Homilies

32nd Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

This well known story is an allegory or a symbol or parable which has to be interpreted.
It is intended for the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. That is for people who declare themselves to be christian.
With the expectation of the imminent return of Jesus ( the last day) fading, some of the Christians (though still professed Christians) were slackening off in their adherence to Christian values and practises ( something we are all familiar with today).
The parable is a reminder that, even though we trust and hope in our God’s mercy and compassion as regards our Eternal Salvation, we have no absolute certainty as to what will happen ( just as we have no absolute certainty as regards the existence of God). So the message from today’s parable is to look to the future and to be prepared for whatever happens.
The oil for the lamps stands for good works – love God and your neighbour. It pertains to the person themselves and is not a transferable asset.
The final sentence is the message for me today; “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

31st Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

One of the hardest things for any human organisation is to avoid a power structure.
Even among the Apostles we see it creeping in.
‘Then James and John, … came to Jesus and said to him. Teacher, we want you to … grant that in your kingdom we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.’
This was problematic among the Apostles and is so to this day in our church.
It is problematic in all churches and all religions. Even those christian churches who abolished bishops and priests have replaced them with different power structures.
Like the exhortation to love God and our neighbour (which we explored last weekend), today’s exhortation to avoid power structures among the followers of Jesus of Nazareth has been sidestepped with exceeding nimbleness.
In fact religions are structured like armies (uniforms and all) with the emphasis on obedience to the next layer of the structure.
In our church this situation is found not only among the clergy but also among the so called laity.
If I ring up a parish asking to speak to Pat Murphy I will get the frigid response from the parish secretary, ‘hold on and I will put ‘the Very Rev. Canon Patrick Murphy’ on the phone.
One finds oneself forced into this power structure. Today’s Gospel reading is not saying that it is wrong to call one’s Rabbi; Rabbi, or one’s father; father, or one’s mother; mother, or one’s teacher; teacher, or one’s priest; father; or one’s bishop; bishop. What is wrong is the attachment of power or superiority to the title. This leads to pride, an overbearing attitude to others and a subservient attitude in others.
Jesus of Nazareth was at pains to teach his followers by example and by words;
‘For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? Yet I am among you as the one who serves.’
‘So when he had washed their feet (and) put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them. Do you realise what I have done for you? You call me teacher and master, and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.’
‘Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’
“You know that those who are recognised as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.’
Isaiah, prophesying in the Old Testament about the Messianic era to come said; “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.”
Jesus of Nazareth wanted his followers (his church) to be something completely new. Something free from the curse of power structure. This will not come from the top. It must begin and be implemented at parish level. Only we can do it.
Not only do we ‘so called’ clergy need to change our superior attitude in a power structured church but also you, ‘so called’ laity, need to change your subservient attitude towards the clergy.
Pope Francis has told Vatican officials and the bishops of the world to cease and desist from naming members of the clergy to be canons and monseigneurs.
We will see if this instruction is followed.

The Feast of All Souls (A) 2017

When and where I grew up, All Souls Day was inextricably linked with a place called Purgatory.
Purgatory projected one image only; all our deceased relatives, friends and acquaintances crying out to me for release from the agony of the fires of Purgatory, which was said to be the same as Hell but of shorter duration. I, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving could shorten their period in Purgatory. Causing myself to suffer for their sake was said to be particularly efficacious.
If people were lucky enough to escape the eternal fires of Hell they, almost in every case, had to do long stints in the fires of Purgatory to be cleansed of their guilt. Depending on their sinfulness, this period in Purgatory could be from mere days to many years.
All the above was aimed at coercing people into obeying the church through the fear of punishment. There is no evidence for such teaching. It is an invention of misguided teachers.
If God could do the above then I want absolutely nothing to do with such a God.
That is why, up to now, and only at the request of parishioners, have I agreed to celebrate All Souls Day as a separate event. For me All Souls today and All Saints, yesterday, is about one and the very same people.
To quote Jesus of Nazareth; ’And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.’
And again on the Cross to one of the murdering thieves; ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ Today, not tomorrow or next week or next year. Nothing about time spent in Purgatory for cleansing from past sins. ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’ It was now 3.00pm and the Jewish day ended at 6.00pm.
Today I agree to celebrate All Souls day not so that I can help them but to remember them and to rejoice that they are with God and can help me.
To even suggest that my God is anything like what I was brought up to believe is insulting to my God and insulting to me, a son of God.
So today we fondly remember all our deceased relatives, friends and fellow parishioners. We thank them for the privilege of having known them. For the help they gave us. And having completer their lives here on earth and received the gift of Eternal Life with our God, we congratulate them and ask for their help in our journey through this life.
Finally we look forward to meeting them again in Eternal Life where everything will be known, understood and forgiven.

