Sunday, 27 September 2009

Harvest Sunday, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

James 5:1-6
Every year our diocese recommends a particular Sunday when we give thanks to God for the harvest, which this year is today.

When we think of what it is that we have to thank God for, I know that there are many of you here who quite understandably feel that you have less to thank God for this year than you did last year: this recession, even if we are now supposedly now coming out of it, this recession has been a tough year for a great many people. It can sometimes be easy to thank God when we are in plenty; but nonetheless, thanking God when we have less can give us a new opportunity to re-focus and purify the thanks that we give. And thanking God is a good thing for at least three reasons: its helps our own happiness, it opposes jealousy, it helps us grow in love and opens us to the needs of our neighbour.

As a basic level, when life is tough, stopping to give thanks to God for the good things we have, is one of the ways that we can remind ourselves that there ARE still some good things in our life, and this can help our general happiness. Thanking God in the midst of difficulty helps lift us out of ourselves and out of self-pity.

Thinking of jealousy, our first reading (Num 11:25-29) and Gospel (Mk 9:38-18) both referred to a specific example of jealousy: and jealousy is when we see somebody else having something good, and instead of being happy that other person, we feel SAD because they have something good, typically because we somehow imagine that their possession is the cause of our lack (as St Thomas Aquinas says in his Summa Theologica, II-II, q36, a1).
Jealousy, however, is a self-defeating vice, it just leads to anger and resentment. And thanking God for the good things that we have is a remedy for jealousy because it turns our eye towards the good things we, rather than spitefully being turned towards the good things others have.

Now, that said, if jealousy is sadness at the holding the good enjoyed by another, there is nonetheless a RIGHTEOUS form of ANGER when we behold somebody selfishly refusing to share their goods with others, or selfishly being the direct reason that someone else does not have things they need. In our second reading, we heard St James warning the rich: He warned the rich that misery was coming to them, coming to them because they had not cared for the poor, they had lived “a life of comfort and luxury", they had stored up an EARTHLY treasure, but for the Day of judgement, "it was a burning fire that you stored as your treasure”. For the rich, giving thanks is also an important remedy for avoiding this "burning fire":

When we thank God, for whatever form of riches we have, we recall that the gifts we have are in fact gifts, they are from Him –even if we have made the most of them and developed them through our hard work. One of the things that means is that they are not just for ourselves. When my little nephews get given gifts at Christmas they need to be reminded that they need to let their other siblings play with them. We, too, as Christians, need to remember that we need to share, and remembering that our gifts ultimately come from God helps remind us that we too must be generous in our giving. We have a collection for various worthwhile agencies both at harvest time and during Lent, but these collections should be part of an ongoing giving in our lives. Having the habit of thanking God is an important way of reminding ourselves of the need to share our gifts –to use our gifts well.

So, I have said that thanking God helps our own happiness by reminding us of the good things we have, it opposes jealousy by turning our eyes away from the envious looking at other people's goods, and it helps us grow in charity by reminding us that the God who gives expects us to give too. But, at one level, these reasons are all secondary: the REAL reason that we need to give thanks to God, and to thank Him for the gifts of the harvest even when our personal form of ‘harvest’ is smaller than we would like, is because all good things come from God and giving thanks is the smallest acts of justice that we owe Him.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Mk 9:30-37
Those of you who've been paying attention to the news this week may well have noticed an illustration of the truth of our Lord's teaching and promise that, "if anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all". I'm not referring to Gordon Brown saying that there will be spending cuts, rather, I am referring to the many news reports, even in the secular media, reports of the tour of the relics of St Therese of Lisieux, known to many of us not by her French ‘Therese’ but as St Teresa of the Child Jesus, or of the little way, or “the little flower”. A good number of us went to one of the smaller places of the relic tour in Taunton, and two weeks ago I preached about venerating relics and the miracles associated with them, but I want to preach today not so much about the relics as about her own life. I want to talk about her glory now on earth, her glory in heaven, & contrast that with her hidden glory while she lived on earth.

