Sunday, 29 March 2015

The 4th Cup: Passion Sunday 2015




Mk 14:1-15:47
In attempting to contemplate the momentous events we have just heard in the Passion I would like to focus on what the Lord Jesus thought, intended, and chose for us. And to do this by considering what He chose to drink, and what He refused to drink, 4 chalices. Because the real ‘chalice’ He chose was the Passion, a ‘fourth cup’ that was not a physical drink at all.
This is the ‘4th cup’ interpretation of Scott Hahn http://webpages.marshall.edu/~trimbol3/4thcup4.htm

Before I comments on the chalices, let me note why this is important:
Its important because it shows us what the Lord Jesus understood Himself to be doing.
It shows us just how fully He entered into all of this FOR US, for our sake.
It wasn't just a terrible thing that the Father then, almost by chance, brought something good out of by the Resurrection.
No, it was all an act of love on behalf of the God-man Jesus Christ.

So, 4 drinks.
There was a chalice that we heard Him refuse to drink: As they started His crucifixion they offered Him wine mixed with myhrr (Mk 15:23 or ‘gall’ (Mt 27:34)). He refused this drink. Why did He refuse it? Because this mixture of wine was offered to those being crucified as an opiate for those condemned to die, given to them to numb the pain. Christ refused this because He wished to fully accept the pain, for us.

He refused that pain-killing drink because, as we heard earlier in the narrative, He had already accepted to drink another chalice, the chalice of suffering. As we heard in the ‘Agony in the Garden’, He contemplated the immensity of the suffering that laid ahead, an ordeal so horrific that His human will in some sense ‘hesitated’, recoiled, before it. Thus He prayed, "Father... Take this cup away from me"(Mk 14:36).
And yet, He chose to accept it, saying, "yet, not my will but yours"(Mk 14:36).

The acceptance of this chalice, however, was not a one-off moment. It was part of a plan He entered into for Him to be the New Passover, the new Lamb of sacrifice. In the old Passover there was a sacrificial Lamb. But Christ wished to institute something new, with a New Passover and a new Passover Lamb. And this is shown in the words we heard Him utter at the Last Supper. As the Scripture scholar Scott Hahn notes, the Passover meal consisted of a series of cups being drunk, and yet, in the narrative, it is clear that He has skipped the last cup:
He drank the chalice that instituted the Eucharist, the Mass, saying, “This is my Blood…”.
But He then declares that He will not drink again, "I will not drink again of ten fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God"(Mk 14:25).
They then sing the Passover psalms, as we heard, but instead of doing what the Passover ritual called for, instead of then drinking the final cup, the native indicates that they then immediately "went out to the Mount of Olives"(Mk 14:26).
He omits the final cup, the final cup He has declared He will not drink until “the kingdom”.

When does He drink the final Passover cup? The fourth cup?
Well, He proceeds straight from the Passover to the Garden, where He then prays about the ‘chalice’ to come.
So the ‘4th Cup’ by which He completes the Passover is the ‘chalice’ of the suffering of the Cross.
It is the sacrifice that makes Him the sacrificial Lamb of the New Covenant, of the New and definitive Passover.
Thus, the moment we hear Him drink again is at the completion of that sacrifice:
At the very end someone gave Him “a sponge dipped in vinegar”(Mk 15:36). He drank His final drink, and, “crying out in a loud voice, breathed His last”(Mk 15:37).
The New Passover was complete. Its final cup was drunk.

And, to repeat what I started by noting: Why does this matter?
It matters because it shows us how consciously He entered into this.
He loves us. He cares for us. He chose to be the sacrifice.
“Behold the Lamb of God, Behold Him whom takes away the sins of the world”

Friday, 27 March 2015

Lent Talk 6: Mortification & Self-Denial






Before entering into Holy Week, the final session of our Lenten Talk series will look at the place of self-denial and mortification. 'Mortification' means dying to ourselves that Christ might come to life in us.
A PDF of the talk slides can be viewed here

The other talks in this series can be heard by clicking here

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Confession, 5th Sunday of Lent, Year B




Jn 12:20-30; Jer 31:31-34
This past couple weeks we’ve all, no doubt, started to see the signs of spring. For me, the yearly sight of crocuses is always what makes me realise that spring is on the way, that new life is coming after the winter.
But I realised this spring that I’d almost forgotten what spring looks like. I’d gotten used to the sight of brown earth in the flower bed. No flowers. No leaves on the trees. No green. This winter I just got used to it. I forgot that it could be otherwise.

