Friday, 30 November 2018

The Pastor's Primary Role is to Preach and Teach

Many people, even many priests, have a mistaken understanding of what constitutes a pastor's (what the British call a 'parish priest') primary role:
It's not offering Holy Mass,
it's not visiting the sick,
it's preaching and teaching.

While we can properly say that the priesthood, per se, is primarily ordered to the offering of the holy sacrifice of the Mass,
the primary pastoral task entrusted to a priest when he is made a pastor, in virtue of the care of souls given to him in his appointment, is to teach and preach.

Here are some Church document quotes:

“priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all.” (Vatican II Pres Ord n.4.)

“We must now consider upon whom rests the obligation to dissipate this most pernicious ignorance and to impart in its stead the knowledge that is wholly indispensable. There can be no doubt, Venerable Brethren, that this most important duty rests upon all who are pastors of souls. On them, by command of Christ, rest the obligations of knowing and of feeding the flocks committed to their care; and to feed implies, first of all, to teach. "I will give you pastors according to my own heart," God promised through Jeremias, "and they shall feed you with knowledge and doctrine." Hence the Apostle Paul said: "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel," thereby indicating that the first duty of all those who are entrusted in any way with the government of the Church is to instruct the faithful in the things of God.”(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.7)

“If what We have just said [that a priest’s primary role is to teach, c.f. n.7] is applicable to all priests, does it not apply with much greater force to those who possess the title and the authority of parish priests, and who, by virtue of their rank and in a sense by virtue of a contract, hold the office of pastors of souls? These are, to a certain extent, the pastors and teachers appointed by Christ in order that the faithful might not be as "children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine devised in the wickedness of men," but that practicing "the truth in love," they may, "grow up in all things in him who is the head, Christ." “(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.10)

“For this reason the Council of Trent, treating of the duties of pastors of souls, decreed that their first and most important work is the instruction of the faithful.[Council of Trent, Sess. V, cap. 2, De Reform.; Sess. XXII, cap. 8; Sess. XXIV, cap. 4 & 7, De Reform.] “(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.11)

“These prescriptions of the Council of Trent have been summarized and still more clearly defined by Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, in his Constitution Esti minime. "Two chief obligations," he wrote, "have been imposed by the Council of Trent on those who have the care of souls: first, that of preaching the things of God to the people on the feast days; and second, that of teaching the rudiments of faith and of the divine law to the youth and others who need such instruction." Here the wise Pontiff rightly distinguishes between these two duties: one is what is commonly known as the explanation of the Gospel and the other is the teaching of Christian doctrine. Perhaps there are some who, wishing to lessen their labours, would believe that the homily on the Gospel can take the place of catechetical instruction. But for one who reflects a moment, such is obviously impossible. The sermon on the holy Gospel is addressed to those who should have already received knowledge of the elements of faith. It is, so to speak, bread broken for adults. Catechetical instruction, on the other hand, is that milk which the Apostle Peter wished the faithful to desire in all simplicity like newborn babes.”(Pius X, Acerbo Nimis, n.12)

“The principal way to restore the empire of God in the souls is religious instruction… this is why Christ commanded the Apostles, ‘Going forth teach all teach’(Mt 28:19)”:(Pius X, E supreme, n.12)

Sunday, 25 November 2018

An unwanted king, Christ the King, Year B

Jn 18:33-37; Rev 1:5-8
Imagine, for a moment, that you have a job that no-one wants you to do.
Or, imagine, you have a product that you’re trying to sell, and yet no one wants it.
This image, in many ways, describes the Lord Jesus, especially today on this feast day of Him as “Christ the King”:
No one wants a real king these days, maybe a figurehead, maybe a symbol to look pretty and open parliament once a year, or to cut ribbons to open a new shopping centre.
But, in our culture, no one wants to be told what to do, no-one wants a boss. We even have the phrase, “You’re not the boss of me, no-one is the boss of me, only I am the boss of me”.
People, sadly, can even relate to God this way:
We want a symbol, a figurehead, a nice old man in clouds, but we don’t want someone who is going to tell us what to do. We don’t want someone to be our King.

Let me focus that image more: imagine you are selling a product that no one wants, but it’s a product that everyone NEEDS, even though they don’t want it.
This image, maybe even more profoundly, sums up the problem of the Lord on His feast day of Christ the King.

What do people NEED to be truly happy and fulfilled?
We need more than money;
We need more than presents -Santa can’t bring you REAL fulfilment.
To be truly fulfilled, we need to find the PURPOSE we were created for:
There is a need in me that can only be satisfied by the One who created me.
-That means I need Christ as my King.

While it is a very un-“modern” thing to admit, at my deepest level:
I can’t create my own purpose and meaning;
I need someone to tell me what to do;
I need someone to direct me;
I need the Lord Jesus to be my King.

