Sunday, 24 May 2015

Joy, the Holy Spirit, and Our Lady. Pentecost 2015



I'm going to speak about three things today: joy (because it is the mark of a true disciple), the Holy Spirit (because it's Pentecost), and Our Lady (because it's the month of May, and because two of her traditional titles are ‘Spouse of the Holy Spirit’ and ‘Cause of our Joy’).

I've been reading about this in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on Joy, Gaudete in Domino, which Pope Francis frequently comments on.
Paul VI’s central and simple point is this: that a person has joy when he or she knows that they are loved.
And, more particularly, he notes (GID n.iii) that joy was something that Jesus Christ had in its fullness. Jesus knew Himself to be, as the Father’s voice repeatedly declared from heaven, knew Himself to be His “Son, the Beloved”(Mk 1:11; 9:7)
This love, and joy, that was continually in Jesus, is also one of the principle things that the Lord prayed would be “complete in them” (Jn 17:13) when He prayed for His disciples on the night before He died.

But what CAUSES this joy to be in us? (GID n.iii) It is the loving PRESENCE of the Father and the Son, which is brought about in us by the action and presence of the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier, which the Lord promised to sent to His disciples the same night He prayed that His joy might be complete in them. And so it's no coincidence that His prayer that His joy might be complete in them was in the same section praying that He and the Father might “dwell” in us (Jn 17:23). It is this loving presence in us, the love of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that is what makes us know love (Jn 17:26) and experience joy.

What of Our Lady? Well, Paul VI notes that she is the perfect human example of spiritual joy (GID n.iv). More than any human person in all of human history she is the “dwelling place of God”, a fit tabernacle for the Holy Spirit. I’ve preached previous years about her unique relationship with the Holy Spirit: she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit, she was filled with the Holy Spirit, and burst forth into praise in the Magnificat. In that prayer of the Magnificat she recognised and sang the praises of God’s mighty deeds –and it's worth noting that recognising the deeds of the Lord is a powerful way of recognising the loving activity of God, and thus knowing of His love -His love in the deeds of Scripture and His love for me in particular. Finally, how is she the “Cause of our Joy”? By causing the birth of Christ, by interceding to make us sons in the Son, and by calling down the presence of her Spouse the Holy Spirit into our heart too.

Let me close by noting, as Paul VI does too, that in all I have been describing I am talking of a joy that is a SPIRITUAL joy, beyond earthly pleasures (GID n.i). Paul VI notes that such earthly pleasures are real. Like the pleasure of a pint of real ale, as I am experiencing again now that Lent is over, this is a real pleasure. But it is not the same type of SPIRITUAL joy that is caused by knowing oneself to be loved, and especially, knowing oneself to have that deepest love of being loved by God.
There is an important consequence of this: it means that such a spiritual joy can still exist within us when we are experiencing physical pain, or even emotional sorrow. So, even at the foot of the Cross, even as her heart was in agony seeing her son suffer, because she still had faith in the Father’s love and goodness she still had, at a deepest level, spiritual joy.

What, very simply, does this mean for us?
I cannot have joy by my own power, rather, it is spiritual gift. It comes from God.
But it is a gift He offers me. A gift that the Lord Jesus came from heaven to earth to grant us.
And it is granted by the outpouring of His Spirit into our hearts, a Spirit that causes that indwelling of the Father, Son, and Spirit such that we know ourselves to be loved, and rejoice in being loved.
And if we turn to Our Lady, in this month of May, she will pray and obtain that great gift for us.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Ascension Sunday, Year B



Mk 16:15-20; Eph 1:17-23
Jesus ascended to “the right hand” of the Father
-that statement is so important that we heard three times already, in the second reading (Eph 1:20), in our Gospel text (Mk 16:19), and in the Gloria; and we'll shortly repeat it in the Creed.
The issue I would like to address today is this: Why should it matter to us that Jesus is at “the right hand” of the father?

