Trinity Sunday (A) 2017

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.’

‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’

God loves the world.

What does that mean?

God loves the stars. God loves the galaxies, the nebula, the black holes. God loves the clouds, the rain, the sunshine, the snow the wind, the volcanoes and earth quakes. God loves the insects, the bacteria, the reptiles and the mammals, including human beings.

God created them as they are and loves them as they are. This degree of love is beyond  my comprehension.

God’s plan is the salvation of the world, be it astronomical singularities or great crested newts.

What does Salvation mean?

Salvation is the progression, over time, of primordial matter, by means of the Divinely installed evolutionary process,  into self-awareness and an understanding of the Creator. Culminating in eventual union with the life and being of the Creator.

Why do we believe this?

We believe this because Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be God made man (the Creator) progressed from an initial one cell entity in his mothers womb through the various stages of the evolutionary process (again in his mothers womb) to be born as a human being. Growing in wisdom and understanding like the rest of humanity he accepted the trauma of death and burial but rose from the dead with a glorified body to rejoin the Holy Trinity from whom he originally progressed.

There were many witnesses to this, some of whom left us their witness in writing (the New Testament) and most of whom accepted death rather than deny what they had witnessed.

Today we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

The Holy Trinity are the tree separate persons who make up the One God.

Love (which we mentioned above) is the bond uniting the Tree Persons of the Trinity.

True, genuine love is never inwardly focused. It is always outwardly focused. So the love of the Holy Trinity must be outwardly focused. Since, from the beginning, nothing existed but God the Holy Trinity was compelled to create other things so that their love could accomplish its compulsion to move or focus outwards.

So the reason for creation is God’s  love which of its very nature must encompass other things.

For the same reason we can say that nothing that God has created, or will create, will ever be discarded and cease to exist. All creation in some way must be gathered up into the life and being of the Creator – the Holy Trinity.

As St. Paul says in Rom: 8 ;

‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.’

What is our place in all this?

We are the only creatures on Earth (maybe in the whole universe) who can know and appreciate all of the above. We are the only ones who can consciously and overtly proclaim the greatness of the Creator  and express our gratitude for existence and salvation. We are the focused voice of creation, able to proclaim gratitude and praise on behalf of all creation.

So let us lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord our God!

Pentecost Sunday (A) 2017

Even a cursory examination of the Old Testament will tell you that it is a litany of failure. The repeated failure of the chosen people (the Israelites) to live as people created in the image and likeness of their Creator. Despite the many and repeated disasters which this failure brought upon them they continued on their self – destructive way. Through all this there was the ‘remnant’ who to some extent remained faithful to the One True God. Though this ‘remnant’ had its ups and downs in their faithfulness to God, nevertheless, over and over again, they acted as a small nucleus around which the chosen people could coalesce in times of trouble and defeat. They acted as a beacon of hope to lead the people to the One True God when things were desperate. In the New Testament we see the same trend. The life of Jesus of Nazareth himself is peppered with disappointment, rejection, desertion in times of trouble and even outright betrayal by one of his closest followers. This trend continues today in the Body of Christ – the Church. We are the ‘remnant’ today. Despite our oft forgetfulness and our sometimes unfaithfulness to the One True God, yet we struggle (even if sometimes halfheartedly) to remain loyal to our God and Creator. We are that remnant; that beacon of hope, around whom the scattered people of God can gather and coalesce in troubled times or in their search for meaning and comfort in life. The fact that we are but a fraction of the population of this country or any country, this town or any town, should not bother us unduly. It was always so except where people were under pressure to comply. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit; that there is, was and always will be, the ‘remnant,’ who despite their many and repeated faults and failings, continue the struggle to be faithful to the One True God. To keep the memory of the One True God alive. Like the Israelites of the Old Testament, we the people of God of the New Testament are presented by our God with a daunting (one could say impossible) calling or vocation. In the Old Testament their calling was: ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.’ In the New Testament we are required ‘to be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ God my Creator is perfectly aware of my inability to live up to any of these callings. After all he made me and gave me these feet of clay. I can waste my time bewailing my present and past faults and failings, but that is not my vocation. While well aware of my feet of clay I keep my eye on the target. Like the athlete I strive to jump that bit higher or run that bit faster each day and disregard the limitations of yesterday. I refuse to be controlled by past events about which I can now do nothing. Being open to the Spirit of God who dwells within me, I take each day as an opportunity to live out my basically unachievable vocation, trusting in the wisdom of my God. As St. Paul said, ‘God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.’

