Sunday, 9 December 2018

Confession, 2nd Sunday of Advent



Lk 3:1-6
I was shopping in Wilko this week and the woman at the cash register smiled, looked at my food and presents, and said, ‘Christmas is such a special time’.
Indeed, this is a ‘special’ time.
But, as Christians, we know that many of those around us have forgotten what makes it ‘special’:
the coming of the Lord Jesus.
Like most of you, I find that the build up to Christmas can easily distract me from what Christmas is about:
The stress, the shopping, and more.
How can I focus on the RIGHT things?
How can I prepare, in my heart, for Christ to COME?

Our Advent readings, over the 4 weeks, give us different tools, but today’s is on what it is WITHIN me that stops the Lord coming:
My sins.
That not an EASY message, but it’s a very BIBLICAL one, and a crucial one
We heard in our gospel about how St John the Baptist prepared for the first coming of Jesus Christ, prepared by crying out in the wilderness, "prepare a way that the Lord"(Lk 3:4), and the way he called people to prepare the way for the Lord was by REPENTING of their sins.

If I want the Lord to come to me this Christmas, then I need to create SPACE in my heart for Him.
The thing that fills my heart, the things that stop there being space for Him, are my sins.
Let me note two things: I need to see, and, I need a cleaning agent.

Wilko sells reading glasses, and I’m reaching that age when I sense that I can’t read properly without them.
The text can be right in front of me, and I can’t really see it any more.
But the biggest sight problem I have is seeing my sins, being HONEST about my sins.
I feel grumpy and tired, and I blame other people, rather than looking into my own heart.
I find myself complaining about my problems, when I should see that I need to listen to others.
I need to SEE my sins.
And the most powerful tool for this is regular confession.
Going to regular confession, and the regular examination of conscience that goes with this, this is a most POWERFUL tool to enable me to see my sins, to enable me to see what is stopping the Lord coming.
There is an examination of conscience sheet inside the newsletter this week, take it and prepare.
We have 4 priests coming soon for hear your Advent confessions, 18th Dec, but what we each need is to be going to confession REGULARLY if we are to see our sins
-if we are to have the ‘reading glasses for the soul’.

Wilko also sell cleaning agents: limescale remover, washing up liquid, and more.
But the biggest cleaning I need is in my soul, of the dirt of my sins.
And the Lord established a mechanism for this: the sacrament of Confession.
As Jesus said to the Apostles, His first priests: “Those whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them, those whose sins you shall retain they are retained” (Jn 20:23).
If the Lord is to come this Christmas, I need to not just SEE my sins, but bring them to the divine cleaning agent: Confession.
I can’t forgive myself, only God can do that.
I can’t heal myself, only God can do that.

The thing that makes Christmas ‘special’ is not for sale in Wilko.
The thing that prepares me for Christmas is not for sale in Wilko.
The greatest gift that prepares me for the coming of the Lord is His forgiveness, available in Confession, a great tool for regular use, but especially in this season.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

20th Ordination Anniversary, 1st Sunday Advent, Year C



Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
This Sunday I’ll have been a priest for 20 years, I was ordained in 1998.
In that time I’ve thought many times about the Second Coming of Christ, which is the theme of our readings this first Sunday of Advent.
I was ordained just before the year 2000, the turn of the Millennium, and there was much buzz then about the End of the World, would the year 2000 be the time - would it be soon?
I’ve read many internet posts about ‘signs’ of the Second Coming, many details of the book of Revelation supposedly being fulfilled RIGHT NOW. I’ve read about how Pope John Paul II, who was pope when I was ordained, spoke often about the “acceleration of history”, about the ever-more-rapid pace of change in society, and people speculated that this is all heading to a conclusion, soon: Christ will Return.

As I noted two weeks ago, while the Second Coming fills some people with fear, nonetheless, it’s supposed to be a thing of HOPE. Thus our Gospel text says today, “your LIBERATION is near at hand” (Lk 21:28).
BUT what should we do if we FEAR His final coming?
Well, there is an obvious way to be READY for His Second and final coming, and that is to welcome His coming, already, TODAY.
The saints speak of three comings of Christ (St Bernard, Office Readings Advent Wk 1 Wed):
2000 years ago in Bethlehem in humility, at the end of time in glory,
and now, every day that we welcome Him into our hearts.

