Sunday, 24 November 2013
Sunday, 17 November 2013
This week our Diocese had a major gathering, a 'symposium', on what is called 'The New Evangelisation’ -concerning our need, as believers, to give witness to the people of our modern secular society. The call to give witness runs repeatedly through the Scriptures; and in our Gospel today we heard what might seem an unlikely example of it: the Lord Jesus said that when believers will be persecuted at the End of Time, in trials, and brought before their persecutors, this will be "an opportunity to bear WITNESS"(Lk 21:13).
But, to WHAT are we to give witness? Or, rather, to WHOM?
Bearing witness is all about HIM. The symposium was looking at a document of the 2012 Synod of Bishops on Evangelisation, it's Instrumentum Laboris, which talks in its introduction about what the whole thing is about, which can be summed up in three points:
It's about (1) having "a personal relationship" with the Lord, a relationship with Him that begins when (2) someone proclaims Him to us in such a way that we can say that (3) we truly MEET Him, "encounter" Him (nn.17-18; Introduction). This parallels the manner in which we meet anybody, encounter anybody, get introduced to anybody, and thus start to have a relationship with him/ her.
It may be that to some of you the language of "having a personal relationship with Jesus" sounds foreign, sounds like American terminology imported from Evangelicals. Certainly, for myself, as a teenager, it was from such people that I first came across this phrase. But, as a matter of fact, it is common in the documents of the Catholic Church, rooted in our tradition; and the entirety of everything we believe as Catholics, from the personal love of Jesus for us in the Sacred Heart, to the motherly care bestowed on us by our Heavenly Mother Mary -these and countless other things are only coherent as part of a Faith that believes in "personal relationship" with the Lord.
Let me make the point using another term: 'friendship', countless ancient devotions remind us that Jesus is our ‘friend’; theologians like St Thomas Aquinas tell we must listen to Him because He is our “best and wisest friend” (ST I-II q108 a4). And, mystics like St Teresa of Avila, in describing what prayer is, says: “it is nothing but a frequent heart-to-heart conversation with Him by whom we know ourselves to be loved”.
He is a friend who transcends all others, in a friendship, a personal relationship that transcends all others. He loves me, He forgives me, He strengthens me, He consoles me.
He is with me: in prayer, in the Holy Mass, in Holy Communion.
He is with me in the way my neighbour loves me, and in me when I love my neighbour.
He, like all friends, is with me in my joys, and shares my rejoicing.
And, even better than any friend, He is with me in my problems, so that I do not bear the burden alone -even if my problems are not the tribulations of the End Days.
The friend I can talk to about my whole life, who listens; and, if I am sensible, the friend whose wise advice I listen to hear.
Finally, He shows His perfect friendship in the way that He is with me even though I am so often only imperfectly with Him. He is my best friend even though I am not faithful enough to say the same for Him.
To have such a friend, to be in such a wonderful "personal relationship", is a beautiful and precious thing.
If we have such a thing, even if we only have it imperfectly, if we have such a thing we surely need to want others to have it.
And it is for such a sharing that we are called to "bear witness"(Lk 21:13).
You can't force someone to come to faith; just as you can't force someone into a friendship. But, by presenting Christ to others we create a situation where that initial "encounter" with Him, and sometimes a re-encounter with Him, becomes possible. We have a duty to give people this possibility, and to do it often. The Church teaches us that the PRIMARY duty of charity is to proclaim Christ to others (Novo Millennio Ineunte n.50): Others deserve too have this friend too.
To close with a quote from a saint who lived through the Reformation persecutions, who stood before trials and sufferings such as those Jesus described in the Gospel: how do we describe Jesus?
"First friend He was,
Best friend He is,
All ages will find Him true."(St Robert Southwell)
Sunday, 10 November 2013
Today our nation keeps Remembrance Sunday, when we remember all those who have died in the wars. The Scripture readings that the Church gives us today are not chosen with that in mind, they are on a different cycle, but by a happy coincidence they also speak to us of death, and, more particularly, of our hope in a resurrection after death.
Our Gospel text described how a group of Sadducees came up to Jesus with a trick question. You may not have heard the old joke: "Why were the Sadducees sad? Because they didn't believe in the resurrection!" Both modern Judaism and ancient Judaism were divided over the question of whether there was life after death. The Pharisees said there was. The Sadducees said there wasn't. And they brought what they thought was a trick question to Jesus, with the tale of a woman who had been married to seven men who had all died in sequence, and which of them would she be married to in heaven, if there was a 'heaven'?
There are some key things we need to note about this passage, because it teaches us some very definite things about life after death.
First, we might note the Sadducees' concern that the woman produce a child -thus she needed to keep marrying. This was rooted in the thought that the only 'after life' is to have a child who keeps living when you die, who keeps your name and memory going.
Second, we might note the contrast that exists between such a vague existence-as-being-remembered-after-death and existence-as-having-a-resurrected-BODY. Jesus speaks very clearly about the BODY being resurrected. Not just a vague spirit, not just a vague memory. But a BODY. You REALLY do live after death if there is a new body!
