Monday, 7 April 2014

Passion Sunday - Year C

Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

What we have just heard is a sad tale; the saddest story ever told. It is the story of what happens when sheep turn on their shepherd.

They decide to ‘take him down’ and they do so in the usual way the innocent are taken down, they ‘set him up’.

One of them, the one of whom the shepherd once said it would have been better ‘if he had never been born’, seeks out the wolves in their den. He offers to betray the shepherd to them. They pay him a measly thirty pieces of silver – and the stage is set for the awful saga to begin.

The shepherd himself is a ‘pushover’; a ‘kiss’ and a few clubs will do the trick. He makes no fuss, no defence. He is like a lamb led to the slaughter – he doesn’t make a sound – he offers no resistance.

Though he knows exactly what is going to happen, how it is going to happen, when it is going to happen and who it is that will make it happen; though he could foil their plans with a single sigh; though he has legions of angels at his disposal who could annihilate his enemies with a single blow, he does nothing. He knows that his time has come, that the hour is at hand.

But why so passive? Why do nothing? Why let it all happen? The answer is simple – it is his Father’s will.

My Father ... let it be as you, not I, would have it ... your will be done!

Jesus knew that Judas would betray him because he knew Judas. He knew that Peter would deny him because he knew Peter. He knew that his disciples would all desert him because he knew his disciples. We who know Jesus, who have watched him and have grown to know him, understand that he would never, could never, disobey his Father. Even as a young boy of twelve he told his mother and father: Did you not know I must be busy with my Father’s affairs (Lk 2:49)?

Throughout the whole course of his life it was his Father he sought to please, to love, to obey. His relationship with the Father who had sent him among us was everything for Jesus: My food is to do the will of the one who sent me (Jn 4:34).

It was the Father’s will that Jesus should offer himself as a sacrifice of love in reparation for the sins of mankind and Jesus, the loving Son of the Father, had no intention of allowing anything to interfere with those plans. Remember his terse reply to Peter who thought he knew better than the Father: Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s (Mt 16:23).

And so Jesus did nothing. He let himself be taken and whipped and crowned and crucified while we stand by, helpless, dumbfounded, awed, bewildered. The disciples fall asleep during his agony, Judas betrays him with a kiss, Peter denies him three times, the council looks for false testimony, two come forward and give it, the crowd says, ‘He deserves death.’

Jesus is brought before Pilate, Judas hangs himself, Barabbas is released. The whole cohort make sport with Jesus, spitting on him, crowning him with thorns, stripping him naked, striking him with a reed. Jesus says nothing. He just lets it happen.

At the sixth hour the light hides itself and there is darkness. At the ninth hour Jesus dies. The veil of the Temple is split from top to bottom, the dead rise from their tombs, and even nature protests the crime with an earthquake which splits the rocks.

It is accomplished. The Father’s will has been done. Jesus has repaired the disobedience of Adam and brought salvation.

Let us pray the Collect of today’s Mass again:
Almighty ever-living God, who as an example of humility for the human race to follow caused our Saviour to take flesh and submit to the Cross, graciously grant that we may heed his lesson of patient suffering and so merit a share in his Resurrection.

Monday, 31 March 2014

5th Sunday of Lent - Year A

Ezekiel 37:12-14; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

One thing we could never say is that St Paul beats around the bush. What could be plainer, more direct and more confronting than: People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God.

There you have it! Unspiritual people cannot please God. They run the circuit of their busy days – at work, at home, on the golf course or in the garden; it doesn’t matter where they are or what they are doing – they rarely or never think seriously of God. They are materialistic people. They are pretty well totally absorbed by the material circumstances of their lives.

After a while their whole life takes on an atmosphere of materialistic concern for the here-and-now and this ‘atmosphere’, like a thick fog, wraps itself around everything in their life.

Eventually good is what is good now; bad is what is bad now. I can’t spend time praying because I am too busy, I have to make the cake for the fete or get the lawn cut; I can’t go to church because I have to drive Johnny to footy practice; I can’t have this baby because it will wreck my career. Every question is decided according to what is good for me now – and tomorrow I will decide all over again.

In the life of an unspiritual person the practical, the material, the ‘facts’ always win out. Take for example the girl who laid out the facts for me about why the baby had to be terminated. It had such and such a disease, it would not live long after birth and if it did it would not have much quality of life, etc, etc, etc. The facts, the facts, the facts.

