Friday, 9 December 2016

Advent thought: Excuses

There are always excuses to not do what we know we ought to do; not least when we hear the still small voice of God and refuse to respond to His invitation. In the Gospel reading for today (Matthew 11:16-19) Jesus exposes such excuses. He uses a song of children:

We piped to you, and you did not dance; 
we wailed, and you did not mourn.

The piping refers to a wedding, of dancing and music, which is alluding to Christ’s own ministry. The wailing refers to a funeral where there is public mourning and wailing, which is alluding to St John the Baptist’s ministry.

Jesus’ contemporaries refused to heed the call of John to repent of their sins, to mourn because of their disobedience, self-centredness and waywardness. They also refused to respond to Jesus’ call to celebrate the presence of the Bridegroom, the Messiah, and to learn how to love God and their neighbour. They refuse invitations to embrace the Kingdom of God.

How often do we make excuses to not respond to God’s call? How often do we tell ourselves, I haven’t sinned that badly, I don’t need to pay much attention to my sins and find ways of dealing with them? How often do we fail to love God with our whole heart, mind and strength? How often do we give God our second best, or third best – “oh that’ll do”? How often do we look on our neighbour as someone who gets in the way, or someone to be used, or someone to ignore? How often do we make such excuses and just carry on in our own way?

Fr Ian

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Immaculate Conception - 'full of grace'

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary

“Hail full of grace”, is a unique greeting for nowhere else in Holy Scripture does an Angel address someone by a title rather than a personal name. What is the significance of this?

First of course it draws our attention to the uniqueness of Our Lady. She is favoured above all other women and all men except her son.

Secondly, the title “full of grace” does not express the depth of St Luke’s phrase in Greek. He could have used the same phrase he uses for Stephen in Acts 6:8 (“And Stephen, full of grace and power…”) but Luke used in Greek a different word (kecharitomene), in English it too is traditionally translated as ‘full of grace’. But the word Luke used for Our Lady reveals that not only was she full of grace in that moment (as Stephen was), but that God had previously filled her with grace. She has been and is now filled with divine life. That is the depth of meaning of the Greek word used by St Luke here.

God had provided Mary with an abundance of grace to prepare her to be the Mother of God. So we can see that Gabriel’s annunciation points us towards the Immaculate Conception. For in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary we are taught that Mary was preserved from Original Sin and therefore was made to be like our ancient mother, Eve.

To understand the significance of this we must understand that Mary is the New Eve, the New “mother of all”. By Eve’s fall, and by Adam’s fall, sin entered the world, and through sin, death. So that all the children of Eve would inherit this fallen condition, this disharmony with God and His creation, and this inclination to sin that we call concupiscence. Mary alone, by the grace of Christ, was preserved from Original Sin and in the same state as the first Eve, so that she could become the “Ark of the New Covenant” the one woman capable of being the Mother of Christ the Son of God. The humanity provided by our Lady for Christ’s human nature was unstained by sin. How could it be otherwise? God could not become incarnate with a sinful human nature – it would be a contradiction. So Mary is the only woman able to be Mother of God.

However Mary still had a choice. Her free will had not been taken away. Yes she had been preserved from Original Sin by grace, but she still could sin just as Eve was able to sin. So in the annunciation the incarnation of God that would save humankind hangs upon the words of this young Jewish girl, Mary full of grace. Mary’s gives her consent. Mary’s fiat, her ‘yes’ crushed the Serpent who had obtained a ‘no’ from the first Eve. Mary’s Son would go on to comprehensively defeat the Serpent on the tree of the Cross. The first Adam had brought sin and death to the world by his cooperation in the Original Sin; the Second Adam would bring life and grace into the world through the New Eve’s full cooperation with grace, so that we too can be filled with grace and sin and death can be defeated in us.

So let us praise God for Our Lady full of grace, greatest of all creatures, and that we too might allow grace to fill our lives and give our ‘yes’ to God in all that we do and say. Amen.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Advent thought: finding rest for our souls

Isaiah 40:25-31    Mt 11:28-30

In this chapter of Isaiah (40) there is a lengthy series of questions – rhetorical ones: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? …” And then these questions are followed by statements that remind the hearer that God is intimately involved in creation – not only the order and design of creation but its ongoing existence.

We are reminded that God's creation did not spring forth from His hands, but that the universe was created by God in a state of journeying (in statu viae). The creation is journeying toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call this ‘divine providence’. This isn’t to say that our lives are already determined – we don’t believe in fate in that way – but that God is actively working His purposes out. The question is therefore, are we aligning ourselves to His purposes, or going against them?

Our Lord asks us for childlike abandonment to the providence of our heavenly Father. For the Father, takes care of His children’s smallest needs, and the divine compassion is opened to all who abandon themselves to the Lord, who indeed take His yoke and learn from Him. There indeed we find rest for our souls.
Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (RSVCE)

Fr Ian

See CCC 302-305

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Advent thought: Lost

Our Lord is often referred to as a shepherd. This particular parable alludes to the messianic prophecy of Ezekiel (34:11-31) in which God Himself would come down and shepherd His people, seeking them out and rescuing them:

Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered…

The parable is understood allegorically by St Anselm and St Hilary of Poitiers (both Fathers of the Church). The lost sheep represent mankind who had strayed through sin. The 99 sheep on the hills are the angels of God in heaven. In the Incarnation, God the Son descended ‘from the hills’ (i.e. from heaven) to seek the lost souls of men and to rescue them through His death and resurrection. And so Christ restores men to grace and leads them back to the company of angels in heaven (see Heb 12:22).

This shepherding of lost souls to safe pastures continues in the Church, for Christ continues to operate through the Church, His mystical Body. As the parable reminds us, “it is not the will of my Father who is heaven that one of these little ones should perish (v.14)”. So too in the Church, we must never cease to reach out to the lost, and be ready to shepherd them and provide them with the grace won by Christ in our redemption. As we await our coming Saviour, we have been given the gift of time in order that the lost may be found.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)