Sunday, 20 May 2018

Our Lady and the Holy Spirit, Spouse of the Holy Spirit: Pentecost

There is a phrase that we hear repeatedly in the New Testament, namely, acting under the “power”(Acts 1:8) of the Holy Spirit. Now, many of us can wonder quite HOW that works –how do you get the Holy Spirit’s power to work in you? Also, we might wonder what is LOOKS like to have the power of the Holy Spirit at work in someone.
I want, today, to speak about the unique relationship between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit, and say a few words about how Our Lady can show us both what having the “power” of the Holy Spirit in us LOOKS like, and also HOW we can let that power work within us.

One of the titles of Our Lady is “Spouse of the Holy Spirit”, a title that indicates that she has a unique relationship with Him.
He is referred to at the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel told Our Lady that she would conceive not in the normal way but when “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”(Lk 1:35).
He is referred to again when Our Lady then goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth while they were both pregnant, she with the Lord Jesus and Elizabeth with John the Baptist. At the greeting of the Blessed Virgin “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” and she said that “the babe in my womb leapt for joy”(Lk 1:41;44), so that John the Baptist is said to have been filled with the Spirit even before he was born.

But it is perhaps in the next thing that happened we see something most relevant shown forth: Our Lady then burst out into the beautiful “Magnificat” (Lk 1:46-55) in which she declared the praise of God for what He was doing, in particular that He had “cast down the mighty”(Lk 1:52) and raised up the lowly. This is relevant in two ways: first, her bursting forth into this hymn of praise was itself an action of the Holy Spirit within her; and second, the words she said indicated why SHE was suitable for the Spirit to act in her: namely, she was lowly and humble herself.

When we are proud we are unable to listen to others.
When we are mighty and content with our state we struggle to turn to others for aid.
In either case we are not suitably disposed to let the Holy Spirit be at work in us –we can’t really hear His promptings; and, we’re too full of our own misguided thoughts of our power to depend on HIS power.

Our Lady, in contrast, was humble not proud. Although she was doing a great thing herself, namely, being mother of the Lord, she did not ascribe this greatness to herself but rather TO GOD who had chosen her in her lowly state.
And, and as a consequence, GREAT things did happen in her, and the “POWER” of the Holy Spirit was active in her.
He was active in her not least in the most daily every-day aspect of her life: her sinlessness. She wasn’t sinless by her own power but by the “power” of the Holy Spirit, a power she was humble enough to co-operate with. She co-operated with His power not once, not occasionally, but every moment of her existence: from her sinless conception, in every moment of her life, such that she was exactly what the angel called her: “full of grace”(Lk 1:28). Such a CONTINUAL commitment to Him is another reason it suitable to think of her as His “spouse” –a life-long relationship.
And that same Spirit also gave her strength to do what we might think would be impossible, so that she was faithful to stand at the foot of the Cross and watch her son suffer.

So, to conclude: for ourselves, if we want to have that same “power” of the Holy Spirit in us, then:
We must be humble and lowly as she was humble and lowly –we must not have mistaken views of our greatness or self-power.
And if we are lowly before the Lord, call on His strength, COMMIT ourselves to Him as she did as His spiritual spouse, then we will allow the space in us for Him to come and come with “power”

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Former Anglican Clergy Lecture Notes

9th Jan 2018
1) Introduction: What is ‘Moral Theology’? & The Place of Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium, and Reason in Moral Theology
click here

2nd May 2018
2) The History of Moral Theology
click here
Possible additional reading: Servais Pinckaers, OP, Morality: The Catholic View, trans Michael Sherwin, OP (South Bend, Indiana: St Augustine’s Press, 2001), pp.25-41 and p.44, excerpts

13th May
3) Lecture: Emotivism, G.E. Moore, and Logical Positivism
Lecture: Aristotelian ‘Good’ vs. Emotivism et al
click here and here

