Sunday, 24 June 2018

Birth of St John the Baptist

Today we keep the feastday of St John the Baptist, and you might not be aware of this, but its incredibly rare for Church to allow an individual saint to replace the normal Sunday Mass.  So its worth while remembering why St John the Baptist is considered important.

Let’s recall who he was:
He was “the Baptist” -in the River Jordan he baptised huge crowds of people who came to him from all over Palestine.
He was great 
-he had so many many followers, and was held in such admiration, that many people thought that he must eb the long-awaited Jewish Messaish.  So many people thought this that he had to make a point of saying that he WASN’T the Messiah (Lk 3:15-16);
-he was so great that the Lord Jesus said of Him, that there was no one greater born of women (Mt 11:11);
-God blessed his birth with miracles: an angel appeared to his father and first struck him dumb and then his speech was restored, events so unusual that “all marvelled”(Lk 1:63) and everyone said, “What then will this child turn out to be?”(Lk 1:66).
He was the cousin of the Lord Jesus
-his mother was Elizabeth, a cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Having noted all those details, let’s come to the crucial point: 
WHY was he baptising?
As he put it himself, he was ‘Preparing a way for the Lord’(Lk 3:4):
His was a ‘baptism of repentence’(Lk 3:3);
He told people how to change their lives: the tax collectors, the soldiers, the multitudes;
And the point is this:
None of this was for himself, it was all to get them ready for someone else: the Lord Jesus Christ, who WAS the long-awaited Messiah.

A brief application to ourselves: How is all this relevant to ME?  
4 very brief points:
(1) God had a plan in St John the Baptist, a long plan with many miraculous details, a plan that was part of a wider plan: for the Messiah.
If God had a plan for him, it’s a reminder that He also mas a plan for me, and a plan for you.
(2) A different point, St John the Baptist deferred to the Lord Jesus.  St John the Baptist said, He must increase and I must decrease”(Jn 3:30).
I, too, must be ready to put the Lord before all else -he and I are not on an equal footing.
(3) Third, the entire work of St John the Baptist was oriented towards the something GREATER that lay ahead: the coming of the King, with a new type of Kingdom.
There is something greater ahead, available for you and me too: Heaven.
(4) Finally, let us think about how St John the Baptist first reacted when meeting the Lord Jesus. 
People often recall his life of penance in the desert, his eating locusts etc.  
BUT when he first met the Lord, when their pregnant mothers greeted, and the two babes in the wombs miraculously reacted to each other, his mother Elizabeth said, “The babe in my womb leapt for JOY”(Lk 1:44).
Joy can be our reaction too, every time we meet the Lord, at a deeper and deeper level.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

By Faith not by sight, 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34
If you’re wondering where I was last week, I’ve just been away on an 8 day retreat.  8 days of silence, speaking only to my retreat director, and only to him once a day. 
Such a retreat is hard work.  We use the word ‘retreat’ in English, but in other languages they call them the ‘exercises’.
To use one analogy, it’s a bit like staring in the mirror non-stop for 8 days. You come to see every imperfection, every thing about yourself that you don’t like, everything that you need to CHANGE -you can become rather sick of yourself.  

That analogy has a serious flaw, however:
A Christian retreat isn’t about looking at yourself in a mirror.
A Christian retreat is about looking at Christ, looking at Him long and hard.
-like a mirror, we come to see ourselves in a new light.
But whereas a mirror only leads you to yourself, and fails to show you HOW to change -you only see what is ugly and wrong,
in contrast, when we look at Christ, we see not so much what is WRONG, but what could be RIGHT, in Him.

I want to focus this on a useful and oft-quoted statement we heard in our second reading, from St Paul to the Corinthians:
“We walk by faith, and not by sight”(2 Cor 5:7).

I might know I need to change; know I need to move on, 
But none of us have SEEN that place where we are supposed to be going, 
we don’t know it “by sight” -to use St Paul’s term.
So how DO we know it?  How can I know HOW I’m supposed to journey onwards?
            St Paul says we do so, “by faith”.
Faith, it’s important to be clear, it’s NOT a vague attitude or feeling.
Romans 10:17: “Faith comes from hearing” 
I hear what the Lord has told me, especially in the Bible, 
and I choose to accept Him, and, accept what He has said.
I say, “I believe you”, to the Lord Jesus,
I say that I believe all He has told me about:
The destination, life in Him, life united to Him;
The path, which is also Him, He is “the way”(Jn 14:6).

