Sunday, 23 November 2014

Christ the King, Year A

Mt 25:31-46; Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17.
Today we keep the feast of Christ the King. I've been pondering this week that being a "king" is a rather old-fashioned concept. And I've been thinking that Shaftesbury is a rather old fashioned kind of place, and we probably have a much higher percentage of monarchists here that there are in other parts of the country.
But, and this is my point today, what KIND of king do we picture Jesus to be? Because His kingship isn't just a cosy nice traditional piece of symbolism. I want to make three brief points: how His kingship is modern, how it is old fashioned, and why it is so vitally important that we think of Him as 'king' at all.

First, His kingship is 'modern'. And by this I mean that He respects our freedom. He lets us do what we choose. He is not a tyrant. So on one level, He is like a modern king in a democratic state.

Second, however, He is also old fashioned. Although He leaves us free to choose whether or not to follow Him, He will also judge us for our behaviour -judge us on how we have USED that freedom. Both our first reading and our Gospel text described Him as judging and separating the sheep from the goats.
Let me specify this further and note that He will judge us according to HIS standards rather than according to our own. In the Gospel description of the judgment, both those who were praised and those who were condemned were told that they had not seen the truth in their actions. So, those who had failed to feed the hungry hadn't realised that they were failing to feed Christ, but The Lord didn't say, "That's alright, I realise you didn't realise it was me you were neglecting". And the Lord didn't say, "That's alright, I realise that you followed your own principles, and that's what counts". No, He condemned them. He condemned them because what they did was wrong. He condemned them because they should have known.
When Christ comes He will judge by His standards, not by ours.

Finally, why is it good for us that He should be king?
It's good because we NEED to have someone in charge in life.
As we know, most of our contemporaries live as if there was no greater purpose in life, as if there was no one watching over us, as if there was no one caring and guiding us.
In contrast, to acknowledge that Christ is King is realise that there IS someone in charge. Someone in charge of the universe;
someone in charge of directing, in Providence, the events of life -even through suffering;
Someone in charge of my life and what happens to me.
And this is a great realisation. It means I am not alone. It means I am not just left to my own devices and my own strength or weakness.

HOWEVER it brings with it a practical conclusion. If I am to acknowledge that He is King then I need to submit myself to Him as His subject. And this is a very old fashioned, non-democratic thing.
But if I am to benefit from what His Kingship brings then I must commit myself to being His subject. I must accept what He teaches, strive to live His commands, call on His mercy when I fall, and rely on His strength amidst the trials of life.

So, to sum that up. Having a "king" may seem the kind of cosy nice traditional thing that we in Shaftesbury "go for". But with Jesus it means something very specific. He is a modern king in that He leaves us to be free. He is an old fashioned king in that He will judge us for how we use or misuse our freedom. And it is GOOD that He is our King, that He is in charge, because He is the loving shepherd of all who choose to be His subjects.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Purgatory, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

See GoogleDrive sheet on Purgatory and another on Indulgences

I want to speak about an important way to love, a way that, sadly, many people seem to have forgotten about today, namely, the need to love those who have died by praying for them.
Now, I'm not saying that people don't care about the dead any more. But it does seem that people have lost sense of part of what is INVOLVED in love for them, namely, praying for people who have died. One of the 'seven spiritual works of mercy' is to pray for the dead.
So, let me point out the three things that the dead need our prays for.

First, they need our prayers for MERCY in the JUDGEMENT.
When I die I will stand before the judgement seat of God. It will be decided whether I will be sent to Hell or Heaven.
Part of problem today is that we tend not to really believe in Hell any more, so that we just gloss over the words we heard the Lord Jesus say, as He said many times, of this place where "there will be weeping and grinding of teeth" (Mt 25:30) for all eternity. Likewise, our modern world is so unwilling to face death that we avoid texts like the one we just heard from St Paul referring to our end coming like a “thief in the night”(1 Thess 5:1-16).
We tend, instead, to picture a comfortable middle-class Western lifestyle that will continue past death with no awkward realities like ‘judgement’ getting in the way.
But the simple truth is that I will die. And I will be judged.
And it is the prayers of the living that will assist me in receiving mercy in that judgment. This is what the Jews of our Lord's own time believed (2 Macc 12:42-45). This what the early Christians believed, so we find St Paul praying for a dead man called Onesiphorus that "the Lord will grant him mercy"(2 Tim 1:18).

