An Easter Thought for the Day from Metropolitan Anthony

The joy of the resurrection is something which we, too, must learn to experience, but we can experience it only if we first learn the tragedy of the cross. To rise again, we must die. Die to our hampering selfishness, die to our fears, die to everything which makes the world so narrow, so cold, so poor, so cruel. Die so that our souls may live, may rejoice, may discover the spring of life. If we do this then the resurrection of Christ will have come down to us also.
            But without the death on the cross there is no resurrection, the resurrection which is joy, the joy of life recovered, the joy of the life that no one can take away from us any more! The joy of a life which is superabundant, which like a stream runs down the hills, carrying with it heaven itself reflected in its sparkling waters.
            The resurrection of Christ is reality in history as his death on the cross was real, and it is because it belongs to history that we believe in it. It is not only with our hearts but with the totality of our experience that we know the risen Christ. We can know him day after day as the Apostles knew him. Not the Christ of the flesh, but the ever-living Christ. The Christ of the spirit of whom St Paul speaks, the risen Christ who belongs to time and eternity because he died once upon the cross but lives for ever.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Meditations on a Theme (Mowbrays, 1972) 119–20 [adapted]

Good Friday

The green tree was Christ himself; the dry tree the world. He was the green tree of life transplanted from Eden; the dry tree was Jerusalem first, and then the unconverted world. If the Romans so treated him who was innocent, how would they treat the Truth that is in his Church; in an uneasy conscience perhaps he beckoned you to his confessional; in a passing prayer he called you to greater prayerfulness….You accepted the truth, you confessed your sins, you perfected your spiritual life, and lo! in those moments when you thought you were losing everything, you found everything; when you thought you were going into your grave, you were walking in the newness of life….The antiphon of the Empty Tomb was striking on the chords of your heart. It was not you who died; it was sin. It was not Christ who died it was death.
Fulton J. Sheen The Eternal Galilean
So much of the action of this week has taken place so that Scripture may be fulfilled. What God told the people of Israel through his prophets comes about in His Son’s death. It shows us in the clearest possible way that what we see in the prophetic descriptions is true.
          If the truth be told, the suffering, the rejection, torture, and death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, is beyond our understanding. We stand silent before the Cross, unable to take the cruelty, the horror and the profound beauty of it. It is a mystery, the mystery of God’s love: an act of loving service, the power of silent love overcoming a world of political scheming, deception, self-interest and sin. The chief priests and elders can only think of a threat to earthly power; they fail to see that here, now, is the salvation for which they long. That God’s own son should come from heaven and die to save a sinner like you or me is extraordinary. We are shown today in the clearest possible terms how much God loves us: that there is no length to which he will not go to save us, to embrace us his prodigal children. The chief priests and elders think that they’re ridding themselves of an heretic, a potential troublemaker, a fool who claims to be the son of God and King of Israel. When Pilate asks “Quid est Veritas – What is Truth?” he does not wait for an answer, or understand that the source of all truth, the word of God incarnate, is stood in front of him: ‘est vir qui adest – it is the man who is present, who is standing in front of him’. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of the whole world.
After scourging him the soldiers put a purple robe around our Lord, they crown him with thorns, and give him a reed for a sceptre. They think they’re being clever and funny: they’re having a laugh, mocking a man about to be executed, but thisis God showing the world what true kingship is: it is not pomp, or power, the ability to have one’s own way, but the Silent Way of suffering love. It shows us what God’s glory is really like: it turns our human values on their head and inaugurates a new age, according to new values, and restores a relationship broken by human sin.
          In being raised upon the Cross, our Lord is not dying the death of a common criminal, but rather reigning in glory – the glory of God’s free love given to restore humanity, to have new life in him. His hands and feet and side are pierced, as wounds of love, to pour out God’s healing life upon the world. In his obedience to the Father’s will, he puts to an end the disobedience of humanity’s first parent. Here mankind who fell because of a tree are raised to new life in Christ through his hanging on the tree.  Christ is a willing victim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Silent lamb led to his slaughter, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep that have gone astray. At the time when the Passover lambs are slaughtered in the temple, upon the Altar of the Cross, Christ as both priest and victim offers himself as the true lamb to take away the sins of the whole world, offers his death so that we may have life, new life in Him.
          Death and hell, the reward of sin, have no power over us: for in dying, and being laid in a stranger’s tomb, Christ will go down to Hell, to break down its doors, to lead souls to heaven, to alter the nature of the afterlife, once and for all. Just when the devil thinks he’s won, then in his weakness and in his silence Christ overcomes the world, the flesh, and the devil. The burden of sin which separates humanity from God is carried on the wood of the Cross.
On the way to Calvary our Lord falls three times such is the way, such was the burden, so we too as Christians, despite being reconciled to God by the Cross, will fall on our road too. We will continue to sin, but also we will continue to ask God for his love and mercy. But those arms which were opened on the cross will always continue to embrace the world with God’s love.
We don’t deserve it, that’s the point, but it is there to help us become the people God wants us to be: to be strengthened, fed, healed, and restored by him: to die to sin and be raised to new life, and to share that life and love with others, that the world might believe and be saved through him. Christ pays the debt which we cannot to reconcile humanity to his loving and merciful Father. He shows us the meaning of true love: that we might live it out in our lives, forgiving one another, bearing our own cross, and living lives of love for love of him who died for love of us.
          We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life, and our resurrection, through him we are saved and made free.

