Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Joy of Lent, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B

Mk 1:12-15; Gen 9:8-15; 1 Pet 3:18-22
This Ash Wednesday I started Lent with a great sense of joy.
At least one person saw me and said this was odd, “Shouldn’t we be miserable in Lent?”
Actually, the liturgy of the Church refers to Lent as a season of “joy” (Lent Preface 1).
But WHY is it joyful? I’ve given up alcohol, and I’m supposed to SMILE about it?

The joy of Lent, it seems to me, is a HOPE-filled joy, a hope that sees what I can DO to improve
-improve myself, improve my life, come closer to God.
This sense of what we can DO is not about SELF-improvement, but about seeing the tools that GOD has given me, given me in this holy season, the threefold remedy for sin:
prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (giving to the poor).
Now, before I say anything else, I want to note that these three remedies go together. Yet again, I heard someone say this: “I’m not giving anything up for Lent, I’m doing something positive instead!”
-the problem with such a statement is it becomes either/or whereas it should be both/and. These three things go together, work together, and we need a LITTLE of EACH of them in our Lenten practice.

What is Lent? Above all, it’s being with the Lord Jesus.
Not with Him in glory and ease, but with Him in His 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert.
There is a time for feasting, but this is a time for fasting.
ALL the religions of the world fast -everyone except our over-rich, over-fed, over-comfortable Western culture.

Fasting changes me.
It helps me grow in self-control and self-discipline.
It helps me detach myself from worldly pleasures and so remember the ultimate pleasure of life in God.
It’s different from mere dieting in that it is a prayer, something I offer up to God.
When we resolve on various small acts of “Giving something up for Lent”, we are choosing some small act of fasting that we will resolve upon for the next 40 days. And often, going without chocolate or beer becomes BIG not by being for one day, but by the 40 days extended together.

Then prayer. In order to make our “Giving things up” a spiritual act, not just an act of human willpower, we need prayer to go with it.
So it’s very important in this season to add some additional prayer. Maybe as small as a daily extra ‘Hail Mary’, maybe Friday Stations of the Cross, maybe reading from the daily Lenten booklets in the porch, maybe adding a weekday Mass to your usual Sunday Mass
-there are many possibilities, but they all are about union with the Lord who went to pray and fast.

Finally, if I am praying, if I am fasting, this should be changing me in a way that changes how I relate to others. This is why almsgiving is intrinsically linked as the third piece of the puzzle.
Today, our Lenten collection is for our parish SVP Sudan fund,
But there are many other small, or large, “positive” acts we can take up in this season. Children might volunteer for an extra household chore for Lent; adults might need to look for some hidden act of kindness.

To return to where I began, Lent should be a joyful season, a hope-filled joy.
In the first reading, God saved Noah by water, from the flood.
In the second reading, we were told this was a symbol of the re-birth of our baptismal washing.
In the Gospel, we heard of the Lord Jesus in the desert, fasting and praying. If we go into the desert with Him, then the rebirth of Noah, the rebirth of baptism, can start afresh in us again too.
“Prayer, almsgiving and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other. Fasting is the soul of prayer, almsgiving is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you do only one of them or not all together, you have nothing.” (St Peter Chysologus, as quoted by the Church in the Lenten liturgy).

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Loving the ugly sick. 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 1:40-45
Today I’d like us to think about the Lord’s attitude to the sick, and to us as sick, and our own attitude to the sick.
Our Gospel text today is the second week in a row that we have heard about the Lord’s attitude to those who are sick. In particular, this week, we heard about the Lord’s attitude to a leper.

Sickness is pretty disgusting.
When WE are sick then WE become pretty disgusting.
In fact, one of the children was recently describing her (or his…) symptoms in a recent cold, and it was gross, it was disgusting, it made the sweet little child seem much less sweet! And that was just a cold!
In contrast, our readings today speak not of someone suffering from a cold, but of a leper. A disease that can frequently make people unpleasant to look at, disfiguring the skin and worse.
And my point to you is this:
The Lord Jesus did not shy away from the leper, did not get repulsed by his leprosy. Rather, He continued to SEE the PERSON who was suffering; He continued to LOVE the person who was suffering.

This attitude of the Lord Jesus is also the attitude that history marks as characteristic of the followers of Jesus:
Wherever Christians have gone in the world, bringing the good news of evangelisation, what they have also brought is a care for the weak. To use the refrain of the Scriptures: the stranger, the widow and the orphan.
Those that the pre-Christian world left abandoned to die were rescued by the early Christians.
Ancient Romans would leave unwanted babies to die on the hillside -but the early Christians rescued them and gave them homes.
In our own era, we can think of Mother Teresa spreading the Gospel by caring for those people in Calcutta that others had deemed to be ‘untouchable’. But none are untouchable to God; none are beyond His care and love.
Wherever the missionary orders of the Church have gone they have taken not only words but a life -they brought hospitals and basic humanitarian care. Still, today, the predominant work of most missionary orders, where most of the money we donate goes, is spent on care like hospitals.
Christ looked at the sick and ugly and loved them, and those who follow Christ do the same.

