Sunday, 22 June 2008

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, St Edward

I want to say a few words about St Edward, our parish patron, whose feast day it is on Monday. In particular, I want to say a few words about why he is called a “martyr”, and why it is right to call him a martyr. Because people sometimes say it doesn’t make much sense to call him a martyr. In fact, lots of people have said this to me. In fact, if I had a penny for every time someone has said this to me, I’d have enough money to rebuild the Abbey!

Well, to start with, What does the word, ‘martyr’ mean? It means ‘witness’, a witness to Christ.
Now this doesn’t just mean that you must die DIRECTLY for Christ Himself -in fact the Tradition has always acknowledged that to die for what Christ asked of us, to die for His laws, to die for His Gospel, to die for Church, is truly to die for Him.
So, from the very beginning, the Church has used this title ‘martyr’ for those who were killed for what Christ taught. For example, in Britain, we frequently hail our martyrs of the Reformation, who were killed for their devotion to the Mass and to the Papacy –two things Christ gave us. Another example, St John the Baptist was killed because he witnessed to the fact that adultery is a sin, and Herod was committing adultery, and Herod killed him. And this was martyrdom, because CHRIST asks us to be moral and to die for the moral life is to die for Christ.

Many people respond to good people by being edified by their goodness, inspired by it. But it is also possible to look at a good man and feel angry, spiteful, vengeful. To cover up our own sin by hating someone who does NOT sin. “The wicked man plots against the virtuous and grinds his teeth at him”(Ps 37:12). We heard an example of that in our first reading from Jeremiah 20:10: “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” Why? Because Jeremiah was living a good life and called on others to do the same.
To be killed out of this form of hatred is one of the classical forms of martyrdom. That’s why a great many of the early martyrs were hailed by the people of their time as martyrs even though it was their LIFESTYLE not necessarily their words that led others to kill them.

When St Edward was killed, the people of his day might of reacted in many ways. They might have said, ‘Well, that’s one more rich selfish king dead.’
But instead, they hailed him as a ‘martyr’ –and I think the people of his day knew his context and the motives behind his killing better than we can claim to know them today. And they could see two clear motives behind his death:
(1) The people of his day recognised that he was killed by EVIL people who hated him for his saintly life.
(2) Further, they recognised that he was killed by people who hated the fact that he stood with the Church and for the Catholic Church despite the many political manoeuvrings of his day against the Church.
To die for loyalty to Christ’s Church, to die for loyalty to Christ’s gifts of the Papacy and the Mass; to die for the moral life Christ calls us to –all these are examples of dying for Christ. All these are examples of martyrdom.

Where is St Edward now? Well, his bones, as we know, are a matter of dispute.
But his soul is in glory in Heaven, and he witnessed, he martyred –because martyr means witness –he witnessed to the truth of what we heard Christ say in today’s Gospel: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Mt 10: 28). Despite being a young man, he was clearly “not afraid”, or least he overcame his fear, and lived as he ought.

What does St Edward teach us today? Not least, he teaches us the reward of a good life, and that to live a good life publicly is to witness to Christ.
St Edward lived a good life “in the presence of men” (to use a phrase from the Gospel), and because of that Christ declared Himself “for him in the presence of [His] Father in heaven”.

It is never easy to live a good life, even though a life of sin brings even more problems and difficulties, even so, it is never easy to live a good life. But to live a good life for Christ will bring its rewards for us just as it did for our parish patron: St Edward, King and Martyr.

Accompanying Newsletter item:
SAINT EDWARD, KING AND MARTYR, b. 962; d. 18 March, 978
Feastday: June 23rd (formerly, March 18th)
St Edward, son of Edgar the Peaceful, and uncle of St Edward the Confessor, became king at the early age of 13 and reigned for only 3 years. He was murdered outside Corfe Castle by his stepmother. He was considered to be very saintly and on his death was hailed by the people as a martyr.
Why is he called a ‘martyr’? It might be thought that only those who are killed by unbelievers can be called martyrs for Christ, however, many of the ‘martyrs’ died for the Christian Faith in a broader sense. Thus St John the Baptist is called a martyr because he died proclaiming that adultery is a sin. Similarly, the English Reformation martyrs died for the truth about the Mass and the Pope, not explicitly for Christ. In a similar vein, there are two reasons why the people of his day recognised St Edward as a martyr:
(1) He lived a holy life and was killed by those who were unholy. As Scripture repeatedly recalls, the wicked hate the virtuous and conspires against him because the life of the virtuous is a reproach to the sinner and fills him with envy: “The wicked man plots against the virtuous and grinds his teeth at him”(Ps 37:12).
(2) He defended the Church and it was the enemies of the Church who opposed him and ultimately killed him.
In considering the appropriateness of the title ‘martyr’, it is reasonable to conclude that those who lived then and knew both him and the circumstances of his death were better placed than we are to judge that it was right to declare him ‘martyr’.
His stepmother later repented of her evil deed and embraced a life of prayer and penance, ending her days in a monastery. This surely stands as a magnificent example of the possibility of repentance, presumably wrought by the prayers of the young martyr himself. Many miracles are said to have been obtained through his intercession.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Deut 19:2-6; Mt 9:36-10:8; Rom 5:6-11
I want to say a few words about what God is like, which is a bold thing to be claiming to know: There are many people today who think that you cannot know what God is like. But Scriptures tell us, and the miracles prove it, in particular, His rising from the dead proves it. But WHAT does it prove? What does it show?

