September 26, 2014

HOMILY for 25th Fri per annum (II)

Eccl 3:1-11; Ps 143; Lk 9:18-22

"[God] has made everything beautiful in its time" (Eccl 3:11) says the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, and he has said there is a time for everything, both good and ill, even war, mourning and dying. But is war and destruction beautiful? Yes, if we understand ‘beautiful’ to mean that something is proper and right and meant-to-be. All things have their purpose and are ordered to a good end because God is good and desires our final flourishing in grace and virtue. Hence, St Thomas citing St Augustine says: "Almighty God would in no way permit any evil in His works unless he were so good and powerful that he could bring good even out of evil". For God desires, ultimately, that we should be sanctified and so, be eternally united with him in love. So in God’s Providence, even ill events contribute to bringing about our sanctification if we have a firm trust in God and hope in his salvation.

We see this in today’s Gospel too. Jesus says that he “must suffer many things, and be rejected… and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9:22). In what sense ‘must’ Jesus do this? Is he compelled? Does he not have freedom? One can read Ecclesiastes and its profound and poetic meditation on divine Providence and think that things just happen and must happen and there is no human freedom or choice about their happening. And yet, this is not a correct understanding of Providence just as it is not correct to think that Jesus is compelled by ‘destiny’, so to speak, to undergo the Cross and Resurrection. No, Providence respects our human free will so that our acts are not pre-determined even if they are already known and seen by God who is eternal – we act in time and so happenings unfold in times and season, as Ecclesiastes says, but God, who is outside of time and sees all ‘at once’ already knows what we will freely choose to do. 

So, when Jesus says he “must” undergo the Passion, Death, and Resurrection, he means that he wills to act according to God’s Providence, he places his trust in God’s good purpose and plan for him. It is in the light of Christ and his example, then, that we can understand our own lives, that we can look at Providence in human history. For there are the evils of rejection, death, violence and so on, but, with Christ, we can say that we will also be raised. The pattern of the Son of Man’s life becomes our pattern if we trust in Christ and keep faith with God who we know is good and who desires our flourishing and salvation. Hence St Paul said that “to them that love God, all things work together unto good”, which is to say that when we look at the totality of events both good and ill, they work together for the good. Only God has this perspective, and we in our time and place cannot see or know how this is happening. Ecclesiastes thus says that “[Man] cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Eccl. 3:11).

What we can do, then, is to follow Christ by abandoning ourselves to divine Providence and trusting in our good and loving God. As the 18th-century French Jesuit, Jean Pierre de Caussade wrote: “The designs of God, the good pleasure of God, the will of God, the operation of God and the gift of His grace are all one and the same thing in the spiritual life. It is God working in the soul to make it like unto Himself. Perfection is neither more nor less than the faithful co-operation of the soul with this work of God, and it is begun, grows, and is consummated in the soul unperceived and in secret”. Truly God has made everything beautiful in its time: his grace is quietly at work making us beautiful as his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

September 7, 2014

HOMILY for 23rd Sunday per annum (A)

Eze 33:7-9; Ps 94; Rom 13:8-10; Matt 18:15-20

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A decade or so ago, I found it very hard to live with a friend who seemed to delight in annoying me. So, I decided to put today’s Gospel into practice. I asked to see him privately, and I explained how I felt. He laughed and said it wasn’t that he purposely annoyed me but, perhaps, he suggested, I was just too sensitive; too irritable; too easily annoyed. I bristled when I heard this but, with hindsight, he’d turned the tables on me and it was he who had accurately told me my faults. And by doing so, he showed himself to be a friend indeed. For as Aristotle observes, “friends hold a mirror up to each other; through that mirror they can see each other in ways that would not otherwise be accessible to them, and it is this mirroring that helps them improve themselves as persons”.Today’s Gospel, then, is about friendship, and particularly friendship in Christ and with Christ, which is essentially what the Church is about. 

