Friday, 28 March 2014

Ukraine: Aid to the Church in Need

The first ten words

In replying to the scribes question, “which is the first of all commandments”, Jesus answers with the two Great Commandments, that is, to love God and to love our neighbour. It is easy to overlook the solemn call that precedes the first of the two great commandments: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD.” These are the first ten words of the Ten Commandments. Our Lord does not leave them out nor abbreviate them. They are significant therefore. In these ten words comes the starting point or the basic principle for all the rest of the commandments.
What is it saying? It is saying that God loved us first. God had chosen to reveal Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to make them a great nation. And when God’s people were enslaved He revealed His special care for His people through the prophet Moses who led God’s people to the Promised Land. As the adopted people of Israel, we too have been loved first by God. By the waters of baptism He has delivered us from the slavery of sin; and He has poured His grace into our hearts through the Holy Spirit He has given to us.
The first ten words tell us that God loves us first, and the Ten Commandments that follow show us how we are to love God back. The two Great Commandments of Jesus summarise the Ten Commandments and indeed the whole Law. The commandments to love God above all, to worship no other gods, to keep God’s name holy, to keep the Sabbath, are how we are to fulfil the first Great Commandment. The second Great Commandment is the pouring forth of this love of God to our neighbour by obeying the rest of Ten Commandments: honouring our father and mother, not killing human life, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness, not lusting after others, not coveting our neighbour’s goods. Obedience to these Ten Commandments is how we show we love God who loved us first. Disobedience of these Commandments is a grave sin against God, or in Catholic language they are mortal sins. To disobey any of these commandments is to shut ourselves off from God’s life of grace. This is not because we are being punished by God for not keeping his ‘rules’, but because the action we have chosen to do by our own free will takes us deliberately away from God’s life of communion and grace.
God loved us first and He has even sacrificed Himself on the Cross for our salvation, to save us from our sins. Our response to His love is obedience – obedience to the Commandments He has given us.
Fr Ian

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Angels and demons

More than the healings that Jesus performed, the exorcisms unsettled the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. It is probably also true that many people today find this claim that Jesus was an effective exorcist a bit difficult to accept.
Angels, both those for God and those who rebelled, are not mythical but real. They are not an optional addition to the Catholic faith; their existence is a dogma of the faith (fourth Lateran Council). Throughout Scripture we read of the reality and presence of angels. Every human being has a guardian angel assigned to him from birth to death – Jesus assured us of this (see Mt 18:10, Lk 16:22). Christ is the centre of the angelic world – they are His angels (CCC 331).
Angels, like human beings, are free creatures i.e. they have free will. Unlike human beings, angels being pure spirits exercised this free will at their creation – some rebelled and we call them demons. Just as good angels seek to help us, so demons seek to harm us by tempting us to sin.
No faithful, baptised Christian can be demon-possessed against his will, but it is possible to be severely oppressed, and of course all of us will be tempted. The Church, which is the mystical Body of Christ, has the power to free those who are ‘possessed’ by performing exorcisms that deliver the person from the dominion of the demon (or demons). Major exorcisms are performed only by priests whom the Church has authorised to do so, but minor exorcisms can be performed by any priest in the course of his pastoral ministry (e.g. an exorcism is performed during the rite of baptism).
Now all of this is difficult for many people to accept because most people view the world in a materialist way, that is, the world is only really what you can see and touch. But we who accept the Christian revelation of God include in that acceptance that the devil is real, otherwise the Bible lies (see 1 Pet 5:8). If we reject the existence of the devil and his demons then we also make Christ to be a fool, for He clearly said they are real and He clearly exorcised demons from people. In the gospel today He challenged His critics for basically they had to decide whether His power over demons was from God or the Devil. So let us be alert and be watchful for the devil prowls seeking whom he may devour, we are to resist him firm in our faith. And above all we know that in Christ we have nothing to fear, for as long as we are faithful to our Saviour Jesus Christ, no other power can have dominion over us.
Our Lady, Queen of Angels, intercede for us in the time of trial.
St Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle.
Guardian Angels watch over us and protect us.
Fr Ian

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Do I need to obey?