Well, to know what God is like, to know His heart, we can look to passages in the Old Testament, like the one we just heard from Deuteronomy. It tell us how God cared for His chosen People, “I carried you on eagles wings and brought you to myself” –he didn’t just care for them distantly but brought them to Himself.

In the Gospel, when God finally became a man, He revealed Himself fully. He took on a human body, a human heart, with real human emotions, and those emotions pulsed with the heart of God Himself –revealing what God is like. So when we see the emotions of Jesus revealed in the Gospel texts, we see the heart of God. What did it reveal in today’s Gospel text? Compassion: “When Jesus saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected”.

And what really PROVES what the Heart of God is like is indicated in our letter to the Romans: “what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners”.

But the sad truth is that although God has revealed Himself, the world has taken little notice. Even we in here in Church take little enough notice.

What more can God do? Well, one thing He has done is to repeat that revelation in countless private apparitions and visions. This month of June is the month of the Sacred Heart, when we recall in particular that devotion to the Sacred Heart that comes to us largely via visions to St Margaret Mary in 17th Century France.

Those visions of the Sacred Heart contained a message:
That He is today what He revealed before;
That He loves, and yet is ignored;
That He weeps, and is not consoled;
That He has a Heart, and we behave as if He did not.

Those visions ask of us:
That we repent and turn to Him, rather than continue to offend His love;
That we make Reparation to His Heart for the offences against it
That we make little sacrifices of love to Him
Sacrifices for our own sins, and for the sins of others.

God didn’t need to take on a human heart, He didn’t need to feel human emotions
He didn’t need to make Himself vulnerable
But He has done so because it somehow reveals who He is,
because it might awaken a response from us.

And He promises that if we turn to His Heart, devote ourselves to His Heart,
He will give us many blessings, as listed in the newsletter.

So, to return to where I began; What is God like? He has told us. Thus he is known, but not exhausted. His ways are not our ways, and He is more than our small minds can grasp. We only know Him by analogy and symbol, BUT, nonetheless, we do TRULY know Him because He has revealed Himself to us.
And the symbol more than any other that shows Him is His Heart.
A Heart that yearns to be known, yearns to be loved, and yearns to be loved by US.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Rom 4:18-25; Mt 9:9-13
Last week there was the “Britain’s Got Talent” competition on TV, watched by some 4 millions viewers. It featured various amateur performers, from little children to adults, musicians to singers, each giving an act and then allowing the viewing public to vote by telephone, the final round. I don’t normally watch that kind of TV –life’s too short to waste it watching that stuff on a regular basis, but I happened to switch it on just as the final roundup and votes was occurring, and it was captivating to watch. Captivating, I found, because of the sense of excitement and hope, each group of performers hoping they would win.

Each one ‘hoped’, but only one could win -‘hope’ can seem a tragic thing sometimes.
And it’s hope that I want to say a few words about.
I want to talk about REAL hope –because hope is one of those things people say odd vague things about. “You’ve just gotta have hope”, or, “All you’ve got left is hope”.
But hope in what? And WHY have hope?

Abraham, we heard in our Second Reading from the letter to the Romans, Abraham had hope, even “though it seemed Abraham’s hope could not be fulfilled”(Rom 4:18).
And I can hope that I might win Britain’s Got Talent, even though “it seemed Fr. Dylan’s hope could not be fulfilled”. But what REASON would there be to hold such hope?

Abraham had hope because he believed the promise made him by the Lord would be fulfilled, and there is no more solid reason to have hope.
What better reason COULD there be to hope something would happen than having God promise you it will? There IS no stronger reason.