Today, however, we live in a post-Christian society, not a Christian one.
The post-Christian society values beauty, glamour, wealth, and youth.
Being old, being sick, being ugly -our culture does not value such people, does not hold them up as models, or, as people to be loved.

What about us?
When we look in the mirror, what do we value?
Do we think we only have value in as much as we have or continue to have beauty, youth, and health?
The Lord Jesus could look at a leper and love him.
Can you look at our own ugliness and still see someone loveable?
Or, Have you reduced yourself, and others, to those things that are actually least important?
Do you just value in yourself those things that pass, that, as the Lord said, like the beauty of the fields that is here today but gone and thrown in the fire tomorrow?(Mt 6:30)

If the Lord could love an ugly diseased leper, then, there must be something in us that is loveable that is NOT the passing glamour of this world.
God made you with great dignity, in His own image and likeness.
You are loved. You are loveable. Is this how we see ourselves and others?

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Bringing our sufferings to God. 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 1:29-39; Job 7:1-4.6-7
Today’s account of the healing of a mother-in-law reminds me of the old joke about St Peter, which you may or may not have heard, but it goes like this:
Why did Peter betray Jesus?  Because he never forgave Jesus for healing his mother-in-law!

A related fact is this:
Sometimes God does things that we don’t really want, and sometimes He seems to “fail” to do the things we DO want.
On one hand, we hear in today’s Gospel one of many occasions in the Gospels when we see Lord caring for the sick by curing them: “He cured many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another”.
The Lord Jesus very obviously cared for the sick and needy, as He cares for us.
On the other hand, in our first reading, we hear the lament of Job.
Our short text doesn't tell us, but let us remember Job’s situation:
He had lost everything:  his flocks and herds had been destroyed, his house too, and all his children.  In addition, he was covered from head to toe in boils and pain. 
And, after long patience, then he laments, as we heard in that passage.
“Is not man’s life on earth nothing more than pressed service,
his time no better than hired drudgery?...
Lying in bed I wonder, ‘When will it be day?’
Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes!’…
My life is but a breath,
And my eyes will never again see joy”(Job 7:1-4.6-7)

As most of us know, the entire book of Job is a reflection on why God allows bad things to happen to good people.
The reason that this is a theological problem is that it is CLEAR from so much of the Scriptures, and so much of life, that He is a GOOD God, a CARING God, and yet so often we doesn’t do what I WANT.

The answer, in the book of Job, is that we are not given an answer.
We are told that He is all-wise, all-powerful, all-good -but He does not explain His infinite mind to us.
Rather than giving God an answer, He addresses Job with a  list of questions:
Where were you when I made the earth?
Where were you when I placed the moon in orbit?
-if you didn’t do these things, how can you dare to ask me “why”?

Let me note, however, one of the answers of St Augustine, a proposal he makes in the context of why God tells us to pray:
God DESIRES and intends to give us all that is good for us.
But we are not READY to receive what He desires to give to us.
What makes us ready?
Our very asking, our repeated asking, our asking with longing and desire -this changes us, forms us, and can makes us READY to receive the thing that God desired to give us all along.
By analogy: a child will frequently see some desirable glittering thing, and will scream and shout at his mother for the thing he sees and wants:
Give me -that sharp knife
Give me -that spinning chain saw
Let me -go to the glowing burning fire.
But before the child is ready for any of these things there are many things that need to change, mature, and be learned.  And THEN the child can receive them.
By analogy -God knows better than us, somehow, what is for the best.
So, a twofold conclusion: we need to BRING our suffering to God; & we need to TRUST that He knows best.

Did St Peter want the Lord to cure his mother-in-law?                        The Gospel does not comment.
But we can be sure that if The Lord did it, it was for the best.

And as we seek Him, like the sick and needy crowds, we must approach Him with the same confidence.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Hard Sun, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20
The last couple weeks I’ve been watching a new Sci Fi series on the BBC called “Hard Sun”.
I’ll spare you the details, but it’s about the world being ended in a disaster by a catastrophic sun event (currently unspecified).  In the TV series, the world isn’t going to end for 5 years: not today, not tomorrow, but you know its ending in 5 years.
The drama of the TV series is about how people might react to the certain knowledge that the world is ending.
I’m not recommending the TV series to you, because it’s basically rubbish (my sophisticated analysis), but it provides a moment to for us to consider today how we SHOULD react to knowing that the world will end.
Despair?        Indifference?                        A last blow-out indulgence of gluttony?

