Thought for the Day

‘even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.‘ (Mt 20:28)
True Christian greatness is not measured by superiority, but by service: ‘And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant.’ (Mt 20:27) The greatest race on earth is the race that renders the most service to others in the name of God.
Fulton Sheen Love One Another (New York, 1944), 159

A Thought for the Day from Fulton Sheen

As a reflection upon today’s Gospel at Mass:

Clothing therefore tells the story of inner and outer worth. It is a symbol of lost innocence, a memento of former glory. There are therefore two fashions: the passing fashion of the world and the enduring fashion of the spiritual. In the final reckoning it will not matter how we are dressed on the outside; one can go into the Kingdom of Heaven in rags; but it makes an eternity of difference as to how we are dressed on the inside

Fulton J Sheen Life is Worth Living 5th series (1957), 240

A Thought for the Day from Fulton Sheen

[As a commentary on this morning’s Gospel:]

There are three different ways in which we may judge others: with our passions, our reason, and our faith. Our passions induce us to love those who love us; our reason makes us love all people within certain limits; our faith makes us love everyone, including those who do us harm and are our enemies.

Way to Inner Peace, 110

A thought for the Day: Latin’s a Wonderful Thing

In John 18:38 Pontius Pilate asks (in the Vulgate)  ‘quid est veritas‘ (what is truth) and does not stay around for an answer. The answer can be stated as an anagram of the question: ‘est vir qui adest‘ (it is the man who is here). He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. May our Lenten Journey lead us to contemplate the mystery of God’s saving love on the Cross, and may we take up our crosses and follow Him.

Homily for Lent II – Listen to Him

Divinity is so profound that it can be grasped only by the extremes of simplicity and wisdom. There is something in common between the wise and the simple, and that is humility

Fulton J. Sheen, The Eternal Galilean, 21–22
In this morning’s first reading we hear the account of the covenant between God and Abraham: an agreement between the human and the divine in which a promise is made and a relationship is strengthened. The promise is fulfilled in the land of Israel and the offspring of Abraham. It shows us something of what God is and God does – God is faithful, generous, and loving towards us his children, he keeps his promises.
            As men and women it is all too easy to get caught up in questions of national identity, I for one am more than guilty of this, especially during the Six Nations Rugby Championship. We all then need to be reminded of S. Paul’s words in our second reading: ‘Our citizenship is in heaven’. It’s where we really belong, and where we gain our true identity. It is where we can have hope that he will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body – we can dare to hope to share in the fullness of the divine life of love for all eternity. It’s something which should affect our lives here and now. Just like the Christians of Philippi addressed by S. Paul, we too need to ‘stand firm thus in the Lord’: we need to stand firm against the ways of the world, against those who would re-fashion the church after the ways of the world, for we are to be in the world, but not of it – for our citizenship is in heaven, this is where we belong, and what really matters.
            If we turn to this morning’s Gospel we hear an account of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. In it we catch a glimpse of the glory of God, we see things as they really are, and for a moment Jesus’ divinity shines forth. He appears talking with Moses and Elijah, he ‘spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem’. In appearing with Moses and Elijah we see Jesus as the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Just before going up the mountain Jesus has spoken to the disciples, telling them that he will suffer, be rejected, be killed, and raised from the dead. He tells his disciples that if they wish to follow him they have to deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow him. This then is what Lent is all about: denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following Christ. We are to prepare ourselves to follow our Lord and Saviour by imitating him and losing our life for his sake. We pray and we fast to follow his footsteps, to turn away from the things of this world and to remind ourselves that our citizenship is in heaven.
            The glory of God, prefigured by the shining white appearance of Jesus in the Transfiguration points to the moment when the world will see the glory of God displayed most fully upon the Cross, where naked and bloody, scourged, despised, and rejected, Christ is crucified as a blasphemer, an enemy of the people. God will enter into a new covenant with his people, cut in his own flesh, with a sacrifice of himself, for our sins and those of the whole world. This is the fullness of glory and the love of God for humanity. It turns our understanding of glory, and power, and kingship, on their head.
            We too can say like Peter that ‘it is good that we are here’. We come to be fed by God and with God, with word and sacrament, where the sacrifice of Calvary is made present so that we, the people of God, may be fed with his body and blood. We, here, this morning, can behold something of the glory of God in the Mass where Christ gives himself for the life of the world. This is the manna in the wilderness, the bread for the journey of the people of God in the desert of repentance.
            At the moment of Transfiguration a voice comes from a cloud saying ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’ God tells us to listen to Jesus, so that we may be like him. We are to take up our Cross, and in that to learn humility, our need for and reliance upon God and God alone, to glimpse his love and glory on the Cross and to fashion our lives after him, and live out our faith in the world, so that it may believe and give glory to 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

