Sunday, 29 September 2019

The Soldier of Christ, 26th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

1 Tim 6:11-16 (second reading)
What will you look like when you are revealed at the end of time?
God has a plan for you, a vision of what you can become.
At the end of time you will be revealed.
The Lord Jesus, as we heard, will be revealed at the “APPEARING” (1 Tim 6:14) in glory at the end of time.
Scripture also tells us that ALL mankind will be revealed (e.g. Mt:25), each of us for what we truly are.

God has called me to greatness, to share in His glory.
This is His plan for me.
But to achieve this is not automatic, and is not easy.
A few weeks ago, I used the image of the athlete in training, as an image of the disciple seeking to be trained by Jesus -as an athlete is trained by His coach.
But our second reading today uses a different image:
The soldier.
The soldier also trains, is formed, and BECOMES something.
The soldier fights. You and I are called to fight.
The New Testament uses this image repeatedly, for example:
“be a good solider of Christ” (2 Tim 2:3); and “put on the armour of Christ”(Eph 6:11)
But WHO am I fighting?

Elsewhere in the New Testament our enemy, our threefold enemy, is spelt out repeatedly:
The world, the flesh, and the devil (c.f. Eph 2:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:15-17).
As a result of the Original Sin at the dawn of time, there is a disorder in the world and a disorder within each of us.
There is constant battle (Gal 5:16-17) within me between the greatness I could be and the fallen nature that pulls me down.
We cannot rise above this by accident. We must fight. We must strive.
The peace that the Lord promises (Jn 14:27) only comes as a result of the struggle.

Now, obviously, there is a problem here, in that often we don’t want to strive.
We want a comfortable Christianity, that can just recline in my armchair.
A lazy Christianity, that doesn’t need to do battle.
This is, however, a LOVELESS Christianity:
I fail to strive because I don’t LOVE the Lord enough to want to become what He asks of me.
That said, we don’t fight alone. It is His GRACE within us, strengthening us, enabling us to rise.

So, what must I do if I would strive, if I would be the soldier He calls me to be?
To come back to the issue of discipleship I preached on a few weeks ago,
I need to train, to be formed, to identify the enemy within me, to know how to fight Him, to know what WINNING looks like.
Our discipleship formation programme starts this Thursday, with sessions both in the morning and the evening.
We can’t expect to win the fight if we are fighting alone, if we are doing to no more than attending Mass each Sunday -we each need more.

When “at the due time” the Lord Jesus is revealed as “the King of kings and Lord of lords”,
when He who is now “in inaccessible light” appears in glory,
then, He will want each us to have fought so that we are fit to “take your place in the kingdom” (c.f. 2 Tim 4:18; Mt 25).
Let us not be afraid to get up and fight.

Friday, 27 September 2019

A detailed Examination of Conscience for Seminarians

A detailed Examination of Conscience for Seminarians

based on the Seven Deadly Sins 
by Fr. Dylan James

This examination of conscience is also available as a 2-sided Word document, in both A4 (here) and USA letter-sized paper (here).
All references in the text below are to the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas.
Please note that the level of detail here means that this would be extremely unhelpful for anyone suffering from scruples (see your spiritual director for personal guidance).

“In what I have done, and in what I have failed to do”
-sins of omission may be more serious than sins of commission
Our confession should specify our sins of omission,
e.g. Have I omitted to say my prayers? Omitted to look for and respond to the needs of my fellow priests?
In thought, word, and deed
-even if I did not gossip in word, did I judge someone in thought?
Each area of my life should be considered: my apostolate, my family, my friends, my study, my work, my prayer, those I work and live with etc.

