Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Most Holy Name of Mary

Each one of us, devoted to the Blessed Virgin, has a devotion to her under a special title. Those of us who wear a Scapular will call her Our Lady of Mt Carmel; others will call her The Lady of the Rosary; and yet others commonly refer to her simply as Our Lady.

But do you realise that once there was a time when her only name was - Mary? Every morning I say a prayer which acknowledges this fact; it is the prayer of The Lady Of All Nations which runs:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father,
send now Your Spirit over the earth.
Let the Holy Spirit live in the hearts of all nations,
that they may be preserved
from degeneration, disaster and war.
May the Lady of All Nations,
who once was Mary,
be our Advocate. Amen.

Many people have had difficulties with that little phrase 'who once was Mary'. This included the seer to whom it was revealed, her spiritual director, the bishop, and now, only now, I read: In July 2005, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith required that "who once was Mary" must be left out of the prayer given by The Lady of All Nations. The proper ending to the prayer is now "May the Lady of All Nations, the Blessed Virgin Mary, be our Advocate."

Shock horror! After more than fifty years of saying it as Our Lady gave it in 1951, and marvelling at the way it pointed us back to that humble little Jewish girl born to Joachim and Anne, I now discover that we must say it otherwise (at least in public)! And, of course, if I ever say it in public I will obediently say it according to the Church's prescription.

I know that I am now going to fight a battle which has already been lost but what is the problem with 'who once was Mary'? Did Jesus himself not make a distinction between the tiny mustard seed and the tree -  the tree which would grow so large that the birds of the air would take refuge in it (cf. Mt 13:32)? Is the child not the father of the man?

Was the President of the United States not simply 'lil Obama, at one stage? Was Pope Francis not once, Jorge? Was the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Our Lady of Mt Carmel, the Lady of the Rosary, the Lady of all Nations not once just, Mary?

Is the Holy Name of Mary not ... MARY?

The angel came to this Mary and called her full of grace. He might just as easily have said Hail, O Immaculately Conceived One, full of grace. But he didn't. He said: Hail, Mary.

There once was a time when Mary, the little Jewish maiden, was not Mother of God, not Assumed into Heaven, not Mediatrix of all Graces.

I believe that only when we remember this can we truly pray, as she did: He looks on his servant in her lowliness; henceforth all ages will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things to me.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Blessed Virgin Mary - 2

The Church is still working on the mystery that is Mary. The study of the theologians goes on, the prayerful reflection of the faithful continues, while every now and then, as in Lourdes or Fatima, heaven herself lends a hand.

The Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium 55 tells us: 'The Sacred Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testament, as well as ancient Tradition show the role of the Mother of the Saviour in the economy of salvation in an ever clearer light... .' St Louis de Montfort, the great Marian prophet, foretells that before the second coming of her Son, Mary will be exceedingly well known and loved. Mary is God's plan and it is abundantly clear that God wants his plan to be known and honoured by all.

Mary is God's plan! That's why he arranged through the foreseen saving efficacy of the death and resurrection of his Son, that Mary should be conceived without Original Sin. Can you imagine that - a human person who has not the slightest stain of sin, nor even that tendency to sin which so pursues and confines us? There is no sin in Mary. She was born sinless and preserved her sinlessness throughout her life.

Though his blood had not yet been shed in time, its saving power was applied to Mary in anticipation, from the first moment of her conception. We call this singular privilege the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we celebrate it each year on the 8th December.

And can you imagine which sinful creature would be most repulsed by her beauty and most terrified of her innocence? She is everything he is not and to him she would indeed be: terrible as an army set in battle array. What would terrify Satan about his nemesis would be her humility, purity, obedience, love, peace, recollection, prayerfulness, and so on. Mary's strength would lie in her absolute reliance on and submission to the will of her Creator and for this reason Satan and his demons would find her terrifyingly invincible.

Interestingly, exorcists tell us that during an exorcism the demons cannot bring themselves even to pronounce her name and usually refer to her either as 'she', or use some much less flattering names. We, on the other hand, who love and honour her as our Mother, rejoice to apply to her the many titles she deserves: Mother of God, Virgin of Virgins, Mystical Rose, Cause of our joy, to name but a few.