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

When St Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying ‘Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria.’ When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried to the city. When he had found the tanner …. he said to him, ‘Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you.’
He replied, ‘I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of the city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds while I will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart.’
When St Antony heard this he said, ‘My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near to the measure of such words.’
It is a very human failure, for far too often we make things far too complicated when all we need to do is to keep things simple. In the story from the Desert Fathers, which we have just heard, St Antony, the founder of monasticism, a great and a holy man, is put to shame by a man who spends his days treating animal skins. The key to it all is the tanner’s humility, his complete absence of pride, and his complete and utter trust in God – his reliance upon him alone.
In this morning’s Gospel we see Our Lord going into the desert for forty days. He goes to be alone with God, to pray and to fast, to prepare himself for the public ministry of the Proclamation of the Good News, the Gospel.
As he comes out of this he is tempted by the devil: he faces temptation just like every human being, but unlike us, he resists. The devil tempts him to turn stones into bread. It is understandable – he is hungry, but it is a temptation to be relevant, which the church seems to have given into completely: unless we what we are and what we do and say is relevant to people, they will ignore us.
There is the temptation to have power, symbolised by worshipping the devil. It leads to the misuse of power. The church stands condemned for the mistakes of the past, but in recognising this there is the possibility of a more humble church in the future – reliant upon God and not on the exercise of power.
There is the temptation to put God to the test – to be spectacular and self-seeking. Whenever we say ‘look at me’ we’re not saying ‘look at God’.
Jesus resists these temptations because he is humble, because he has faith, and because he trusts in God. It certainly isn’t easy, but it is possible. It’s far easier when we do this together, as a community, which is why Lent matters for all of us. It’s a chance to become more obedient, and through that obedience to discover true freedom in God. It’s an obedience which is made manifest on the Cross – in laying down his life Jesus can give new life to the whole world. He isn’t spectacular – he dies like a common criminal. He has no power, he does not try to be relevant, he is loving and obedient and that is good enough.
It was enough for him, and it should be for us. As Christians we have Scripture and the teaching of the Church, filled with his Spirit, to guide us. We can use this time of prayer and fasting to deepen our faith, our trust, our understanding, and our obedience, to become more like Jesus, fed by his word and sacraments – to become more humble, more loving, living lives of service of God and each other, so that the world may believe and give glory to 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

Homily for Ash Wednesday Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 ‘Rend your Hearts and not your Garments’

Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, ‘the beginning of her Lenten journey towards Easter. The entire Christian community is invited to live this period of forty days as a pilgrimage of repentance, conversion and renewal. In the Bible, the number forty is rich in symbolism. It recalls Israel’s journey in the desert: a time of expectation, purification and closeness to the Lord, but also a time of temptation and testing. It also evokes Jesus’ own sojourn in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, a time of profound closeness to the Father in prayer, but also of confrontation with the mystery of evil. The Church’s Lenten discipline is meant to help deepen our life of faith and our imitation of Christ in his paschal mystery. In these forty days may we draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example, and conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism. For the whole Church may this Lent be a time of grace in which God leads us, in union with the crucified and risen Lord, through the experience of the desert to the joy and hope brought by Easter.’[1]

Fasting, repentance, prayer, and the imposition of ashes were not unknown to Jews; that is why we as Christians carry on the tradition.  The advice given by the prophet Joel in today’s first reading is both wise and salutary as we enter the desert of Lent. It reminds us that, first and foremost, we are to recognise our own brokenness, our own sinfulness, our own turning away from a God of Love and Mercy. While we may recognise this, any outward sign is not good enough. There is nothing that we can do in a solely exterior fashion – ripping our clothes, placing ashes upon our foreheads, which will, in itself, make a blind bit of difference. What matters, where it really counts, is on the inside. To rend one’s heart, is to lay ourselves open, to make ourselves vulnerable, and in this openness and vulnerability, to let God do his work.

