Monday, 26 November 2018

King of minds, wills, hearts and bodies

Pope Pius XI in 1929
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: this is a relatively recent feast introduced by the church only in 1925. The holy father back then, Pope Pius XI, instituted this feast as a way of opposing what he saw as growing secularism and nationalism.

In secularism, God is relegated to a personal choice and to be kept private. For the secularist to bring up the subject of God and religion is to make an imposition upon others. What secularism is saying is that God doesn’t have jurisdiction over the world that we know, just to do with something private or personal to the individual if they are into that sort of thing. As we know, that is what is happening in the society we live.

Nationalism is to over emphasise the role of the nation state, and to make it into the goal of life to promote its power. In nationalism one could think that one’s nation is key to a glorious future of humanity. We only have to consider the 20th century and the disastrous nationalist delusions of Germany in Europe, and Japan in the East, to realise how terrible this error can become.

Both secularism and nationalism fail to acknowledge that Christ our Lord has sovereignty over everyone. That Christ our God is Lord of heaven and earth, and we are His subjects both in the Kingdom to come, but also in the world we now live in. So, by celebrating this feast, Pope Pius XI, hoped we Catholics would be reminded of the errors of both secularism and nationalism by reminding us of Christ’s kingship.

Basis of Christ's Kingship
The Kingship of Christ is founded first on the unity within Himself – that Christ is both man and God. He is not a little bit of both mixed together – He is both a man, and as God the Son fully united with God the Father. He is the eternal, Word of God, and through Him all things were made. This is expressed literally in the creation accounts of Genesis when everything is created by the word of God: “God said, Let there be light. And there was light.” So therefore, as everything was created through Him, Christ has a total dominion over every creature including Angels and Men.

Secondly, Christ is also our King because of the Redemption. He redeemed us by His crucifixion. We were bought by Him, and thus we no longer belong to ourselves. In accepting Him as our Redeemer we accept becoming His subjects.

And thirdly, Christ told us at the end of the gospel, “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28)

So what does this mean for us?
Let us hear Pope Pius XI's answer:

"If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God." (Pope Pius XI)

So, this feast is reminding us of how we are to reach the goal of this life, which is the heavenly Kingdom. In heaven we freely allow Christ total sovereignty over all our faculties. We cannot reach heaven without doing this. And this life is about getting closer to that goal by the grace Christ gives us through His Church.

So, we must make sure we allow ourselves to be educated by Him, that our minds may become subject to Him. We must train our wills to obey His commands and to grow in virtue. We must train our hearts to desire Christ above all things in this life. And we must train our bodies that they serve our souls and not be merely there for self-gratification, but that our bodies help us grow in holiness.

Thus may we celebrate Christ our King – King of our minds, wills, hearts and bodies.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

The dead, the lukewarm and the hated

"I will spew you out of my mouth..."

The dead, the lukewarm and the hated

In the Book of the Apocalypse we heard of those of Sardis (3:1-6) who claimed to be Christian but did not live according to the teachings of Christ. “You have the name of being alive, and you are dead.” Christ exhorted these Christians-by-name-only to repentance; and Christ also warned them – He would come to judge them unexpectedly.

In Laodicea there was a different problem among Christians (3:14-22): their relative affluence, and sense of self-sufficiency and comfort from their relative wealth, had made them “lukewarm” or indifferent towards the faith. Christ warns them that in fact they are far from being rich and comfortable, at least in terms of the kingdom – the truth is, He says, is that they are pitiable, wretched, poor, blind, and naked. They needed to face up to the truth!

The Truth visited Zacchaeus in person. The account of Zacchaeus in the gospel is a real-life example of what Jesus taught about repentance and conversion. In repentance we essentially turn away from our sin with resolve to change, and conversion is about actually changing our lives.

Like most tax-collectors of his day, Zacchaeus was basically hated by most Jews for cheating them and for collaborating with the occupying armies of the Roman Empire. Yet when Christ sought Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus responded. What is crucial here is the response of Zacchaeus to Christ, not the magnitude or gravity of his sins. Zacchaeus responded to Christ with a repentant spirit and a desire for conversion.

