Sunday, 28 September 2014
The IHS Christogram pictured below is a monogram of the Holy Name, derived from the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, which is often also taken as an abbreviation of: Iesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus Saviour of Humanity
People in the town tend to refer to us simply as "St Edward's", but our full name is "The Most Holy Name and St Edward, King and Martyr", and this designation is one we are very fortunate to have, indicating the name of God Himself.
Names are things that we hold dear to us. Recently I noticed my mother getting my name wrong and calling me by my young nephew's name -annoying! Even worse was when she called my nephew by MY name -all the more galling because she only seemed to do it when he was misbehaving!
I don't like it because getting my name right is about relating to me as ME, not just as a random person. But with respect to God, and HIS name, I think there is an even greater significance for us today:
For us living in the 21st Century there it is the commonly, but mistakenly, held opinion of the people of our day that it is not possible to know God. They say, "maybe there is a god, and maybe not, but even if there is a god you certainly can't know him". In contrast, we claim, as Catholics, that it IS possible to know God - to know Him because He has revealed Himself to us, and a pivotal sign of this fact is that He has revealed His name: "Jesus".
Sacred Scripture holds that the name of God is of great significance. In the Old Testament the ineffable name of God was first revealed as YHWH [which has no vowels, but is sometimes written in English as 'Yahweh'], “I am who am” (Ex 3:14). Out of reverence for the holy name it was never pronounced. Instead of pronouncing this name, the Jews said, “Adonai”, i.e. “The Lord”. Today, still, in the Catholic liturgy we never say the word YHWH but our Bible translations instead say ‘The Lord’. This unpronounceable aspect of the Divine Name indicates something about the Divine: He is beyond our ability to grasp, He can only be known at all because He REVEALED Himself to us.
And, in the FULLNESS of time, in the New Testament, God FULLY revealed Himself In HiS Son.
We might note further that the New Testament name by which God chose to fully reveal Himself, ‘Jesus’, is a name that incorporated the Old Testament name: 'Jesus' is a name that means ‘YHWH is salvation’. This meaning of ‘Saviour’ (indicated in Mt 1:21 and Lk 2:21) indicates what Jesus is TO US: the one who can save us from all that troubles us, from evil, from suffering, from sin. The name also signifies that there is no-one else who can save us, only Him, because only He is God. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32).
To bring this to a conclusion: you might think that a name isn't very important. After all, in the play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare famously claimed that it was not: “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet - Act II Sc 2). However, the significance that Scripture attaches to the name of God indicates that we need to differ with Shakespeare. The fact is, that if you don't know the name of a rose it might still smell as sweet, but the that you didn't know it's name would indicate that you didn't really know much about it. More relevantly, thinking of persons, if Romeo did not know the name of Juliet it would indicate that he did not really know her, and he could not love her without knowing her. It would be meaningless to speak of loving someone if we did not know them well enough to know their name.
Why is this relevant? Well, because we know the name of God. He is the one "who is" and is the one who "saves". And we know it because He has told us His name when He told us about Himself. And knowing Him we can love Him, love Him who first loved us.
And all of that is encapsulated in the precious title of our church: "The Most Holy Name", Jesus.
See also the page on our parish website: https://sites.google.com/site/shaftesburycatholicchurch/the-holy-name
Sunday, 21 September 2014
Most of us are a little wary of death, and many of us get easily worried about it, while others can only cope with it by refusing to admit that a time will come when death will catch up with them.
And, if I'm honest, I'm rather in the category of those who don't really feel ready to die -some day, but not now -please!
That's why I am always struck by the passage we just heard from St Paul's letter to the Philippians, where he speaks with such amazing indifference about whether he lives or dies. For their sake, he is willing to keep living. For himself, he is ready to die -confident that the life he has lived is such that he will be with the Lord.
This question: Am I WILLING to die today! Am I READY to die today?
This question is a powerful focus, not so much on dying as on LIVING.
Let me illustrate the point this way: Many of the saints have written books to prepare you for death, called "A Preparation for Death". And if you buy one of those books you will almost certainly be surprised. Because they are books not about dying but about how to LIVE: if you live well, you will die prepared for death.
Back to St Paul. His attitude to life should make us think of our own attitude to life.
WHY did he want to keep living?
So he can catch the next episode of Coronation Street? So he can enjoy a quality bottle of red wine? So he can experience some aspect of human existence that he has not yet experienced?
No. Such thoughts were very far from St. Paul.
He wished to keep living "for your sake" so that he can keep "doing work that is having good results".
This is very far from spending his days yearning and focussing on being able to sit down and put his feet up in front of the TV!
He closes that little passage by telling us to avoid "anything in [our] lives that is unworthy of the Gospel of Christ".
A life "worthy of Christ" is, surely, a life lived as His was:
Thinking OF other people, not just thinking of myself.
Doing things FOR other people, not just checking off my own errand lists.
Let me conclude by turning our focus to death in a different way.
Today's gospel parable indicates that The Lord is willing to have us turn back to Him, willing to accept us, even if we only turn back to Him just before we die. This simple and pivotal truth of our Faith tells us much about the goodness of God.
The question you and I must constantly address to ourselves, however, is whether we are making use of this opportunity being offered by the Lord: the call to come back, no matter how long we've already put it off.
So, to sum that up:
St. Paul was indifferent to whether he died or lived. And he was ready to die precisely because he lived a good life, a life "for others". Let us examine ourselves today before the Lord and ask how much we do the same. And not put off the change we need to make.