What today’s Gospel doesn’t allow is what I did, which was to self-righteously use it to justify a personal dislike or prejudice. Christ foresaw the danger of this happening, I think, which is why there are several ‘courts of appeal’, so to speak. At first “two or three witnesses” (Lk 18:16) are involved, then the whole church community. Essentially, other friends are being called in to consider if one’s complaint is just; to see if one is indeed behaving as a genuine friend and mirroring a true reflection of the other. In doing so the community is also being called in to make a judgement about whether the accused brother is indeed behaving as a friend of Christ. Or, to use St Paul’s words, the Church has to judge if one has loved his neighbour and so fulfilled the law (Rom 13:8). Has this person loved his neighbour as himself (Rom 13:9), that is, as a friend? For as Aristotle says, “the friend is my other self”. 

We probably all know that stage in a budding friendship – and many of our Freshers will be experiencing this – when we dare not really disagree with, or challenge, a new acquaintance for fear of losing his or her friendship. But fear is no basis for genuine friendship, so the friendship has to grow beyond fear as friends learn to trust one another, and as the friendship deepens and becomes secure in mutual love. Hence St Paul exhorts the Romans to “love one another” (13:8) for genuine friendship is about love – about loving my friend for the sake of his good, of her flourishing. 

When there is this kind of love between people, then there is trust – trust that my friend is not out to hurt and humiliate me but desires the best for me; he holds up a mirror that helps me to improve as a person. So, only when there is genuine friendship can we speak out and help a brother or sister who is in the wrong because otherwise the likelihood is that the other will not be willing to listen. If this is true on a personal level, then it’s true for us as a Church community too. 

So, let’s consider things at this broader level.

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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. 

February 13, 2014

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HOMILY for Bl. Jordan of Saxony OP

1 Kgs 11:4-13; Ps 105; Mark 7:24-30

Today our Order celebrates one of my favourite saints, Blessed Jordan of Saxony who is the patron saint of Dominican vocations. And it’s not simply because I am Vocations Promotor that I have a special regard for him. Nor is it because Blessed Jordan struggled with learning the French language – although I feel a certain affinity with him in this regard! Rather, it is the kind of Christian man, a brother in St Dominic, and a saint that he was, and that comes across in what he did, what he said, and what he wrote. 

And time permits me to just illustrate this briefly. What he did: Blessed Jordan must have been a remarkable man. He entered the Order in his 40s in 1220 in Paris where he had been teaching Scripture and theology in the University. Within two years he was made, first, Provincial of Lombardy and,  then, Master of the Order. When he succeeded St Dominic in 1222, the Order had 40 priories in 8 provinces. By 1227, there were reportedly 404! He was such a charismatic preacher and such an effective recruiter of talented novices for the Order that mothers were said to have locked their sons up when he came to town! So, in 1230, for example, Bl Jordan writes: “I have the hope that God will give us a good catch at the University of Oxford where I am now staying”. It is said that until his death in 1237, Bl Jordan recruited over a thousand novices – one of them was Albert of Lauringen whom we know today as St Albert the Great.

What he said: We do not know precisely what Bl Jordan said since none of his sermons or lectures were recorded; he must have improvised a lot. But more important than what he said, I think, is his own character and temperament that probably made the greatest impression on his listeners. These are the words used by his contemporaries to describe him: “sweet affability”, “tender pity”, “kind and gentle”, “love and mildness itself”, “cheery”, “humble-minded”, “joyful”. And we’re told that he loved music and singing. One of my favourite stories tells of Bl Jordan encouraging the novices to laugh and rejoice, even during the Office of Compline, because they had been saved from the Devil’s clutches! 

And it is this simple joy in salvation, in what Jesus has done for us, that comes across in Bl Jordan’s writings. Because although we don’t know what he preached we do, fortunately, have some of his writings, including a unique body of 58 letters to Bl Diana, a Dominican nun in Bologna. Bl Jordan’s letters are tender, warm, and full of affection, and he shows himself to be a wise and moderate spiritual director. In some he shares his hopes for the Order, in others of his fears and pain. For example, in 1235 he writes that “one of my eyes is giving me great pain and I am in danger of losing it”. Indeed, he did become blind in one eye – that was a nickname some gave him! But no matter what happens, Bl Jordan writes with firm faith in Christ, hope in the joys of heaven, and with great love for God. Always fixed on God, he put the troubles and difficulties of this life in its proper perspective. So, Bl Jordan wrote: “By the loss of the grace of God, alone, are the souls of the saints to be troubled”. 

