Sunday, 25 October 2015

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 10:46-52; Ps 125:3; Jer 31:7-9
Today I’d like to draw your attention to the title the blind man used to call out to the Lord.
He didn't just say, “Jesus”, or “Lord”, or even use the description St Mark’s Gospel gave Him, “Jesus of Nazareth”.
Instead, he called out to Him saying, “Son of David”(Mk 10:47;48). In fact, he used this title twice in close succession when he was addressing the Lord.

To a blind Jew this would have been very significant:
The “Son of David” was a title referring to the expected Messiah.
Of course, ALL the Jews we waiting for the Messiah,
BUT, He was to have a special significance for the BLIND. As we heard in our first reading, which was one of many such prophecies of the Messiah, when the Messiah would come He would be distinguished by His capacity to give sight back to the blind. Other prophets had worked other miracles, but this miracle was to be one of THE signs of the Messiah.

Now, let us pause a moment and think what this tells us about this blind man.
This blind man suffered.
He was a beggar.
And, to be a blind beggar in a poor country is a harsh thing.
But, THE point I wish to draw your attention to today is that this blind man somehow kept his FAITH and kept his HOPE.
He didn't curse his darkness, he didn't inwardly close in on himself in bitterness and anger –the way we all know it is very easy to do. Instead, he kept faith and hope, and the SIGN of this is that he was still WAITING and HOPING for the Messiah, and called to Him by His title, “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me”.

The Scripture readings that the Church has given us today point us to two pivotal things that this blind man must have held on to:
First, the PROMISE from the Lord God that He would send His Messiah, send Him with healing.
This enabled the blind man to look FORWARD with hope.
Our first reading from Jeremiah records one of many such Old Testament promises that remind us of this.
Second, the MEMORY of what God had done the PAST.
If we remember the wonders the Lord has done in the past, then the past is able to anchor our faith. Our being rooted in the past thus enables us to fix our eyes on the future, it enables our faith to give us hope.
Our responsorial psalm reminded us of this with the antiphon, “What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.”(Ps 125:3).

To summarise: the title “Son of David” that the blind man used for Jesus showed he remembered that a promise had been made that a Messiah, the “Son of David” would come.
The blind man thus serves as a role model for all of us:
We all have difficulties, the way that blind man had difficulties.
But, if we kept our memories secure in recalling the Lord’s past deeds then we will have hope.
We do this by recalling our personal histories, the good things the Lord has done for us.
We do this also, more fundamentally, by recalling the good things the Lord has done in the pages of Sacred Scripture.
He has shown He is a good God.
He has shown He keeps His promises.
And a great many of those He promises still hold for you and me. The promise of heaven if we are faithful. The promise of grace to sustain us on the way. The promise that He is by our side, “I am with you always”(Mt 28:20). And much more.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Autumn 2015 Talk Series: 'Knowing Right from Wrong'

A series of 7 evenings looking at different aspects of the moral life, Thursdays 7.30-8.30pm, in the parish hall

All talks will be by our parish priest, Fr Dylan James, who lectures on moral theology at Wonersh Seminary
The talk series will be preceded by a film evening on marriage

Audio and powerpoints slides of talks will be available online as the talks are given

Film: “Marriage: God’s Design for Life & Love”, from St Anthony’s Communications (43mins)
7.30pm Thursday October 22nd

(1) Post-Vatican Two Morality: What Changed? From legalism, through chaos, to virtue
7.30pm Thursday Nov 12th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(2) Sin and the Pursuit of Happiness
7.30pm Thursday Nov 19th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(3) Natural Law: How human reason can discern the truth
7.30pm Thursday Nov 26th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(4) Marriage and Sex
7.30pm Thursday Dec 3rd

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(5) Contraception and Natural Family Planning
7.30pm Thursday Dec 10th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(6) Environmental Ethics
7.30pm Thursday Dec 17th

The slides of the Powerpoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Ransom for Sinners, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 10:42-45; Isa 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16
Today all our Scripture readings focus us on the death of Christ, He who died for our sins.
Our first reading gave us a short excerpt from the lengthy ‘Suffering Servant’ prophecy of Isaiah. That prophecy refers to the “man of sorrows” (Isa 53:3) who takes our trials upon Himself, who “offers His life in atonement”(Isa 53:10), and, “By His sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on Himself”(Isa 53:11).
And in the Gospel, the Lord Jesus referred to His coming death as being “a ransom for many”(Mk 10:45), or “redemption for many”, translating the Greek “lytron anti pollon”.