Saint Louis de Montfort went so far as to say that true devotion to Mary was a sure sign of predilection - in other words, a sure sign that a person was on their way to heaven. If this is true, and I believe it is, we would do well to get to know her and to grow in our love and reverence for her.

Above all we should include Mary in our spiritual life; saying her Rosary, wearing her scapular or one of her medals. Far from looking on devotion to her as a kind of distraction from our duty to worship God we should come to understand that to venerate the Blessed Mother is an expression of God's will.

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

Catholics can sometimes come to believe that devotion to the Blessed Virgin is something optional; they think it is up to them to decide whether to include her in their spiritual life or not. This, regrettably, can be the result of a kind of false ecumenism which sees Mary as an obstacle to unity with our protestant brothers and sisters and so they surround her with a cocoon of silence. This silence becomes neglect and the neglect becomes indifference.

But devotion to Mary does not start with us, our preferences, our choices; it starts with God who very definitely chose her. Though she is not the centre of the Faith she is very close to the centre. She is an integral part of a mature, fully developed Christian spirituality and therefore deserves to be recognised as God's beautiful choice in his plan for our salvation.

And so today we celebrate the birth of Mary, reminding ourselves again of the antiphon for the Catena Legionis: Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array?

Who is she that comes forth ...? Who is this Jewish infant girl born more than two millennia ago in Israel? To answer this question we cannot rely on our senses which would deceive us. We must turn to all that is revealed by God in the Scripture and Tradition of the Church.

My own reflection turns immediately to the mysterious words of Genesis 3:15 as given in the Douay-Rheims translation: I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

This tiny infant in her mother's arms is she who would crush the head of the serpent as foretold in the third chapter of the first book of the Bible. We see this drama recorded by artists in so many of the statues of the Blessed Virgin standing in our churches.

The translation given in the Jerusalem Bible which we use for our liturgies is different. It goes like this: I will make you enemies of each other: you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. It will crush your head and you will strike its heel.

In this translation it is the offspring of Mary, Jesus, who will crush the head of the serpent. I like this translation because it makes clear that Jesus alone is the Saviour, the Redeemer, however, I would not be at all surprised if he had not reserved the coup de grâce to the heel of his mother as a final humiliation to the pride of the ancient serpent.

What the first Eve lost was restored in Mary. If Eve can be said to be the mother of the lost, this infant would be the Mother of the redeemed. Mary is properly called by the Church, the New Eve, the new Mother of the living.

And let us not overlook, as we gaze at this newborn child, that she is already without that sin which Adam and Eve brought into the world. Through an astonishing privilege from God, this child was born, in fact, conceived without stain of sin. She is Immaculate - Unstained.

As William Wordsworth says in his sonnet to the: The Virgin

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost 
With the least shade of thought to sin allied; 

Woman! above all women glorified, 
Our tainted nature's solitary boast...

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Blessed Virgin Mary - 1

I've been reading Mary the Mother of God by Léon Joseph Cardinal Suenens. It's a wonderful book which quickly transports the reader into the heart of the mystery of God's greatest masterpiece, the Mother of his Son. So good is this book that I decided to let it inspire and guide me to make a number of homiletic reflections on Mary for those Marian occasions which occur throughout the year. To sacrifice originality is a small price to pray. I recommend this book to you. Google it!


******

As a young man I recall listening to a homily on Mary by the assistant priest in our parish. It was marvellous. It moved me so deeply I have never forgotten the moment though I cannot now, more than fifty years later, tell you of its content, I can tell you that the words of that priest, so beautiful and compelling, found their way into my heart and inspired me with an enduring love and appreciation for Mary, the Mother of Jesus and my mother.

There are places in Cardinal Suenens book where the glowing coals of this same fire leap into flame and my heart finds itself suddenly exalting in the mighty things he has done for Mary, and for me, in giving her to be mine.

But, my dear friends, have you noticed the strange silence about Mary which envelops the pulpits of our churches? Her statue, thank God, is still generally given a prominent place in our sanctuaries but mention of her seems to have been restricted to the tiniest of invocations, or to stingy acknowledgments of her greatness.

And yet, it has been my experience that faithful Catholics still want to know about her, are still keen to hear her spoken of and recognised as an essential part of their Faith. Indeed, who would not want to know her, the Mother of the Redeemer and our Mother? Who could listen to the great symphony of our salvation and yet fail to recognise the beat of her heart in every movement?

