Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas, Shaftesbury

The weather outside has been rather cold and bleak recently, rainy and icy, and you might think that this isn’t very nice and Christmas-like. But I want to point out a few things in our crib scene that remind us that, if you think about, the first Christmas wasn’t very Christmas-like.

Picture, if you will, the room in Bethlehem. There was no room in the inn. The stable was cold, the straw was dirty, and the wood of the manger was as hard as the wood of the cross of Calvary. It was pretty bleak, and it is only such a bleak description that does justice to the reality. But such a description is still incomplete, just as our crib scene here would be incomplete without the baby. Because such a bleak description fails to mention Christ –and that’s what we need to remember today, and why we’ve come to Mass today.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the image on so many Christmas cards, where we see the baby Jesus in the manger with light shining out from Him and lighting up the whole stable. What would have been dark, damp and dingy, is made light and glorious by the presence of Christ. That simple pious image conveys the whole theological reality that we are celebrating today.

Christ's coming changed the whole stable, and not just the stable -but the world. That is why He came.
The scriptures describe Christ as, "a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower"(Jn 1:5). We know that darkness, the devil, did try to overpower Him. He tried at His temptation in the desert, in the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and most conclusively on the Cross. But the light overcame the darkness by His resurrection. And all of this is shown and started in His birth. That's why we have the beautiful symbolism of starting the whole celebration in the darkness of the night, at Midnight Mass.

But we also need to remember that: when God changed the world forever, by entering His creation as a little child, it wasn't just some random or casual event. It wasn't a good thing that just happened to come along. It was what God had planned from the very beginning.

Why did God create the universe, the world, and US on it in the first place? He did it that we might share in His divine life. We were made for life with God. As the great St. Augustine puts in, "You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee." Since the creation of the first human being, when God breathed the first soul into the first human embryo, we have been waiting for Christ to come among us -to fulfil our destiny.

Our human nature was waiting for Christ. The Jewish people were waiting for Christ -because the scriptures and prophets foretold that He would come. And the darkness of our sins, the darkness of our sufferings and griefs and woes was waiting for Christ too, because we needed to be saved from them.

What we celebrate today is that the waiting is over. Our struggle against the darkness has changed forever because of what happened 2000 years ago tonight. We are never alone in darkness –God is with us, Emmanuel. And we know that in the end darkness will not triumph, over the world, or over us. The victory isn’t finished until the Last Day when he comes again in glory, but the victory is now assured.
In our own time, in all the 2000 years since Christ came, until today, the present is lit up with the presence of God among us. And that holds even in our own personal bleakness and difficulties.

The Word has become flesh. And he has remained with us. Remained with us in the action of his spirit in his Church, in his priests, in his sacraments. And most directly, he has remained with us in his definitive and real presence in the Mass -that's why the Mass is so central to the way that we should celebrate Christmas.
And He remains with us in the hearts of any of us who will receive Him. He didn't just come to the stable in Bethlehem, but as sing in the carol, "where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in".

Sunday, 20 December 2009

4th Sunday of Advent, Year C, Shaftesbury

Lk 1:39-44
Today is our final Sunday before Christmas, our final Sunday to prepare ourselves for Christmas. And on this last Sunday the Church always gives us the figure of Our Lady in the readings to help us prepare: she was the one who first welcomed Christ at the first Christmas and she can help us welcome Him now. Although there are many ways Our Lady can help us, I would like to point out two virtues we see in Our Lady that we can imitate to help us prepare: humility and faith.

Our Lady manifested her humility in action in the gospel text we heard. Even though she knew from the angel Gabriel that she had just become pregnant, she didn't think of her own needs but rushed to her cousin Elizabeth to help her in the more advanced stage of her pregnancy. That sort of putting the needs of other people before ourselves is a very simple but important way of being humble, of being ready to celebrate Christmas properly, of being able to live in peace and charity, of being ready in our hearts to welcome Christ this Christmas.

In addition, in order for Christmas to be a SPIRITUAL event, an event that isn't just loving in the way a good atheist can be loving, in order to be an event that recognises the deeper spiritual meaning and reality of what Christmas is about, in order to be that we need to have faith: we need to believe that Christ came and was born at Christmas.

Faith, the Catechism teaches us (CCC 143-144), is our response to what God has revealed. When somebody tells us something we can either believe them or doubt them. Faith, Christian faith, is to hear what God has revealed and believe it. In particular, faith means to accept a truth NOT because we have seen it ourselves, NOT because we have figured it out for ourselves, BUT to accept it on the authority of the one who tells us: divine faith is to accept all the truths that God has revealed in Jesus Christ, and to accept them because He has said to. A standard example of this is our faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist: this defies our physical senses, it is not something we could figure out for ourselves, but He said "this is my body" and we believe it because He said so.

Our Lady is often referred to as the perfect model of faith: the angel told her something that would be impossible in the natural order of events, namely, that a virgin would conceive and bear a child. She manifested her faith by believing what the angel had told her, in addition, she manifested the active dimension of faith by submitting to do what the angel asked -to be the mother of the Lord. This is what we heard Elizabeth praise Our Lady for: “blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Lk 1:44).

This Sunday, an adult will be received into the Church, Tim Allhusen, and I want to make one final point about how faith is something that needs the Church. If faith is our response to what God has revealed, then the Revelation needs to be transmitted, needs to be handed on, and needs to be handed on with the guarantee of infallibility so that we can trust the accuracy of what has been handed on. As Catholics, this is something that we hold is implicit within the very nature of Revelation -there was no point in God revealing His truth unless He was also going to establish a secure and dependable means for that truth to be handed on. So the fullness of faith is something we can only have through the Catholic Church. This is what Tim will express in his profession of faith when he says, "I believe and profess all the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God".

In conclusion, thinking back to Christmas. If we want to welcome Christ at Christmas, then we need to put aside the scepticism and the scoffing of the unbelieving world, we need to ignore whatever latest pseudo-documentary claims that the BBC will make: we need to believe that the Bible tells us about Christ being born in Bethlehem was in fact true -our salvation depends upon it. And we need to express that faith in action by humble hearts and humble love as Our Lady humbly put Elizabeth's needs before her own.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C, Shaftesbury

Lk 3:10-18; Phil 4:4-7; Zeph 3:14-18
I normally buy my groceries here in town, but last week I went down to Waitrose, because I wanted to see how ‘the other half’ lives -pretty good it seems! There were delicious looking battered prawns, a huge selection of chocolate cakes, and quality bourbon of the kind that is simply not available in Shaftesbury. And I began to understand why they say, "This Christmas, there's only one place to be: Waitrose".

And that point is really the only point I want to make today: what is "the only place to be" this Christmas? Well, as a priest, and basically just as a Christian!, I find the Waitrose claim to be highly presumptuous! Now I know I'm preaching to the converted, because you are already here in church, but "the only place to be" this Christmas is the place where you are already today, namely, in church. The meaning of Christmas can only be properly discovered by returning to the words that Christmas comes from: “Christ” and “Mass”. Actually, if we want to be in "the only place to be" this Christmas than we actually need to be very carefully avoiding the materialism that seems implicit in the Waitrose advertising slogan.

If preparing for Christmas is not primarily about going to Waitrose, then what is it about? If we would be ready to Christmas, if we would be ready to celebrate the coming of Christ, then what must we do? This is the same question was put to St John the Baptist 2000 years ago when the people wanted to know how to prepare for the FIRST coming of Christ, as we heard them asking in today's gospel, “What must we do?”

The answers of St John the Baptist strike me as surprisingly practical and surprisingly specific. He told the tax collectors, "exact no more than your rate". He told the soldiers, "no extortion! Be content with your pay!" And he told the people in general that they must share their possessions with those who had none. There's a very simple thread uniting each of these three pieces of advice, and it is a warning against materialism. It is perhaps ironic that 2000 years later the same type of advice needs to be given to us still today. If we would be ready for the coming of Christ at Christmas then we need to also cleanse our hearts of the materialism that can prevent our hearts being ready for Christ to come

The sad reality of much of our Christmas preparations is that we think too much about the things that money can buy for Christmas, and not enough about what really matters. What’s the point in buying my sister the best gift money can buy if I haven’t been considerate and loving to her in the preparation for Christmas?
It’s like getting all the decorations for the Christmas tree, but forgetting to get the tree itself, or just getting it as an afterthought –the last and most pathetic one left in the shop.

The true antidote to materialism, the true way to prepare for Christmas, is to remember the reason that today’s readings give us to rejoice. This is Gaudete Sunday, an ancient Latin name meaning ‘rejoice’, and the reason we are always given to rejoice in this the third week of Advent, is that “the Lord is very near” (Phil 4:4). This is what Christmas is all about, this is what we are preparing for. This is what sets Christianity apart from the other world religions:

We believe that not only is God real, not only does He love us, not only does He watch over each moment of our lives, but He is very NEAR to us –and not only in some vague spiritual way. What we recall at Christmas is that God became flesh, became physical, by fully becoming a little child in the manger of Bethlehem. This is the physical and visible confirmation of all the other ways we believe He is among us and near to us.