Spiritual people are interested in facts but they rate the truth more highly. They say, ‘The life within your womb is an innocent, human life. It is not your life, nor is it the life of your husband. It is a third life, an innocent life, and innocent human life must never be taken.’

That is the truth! And thank God there are so many women who recognise this truth and who despite every difficulty refuse to abort their child.

The unspiritual person knows and lives by the facts; the spiritual person knows the facts but lives by the truth. That is the basic difference between them. And what a huge difference that is!

Consider for a moment how the life of one who lives in a totally unspiritual way simply has no direction – it is not going anywhere – it has no future. And because it has no ultimate future it has no ultimate meaning. No matter how healthy and wealthy these people may be, no matter how materially successful they may be, they are heading over the cliff into the abyss of eternal nothingness along with all material things. They have no hope because the material things which possess them have no hope. No wonder they can never be pleasing to God.

The life of the spiritual person, on the other hand is immeasurably different. His life has a centre, a direction, a goal and a meaning. The spiritual person knows that he comes from God and that God has given him a path to walk which securely leads back to him. The spiritual person uses material things but knows better than to put his trust in them.

If you would like to know, to clarify for yourself to what extent you personally are spiritual, and to what extent you are unspiritual (because not many of us are entirely one or the other), then there is a rule of thumb you might find useful.

Since unspiritual people do not really believe in spiritual things, though they might find it useful or even necessary from time to time, to pretend they do, they find that doing spiritual things is a big waste of time.

So the first rule of thumb is: unspiritual people don’t pray. For them prayer is one of the biggest wastes of time ever invented, especially private prayer. Private prayer drives them mad. It is one thing to go to church on Sunday where they can catch up with friends, be seen as church-goers, and find out the latest gossip, but private prayer, at home, by themselves, is out of the question.

[On the subject of church: I was staying in a presbytery in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago and there was a funeral in the church next door. I found it interesting to watch those who exited from the church during the service to make phone calls to friends. These were not urgent calls, they were social calls – I could hear them from my room. You see, it seemed that sitting in a church was for them a big waste of phone time.]

So each one of us can almost infallibly judge how spiritual we are by the quality of our private prayer. When all is said and done we give time to the things we consider important. Talking the talk is common; walking the walk not so.

If St Paul in his letter to the Romans is forthright when he says: People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God; his words to the Galatians are even more so: Don’t delude yourself into thinking God can be cheated: where a man sows, there he reaps: if he sows in the field of self-indulgence he will get a harvest of corruption out of it; if he sows in the field of the Spirit he will get from it a harvest of eternal life.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

4th Sunday of Lent - Year A

1 Samuel 16;1.6-7.10-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

They say miracles always happen to someone you don’t know – and you always get to hear about them from someone who wasn’t there. Of course, this saying is usually quoted by those who don’t believe in miracles but those of us who have faith are not fooled by such shallow cleverness. We know that miracles happen every day and many of us have experienced what we often refer to as our ‘personal’ miracles.

There are, of course, shrines and holy places where miracles are attested to and verified by the most highly qualified doctors and scientists on the globe. Exhaustive tests and enquiries are made before a particular healing or event can be declared a miracle. To be declared a saint it normally requires more than one such miracle to be confidently attributed to a candidate for canonisation.

If the man in today’s gospel, the man who was blind from birth, had been alive today he would have needed x-rays and CT scans and certainly an ophthalmologist report or two. But two thousand years ago things were a little different and all the real evidence for his cure boiled down to a very emphatic: I only know that I was blind and now I can see.

As to how the miracle came about the man born blind was equally clear: The man called Jesus ... made a paste, daubed my eyes with it and said to me, “Go and wash at Siloam”; so I went, and when I washed I could see.

I washed ... I could see.

The miracle causes immediate bedlam. It is almost as though a blinding flash of light had gone off right in the eyes of those who stood by and who are now themselves apparently (and ironically) blinded.
  • Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?
  • Yes, it is the same one.
  • No, he only looks like him.
The man himself said, ‘I am the man.
  • How do your eyes come to be open?
It is obvious from their questions that there is much at stake, indeed, an entirely new reality has invaded their lives and they are not going to leave the old reality without making sure of the challenger. In the end it all boils down to the next question: Where is he? Everything leads to this question; it always does. Where is Jesus?