Feria V in Cena Domini – The Mass of the Lord’s Supper: Exod. 12:1-8; ICor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

Since our Divine Lord came to die, it was fitting that there be a Memorial of his death. Since he was God, as well a man, and since he never spoke of his death without speaking of his Resurrection, should he not himself institute the precise memorial of his own death? And this is exactly what he did the night of the Last Supper….His memorial was instituted, not because he would die and be buried, but because he would live again after the Resurrection. His Memorial would be the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets; it would be one in which there would be a Lamb sacrificed to commemorate spiritual freedom; above all it would be a Memorial of a New Covenant…a Testament between God and man.
Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ
My brothers and sisters, we have come together on this most holy night to enter into the Mystery of Our Lord’s Passion: to be with him in the Upper Room and in the garden of Gethsemane, and to prepare to celebrate his suffering and death – to behold the glory of the Lord and his love for the world he created and came to save.
          Obedient to the Old Covenant, Our Lord and his disciples prepare to celebrate the Passover: the mystery of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt to the new life in the Promised Land. While they are at table Our Lord lays aside his outer garments and takes a basin and a towel and washes the Apostles’ feet. He then says to them ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’ (Jn 13:12–16 ESV) God who created the universe and who will redeem it kneels and washes the feet of sinful humanity. This is true love in action. Only having done this can Jesus say ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’(Jn 13:34–35 ESV) What he says to his disciples he says to us here tonight. As Christians we are to love him and one another, we are to show this love in all that we say, or think, or do, so that the world may believe.
          Christ then takes bread and wine and blesses them and gives them to his disciples. Again, this would look and feel like the Passover celebration to which they were accustomed. Except that before he broke and distributed the bread he said ‘Take, Eat. This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And before the Cup was distributed he said ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ He feeds his disciples with his own body and blood to strengthen them, to show them what he is about to do for love of them and of the whole world. When, earlier in his public ministry, he has fed people he taught them in the synagogue at Capernaum ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.’ (Jn 6:52–7 ESV). ‘Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, ….  just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God’ [Dix The Shape of the Liturgy 744] Our Lord institutes the Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, to feed us, to nourish us, so that we may become what he is, that we may have a foretaste of heaven and the divine life of love, of the beatific vision of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Holy, Eternal and Consubstantial Trinity. It re-presents, it makes present again, here and now, the sacrifice of Calvary, where upon the Altar of the Cross, as both priest and victim, Christ sacrifices himself for the sins of the whole world. He is the Lamb of God, foreshadowed in the ram offered by Abraham and Isaac, in the bread and wine offered by Melchisedek. In the blood and water which will flow from his side we are washed and creation is renewed. Christ gives the Church the Eucharist so that his saving work may continue, so that people may be given a pledge and token of their eternal life in him.
          Christ sets apart his disciples so that they may be priests of the new covenant in his blood, so that they may continue to share in the offering of himself for their sins and those of the whole world. They are washed, and fed, and taught – prepared for the work of the Gospel: spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and feeding his faithful with his body and blood. They are told to do this and they still do. Never have such words and actions had such a profound effect in all of human history. This is the glory of God: in transforming bread and wine into his very self for the life of the whole world – a sign of love and a pledge and foretaste of eternal life. This is love that we can touch and feel and taste – given for us so that we might have life in him.
So let us come to him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, healed and restored by Him, through the sacraments of the Church, his body, so that we may be prepared to share in his Passion and Death and to celebrate with joy the triumph of His Paschal victory, so that we and all the earth may give praise 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