Let me shift the focus, and bring in the issue of “truth” -this year our Gospel reading focuses on the Lord Jesus as Truth. We heard Him say, in describing His type of Kingship to Pilate, we heard Him say He bore witness to the truth (Jn 18:37), as He also said elsewhere in the Gospels: “I AM… truth”(Jn 14:6).
Truth, also, is unfashionable today. People think they can make up their own truth. They think that what’s “true for me” is not the same as what’s “true for you”.
The Lord Jesus says otherwise.
He IS truth because all reality is measured by Him, because He made it all (Jn 1:3).

And what of our society, instead?
It has wealth;
It has an abundance of food, even if not adequately shared,
It has gadgets and technology, iPhones and X-Boxes.
But if you don’t have a purpose it your life, then these things aren’t much good to you.

If I want my life to have a purpose and direction, a fulfilment and happiness,
Then I need to come to One who is the “Alpha and Omega”(Rev 1:8), the beginning and the end.
I need to accept His Lordship,
not just as a symbol and figurehead,
but in every moment of my life, in every aspect of my life.
I need to accept the Lord Jesus as my king.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Entropy & the End of Time, 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time Year B

Mk 13:24-32; Dan 12:1-3
Many years ago, when I was a schoolboy, I can remember learning about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, about Entropy, discussing it with a friend, and getting thoroughly depressed.
For those of you who can’t remember your physics, “entropy” basically means that the entire universe is levelling out, or winding down, like a battery running out -there is an end coming that cannot be avoided.
When you’re young, and you think you’re going to live forever, the physical certainty of a coming “end” feels very unwelcome.
Many people feel similarly when they hear the Lord Jesus speak about the End of Time. However, there is a point I want to make to you today, and it is this:
The Lord’s teaching that Time will end is truly “good” news.

We’re now approaching the end of the liturgical year, and every year, at this moment, the Church reminds us that not merely the year, but time itself, will come to an end.
The Lord Jesus, as we heard in today’s Gospel text, tells us that He is going to come again, “coming on the clouds with great power and glory”(Mk 13:26). This is something He taught a great many times and it’s a PIVOTAL part of His message.

There are some people who think that this world is all there is to live for. For such people, to be told that this world will end is bad news. Their money will end. Their clothes will rot and decay. Their house will eventually collapse. Even their bodies will crumble to dust.

Why is it “GOOD” news to be told that this world will end?
The truth about the End of the World is this:
there is a GOAL towards which time and history is heading;
there is a LORD of time and history who will not just return at the End, who not just was active in the beginning, but who is ACTIVE in every moment of history.
To realise this is to realise that there is a meaning and a purpose to MY life.
To fail to realise this is to fail to realise the meaning and purpose of my life.

Many people think there is NO purpose to life, that it is a random sequence of events.
One of the biggest reasons why people think life has no purpose is the presence of suffering.
It’s thus very significant that the Lord Jesus almost always situates His prophecies of the End in the context how we are to BEHAVE in the midst of suffering, in particular, in the midst of the sufferings that will characterise the End Times. A Christian is NOT to be SURPRISED at suffering in his life: sufferings WILL come, but there is the promise of something else too.

The focus of our readings this year is PRECISELY on the promise of what is to come in the End Times.
Thus we had the promise in the prophecy of Daniel, which announced that, even though “there will be a time of great distress”(Dan 12:1), nonetheless, “your own people will be saved” (12:1), the just will rise “to everlasting life”(12:2) and “shine… as bright as stars for all eternity”(12:3).
While in the Gospel we heard the Lord Jesus promise that, “after the time of distress”(Mk 13:24), He will send his “angels to gather his chosen from… the ends of the world”(Mk 13:27).
There is a promise of something BETTER to come.

There is an implicit challenge to each of us here:
Do we live with our heart set on this world, so that the thought of the end of this world fills us with sadness?
Or, Do we live with our heart set on the Lord, on the promises He offers?

Entropy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, no longer fills me with sadness. I love this world, but I’m happy to hear of the promise that it will pass away.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Remembrance Sunday, 32nd Sun in Ord Time, Yr B

Mk 12:38-44; 1 Kgs 17:10-16
Today I'd like to reflect on the value that our actions have in God’s sight, which is often very different from the value our actions appear to have in the sight of the world.
Today, in our nation, is Remembrance Sunday, when we remember all those who have died in the wars of the past century. This year, 2018, we particularly are aware of it being the century of the end of the First World War.
Among the thoughts that can arise at such moments can be the question of what value sacrifices in war had. Pausing to see the value of deeds in God’s sight rather than our own can help to give us a most important perspective.

One way of considering the issue of the value of our deeds and the value of someone’s sacrifice would be to return to the ‘measuring’ criteria I have often referred to in my sermons:
the value that GOD puts on our actions depends on the LOVE with which we do them (c.f. St Thomas ST II-II q184 a1). And the love of family and love of country that motivate someone’s deeds in warfare is one way of considering their value.
However, most the time we can tend to want to evaluate actions in terms of their OUTCOME, their results, their consequences. The problem with trying to do this is that we can never see all the effects of our actions, so how can we make that the criteria for judging their value? The Scriptures give us another model, as we hear of in the two widows in our scripture readings today.