In 1237, Bl Jordan went to the Holy Land to visit the newly-founded priory of Acre. On this day in 1237, he boarded a ship bound for Europe but it was shipwrecked off the Syrian coast and he drowned. It is said that a bright light led the brothers to recover his body which had washed ashore. This was fitting for Bl Jordan of Saxony had been a guiding light for so many Dominicans, and even today our Order benefits from with his wisdom and leadership. Hence the early Dominicans said of Bl Jordan: “the grace of the Word which he received was such that no other could be found like him”.

Perhaps one letter, written in 1229, sums up the grace of the Word which he had received, and which inspired his saintly life. May his words help us today too. Bl Jordan wrote: 

"I send you a very little word, 

the Word made little in the crib, 

the Word who was made flesh for us, 

the Word of salvation and grace, 

of sweetness and glory, 

the Word who is good and gentle, 

Jesus Christ and him crucified, 

Christ raised up on the cross, 

raised in praise to the Father’s right hand: 

to whom and in whom do you raise up your soul 

and find there your rest unending for ever and ever. 


Read over that Word in your heart, 

turn it over in your mind, 

let it be sweet as honey on your lips; 

ponder it, dwell on it, 

that it may dwell with you and in you for ever”. 

October 6, 2013

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HOMILY for 27th Sunday per annum (C)

Hab 1:2f. 2:2-4; Ps 94; 2 Tim 1:6-8. 13-14; Luke 17:5-10

I recently had to apply for some funding for some of the youth ministries I’m developing, and one of the things I had to do was to show the benefit received from the last lot of funding we’d received. So, I included some statements from a questionnaire I’d sent round saying things like: “This pilgrimage, this retreat, really helped me understand my faith better and I was encouraged to meet other young Catholics”. But the response came back, “Could you say by how much more they’d understood their faith better - 20%, 50%?” 

In a sense, that’s the question raised when the apostles say to Jesus: “Increase our faith!”. How much faith does one have in the first place? A cup full? 30 units? A mustard seed? But faith, surely, isn’t really quantifiable or calculable – no more than friendship, or love is. Because faith is, like friendship and love, about a relationship between two persons. Any meaningful relationship is built on trust. Many of you will have made new friends by now, or are even sharing a flat with them. This requires mutual trust. Indeed, it requires faith in the other person. And this trust, this faith, is really rather mysterious but it is the basis of friendship and of love, the basis of most of our human dealings with one another. So, when we speak of faith, we speak of the act of trusting in another person, and in his or her word, an act that is really fundamental in our lives and relationships with one another. This, essentially, is what we mean by Faith, and the Person whom we trust and love as our Friend is God.  

We can do this because, in the first place, our Christian story is the story of God’s faith in humanity, about his desire to befriend us. Hence Jesus says: “I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15), and St John says: “We love, because he [God] first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). Thus, we say that faith is a gift because it is entirely God’s initiative to begin with, and if the prophets and above all, Jesus Christ, had not come to tell us about God’s love, we’d never have known it. In fact, I think many people still don’t realize that God is Man’s Friend, not his Enemy or Policeman. Which is where we come in. We Christians, who know God’s love and friendship, and who are Jesus’ friends, are called to bring others – our friends – to friendship with Jesus. This is what it means to be the Church, and this is what the Church is for. So, we, as a faith community can increase and we want to bring our friends here to St Albert’s, don’t we? But is this what it means to say: “increase our faith”?  

Faith, like friendship and love, we’ve said, is a gift. But each of these gifts have to be nurtured, developed and increased. Just as friendships grow stronger and love deepens, so my faith in God can also increase. So, St Paul says to St Timothy: “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you”, or another translation says: “Fan into a flame the gift that God gave you” (2 Tim 1:6).