For myself, as for you, the Lord has told us many things for us to believe, to “walk by faith”.
He has revealed, in Himself, just how wondrous, how desirable, that destination is.
He has also revealed what I need to do to get there:
To daily, if not hourly, repent of my sins;
To see myself more truly in Him, to examine myself, to know what sins to repent of;
To live for Him, and for others for His sake, rather than living for myself, 
not living for my comfort, for my accomplishment, my pride, my vanity, my pleasure;
He has also revealed His strength and assistance on the way:
Our gospel parable, of the seed that grows unseen, is just one of many promises of how He DOES work, even when we don’t see it;
He promises to come with His strength in the sacraments, because I can’t get to heaven by own power:
I need His feeding in Holy Communion,
I need His restoring forgiveness in regular Confession.
I haven’t yet seen the goal, but I’ve been told of it in faith.  
“We walk by faith, and not [yet!] by sight”(2 Cor 5:7).

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Our Lady and the Holy Spirit, Spouse of the Holy Spirit: Pentecost

There is a phrase that we hear repeatedly in the New Testament, namely, acting under the “power”(Acts 1:8) of the Holy Spirit. Now, many of us can wonder quite HOW that works –how do you get the Holy Spirit’s power to work in you? Also, we might wonder what is LOOKS like to have the power of the Holy Spirit at work in someone.
I want, today, to speak about the unique relationship between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit, and say a few words about how Our Lady can show us both what having the “power” of the Holy Spirit in us LOOKS like, and also HOW we can let that power work within us.

One of the titles of Our Lady is “Spouse of the Holy Spirit”, a title that indicates that she has a unique relationship with Him.
He is referred to at the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel told Our Lady that she would conceive not in the normal way but when “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”(Lk 1:35).
He is referred to again when Our Lady then goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth while they were both pregnant, she with the Lord Jesus and Elizabeth with John the Baptist. At the greeting of the Blessed Virgin “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” and she said that “the babe in my womb leapt for joy”(Lk 1:41;44), so that John the Baptist is said to have been filled with the Spirit even before he was born.

But it is perhaps in the next thing that happened we see something most relevant shown forth: Our Lady then burst out into the beautiful “Magnificat” (Lk 1:46-55) in which she declared the praise of God for what He was doing, in particular that He had “cast down the mighty”(Lk 1:52) and raised up the lowly. This is relevant in two ways: first, her bursting forth into this hymn of praise was itself an action of the Holy Spirit within her; and second, the words she said indicated why SHE was suitable for the Spirit to act in her: namely, she was lowly and humble herself.

When we are proud we are unable to listen to others.
When we are mighty and content with our state we struggle to turn to others for aid.
In either case we are not suitably disposed to let the Holy Spirit be at work in us –we can’t really hear His promptings; and, we’re too full of our own misguided thoughts of our power to depend on HIS power.

Our Lady, in contrast, was humble not proud. Although she was doing a great thing herself, namely, being mother of the Lord, she did not ascribe this greatness to herself but rather TO GOD who had chosen her in her lowly state.
And, and as a consequence, GREAT things did happen in her, and the “POWER” of the Holy Spirit was active in her.
He was active in her not least in the most daily every-day aspect of her life: her sinlessness. She wasn’t sinless by her own power but by the “power” of the Holy Spirit, a power she was humble enough to co-operate with. She co-operated with His power not once, not occasionally, but every moment of her existence: from her sinless conception, in every moment of her life, such that she was exactly what the angel called her: “full of grace”(Lk 1:28). Such a CONTINUAL commitment to Him is another reason it suitable to think of her as His “spouse” –a life-long relationship.
And that same Spirit also gave her strength to do what we might think would be impossible, so that she was faithful to stand at the foot of the Cross and watch her son suffer.

