Saturday, 31 March 2018

Reception of Robert Tawse, Easter Vigil

Tonight is a wonderful night for our parish because we’re receiving someone into the Church, Robert Tawse. 
I’d like us to consider what will change for Robert, because it’s also a reminder of each of us are called to.

Tonight, most basically, is about Robert and the Lord Jesus, and Robert finding the meaning of his life in union with the Lord Jesus.

For Robert, tonight is both an end and a beginning.
It’s the end of the process that began with his baptism: the process of being sacramentally initiated into Christ and into His Church.
Baptism began that process.  In baptism we die and rise with Christ.
As for many of us, that happened for Robert in his infancy.
Baptism, however, is not the end. 
Baptism gives the Holy Spirit, in part, but not in fullness.  The fullness is given sacramentally in Confirmation, as Robert will be confirmed with the sacred oil of Chrism tonight.
Baptism gives union with Jesus Christ, but not in fullness.  The completion of initiation into Christ happens with the Eucharist, when we receive the Lord in Holy Communion, as Robert will do for the first time tonight.
As St Augustine notes, when we eat normal food, our body digests it and it becomes a part of us.  In contrast, when we eat that food which is the Lord Jesus, we become a part of Him.
We become part of His Body, rather than Him becomes a part of our body.
We are initiated into something greater than ourselves.

In all of this, Robert is completing something, ENDING something that began in his baptism.
But it’s also a new beginning.
We celebrate it at Easter, to symbolize the old dying and the new rising, not by our power, but by union with Christ Jesus in His Paschal mystery, His dying and rising.
Tonight Robert becomes someone new, acquires a new identity in Christ.
This, therefore, is also a new beginning.
In baptism, in dying and rising with Christ, we are called to holiness, we are called to become SAINTS.
What sort of saint might Robert become? 
The saints aren’t all the same.
‘Grace build on nature’ as the scholastics say.
God takes our natural temperament and abilities,
For example, some people are hurried and quick, others are slow and careful
And God TRANSFORMS our natural characteristics, but doesn’t DESTROY them.
What will Robert look like as a saint?
On one level, Robert will still be same old Robert. 
In being called to be a saint he is NOT called to become someone else.
The hipster beard will still be there.
The absence of hair on his head will still be there.
To become ‘saint’ Robert, he doesn’t become someone else, but becomes more fully himself.
The full man, the complete man, is Jesus Christ.
It is IN Christ Jesus that we are fully REVEALED to ourselves.
It is in UNION with Christ Jesus that we BECOME fully ourselves:
Stronger -by His power, not ours;
Better capable of love -by His power, not ours;
More alive in His Spirit -by His power, not ours.
-none of these changes are automatic:
the gifts Robert receives tonight will only bear fruit in as much as he uses them.

I started by saying that tonight is about Robert and the Lord Jesus, and Robert finding the meaning of his life in union with the Lord Jesus.
It an end, because it completes the sacramental union:
Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion.
It’s a beginning, because it opens the pathway that we have in the power of Christ,
The power to be transformed, transformed into Christ, into a saint.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Silence, Good Friday

Jn, 18:1-19:42; Isa 52:12-53:12
There is a specific moment, every year during the Good Friday and Passion liturgy when I feel a little odd, and no doubt many of you feel it too: the moment when Jesus dies, and we kneel down.
It’s not just that I feel sad, but I feel kind of funny, odd.
God died on a tree.
We stop in silence.
And there is a much deeper sense in which the whole cosmos must have stood still at that moment.
The ancient hymn that we use in the Office of Readings for tomorrow speaks of how, “The cross stands empty in a world grown silent”.
It feels like all has stopped. It feels like nothing is happening.

What did the people looking on think 2000 years ago? To most who saw it, it would have looked like defeat. To the faithful few who stood by Him at the foot of the Cross, they still kept faith –but faith in what?

But, what did HE says of it?
WE might sense silence, sense absence, sense the defeat of God.
But He, He said, as He gave His last breath, He said, “It is accomplished”.
And as He had said so many times in different ways in the build-up to this event, and as we heard Him say in that account just read, He said, “I was born for this, I came into the world for this.” And now, “it is accomplished”.

Let us consider for a moment, even if only briefly, let us consider WHAT was accomplished.
The prophecies of old were fulfilled, of one who would bear our sufferings and carry our sorrows (Isa 53:4).
A sacrifice was made for our sins:
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”(Jn 1:29)
A definitive confrontation with evil was wrought.
And, the One Eternal God was united to us in OUR pain, in our woes.