Sunday, 14 September 2014
Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, of the triumph of the Cross of Christ. There are a great many truths we can rejoice in on this day (even if it might seem odd to rejoice in such a bad thing as the DEATH of Jesus), but the thing I wish to focus on this year is how it serves as a model for how God brings good out of bad.
Our Faith teaches us, as a certain and foundational truth revealed in Sacred Scripture, that God created the world perfect: without sin and without suffering. Our experience of life is so marked by these two intertwined realities that we find it hard to imagine existence without them, yet, Scripture attests that God made the cosmos without them, and that these two things entered creation together: sin, and with that disruption to the fabric of the cosmos, suffering.
The point is this, however: that God did not abandon His Fallen creation. Rather, He fashioned the remedy out of the problem.
An image of this was described in our first reading, with the serpent on the staff:
The serpents' bite brought death,
Then, God had Moses fashion an image of a serpent and mount it on a staff, lifted it up, and all who gazed upon it were saved.
Similarly, the death of Christ on the Cross, the putting-to-death of God-made-flesh, this rejection of God was the ultimate expression of all of humanity's rejection of God, the rejection that brings death to the world.
Yet, the death of Christ was “according to the plan and foreknowledge of God”(Acts 2:23), to be the means of our salvation.
So that when we fall in sin we might look upon Him who was 'lifted up', turn to Him and be saved.
God fashioned the solution out of the problem.
And so it is repeatedly in my life.
When I sin, or fail, or suffer: out of this problem my solution is fashioned.
For example, I have some grand scheme, and it fails. But then, in my weakness I let myself be humble, I turn to Him who is 'lifted up', and my weakness brings me to His strength.
More particularly, when fail in those particular 'failings' that are sins: again, my weakness forces me to turn to His strength: to His mercy, His forgiveness. I turn to Him who is 'lifted up', and my sin, ironically, brings me to His grace and virtue.
And my sufferings too, not just the moral ones but the physical ones:
Sometimes they come with such timing that they prevent my sins;
Sometimes they come on such occasions that they make me humble;
And ALWAYS they come in such a way that I can bring them to Christ, I can look to Him 'lifted up' -and find, in Him, something better that what I have lost in my suffering.
So, today, as we celebrate the triumph of the Holy Cross, let us recall how God brings great things out of evil, how He fashions the solution out of the problems we create, and in whatever situation we find ourselves, let us turn to Him 'lifted up' upon the Cross.
Sunday, 7 September 2014
Today we keep our annual harvest festival, when we give thanks to God for the good things He gives us, and we bring symbols of the first-fruits of the harvest here to church.
This year, for our harvest thoughts, I'd like to draw our attention to a teaching from Pope Francis about how we MIS-USE the harvest, how we WASTE food -words that he particularly addresses to us in the rich affluent West.
As you are hopefully aware, Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned what he refers to as our "throw-away" culture (Message for World Food Day, 16th October 2013), noting the way that in the West we dispose of things very freely:
“This scrap culture has also made us insensitive to waste, including food waste, which is even more reprehensible when in every part of the world, unfortunately, many people and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. [but] Consumerism has led us to become accustomed to the superfluous and the daily waste of food, which we are sometimes no longer able to value correctly, as its value goes far beyond mere economic parameters. Note well, though, that the food we throw away is as if we had stolen it from the table of the poor or the hungry!" (Pope Francis, World Environment Day, 5th June 2013)
Pope Francis is saying this, in part, because he is from Latin America, because he has lived amidst poverty levels that most of us can't really comprehend. And it seems to be God's gift to the Church at this moment in time that those of us in the West are being harangued by this non-Western pope.
But, he is also saying this in continuity with others popes and as part of the duty of every pope to live out what we heard in our first reading, from Ezekiel. About how the shepherd of the people is to be a guard against evil, a "sentry" denouncing wickedness -in the hope that the wicked man might turn from his evil ways and live.
So, How are we to respond to what the Pope is saying?
Well, part of the antidote to living a "throw away" lifestyle is to instead buy things with the intention of GIVING many things away. So it's suitable that we accompany our harvest thanksgiving by giving to others, as we do each year. This year our collection will go to support those suffering in Gaza. Pope Francis has been saying a lot over the summer to draw our attention to the suffering of those in Gaza and Iraq, and especially to draw the attention of the world to the plight of Christians per se in those countries -who have suffered particular neglect, and we have a particular duty to remember them, for they are our brothers and sisters in the Faith.
We had a collection for Iraq a few weeks ago, and so today's will be for Gaza, and there are envelopes for that on your pews.
In doing this we are, at least in part, living out what we heard St. Paul speak about in our second reading, about how love fulfils every one of the commands.
But to close by returning, more directly, to the Pope's point about "wasting" food. I know, for myself, that it seems that the moment when the food is "wasted" is when I have done the BUYING, when I have bought more than I actually need -once it is home in the fridge it's too late: STUFFING myself in gluttony to avoid it rotting just adds one sin to another, it is to miss the point -I had bought more than was appropriate.
The way to avoid this, Pope Francis is saying, is to "value correctly" the food to begin with: to value it not merely economically but with respect to the poor, with respect to other humans. And, most fundamentally, to value it with respect to God -the source of all good things. The antidote to the "throw away" culture is to treasure and value things more because I see them all as coming form His hand. And so, giving thanks as we do today, is an important way to combat within ourselves the "throw away" culture the Pope is talking about.