Sunday, December 10, 2017

CRY OUT LIKE A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS a homily for the Second Sunday of Advent Year B (Mark 1:1–8)


            We take water for granted.  Israel is a lot drier than Ireland.  In fact the real dispute in between Israelis and the Palestinians is not so much over land but over access to and control of water.  All over Israel, wherever they dig, archaeologists find different types of ancient water stores.  There are cisterns for drinking water and baths for washing and there is a third kind.  That kind is not for drinking from for the water was often stagnant.  For the same reason one did not swim in them though there are steps down into them.  The capacity of some of the smaller kind was over 14,000 litres of water.  These tanks or baths were used for the ritual cleansing demanded by the Jewish religion of the time.  They were always cut from the rock and were covered so that they were dark and cold.  They are so common that it is obvious that the Jews of the time of our Lord took religious purity very seriously.  So why then do they flock to be baptized by John in the Jordan?
            John is something of a paradox.  The Jewish Temple priesthood was hereditary and John is from a priestly family.   He is a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses, first of the Jewish priests.   (If you have Cohens or Levis in your family tree you too are such a descendant).   Yet he is not living a priestly life. He does not take his turn in the Temple but lives in the wilderness, the hot, rocky emptiness beyond the Jordan.  He lives on wild honey and insects, food allowed by the Jewish Law, but not easy to get nor very filling.  He must've been very thin and wiry, sun-browned and wild-looking.  He wears a rough camel hair garment, his hair of his head and his face is uncut.  What an extraordinary sight he must've made.  In addition, Israel, the Jews, have not seen or heard of a prophet in about five hundred years.  All that time God has been silent.  Then John appears from the wilderness dressed as a prophet like Elijah, living an austere life and proclaiming the need for repentance, for straitening the route for God's grace into our lives and administering baptism to that end.




            John's baptism was symbolic, a sign of desire for real purity.  By baptizing in a river rather than a pool or tank he is pointing to the living power that is come with Christ, a power that is not stagnant like human power.
            John is the last of the prophets of the Old Testament and a saint of the New Testament.   His clothing is that of a prophet and his message is that we repent, that is, we literally change our mind, our way of thinking and return to the Lord's way.   By refusing to be a priest of the Temple John is pointing forward to the new priesthood established by Christ and the new sacrifice He will make that is the Mass.  John speaks of himself as a slave so low that it is not proper for him even to touch the least part of Christ's sandal.  John, like all the saints, points beyond himself to Jesus Who is the fulfillment of all God's promises and more.



            As Tertullian, an early Christian wrote: John calls us to purge our minds of whatever impurity error has imparted, whatever contamination ignorance has brought, which repentance would sweep and scour away, and cast out.  So prepare the home of your heart by making it clean for the Holy Spirit.
            As St Gregory Nazianzus wrote: "Moses baptized, but in water, in the cloud and in the sea; but this he did figuratively. John also baptized, not indeed in the rite of the Jews, not solely in water, but also for the remission of sins; yet not in an entirely spiritual manner, for he had not added: “in the Spirit.” Jesus baptized, but in the Spirit; and this is perfection. There is also a fourth baptism, which is wrought by martyrdom and blood, in which Christ himself was also baptized, which is far more venerable than the others, in as much as it is not soiled by repeated contagion. There is yet a fifth, but more laborious, (a baptism) by tears; with which David each night bedewed his bed, washing his couch with tears".
            How many times have we looked forward to Christmas and something has gone wrong.  How often have disagreements marred our celebrations?  How often have we eaten or drunk too much?  How often has it just been a bit of a disappointment?  For some of us Christmas is a reminder of bad and painful times.  For many it is a reminder of loved ones who have died.  To get the real meaning of Christmas it is necessary not to stock up on food and drink but to stock up on grace.  It is necessary to approach the Birth of Christ by the royal road of Advent.  That is why the priest wears purple, the ancient colour of royalty. 
            To live Advent we need to join John in the wilderness.  I don't mean eating insects by the way though I would not object to honey.  John is a model for us.  The wilderness represents the stripped down space of prayer and quiet.  We need to remove the non-necessities.  We have to make space for God.  In John we see and hear the call to reduce our dependence on the things of this world to the minimum so that we have more time for God and our neighbour.  John's path is one of penance and repentance. 
            We are to acknowledge our sins and seek out Christ in Confession, repenting of them and asking His mercy.  We are to make sacrifices, however small, and unite them with Christ's infinite sacrifice in the Mass.  By these simple means we can open our hearts to really greet Christ at Christmas, to run out to meet Him with the good works we have done, to greet Him with joyful faith not shallow sentimentality and to find that in seeking Him we have found the power to love those around us and discovered the real meaning of Christmas.