“The only place to be this Christmas” is near Him who came near to us in Bethlehem and comes near to us as often as we turn to Him. St. Paul tells us not to worry, the Lord is very near. As we rush around in this final week before Christmas, as we make all our material preparations, let’s try not to worry. Let’s make sure we take the time to rejoice in what we are preparing for, and remember the true spiritual meaning that makes it all worth while.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

On Confession, 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C, Shaftesbury

Lk 3:1-6
All England is now preparing for Christmas: and while some people are preparing for Santa Claus, hopefully we Christians are preparing for Jesus Christ. We heard in our gospel about how St John the Baptist prepared for the first coming of Jesus Christ, prepared by crying out in the wilderness, "prepare a way that the Lord", and the way he called people to prepare the way for Him was by repenting of their sins.

One particular way we are called on to prepare for Christmas is by going to confession. I thought, today, that rather than just tell you why you need to be going to confession yourself, I would tell you why I go to confession myself.

I go to confession not just because it is a requirement, not just because I fear the fires of hell (though I do), and not just because it's something other people have told me to do. I go to confession because I know that it is good for me, good for my psychological health and for my spiritual health.

Confession is good for me because the opposite is bad for me. The opposite is to fool ourselves into thinking that we never do anything wrong. It's always somebody else's fault: that person’s stupidity is why I am impatient, that person who made the late-night phone call last night has made me tired and so he is the reason why I'm now too lazy to do what I know I should be doing, that person’s gross wealth is the reason why I am envious of him, –and so on, "it's not my fault". In every era of history it has always been easy to refuse to see our own sin, and refuse to accept our own responsibility, but in our own era of history we have, mistakenly, been repeatedly told that guilt is bad for you. But actually, usually guilt is healthy. Normally speaking, guilt and feeling guilty is the healthy reaction to realising that we have done wrong. And I go to confession because it helps me regularly see my guilt, it helps me avoid living in a fantasy world of denial.

Confession is good for me not only because it helps me see my guilt but because it helps me channel that guilt to resolution, to forgiveness. One of the reasons our modern pop psychologists avoid talking about guilt is that they lack the mechanism of knowing forgiveness. Regular confession is the healthiest way to avoid carrying the guilt of my present sins and of my past sins around with me. And there have been many times when I have seen people depressed in the carrying of their guilt that I've been grateful that I've known the forgiveness of the confessional.

When we read the Gospels we hear that the forgiveness of sins was the primary healing work that Christ came to do. When we read the Gospels we hear the joy, the gladness, and the gratitude that filled people who were forgiven by Jesus. That same forgiveness is available to us today. Now it is partly true that at one level we can seek forgiveness by praying to Jesus privately, without confession, however, this is not the FULLNESS of grace that is available to us. Jesus Christ established a mechanism, a means, a way by which He wants His forgiveness to come to us, and that is in the sacrament of Penance, of Reconciliation, of Confession. As Jesus said to the Apostles, His first priests: “Those whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them, those whose sins you shall retain they are retained” (Jn 20:23). And so the forgiveness that was once encountered 2000 years ago when Jesus physically walked in Palestine, that same forgiveness from that same Jesus is ours when we physically approach Him in His fullness as He exists in His sacraments. “What was visible in Christ’s life has passed over into His [sacraments]” (St Leo the Great, CCC 1115).

So the third reason why confession is good for me is not only because it helps me see my guilt, not only because it helps me resolve my guilt in forgiveness, but confession is good for me because it gives me the most perfect and complete encounter with the Lord who forgives, and, with that, gives me every grace and strength He has to offer me, every grace and strength to grow in holiness and be helped not to sin again.

Lastly, perhaps you're not sure how often you should go to confession. Well, it might help if I explained the range of possibilities to you. At one end is what we call confessions of devotion, for example, Pope John Paul II used to go to confession every day. I, however, don't go to confession every day, but I do go to confession every week: this is what is recommended by St Frances de Sales in The Introduction To The Devout Life(Part II, Chapter 19) , and this is what is practised in a great many of what are called the New Ecclesial Movements, those groups of predominantly young re-invigorated Catholics who have rediscovered the value and living of our Faith in the midst of our secular world. At the other extreme from weekly confession is to only go once per year: this is the bare minimum required by the law of the Church, and if you only want to do the minimum, if you are concerned to avoid hell but don't really care about heaven, then doing the bare minimum is permissible -and the bare minimum in this context is annual confession of serious sins [peccata sua gravia, Canon 989]. Be warned, however, if you aim for the minimum and miss the minimum then you won’t be in a good place. Beyond that, our own Bishop Christopher Budd noted in one of his pastoral letters (1998) that the Lent and Advent penitential services that have been introduced in recent decades seem to have led to the BAD practice of many people thinking that they only need to go to confession on those two occasions, and he said very simply that it is not enough to just go to confession in Lent and Advent, he said we need to go regularly. And the standard regular timespan recommended to parishioners is to go to confession every month, which is between the legal minimum of once a year at Eastertide and the devout practice of going very week.

To summarise: Confession is good for me because it helps me see my guilt, because it helps me resolve my guilt in forgiveness, because it gives me grace and strength to avoid future sin, and it does all of this because it gives me the fullest possible encounter with the Christ who forgives. Now especially is the time, “prepare a way for the Lord”.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

1st Sunday of Advent, Year C, Shaftesbury

Lk 21:25-28;34-36
A friend of mine told me that the world was going to end on the 20th of November –and she had it on good authority: she knew a friend who knew a friend who’d heard that a cardinal had seen a vision of this.
So I waited, went to confession, said my prayers, watched the news of the 19th for any indications, and… woke up on the 20th with nothing changed -and actually, that was 9 years ago in 2000 (in lots of Millennial angst).

It’s very easy to dismiss such prophecies, but it would have to be said that there is an increasing number of them these days. I think myself, that it may well be more likely that the End of the World will come in our lifetime, than it has been in previous centuries.

What if we compare what we see today in the world with what Scripture predicts for the end of time? In the scriptures we’re told there will be PHYSICAL signs like great floods, earthquakes, drought, maybe we could add pollution and the destruction of the environment. We’re told there will be SOCIAL signs, and we see a great breakdown in our modern society, family fragmentation, permissive sexual practices, and the toleration of things like abortion and euthanasia that would have horrified a more civilised people. Scripture also speaks of a Great APOSTASY that will precede the End, and maybe we see that around us too. As numerous Catholic and Anglican bishops have publically said, we’ve become an atheistic society, we’ve turned our backs on God.

We might also note what the great Pope John Paul II used to call the ‘acceleration’ of the pace of history, change being more and more rapid and dramatic. In viewing the whole pattern of history, it’s only reasonable to ask if this is an acceleration towards the final conclusion.

But, of course, none of these things automatically mean that the End is nigh. Many of these things have happened before,
But the central point that I want to make is that just because the End of the World and the Second Coming of Christ hasn’t happened in the last 2000 years doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen, and doesn’t mean that it won’t even happen very soon.

And regardless: for myself, if I die today, if I fall down the dangerously steep set of stairs in the presbytery, if I get hit by one of those cars or buses that recklessly speed past my front door, then for ME the End would be now. Are you ready? And what do we need to do to be ready?

We just heard Jesus tell us what to do when we see the signs of the End. He didn’t say “panic”, or “get really, really worried”. He said, “Stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand”. If we’re at one with the Lord, then we need not fear, because His Coming will be for our glory too.

But we need to ensure that we ARE at one with the Lord. He said, “Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life”. If we would be ready, then we must repent daily, live virtuous lives, obey the Commandments, go to frequent Confession, and return to the Lord’s mercy as often as we find ourselves straying into sin. If we do, then we can, as He said, “stand with confidence before the Son of Man”.

Ever since the Fall of Man people have seen suffering and problems in the world around them. What our faith in the Second and Glorious Coming of Christ tells us is that there is a greater destiny that creation is moving towards. A destiny that is not of THIS world. When Christ comes as Judge, to separate the sheep and the goats, the saved and the damned, He will also come to make all things new. He the creator will come to re-create. He will make all things new, and there will be no more problems, no more disasters or pain. Then truly, if we are ready, we will find that our liberation is indeed at hand.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Christ the King, Youth Sunday, Year B, Shaftesbury

Jn 18:33-37; Dan 7:13-14
When people think of politicians and royalty today, they often get rather cynical. And while such cynicism isn’t always healthy, I think it is a sign that we do tend to want something quite important from our leaders. There is part of us that does want someone to look up to, someone to inspire us, someone we can depend on, someone to guide us, someone that can cure all of our own problems and all of society’s.

In the hymn that we often sing of this Sunday, we ask Christ the King to “Guide the youth”. And the reason that hymn gives for Him to be the one to guide the youth is the fact that He is “King of truth”. It is precisely because He is truth that He can be the king and leader that we hope for, that He can be the one we look to to guide us.

The claim that Jesus is not just honest and truthful, but that He is truth itself is the most complete and exclusive claim that Christians make about Christ. We do not say that He is part of the truth, or even that He is most of the truth, but that He is truth itself. Anything else in the world, any other teacher or prophet, or any other religion, can only possess truth to the extent that it measures up to what Christ Himself said, what Christ did, and what Christ is.