Concerning her glory now on earth, St Teresa is quite possibly glorified more than any other saint other than the Blessed Virgin herself. Referring again to the tour of her relics, a number of the news reports noted that the non-stop high paced itinerary of her relics moving made her comparable to a rock star, and the TV images of long lines of faithful pilgrims waiting at the cathedrals for their turn to pass by the casket of her relics gave the same impression. And this phenomenon during her tour through England is typical of the adoring crowds of pilgrims that are devoted to her across the world -if you go to her town of Lisieux in France you will see a MASSIVE basilica built for this small but much loved saint.

Her glory now on earth, however, is very closely related to the glory she now possesses in heaven. One of the reasons that pilgrims flock to her now is that she has been found to be very effective in answering prayers, and this is why miracles are associated with her. While she was still living, the Lord made this known to her, so that she said to one of her sisters, "After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good on earth”. Such a display of heavenly power, even when it comes through one of the saints, such a display of heavenly power can come from only one source: it comes from the Lord. And when the Lord associates the display of heavenly power with one of His saints, then it is a sign to us of the glory that saint now enjoys in heaven.

But there is a deep irony here, because St Teresa who now enjoys glory in heaven, and has that glory reflected in her devotees on earth, that saint enjoyed precious little glory while she lived on earth. She lacked glory because of the many physical sufferings she endured, ultimately, in dying a horrible slow death of tuberculosis. She also lacked glory because of her many emotional sufferings, especially in the childhood trauma she experienced at the early death of her mother, and emotional trauma she never truly recovered from. She is admired as a saint because those who lived with her heard her to complain so rarely, and saw her loving so consistently even while she herself suffered.

Even beyond this, there is a more specific aspect to the hiddenness of her glory while she lived, and that concerns the fact that she tries to hide her good deeds. It concerns her practice of "hidden" acts of kindness. I was reading from her autobiography this week (an autobiography she only wrote because she was commanded to by her superior), and in it she says, "I endeavoured above all to practice little HIDDEN acts of virtue, such as folding the mantles which the Sisters had forgotten". And that small little act is typical of the way of life St Therese lived and calls upon us to live: to be content to do many small hidden acts, to do them because somebody needs to do those acts, and WE can be that somebody.
You and I, when we do good deeds, like to have people thank us having done them, and that means we like to have people see that WE have done this good deed -not somebody else. But when we look at ourselves closely this is easily revealed as false virtue, as vanity. Part of what it means to be, as Jesus put it, "servant of all" means to not care about taking the credit, it means being willing to be hidden.

What we see in St Teresa of Lisieux is that the hiddenness of being good does not last forever. The good God who calls us to be good gives glory in heaven to those who did not care about that glory on earth. He is faithful to his word, "the first will be last, and the last will be first”, and “the meek will inherit the earth”.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

‘Catholicism is Different’ Course

Thursdays, 7-8pm

An eight week course on the distinctive claims of Catholicism: for both enquirers and for Catholics seeking to know more about their Catholic Faith. The course will feature images and PowerPoint screen slides, and will have a 30 minute presentation followed by an opportunity for questions and discussion on the topic of the evening.

8th October: Knowing God: Can we really know God?
15th October: Jesus Christ: Who He claimed to be and What He claimed to do
22nd Oct: The One True Church: Why the Catholic Church is different
[29th October: No meeting (half-term)]
5th Nov: Infallibility: How we know the Truth
12th Nov: Seven Sacraments: Why we need ceremony and liturgy to meet Christ
19th Nov: What is the Eucharist?
[26th Nov: No meeting]
3rd Dec: Sex and Marriage
10th Dec: Why Contraception is a Sin, & how Natural Family Planning is the Alternative

The meetings will be in the St Edward’s church hall, which is accessed through the church entrance at n.51 Salisbury Street.
For more information please see Fr Dylan James, Tel 01747-852125,

Sunday, 13 September 2009

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Mk 8:27-35
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mk 8:34). We just heard Jesus talk about suffering, the cross, being a part of what it means to follow Him. And I want to illustrate this by referring to what the Pope said about his own suffering when he broke his wrist this year.