Zacchaeus pledge himself to several life changing things: to detach himself from his wealth, to compensate those he had cheated, and thus providing reparation for the injustice he had committed and satisfaction for his sins. And through these actions he welcomed the love of Christ and, not only that, but desired to respond to Christ in still greater ways. His repentance was complete. He was restored to the grace of God.
This movement of the heart in repentance resulting in conversion is the fundamental change we all need. Let us approach Christ in this Eucharist as Zacchaeus approached Christ; let us do so in repentance seeking the grace for the true conversion of our lives. Let us not be Christians-by-name-only; and let us not be found by Christ to be lukewarm!

Apocalypse 3:1-6,14-22  ;   Luke 19:1-10

Friday, 2 November 2018

Children of men

P.D. James' novel presented a dystopian Britain with no children. The film based on the book showed graphically a Britain which was losing all hope because it had lost its children. The sad truth is that people do not generally realise that Britain is in reality losing its children, as are many Europeans.

Couples are delaying having children and many are not having them at all. Overall this means the average number of children per female head of population is below replacement level (1.7). As we are living longer because of the success of medicine, it means that this low birth rate is economically disastrous. Where people are free to move across country borders then this has meant that richer countries tend to drain poorer countries of their most enterprising and brightest citizens. The richer country replaces the 'lost' children with other country's children. This masks the problem of course and is very unfair for the poorer countries.

Some governments are waking up to this. Just recently I have read of two: Hungary and Italy.

Italy's populist government plans to reward parents who have a third child by awarding them a piece of land, in a bid to reverse the country's plummeting birth rate.
The plan, cooked up by the far-right League and included in the draft budget for next year, would see the state hand over parcels of agricultural land for 20 years to parents who have a third child between 2019 and 2021.
'They say that Italians have few children and that something is needed to turn the trend around,' said agriculture minister Gian Marco Centinaio.
'That's why the ministry wants to contribute, favouring rural areas in particular, where people still have children,' he added.
Italy has the lowest birthrate in Europe. 
Last year, about 464,000 births were registered, a record low, leaving Italy with a significantly older population and a demographic time bomb.

Meanwhile in Hungary the government has begun surveying households asking how they can help them have more babies:

The Hungarian government wants to reverse its own demographic decline the old fashioned way: by making it easier for the nation’s own citizens to have bigger families.   more... 

Sadly something similar has been happening amongst many Catholics since the rebellion against Church teaching on artificial contraception, after St Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae. The rebellion against the Church's clear teaching has meant catholic families having fewer children. Fewer children has also meant fewer priests and religious. And I would suggest it has also had a spiritual impact because the great sin of rejecting the teaching of the Church has meant a loss of faith and many Catholic children choosing to lapse as they grow older. What I wonder is whether the hierarchy of the Church is going to wake up to this and start encouraging Catholic couples to have more children?

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Good news! A people's missal is here!

It is wonderful news for the Ordinariates that now a people's edition of the mass, propers and lections is available in this SUNDAY MISSAL - at an affordable price too. Well done to CTS for doing this!

One of the things about our lectionary is that we use the RSVCE edition of the Bible, which personally I have found to be a much better translation of the Greek & Hebrew than the usual lectionary used in England and Wales. The RSV was always the reference for our translations when I was learning NT Greek. So I am really pleased the laity have a handy edition so they can meditate on the lections before and after Mass.

The other, but often overlooked thing, are the Propers of the Mass. These jewels for meditation are offered to us at each mass. I personally find they frequently speak to me some important word from the Lord. Sadly they are too often neglected and perhaps regarded as optional dressing to the mass. This is wrong. In the Liturgy God reveals to us His Word and not just in the lections but also the propers. They also have the advantage of being short and just begging to be used in meditation at a quiet moment of the day.