I spoke of the silence of the Cross, the silence evoked in us as we behold God dead on a tree.
But there is another silence that suffering evokes. The silence that comes in each one of us in our own troubles, in our own suffering.
How often, in our suffering, are we left thinking: “Why? Why does God let me suffer?” Here too the silence of the Cross is at work.
How does God answer that question, “Why?”
Well, actions are said to speak louder than words. And, on the Cross, in a world gone silent, the action that speaks is the act that says He is with us. Am I suffering? So is He on the Cross. Am I weak? So is He on the Cross. Am I alone? So is He on the Cross?

Or, rather, what the Cross means is that I am not alone. He is with me.
I am not weak, for He will be my strength.
And in that silence, the suffering that seemed to be absence of God is revealed as His most definitive activity.

(Postscript: Can we truly say that "God died"?
Yes, by using “the ancient patristic teaching on the communicatio idiomata. In the Incarnation we recognise the union, in the Person of the Logos, of both the divine and the human natures. Thus, the properties or characteristics of either the divinity or the humanity can be predicated of the divine Person who is the subject of the Incarnation. In this way, even though it is only characteristic of humanity to die, death can nevertheless be predicated of the one God-man in light of the hypostatic union. Since Jesus is a divine person, we can truly say that God suffered and died. The patristic tradition… made use of this doctrine to show the loving involvement of God, through the Incarnation, in our human predicament of suffering and dying.”(Ed. Lewis Fiorelli,OSFS, The Sermons of St Francis de Sales for Lent (Charlotte, North Carolina: TAN Books, 2010), p.207, n.6.)

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Four Passover Questions, Maundy Thursday

Ex 12:1-8.11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26
This year, for tonight’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper, I want to think about the Passover.
The Mass, the Eucharist, is called “the LORD’s Passover” (Ceremonial n.297), meaning that of the Lord JESUS, and one way of appreciating the new Passover is to think about the old Passover.

The Jewish Passover meal, as it was observed 2000 years ago and is still observed today, has were four cups. The meal also has four questions.
As many of you will know, in the Jewish Passover meal, still today, the youngest child at the meal asks, asks about the meal, “Why is this night not like other nights?” And then asks four sub-questions about how the meal is different to other nights. Each of the answers the child is given point to the original Passover, which we heard about in our first reading, by which the Jews were rescued from Egypt.

Let me point to more detail.
First, the child points out that on other nights the family eats leavened bread, and asks why on this night they only eat unleavened bread. The reason for this is that the original Passover meal in Egypt was eaten, as we heard in our first reading, “hastily”, with no time for the bread to rise.

Second, the child points out that on other nights the family eats vegetables, but on this night only bitter herbs. This is to remind them of the bitterness of slavery that they knew in Egypt, that the Lord released them from in Egypt.

Third, the child points out that normally the food is not dipped even once but on this night it is dipped twice. This dipping of food into salt water is a reminder of the tears of sorrow the Jews experienced in slavery.

Fourth, and finally, the child points out that on other nights the meat can be boiled or stewed, but tonight can only be roasted. This points them to the original Passover lamb, which, as we heard, God decreed was to be roasted.

All four of those questions point backwards towards a specific act in history that saved the Jews from a specific situation they were in. They were saved from the bitterness and tears of slavery. They were in haste to flee their oppressors. And they ate a sacrificial lamb according to the command of the God who saved them.

In a parallel manner, the Eucharist, “the Lord’s Passover” (Ceremonial n.297), points us backwards to a specific act and situation in history. The situation we were saved from was the slavery of sin. The specific act that saved us was the death of Christ on the Cross, the sacrificial death of the lamb of the new Passover.

Let me pose questions and answers about the sacrifice of the Eucharist.

First, why is bread and wine taken?
Because these are what Christ chose to take at the First Mass, at the Last Supper.

Second, why do we treat them with such reverence?
Because they are changed into what Christ said, namely, His very self: His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Third, why did Christ use both bread and wine?
Because the Eucharist makes present His sacrificial DEATH. If body and blood are separated then death occurs. Symbolically, the sign value of bread consecrated as His Body and wine consecrated as His Blood is a sign of His death, a sign of His sacrifice.

Fourth, why do we EAT this?
Because Christ gave Himself, as He promised, as “the Bread of Life” (Jn 6:35) and said that “unless you eat my flesh… you cannot have eternal life within you”(Jn 6:53).
He has given us His very self to be the food for our souls.
The food He gives us is not a part of Him, or a bit of Him, but His WHOLE self. He is whole under the appearance of what was once bread. He is whole under the appearance of what was once wine.
In receiving either we receive the whole Him.
In receiving both, as we do tonight, we receive not a greater reality, but a greater sign, namely, that of His death -as blood separated from body brings death.