This claim about Jesus isn’t one we arrogantly make ourselves, it was one He made Himself. He said, “I am the way the TRUTH and the life”. We heard Him repeat this in front of Pilate in the gospel passage just read. He said, “I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to MY voice”(Jn 18:37).

Jesus didn’t make this claim lightly or flippantly. He made it because it flowed out of His very being, out of the fact that He was God and He knew it. He knew He had authority over everything in this world because this world is His creation, He is the one who gives it life and direction.

It’s because of this that we can look to Jesus. Look to Him as king of the cosmos, and king of our own hearts. Because He is truth, He is therefore the truth for us, the one who gives meaning and direction to us. If we build our lives on Him then we build them on a firm and sure foundation, a way to happiness and fulfilment.
Youth is a time in life when we make many choices for our future, choices that our long-term happiness depends on. What we need to depend and build on is the truth, and that’s why there is a natural connection between today’s feast as Christ the King, and as its being Youth Sunday. The King of truth is a king fit for youth.

We know, of course, that many people today are cynical of the whole concept of truth. That was true of Pilate too, He responded to Jesus by saying, “Truth –what is that!”. We know too that many young people today are cynical –gone are the days of idealistic youth protests and demonstrations. Our secular society has failed to give young people a hopeful lead and cynicism is a unsurprising result. We who are Catholic, and our Catholic youth in particular need to show that there is a source of value and meaning and truth in life that we can depend on, and so there’s no need for the despair of cynicism.

To be a Christian is to live a lifestyle built on values and beliefs different to those around us. But it’s the only thing that can give real value to the life around us. We just heard Jesus say that His kingdom is not of this world, but it is in this world, and ranks with authority over this world. We may get cynical about some leaders, but He the king that can give us a reason to never be cynical, and always have hope.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday, 32rd Sun Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Mk 12:41-44; 1 Kings 17:10-16
Today is Remembrance Sunday, when we remember all those who died in the wars, and those continuing to die. We recall those who died in bravery and those who died in tragedy, those who died as acclaimed heroes and those who lie unknown.
We often, and rightly, speak of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of their country. But I want, this morning, to speak of the importance of self-sacrifice in general, and to do so in reference to the example we just heard Jesus refer to in what He taught us about sacrifice in the Widow’s Might (Mk 12:44).

The true value of the widow’s gift wasn’t known by the people around her.
If we think, in particular, of those soldiers who gave their lives in World War Two, they didn’t know the FULL effect and value of the sacrifice they made. They knew they were in a terrible war, but they didn’t know the even larger significance of it. When they died, neither they nor the Allies knew the true horror of the Nazi atrocities, of the millions killed in the gas chambers, of the millions in England who would have been killed if the Nazi had won. They didn’t know just HOW much they saved us from, and so their sacrifice had a value far beyond the one they realised.

The same must be said of any sacrifice, any good deed, and this is what the Lord Jesus was teaching about the Widow’s Might. The value of her offering wasn’t the money –after all, it was just a penny. The value of her offering was that it was her everything. And what gives this value is God, the God who watches over all our deeds, who accepts our sacrifices, our good deeds, our prayers, and indeed and our very lives –the God who uses and accepts them as prayers. He is a GOOD God, and prayer does change things.

God wants each of us to offer ourselves to him, to offer our lives as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1; 1 Pet 2:5), a fragrant offering to the Almighty. In him our lives acquire a new supernatural value, one beyond what we can know.

Many of us can get discouraged from time to time over the effort of our lives, or over the way that there seems to be so little gain for the good works we can try to do. We can come to think that it’s not worth bothering. Why should I continue to be nice to that person when he never changes, when he’s never nice to me? Why should I be the only person at work who doesn’t use foul jokes and language, or the only person who refuses to be dishonest in business? Why should I continue to pray when nothing ever seems to change? Why should I clean up after the kids, yet again, when they’ll only mess up the place 2 seconds later?

Such discouragement is natural. But the lesson of the Widow’s Might is that there is more to life than the natural, more than we can see. If we judge ourselves only by what we see then we will grow discouraged, we’ll think that there is no point.
There is MORE to life. There is God, and the value He puts on our works. He accepts them as offerings to Him, and in the cosmic balance these offerings change the universe. In this our deeds have an effect we simply do not know. And there is heaven too, the eternal glory and merit that will be assigned to our deeds and our lives. If we forget this then we forget the true meaning of our life, and what gives true meaning to our actions.

The widow who gave her last bit of food to share it with the prophet Elijah didn’t know what lay in store for her. But she had faith to do good anyway, and God transformed her offering into more than enough food. God transforms our offerings too. He said that we will be repaid a hundredfold (Mk 10:30), and He is true to His promises.
To refer again to the sacrifice of those fighting the Nazis, we can see today that the ultimate sacrifice paid by those soldiers had a great value, but it’s full value will only be completely disclosed in heaven. Their sacrifice was greater than the ones that most of us encounter daily –but the same truth holds. We must never let ourselves be discouraged over what can seem like small effects of our good deeds: there’s a value and effect that transcends what we can see, and so it is worth being good.
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
at the going down of the sun, and at the rising
we will remember them.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

All Souls Day, 2nd Nov, Shaftesbury

We keep today a sadly neglected commemoration. It used to be the case that ALL churches would be heaving at the seams today. It was a sound instinct of the faithful that led them to come and pray for the souls of their dearly departed loved ones, and it’s an instinct that we’d do well to try and restore.

The doctrine and practice that we celebrate today is one that makes me proud to be Catholic, with a capital “C”, because it’s not only about solid doctrine, and the way we reach solid doctrine, it’s a doctrine that squares perfectly with the pastoral needs of our heart –a perfect model of how all truth is pastoral. And, of course, it is a definitively "Catholic" doctrine because it was the defining issue that Martin Luther rejected at the Protestant Reformation.

We reach this doctrine about purgatory and the practice of praying for the dead in a solidly Catholic way not least because we find its most direct roots in the part of the Bible that Protestants call the Apocrypha, in the Second Book of Maccabees. “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they might be loosed from their sins”.(2 Macc 16:46) We know there, as we know elsewhere, that this is thus a part of our Judeo-Christian Tradition, something familiar at the time of Jesus. And to be fully Catholic we need to be in touch with the continuity of that Tradition, or else we lose, among other things, a lot of the basis of Christian morals, which are largely Jewish morals, and we can end up saying that all Jesus believed is that you must be nice to each other.
It’s also solidly Catholic in that it’s rooted in private revelations, in the devotion of the saints. And the extent that we feel uncomfortable with these as sources of Faith, we can fear that we’ve been infected by Modernism.

But this practice, what I consider to be one of the crowning glories of Catholicism, is a glory that is, as I said, not only doctrinal and disciplinary, but is also deeply pastoral.

There are certain times in the life of everyone when we wonder what happens to people when they die. For some of us it first comes when we face the prospect of their own death. But probably, for most of us, that time comes when someone we love dies. It’s a time when we are likely to be not only concerned but distressed about the fate of our loved one. That distress can be met and faced by the doctrine of Purgatory and the practice of praying for the dead.

If we were Protestants then we would have to ABANDON our deceased loved ones to the judgement of God, unable to help them in any way. But, as Catholics, we know that the bonds that unite us to the dead are greater than the division brought about by death. In the Communion of Saints we remain united to the dead, because whether are alive or dead we all remain united to Christ. On earth, we can pray for each other while we are alive. I can pray for my friends, my family and those I do not even know. It is the same with the dead. I can pray for deceased friends, and family, and strangers. I can pray that God will have mercy on them in the Judgement. In this way we’re not left powerless and despairing when our loved ones die. We’re still able to help them, just as we could help them while they were on earth.
I often feel sorry for Protestants faced with grief, because it’s important that we have something we’re able to DO in grief. And in the economy of the Communion of Saints God has foreseen this, and arranged for this, and so we maintain our bonds with the deceased by our prayers for them.

The doctrine of purgatory also gives us hope against the fear that we will be judged too harshly. Many of us may fear at some time or another that we’re not good enough to go to heaven. And we’re not good enough for Heaven. And Scripture itself teaches us that there is only perfection in heaven. But this doesn’t need to cause us to give up hope, because otherwise there would be no-one in heaven.
We can go to heaven even though we’re not pure, even though we have sinned. But in order to do so we must go through a time, a place of purification. And that place is Purgatory. There, through the grace that is given to us by and through Jesus Christ, we will be made perfect, and fit to live in the happiness of heaven.
And so Purgatory is a doctrine that gives us hope. Hope because we know that even sinners like you and me can make it into the perfection of heaven.

Our time in purgatory is also something that can be shortened and made easier by the prayers of the faithful. And so we pray for our loved ones. Not only that God will have mercy on them in the Judgement, but also that they will be sped through Purgatory.

So let us rejoice today in the consoling doctrine of Purgatory, and the practice of praying for the dead. It’s one of the great spiritual acts of mercy. And it keeps us mindful and thankful that death does not totally separate us from the dead, and so we remember them in our prayers.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

All Saints Day, 1st Nov, Shaftesbury

Mt 5:1-12; Apoc 7:2-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3
I've been away on retreat this week, which means that I've just spent the last five days in silence, saying nothing.