So now they bring the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. It’s a natural instinct for ordinary people to bring their problems to the ‘panel of experts’, the leaders. These men, too, had felt the shockwave of the explosion of new light which burst unexpectedly into the status quo.

Instantly it is clear that the Pharisees are especially challenged by these events. However, for them it is not about the miracle, it is about Jesus.

Jesus had said: I am the Light of the world; and had dared to shine this piercing light into the peculiar darkness of false religion. Each time the Pharisees had found themselves caught in the beam.

When an atheist, who has an entire worldview to defend, is confronted by a miracle which calls that worldview into question, he can only deny it. Some do so gently, others mockingly, and other with violence. In a strange way the Pharisees were no different. Their grasp on religion, to put it very plainly, was wrong. They had misunderstood. They had ‘got it wrong.

Confronted by the light, they now faced a choice: either repent of their misunderstanding or extinguish the light. Sadly, they chose the latter option: This man cannot be from God...

The blind man had no such problem: 'He is a prophet,' he saysAnd then mischievously he goes on to ask the question which the gospel also directs at us here today: Do you want to become his disciples too?

It’s a peculiar characteristic of error that it cannot abide those who do not subscribe to it. Not only does error reject the truth, it rejects all who dare to follow it. And so: they hurled abuse at him; and called him: a sinner through and through; and: they drove him away.

It would be rather sad if this were the end of the story but, fortunately, it isn’t. Let’s conclude with the wonderful grand finale of the drama:

Jesus heard they had driven him away, and when he found him he said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied ‘tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.’ The man said, ‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.

Monday, 17 March 2014

3rd Sunday of Lent - Year A

Exodus 17:3-8; Romans 5:1-2.5-8; John 4:5-42

Mass in the prison is always interesting. The men are very attentive to what is going on and quick to understand my meaning. I spoke recently about how it seems there are no longer any bad people who die. Everyone who dies was one of the best people who ever lived. They were happy, fun-loving, sociable, popular and, invariably, would give you ‘the shirt off their back’ and what’s more, they would now be ‘up there’ – ‘at peace’ – drinking beer with their dead relatives or catching huge fish in their new big fishing boat.

The prisoners were smiling and nodding in agreement. I joked that sometimes I wondered what would happen if I mischievously said, ‘I think so and so was such a bad person they must have gone straight to hell.’ What would the reaction be?

The truth is that I am no more entitled to say someone has gone to hell than they are to say someone has gone to heaven. It simply isn’t up to any of us to make that judgment, one way or the other. As St Paul says: There must be no passing of premature judgement. Leave that until the Lord comes; he will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of men's hearts. Then will be the time for each one to have whatever praise he deserves, from God (1 Cor 4:5).

He will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of men's hearts; not us.

So next time someone dies, either a famous personality or someone close to us, let us not say they have gone to heaven or to hell; let us simply say they have gone to stand before the throne of judgment from which the Lord will pass just and final sentence on each one. Indeed, that throne would be aptly named the Throne of Justice.

However, let us never forget that the Lord has another throne of judgment. This throne stands on earth in every confessional throughout the world and only a validly ordained priest may sit on it. This throne is called the Throne of Mercy.

We come to this throne to humbly confess our grave sins, our mortal sins – and sometimes we have only venial sins to confess. We examine our conscience and confess our sins – their name and their number. And we do not receive a sentence of hell at this throne; we receive only and always a sentence of mercy and forgiveness.

Let me read to you Joey Lomangino’s account of his confession to the famous priest St Padre Pio. He was not ready for what happened when he went in.
I went into Fr Pio, into the confessional, and I knelt down on the kneeling bench and Fr Pio was sitting right in front of me. And he took me by the hand like that and I was shocked because I thought of the American confessional, you know, with the panel. So when I knelt down and Fr Pio had me by the hand he told me in Italian, ‘Joey, confess yourself.’
And to be very honest with you I was embarrassed because I wasn’t leading the right life and I was just so flabbergasted I didn’t know just what to say. And so Fr Pio took me by the hand, like that, and he tells me in Italian, confess yourself and again, I just found it very difficult to speak to him.
And then in perfect English he says to me, ‘Joey,’ he says, ‘do you remember when you were in a bar with a woman named Barbara? Do you remember the sins you committed?’ And in perfect English he went right down the line and telling me the people I was with, the places I was at, and the sins I committed. And, of course, I was perspiring,  but I had the grace by God to realise that if I had to endure all of that to get back to being happy, it was worth it. And I really believed that Fr Pio could help me.
So, of course, when he came to the bottom of all my sins when it felt to me like a thousand years he said to me in Italian, he says, ‘Are you sorry?’ And I says, ‘Yes, I am Fr Pio’ and he gave me absolution for my sins and my eyes started to roll in my head and I started to rub my eyes like this.. and then all of a sudden my mind became very, very clear and he put up his stigmata hand to my lips, I kissed the stigmata then he gave me a little smack in the face and he tells me in Italian, “Joey, a little patience and a little courage and you’re going to be alright.’