And it occurred to me that my soul can be the same. I can get used to things being lifeless or tepid or barren. I can get used to the sin.
Maybe small sins that I’ve gotten used to.
But I can used to the big sins too.
And then there are so many sins that can start small but become big, or that I can forget how big they’ve become:
Being irritable, habitually, so people are wary of me;
Being impatient, so that I don’t suffer fools gladly;
Being careless, so that people can’t rely on me as they should be able to;
Being lazy, so that things just don’t get done.
All these things and more I can just get used to, I can forget that it possible to be otherwise.

Today’s first reading contains the prophecy of Jeremiah that there would be a “new covenant” to replace the old one. The Chosen people had broken the old covenant by their unfaithfulness, by their sins.
And the Church reminds us of this promise of the “new” covenant, even though we already live in this “new” covenant, in Christ Jesus. The Church reminds us of this “new” offer because she knows that we always stand in need of being re-made.
In particular, in the season in of Lent, we’d do well to remember that the word “lent” is an old Saxon word for “spring”. So all of our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving in this season is aiming at achieving a similar new growth in our hearts.

But if we are to have this new growth, if we are to remember what spring feels like in our souls, just like nature is showing us once again what spring looks like in the plants,
if we are to have this new life then something has to die within us first, and that something is sin.
The Lord said, as we just heard, that a grain of wheat must die if it is to bring forth a harvest of new life. My sins, likewise, must die. And they die by my repenting of them, and the Lord forgiving me for them.

This Wednesday evening, in preparation for Easter, there will be 4 priests here to hear your confessions. And Thursday evening there will be the same number of priests in Blandford church or confessions. This is a key moment of the year for us to think about those things within us that we have allowed ourselves to get overly used to, like getting used to the brown barren earth and forgetting what spring greenery and flowers are like.

The great gift of living in the “new covenant” is that we can repent and start again. And, even more so: the great gift of being in the season of Lent, is that this is a special moment of grace, a special moment to come back to life.
So let’s not get used to barren brown earth in our souls, let’s get to confession, let’s open our souls to Christ that life may spring forth.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Lent Talk 5: A Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ




Do I relate to God in the impersonal remote manner characterized by Islam, Buddhism or the pre-Christian religions? Or do I know and love Him personally, "as a friend knows a friend"?
A PDF of the talk slides can be viewed here

The other talks in our 2015 Lenten talk series can be heard by clicking here

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Mothering Sunday, 4th Sunday of Lent, Year B




Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21
In our Scripture readings today there are a number of themes, and I’m going to focus on one: the Love of God for us: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”(Jn 3:16) and, “God loved us with so much love that He was generous with His mercy”(Eph 2:4).
I want to speak today, on Mothering Sunday, about how God’s plan for humanity is such that He has given us mothers to give us an emotional understanding of this divine love.
God has made us the kind of social beings that need to experience love. He’s not made us like lizards that hatch out of an egg, all alone, with no need to be mothered and loved. No, he’s made us the kind of beings that need to be loved, and this human experience of being loved, as a mother is called to give, gives us a taste of God’s love for us.
Let me note at least three things that mothers are called to do. (These actually apply to fathers too, though today we think of mothers, so I'll phrase this referring to them.)

First, mothers are called to introduce their children to God and to those truths that relate to God.
So, even though prayer comes naturally to children, I still needed someone to teach me how to kneel by the side of my bed and pray, and my mother gave me that teaching.

Second, and linked, mothers are called to introduce their children to the right way to live: the virtues; the commandments; the life Christ showed us.
I needed someone to teach me not to punch my little sister, and that person was my mother.

Third, to return to my beginning, MOTHERS ARE CALLED UPON TO TEACH US THAT WE ARE LOVED.
And this is my main point today.
In religion classes and sermons we are taught that God loves us.
BUT in order for me to understand, emotionally, what it means to say that, “God loves me”, I first need to have had an emotional EXPERIENCE of what it means that someone loves me.
When my mother fed me I experienced what it was to be loved.
When my mother kept me warm I experienced what it was to be loved.
Similarly, when she protected me, forgave me, held me, and so forth, I experienced what it is to be loved.
I don't think I have ever doubted that I was loved, and this must be a gift I have received from my parents.
This was part of God’s plan for what parents are supposed to do for children: that we might have a taste of the fact that God loves us. So that when we see and hear about God loving us it might make sense to us. It might enable us to have an opening to that even GREATER love that God has for me, for He loves me even more than my mother does.

