Sunday, 28 October 2018

Hope and Blindness, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 10:46-52; Ps 125:3; Jer 31:7-9
Today I’d like to draw your attention to the title the blind man used to call out to the Lord.
He didn't just say, “Jesus”, or “Lord”, or even use the description St Mark’s Gospel gave Him, “Jesus of Nazareth”.
Instead, he called out to Him saying, “Son of David”(Mk 10:47;48). In fact, he used this title twice in close succession when he was addressing the Lord.

To a blind Jew this would have been very significant:
The “Son of David” was a title referring to the expected Messiah.
Of course, ALL the Jews we waiting for the Messiah,
BUT, He was to have a special significance for the BLIND. As we heard in our first reading, which was one of many such prophecies of the Messiah, when the Messiah would come He would be distinguished by His capacity to give sight back to the blind. Other prophets had worked other miracles, but this miracle was to be one of THE signs of the Messiah.

Now, let us pause a moment and think what this tells us about this blind man.
This blind man suffered.
He was a beggar.
And, to be a blind beggar in a poor country is a harsh thing.
But, THE point I wish to draw your attention to today is that this blind man somehow kept his FAITH and kept his HOPE.
He didn't curse his darkness, he didn't inwardly close in on himself in bitterness and anger –the way we all know it is very easy to do. Instead, he kept faith and hope, and the SIGN of this is that he was still WAITING and HOPING for the Messiah, and called to Him by His title, “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me”.

The Scripture readings that the Church has given us today point us to two pivotal things that this blind man must have held on to:
First, the PROMISE from the Lord God that He would send His Messiah, send Him with healing.
This enabled the blind man to look FORWARD with hope.
Our first reading from Jeremiah records one of many such Old Testament promises that remind us of this.
Second, the MEMORY of what God had done the PAST.
If we remember the wonders the Lord has done in the past, then the past is able to anchor our faith. Our being rooted in the past thus enables us to fix our eyes on the future, it enables our faith to give us hope.
Our responsorial psalm reminded us of this with the antiphon, “What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.”(Ps 125:3).

To summarise: the title “Son of David” that the blind man used for Jesus showed he remembered that a promise had been made that a Messiah, the “Son of David” would come.
The blind man thus serves as a role model for all of us:
We all have difficulties, the way that blind man had difficulties.
But, if we kept our memories secure in recalling the Lord’s past deeds then we will have hope.
We do this by recalling our personal histories, the good things the Lord has done for us.
We do this also, more fundamentally, by recalling the good things the Lord has done in the pages of Sacred Scripture.
He has shown He is a good God.
He has shown He keeps His promises.
And a great many of those He promises still hold for you and me. The promise of heaven if we are faithful. The promise of grace to sustain us on the way. The promise that He is by our side, “I am with you always”(Mt 28:20). And much more.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Riches and Sadness, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 10:17-30
Today in the Gospel we heard of a man who had no name. At least, no name that history records. Why not? Why do the Gospel writers not know who he is? Presumably, because he went away and never came back. A tragedy.
If we think about why he left, as we heard, he left “sad”.
If we think about why he was sad, it was because the Lord Jesus said he had to choose between his riches, and, following the Lord. And to not follow Jesus leaves the soul sad –this is point that Pope Francis makes repeatedly to us.
He was a “rich young man”, he had his whole life ahead of him. And that life, it seems, was a life of sadness because he chose riches over the Lord.

Let me remind of you of another rich man in the Gospels: Levi.
The Gospels record that he was sitting at his office, and the Lord passed, said, “follow me”(Lk 5:27), and Levi “left everything, and rose and followed him”(Lk 5:28).
This immediacy surely implies a joy and eagerness.
He had riches. The Lord called him. And he eagerly left them in order to follow.

Let me give a third and final example of a rich man called by the Lord: Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-8).
Zacchaeus, if you remember, was the short tax collector who climbed a tree to get a look at the Lord Jesus as He passed by. The Lord called him, Zacchaeus welcomed the Lord into his home, and declared he would give half of his goods to the poor and restore fourfold from all those he had defrauded (Lk 19:8).
All this he did “joyfully”(Lk 19:5), not like the young man who went away “sad”.
And, let us note, he was one of those who weren’t called to give up all their money, but rather, to have money but in a NEW spirit.

Back to the rich young man. He was rich, but he as sad. Which is notable, because we all think that riches will make us happy.
I saw a 55” TV this week. I want it. There is a voice inside me telling me that my lack of a 55” TV is what is holding me back from happiness. And yet, human experience, and the example of the rich young man, shows us that money doesn't give you happiness.
Real joy comes from love, it is a fruit of love. But love of the right thing: of people, of God, not of money, and of people for THEIR sake, not in a possessive clinging-ness.
Joyful people are noteworthy for their freedom, their LIGHTNESS. This is the very opposite of being held down by possessions.
What is needed is spirit of DETACHMENT from the riches of this world. An inward detachment that means I am free to let them go, and free to have them, but I am not held down by them.

And the rich young man, What was his problem? His lack of detachment.
He is not presented to us as selfish, or as uncaring, or neglecting the poor (as some figures condemned in the Gospels are, e.g. Lk 16:19-31).
Rather, the problem is that he is more ATTACHED to his possessions than to his willingness to follow where the Lord called him. And this leaves him sad, sad without the Lord, sad without love.