30th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

Just look around you. Almost all our troubles are the result of ignoring the one reason for, and the basic aim of, all being, all existence, all life.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.”
It is totally outgoing. It is totally encompassing. It is totally fulfilling.
Why is this the greatest of the commandments?
God – the Creator, is the source of all existence. God is the beginning and the end of all creation. Everything comes from God and returns to God. Outside of God nothing exists or can exist.
This commandment or teaching or instruction is not God being selfish or self – centred. It is a simple fact of existence. It cannot be otherwise. It is simply the truth.
To ‘love the Lord my God with all my heart’ is not about feelings and emotions which come and go – are here today and gone tomorrow (although these can sometimes be involved).
Nor is it about praying and other cultic acts and devotions (again, these can sometimes be involved).
To ‘love the Lord my God with all my heart’ is primarily an act of humility. A recognition of the truth – that all I am and have is a free gift from my Creator. Whether I like it of not I owe God everything.
It means that I owe all the works of God’s hand – all of creation – the very same care and respect which I expect for myself. This must not only involve respect and care for myself but also for my family, friends, neighbours, fellow human beings, all living things, the seas, the mountains the lands the forests and everything they contain. This, involving truth and the way things are, is the only way to permanent peace, happiness and contentment at the deepest level. Seeking these things outside of these parameters brings only fleeting peace and momentary happiness.

It involves an ongoing struggle to comprehend God and creation while recognising and accepting human inability to fully understand or explain the whys and wherefores of creation.
It is not really possible for human beings to love an invisible, untouchable, incomprehensible, infinite God. We love God by respecting, appreciating and caring for his creation – fellow human beings and all things animate and inanimate.
Hence the second command (instruction), is like the first; ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
Is it really possible for me to love my God and be unaware of – ignore – the suffering of His children?
Is it really possible for me to love my God and ignore the devastation Hi’s creation is being subjected to all over the world?
This is what true religion is primarily about.
I are inclined to, and often encouraged to, immerse myself in prayer and various devotions and cultic acts of worship, while sidestepping the real meaning of loving God and my neighbour.
I wouldn’t like the words of Jesus of Nazareth, spoken to the Scribes and Pharisees, to be applied to me also; ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!’

29th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

After listening to the parable about the invitees refusing to come to the wedding feast, which we read last weekend, the chief priests, Scribes and Pharisees were livid because it meant that they had rejected God.
So they upped the ante.
The question about paying tax to Caesar was a very political and sensitive one. To say no was treason as far as the Romans, the Herodians and all civil servants were concerned and would result in immediate arrest and execution. To say yes was totally unacceptable and unpatriotic to the Jewish people who regarded the Roman tax as unjust and as a symbol of their oppression by foreigners.
Cannily enough the Pharisees did not ask the question themselves as this might put them under suspicion by the Romans, so they sent some of their disciples (the less bright ones) to ask the question publicly. In today’s political jargon they wanted ‘plausible deniability.’
They seemingly had Jesus between a rock and a hard place.
The denarius, was a roman coin used to pay the tax and was regarded as the symbol of the oppression of the Jewish people. It was hated and reviled. It also figured the head of the Roman Emperor and alluded to him as divine.
So Jesus’ reply – ‘repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God’ – neatly outflanked the problem.
It indicated that (as every Jew believed) everything belongs to God and should be given to God, while the only thing which belonged to Caesar was this hated coin with his head and name on it – the symbol of oppression – which every Jew would gladly give back to Caesar, together with his reign of oppression.
We should take note of the total opposition of Jesus of Nazareth to oppression of any kind.
There are the obvious cases of the oppression of one nation by another or of one ethnic group by another. There are also the less obvious cases of the oppression involved in human trafficking and exploitation of the weak.
Nearer to home there is the oppression exercised in the workplace such as bullying and the belittling of others and of their efforts. Lastly there is the oppression exercised in the home, in the family.
If I am honest with myself I will easily distinguish between necessary discipline in the family and needless or deliberate oppression and bullying.
One is good and necessary for a happy family environment while the other is hurtful and brings unhappiness and devision.
We have all experienced enjoying a happy gathering of family or friends. Then another person joins the group. Suddenly the whole atmosphere changes. Conversation peters out, every word is carefully chosen before being spoken. Everyone is ‘tiptoeing on eggshells.’ The atmosphere becomes oppressive.
Also vice versa. A very stilted and oppressive meal or party changes immediately when one or two persons leave. The whole atmosphere becomes convivial and free flowing.
This is something we can all examine our consciences about. I can oppress another deliberately or I may also act oppressively without being fully aware of it.
Sitting down occasionally, and prayerfully and honestly examining my day, both at work and in my family, and the relationship I have with each person therein may reveal some unpleasant facts about me which need attention. This exercise can be far better for my spiritual welfare and my relationship with others and with my God, than just an enumeration of ‘sins’ committed.