I was thirty-three years old and I felt like I was sixteen. I had a firm purpose of amendment; I was sorry for all the sins I committed in my life and I felt so good and so clean that I just didn’t want to get involved with anybody because I was afraid that just by talking I was going to lose the grace that I received.
Perhaps Joey’s account of his privileged moment with St Pio will help us to understand the Samaritan woman’s account of her privileged moment with Jesus. Like all good confessors Jesus ‘sat straight down’ and the woman makes her entrance.

‘Go and call your husband’ said Jesus to her ‘and come back here.’ The woman answered, ‘I have no husband.’ He said to her, ‘You are right to say, “I have no husband”; for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.’

A moment later: The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people. ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did...'

After Mass I was kept busy for half an hour hearing the confessions of a number of the prisoners. If you come to Reconciliation this Lent I promise you, you will not receive justice; you will receive only mercy. Your sins will be completely forgiven, once and for all, and you will be entirely restored to friendship with God. And then, and then, you will have nothing to fear from the Throne of Justice.

Monday, 10 March 2014

2nd Sunday of Lent - Year A

Genesis 12:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. Actually it became quite crowded. Not only did Moses and Elijah appear, not only did the bright cloud appear, not only did the heavenly Father make his presence felt by speaking from the cloud – but, thanks to the gospel, you and I were there.

And so, now that we are back down from the mountain, what part of that whole incident spoke to you? What word, or gesture, or insight struck you? Most of us will have heard this gospel read many, many times over the course of our lives. I have just read it for you again. What grabbed you?

The first thing that struck me was the phrase ‘took with him’. Jesus took with him Peter, James and John. Immediately I was jealous. How wonderful it must have been to be taken somewhere special by the Lord. Walking behind him up that high mountain I would have wondered: ‘Where are we going? What’s going to happen? What is he going to show us?’

Of course, these are the exact same questions I have whenever I open my bible or take my rosary beads but on this particular occasion I anticipate something really special.

Then there is that little word ‘high’. It seems like an unnecessary repetition, a tautology. Isn’t a mountain high by its very nature? Otherwise it would be a hill. Perhaps Matthew wanted to stress that this journey, the journey to meet God, which Jesus was taking them on was rather long and difficult. Would they have been wondering, ‘Gosh, couldn’t he have picked a smaller mountain? This is taking forever.’

So what are you thinking right now about all this? Are you thinking, ‘Ah yes, Father John, but mountains are always the place in scripture where we meet God. Moses went up the mountain to meet God and so does Jesus, the new Moses.

Or perhaps you will say, ‘But isn’t the whole spiritual life a long and painful journey to God – a vale of tears?

Or maybe you will tell me that prayer is just like that journey up a high mountain – difficult but worth the effort.

Another thing that struck me was how tricky it eventually becomes, after meditating on this experience for some time, to decide which is the most striking or important element of the whole account? Was it the transfiguration moment – in which Jesus’ face begins to shine like the sun? ‘Like the sun!’ Can you imagine that? Do you see it in your mind’s eye? His face shone like the sun.

[At this point I distract myself by thinking of a young girl who goes into the beauty salon on her wedding day and comes out, after hours of work, transformed. She has been made into something she is not, with a beauty which is exterior and passing. Jesus, on the other hand, merely allowed the beauty within, the beauty that was already his, to momentarily shine through and be seen by his disciples.]

Perhaps you were amazed at the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the long dead giver of the Law and the great prophet. Perhaps you not only wondered why they should appear but why they would be talking to Jesus.