As Christians, we have a rather significant angle on this. 
As we heard in our second reading, from St Paul to the Corthinians, “The order of this world is passing away”(1 Cor 7:31).
As the Lord Jesus revealed, repeatedly, when He returns, He will return in glory and judge (e.g. Mt 25) and transform this world.
As the book of Revelation describes, “there will be a new heaven and a new earth… for the order of the past [will be] no more”(Rev 21:1, 4).
On one level, a major part of this is obvious to any man of reason: every time I look in the mirror and examine my receding hairline, I think, “The order of this world is passing way”. But we, in addition, have a particular Christian grasp of this fact.
But, how should we FEEL about that?

One reaction is despair, to be so rooted in this world that the thought of it ending brings unquenchable sadness.
Another reaction is self-indulgence, to grab pleasure while you can, to live just for yourself, because we take the wrong practical conclusion from St Paul’s warning, “the time is growing short”(1 Cor 7:29)

A completely different reaction is to decide to live what time is left by the values we have thus-far FAILED to properly live:
Generosity, kindness, self-sacrifice; 
Giving my time to prayer, being more frequent at weekday Mass, and so forth.

The Christian teaching that, “the order of this world is passing away”, is a crucial part of the Lord’s call for us to live with our heart set on ANOTHER world.
There is much in world that is a “vale of tears”(Ps 84:6),
            and to live as if this world was ALL there was to live for, is the greatest sadness.
One event, beyond all others, should change our sense of which world we are living for, namely, meeting the Lord Jesus.
In the Gospel text we heard today, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, were all busy about the affairs of THIS world: they were fishermen, mending their nets, working in their boats.
But then THE LORD came and called them, “Follow me” (Mk 1:17).
He said practically nothing about what He was calling them TO, but, as I noted last week, they had already spent time with Him, they had already encountered something NEW in Him.
And so they left their nets, and accepted the call to “Follow” (Mk 1:17) Him.
They stopped looking to the world they had, but to WHATEVER lay ahead in the Lord.

One day this world will end, maybe by an explosion of the sun, as on the BBC TV series,
maybe tomorrow or next year,
But it will definitely end -and that’s a GOOD thing!
            There is much good in this world, even with its tears, but something BETTER is available.
If WE accept that “the order of this world is passing away”,

THEN we should be ready to live a new life, whatever following Him involves.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

5 minutes prayer a day, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

1 Sam 3:3-10.19; Jn 1:35-42
We heard in our first reading about how God called to Samuel, and something that you and I need to remember is that, right now, the Lord is calling out to you and me. He has something to say to you, now. Something that is relevant to your time and place. Maybe a message of consolation, of strength in your pain. Or maybe a message of direction, advice to persevere or advice to stop.
The problem, however, is that we so easily fail to hear what God is saying. And, on this point, today’s readings give us some useful indicators.

Samuel had the voice of the Lord speaking to him from heaven, speaking more directly than you or I are ever likely to experience. And yet, Samuel wasn't able to recognise the call of the Lord.
Samuel was, it would seem, a good boy: He did his master’s bidding. He came running to him.
But, he didn't recognise the call of the Lord.
Why? The text we heard gave the reason why, “Samuel had as yet no knowledge of the Lord”(1 Sam 3:7).
Now, let us recall, Samuel was a Jew; son of devout mother; he lived in the Temple. And yet he didn’t “know” the Lord. Just as you are I can be Catholic without really “knowing” the God that our faith gives us access to.
And, if we do not really know the Lord then we cannot recognise His voice calling to us.
And how do we get to know Him? By spending time with Him.

On that point, moving on to today’s Gospel text, the text does not yet have the Lord issuing His call, “Follow me”(Jn 1:43) –that call is recorded in the next verse, and what is recorded in today’s account is an important preparation for that call.
In today’s account we heard about how disciples of St John the Baptist went to Jesus and asked Him, “Rabbi, where do you live?”(Jn 1:38). Now, they weren’t just curious about whether He had a flat or a bungalow! They wanted to know HIM.
And they knew they had to spend TIME with Him to know Him.
And, having spent time with Him, having gotten to know Him, they were ready to hear and accept the call to “follow” Him that He then gave them.

