Saturday, 21 February 2015

Table fellowship

Our Lord's choice of person to share table fellowship with, scandalises the Pharisees and their scribes. The reason they are disturbed is because "sinners and tax collectors" are unclean. Yet the extending of mercy to outcasts is a sign of the Kingdom of God. Christ has come not only to heal the sick of body, but also those who are sinners. Christ's mission is the forgiveness of sin, for which He was willing to die. Christ invites sinners to conversion. Without conversion no one can enter the Kingdom of God. Christ discriminates against the self-righteous who think they have no need of God. Christ does not welcome the proud, until they humble themselves to repent. God's mercy is endless and there is indeed more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents because unrepentant sinners cannot enter into the Kingdom of God!

We might consider that the problem with the Pharisees was that they were caught up in their own interpretation and development of the Law. Many Christians accuse Catholics of something similar: of building up "traditions" that are human interpretations of the Scriptures - whereas, of course, they believe they have a pure faith based upon Scripture alone (sola Scriptura). The opposite is actually the case. Holy Tradition is in fact the guidance by the Holy Spirit leading the Church into all the truth, something which our Lord promised would happen (for He didn't have the time to teach His disciples everything they needed). Catholics submit themselves to the Sacred Tradition given through the Holy Spirit and guaranteed by the Magisterium (teaching authority). They do not interpret Holy Scripture with the first thought that enters their head. Rather they listen to the Holy Scriptures within the Church, within the guidance of the Holy Spirit that is the Holy Tradition. Personal thoughts are just that, personal thoughts! Personal thoughts do not save! Just because we think we are nice Christians and feel close to God does not mean our thoughts reveal God's Word! 

So this Lent let us discipline our reading of Holy Scripture and submit ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit through Sacred Tradition, not through personal interpretation. One very easy way we can do this is to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church and look up the citations of Holy Scripture. When we are reading a passage from Scripture look it up in the citations and find the paragraphs in the Catechism that refer to it. Then we shall know what it is the Holy Spirit has revealed to the Church about those particular verses in Scripture.

Fr Ian

Friday, 20 February 2015

Expecting favours from God?

"Why should we fast if you never see it, why do penance if you never notice?" (Is 58v3)
The people of Judah fasted so that God would hear their public petitions - possibly so that there might be rain for their crops. They are concerned by the perceived silence of God. Had they committed some sin without knowing it? Or did God like to humiliate people who asked for favours? And so the people lie in sackcloth and ashes. But God pointed out through His prophet, that there was an inconsistency - why should He answer their prayers when at the same time their business practices were unjust?
This situation of the people of Judah is a warning for us too. It is the condition when we are content with a certain level of religious observance. We can think that by a certain level of observance we can expect certain favours from God: for things to go our way, and for some sufferings to be avoided. We say to ourselves, "I have observed what is required of me, I deserve a reward." But God may well be silent, and suffering and adversity may visit us.
The Lord is clear that He is concerned not just with those who observe the precepts of religion; He is concerned with all people. There is a profound inconsistency in practicing religious precepts and also practicing unjust labour laws, of oppressing our employees or perpetuating any injustice we have some control over.
God does not want disciples who merely observe certain religious precepts and the rest of their lives be inconsistent with their profession of faith. When the disciples of John complained that Jesus' disciples were not fasting (Mt 9:14-15), Jesus challenged them to re-think why they were fasting.
To be grumpy and complaining about our fasting is to misunderstand its purpose. Fasting is an expression of inner conversion. We are bringing our bodily appetites into good order and under our control so that we can turn to Christ our Saviour, the Bridegroom, more completely.
The season of Lent, the season of penitence, the season of inner conversion, is not therefore a gloomy season of the Church's year. Yes it is a season of restraint and sobriety, but in order that we can focus more deeply on the things that truly matter : our relationship with Jesus Christ who by His grace draws us into the divine life of perfect love. And if our relationship with Christ is on the right footing, so will our relationships be with our neighbour.
Surely that is something to be joyful about and not grumpy?
Fr Ian

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Is it life or death that you want?

A fruit-bearing tree - an image of Christ's cross

I love the bluntness of the reading today from Deuteronomy (30:15-20):
“See today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster.”
When put like that of course there is no choice! Who would choose death and disaster? But actually that is what we do choose when we do not follow God’s way. When we go our own way we are in truth opting for the way of death and disaster. When we go the way Christ has led then we are opting for life and prosperity. The bluntness of Deuteronomy helps to remind us of this basic Christian truth.
This same point is reinforced in the psalm at mass today (Ps 1). The man who places his trust in the Lord is like a tree planted beside flowing waters that yields its fruit in due season. Following the divine path results in the bearing of fruit – again it is a life-giving path to follow. The result of making our decisions according to God’s ways, is life.
In the gospel today our Lord reveals the secret of bearing fruit. It is paradoxical. The more we cling on and grasp onto life, the more we lose it. When we are anxious and afraid we tend to try to grasp and to cling in desperation. But clinging on desperately and grasping in fear do not lead to a solution to our problems. Rather it is trusting in the Lord, trusting in Jesus Christ, that will lead us to the greatest of fruit-bearing trees: His fruit-bearing and salvific cross.
This is the path we are to follow in our keeping of Lent: in self-denial, in prayer and in almsgiving.
Fr Ian

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Remember that you are dust

On Ash Wednesday ashes are “imposed” in a solemn ritual at masses across the world. The ceremony is unlike any liturgical action performed throughout the rest of the Church’s year.