A “ransom” –this might seem an odd word to use, but if we ponder it, it tells us much about ourselves, and much about God.
The word “redemption” that we use in English comes from the Latin redemptio, which renders the “Hebrew kopher and Greek lytron which, in the Old Testament means generally a ransom-price”(Catholic Encyclopedia, Redemption).
What this tells us, what the Lord is telling us in saying that He is our “ransom”, is that we are in NEED of being “ransomed”. We are being held in “captivity”(CCC 407; Council of Trent), we are in “slavery to sin”(CCC 601 c.f. Jn 8:34), and a debt needs to be paid to set us free.

Theologians debate about WHO this debt must be paid to. Jesus is paying a debt, but paying it to whom?
Is it being paid to the Devil, since sin means the world is under his “domination” (CCC 407; Council of Florence (cited in and we are his “captives”? No. God is all powerful and does not NEED to pay Satan anything.
The debt God is paying, it would seem, is being paid to Himself: to His justice, to His honour.
A debt is owed, a payment must be made, and so He steps in and makes the payment to Himself.

If this debt involves the DEATH of Christ, in suffering on the Cross, then the payment must be for something COLOSSAL, namely, our sins.
Our sins against the infinite and Almighty God cause an infinite offence, a dishonour that we finite creatures cannot pay. Our sins “are punishable by death”(CCC 602 c.f. Rom 5:12, 1Cor 15:56).
The Lord did not NEED to save us by paying this debt, but it was FITTING that honour be remedied. Only an infinite person could pay an infinite debt (ST III q1 a2 ad2um), and so God came from Heaven to earth to pay this debt, a debt He essentially pays to Himself.
He didn’t NEED to pay, but it was “fitting”(Heb 7:26) that honour be satisfied, and so He did.

It is easy for us to forget all this because, as all the recent popes have repeated, we live in an era that has lost its “sense of sin”.
We live in a world where people think of themselves as independent, not as dependent on God. And we forget that actually our whole lives BELONG to HIM. He has given us everything, and yet we so frequently behave as if He was hardly there. And so, every neglect, every indifference, every lack of love, every transgression of His commandments, all racks up a debt we cannot pay.
And if we say this somehow doesn’t apply to us, that you are I are “decent” people not “sinners”, then why does the Lord repeatedly say in the Scriptures that He came to die for us? He claims that we need saving from our sins. And so, as Scripture says, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar”(1 Jn 1:10)

So, what this talk of “ransom” tells us about ourselves is: Our SINS have racked up a debt.
And, what this talk of “ransom” tells us about God is: He loves us so much that He has come to pay this debt Himself.
To close by quoting our second reading: Christ has come as our “supreme High Priest”(Heb 4:14) who sacrificed Himself so that we might approach “the throne of grace”(Heb 4:16) with “confidence”.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Riches and Sadness, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 10:17-30
Today in the Gospel we heard of a man who had no name. At least, no name that history records. Why not? Why do the Gospel writers not know who he is? Presumably, because he went away and never came back. A tragedy.
If we think about why he left, as we heard, he left “sad”.
If we think about why he was sad, it was because the Lord Jesus said he had to choose between his riches, and, following the Lord. And to not follow Jesus leaves the soul sad –this is point that Pope Francis makes repeatedly to us.
He was a “rich young man”, he had his whole life ahead of him. And that life, it seems, was a life of sadness because he chose riches over the Lord.

Let me remind of you of another rich man in the Gospels: Levi.
The Gospels record that he was sitting at his office, and the Lord passed, said, “follow me”(Lk 5:27), and Levi “left everything, and rose and followed him”(Lk 5:28).
This immediacy surely implies a joy and eagerness.
He had riches. The Lord called him. And he eagerly left them in order to follow.

Let me give a third and final example of a rich man called by the Lord: Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-8).
Zacchaeus, if you remember, was the short tax collector who climbed a tree to get a look at the Lord Jesus as He passed by. The Lord called him, Zacchaeus welcomed the Lord into his home, and declared he would give half of his goods to the poor and restore fourfold from all those he had defrauded (Lk 19:8).
All this he did “joyfully”(Lk 19:5), not like the young man who went away “sad”.
And, let us note, he was one of those who weren’t called to give up all their money, but rather, to have money but in a NEW spirit.

Back to the rich young man. He was rich, but he as sad. Which is notable, because we all think that riches will make us happy.
I saw a 55” TV this week. I want it. There is a voice inside me telling me that my lack of a 55” TV is what is holding me back from happiness. And yet, human experience, and the example of the rich young man, shows us that money doesn't give you happiness.
Real joy comes from love, it is a fruit of love. But love of the right thing: of people, of God, not of money, and of people for THEIR sake, not in a possessive clinging-ness.
Joyful people are noteworthy for their freedom, their LIGHTNESS. This is the very opposite of being held down by possessions.
What is needed is spirit of DETACHMENT from the riches of this world. An inward detachment that means I am free to let them go, and free to have them, but I am not held down by them.