Ascension (A) 2017

The instruction Jesus of Nazareth gave to his followers before he was executed was that they should go to Galilee where he would meet them again. Mtt. ‘But after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.’ And the women who went to the tomb early on Sunday morning were told; Mtt. ‘Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.’ Why must the disciples of Jesus go to Galilee to see the Risen Lord? It was in Galilee, one of the poorest, most backward districts of Palestine, that Jesus of Nazareth exercised his ministry. It was here, among the poor and the dispossessed, that Jesus, we are told, went about doing good, healing the sick, sharing what he had with the hungry and speaking to them of the Good News of the Kingdom of God. So it was in Galilee that Jesus, the Risen Lord, gave his followers their mandate. This mandate was to continue the work he did in Galilee. His followers lived with him for a couple of years in Galilee, witnessing everything he did and said. Now their mandate was to continue this work until the end of time. They were to do this, not just on an individual level but as a community of His followers. This community or Church was the symbol of their being part of the community of God; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Being Baptised was a visible sign of their entry into the unity of this community or church. This community and the work it does is what Jesus of Nazareth called ‘the Kingdom of God.’ They would not be left to continue his ministry on their own. Just as he was physically present with them in Galilee as their mentor, exemplar and guide, so too now he would continue to be with them but not visibly so, except to the eyes of faith. So that is the mandate given to us, the parish of St. Patrick, in Corsham. As one community or church or parish we are to go about doing good, bringing healing to the sick and the grieving, feeding the hungry, and speaking of, and living according to, the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

6th Sunday of Easter (A) 2017

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments (my word, my teaching). And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (Councillor, Paraclete) to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.’ If you look for just one guiding influence in the life of Jesus of Nazareth it would be his adherence to what he believed to be the truth. The Bible is full of warnings against deceitfulness and lying. ‘Proclaim the greatness of our God! A faithful God, without deceit, how just and upright he is.’ ‘Keep your tongue from evil, your lips from speaking lies.’ ‘Bread gained by deceit is sweet, but afterward the mouth will be full of gravel.’ ‘Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in 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.’ ‘God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.’ When I lie I spew the Spirit of God from my mouth together with my lying words. It is disgusting to listen to many of our so called leaders; political, civil and industrial, especially in recent years. We are fed on a diet of deceit and barefaced lies. Innocuously it is called spin but is deceit and lying and meant to cause confusion and misinform. When someone is brave enough to speak truth they are showered with ridicule and abuse. The world does not know, or want to know, Jesus of Nazareth, because they no longer want truth or to hear the truth. ‘And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.’ I cannot do much about the lying and deceitful ways of many of the leading figures of our various institutions but all of us can create an oasis of truthfulness around ourselves. This is lighting the lamp and placing it on the lamp-stand, ‘where it gives light to all in the house.’ Those who are honest with themselves will recognise the light of truth and will be affected by it. Our Pope Francis is a light on a lamp stand enlightening not only the Church but the whole world. Strangely enough the greatest opposition to the light he brings comes from within the Catholic Church itself. When we have something to hide we do not like the light. When our status and privileges are threatened we do not like the changes that truth may bring. The prince of darkness has many servants. Some willingly so, many not even aware of their slavery. ‘Jesus said I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ For Jesus of Nazareth light, truth and fulness of life are one and indivisible.