Catechetical Easter Homily ascribed to John Chrysostom [PG 59:721-4]

Εἴ τις εὐσεβὴς καὶ φιλόθεος, ἀπολαυέτω τῆς καλῆς ταύτης πανηγύρεως· εἴ τις δοῦλος εὐγνώμων, εἰσελθέτω χαίρων εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου αὐτοῦ· εἴ τις ἔκαμενηστεύων, ἀπολαβέτω νῦν τὸ δηνάριον· εἴ τις ἀπὸ πρώτης ὥρας εἰργάσατο, δεχέσθω σήμερον τὸ δίκαιον ὄφλημα· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν τρίτην ἦλθεν, εὐχαριστῶν ἑορτάσῃ· εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν ἕκτην ἔφθασε, μηδὲν ἀμφιβαλλέτω· καὶ γὰρ οὐδὲν ζημιοῦται· εἴ τις ὑστέρησεν εἰς τὴν ἐννάτην, προσελθέτω μηδὲν ἐνδοιάζων· εἴ τις εἰς μόνην ἔφθασε τὴν ἑνδεκάτην, μὴ φοβηθῇ τὴν βραδυτῆτα. Φιλότιμος γὰρ ὢν ὁ Δεσπότης δέχεται τὸν ἔσχατον, καθάπερ καὶ τὸν πρῶτον· ἀναπαύει τὸν τῆς ἑνδεκάτης,ὡς τὸν ἐργασάμενον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης· καὶ τὸν ὕστερον ἐλεεῖ, καὶ τὸν πρῶτον θεραπεύει· κἀκείνῳ δίδωσι, καὶ τούτῳ χαρίζεται. Καὶ τὴν πρᾶξιν τιμᾷ, καὶ τὴν πρόθεσιν ἐπαινεῖ. Οὐκοῦν εἰσέλθητε πάντες εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν, καὶ πρῶτοι καὶ δεύτεροι τὸν μισθὸν ἀπολάβετε, πλούσιοι καὶ πένητες μετὰ ἀλλήλων χορεύσατε, ἐγκρατεῖς καὶ ῥᾴθυμοι τὴν ἡμέραν τιμήσατε, νηστεύσαντες καὶ μὴ νηστεύσαντες εὐφράνθητε σήμερον. Ἡ τράπεζα γέμει, τρυφήσατε πάντες· ὁ μόσχος πολὺς, μηδεὶς ἐξέλθοι πεινῶν. Πάντες ἀπολαύσατε τοῦ πλούτου τῆς χρηστότητος. Μηδεὶς θρηνείτω πενίαν· ἐφάνη γὰρ ἡ κοινὴ βασιλεία· μηδεὶς ὀδυρέσθω τὰ πταίσματα· συγγνώμη γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ τάφου ἀνέτειλε· μηδεὶς φοβείσθω τὸν θάνατον· ἠλευθέρωσε γὰρ ἡμᾶς ὁ τοῦ Σωτῆρος θάνατος· ἔσβεσεν αὐτὸν ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ κατεχόμενος· ἐκόλασε τὸν ᾅδην κατελθὼν εἰς τὸν ᾅδην· ἐπίκρανεν αὐτὸν γευσάμενον τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ. Καὶ τοῦτο προλαβὼν Ἡσαΐας ἐβόησεν· Ὁ ᾅδης, φησὶν, ἐπικράνθη. Συναντήσας σοι κάτω ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ καθῃρέθη· ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ ἐνεπαίχθη. Ἔλαβε σῶμα, καὶ Θεῷ περιέτυχεν· ἔλαβε γῆν, καὶ συνήντησεν οὐρανῷ· ἔλαβεν ὅπερ ἔβλεπε, καὶ πέπτωκεν ὅθεν οὐκ ἔβλεπε. Ποῦ σου, θάνατε, τὸ κέντρον; ποῦ σου, ᾅδη, τὸ νῖκος; Ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ σὺ καταβέβλησαι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ πεπτώκασι δαίμονες· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ χαίρουσιν ἄγγελοι· ἀνέστη Χριστὸς, καὶ νεκρὸς οὐδεὶς ἐπὶ μνήματος. Χριστὸς γὰρ ἐγερθεὶς ἐκ νεκρῶν, ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἐγένετο· αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.  
If anyone is a devout lover of God, let them rejoice in this beautiful radiant feast. If anyone is a faithful servant, let them gladly enter into the joy of their Lord. If any are wearied with fasting, let them now reap their reward. If any have laboured since the first hour, let them receive today their just reward. If any have come after the third hour, let them celebrate the feast with thankfulness. If any have arrived after the sixth hour, let them not doubt, for they will sustain no loss. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let them not hesitate but draw near. If any have arrived at the eleventh hour, let them not fear their lateness. For the Master is gracious and welcomes the last no less than the first. He gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour just as kindly as those who have laboured since the first hour. The first he fills to overflowing: on the last he has compassion. To the one he grants his favour, to the other pardon. He does not look only at the work: he looks into the intention of the heart. Enter then, all of you, into the joy of your Master. First and Last, receive alike your reward. Rich and poor dance together. You who have fasted and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it. The fatted calf is served: let no-one go away hungry. Come all of you, share in the banquet of faith: draw on the wealth of his mercy. Let no-one lament their poverty; for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no-one weep for their sins; for the light of the forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no-one fear death; for the death of the Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed death by undergoing hell. He has despoiled hell by descending into hell. Hell was filled with bitterness when it tasted his flesh, as Isaiah foretold: ‘Hell was filled with bitterness when it met you face-to-face below’ – filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing; filled with bitterness, for it was mocked; filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown; filled with bitterness, for it was destroyed; filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains. It received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven. It received what it saw, and was overpowered by what it did not see. O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns in freedom. Christ is risen, and the grave is emptied of the dead. For Christ being raised from the dead has become the first-fruits of those who sleep. To him be glory and dominion to the ages of ages. Amen.