22nd May, 4pm
4) Lecture: Happiness and the Good, Sin and freedom
click here
Possible additional reading:
section "h" of Mark Lowery, "Choosing Evil “Under the Aspect of the Good” , in Handout Notes for Moral Theology, Christian Marriage, and Catholic Social Thought (2007) click here
“Freedom and Happiness” in Servais Pinckaers, OP, Morality: The Catholic View, trans Michael Sherwin, OP (South Bend, Indiana: St Augustine’s Press, 2001), pp.65-81 (not online)

3rd June, 6pm
5) Lecture: What is Virtue?
click here
Possible additional reading: John Hardon SJ, The Meaning of Virtue in St Thomas Aquinas click here

6) Lecture: Natural Law I: Basic Principles (c.f. Ordinariate course notes)
click here
Possible additional reading: Michael Schutzer-Weissmann, Natural Law (and the Laws of Nature), Catholic Medical Quarterly vol 63(2) (May 2013) click here

7) Contraception and Natural Law (c.f. Ordinariate course notes)
click here
Possible additional reading (omit section on Edward Holloway): Dylan James “The Perverted Faculty Argument” click here

8) Lecture: The Just War
click here
Possible additional reading: Paul J. Griffiths and George Weigel, “Just War: An Exchange”, First Things 122 (April 2002) click here

9) Lecture: Natural Law III: The Relationship between Civil Law and Morality
click here
Possible additional Reading: Kathy Schiffer, “Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas” (7 Feb 2014) click here

10) Lecture: Mortal Sin and The Fundamental Option
click here
Possible additional Reading: Jimmy Akin, "Assessing Mortal Sin" click here

11) Lecture: The Moral Evaluation of Acts: The End and the Means
Possible additional reading: John Harris, “The Survival Lottery”, in Bioethics, Oxford Readings in Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp.300-303; Robert Spaemann, “Even the best of intentions does not justify the use of evil means”, Reflections on the Encyclical Letter ‘Veritatis Splendor’-7, L’Osservatore Romano (English) 50 (15 December 1993), p.11; Germain Grisez, “Revelation versus dissent”, Veritatis Splendor in focus: 1, The Tablet (16 October 1993), pp.1329-31.

12) Lecture: Cooperation in Evil
Possible additional reading: Germain Grisez, Difficult Moral Questions, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 3 (Quincy, Illinois: Franciscan Press, 1997), pp.365-380, excerpts.

13) A Contrast: Catholic and Protestant Approaches to Ethics
Reading: James M. Gustafson, Protestant and Roman Catholic Ethics (Chicago: SCM press, 1978), pp.1-29, excerpts

14) Divorce and Remarriage (Ordinariate course notes)

15) Homosexuality, Sex Change, and Transgenderism (Ordinariate course notes)

16) Infertility, IVF, Human Cloning, and Stem Cell Research:
“Technological Reproduction of Human Life”, and “Stem Cell Research”, in Handbook of Critical Life Issues, by Leies et al, 3rd edition (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2004), pp.97-111; 113-118.

17) Abortion and Euthanasia:
“A. Abortion, Abortacients and Partial-Birth Abortion”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 7A/1-5
“Suicide, Assisted Suicide, and Euthanasia”, in Handbook of Critical Life Issues, by Leies et al, 3rd edition (Boston: National Catholic Bioethcis Center, 2004), pp.135-150

18) Ordinary and Extraordinary Care (also called Proportionate/Disproportionate Care):
“Decisions of Prolonging Life”, in Handbook of Critical Life Issues, by Leies et al, 3rd edition (Boston: National Catholic Bioethcis Center, 2004), pp. 153-162 –p.159 of this article could be read so as to imply that it seems to ignore the authoritative status JPII’s statement on food & water being ordinary care.
“Ethically Ordinary and Extraordinary Means”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 3B/1-3
“The Ventilator as Excessive Burden”, Ethics and Medics 36.9 (Sept 2011), pp.1-2

19) Advance Directives:
“Advance Directives for Health Care Decisions”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 18/1-4
“The Ethics of Do-Not-Resuscitate(DNR) Orders”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 19/1-4