The ways in which this happens is strikingly similar to how we kindle our human relationships. As I see it, friends spend more time with one another, they do things together, and they just grow to love one another’s company; they want to be together, and wish to find out more about one another. In doing so, the initial spark of friendship, their love, grows. So, too, with God. But there is one major difference. When we invest in a friendship, there is the possibility that it is not reciprocated. But this risk doesn’t exist in our friendship with God. Because God already loves us infinitely, so, every increase of trust, friendship and love on our part, every opening of our heart to God’s friendship is matched and even surpassed by God’s complete faithfulness and love. And this is what Habakkuk is invited to learn. In time, as he is faithful, he discovers just who God is: the faithful and good one, Love itself.  

But the problem with the apostles’ request, I think, is that perhaps they just wanted God to magically increase their faith and change them without them having to do anything. But this makes no sense if we understand that faith is not a thing, not measured in percentages, nor a bunch of rules and beliefs we sign up to. Rather, faith is a mutual loving relationship of trust. So, while God is doing all he can to love us, we also have to respond and act. God can’t believe for us, love for us, or choose for us. We have to engage our own will, and we have to want to increase our faith, and this means we need to make choices and do things to increase our faith. Just as with our human friendships, so we also need to spend time with God, and grow in friendship with him until we experience the fire of the Holy Spirit, “a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7), St Paul says. 

Otherwise, if we do the bare minimum and wait for God to magically increase our faith without any risk or sacrifice on our part, then what we have with God is not friendship but servitude. Many people can go to church weekly out of a sense of duty and obligation, and they might find this a dry and thankless task. This is not surprising because they’re behaving like servants who are just doing their duty. But this is not what Jesus wants. This is not who you and I are called to be. Jesus says to us: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15). And friends do more than just the minimum, more than just their obligations. They love to spend time together, and learn more about the other. 

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July 28, 2013

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HOMILY for 17th Sun per annum (C)

Gen 18:20-32; Ps 137; Col 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

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

Prayer is fundamentally an act of faith, and we exercise that faith by praying, that is, by asking, seeking, and knocking. This does not mean simply asking for whatever we want and expecting God to do as he’s told. Rather, it means having persistent confidence in God’s ability to grant whatever we ask, but at the same time, trusting that God is our loving Father, who will always give to us, his children, whatever he chooses for our greatest good. So, we should pray persistently, asking God always for what we need.

But it is likely that God, who knows all things and always wills the best for us, will answer our prayers in ways we don’t expect, that are more creative than our solutions, and that bring about our deepest joy and greater freedom. Or sometimes, we have pray persistently because it is thus that we learn what we truly desire. For what we see in our First Reading is an extraordinary dialogue between God and Abraham. As he seems to bargain with God, there is, in fact, a testing of Abraham’s faith and of his desires, so that, through prayer, Man learns to ask for what humanity truly needs, which is to see God’s justice and mercy, to experience compassion and love. And God does answer humanity’s longing for mercy, not immediately. Not even definitively through Abraham, but through Christ. Because it is when Christ becomes Man, and hangs on the Cross, that we see God acting most perfectly to save the whole world – every sinner. And he does so for the sake of just one righteous Man: Jesus Christ. For Christ is God’s final answer to Abraham’s prayers, and indeed, the prayers of every human person. 

As we read in Lumen Fidei: “the life of Jesus now appears as the locus of God’s definitive intervention, the supreme manifestation of his love for us. The word which God speaks to us in Jesus is not simply one word among many, but his eternal Word (cf. Heb 1:1-2). God can give no greater guarantee of his love, as Saint Paul reminds us (cf. Rom 8:31-39)” (§15).

So, when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, they are asking to share in his perfect confidence in God’s love, to enter into that same relationship of love that is between the Son and the Father. Hence, Jesus teaches us that prayer is an act of faith, of trusting in the Father’s love and care for us. And we can rely on God because he has given us his Son, who offered himself on the Cross for the salvation of all. So, Pope Francis says: “Christ’s total self-gift overcomes every suspicion and enables me to entrust myself to him completely [and] Christ’s death discloses the utter reliability of God’s love above all in the light of his resurrection” (Lumen Fidei, §16, 17). 