The Sadducees, however, mocked the idea of a resurrected body. What would it be like?! Or, as some modern people who sometimes think they are being clever imply: all this talk of 'bodies' is rather crude and primitive and foolish.
The Lord Jesus, however, is emphatic: there is a resurrection of the body. And, of course, He ultimately made this a reality in His own physical Resurrection.
The foolishness is to think that the new body will be just like the old. It will not! And perhaps nothing makes this clearer than the fact that there will be no marriage in heaven. The 'new heaven, and new earth'(Rev 21:1) that the book of the Apocalypse describes is truly 'made new' (Rev 21:5). It is real, it is bodily, but it is different.
To conclude, however, what difference does any of this really make to us?
Well, we heard a good example in our first reading, with the description of the bravery of the Maccabees. They were Jews in what became 'the Pharisee tradition', not Sadducees. The Maccabees believed very exactly in a resurrected body. And, as, today, we think of the bravery of many soldiers, we might note that many of these Maccabees were soldiers, and it was faith in the resurrection that empowered these Maccabees to be so brave in the face of death: "Heaven gave me these limbs, and for the sake of His laws I disdain them; from Him I hope to receive them again" (2Macc 7:11) in the resurrection of the body. Thus the Maccabees were brave in fighting their pagan overlords. We might note, in comparison, that the Sadducees were not known for bravery against the Roman oppressors, but known rather for cooperating, in order to keep their power and the Temple cult in place.
The simple point is this: believing in life after death CHANGES how we live on earth.
It gives you hope while you live, it inspires you to bravery and feats that you would otherwise not achieve.
To come back to that opening quip: Why were the Sadducees sad? Because they didn't believe in the resurrection.
Believing in the resurrection CHANGES us. From sadness to hope. From weakness to bravery.
Sunday, 3 November 2013
We just heard the Lord Jesus make a rather important statement about WHY “the Son of Man has come”(Lk 19:10). If you recall, the title, “The Son of Man” is one that Jesus had applied to Himself as one of the titles used of the long-awaited Messiah, the one who was to SAVE the Chosen People. The name ‘Jesus’ itself means “The Lord [YHWH] is salvation”, and we heard in that passage the Lord say that “salvation has come to this house” of the tax-collector Zacchaeus.
Jesus comes to bring salvation, and He says salvation has come to this man, but, WHAT is this thing called ‘salvation’?
You may recall that last year Pope Benedict came out with his last book, The Infancy Narratives, and in that book he commented on this very question. And he noted that for some of the people, what Jesus claimed to bring seemed too much, and to others it seemed too little. But in either case, it was not the ‘salvation’ they were expecting.
Jesus came to save us from our sins, whereas many of the Jewish people were expecting a this-worldly salvation, a political messiah to liberate them from the Romans. Such people were disappointed that Jesus was offering something else.
Others, the Pharisees and Sadducees, heard what Jesus claimed but thought it was too much, because only GOD can forgive sin, so who was Jesus claiming to be? [Well, He was claiming to be God.]
Pope Benedict commented on this issue of the type of salvation that Jesus came to bring by commenting on the occasion when some people brought a paralytic to Jesus and lowered him down to Him through the roof. What did Jesus say to the sick man? “My son, your sins are forgiven”(Mk 2:5). As Pope Benedict noted, “This was the last thing anyone was expecting [Jesus to say]. This was the last thing they were concerned about. The paralytic needed to be able to walk, not to be delivered from his sins”!
Yet, this is what Jesus claimed to be about: the forgiveness of sins, the saving of us from our sins, and this was a deeper and more profound healing that that of the body from illness.
Thus, Zacchaeus, who was physically well, and materially rich, he still NEEDED saving. And it was only because Jesus ‘sought out’ this man declared to be a “sinner”(Lk 19:7), and that this sinner likewise sought out Him and welcomed Him into his home, that Jesus was able to say, “salvation has come to this house”(Lk 19:9).
Still today, however, many people think this too little a thing. Still today there are people, and let me be blunt and say especially the wealthy, still today there are people who value the body and material welfare in a manner that declares ‘sin’ to be something not really to be what Jesus is about. And they re-make Jesus into another image by ignoring these and other passages of the Scriptures.
But WHY is being saved from sin the most important thing? WHY is it the greatest salvation Jesus comes to bring? To quote Pope Benedict again, because “man is a relational being” and our “first, fundamental relationship” is with God our creator, and as long as this relationship is disturbed all my other relationships are disturbed too. I cannot properly love my neighbour, who is made in God’s image, if I am out of kilter with God.
Sin is the heart of the human sickness and if we are not healed in this then “no matter how many things you may find, you are not truly healed”.
And, conversely, when we ARE saved from sin, saved in this deepest relational core of our being with GOD, when we are saved here it brings great JOY. Thus, as we heard, Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus “joyfully”(Lk 19:6), as joy accompanied the forgiveness of sin elsewhere in the Gospels too.
So, this is the greatness of what Jesus comes to us to bring. To put us at right in the core of our being.
It was for this that He came, it was to achieve this that He died, and it is still today for this that He “seeks out and saves that which is lost”
 Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth. The Infancy Narratives (London: Burns and Oates, 2012), p.42
 Ibid p.44