First, what does “the right hand” mean?
In modern usage it means little to us today, but in antiquity it was an expression of great significance. In antiquity there was always a king. And, in the throne room, sat at “the right hand” of the king, there was someone who shared in the power and authority of the king. Thus St Thomas summarises by saying,
“Christ is said to sit at the right hand of the Father inasmuch as He reigns together with the Father, and has judiciary power from Him; just as he who sits at the king's right hand helps him in ruling and judging.” (ST III q58 a1)

So, just as St John’s Gospel STARTS by telling us that Jesus was “with God” (Jn 1:1) and “was God” (Jn 1:1) before He was sent into our world, and even before “all things were made”(Jn 1:3),
Similarly, St Mark’s Gospel ENDS by telling us that Jesus returned to such a position when He left this world.

But, why should this matter to me and to you? Why should WE care that Jesus is at “the right hand” of the Father -obviously, that’s good for Him, but why is that good for us?

In addressing that question we address the whole reason that He came, and the truth about the reality of the Incarnation.
The second person of the Trinity, the Word of the Father, took human flesh, took a complete human nature, a human body and a human soul. This event is so pivotal to our faith that every Sunday the liturgy of the Mass tells us to us bow when we recite the words in the creed: “and became man”.

He LOWERED Himself to accept our humanity. (Phil 2:8)
The point, TODAY, is that by doing this He RAISED our humanity. He lifted us to a dignity and honour that He bestowed on NONE of the rest of His creation. The plants and animals do not show this dignity. Not even the ANGELS have been given this dignity.
And, TODAY, the ascension points out to us that He did not then cast aside His humanity at the end of His earthly life. Rather, He has taken it up into heaven with Him.

For you and for me, the fact that the human nature of the Lord is in Heaven is a perpetual sign of the dignity that has been bestowed upon us. And with this, the care, the love, and everything else that He ever has for us.

And all of this is expressed when we recall that He ascended and is sat at “the right hand” of the Father.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Friendship with Jesus, 6th Sunday of Easter, Year B





Jn 15:9-17
Today I'm going to speak to you about friendship with Jesus Christ.
Now, it might seem that Jesus being our “friend” is a small and uncontroversial topic, however, it's actually a pivotal issue that sets us apart from our two main competitors in today’s marketplace of religious ideas, those two competitors being Islam and atheism.

Atheism says that Jesus cannot be your friend because God doesn't exist. Or, even if some 'god' does exist then we can't really know anything much about Him.

Whereas, in Islam, the word, “Islam”, means “submission”, and this sums up a lot of what Islamic thought says about God: God is not your friend, rather, you are His servant, you OBEY Him. Linked with this is the notion that God is utterly unknowable in Himself. We do not know Him, we only know how He has told us to live, His commandments.

The Lord Jesus, however, says something else, as we heard. In that text we heard Him say, “I call you friends”(Jn 15:15).
Yes, He is Lord. Yes, we submit to Him. Yes, there is always something “more” to the infinite God than our finite minds can exhaust.
BUT He nonetheless says, “I call you friends”. Note, in addition, the phrase He utters next, the REASON He says we can be called His friends: “because I have made KNOWN to you everything I have heard from my Father”.

You can only have someone as a friend, you can only love them, if your KNOW them. And the Lord Jesus has made Himself known to us by coming from heaven to earth, and with that He has made known to us everything there is to say about God: the Bible says that Jesus is the one “Word” of the Father(Jn 1:1), and, as the Catechism puts it, in speaking this Word He has told us all there is to know (CCC 65).

Because of Jesus I can KNOW God; I can call God my friend.
And this is the great gift that the Christian religion imparts.

Now, we might add, that the reason this is so WONDERFUL is that He is a friend beyond other friends, for at least two reasons:.
First, because, He loves me more than other people love me; He loves me more than I will ever be able to love Him: as we just heard Him say, He lays down His life for His friends (Jn 15:13).
Second, He is a wonderful friend because He can DO more for me than any other friend. He can walk on water, feed the five thousand, and so forth. AND the Church gives us this reading NOW, in Eastertide, so that we might think of His friendship in the light of His rising from the dead. He is a POWERFUL friend.

