Sunday, 30 June 2013

St Peter and St Paul (transferred from 29th June), Shaftesbury

Mt 16:13-19
You often hear people say words to the effect of, "You Catholics are always going around telling people that you're right, that you've got all the answers." Over the years I've noticed that people sometimes say this even if I've been silent for the preceding hour! My preceding sense of 'having all the answers' clearly lingers!
Anyway, today we keep the feast of two saints who had all the answers, who are both very Roman and very Catholic -Catholic in the sense of 'universal', and I want to say a word about how and why these two things go together.

Both St Peter and St Paul died in Rome, died a martyr's death. St Peter had been Bishop of Rome before being executed. St Paul came to be there in a more circuitous manner: he had gone out, to almost the whole known world, spreading the Gospel to the gentile nations. He had gone out as one who thought he 'had all the answers', it made him followers among some, and enemies among others, and eventually he was imprisoned, taken to Rome, and beheaded. He had gone out to the whole world, with a 'universal' or 'Catholic' (in the true sense of the word) sense of mission –BECAUSE he had the answers. But if he had the answer, what question was he answering?

The question St Paul knew the answer to, that gave him ALL the answers, is the question we just heard St Peter answer in that Gospel text. The question of WHO Jesus is. The Lord Jesus had been travelling through the land, He'd taken upon Himself the Old Testament Messianic title of 'the Son of Man' (as I've preached about before here and a little here), working miracles, preaching “with authority” (Mk 1:21), claiming to do what only God could do (forgive sins(e.g. Lk 5:24), alter the Law of Moses(e.g. Mk 10:2-9), judge the nations(Mt 25:31)), and people naturally puzzled over who He was. The answer, as we heard, is that He is "The Son of the Living God"(Mt 16:16), the only Son, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, God from God, light from light etc.

If the answer had been, "You're a great man, a wonderful teacher", well, that might have been nice, but we wouldn't be here today, and St Paul wouldn't have gone out to all the nations to tell of Him. But, in fact, He is the One who makes sense of ALL things, the One "through whom all things were made"(Jn 1:3), and therefore the One with all the answers, who gives US all the answers in as much as we truly know Him.

Today we live in what many people experience as a confusing world, with confusion about whether there is a meaning to life, whether life comes from somewhere and is going somewhere, whether there is a 'right' and 'wrong' way to live. But, if we know the Lord Jesus, we should not have such confusion ourselves.

Who, today, gives us those answers? The successor of St Peter, the Pope in Rome. St Peter himself didn't know that answer OF himself, as Jesus said, it was "given him by my Father in heaven"(Mt 16:17). And still today, the infallibility that resides in the Papacy, that protects what the Pope teaches us so that it is 'free from error', that gift to him is 'given by my Father in heaven'. It is because of this that the Pope can, and must, give the world the answers it needs today. So, it is because the universal Church is Roman in its centre, Roman in its connection to the truth, that the Church possesses that truth that sends her out to all the world, send us out. Being Roman and being Catholic thus stand together. And all those answers we are sent with are encapsulated in knowing the answer to that central question, "but you, who do you say I am?"(Mt 16:15)

On this feast of St Peter and St Paul, let us rejoice in them being Roman, rejoice in them being universal and Catholic, rejoice in the reason they went out to all the world, rejoice in the reason they knew all the answers: because they knew Christ, "the Son of the Living God"(Mt 16:16).

Sunday, 23 June 2013

12th Sunday in ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury

Zech 12:10-11.13:12; Ps 62; Lk 9:18-24
We all, I am sure, have different texts in the Scriptures that strike us every time we hear them. The first reading we heard today has one such verse for me:
"They shall look upon the one whom they have pierced"(Zechariah 10:10)
This is a text, as we heard, from the Old Testament. And it has, for the Christian, an obvious sense of being a prophecy of Christ.
Who is the one who was pierced? Christ, on the cross, with a lance that pierced His side.
And who were the ones who pierced Him? Literally, it was the Roman centurion. But mystically, it was each one of us -we pierced Him with our sins.
And every time I come to pray, every time I gaze upon a crucifix, I "look upon the One whom I have pierced". And when I hear those words it always makes me still inside.

The text is from the prophet Zechariah, and it is an obscure text in terms of what it must have meant in its original context. It refers to a prophet who is an shepherd of a flock doomed to slaughter (Zech 11:4), an unhappy shepherd who is betrayed for thirty pieces silver (11:12-13), who is maltreated and left with marks on his body, "These wounds I received in the house of my friends" (13:6) -another prophecy.