As the antiphon for the Catena Legionis asks with astonishment and awe:  Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array? This is the cosmic Mary: the Queen of Heaven and the Queen of the earth and, therefore, the Queen of all Creation.

But if Mary is Queen of all she is also Mother of all, and like every mother she knows each one of her children in an intimate and personal way. If Mary is mother of all she is also my mother. She knows my name and all the personal details of my life; even things I have already forgotten.

The Queen who is adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown (Rev 12:1) is also the Mary who knocked on the door of her cousin Elizabeth's house and helped her with her daily chores, and who stood beneath the Cross of her dying Son.

Mary belongs to everyone and so she belongs to me. I am her child and she is my spiritual Mother. Let us all resolve to get to know her better and to allow her to play a larger part in our life, especially in our prayer life.

Friday, 29 August 2014

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Last week Jesus posed a question which Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, answered correctly. This week, when Jesus makes clear to his disciples God’s will for him,  Peter stupidly takes that most dangerous and not-to-be-recommended initiative – he proposes an alternative to God’s will.

Why would Peter do such a silly thing? What was his motive? How could he bring himself to think he could correct the Lord and improve on God's plan? What prompted him?

Jesus himself gives the answer when he rebukes Peter; he tells him it's: the way you think.

The way we think determines absolutely everything we do and don’t do; what we like and what we dislike; what we run away from and what we are prepared to die for. And so, without fear of contradiction I can state categorically that the way we think is just about the most important thing in life to get right.

But let's go back to Peter. What precisely was wrong with his way of thinking? He had heard Jesus was to die a horrible death at the hands of his enemies and he, like most caring, loving, charitable people wanted to spare his friend this calamity.

Heaven preserve you, Lord ... this must not happen to you, Peter had said - and the stress, the emphasis, would have been heavily on the word - you. He had lost sight of the divine he had only just now affirmed and, for one fatal moment, his horizon was narrowed to human sentiment - a most common mistake.

Why, for example, do so many mothers counsel their pregnant teenage daughters to have an abortion? Is it not because they see in their mind's eye the difficulties their daughters will undergo as single parents; the career opportunities they will have to forego; the disadvantage they will suffer in finding a suitable partner in life? Mothers want good things for their children and when faced with these imagined bleak prospects will often lose sight of the larger picture and see only the immediate needs of their child - will see only the you'Heaven preserve you, daughter ... this must not happen to you!'

Of course, we could multiply examples. Parents of homosexually active children; children of elderly parents who are suffering; Catholics who see the misbehaviour of their bishops and priests; and countless other human situations. All of the solutions we apply to them depend on our 'way of thinking' and if it is a human way of thinking we will decide in favour of the immediate human circumstances. The here-and-now you becomes more important than the invisible God.
  • 'How could I tell my lesbian daughter that she cannot try to find happiness with her partner?'
  • 'How can I allow my mother to go on suffering when I can so easily stop it.'
  • 'How can I be part of an institution that has sinners in its leadership?'
The human way of thinking leaves God out every time. It sees only with the human eye and decides only according to human logic.

My mother is suffering.
Suffering is not good.
The loving thing to do is to end the suffering.

As Jesus says: the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.

When we sideline the divine we are left with nothing but the impoverishment of the merely human. This is all too demonstrably a terrible catastrophe for humankind. Among other things, it is the reason for the Global Economic Collapse; for the violence in the world's trouble spots; for the exploitation of women and children; for pollution of the environment; and for the breakdown of marriage.

Peter would have been stung by his Master's rebuke. It was probably not the first nor would it be the last. But eventually he got on the Lord's wavelength. He exchanged his human way of thinking for the divine way and proved he had grasped the lesson by his death on his own cross.

Let us follow in his footsteps.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

1 Kings 19:9.11-13; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

The account of this miracle is recorded by Matthew so that we, like the disciples in the boat, might bow down before Jesus and acknowledge him to be the Son of God. In fact, all Jesus' words and deeds were done for this reason: so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name (Jn 20:31). They were never done for their own sake, nor for his.