The Pope, you may recall, fell and broke his wrist on the 17th of July this summer. And he spoke about this in public a couple weeks later [29th July], noting how God had allowed this suffering to come to him. He noted that "my Guardian Angel did not prevent my accident”, but, far from seeing this as a failing on his Guardian’s Angel’s part, he said that his Angel was “certainly following 'superior orders'”, i.e. this is what God had commanded the angel to do. And the Pope went further and speculated as to what might have been God’s reasons for ordering this, perhaps, "to teach me greater patience and humility" and maybe to give him "more time for prayer and meditation."
The Pope, of course, is no fool. And these comments are worthy of a little commentary. Because these comments hold for the suffering that comes in each of our lives too.

First, we can note that the Pope spoke to God ALLOWING suffering to come to him, of his Angel ‘not preventing’ suffering. NOTE: the Pope did NOT say that God directly caused or directly willed the suffering; he did not say that his Guardian Angel tripped him up! And this is a very important point to remember: God does not directly will any suffering, he permits it. Just as he allows us to sin because it’s the only way we can be able to FREELY love, he also allowed suffering to enter the world with Original Sin, and he similarly allows but does not directly cause the suffering that comes our own way.

That said, however, He allows suffering to come to us as part of a carefully measured and directed plan for each of us. He permits suffering to come to us to draw some greater good out of it. The Catechism gives a model for this when it says that the Heavenly Father permitted the death of His own Beloved Son on the Cross, He permitted that act of deicide that was the greatest evil in human history, He permitted it in order to draw the even greater good of the Resurrection out of it.

For ourselves, we can often wonder why God allows the particular crosses that come to each of us. We also wonder why suffering comes to those we love. As long as we live in this world our knowledge is imperfect and, though we know there is a reason, and we know this because Scripture tells us so (“all things work for the good of those who love the Lord” (Rom 8:28)), we don’t know WHAT the particular reason or reasons in our own case are. Of course, we can speculate, just as the Pope speculated as to his own suffering, with the tough benefits he saw coming to him, nonetheless, our speculation is only guesswork. We don’t know the mind of God, even though we know He does have a mind to plan, a heart to care, and the power to work what He plans.

There is a final point I want to make, and that is that the crosses we are called to carry in our following of the Lord who carried His cross, our crosses are not all big ones. A broken wrist is not that big a thing in itself, nonetheless, it is part of God’s plan. There is no detail of our lives that God is not interested in; there is no cross too small to offer it to Jesus. What counts about what we do is the LOVE with which we do it, and what counts about our crosses is how we love while we carry them: how we continue to help others even while we suffer, how we continue to pray for others while we suffer, and how we continue to offer our lives and our very crosses to Jesus while we suffer, offer them as a sacrifice.

Jesus came to this world to re-make it, to make it anew. The road to the Resurrection that He walked was the road that lead to Calvary, to the Cross. If we would be His followers, as He calls us to ‘follow’, then we must go where He went, we must go to Calvary, go with whatever small or big crosses we have. And if we go with the same love He went with then we too will achieve for ourselves and for others our share in the re-creation.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury, Relics

Mk 7:31-37
Two weeks from now the parish is organising a trip to venerate the relics of St Therese of Lisieux. St Therese is not only one of the holiest saints of modern times but one of the most popular; a casket of her bones, her relics, are on tour through England this month and will be in Taunton where we will go to them.
This said, I suspect that some of you here maybe a little wary, if not suspicious, of this Catholic practice of venerating relics. So, I want to say something about them.

The first thing I want to say about them is that they are very Scriptural. A relic is simply defined as something that has been in contact with a saint, and typically something associated with miracles worked through that saint. And we see this in the Bible:
In Acts 19:12 we hear of how handkerchiefs that had been in contact with St. Paul's body were carried to be used to produce miracles. Similarly, St Peter’s shadow healed by its touch. In the Old Testament we also hear of miracles associated with relics, in 2 Kgs 13 the body of a dead man was touched to the bones of Elisha and Elisha’s bones brought the man back to life.
So, miracles associated with the relics of the saints is something very Scriptural, and it is also very Scriptural that the good people of God should SEEK out the relic of the saints in order to have a miracle.