5th Sunday of Easter (A) 2017

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.’ The world contains great joy and great sorrow. There is great love and great hate. There is great health and great illness and pain. There is great hunger and great abundance. There is great good fortune and great misfortune. How does one reconcile this suffering with a totally good God. It is true that much of our suffering and pain results from ones own actions and words and much from the actions and words of other people. Even if I can blame myself or others for a lot of my suffering there still remains a lot of suffering which I cannot blame on anybody. So where does this leave me? It leaves me with the very same problem; Why does a totally good God allow suffering? Why did the Creator create a world where suffering is endemic? Over the years I have read everything I have come across on this subject. All are helpful to a greater or lesser degree on a theological and intellectual level. Not very useful on a practical, ‘ad hoc’, here and now situation. At this stage in my life I think that the answer must come from within, on two levels. Firstly, the person best qualified to bring comfort is one who has suffered the same type of pain or grief. One who actually feels the pain and grief of the sufferer. This ability is a precious gift to those who have actually suffered and grown with the experience, and should be recognised and used to bring comfort and acceptance to others. This is a ministry which many of you possess without realising it. Anyone of you who have undergone or are still undergoing, pain and grief, and still hold to your faith and trust in a totally good God, have a great potential to bring comfort and healing to those presently experiencing pain and grief. Not so much by what you can say to them but rather by your compassionate and understanding presence. By sharing in their pain and loss. Secondly the person them self who is suffering, must try and reach into them self and hold tight to their faith and trust in the total goodness of their God despite what they are going through now. For example; After Jesus was tempted for forty days in the wilderness and was exhausted, and again in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was overcome with dread of his approaching execution, we are told that angels came to comfort and strengthen him. Here, Angels can be taken as symbols, meaning that Jesus received comfort and strength from his total belief and trust in his God. It was his belief and trust in the total goodness of God and that his total wellbeing was safely in God’s hands, that gave him comfort and strength to live through this pain, grief and distress. This is what I mean when I say that the answer to pain and grief must come from within. From within the comforter and the sufferer. It must come from my God who dwells within me. How else could the early Christians face or even contemplate being torn to pieces by wild animals in the colosseum for the amusement of the crowds. How else can a parent survive the death of a child and yet believe in a totally good God. How else can one survive the long drawn out pain and death of a lifelong marriage partner and yet trust in one’s God. So when all is said and done we are left with the mystery of God and the apparent contradiction between perceived reality and the words of Jesus – ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.’

4th Sunday of Easter (A) 2017

“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Like most of Scripture the above statement has meaning on a number of levels. Firstly it means that my life here on this physical earth is never full or complete. Can never be full and complete. All life here on earth can never be permanently sustainable. It is limited and circumscribed. It is fragile and changeable. Can swing from great to terrible. As the years go by It is subject to an ever greater need for healing. Permanent and definitive healing and fulness of life is not possible in this physical world. The life of Jesus of Nazareth was subject to the very same laws and restrictions during his whole life here on earth. For him fullness of life only came with death and resurrection. Permanent and definitive healing only came through death and resurrection into the Eternal Life of God. This is the gift he gave us. So too for you and I. Fulness of life, permanent and definitive healing will only come to us with death and resurrection into the eternal life of God. That is our destiny. That is why we were created and born. Secondly my life here on earth can have a certain direction and fulness or can be directionless and empty. Some young, unattached people, and not so young, unattached people can boast of their freedom. They can, up to a point, do what they like, when they like. But a time comes when this much vaunted freedom seems to pall, seems empty and pointless. There is something missing. It is only when their inward focused attention and self-centred concerns begin to look and focus outwards that life begins to bring a certain fulness. It is often when they commit themselves in love to another person and begin a family that their life begins to find fulness and meaning. The very sort of life they avoided in the past is the very thing which brings satisfaction, fulness and meaning to their life. So fullness of life is possible, up to a point, even here in this physical world. Strangely enough it comes, not from self-satisfaction but from selflessness. Not from acquisitiveness but from sharing. Not from freedom to do whatever I like whenever I like but from the freedom to serve the needs of others. Is this not embryonic Christianity? Is this not the first step in understanding the message of Jesus of Nazareth? Christianity is recognising all people as my immediate family – especially orphans and refugees. John 4. ‘Jesus said to them. My food is to do the will of him who sent me.’ John 6. Jesus said ‘I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.’ How strange it is that even here on earth fullness of life only comes from looking after others, from service to others and not, as one would expect, from just looking after oneself.