20) Double Effect and Abortion:
“D. The Double Effect”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 3D/1-3
“B. The Ethics of Treating Ectopic Pregnancy”, in Catholic Health Care Ethics. A Manual for Ethics Committees, ed. Peter Cataldo et al (Boston: National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2001), 10B/1-5

21) Rape Protocols:
“Rape and the Peoria Protocol”, Ethics and Medics 22.9 (Sept 1997), pp.1-2
“Rape and Emergency Contraception”, Ethics and Medics 28.6 (June 2003), pp.1-2
“Why Fear Ovulation Testing?”, Ethics and Medics 28.6 (June 2003), pp.3-4

22) ‘Adoption’ of Frozen Embryos?
“Vatican Rules Out Adoption of Frozen Embryos - at Least for Now” (LIFESITENEWS.COM, 12 Dec 2008)
“Top Catholic ethicists duel over frozen embryo adoption” (LIFESITENEWS.COM, 2 Aug 2011)
Helen Watt, “A Brief Defense of Frozen Embryo Adoption. A Moral Analysis”,
“What Should We Do with the Frozen Embryos?”by TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK
“Frozen Embryos and Embryo Adoption”

23) Lecture: Environmental Ethics
Possible additional reading: Acton Institute, Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Acton Institute, 2007), pp.33-65, excerpts.

24) Lecture: Wealth and Catholic Social Doctrine
Possible additional: George Weigel, “The Virtues of Freedom. Centesimus Annus (1991)”, in Building the Free Society. Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching, ed. George Weigel and Robert Royal (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Pub, 1993), pp. 207-23 excerpts.

25) Moral Theology and the Sacrament of Penance

26) Lecture: Conscience
Possible additional: “Conscience and Christian Tradition” in The Pinckaers Reader, pp.321-41, excerpts.

Loneliness, 7th Sunday of Easter, Year B

Jn 17:11-19
I want to say some words today about loneliness.
On one level, loneliness is one of the basic human conditions.  We are made for love, and yearn for something that will satisfy this. Thus Genesis describes Adam, alone amongst all the animals, looking for a soulmate, lonely without one.  
On another level, as study after study sadly shows, loneliness is particularly a feature of our modern age.
We see it in youth today. Studies point to mobile phones and tablets in this regard -youth connected to their devices, but tragically isolated in their rooms, and statistically vastly more likely to be lonely than just a decade ago.
At the other end of the age spectrum, many of the elderly among us can speak of a different loneliness. 
And, in between, you can be lonely at work; lonely in marriage.
Loneliness is one of features of human existence.

I want to take this I two directions: thinking of God, and, thinking of our parish community.
In the Gospel text we heard the Lord Jesus praying to the Father.  He spoke about being “one” with Him.  This is very important in the context of loneliness.
God is one, in Himself. Yet, He is also a community of three persons -never alone, never lonely.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit -always existing in love and in relationship.
We are made in His image.  
We are made to love and to be loved.  
In as much as we fail to experience these two things we are lonely. 
The solution, at its deepest level, is to be drawn into the love of God, to be one with Him.  Thus the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father, “may they be one like us”.
Thus spiritual loneliness can be addressed by a regular life of prayer, regular contact with God in His Bible and in His sacraments, 
at Mass for union with Him, 
at Confession for healing our disunion from Him.
In this regard, it is possible to be physically alone, but, not feel lonely.  There is a difference between being PHYSICALLY alone and FEELING lonely.  You can feel lonely in the midst of a crowd; you can feel content by yourself.
I can remember life in my last parish: I was physically more isolated than in my entire life, in the rural countryside, far from friends and family, yet rarely did I feel lonely.

That was one direction of thinking with respect to loneliness: God.
Another direction is our parish life.  There is much that can be done in a parish to ease physical loneliness, and I want to point to two particular things in our parish culture in this regard.