So, to conclude: for ourselves, if we want to have that same “power” of the Holy Spirit in us, then:
We must be humble and lowly as she was humble and lowly –we must not have mistaken views of our greatness or self-power.
And if we are lowly before the Lord, call on His strength, COMMIT ourselves to Him as she did as His spiritual spouse, then we will allow the space in us for Him to come and come with “power”

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Former Anglican Clergy Lecture Notes

9th Jan 2018
1) Introduction: What is ‘Moral Theology’? & The Place of Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium, and Reason in Moral Theology
click here

2nd May 2018
2) The History of Moral Theology
click here
Possible additional reading: Servais Pinckaers, OP, Morality: The Catholic View, trans Michael Sherwin, OP (South Bend, Indiana: St Augustine’s Press, 2001), pp.25-41 and p.44, excerpts

13th May
3) Lecture: Emotivism, G.E. Moore, and Logical Positivism
Lecture: Aristotelian ‘Good’ vs. Emotivism et al
click here and here

22nd May, 4pm
4) Lecture: Happiness and the Good, Sin and freedom
click here
Possible additional reading:
section "h" of Mark Lowery, "Choosing Evil “Under the Aspect of the Good” , in Handout Notes for Moral Theology, Christian Marriage, and Catholic Social Thought (2007) click here
“Freedom and Happiness” in Servais Pinckaers, OP, Morality: The Catholic View, trans Michael Sherwin, OP (South Bend, Indiana: St Augustine’s Press, 2001), pp.65-81 (not online)

3rd June, 6pm
5) Lecture: What is Virtue?
click here
Possible additional reading: John Hardon SJ, The Meaning of Virtue in St Thomas Aquinas click here

19th June, 11.30am
6) Lecture: Natural Law I: Basic Principles (Ordinariate course notes)
click here
Possible additional reading: Michael Schutzer-Weissmann, Natural Law (and the Laws of Nature), Catholic Medical Quarterly vol 63(2) (May 2013) click here

27th June, 10.30am
7) Contraception and Natural Law (Ordinariate course notes)
click here
Possible additional reading (omit section on Edward Holloway): Dylan James “The Perverted Faculty Argument” click here

8) Lecture: The Just War
click here
Possible additional reading: Paul J. Griffiths and George Weigel, “Just War: An Exchange”, First Things 122 (April 2002) click here

9) Lecture: Natural Law III: The Relationship between Civil Law and Morality
click here
Possible additional Reading: Kathy Schiffer, “Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas” (7 Feb 2014) click here

10) Lecture: Mortal Sin (Ordinariate Course notes)
click here
Possible additional Reading: Jimmy Akin, "Assessing Mortal Sin" click here

11) Lecture: The Moral Evaluation of Acts: The End and the Means (c.f. Ordinariate course notes)
Possible additional reading: John Harris, “The Survival Lottery”, in Bioethics, Oxford Readings in Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp.300-303; Robert Spaemann, “Even the best of intentions does not justify the use of evil means”, Reflections on the Encyclical Letter ‘Veritatis Splendor’-7, L’Osservatore Romano (English) 50 (15 December 1993), p.11; Germain Grisez, “Revelation versus dissent”, Veritatis Splendor in focus: 1, The Tablet (16 October 1993), pp.1329-31.

12) Lecture: Cooperation in Evil
Possible additional reading: Germain Grisez, Difficult Moral Questions, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 3 (Quincy, Illinois: Franciscan Press, 1997), pp.365-380, excerpts.

13) A Contrast: Catholic and Protestant Approaches to Ethics
Reading: James M. Gustafson, Protestant and Roman Catholic Ethics (Chicago: SCM press, 1978), pp.1-29, excerpts

14) Divorce and Remarriage (Ordinariate course notes)

15) Homosexuality, Sex Change, and Transgenderism (Ordinariate course notes, 2 different files)

16) Infertility, IVF, Human Cloning, and Stem Cell Research (Ordinariate course notes,and pages below):
“Technological Reproduction of Human Life”, and “Stem Cell Research”, in Handbook of Critical Life Issues, by Leies et al, 3rd edition (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2004), pp.97-111; 113-118.