As such, our Christian faith is a resurrection faith. This means that we trust in God’s activity in the world and in our lives, with the sure and certain hope that our God of Love is bringing good to fruition, even when things seem difficult and challenging. For Jesus reveals that ours is a God of the Living, a God who brings Life out of death, and whose creative Love is more powerful and liberating than sin, evil and suffering. There are many questions that we and our contemporaries may have, but faith means that we trust that Jesus Christ shines a light on these difficulties, and that in him – in his life, death, and resurrection, we find an answer to the deepest longings and questions of humanity. Hence, Lumen Fidei says: “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light” (§57).

So, we need to continue to seek those answers by remaining close to Christ and contemplating his life and words, putting our questions to him, with the confidence that he will bring light to our darkness - not instantly, but in God’s good time. This requires of us a patient endurance, a contemplative hope like Our Lady’s, waiting for God’s to reveal his good plan in time. And as Pope Francis says: “time propels [us] towards the future and encourages us to go forward in hope”.

And we have this hope because of what Jesus, who is Truth and Love, has promised us: “The one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him”. So, let us turn to him in persistent prayer, asking, seeking, knocking. May the door of Faith be opened even wider for us so that we may enter, through it, into the eternal life of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

June 16, 2013

HOMILY for the 11th Sunday per annum (C)

2 Sam 12: 7-10, 13; Ps 31; Gal 2:16-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

The scene in today’s Gospel is rather extraordinary, even bizarre: a woman washing the feet of a rabbi reclining at the dinner table with her tears, kissing and wiping his feet with her unbound hair, and anointing his feet with costly ointment. But this extravagant spectacle is a response to God’s even more extraordinary and bizarre actions.

For the scandal of Christianity, its strangeness, is that we believe in a God who loves Mankind so much that God would abase himself for humanity’s sake. We say that God, who is entirely self-sufficient and needs nothing, freely chooses to save Mankind; he has a Father’s care and concern for our well-being. And we proclaim that God does the unimaginable and becomes Man; the Immortal who knows no change endures both change and suffering, even death. Why? Because as St Paul says: Christ “loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Jesus Christ, and all he does in his life, death, and resurrection, is one extravagant spectacle of God’s love for you and me. And I wonder sometimes if we’ve just become so accustomed to it that we take it for granted.

Because God’s sacrificial love in Jesus Christ for every human person, for us sinners, is extraordinary, even bizarre and strange… But also wonderful; so amazing that some people today, made sceptical and cynical by life, may even find it literally incredible! Many of us may have just forgotten how breathtakingly unexpected the Gospel is. But in a world that’s burdened by debt and crushing austerity measures, Jesus’ parable resonates with the experience of many today, and reminds us of just how extraordinary the Christian message is.

We know that financial institutions are relentless in their pursuit for what they’re owed. Economic justice and the Law are no respecters of persons and circumstance, lacking in compassion or human consideration, and our capitalist system requires us to work constantly to evade being crushed by debt, poverty, and our liabilities. This is how the sinner is under the Law – he owes a huge, un-payable debt, the burden of sin, to God. And, in justice, we should pay it all, to the last penny. The Pharisees, who work hard to avoid the debt of sin by keeping the Law, thus look at sinners (like the woman in today’s Gospel) just as some in our society might regard ‘welfare scroungers’ – with contempt.

Now, what Jesus does is to declare God’s mercy and forgiveness for all people, regardless of who they are, or what they’ve done. So, because of Jesus Christ, all debts are entirely cancelled, and all the worry, strife, and heartache that go with debt and poverty. We can see, then, why the woman reacted with such effusive gratitude towards Christ. But Jesus does still more because of love: he gives to anyone who comes to him all that she could ever want, and more than she could ever imagine – he gives the grace of salvation.

All we need is to have faith in him, to believe in Jesus and trust his Word; to go to him. What this does is to completely level the market so that not only are there no debtors at all, but there is now also no distinction between those who are unemployed and those who work hard; between the poor and the rich. It sounds somewhat bizarre in our capitalist system, but that is precisely what St Paul is getting at when he says that “a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16). He’s saying that God’s grace is freely given to all through faith in Christ, and this grace is never earned nor merited. On this basis, we are all equal and have equal opportunity. Equal opportunity for what, though? To acquire Christ-like charity so as to invest in eternal life. And it is this end result – eternal life – that is really extraordinary.