Now you may wonder what I did on retreat, what I did while I was busy not speaking for five days. Well, I did some walking while I could reflect in the silence. And I did some spiritual reading to give me things to reflect on. But more than anything, and more important than anything, I prayed: I spent five or six hours a day in prayer, which even for a priest is quite a long time! You might think that spending six hours a day in prayer would get a little boring. And, I'd have to confess I did get a little bored. Somehow, the Lord God Almighty, the infinite Creator of the universe, the supreme being who holds all things in being, the one who is perfect beauty itself, and the Saviour who loves me and died for me: sometimes, I find Him boring!
This, of course, is a fault in me not at fault in Him, but it is a common fault in us human beings: If we loved Him more He would not seem boring. We find God boring because our intellect fails to fully grasp how wonderful He is, and, correspondingly, our will fails to be filled with the excitement of loving Him.

One of the reasons God might seem boring us that we easily forget is the character of God as being "personal" –we can think of Him as being just some kind of “thing”. When I went on retreat, I had gone away on retreat to be alone, but one of the things I remembered when I got there is that a Christian retreat is not primarily about going to be silent, and it is not primarily about going to be alone, it is about going to be with someone, a very particular Someone, namely, the Lord. And when we think about the fact that we are going to be with the Lord it is always important that we try to remember who He truly is. As I said, we know that He is the Lord Almighty, the Creator etc, but while we live in this world we don’t fully grasp Him as His is: we only see Him in an unclear manner, as St Paul says, “through a glass darkly”(1 Cor 13:12). In contrast, as we heard in our second reading, if we get to heaven then "we shall see Him as He really is"(1 Jn 3:3).

On today's feast of All Saints we recall the glory of all the saints in heaven. Our gospel reading today (Mt 5:1-12) on the Beatitudes is given to us today to remind us of the promise of the happiness, the Beatitude, of heaven. This is something we need to repeatedly remember when we try to think and understand what God is like, Who He is. God is the one whose very presence gives us that perfect Beatitude that our gospel text so weakly translated as "happiness", and he gives us this happiness -because He is love. At a theological level, St Thomas Aquinas teaches that “joy” within us, true joy, is only ever in us as a fruit of "charity" -the technical name for “divine love” (ST II-II q28 a1). And this is something that we all know the level of our own experience: love is what makes us happy. To be loved by other people, and to be loved by God, this makes us happy. And when we can let go of selfishness and love others and love God, this also makes us happy.

But we can only love somebody, and we can only KNOW the happiness of loving somebody and being loved by that somebody, we can only do this if we actually have knowledge of that Somebody, and if we spend time with that Somebody. And this is why it is important to pray, this is why the saints all prayed, and this is why I went on a five-day retreat: to be with the Lord, and being with Him to know Him better and love Him better.

God is only boring to us to the extent that we don’t know Him. The more we know Him, the more interesting He seems to us. And the more we love Him, the more He is not only interesting but exciting. Today's feast of All Saints reminds us of that fact by reminding us of the happiness of the saints in heaven, the saints who are happy simply because they fully know and love the Lord and are loved by Him.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

On the new Anglican Ordinariate, Shaftesbury

I was going to preach a rather nice little sermon on Our Lord’s compassion on us in our spiritual blindness (c.f. Mk 10:46:52, today’s Gospel), but, the last few days everyone who has seen me has asked, “What about this business with the Vatican proposal on Anglicans coming into the Church, eh?”

If you’ve not heard the news, there was a major press conference this week (curiously, presented by both the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster and the Anglican Rowan Williams of Canterbury), in which it was announced that the Vatican is setting up a new organisational structure to receive Anglicans into Full Communion with the Catholic Church.

This comes in the general context of a century of ecumenism, a century of hoping, praying and working for the return of the corporate unity in the Church, in the hope that those in schism or heresy will come back to union with the See of Rome. In this task, as the Second Vatican Council reminded us, Catholics must also be willing to change, to reform and purify ourselves so that we are more perfectly what we should already be, so that what non-Catholic Christians object to in us should not be those things that should never have been there. Now, the vision of what corporate re-unification would look like has always been somewhat unclear, but Catholics have insisted, on one hand, that it must be unity in doctrine, in morality, and recognition of the authority of the See of Rome. While also, on the other hand, allowing diversity in certain traditions and rituals, for example: the Greek Catholic Rites (not the Greek Orthodox) believe in seven sacraments like we do, believe in the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady etc, believe in the Pope, but use their own rituals with piles of incense, very long liturgies, and major liturgical action happening behind an iconostasis (like a Western medieval rood screen). So it is possible to have unity, real unity, i.e. in faith and morals, while also having diversity in liturgical practice.

But, in the midst of the working for unity among the churches there have also been divisions and changes, in particular with how the churches relate to modernity: how much they reject modern thinking as the cause of the modern problems, and how much they embrace it. The most recent issue in this regard is homosexuality, with the Anglican Communion now having an American bishop who is a practicing homosexual, while the Catholic Church will always teach that deviant behaviour remains deviant and is not only bad for society but, tragically, is bad for the individuals who follow those inclinations.

For many Anglicans, this and similar issues have caused them to re-consider the claims of the Church of Rome. While others seem to be losing their nerve, the Catholic Church is keeping steady, we are not attempting to change right and wrong. In short, we are manifesting what our claim of infallibility claims: that Rome cannot help but stick to the truth, even when it might seem ‘convenient’ to do not do so.
In the last few years “over 50 Anglican Bishops” have approached Rome and asked about being received into Full Communion. More specifically, they asked not that they be received into the Catholic Church as individuals but that these Anglican bishops can be received along with their congregations, as a group, retaining some form of ‘Anglican’ identity, but in Full Communion with Rome. Something similar happened over a decade ago when 6 Anglican parishes in America became Catholic but were allowed to continue largely as they were, adhering FULLY to Catholic doctrine but using a newly modified version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, a version purified to be made in keeping with Catholic doctrine.

The Vatican has responded to this request by issuing a new Apostolic Constitution that will create a new structure in canon law, a 'personal ordinariate'. People and priests in it will both relate to their local Catholic Bishop and to their new “Personal Ordinary” (“Thus the arrangement is different from the Uniate Churches in that the Personal Ordiariates are canonically within the Western Rite”). In addition, they will be allowed to keep certain aspects of their Anglican liturgy and traditions. We don’t know the details of the yet-to-be-issued “Code of Practice”, and we don’t know if many or any English Anglicans will join it (probably more in Africa, judging from certain reports).

What does this mean for us? Probably little change in Shaftesbury. But it is a call for us to be generous in our attitude, welcoming. A call for us to remember that we can differ in some significant liturgical practice and yet still be fully Catholic. This generosity must include a refusal to delight in the difficulties within the Anglican Communion –it is only a twisted mind that rejoices to watch a tragedy unfold. But, this is all also a reminder of the importance and joy of being ‘Roman’: for 4 centuries the Church of England has tried to be ‘catholic’ without being ‘Roman’, they have tried and failed, As the Anglican Bishop of Fulham John Broadhurst said recently, "the Anglican experiment is over". It has tragically failed because such an attempt is a contradiction –you cannot be in Communion with the worldwide Church without being in Communion with its head, without being united to the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St Peter, the Pope, the visible head of the Church on earth –that others should seek this union should remind us of the importance of being in it.

Some web articles in descending order of being sympathetic:

The new “ordinariate” would permit a “pattern of Catholic life” with space for some of the patrimony of the Anglican community that was “consistent with the Catholic faith”.

“A further group of Anglicans, we think, will begin to form a caravan, rather like the People of Israel crossing the desert in search of the Promised Land.”(Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Andrew Burnham)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Mk 10:35-45, Isa 53:10-11
Suffering is something that none of us like, yet, we heard in today's gospel the Lord Jesus say of Himself not only that He would die but this is why He had come into the world: He had "come... to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45) -a reference to His approaching crucifixion. He came into the world to do this for us because He obviously felt that we needed this done for us -but I thought that today I would say a little about this word and concept of "ransom".

A "ransom" is a sum of money that is paid for something. If somebody has been taken prisoner or hostage then a ransom is the payment that is made that their release. And there are many places in the New Testament where the death of Jesus is referred to as a "payment" (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:19, 1 Pet. 1:18).
But this might seem like a curious thing because the death of Jesus is not a sum of money.
In addition, if the death of Jesus is a payment then WHO does Jesus need to pay? There are a number of answers to this question: He paid the devil, He paid Himself, we might even say that He paid us.

Scripture says many times, and we find it quite frequently on the lips of our Lord in the gospels, that Satan, the prince of all the devils, is also "the prince of THIS world" (e.g. Jn 12:31, Jn 16:11, Eph 2:2, c.f. Jn.8:34; 2 Pet. 2:19). Now, when Jesus says that Satan is "the prince of this world" he is referring to this world in as much as it exists as a place of sin: as a consequence of the Original Sin of our first parents and as a consequence of the personal sins of each one of us ever since, we live in a world that is intertwined with sin.
Scripture tells us that when Satan rebelled against God, Satan and all his fallen angels were cast out from heaven. But they have not yet been cast out from this world because WE choose to allow him to reign in this world, in our hearts.
Each time we sin we make ourselves slaves to sin and slaves to the one whom Jesus called "the Evil One"(e.g. Mt 13:19). We have given ourselves over into the captivity of the Evil One. And as slaves of the evil one we need to be bought back from him: we need someone to pay the price that will “ransom” us back from him. This is what Jesus did on the cross.