28th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

‘Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.’
I want you to note the sense of urgency.
How many of us have prepared a meal and when everything is just ready we call the family or the guests to the table. How many of us have felt the frustration of our family or guests delaying for some trivial reason while the plates and the soup gets cold.
We want them to come now not in five or ten minutes time.
The Lord has prepared a great banquet for us. When all is ready God calls us to come to the table to eat and drink. The invitation is for now. Everything is ready, come now.
Like in today’s parable a decision is required. I must choose to come now; not tomorrow or next week or next year. Now is the time.
This is conversion. This is saying yes, now, to the Kingdom of God, to the Reign of God in my life.
From this moment on I seek to do the right thing, to act justly, to forgive generously, to share with joy. To live in, and as part of, God’s Kingdom.
For Jesus of Nazareth the Kingdom of God was not something for the future but an already existing reality.
‘Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he said in reply, ‘behold, the kingdom of God is among you.’
For Jesus of Nazareth the Kingdom of God had already been inaugurated, had already begun.
His cures and miracles were signs of the already presence of the Kingdom of God; that the power of God had already taken over from the power of evil.
‘Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. ………’ He replied, ‘if it is by the finger of God that (I) drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.’
And again at Cana when water was changed into good wine we are told; ‘Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee’ (signs that the Kingdom of God had arrived) ‘and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.’
The Eucharist itself guarantees that we already occupy the Kingdom of God. Receiving Holy Communion is the sign, the confirmation, that I am one with Christ. United with Jesus of Nazareth in the Eucharist I already ‘sit at the right hand of the Father’ in the Kingdom of God.
So for me Christianity, religion, must mean living up to what I already am – a resident of the Kingdom of God – and not about striving to gain something in the future.
As Jesus of Nazareth said. ‘Behold the Kingdom of God is among you.’
You might well say; ‘But I don’t feel as if I am already in the Kingdom of God! In my pain or grief I feel far from God and far from God’s Kingdom!’
Then again neither did Jesus of Nazareth, as he struggled to carry the cross on the road to Calvary. Or as he died in agony on the cross and shouted out ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’
So religion for me is an act of gratitude. A deep sense of thanks for this great gift which I have already received – the banquet in the Kingdom of God.

27th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

The one thing which always angered Jesus of Nazareth was hypocrisy.
Whether it came from the chief priests, scribes, pharisees or his own apostles and followers, he roundly and directly rejected it.
It included refusal to accept the truth which is staring one in the face, for selfish reasons, such as greed, fear of losing control and power or loss of ‘face.’
Although todays Gospel reading is directed towards the Jewish religious leadership of the day it is as easily applicable to the religious leadership of today.
Even in the last fifty years many of God’s servants, both clerical and lay, sent by God to remind the tenants of the vineyard that it was not theirs to do with as they pleased and that they owed the owner his proper share of the harvest, have been expelled from the vineyard (the Church) and metaphorically stoned.
We today (both clergy and laity) have to shed our hypocrisy also. Looking deeply into my heart I must ask myself are my prayers and devotions, declaring my love and gratitude to God, authentic and true, or merely compliance, and a covering of my posterior? Are my declarations of undying loyalty to my God largely motivated by fear and a desire to ‘gain’ a place in heaven, or avoid ‘hell’? Is our failure to inspire our children, grandchildren and friends with an appreciation of the goodness and love of our God, the result of the lack of such appreciation, gratitude and love in my own dealings with God?
This is hard for I and you to accept.
Far from wishing to condemn, we must accept the fact that in this matter we have largely failed.
But as Jesus of Nazareth said; “The truth will set you free.” Free to recognise my hypocrisy, discard it, and move forward to a proper relationship with my God, based on understanding, gratitude and a total trust in the goodness of God, no matter what situation I find myself in.
This is true religion. This is authentic religion. Anything else is counterfeit and will immediately be recognised as such by our children, grandchildren and friends.
I for one, have for many years lived a false religion and a false God.
No wonder so many have rejected our religion and our God.
My aim is not for us to look back in guilt, or allow ourselves to become disheartened, discouraged or depressed. Rather that we should rejoice that we are now beginning to understand our past hypocrisy and are moving towards a good relationship with the true God. A God who is happy, joyful, compassionate, forgiving and totally good.
Pope Francis is today gently removing from the vineyard (from church leadership) the original tenants and trying to replace them with tenants who will give God his rightful share of the harvest.
This is sparking great opposition and protests just as it did in Jesus’ time.
So in our Faith, in our Church, in our parish, in our lives, let us move forward together, with joy in our hearts and a total trust in our God, for whom ‘all things are possible.’