And of course, in reverse, as we grow older, our knowledge and experience of how God loves and forgives us can help HEAL those emotional wounds within us from the different ways our parenting fell short of what it should have been.
Parental love can introduce me to God;
God’s love can heal my lack of experiencing parental love.

So today, on Mothering Sunday, let us pray for those who lack a mother’s love.
Let us give thanks to God for the experience of love He gave us through our mothers.
And let us realise that this points to the even deeper love that God has for you and for me, because, as Scripture puts it, “does a mother forget the child at her breast? Yet even if she forgets, I will never forget you”(Isa 49:15).

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Lent Talk 4: Order & the Heroic Minute




Living a 'life in the Spirit' does not mean living a life of disorder! Tonight's session will examine how to identify the 'hinges' that enable us to put patterns of order and discipline into our lives -the order we need if we are to be free for Christ to enter in.
A PDF of the talk slides can be viewed here


The other talks in our 2015 Lenten talk series can be heard by clicking here

MT7c IVF In Vitro Fertlisation

10th March 2014, text available here
Divorce and Remarriage & Holy Communion
Homosexuality
IVF
Lecture to Ordinariate London clergy formation group



MT7b Homosexuality

10th March 2014, text available here
Divorce and Remarriage & Holy Communion
Homosexuality
IVF
Lecture to Ordinariate London clergy formation group




MT7a Divorce and Remarriage

10th March 2014, text available here
Divorce and Remarriage & Holy Communion
Homosexuality
IVF
Lecture to Ordinariate London clergy formation group



Sunday, 8 March 2015

Silence in Church, 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B




Jn 2:13-25; Ex 20:1-17
As some of you know, earlier this year I was in Rome for a clergy conference. And a highlight of the event was being able to attend Holy Mass with Pope Francis, something I'd not yet been able to do with our new Pope. As we all know, he's a very popular figure, with a relaxed, extrovert and joyful personality, all of which is readily observable at his public audiences in the manner in which he greets and smiles to people as he comes down the aisle.
Now, I note this because his behaviour during Holy Mass is noticeably different: he is solemn and composed, and as he walked down the aisle his eyes were either fixed forward to the altar or down to the ground. He was doing something SOLEMN and SACRED and his behaviour made that clear.
In addition, before he came out at the start of Mass there was an announcement that the crowds were not to applaud him or clap –we were gathered to worship God, not to be a papal fan club.
I found the whole thing immensely edifying, but it made we wonder about how we behave in Church for Mass here in Shaftesbury.

I say this today because, as I mentioned when I preached on this six years ago, today's Gospel text is the only time we see Jesus get truly ANGRY. The Lord is sometimes saddened by those who refuse to believe in Him, but this is the ONLY time the Gospels record Him being truly angry. And WHY was He angry? Because the Temple, His “Father’s House”(Jn 2:16), “the House of Prayer for all the nations”(Isa 56:7, c.f Jer 7:11)”, was being abused by people mis-treating it, treating it for uses other than worship.
What of our church here, the temple of the new covenant? Catholic Churches are consecrated for sacred use, for worship. And yet, often our parish church seems to be treated more like a talking place, a place to chat. And let me point out that the General Instruction n.45 (c.f. Inaestimabile Donum n.17) explicitly states that churches should be silent for prayer before and after Holy Mass.
In contrast, people often complain to me that they are unable to pray in our church because of all the talking. They say to me, “Father, this is a church, if I can't pray in church then WHERE can I pray! It's not right”
So, can I point out: we have a porch and hall for meeting and chatting. Please keep the church for prayer, but DO chat and meet in the hall and porch.

On a less specific, and hopefully less critical note, can I shift this slightly and say, if “the house of prayer” is so valued by the Lord, then surely TIMES of prayer also need to be valued in our lives. Our Faith calls on us to dedicate PLACES to prayer; we also need to dedicate TIMES to it.
In Lent we are especially called to pray, but this can also be a good time to reconsider the place of prayer in our lives the rest of the year too.
To consider: what sort of a regular pattern, a regular plan of prayer do I have?
Do I have a brief morning prayer, one I say when I wake?
Do I have a routine for praying before I sleep?
Do I thank God for the good things I've received? And tell Him I’m sorry for my daily sins.