Sunday, December 3, 2017

STAYING AWAKE! A homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B, (Mark 13:33–37)

As usual you can hear the audio here.
            Three times our Lord says to us WATCH!  We are to open our spiritual eyes and see!  we are to stay awake like security guards at night or soldiers on watch.  He will return and it will be sudden and without warning.  Will we be awake and ready?  How does one stay spiritually awake and alert?  He will return.  How are we to prepare for this?  How are we to stay awake in our faith?
            We can, indeed, we must pray.  The Church defines prayer as lifting up the heart and mind to God.  For years I thought that mean and pathetic.  Now I see that the Church is saying that prayer is a broad and profound experience.  Whatever enables us to lift up our heart and mind to God is prayer.  No two people pray the same but everyone should pray.  Without prayer we fall asleep spiritually.  We also need to listen though, to listen to God's word in the scriptures, the Bible.  The Bible contains His message for us, His mind that we are to put on and if we are not giving attention to His word then we are not listening and our soul starves.  We need to put that word found in scripture into practice in our lives by how we treat others and how we care for those in need.  We need to live the life of the Church not just by attending Mass on Sunday but by examining our conscience everyday and going to Confession regularly. 
            While our Lady is not a tourist visiting visionaries on demand she is a mother and she cares for her children whom she has received from her Son on the Cross.  In 1879 she came to us here in Ireland.  She did not say a word but the whole vision at Knock pointed us to the centrality of the Sacrifice of the Mass and our duty of prayer, worship and belief in the teaching of Christ and His Church.  It is that Faith that we received from St Patrick that has made Ireland the relatively civilized place it still is.  It has been a gift to us from God.
            In 1917 our Lady came to us at Fatima.  This time she did speak.  She called for conversion and amendment of life, that we take the Gospel and the teaching of her Son seriously and put it into practice.  She called for a life of penance and reparation, that is, making acts of faith and love to show our sorrow at our own sins and those of others, sins against God, against her, and against one another.  She called for prayer and devotion to her Son and to herself.
            In calling for penance and reparation she asked that we offer up everything in our life and every sacrifice, every suffering however small, to be offered to God in a spirit of submission to His will.  To do this we consciously unite our sufferings and sacrifices with our Lord's Sacrifice on Calvary.  On their own our sacrifices and sufferings are of no value but united to His they take on the infinite value of His Sacrifice.  We can do this by His power made available to us in baptism fro in baptism we were immersed into Christ and became one flesh, one Spirit with Him.  In His mercy and love God the Father accepts these sacrifices united to His Son's in reparation for all the sins of the world and above all those against His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament and those against His Son's Most Pure Mother, for to fail to honour the Mother is to fail to honour the Son.
            Our Lady also asked that we pray especially that we pray the Rosary.  She did not mean that we rattle through it as quickly as possible.  She clearly asked that we spend time with her in the rosary while meditating on the Mysteries and that we do this daily in a spirit of reparation to her and her Son.  When we pray the rosary properly we left our Lady take us by the hand and walk us through the mysteries of her Son's life. 
            She also asked that we give five first Saturdays, that means the first Saturday of five consecutive months in reparation to her and her Son.  We do this by going to confession and confessing all our sins, in number and kind, with sincere purpose of amendment, and then going to Holy Communion, again, with the intention of making reparation to her.  She also asked that we wear the blessed Brown Scapular as a sign of our consecration to her and that we live that consecration to the best of our ability.  Finally she asked that we spread the word.  We are to tell others about her requests and encourage them to respond to the Mother of God.

            None of this is difficult.  None of it is too time consuming.  It may mean we have less time for other things but when you stand before the Lord He will not ask you the sports results or what was on the telly!  He will ask you about whether and how you listened to Him and to His Mother.  If we have listened and obeyed we will have nothing to fear and nothing to lose.  If we have not we will only have ourselves to blame.  While we are then let us stay awake in the spirit.   Let us live our lives as faithful Catholics and stand ready for His return.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

CHRIST IS TO BE LORD OF ALL AND WE ARE TO WORSHIP HIM EVEN THROUGH OUR SERVICE OF ONE ANOTHER a homily for the Feat of Christ the King, (Matthew 25, 31–46)

 I had no public Mass today (I've been sick for a few weeks) but I did draft this:

