Monday, 22 August 2011

Growing into Christ

21 Sunday, Year A, 2011         (11.00 am)   

Today we have the gospel passage of Peter’s profession of faith in who he believed Jesus was.  This section of the gospel is normally seen only as applying to Peter and his successors and of their importance in safeguarding the role and power of the Holy See and its care of the Church universal. 

Peter certainly meant what he said in his reply to Jesus’ question as to who the disciples thought he was.  And yet subsequent events showed that Peter did not really/fully understand what he was actually saying in this magnificent profession of faith.  Jesus himself told Peter that it was his Father in heaven who revealed the truth of what he had boldly stated.

Peter’s words were truly prophetic.  Jesus responded by praising Peter and guaranteeing his position and future role guiding and caring for the Church.  Jesus took this step in spite of Peter’s weakness and forthcoming betrayal of him.  Responsibility and weakness go hand in hand.  Peter spoke truthfully when he said who Jesus was.  However it is obvious that he had not yet fully understood its implications.  That is no different from the rest of us.  We all have to make our basic life commitments.  We know what we want to do but not necessarily what it will all lead to.  That is why once we definitively commit ourselves we need to remain open to all that unfolds for us in the future.  It is not possible to foresee what lies over the horizon.

We normally don’t realise want we are taking on.  We can probably see the positive gains but not realise the difficulty of acquiring them in practice.  Perhaps that is no bad thing or we might be too afraid to do what is the right thing.  Life and the various vocations within it, whether they are to marriage, to the priesthood, the religious life, or careers in nursing, teaching, or whatever, they are all enriching and challenging.   And they all demand ongoing change in us if we live them properly.  God never stops giving us new challenges and gifts.  If we respond to them we will grow more into what we are called to be.  The challenges may not be world shaking.  These may simply be small changes to the way we live with one another, to the way we pray, to responding more readily to the needs of those around us.  These are things that make our world go round and keep us faithful disciples to the Lord.

To be happy in our lives is to be confident in God’s presence and help, whatever the weaknesses we are aware of within our hearts.  In our following of Christ we needn’t necessarily feel more self-confident as life goes on.  But those who follow Christ look to him more than at themselves, knowing their ever-increasing need of God.  It is not unusual to find in the lives of the saints that they think ‘There go I –sinner - without the grace of God’.

Our vocation is to grow in confidence that Christ is with us, not that we are less in need of God.  Our faith therefore is a journey of growth.  That growth is an increase of God in our lives, which frustratingly is not very evident to us as we go about our lives.  I suppose it is others who are the only true witnesses to our nearness to God.  But, whether we know it or not doesn’t really matter in the end.

Peter grew into becoming the upholder and brother of his companions in the faith.  His story of budding faith and movement from faltering to full belief in Christ is a reflection of our own.  

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

CNS photo - Baltimore Cathedral

Assumption, 2011                               Chapter Sermon                                                             
  • The Assumption of our Lady into heaven is not just another feast of Mary which completes her CV.  Nor is it an anniversary which we remember each year and then go on with our own lives.
  • Mary’s Assumption reaffirms our belief in the resurrection of Jesus, which is the bedrock of our faith.  As St Paul says in writing to the Corinthians, ‘If he has not risen then our faith is dead.’
  • The Assumption of Mary expresses our belief that we are all on the road to heaven.  Heaven is the destination we are heading for.  Each morning when we awaken we are moving further along that route.
  • Our Lady’s Assumption is the hook on which we hang our belief that she has ascended to be beside her Son in heaven and that our destiny lies in hers. 
  • Jesus is truly risen.  That belief underpins our faith; Mary’s Assumption is the confirmation of that truth.  She is the first disciple of her Son.  And she is also the first to experience the full reality of what happened to her Son after his death.  He rose to new life.  She shares that reality in a much fuller way than we can appreciate.  We believe that we are saved through the death and resurrection of Jesus - but not yet!  We still have to battle with our demons and conquer them.  But the power of the risen Jesus is with us to guide and help us and the example of Mary and the saints are also there to encourage and assist us as we travel.
  • On this feast of Mary we celebrate that mystery of faith.   We know that we are truly one with the risen Lord and must go on in faith believing that this is so. 
  • When Jesus was speaking to the crowd about the bread of life, they didn’t or wouldn’t understand what he was saying and so went away from him.  It was a great act of faith they were being asked to make.  (What would have been our own response if we had been there?)  Jesus then asked his faithful band of disciples if they would go away as well.  Perhaps the disciples were not sure what Jesus was actually saying.  But they knew him and trusted him.  Peter’s reply, ‘Lord to whom shall we go?’ must be ours, too, as we stand before this other great mystery of life after death.  Mary now fully experiences that for herself.  It awaits all of us at the end.
  • The road to that glorious place has been mapped out for us.  Sometimes in preparation for an important journey we like to drive over the ground ourselves to make sure we are on the right road.  We can then see what lies ahead and be more sure we are going in the right direction. 
  • Unfortunately our own inner life journey doesn’t have that kind of precise and clear view of the road ahead.  What we do know is that we will get there if we learn from those who have gone before us.  They have shown us how they did it.  We also know that the way we live/the way we drive, the courtesy we show to the others we meet on the way as we go along, and the care we take as we travel, all affect how we get to our destination.
  • Like most road maps in today’s world we can’t be sure if the exact route others took is still viable for us as we make the journey ourselves.  Even a satnav warns you to be wary as there may be diversions or road works ahead. So, even though we know where we want to go, we sometimes need to stop and check where we are.  We may have to turn round to get back on to the proper road, either because we took a wrong turning or the route has been altered slightly.
  • Holiness and getting to heaven is not like a carbon copy which we adhere to blindly.  We have to apply the gospel to our life, to our vocation and personal circumstances, so that we finally arrive at the desired goal. 
  • The funny thing is that we may all travel in different ways but those who arrive at the ‘pearly gates’ share an uncanny likeness.  They are all transfigured with the same glory that Peter, James and John saw shining on Jesus on the mountain.  That was a foreshadowing of the glory given to the risen Jesus and now to Mary in her assumption into heaven.  Please God it will be a foretaste of what lies ahead for all of us as we daily seek with Mary’s help to stay on that golden road to God.