Wednesday in Holy Week Isa 50:4–9; Mt 26:14–25

Our Lord described himself as having a baptism wherewith he was to be baptized. John gave him the baptism of water, but the Roman soldiers have him his baptism of blood. After opening his sacred flesh with violent stripes, they now put on him a purple robe which adhered to his bleeding body. Then they plaited a crown of thorns which they placed on his head. They mocked him and put a rod in his hand after beating him on the head. Then they knelt down before him in feigned adoration.
Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ
In today’s first reading we hear ‘I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.’ (Isa 50:6 ESV) The suffering servant’s treatment points forward to Our Lord’s mistreatment at the hands of Roman soldiers and the crowd on his way to Calvary. It is brutal and unpleasant, even more so when we consider that He had preached and lived God’s love and healing and forgiveness. We see God incarnate mocked and physically abused by those he came to save. Nowadays the Church, certainly in this land, faces less scorn, hatred, and violence than elsewhere, but far more indifference, which is worse in many ways. People have grown cold to the message of love, and prefer to ignore it, safely cosseted in a cocoon of materialism, obsessed with self – spiritually empty and miserable.
          In the Gospel we see Judas is still concerned with material things, having criticised the reckless generosity of Mary’s anointing Jesus’ feet, he now goes to the chief priests and asks them ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ (Mt 26:15 ESV). These are words for the church: we still have modern-day Judases willing to betray our Lord, his Gospel and his Church for the sake of ambition and advancement. Perhaps a pointy hat is today’s thirty pieces of silver, and too many in the church follow Judas in preferring the ways of the world to those of God. But we must follow Our Lord’s example and love them. This is after all what we are preparing to celebrate: the fact that the love of God can be ignored and rejected but never overcome – in Christ the victory of the Cross is complete and absolute, it restores our relationship with God and each other and allows us to live in a community of love, close to God, fed by him, with him, healed and restored by him, prepared for and given the hope of heaven where we may enjoy eternity in the presence of the Trinity.
          In Christ we see a life lived not for self, not to acquire wealth, or status, or power, but lived for others – to share with them the love of God, to heal and restore them – offering them an alternative to the ways of the world with its selfishness, its greed, the desire for power and domination. Instead, he offers humble service and power shown in weakness – this is the power of God to transform the world. This is what the Church is called to follow and live out in the world – a life of self-giving, sacrificial love – this is what we are called to in our baptism, that we may embody and live out the faith which we profess to help transform the world. We need to be reminded of it, day by day and year by year because the Church has to remain true to her calling to help share the love of God with the world around us, so that it may believe and be transformed after the likeness of our crucified and risen Saviour. After nearly two thousand years we have not got there yet, but we still press on, changing the world one soul at a time, confident in the victory and the saving love of him who died and rose again for us.
 So let us come to him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, healed and restored by Him, through the sacraments of the Church, his body, so that we may be prepared to celebrate with joy the triumph of His Paschal victory, so that we and all the earth may give praise 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

