32nd Sunday Year A

See Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13

Homily 1 - 2005 

Today’s Gospel advises us to Stay Awake.  Actually, a more appropriate moral might be Be Prepared!  None of the teen-aged girls in the story managed to stay awake but five of them were prepared, and so fared well.  Be Prepared!  Two questions immediately arise: How?  And determining the answer to that is the prior question: prepare for what?  Be Prepared for what?  You can prepare for a holiday, for example, so as not to be inconvenienced: bring clothes that can handle a change in the weather, have your accommodation booked, your return fare paid, enough cash in your pocket or credit card account.  But to prepare to enjoy your holiday, to be happy on it, calls for something else: because whatever else you bring, whoever else you  bring, you certainly bring yourself: you cannot get away from yourself.  To be happy, at home or on holiday, depends on the kind of person you are.

Jesus calls us to be prepared for eternity.  Our experience of that depends not on what we bring but on the kind of person we are.  It is hardly a question of arriving with a number of Plenary Indulgences, or having the nine First Fridays, or the five First Saturdays, under my belt – unless they have succeeded in their purpose and have formed in me the same heart and mind as the real Christ’s.  How I fare in eternity, whether I shall enjoy it or not, whether it will be a good experience or not, will be a factor simply of: can I love?  Can I love God, myself, and others (because I am destined to spend eternity with all three!).  Can I love then will be a factor of: Do I love now.  Indeed, do I enjoy loving God, myself and others?

You would think it would be easy.  So why have I not grown into a wonderfully loving person?  Why is God still “out there”?  Why am I frightened to tell you who I am?  Why am I selective and even unwilling to even bother to try to love some people?  especially when loving moves beyond mere tolerance to become real in care, forgiveness and service?  Sadly experience shows that growing in love inevitably involves dying to self, dying to self-absorption, to self-centredness, to comfort (and my comfort-zone).  It involves surrendering my obsessive need to control, my anxious covering up and unwillingness to own the real me.  I am not instinctively good at it; but if I persevere, I can find it even congenial: it fits; it makes sense; it’s good.

When I have grown to the stage of enjoying relating in love to God, my own self and to others, then I am prepared for eternity.  I suppose that most of us will be only half-ready by the time we die, perhaps hardly half.  Thank God for the second chance, for Purgatory!  Being stretched will be tough, dying to self will be focussed and relentless, but the gradual growth will be wonderful and the final outcome assured.  Given that certainly, whether the actual occasion of stepping onwards  into eternity be a peaceful death in bed from old age, a less peaceful one from sickness, a car accident, an earthquake or a flood, even a terrorist bomb, ultimately the how is irrelevant and hardly deserves worrying about.  But it is worth engaging seriously with the preparation right now.

Every Eucharist can help, though it does not do so inevitably.  Each Eucharist can be for us the chance to open ourselves once more to the action of God’s Spirit drawing us to align our hearts and minds with the heart and mind of the dying Jesus.  It is a call for us to celebrate the triumph of loving, against the odds, to commit ourselves yet again to the on-going project central to the spirit of Christ: the shaping of God’s Kingdom of justice, peace and love in the day-to-day world of our own family, neighbourhood and nation.  When shared in with awareness and commitment, it is a wonderful school preparing us for eternity.

Homily 2 – 2011 

It’s an interesting Gospel today.  How do we hear it?  as a warning? or as an invitation?  One way or the other, it is a reminder not to miss out on the fun – the fun of the wedding celebration.  Well, perhaps “fun” is not quite the word – it doesn’t say enough.  We all like a bit of fun… but we all want immeasurably more.  Like it and all as we do, we’re “hard-wired” for more than fun.

Here, the image of the wedding is not all that irrelevant.  The ones who enjoy the wedding most are the bride and the groom - just embarking on their new adventure of love.  I think our deepest longings are for love – to be loved and, perhaps especially, to love: to receive it, and, even more, to give it.  I believe that we are all “hard-wired” for it because, from the wonderful fact of having been created, we carry within us the image, the imprint, of God.  And, for us Christians, through our baptism, we bear the likeness of the crucified and risen Christ.  We have been christened, Christed.  As we know, God is love; and Jesus is the revelation of that love, and the embodiment and bearer of it.

Our adventure into the limitless mystery of love began at birth and upped its tempo at baptism.  Love has been our life’s meaning and purpose ever since.  Wonderfully, the journey will never finish.  With our death, time opens out into eternity; and the adventure of love takes off again with an intensity and breadth beyond our present capacity even to comprehend.  It’s a great thought!