And, thinking of this being my 20th anniversary of priestly ordination: a priest’s role is all about Christ coming. This is what I am here for:
That He might come in the Mass,
That He might come in Baptism,
That He might come with forgiveness in Confession.
Why am I here, as a priest? I am here to be an instrument CAUSING His coming.

Thinking more specifically, let me note a parish priest’s PRIMARY purpose:
Many people might guess this wrong: if I was to ask everyone here what they thought the Church taught was a parish priest’s primary purpose, what would you guess?
It’s not to offer Mass, though I do that every day, 9 times this week.
It’s not to visit the sick, though I do that often too, 3 times this particular week.
My PRIMARY purpose, according to Vatican II (Pres Ord n.4), according to encyclicals of the 20th century before the Council (Acerbo Nimis, n.7, 10, 11, 12), according to the Council of Trent (Sess. V, cap. 2, De Reform.; Sess. XXII, cap. 8; Sess. XXIV, cap. 4 & 7, De Reform), my primary role is:
Is to TEACH and PREACH, to proclaim the Gospel, to make Christ present by preaching of Him.
And my secondary role is to do that, in particular, in formation of youth.

And as a priest, it has been my great JOY over the years to witness many occasions when people have heard of Him and ACCEPTED Him, when He has been presented to them and they have let Him COME into their hearts and lives.
And, I say this to you today, as an ADVENT focus:
If we are to prepare for His coming for Christmas,
If we are to prepare for His coming at the End of Time,
Then, we need to welcome His coming TODAY.
He comes in the sacraments: the Mass, and Confession.
He comes when we love Him in the least and the needy, when for example, we donate to the food bank in our ‘Reverse Advent Calendars’.
He comes in personal prayer.
He comes when we read His holy Word in the Bible.

He will come in glory at the End.
He came in weakness when He was born.
Let us prepare for His Christmas coming by welcoming Him now.


------
Primarily to teach

Vat II Pres Ord n.4 “priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the PRIMARY duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.”

“We must now consider upon whom rests the obligation to dissipate this most pernicious ignorance and to impart in its stead the knowledge that is wholly indispensable. There can be no doubt, Venerable Brethren, that this most important duty rests upon all who are pastors of souls. On them, by command of Christ, rest the obligations of knowing and of feeding the flocks committed to their care; and to feed implies, first of all, to teach. "I will give you pastors according to my own heart," God promised through Jeremias, "and they shall feed you with knowledge and doctrine." Hence the Apostle Paul said: "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel," thereby indicating that the first duty of all those who are entrusted in any way with the government of the Church is to instruct the faithful in the things of God.”(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.7)

“If what We have just said [that a priest’s primary role is to teach, c.f. n.7] is applicable to all priests, does it not apply with much greater force to those who possess the title and the authority of parish priests, and who, by virtue of their rank and in a sense by virtue of a contract, hold the office of pastors of souls? These are, to a certain extent, the pastors and teachers appointed by Christ in order that the faithful might not be as "children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine devised in the wickedness of men," but that practicing "the truth in love," they may, "grow up in all things in him who is the head, Christ." “(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.10)

“For this reason the Council of Trent, treating of the duties of pastors of souls, decreed that their first and most important work is the instruction of the faithful.[Council of Trent, Sess. V, cap. 2, De Reform.; Sess. XXII, cap. 8; Sess. XXIV, cap. 4 & 7, De Reform.] “(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.11)
“These prescriptions of the Council of Trent have been summarized and still more clearly defined by Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, in his Constitution Esti minime. "Two chief obligations," he wrote, "have been imposed by the Council of Trent on those who have the care of souls: first, that of preaching the things of God to the people on the feast days; and second, that of teaching the rudiments of faith and of the divine law to the youth and others who need such instruction." Here the wise Pontiff rightly distinguishes between these two duties: one is what is commonly known as the explanation of the Gospel and the other is the teaching of Christian doctrine. Perhaps there are some who, wishing to lessen their labours, would believe that the homily on the Gospel can take the place of catechetical instruction. But for one who reflects a moment, such is obviously impossible. The sermon on the holy Gospel is addressed to those who should have already received knowledge of the elements of faith. It is, so to speak, bread broken for adults. Catechetical instruction, on the other hand, is that milk which the Apostle Peter wished the faithful to desire in all simplicity like newborn babes.”(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.12)