Christ comes as the greatest of Kings, surrounded by the armies of His angels.  He is no longer hiding His Divine Nature.  His plan is accomplished and we must all answer to Him who is our Creator and Lord, our King and God.  Since we live in a republic we have lost a sense of what an absolute monarch is.  Kings are remote romantic figures.  On that day Christ will not be a remote romantic figure.  With these very eyes we will see Him and will not dare doubt our sight.  With these very ears we will hear Him and will not doubt what we hear.  While we are still in this world then let us prepare that on that day we will be ready and find ourselves among the sheep not the goats.
            Our Lord then will divide all those who claim to be His followers, indeed all those who should be His followers, that is, all human beings into two camps.  The one are those who by their actions have shown sincere love and care for those in any kind of need.  The other camp is of those who have not.  Matthew is not saying that these will be the only criteria of judgment on that day, he is emphasizing that faith is not an abstraction, a mere ascent to truth but it must also be lived out in our daily lives.
            The measure of love is our care for those in need, for the hungry, thirsty, naked, lonely, sick and confined.  He puts no conditions on that love.  He does not mean only those who are physically hungry and thirsty alone.  Anyone who thirsts and hungers for what they need to live a human life can be the beneficiary of our care.  Nor is nakedness restricted to clothing.  Anyone who is deprived of protection, of a home or of the law, of any kind, falls under this category; likewise with the sick and imprisoned.  If anyone lacks freedom we are to be their consolation.  Note that he does not say the innocent prisoner.  From ancient up to the Nineteenth century prisoners depended on relatives and friends for all their necessities.   We are to be the friends and relatives even of the guilty by extending to them the charity of Christ.    
            This is not easy.  The sick are not always pleasant.  They can be troublesome and unpleasant.  It can be very difficult to care for them.  Prisoners are rarely innocent.  They may be guilty of serious crimes.  Our Lord does not distinguish.  They too are worthy of our care and concern.
            The reason He gives for this standard of care?  That what we do to others we do to Him!  How can this be?  It is so first of all because we are made by Him in His image and likeness.  That is, He is the prototype, the master copy after Whom we are all modeled.  The respect and honour, care and devotion we show to others, especially those who are vulnerable or in need, passes through them to Him.  There is more to this.  When anyone is baptised into Christ then he or she is one flesh with Him and with all who are baptised into Christ.  It is because we have been baptised and confirmed in Christ that we can receive His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion, for we are already His Boy and Blood by Baptism and Confirmation.  When we care for any Christian, therefore, we are especially caring for Christ, for in caring for a part of the Body we care for all of it.
This then is why we celebrate Christ as King.  It is not some sentimental, romantic title given to honour Christ but an acknowledgement that in Christ the One God, Creator and Lord of All has taken on a human nature.  As God He has the right to rule over everything, everywhere.  As man He exercises that rule through our human nature and through human society, above all through His Church. 
            As members of the Church, the Body of Christ, we are obliged to extend and make that reign of Christ visible in everything we do above all in the love and care we show for others.  That love and care therefore takes on an immense significance.  It is a proclamation of the Gospel, a sign from God of His Presence and action in the world, an act of worship and obedience, of reverence for Him and a sign and a response to His loving mercy.  We do not do it by our own power but by His.  It is His grace that enables us to truly love and care for others.  When we refuse to care for anyone in need we are not only turning our back on the needy; we are turning our back on Christ.  When we choose to ignore those we can help we are choosing to be one of the goats and to take our own path not that of Christ.  

            That great and terrible day will come.  We will see it and hear His voice.  We will all stand and face judgment based on how we have followed Christ.  He will ask how we have loved and cared for those in need.  What we do now determines how we will spend eternity!  Do not fool yourself into thinking there is some other way into Heaven.  There is only one way the way of Christ, the hard and narrow path of sincerely caring for others while living in accord with His teaching.  To those who follow in His footsteps He has promised eternal blessedness and joy.  To those who go their own way He has promised eternal suffering.  If you want the joy do not turn your back on those in need.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

WHAT IS THE GREATEST COMMAND OF THE LAW? a homily for the Thirtieth Sunday, Year A (Matthew 22:34–40)


 The audio is here.
Last week we had the Pharisees and their the enemies the Herodians gathering together to oppose the Lord.  Last week our Lord told us that we are to put God first in our lives.  He told us that while we owe something to our Nation and the State our ultimate loyalty must be to God and to His Law.  As St Thomas More said “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.”  “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.”
It seems that this week we have the Pharisees gathering together with another of their enemies, the Sadducees.  The Pharisees were wealthy, devout Jews, men who could afford to spend time studying and observing not just the Law of the Old Testament but the vast body of teaching that had been built up around it.  They also accepted all the prophets and books that we know as the Old Testament.  They were scholars who really wanted to be holy but on their own terms. 
In contrast the Sadducees were the party associated with the Temple priesthood in Jerusalem, a vast extended clan of hereditary clergymen.  They acknowledge no holy books but the Torah, that is, the first five books of our Old Testament.  To them the one and only prophet was Moses, the man who spoke to God face to face.  If a doctrine was not there in the Torah of Moses it was not to be believed which led to a lot of conflict with the Pharisees.  The Sadducees and the Pharisees were no more friends than chalk and cheese.
That was the context behind this simple question: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  It is one of those questions that experts (or those who think they are experts) would like to argue and discuss ad infinitum.  Our Lord responds by citing the Shema Israel, “Hear O Israel”, the Jewish creed that they still recite everyday.  Indeed the Church also often cites it in her worship for we believe as they do.   Traditionally it is the first prayer an observant Jew will say when he wakes and the last he will say before sleep.  It is their fervent wish to make it their last words in this life.  It is the heart of the Jewish Faith.
Our Lord does not quote the whole of the Shema nor its first verse but its third line, its very heart.  The Lord God is to be the centre of our lives, of our whole being.  He then adds to it another commandment from the Law, from one of those first five books of the Old Testament, the book of Leviticus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.  This does not mean that we are to love our neighbour more than our true self but neither does it mean that we love him less.  It means that we should put as much energy into loving others as we do into loving our own selves!  Our Lord tells us that this latter commandment is akin to, and dependent on, the first.  Love of God and love of our neighbour are intimately linked and are at the heart of our Faith for both Jews and Christians.  Remember too that for our Lord love does not mean affection nor does it mean mere niceness.  For our Lord love means the total gift of one’s self in service of another.  If you want to know what love means for God looks like look at a crucifix.