What of us?
If we are attached like the rich young man, then we will feel sad when we are prompted to anything that disrupts our attachments.
If we are de-tached like Levi, we will be prompt and eager to leave what must be left to follow.
If we are detached like Zacchaeus, then even though we possess things, we will only hold them lightly, because our joy in the Lord, in finding more joy in possessing Him than we do in possessing things, will leave us free to give, free to love, and free to give in a way that causes us to have joy, not sadness, in our heart

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Alone in the Garden, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Yr B

Gen 2:18-24; Mk 10:2-16
Today I’d like us to consider the symbolism of Adam, alone and lonely, in the Garden of Eden.
This image is one of the most profound in the Scriptures, and, as many of you will be aware, it was the starting point for Pope St John Paul II’s famous Theology of the Body catechesis.

Before saying anything else, less the modern skeptical mind get distracted, let me note that we don’t need to take everything in the Genesis account as science.
I am a scientist. I believe in evolution. I could add that the Big Bang theory was invented by a Catholic priest, Father George LemaƮtre.
Evolution can trace the mechanism of how God made us, not in seven 24-hour days, but nonetheless in the progression of stages.
Genesis similarly describes a progression: the heavens, the earth, the waters, the plants, the animals.
At the end of this progression, and on this science CONFIRMS what Genesis teaches, man emerges, and emerges DIFFERENT from the rest of creation. Science cannot explain the MIND, because there is something in the mind that is beyond science. The Bible DOES explain it: the spiritual soul, symbolically directly “breathed” into man by God (Gen 2:7), making man different from the rest of creation:
Only we have a spiritual soul; only we are made in the image and likeness of God.

And so Adam was alone in the Garden.
Gloriously in the image and likeness of God, but alone, and lonely.

This image is hugely important in our modern content, because in our modern world the INDIVIDUAL reigns supreme. Me. I. “I’ve got to look after number One”.
But our modern world has formed a culture of isolated, privatised, LONELY people.

Adam, was alone in the Garden, but he wasn’t meant to be alone.
We are made for community.
We only find completion in another, as Adam found it in Eve, and Eve found it in Adam.

A hugely important part of this is the truth about our bodies, as male and female.
Contrary to the currently fashionable viewpoint, we do not CHOOSE our gender, rather, it is a gift given to us at our conception -male or female.
Even for those who are sadly born with imperfect organs, their gender is not a matter of choice, rather, its a matter of biology. Our gender and our sexuality are received, not chosen (see here and here).
We, similarly, if we are to follow God’s plan, not our own, our bodies are designed to find union in another in a very specific manner. Everything to do with sex is part of God’s plan.
Man only finds bodily completion in a woman, and a woman only finds bodily completion in a man.
And that completion is so significant, that, as we heard the Lord Jesus teach, that it involves a lifelong commitment, and thus He forbids remarriage after divorce.

But even outside of marriage, this image of Adam alone in the Garden is vital:
We are made for community. We are not made for loneliness.
Thus communities like the parish community are so important, with our parish supper tonight, our SVP events for the elderly, our Christmas Fayre, and so forth.
Community is often hard work, as the family is often hard work, but it’s what we are made for.

A final aspect to this, concerning celibacy.
The celibate, as Pope St John Paul II noted, stands as a very different image of Adam in the Garden.
The celibate is a sign that our DEEPEST yearning for union can only be satisfied in GOD.
The celibate is a sign, as the Lord Jesus teaches elsewhere (Mt 22:30), that we will not be married in heaven. The celibate, on earth, is a sign of what we will all be like in heaven.

Or, to think of that differently:
The loneliness of the priest is sign of the loneliness within all of of us.
You can be lonely in a happy marriage.
You can be lonely in an unhappy marriage.
When I was a seminarian I was afraid I'd be lonely as a priest, but I've not found it so. Somehow the time I've been freed to have with the Lord has given me more.
The loneliness within us is a sign of our yearning for God.
Adam was yearning, at his deepest level, for God.

To sum up:
The image of Adam alone in the garden is powerfully symbolic:
We are different from the rest of creation;
We are made for community;
We find our fullest unity in God Himself.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Moral Theology Lectures to Ordinariate 2019

Below are links for text and audio of my Moral Theology lecture series for the Ordinariate clergy.
The text links below are for the 2019 lecture series, at Allen hall in London.
The audio below is a mix from the 2014-15 and 2016-17 lecture series (based on the same text).
The same lectures were previously given to the Buckfast gatherings of the Ordinariate clergy and the 2014-15 and 2016-17 London Ordinariate clergy.

A googledrive folder of the files for the 2019 year is available here

Lecture 1: Introduction to Moral Theology
text available here

Lecture 2: What is Virtue?
text available here

Lecture 3: Mortal Sin
text available here


Lecture 4: The End and the Means
text available here

Lecture 5: Natural Law
text available here

Audio from 2015 is:

Lecture 6: Contraception and the Natural Law
text available here

Audio from 2015 is:

Lecture 7: Various Specific Issues
text available here
Divorce and Remarriage & Holy Communion
Abortion (not in verbal lecture)
Sex Change and Transgender articles (not in verbal lecture)

Audio from 2015 is:

Lecture 8: Hearing Confessions
text available here

Audio from 2015 is:

Bibliography, text available here