Anagram: PLACES-G, Pride, Lust, Anger, Covetousness, Envy, Sloth, Gluttony
We can usually assume that each of these capital sins is at work in us in some manner and degree, an examination of conscience should help us see how.
Note: The following examination of conscience groups sins according to the capital sins, the seven deadly sins from which other sins typically flow. The same material act may be sinful for different reasons, therefore each person needs to apply this examination to himself carefully. E.g. An act of lying is wrong, but it might be motivated by the capital sin of vanity (to make you look good), or from the capital sin of sloth/laziness (to avoid work), or from envy (to damage the reputation of another), or from a mixture of all three.
E.g. The material act of giving to the poor can be motivated by charity (virtue) or by vanity (vice). Hence this examination uses the vices to specify our sins.

Pride (ST II-II q162)
Pride is the mother of all sin (St. Gregory the Great, c.f. St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica II-II q162 a8). It is a craving for excellence beyond what is reasonable, an inordinate desire for one’s own superiority (ST II-II q162 a2). Reason requires that a man reach up for what is proportionate to him, and proportionate to his abilities. In pride a man seeks to be more than he should be. It makes a man hate being equal to men, and hate being less than God.

Have I refused to admit my own weaknesses?
Have I humbly admitted them to my spiritual director?
Have I sought things beyond me?
Have I dwelt on the failings of others?
Have I judged others? Ranked myself better than others?  Judging: In thought, word, or deed?
Have I borne hated for another?
Have I refused to learn from others?
Have I been stubborn? Refused to admit I was wrong? Refused to accept that another person had a better idea?
Have I abused my power by imposing my will/preferences/opinions
on others, others I havce pastroal care for, or on friends?
Have I been insensitive in how I have proclaimed Christ’s truths?
Have I been arrogant? Have I held others in contempt?
Have I failed to show respect and obedience to those in authority?
To my rector, staff, bishop, spiritual director, professors?
In my inner judgements, and external words, or gossip?
Am I willing to go wherever the Bishop sends me? Cheerfully?
In my daily activity: Do I seek God’s will or my own will?

Have I failed to do my duties to my family/parents? E.g. return phone calls, texts, visit, stay in touch? Have I been self-seeking in my time with family at home? Do I consider what I owe them? Have I spent time with them? How have I manifested my concern for them? Have I been forgiving and tolerant of them? Have I scandalized them by bad example?

Pusillanimity –the opposite of pride. False-humility fails to use our gifts.Have I neglected to use the talents that God has given me?
Have I avoided my duty to deal with difficult people and situations?
Have I failed to preach the harder teachings of Christ? In morals?

Vanity (ST II-II q132)
Concerns external glory. ‘Glory’ –the good of a person manifested to others. The proper end of glory is: God’s glory, and, our neighbour’s salvation -these two criteria can test whether our desire for glory is virtuous. Vanity flows from pride and looks like pride. Glory can be vain/empty in three ways (a1): The honour/thing sought is itself unworthy; The person from whom you seek it is unworthy; The glory sought is not referred to God.
The 7 daughters of vainglory: Boasting, Deceit (when we do not deserve the praise), A passion for innovation (so that something ‘new’ makes us look good), Stubbornness of opinion, Quarrelling, Contention, Disobedience.

Have I acted/joked/given talks more to impress others than to do God’s will or to help others?
Has my humour and conversation been self-seeking?
Have my jokes been unkind?
Have I listened to others, or have I done all the talking?
Have I lied or exaggerated to make myself look good?
Have I wasted undue time and money on clothes and appearance?
Is my physical exercise motivated by vanity or by health?
Ambition –have I sought recognition and advancement for my own glory, rather than to do God’s will?
Have I been content with my lowly position, or have I resented the role that Christ is asking me to fulfil?

Lust (ST II-II q.153; CCC 2351)
“Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.”(CCC 2351). It is a sin of excess.
“Lust is about the greatest of pleasures, and these absorb the mind more than others” (St. Thomas), so when this goes wrong much goes wrong! But Lust is not the most serious sin –pride is.
The 8 daughters of lust (II-II q.153 a5): Blindness of the mind (because the passions cloud thinking), Rashness, Thoughtlessness, Inconstancy, Self-love, Hatred of God for forbidding lust, Love of the pleasures of this world, Despair of the future world.