Or was it the ‘bright’ cloud, the scriptural sign of the presence of God, overshading the three apostles which astonished you? Did it cause you to think of the Holy Spirit which overshadowed the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation? Or maybe those words of Peter making baffling suggestions about constructing three tents, and then being silenced by the voice of the Father speaking from the cloud and claiming Jesus as his own Son?

My own reflection lead me to suspect that all these various elements of the mountaintop experience, as well as the ones I haven’t mentioned, were parts of a teaching on the central place of Jesus as Saviour of the world and of all history.

We must remember that salvation has a history, a history which has not yet ended. That’s why Moses and Elijah were there talking to Jesus who is always in dialogue with the Old Testament which he came not to destroy but to fulfil. And that is why Peter James and John were there with Jesus. They were the New Testament! And that is one good reason for having Peter, too, talk to Jesus.

In a way the gospel today can be usefully understood as a kind of living image or painting, or as Jesus calls it, a vision. And whichever way one imagines it – Jesus is always in the centre – the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord of time and space, the only door to the heavenly Father.

I mentioned earlier that along with the three apostles, through the gift of the gospel of Matthew, you and I were on the mountaintop too. We are an essential part of the story. In Lent we are given a special reminder of this, and through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, a special help to live our part.

Are you doing yours?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

1st Sunday of Lent - Year A

Genesis 2:7-9.3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Evagrios the Solitary was one of the early desert Fathers in Egypt about 450 AD. He had this to say: Of the demons opposing us ... there are three groups who fight in the front line: those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those who suggest avaricious thoughts, and those who incite us to seek the esteem of men.

Isn’t it interesting that of all the vices which can afflict a human being Evagrios would choose these three? Gluttony, greed and the need to be esteemed. Did he just pick them out of a hat? I don't think so.

The desert Fathers were solitary men who fasted, prayed, did penance, meditated on Scripture, kept vigil, engaged in combat with the demons and gave glory to God by his power in them – all to the end that they might achieve purity of heart and see the face of God.

They studied God and they studied themselves. They examined the origins of every sin and discovered as they ‘joined the dots’ that each sin is connected to another, a kind of ‘parent’ sin, and that all eventually lead back to gluttony, greed and the desire for esteem in the eyes of others.

Therefore we must take them seriously.

Evagrios goes on to say: All the other demons follow behind and in their turn attack those already wounded by the first three groups ... and ... no one can fall into the power of any demon, unless he has been wounded by those of the front line.

Gluttony leads to a raft of other sins, including particularly unchastity of one kind or another. Greed and the desire for esteem lead to division, discord and violence in thought, word and deed.

Evagrios concludes that this is why the devil suggested these three thoughts to the Saviour during his forty days in the desert. First he exhorted Him to turn stones into bread (gluttony); then, if Christ would fall down and worship him ... he promised Him the whole world (greed), and thirdly he said that, if our Lord would listen to him. He would be glorified (the esteem of men) and suffer nothing in falling from the pinnacle of the temple.

Satan knew where to begin and he began with these three temptations. These were the three doors to every other sin, and if he could not open these doors in Jesus he knew it was futile to tempt him in other ways.

The temptations of the Lord in the desert therefore hold valuable lessons for those of us who seek to please God by struggling with the sins which beset us. This struggle can often be bewildering and overwhelming.

If we return to their three sources as Evagrios the Solitary proposes them for us we might find a worthy place to begin our spiritual struggle this Lent, questioning ourselves about the level of gluttony, the degree of avarice, and the extent of the desire to be popular with others which might have taken hold of our lives.

If these three doors are open to the demons we can expect them to enter in and cause havoc in our lives. By rejecting the devil at the threshold Jesus drives him away.

Let us pray this Lent that the Master will give us his power to do the same.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Ash Wednesday - Year A

Joel 2:12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18

As once again we set out on the very serious journey of Lent I propose that this year we begin as people who are miserable, gloomy, sad, and angry.

Firstly, let us be miserable and gloomy. St James exhorts us in Chapter 4 of his letter: be miserable instead of laughing, gloomy instead of happy. And why does he urge us to do this? Because of our wretched condition; in other words, the wretched condition of our souls.

Lent is a time for taking stock of our spiritual condition, a time for looking at the state of our soul. How many of us can be truly happy and satisfied with their spiritual state? James says: Look at your wretched condition, and weep for it in misery; be miserable instead of laughing, gloomy instead of happy.