3rd Sunday of Easter (A) 2017

For many years I was plagued by the ogre of obligation. Religion for me was a plethora of obligations to be fulfilled. This attitude and belief was nurtured by those plagued by the same ogre. I now believe that this is the devils greatest tool for denigrating God and destroying the peace and joy which worshiping God should bring. It presents God as a demanding taskmaster who punishes for noncompliance. Nothing is further from the truth.

The root of the problem seems to be anthropomorphism. That is attributing to God our own human attitudes and mores, as for instance equation God with our own kings, emperors, rulers etc.

Within our church (and all churches and religions, as in politics and all social organisations ) we have the people who believe that members must be compelled and required to do the right thing in all aspects of life by passing laws which must be obeyed under pain of punishment. This is what I mean by the ogre of obligation. It deprives a person of freedom by instilling the fear of punishment for non compliance. One can see the point of this when you consider aspects of life like traffic laws etc. but when it comes to God, where the whole point and aim is to love God and our neighbour it is totally inadequate and counterproductive not to speak of insulting. How can you legislate for love? How can you compel love? How can you demand love under pain of punishment?

1 John 4. ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.’ Rom. 8. ‘For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father! The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.’

In the secular world love is commonly downgraded to physical intercourse, or love of another’s bank account or power or fame. But the love of which we speak here is appreciation, admiration, trust, mutual support, liking, friendship, steadfastness, honour, gratitude etc.

This is the love one hopes for from a marriage partner, from one’s children, from one’s friends and relatives. This is the love that God hopes for from his beloved children. It cannot be legislated or demanded or required or compelled. It is spontaneous, it is genuine, it is truth, it is persistent. So you can see how inappropriate it is to set up obligations when it comes to our relationship with our God. You can see how inappropriate it is for me to even think of obligation in my relationship with my God. Obligation under pain of censure poisons my relationship with my God just as it would poison my relationship with my marriage partner or my children. True religion (no matter which brand) is built on the realisation of what my God has done for me, and appreciation of God’s goodness, faithfulness and love. This gives rise to a sense of gratitude to my God. Then all my religious practises ( be it mass, prayer or sharing my good fortune with the needy) flow from this ever increasing sense of gratitude and hopefully (with God’s help) will evolve into genuine love.

Another way of looking at it is that an obligation is only an obligation if I do not want to do it. I have to be compelled to do it under pain of some punishment for non-compliance. For example I can only oblige you to run a marathon if you are not willing to do it freely. If you are willing and want to run a marathon I cannot oblige you to do it. The obligation fades away in the face of your willingness to do it.

So doing something because I am obliged to do it only proves that I do not really want to do it. Gratitude and love cannot exist under these circumstances.

2nd Sunday of Easter (A) 2017

‘Jesus said to him. Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ It is not just Thomas who found it hard to believe that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead. All the Apostles had the same problem. We read; ‘When he had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene. She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.’ ‘The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.’ ‘Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.’ The Apostles had to see or at least experience the presence of the Risen Lord in some way before they could believe. It was not sufficient for them to be told. I suppose there are people who can believe in the Risen Lord just because they have been told by people they can trust. There are people who can believe in the Risen Lord (in God) by their power of deduction, reasoning and logic. Many act as if they believe because it is the safest option. But for most of us our belief is, at least halfhearted unless we have had some experience of the Risen Lord. These experiences can be as different as the persons who experience them and can be meaningless if explained to others. They are personal to the person. It is very often through suffering, rejection, failure and other types of distress that we receive these experiences. It can be an ability to forgive, the diminution of anger or hurt, the ability to love or the realisation of being loved etc. etc. I do not know if one should actively seek or pray for such an experience. It seems that our God visits these experiences on his beloved children in his own good time and when they are capable of receiving them. The general idea is to keep the door open at all times.