And the rich young man, What was his problem? His lack of detachment.
He is not presented to us as selfish, or as uncaring, or neglecting the poor (as some figures condemned in the Gospels are, e.g. Lk 16:19-31).
Rather, the problem is that he is more ATTACHED to his possessions than to his willingness to follow where the Lord called him. And this leaves him sad, sad without the Lord, sad without love.

What of us?
If we are attached like the rich young man, then we will feel sad when we are prompted to anything that disrupts our attachments.
If we are de-tached like Levi, we will be prompt and eager to leave what must be left to follow.
If we are detached like Zacchaeus, then even though we possess things, we will only hold them lightly, because our joy in the Lord, in finding more joy in possessing Him than we do in possessing things, will leave us free to give, free to love, and free to give in a way that causes us to have joy, not sadness, in our heart.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Divorce and Remarriage, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 10:2-16; Gen 2:18-24
For the next three weeks, bishops from across the world are gathered in Rome for a special synod devoted to the family. Marriage and the family, as we all know, are rather broken realities in our modern society. Divorce is a much more common phenomenon today than it was when our Lord spoke against it.
I’ve not spoken about this in the 8 years I’ve been here, so its about time, and I want to reaffirm a few things today:
First, that the Lord Jesus meant what he said about remarriage after divorce being adultery;
Second, that such a second marriage bars someone from receiving Holy Communion;
Third, that this is necessary in order for children to have a stable environment;
Finally, that marriage is still a good worthy of being pursued, even with the challenge that such commitment involves.

I want to start with the words in our first reading from Genesis that, “it is not good that man should be alone”(Gen 2:18). These words indicate a desire for union that is written in our nature, a yearning to not be alone that is satisfied in many things: in prayer with the Lord, in human friendship, but it finds a particular physical completion in the exclusive loving union of marriage. Thus we heard the Lord Jesus quote that phrase from Genesis about a husband and wife becoming “one body”(Mk 10:8; Gen 2:24).

All love involves giving of ourselves. We give our time, our energy, and more. Marriage is that unique self-gift where someone gives their EVERYTHING to someone, in a mutual self-gift that brings many rewards.
But, once you have given yourself to another, in totality, for life, you cannot then take back that gift. If your wife become sick, you are still married, still given to her. If she becomes poor, she is still your wife. If she is unfaithful to you, she is still your wife. If she goes off, she is still your wife.
Now it is true that sometimes there are reasons a couple have to separate, either temporarily or permanently. Often there is an innocent party left behind, with much suffering.

But even if you separate and civilly divorce, nonetheless she is still your wife in the eyes of God. As Pope Francis said last week, there is no such thing as “Catholic divorce” (plane interview, 28/9/2015).
If we look at Scripture, as quoted on the insert sheet in the newsletter, it says very clearly what a separated or civilly divorced spouse is called on to do: “remain single or else be reconciled to” your spouse (1 Cor 7:10-11).
You are not then free to give yourself to another, because you have already given yourself to your spouse –even if she no longer appreciates that gift, even if you no longer live together.
You are not then free to commit yourself to another, because you are already committed.
If you have said “till death do us part” to one woman, you cannot say that to another while she still lives.
Thus Jesus says, “The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery” (Mk 10:11).
Thus the Church says that a person who remarries (while their spouse is alive) commits a public act that bars them from receiving Holy Communion (Catechism 1650; 2384). Bars them until they amend this aspect of their life.

How shall I conclude? By acknowledging that this is a very hard teaching. Every walk of life has its cross to carry, but this call to “remain single (1 Cor 7:11) rather than remarry can be a heavy cross.
This said, a romantic union in marriage is not the only way to fulfil the desire spoken of in our first reading, the desire to not “be alone”.
And, faithfulness to God, faithfulness to the vows made, will bring with it strength and grace, and ultimately all faithfulness to God is rewarded, not just in heaven but in this life too.

The joys of marriage are only possible because of this hard teaching about commitment. A union that didn’t claim to be for life would be a very much lesser thing than marriage, it wouldn’t really be the “one body” union the Lord Jesus speaks of. If this lifelong commitment is abandoned then what is being abandoned is the beauty of marriage itself. And with it, a stable environment in which to raise children. And thus the Church tells us that the Lord meant what He said.