That said, God does not really NEED to pay the devil anything. The Lord God Almighty is called "Almighty" for a reason: He is Almighty over all things, even over the devil, even the devil whom He allows to continue to tempt us. So, when theologians speak of the death of Jesus being a ransom paid to the devil this cannot mean something that Jesus literally NEEDED to do. (And it was not a literal payment because it was not money.) Nonetheless, Scripture uses this language of "ransom" and "payment" because it expresses the truth that the demands of justice have been satisfied. God is not only merciful He is just as well, and in seeking to save us from our sins He did not wish to be seen to cheat the devil or even to cheat Himself: Scripture tells us that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), and by the Lord Jesus dying for us He intended that none of us should doubt that the wages have been paid, and paid for us: paid for me, and paid for you.

So, if Jesus is more Almighty and the devil and thus did not NEED to pay a ransom to the devil, if the Lord did not NEED to satisfy justice and so did not need to pay a ransom to Himself, then many have noted that it was nonetheless "fitting" that He should pay such a ransom for us. But the ransom Jesus paid, the suffering He endured, was infinitely greater than it NEEDED to be, even for this “fittingness”: as the great hymn of Saint Thomas Aquinas puts it, "one drop" of the infinite merits of God's dying on the cross was more than "ransom for a world's entire guilt". As St Alphonsus sums it up, the cross was given to us as a sign of love, a sign that we might not doubt that God loves us -the cross is more about love than about justice. It is a sign to us, and thus, in a more extended sense, if we are pondering WHO the ransom was paid to we might even say it was paid to us.
As I started by saying, He did not choose to die because He liked suffering, rather, He chose to die that we might never doubt that the “price”, the "ransom", has been paid for our sins. “You are not your own, for you have been bought at a great price. [Therefore] glorify God and bear Him in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19).

Sunday, 11 October 2009

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Mk 10:17-27; Wis 7:7-11
We just heard Jesus give one of his many warnings against the love of money. The love of money is a curious kind of thing: it seems to me, that each and every one of us thinks that we don't have ENOUGH money.

Today’s readings offer us two tests for how we relate to money: the ‘camel’ test, and , to examine what we pray for. We’ll have collection at the end of Mass for the emergency tsunami relief, and our generosity is one test of our attitude of money.

What of the camel? This is typically taken to be a reference for our need to be inwardly DETACHED from the possessions that we outwardly use and own. The Lord Jesus said, "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God". Many scholars suggest that Jesus was referring to a night time gate into the city, a small little entryway, an entryway a man could crawl through even when the main day-time city gate was closed, in particular, an entryway that a camel could only enter when the belongings laden upon it, its riches, were first removed from it. Such an interpretation is echoed in the country western song that says, “I've never seen a hearse with a luggage rack” -you can’t take it with you when you go.

But the Lord Jesus is saying something more than just reminding us that we don't carry our riches into heaven: that my iPod, my mobile phone, and whatever is left in my wallet, will not be coming with me when St Peter is deciding whether to let me through the pearly gates. Rather, primarily, Jesus is speaking about how we RELATE to our possessions.
I may not have as much money as my friend, I may not have as much as many of you, but I am is as capable as any man of living in this world with my heart set on THIS world, at a DAILY level and a minute by minute level of valuing things and possessions more than I value God Himself. I am capable of being more ATTACHED in my heart to THINGS than I am to love of God and neighbour –I can be attached to such things even if I don’t have them, even if I am only looking at them with envy. The camel reminds me that I need to detached enough from things that I am capable of telling them go –the camel cannot get into the city unless its riches are removed from its back; I cannot get into heaven unless I am willing to leave the riches of this world behind me. And, of course, if I am going to be able to manifest that detachment when I get to the pearly gates then I have to live that detachment while on earth.

More briefly, the second of the two ‘wealth’ tests in today’s gospel concerns what we pray for:
In our first reading (Wis 7:7-11) we heard the words attributed to the great King Solomon, the great King who had many riches and yet sought and prayed more for divine Wisdom than for earthly wealth. It is Wisdom this enables us not only to know the right things but know the right things to DO, know the right way to love, to know how we should use our money, to know how to measure whether we have enough money.
If we want to test ourselves to know what we love, then one of the ways we can measure this is by looking at what we pray for: if I love just myself then I will pray for just myself; and, if I love money and possessions then I will pray asking for money and possessions; but, if I love my neighbour and I love my family and if I love my parishioners then my time in prayer will be spent praying for them.
And if, at present, my prayer IS just about me and is not about others, then if I want to start detaching myself from an excessive love of money, then making the prayer of Solomon my own is a good way to start: to pray to God for the gift of Wisdom, “ I prayed, and understanding was given me, I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me”(Wis 7:7). To pray for the Wisdom to know when we have enough, to know when to give it away, and to know how to own things without being attached to them.

[Excursus paragraph deleted from middle of sermon:
Money, of course, is something needed to live by. We didn't hear Jesus say so in today's Gospel passage, but we know that Jesus elsewhere not only tolerates but recommends that we "USE money, tainted though it is" (Lk 16:9). We know too that although Jesus called the rich young man in today's passage to "sell EVERYTHING you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" (Mk 10:21) there were other followers of Jesus, like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, and the group of women who accompanied him, who continued to BOTH have money AND follow Jesus -while using their money to support the Lord Jesus in his work.
The Christian Tradition has always interpreted the call we just heard, the call to the rich young man to give up all his possessions, the Tradition has interpreted this as, on the one hand, a specific vocation addressed to some and not others, an invitation to follow a yet higher away, and, on the other hand, a warning to ALL of us of the danger of loving money: “how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven”.]

Sunday, 4 October 2009

On Contraception, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Mk 10:2-16; Gen 2:18-24
[This is a longer text than the actual sermon preached]

In our Gospel we heard Jesus speak on marriage, speak a hard teaching against divorce. He reminded His hearers that there is a meaning to marriage, the body, and sex, a meaning that pre-exists us, a meaning established at Creation, a meaning that we need to respect and observe if we are to be happy. For the first Christians, that meant living a sexual lifestyle radically different to that of the hedonistic pagan Romans around them. For us, today, it likewise means living a lifestyle different to non-Catholics.
As I said at the start of Mass, I’m going to preach on a matter of sexual morality, and today I want to address one very particular issue: contraception. I don’t know when you last heard a sermon on contraception –possibly never, many older priests have told me how they have had people shout and spit at them for preaching on this, and, understandably, such priests have often fallen silent on this part of the Gospel. But as St Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16-23) -I want to give a few points on the importance of this issue. If you’re going to shout or spit at me please wait until after Mass. The points I want to make are that: First, that sexual morality is a part of the gospel; second, that the Church deserves to be taken seriously about this; third, contraception is bad for you, and is in fact a sin; and finally, that, there is an alternative.

Now first, preaching the gospel involves preaching a way of life, preaching about what is sin and what is not sin. That includes preaching about sexual morality, and this has been the case since the very beginning of the Church, and the Christian way of life was preached to the pagan world that lived a debauched and promiscuous lifestyle completely opposed to Christian morality. Adultery, abortion, and contraception, were all common in the Greek world, but the early Christians preached a different way of life. People sometimes talk about contraception as it was just a modern question, but actually contraception existed in the ancient world. It was less effective and less predictable but the ancient Jews knew about it and knew that it was forbidden to them, the early Christians likewise knew that contraception was something that belonged to pagan morality and was not part of the chastity to Christ calls us to. We can note too that in the ancient world (as in the modern world) contraception and abortion are very much related. Today, the most common form of contraception, i.e. typical modern forms of ‘the pill’, are deliberately designed so that when it fails as a contraceptive it will then act as an abortifacient aborting the young embryo by making it unable to implant in the womb.

My second point, is that the Church deserves to be taken seriously. Over two generations ago, modern contraception seemed new, and those who promoted it thought it would usher in a brave new world. They said the contraception would bring happier marriages, with less family stress, less divorce, less teenage pregnancy, and less abortion, “every child a wanted child". In the midst of these expectations, in 1968 Pope Paul VI warned that contraception would introduce a barrier in the relationship between a husband and wife, would lead to more divorce, more promiscuity, less family stability, and an increase in women being seen as sexual objects. Tragically, it is the Church and not the secular world that has been proved right on this. The fact that two generations on the Church's expectations have been tragically realised and that the ‘brave new world’ has instead been a fractured society, means that the Church deserves to be heard again, and those who promote contraception, the Planned Parenthood, United Nations, or our own government, deserves to be treated with suspicion.