Our Lord is telling us that we cannot sincerely love our neighbour if we do not sincerely love God and our love for our neighbour is not sincere if we are not prepared to aid that neighbour in his nakedness, his hunger, his thirst, in other words, his suffering.  We would not let ourselves go hungry if there was food, or thirsty if there was something good to drink, nor naked and cold if there were clothes, nor homeless if there was a place to stay.  If we would not do that to ourselves then we ought not to do it to our neighbour either, not if we claim to love God and hope to go to heaven.  That is the price of eternal life: to show one’s faith in Christ by one’s love for one’s neighbour in his need. 
Some of course will point to others and say ‘why doesn’t he do it?’ or ‘why don’t they?’  But our Lord does not ask you to answer for your neighbour.  Your neighbour will answer for himself before the throne of Judgment just as you and I will. It is there that we will answer for our neglect of those in need unless we take the chances we are given here.  If you want to wipe away your sins start by wiping away the tears of those who are hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, homeless, lonely or despised.  If you truly love God reach out to those who are in need and you will find that God is there before you, reaching out to you.
You see that this Law, this Faith of ours, is not some sentimental injunction to ‘be nice’ and not hurt anyone.  Our Lord is not a sentimentalist.  He is absolutely sincere in his command to us that we measure our love for Him by our love for our neighbour and our neighbour is anyone who is in need.  
Our Lord is not saying that He will love us if we love our neighbour but that if we love Him we will love our neighbour, that is, each person we meet but especially whoever is in need.   Why should we love God?  We should love Him because every breath is a gift from Him.  All that is is a gift from Him.  Not content with creating us and blessing us He has emptied Himself in sending the Son into the world to die for us so that we could be with Him forever in Heaven.  To borrow an image from Isaac Newton we are like children playing by the sea and all the vast ocean of the knowledge of God’s love remains unexplored and unappreciated before us.  It realizing this that made St Francis weep out loud “love is not loved.” 

Let us not be Pharisees trying to save ourselves or like the Sadducees living a minimalist Faith.  Our path to Heaven is not impossible, not with God’s grace, but it is hard and narrow.  It means letting go of many things we may cherish so that we might really and truly love God and really and truly love others.  Climbing a mountain is not easy but the view from the top makes it all worthwhile.  The view from Heaven will take our breath away and the way up there is through love for God and for our neighbour.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

WHOSE IMAGE IS THIS? A homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Year A, (Matthew 22:15–21)

The audio is here.

As Christians, while we are in this world, we have one foot in Eternity and one foot here.  We are both members of our nation and state and members of the Body of Christ and His Kingdom.  Which side takes preference reveals our true priorities and can determine our ultimate destination.  This same conflict appears in today’s passage from the Gospel. 
The Pharisees were not clergy.  They were the wealthy religious Jews who could afford to give all their attention to the various rules that grew up around the Old Testament Law of Moses.   For over the centuries since Moses gave the Law to the Jews they had added on layers of legal decisions and commentary that itself had become part of the Law.  For them happiness and peace came from strictly following the Law in all its detail.  The Herodians were the political followers and supporters of the half-Jewish family of the Herods.  If you want an idea of what the Herod family was like think of a cross between Eastenders and the Sopranos.  Not a nice bunch of people.  They were not religious Jews.  They thought of happiness and peace as making money and gaining power while keeping on the right side of the Romans.  These two groups (two of many factions) were not friendly to one another to say the least.  So our Lord who has come to save us and in the process bring true peace and happiness is opposed by a union of two groups that are otherwise bitter enemies.
This makes their question more interesting.  The Law forbade the use of images, especially idols.  The Romans, being pagans, used images everywhere even on their coins.  The question seems to be about how one is to relate to the occupying power.  If our Lord says not to pay taxes because of the image on the coin then he can be reported to the Romans as a traitor but if he says to pay the tax then he can be accused of acquiescing in idolatry as well as supporting the Roman occupiers. 
Our Lord’s answer is brilliant.  He asks for a coin and when they hand it over they already show that they themselves are using the Roman coinage.  The he asks that simple question: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”  It is Caesar’s, that is, the Emperor’s image, a pagan.  They are using the Roman coinage and therefore recognize the authority of Rome.  The coin belongs to Rome so one has to give it back in taxes.
The deeper issue, though, is about to whom we owe allegiance.  From the foundation of the State there was a tendency to think of Ireland as a Catholic state and therefore to over-identify Irishness and Catholicism.  That is dying out.  The danger is that we swing in the opposite direction.  Yet the question has troubled believers in different ways over the centuries.  The English martyr Sir Thomas More put it succinctly “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.”  That from a man who had held the highest office in England after that of the King.  “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.” 
One could say that by being born and raised here, or for some of us having chosen to make this land our home, we bear the imprint of Irishness.  We are stamped, shaped by our culture of origin and the culture around us.  Yet when we were baptized a much deeper, eternal imprint was made on our very soul, that of Christ.  More, we became one body, one person with Him and we cannot lose that mark, that mark, that connection.  There can therefore arise a conflict between these two imprints.  Are we Irish or are we Catholic?  Do we cherish the imprint of Caesar or imprint of God-made-man?  What we owe to the government and what we owe to God and His Kingdom, the Church? 
Certainly we owe the Irish nation and the Irish State our allegiance (they are not the same thing for the latter is there to serve the former).  As long as both seek to serve the Natural Law, that God-given law of right and wrong that is known to us by reason then we can serve them.  We should never act in a way as to do harm to our neighbour or our people.  But what do we owe God?  What do we owe Him without Whom there would be no state, no nation, no world?  What do we owe Him without Whom there would be no possibility of eternal life?
We owe God worship, that is, at the very least attending the Sacraments with devotion and attention but also ordering our whole life to His service and praise.  We owe Him our faith, which is itself, along with everything else, His gift to us.  We express that faith through prayer, fasting and care for those in need.  We owe God obedience in all things, that is, doing the duties of our state of life for love of Him, avoiding and opposing evil, and doing good especially to those who would do us harm, or are in any kind of need.  By these means we truly love our neighbour and show our love for the God who holds nothing back from us. 