But there is another thing I want to say about relics, and that is the fact that they are very human. Of our nature: We are physical as well as spiritual, we meet God through physical signs and symbols, and it is only natural that could include physical things like relics. And we might even say of our fallen nature: we seek the sensational, wonders, miracles, etc, and it is only to be expected that God should seek to reach out to us through these things too.

Let me refer to a slightly different example: long after a friend or relative has died, it is a natural thing for us to visit the graves of those whom we love. We know that our loved ones are no longer there, we know that their souls have moved on, but, their graves and their bones remain in THIS world as our natural physical contact point with them, remain as the place where we go to sense closeness with them. And this is natural and good.

And it is no different with the saints. When people want the help of a great saint they go to the place where that saint was buried, or to a place where that saint lived, or, in relics, to things that had contact with that saint -just like people in the Bible wanted contact with the miraculous St Paul by having contact with his handkerchiefs. The point is not that the handkerchief is a particularly significant item, the point is that it had contact with a particularly significant person, a saint.

Finally, why am I saying this today? One reason is to encourage you to join the pilgrimage to venerate St Therese’s relics. More generally, I am saying this to try and remind you that miracles happen today. In today’s gospel text (Mk 7:31-37) we heard one of many many examples of how Jesus worked miracles when he walked in Palestine. And Jesus works miracles today.
We don't know why he does do this miracle and doesn't do that one -just as we don't know why He didn't cure every single person in ancient Palestine.
But we do know that He tells us to approach Him in faith, that miracles normally occur in the context of that deeper healing of the soul that is faith in Him, so that the Gospels tell us that He refused to work miracles in a certain place because of "their lack of faith" (Mt 13:58).
And we know to that He tells us to "ask and you will receive"(Mk 11:9; Mt 21:22, c.f. James 4:3).
And, to come back to the relics, we know that He chooses to associate the granting of His miracles with the places of pilgrimage and the relics of pilgrimage associated with those saints who were close to Him on earth and are now close to Him in heaven, who are close to Him now in heaven because they showed us while they were on earth how we too can be close with Him.

Roman Catholic classification and prohibitions
Saint Jerome declared, "We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are" (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907).
First-Class Relics
Items directly associated with the events of Christ's life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.).
Second-Class Relics
An item that the saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.), owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, book etc.
Third-Class Relics
Any object that is touched to a first- or second-class relic. Most third-class relics are small pieces of cloth.
The sale of relics is strictly forbidden by the Church.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Communion on the Tongue

Many of you have asked me about the reports in last week’s Catholic newspapers of a rumour that a Church document will soon be recommending that we receive Holy Communion on the Tongue. Let me make a couple observations. First, at a worldwide level, the normal manner of receiving Holy Communion is to receive it on the tongue: England is one of a limited number of countries where the bishops applied for a special dispensation for Communion in the hand to be permitted as an additional option. Second, receiving directly on the tongue is the normal practice because it is the most ancient practice: early Church law documents indicate this was the ancient practice; and Scripture scholars tell us that this is probably how the Apostles received Communion at the Last Supper (i.e. at the first Mass) –ancient Middle Eastern practice had the host of a meal place portions of certain food courses directly into the mouth of his honoured guests. Third, for us today, receiving directly on the tongue is one manner of reminding ourselves that in Holy Communion we are engaging in an act radically different to any other type of feeding we partake in. Holy Communion is not ordinary food, it is the Lord Jesus Himself, the Bread of Life, and it makes sense for us to receive Him differently to how we receive other food. Finally, on a personal note, when I made my First Holy Communion I was taught to do so in the hand: along with most of my generation I was not told that it was even permitted to receive on the tongue! Later, as a teenager, I learnt that Communion on the tongue is actually the norm and my own experience is that I find it to be a more humble and receptive mode of receiving Our Lord. In short, the rumoured new church document is not likely to be saying anything radically new but reminding us of what is already the case: Communion on the tongue is the norm, but in England it is also permitted to receive it in the hand. On a related point, may I point out that you should only receive in the hand if you have two hands free to do so, i.e. if you are juggling a bag or child in your other hand it is more suitable for you to receive on the tongue on that occasion, I hope this makes sense and does not cause offence. Thank you.

From parish newsletter 5th September 2009