And let us be sad with the sadness of the prophet Nehemiah – when he heard from Hanani: ‘...the walls of Jerusalem are in ruins and its gates burnt down.'

On hearing this Nehemiah sank down and wept; and for several days he mourned. And then he did something very interesting. He said: ‘God of heaven ... I and my father's House have sinned. We have acted very wickedly towards you: we have not kept the commandments...’

What a tragic picture: the walls of Jerusalem are in ruins and its gates burnt down - and it's my fault! What a sorrowful sight that must have been and let us see, right now, how fallen Jerusalem might also be an image of our soul. This Lent let us be sad, like Nehemiah weeping. Only let us weep for what our sins have done to the city of our soul.

Thirdly let us be angry, with the anger of St Isaiah the Solitary, one of the desert fathers of the fourth century– who wrote this surprising statement: Without anger a man cannot attain purity: he has to feel angry with all that is sown in him by the enemy.

The truth is that our souls are like the field in which some enemy has come and sown weeds. As Jesus said in Mt 13:28: Some enemy has done this. And we have to get angry with this enemy and with the evil tendencies he has sown in our hearts.

I felt this anger very strongly when I was still smoking and just couldn't give up. Then one day I looked at that little tube of tobacco I held between my fingers and said angrily, ‘You are not going make a monkey out of me anymore!’ And I gave up.

This was the anger James and John felt when the Samaritans rejected Jesus (Lk 9:54). They wanted to call down fire from heaven on them.

And this was the anger Isaiah the Solitary felt when he thought of his brother monks being tempted to accept riches. He cried out angrily: Let us call down destruction upon all such thoughts and thankfully live in poverty.

So this Lent, be angry with the inclination to sin and the weakness you see the demon has sown within you. Don’t stand for it any longer; shake your fist at it and stare it down with all the strength you have. Our strategic goal is purity of heart - the removal of all that would spoil our likeness to Christ and so make our soul beautiful and pleasing to him.

Once we are miserable, gloomy, sad and angry about the little progress we have made in the spiritual life we are ready to go to Confession and then to begin the Lenten journey with prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Be ready at every hour, for you do not know when the thief will come; do not let him come and find you asleep (cf. Mt 24:42-43).

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Holy Family - Year A

Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6.12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15.19-23

It would be a mistake to imagine that today’s feast belongs on the ever-growing list of special Sundays like Seaman’s Sunday, Respect Life Sunday, Refugee Sunday, Social Justice Sunday, and so on. Neither does it belong with secular feasts like Father’s Day or Mother’s Day. You won’t find any of these celebrations in the Roman Missal but you will find the feast of the Holy Family, and you will always find it on this day as part of the celebration of Christmas because the feast of the Holy Family is actually a part of the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus.

The Saviour took flesh of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and even though this miracle bypassed natural means of conception it could not bypass the matrix into which all children should be born and raised – the family.

If we cannot speak of a fish without reference to water, it is even more unthinkable to speak of a child without reference to a family.

Therefore, God in his providence set about searching for an earthly father for his Son. I use the word ‘searching’ not because God needed to search, but as a tribute to the apocryphal literature which tells us how all the would-be suitors for Mary were examined by the High Priest who could not arrive at a decision. He therefore sent them home but asked each man to leave his staff in the temple overnight. In the morning one of the staffs had burst into blossom. It was Joseph's. From his staff sprouted beautiful lilies.

And so Jesus was born into a human family, just as it is the unchangeable plan of God that every one of his children should be born into a family. And let me hasten to add, not a family with two fathers or two mothers because that is not a family, but a family with a father and a mother.

Family is not an option for us as humans, it is a necessity, somehow written into our DNA. How many sociological and psychological tests have shown this! A child grows to maturity, in all its many dimensions, most effortlessly in a normal, loving, human family.

No wonder the family is one of Satan’s prime targets. If he can destroy the family he destroys the basic building block of growth for individual human beings as well as the basic building block of society. Let us resist his attempts to do this wherever and whenever we can.

Jesus was born not only into a family but into a holy family. A holy family is a family which has God at its conscious centre.

As we saw during the readings of the last few days, from the moment of her conception of Jesus, the life of Mary and Joseph became even more centred on God who had now entered their lives in bodily human form. Both took up positions of profound reverence. Mary did not speak to Joseph of her pregnancy, she considered this to be God’s prerogative.