Custody of the Eyes: “Whoever looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28)
Have I looked at others impurely? With what frequency? Has this led to impure thoughts? What frequency and duration? Have I viewed other people as mere sexual objects rather than as persons to be loved?
Pornography: Have I used the internet, or TV?
Have I flirted/danced/toyed with the feelings of another?
Have I guarded my heart and thoughts against developing affections for particular women? Have I behaved in a way that might tempt romantic affections from women? Have I imprudently spent time alone with a woman? Have I paid excessive attention to more attractive women?
Impure Thoughts: Have I entertained impure thoughts? Briefly, or at length?
With what frequency? On what occasions? (e.g. at night when half-asleep and less culpable, or when fully awake?)
Impure acts: Alone, or with another? What frequency and on what occasions?
Impure touches? Impurity in hugs with others?
Words: Have my jokes, conversation, and flattery been pure?
Have I listened to or told impure jokes, tolerated foul conversation?
Have I encouraged/approved/aided the unchaste acts of others?
Have I failed to preach about Christ’s teachings on holy purity?
Have I received Holy Communion while in a state of serious sin?
Have I neglected to seek Confession before celebrating Mass?
Modesty –has my dress been an occasion of sin for others?
Have I sought to flatter myself by drawing improper attention to my body?

Have I been guilty of an excess or deficiency in resting myself in ‘play’ or relaxation?
The soul’s rest is in pleasure (ST II-II q168 a2).
Have I refused to express mirth at another’s humour? (A man who has no humour is an unreasonable burden to his fellow man. ST II-II q168 a4)

Have I thoughtfully considered and planned my actions?
Have I applied the standards of Christ to my actions?
Have I sought to avoid situations of sin?
Intemperance: Have I driven recklessly, broken the speed limit (excessively)?
Have I respected the traffic laws enacted by the legitimate authority? (‘Fear God and honour the emperor’ 1 Pet 2:17)
Have I driven while under the influence of alcohol?

Anger/Wrath (ST II-II q158)
Anger is undue desire for vengeance –undue in cause or in amount. Anger can be just or unjust: punishment can be too much or too little, it can even not be deserved at all; it can be measured out by someone who does not have the authority to give it. Anger through zeal can be dangerous, and cloud later judgments. Lack of due anger: “unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but even the good to do wrong” (II-II q158 a8). 
Note the just anger of Christ cleansing the Temple: 'Zeal for thy house will consume me.' (Ps. 68:10): “How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" (John 2:15-16)
The 6 daughters of wrath: Indignation (we deem the one we are angry with to be unworthy), Swelling of the mind (as it fills with plots of revenge), Injurious words against our neighbour, Excessive manner of words against someone, Blasphemy, Quarrelling.

Have I tolerated abuses against others or against God? (lack of righteous anger)
Have I harboured resentment, grudges, and hatred in my thoughts?
Have I imagined bad conversations to nurture my anger?
Have I judged rashly?
Have I plotted revenge?
Have I sought to be a peace-maker? Have I been physically violent?
Have I refused or been slow or ungracious in forgiving?
Have I insulted people? Quarrelled with people?
Lost my temper?
Have I been disagreeable, rude, or abrupt to parishioners?
Impatience: How have I carried my cross?
Have I been impatient with people, events, sufferings, sicknesses?
Do I accept the inconvenience of others interrupting my plans?
Have I been angry with God rather than accepting of His will?

Covetousness/Avarice (ST II-II q118)
Avarice is the excessive love of possessing things (a1). It is contrary to reason and due measure. Material goods are only useful in helping us towards an end; to desire them in themselves in an evil. ‘The love of money is the root of all evil’ (1 Tim 6:10) –i.e. it is a capital sin.
The 7 daughters of avarice: Hard-heartedness to the poor, Insensitivity to mercy, Dissatisfaction in thoughts, Restlessness in deeds, Violence (to acquire things), Falsehood (in words, including perjury), Fraud (in transactions), Treachery (as in the case of Judas).
Diocesan priestly living demands ‘simplicity of life’, the avoidance of ‘anything which could have an air of vanity’(Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, n.67), and a particular configuration to ‘imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross’(Ordination Rite). 