But believing is not as easy as it sounds. Some people never begin to believe and others never believe fully. Some believe notionally, with their minds; others have a cultural or sentimental attachment to the Faith. Even after three years of walking with the Lord, hearing his words and witnessing his miracles first hand some of his disciples, when they saw him, 'hesitated' to fall down before him like the others(Mt 28:17). One of them even betrayed him.

No, it is not easy to believe with: all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind (Lk 10:27); but we are working on it - studying with our minds, serving with our strength, praying with our hearts and growing in the divine life within our souls.

For his part Jesus does all he can to make faith in him possible. We could almost say that his miracles are meant to 'establish his credentials' - to catch our attention - to make us take him seriously. This is his great desire; that we come to him and bow down before him as our Lord and Saviour.

However, and it is a big however, before we can accept him as our saviour we have to be aware that we need saving. This might sound like a flippant thing to say but I assure you it is not. There are some individuals who are totally unaware of this need and find Jesus a puzzling and irrelevant figure on the horizon of their lives.

At any rate, it is clear that every single one of Jesus' miracles is performed so as to heal, to set free, to restore to life - in other words - to save. Last week five thousand men, not to mention women and children, were saved from hunger. This week it is the disciples saved from a stormy sea. And why? So that they might believe in him, trust him, love him.

So let's look a little more closely at the gospel today.

Firstly, Jesus: made the disciples get into the boat. In other words, they were disciples doing what the Lord commanded. This is important and often overlooked. The good shepherd always looks after his flock but if we deliberately walk away from it we are 'sheep at risk'. Jesus does come looking for us but if we stubbornly refuse him we are seriously at risk.
  • The disciples were in a small boat at sea.
  • It was dark.
  • It was windy, a headwind in fact.
  • It was a heavy sea.
  • There were huge waves.
  • They were battling to make progress.
Suddenly Jesus arrives. How did he find them? How can he walk on water? Our questions can only be answered by the faith he seeks to nurture in us. He comforts them: Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.

It is I. These three words are the answer to all our questions. It is Jesus. The one who sets prisoners free, who feeds the hungry, cures the leper, gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, who calms the sea, raises the dead.

It is I, says Jesus, and I want you to come to me, even across the stormy, unpredictable, scary waters of your life. Give me your faith; I will make it strong. Trust me, believe in me. It is I; the One you are looking for. Let me save you. Say yes, and then live your yes as best you can, and I will save you.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Isaiah 55:1-3; Romans 8:35.37-39; Matthew 14:13-21

During the week I made the mistake of buying one of those take-away salad rolls which I suspected had been sitting there behind the glass with its egg and lettuce and its ham and cheese companions for quite some time. I was right. It was horrible! But it now makes me wonder what the bread and fish handed out by the disciples would have been like? I can't imagine it would have been steaming like bread just out of the oven but neither would it have been stale like my salad roll.

The wine Jesus made at the wedding feast of Cana was apparently superlative: but you have saved the best till now (Jn 2:10), exclaimed the astonished headwaiter.

One can only suppose that the bread, and the fish that went with it, would likewise have been exceptionally good, and would have made the people loudly express their delight and satisfaction. Their sick had been healed, they had had the word of God preached to them, and they had been richly fed.

And what are we to make of the twelve baskets of scraps left over? The disciples had so matter-of-factly told Jesus: All we have is five loaves and two fish. It reminds me of what Mary said to the Lord at the wedding feast (Jn 2:3): They have no wine; and of what Peter replied when Jesus told him to put out for a catch (Lk 5:4): Master, we worked hard all night long and caught nothing.

And it reminds me, too, of the many times I have said to the Lord: I can't, I'm not enough, Lord. I'm only me! Just five loaves and two fish.

The Lord's answer is always: Bring them here to me. Mary puts it in another way: Do whatever he tells you. And Simon Peter says: If you say so...

The disciples find themselves with twelve baskets left over; the wedding couple find themselves with six twenty-five gallon stone jars of the best wine; and Peter: netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear.

So what is all this saying to you? In my own words it says:
  • Wherever Jesus is, there is nothing to worry about.
  • There is nothing I cannot do if Jesus is with me.
  • Jesus and me make a majority.
  • Close to Jesus I have everything.

