Septuagesima Evensong

There must always be a relationship between the gift and the recipient – there is no point in giving anyone a treasure he cannot use. A father would not give a boy with no talent for music a Stradivarius violin. Neither will God give to egocentrics those gifts and powers and energies that they never propose to put to work in the transformation of their lives and souls.
Fulton J. Sheen Lift Up Your Heart
The Liturgical Calendar can be something of pain. Thanks to the rather early date of Easter this year, while Christmas and Epiphany are very much still in our minds, and we have yet to celebrate Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady or the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, today we celebrate Septuagesima, or the fact that it is seventy days until Easter, or to put it another way, it is three weeks until we begin Lent, the period of fasting and repentance, akin to Our Lord’s forty days in the desert at the start of the proclamation of the Good News.
            It’s never to early to start to begin thinking about Lent, about fasting, prayer, repentance and good works which should characterise the whole of our lives, but especially as we prepare to celebrate Our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. It is good then that in these weeks leading up to Lent that things assume something of a more penitential character. The simple fact is that all of us as Christians could do better, and we must keep trying so to do, and most importantly that we do this together – encouraging each other, and picking each other up when we fall.
            It is heartening to remind ourselves of this fact when have only just finished the week of prayer for Christian Unity, and on World Holocaust Memorial Day. Humanity is learning that never again should genocide on such a massive scale take place, and that the wounded and divided nature of the Body of Christ, the Church, is not a good thing. In the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel, we see Our Lord praying in Gethsemane that ‘they may all be one as I and the Father are one’. There is to be a unity of will and purpose in the Church, to spread the Good News so that all may believe. The wounds of the last thousand years can no longer disfigure the Bride of Christ, and we have to do all that we can so that in the words of a well-known hymn:
For all thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
make thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
by drawing all to thee, O Prince of Peace;
thus may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.
We are not there yet, and sometimes it can seem as far off as ever, especially when developments are considered which would have the effect of putting off the growing together in love which is Our Lord’s will. It’s sad because generally speaking the Church is quite good at doing what Jesus tells us to do, yet here in the matter of unity we seem happy to disregard Our Lord’s commands as though we know better. It is a manifestation of the sin of pride, that primal sin which causes humanity’s fall, of thinking that we know better than God what is good for us. After thousands of years we still do exactly the same thing – we are still in need of God’s love and mercy, his healing and reconciliation.
            But as Christians we are called to live lives filled with joy which comes from God, and lives characterised by faith, hope, and love. We have to trust the God who made us, and who redeemed us, and let our hearts be filled with his love, and his forgiveness, so that we can grow together and not apart. It’s God’s will after all and it will be done. It may not be in my lifetime, or that of anyone listening to or reading this, but it will come about, despite any efforts to stop it.
            Personally speaking I find that certainty quite encouraging and quite comforting – that things will be alright in the end, and that despite humanity’s best efforts to make a mess of things, through God all things are possible. So in the meanwhile, what are we to do? We are to pray, to encourage one another, and to be joyful in the Lord who giveth us the victory in Our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be sorry for our sins, confessing them, and repenting – turning away from the ways of sin and the world to those of God, and living our new life together in him, fed by his Word and Sacraments, strong in the faith which come to us from the Apostles, eschewing all heresy and schism, in humble trust of the God who loves us and saves us, so that every tongue may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to glory of God the Father, to whom with the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Year C ‘The Joy of the Lord is your strength’

Every person is a precious mystery. An individual cannot be weighed by public opinion; he cannot be measured by his conditionings; he belongs to no-one but himself, and no creature in all the world can penetrate his mystery except the God who made him. The dignity of every person is beyond our reckoning.
Fulton J. Sheen Lift Up Your Heart

January is a time for dieting, for turning away from the excess of Christmas, and so at one level when we hear in this morning’s Old Testament reading ‘Eat the fat and drink sweet wine’ we could be quite concerned. But we are also told to ‘send portions to anyone who has nothing ready’ – to feast then in the Kingdom of God involves everyone eating. In a world where we produce enough food for all to eat and not go hungry, it is good that there is a campaign to put an end to Global Hunger, as this is what the Kingdom of God looks like in action.

In St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians we see what it means to be the Church, the Body of Christ, through our common baptism. We may be different, but we all need one another, and are dependent on one another, a place of unity in, through and with Christ. Looking back on this two thousand later we can see the wounds which mar the Body of Christ and also how they can be healed.