Have I sought to be poor, as Christ became poor for us (2 Cor 8:9)?
Have I been overly concerned about my own comfort and well-being?
Have I sought to have the Lord as my priestly inheritance (Num18:20)
or have I looked for earthly satisfactions?
Have I lived inner detachment from the world and its fading glories?
Have I been resentful of my lack of money?
Have I been generous in giving, even out of my own poverty,
especially to the poor? Have I given with a cheerful heart?
Have I sought to deny myself those worldly activities that are
unbecoming of a future priest? Have I considered what these are?
Has my dining out, living quarters, transportation, car, vacations etc
eliminated ‘any kind of affectation and luxury’?
Have I bought myself an excessive amount of gadgets, ‘toys’, etc?
Have I unreasonably got the parish to buy these for me?
Have I cheated, stolen, or failed to pay my bills on time?
Have I found little ways to cheat the parish of money?
Have I borrowed without permission?
Have I been honest in my dealings with others?
Have I used people for my own ends and advantage?
Have I paid excessive attention to people because they were rich
or because they might give me money?
Have I been guilty of favouritism in other ways?
Have I wasted money on unnecessary expenses or gambling?

Various other sins against justice:
Have I failed to keep secrets?
Murder, Theft, Cheating, Contempt for others, Backbiting, Tale-bearing, Derision, Cursing, Boasting, Flattery, Quarrelling.

Envy (ST II-II q36)
Envy/Jealousy –is sadness at the happiness or good of another
The 5 Daughters of envy: Hatred (love desires the good of another), Tale-bearing (to lower a man’s reputation), Detraction, Joy at our neighbour’s misfortunes, Grief at our neighbour’s prosperity.

Have I envied or been jealous of the abilities, talents, ideas, plans, good-looks, intelligence, clothes, car, possessions, friends etc of another person?
Have I taken pleasure in the failure or misfortune of a brother seminarian?
Have I rejoiced in the talents and good fortune of my brother seminarian?
Have I resented the promotion or recognition given to others?

Gossip and Sins of Speech:
Every man has a right to a good name. A man’s good name is his most precious social possession. Without it he cannot function in society: people will not trust him, will not talk to him, will despise him etc. Every man thus has a right to a good name and we do not have a right to take this away from someone. Even when we are accurately describing someone’s bad characteristics we are still depriving him of the good name that he has a right to.
Slander/Calumny –telling an untruth about someone
Detraction –telling a truth about someone that lessens his reputation/good name.
Detraction: Have I damaged the reputation of another?
By deeds/looks/words have I caused others to have a lower opinion of someone else?
Slander: Have I exaggerated/lied about the faults of others?
Have I repeated accusations that might not be true?
Gossip: Have I led others to gossip?
Have I neglected to change the conversation/avoid conversation with others who are gossiping? Have I failed to defend the reputation of others?
Thoughts: Have I mentally judged others?
i.e. internal detraction/slander/gossip of the mind.
Do I despise others of different race, class or culture?
Have I borne hatred to another?
Have I been guilty of deception?
Lies: Have I told lies out of envy (to damage another’s reputation), laziness (to avoid work), or vanity (to make me look good)?

Sloth/Apathy (ST II-II q35)
Sloth is spiritual sorrow in the face of spiritual good, it is an oppressive sorrow that weighs on a man’s mind and makes him want to do nothing (a1). To not take joy in a good is a bad thing!
It is laziness in the things of God.
The 6 Daughter of sloth: Despair (by avoiding our ultimate end of God), Faint-heartedness (in the quest for sanctity), Sluggishness about the commandments, Spite (as in indignation –against other men who do seek sanctity), Malice (as a consequence of spite), Wandering after unlawful things (“Those who find no joy in spiritual pleasures have recourse to pleasures of the body” (a4)). Isidore adds: Idleness, drowsiness, uneasiness of mind, restlessness of body, instability, loquaciousness (talking too much), curiosity.

