Sunday, 25 June 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 10:26-33; Jer 20:10-13
We just heard a promise from the Lord that relates to how we are to respond to many of the sufferings of life. He tells us, “Do not be afraid” (Mt 10:26).
More particularly, He tells us to not be afraid of those who can hurt the body but cannot hurt the soul.
There are other passages that relate to the promises He makes us sustain us even amidst the difficulties of the body, but here the focus is on the eternal, the TRULY disastrous damage, namely, whether we would lose or gain our immortal soul.
About this He tells us, “Do not be afraid”.

The deepest REASON why He promises us and tells us not to be afraid lies in the verse before the passage that we heard today. In the immediately preceding verse the Lord compares the disciple to his master, and the fate of the disciple with the fate of the master.
If something happens to the master, and the disciple models himself on the master, then same can be expected to happen to the disciple.
This, it might be said, is both good and bad news.
Bad news, because they crucified the master.
Good news, because the master’s Resurrection will be the fate of the disciple too.
They crucified the body, but not the soul.
The eternal is triumphant in heaven, and now with a new glorified risen body.

To help reflect on this promise in Matthew’s Gospel, the Church offers us today our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. If you recall your Old Testament, Jeremiah had a tough role and a tough life. God had called him to tell the people that their capital city, Jerusalem, was about to be destroyed by the enemy and the people taken into captivity. This wasn't an popular message.
True, he also had a promise of salvation if the people would only repent and turn to the Lord. But the people weren't very interested in that. They just hated him for his message of destruction. And so, as we heard in that first reading, they plotted his destruction. “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”(Jer 20:10).
Jeremiah, however, as we heard, trusted in the Lord. And when the city was destroyed by the Babylonians and the people taken captives, Jeremiah was spared and set free.
God delivered Jeremiah.

This is a two-fold model for the disciple:
The disciple can expect persecution, just as Jeremiah was persecuted for the unpopularity of his message.
But the disciple can also rely on the Lord’s faithfulness to him, if he has been faithful to the Lord.

In its DIRECT application, this means the Lord will raise up the disciple despite the suffering that come from the disciple spreading God’s word.
In every era there is always a different aspect or set of aspects of God’s truth that is not accepted in a particular culture. And that will make the disciple hated, despised, and left suffering in the “body” -the “body” in the sense of those aspects of our life that are transient. Despite such suffering the disciple can confidently entrust his immortal soul and future to God, who will raise him up as Christ was raised.

In its INDIRECT application, this also means that the Lord will raise up His disciple in ALL of the sufferings we endure while following Him. So, when we face bodily suffering, this passage urges us to entrust ourselves to the eternal. Yes, the sufferings of the body are real, but if we endure them with love and patience, then we too will be raised up.
And, as a consequence, this should free us from worry about eternity.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. … Why, every hair on your head has been counted… if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven”(Mt 10:28-33).

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Adoring before Receiving. Corpus Christi

Today we’re going to do what might described as, “one of those weird Catholic things”. As a non-Catholic might observe and describe what we’re going to do at the end of Mass: we’re going to worship what looks like a piece of bread. As the unbeliever thinks: we’re going to take a wafer of bread, lock it up in a metal contraption, and then throw some smoke at it. And it all looks VERY odd to the unbeliever.

This is all something I do so often that I can forget what it looks like to an unbeliever. And yet, it all makes sense to me because of something else that happens at Mass: receiving Holy Communion. And I want, today, to make the point to you that the Adoring of the Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that we’re going to do today is ESSENTIAL if receiving Holy Communion is to make sense to us.
The unbeliever thinks we’re just eating wafers of bread, and he thinks that because he does not ADORE it. And, of course he doesn’t adore it because he does not recognise it for what it truly is, namely, not really an “it” at all, but a “who” -the personal Presence of the Lord Jesus Himself.

