Friday, 14 March 2014

From the heart



In today’s gospel reading (Mt 5:20-26) taken from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds that His Way is not the easy way. It is tempting to think that it would be better if our religion were less demanding and easier to practice – and sometimes we even try to make it so.

Although our Lord demands much, He also shows us the Way to fulfil those demands. In the Sermon on the Mount, He points us to where the key to this fulfilment is located: the heart. It is from the heart that our motivation, ideas, and thoughts emanate. So renewing the heart is a key part of the gospel message, hence why He calls us to repentance and belief.

So we must consistently examine our hearts. From this examination we must give thanks to God for His grace in the good virtues we show, and we must confess and ask for forgiveness for the sins we have committed; not only that, but our relationships with others must come from the heart. If we even harbour anger against a brother or sister we must be reconciled. If we are filled with lust towards a brother or sister, then we must confess the sin - it is adultery in our Lord’s eyes. If we harbour anger we must deal with that even if we haven’t expressed it.

It is at the level of the heart that we must work, and perhaps the most important part of that work is confession and thanksgiving. This Lent why not attend confession more often than you would usually and also make a point of regularly thanking God for His goodness and His grace at work in your life?


Fr Ian


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Until you can only sigh

hand knocking at door
When you visit someone and they do not know you are coming, how many times do you ring the bell, or, knock on the door, before turning away? Is it once? Or do you keep on ringing for a minute? Five minutes? How often do you return to try again? Perhaps it depends on how urgent it is that you see the person?
In our Lord’s teaching about prayer one thing is very clear. It is not that we need to attain a certain psychological state. It is not that we need to have a type of feeling. One thing is clear, we need to persevere. We need to have the drive to pray and to continue in prayer.
In the gospel today our Lord assures us that if we ask, we shall receive. We should note here that He does not say “we shall receive it straight away.” But He asks us to trust our Heavenly Father to give us what we need. If a child asks his father for an egg, would the father give the child a scorpion? Of course not! So much more, our Lord tells us, will our Heavenly Father give us what we need. So in prayer we need to have buckets full of perseverance born of trust in the Goodness of our Heavenly Father.
So then if God does not seem to answer our prayer straight away, what is happening? Well first we must trust there is a reason. We need to persevere in trust. We do not need to have the reason. The Father does not need to explain Himself to us! But we need to continue trusting that our Father hears us and will, when the time is right, answer our prayer.
For us, of course, we want instant answers: if Google will answer our queries within seconds why not God? Of course we do not entrust to google what we bring to God in prayer! And we also need to keep reminding ourselves that God sees the overall picture so knows precisely when an answer to prayer is needed. We need to trust that.
I think one very helpful understanding of prayer is from St Paul, that it is a “groaning”, for he tells us that if we cannot pray as we ought, the Holy Spirit will pray for us with groans too deep for words. In prayer we may need to get to that stage where we can only groan! Our Father may want us to persist in prayer until all we can do is sigh, or groan. (Romans 8, esp. v26)
So let us ask today for the gift of perseverance in prayer – and let us pray that the Holy Spirit will indeed pray for us in sighs too deep for words. And let us be filled with confidence in our Heavenly Father who will indeed answer our prayer when it is best to do so. Amen.
Fr Ian

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

If you are sick, call the doctor!



“A humbled contrite heart, O God, you will not spurn.” Ps 50
We frequently hear about the value of positive self-esteem and confessing our worth today, but how often do we hear about the value of confessing our faults? Even the word ‘sin’ is hardly ever mentioned outside of Christian circles. And amongst Catholics in this country, there has been a radical decline in the use of the Sacrament of Penance. Of course the two things are related. The less aware we are of our ‘sickness’ (i.e sin) the less likely we are to call a doctor (i.e. sacrament of penance).
The Ninevites responded to the preaching of Jonah and repented, and the Lord forgave them. Many of the Jews of Jesus’ time thought that they were good by virtue of being children of Abraham, and did not need to repent. Jesus told them that they would be judged by the Ninevites, for He was greater than Jonah, yet they did not repent. Christ continually exhorted people to “repent and believe.”
In response to sin there can be two extremes: over-scrupulous and un-scrupulous. If previous eras were characterised by over-scruples, our present era is characterised by insensitivity to sin.
God has made us good in our being, but we are not entirely good in our lives, choices and actions. Made in the image of God, we have however marred that image. We are ontologically good, but not morally good. Usually we get things muddled, for we think we are ontologically worse than we actually are, and we think we are morally better than we actually are! The problem is that we measure ourselves against the standards of the world rather than the standards of our Lord!
Contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again.” (CCC 1451) Let us pray this Lent that we may be given a contrite heart that we may be astounded by the knowledge that we are made in the image of God (ontologically good), but also be grieved to the heart that we have marred that image by our sin.
Fr Ian

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The perfect prayer of the perfect Pray-er



“The Lord’s prayer is the most perfect of prayers … In it we ask, not only for the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired,” thus said St Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica (also CCC 2763). And St Augustine said, “Run through all the words of the holy prayers, and I do not think that you will find anything in them that is not contained and included in the Lord’s Prayer” (also CCC 2762).

If we seek to renew or re-invigorate our prayer then returning to the Lord’s prayer is the most important thing for us to do because it is the perfect prayer given to us by the perfect Pray-er. We learn to pray by going to our Lord’s school of prayer.

In our Lord’s school of prayer He wrote just one textbook with just fifty-five words in it.
He did not give us psychological techniques but the actual words of a prayer; a prayer, though, not to be just repeated mechanically.

When someone begins to play an instrument they begin by learning to read music. First they play the music mechanically. One note comes after the other. But as time goes on the music begins to flow. It is no longer a mechanical procedure, it now becomes something of beauty.

We must pray this prayer not just with our words. We must pray this prayer not just with our words and our minds. We must pray this prayer with our words, our minds and our hearts.

One of the key things to understand here is that we will only truly understand the words with our minds when we also will them with our hearts. When we desire and want what God’s wants, what God wills, then we will understand His word in this His prayer.

One of the best places to reflect more deeply about the Lord’s Prayer is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Access for free online or use the copy you have at home. There is a wealth of reflection on this perfect prayer by the perfect pray-er.

See CCC 2777 - 2865

Fr Ian

Monday, 10 March 2014

Sheep are what they are! And so are goats!

Today we hear the Parable of the Final Judgement (Matthew 25: 31-46). It begins:
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When the Son of Man comes…’
Jesus is talking about the end of chronological time. He is talking about the moment that heralds in eternity. Eternity is qualitatively different from chronological time. At the end of time there is no chance for us to be anything other than what we are.
The trouble with talking about this parable is the modern dislike for the idea that God judges us at all. In the mind of modern man it seems to imply that God has a list of rules and if we disobey these rules we will be punished. Of course this image of God is a faulty one.
So what is divine judgement like? What our Lord says is that it is like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. What are we to make of that though? I think the key to understanding what our Lord is saying is actually quite simple. Sheep are what they are! Goats are what they are!
This is not predestination, rather, once we have reached the end of time nothing can change in us. Then we are who we are. Chronological time is God’s gift to us. Time is God’s gift for us to change. Time is the divine gift for us to make the eternal choice.
Finally what our Lord reminds us is that what we choose is revealed by our actions. Remember St James exhorts us to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.
So in this time of Lent think about time – remember you are using God’s gift of time, the time in which we become who we are through our choices, through what we do. At the end of time we get what we chose – that is Judgement!
Fr Ian

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)