Tuesday in Holy Week Isa 49:1–9; Jn 13:21–38

Every unhappy soul in the world has a cross embedded in it. The cross was never meant to be on the inside, but only on the outside. When the Israelites were bitten by the serpents, and the poison seeped within, Moses planted a brazen serpent on a stick and all who looked on it were healed…. So the Son of Man came in the likeness of man, but was without sin, and all who look upon him on his cross are saved. In like manner, the inner cross disappears when one catches a vision of the great outer Cross on Calvary.
Fulton J. Sheen Peace of Soul
The last twelve months have seen plenty of glory in the media and the world around us: we’ve had triumphs in the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, even Swansea City have won a cup! There has been much in human endeavour to celebrate, but when we turn to today’s Gospel we hear Our Lord speaking: ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and glorify him at once.’ These words are spoken by Our Lord just after Judas has left to go and betray him. It’s a pretty funny idea of glory, certainly compared to how the world understands glory. As the servant spoken of by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading, his mouth is like a sharp sword, he is made a polished arrow, with a sharpness that can cut through the indifference and ignorance of the world. He is the light of the nations, a light which the darkness cannot overcome, which shines so that God’s salvation may reach to the end of the earth. The Church has its part to play in helping this to come about, but the work is Christ’s: he is the way, the truth, and the life.
The glory of which Christ speaks is that of his Passion and Death. Unlike the bronze serpent which cured the Israelites, Jesus will be lifted up to save all humanity, to restore their relationship with God and each other, to give them eternal life. Worldly glory, like the shouts of joy on Palm Sunday, is a passing thing. True glory, the glory of God, who is the source of all glory, is something quite different. In the Prologue to John’s Gospel, read on Christmas day, we hear ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ (Jn 1:14 ESV) We behold God’s glory in Christ not just in his Incarnation, but most fully in his Passion, and Death, and Resurrection.
Today’s gospel has Our Lord at Supper with his disciples. He gives the morsel to Judas: a sign of honour, a sign of love which defies our understanding. It ends with a sign that to follow Jesus is to carry our own cross and go to Calvary. It’s quite stark, quite uncompromising, and quite true. The Church is called to imitate the mystery which it celebrates: it is costly and difficult. To follow Christ means to go to the Cross, because only here can we see the depth of God’s love for us.
Here we see love: true, unconstrained, given regardless of the cost. Only through such free love can the wounds of the world be healed: this is the balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. This is true glory: the glory of God’s reconciling and healing love poured out on the world as it flows like blood and water from his stricken side. So let us come to him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, healed and restored by Him, through the sacraments of the Church, his body, so that we may be prepared to celebrate with joy the triumph of His Paschal victory, so that we and all the earth may give praise 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

Monday in Holy Week – Isa 42:17; Jn 12:1-11

Many a cross we bear is of our own manufacture; we made it by our sins. But the cross which the Saviour carried was not his but ours. One beam in contradiction to another beam was the symbol of our will in contradiction to his own. To the women who met him on the roadway, he said: ‘Weep not for me.’ To shed tears for the dying Saviour is to lament the remedy; it were wiser to lament the sin that caused it. If Innocence itself took a Cross, then how shall we who are guilty complain against it?

