Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Infertility and the desert

Manoah and his wife sacrifice a ram to the angel

19th Dec

While listening to the Gospel (Lk 1:5-25) and also the first reading at Mass today (Judges 13:2-7,24-25), I do not think it hard to be moved by the plight of both women, whom people had called “barren”. It was a terrible label for any woman. Fertility, the ability to bring forth life, has been the essence of marriage in almost every society (excepting our own in the modern west) and the inability to have children is a terrible burden for any married couple. And this burden perhaps falls most heavily upon women who are constantly reminded through their menstrual cycle of their capacity to nurture life within their bodies. Women are created with the gift of being tabernacles of new human life. (Incidentally this is why in Catholic churches women traditionally wear veils. All holy tabernacles are veiled in a Catholic Church: the tabernacle behind the altar, the chalice, statues of Our Lady and thus also all God’s daughters.)

Infertility was seen in their time as a sign of God’s disfavour, but Elizabeth and Monoah’s wife, we hear about in Mass today, are not the only childless women in salvation history who are made fertile by God’s intervention. There was Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah. Thus John’s birth falls in line with that of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson, and Samuel, all of whom were representatives of the Covenant between God and Israel.

And John was to be a Nazarite from birth. The practical consequences of this were that being consecrated he could not drink alcohol nor have his hair cut. In many ways Nazarites were like Old Testament monks and nuns. Nazarites could take lifelong or temporary consecration. John was to be a Nazarite from birth and for his whole life. Nazarites could also be priests or members of the laity.
The conception of John in a womb called “barren” also symbolised his vocation as a desert prophet. For from the barren wilderness would come forth a prophet proclaiming a message to prepare for the coming of Him whom is Life. Indeed the desert would blossom and bring forth truth, beauty and goodness.

There is barrenness in all our lives. There are aspects of all our lives I expect that are not bearing fruit. What should we do about them? Like those courageous women of faith in salvation history we need to bring our barrenness to God with all the faith we can muster and ask the Lord to make our lives fruitful according to His Will. Perhaps we do not see how they can be made fertile but God does not see things as we do!

Fr Ian

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Can this be right?

Reflection for Thursday of Advent 1

House built on rock

Thursday of Advent week 1
Matthew 7: 21 - 27

Can this be right? That to even those who know the Lord and have exercised miraculous gifts, the Lord might say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” Surely something is wrong here in the translation?

The reason our Lord warns us in this way is that we have a tremendous capacity for self-deception. We might think we know the Lord, but we might well have deceived ourselves. So how can we know that we are the Lord’s?

Well we are apt to see miraculous gifts as proof that we are on God’s side. Surely if someone is exorcising demons or doing other might acts in the name of the Lord, that person is on the way to salvation? We might seek signs in the world that suggest that we are going the right way.

In fact that may not be the case, as the Lord warns us. We draw closer to the Lord through grace. According to Catholic teaching there is a distinction made between sanctifying grace and the graces we might call charismatic. Particular charismatic graces are for the building up of the whole Church but are not necessarily signs that we are close to God and truly know Him! Sanctifying grace alone makes us fit for heaven. Sacramental grace is grace proper to each of the Sacraments and sanctifies us. Charismatic gifts are not for our own sanctification, they are for the whole Church in order to build the Church up and to save souls.

Grace is not something we can feel. Grace is of the supernatural order. Because of this, we cannot tell through our feelings whether or not we are growing in grace. So the question then is how do we know we are growing in sanctification?

There is only one sure test. The answer is given by our Lord in the gospel today: “he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Sanctifying grace is manifested through conforming our will to the Father’s will. We conform our will to the Father’s will through knowing our Lord Jesus Christ (in prayer, sacraments, and Holy Scripture) and, most importantly, by obeying Him. This, and only this, will reveal to us that we are growing in sanctifying grace.

So the Lord invites us to build our house on the rock, which is listening to our Lord Jesus Christ and obeying Him.