Have I sought God above all else, or have I put other priorities (e.g. friendships, clerical ambition, comfort and ease) ahead of him?
Have I got so caught up in the things of this world that I’ve forgotten God?
Have I risked losing my faith/piety by bad company, bad reading, cowardice, or pride?
Have I trusted God, especially in times of difficulty?
Have I kept the Lord’s Day holy?
Have I worked needlessly on Sunday?
Have I omitted some part of my plan of life: daily Mass, Breviary, daily Holy Hour, mental prayer, daily Rosary, spiritual reading etc?
Have I entertained distractions in prayer, or failed to give God due concentration in prayer, or rushed my Rosary, Office, or Holy Mass?
(Note: Not giving God the effort he deserves in prayer is a sin, but it is not the same thing as involuntary weakness in mental distractions.)
Have I fallen asleep in prayer due to lack of effort and discipline in getting to sleep on time?
Have I gone to sleep on time?
Have I, due to lack of effort and discipline, lacked the sleep I need to study, engage in apostolate, and live charity to my neighbour?
Have I made priestly intercession for others, or only prayed for self?
Have I been faithful and observant of the rubrics at Mass?
Have I received Holy Communion reverently?
Have I made a due preparation before Mass begins?
Have I made an appropriate thanksgiving after Mass?
Have I neglected the duties of my apostolate?
Have I returned phone calls?
Have I visited the sick and housebound?
Have I been negligent/sloppy/half-hearted in my apostolate?
Have I procrastinated (e.g. with email), avoiding more serious priorities? Have I wasted time watching useless TV, or social media, or the internet?
Have I given serious time to study, knowing is necessary for a priest?
Has my conversation been focussed on my own pleasure, or on others?
Has my humour been insensitive/offensive to others?
Have I sinned against God by taking his name in vain?
Have I caused scandal to others by using foul language?
Example: Have I given scandal by setting a bad example to others by my sloth?
Has my behaviour or words led others to sin?
Have I set the good example Christ expects of a seminarian?
Have I sinned against my neighbour by being late for meetings?
Have I wasted other people’s time by being late or unprepared?
Have I sinned against God by being late for Mass or prayers?
Have I sought to help my fellow priests? Have I been attentive to their needs?

Gluttony (ST II-II q148)
Gluttony is the inordinate desire for food, unregulated by reason, knowingly exceeding need, for the sake of pleasure.
Gluttony tempts us in 5 ways: To seek food that is too much, too fancy, too expensive, to eat at improper/excessive times, or in hasty manner, or in a manner lacking manners & social consideration.
The 5 daughters of gluttony: Dullness of mind (whereas abstinence sharpens wits), Unseemly joy (the appetites get disordered), Idle talk, Scurrilous behaviour (because reason is dulled and bad behaviour follows), Bodily uncleanness.

Have I eaten more than I need? To how serious an extent?
Have I sought food with undue concentration?
Have I eaten with undue haste and lack of consideration of others?
Have I neglected the food needs of others at the table? (e.g. do I always take the last portion of food?)
Have I spent undue amounts of money of food?
Have I practiced fasting and self-denial, especially on Fridays and other fast days?
Have I fasted before receiving Holy Communion at Mass?
Is my heart set on pleasure and amusement?
Drunkenness impairs our use of reason. Reason is a gift of God, and is thus rejected in drunkenness. Drunkenness lowers us to the level of the animals, it makes us incapable of virtuous acts, incapable of charity to others, it makes us incapable of knowing right from wrong. Have I drunk alcohol to excess? Repeatedly? Scandalously?
Have I used prudence to plan the quantity of my drinking?