“The principal way to restore the empire of God in the souls is religious instruction… this is why Christ commanded the Apostles, ‘Going forth teach all teach’(Mt 28:19)”:(Pius X, E supreme, n.12)

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Former Anglican Clergy Lecture Notes (Dec 2018)


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


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


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


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
or
“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)


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


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


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) see here (ignore pages 6 onwards (on cooperation in evil))
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
see here
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) Hearing Confessions: Moral Theology and the Sacrament of Penance
see here (Ordinariate notes)


14) Divorce and Remarriage (Ordinariate course notes)
see here


15) Homosexuality, Sex Change, and Transgenderism (Ordinariate course notes, 2 different files)
here and here
an optional list of further resources from the NCBC here


16) Infertility, IVF, Human Cloning, and Stem Cell Research (Ordinariate course notes, and pages below)
(a) on IVF and Infertility see here
and
(b) "Why Human Cloning Is Immoral" by William Saunders here
(c) "Reflections on Cloning" by the Pontifical Academy for Life here
(d) "Human Cloning, Stem Cell Research and Attempts at Hybrid Embryo Creation: A Commentary On Dignitas Personae, Part Three, nn 28-33" by Tadeusz Pacholczyk here
(e) "Would a Human Clone Possess a Soul?" by Catholic Exchange Editors (2003) see here
and
(f) "The Catholic Church's Stance on Various Forms of Stem-Cell Research" by Scott Richert here
(g) "Is the Catholic Church against all forms of stem cell research?"(2016) here
(h) "Catholic Support for Ethically Acceptable Stem Cell Research"(USCCB) here
and possible book reading here:
“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) ‘Adoption’ of Frozen Embryos? (an issue debated among orthodox Catholics)
Articles:
“Vatican Rules Out Adoption of Frozen Embryos - at Least for Now” (LIFESITENEWS.COM, 12 Dec 2008) see here
“Top Catholic ethicists duel over frozen embryo adoption” (LIFESITENEWS.COM, 2 Aug 2011) see here
Helen Watt, “A Brief Defense of Frozen Embryo Adoption. A Moral Analysis”, see here
“What Should We Do with the Frozen Embryos?”by TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK see here


18) Abortion (Ordinariate Course notes):
on Abortion see here
and possible written texts:
“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


19) Double Effect and Abortion
(a) a general analysis "Abortion and Double Effect" by Matthew A.C. Newsome (2006) here
(b) on ectopic pregnancies see:
"When Pregnancy Goes Awry: The Moral Ending to an Ectopic Pregnancy" by Kathy Schiffer here
(c) "The Management of Ectopic Pregnancy. Prepared by the ethicists of the NCBC" (2013) here
and possible written texts:
“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


20) Rape Protocols
See the second part (i.e. pp.66-69) of the article "Applying the Directives" by Kevin O'Rourke in Health Progress (July 1998) here
and
"Directive 36 and 'Contraceptives'" by Kevin McMahon in Ethics & Medics 27.9 (Sept 2002)pp.1-2 of here
and possible written texts:
“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


21) Euthanasia
(a) for an overview see "What is the Church's Teaching on Euthanasia?" by William Saunders here
(b) for commentary on ordinary/extraordinary, also called proportionate/disproportionate care,
see "What is the Church's teaching on extraordinary care for the sick?" by Jim Blackburn here
(c) with respect to resources in the developing world "Justice and health care: When 'ordinary' is extraordinary?" by James McTavish see here
(d) for a definition of various terms see "End of Life Care" by NCBC here
(e) a very long article defining ordinary/extraordinary see "Ordinary and Extraordinary Means of the Preservation of Life: The Teaching of Moral Tradition" by Paulina Taboada here