Many centuries ago the great St Augustine made a statement that is very relevant in this regard -he was quoted more recently by Pope Benedict (p.83), and Pope Pius XII before him. St Augustine said that no one should “eat that flesh [i.e. the Eucharist] without first adoring it… we sin by not adoring it”.
IF we truly believe what Jesus said, “this IS my Body”, and if we truly trust the faith that all the early Church, and the Catholic Church still today teaches on this point, then because the Eucharist IS the Lord, we must adore it. Thus the Church teaches that the Eucharist is worthy of the same worship that we offer to God Himself, because God has made the Eucharist into His very self. To use the technical term, the Eucharist is give that grade of worship, “latria”, (Pope Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, n.56) that is reserved for God himself.

Now, this is important because, as we sadly all know, it’s very easy to approach Holy Communion forgetting what we are doing. We can be distracted by all sorts of things, receive Communion, and realise that we've got back to our pew and knelt or sat down without really thinking about what we're doing.
How do we avoid this tragedy? By doing what St Augustine said: adoring what we receive. As I've indicated in the newsletter this week, there a simple application of this that was in the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal of 2002, that was translated in 2011, and that I'm afraid to say I've failed to point out to you until today, and that visitors from other parishes can sometimes be seen to do when they’re here:
Namely, to adore before receiving by making an "act of reverence"(GIRM n.160). As some of you have pointed out to me, and as I’ve indicated in the newsletter, you sometimes see visitors from other parishes genuflect before receiving Holy Communion, genuflection being the standard act of reverence to the Eucharist (in the West). But, especially if you're infirm, you can bow, or, conversely, if you're fit you can kneel -as Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have reintroduced in Rome. But whichever you choose, the new Instruction is clear that we should ALL be making an act of reverence, to adore what we are to receive, and to thus be better ready to receive, better focused on what we are doing, better focused on the fact that it is a person, and not just a thing, that we are receiving.

Let me close with an important word about the Benediction we're closing Mass with today:
The practice of adoring what we are to receive isn't just about the moment before receiving, it extends to coming to Jesus in the Tabernacle, to how we greet Jesus in the Tabernacle when we enter Church before Mass begins, and to how we continue to reverence Him there after Mass.
Even more, the practice of adoring Him takes the form of Exposing Him for view in what is called a "monstrance", to gaze upon Him and worship Him. Though we'll only do so briefly at the end of today’s Mass, this Exposition and Adoration is often done for hours on end.
And when we carry the Blessed Sacrament in procession we not only adore Him while doing this, not only reverence Him in a particular way, we also symbolise the manner in which Jesus is with us in our whole procession of life, in our pilgrim journey to heaven -leading us there, but also with us on the way.
Then, finally, He whom we have Adored blesses us in the Benediction, a blessing direct from our Eucharistic Lord, and it is a source of a great many graces.

So, to sum up. What we’re doing today looks odd to the unbeliever, but it’s what helps us recall what it is that we believe. A small act of genuflection reminds us that Jesus is with us in life, in Church, and in Holy Communion. And adoring Jesus exposed in the monstrance helps us adore Him who we would receive.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Trinity Sunday

I want to try and tell you today that the Trinity is not just an abstract doctrine, is not just a riddle about God being three while also being one, about having three persons but one nature.
In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us something that should give us a warm COSY feeling inside.

Let me make a comparison to you:
Let us imagine what our notion of God would be like if we did not know about the Trinity,
and let’s compare that with the notion of God that is revealed to us in the Trinity.

If we want to imagine what our notion of God would be like without the Trinity it’s not difficult:
we can simply look back in history and see what reasonable men thought God was like before Christianity. In particular, we can look to the ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle and so forth.
Because even in ancient times there were men whose reasoning was clear enough that they saw that the pagans idols were fictions,
that there are not many gods but only one,
that he is not a statue but a spirit.
Reason alone, even without the benefit of the supernatural Revelation that comes to us in the Bible and through the tradition of the Church, Reason alone was able to tell those philosophers many true things about God.

For example, they knew that god was one, as I said, that He was spiritual and not material.
That He was the First Cause of all things, the Unmoved Mover who ‘moved’ the world into existence.
That He always existed and never started to exist.
That He had no limits.

But there is ONE thing that we FAIL to find in the ancient Greek philosophers, and that is the notion that God is interested in us, that He loves us.
And we also fail to find in the ancient Greeks any notion of God being RELATIONAL
–something He has to be if He is to love.