In the words of Sacred Scripture it says to me:
  • My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness (2 Cor 12:9)
  • Trust wholeheartedly in God, put no faith in your own understanding (Prov 3:5).
  • There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength (Phil 4:13).
  • God is my strength, my shield, my heart puts its trust in him (Ps 28:7)

In a few moments we will again bring bread to the Lord, a few humble wafers. Let us pray now, and again later, in the words of the Prayer over the Offerings: Graciously sanctify these gifts, O Lord, we pray, and, accepting the oblation of this spiritual sacrifice, make of us an everlasting gift to you. Through Christ our Lord.

Friday, 18 July 2014

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Wisdom 12:13.16-19; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43

The parables Jesus told are rich in meaning. For some they are too rich; annoyingly so. Why can’t he just speak plainly? Why these stories? Why can’t he just say what he means? I don’t have time to sit and puzzle these things out.

The parables of Jesus are doors into mystery. Jesus places these doors in full view of the crowds, no one is excluded. A man of good will is always ready to open and enter  ... a man of ill will has better things to do.

Parables are human stories about divine things. They take human things like seeds and fields and wheat and darnel and harvests and fire and barns and use them in such a way that they begin to tell us the secrets of God.

A man sowed seed in his field ... . The sower is God. The field is the field of creation with all the oceans and fish, wildlife and plants, sun, moon, stars and Adam and Eve:  and indeed it was very good (Gn 1:31).

But, along came the enemy, a serpent called Satan. He hated God. All his ambition was to destroy the plan of God because it promised a happiness he had forfeited. So he tempted Adam and Eve to step over the line God had forbidden them to cross.

Adam and Eve were, in a sense, asleep, and fell for it. They disobeyed God.

God’s enemy had succeeded in planting darnel in the field of God’s good creation. The seed was called suffering, and how Satan rejoiced at God’s words: Accursed be the soil because of you. With suffering shall you get your food from it every day of your life. It shall yield you brambles and thistles, and you shall eat wild plants. With sweat on your brow shall you eat your bread ... (Gn 3:17-19).

A man sowed seed in his field ... . The field here is the soul; the souls of Adam and of his wife Eve, and consequently, the souls of all humanity. The seed was light, peace, harmony, joy, innocence,  life. It was a good seed and very beautiful; its harvest would be eternal life ... and indeed it was very good (Gn 1:31).

Satan, the enemy of God, sneered with satisfaction when he saw that his seed was planted not only in the soil of the earth but also in the very souls of his victims. They were plunged into utter darkness; they were now enemies of God, fit only for hell.

Adam and Eve realised this: they realised that they were naked.

They hid from each other, they hid from God, and for their sin they blamed everyone except themselves. To the darnel of suffering was added the evil of death: For dust you are and to dust you shall return.

Who is there among us in this church who has not recognised the evil seed growing in their heart? How old were you when you first noticed it? Look at any child in the sandpit at the kindergarten. See the aggression, the selfishness, the little egos hard at work there. These children are yet innocent, oblivious of the darnel, but let those among us who believe themselves to be without sin, who believe they have conquered the passions, take great care not to be deceived.

A man sowed seed in his field ... . The field can also be seen as mankind as a whole. If the Master of the field in his wisdom allows the ‘subjects of the kingdom’ and the ‘subjects of the evil one’ to grow side by side it is because he knows there will come a time of separation, a moment of judgment.

The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!

Are we ready for this moment? The happy ending to the story is entirely in our hands.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9.11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.'

The ‘learned’ and the ‘clever’ are really an unfortunate bunch mainly because they are blind. This is odd, really, since the gift they claim to have is sight or understanding. In fact, they sometimes claim to have more sight and understanding than the Church.

Jesus has no time for them at all; he prefers children: Let the little children come to me ... for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Mt 19:14).

So what is it about our Faith that is ‘hidden’ from the learned and the clever and revealed to mere children? I would say, ‘just about everything’ – especially its truths, and the spiritual logic which binds them together.

Children have a humility which trusts that what we tell them is true. However, they also have an almost inerrant intuition which tells them if we ourselves believe what we tell them. Take for example the eleven year old boy who no longer wanted to go to Mass on Sunday. I pointed out to him how faithfully his parents had been coming all these years and his reply confirmed what I myself already suspected. He said, ‘Mum and dad don’t really believe.’