So, let us look at these two widows and evaluate their actions according to the two different criteria I mentioned: results, and motive.
Let us consider the first widow, who helped the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. What were the RESULTS, the effects of her deed?
What she did, as we heard, was she chose to generously feed Elijah, even though she had so little food that she thought she was preparing a final meal for her and her son before they died.
The results, however, were very different. The ‘results’ were that GOD worked a miracle and rewarded her generosity by miraculously re-filling her “jar of meal” and “jug of oil” until the rains came and the drought was ended.
One point we can draw from this is that the PRIMARY agent acting in the world is the LORD. And He can draw great things even out of our small efforts.
AND He can do this, and does do this, even working in a world of suffering and evil.
So, we should persevere with our good deeds, even when we can't see what outcome they will have.

The second widow, praised by the Lord Jesus, is praised slightly differently.
We are never told the outcome of her deeds. What was her money used for after she gave it to the Temple? We simply don't know.
Nonetheless, the Lord praises her for her generosity, “they have all put in money that they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on”(Mk 12:44).
The Lord looks on what she has done and praises her, regardless of the outcome of her deeds, simply because of the good motive with which it was done.
God, likewise, will look kindly on us for good deeds that WE do with a generous heart.

So, to conclude, in whatever we find ourselves called upon to do in life, let us take these two widows as examples:
Let us give generously, doing the right thing, even when we cannot see the outcome. Because the value of our deeds, and the outcome of our actions, ultimately lies in the hands of God, who can do much more with our deeds than we can imagine.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Praying for the Dead, 31st Sun Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 12:28-34
One thing that can be said for almost all of us is that we know someone who has died, probably someone we love. And this is a thought that the Church focuses on in every November. Love tells us that we want to still do something for those who have died –a something that many people in our secular society today seek for in their grief.

We just heard Jesus give the second commandment to "love your neighbour". And love seeks manifest itself in action. There are various works of mercy that are a part of living out this command, but there is one specific act of spiritual mercy that I’d like to focus on, and that is the need to pray for the dead. If our love leads us to want to do something for our deceased loved ones, then we can find in this practice something that’s not only beneficial to them, and rooted in sound doctrine, but is deeply pastoral as a practice for us who remain. It’s one of those practices that makes me very glad to be a Catholic.

We can read in the Bible (2 Macc 12:45) that it was the Jewish practice to offer us sacrifices for the dead, that they might be loosed from their sins. This Jewish practice became the early Catholic practice, and it’s rooted in two simple beliefs: That the dead will actually rise again –that there is an eternal focus and destiny to life, a focus so easily lost in our materialistic world. But also, that the prayers of the living can actually help the dead. The prayers of us who live can help each other, after all, that’s why we pray for each other. And it is no different after death. We remain united in Christ, and this union in the communion of saints enables us to pray for each other.

Someone was asking me about Purgatory this week, asking who goes there, and what it’s like, and is it painful. For those of you who don’t know, ‘Purgatory’ is the name of that place where almost everyone goes before they get to heaven –and it’s a very important place, a lot depends upon it. Let me put it this way: heaven is a place of absolute perfection, otherwise it would not be place of absolute happiness, and yet none of us here are perfect, so something must CHANGE before we get into heaven. If we are judged to not be so evil that we are condemned to hell, then we will, nonetheless, still need some serious changes made to ourselves before we get to heaven. After all, if imperfect people were allowed into heaven they would stop it being a perfect and happy place. And if we went there still imperfect our imperfection would stop us enjoying the happiness it brings.
Thus a change is needed, and this is what purgatory is about.

The word ‘Purgatory’ implies being ‘purged’ of sins, of impurities, of imperfections. The traditional image used for this place is fire -because fire purges away impurities. And, there is no point in avoiding admitting that this must be very painful –because all change is difficult. But, the theologians point out that it is a HOPE-filled pain. Someone in Purgatory knows they are going to heaven, so they have hope and joy. Someone in Purgatory wants to be perfect, and so WANTS the painful purging that is involved –they want to be perfect to enjoy heaven, and they want, even more, to be perfect to please almighty God who they love. They want to be free of the residue of their sins.

But, to return to where I began, what does this have to do with us praying for those in Purgatory?
Well, the teaching of the Church, the practice of the Jews before us, and as confirmed by countless visions to many saints, is that this purging action can be assisted by the praying of the living. We can pray:
First, for mercy in the judgment for those who have died;
Second, for consolation and strength to those undergoing to painful, even if joy-filled pain;
Third, our prayers can somehow assist and speed this cleansing process.
And all of this happens because this change, this purgation, is a work of God’s GRACE, and we can implore God that more of it to be poured out.

So, in this month of November, let us remember to pray for the dead, those we have known and loved, and also for those who have no-one else to pray for them –it’s an important way of loving our neighbour.