If you want to order a copy from CTS then go here.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Slipper chapel at Walsingham

Climbing that mountain - reflections for All Saints

Reflections on the Solemnity of All Saints

Trying to live the Christian life is frequently likened to climbing a mountain. In the gospel for All Saints we hear our Lord delivering his main teaching about discipleship from a mountaintop. It is not easy being a Christian, and it is like climbing a mountain. But why?
A whitewashed tomb
As we listen to our Lord it becomes clear that Christ wanted disciples that were not just obedient to laws but who were virtuous. He did not want followers who just kept an outward observance of the Law of Moses. Our Lord was interested in the heart not just visible actions. He was therefore interested in what precedes our actions; He was interested in the source of our actions - the source of our thoughts or motivations. The Christian life is hard because we not only have to strive to do the right thing, but we must also strive to think the right thing and desire the right thing. Our Lord’s greatest criticism was not directed towards those publicly regarded as sinners, but to those whose sin was hidden by outward righteousness. He called them whitewashed sepulchres! Outwardly they seemed clean, but inwardly they were dead!

In the Sermon on the Mount He sets out His moral teaching (i.e. how we are to live) based not merely on outward adherence to God’s laws, but a much more demanding teaching based at the level of the heart. The heart, in the Christian sense is not the seat of our emotions, but it is the mysterious centre of our being where our will is located, and from our heart issues thoughts and desires. We could put it this way, healing our heart is central to becoming the disciple Christ wants us to be – it is central to becoming a saint!

Let us think about a moral command like: do not steal. When morality is brought to the level of the heart, then we are guilty of theft, not just when we perform the action of stealing something, but from the moment we consent to the thought of stealing something. Once we give our will to it in our heart, then we have broken the commandment and committed a sin and possibly a grave sin. We may not ever actually steal anything physically speaking, but by consenting to it in our hearts we have broken the commandment – and this is a very grave matter in most circumstances. The same principle applies to all the commandments. Remember what our Lord taught about adultery? Someone commits adultery by consenting to it in their hearts. Consent is the crucial thing. The moment we say ‘Yes’ to a sinful idea, a sinful thought, a sinful desire, then we have crossed the line. Of course, thoughts come to us, even our Lord was tempted, but the moment we consent in our hearts to that sinful thought we commit that sin, we break that commandment.

Today we remember the Saints in glory. The innumerable hosts of Saints in heaven whose names we do not know. And it can seem that their holiness is very far from us – it seems we are at the base of the mountain, and they are at the top. So it is important that you understand one very important thing: we cannot reach the top by our own effort! The reason our Lord makes such high demands on His disciples, on you and me, is that He provides us with something that is key to climbing the mountain. He provides us with one of two key things to healing our hearts: grace. The other thing is our repentance – we must decide to repent.

So let us climb that mountain towards the Saints with both feet: one repentance and the other grace. Amen.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Washing hands

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8 / James 1:17-18,21-22,27 / Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

As Jesus was going about His work of healing, a team of Pharisees and Scribes gang up to pose Him an accusatory question. The Pharisees were a movement of Jews that sought to restore God’s favour to Israel by a kind of strict observance of the Law and total separation from Gentile defilement. And Scribes were not just copyists but scholars of the Law, and these in the gospel, from Jerusalem, held special authority. They were all scandalised by how the disciples of Jesus ate their meals.

The phrase used in the gospel is literally “eat their breads”. There is probably an allusion here to the miracle of multiplication of loaves and thus the eating of bread in the wilderness without following the cleansing rituals the Pharisees advocated.

Let us be clear here. This is not about hygiene. This is about ritual purity. The Law of Moses had prescribed the ritual washing of hands and feet for priests when they were serving at the altar, before they offered sacrifice. The Pharisee’s oral tradition of the interpretation the Law had expanded this ritual, which was just for priests serving at the altar, to every Jew. And it made every meal a ritual of Jewish identity. Moreover, any contact with potentially unclean persons in the marketplace or wherever would necessitate a ritual washing. All items that were used in food preparation also had to be ritually washed.

Now, not all Jews kept this interpretation of the Law at the time of Jesus. But there was a general expectation, encouraged by the Pharisees, that everyone would, and those who did not were despised by the Pharisees as the “accursed” – ordinary folk who were ignorant of the Law.

Now Jesus’ response to them probably takes them aback. He does not try to make an exception for His disciples – why they don’t need to fulfil these laws. Instead what Jesus does is undermine the whole edifice of the Pharisaic legal system! He calls them ‘hypocrites’ – that is, literally, ‘stage actors’. His accusers are people, He says, whose outward conduct does not correspond with the state of their heart – they are acting as if they are righteous, but their hearts are different.