According to today’s Second Reading, Paul’s early converts at Thessalonica had mistakenly assumed that the risen Christ would soon return to earth and inaugurate the much-anticipated Kingdom of God.  They worried about the fate of their friends who had died in the meantime, before the arrival of Christ. Would they miss out?  Paul sought to reassure them.  The imagery and the language that he used surprise us.  They were simply the strange, graphic, apocalyptic images and words that the Jewish culture, at that time, was sort of “soaked in”.

But whatever about the irrelevance of the dramatic imagery, Paul’s reassurance was clear.  His bottom-line was: We shall all stay with the Lord forever.  It is not a bad sort of message, as a matter of fact, for this month of November, just after we have celebrated the twin feasts of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  It’s reassuring to know that, whatever  about the pain of losing loved family members and friends, we shall all, nevertheless, stay with the Lord forever.

But back to the Gospel.  The purpose of the story was mainly to remind us to Stay awake!  or, perhaps better, to stay tuned in, to be in touch with what’s real.  Life – now and in eternity is about loving.  It’s therefore about relationships.  It’s about relationships, not only with God, but other with real people.  The purpose of life now – the sole purpose, really – is to open our hearts, to stretch them – ever more.

That is why people whom we don’t like are important.  They are the ones who challenge us.  They provide the occasion, the need, for the painful stretching.  We struggle; we get tired; we fail – but we can try again, and again.  The secret, I think, is not to rely only on good intentions and will power.  We haven’t the capacity.  God is the energy-source of love.  It all starts there.  We need to let God love us in our failures, when we face our “brick walls”.  We admit our defeats.  But we let God’s love in.  And, to the extent that we do, we find ourselves changing – wanting to change, and increasingly able to change.

Stay awake!  Keep tuned in to what is real.  Let the focus clearly be love, and let the source of it all be God.

Homily 3 - 2017

Euthanasia has raised the topic of palliative care; and both, perhaps, have raised the issue of preparing for death. But that, I think, is the wrong issue. For us Christians, the concern is rather how to prepare for eternal life.

How we prepare for eternal life will be a question, in its turn, of our over-riding experience of God already, and also of the degree to which we are now alert to, and living within, what the Creed calls the Communion of Saints.

Let’s look at these two matters one at a time.

Firstly, our over-riding experience of God. If you were a bit like the writer of today’s Responsorial Psalm, you would have no worries. As we heard, he yearned to see God: “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water.” His constant experience was a longing “to gaze on God” and to “see God’s strength and glory”. He knew his God. He knew his God as a God of love. “Your love is better than life”. What beautiful faith!

It saddens me that, somehow, we have let the waters get muddied. So many good, excellent, Catholics are frightened of God [or have a bet both ways]. With all their praying, some are still to encounter the extravagantly loving God. They focus on themselves and their own unworthiness. As if that mattered! Every time we receive Communion, for example, we first declare, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed!” Is that our experience of God? And if not, why not?

Too many of us are far too self-focussed – rather than God-focussed. Our sense of God can be far too miserable. Of course we are unworthy, imperfect – but what has that to do with love? Any parent knows their child is imperfect. Every spouse knows that their partner is imperfect, indeed, that they are themselves. But everyone in the family keeps loving, just the same. Certainly God judges us all, but only to set us free, to heal us – if we will only allow it. “Say but the word and my soul shall be healed.” Do we believe that? What does mercy mean, otherwise?

The second factor relevant to our experience of eternal life flows from the same issue of our being far too self-focussed, far too absorbed in our own little selves. I believe that, as we let God love us, as we surrender to the flow of God’s love, we begin to see and to love others as God sees and loves them. We forget about ourselves and love others instead [or is it, as well?] – anyone, everyone . The Communion of Saints begins to mean something. And with love and belonging come joy. Listen again to the psalmist, “My soul shall be filled as with a banquet, my mouth shall praise you with joy”. Apparently, introverts will extend their range; extraverts will extend their depth.

So, how do we “stay awake, because [we] do not know either the day or the hour?” I think that the first thing is to keep getting to know God better. If my sense of God is that of one who ultimately frightens me, then I need to lose faith in that God – because it is a false God. Then, as I progressively come to know God’s love for me, I need to let myself recognize that God loves everyone else with the same love. And that does not mean that God loves me less, but simply that God’s love is infinite and can be infinitely divided and remain infinite. Learning to let God love the imperfect, quite unworthy me allows me also to begin loving the imperfect, unworthy anyone, everyone else.

With a bit of luck, the process might start well before I die.