Fulton J. Sheen The World’s First Love

The Suffering Servant spoken of by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading has always been understood by the Church as a prophesy which points to and finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He is the chosen one in whom God delights, filled with his Spirit, who will bring forth God’s justice to the nations. We must always remember that God’s idea of justice is not ours. If it were, we would not be preparing to celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, only the condemnation of sinful humanity – there could be no such thing as hope.
                Christ, then, is a light to the nations, who will open the eyes of the blind, and free captives from prison, they will be freed from darkness by the light of the World. He frees humanity from the prison of sin, setting us free to have life in all its fullness. He is given as a new covenant in his blood to restore the relationship between humanity and God. In what he is and does we will see God’s Glory: the glory of love and absolute gift: extravagant, risky, costly.
                Those people who are forever saying that the Church must sell all its gold and silver need to remember that when they say this they are speaking the words of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Our Lord and Saviour. The care of the poor and the needy is and will always be an important part of the Church, but social justice is not the whole of the Gospel. The Church wears beautiful vestments and uses precious metal because what it is and does is important: we wouldn’t ask people to wear wooden or ceramic wedding rings, after all. No, in today’s Gospel we see a picture of risky and costly generosity in the love and care which Mary shows for Jesus, her Lord and Saviour, which reinforces what Jesus will do for the world on Good Friday: it is the most costly and extravagant gesture there could be, which costs something which money cannot buy, and for the sake of you, and me, and all humanity! In this version of justice the judge sentences himself the death penalty instead of condemned humanity, so that we might be free.
                In taking the risk to defy convention, to be costly, risky and extravagant, not caring what the world thinks, putting aside the mundane concerns of Judas, Mary shows what it is to love and follow Jesus. She responds to the source of all love and generosity by preparing Him for his death and burial. She anticipates the act of generous love and shows the Church how it too should take risks and be extravagant in its service of Our Lord and Saviour, so that we too may share in his work of reconciling and healing humanity, anointing it with the love of God.
                The religious authorities are troubled by what has gone on: they see people following Jesus as a threat to their own power and control and they want to stop this at all costs. They stand for fear and hatred and dominance, as opposed to the freedom, and love, and new life of the Gospel. They cannot put a stop to the movement: the more they persecute the stronger it becomes because it trusts in the God who loves and who saves. It is a lesson which the repressive regimes of this world have yet to learn in the past two thousand years. It is a light which cannot be extinguished, a love which casts out fear whereby we are freed to serve the God who loves us and saves us.
Let us rejoice in this as we are fed by Word and Sacrament, strengthened to live God’s life in the world, proclaiming his truth and his victory, so that all humanity may believe and praise 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 Palm Sunday 2013

If anyone asks you why you are untying it [the ass the disciples were sent to find], this must be your answer, ‘The Lord has need of it’ (Lk 19:31). Perhaps no greater paradox was ever written than this – on the one hand the sovereignty of the Lord, and on the other hand his ‘need’. His combination of Divinity and dependence, of possession and poverty was a consequence of the Word becoming flesh. Truly, he who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we might become rich. Our Lord borrowed a boat from a fisherman from which to preach; he borrowed barley loaves and fishes from a boy to feed a multitude; he borrowed a grave from which he would rise; and now he borrows an ass on which to enter Jerusalem. Sometimes God preempts and requisitions the things of man, as if to remind him that everything is a gift from him.
Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ
Pomp and ceremony seem to have been at the top of the agenda of late: in a week which saw the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis and the Installation of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, this is hardly surprising. As triumphant entries go, the one we see in the Gospel this morning is a bit strange: generally speaking, we are used to kings riding on horses, looking like powerful military leaders. Here we see something different, something which defies our expectations and which stops us seeing things in purely human terms.
          There are people who would ask, why all this fuss? Would Jesus have wanted it, would he want us to be carry on with it? If it were something which would not want us to do he would have said so. He did it because it was important, because it fulfilled prophesy and because liturgy is an important thing in and of itself: it marks out various things as special and helps us understand both who and what we are and what we do – it forms both habit and indeed our moral character.
          The crowd cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 21:9 ESV) They cry out for God to save them, and that is exactly what he will do in a few days time, upon the Cross. This is a God who keeps his promises and defies our expectations. The crowd are expecting a king of the Davidic line, which would be seen as a challenge to the ruling elite, the status quo, but in Christ God gives Israel a King of the line of David forever. Those with power are threatened by him: he is awkward, an inconvenience. Jesus does not want their power, as he has come to be and do something completely different: what is taken as a political coup is a renewal of religion, the fulfilment of prophesy, and a new hope for Israel.  
In riding into Jerusalem Jesus is fulfilling the prophesies of Zechariah (9:9) and Isaiah (62:11).  The King of Israel comes riding on a donkey: a humble beast of burden, which carried his Mother to Bethlehem for his birth. It is an act of humble leadership which fulfils what was foreseen by the prophets. It shows us that Jesus Christ is truly the one who fulfils the hopes of Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures look forward to the deliverance of Israel, which is enacted in front of their very eyes.
Today and in the coming week we will see what God’s Love and Glory are really like: it is not what people expect, it is power shown in humility, strength in weakness. As we continue our Lenten journey in the triumph of this day and looking towards the Cross and beyond to the new life of Easter, let us trust in the Lord, let us be like him, and may he transform our hearts, our minds and our lives, so that they may have live and life in all its fullness. We are fed by the word of God and by the sacrament of His Body and Blood to be strengthened, to share in His divine life, to fit us for Heaven, and to transform all of creation that it may resound his praise and share in his life of the Resurrection, washed in His Blood and the saving waters of Baptism: forgiven and forgiving so that all that we say, or think, or do, all that we are may be for 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 Prayer for the Day