We have the imprint of Christ on our souls through baptism and confirmation, the imprint of Him who is the exact likeness and image of the Father.  The Father in sending the Son to us has held nothing back from us.  He has given us everything, holding nothing back so that we can give our whole selves to Him in return.  It is in this giving of ourselves to God and to others in love that we discover what it really means to be human.
While we are still here in this world we corrode through sin and the image of Christ can grow faint.  We can scrape away the grime and corrosion of this world, we can polish and bring out that imprint by doing as our Lady requested at Fatima: pray the rosary everyday, wear the brown scapular, to make sacrifices for the sake of saving sinners, to practice the First Saturday devotion (sincere confession and communion in a state of grace) as an act of reparation to her and to respond to Christ by seeking to live an ever more obedient, more holy life.

By these means we bring out and become the image of Christ in the world, wherein others can see Him and come to faith in Him.  To remain stained and corroded, dull and disfigured is to be a block for others.  We owe our Lord our total service for He has held nothing back from us.  When He come first in our lives then we lift our foot out of this world and place it in Heaven and after that it is only a matter of time before we are entirely and eternally in His Presence.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

MANY ARE CALLED BUT FEW ARE CHOSEN: A homily for the Twenty-Eight Sunday in Year A (Matthew 22:1–14)


 The audio is here.
“Many are called but few are chosen.”  Are we to take this statement literally?  What does our Lord mean?  Are there those who are doomed to be excluded from Heaven?  Why can’t everyone but the worst people go there?  Surely most people get to go to Heaven because most people are not murderers or rapists or thieves?  Surely Hell is nearly empty?  How many will be saved in the end?  Elsewhere in the Gospels our Lord refuses to answer the question of how many will be saved.   He will not answer the question.  Why?
To understand our Lord we must understand a few things.  First the passage I have just read must be understood in the context of our Lord’s confrontation with His fellow Jews who will not believe in Him.  For generations, centuries, they had been promised a Divine intervention, a Saviour who would grant them the power to truly keep the Law.  Our Lord is the fulfillment of these promises.  He is God made flesh for us, the Word of the Father, the True and Perfect Lawgiver, and they owe Him obedience and worship.  They have been called to the Wedding that is the Kingdom promised to them but have made excuses, preferring the things of this world to those of the next.  Therefore, our Lord points out that the Gospel will be directed to those who are outcasts, the sinners, the Gentiles, us.  Yet there is a condition on entering the Kingdom even for us; it is not a blanket welcome.  The wedding garment that is asked of us may be the Sacrament of Baptism, or faith in Christ as God made man or a life of virtue.  Indeed the wedding garment made of all three. 
The “few” might mean that there are very few who will get to Heaven or that few among the Jews will or that few will freely co-operate with God’s grace and seek the heights of holiness.  The “many” obviously means all mankind for, as St Paul says, “God wants everyone to be saved.”  Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel we read that “many will come from East and West” to take the places in the Kingdom that should have gone to the Jews.  The passage, therefore, is not entirely clear.  Why does our Lord leave it so vague?
The reason our Lord refuses to answer the question of how many will be saved and does not clarify what he means by “many are called but few are chosen,” is that He wishes us to avoid two extremes, two dangers.  These two dangers to be avoided are those of despair and complacency.  If we think that few are saved, as many fundamentalist Protestants do, then we risk driving others and even ourselves into despair.  On the other hand, if we think that few will be lost and most of us are going to heaven, there is the risk of complacency.  The complacent make no effort to produce the fruit that our Lord asks of us while those who despair no longer try to avoid evil.  Neither seek to repent and to change and make no effort to convert others to Christ.   The complacent do so because they do not believe in God’s justice while those who despair do not believe in God’s mercy.
The Catholic understanding of our Lord’s teaching is that we do not know who is saved, apart from the canonized saints of the Church, but neither do we know who is lost.  “Count no one lost before the day of Judgment” say the Fathers of the Church.  They would add though that neither should we presume on our own salvation.  St Paul tells us that we should do as he does and strive like an athlete in the Olympic games not to win a medal but to win eternal life.  St Peter says that we should work out our salvation in fear and trembling.  By this he means that we must avoid despair by making every effort to do our Lord’s will and co-operate with His grace but also know that without final perseverance we cannot be saved.  We should fear and loathe evil, any sin of any kind, especially our own sins, while trusting that God is merciful to any and all who turn to Him.  Now is the time that we have for salvation.  Now is the time we have been given to win the race and enter Heaven.
What of those we love who no longer practice their Faith?  What of those immersed in second unions, bogged down in addiction, or heedless of God’s commands?  What of brothers and sisters, children and friends who have turned their back on God or so it seems?  What about them?  St Therese of Lisieux once took it into her heart to pray for a condemned murderer.  She prayed earnestly for him and just before he was about to be executed he reached out, seized the crucifix the priest was holding and kissed it.  This she took to be a sign of sincere repentance and that the man was saved.   Only God knows how long he may have had to spend suffering in purgatory but at least he was on the way to Heaven.