The Ten Commandments:
I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain. Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day. Honour your father and your mother. You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife. You shall not covet your neighbour's goods.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Harvest -Giving the 'First Fruits', 25th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year C

Amos 8:4-7; Lk 16:1-13
Today we’re keeping out parish Harvest Festival.
This is an important moment in the year to do a few things:
to give thanks to God, communally as parish, give thanks for EVERYTHING -our prayers at Mass will do this especially;
to remember our need to give to others, give out of bounty we ourselves have received -our Scripture readings today remind us powerfully of the need to do that, and our appeal at the end of Mass will be a particular focus for that.

Bringing the fruits of the harvest to God, in worship, was the Biblical practice,
and I thought I say a few words about why this is an important model for our whole lives
-not just for the harvest.
In the Bible we read how Moses told the people,
“As you harvest your crops, bring the very best of the first harvest to the house of the Lord your God.” (Exodus 23:19)
And King Solomon similarly said,
“Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)

Note: “first fruits” -the harvest came in waves over the summer, and they offered God what came first.
If you give God the “first” fruits you show that you are putting Him FIRST, as He commanded, in what the Lord Jesus called the first and greatest commandant, to love God first (Mt 22:35-40; Mk 12:28-34; Lk 10:27; Deut 6:4-5).
And if you give God the “first” fruits of the harvest, you need to TRUST Him that there will be more of the harvest later.

Let me make a contrast: In our society today its normal for charities to collect with collection boxes or buckets, maybe outside the supermarket.
The expectation is that we put our loose change in the bucket. We give away some bits of our leftovers.
The Biblical harvest ‘first fruits’ model is the reverse:
we don’t give our leftover bits and pieces,
rather, we START our financial planning by giving away,
THEN we figure how to run our annual expenses on what is left.
Cardinal Hume, as I guess many of you know, suggested that the first hours’ wages of each week should be given away.

I know many of you already have this as your practice.
And, obviously, it’s good to put into collection baskets, even if only a little.
But today, thinking of the harvest offerings, the “first fruits”, is a good time to ask ourselves AT WHAT STAGE in our financial planning we decide what percentage of our annual income we’re going to give away this year.
The “first fruits” model suggests that we start our planning by planning our giving first,
whether it’s giving to God by supporting charities OR giving to God by supporting the Church.

A final thought: God will not be outdone in generosity.
When we are generous to Him, with time, with effort, with money,
then, He is even more generous to us.
He doesn’t promise what form that generosity to us will take,
but there is a reason that the stereotype of a miser is of someone miserable,
and the stereotype of giver is of someone light-hearted, free, and happy.
“Remember this —a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’ And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.“ (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

So, let’s give thanks to God today for what we have, and renew our dedication to be generous with it.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

The Potato and the Sinner, 24th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year C

via MEME

Lk 15:1-10; Ex 32:7-14; 1 Tim 1:12-17
Our readings today give us a rather unusual focus: what God ‘feels’ about the sinner,
in particular, the JOY He feels about the sinner who turns back.
This joy in Him, should also be in us -but is it?

First, let’s consider how we look at ourselves and look at our sins.
In his regard, people vary.
Some people, think nothing of their sins. They might leave an endless trail of hurt and neglect and damage behind them, but they somehow think nothing of it.
They are blind to their sins.
They look at their sins and see nothing.
They look at themselves and feel fine.
Others, in contrast, carry the guilt of their sins like a weight on their shoulders, a gloom of depression that leaves them ever aware of their failures.
They look at their sins and see a load that cannot be lifted.
They look at themselves and feel sadness.
Most of us, drift in between, a bit of one extreme a bit of the other.
Most of us, also, have sins we have become too familiar with, too regular in, things we say, “That’s just the way I am”, or, “It can’t really be that important.
We look at ourselves and don’t really see the truth.