Joseph, noticing Mary’s pregnancy and yet, fully convinced of her purity, did not think himself worthy to speak to her about it. Both spouses humbly left to God the ‘unfolding’ of the mystery he had introduced between them, and God did not disappoint.

Let me repeat: A holy family is a family which has God at its conscious centre. It is a family in which all the members, including the children, seek out the will of God as their primary goal in life. In their marriage, in their parenting, in the orientation of their individual hearts this ‘seeking’ was, in Mary and Joseph, utterly, awe-inspiringly habitual.

The Holy Family is the model for every family and yet, how far from this ideal has modern secular society not drawn us! All too often God has been granted but the merest foothold, even in Catholic families. It would not be too much to state that today Catholic family life is in deep, deep crisis. The conscious centre of family life today is all too often the ideals held up to it by a Godless, materialistic, individualistic society, which is itself in deep crisis.

What can be done? Well, there are lots, and lots of different levels at which something can be done but there is just no avoiding the fact that the only place we can begin is with ourselves. Forget the husband, forget the wife, forget mum and dad; I can only start with me.

And where do I start? Perhaps St Paul offers the best answer in today’s second reading. It’s a request addressed today personally and individually to you, and only you give it the real thought it needs so that it can open up a way forward for you: Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

O Mary, limpid pool
formed by waterfalls of grace
thundering from their heavenly place.

Exquisite, most beautiful...

And keeping nothing back
You water the human race.

Monday, 18 November 2013

34th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

Samuel 5:1-3; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43

One hundred and ten years ago, in his first encyclical, Pope Pius X said that he didn’t want to be Pope because he was: terrified beyond all else by the disastrous state of human society today. For who can fail to see that society is at the present time, more than in any past age, suffering from a terrible and deep-rooted malady which, developing every day and eating into its inmost being, is dragging it to destruction? You understand, Venerable Brethren, what this disease is - apostasy from God... . This holy man could clearly see that to desert God was to court disaster: "For behold they that go far from you shall perish" (Ps 72:17).

Now if you are one of those puzzling individuals who cannot see anything especially wrong with the condition of modern society, or who cannot see any approaching perils, or who continues to cling to a kind of compulsive optimism which is stubbornly determined to look on ‘the bright side’ of every clear sign of impending disaster and destruction for humanity – then you will find these words of Pope Pius X entirely baffling. And, no doubt, you will go on ‘eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building’ (Lk 17:28) as the people in Lot’s day..

But perhaps you may be moved by the words of Pope Pius XI who, in 1925 could see even more clearly the increasing degeneration afflicting society. In his encyclical Quas Primas, he wrote: In the first encyclical letter which We addressed at the beginning of Our Pontificate to the Bishops of the universal Church, We referred to the chief causes of the difficulties under which mankind was labouring. And We remember saying that these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Saviour, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.

Apostasy from God ... For behold they that go far from Thee shall perish (Ps 72:17).

And then only last week Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ², Apostolic Nuncio delivered an address to the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). In his address the Nuncio quoted these lines spoken by Pope John Paul II in 1978: We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American Society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously…

I believe Pope John Paul II was perfectly right and that his words come from a wisdom and an inspiration which is more than merely human wisdom. I believe also that, as things stand, good is losing; evil is winning.

Of course, you are perfectly free to go on pretending that it isn’t so: that the world is no more in the grip of evil than it ever was. Pope John Paul disagrees with you – and so did Pope Pius XI. And that’s why he instituted the Feast of Christ the Universal King, the feast we celebrate today.

Like most papal encyclicals it was read mainly by the intelligentsia in the Church and not by ordinary Catholics. But the encyclical still had extraordinary power because it also instituted a feast: the Feast of Christ the King. He said at the time: Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.

The Pope goes on to show at some length how the sacred scriptures in both the Old and the New Testaments bear witness to the truth that Christ is the Universal King and therefore has supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.

We Catholics have been, in a sense, duped by false ecumenism into believing that Jesus Christ is King only for those who like to think of him in that way. We say, ‘He is our king. He is king of the Catholics’ but in reality is he king of the Hindus, the Protestants, the Buddhists and the Moslems too. He is King of the whole human race; indeed, heis King of the entire Cosmos – the only way to the Father (cf. John 14:6) – the only name under heaven by which we can be saved (cf. Acts 4:12) and his kingdom will have no end (cf. Lk 1:33).