But, even more obscurely, the text goes on with a happy prophecy, that a “fountain” will open that will wash away the sins of the people(13:1). When we apply this, as the Gospel does (Jn 19:37), as a prophecy of Christ, the fountain that gushes forth is from the wound in the side of Christ. And it is a glad thing. It is from that fountain of love that gushes forth our salvation.

Our psalm today (Ps 62) adds another hermeneutical twist to interpret this. It speaks of our thirst for God, and of that thirst being satisfied.
I mentioned a couple weeks ago that we are, in June, in the month of the Sacred Heart, and devotion to the Sacred Heart has often focused on the fountain that gushes forth from His wounded Heart. The prophecy of Isaiah is often quoted in this regard, "With Joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3), and in fact the 1956 encyclical of Pope Pius XII on the Sacred Heart started with these very words, and proceeded to marvel at all the graces that have poured forth from people’s devotion to that Heart.
Then our Gospel text recalls the prophecy of the Lord Jesus that He would suffer and die and that anyone who would be His disciple must also, daily, take up His cross.

Let me simply draw these three strands together in thinking of His Heart:
Centuries of devotion to the Sacred Heart have indeed, as Pius XII noted, drawn forth countless graces for the Faithful. But these graces, from the wellspring of salvation, only pour into us, into in our hearts when we responds to His.
I do, indeed, as a physical fact, often “gaze upon the one whom I have pierced”.
But I do not always do so spiritually, I do not always look upon Him in a way that loves in return for love. The sight of the One whom I have pierced can leave me unmoved.
Or, as I do in my better moments, I can see the one I have pierced and realise WHO has pierced Him, that I have priced Him. I might then, "Mourn for Him, as for an only Son"(Zechariah 12:10), and "weep bitterly" (Ibid).
There are different sorts of weeping, and the weeping that responds to His wounds is a weeping of both sorrow and joy. Sorrow for my sins that have done this to Him. But joy in realising the love He has had, and still has, for me.
And, finally, that should move me to action, move me, in particular, to take my MY cross in a renewed way. To carry it with Him who carries it with me, who, in fact, first and foremost carries it for me. And to offer it to Him in reparation for my sins.

"These wounds I received in the house of my friends" (13:6)
"They shall look upon the one whom they have pierced"(Zechariah 10:10)
They shall "Mourn for Him, as for an only Son"(Zechariah 12:10), and "weep bitterly" (Ibid).
But, that Heart was pierced for me, it flows for me,
and, "With Joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3)

Sunday, 16 June 2013

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury

Lk 7:36-8:3
We just heard one of the most memorable accounts in the Gospels, one that has inspired many works of art.
The woman in the text is not named here, she is simply described as "a woman with a bad reputation in the town". Tradition identifies her as Mary Magdalene, a woman of loose living, who ‘knew’ many men, who had "loved much" to use what was quite possibly a deliberate play on words by our Lord.
But by the time we see her here in this Gospel text she has changed. She still has a "bad reputation", for such things change slowly. But her behaviour towards our Lord is not that of a loose woman, but of a woman who has come to love a man in a very different sense. And, this man is of course not just a man, He is the Lord God. She covered His feet with kisses and tears, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with ointment.

This behaviour by the woman was seen as odd by the people present.
The Lord responded to their comments by pointing out not so much her behaviour as what motivated it, namely, her love. More specifically, He indicated what had led her to love Him: the fact that He had forgiven her sins, "her many sins".
She loved much because she delighted in the fact that she had been forgiven much. To know that you are forgiven is a very special way of knowing that you are loved, and such a knowledge of being loved is a POWERFUL motive for us to love in return. To love with such passion and exuberance that we don't care if we make fools of ourselves in front of others -as this woman might have been said to have done.

What of ourselves? If no one here is loving in the manner that the woman loved, what does that say of us?
It might say that we are just English, and that we keep our emotions tightly bottled up --heaven forbid that we should commit a social faux pas like that of this wild woman!
It might, however, say something more problematic. Maybe we have let our love for the good Lord grow cold. Maybe we have forgotten what He has forgiven in us. Maybe we have come to take Him for granted, and thus no longer love Him the way we once did.
Perhaps the most worrying possibility, however, is that our emotions are unmoved because we are like the man we just heard Jesus condemn, the Pharisee Simon: we love little because we have little realisation that we have been forgiven ourselves. Maybe it is not so much that our love has grown cold as that it never really reached much of a fervour to begin with.