In the Gospels we have seen Our Lord baptised to show the world how to turn away from sin and how to be reconciled with God, we have seen the Kingdom of God come among us in the Wedding at Cana. It is a place of joy, which we cannot understand, like the steward – the best wine has been kept for now, the new wine of the Kingdom, better than we have ever tasted, beyond our expectations and our efforts. We have seen in Our Lady’s word to the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you’ that obedience is the key to new life in Christ.

In this morning’s Gospel we Jesus ‘full of the power of the Spirit’ teaching people, showing them the way, and being glorified by them – they give to God what is due. When he comes to his home town and is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he proclaims ‘good news to the poor’ ‘liberty to captives’ ‘new sight to the blind’ ‘freedom for the oppressed’ and ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’. As He will say in the Sermon on the Mount ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God’. The good news of the Gospel is for those who know their need of God, their spiritual poverty. Those who are slaves to sin can find true freedom in Christ; it allows us to see the world with new eyes, where everyone is our brother and sister, where we can be one in Christ.

‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ we, here, today, have heard this among us, we have come to be fed with Word and Sacrament, to be fed by Christ, with Christ, to have new life in Him, and to share that new life with others, a new life and a freedom which the world cannot give. So let us be fed to have new life in him, to live that life and share it with others, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.

As Christians we are to live lives of joy and love in Christ, and through him, rejoicing in our new life in baptism, in the saving sacrifice of the Cross, in the hope of the Empty Tomb, in our unity in the Body of Christ, so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

A thought for the day from Fulton J. Sheen

“The world may disagree with the Church, but the world knows very definitely with what it is disagreeing. In the future as in the past, the Church will be intolerant about the sanctity of marriage, for what God has joined together no man shall put asunder; she will be intolerant about her creed, and be ready to die for it, for she fears not those who kill the body, but rather those who have the power to cast body and soul into hell.”

The Baptism of the Lord

Though time is too precious to waste, it must never be thought that what was lost is irretrievable. Once the Divine is introduced, then comes the opportunity to make up for losses. God is the God of the second chance …. Being ‘born again’ means that all that went before is not held against us.

Fulton J. Sheen Peace of Soul

The Baptism of Our Lord in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, which we celebrate today, can leave us asking a question: if we are baptised to be born again by water and the Spirit, for our sins to be washed away, and to become part of the Body of Christ, the Church, why is Our Lord, who is without sin, being baptised. He does not need to be, but in being baptised shows us that God is not constrained by necessity. Christ does not need to be baptised, as we do, but does so to show us the way to new life in him.

In Christ’s Baptism we see a God who walks with us, who is not a cold, remote figure; but who, for love of us, comes among us, and is one with us, and who shows us the way to his Father. Christ’s Baptism is an act of obedience to God the Father, an act of humility and of healing and restoration – the work of God in Christ, done for our sake. What began at the Annunciation, and was brought about at the Incarnation, and made manifest to the whole world at the Epiphany, is deepened: the world is invited to share in the saving love of God through baptism.

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus shows humanity the way to the Father, through himself. The world sees the generous love of God, which heals and restores us, from the darkness of the dungeon of sin and evil, to the light and life of the Kingdom of God. As our baptism is a sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so his baptism points to the Cross, where streams of blood and water flow to cleanse and heal the world. We see the love of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the obedience of Son, and all for us, who are so weak and foolish, and who need God’s love and healing, and forgiveness.

We need this, the whole world needs it, but is too proud to turn to a God of love, for fear of judgement, knowing that they deserve to be cut off forever, and yet it is exactly such people, such lost sheep that Our Lord comes to seek, whom he enfolds in his loving arms on the Cross, whom he washes in the waters of baptism, so that all may be a part of him, regardless of whom or what they are, and what they have done. Salvation is the free gift of God and open to all who turn to him.

In our suspicious modern world that gift is spurned and mocked, by those who feel that they can no longer trust the church, or denounce it is as hypocritical, an oppressor of one group or another. To which we can only reply with open doors, open arms, and open hearts – the church may be full of sinners and hypocrites and there’s always room for a few more! God in Christ is nothing if not generous, and so the Church, his body is called to the same generosity of spirit. With the open invitation comes a call to repentance, to a fundamental change of mind, which sees us turn away from sin to God.