If we want to see our loved ones saved then we must take our own salvation seriously.  As a Russian saint said “become a saint and you will save a thousand souls.”  God wants everyone to be saved for the very small price of faith, a gift He has given to all though many neglect to unwrap it.  When we seek to become holy we become reservoirs of grace and when we pray sincerely and earnestly for others we become channels of Divine grace to them.  We may not see the fruits of our prayers in this life but God always rewards faithfulness and obedience.  He wants us to put our whole faith and trust in Him, to let Him be the center of our lives.  When He is at the center then everything falls into its proper place and our lives and the lives of others are transformed.  This is our time to become saints.  We are running the race now.  Let us not get distracted, fall away and lose.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

FOTA X: session III

There was only one talk on Sunday afternoon (one of the speakers is unwell) and it was worth waiting for.  Fr Mark Withoos, an Australian, spoke on 'ad audiendum silentium narrationis eius' (Ep 147): Silence and Liturgy in St. Augustine.  I make the same provisos as on the previous posts.

For Augustine silence is a rich concept.  Faithful to tradition Augustine has a great veneration for silence not merely as the absense of noise but the cultivation of an attitude, an attentiveness to the Lord who is speaking to us above all in His Mysteries.  Silence makes possible our attention to the God who speaks to us through His self-revelation in history, through the Sabbath rest, and through the inward turning of the heart.

Our God is not averse to revealing or hiding Himself according to the needs of the soul.  He reveals Himself through mystery and bids us to enter mystery not to understand but to engage with endless future opportunities for growth.  He urges us to engage with this God who is in mystery and in silence to wage war on our vices.

The Augustine saw in the seventh day of the old dispensation, the Sabbath rest, an anticipation of Heaven while in the new dispensation, the eight day, a day outside time.


 It is the humble attitude necessary for hearing the Lord interiorly.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

FOTA X: Session II, talk ii

After Fr Böhler's talk and a brief break we came back to hear Fr Johannes Nebel on The Paradigmatic Change of the Post Conciliar Liturgical Reform from actio to celebrate in the Light of the Latin Fathers.   I begin again by reminding any reader that this is based on hastily taken notes and
on my memory and is not a verbatim report!  Nor is it official!

Wow what a talk.   Fr Nebel began by giving us the example of the offertory composed for the new Rite of Mass and the addition that B. Paul VI insisted on putting into it.  Archbishop Bugnini, following the thought of Fr Odo Casel OSB,  wanted to place the emphasis on the cultic mystery, the presence of Christ in the faithful united to worship (celebratio) whereas the B. Paul VI wanted to retain the Conciliar emphasis on the offering of the priest, the cultic act or actio.   This leads to a tension in the text of the new Rite between these two concepts.

Fr Nebel took us on a whirlwind tour of the Latin Fathers and their understanding of celebratio and actio.  For the ancient Romans they were distinct but inseparable concepts.  Celebratio was a gathering of the people, often festive, on sacred days to do actio, that is cultic worship of the gods.  This involved the concepts of religio and pietas which was how one venerated the gods and did them justice both through ritual and behaviour.  This often had a public character.

The early Latin Fathers took over these concepts to explain the Faith.  They linked them to the Liturgy and to Christain daily life and values.  To separate celebratio and actio would make sense neither to the ancients nor to the Latin Fathers.  What was offered in the Liturgy and in daily life was for the common good and welfare of all and it was also what was due in justice to God.

The importance of Vatican II in this matter is its refocusing of attention on the Paschal Mystery based on the Pietas Dei.  After Vatican II however Casel's ideas found their way into certain documents so that there is tension between the Conciliar emphasis on the actio of the priest offering what is due to God and the new emphasis on communal involvement and Christ's presence in and through the local community with a resultant loss of a sense of the universal Church.  But both of these approaches are approved by the same Pope!

I think that is about as close to the gist of the talk as I can get!

FOTA X: Session II, talk i

This afternoon we began with Fr Dieter Böhler SJ (see not all Jesuits are enemies of the Church as some are claiming!) who spoke on Jerome and the Recent Revision of the German Einheitsübersetzung Bible.  Please note again that this is not a verbatim report and it is entirely based on my notes and memory.  Apparently the Einheitsübersetzung is the fruit of a long project to produce a common German translation of the Bible for all the German-speaking dioceses in Europe.

Fr Böhler gave a brief history of the project and then went on to explain the origins of the Septuagint and its relationship to the Masoretic text of the Old Testament.  From there he explained how the Vetus Latinus came about and Jerome's commission to translate the Bible into Latin for the Western Church.  Jerome, having translated the New Testament from the Greek, initially set out to use the LXX for the Old Testament.  Upon seeking the number of variant readings, though, between the Greek and Hebrew texts he set himself to make the Latin translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew instead.