My third point, is that contraception is not only bad for society at a general level, this is bad for individuals, and it is bad for the marriages where it used. What is a disaster at the level of a society may not prove a catastrophe in an individual marriage, but nonetheless that marriage is weakened not strengthened. Divorce statistics show this. American studies, including people of all religions and none, show that while divorce rates among those who use artificial contraception are nearly 50%, divorce rates among those who use various methods of natural family planning between 2 and 4%. These statistics point to a further truth: the Church teaches that artificial contraception is not only bad for you but it is a sin. The higher divorce rate is not a proof in itself, but it is a sign. Divorce is the separation of a husband and wife, and contraception separates things that belong together, things that if they are separated in the marriage act tend to the separation of the whole marriage.

The marital act, namely, sex, is a gift from God, a gift destined to be shared by wife and husband committed to each other in lifelong marriage. In sex two bodies are as fully united as they can be, and this only has its proper context in a relationship where two people are not only bodily united but spiritually and legally united in marriage. The sexual act is not something that a couple invent themselves, rather, it is something they receive as a gift from God, God who planned and made all things. The meaning of sex is a meaning that God has established, and there are two things, two meanings, that God has intertwined in the marital act.
One meaning is union, so that sex both expresses the union of a husband and wife, and fosters that union. But there is another meaning in the marital act, and that meaning is procreation, i.e. that sex is naturally ordered to the creation of new life. So that new life finds its home in a loving embrace. Now, sex does not always lead to new life, but sex always has this as part of what it means, and to directly oppose this is not only to directly oppose new life, but it is to violate the integrity of the marriage act: it violates the meanings that God has written into this act.

My last point, is that there is an effective alternative. 200 years ago, condoms were made of leather -they were immoral then and they are immoral now, but they are more effective now. Half a century ago, the only known method of natural family planning, i.e. approved by the Church, was the rhythm method which assumed that a woman had a regular cycle. The science of fertility awareness has improved, and the accuracy of methods like the Billings Method have improved also. As research you can read yourself on their website indicates,, methods like the Billings Method are 99% effective, a statistic also on the NHS Direct website, which is as good a statistic or better than anything claimed by the pill or implants (though admittedly different NHS websites vary in their reports).

There is a difference between contraception and NFP. In contraception the couple have directly thwarted the procreative meaning of the act; the act they engage in is an altered act. In contrast, when a couple use Natural Family Planning they track the wife’s cycle and fertility and so decide when to abstain and when not to abstain, but when they engage in the marriage act it is a normal act that they are enjoying. The act they enjoy is as God planned and intended it to be.

What contraception does is, it violates the nature of the marital act by forcibly separating two things that the Church says inherently belong to each other in the marital act, namely, the unitive dimension and the procreative dimension. While the unitive and procreative dimensions are not always actualised at the same time for example when the wife is not fertile, forcibly separating these two meanings is different to engaging in the act when one of the two meanings will not be realised.

Returning to natural family planning, i.e. what the church promotes, how is it different to contraception? Well, the Church does indeed teach that there are times when it is right for a couple to not want to have a child, for serious reasons. So, both natural family planning and artificial contraception, both have the same intention of not wishing to have a child right now. But the Church teaches that the two acts are different because contraception changes the act itself, while natural family planning either abstains from the marital act or it engages in a normal unaltered act. A couple who use natural family planning track the wife’s cycle and fertility and so decide when to abstain and when not to abstain, but when they engage in the act it is a normal act that they are enjoying.

Natural family planning is moral because it never directly separates the two meanings the marital act, union and procreation. But not only is it moral, it can also benefit the relationship between a husband and wife. I have repeatedly had men tell me, men in marriages where they have switched from contraception to natural family planning, that it changes how they relate to their wife. It makes them communicate more with their wife, it makes them more sensitive to their wife, as well as the fact that it follows God's law and receives God's blessing. Regular abstinence can introduce discipline and self-mastery, an awareness of the woman's cycle and bodily integrity, and with this a greater consideration for the woman. I make this point because some people say that the church is imposing too great a burden by calling for the regular abstinence that is involved in natural family planning. Well, contraception is also a burden, not least in the higher divorce rates I referred to.

In conclusion, What does all this mean for you today? For many of you, this may simply be a re-affirmation of what you practiced for many years, if so, I hope you don’t object to me preaching to the converted. For others of you, it may be that in hearing what I have said, you might re-examine some of your own practice, either from years gone past, or in the present. For some of you that may mean repenting and going to confession for the past. For others of you, it may mean that now is a good time to find out more at a practical level about what natural family planning involves. We are fortunate in this parish to have a trained teacher in the Billings Method, Valeria Findley-Wilson -if you don't know who she is, then there is a photo of her on the porch notice board. And she’ll be speaking at a parish meeting on this 10th December, 7pm.

I started by noted that the early Christians in ancient Rome realised that they had to follow a sexual lifestyle different to that of the pagan world around them: sexual morality is an integral part of following Christ. There are some people who say the Church should not get involved in the bedroom, but that is like saying that Christ should be involved in one part of my life but not in other parts of my life. However, Christ is ‘Lord’, and He wants to be Lord of all my life, and if He is not Lord of all then He is not Lord at all. And that means He must be Lord of the bedroom too.

The following is a link to the newsletter insert on contraception and natural family planning:

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Harvest Sunday, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

James 5:1-6
Every year our diocese recommends a particular Sunday when we give thanks to God for the harvest, which this year is today.

When we think of what it is that we have to thank God for, I know that there are many of you here who quite understandably feel that you have less to thank God for this year than you did last year: this recession, even if we are now supposedly now coming out of it, this recession has been a tough year for a great many people. It can sometimes be easy to thank God when we are in plenty; but nonetheless, thanking God when we have less can give us a new opportunity to re-focus and purify the thanks that we give. And thanking God is a good thing for at least three reasons: its helps our own happiness, it opposes jealousy, it helps us grow in love and opens us to the needs of our neighbour.

As a basic level, when life is tough, stopping to give thanks to God for the good things we have, is one of the ways that we can remind ourselves that there ARE still some good things in our life, and this can help our general happiness. Thanking God in the midst of difficulty helps lift us out of ourselves and out of self-pity.

Thinking of jealousy, our first reading (Num 11:25-29) and Gospel (Mk 9:38-18) both referred to a specific example of jealousy: and jealousy is when we see somebody else having something good, and instead of being happy that other person, we feel SAD because they have something good, typically because we somehow imagine that their possession is the cause of our lack (as St Thomas Aquinas says in his Summa Theologica, II-II, q36, a1).
Jealousy, however, is a self-defeating vice, it just leads to anger and resentment. And thanking God for the good things that we have is a remedy for jealousy because it turns our eye towards the good things we, rather than spitefully being turned towards the good things others have.

Now, that said, if jealousy is sadness at the holding the good enjoyed by another, there is nonetheless a RIGHTEOUS form of ANGER when we behold somebody selfishly refusing to share their goods with others, or selfishly being the direct reason that someone else does not have things they need. In our second reading, we heard St James warning the rich: He warned the rich that misery was coming to them, coming to them because they had not cared for the poor, they had lived “a life of comfort and luxury", they had stored up an EARTHLY treasure, but for the Day of judgement, "it was a burning fire that you stored as your treasure”. For the rich, giving thanks is also an important remedy for avoiding this "burning fire":

When we thank God, for whatever form of riches we have, we recall that the gifts we have are in fact gifts, they are from Him –even if we have made the most of them and developed them through our hard work. One of the things that means is that they are not just for ourselves. When my little nephews get given gifts at Christmas they need to be reminded that they need to let their other siblings play with them. We, too, as Christians, need to remember that we need to share, and remembering that our gifts ultimately come from God helps remind us that we too must be generous in our giving. We have a collection for various worthwhile agencies both at harvest time and during Lent, but these collections should be part of an ongoing giving in our lives. Having the habit of thanking God is an important way of reminding ourselves of the need to share our gifts –to use our gifts well.

So, I have said that thanking God helps our own happiness by reminding us of the good things we have, it opposes jealousy by turning our eyes away from the envious looking at other people's goods, and it helps us grow in charity by reminding us that the God who gives expects us to give too. But, at one level, these reasons are all secondary: the REAL reason that we need to give thanks to God, and to thank Him for the gifts of the harvest even when our personal form of ‘harvest’ is smaller than we would like, is because all good things come from God and giving thanks is the smallest acts of justice that we owe Him.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Mk 9:30-37
Those of you who've been paying attention to the news this week may well have noticed an illustration of the truth of our Lord's teaching and promise that, "if anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all". I'm not referring to Gordon Brown saying that there will be spending cuts, rather, I am referring to the many news reports, even in the secular media, reports of the tour of the relics of St Therese of Lisieux, known to many of us not by her French ‘Therese’ but as St Teresa of the Child Jesus, or of the little way, or “the little flower”. A good number of us went to one of the smaller places of the relic tour in Taunton, and two weeks ago I preached about venerating relics and the miracles associated with them, but I want to preach today not so much about the relics as about her own life. I want to talk about her glory now on earth, her glory in heaven, & contrast that with her hidden glory while she lived on earth.