Our Lord quotes from the prophet Isaiah. The context of that quote is Isaiah speaking to the Israelites who had lost a close connection with God. They served God with an empty formalism devoid of authentic love. Their worship was mere lip service. They performed inherited rituals that were not rooted in an interior conversion of their hearts. They spoke words outwardly that did not correspond with their hearts. They promoted their own superficial religiosity as a substitute for true obedience to God’s will.

Now God’s response to them at the time of Isaiah was not so much a threat as a promise. What God says through His prophet is that God will intervene in the lives of His people again with acts so wondrous that they will be moved to acknowledge Him as the God of the covenant and honour Him with authentic worship. That was the prophecy of Isaiah that Jesus was referring to and what He was thus saying to them is, ‘Now is that prophecy being fulfilled!’ Jesus is warning them that they are completely off-mark in the practice of their religion and are opposing God’s will.

His punchline in this exchange is ‘You disregard God’s commandments but cling to human tradition.’ Our Lord makes a scathing criticism of the Pharisees whole approach to religion. They have neglected what is truly of God in favour of their human agendas. They saw Gentiles as the threat and therefore used the Law to emphasise at every conceivable moment of the day how the Jews were different to them – using these ritual washings which were just intended for priests serving at the altar.

But of course, we can do a similar thing to the Pharisees. We too can have agendas that are an imposition of human ideas upon what God has commanded us to do. Human ideologies abound in our own time. For example, socialism, capitalism, or feminism. Of particular danger is the so-called gender ideology which directly opposes the Christian belief that God has given us a human nature, male and female, and that our souls and bodies are a unity. We must not be like the Pharisees and thus hypocrites, imposing human ideas that do not originate in God’s revealed Word – for then we begin to create our own religion as the Pharisees had done. We must strive after purity of heart which means a conversion of our hearts – a conversion in which God is given priority in our lives – a conversion by which eventually our desires are purified.

Obedience to the Law of Moses was meant to form the hearts of the Jews so that they could be an example to all the nations. The Law of Moses came to its climax and completion in Jesus Christ, and we, His disciples, are called to obey God and be examples to those around us. And that includes not following human ideologies and distorting our Faith in the process. What Christ wants of us is to be ‘doers of the Word’ not just ‘hearers’ of it. As St James tells us today in his epistle (letter), the Gospel was given to us that we might have a new birth by the Word of truth. The Word He has given us is a perfect gift and we should not add to it with human ideologies or practices. God has revealed to us through Christ everything we need to know in this life for our salvation and the salvation of all people. We do not need to add anything to it, for if we do then we become like the Pharisees Jesus opposed so strongly.

Let us strive after that which our Lord desired for all people – conversion of our hearts. Let us renounce our attachment to sinful affections and human ideologies, and instead let us rest in the Word of God and the Sacred Tradition which the Holy Spirit has guarded for us, that our hearts may be made pure and we may be effective witnesses of the Word of truth.
And let us ask ourselves honestly, “am I only paying lip-service in my worship?” and “to what extent am I just following human ideas in my daily life?”

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

United heart and soul

Tuesday after Easter 2

St Peter preaching

“The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul…” One of the striking descriptions of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles was its unity. Such was this unity that they even shared all their possessions. Such was the effect of the Resurrection and descent of the Holy Spirit that those early disciples looked to the things above and saw the things of the earth in true perspective. We are told that none of the believers was in want, each had what they needed.

Of course this would be too hard to continue to organise within the Church as it began to expand so quickly through the gentile world. Nevertheless this outward sign of the priority of the things above would continue to be present through the ages in the communities of monks and nuns, and then later in the mendicant orders (e.g. Franciscans).

This unity of the believing community remains a firm characteristic of the Church. The unity of the Church is not something that believers give to the Church. Unity is not a goal but is in fact something the Church possesses as being intrinsic to her very nature. She is one because Christ is one. Christ is one because He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

One of the problems with the Reformation is that in a way Protestants legitimated to themselves disunity. They reduced the criteria of unity to suite their situation. Unity became essentially an invisible thing, and it didn’t really matter that there were lots of separate groups of Protestants believing different things, because there was this invisible unity.