To sum that up. Pope Francis is a joyful man, but he is solemn and focussed when saying Holy Mass. We might even say that He has joy in his heart BECAUSE he is focussed properly in his prayers and at Mass.
For us too, if we are attentive to our prayers, attentive to Mass, if we treat His church as a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Isa 56:7, c.f. Jer 7:11), then the Mass, that re-connection with the Divine that the Mass can give, will bring joy to the rest of our lives too.

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Silence in Church Please:
Before Mass: “Before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.” (GRIM, n45, 2000AD)
After Mass: “The faithful are to be recommended not to omit to make proper thanksgiving after Communion. They may do this during the celebration with a period of silence... or also after the celebration, if possible by staying behind to pray for a suitable time.” (Inaestimabile Donum n.17)

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Note also:
Bishop's Pastoral Letter
by Bishop Hugh Gilbert
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We live in a noisy world. Our towns and cities are full of noise. There is noise in the skies and on the roads. There is noise in our homes, and even in our churches. And most of all there is noise in our minds and hearts.
The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once wrote: ‘The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and I were asked for my advice, I should reply: “Create silence! Bring people to silence!” The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. And even if it were trumpeted forth with all the panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God. Therefore, create silence!’
‘Create silence!’ There’s a challenge here. Surely speaking is a good and healthy thing? Yes indeed. Surely there are bad kinds of silence? Yes again. But still Kierkegaard is on to something.
There is a simple truth at stake. There can be no real relationship with God, there can be no real meeting with God, without silence. Silence prepares for that meeting and silence follows it. An early Christian wrote, ‘To someone who has experienced Christ himself, silence is more precious than anything else.’ For us God has the first word, and our silence opens our hearts to hear him. Only then will our own words really be words, echoes of God’s, and not just more litter on the rubbish dump of noise.
‘How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.’ So the carol goes. For all the noise, rush and rowdiness of contemporary Christmasses, we all know there is a link between Advent and silence, Christmas and silence. Our cribs are silent places. Who can imagine Mary as a noisy person? In the Gospels, St Joseph never says a word; he simply obeys the words brought him by angels. And when John the Baptist later comes out with words of fire, it is after years of silence in the desert. Add to this the silence of our long northern nights, and the silence that follows the snow. Isn’t all this asking us to still ourselves?
A passage from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom describes the night of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt as a night full of silence. It is used by the liturgy of the night of Jesus’ birth:
‘When a deep silence covered all things and night was in the middle of its course, your all-powerful Word, O Lord, leapt from heaven’s royal throne’ (Wis 18:14-15).
‘Holy night, silent night!’ So we sing. The outward silence of Christmas night invites us to make silence within us. Then the Word can leap into us as well, as a wise man wrote: ‘If deep silence has a hold on what is inside us, then into us too the all-powerful Word will slip quietly from the Father’s throne.’
This is the Word who proceeds from the silence of the Father. He became an infant, and ‘infant’ means literally ‘one who doesn’t speak.’ The child Jesus would have cried – for air and drink and food – but he didn’t speak. ‘Let him who has ears to hear, hear what this loving and mysterious silence of the eternal Word says to us.’ We need to listen to this quietness of Jesus, and allow it to make its home in our minds and hearts.
‘Create silence!’ How much we need this! The world needs places, oases, sanctuaries, of silence.
And here comes a difficult question: what has happened to silence in our churches? Many people ask this. When the late Canon Duncan Stone, as a young priest in the 1940s, visited a parish in the Highlands, he was struck to often find thirty or forty people kneeling there in silent prayer. Now often there is talking up to the very beginning of Mass, and it starts again immediately afterwards. But what is a church for, and why do we go there? We go to meet the Lord and the Lord comes to meet us. ‘The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him!’ said the prophet Habakkuk. Surely the silent sacramental presence of the Lord in the tabernacle should lead us to silence? We need to focus ourselves and put aside distractions before the Mass begins. We want to prepare to hear the word of the Lord in the readings and homily. Surely we need a quiet mind to connect to the great Eucharistic Prayer? And when we receive Holy Communion, surely we want to listen to what the Lord God has to say, ‘the voice that speaks of peace’? Being together in this way can make us one – the Body of Christ – quite as effectively as words.
A wise elderly priest of the diocese said recently, ‘Two people talking stop forty people praying.’
‘Create silence!’ I don’t want to be misunderstood. We all understand about babies. Nor are we meant to come and go from church as cold isolated individuals, uninterested in one another. We want our parishes to be warm and welcoming places. We want to meet and greet and speak with one another. There are arrangements to be made, items of news to be shared, messages to be passed. A good word is above the best gift, says the Bible. But it is a question of where and when. Better in the porch than at the back of the church. Better after the Mass in a hall or a room. There is a time and place for speaking and a time and place for silence. In the church itself, so far as possible, silence should prevail. It should be the norm before and after Mass, and at other times as well. When there is a real need to say something, let it be done as quietly as can be. At the very least, such silence is a courtesy towards those who want to pray. It signals our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. It respects the longing of the Holy Spirit to prepare us to celebrate the sacred mysteries. And then the Mass, with its words and music and movement and its own moments of silence, will become more real. It will unite us at a deeper level, and those who visit our churches will sense the Holy One amongst us.
‘Create silence!’ It is an imperative. May the Word coming forth from silence find our silence waiting for him like a crib! ‘The devil’, said St Ambrose, ‘loves noise; Christ looks for silence.’
Yours sincerely in Him,
+ Hugh, O. S. B.
Bishop of Aberdeen
7 December 2011