Fr Ian

Saturday, 2 December 2017

END THINGS 4 - Heaven and Hell

Incorporeal things are not in place after a manner known and familiar to us, in which way we say that bodies are properly in place; but they are in place after a manner befitting spiritual substances, a manner that cannot be fully manifest to us."
[St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Supplement, Q69, a1, reply 1]

This is quite a philosophical statement so don’t worry too much if it doesn’t fully make sense. But I show it to you so you know where I am coming from!
·         It is better (as St Thomas Aquinas suggested above) to begin by thinking that heaven and hell are less places and more to do with a state of being. When we die our souls do not, as such, go to a location but rather are in a state of being.
·         Pope St John Paul II explained this in some of his Wednesday audiences in Rome. He said that if we imagine them as places we immediately limit them to our temporal order in which they do not belong.
·         Both Heaven and Hell are eternal destinations, and no one travels from one to the other. Fallen Angels (Demons) cannot be redeemed and Angels of God cannot fall. Saints cannot sin in heaven etc.
·         We of course use images of things we experience in this temporal order to try to explain what heaven is like, or hell is like. After all Jesus did this. He talked about Hell as Gehenna which was the rubbish dump of Jerusalem where there was always rubbish burning (and incidentally where the previous occupants of the land had performed child sacrifice to the ‘god’ Moloch – it was a place of horror for the Jews). Jesus also talked about heaven as a banquet or wedding feast (remembering wedding feasts went on for days for Jews!).
·         Most people in our secularising society believe one of two things:-
·         “Heaven and Hell do not exist and there is no life everlasting.”
·         “Hell might exist but hardly anyone goes there; and pretty much everyone (and their pets) go to heaven.”
·         “Hell is not eternal but where the soul is extinguished.” RESPONSE ® of course we don’t like the idea of anyone going to hell, but God has given us eternal souls, this means they cannot be extinguished.
·         “Heaven isn’t worth thinking about too much, what you need to do is get on with making this life better!” RESPONSE ® This can lead us to sleep walk in to hell – for we cannot earn heaven through good works – we need to know who saves us and what He asks us to do in order to be saved in Him!

·        Heaven is the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God
·         The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
…this perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed is called ‘heaven'. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. CCC.1024
Heaven – in the Holy Scriptures
·         Metaphorically speaking, heaven is understood as the dwelling-place of God, who is thus distinguished from human beings (cf. Ps 104:2f.; 115:16; Is 66:1). He sees and judges from the heights of heaven (cf. Ps 113:4-9) and comes down when he is called upon (cf. Ps 18:9, 10; 144:5). However the biblical metaphor makes it clear that God does not identify himself with heaven, nor can he be contained in it (cf. 1 Kgs 8:27); and this is true, even though in some passages of the First Book of the Maccabees "Heaven" is simply one of God's names.
·         The depiction of heaven as the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God is joined with that of the place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend, as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch (cf. Gn 5:24) and Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs 2:11). Thus heaven becomes an image of life in God. In this sense Jesus speaks of a "reward in heaven" (Mt 5:12) and urges people to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (ibid., 6:20; cf. 19:21).
·         The New Testament amplifies the idea of heaven in relation to the mystery of Christ. To show that the Redeemer's sacrifice acquires perfect and definitive value, the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus "passed through the heavens" (Heb 4:14), and "entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself" (ibid., 9:24). Since believers are loved in a special way by the Father, they are raised with Christ and made citizens of heaven. It is worthwhile listening to what the Apostle Paul tells us about this in a very powerful text: "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:4-7). The fatherhood of God, who is rich in mercy, is experienced by creatures through the love of God's crucified and risen Son, who sits in heaven on the right hand of the Father as Lord.
·         After the course of our earthly life, participation in full life of communion with the Father thus comes through our insertion into Christ's paschal mystery. St Paul emphasizes our meeting with Christ in heaven at the end of time with a vivid spatial image: "Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words" (1 Thes 4:17-18).
Sacramental life is anticipation of heaven
·         In the context of Revelation, we know that the "heaven" or "happiness" in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.
·         It is always necessary to maintain a certain restraint in describing these "ultimate realities" since their depiction is always unsatisfactory.
·         The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up the Church's teaching on this truth: "By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has "opened' heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ" (n. 1026).
Experiencing something of heaven now
·         This final state, however, can be anticipated in some way today in sacramental life, whose centre is the Eucharist, and in the gift of self through fraternal charity. If we are able to enjoy properly the good things that the Lord showers upon us every day, we will already have begun to experience that joy and peace which one day will be completely ours. We know that on this earth everything is subject to limits, but the thought of the "ultimate" realities helps us to live better the "penultimate" realities. We know that as we pass through this world we are called to seek "the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God" (Col 3:1), in order to be with him in the eschatological fulfilment, when the Spirit will fully reconcile with the Father "all things, whether on earth or in heaven" (Col 1:20).
“This is good and pleasing to God our saviour, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”      1 Timothy 2:3-4
·         THE CONSEQUENCE OF THE GIFT OF FREE WILL: God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself forever from joyful communion with Him.
·         Before death redemption remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely. This is why they will all be judged "by what they [have done]" (Rv 20:13). After death there is no opportunity to change our mind.
·         Holy Scripture has a developing understanding of what happens to the dead – in the Old Testament it was gradually being revealed. In the New Testament hell is:-
·         a fiery furnace, where people will "weep and gnash their teeth" (Mt 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41)  ;
·         like Gehenna with its "unquenchable fire" (Mk 9:43) ;
·         the parable of the rich man - which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain (cf. Lk. 16:19-3 1)  ;
·         the Book of Revelation also figuratively portrays in a "pool of fire" those who exclude themselves from the book of life, thus meeting with a "second death" (Rv. 20:13f.) ;
·         whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for 'eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’ (2 Thes 1:9) ;
·         Rather than a place as such, hell is the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, who is the source of all life and joy;
To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell'.   CCC1033
·         Eternal damnation remains a real possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell — and even less the improper use of biblical images — must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan. (Rm. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).
We are saved from going to hell by Jesus who conquered Satan
·         Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying "yes" or "no", which marks the human creature's freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God's love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council, DS 800-801). What happened to them is a warning to us:
…it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus who lived his life with a "yes" to God.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

