Trinity Sunday (B) 2018

The first Commandment of God to the whole of creation is; ‘I, the LORD, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.’
This is the central and main doctrine of the Bible.
To this day the heart of, and the reason for, all Jewish worship is the cry; ‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.’
This great commandment, this great cry of allegiance, is also the heart of Christianity and the centre of all our worship.
The existence of the Holy Trinity was unknown in the Old Testament. (Although there were
hints or references pointing towards it.)
One of the most important revelations brought to us by Jesus of Nazareth was the existence of three distinct Persons in the One God (the Holy Trinity). Firstly, we learned something of the relationship that exists between the Three Persons. Secondly, what you might describe as the sphere of influence or speciality of each Person and thirdly, what their individual relationship with creation might be.
You might say that this pushes back slightly the cloak of mystery surrounding God the Creator.
This revelation concerning the Holy Trinity enables us to draw certain tentative conclusions.
Our God is a community or family.
The relationship within this family is one of total unity and love.
This love, of its very nature, seeks to share itself with other things. Hence creation.
The proper response of creation to this sharing must be as part of this unified community.
It always puzzled me as to why God bothered to create.
For me the answer was to be found in the relationship within the Holy Trinity Family. The internal love existing within the Holy Trinity family was such as to compel that family to share that love. True love reaches out, seeks to share that love. To reach out in love to others God had to create those others first.
St John tells us; ’We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.’ And again; ’For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.’

We are attracted to a family where mutual respect and love exists.
One seeks a loving couple when looking for adoptive parents.
The reason is that love tends to reach out, to share, to encompass others.
We were created because of love. We are encompassed by love. We return to the love that created us.
Religion is realising this and responding to it.

Pentecost Sunday (B) 2018

“Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
The council of Trent (1545 – 1563) defined that this power to forgive sins is exercised in the Sacrament of Penance (or as we call it today; the Sacrament of Reconciliation).
This does not say, or mean, that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the only way the Church (the Christian Community) exercises the power to forgive sins.
For instance the Christian Community exercises the power to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Baptism.
The Christian Community exercises the power to forgive sins in the Sacrament of The Anointing of the Sick.
The sinner oneself, who is genuinely sorry for and regrets any harm, hurt or damage caused and sincerely try’s to repair any such harm, damage or hurt, receives forgiveness of sin.
There is no compelling reason to believe that when the events described in today’s Gospel reading took place there were only the ten Apostles present (The next verse tells us that the Apostle Thomas was not present). The people in the room are described as the Disciples. This would include a very mixed group of Jesu’s followers including Apostles and disciples, both men and women.
It is this group or gathering or family of Jesus’ followers who were given His (Jesu’s ) power to forgive sin.
Naturally in a endemically patriarchal culture as existed at that time ( and is still to be found today) an important ability such as that to forgive sin (as well as leadership roles generally within the Christian Community) would be cornered by the male gender and particularly by those in leadership positions.
(The latter is just common sense, and how things generally pan out in all aspects of human society.)

Having said all the above I now want to look at the essential role played by both the sinner and the victim in the process of repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness. It is very difficult, if not impossible for the sinner to obtain healing and repentance if the victim refuses to forgive. This refusal only increases the hurt and bitterness in both parties. But if the victim welcomes any movement towards reconciliation on the part of the sinner then the floodgates of healing and reconciliation begin to open for both parties. The above examples illustrate the words of todays Gospel reading “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Events occurring during the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa graphically demonstrated those words of Jesus.
To my way of thinking this way of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of healing, fits in nicely with the example and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, rather than the more mechanical and impersonal ‘secret confession to a priest’ who has no involvement in the whole affair.
Therefore I, as a Christian, must face up to my ability and responsibility to facilitate forgiveness for those who sin against me, in any way, by my attitude and willingness to go at least half way.
The attitude of the father of the prodigal son must be my guiding star.

6th Sunday of Easter (B) 2018

‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.’
Jesus of Nazareth was sent to us by God, our Father and Creator, so that the love and joy which resides within the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – be shared with you and I, and reside in us always.
This is what true religion means.
So any religion or religious teaching that deliberately fosters or promotes fear or unhappiness is false religion.
So also any interpretation of the Bible which promotes fear of God ( that is fear as in fear of violence, fear of deliberate punishment, fear of imposed pain etc.) is a wrong interpretation of the Bible and needs to be restudied and reinterpreted.
As an aside it is important to note that our understanding of the Bible is an ongoing process. Scripture scholars are continually having new or fuller insights into our present understanding of the Scriptures. This will, and should continue to be welcomed by us and not treated with automatic suspicion or rejection.
It is important to note that many of us, consciously or unconsciously, harbour a residual fear of our God and an inherited doubt regarding the totality of God’s goodness, mercy and love for us.
It is good for me to recognise this condition in which I find myself and continually ask my God to free me from it, as it is a subtle ploy of the ‘Evil One.’
This joy about which we read in today’s gospel reading, which comes from God and is a gift of God, is not dependent on the earthly condition in which I find myself at any particular time. It must go much deeper than everyday events be they joys or sufferings. It must be based on the total trustworthiness, veracity, mercy and love of my God and a looking forward in great hope to resurrection from death and a sharing in the Eternal life of my God.
This is something that the first followers of Jesus of Nazareth understood well.
We are told of the apostles; ‘So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name.”
And again of St Paul; “This man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
There are no promises of a comfortable ride here !!!