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May 27, 2013

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HOMILY for Monday 8th Week OT (I)

Sir 17:20-28; Ps 31; Mark 10:17-27

“How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mk 10:23) These words are well-known, but we should note what Jesus is not saying. He’s not saying that poverty per se is superior to riches. He’s not saying that we must be materially destitute, although the rich man had been asked to give away his possessions – and we’ll see why. And Jesus is not saying that the poor, because they are poor, will enter the kingdom of God more easily. Such readings, which risk romanticizing the poor or making Jesus into a Marxist, should be avoided. Rather, what Jesus does say, and he makes this more explicit the second time he says it, is that it is hard for “those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God” (10:24). 

So the problem lies with one’s disposition, in where one puts one’s faith, and, indeed, one’s investment of time, energy, and self. For, as Christ says elsewhere, “where your treasure is, there also is your heart” (Mt 6:21). So, Christ, in calling the rich man to let go of riches and follow him, is effectively saying that Christ will be our treasure and riches, and that entry to God’s kingdom comes through placing our trust in him; through faith in God. But this applies to everyone, both rich and poor. What is it about having riches that makes it harder to have faith?

Wealth, I think, can create an illusion of our own invincibility and self-sufficiency. To some extent, it buys us security, comfort, power and control. But these can be illusions, too. Money seems to offer salvation but it doesn’t and cannot. Only God can give us true security, peace, and completeness. As if to remind us of this, the U.S. currency even have marked on them: “In God we trust”. But even if the rich man knows this, there is another danger. He might be accustomed to thinking that everything can be bought or earned. Everyone, rich or poor, can be prone to thinking like this, but it is more often the rich, who are good entrepreneurs, good at making deals, and exploiting opportunities for profit, who think they can make deals with God. As such, life, grace, and salvation can all become commercial transactions, and one thinks to buy one’s way into heaven. 

But entry into heaven, into God’s kingdom, only comes from following Christ and trusting him enough to imitate him. And Christ’s way is the way of perfect love. Thus, God gives us life, grace, and salvation freely, gratuitously, with no strings attached. This kind of generosity and love is sacrificial – it cost Christ everything. And he personally gains nothing in return. In investment terms, this is the one thing an entrepreneur, a rich man, fears: no return for maximum investment means bankruptcy. Moreover, Christ is stripped and dispossessed, poor, humble and completely vulnerable on the Cross. This is everything the rich man had been trying to avoid; his riches are meant to protect him from this. 

Hence, if the rich man is to enter the kingdom, he will have to embrace his worst fears, which is why Christ understands that it is hard. But it is possible if he will repent, as Sirach says, meaning, to change his mindset completely so that he can accept this kind of loss – bankruptcy, even – as Christ does, for the sake of love. If he does, the rich man will lose everything, but his investment of love will profit him the true reward of eternal life in God’s kingdom. For, as Christ said earlier in this Gospel, “what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mk 8:36)

 

April 26, 2013

HOMILY for Fri 4 of Easter

Acts 13:26-33; Ps 2; John 14:1-6

 

There can be so many things that trouble and disturb us: exams, job prospects, relationships; worries about the future and about what we’re called to do. Many people wonder about what is the right thing to do, and about their vocation in life. In a sense, Thomas articulates our fears when he asks: “How can we know the way?” How can we know the way forward in a world that seems increasingly complex and fraught with difficulties?

Jesus’ response, if we’re weighed down with worry, is to broaden our horizon so that we can put our worries into perspective. He says to us with tenderness: “Let not your hearts be troubled”. We worry because we’re losing control, or because we feel helpless and lost, or perhaps because we experience a lack of security. But God assures us: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”. For God is our Father, which means that he loves and cares for our final good today. So, he is always providentially guiding all things to a good end, bringing us home to himself today, so that we can dwell securely in him for ever. Thus Jesus says to us, his disciples, his friends: “I go and prepare a place for you [and] I will come again and will take you to myself”. So, when we’re shaken by life’s uncertainties, we’re called to anchor our hope in God’s Word, and to be certain of Christ’s promise. Hence, Jesus says to you and to me: “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me”. 