Almighty everlasting Father, who hast promised unto thy faithful people life by thine incarnate Son, even as he liveth by thee; Grant unto us all, and especially to those whom thy Providence hath in anyway entrusted with the treasure of thy holy doctrine amongst us, thy good Spirit, always so to believe and understand, to feel and firmly to hold, to speak and think, concerning the mystery of the Communion of the Body and Blood of thy dear Son, as shall be well pleasing to thee, and profitable to our souls; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen

John Keble

Thought for the Day: The Vineyard of Souls

Love has three and only three intimacies: speech, vision, and touch. These three intimacies God has chosen to make his love intelligible to our poor hearts. God has spoken: he told us that he loves us: that is revelation. God has been seen: that is the incarnation. God has touched us by his grace: that is redemption. Well indeed, therefore, may he say: ‘What more could I do for my vineyard than I have done? What other proof could I give my love than to exhaust myself in the intimacies of love? What else could I do to show that my own Sacred Heart is not less generous than your own?’
                If we answer these questions aright, then we will begin to repay love with love …. then we will return speech with speech which will be our prayer; vision with vision which will be our faith; touch with touch which will be our communion.
Fulton J Sheen The Eternal Galilean

Homily for Lent V

The forgiveness of God is one thing, but the proof that we want that forgiveness is the energy we expend to make amends for the wrong.
Fulton J. Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living (1955) 106–7

What a week it has been. And yet we live in a world where the colour and age of the new Pope’s shoes is deemed as newsworthy. We should realise that such things do not matter. There are far more important things to worry about.

          In this morning’s Gospel we see a woman caught in the act of adultery. By the law of Moses she should be stoned to death. But Jesus shows the world another way – it is the way of love and not of judgement. Every single one of us sins: we say, and think, and do things which we should not, which separate us from God and our neighbour. But instead of condemning humanity, God in Christ loves us and gives himself for us. He suffers and dies and rises again to show us the way of love. He gives us his word and feeds us with his body and blood so that we can share in his divine life, so that we can have a hope of heaven.

          Rather than condemning the woman, Jesus challenges those around him: ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her’ rather than judging others we need to look at ourselves and recognise that we too are sinners. It should force us to take a long, hard look at ourselves – at our lives, and recognise that we need to conform ourselves to Christ – to live, and think, and speak like him. We need to be nourished by him, healed and restored by him, to live lives which proclaim his love and his truth to the world, living out our faith in our lives so that the world may believe.

          Once the people had gone ‘Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”’ We are loved, healed and restored by God, but with that comes a challenge: as Christians we are to turn away from sin. We are challenged to turn away from the ways of sin, the ways of the world, to find life in him, the perfection that comes through faith in Christ, and is from God and based on faith. We need to ‘know him and the power of his resurrection, and … share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death’.