Second, after the particular judgement, if I am to go to heaven I will still almost certainly need to be PURIFIED of my sins, to be ready for the perfection of Heaven. This purification happens in the place that the Church calls 'Purgatory'. It involves CHANGING us, and like any change it is difficult and painful. The classical image for this is of FIRE, as St. Peter puts it, being purified in fire as gold is purified in fire (1 Pet 1:7) –the impurities burned away. Thus the new Catechism quotes St Gregory referring to this "purifying fire"(CCC 1031). Many of the saints have seen visions of this, the earliest recorded being to St Perpetua, who was shown a vision of her brother in this place of "gloominess", "thirst", and "pain", and yet she was also shown how her prayers brought comfort to him in that refining fire -like water in a desert.
So, our prayers for the dead bring them COMFORT in their time of purgation.

Thirdly and finally, the souls in Purgatory need our assistance to SPEED them through this process, to SHORTEN their time there. Thus we read in the book of Maccabees that sacrifices were offered in the Temple for the dead "that they might be released from their sins"(2 Macc 12:42-45). Because if I am there I will not get out until the temporal debt has been paid for my sins.

And because our loved ones are now outside the same 'time reference' as ourselves we should CONTINUE to pray -thus I still pray for my Grandma who died two decades ago, even though that was long ago and even though she was a lovely woman. I pray for her because I still love her, and I expect all my prayers to be counted on her behalf.

Finally, HOW should we pray? Which prayers should we offer? There are some suggestions indicated in the Purgatory newsletter insert sheet (and a previous year's sheet on indulgences), but I think the important thing is that we should prayer REGULARLY, even if it is only Hail Marys and Our Fathers.

So, there are three things that the prayers of the living assist the dead in:
Mercy in the judgment; comfort in the purging fire; and in a shortening of the time in that fire.
To failure to offer this assistance is to fail to love.
But to be faithful in offering this assistance is to show both our love and our belief and hope in the resurrection of the dead.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remembrance Sunday & Dedication of Lateran Basilica

A couple weeks ago I went up to London and, like some of you, I went to see the poppies outside the Tower of London. For those of you who don't know, it's a special temporary memorial of 888,246 ceramic poppies -one for every British military casualty in the First World War, for the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI.
I mention this because today is Remembrance Sunday. But in the Church today we commemorate another sort of memorial: the Catholic Church’s central church monument: the Lateran Basilica in Rome.
I want to say a few words about both of these things. Because it’s sometime asked: Why build memorials and monuments? Why remember the dead?

The Lateran Basilica in Rome is the Pope’s Cathedral. It is dedicated to the St John, but also houses parts of bodies of the martyrs St Peter and St Paul. But it is a monument not just to them as individuals but to all that they signify. They signify loyalty to Christ as a value above all else, they signify that the Church is a body and unity that transcends all others, that the Church is built on them in ROME –the glue that holds the Church today. They signify that unity which transcends us as mere isolated individuals –for we are not just individuals we are part of a greater whole that has its meaning in Christ.
And the Lateran Basilica is built to remind us lest we forget that our communion comes through our Apostolic roots, lest we forget, forget who died, why they died, and what we are a part of by our union with them.

The many war memorials in our country are dedicated to those who have died.
In honouring them we remember a great many things.
For many, we recall their bravery and self-sacrifice.
For many, we also recall that they died in a great cause: that we free today, that we live under the rule of law not dictatorship today, because of those willing to die.
And we also honour the dead simply as a reminder of the HORROR of the wars they died in -we remember them so that we might be reminded to avoiding repeating such horror in the future.
And let me note this point:
We remember them because if we forget them we become something less ourselves, that England would be diminished if she forgot those who had died.
War memorials may be monuments erected TO the dead, but they are also erected FOR us the living –lest we forget.

In our second reading, St Paul spoke of the people of the church being “God’s building... YOU are that temple”(1Cor3:17). The TRUE monument that is erected to the dead, whether the dead of the wars, or the dead of martyrdom, The TRUE monument erected to them must be the lives of those who live afterwards –and we are called to live WELL by recalling what went before –lest we forget.

There are some people today who speak and think as if they were not just free but individuals that somehow existed ISOLATED from the history that preceded them, removed from the culture and society that surrounds them.
But we are NOT isolated individuals, we are PART of something that has preceded us and remembering the dead is not just an act of gratitude to those who risked their lives defending their country –it is also an act remembering WHAT we are part of: (1) what we do not wish repeated from the past, and, (2) the values we must learn from the past –lest we forget.

When we honour the dead martyrs Peter and Paul at the Lateran Basilica in Rome;
When we honour the dead martyr St Edward in this church;
When we honour the dead of the wars we remember –lest we forget, and by forgetting become something less than their deaths call us to be.
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
at the going down of the sun, and at the rising
we will remember them