(f) on the need to continue nutrition and hydration as basic care, "Nutrition and Hydration (2013) NCBC see here
(g) even for someone in Persistent Vegetative State, see "FAQ on Persistent Negative State" by NCBC here

(h) on Assisted Suicide proposals in the UK see here
and possible written texts:
“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


22) Advance Directives:
(a) for 'A Catholic Guide to End-of-Life Decisions' (NCBC 2011) see here
and
on 'Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)' orders:
(b)"Catholics and 'Do Not Resuscitate' Orders" by William may (2010) see here
(c) "Going Too Far with DNR?" by Tadeusz Pacholczyk see here


23) Lecture: Environmental Ethics
see Wonersh lecture notes here
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
see Wonersh lecture notes here
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) 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


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

Friday, 30 November 2018

The Priest's Primary Role is to Preach and Teach

Many people, even many priests, have a mistaken understanding of what constitutes a priest's primary role:
Its not offering Holy Mass,
its not visiting the sick,
it's preaching and teaching.


Here are some Church document quotes:

“priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.” (Vatican II Pres Ord n.4.)

“We must now consider upon whom rests the obligation to dissipate this most pernicious ignorance and to impart in its stead the knowledge that is wholly indispensable. There can be no doubt, Venerable Brethren, that this most important duty rests upon all who are pastors of souls. On them, by command of Christ, rest the obligations of knowing and of feeding the flocks committed to their care; and to feed implies, first of all, to teach. "I will give you pastors according to my own heart," God promised through Jeremias, "and they shall feed you with knowledge and doctrine." Hence the Apostle Paul said: "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel," thereby indicating that the first duty of all those who are entrusted in any way with the government of the Church is to instruct the faithful in the things of God.”(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.7)

“If what We have just said [that a priest’s primary role is to teach, c.f. n.7] is applicable to all priests, does it not apply with much greater force to those who possess the title and the authority of parish priests, and who, by virtue of their rank and in a sense by virtue of a contract, hold the office of pastors of souls? These are, to a certain extent, the pastors and teachers appointed by Christ in order that the faithful might not be as "children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine devised in the wickedness of men," but that practicing "the truth in love," they may, "grow up in all things in him who is the head, Christ." “(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.10)

“For this reason the Council of Trent, treating of the duties of pastors of souls, decreed that their first and most important work is the instruction of the faithful.[Council of Trent, Sess. V, cap. 2, De Reform.; Sess. XXII, cap. 8; Sess. XXIV, cap. 4 & 7, De Reform.] “(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.11)

“These prescriptions of the Council of Trent have been summarized and still more clearly defined by Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, in his Constitution Esti minime. "Two chief obligations," he wrote, "have been imposed by the Council of Trent on those who have the care of souls: first, that of preaching the things of God to the people on the feast days; and second, that of teaching the rudiments of faith and of the divine law to the youth and others who need such instruction." Here the wise Pontiff rightly distinguishes between these two duties: one is what is commonly known as the explanation of the Gospel and the other is the teaching of Christian doctrine. Perhaps there are some who, wishing to lessen their labours, would believe that the homily on the Gospel can take the place of catechetical instruction. But for one who reflects a moment, such is obviously impossible. The sermon on the holy Gospel is addressed to those who should have already received knowledge of the elements of faith. It is, so to speak, bread broken for adults. Catechetical instruction, on the other hand, is that milk which the Apostle Peter wished the faithful to desire in all simplicity like newborn babes.”(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.12)

“The principal way to restore the empire of God in the souls is religious instruction… this is why Christ commanded the Apostles, ‘Going forth teach all teach’(Mt 28:19)”:(Pius X, E supreme, n.12)