The Catholic Church refutes this understanding of unity. Unity is a characteristic of the Church which is the Body of Christ. Just as the Head and Body cannot be separated, so parts of the Body cannot be visibly separated either.

St Bede, in his homilies on the gospels, says, “The Spirit also comes of his own accord, because just as he is equal to the Father and the Son, so he has the same will in common with the Father and the Son.” St Bede was reflecting on the Spirit being likened to the wind which goes where it wills. What St Bede is reminding us is that this does not mean the Spirit is operating independently from the other two Persons of the Trinity. All three divine Persons are united. It is just that we, from our perspective, cannot fathom the mystery of the workings of the Holy Spirit.

So also in the Church there cannot be different versions of Christianity teaching different things as being true. There can be different cultural expressions of the truth but they must all be expressing the same deposit of faith. In the Catholic Church there is diversity of expression but one faith, because there is one teaching authority (the Magisterium). This teaching authority is Christ Himself teaching through those whom He gave authority to guide the Church in the truth (the Apostles with Peter as their head).

Of course it is possible for people to dissent from this teaching of the Church, but in doing so they are dissenting from the teaching of Christ. So let us pray for the unity of the Church, that all Disciples of Christ may accept the authority of the Church to teach the truth which the Holy Spirit imparts through the Bishops in communion with the Successor of St Peter. United in faith the Church will then be able to be much more effective in its mission, just as the early Church was so effective.

Fr Ian

Thursday, 22 March 2018

The only options: make your choice...

The options to choose are whether Jesus is wicked or insane, or whether he is divine?

Jesus scandalised the Pharisees by eating with tax collectors and sinners. He spoke against those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus scandalised them when He suggested that the mercy He showed to sinners was that of God’s own attitude to sinners; by sharing the table of sinners he was admitting them to the messianic banquet. Perhaps even more did He scandalise them by forgiving sins. Only God can forgive sins, so either Jesus was blaspheming or He was speaking the truth and was God.

Only if Jesus is truly divine can He justify such claims that would otherwise be scandal and blasphemy. So all who listen to the Gospel must decide, is Jesus insane/wicked or is He divine – there is no other option if we take the evidence seriously.

Jesus’ divine identity was gradually revealed in what He said. When He said, “He who is not with me is against me”, this could only be taken seriously if Jesus was divine. Similarly when He said, “something greater than Jonah… greater than Solomon”, and something “greater than the Temple” was there. His reminder that David called his Messiah his Lord, was also revealing the Messiah as being divine. But then we come to the gospel of today (Jn 8:51-59) and Jesus then makes it quite plain: “Amen. Amen. I say unto you, before Abraham was, I AM.” “I AM” was the divine name revealed by God to Moses at the burning bush.

Thus the Sanhedrin had to make a stark choice: was this man the Messiah God, or was Jesus a blasphemer deserving death? They made their choice and Jesus became the victim.

We too must make this choice. We make this choice when we accept the Christian faith as our faith. But we must also make this choice in the moral decisions of daily life. When we choose to sin, we choose to go against the way of Christ, and we thus make Him out to be a liar. Sin is an anti-Christ action, and in that sin we are identifying with the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus. When we resist temptation, we affirm that Jesus is God the Saviour.

Fr Ian

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Two Kingdoms

Many people today who have heard of Jesus, think He is a good chap. “He did lots of good things for people, didn’t he?” they might say. Indeed our Lord did many good works. He healed the sick, He taught the ignorant, He forgave sinners, and He restored lepers. This much most people are willing to accept as evidence of a good man. (In acknowledging this much they are of course conveniently ignoring that He also raised the dead, He exorcised demons, He disturbed as well as comforted, He angered some people until they hated Him, and He also claimed to be divine!)

Christ’s good works were not done however because He was a nice chap. They were signs. His mission was not to eradicate earthly evils: hunger, injustice, illness and death. Jesus performed messianic signs. He came not to abolish all evils on earth, but to free men from the greatest slavery, sin, which thwarts them in their vocation as God’s sons and daughters. The slavery of sin is the root cause of all forms of human bondage (Jn 8:34-36).