Fr Böhler then explained how this translation was received and the Church's approach to translation since.  Jerome's approach if not all of his work has received the imprimatur of the Church.  While the LXX is valued the Masoretic is now the primary source.

The German translators following that approach have used the Masoretic text.  The policy of Liturgicam Authenticam of staying close to the imagery of the original texts has lead the text to be a little difficult in places.   That said Fr Böhler presented a number of examples from the psalms where the policy has lead to the re-emergence of richness of the Hebrew text.  That said the Greek is not to be despised.  It is also inspired as Augustine maintained over against Jerome and the Church agrees.

As Fr Böhler explained there are two distinct approaches to the Old Testament, one Hebrew and one Greek.  Both are valuable and inspired but they have their own frameworks and they should not be confused or mixed.

FOTA X: First session, talk ii

For our second talk of the morning, refreshed by our coffee, we heard Gregory DiPippo on the Patristic Sources of the Roman Lectionary in Lent.  Again what I write is my memory based on my notes.  It is not verbatim nor is it exhaustive.  If Markus Bünning had a strong German accent Gregory DiPippo had a fast and soft spoken American one but I managed to understand both of them, mostly.

There was so much in Mr DiPippo's presentation that it is impossible to do it justice.   I look forward to reading the final article.  Using the two of the oldest surviving liturgical texts of the Roman Rite, the lectionaries of Wurzburg (Wurzburg Capitulary, c.700) and Rohrbach.  These lectionaries are from about 250 years after the era of the Great Fathers of the Church.  They reflect the readings used by the Roman Church as the Pope visited the various station churches in the city during Lent to offer Mass.  Mr DiPippo showed how the Church in Roman meditated on and used the readings to make connections not only to the mystery of Christ but also to events in the history the Church and her ancient conflict with Judaism as well as the ongoing struggle against heresy.

Here in the readings were the echoes of the Church's own ancient origins.  In the lectionary and in the  history of how the Church has used scripture in the Liturgy we have the finest commentary on those scriptures.  There is always more than meets the eye in the texts and the contexts of their use by the Church.  As Mr DiPippo remarked there's a book (perhaps more than one) in all of this.

FOTA X: First session, talk i.

So obviously I made it to FOTA X.  For FOTA VIII I was stuck in the very room where I write this, before this very computer but with my foot in a cast while for FOTA IX I was up in Ards, Co. Donegal ministering to the faithful (Confessions and Mass, etc).

 This year it seems well attended with a mix of clergy and laity, Irish, German, French, American and British.  The first talk this morning was not the scheduled one by Fr joseph Briody but instead we had Mr Markus Bünning, from Munster Germany.  He spoke to us on Panis animarum - The Eucharist in St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  I must point out that what I write here is my poor impression based on my own notes and not a verbatim record.

Mr Bünning introduced us to this giant of the Church, a true Father of the Church, for he was a holy, orthodox and loyal witness to Tradition.  Bernard's spirituality emerged from the talk as deeply Christocentric but a Christ encountered intimately in the Liturgy of the Church as it has been handed down from the earliest days.   Bernard was not a monk cut off from the sources of the Faith in a remote monastery but a man who used Latin as if it were his mother-tongue.  Indeed Bernard's Latin is that of antiquity not the Middle Ages.  He knew the Fathers, especially the Latins, but he knew Christ more, his 'Iesus meus'.  He was not a scholar in the mold of Aquinas but a pastor in the line of Ambrose and Augustine.  Bernard was a man who radiated holiness and challenged his age and those subsequent to really encounter Christ.  Like Francis of Assisi to see him was to see a prayer and feel the call of God.

It was Bernard's profound love for Christ that fueled his love for the Liturgy and his fear of any innovations.  In the Liturgy Heaven and Earth mingle. He believed that to change the Earthly liturgy was to risk adding to the heavenly praise and so to weaken it.   Therefore it was safer to stay with Tradition.  Prudence was needed when dealing with the Liturgy especially when it came to necessary changes such as the addition of feasts for new saints.

Bernard believed in the virtue-promoting power of the Liturgy, especially the Eucharist.  The Eucharist was the  refugarium (place of rest) of souls and our link between Heaven and Earth.  It was the panis animarum our food for the growth of our souls.  This is why in his sermon for the Feast of All Saints he preached on the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is primarily food for the soul given by the Father through the priest to His people.  We are beggars before the door of the rich King.  We must be properly disposed to receive this richest of food.

Note that Bernard's understanding of the Liturgy is not priest-centered.   The Father gives through the priest's ministry.  Bernards ultimate concern is the relationship between the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist.  He believes deeply in the 'sin-inhibiting' power of the Sacrament, that if we remain free of sin it is because of the grace we have received in the Eucharist.  But proper disposition is necessary.  Bernard does not believe in cheap grace.   The Eucharist requires all our attention, intention and preparation.  Since in every Mass the Sacrifice of Christ is offered, that Sacrifice whihc restored peace between God and man, we must have a peacefull  attitude toward, God, our neighbour and our own self.