Here is where I suspect it gets difficult for humanity, we know that sin is wrong, but we enjoy it, we can soothe our conscience with the fiction that something is not a sin: that it doesn’t hurt or harm us, we can even twist the Gospel to our own ends. But these will not do, because in them we say that we know better than God – the sin of pride, that primal sin which separates humanity from God. This was the problem Christ comes to fix, to heal and restore our nature, through his grace, to feed us with Word and Sacrament that we might share in the life and love of God.

We need to take to heart the words of advice written by St Paul to Titus and the Church in Crete: given that ‘the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11) the Church has to respond to that grace, that free gift of a loving God, by living in a certain way, the Church is there to train us to renounce, to turn our back on ‘ungodliness and worldly passions’ – using our lives and our bodies which fall short of what is expected of us. Notice the word ‘train’: it’s a process, very few people indeed can run a marathon without training; we need help and practice to turn our lives around together, as a community of faith. It takes time, and hard work and love, but it is something which we can do together – people will fail, but can be picked up, and helped to continue, that’s what healing and repentance are all about. It’s about saying ‘we can be better, we can do better together’ if we truly let the love of God into our hearts and turn away from the past and look forward to a future of hope and glory in Christ. So then, let us live out our faith and our baptism together, turning from sin to new life in Christ, and encourage others so to do, so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

The Epiphany of the Lord: Come let us worship

What Christ did in his own human nature in Galilee, he is doing today … in every city and hamlet of the world where souls are vivified by his Spirit. He is still being born in other Bethlehems of the world, still coming into his own and his own receiving him not, still instructing the learned doctors of the law and answering their questions, still labouring at a carpenter’s bench, still ‘[going] about doing good’ (see Acts 10:34–43), still preaching, governing, sanctifying, climbing other Calvaries, and entering into the glory of his Father.

Fulton J. Sheen In the Fullness of Time
The Manifestation of Our Lord to the Gentiles, which the church celebrates today, is a deepening of the splendour of the Incarnation. With the arrival of the Wise Men from the East, the World is told that God is with us. Gentiles are made co-heirs, ‘members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’.

          The promise is made through the words of the prophet Isaiah in this morning’s first reading. The light which is shown by the star which the Wise Men follow is the Light of the World, the true light. Kings and the nations come to its brightness, they come to worship God made man; they come to pay their homage to the Saviour born among them. They come with camels and bringing gold and frankincense to worship their king and their God. They come to a stable in Bethlehem, to kneel before a manger where animals feed, and not to a royal palace, not to a throne. This is what true kingship is, true love, that of God and not of humanity.

          Herod is afraid, he fears for his own position; he worries about power, and commits infanticide to make sure of it. This very human response should stand as a warning to those who wish to follow the ways of the world. Herod clings to power; God becomes a vulnerable baby, dependant on others. Herod can only bring death; Christ comes to bring life and life in all its fullness. Herod says he wants to worship, but it is the Wise Men who kneel before God incarnate and worship Him. They offer gold to honour a king, frankincense to worship God, and myrrh which speaks of His death. At the moment when Christ is made manifest to the world we are to look to the Cross, where the love of God will be shown must fully, and to the tomb in which his body will be laid, which will be empty.

          Likewise as we celebrate the Epiphany we also look forward to Our Lord’s Baptism in the River Jordan and his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. He who is without sin shows humanity how to be freed from sin and to have new life in Him. In turning water into wine we see that the kingdom of God is a place of generous love, a place of joy, and of life in all its fullness.

          So let us be filled with joy and love, may we live lives of joy, and love, and service of God and one another, which proclaim in word and deed the love of God to the world, that it may believe: so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

What it’s all about…

The nature, gender, and function of priests are apparently all up for discussion these days. I suspect people know where I stand and why. I do not wish to comment; all I can offer is the following prayer (taken from a Holy Card). I can only ask you to pray it.

O Jesus, Eternal High Priest, bless abundantly those whom you have called to share Thy Priesthood. You have chosen them apart to continue your work on earth. Daily they offer Holy Mass, they administer the sacraments, they preach, and in all their work they unite us to you. Grant that their conduct may be a pattern of holy living so that hereafter, giving a good account of the stewardship committed to them, they may obtain the reward of everlasting bliss. Amen