How, in contrast, does God view us?
He never sees a weight that cannot be lifted.
Scripture, and this is by God’s design and not by chance, Scripture gives us many examples of big, horrible sinners, who nonetheless changed and became God’s favourites.
There was King David, the adulterer and murderer, who killed Bathsheba’s husband.
There was Peter, who denied the Lord Jesus three times.
There was Paul, who persecuted Christians and killed them.
And there was the Old Testament people as a whole, who, as we heard in our first reading, forgot the true God and worshiped a golden calf.

How did God look at them?
He saw not just what they were, but what they had the potential to become.
And He rejoiced each time one of them turned, and turned again, and began to realise that potential, the potential to be a saint not a sinner.
David became humble in his sins, and died a wise king.
Peter, came back to the Lord, was restored and made the first pope.
Paul, became the great missionary who travelled the known world telling people of the Lord Jesus.
And the Old Testament people as a whole, they became His own, chosen and purified, and given the Promised Land.

I saw a meme recently (here) about a potato and it made a pivotal point about all this:
If man can take a worthless unexciting potato and make it into something as desirable as vodka,
then God, if you will let Him, can make you into a saint .
Yes, I am a sinner,
Yes, you are a sinner.
But what CAN we be?
What is the potential that God’s loving eyes see in each of us?
He sees the vodka, not the potato.
And He rejoices each time we repent, come back to confession, and start afresh in following Him.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Discipleship, 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 14:25-33
Today I want to focus on the word, ‘Disciple’, that we heard in today’s Gospel text.
This is an ancient word, but a word that has come into fashion a lot in recent years as a powerful focus for what it means to be a Christian.
I want to say what it MEANS, why it’s IMPORTANT, and how we need to APPLY it to ourselves.

The Lord Jesus used the word, ‘disciple’ a lot, and I want to use 2 images to explain it.
The first image is classical:
If we picture a rabbi sat perched in a teaching position, with a circle of students gathered around him, listening to him -then we have an image of the master-disciple relationship.
A disciple is someone who wants to be taught.
A disciple is someone who has chosen a particular master, a teacher, who he wants to be taught by.
Discipleship is thus about wanting to LEARN, and to learn from a particular person.
A CHRISTIAN disciple is someone who has made the decision to learn from the Lord Jesus.
If you’re not interested in learning, if you’re happy to stick with your own opinions,
then you can’t be a disciple of Jesus; you can’t be a disciple of anyone.

The second image I want to use is athletic:
Every athlete has a coach, a trainer. Almost always such a coach was once a young athlete himself.
A serious athlete, wanting to win a race, submits himself to the disciple and training of the coach.
The coach does not just govern how the athlete behaves on the running TRACK, rather, he governs every aspect of the athlete’s life:
the diet he eats, the time and duration he sleeps -EVERY aspect of his life.
The Catholic, similarly, isn’t just concerned about how to behave in the single hour we are at Mass on a Sunday, rather, EVERY aspect of our life needs formation and training if we are, to use St Paul’s words, to “run so as to win”(1 Cor 9:24).

The word ‘disciple’ is related to ‘discipline’, and both are related to training, formation.
Both are related to LIFESTYLE.
A disciple is not just taught -he is taught how to LIVE.
And to be a Christian is to want to learn how to live, and to learn this from the Lord JESUS.

There are at least two things we need if we are to apply this to ourselves.
First, we need commitment.
We need to commit to the Lord, this PARTICULAR Lord Jesus
-otherwise we’re like an athlete who might run around the track, but we don’t get to the end, because we’ve not been following the training, we’ve not eaten and slept and trained as we should.
-if we think Jesus is very ‘interesting’, but we’re not committed to Him, then we’re not His disciples.

Second, we need to be seeking KNOWLEDGE of what it means to follow Him,
DETAILED knowledge, DAILY knowledge.
You can’t figure this out yourself -you can’t be a Christian by yourself.
Christ established a CHURCH, to train His disciples.
This Autumn we’re starting discipleship groups in the parish.
We’ll be meeting Thursday evenings, in the parish hall -with another opportunity Thursday mornings.
We’ll be gathered in groups around tables, like the Alpha course, to aim to discuss and learn TOGETHER.
We’ll be watching a series of 20-minute films and then discussing then. Materials on discipleship from the ‘Rebuilt’ parish association. Please consider coming.