In his great and influential work on the Song of Songs Bernard explores his nuptial mysticism.  He sees in Sg 2 "sweet to my palate" a reference to the Eucharist.  In the overshadowing of Mary he sees the flesh of Christ as that which shadows her and so combines Mariology and the Sacraments.  In the Mass, the Wedding Feast of Christ and His Church, Christ renews His love for His Bride.  This love drove Bernard to be a peacemaker.

Friday, May 19, 2017

TENTH FOTA LITURGICAL CONFERENCE


 I missed last year's conference because I was stuck in Donegal and the year before I was only down the street but stuck in my room with a shattered ankle.  So perhaps this year I will be able to make it even though I am in Carlow at the moment.  If you can it is worth attending as it's always interesting and stimulating.

Monday, May 8, 2017

THOMAS THE BELIEVER: a homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A, (John 20:19–31)

I am in Carlow at the moment and have no opportunity for proper preaching so this is a draft homily.


What it must have been like to be alive at that time, to be a believer just as the Church is beginning!  What drama there must have been as they struggled to deal with not only the horrific death of Christ but with the shock of His resurrection!  Remember orthodox Jews had no such expectation of a resurrection before the Last Day.  They did expect the Messiah, the Christ to herald a new Jewish Kingdom.  There world was turned upside down by the shameful death of our Lord upon the cross – that’s what the Jewish leaders intended!  Then they find the empty tomb.  Then He starts to appear to believers.  Peter sees Him, and the other apostles, then five hundred disciples.  There are many appearances.  This is just one of those.
Christ is not restricted by His humanity or the materiality of His body.  He could work miracles before but He still respected the laws of science and knocked on a door rather than walk through walls.  Now He does not even bother with that.  As Lord and Creator the Universe is His sandbox and as its Creator He can play with the laws He has decreed as a harpist plays with the strings of His harp. 
There is a playfulness in His sudden appearances.  They are in hiding afraid for their lives and He just shows up and confronts them with His reality.   They are incredulous so He gives the evidence of His identity – His wounds – proof of His suffering, His love, His obedience to the Father, of His resurrection.  He eats and drinks with them to show them that He remains truly human.
Peace is His first wish and gift to us – not just any peace but real peace, peace between us and God.  To make that peace effective He gives them, the apostles, the power to forgive sins or to retain them!  Our sins can be forgiven!  Any evil we may fall into can be wiped away if we repent and allow the Church to apply the healing salve of Christ’s grace in the Sacrament of confession.  His Sacrifice of Himself on the Cross, His offering of His eternal worship of the Father on our behalf, infinitely outweighs any and every evil we could commit.  His song to the Father corrects all our errors and makes us fit for the choirs of Heaven.  Our sins can not only be forgiven but they can be retained!  That’s not a fact that is often mentioned today! Absolution can be withheld if the penitent does not admit his guilt, or denies some article of the Faith, or for some other serious reason.  I have come across penitents who denied the sinfulness of their actions or obstinately denied Church teaching.  Any priest will do his best to bring someone around, to open even a tiny crack, to give a penitent the benefit of the doubt but there are times when one is confronted with obstinate refusal to face reality.  Let us not fall into that trap!
Thomas, the positivist, one who asserts that only those things that can be proved are worthy of belief, wants his experiential, measureable evidence.   He is much like many in the modern world that thinks it is being scientific and mature by demanding proof for everything it would rather not acknowledge.  Such people get stuck in their teenage years with a narrow understanding of science and knowledge and however highly educated they may get manage not to let that inner teenager grow up.  Growing up is hard and we have to face up to our responsibilities! 
Science can only deal with the material world, it cannot prove quite a number of things, rational beliefs that cannot be subject to scientific measurement or examination.
It cannot prove logical or mathematical truth since it presupposes them.
It cannot prove metaphysical truths such as the existence of minds other than my own, the reality of the world around me or existence of that world prior not only to my existence but to my present self-awareness.
It cannot deal with ethical judgments about right and wrong.  Science cannot tell us whether the Nazis were right or wrong in what they did to the Jews and other minorities in the concentration camps.
It cannot deal with aesthetic judgments on the beauty of anything.  Scientists can weigh and measure a painting and subject the materials to various tests but as scientists they have no more to say on its beauty than anyone else.
Lastly science cannot prove science!  Science not only assumes mathematics and logic but also many other concepts such as the constant speed of light between two points upon which so much cosmology is based.
Christ’s response to Thomas and His doubt is to present him with the tangible proof of His resurrection, His Real Presence.   Thomas still needs faith to see beyond Christ’s humanity to His Divinity and he is not found lacking.  He goes further than the other disciples and confesses Christ’s Divine personhood.  According to tradition he also went further than the others geographically and ended his days in India.
What proofs can we offer the doubters today?  What evidence can we present?  We must first know our Faith and hold to it.  We should also know how to present it in ways that are rational and reasonable.  I recommend one book: the Case for Christ which, although written by a Protestant, lays out the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament accounts of Christ.
We are also called to be the proof of the resurrection by living our faith.  No one will believe what we say if they are not convinced by what we do.  We must seek to be saints, really and genuinely holy, devoted to the will of the Lord.  The important thing is faith in Christ and His teaching and obedience to it.


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