END THINGS - 3 Purgatory

My notes from a talk I gave after mass last Sunday:


Both reason and faith tell us that there is a middle ground of expiation, where the soul is cleansed from all stain of sin before it can enter the glory of heaven. "There shall not enter into it anything defiled" (Apoc. 21:27). Christ said, "Amen, I say to thee, thou will not come out from it until thou hast paid the last penny" (Matt. 5:26). Even persons who deny the existence of purgatory instinctively pray for their loved ones who have died. There would be great inconsistency if their reason did not tell them that their prayers would do the dead good. Prayers are useless for those in heaven or hell.

Because God is both just and merciful. Purgatory is for the good of the soul, not because God enjoys inflicting pain.
 The logic of purgatory springs from two facts:- our imperfection on earth, and our perfection in heaven.

·         A temporary destination – heaven & hell are eternal destinations.
·         It is for those who are neither good enough for heaven nor bad enough for hell (see CCC1030). It is for those souls who after receiving Baptism committed sins but have been absolved of all mortal sins. This is decided at the Particular Judgement (session 2).
·         It is to gain sanctity needed to enter into the joy of heaven.
·         It is the final purification for the elect which is entirely different to punishment of damned.

St Catherine of Genoa says that although purgatory is incomparably painful (because we see all the horror of our own sins – and we cannot do anything about them ourselves) yet it is incomparably joyful because God is with us there, and we are learning to endure the truth, His light. It is joyful also because all those in purgatory are assured of their eventual entrance into heaven.

It really helps to understand the difference between the 2 effects of sin:-

a.       Eternal effects of sin affect our relationship with God – after sinning it is restored through repentance and sacrament of penance (‘confession’).
b.      Temporal effects of sin affect our neighbour, ourselves and the world – we need to do penance for this – this is for justice, this is for our healing (remedial)  - we begin to address this through the penance we do from Confession but that is just the beginning – we can do penance for one another’s sins as well as our own (Our Lady of Fatima asked the children seers to offer a rosary each day for a penance for sinners) à see also indulgences.

While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the ‘old man’ and to put on the ‘new man.’   (CCC1473)

The purgation of purgatory is for our cleansing, our healing, our preparation for heaven – it is also penance for all the sin we have not done penance for in this life.

·         Penance is an act that is contributing to our conversion.
·         The Church allocates Fridays and Lent as special times to do Penance. We abstain from meat collectively on a Friday as a corporate penance for the sins of all members of the Church. And Lent is a special time to do penance for sin. However we can do penance at any time. Any sacrifice or suffering can be offered up as a penance.
We can also ask for a mass to be offered as reparation for sin (general or specific sins).