The ashes are made from the palm crosses that were blessed and handed out the previous Palm Sunday. They are collected and burned and the remains are ground up into powder. I make my own each year.
During the Mass the ashes are blessed by the priest before they are “imposed”. In a procession people step forward and the priest puts the ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross, saying, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is taken from Genesis 3 v 19.

What does the ash symbolise?

1. Death:  We are reminded of our mortality, for when we die our bodies decompose, or “they return to dust”. So we hear Abraham say to God “I am but dust and ashes” in Genesis 18:27. Whether death is just around the corner or many years hence, one thing is certain, we are going to die! So on Ash Wednesday we are asked to face our mortality, but not in a morbid and hopeless way, but in the faith of Christ crucified – which is why the ashes are imposed with a cross. Christ has died and redeemed us so that we have real hope. Yes we will die, but by the grace of Christ we can live beyond this death.
And indeed is death is coming we need to be prepared for it. Let death not catch any of us unprepared! Let us be prepared by living God’s ways.

2. Repentance: When the prophet Jonah warned the Ninevites that God was going to visit judgement upon them for their wickedness (their depravity and corruption) the people of Ninevah covered themselves with sackcloth and ashes as a sign of their repentance – they showed visibly that they were turning away from their evil ways.

So ashes are a plea to God for mercy, pardon and forgiveness. And they are also a public confession of our sin. Other people can see that we admit out sinfulness publicly, but also crucially that we bring them to the cross of Christ. We are sorry for our sins but we know they can only be forgiven through the cross of Christ, the grace He won for us once for all.

(Tip: If someone comments on your ashes, use the opportunity to explain to them something of your faith and why you do it.)

So we begin Lent by publicly saying sorry for our sins, and that we want to use Lent to correct our faults, purify our hearts and control our desires – and thus to grow in holiness, and be better prepared to celebrate Easter with joy filling our hearts.

Fr Ian  16th February 2015

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Keeping a good and fruitful Lent - part 6

"confession" from the door of sacraments in St Peter's Basilica

Let us not forget that Lent is also about overcoming sin through grace. If you like we not only encourage new growth (virtue and fruits) but also need to prune back (confess).

All the things I have suggested so far in this guide are about encouraging virtuous exercises in our daily/weekly lives. Fasting should help us increase our self-mastery. But we also need to seek grace through confession. And there are two aspects to this I would recommend:

Sorry Lord, I did it again!

1. Daily examination:  we need to have a frank assessment of our day. If you do it only once a week you'll forget lots of things. Ask our Lord for light and then role through the day in your mind. Identify your sins and ask God for forgiveness. This should not take more than a few minutes. Over a number of days you will notice some sins repeat - make a note of them. Finally say sorry to God and ask for the grace to amend your life.

St 'Padre' Pio in the confessional

2. Sacrament of confession: During Lent go to confession more regularly. Why not try weekly? If you really want to conquer sin in your life you need grace, and the special grace for this is found through this sacrament. Even if you have not committed a mortal sin, you still need grace to overcome sinful habits. Of course you must confess grave sins but you would benefit from confessing your worst venial sins too, especially those you keep repeating. There might be a particular sin you want to overcome in grace? Well keep a tally of how many times you commit it. This can help you assess whether you are getting better before you've managed to overcome it entirely. Habits of sin can take time to deal with, so keeping a tally can be an encouragement.

I know we are only obliged to go to confession once over the paschal period, but let us not settle for the minimum, with regard to confessing let us strive for the best this Lent!

Lenten counsel no 6 - Take sin seriously! Don't just try to forget it. Our Lord wants us to not sin at all. While that seems understandably a far off goal, we do need to take steps towards it. We won't if we forget our sin. So a daily examination is most essential. Say sorry and ask for grace. And then go to the sacrament of confession for the grace to really change your life. It really does work - the Saints have proven it!

[For those in Plymouth I am opening Christ the King every Thursday evening (7-9pm) for adoration and I'll be available to hear confessions. We also hear confessions before and after mass at 12noon Mon - Fri and on Sunday morning, 11.30]
Fr Ian

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)