Easter Sunday (A) 2017

Easter is above all, a festival of light. This light signifies the clarity and understanding brought to us by the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. At the time of Jesus it was important to determine the arrival of daybreak when the first offerings were to be made in the temple. A rabbi asked his students what criteria might be used to determine that the night had ended. One student said the night had ended when there was enough light to tell a goat from a sheep. Another said when you could distinguish an apple tree from a fig tree. The rabbi gave this answer: `A new day has arrived when you can look at a human face, and see a brother or a sister. If you are unable to see a brother or a sister in every human face, you are still in the darkness of night.’ How do my present day attitudes look in this light? Has a new day arrived for me?

5th Sunday of Lent (A) 2017

Today I talk about our spiritual life. For hundreds of years our Christianity has based its spirituality on the monastic model of spirituality. A bunch of men or women living together in community (in a convent or monastery), spending maybe four, five, six hours each day in prayer and meditation, was seen as the ideal way of life for a Christian. It was regarded as the best and most spiritual way to live. This left 95%-99% of christians struggling with a way of life which was regarded as basically inimical to spiritual development, that is to having a close relationship with God. One was encouraged, even required, to set time aside for prayer, meditation, the mass, sacraments and other cultic practises in order to re-energise ones spiritual life. Just like recharging a battery. Few, immersed in the struggles, joys, duties and responsibilities of family life had the opportunity or the desire to do this on any regular basis . In this way everyday daily life became detached from the spiritual life. Became detached from the things of God. My first consciousness of an alternative, and for me, more attractive, spiritual life, came when, in the nineteen fifties I read a book by an American parish priest. Lacking the time or energy for the approved monastic style of spirituality he talked of making his everyday parish activities his prayer and his spiritual nourishment. For example in those days before Eucharistic Ministers were taught of he had to do a lot of bringing communion to the elderly and the housebound. So instead of becoming hassled and annoyed with driving in city traffic and rushing to make time for the required periods of prayer, he would belt out the hymn ‘Sweet Sacrament Divine’ at the top of his voice as he drove along. This not only calmed him down physically but also gave him more spiritual nourishment than the required periods of prayer which he constantly failed to perform. In other words he made his work as parish priest, with and among his parishioners, his prayer and source of spiritual nourishment. I too will always be trying to play catchup, always be experiencing a spiritual lacuna in my life, always feeling that I should be doing something else, someplace else, until such a time as I make my everyday life to be my prayer life and my spiritual life also. For example delivering your children to school in the morning and collecting them in the afternoon can be a hassle, or on the other hand, it can be doing exactly what you should be doing at this particular time, what God wants you to be doing at this particular time, what is the very most important thing for you to be doing at this time. Doing it with good humour, a grateful heart, and gentle demeanour is your prayer at this particular time. That is where you get your spiritual nourishment at this time. Extending this attitude to everything I do and say every day is, I think, the way for us. What I should be doing or have to be doing at this particular time in this particular place must be my prayer and my source of spiritual nourishment. I do it in union with my God by dipping in and out of the presence of my God, even if just momentarily, from time to time. This attitude of mind is also known as walking in the presence of God – living in the presence of God. To set aside time for formal prayer is good and highly recommended but not always achievable, even in ones own home. Making my everyday activities my prayer, turns my whole day into a prayer and keeps the presence of my God at least in the background of my mind and consciousness. With some effort I may find myself living my whole day in the presence of my God, even when the amount of time when I am consciously in communication with God may be relatively short. This type of spirituality can work for me whether I am lecturing in philosophy or shovelling manure.