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Lent Talk 3: Sons in the Son

The goal of the Christian life is to become adopted as a child of God, adopted in Christ as 'sons in the Son'. This doctrine underpins our whole identity as Christians and determines what we are seeking for in 'holiness'.
A PDF of the talk slides can be viewed here

The other talks can be heard by clicking here



Sunday, 1 March 2015

2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B




Gen 22:1-2,9-13,15-18; Rom 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10
In our first reading we heard about Abraham and Isaac, and hearing of how Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac is always a little problematic. I'll return to that issue in a minute, but I want to first point to the fact that there are three different sacrifices being alluded to in our liturgy today.

First, there is the sacrifice of Isaac. That Abraham was willing to give up his son, even though he loved him dearly (Gen 22:2).
Second, there is the sacrifice of Jesus, the one eternal son of the Divine Father. As we heard in our second reading, what proves that the Father loves us is that He was willing to sacrifice His own Son for us (Rom 8:32).
Further, in the gospel, we heard of how Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, shown in glory to Peter, James and John. And remember the context: the Lord Jesus had just predicted that He would be crucified (Mk 8:31), had just revealed the horror that lay in wait. And He shows them this vision of future glory to sustain them through that horror.
Now, we might note that His predicting His passion, and preparing His disciples for it, shows that it was part of His plan. So it was not just that the Father was willing to sacrifice Him for us, but that it was His loving plan to allow Himself to be sacrificed for us –to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.

There is a third sacrifice alluded to in our liturgy today, however, one not referred to in our Scripture texts, but one implicit in today’s liturgy:
Our Lenten sacrifices: the prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that we are making. The things we are giving up for Lent.
And this vision of the transfigured Christ on the mountain top is offered to us as a reminder of the Easter glory that lies ahead for all believers making their Lenten sacrifices.

Let me return to Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. This seems horrific to us. But why does it seem horrific? After all, many nations and religions in history have sacrificed their children in pagan religions. This, in fact, is the point. We got our idea that child sacrifice was wrong FROM this event. Abraham didn't originally know this. Abraham did not yet know it was wrong to sacrifice his child, the religions around him sacrificed their children, and so he expected to do the same -as the historian and Scripture scholars point out. BUT in this definitive act God taught Him that He, the one true God, did not accept the sacrifice of children. Thus in the centuries after the Jews knew to oppose the child sacrifice that surrounded them, as we oppose it today.

To conclude, there is a Lenten lesson for us here.
On one hand, that God is a god of goodness, not a god of child sacrifice.
On the other hand, that He rewards those who are WILLING to sacrifice to Him, as He rewarded Abraham for his faithfulness by giving him the Promised Land, and countless descendants (Gen 22:17).
You and I need to be willing to make our Lenten sacrifices, to persevere in our giving things up, in our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of Lent.
It's often not easy to make such sacrifices. So let us resolve to be willing to make sacrifices, as He was willing to sacrifice Himself, that we might have our humanity transfigured in Easter glory just as He showed His humanity transfigured on the mountaintop.