·         Why pray for the dead? It is common for people to pray for the dead. Why do this if prayer does nothing to help them?
·         Of course we do not know if a particular person is in purgatory for we cannot judge them. However we pray as if they are in purgatory.
·         To pray for the holy souls in purgatory is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
·         The holy soul in purgatory can do nothing to avail itself of grace (for that is only possible in this life). However, the soul in purgatory CAN benefit from our prayers.

·         The highest and most effective prayer for the holy souls in purgatory is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By having a Mass offered for the intention of a soul or souls in purgatory, we offer in this world the best help to the holy souls.

·         The next most effective prayer is the Holy Rosary. Piously praying a Holy Rosary for the intention of holy souls in purgatory is the most effective thing we can do without the aid of a priest offering a mass.

·         Remembering to pray for the holy souls in purgatory on a regular basis. E.g. “May the souls of the faithful in the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.”

·         Almsgiving :- by making gifts to charitable causes ; this pious act offered for the holy souls is also an effective act of intercessory reparation (St John Chrysostom recommended this).

·         Piously offering acts of sacrifice or charity for the benefit of the souls in purgatory can be another helpful and effective thing to do.

REMEMBER! Those souls in purgatory who are hastened to heaven by our prayer will undoubtedly pray for us from heaven. This can be another motivation to pray for the dead.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Ordinariate Priests' Retreat at Buckfast Abbey

This last week St Mary's Abbey, Buckfast, was the venue for the Ordinariate's Priests' Retreat, to which wives were able to attend too. Throughout the week we were able to sing our liturgy in the Mass and Daily Offices together with Adoration and Benediction. We had times of silence and also times for fellowship. And into this basic framework we also had retreat addresses by Mgr John Armitage - a great friend of the Ordinariate and also Rector of the National Shrine to Our Lady at Walsingham. Further to all this we also enjoyed the comfort and meals at the Northgate House of the Abbey.

The Ordinary addresses us after Dinner

During the retreat we took time out to visit the Ordinariate's Personal Parish Church in Torbay. We were all very impressed by the step of faith both their Pastor and his people had made. In fact many of them called it: 'inspiring'.

What Father David and their community had done was to buy a redundant Methodist Church and to begin converting it into a Church for the Ordinariate. It has now been erected as a Personal Parish of the Ordinariate, and Father David made the first Parish Priest.

Though the regular congregation is small, they have plenty of faith and enthusiasm and under the guidance of Father David are accomplishing things many thought unlikely to happen. The most important thing is perhaps the growth in devotional and prayer life of its members. This has been helped by Sr Mary Joseph being connected to the parish (she is a sister under hermit vows under the Ordinariate). They now have daily Mass in the Ordinariate's rite and have plans to begin also publicly saying Mattins and Evensong daily.

All this they are accomplishing on a shoestring budget, with faith and not a little hardship especially by Fr David, his wife and family. However this is also something that inspires others, and the Ordinary announced that a supporter of the Ordinariate had just given £60,000 for the project.

The current project is to convert one of the halls into a presbytery. The original estimate for the conversion seemed achievable so they began to proceed only to find that the tenders came back £60,000 more than estimated. It seemed the plans would stall. However the Ordinary happened to mention it to a supporter in London, who upon hearing this news got out his cheque-book and wrote out a cheque for the amount needed!

No doubt there will continue to be difficulties on the journey of this new Catholic church in the Southwest. While so often the talk is about closing churches, what this small community of Catholic Christians show is that with faith, commitment, enthusiasm and the willingness to suffer for their Lord astounding things are possible.

May Our Lady of Walsingham and St Cuthbert Mayne pray for them.

The main door of the Personal Parish Church of Our Lady of Walsingham with St Cuthbert Mayne, in Chelston, Torbay

Father David sharing the story so far. Behind him the temporary sanctuary. The Organ will be moved in due course in order to provide for a large sanctuary.