I can only guess that this is one of the contributing factors to why so many people have severed their connections to the Church in the face of the abuse crisis. They came to realise that many priests ‘don’t really believe’.

But there is a deeper humility with a deeper clarity which grasps a deeper logic and understands that the divine face of the Church, as well as her creed, is often disfigured by her human face.

It is God’s little children who effortlessly grasp the fact that truth is not destroyed by those who betray it and that it cannot it be replaced by an ‘easier’ or more popular doctrine which is less likely to be betrayed.

God’s little children understand that the sacraments are not rendered ineffective by those who merely pretend to serve them and that the lovely and radiant bride of Christ, the Church, cannot be deserted at the altar because of the sins of others.

The learned and the clever, pointing self-righteous fingers, are left standing by the side of the road in a noisy, dissident throng. The humble travel on, deeper and deeper into the heart of Christ and deeper into the heart of his Church. It is from within this heart that they hear his call: Come to me ... .

My dear fellow little children of Christ, I invite you, when you are able, when you are ready, to turn your backs on the past and the sins of others. God will deal with the past; only God can deal with the past.

Let us again allow ourselves to hear the loving call of the Master: Come to me ... . It comes from many places but, as the Church teaches, it comes par excellence, from his abiding presence here in the tabernacle.

The call ‘to come’ is always firstly a call to the presence of the person of Christ – Come to ME... .

When we leave this Church after Mass this divine and this human presence will remain. This is the difference between every other building and a Catholic Church. People have told me this church was built with ‘seconds’ bricks. I have seen lovelier churches. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ has chosen to make his home here, in this place, in this house of bricks.

Many times already, in answer to his call, ‘Come!’, I have made my way here to sit before him, to listen to him and to speak with him. For me the words of the Entrance Antiphon ring with absolute truth: Your merciful love, O God, we have received in the midst of your temple. In this place there are treasures to be gathered; precious jewels to be received.

Christ rules the world from this humble tabernacle. When I pay a visit to this church I am in the presence of the great King of the Universe. All I need, all I long for, all I want is here!

And you know as well as I do that when we come in here to be with him, to say a Rosary or a Chaplet of Mercy or some other prayer, or just to sit, from behind us there are fingers, hands, arms reaching for us – trying to drag us out – telling us, ‘That’s enough now. Three minutes is enough. Don’t waste your time. There is so much to do out here.’

If we resist these voices, the ‘unspiritual’ self St Paul mentions in the second reading, we soon find ourselves exclaiming: What a wonderful place to be – alone with the Master – the God who made me. I am his and he is mine. He wipes away my tears, he restores my spirit, he give me confidence and hope – he gives me the one thing I crave – real love!

Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.'

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul, apostles - Year A

Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8.17-18; Matthew 16:13-19

King Herod discovered two thousand years ago what so many today are discovering – that persecuting the Church is a crowd-pleaser. At least it pleases the crowds of those opposed to the Church. So Herod beheaded James and decided to arrest Peter. He had him put in jail under heavy guard and intended to try him in public.

Well, that seems straightforward enough. We know that the history of the Church is replete with similar stories of tyrants who performed similar outrages on similarly innocent Christians. Even today these outrages are being committed and it is even said that the number of Christians giving their lives for Christ today is greater than at any other time in our history.

So what is special about the incident described in the first reading today?

Firstly it involves Peter and therefore it involves the whole Church. Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia – Where there is Peter, there is the Church. Herod had imprisoned a man but not just any man. Herod had, in a sense, imprisoned the Church and so this simple matter of a Christian imprisoned and awaiting trial takes on a much larger dimension. Of course, Herod would not have been aware of this but we are.

Secondly, all this took place we are told ‘during the days of Unleavened Bread’ which means during the time of Passover and immediately this confrontation is plunged into and identified with the painful remembrance of the Passion of the Lord himself. Not only is Peter, the Vicar of Christ, being taken where he ‘would rather not go’ but the whole Church is being dragged through the purifying and life-giving Passion she must daily share with the Master.

Herod is very good at what he does and Luke leaves us in no doubt about this. He shows us with carefully selected details how, humanly speaking, the situation was entirely hopeless for Peter and, by implication, for the Church.

Herod assigns four squads of four soldiers to guard Peter in turn. That means that at any one time there are at least two soldiers with him and probably two standing guard at the main gate of the prison.