Sunday, 25 November 2018

An unwanted king, Christ the King, Year B



Jn 18:33-37; Rev 1:5-8
Imagine, for a moment, that you have a job that no-one wants you to do.
Or, imagine, you have a product that you’re trying to sell, and yet no one wants it.
This image, in many ways, describes the Lord Jesus, especially today on this feast day of Him as “Christ the King”:
No one wants a real king these days, maybe a figurehead, maybe a symbol to look pretty and open parliament once a year, or to cut ribbons to open a new shopping centre.
But, in our culture, no one wants to be told what to do, no-one wants a boss. We even have the phrase, “You’re not the boss of me, no-one is the boss of me, only I am the boss of me”.
People, sadly, can even relate to God this way:
We want a symbol, a figurehead, a nice old man in clouds, but we don’t want someone who is going to tell us what to do. We don’t want someone to be our King.

Let me focus that image more: imagine you are selling a product that no one wants, but it’s a product that everyone NEEDS, even though they don’t want it.
This image, maybe even more profoundly, sums up the problem of the Lord on His feast day of Christ the King.

What do people NEED to be truly happy and fulfilled?
We need more than money;
We need more than presents -Santa can’t bring you REAL fulfilment.
To be truly fulfilled, we need to find the PURPOSE we were created for:
There is a need in me that can only be satisfied by the One who created me.
-That means I need Christ as my King.

While it is a very un-“modern” thing to admit, at my deepest level:
I can’t create my own purpose and meaning;
I need someone to tell me what to do;
I need someone to direct me;
I need the Lord Jesus to be my King.

Let me shift the focus, and bring in the issue of “truth” -this year our Gospel reading focuses on the Lord Jesus as Truth. We heard Him say, in describing His type of Kingship to Pilate, we heard Him say He bore witness to the truth (Jn 18:37), as He also said elsewhere in the Gospels: “I AM… truth”(Jn 14:6).
Truth, also, is unfashionable today. People think they can make up their own truth. They think that what’s “true for me” is not the same as what’s “true for you”.
The Lord Jesus says otherwise.
He IS truth because all reality is measured by Him, because He made it all (Jn 1:3).

And what of our society, instead?
It has wealth;
It has an abundance of food, even if not adequately shared,
It has gadgets and technology, iPhones and X-Boxes.
But if you don’t have a purpose it your life, then these things aren’t much good to you.

If I want my life to have a purpose and direction, a fulfilment and happiness,
Then I need to come to One who is the “Alpha and Omega”(Rev 1:8), the beginning and the end.
I need to accept His Lordship,
not just as a symbol and figurehead,
but in every moment of my life, in every aspect of my life.
I need to accept the Lord Jesus as my king.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Entropy & the End of Time, 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time Year B



Mk 13:24-32; Dan 12:1-3
Many years ago, when I was a schoolboy, I can remember learning about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, about Entropy, discussing it with a friend, and getting thoroughly depressed.
For those of you who can’t remember your physics, “entropy” basically means that the entire universe is levelling out, or winding down, like a battery running out -there is an end coming that cannot be avoided.
When you’re young, and you think you’re going to live forever, the physical certainty of a coming “end” feels very unwelcome.
Many people feel similarly when they hear the Lord Jesus speak about the End of Time. However, there is a point I want to make to you today, and it is this:
The Lord’s teaching that Time will end is truly “good” news.

We’re now approaching the end of the liturgical year, and every year, at this moment, the Church reminds us that not merely the year, but time itself, will come to an end.
The Lord Jesus, as we heard in today’s Gospel text, tells us that He is going to come again, “coming on the clouds with great power and glory”(Mk 13:26). This is something He taught a great many times and it’s a PIVOTAL part of His message.

There are some people who think that this world is all there is to live for. For such people, to be told that this world will end is bad news. Their money will end. Their clothes will rot and decay. Their house will eventually collapse. Even their bodies will crumble to dust.

Why is it “GOOD” news to be told that this world will end?
The truth about the End of the World is this:
there is a GOAL towards which time and history is heading;
there is a LORD of time and history who will not just return at the End, who not just was active in the beginning, but who is ACTIVE in every moment of history.
To realise this is to realise that there is a meaning and a purpose to MY life.
To fail to realise this is to fail to realise the meaning and purpose of my life.