5th Sunday of Easter (B) 2018

I remember well when I was seven or eight years old, having heard somewhere that one should not damage the bark of a tree, especially that one should not cut the bark of a tree all around; this was called ringing a tree. Curious to see what would happen, I ringed anice ash tree which was about a foot in diameter. This tree did not belong to us. Some time later my father noticed it. I haven’t ringed any trees ever since.

For some time the tree showed no signs of damage in the branches and leaves but gradually the foliage began to wilt and die. By the following spring the tree was well and truly dead and was cut down and burned as firewood. I have always regretted this act of vandalism for a number of reasons.

Today’s Gospel uses this as a simile of what happens when I lose contact with Jesus of Nazareth. I am cut off from the sap of the Spirit. I begin to wilt. I begin to drift away from the church community. I begin to not pray. I begin to attend the Mass less frequently and then not at all. I seldom think of God and then only when disaster strikes.

Spiritually I die and can only be used as ‘firewood.’ From time to time some of you have asked me about someone who was once part of our parish community. Have they moved house you ask? Are they unwell you ask? Have they died you ask? The answer of course is yes – they have been ringed and died spiritually.

This is nothing strange. A once strong friendship will, through neglect, slowly wither and die. A once single figure golf handicap will, for lack of practise, become a double figure handicap.

A once familiarity with my God will, through neglect, become a mere nodding acquaintance.

We all know how to fix this situation – the very same way you fix your golf handicap or your neglected friendship.

 

 

4th Sunday of Easter (B) 2018

There are two sorts of prayer. One is a private conversation, or communion or communication between you and your God. It is private, personal and intimate.

The second is an official, community or family function with a set form and intent.

The Mass is this second form of prayer.

A couple of things today which might improve, enliven, enhance, our Masses for ourselves and for God our Father.

What is all important is the attitude we have, our approach to, our understanding of, what our Mass is about.

Mass is a family, a community gathering, a get together, a celebration of, our bond as one family – Gods family.

We come together as one united family – God’s family here in Corsham. We come together in response to our Father’s invitation to his children to join Him at table and to rejoice in our unity as one family. We, brothers and sisters, God’s beloved children, gather together in mutual respect and love, to rejoice together and with God, as God’s family, and express, as one family, our gratitude and respect to God our Father.

Imagine grandparents throwing a party on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary. They invite all their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren as well as some long standing relatives and friends. Imagine the greetings, laughter, hand shakes, hugs, chatter etc. as they meet, exchange news, coo over the latest crop of babies and generally catch up with family news and events. Of course each one greets the grandparents first but then mix freely with all others.

Of course at the proper time, all are called to order and to give their undivided attention to the official programme, speeches, and presentation of gifts.

That is my understanding of the celebration of Mass. That is why I encourage you to get to know each other especially those sitting near to you. That is why I encourage you to sit in different locations from time to time. That is why I try to greet you as you enter rather that as you leave. That is why we have hospitality in the hall after 9.30 mass on Sunday’s. That is why I am happy to see you getting to know each other and chatting together before Mass. It goes without saying that all the clergy do not share this understanding and attitude.

Of course the time comes when all the above ceases and we give our undivided attention to the official celebration.

How I join in the responses of the Mass is a very good indication of the degree of my understanding of, and participation in, this family celebration. Synchronised responses with a pleasing volume will help me to appreciate my part in this community celebration in honour of God our Father and in gratitude for God’s many gifts.

I always maintain that if I participate well in the Mass; If I participate mentally, emotionally and verbally, then I will, and should, feel tired at the end of Mass but also content and happy.

A Mass where the responses are given in unity of voice, with enthusiastic volume, is a joy to the ear and uplifting to the mind and soul for all present.

This does not just happen; it must be worked on and brought about.

 

3rd Sunday of Easter (B) 2018

“Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.
And he said to them. Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Our capacity for self – deception is bottomless.
I can assiduously comply with all the external demands of religion; Attend church, contribute money, receive Sacraments, pray, help those in need from time to time, give of my time and energy etc. and at the same time avoid forgiving actual or perceived hurts.
I can happily cherish vengeful inclinations in my heart and expect forgiveness for my own trespasses.
I can run to my God for mercy and forgiveness while planning the downfall of my perceived enemies.
My God must be very tolerant, have a very highly developed sense of humour, when He doesn’t respond to my oft repeated prayer “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” with a nearby lightening strike !!!
Let us sit for a few minutes and ponder what “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins” means.