It was night (the time for the triumph of evil) and Peter was sleeping between two soldiers. The fact that he was sleeping was not just an image of Peter’s helplessness but also of his deep, childlike trust in God. The fact that he was sleeping between two soldiers is also significant because soldiers, or police, is the one thing the Church does not have. She is always, in every age, at the mercy of worldly power, and seeks to triumph solely through the truth of her message and her abiding trust in the help of her Lord.
Peter was fastened with double chains, probably to a ring in the ground and then to each of the soldiers. At the main gate of the prison stood more guards. As I’ve said, Herod is very good at what he does and things could not look any worse for Peter (and the Church).
But I’ve failed to mention something; something of decisive importance; something that is going to make all the difference. Can you guess what it is?

It is the Church’s secret weapon which she has been activating all this time, more powerful than Herod, more powerful than anything possessed by the rulers of this world: All the time Peter was under guard the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly.

Our prayer and the Lord’s power make an unbeatable combination.

Suddenly, the dark cell in which Peter lay chained became filled with light. The jingling and clanking of chains falling to the ground and the screech of iron doors opening by themselves became the music of freedom as the angel told Peter to get up, get dressed – ‘Hurry’ – and ‘follow me’. What a moment!

Peter followed but had no idea what was happening. This was not some superhero making a bold escape from an impossible situation; this was the fisherman Peter, called by Christ to feed his flock the Church, being led by God into freedom, light, and life. It was the realisation of God’s promise to be with his Church always so that the gates of hell might not prevail against it.

For us, for you and for me, the lesson is absolutely clear. No matter the strength of the chains which bind us, no matter how dark the cell in which we find ourselves imprisoned, no matter how loud and certain the voices predicting our doom – our call is simply, to call on the Lord for help and, like children, to go on trusting that ultimately God will restore us to eternal freedom, light and life.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

5th Sunday of Easter - Year A

Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

The gospel of Mark tells us (2:2) that on a certain occasion: so many people collected that there was no room left, even in front of the door. So what was the attraction? What was Jesus doing that drove the crowds to seek him out like that? Was he working great wonders and miracles? Why had they gathered in such large numbers? Mark answers: He was preaching the word to them.

Another time, when Jesus was explaining to his disciples the parable of the sower which he had just told (4:14), he says: What the sower is sowing is the word.

And yet another time, when Jesus offered to come to the house of the centurion to heal his servant the centurion replied: Just give the word... (Mt 8:8).

The word, of course, is the word of God. Luke makes this clear when he tells us (5:1) Now he was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God... .

Everywhere he went Jesus, like the sower in the gospel, was casting the word of God among the people. And each, depending on his readiness to receive it, responded in his own way.

It became the hallmark of those who were to be his disciples that they were able to listen to his word, accept it, believe it and above all, obey it. Jesus himself tells us in the gospel of John (8:47): A child of God listens to the words of God; and then just to make sure we have understood he adds: if you refuse to listen, it is because you are not God's children.

And speaking of hallmarks, it is a hallmark of every Catholic that he believes that the word of God is today to be found in his Church; that the Magisterium speaks with the living, authoritative voice of Jesus. Note, for example, what Jesus told his disciples when he sent them out in his name: Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me (Lk 10:16).

Pope Benedict said once that there are some today who say Church – NO; Jesus – YES. He said that in practice this resulted in Church – NO; Jesus – NO.

Well, today’s liturgy of the word enriches our reflection a little more. The first reading tells us that because of this preaching of the word: the number of disciples was increasing. This has always been the case. Those who receive the word with humility and faith become disciples.

The apostles plainly state that: it would not be right ... to neglect the word of God so as to give out food. The importance of the truth which is spoken here cannot, and should never be minimised, in the first place for the ordained but also for the laity.

The role of the apostle, and the priests who serve with them, is to preach the word of God, in season and out of season. Nothing must come between them and this God-given mission and so the apostles ordained seven deacons. This would allow them to continue to devote themselves to prayer: and to the service of the word.

The preaching of the word is a service of the word. Jesus himself acknowledges as much when he says: My word is not my own: it is the word of the one who sent me (Jn 14:24).  And Jesus stood ready to sacrifice his life preaching the word of the one who sent him.