One of the stations of the cross
The Lady Chapel
Fr David

The Ordinary, his wife, Mgr Armitage et al

Explaining the plans for the Presbytery

Listening to the plans

The hierarchy is honoured here with a photograph of the Ordinary, the head of the Ordinariate, under the Successor of Peter, our present Pope Francis

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Last Things Part 2 - Judgment


 …it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment Hebrews 9:27

What is Judgment in the Christian sense?
As we saw in the last session, “death puts an end to human life as a time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.” (CCC 1021) So the opportunity to repent is now over. God’s mercy and compassion is expressed in giving us a life in which to use our freedom of will either to be for Him or against Him. God the Father has bestowed on us, through His Son, many opportunities to cooperate with grace. The more we have been offered, the more is expected of us. Judgment is then the application of truth and justice.
There are two sorts of judgment that occur. One occurs before Christ comes again at the end of time, and the other occurs following His second coming (known as the “parousia” – see diagram above). One form of judgment is applied individually to a person’s life, the other is applied collectively.
Particular Judgment – “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – through a purification or immediately – or immediate and everlasting damnation.” CCC 1022
General Judgment (Last Judgment) – this occurs after the second coming of Christ and will be dealt with in a later session on the Parousia. It is not judgment of an individual but in a way a corporate judgment.

Judgment is the application of Truth to our lives
Particular Judgment is made by Christ upon our lives. It is the coming of divine truth to the way we have spent the gift of our lives.

Isn’t God being harsh?
The concept of being held to account for our moral decisions can seem to some modern ears as a harsh thing! But divine judgment is not the arbitrary whim of a powerful being who somehow enjoys inflicting punishments. Holy Scripture tells us that God desires all men to be saved. God judges us while desiring all to be saved but also honouring the fact that He has created us all in His image with freedom of will.
It is the consequence of our freedom of will that has made us culpable for our sins. God has given us baptism to free us from the consequences of sin (original & personal). God has given us grace to be able to resist temptation. God has revealed to us in Scripture and Tradition what sin is and how serious it is. But as free beings we have the capability of going against His revelation and grace, and going our own way and sinning.
There are always consequences to our sin. It is never purely just between us and God. Sin affects everything (just as charity affects everything). These consequences of our sin we and others can experience in this life as suffering.  Judgment is about the reality of these consequences being fully revealed.

The apostles said, Who then can be saved?
In Christ, the Father has given us, His children, in our weakness, the ability to be forgiven and healed in Christ’s Church. As you listen to the gospels, do you not notice how often our Lord says to someone, “Your sins are forgiven”? He says this often even when He is healing a physical ailment. It is His divine Mission to rescue us from the consequences of choosing to sin because without His rescue we are doomed.
However Christ does not compel us to take His medicine. We still have freedom of will. So after Baptism we can still sin. But God has, of course, thought of that. On the day of Resurrection, when Christ breathed the Holy Spirit on the 11 Apostles, He said to them, “Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven, and those whose sins you retain, are retained.”
In this life God has given the baptised the means, through His Church, of being forgiven and healed of our sin. The means consists of doing the following:-
1.      Examining our lives with a view to repentance – using Holy Scripture, Tradition and the teaching of the Church to determine if we have disobeyed God’s Law ;
2.      Compunction - being sorry for our sins, for the way they have offended God ;
3.      Purposing to amend our lives – even if we know we are struggling, we still need this purpose;
4.      Obtain absolution – ‘going to Confession’ with a catholic priest ;
5.      Penance – acts of reparation that show our sorrow and are seeking to make amends ;
6.      Receiving Holy Communion frequently while in a state of grace;
7.      Prayer – maintaining closeness to God and trusting in His Promises.
It is possible that by this way we can be released from all the consequences of our sins no matter what the sins are. We can this way not only avoid hell, but it is possible to avoid purgatory as well.
This gift of our redemption by Christ on the Cross should be something that always amazes us and causes us to rejoice. This tremendous gift of being able to be reconciled with God and being able to do penance now for our sins is one we should never take for granted nor neglect. How tragic it would be to come to our particular judgment with sins that we could have had absolved but for no good reason we didn’t go to confession? This is why the Church requires all its members (who can physically do so) to go to confession at minimum once a year. She makes it a Precept of our life of grace out of love for us!

The result of particular judgment
There are only two possibilities for eternity - they are called heaven and hell. It is either the blessedness of heaven or the damnation of hell. It is either to be with God for eternity or separated from Him for eternity. We may temporarily be held back from Heaven for a time of purification (known as Purgatory), but every soul in Purgatory will come to Heaven sooner or later before the parousia.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)