Many people think there is NO purpose to life, that it is a random sequence of events.
One of the biggest reasons why people think life has no purpose is the presence of suffering.
It’s thus very significant that the Lord Jesus almost always situates His prophecies of the End in the context how we are to BEHAVE in the midst of suffering, in particular, in the midst of the sufferings that will characterise the End Times. A Christian is NOT to be SURPRISED at suffering in his life: sufferings WILL come, but there is the promise of something else too.

The focus of our readings this year is PRECISELY on the promise of what is to come in the End Times.
Thus we had the promise in the prophecy of Daniel, which announced that, even though “there will be a time of great distress”(Dan 12:1), nonetheless, “your own people will be saved” (12:1), the just will rise “to everlasting life”(12:2) and “shine… as bright as stars for all eternity”(12:3).
While in the Gospel we heard the Lord Jesus promise that, “after the time of distress”(Mk 13:24), He will send his “angels to gather his chosen from… the ends of the world”(Mk 13:27).
There is a promise of something BETTER to come.

There is an implicit challenge to each of us here:
Do we live with our heart set on this world, so that the thought of the end of this world fills us with sadness?
Or, Do we live with our heart set on the Lord, on the promises He offers?

Entropy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, no longer fills me with sadness. I love this world, but I’m happy to hear of the promise that it will pass away.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Remembrance Sunday, 32nd Sun in Ord Time, Yr B



Mk 12:38-44; 1 Kgs 17:10-16
Today I'd like to reflect on the value that our actions have in God’s sight, which is often very different from the value our actions appear to have in the sight of the world.
Today, in our nation, is Remembrance Sunday, when we remember all those who have died in the wars of the past century. This year, 2018, we particularly are aware of it being the century of the end of the First World War.
Among the thoughts that can arise at such moments can be the question of what value sacrifices in war had. Pausing to see the value of deeds in God’s sight rather than our own can help to give us a most important perspective.

One way of considering the issue of the value of our deeds and the value of someone’s sacrifice would be to return to the ‘measuring’ criteria I have often referred to in my sermons:
the value that GOD puts on our actions depends on the LOVE with which we do them (c.f. St Thomas ST II-II q184 a1). And the love of family and love of country that motivate someone’s deeds in warfare is one way of considering their value.
However, most the time we can tend to want to evaluate actions in terms of their OUTCOME, their results, their consequences. The problem with trying to do this is that we can never see all the effects of our actions, so how can we make that the criteria for judging their value? The Scriptures give us another model, as we hear of in the two widows in our scripture readings today.

So, let us look at these two widows and evaluate their actions according to the two different criteria I mentioned: results, and motive.
Let us consider the first widow, who helped the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. What were the RESULTS, the effects of her deed?
What she did, as we heard, was she chose to generously feed Elijah, even though she had so little food that she thought she was preparing a final meal for her and her son before they died.
The results, however, were very different. The ‘results’ were that GOD worked a miracle and rewarded her generosity by miraculously re-filling her “jar of meal” and “jug of oil” until the rains came and the drought was ended.
One point we can draw from this is that the PRIMARY agent acting in the world is the LORD. And He can draw great things even out of our small efforts.
AND He can do this, and does do this, even working in a world of suffering and evil.
So, we should persevere with our good deeds, even when we can't see what outcome they will have.

The second widow, praised by the Lord Jesus, is praised slightly differently.
We are never told the outcome of her deeds. What was her money used for after she gave it to the Temple? We simply don't know.
Nonetheless, the Lord praises her for her generosity, “they have all put in money that they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on”(Mk 12:44).
The Lord looks on what she has done and praises her, regardless of the outcome of her deeds, simply because of the good motive with which it was done.
God, likewise, will look kindly on us for good deeds that WE do with a generous heart.

So, to conclude, in whatever we find ourselves called upon to do in life, let us take these two widows as examples:
Let us give generously, doing the right thing, even when we cannot see the outcome. Because the value of our deeds, and the outcome of our actions, ultimately lies in the hands of God, who can do much more with our deeds than we can imagine.