 

22nd Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

It was obvious to Jesus of Nazareth, as it was to his Disciples, that because of his lifestyle, his opposition to and his preaching against, oppression, injustice and intolerance, that if he went to Jerusalem (the seat of power of his enemies) for the feast of the Passover, he would almost certainly be arrested and imprisoned or executed.
Jesus well understood that he could run and hide from his enemies but not without being untrue to his preaching and example. He could save his life but not without losing his credibility. He could run but only at the cost of vitiating his message and the power of his example.
At this particular time Peter and the Apostles did not understand this way of thinking. They could only see the looming danger and try to avoid it irrespective.
Having slapped down this approach pretty smartly, Jesus proceeded to explain why and what his point of view was.
What follows is all about freedom. The freedom of the children of God. The words free and freedom appear many times in the New testament.
What is the freedom of the children of God?
It is the freedom to do the right thing. It is the freedom to do good. It is the freedom to love. It is the freedom to forgive. It is the freedom to give things away. It is the freedom to do the will of the Father.
To quote Jesus of Nazareth in John 8;
‘I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me…. I always do what is pleasing to him….. If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’
If he selfishly gave in to his Apostles importuning to run and hide he would save his life but would lose credibility and his message would be forgotten and lost. Hence his words, “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it.” But if he remains true to his calling and to his preaching, if he wants his message to be noted and preserved, then he must go to Jerusalem for the feast and accept the consequences, “those who lose their life (for my sake) will find it.”
The best way I can explain this is to tell you a true story about on person in South Africa. Khandy was a young catholic lady who came to mass from time to time. She was about twenty or twenty one and had finished her secondary education two or tree years before. She had been trying to get accepted into a nearby teachers training college – so far unsuccessfully. A couple of years later she succeeded and eventually emerged as a trained teacher. The next few years were spent trying to get a teaching position in a school. Eventually in her late twenties she got the job. Then about a month later she arrived in to see me. She handed me a fat A5 size envelope. I was a bit nonplussed, so I opened the envelope to see what it contained. It was full of Rand notes to the value of about eighty pounds. I asked what this was for and she said it was an offering to the church. At my obvious confusion she explained that when she was trying to get a place in the teacher’s training college she promised God that if she succeeded and got a job she would give half her first month’s salary as an offering of gratitude to God. I was totally gobsmacked. Not because of the amount of money but because I knew that up to now she had been totally dependant on her parents handouts and must for years have longed for her own money so that she could buy some of the things she so much desired. Despite her promise to God it must have taken an extraordinary degree of self-denial to give away, to lose, half her first month’s salary. I am sure that if her parents or peers knew what she had done they would be scandalised and regard her as a fool. At that moment she was truly free. Free to do what she understood to be the right thing. Free from the slavery to money.
I still remember what she did. I even remember her name, when so many others have faded from my memory. Many of you too will remember what she did.
And what about God? Will her God not remember that supreme act of selfless freedom for all eternity?
Am I free? If someone suggested that I was not free I would bridle indignantly.
A simple test will tell me the truth. I know that if I were to give half of next months income to some worthy cause it would be a very good thing and would not greatly affect my financial situation. But am I free to do it? Try it and see.
That is what todays Gospel reading is about.
Of course the presumption is that, to quote Jesus of Nazareth, ‘when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing.’