And what do we find in the doctrine of the Trinity? What do we find in the Revelation of God given to us in Jesus Christ?
We find that love and relationship are the very ESSENCE of what God is:
“God is love”(1 Jn 4:8), Scripture says.

When we say that in the one God there are three persons, we are saying that in His very being there is an eternal loving inter-relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
When the Church professes that the Son is EQUALLY God, as truly God as the Father is,
when the Church solemnly professes, as we say in the Creed, that the Son ALWAYS existed, that though He is begotten of the Father He is “ETERNALLY begotten of the Father, God from God...”,
when we say this we are saying that this loving inter-relationship of three persons is what God is.

So, while it is true that this is not an easy thing to grasp,
that it will always exceed our mere human intellect’s ability to FULLY comprehend,
it is nonetheless a doctrine that teaches us that God is love.
It is a doctrine that should give us a warm cosy feeling inside.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

'The Great Unknown' or, 'The Great Friend'? Pentecost

Today we keep the feast of Pentecost, when we recall how the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles in the Upper Room.
To a lot of us, however, the Holy Spirit can seem a little vague. As Pope Benedict put it in 2007, "There are many Christians for whom he [the Holy Spirit] remains the 'great unknown.’” This echoed a sermon of the same title by St Josemaria Escriva (in the mid-20th century).

Let me make a comparison with the other two persons of the Trinity:
If we ask, “What is Jesus like?” We can turn to the Gospels to see Him described. We see Him acting, hear Him feeling things etc
If we ask, “What is the Father like?” We can, by extension, know what He looks like too. Not because He is seen in Himself, for “No one has seen the Father” (Jn 6:46), but because He is seen in His Son Jesus Christ, who is the “image” of the Father (c.f. Col 1:15; Jn 1:18; Jn 14:9, 2 Cor 4:4).
But, if we ask, “What is the Holy Spirit like?” It would be very understandable for someone to say, He’s “the Great Unknown”!

And yet, St Josemaria also taught that, while He seems unknown to many, He is, in truth, “The Great Friend”.
How is He our “friend”? By all that He DOES for us.
Think about it this way:
We can answer the question, “What is the Holy Spirit like?” by pointing to what He does:
He CHANGES us –just as He changed the Apostles from timid men hiding in the Upper Room to BOLD men who rushed out and preached, and added three thousand to the numbers of believers that very day (Acts 2:41).
More generally, we can consider what the Holy Spirit does by saying:
He sanctifies us;
He conforms us to the image of Christ the Son (2 Cor 3:18);
He gives us the power to do what we cannot do alone.

He DOES things. Now, I need to clarify this slightly and acknowledge that all divine action is “the common work of [all] the three divine persons”, with the one divine nature having one operation. And yet, Scripture and tradition ‘appropriate’ certain particular activities to certain persons of the Trinity (Summa Theologica I q 37 a7), with “each divine person performing the common work according to his unique personal property” (CCC 258). And we can see a lot that is ‘attributed’ to the Holy Spirit:
Consider the sacraments: It is by HIS action that the sacraments are effective:
In the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest stretches out his hands over the bread and wine, a gesture CALLING down the Holy Spirit in ‘the epiclesis’, to change bread and wine into Jesus’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Similarly, in Confession, the priest stretches out His hand as His says the words of absolution –so that by the Divine power forgiveness is effected.
The Holy Spirit DOES things!

How else does He “do”?
He is the one who apportions different gifts to the different members of Christ’s Body (c.f. 1 Cor 12:3-13 -second reading of the morning Mass);
He is the one who gives the ‘7 Gifts’ of the Holy Spirit –empowering us to do what we cannot do alone.

To conclude, a good friend seeks our good, our well-being. The Holy Spirit is “The GREAT Friend” because He seeks that ULTIMATE good for us -to make us like unto God.
And, if we would have Him be not ‘The Great Unknown” but “The Great Friend” then, very simply, we need to relate to Him, talk to Him, pray to Him, call upon Him, “Come Holy Spirit..” –a prayer to be on our lips all year!