The first, is the hugely important work that our SVP group do here in the parish.  Among the needs they address is visiting the housebound. This is an important way for us, as a parish community, to be helping combat loneliness.  
Yet, I’m aware that we need more SVP members to do this work.  And so I would like to take this as an opportunity to appeal for more people to join.  If you’re interested, sign the sheet in the porch or speak to an SVP member after Mass.

The second, concerning Mass. Some of those who used to welcome people at Mass by standing in the porch and offering people a newsletter are now too infirm to do so.  
I’d like to therefore appeal for more people to volunteer for this important role.  It would be good to have a team at each of the 3 Masses to do this in rotation.  If you’re willing, please sign the sheet in the porch.

These are two very particular things, but both relating to how we function as a parish community to help ease loneliness. 

So, in summary, the Lord Jesus prayed that we might be one as He and the Father are one in the Spirit.
We are made for love and made to feel loved.
We can help each other as a parish community by addressing physical loneliness.
But the deepest cause of loneliness in the human heart can only be addressed by our union with God.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Friendship with Jesus, 6th Sunday 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 commanded 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”.
-in Jesus we KNOW God.

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; 
and, 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.
The Lord Jesus claims otherwise.  HE claims He has made God known, that He can thus be our friend.
And His rising from the dead proves the truth of this great claim, and proves the greatness of His friendship.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Pruning, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B

Jn 15:1-8
I’m not much of gardener, I like plants to look nice, I like it when spring comes and the flowers are in bloom.  But I don’t I don’t know what plants need to make them grow well.
There is one thing I do know, however, and that is that a good gardener PRUNES his bushes –he cuts away the wood.  I don’t know WHEN to prune, I had to check that in Google for my sermon preparation: 
apparently most things get pruned in late winter, 
some things like climbing roses get pruned in Autumn, 
and some things like Raspberries in very early spring                        –I didn’t know that.

Fortunately, there are gardeners who do what they are doing.
And, in our Gospel today, Jesus tells us that THE Gardener is the Lord Himself, and He knows what to cut and when to cut it.
Pruning is rather violent image to associate with God, 
an image that suggests that He directs not only the easy things in life, like the flowers coming up, 
but also the tough things in life, the blows in life that we never enjoying receiving.  

We can never fully grasp the ways of the Lord, but the image of the Gardener can help:
Why does a gardener prune?  Because he hates his plants and wants to cut them up?
No, because he loves and cares for them, and wants them to become something better than they presently are.
Because he knows what is good for them

The Divine Creator, Scripture tells us, did not create suffering.  
Scripture gives us the image of the Garden of Eden, but it tells us a truth that is not just a symbol: 
Suffering only entered this world with sin, and radically disrupted the harmony of this world so that we can barely imagine what life was like without suffering.  
But even though He didn’t create it, He now directs it, to bring all things to the good, 
to the Good which is He Himself.

Now, this is something to recall in every difficulty.  
Because we never WANT to be pruned.  
I want this dead wood in my life; and I certainly don’t want the pain that comes with it being cut away.
I know that there are many pointless things I am attached to, that aren’t good for me;
And I know that there are many GOOD things I’m attached to, 
but attached to in a selfish way that is bad for me and bad for the people I’m attached to;
So, I know I need to be pruned, but I don’t enjoy the pruning.  
But I do need it.  
And because the Lord, the Divine Gardener knows it, He prunes me.

Before concluding, let me point out why we have this Gospel today, in Eastertide.  
Easter if the time of new growth, of Resurrection; of the resurrection that could only happen because of the Death that preceded it.
And the new growth that I need in my life can only come by the thousand little deaths that pruning involves.  

So, when we feel one of those thousand little deaths, let us not only remember that the Lord is with us our suffering, let us remember too what He taught us in this passage: He is the Gardener, He knows what He is about, and every bit of pruning can be for our good, CAN be if we allow it to draw us to Him:
“a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself... cut off from me you can do nothing”
But “Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty”.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Vocations and the Parish, 4th Sunday of Easter

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, when we think of the Lord Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  With this, we think of how the Lord shepherds us with priests, and we pray for new priestly vocations.