To sum up: A disciple is a student of a master, a master he has committed himself to.
A disciple is trained in LIVING, like a coach training an athlete.
You can’t be a disciple by yourself -we need to be trained.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

What are Mass Intentions?

What is a Mass Intention?
What does it mean to have a Mass offered ‘for’ something or someone? In answering this question it is important to differentiate between the general and particular intentions in the Mass: Every Mass is offered with the general intention that is articulated in every Eucharistic Prayer: for the glory of God and for the needs of the Church and the world as a whole. In addition, each individual member of the congregation brings his or her own particular intentions in his or her prayers that are united to that Mass. There is a third type of intention brought to the Mass, however, and it is this intention that is referred to when people speak of a ‘Mass Intention’, namely, the specific intention for which the priest celebrant offers the Mass: The priest’s intention specifies the “special fruit” [1] for which that particular Mass is being offered. It is in this sense that someone asks a priest to offer Mass ‘for’ something or someone.

Mass Stipends
Linked with the above is the ancient practice of Mass Stipends: a financial offering to accompany the offering of your prayer, a specific donation to accompany the specific request. While the amount donated for a Mass is at the discretion of the individual there is a standard rate set in each diocese and for many years our Bishop has set this at £10. In this parish the donation goes to the parish funds (in contrast, most other places continue the ancient practice of the Mass offering going to support the priest).

Various Intentions
The Mass is the greatest prayer we have since it is the sacrifice of Christ Himself. It is therefore important to remember that we can have Mass offered for many intentions: for the living as well as for the dead, for family difficulties, for sickness, as well as in thanksgiving for graces received etc. Even a casual glance over the list of Mass intentions being offered in any parish will show the wide range of intentions people bring.

Masses for the Dead
The most common type of Mass intention people that request is for someone who has died. The practice of offering Masses for the dead is the Christian fulfilment of the Jewish practice of having sacrifices offered in the Temple for the dead “so that they might be released from their sins” (2 Macc 12:45). The Early Church celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the sacrifice that superseded the Old Testament Temple sacrifices and it was for this reason that the writings of the Early Church Fathers record how the Mass was offered for the dead. For example, Tertullian writes in the 2nd Century about a widow who had Mass offered for her deceased husband: "Indeed she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship with him in the first resurrection; and she offers her sacrifice on the anniversaries of his falling asleep". Similarly, many of the Fathers echo the sentiment expressed by St Gregory the Great, "Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them." While St. John Chrysostom encourages us by saying, "If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them." [2]
The month of November is a time when people particularly remember to have Masses offered for the dead, especially for family and friends.

Announcing the intention?
In our parish the intention of each Mass is published in the weekly newsletter. In some parishes intentions are published on a notice board and in some places the priest may announce the intention, especially if it is a change to the one published.
It is worth noting, however, that the offering of the Mass for that intention does not depend on it being publically voiced but on it being specified in the priest’s personal prayers. Similarly, if a priest announces that “I am offering this Mass for [such and such an] intention” he does not thereby require the rest of the congregation to pray for that intention or to make their own lay-offering of the Mass to be for that intention. The priest’s intention specifies the “special fruit” [3] chosen as his intention it does not specify that of the congregation. To avoid the impression of the priest imposing his intention on the rest of the congregation it is not Fr Dylan's normal practice to announce the intention.

This text can be viewed as a Word document here

[1] Pope Pius VI, Auctorem Fidei (1786), cited in Aidan Nichols, The Holy Eucharist (Dublin: Veritas, 1991), p.100.
[2] Fr William Saunders, “What does it mean to have a Mass ‘offered’ for someone?”, accessed 20/6/12
[3] As cited in [1].

Adapted from a piece in the parish newsletter on 7th November 2010