To sum that up, the Passover of the Old Covenant was a ritual that looked back to the original Passover, and the parts of that ritual symbolically looked to that original Passover.
The Mass, “the Lord’s Passover” (Ceremonial n.297), is similarly a ritual that looks back, and the parts of its ritual signify that original saving event of the Cross.
HOWEVER, the Mass, Christ’s great gift to us, not only reminds us of that past event, but it makes it PRESENT:
the sacrifice of the Mass is the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of the Cross;
and the food of the Eucharist is the same flesh that died on the Cross and Rose three days later.

Both the old and the new Passover can only be understood by recalling the original event they signify.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Why have You Forsaken me? Palm Sunday, Year B

Mk 14:1-15:47
St Mark’s account, that we have just heard, is the most minimal of the 4 Gospel accounts, it gives little commentary.  Yet, the meaning of the events is clear enough.

St Mark records the very dramatic words Jesus that spoke from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The man who had calmly predicted His death, three times (as St Mark records), and said that His death was to be “a ransom for many”(Mk 10:45),
the man who had foreseen His death when He referred to the woman who anointed Him as having anointed Him for His burial,
this same man, who had claimed to not just be a man but to be God,
this same man, when He was not just talking about His death but was Himself about to die,
this same man uttered what might seem like words of despair: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I know that many people have heard these words read, and thought that Jesus despaired on the Cross, but this isn’t so.
It IS true that the Lord Jesus embraced ALL our suffering on the Cross,
it’s true that He who was and is God allowed Himself to enter into the depths of our darkest emotions so that He could cry out as many of us do in darkness,
“My God, why have you forsaken me?”

But to understand these words,
we need to hear them as a First Century Jew would have heard them,
we need to imagine them uttered as a First Century Jew would utter them.
It was common practice to utter the first words of a Psalm of the Bible when referring to the whole of the Psalm, just as if a Catholic was to say “Our Father” or “Hail Mary” we would expect them to be referring to the whole prayer.

These words that Jesus spoke were not just any words, they were the first words of Psalm 22, so to understand what Jesus meant, and felt, saying them we need to know the rest of the psalm:

This psalm was first said as an unknown martyr’s prayer, but it alludes also to things that Jesus was witnessing in front of His very eyes:
“They divide my clothing among them,
They cast lots for my robe”(Ps 22:18-19)
Which is what Jesus saw the Roman soldiers do to his own garments.
The psalm says, “all who see me jeer at me”(22:7),
as the soldiers, the high priests, and even the thief on His left did.
The psalm even says that they mock Him for His trust in God: “he relied on the Lord, let the Lord save him, if he is his friend”(22:8),
which is also what the crowds said (Mk 15:32).

But, MOST importantly, the psalm is a prayer of trust in God, and of praise of His greatness.
“in you our fathers put their trust, they trusted and you rescued them”(22:4),
“I shall proclaim your name to my brethren, praise you in the full assembly”(22:22).

These words of the Lord Jesus are His final interpretative words on ALL that is happening to Him.  He said that this would happen, it was horrible to endure, but it had a purpose, to be a “ransom for many”(Mk 10:45). 
His final words declare that He knows what He is about,
and He knows what His heavenly Father is about. 

He is suffering, He is dying, but this will not be the end. 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Confession & Spring, 5th Sunday of Lent, Year B

Jn 12:20-30; Jer 31:31-34
This Sunday it’s turned cold again, with the second “Beast from the East” weatherfront hitting us. 
But earlier this week it was warmer for a while, and we’ve begun to see the signs of spring. 
I saw some crocuses out when walking with my parents last Sunday on Mother’s Day, and, for me it’s always the yearly sight of crocuses that makes me realise that spring is on the way, that new life is coming after the winter.
But I realised this week, as the sun was out and the temperature up, that I’d almost forgotten what spring LOOKS like.  I’d gotten used to the sight of brown earth in the flower bed.  No flowers.  No leaves on the trees.  No green. 
This winter I just got used to it.  I forgot that it could be otherwise.

And it occurred to me that my soul can be the same.  I can get used to things being lifeless or tepid or barren.  I can get used to the sin. 
Maybe small sins that I’ve gotten used to. 
But I can used to the big sins too.
And then there are so many sins that can start small but become big, or that I can forget how big they’ve become:
Being irritable, habitually, so people are wary of me;
Being impatient, so that I don’t suffer fools gladly;
Being careless, so that people can’t rely on me as they should be able to;
Being lazy, so that things just don’t get done.
All these things and more I can just get used to, I can forget that it possible to be otherwise.