The way of Christ is the way of obedience. Jesus was obedient to His Father always. Today we are reluctant to obey unreservedly. Somehow it seems a backward or unsophisticated thing to do. Modern man is surely much more subtle and learned to not need to obey like that? So instead of obeying freely we reserve the right to question everything and decide whether to obey or not. We have made ourselves the masters and we do not like the idea of making someone else our master.
The way of Christ is obedience even when it means suffering. The way of Christ means saying with Our Lady, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” The way of Christ is obedience because it is obedience to an entirely trustworthy Person – God the Father. God the Father can always be trusted. Does a father give his son a stone when he asks for bread? If our Heavenly Father allows us to suffer we can be sure there is a very good reason for it and the outcome will be good for us.
Christ Jesus came not to abolish the Jewish Law. He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets in His very self. When He died sacrificially on the cross He fulfilled and completed all the laws of ritual and sacrifice. In the New Covenant all ritual and sacrifice is focused on the Cross. The moral law of the Old Testament was not abolished but deepened. Not only was the moral law still to be obeyed in the New Covenant but it was located on a deeper and more demanding level – the level of the heart. We are to still obey the Ten Commandments but now at a more deeper and demanding level.
So are we willing to obey God the Father as Christ Jesus did? Do we trust the Heavenly Father? This was at the heart of the first sin, and thus at the heart of all sin – do I trust God the Father, or does He have a secret agenda against me? The serpent tempted Eve to believe the latter. Our Lady believed the former. She trusted and obeyed.
Fr Ian

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Our Lady unties the knot tied by Eve

The angel announced that Mary was “full of grace.” This fullness of grace means that there was nothing in the way of Mary’s relationship with God; that Mary was preserved from original sin. Unique amongst humankind since Eve, Mary came into the world without the burden of the Fall. She was free from finding sin attractive, however, this does not take away her free will. Mary had the capacity to sin but unlike Eve (who was also free of original sin and lived in harmony with God) Mary chose to obey God rather than disobey. St Irenaeus of the second century wrote:
The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.  (St Irenaeus of Lyons, Adv Haer 3,22,4)
To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary had to be the perfect door through which the perfect God could come into our imperfect world. Where Eve said No, Mary said Yes. Where Eve’s faith failed, Mary’s stood firm.
God’s purposes for Mary are also God’s purposes for all mankind. Mary shows us the summit of God’s success, for she is perfectly conformed to Christ by grace. She is the summit of God’s business making Saints. She shows how high humanity can rise with grace.
Saints are made by love. Mary is the greatest saint because she was full of the most perfect love. She was full both of God’s love to Mary and Mary’s love to God. In Mary God exalted a creature as much as any creature could be exalted. He gave to the “max” in Mary. And Mary gave to the “max” to God. She obeyed the first and greatest commandment, to love God with her whole heart, mind, soul and strength. She loved God simply and purely. God withheld nothing from her, and she withheld nothing from God: “Be it unto me according to thy Word.”
May her response to God be our response to God in the same fullness, simplicity, and purity. Amen.
Happy Feast to you all. May our Lady keep you ever in her care.
Fr Ian

Monday, 24 March 2014

It is all "me, me, me"!

Grumpy Naaman the Syrian general didn’t want to be treated in the way Elisha had treated him. Elisha hadn’t even bothered to come to him. And then he had just asked him to bathe in the river! Naaman expected something special, something mysterious, and he expected Elisha’s attention. But no, Elisha didn’t seem bothered with him.
Naaman was an important person; he expected to be treated differently to others. He was of course suffering from pride. And the first step towards healing for Naaman was to listen to his servants. They understood, whereas Naaman was too proud to understand. So Naaman consented to humble himself by bathing in the Jordan seven times as Elisha had directed him. After Naaman is humbled, he comes to his senses, and he is not only healed of his leprosy, but he acknowledges that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. He has received healing of his soul too.
In Nazareth, the people who were neighbours of Jesus are reluctant to be taught by him. They were prepared to be taught by a stranger, but fiercely deny that one of their own could stand up and instruct them. Again they are filled with pride. They want to set the circumstances and criteria by which God will instruct or inspire them.
Even more than this, because of their selfishness, they are not prepared to agree that God’s benefits should be shared with non-Jews. When Jesus points out to them their error by referring them to the prophets (not least Elisha healing Naaman the Syrian) their pride leads them to be so enraged, they decide to do away with Jesus there and then, by throwing Him off the nearby cliff.
Pride and selfishness are deadly sins – deadly for ourselves, and sometimes others! We are turned in on ourselves. It is all “me, me, me”! Often enough it is born of fear. Out of fear we can foolishly start focusing down on ourselves; we start clinging on to things within and without. We cannot rely on others, we can only rely on ourselves. We fear that no one else will care for us, so we have to look after number one first. But foolishly we are, spiritually speaking, killing ourselves.
Whereas Christ’s way is that of generosity, of giving; for the more we give away, the more we receive. Love grows when we give it away, not when we restrict it and keep it close. To be humble means accepting who we truly are – a creature of God. And knowing everything we truly need comes from Him alone. So with a humble, generous, giving spirit we are in fact released from fear and have joy. The traditional practices of Lent (fasting, prayer and almsgiving) encourage us to humble our pride, to convert our hearts to know we are creatures beloved of God, and that in Him alone we have everything we need.
Fr Ian

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)