We need as Christians to appreciate that there are two kingdoms. One kingdom is of injustice, hunger, illness, misery, bondage and death – this is the kingdom of Satan. The Good News is that there is another kingdom – the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is justice, generosity, health, blessed happiness, freedom and life eternal. The kingdom of Satan enslaves and it does so through sin. People cannot just merely choose not to do unjust things etc.; they are enslaved into thinking that some things are good when they are actually evil in God’s eyes. They are also enslaved by habits of thinking and habits of deed which cloud their vision and make it difficult to change.

So Jesus performed messianic signs pointing to another reality, but He called on people to repent, and He forgave sins. In some cases He performed exorcisms which freed some people from the domination of demonic powers.

It is therefore no good just battling against injustice, or hunger, or any particular evil, because if one does not go to the root of the problem they will continue to spring up over and over again. The battle we wage as Christians, in Christ’s name and in Christ’s power, is against the principalities and powers of the kingdom of Satan, and it is against sin. We Christians work most of all to free others from their enslavement to sin, and consequently their blindness to what is actually evil.

Fr Ian

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

I have come not to abolish the Law

Wednesday of week 3 of Lent

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 – and we do this even with God! 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 much 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, 6 March 2018

The limits of forgiveness

Today Peter comes to our Lord enquiring about the limits of forgiveness. And he puts into words this very human approach to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a costly business. When we are the victim of someone else’s wrongdoing, when we have been hurt and paid a price for another’s transgression, then it is very hard to forgive. It seems like justice to say that there should be a limit to forgiveness. We should only have to go so far to forgive someone; after all it is not our fault that they sinned against us.
One thing we need to be clear about is that forgiveness is not about stopping our feelings of hurt, nor is it forgetting what has happened. We can’t of course just stop feeling hurt, nor can we just forget! What forgiveness is to do with is our heart. Our Lord’s words at the end of the gospel (Mt 18:21-end) exhort us to forgive from the heart. It is within the heart that everything is bound or loosed (see CCC 2843). It is the heart that hands itself over to the Holy Spirit that will turn hurt into compassion, and memory into intercession. Then the heart of a forgiving man shares in the victory of the cross of Christ: “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.”

The parable in our gospel reading today should shock us. The enormous debt of 10,000 talents would have been millions of denarii. The unmerciful servant obtained forgiveness for his own debt but was merciless with a servant who owed him a far smaller debt. The point our Lord is making should not be lost on us. He has forgiven us much, and our Lord has done so freely and completely, requiring us only to be repentant, but in fact there is another aspect. If we freely benefit and partake in the infinite mercy of God, then that divine mercy needs to start flowing from us. We should not forget the covenant of mercy we enter into whenever we pray the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

It is of course a great work we are called to. The world would counsel us to either “forget about it” or that “vengeance is sweet”. But the Lord’s way is divine mercy that has no limit (that’s the meaning of 70 times 7).

It might seem strange at times that the church encourages us to confess our sins so frequently, and to confess things that most other people would simply just forget about, but with a greater sense of our sinfulness and sorrow for our own sin comes a greater sense of the mercy of God. With that greater sense of His compassion for us, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we too can learn to forgive with a mercy that has no limits.

Fr Ian

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Hierarchy and Equality

Image result for hierarchy equality

Hierarchy AND Equality

Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi, to which the priests and those in charge of religious activities belonged. Nor was Jesus part of any religious party or association – he was not a Pharisee nor a Sadducee. He was on the side of the common man and He saw how the leaders of God’s people acted.

