September 9, 2014

HOMILY for 23rd Tue per annum (II)

1 Cor 6:1-11; Ps 149; Luk3 6:12-19

If St Paul were to ask Christians today: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (1 Cor 6:2); “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Cor 6:3); I suspect the answer would be “No”. Indeed, he’d be told that we’re not to be judgemental. “Who am I to judge?” So, what does St Paul mean?

It seems to me that what Paul is objecting to, most of all, is disunity among the Christian community in Corinth, and a public show of disunity in which Christians charged other Christians before a civil and secular court. For him this is scandalous because it offends against the fundamental unity that binds Christians together in Jesus Christ. As he says: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). For through the grace of baptism, we have become one with Christ; the Holy Trinity dwells in us, and it is a union that only mortal sin – the sins he lists verses 9 to10 – can disrupt. So, St Paul is expressing here the central mystery of our Faith, that we are called to become partakers in the divine life, one with God through sanctifying grace. And the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of unity, expresses this holy communion between God and Man. As we pray in the Third Eucharistic Prayer: “Grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son, and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ”.

And the Spirit, St Paul understands, will give those gifts of prudence, wisdom, and right judgement which should enable us to sort out our differences among ourselves. His worry is essentially theological: as we’ve been given the Spirit of truth, why should we need recourse to those who have not received grace through baptism, and who thus do not have these supernatural gifts and Spirit-filled virtues? 

It’s St Paul’s ecclesiology, his theological vision of what God’s grace does for us that also underlies what he says about judgement. For it is precisely a graced union with Christ that enables the saints to judge the world and judge the angels, that is, the earthly and heavenly realms and their inhabitants. Such startling powers are only possible because what grace accomplishes for Christ’s saints is also startling: nothing less than union with God, divinization. 

As God is the just Judge of all creation who alone can and will judge truly, so the saints in heaven, who are united to the Godhead in love, and so, share in the divine nature, will also share in God’s just judgements; they will rejoice to see divine justice done.

July 20, 2014

HOMILY for the 16th Sunday per annum (A)

Wis 12:13. 16-19; Ps 85; Rom 8:26f; Matt 13:24-43

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Last July, Pope Francis famously said: “Who am I to judge?”, and it caught the world’s attention. The Holy Father had been asked about those with a homosexual orientation, and citing the Catechism, the Pope responded: “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will—well, who am I to judge him?” And for some Catholics this was controversial; for many others, this was misunderstood as a papal moral license to do anything. 

 And yet the Holy Father’s attitude echoes that of the Householder in today’s first parable: “No…  Let both grow together until the harvest”. That is to say that judgement of one’s good or ill is delayed until the harvest time when Christ will come as Judge. Until then, the Church is like that great tree in the second parable that shelters all the birds of the air. Christ’s Church is called, then, to be a refuge for sinners, a resting place for the weary, a home for all those who are seek truth, goodness and beauty; all kinds are invited to come and nest in her branches. And if anyone has seen a tree full of birds, it’s quite a lively noisy place, as they tweet away and, presumably, disagree and dialogue with one another. 

But if judgement is made, and only those who agree with one another are gathered together, and all those who are judged ‘bad’ are excluded, then there is just silence, and hums of mutual agreement. Rather, the third parable has a vision of somewhat more confidence in the good and the true – it naturally attracts and grows and nourishes, like leaven in the dough. Interestingly, this, I think, is one of the instances when God is likened to a baker woman, mixing dough with the leaven of righteousness and truth, causing the dough of the Church and our world to rise up with the leaven of his grace. 

Nevertheless, there are zealous servants who fear the damage and confusion caused by those who are deemed weeds. Who are these weeds? Pope Francis, I suppose, was thinking of people who are homosexual, who are written off by Christians and others because of they’re gay. It’s not difficult to find such zealous servants around especially in the Church - just yesterday, I read this sentence in a blog: “A lesbian who accepts her sexuality already defies church teaching just by existing”! But there are others, especially in the world, who would weed out and write off convicted pædophiles. Others still are written off because they’re deemed liberals or conservatives. Indeed, one can consider as a weed a whole range of labels and identities – based on what periodicals one reads, or what language one worships in, or what one does in the bedroom, and so on. But the bottom line is that the zealous servants believe that the Sower’s pure field, which should have only yielded good wheat, has been contaminated and confused by weeds sown by the Enemy. 

But the Head of the Household, that is, Jesus Christ says: “Let both [weeds and wheat] grow together until the harvest” in case “in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them”. Here we see the patience of God, and his confidence in the power of grace to transform the sinner, to move one to repentance. As we said in our psalm response, the Lord is “good and forgiving”. But he can only be forgiving, only show mercy, towards someone who chooses to repent. This means, someone who we choose to include in our conversation and allow to nest in the tree of the Church; to grow in the field of the Lord. If they are judged immediately, and then excluded and weeded out now, there is no more opportunity for growth and change, less chance for repentance, no place for mercy and for God to show that he is good and forgiving. For because God is good, so we believe that he will also send the grace that moves us to repentance, to seek and receive forgiveness for sins. 