I began by saying that the Lord has something to say to you, something relevant for you today, in your current circumstances. And, like Samuel, we can struggle to “know” the Lord well enough to able to hear His call.
Well, the point is this: there two things I am recommending to you today to address this: (1) prayer, and (2) reading the Gospels –the Gospels being the part of the Bible that most directly tells us about the Lord, so that might “know” Him.
Let me be more specific still, and suggest to you a daily pattern to follow (one that many of you already use, and a good number of you do even more than this):
(1) daily reading a paragraph of the Gospels, and
(2) then spending 5 minutes in prayer: silent, private, talking to God and listening to Him.
And inside today’s newsletter is a list of 7 excerpts from the Gospels, to take you through each day this coming week, so you can make this week the start of something new.

5 minutes is short enough that every single person here should be able to achieve it.
But I’d also assert (and I think I can say I witness this in many people) that 5 minutes a day can be enough to start you out on a new trajectory.
A new trajectory that can start you on a path such that you might hear what the Lord is calling out to you –just as Samuel was eventually able to say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”(1 Sam 3:10).

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Wonersh: Online Resources for Moral Theology

This page is under construction, and was started 14/01/2018

The links below are offered to supplement the 3rd year Moral theology course offered at St John's Seminary, Wonersh, by Fr Dylan James.
Note: In almost every case, the non-online bibliography of printed texts for the course are preferable to the web articles below.

Recommended Audio Course (also on DVD):
Romanus Cessario OP, Elements of Moral Theology

Works sympathetic to Pinckaers and the approach followed in our course:
Craig Stephen Titus, Servais Pinckaers and the Renewal of Catholic Moral Theology (Journal of Moral Theology vol 1 n.1 (2012)) pp.43-68
Servais Pinckaers, The Pinckaers Reader: Renewing Thomistic Moral Theology (Google Book edition
Servais Pinckaers, The Place of Philosophy in Moral Theology
Anon, Returning to a Morality of Happiness

Michael Kane, Servais Pinckaers: Returning to a Thomisitc Morality of Happiness and Beatitude (2011)

Wikipedia, Servais-TheodorePinckaers 

A work critical of Pinckaers, but nonetheless seeking to be rooted in Thomism:
John Cuddeback, Law, Pinckaers, and the Definition of Christian Ethics (Nova et Vetera, Eng ed, vol7 n2 (2009)) pp.301-6  

Just War
Paul Griffiths and George Weigel, Just War: An Exchange (2002),
The above text is the recommended seminar reading for the lecture on Just War theory  
G.E.M. Anscombe, War and Murder, in Walter Stein (ed.), Nuclear Weapons: A Catholic Response (London and New York, 1961)
An articulate critique both of pacifism and of nuclear war   
Ratzinger Fan Club has complied a large range of articles by popes and theologians, including John Paul II, Ratzinger, Vatican officials, Robert George, Deal Hudson, James Turner Johnson, Richard Neuhaus, Michael Novak, James Schall, Russell Shaw, George Weigel and others see here (articles all pre-date 2007)
William Saunders, Just War for Modern Time 
William Saunders, The Church’s Just War Theory
Russell Shaw, Just War in the Modern Age (2017) 
Colin B. Donovan, What is Just War? 
Lawrence Mary, Catholic Teaching Concerning a Just War

Mortal Sin
G.E.M. Anscombe, "Morality", in Faith in a Hard Ground: Essays on Religion, Philosophy and Ethics (Chapter 13) (Google Book edition)
Mark Latkovic, The Fundamental Option. A Faithful Student’s Guide to a Competing 20th Century Moral Theory (2016)

Germain Grisez, The Distinction Between Grave and Light Matter, in Christian Moral Principles, Chapter 16 (online) 
John Harvey, The Pastoral Problem of Masturbation  
St Thomas Aquinas, Whether Charity is Lost through One Mortal Sin? (ST II-II q2 a12) 

Germain Grisez, Conscience: Knowledge of Moral Truth, in Christian Moral Principles, Chapter 3  (online) 
Irish Bishops Conference, Moral Theology: Recent Developments, Implications (2004) 
Thomas Berg, What is Moral Conscience? (Homiletic and Pastoral Review (2012)) 
Mark Latkovic, Forming a Catholic Conscience (2000)
Mary Lowery, I. Freedom and Conscience, in Handout Notesfor Moral Theology, Christian Marriage, and Catholic Social Thought (2007).  Note, especially, section "e. Good and Bad Conscience"

Co-operation in Evil
Seido Foundation, Morality of Cooperation in Evil 
Helen Watt, Co-operation in Evil, -old link
Charles O’Donnell, How do you Avoid Prescribing the Morning After Pill? (Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 61.3 (August 2011)), pp.7-9  
Tad Pacholczyk, When is a Sin to Make a Referral?  (Oct 2017)