Concerning her glory now on earth, St Teresa is quite possibly glorified more than any other saint other than the Blessed Virgin herself. Referring again to the tour of her relics, a number of the news reports noted that the non-stop high paced itinerary of her relics moving made her comparable to a rock star, and the TV images of long lines of faithful pilgrims waiting at the cathedrals for their turn to pass by the casket of her relics gave the same impression. And this phenomenon during her tour through England is typical of the adoring crowds of pilgrims that are devoted to her across the world -if you go to her town of Lisieux in France you will see a MASSIVE basilica built for this small but much loved saint.

Her glory now on earth, however, is very closely related to the glory she now possesses in heaven. One of the reasons that pilgrims flock to her now is that she has been found to be very effective in answering prayers, and this is why miracles are associated with her. While she was still living, the Lord made this known to her, so that she said to one of her sisters, "After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good on earth”. Such a display of heavenly power, even when it comes through one of the saints, such a display of heavenly power can come from only one source: it comes from the Lord. And when the Lord associates the display of heavenly power with one of His saints, then it is a sign to us of the glory that saint now enjoys in heaven.

But there is a deep irony here, because St Teresa who now enjoys glory in heaven, and has that glory reflected in her devotees on earth, that saint enjoyed precious little glory while she lived on earth. She lacked glory because of the many physical sufferings she endured, ultimately, in dying a horrible slow death of tuberculosis. She also lacked glory because of her many emotional sufferings, especially in the childhood trauma she experienced at the early death of her mother, and emotional trauma she never truly recovered from. She is admired as a saint because those who lived with her heard her to complain so rarely, and saw her loving so consistently even while she herself suffered.

Even beyond this, there is a more specific aspect to the hiddenness of her glory while she lived, and that concerns the fact that she tries to hide her good deeds. It concerns her practice of "hidden" acts of kindness. I was reading from her autobiography this week (an autobiography she only wrote because she was commanded to by her superior), and in it she says, "I endeavoured above all to practice little HIDDEN acts of virtue, such as folding the mantles which the Sisters had forgotten". And that small little act is typical of the way of life St Therese lived and calls upon us to live: to be content to do many small hidden acts, to do them because somebody needs to do those acts, and WE can be that somebody.
You and I, when we do good deeds, like to have people thank us having done them, and that means we like to have people see that WE have done this good deed -not somebody else. But when we look at ourselves closely this is easily revealed as false virtue, as vanity. Part of what it means to be, as Jesus put it, "servant of all" means to not care about taking the credit, it means being willing to be hidden.

What we see in St Teresa of Lisieux is that the hiddenness of being good does not last forever. The good God who calls us to be good gives glory in heaven to those who did not care about that glory on earth. He is faithful to his word, "the first will be last, and the last will be first”, and “the meek will inherit the earth”.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

‘Catholicism is Different’ Course

Thursdays, 7-8pm

An eight week course on the distinctive claims of Catholicism: for both enquirers and for Catholics seeking to know more about their Catholic Faith. The course will feature images and PowerPoint screen slides, and will have a 30 minute presentation followed by an opportunity for questions and discussion on the topic of the evening.

8th October: Knowing God: Can we really know God?
15th October: Jesus Christ: Who He claimed to be and What He claimed to do
22nd Oct: The One True Church: Why the Catholic Church is different
[29th October: No meeting (half-term)]
5th Nov: Infallibility: How we know the Truth
12th Nov: Seven Sacraments: Why we need ceremony and liturgy to meet Christ
19th Nov: What is the Eucharist?
[26th Nov: No meeting]
3rd Dec: Sex and Marriage
10th Dec: Why Contraception is a Sin, & how Natural Family Planning is the Alternative

The meetings will be in the St Edward’s church hall, which is accessed through the church entrance at n.51 Salisbury Street.
For more information please see Fr Dylan James, Tel 01747-852125,

Sunday, 13 September 2009

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Mk 8:27-35
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mk 8:34). We just heard Jesus talk about suffering, the cross, being a part of what it means to follow Him. And I want to illustrate this by referring to what the Pope said about his own suffering when he broke his wrist this year.

The Pope, you may recall, fell and broke his wrist on the 17th of July this summer. And he spoke about this in public a couple weeks later [29th July], noting how God had allowed this suffering to come to him. He noted that "my Guardian Angel did not prevent my accident”, but, far from seeing this as a failing on his Guardian’s Angel’s part, he said that his Angel was “certainly following 'superior orders'”, i.e. this is what God had commanded the angel to do. And the Pope went further and speculated as to what might have been God’s reasons for ordering this, perhaps, "to teach me greater patience and humility" and maybe to give him "more time for prayer and meditation."
The Pope, of course, is no fool. And these comments are worthy of a little commentary. Because these comments hold for the suffering that comes in each of our lives too.

First, we can note that the Pope spoke to God ALLOWING suffering to come to him, of his Angel ‘not preventing’ suffering. NOTE: the Pope did NOT say that God directly caused or directly willed the suffering; he did not say that his Guardian Angel tripped him up! And this is a very important point to remember: God does not directly will any suffering, he permits it. Just as he allows us to sin because it’s the only way we can be able to FREELY love, he also allowed suffering to enter the world with Original Sin, and he similarly allows but does not directly cause the suffering that comes our own way.

That said, however, He allows suffering to come to us as part of a carefully measured and directed plan for each of us. He permits suffering to come to us to draw some greater good out of it. The Catechism gives a model for this when it says that the Heavenly Father permitted the death of His own Beloved Son on the Cross, He permitted that act of deicide that was the greatest evil in human history, He permitted it in order to draw the even greater good of the Resurrection out of it.

For ourselves, we can often wonder why God allows the particular crosses that come to each of us. We also wonder why suffering comes to those we love. As long as we live in this world our knowledge is imperfect and, though we know there is a reason, and we know this because Scripture tells us so (“all things work for the good of those who love the Lord” (Rom 8:28)), we don’t know WHAT the particular reason or reasons in our own case are. Of course, we can speculate, just as the Pope speculated as to his own suffering, with the tough benefits he saw coming to him, nonetheless, our speculation is only guesswork. We don’t know the mind of God, even though we know He does have a mind to plan, a heart to care, and the power to work what He plans.

There is a final point I want to make, and that is that the crosses we are called to carry in our following of the Lord who carried His cross, our crosses are not all big ones. A broken wrist is not that big a thing in itself, nonetheless, it is part of God’s plan. There is no detail of our lives that God is not interested in; there is no cross too small to offer it to Jesus. What counts about what we do is the LOVE with which we do it, and what counts about our crosses is how we love while we carry them: how we continue to help others even while we suffer, how we continue to pray for others while we suffer, and how we continue to offer our lives and our very crosses to Jesus while we suffer, offer them as a sacrifice.

Jesus came to this world to re-make it, to make it anew. The road to the Resurrection that He walked was the road that lead to Calvary, to the Cross. If we would be His followers, as He calls us to ‘follow’, then we must go where He went, we must go to Calvary, go with whatever small or big crosses we have. And if we go with the same love He went with then we too will achieve for ourselves and for others our share in the re-creation.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury, Relics

Mk 7:31-37
Two weeks from now the parish is organising a trip to venerate the relics of St Therese of Lisieux. St Therese is not only one of the holiest saints of modern times but one of the most popular; a casket of her bones, her relics, are on tour through England this month and will be in Taunton where we will go to them.
This said, I suspect that some of you here maybe a little wary, if not suspicious, of this Catholic practice of venerating relics. So, I want to say something about them.

The first thing I want to say about them is that they are very Scriptural. A relic is simply defined as something that has been in contact with a saint, and typically something associated with miracles worked through that saint. And we see this in the Bible:
In Acts 19:12 we hear of how handkerchiefs that had been in contact with St. Paul's body were carried to be used to produce miracles. Similarly, St Peter’s shadow healed by its touch. In the Old Testament we also 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 relic of the saints in order to have a miracle.

But there is another thing I want to say about relics, and that is the fact that they are very human. Of our nature: We are physical as well as spiritual, we meet God through physical signs and symbols, and it is only natural that could include physical things like relics. And we might even say of our fallen nature: we seek the sensational, wonders, miracles, etc, and it is only to be expected that God should seek to reach out to us through these things too.

Let me refer to a slightly different example: long after a friend or relative has died, it is a natural thing for us to visit the graves of those whom we love. We know that our loved ones are no longer there, we know that their souls have moved on, but, their graves and their bones remain in THIS world as our natural physical contact point with them, remain as the place where we go to sense closeness with them. And this is natural and good.

And it is no different with the saints. When people want the help of a great saint they go to the place where that saint was buried, or to a place where that saint lived, or, in relics, to things that had contact with that saint -just like people in the Bible wanted contact with the miraculous St Paul by having contact with his handkerchiefs. The point is not that the handkerchief is a particularly significant item, the point is that it had contact with a particularly significant person, a saint.

