Sunday, 25 March 2012
Ps 50:3-15; Jer 31:31-34; Jn 12:2-30
We are now approaching one of the pivotal points in our Lenten journey, in our preparation for Easter, namely, our penitential service this Thursday evening, when there will be 5 priests here to hear your confessions. Of course, there is an opportunity to go to confession every Saturday morning, at the times indicated in the newsletter both here and elsewhere, including Saturday evening, or by appointment calling me for another neighbouring priest, and it is important that we go to confession not just at Lent and Advent but regularly through the year –monthly confession being the standard advice.
There is, however, a particular relevance to confession in the season of Lent. In Lent we are seeking by our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are seeking to purify our hearts, to purify them of sin. We heard that beautifully expressed in the classic penitential psalm that we heard as our responsorial psalm, “A pure heart create from me, O God"(Ps 50:12).
If we would have a heart that is pure and clean, a heart that is made new, then it's important that we PRAY to God for such a thing, as we prayed for it the reciting of that psalm.
In addition, we also need to ACT in such a way that we "create" a pure heart with us. To have a pure heart means that we need to change from having the heart that we have at present, it means that we need to both recognise and repent of the various evil deeds that we do. Now I know that, for many people, it can be difficult to recognise the evil that we do. We might recognise that we are not perfect, realise that there is something we need to change, but still fail to be able to identify and articulate what that means in specific practice, what that means in specific things we have done, and specific things we have failed to do. Things like the written examination of conscience in this Sunday's newsletter can be a helpful external reminder to help us look into a mirror for our soul. But we also need to join this with prayer, with turning to the Lord and asking that He send His Holy Spirit to enlighten us, to use the words of Scripture, to "convict us" of our sin (Jn 16:8).
In our first reading, we heard of the promise made through the prophet Jeremiah of the coming of a "new covenant"(Jer 31:31). We, as Christians, as those who live as followers of the promised Messiah, we have the privilege of living in this "new covenant". This privilege gives us the grace that comes through Jesus's death and resurrection, the transforming grace can create a new heart, a pure heart.
But we first need to do the other thing that the new covenant offers, namely, seek forgiveness for our “iniquities”(Jer 31:34), our sins.
And that offer of forgiveness, as we know, is offered to us in the sacrament of forgiveness, in confession. In that sacrament in which we confess our sins to the priest who stands in the person of Christ, who stands so closely identified with Christ that in the words of absolution he does not say "Christ gives you", but rather "I absolve you", acting in persona Christi capitis (Catechism 1548).
But in order to receive that absolution, to receive that grace of a pure, clean and new heart, we first need to want to change. And that means that on so many levels we need to turn from the person we are now, and the life we live now to something else. As we heard Jesus say in today’s gospel, the grain of wheat must die in order to yield a harvest; we must hate our life in this world if we would have the new life eternal; because sentence has been passed on this world, this sinful world, and the prince of this world has been overthrown.
As long as we refuse to overthrow our present Iife, as long as we refuse to change, as long as we fail to see what in our life NEEDS changing, then this "new covenant" cannot take root within us.
But if we pray for the grace to change, if we pray for the grace to see what we need to change, and if we bring that to the Lord for healing and forgiveness in this great sacrament of confession, then reconciliation, a pure heart, can be ours.
“A pure heart create for me, O God”
Sunday, 18 March 2012
Jn 3:14-21; 2 Chron 36:14-16.19-23
We’re now over 3 weeks into Lent, over half-way, and its possible at this stage to have lost sight of what we’re doing in Lent. Maybe you’re staying faithful to your Lenten resolutions, but struggling in them rather than remembering what they’re aiming at. Maybe you’ve been faithful to what you’ve given up, but just feeling a little miserable about it. And, no doubt, more than a couple of us have broken our resolutions, and are not really sure whether its worth returning to them.
Regardless, today’s reading give us a helpful chance to re-focus on the END that Lent is aiming at. We have set before us the ultimate ‘lifting up’ that Lent aims at, and we have this set before us in slightly different ways in each of our 3 readings. In the Gospel we have the Lord refer, by means of reference to prophetic symbols in the Old Testament, to His coming crucifixion. He looked ahead to His being ‘lifted up’ upon the Cross and compared it to how Moses ‘lifted up’ the miraculous bronze image of the serpent on a pole. All who turned and looked at that image were saved, saved of the poisonous bites they had received. And the Lord Jesus makes the comparison that all those who turn and look on Him, Him ‘lifted up’ upon the Cross, turn to Him with the eyes of faith, “everyone who believes [in Him] may have eternal life in Him”. This being lifted up is what Lent looks towards on Easter Sunday.
There is another thing going on here, however, another thing that we need to remember if we are to understand what Lent is all about. We need to recall why we need ‘lifting up’ at all: Because of our sins. Because our sins mean that we have cast ourselves from God. And in this we join the universal state of all mankind since the dawn of time, the sinful state of all humanity except Our Lord Himself and His Blessed Mother.
There can be a real fear within us, a fear of admitting that we have sinned, that we have cast ourselves from God. Jesus referred to this in the Gospel text we heard when He referred to men preferring “darkness to light... for fear [our] actions should be exposed”.
This very point, this fear of admitting our sins, can be because we have forgotten one of the key things that Lent aims at, namely, being PURIFIED of our sins, being enabled by God’s grace to be changed.