However even from the perspective of seeing how poor the leaders were (not practicing what they preached and not being merciful) our Lord does not suggest doing away with them. Our Lord wants leaders who are not so much concerned about what they look like nor what others think about them, but men of integrity and who are humble. No religious leader should stand in the way of a person and their God. Jesus makes this point by saying “Call no one Rabbi”, “Call no one Father” and “Call no one Teacher”. Jesus is not banning the normal use of these words, because the words would then just drop from usage and lose their meaning. Jesus is making His point through hyperbole and it is not to be taken literally.*

We are being reminded today of the profound equality of all children of God. No member of the Church should think themselves better than others. No one should be seeking titles and honours. We all share an equal dignity given us by God through our creation, and new creation in Christ by baptism. However our Lord does not suggest bringing down the hierarchy! The Church has a hierarchy but no member of the hierarchy should consider themselves better than anyone else. Each member of the Church is called to grow in holiness and draw closer to God, and each of us must strive to do that through the grace given us through the Holy Spirit – this is true of priests, bishops and popes, as well as the Religious and the Laity. We are all in the same boat struggling against sin and seeking grace to grow in Christ and bear the fruit of the Spirit. Yes we should honour those that sit in the seat of the Apostles because through them we honour the Apostolic and therefore Christ, but the man who sits in the seat is not better than anyone else. We are all where we are through the grace of God alone.

Each member of the Church has their vocation and their work to be doing. We must all pay one another the respect due to our dignity in Christ, and we all must pray for one another that we will resist temptation and grow in the life of grace.


Fr Ian

* “father” is used in the New Testament referring to human fathers (Heb 12:7-11) and spiritual fathers (1 Cor 4:15 ; Philem 10), and this emphasises Jesus was not intending His words be taken literally.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

See today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster.

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

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 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

Friday, 9 February 2018

Quick Guide to Keeping Lent

Quick guide to keeping Lent

Holy Mother Church offers to bring order to our lives through her Calendar and not least the cycles of feasts and the seasons of the Year. As well as calling us to days of feasting she also calls us to days of penance. She designates every Friday (except on solemnities) and the season of Lent as days of penance.

What is meant by penance?

While we might have a fair idea what keeping a feast might entail, it might not be entirely clear what we should be doing on a day of penance. Let us look at a definition:-

PENANCE - The virtue or disposition of heart by which one repents of one's own sins and is converted to God. Also the punishment by which one atones for sins committed, either by oneself or by others. And finally the sacrament of penance, where confessed sins committed after baptism are absolved by a priest in the name of God. (Etym. Latin paenitentia, repentance, contrition.)

So ‘penance’ is used in three ways as defined above. And all three are helpful to us as we try to understand what a season of penance might involve.

·         One of the key words to grasp is that of conversion. Unless we are a saint we are in need of conversion. We need to convert those parts of our lives which are opposed to God, that is, that are sinful. We need to convert those sinful parts of our lives so that we not only avoid sin but also grow instead in godly virtue.

·         Another key concept is that of voluntarily taking a punishment that atones for sin. This is an act which we unite with Christ on the cross who Himself voluntarily took the punishment of sin upon Himself so that we could be saved from sin.

·         Penance as a punishment for sin can be done not only for one’s own sin, but the sin of others. To be clear, our acts of penance are not, in any way, replacing the redemption won for us by Christ. Our acts of penance are a uniting of ourselves voluntarily with Christ’s suffering on the cross because of our sin and the sin of others.

What are the acts of penance I should do?

Holy Mother Church does not specify in detail the acts of penance we should do. She obliges us to keep days of abstinence (abstaining from meat on Fridays) and she obliges us to keep a fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but otherwise she does not specify our acts of penance.
So the question is, how should we choose our acts of penance?

Holy Mother Church gives us guidance not least through the words of our Lord. There are three broad types of penance: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These three traditional ways of doing penance come from the teaching of our Lord in St Matthew’s gospel, and which we hear at the Ash Wednesday Mass (Mt 6:1f).

Now we might wonder why these three things are the types of acts of penance we should be doing in Lent. Well they pertain to the three broad areas of conversion needed by us all: our bodies/flesh, our relationship with God, and our relationship with our neighbour. Fasting includes all acts that are related to the conversion of our bodily desires and the mortification of the flesh (as St Paul and Holy Tradition understands this, but certainly not in a kind of way the Gnostics believed i.e. that the physical body was evil). Prayer relates to the conversion of our relationship with God. And almsgiving is about the commandment to love our neighbour and the conversion of our relationship to our fellow man.