17) Abortion and Euthanasia (ordinate Course notes):
“A. Abortion, Abortacients and Partial-Birth Abortion”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 7A/1-5
“Suicide, Assisted Suicide, and Euthanasia”, in Handbook of Critical Life Issues, by Leies et al, 3rd edition (Boston: National Catholic Bioethcis Center, 2004), pp.135-150

18) Ordinary and Extraordinary Care (also called Proportionate/Disproportionate Care):
“Decisions of Prolonging Life”, in Handbook of Critical Life Issues, by Leies et al, 3rd edition (Boston: National Catholic Bioethcis Center, 2004), pp. 153-162 –p.159 of this article could be read so as to imply that it seems to ignore the authoritative status JPII’s statement on food & water being ordinary care.
“Ethically Ordinary and Extraordinary Means”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 3B/1-3
“The Ventilator as Excessive Burden”, Ethics and Medics 36.9 (Sept 2011), pp.1-2

19) Advance Directives:
“Advance Directives for Health Care Decisions”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 18/1-4
“The Ethics of Do-Not-Resuscitate(DNR) Orders”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 19/1-4

20) Double Effect and Abortion:
“D. The Double Effect”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 3D/1-3
“B. The Ethics of Treating Ectopic Pregnancy”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 10B/1-5

21) Rape Protocols:
“Rape and the Peoria Protocol”, Ethics and Medics 22.9 (Sept 1997), pp.1-2
“Rape and Emergency Contraception”, Ethics and Medics 28.6 (June 2003), pp.1-2
“Why Fear Ovulation Testing?”, Ethics and Medics 28.6 (June 2003), pp.3-4

22) ‘Adoption’ of Frozen Embryos?
“Vatican Rules Out Adoption of Frozen Embryos - at Least for Now” (LIFESITENEWS.COM, 12 Dec 2008)
“Top Catholic ethicists duel over frozen embryo adoption” (LIFESITENEWS.COM, 2 Aug 2011)
Helen Watt, “A Brief Defense of Frozen Embryo Adoption. A Moral Analysis”,
“What Should We Do with the Frozen Embryos?”by TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK
“Frozen Embryos and Embryo Adoption”

23) Lecture: Environmental Ethics
Possible additional reading: Acton Institute, Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Acton Institute, 2007), pp.33-65, excerpts.

24) Lecture: Wealth and Catholic Social Doctrine
Possible additional: George Weigel, “The Virtues of Freedom. Centesimus Annus (1991)”, in Building the Free Society. Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching, ed. George Weigel and Robert Royal (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub, 1993), pp. 207-23 excerpts.

25) Moral Theology and the Sacrament of Penance

26) Lecture: Conscience
Possible additional: “Conscience and Christian Tradition” in The Pinckaers Reader, pp.321-41, excerpts.

Loneliness, 7th Sunday of Easter, Year B

Jn 17:11-19
I want to say some words today about loneliness.
On one level, loneliness is one of the basic human conditions.  We are made for love, and yearn for something that will satisfy this. Thus Genesis describes Adam, alone amongst all the animals, looking for a soulmate, lonely without one.  
On another level, as study after study sadly shows, loneliness is particularly a feature of our modern age.
We see it in youth today. Studies point to mobile phones and tablets in this regard -youth connected to their devices, but tragically isolated in their rooms, and statistically vastly more likely to be lonely than just a decade ago.
At the other end of the age spectrum, many of the elderly among us can speak of a different loneliness. 
And, in between, you can be lonely at work; lonely in marriage.
Loneliness is one of features of human existence.

I want to take this I two directions: thinking of God, and, thinking of our parish community.
In the Gospel text we heard the Lord Jesus praying to the Father.  He spoke about being “one” with Him.  This is very important in the context of loneliness.
God is one, in Himself. Yet, He is also a community of three persons -never alone, never lonely.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit -always existing in love and in relationship.
We are made in His image.  
We are made to love and to be loved.  
In as much as we fail to experience these two things we are lonely. 
The solution, at its deepest level, is to be drawn into the love of God, to be one with Him.  Thus the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father, “may they be one like us”.
Thus spiritual loneliness can be addressed by a regular life of prayer, regular contact with God in His Bible and in His sacraments, 
at Mass for union with Him, 
at Confession for healing our disunion from Him.
In this regard, it is possible to be physically alone, but, not feel lonely.  There is a difference between being PHYSICALLY alone and FEELING lonely.  You can feel lonely in the midst of a crowd; you can feel content by yourself.
I can remember life in my last parish: I was physically more isolated than in my entire life, in the rural countryside, far from friends and family, yet rarely did I feel lonely.