To sum that all up:
Atheism says God is not your friend because God is an illusion, or at best unknowable.
Islam says God is your master, but not your friend, again because God is unknowable.
Jesus claims otherwise. Jesus claims He has made God known, that He is thus our friend.
And His rising from the dead proves the truth of this great claim, and proves the greatness of His friendship.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Relics, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B




Jn 15:1-8; 1 Jn 3:18-24
We’re now in the fifth week of Eastertide. This season, in focusing on the Lord’s victory in the resurrection focuses also on His POWER.
I'd like to consider an example of this power in the effectiveness of His SAINTS in praying for us, and in obtaining for us the things we ask of them. In the Gospel text and second reading we heard that those who remain in Him may ask what they will, and they will get it (Jn 15:7). The experience of the Church down the centuries has shown us that the saints, those who “remained” in Him, and in “His word” have worked great wonders by their prayers, and so Christians down the centuries have called out to the saints to ask them to pray on our behalf. Their lives on earth manifested their closeness to the Lord; they are now already in heaven; and so we ask them to pray for us in our needs. And these prayers bear fruit.

This pattern shows two truths:
First, what is called “the communion of saints”, namely, that we are in union, in communion, with the saints who have died, because we are all united in Christ. Thus we can turn to them just as we would turn to a living friend and ask him or her to pray for us.
Second, the effectiveness of their prayers witnesses to the fact that God is still active today. It is not just that He once worked miracles, once rose from the dead, and then stopped doing anything. No. He is still at work. Still answering prayers, still working miracles. And He frequently chooses to work miracles through the intercession of His saints, thereby drawing us to these role models of how to live and love.

One common way that Christians turn to the saints is by going to pilgrimage to places associated with the saints, or to their graves. Our Catholic faith teaches us that we our BODILY creatures, and we contact God and the saints through bodily, physical things. I have a toolbox in my house, a toolbox that was once my grandpa’s, and keeping it keeps me close to him. Similarly, Catholics keep relics of the saints, things that the saints have touched, as a way of being close to the saints, and of asking the saints to be with us and help us. We see this same pattern in the Scriptures:
In Acts 19:12 we hear of how handkerchiefs that had been in contact with St. Paul's body were carried to other people and used to produce miracles. Similarly, St Peter’s shadow healed by its touch.
In the Old Testament we likewise hear of miracles associated with relics: in 2 Kgs 13 the body of a dead man was touched to the bones of Elisha and Elisha’s bones brought the man back to life.
So, miracles associated with the relics of the saints is something very Scriptural, and it is also very Scriptural that the good people of God should SEEK out the relics of the saints in order to have a miracle.

That brings me to a special opportunity that you'll have in a couple weeks in visits relics in Dorchester. Many of you will remember the national media sensation that was caused by the flocks of pilgrims who came to venerate the relics of St Therese of Lisieux when they toured English shrines in 2009. Similarly, in less than two weeks the relics, I.e. A special casket holding their bones, will be coming to Dorchester. These parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, are currently beatified and will be canonised as saints this October. They are great figures for you to pray to for help: for parents, for marriages, for families. For the bereaved: because Louis lost his wife while he was still young. For the mentally ill: because Louis suffered from this in his later years.
Or for any other particular need you might have: going to Dorchester, venerating the relics,and praying to these new saints, parents of the powerful intercessor St Therese, would be a great way to make intercession.
As a part of this our Bishop will be leading a Mass with renewal of wedding vows on the Monday evening.

To return to where I began: The Lord told us that He hears the prayers of those who “remain” in Him and remain in “His word”. This means, and the Church’s experience shows, that He hears the prayers of the saints with particular power, and so we ask the saints to pray for us in our needs.
Our newsletter insert tells you about these two new saints. Turn to them with YOUR needs, and please consider coming to venerate their relics in Dorchester. The times of events there are included in the newsletter. I'd particularly encourage you to go the Monday evening –there is sign up sheet in the porch to share car lifts and transport. Please make use of this great opportunity of grace.
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My sermon before the visit of the relics of St Therese in September 2009 can be read HERE


Catholic classification and prohibitions
Saint Jerome declared, "We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are" (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907).
First-Class Relics
Items directly associated with the events of Christ's life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.).
Second-Class Relics
An item that the saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.), owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, book etc.
Third-Class Relics
Any object that is touched to a first- or second-class relic. Most third-class relics are small pieces of cloth.
The sale of relics is strictly forbidden by the Church.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Hearing Confessions 8.3





Moral Theology lecture to London Ordinariate Clergy formation, 21st April 2015. Third of three recordings. To accompany lecture notes here

Hearing Confessions 8.2






Moral Theology lecture to London Ordinariate Clergy formation, 21st April 2015. Second of three recordings. To accompany lecture notes here