So each Friday and each day of Lent Mother Church calls us to perform at least one act of penance: an act of fasting, an act of prayer or an act of almsgiving (act of charity towards our fellow man).

Doing them in secret

In Matthew 6 our Lord is very clear that we should not parade our acts of penance. They should be done in secret and we should hide them from others. There is a great danger with such voluntary spiritual practices that we grow in pride (the deadliest of all the deadly vices). We must avoid anything that communicates “look at me I have voluntarily done these penances for sin…” If we fall into pride we are clearly in a worse situation than if we had not done any penance at all.

Sacrament of Penance

All of this should also lead us to the confessional for the Sacrament of Penance. As we grow in understanding of ourselves and our tendencies to sin through these acts of penance, we grow in understanding of our great need for grace. An incredibly important source of grace for the conversion of life is found in the Sacrament of Penance. Using a more exhaustive examination during Lent would be appropriate for most people. If you cannot find one suitable I sometimes recommend to people using the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – Section 3 Life in Christ, and especially the section on the Ten Commandments. If one is able one could work through that same section in the full Catechism, but for most people the Compendium is sufficient.

We all need to do penance because we have all sinned. We are reconciled to God, from whom we have been sundered because of our sin, through the Redemption Christ won for us on the cross, and we receive the grace needed for a life of grace primarily through the Sacraments, but also through living a holy life of penance. We need to keep doing our penance until we are saints. But it is not all drudgery. We can make real progress if we follow the Church’s Tradition of penance for the conversion of our lives.

May the Holy Spirit guide you in your Lenten observance. May Our Lady at the Cross pray for you. May the Angels of God protect you from the evil one. Fr Ian

Monday, 15 January 2018

A day like no other

Tuesday of Week 2 per annum

In the gospel today Pharisees criticise the disciples for plucking grain from the edge of the field. For them this was a transgression of the Law of Moses – plucking grain was deemed to be work and therefore was forbidden. We can find this attitude surprising; not least, because, if we are honest, our own keeping of the Sabbath is a million miles from those Pharisees.

Some people wrongly interpret Our Lord’s teaching on the Sabbath. They wrongly think that basically the Sabbath is something we can forget about, all we need to do is go to mass (if we are not sick, or caring for the sick etc.). So perhaps it would be good to remind ourselves how we should be keeping the Sabbath as followers of Jesus Christ:

In the third commandment of the Decalogue (Ten Commandmants) we are told to keep the Sabbath day holy – it is for the Lord, and it is a day not to do any work. It is firstly then a day of protest against the servitude of work! Work was something that came to us from the Fall of Adam. In Eden, which was God’s original intention there was no labouring, everything we needed was provided. So first of all by keeping a Sabbath day of rest, God is pointing us towards His original intentions for humankind – pointing us to heaven.

Secondly we are reminded also that Sabbath rest was given to God’s people after they had been delivered from slavery – the Law of Moses was given after the Israelites had left Egypt in order they could worship God and live the way He wanted them to. So God is saying to us, through this commandment, “You are not slaves.” This is something I particularly think is important for us today in our frenetic world. Everything is busy, everything is rush, we can easily be enslaved to this – God is saying to us, “That is not what I made you for! Rest in me.”

Thirdly, the day is a day that is consecrated to God - a holy day. It can be useful to think of it as a day that doesn’t belong to us! It is the Lord ’s Day. It is even more so for us Christians because it is the Day of Resurrection – the Day of the New Creation in Christ. By the waters of Baptism we were reborn in Christ’s death and resurrection and therefore it is a truly holy day. In our religious calendar it is a day that trumps all days. It is never a day of penitence or fasting, it is always a day of joy and recreation.

The Church calls us all to keep the Lord’s day holy – to gather with our brothers and sisters in joy to celebrate: (1) we are not slaves, (2) we are children of God called to eternal bliss, and (3) give the day to the Lord in honour of His Resurrection, who gives it back to us for respite, for prayer, for worship, for time with our family and friends, and to be renewed in our Faith. So let us make it a distinctive day and truly give it to the Lord.


8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour, and do all your work; 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; 11 for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.   (Exodus 20 (RSVCE))

P.S. We can usefully consider how this could be a useful witness to others.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)