Priestly vocations don’t spring up in vacuum.  For a vocation to be heard it usually requires a healthy spiritual environment.  A consequence of this is that vocations often appear in CLUSTERS: a spiritually healthy parish will often produce a GROUP of priests.  So, for example, near us, Ensbury Park parish was renowned for the way that, some decades ago, it produced half a dozen priestly vocations in quite a short period of time.  Similarly, my home parish of Paignton produced 4 vocations about the time I came forward.  As Pope John Paul II put it, the number of vocations arising in a parish is a significant sign of the spiritual health of that church.  I’m very grateful that I was raised in such a parish.  

In a healthy parish the people love the Lord.  
In a healthy parish people value the sacraments as the means by which they can encounter the Lord: 
they prepare themselves for Holy Communion; they go to Confession frequently.  
They love the Lord, they love the sacraments of the Lord, and they value priests as the ones who (1) teach them of the Lord, (2) teach how to live following Him, and (3) make the sacraments possible.  
In such a parish it’s hardly surprising that a young man might recognise the priesthood as something worthy of giving his life to.  

There is one thing, especially, that needs to be primary in such a healthy parish: 
            Prayer, and, in particular, pray to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. 
We have a church that is open for prayer, unlocked all day. 
Most days we have weekday Mass available.  
A vocation is a supernatural reality, a call from God. The Lord tells us that if we want such calls to be made we need to ask for them, He said, ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest’(Mt 9:38).  I have no doubt that the reason I received my call was that there were people in my home parish praying for vocations; and I’m equally sure that the reason I recognised my call was the value that that parish placed on prayer, the sacraments, and the priesthood.

How often do we pray for vocations?  How often do YOU pray? You want a priest in this parish.  
Do you say a rosary every week for the specific intention that one be called?
And if you don’t pray, are you still going to complain if you don’t get a priest?  If in 10 years or 5 years or next year there is no priest here –will you complain if you didn’t pray?

I’d like to make a point of comparison: in the USA they used to be in the same situation as us in England, it seemed that the number of priestly vocations was in terminal decline.  But NOW, numbers are up, and the average age of vocations is down, i.e. more YOUNG men are coming forward.
But this statistic is not uniform, it varies from diocese to diocese.  And when people compare the difference between the successful dioceses and the ones that are failing it is frequently attributed to EUCHARISTIC ADORATION for vocations.  Some dioceses promote it heavily, and their vocations have returned.  Other dioceses are dying instead.  
A priest friend of mine is in Kansas, and his diocese is about the same size as ours, it has 65 priests, and it used to be like ours, almost without vocations.  But now, while we have 2 seminarians they have 36.  I.e. Your PRAYER can make a difference.
If the heart and soul of a parish and diocese is turned to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament then priests WILL come.
One specific recommendation: We will shortly, as last year, have an all-night 24 hour adoration of the Lord.  I would invite you to come, and to pray especially for vocations in that time.

To pray that the Lord will call a young man to the priesthood is pray that he will be given a great path to happiness.
Many in our world our focused on achieving the perfect middle class lifestyle.
But the glamour of the world will pass, the beauties of flesh fade, power and money are not worth dedicating your life to.  Only love of the Lord lasts. 
God calls most men to love Him by means of loving their wife (c.f. Pope John Paul II L’Osservatore RomanoEnglish edition Nov 30, 1994, p.19, n.4.)  
There are others He calls to cleave to Him directly, with what Scripture calls “an undivided heart”(I Cor 7:25-38). And for a priest, that means that I must love the Church His bride as MY wife too, because I am configured to Him(Pastores Dabo Vobisn. 22c).  
I don’t love perfectly, but I know that I WILL FIND MY HAPPINESS NOWHERE ELSE.   
The REAL thing that will make a young man happy is not what our modern society offers: its intimacy with the Lord.  

To conclude: 
Are we the sort of parish that raises up vocations?
The choice is up to us