21st Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

All religions seem to demand/require/suggest a certain approach to God.

All religions try and figure out what God is like and from their conclusions tell us what God wants from us – how God wants us to treat Him. This approach colours our liturgical practices and official prayer life.

This is why different religions honour God and pray to God in many differing ways.

For example St. Patrick’s Missionary Society decided at the beginning to follow the spirituality of St Ignatius of Loyola (St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, invented/instituted this approach).

This approach to God suited some but not many.

The problem I find with all of the above is its presumption that, irrespective of who I am, it requires me to approach and treat God in a certain way. I can see the value of this approach as a starter, but having started (after a number of years) I should allow the Spirit of God to lead me in my relationship with My God.

God is a Person. Religion is a relationship with this Person. Like all personal relationships it must grow, develop, change, mature.

Adhering closely to a certain form or practise of religion in our relationship with God can for some be good and very helpful depending on the character, makeup and needs of that person. For many it can impede ones personal relationship with ones God. One can lock oneself into a stylised and rigid form of worship which treats God as an object of worship. This can be far removed from a personal, warm, grateful, appreciative relationship with ones God.

For example take a learned Biography of Nelson Mandela written by someone who has read all that is written about him and interviewed people who knew him but has never actually met or spoke with him, and contrast with the personal understanding and memories of someone who knew him well, spoke regularly with him, was imprisoned with him for years.

In the former you know about the person (second hand knowledge) in the latter you actually know the person and have a personal relationship with him.

That is why some of our church leaders are obsessed with form, correct doctrine, unchanging formulas and closely regulated liturgy. For them God is an object to be worshipped with the correct words and actions but they have not met God personally. They know much about God but do not know God as a person. That is the big difference between Pope Francis and those who oppose him.

This highlights what I have mentioned to you over the years; the ongoing tension within our Church (and within all religions) between Law and Prophesy. Between going by the book and risking change. Between staying in the boat and stepping out onto the water.

God loves all his children unconditionally whether they stay safely in the boat or trust in God and venture out onto the waves. But if I want to really know my God I must hold his hand and to reach him I must walk on the water.

So the question for me personally is: “But what about you. Who do you say I am.”

 

 

20th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

The Four Gospels seem to differ slightly in their understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth was.

You will remember the questions Jesus asked his Apostles; ‘Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?”

The answer to this question was hotly debated in the early church. It was only finally settled in 325 ad. at the Council of Nicaea where the Nicene Creed was produced, (which you all have on your mass cards.)

A side issue to this central question was how much did Jesus of Nazareth know and understand about himself and when did he know and understand it.

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) seem to give us good grounds for thinking that Jesus grew in understanding of who he was and what his mission was as he grew physically and mentally – just like you and I.

On the other hand the Gospel of John seems to indicate that from the very beginning of his life Jesus of Nazareth fully understood who he was and what his mission was and exactly how it would unfold.

Today’s Gospel reading is a case in point.

If you hold that Jesus knew and understood everything from the very beginning, that he was sent to bring salvation to all mankind irrespective of ethnicity, then why refuse to help the Canaanite woman because she was not a Jew?

On the other hand if you hold that Jesus grew in wisdom and understanding through out his life, as we read in Luke “And Jesus advanced (in) wisdom and age and favour before God and man,” then we can see that this was what was happening in today’s reading. We see Jesus beginning to understand that God’s promises were not just for the Chosen People-the Jews-but for all peoples, Jews and Gentiles.

Now, the interplay between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in todays Gospel reading makes sense. It shows his growing understanding that faith is not the province of the Jews only but is found in, and belongs to, all peoples.

This question of the admission or exclusion of the Gentile races was a major problem for the first century of the Church’s existence. Peter and Paul had a big confrontation on the question which was the subject of the first general council of the Church.

It is interesting that it is the pleading of a suffering mother fearful for the welfare of her child and her obvious faith in God, that brings Jesus to his senses and a fuller understanding of his mission.

Last Tuesday was the feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady (Mary) into heaven.

Devotion to Mary is found from the earliest days of the church. I can only guess at the distress and grief of a mother witnessing the torture and slow execution of her child. I can only guess at the distress and grief of a mother receiving the dead body of her child in her arms and having to bury it far from home. No wonder we should, and do, cry out to Mary in our distress and grief.