But you might well think, our faith does not take away our needs for finance, food, friends. No, it doesn’t, and we do need to work together and attend to these things, but faith in Christ does alleviate our anxiety over these genuine human needs. For, with faith, our perspective changes so that the ups and downs of life, its many unexpected turns and plateaus can be seen in Truth as part of the journey that we make to the Father, going along the Way to God’s house where Jesus has prepared a room for us. Life’s journey, with its many trials as well as beauty, as such, is a preparation for our homecoming when we shall be united in love to our Father, our God who is love and Life in the fullest. 

Hence, Pope Francis said this morning, the Lord is preparing our hearts  “with trials, with consolations, with tribulations, with good things”; preparing us and forming us to love God, to trust and believe in him, and to seek him, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3). This, of course, is how Jesus lived his life among us, with complete trust and obedience in God, enduring all things for the sake of love. Thus, he is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”; he shows us the way forward, he lived the truth as he taught it, and his life gives us hope and new life.

All this is expressed in the simple act of the Mass and especially through Holy Communion. For it is here that we remember how Christ lived and loved; here that we look in hope to the resurrection and eternal life; and here that Christ, our food for the journey, comes to us. And, as he promised, he comes to take us to himself, to dwell in him and he in us. So, here, today, Jesus is saying to us: “Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me”. Then, as we receive him in the Host, let us wholeheartedly say: “Amen”.

April 6, 2013

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HOMILY for Easter Saturday

Acts 4:13-21; Ps 117; Mark 16:9-15

Faith is never something just personal and private. It is always communal and relational, and so, we see today that faith in the resurrection requires that we trust the eyewitness account of another; believe in the testimony of other people. But it seems that this might involve believing the sort of people one might not usually trust or consider reliable. 

For as the Holy Father reminded us recently, “according to the Jewish Law of the time [of Christ], women… were not considered reliable, credible witnesses”. Yet Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. And she wasn’t just any woman, but one who had been in the grip of demons – addicted, lost, and desperate – and so, probably doubly-excluded. And what about the two disciples in the countryside? Their testimony was admitted by the Law. But these were two men who were fleeing in despair, overcome by what they’d thought was the defeat and failure of Jesus. One might say they were cowards who’d abandoned the rest of the group in Jerusalem. But Jesus appeared to them too. Jesus chose these people – the disregarded, the weak, and the marginalized; those whom one might well dismiss, distrust, and begrudge – as the first eyewitnesses to God’s greatest work. 

Why? Because faith in God is founded on faith in other people, on a relationship of truth and friendship between people. So, when our human relationships breakdown and become dysfunctional, faith in God becomes very difficult, or risks becoming completely individualistic, a projection of mere self-belief. But faith, and especially faith in the resurrection, requires that we believe others, trust in a community of witnesses. And so, the risen Lord reconciles and heals the brokenness of our human relationships by first appearing to those who are in some way excluded and unwanted. Thus, it becomes necessary, if we’re to have faith in the resurrection and participate in its grace, to trust, value and listen to every human person, beginning with those who are considered least in our world. 

However, sometimes our faith in others is lost because of the wounds inflicted on us by some others, including members of our community, our Church. We can no longer trust such people, and perhaps the other disciples felt this way about the two who had left them to flee to Emmaus. But, again and again this week, when Jesus appears, he tells his disciples to see and to touch his wounds. This requires great trust, of course, but moreover, to ask the very people who had in some way caused those wounds to do this requires mercy and forgiveness. And thus, the risen Lord heals and transforms our fractured human relationships by first forgiving us, teaching us to be merciful, to avoid hardness of heart, and, so, to forgive others as we have been forgiven. In this way, we come to experience the peace of the resurrection.  

Forgiveness, mercy, and faith in humanity, which includes all in God’s risen life, is the new-ness of the resurrection that we are invited to believe in. So, our resurrection faith is never merely private and personal but is always communal and relational because it elicits my trusting another, forgiving others, and loving my brothers and sisters; faith in Christ’s resurrection transforms me and transforms our world through a new belief in people, through friendship. Isn’t this what the Lord desires when he says to us: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation”? (Mk 16:15)

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