That was one direction of thinking with respect to loneliness: God.
Another direction is our parish life.  There is much that can be done in a parish to ease physical loneliness, and I want to point to two particular things in our parish culture in this regard.

The first, is the hugely important work that our SVP group do here in the parish.  Among the needs they address is visiting the housebound. This is an important way for us, as a parish community, to be helping combat loneliness.  
Yet, I’m aware that we need more SVP members to do this work.  And so I would like to take this as an opportunity to appeal for more people to join.  If you’re interested, sign the sheet in the porch or speak to an SVP member after Mass.

The second, concerning Mass. Some of those who used to welcome people at Mass by standing in the porch and offering people a newsletter are now too infirm to do so.  
I’d like to therefore appeal for more people to volunteer for this important role.  It would be good to have a team at each of the 3 Masses to do this in rotation.  If you’re willing, please sign the sheet in the porch.

These are two very particular things, but both relating to how we function as a parish community to help ease loneliness. 

So, in summary, the Lord Jesus prayed that we might be one as He and the Father are one in the Spirit.
We are made for love and made to feel loved.
We can help each other as a parish community by addressing physical loneliness.
But the deepest cause of loneliness in the human heart can only be addressed by our union with God.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Friendship with Jesus, 6th Sunday Easter Year B

Jn 15:9-17
Today I'm going to speak to you about friendship with Jesus Christ.
Now, it might seem that Jesus being our “friend” is a small and uncontroversial topic, however, it's actually a pivotal issue that sets us apart from our two main competitors in today’s marketplace of religious ideas, those two competitors being Islam and atheism.

Atheism says that Jesus cannot be your friend because God doesn't exist.  Or, even if some 'god' does exist then we can't really know anything much about Him.

Whereas, in Islam, the word, “Islam”, means “submission”, and this sums up a lot of what Islamic thought says about God: 
God is not your friend, rather, you are His servant, you OBEY Him.  
Linked with this is the notion that God is utterly unknowable in Himself.  We do not know Him, we only know how He has commanded us to live, His commandments.

The Lord Jesus, however, says something else, as we heard.  In that text we heard Him say, “I call you friends”(Jn 15:15).  
Yes, He is Lord.  
Yes, we submit to Him.  
Yes, there is always something “more” to the infinite God than our finite minds can exhaust.  
BUT He nonetheless says, “I call you friends”.  
Note, in addition, the phrase He utters next, the REASON He says we can be called His friends: “because I have made KNOWN to you everything I have heard from my Father”.
-in Jesus we KNOW God.

You can only have someone as a friend, you can only love them, if your KNOW them.  
And the Lord Jesus has made Himself known to us by coming from heaven to earth, and with that He has made known to us EVERYTHING there is to say about God: 
the Bible says that Jesus is the one “Word” of the Father(Jn 1:1), 
and, as the Catechism puts it, in speaking this Word He has told us all there is to know (CCC 65).

Because of Jesus I can KNOW God; 
and, I can call God my friend.
And this is the great gift that the Christian religion imparts.

Now, we might add, that the reason this is so WONDERFUL is that He is a friend beyond other friends, for at least two reasons:.
First, because, He loves me more than other people love me; 
He loves me more than I will ever be able to love Him: 
as we just heard Him say, He lays down His life for His friends (Jn 15:13).
Second, He is a wonderful friend because He can DO more for me than any other friend.  
He can walk on water, feed the five thousand, and so forth.  
AND the Church gives us this reading NOW, in Eastertide, so that we might think of His friendship in the light of His rising from the dead.  
He is a POWERFUL friend. 

To sum that all up:
Atheism says God is not your friend because God is an illusion, or at best unknowable.
Islam says God is your master, but not your friend, again because God is unknowable.
The Lord Jesus claims otherwise.  HE claims He has made God known, that He can thus be our friend.
And His rising from the dead proves the truth of this great claim, and proves the greatness of His friendship.