alone”. 

At the start of Lent we were told to remember that we would return to dust and ashes, that is, that we will die and be judged. So, today, in mid-Lent, we’re reminded again of judgement; of Christ’s Truth but also of God’s eternal mercy and love. So, if you have sinned, don’t let fear or shame keep you from going to him in Confession. For God’s judgement is always also one of mercy and forgiveness, and his Love raises us from sin’s death to grace’s new life.

July 27, 2013

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HOMILY for 16th Sat per annum (I)

Ex 24:3-8; Ps 50; Matt 13:24-30

- preached at a retreat focussing on the Encyclical, Lumen Fidei

Today’s parable offers both hope and a warning. First the ‘bad news’. What appears to be wheat may be weeds (darnel), so that what seems good to us, may not actually be so. As such, we are warned not to judge by appearances. This is not the first time Jesus has warned his disciples of this in St Matthew’s Gospel. In chapter 7, he said: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (7:15f). But there he was speaking of the Church, and now, he speaks of the field of the wider world. There are things in the world which seem good to us, but they may not be. At the same time, there are things which we think to be weeds but they are good, nutritious wheat. So, we are to wait patiently and carefully, for we “will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16, 20) at the harvest time, that is, the Last Judgement. 

But, the good news is that God is also patient, allowing both wheat and darnel to grow until the harvest time. Until maturity, both look so similar that they are difficult to distinguish. What we have here is a sense that we are all sinners, and so all of us look similar. During the time that we have – our lifetime – God’s grace works within us, silently and unseen, converting us, drawing us closer to Christ, transforming us so that we become wheat. As St Augustine says: “many are first weeds and then become good wheat… If those, when they are bad, are not tolerated with patience, they will never reach this laudable change”. 

But how can something that was sown as darnel become wheat? Are these not different plants? The change that is being intimated in this parable is repentance, metanoia. One of the benefits of being human beings (and not plants) is that we can change our minds. And unlike the angels, because we are fallible and changeable, there is the opportunity for repentance which they, having perfect intellects, do not have. Therefore, St Peter says: “The Lord is not slow about his promise… but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pt 3:9). So, we should use the time given to us to repent, to change our ways of thinking and behaving, and to be conformed to Christ, transformed into his image and likeness by his Spirit of love.

However, in this gradual work of grace, we can be quite impatient with ourselves, striving for perfection, but seemingly failing. The Devil’s ploy is to lead us to despair so that we give up, and so, remain as darnel. So, we need to be patient with ourselves too, and continue to rely on God’s grace, trusting in his mercy, and in the power of his grace, which, we believe in faith and hope, is quietly and secretly growing in our hearts. Thus St Francis de Sales says: “Since God is so patient with you, have patience with all things, but first of all, with yourselves”! For God has faith in us, and our potential for good, even when we don’t. 

And so, finally, we need to be patient with others especially those whom we think are terrible weeds, who do not have faith, and so on. For God’s grace is also at work in their lives, to draw them to himself. So, let us patiently seek the good in our fellow Man, and dialogue with them, to bring them to Christ, who is true Good for whom every heart seeks. As Lumen Fidei says: “Because faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who, though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek. To the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find, they are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading to faith… Any-one who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God, is already sustained by his help” (§35). This is to say, that some people may seem like weeds to us, but, in fact, they may be more wheat than we know. As we were warned, we cannot judge by appearances. God alone knows, and God alone will judge. 

So, let us entrust them to his mercy, and pray for an increase of his grace. May the Virgin Mother of God intercede for us, for she is the pure wheat who gave us the Bread of Heaven. 

March 13, 2013

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HOMILY for Wed in Week 4 of Lent

Isaiah 49:8-15; Ps 144; John 5:17-30

God, who is pure Act, does not ever rest because he sustains the universe, and holds all that is in being. If God ever rested, so to speak, all existence would cease! Hence, the rabbis understood that the language in Genesis about God resting on the Sabbath is just a figure of speech; an encouragement for humanity to rest so that we are not enslaved to our work but are mindful to take time to maintain our relationship with God and neighbour. But, fundamentally speaking, God is always at work, acting to sustain all that is. Only God is exempt from keeping the Sabbath. 

This doctrine of creation, and this divine exemption from the Sabbath rest is what Jesus has in mind when he says: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn 5:17). It’s a breathtaking statement of his divinity, his equality with God. No wonder the Jews are shocked.

Moreover, as evidence that God worked on the Sabbath, the rabbis pointed to the fact that people were born and died on the Sabbath. This is to say that God gave life and he gave judgement on the Sabbath. Jesus claims that he, as Son, also does these divine works. Hence, “the Son gives life to whom he will” and the Father “has given all judgement to the Son” (Jn 5:21f). These claims further intensify Jesus’ identification with the Father; Jesus is God.  

But today’s discourse, of course, has to be seen in relation to yesterday’s Gospel, to the healing of the man who had been lame for thirty-eight years. It is this work that Jesus likens to the Father’s work on the Sabbath of giving life and judgement. For it is the work of the Son to bring life, too, but not in the same way as the Father does. Rather, the Son brings life by healing all that excludes us from communion, from life and love in community. So, after that lame man was healed, Jesus later found him in the Temple, in the hub of the Jewish community where he is reclaiming his place in society in relation to God and to his fellow Man. Indeed, that man was healed and freed by Christ so that he can do what the Sabbath demands, namely establish and maintain a just and good relationship with God and neighbour. As St Paul says: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19).

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March 5, 2012

HOMILY for Monday, 2nd Week of Lent 

Dan 9:4b-10; Ps 79; Lk 6:36-38

Originally posted on Godzdogz in 2011.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”. And just how is the Father merciful and compassionate towards us? Through the Cross. In the sign of Christ Crucified, we see, and we experience God’s mercy. For Christ is the good measure of God’s generous, superabundant, self-giving love, and God’s tender mercy. And it is Jesus who was unjustly judged by Pilate, and condemned by the people. He endured the judgment of the kangaroo court, and the condemnation of the mob with patience, humility, and courage. Even when Jesus was ‘pressed down’ under the immense pressure of Man’s sin and injustice, he endured in silence. As Isaiah said: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth (Isa 53:7). And when the Lord did open his mouth, it was not to judge or condemn the world, but to say: “Father, forgive them”. 

So, Jesus, crucified and dying for us, is the sign of God’s mercy and forgiveness, a sign of his generous and sacrificial love. “And by his wounds we have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Each day, our own sins, and the sins of the world injures us. It’s understandable when we’re hurt or treated badly to react with anger, indignation, or even hatred. It’s tempting to judge and condemn those who trespass against us, and we might well find ways to justify this, and nurse the grunge, and find it hard to forgive. But none of this heals our wounds. Only the Cross, and the wounds of the Crucified One heals us of what sin inflicts on us. 

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