        It would be all too easy when faced with today’s Gospel to argue that outward displays of fasting, piety, and penitence, are criticised, that they do notmatter. But this is not what Jesus is getting at. What he criticises are deeds which are done to comply with the letter but not the spirit of the law. This mechanised approach to piety, a clinging to the external nature of religion, without any concern for its inward spiritual aspect, is where the fault lies. When things are done for show, when our piety is paraded as performance, so that the world may see how good and religious we are, then we are nothing but an empty shell, a whitened sepulchre. The reward which such people receive is likewise an empty one.
        Instead, Jesus upholds the standard practice of Jewish cult, but what matters is that what is done outwardly is completely in accordance with our interior life, it is an outward manifestation of our relationship with God and with one another. So Lent is to be a time when we as Christians are to seek to be reconciled, to be in full communion with God and his church. Our outward acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving need to be done in tandem with, rather than instead of, paying attention to our interior life: otherwise our efforts are doomed to failure. The God whom we worship is one of infinite love and mercy, which will be demonstrated most fully and perfectly on Good Friday, when we see what that love means, when for our sake God made him who was without sin into sin, so that we in him might become the goodness of God. Or as St Isaac puts it ‘as a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God.’ As dreadful as we might be, as utterly undeserving of the father’s love, nonetheless, as the parable of the prodigal son shows us, there are no lengths to which God will not go. The love and mercy which flows from Jesus’ stricken side upon the cross at Calvary are still being poured out over the world, and will continue to be so until all is reconciled in him. In his commission of Peter after his resurrection, Jesus entrusts to his church the power to forgive sins, to reconcile us to one another and to God. This reconciliation is manifested by our restoration to communion with God and his Church.
It is not the most comfortable or pleasant thing to see ourselves as we really are. To stand naked in front of a full length mirror is for most of us, I suspect, not the most pleasant experience. And yet, such a self-examination is as nothing when compared with us baring our heart and soul. It is not a pleasant task, but given that God will judge us in love and mercy, having taken away our sins upon the cross, despite our apprehension we have nothing to fear. All that awaits us is the embrace of a loving father. No matter how many times we fail, how many times we would run away or reject his love, his arms, like those of his son upon the cross, remain open to embrace the world, to heal the wounds of sin and division.
If there are any of you determined to live a more Christian life, there is one resolution you need to make which is, out of all proportion, more important than the rest. Resolve to pray, to receive the sacraments, to shun besetting sins, to do good works – all excellent resolutions; but more important than any of these is the resolution to repent. The more resolutions you make, the more you will break. But it does not matter how many you break so long as you are resolute not to put off repentance when you break them, but to give yourself up to the mercy which will not despise a broken and a contrite heart. Converted or unconverted, it remains true of you that in you, that is, in your natural being, there dwells no good thing. Saints are not people who store goodness in themselves, they are just a people who do not delay to repent, and whose repentances are honourable.[2]
So then, may this Lent be for us all a time of repentance, a time for us to turn away from all which separates us from God and neighbour, a time for reconciliation, for healing and growth, that the faith which we profess may grow in our souls and be shown forth in our lives to give Glory to God the Father, to whom with God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever

[1]H.H. Pope Bendict XVI Catechesis at the General Audience 22.ii.12:
[2]Farrer (1976) The Brink of Mystery (ed. C. Conti), 17, quoted in Harries, R. (ed.) (1987) The One Genius: Readings through the year with Austin Farrer, London: SPCK, 60.