Either way, this woman before us in this text should motivate us to want to fire up that love within ourselves. How do we do this? By looking at two things: (1) The Lord, and (2) Ourselves. We need to look at the Lord anew as the loving Lord who welcomes the sinner, who wants to welcome me, who wants to welcome you. And we need to look at ourselves anew too, to see our sins with an honesty that we haven't seen them with before. And to do that we need to be convinced that the good God loves us. It is only when know that God loves the sinner that we can have the strength to admit our sins. It is only when we know that He is strong that we can be comfortable admitting that we are week.

What this woman shows us, what the Lord's behaviour to her shows us, is one of many examples in the Gospels that demonstrate His love for the sinner, His love for all who turn to Him in humility.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury

Lk 7:11-17; 1 Kgs 17:17-24
I want to say a few words today about what God looks like, about His Sacred Heart.
We, as Christians, claim to know what God is like, claim to know Him and not just have an opinion about Him. This, of course, is not considered to be an acceptable position in our post-modern culture. In post-modern thinking there is no single ‘truth’, only many different opinions that grasps partial truths, and many different opinions about what god is like. Such a view, however, is not compatible with acknowledging Who Christ claimed to be. He claimed to be God, and He demonstrated the reasonableness of His claim by the profundity of His teaching, the goodness of His life, and His miracles –chief among them being His rising from the dead.
The point I wish to make that follows about this is simple: We know what God ‘looks’ like because we see it in Christ, see it in His Sacred Heart. And the Church kept the Feast of the Sacred Heart this Friday, and the month of June that we’re now in is always the month of the Sacred Heart.

Jesus shows us what God ‘looks’ like. Let us look very simply at today’s Gospel text. How did Jesus act? How, to be more precise, how did He show Himself to FEEL in His passions?
He saw a widow, mourning “the only son of his mother”(Lk 7:12). And, “He felt sorry for her”(Lk 7:13).
Note, He didn’t feel annoyance at yet another problem brought before Him, He didn’t say, “all these people are going to worry me to death”.
Rather, “He felt sorry for her”. This shows us His heart, the heart of God. And so we truly know God.

The doctrine concerning the Sacred Heart is very profound. In concerns the Incarnation, the union of the human and the Divine in the one person of Christ.
In what sense can we say God has a “heart”?
Physically, God had no heart –He is pure spirit in His divinity. So, in the Old Testament the Scriptures can only refer to His ‘emotions’ in a metaphorical sense, symbolically. Literally speaking, He “felt” nothing for us because feelings and passions are part of what constitute our BODILY nature –and He had no body. And it might well have been wondered, in the Old Testament, what God’s passion would ‘look’ like if He had any.
All that changed in the Incarnation. When the Son, the second person of the Trinity, took a human nature He took with it a human heart, with the ability to experience and manifest human feelings and passions.

The point, however, is this: the feelings and passions in Jesus are those of God Himself, not feelings and passions belonging to someone other than God. Jesus is ONE person with TWO natures –one divine person, Jesus, with both a divine nature and a human nature. And the passions IN that human nature belong to that ONE divine person; show us what the divinity is like. We can note this: the one person of Christ could thus do things only God can do. His miracle of raising the dead that we heard today was thus worked differently from the raising worked through Elijah. Elijah had to pray to God, three times. Jesus, in contrast, just commanded, “get up”, and His divine power, His OWN divine power, worked the rising.

The ONE divine power was at operation in Him, in Jesus. There are not three rival powers in the Trinity but “one and the same operation”(Catechism n.258). And, when this operation is at work, as it is continually at work, it “makes known both what is proper to the divine persons and their one divine nature”(Catechism n.259) . So, when Jesus ACTS He makes the divinity known to us. And when Jesus FEELS He makes the divinity known to us. Because, as a result of the Incarnation, there is now a divine heart, showing forth the divinity in human form.

So, what does God ‘look’ like? He has shown us in the Heart of Jesus. As the vision to St Mary Margaret put it some centuries ago, inspiring so many of the statues of the Sacred Heart like that in our own Church here: God ‘looks’ like love, “behold this heart which has so loved men”.