Today’s first reading contains the prophecy of Jeremiah that there would be a “new covenant” to replace the old one.  The Chosen People had broken the old covenant by their unfaithfulness, by their sins. 
And the Church reminds us of this promise of the “new” covenant, even though we already live in this “new” covenant, in Christ Jesus.  The Church reminds us of this “new” offer because she knows that we always stand in need of being re-made. 
In particular, in the season in of Lent, we’d do well to remember that the word “lent” is an old Saxon word for “spring”.  So all of our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving in this season is aiming at achieving a similar new growth in our hearts.

But if we are to have this new growth, if we are to remember what spring feels like in our souls, just like nature is showing us once again what spring looks like in the plants,
if we are to have this new life then something has to DIE within us first, and that something is sin. 
The Lord said, as we just heard, that a grain of wheat must die if it is to bring forth a harvest of new life.  My sins, likewise, must die. 
And they die by my repenting of them, and the Lord forgiving me for them. 

In just over a week, on the Tuesday evening, in preparation for Easter, there will be 4 priests here to hear your confessions.  This is a key moment in the year for us to think about those things within us that we have allowed ourselves to get overly used to, like getting used to the brown barren earth and forgetting what spring greenery and flowers are like.

The great gift of living in the “new covenant” is that we can repent and start again.  And, even more so: the great gift of being in the season of Lent, is that this is a special moment of grace, a special moment to come back to life.
So let’s not get used to barren brown earth in our souls, let’s get to confession, let’s open our souls to Christ that life may spring forth.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Mothering Sunday, 4th Sunday Lent, Year B

2 Chron 36:14-23; Ps 136; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21
Our second reading spoke of the great LOVE of God for us, and I want to run through a few of the SIGNS of that love, in our various readings today.  That love, as St Paul indicates, is shown in His mercy: the mercy that has allowed his people to come back to Him in every age, the mercy that enables us to come back to Him in our Lenten repetence.

In the first reading we heard about how the people defiled the Temple.  And the thing is this: though God punished them for their sins by the Exile in Babylon, He did this to purify them, so that He then rescued them and saved them.
He could have left them in their sin, but no, He purified them so that they could be His own again.
Then in our psalm 136, we heard about how the Children of Israel sang sorrowfully by the waters of Babylon. 
But even there, in the midst of their sorrow, they were neither abandoned or alone: The Lord was with them and preparing them, not least by urging them to recall the Jerusalem they had lost and yearn for the New Jerusalem and our Heavenly Home, and so get them READY for it.
In our Gospel, we heard the reference to the serpent in the desert, which should remind of us of how when fiery serpents came among the people of Israel as they were wandering in the wilderness, God gave them the miraculous image of a bronze serpent, so that anyone who was bitten could look upon it and live (Numbers 21:6-9).
And this, of course, is a sign and foreshadowing of Christ being lifted up on the Cross.  We, now, even in our sin and suffering and difficulties, we can look to Him who suffers with us, and pleads for our forgiveness. 

There is one particular sign of God’s love that I’d like to mention today, however, and that is mothers, because today is Mothering Sunday.  It’s true that not everyone gets to be blessed with a living mother, and not everyone is blessed with a caring mother
-there are some people that God blesses in other ways. 
But it is right today to sing the praises of mothers.

I was thinking recently whether God could have made a world without mothers. 
And I thought about how sea turtles are born:  When the little turtle pops out of its shell it’s all alone on the beach, and has to make its own may in the world.
But that’s not how God has made us.  God has made humans so that we are born WEAK and born in need of someone to CARE for us.
We are inherently SOCIAL beings, and our need for MOTHERS is a sign of our need for LOVE, and a sign of our need to love others back.
We need someone to watch over us from our beginnings, at our weakest.  To know us and know our needs, to worry about us even when we don’t think to worry about ourselves.
  And this is what a mother is called to give us.

Today, in the same way I was earlier recounting the goodness of God, today we should be giving thanks to mothers and to our own mother –to not let love be a one-way street. 
If our mothers have passed on from this life, to thank them beyond the grave.
If there are things we need to forgive our mothers for, to not nurse grudges.
And when there are things to ask forgiveness for ourselves, to not forget this either.

Finally, there is one particular Mother we should not forget, the Mother that EVERYONE has, our heavenly Mother, Our Lady. 
At the end of Mass the children will first present a flower to Our Heavenly Mother, and then take them to their earthly mother.

So when we see the children come up later with flowers for Our Lady, let us pray in our own hearts too, to thank God for Our Lady, and to thank her for all her prayers on our behalf.