I am going to leave you with a question to which I will suggest an answer. What change can I make today in my outlook as a Catholic to begin to make the truth of Christ’s Universal kingship real in my life. My suggested answer is this: Begin to love his Church with the love with which she deserves to be loved – total, obedient, faithful love.

The Catholic Church is the kingdom of Christ on earth. Are you comfortable with that truth or does it make you squirm? I assure you it is orthodox Church teaching. Christ as our Redeemer purchased the Church at the price of his own blood and planted her in this dark world as a light on a hill. We are all children of the Church and we should love her because she is our mother.

And we are called to love one another as Christ has loved us and so to clear a way for the kingdom to grow strong among us – so that the kingdom of Christ may then grow among all men.

Monday, 11 November 2013

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Malachi 3:19-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19

The Extinction Protocol is a favourite website of mine. It documents all those phenomena which might threaten humanity. Here are a few recent headlines from the site, just to give you an example of what you might find there:
  • Panic and fear, as double measles outbreaks hit Britain and Queensland
  • Africa’s Western black rhino officially declared extinct
  • New breed of poison-resistant ‘super rats’ spreading across the UK
  • Doomsday volcanoes on the planet are awakening in record numbers...
  • China unveils strategic map for a nuclear submarine attack on U.S. cities
  • Southern Australia (Gippsland) is being rattled by hundreds of quakes - and scientists aren’t sure why.
The interesting thing is that the ‘Categories’ sidebar on this website is remarkably similar to today’s Gospel which mentions: wars, revolutions, great earthquakes, plagues, famines, fearful sights and great signs from heaven. They are all there – but with one big difference.

Note a further headline from The Extinction Protocol:
  • New reality show highlights preppers preparing for doomsday

The article goes on to say: For some people, the end of the world as we know it is upon us, and there is no better time than now to start preparing. Such is the concept of National Geographic Channel’s new reality show Doomsday Preppers, which profiles Americans who have taken extreme measures to plan for a forthcoming apocalypse.

I’ve actually watched a couple of these shows and found myself more than a little uncomfortable with some aspects of what these folks are up to. Not only are they storing huge amounts of food, which seems praiseworthy enough, but they are also purchasing all kinds of deadly weapons to protect their stores.

The philosophy behind all this, of course, is the repugnant heresy and scourge of our modern age: the greatest good is life – my life, to be exact – survival at any cost – my survival, that is. Through the periscope of my bunker I will watch you and your children starve and then shoot you if you approach my storehouse of food and drink.

What they don’t seem to realise is that even now, already, they have retreated into their bunkers, already they are pointing a gun at me, already I am a threat to their survival, already I am their enemy and already their survival is more important than mine. For preppers with a gun we are already at war.

So what is the 'one big difference'? Acknowledging the same catastrophic scenarios Jesus simply counsels: do not be frightened.

Faced with the reality of wars, revolutions, great earthquakes, plagues, famines, fearful sights and great signs from heaven and even betrayal, persecution and death Jesus tells us: do not prepare your defence.

The critical difference, of course, the essential and irreconcilable difference between the preppers and Jesus is that they are wanting to keep their human life safe while Jesus wants us to keep our eternal life safe. This is what he means when he foretells that the Temple (everything) will be destroyed but: not a hair of your head will be lost.

Jesus does not advise us to build bunkers or store food or turn our backs on our neighbours. Jesus’ earnestly desires that we get our heads straight about one unchangeable truth which is that: everything will be destroyed; but that for those who listen to and keep his words: not a hair of your head will be lost.

Jesus relativises wars and earthquakes and persecution and humiliation and loss of life as things that must happen before the great moment of his appearing. He exhorts us to keep this carefully in mind because he himself will give us all that will be necessary at that time.

For those who believe physical safety, self-preservation, is the greatest goal of human life, the greatest enemy will be volcanoes and earthquakes, famines and floods. Anything which endangers their mindless clinging to the things of this world will be seen as an evil.

For those who believe the Good News all these terrible things are not the real enemy; in fact, they are a unique opportunity to give witness to faith in Christ.

So, as one priest blogger said recently: If you are frightened of the future, of the wars and storms and catastrophes that are coming, of gigantic meteors or plagues of viruses, of starvation in famines, of tsunamis or civil chaos or solar flares or any other horrible possibility – there is only one thing to do – find a priest and make a good confession.