A servant is never greater than his master and the word is always greater than the one who preaches it. Indeed, the history of our present times shows that the service of the world can require even the surrender of our lives. Countless are those who have willingly accepted death in the service of the word. Not only have these martyrs refused to reject the word, they have refused even to change any part of it. What a powerful example, what a powerful rebuke, to those who graft their opinions onto the vine of truth and pass them off as Church teaching!

Whether spoken by Christ or by those he has commissioned in his Church to speak in his name with his authority, the word preached is ultimately the word of the Father. Each man or woman who hears the word is judged by it according to how they respond. For this reason Jesus can say: He who rejects me and refuses my words has his judge already: the word itself that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day (Jn 12:48).

In not many days time we will hear proclaimed the words: As they prayed, the house where they were assembled rocked; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).

And so we hear a little later: The word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside (Acts 13:49). Thanks to the preaching of modern day apostles and disciples it has even found us, and we rejoice as we listen to James who exhorts us (Jms 1:21): Accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

4th Sunday of Easter - Year A

Acts 2:14.36-41; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10

Today, at my first Mass in the parish, I would like to pick up some ideas from the rich feast of thoughts the Church offers us in the liturgy.

You may have been struck by the Collect which, in a few simple words, clearly points out to us the reason we are all here: Almighty ever-living God, lead us to a share in the joys of heaven....

A young man took me to task several months ago. He told me we priests, and I definitely think he was including me, had let him down. He rattled off a whole list of accusations about not keeping up with the reality of the modern world; living in the past; not adapting teachings to suit the present day and so on and so on. His coup de grâce was that we were no longer relevant.

My answer to him was that a priest exists for only one reason – and that is – to help his people get to heaven. All his other expectations were unreal and unreasonable.

Almighty ever-living God, lead us to a share in the joys of heaven....

The next question presents itself quite naturally – How does a priest lead his people to heaven? The answer is simple – by leading them to Jesus – in his Church.

And how does he do that? Firstly by his preaching.

Look at the reading from the book of Acts which we have just heard proclaimed: On the day of Pentecost Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed the crowd in a loud voice... 

Peter preached to the crowds the gospel he had been given by Jesus. And he preached so that he might win the crowd for Christ, to turn it into a congregation, into a communion of men and women destined to be saved. To put it another way, he was building up the body of Christ, the Church, so that these people would become the People of God.

So what did he preach? How did he preach? What were his tactics?

He began by speaking the name of Jesus to them. He announced to them that Jesus was Lord and Christ, and then, astonishingly, he reminded them that they had crucified him.

It never ceases to amaze me that the first public command both John the Baptist and Jesus spoke was: Repent – and since only sinners need to repent it was tantamount to beginning with the words: You are all sinners! No wonder the Pharisees got so upset; their basic refusal was precisely to see themselves as sinners.

Peter’s listeners were ‘cut to the heart’. In the gospel last Sunday the two disciples experienced their hearts ‘burning’ within them. Actually, this is really the only appropriate response to the preaching of the gospel.

Some, it seems, will always close their hearts. This is a perplexing mystery. But, fortunately, many of those who initially reject the gospel later come to accept it – and in some cases, even more fully and more passionately than those who accept it at once. Another mystery!

A further obvious question presents itself: Why must we repent? The answer brings us back to our beginning – so that we may be saved; so that we might get to heaven.

Save yourselves from this perverse generation ... 

Having preached the word a priest now employs the second ‘weapon’ in his arsenal – the Sacraments. Many were touched by Peter’s words: they accepted what he said; and asked: What must we do...?

Peter answered: every one of you must be baptised... 

Do you see? He offers them a sacrament! The Church has seven of them. They are the ordinary means by which grace is given to us; the grace which leads us to eternal life: Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.

Finally, to give the tripod its third leg we must add community. The Church's life, and yours, stands on these three legs – word, sacrament and community.

Peter preaches the word; then he confers the sacrament and then they join the communityabout three thousand were added to their number.

So, my dear friends, now you know what I am doing here. I am doing the same thing every priest since St Peter is called to do – to help you get to heaven by preaching to you the Word, offering you the Sacraments, so that you can be a member of the community of the Church - so that you can be saved.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Passion Sunday - Year A

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.