God has made promises to each one of us, promises that come to us via the Scriptures,
and I want to focus on just one of those promises:
the promise to enable us to do what he asks of us.
Abraham’s promise related to what God asked of him. God had called him to follow him, to leave his land and become the father of a mighty nation, even though he was old and seemed past it. But God is mightier than our weaknesses and limitations, and He was mightier that Abraham’s. Abraham hoped and believed the promise of the Lord, and he became the mighty father of the Chosen Jewish people, and through Christ -the Jewish Messiah- he has become the father of every Christian, over a billion and a half of us just today. Abraham believed even through the hard times, even when the going got tough.

We too have been called by the Lord. That call we heard in the gospel, “Follow me”(Mt 9:9), is a call He made and continues to make to each of us. And with that call goes the promise to enable us to follow that call –“my grace is sufficient for thee” (2Cor 12:9) -what we call the “graces of state”, the graces we need to do what God calls us to do. And Abraham stands as an example of that.
God promised. Abraham believed, and thus hoped.
And his hope was fulfilled. He was given the strength he needed to do what must be done.

So, back to talent competitions:
Jesus has not promised that everyone will win Britain’s Got Talent;
He has not promised us success in every endeavour we embark on.
But he has promised that His grace will be with us, that His grace will be enough for us,
and that gives us the reason for REAL hope
–hope that we can succeed in what God has called us to do: “Follow me”.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

You may have heard on the news, over the last few weeks, of the tornados in Midwest America –we’ve been praying for the victims these last couple weeks.
Well, this week I got a message from my family in Iowa (because my Mom is American) to say that Iowa’s biggest tornado in 32 years hit the town where some of our family live: Parkersburg, and wiped out a third of the town. I’ve since seen the photos on the internet, and it’s pretty grim: a place I’ve known as a child and adult with only remnants of buildings.

Dramatic storms like this are fortunately rare for most of us, but the small daily storms that assail us also test what our houses are built of. And what remains depends on whether our houses are well-built.
If the house of my life is built on small petty selfish worrying and fussing, then it will be continually buffeted by the storms of life that disrupt my comfort.

In today’s Gospel, we are not promised that life will be without storms, but we are told of how to build a life that will weather them.
Our Gospel, and our first reading, give a very clear but simple message of what constitutes a life well-built, a life that is a house built on rock, able to withstand storms, a life that will be what remains regardless of the tempests and buffets that come upon us.
Jesus says that the “house built on rock” is the life of the man “who listens to these words of mine and acts on them”.
While Deuteronomy records the Almighty’s words of warning that there is “a blessing or a curse” on the man who either does or does not “Let these words of mine remain in your heart”.

So, in both texts, the life well-built, the life with blessing, is the life that OBEYS the words of God. Now, for our Modern mentality, that is a problem, because we don’t really like talk of “obeying”. We prefer talk of “choosing”, of “options”, of “freedom”. So, why does Jesus insist on ‘obedience’?

To know why we must OBEY the Lord, we need to know WHO the Lord is.
The god revealed in the Scriptures is not a whimsical god who randomly dictates things.
Rather, He is a God who is eternal Wisdom, always acting for a purpose, always commanding for a REASON. Further, He is eternal Love, always acting for the benefit of His human creatures, always commanding what will lead for our fulfilment, even when that fulfilment only comes via the Cross, via difficulty, via the storm and tempest.

This revelation of God is what makes sense of the blessing-curse option:
To disobey a wise loving God is its own foolishness, its own curse, its own death, even if that death only comes slowly, even if it is only fully revealed on the Last Day.
But, to obey a wise loving God is its own blessing, its own life, a life that starts every time we repent and choose, again, to follow the Lord, to obey the Lord. Not just to obey Him in what is convenient and self-serving, but obey Him in what seems hard and self-sacrificing. To choose such a life, is to ‘enter into the Land’ of promise, a Land we experience only fleetingly in this world, a Land we only know with a mixture of storms and buffets, but it IS a life we can know –even now. And it is this life that endures even amidst the storms.

For my extended family in Iowa, not all their buildings remained, but judging from what they’ve said of their response, what has survived is their cherishing the family itself, rallying together, sharing what remains of their homes. My family are not all saints, but I’m sure that obedience to God’s word taught them to value the family, the family they’re now holding to. Obedience to God’s word has given them other things too that have survived the storm, and that can hold for all of us.

“Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock.”