Finally, why am I saying this today? One reason is to encourage you to join the pilgrimage to venerate St Therese’s relics. More generally, I am saying this to try and remind you that miracles happen today. In today’s gospel text (Mk 7:31-37) we heard one of many many examples of how Jesus worked miracles when he walked in Palestine. And Jesus works miracles today.
We don't know why he does do this miracle and doesn't do that one -just as we don't know why He didn't cure every single person in ancient Palestine.
But we do know that He tells us to approach Him in faith, that miracles normally occur in the context of that deeper healing of the soul that is faith in Him, so that the Gospels tell us that He refused to work miracles in a certain place because of "their lack of faith" (Mt 13:58).
And we know to that He tells us to "ask and you will receive"(Mk 11:9; Mt 21:22, c.f. James 4:3).
And, to come back to the relics, we know that He chooses to associate the granting of His miracles with the places of pilgrimage and the relics of pilgrimage associated with those saints who were close to Him on earth and are now close to Him in heaven, who are close to Him now in heaven because they showed us while they were on earth how we too can be close with Him.

Roman 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.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Communion on the Tongue

Many of you have asked me about the reports in last week’s Catholic newspapers of a rumour that a Church document will soon be recommending that we receive Holy Communion on the Tongue. Let me make a couple observations. First, at a worldwide level, the normal manner of receiving Holy Communion is to receive it on the tongue: England is one of a limited number of countries where the bishops applied for a special dispensation for Communion in the hand to be permitted as an additional option. Second, receiving directly on the tongue is the normal practice because it is the most ancient practice: early Church law documents indicate this was the ancient practice; and Scripture scholars tell us that this is probably how the Apostles received Communion at the Last Supper (i.e. at the first Mass) –ancient Middle Eastern practice had the host of a meal place portions of certain food courses directly into the mouth of his honoured guests. Third, for us today, receiving directly on the tongue is one manner of reminding ourselves that in Holy Communion we are engaging in an act radically different to any other type of feeding we partake in. Holy Communion is not ordinary food, it is the Lord Jesus Himself, the Bread of Life, and it makes sense for us to receive Him differently to how we receive other food. Finally, on a personal note, when I made my First Holy Communion I was taught to do so in the hand: along with most of my generation I was not told that it was even permitted to receive on the tongue! Later, as a teenager, I learnt that Communion on the tongue is actually the norm and my own experience is that I find it to be a more humble and receptive mode of receiving Our Lord. In short, the rumoured new church document is not likely to be saying anything radically new but reminding us of what is already the case: Communion on the tongue is the norm, but in England it is also permitted to receive it in the hand. On a related point, may I point out that you should only receive in the hand if you have two hands free to do so, i.e. if you are juggling a bag or child in your other hand it is more suitable for you to receive on the tongue on that occasion, I hope this makes sense and does not cause offence. Thank you.

From parish newsletter 5th September 2009

Sunday, 30 August 2009

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

Deut 4:1-8, Mk 7:1-23, James 1:17-27
What would you say if someone asked you if you were wiser than the people in society around you? Or, more precisely, rather than claiming to be personally wiser: would you say that you follow a wisdom that is wiser than the secular society around us?
Obviously, this is a fairly bold claim, what many would say is an arrogant claim, but the real issue is not whether such a claim is arrogant or bold but whether it is simply true. And, our Scripture readings today very directly refer to such a claim.

In the book of Deuteronomy we heard Moses challenge the people to compare their "laws and customs", the laws and customs that had been given to them by God, to compare the wisdom of this way of life with that of the pagan cultures around them. As Moses put it, "no other people is as wise and prudent as THIS great nation”. This wisdom, of course, not being their own invention, but having been revealed to them by God. Now, as Christians, we are of the heirs of the moral life revealed by God to His Chosen People to the Jews: the Lord Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, fulfilled and completed the revealing of that way of life by superseding the regulations of the Old Temple while affirming the moral code in the 10 Commandments and others that live it out. This is the great wisdom that we Christians are called to follow.

In the gospel, we heard Jesus denounce the Pharisees. And he denounced them for a very specific offence: they were ranking "human traditions" above the commandments of God. After all, Moses had warned, “add nothing”, “take nothing”. While you and I may not sprinkle ourselves and we return from the marketplace, and may not wash our arms precisely up to the elbow before eating, we too run the risk of placing the "human traditions" of the society around us above the way of life revealed to us by God. Do we adhere to “human tradition” of comfort and gluttony of modern living or do we adhere to the self-denial fasting we seen the saints? Do we adhere to a "human tradition" where an evening without television is almost unthinkable? Do we judge the sexual impurity of what we see on our television screens according to the “human traditions” of 21st-century Britain or do we judge them according to the standard of Christ? Let us not ignore the fact that the list of vices Christ referred to as coming out of man's heart, that list started with "fornication". Do we adhere to a "human tradition" that gives excessive concern to the preservation of a certain image of a middle-class lifestyle?

To be a Christian, just like being a Jew before us, means to live according to different traditions to those in the non-Christian society around us. And it means remembering, as we heard in the letter from St James, that what we have received is not a mere "human" wisdom, but has come "from above", it has been revealed to us by God, in the person of Jesus Christ. And it is precisely because it is "from above" that we need to acknowledge that it is a greater wisdom than that of the secular society around us.

And if we use the test that Moses offered to compare the Christian way of life without the world around us, we should not hesitate to say that it is more "wise". Family stability is best aided by the sexual and personal conduct taught by Christians. Society stability is best aided by being founded on the foundation of stable families. Personal stability is best aided by acknowledging that there is a God above us, that we need to exercise self-control, and we need to put aside love of self in order to love our neighbour and to love God.

So, it is an arrogant claim to Christians to claim to follow a greater wisdom than that of the society around us? No. While it is a bold claim, if Christ is who He says He is, if he is truly God, truly the long-awaited Messiah, then his wisdom must indeed be wiser than the wisdom of this passing Age. The continual challenge to us as Christians is to endeavour to live out the wisdom that we have received, because if we do not live it out then people will not say that Christians as Moses said of the Jewish people of old, “no other people is as wise and prudent as THIS great nation”.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury

We just heard a Scripture passage that many people dismiss, the one from Ephesians where St Paul says that women should "submit "to their husbands. I want to point out that it's DANGEROUS to just dismiss Scripture, even when it's a scriptural passage that is not easy to interpret. It's dangerous to dismiss Scripture because when we divorce ourselves from Scripture we divorce ourselves from one of our primary contact points with God Himself.

Of course, there are many Scripture passages that are difficult to understand. That is as true for me as a priest as much as for anybody else, I need to seek help if I'm to understand them.

When we have a tough text of Scripture the first thing we need to do is admit that it IS tough. And if something is tough to understand we need to seek HELP to understand it. As Catholics, we should understand that there is a Tradition within which the Scriptures were written and within which the Scriptures are to be understood. Similarly, as Catholics, we should understand that it was the authority of the Catholic Church that composed the Bible, and that discerned which books were truly inspired and to be included in the Bible, and which books were not inspired and not to be included in the Bible. And these two factors are what we need for any proper interpretation of the Bible: we need to look to the Tradition and see how the saints have interpreted any tough text of Scripture, and how the great theologians of the Church have understood this text; and, more authoritatively, we need to look to how the teaching authority, the Magisterium, has interpreted and does interpret any particular text of Scripture.

So if we take that approach to this difficult text from Ephesians: We see first, that the original context, its location within the tradition, was as one of what are called "household codes". It was part of a collection of brief exhortations calling on each member of the household to live his or her role and to live it well. As such, these codes where imbedded within the cultural norms of their time, while purifying them of what was hostile to the Gospel.
When we look to how the saints and theologians of the Church down the centuries have interpreted this text we don't see them establishing as permanently normative the pattern of society living and husband-wife models of ancient Ephesus. To take another example from these household codes of St Paul: the saints and theologians long condemned slavery even though it was normal in St Paul’s culture are he referred to it. Similarly with the teaching Magisterium of the Church.
How then has the Church interpreted this text of Ephesians? The primary thrust of this text, in St Paul’s own time and in our own, is to show what the MOTIVATION of the Christian should be in a household –it has to be a CHRSITIAN motivation. i.e. a husband must not only love his wife but love he must love her as the Christian that he is, because he is a Christian, motivated as a Christian, i.e. in that total self-sacrificing love with which Christ loved his Church and died for her. While wives: a wife is similarly to love AS A CHRISTIAN: in that humble and obedient fashion that the Church must love Christ.

Such an interpretation gives a woman a greater dignity then she possessed in the pre-Christian society. And, historically, it is reasonable to claim that such an interpretation is behind those legitimate aspects of the greater dignity afforded to women today. That said, not every aspect of modern feminism is compatible with the Christian Gospel. In particular, those patterns of thought that treat the body as something irrelevant to what we are, those patterns of thought that suggest that all we really are is our minds -such patterns of thought are actually a reversion to pagan pre-Christian thought patterns. The Jewish and Christian revelation from God indicates that while men and women are of equal dignity they are not the same: fathers and mothers complement each other and together form a whole family, man-man “marriages” or woman-woman “marriages” lack the ability to provide a proper parenting context of children. And this truth is also part of how the Tradition and Magisterium have interpreted texts such as this one from Ephesians.

So when we have a difficult text of Scripture, we need to always remember that Scripture is the inspired "Word of God". We need to listen to it and seek to understand it within the Tradition it was written in, the Catholic Tradition, and interpreted by Catholic Magisterium that first told people that this text was inspired, and today tells us how it is to be interpreted.