In fact, those who would judge and act now to weed out the sinners have a more fundamental problem. They lack faith in the power of God’s grace. There is a kind of spiritual despair – the lack of hope – in believing that the evils of the world is stronger than the good; that the Enemy has won the war simply because he has won a skirmish or a battle. But the spiritual battle for the salvation of a soul is not over until the harvest time. Until then, God’s grace is still active and powerfully at work, even though it is unseen like the leaven in the dough, like the grain of mustard seed germinating underground. Until harvest time, repentance is still possible; a human person is still capable of change and conversion – that is our hope. And it is this hope, countering the despair and hopelessness all around us, that motivates the Church especially under Pope St John Paul II to oppose the death penalty, and to oppose the ‘Assisted Dying’ bill. Why? Because until one’s natural death, until harvest time, no zealous servant in the form of doctor or State should execute judgement and uproot the weeds. 

This same hope of growth and repentance, then, this same faith in God’s redeeming grace, this same love of the whole human person and his whole life is what underlies the words of the Holy Father, when, echoing the Householder’s attitude, he says: “Who am I to judge?” 

These are the words of a patient farmer who wants the Church to be that field in which both weeds and wheat can grow together. Because while there is growth and while there is time before the harvest, then there is also time for conversion, for change, for repentance. This requires, of course, on the one hand, that Christ’s true teachings are proclaimed and taught clearly and well, with sensitivity to people’s lived experience especially from among the saints. On the other hand, it requires of us a humble readiness to listen, to be challenged to grow, and to be open to change. The most terrifying thing is when a human person, who by nature is changeable, obstinately refuses to change. If our mind is made up and we believe that our opinions are necessarily correct; that there is no alternative way; that ours is the final word, then our growth is stunted – we may well remain weeds. 

But in contrast to this, the Gospel of Jesus Christ keeps challenging every human person to grow and change and to be supernaturally perfected in grace, to become wheat. So, our minds must be opened up in repentance, metanoia, to humbly seek the Truth who is Christ. For as Pope Francis said in Lumen Fidei, “truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us”. The Gospel and the teachings of Christ’s Church also challenge us to grow beyond the fatalism of our age to see that nobody is doomed by genetics or sexual orientation or culture to behave in a certain way. No, Christ is the Way who leads to our fullest human flourishing and deepest joy. And it is he who is the final Word, God’s one Word spoken into our human lives and world with all its limitations, our weakness and sufferings, trials and confusion. Into this world, God’s Word is spoken, and his Word is “good and forgiving”, patient and gentle, forbearing and merciful and true. His Word is Love.  

And so, this parable is not about moral relativism, nor does it say that the True and the Good is unknowable. Neither does it say that the sinner should be abandoned unchallenged or unrepentant. Rather, these parables tell of God’s Word of Love, about his grace patiently and powerfully at work in the world, converting and transforming the hearts of us sinners. God keeps faith with Man, hoping for our repentance, for more than we thought we’re capable of, more than the world cynically or ‘realistically’ expects. But the question is, will we keep faith with him? As Jesus asks in St Luke’s Gospel, when the harvest time comes, will he find any faith on the earth? (Lk 18:8).

June 23, 2014

HOMILY for 12th Mon per annum (II)

preached at the Missionaries of Charity convent in Edinburgh

2 Kings 17:5-8. 13-15. 18; Ps 59; Mt 7:1-5

As religious living in community today’s Gospel is especially pertinent, particularly striking. For who among us has not looked at a brother or sister in the community, and thought ourselves better, more worthy, more deserving? How often do we find ourselves judging our brothers and sisters, our superiors, and we find them lacking? Or perhaps we are quick to notice the failings of others, but we forget our own?

But St Francis de Sales, in his advice to religious communities, wrote this: “Our community, no more than any other religious community, is not a group of perfect women but rather a group of women who are aiming at and tending toward perfection. It is a school where we come to learn about the means that we must use to become perfect”. And so, we should expect that in a school we are all learners, all prone to mistakes and failings. In the Dominican tradition, when we make profession, we are asked: “What do you seek?”, and we say: “God’s mercy and yours”. And so, I try to remember that at some point, my brothers asked for my mercy just as I was once prostrate on the ground asking for theirs. As such, the religious community is a school of mercy, as we teach each other what mercy means, and thus we discover, too, how gracious and merciful God is. 

As St Thérèse of Lisieux, whom our beloved Mother Teresa was named after, said: “It is the Lord, it is Jesus, Who is my judge. Therefore I will try always to think leniently of others, that He may judge me leniently, or rather not at all, since He says: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.” Notice that for the Little Flower, mercy means thinking leniently; it means being ready to excuse the other. We are often very good at excusing ourselves, maybe; often lenient with ourselves. So let us love our neighbour as ourselves, and give to them at least the same leniency and mercy. We’re called to be a ‘Little Flower’ to others, too, like a sweet-smelling rose with soft petals, not a thorn!

And as we do this, we will learn the way of perfection; to be as loving and gentle and compassionate as Christ, our just Judge is. We will learn, in other words, the Way that leads to holiness. Thus, St Josemaria Escrivá said: “Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me’.”

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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