Our first reading from Chronicles gives us a reminder of hope in this regard. It started, somewhat sombrely, with the account of how the Jewish people had turned form the Lord, had “added infidelity to infidelity, copying all the shameful practices of the nations... until at last the WRATH of the Lord rose so high against His people”. And they were punished by being cast into exile.
The point, however, is that that was not the end, rather, it was new beginning. It was a time of purification for them, so that when they were restored to the Promised Land they returned as a purified and better people.
Such PURIFICATION is what Lent seeks. Our prayer, fasting and almsgiving, our ‘giving things up for Lent’, all aim at a purification of our hearts such that the new life of Easter may come forth.
In the midst of the desert it is possible to forget that.
I the midst of the time of exile it is possible to forget the purification it can achieve within us.
In the midst of Lent and being mindful of our struggle with what we have given up we can forget that goal.
So, let me conclude by returning to that image of being ‘lifted up’ in a new angle:
Each and every thing we are doing for Lent needs to be ‘lifted up’ in prayer to God as we do it, ‘lifted up’ to Him as an spiritual sacrifice, lifted up in union with Him who was lifted up upon the Cross,
And if we do that, the ‘new life’ He brings will take root in our hearts.
I’d like to offer a final little thought about mothers.
We keep today, in England, Mothering Sunday. And I know many of you are specially here to be with mothers. And others of you will be thinking today of your mothers, living and departed, even if you can’t be with them.
And let me briefly apply that same imagery mentioned to our mothers:
God purifies and disciplines us to make us better, and mothers, as we know, do the same.
When you are child a mother’s discipline seems tough, and we often don’t see its purpose. But its actually one of the many signs of love shown to us. So as we think of God’s love for us manifested in our Lenten discipline let us also give thanks to God for the discipline our mothers gave us, and thank Him and them, for the many other things they have given us too.
Sunday, 11 March 2012
This Sunday we had a letter read from Archbishop Nichols and Archbishop Smith on marriage, calling on us to oppose government proposals to introduce same-sex 'marriage'.
The text of that letter can be read at: http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/Home/News-Releases/Archbishops-Letter-on-Marriage
The text of a similar article by Cardinal O'Brien, Britain's senior Catholic prelate, can be read at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9121424/We-cannot-afford-to-indulge-this-madness.html
The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales have called on us to sign the online petition at: www.C4M.org.uk
Sunday, 4 March 2012
Gen 22:1-18; Rom 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10
Who here would be willing to sacrifice their son? No one.
But, if we are to understand Abraham, and the significance of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, we’d do well to ask ourselves WHY we wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice our sons.
After all, for much of human history pagan religions had human sacrifice, and it seemed ‘normal’ to them. Why does it not seem normal to us?
You might first say that such a thing is repugnant to ‘reason’, and it is.
But I would like to point out that it is a ‘reason enlightened by Faith’ –it is our Judeo-Christian Faith that has taught us that human and child sacrifice is an abomination.
Let us cast our minds back to Abraham, in particular, to Abraham before this incident. We need to do this if we are to understand how this event was both a test of Abraham, and, a revelation of what God is like.
Abraham did not yet truly know the Lord our God because God was only beginning to make Himself known to him. In particular, Abraham did not know that the God who had called him was a God unlike other gods. He did not know that He was a God who found human sacrifice an abomination. So, when the Lord God asked him to sacrifice his son, it was a tough thing, but a thing that would have made a sort of sense to him. This means that it was true test.
But, like so many things in the Scriptures, it was an event with a deeper purpose, in this case that deeper purpose was the purpose of revealing that the Lord God is a different God, a god who does NOT require human sacrifice. Thus, as the rest of the Old Testament shows us, one of the things that separated the Jewish religion from its Canaanite neighbours was precisely the fact that it did NOT have human sacrifice.
So, this was a test for Abraham. But it was also, and more so, a revelation of the fact that the one true God does not accept human sacrifice.
In as much as it was a test of Abraham, it was a test on many levels. (1) It was a test of his obedience to God. (2) It was a test of his faith and trust –God had already promised him many descendents (Gen 12:2; 13:16), and how could that happen if his one and only son was dead? (3) It was a test also of his generosity, being willing to give back to God what God had given him. Abraham passed the test.
(pause) Let us shift the focus here, and turn to our second reading where this whole thing is turned on its head. Here we are reminded of how “God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up to benefit us all” (Rom 8:32). Far from God wanting us to sacrifice our sons to Him, He sacrifices Himself to us –the Father and Son in their jointly-willed (for God has only one Will) plan for our salvation. Here we see God’s great generosity to ourselves, His great plan to show us the depth of His love.
(pause again) Generosity in sacrifice is something we need to strive for in Lent. A week and half into Lent and we might already be struggling in our Lenten resolutions, in our faithful to what we have “given up”, in our planned generosity to the poor, in our generosity in prayer in this holy season.
Abraham was tested and shown to be willing to be generous in sacrifice. As a result he was showered with blessings. The blessings of descendents, of land, of “all the nations of the earth blessing themselves by” his descendents.
If we are generous in our Lenten offerings then we too will be showered with blessings.
Finally, we are offered that other reminder of the importance of persevering in the gospel text we heard of the Transfiguration: The vision of future glory given to Peter, James and John to sustain them through the trials that lay ahead when Christ would be crucified.
If we persevere then that same glory will be ours, the glory of sharing in Christ’s Transfiguration, the glory of sharing in His Resurrection.
Which means that, for now, it is worth our staying the steady course through the Lenten desert with our Lord, through the Cross, to Easter glory.