This is what we are trying to do in Lent, preparing our souls and our lives so that we celebrate his death and resurrection and our reconciliation with God. It is done so that his grace may perfect our nature and fit us for heaven, sharing the divine life of love, through a conscious turning away from the ways of the world, of sin, and of death: losing our lives to find them in him. It’s difficult. St Paul in his Letter to the Philippians didn’t find it easy, nor should we. Just because living the life of faith is something difficult doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. We will fail, but our failure is not necessarily a problem. What matters is that we keep trying, together: supporting, loving and forgiving each other to live a life of love, so that the world may believe. Let us recognise our human sin and weakness so that we can turn away from it. We are to transform the whole world and everyone in it, so that they may have live and life in all its fullness. We are fed by the word of God and by the sacrament of His Body and Blood to be strengthened, to share in His divine life, to fit us for Heaven, and to transform all of creation that it may resound his praise and share in his life of the Resurrection, washed in His Blood and the saving waters of Baptism: forgiven and forgiving so that all that we say, or think, or do, all that we are may be for 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

Lent IV Evensong: IITim 4:1-18

Lent is a time of repentance, of turning away from sin, and back to God. As we saw in this morning’s Gospel the prodigal son leaves his dissolute ways and goes back to his father: he is contrite, truly sorry for his sins, and his father runs to meet him, embracing him before he has even had chance to say sorry. Likewise God forgives us before we ask him, but that does not mean we do not have to ask, that sin is not a serious problem. It is: it nailed Jesus to the Cross. In Jesus we see the arms of the Father embracing us his prodigal children, arms flung open, bleeding and beaten and nailed for love of us. We should meditate upon Our Lord’s Passion, his suffering and death, so that we might prepare ourselves to celebrate his Resurrection.
          Sin matters, and so does orthodoxy. Christianity is not a pick-and-mix religion: we cannot choose which bits to believe and which not to believe. What the church teaches matters: it always has and always will. It may well not make for easy or for pleasant reading, nor should it. There are those who wish to water down the message of the Gospel, to make it conform to the ways of the world, and in their easy and comfortable message do not bring life, but quite the opposite. This is not a new situation, as this evening’s second lesson makes clear. The church has always faced this problem, and will continue to in the future.
As one ordained to preach the word, I have to take this responsibility seriously and be ready to ‘reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience, and teaching’ I owe it to you, the people of God, and Him whom I serve. I recognise that I am a wretched sinner in need of God’s love and mercy, and I can only do this in the power of Him who saves us and gives us new life in him.
The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. That time is now, and the church must be vigilant: to defend the revealed truth of sacred scripture, the Bible, the word of God, and the tradition of the Church which comes to us from the apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit. It must be vigilant to defend against errors, knowing that as we live after the Resurrection we await our Lord’s Second Coming as our Judge. The time is short, and the task is not an easy one, but it is what we are called to.
As one called to feed Christ’s sheep I would be failing if the food I offered was not truly nourishing, and did not build up the body of Christ, the Church. It’s the work of a lifetime, and not a single sermon. It’s difficult and costly, being poured out like a libation, imitating the mystery we celebrate, being conformed to our crucified Saviour. Quite often it can feel like the church and the world aren’t listening or understanding orthodoxy – it’s frustrating and hard, but it must be done so that ‘the message might be fully proclaimed’ so that people may know the truth which sets them free, free from sin and the ways of the world. On a day when we celebrate the motherhood of the church: the ark of salvation which saves humanity from sin, the world and the Devil, we should likewise celebrate the Faith which she teaches, cleansed from the filth of error, and heresy. We should rejoice in the beauty and goodness of the truth, and turn away from the ugliness of sin, welcoming people so that the wounds of the Body of Christ may be healed, or as a favourite hymn puts it:
We pray thee too for wanderers from thy fold;
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the sheep,
back to the faith which saints believed of old,
back to the Church which still that faith doth keep;
soon may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.
This is what we are called to, this must be our prayer as Christians, to fulfil Our Lord and Saviour’s wish in Gethsemane that we may all be one. It’s God’s will, and we his prodigal children must come back to him, united in love and faith, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory do-minion and power, now and forever

Homily for Tuesday in the Third Week of Lent: Mt 18:21-35

The forgiveness of God is one thing, but the proof that we want that forgiveness is the energy we expend to make amends for the wrong.
Fulton J. Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living (1955) 106–7
The need for forgiveness is something of which we are, I suspect, all too aware. The last few years have seen our politicians making fraudulent expenses claims, journalists engaging in shady, underhand and illegal practices, the church continues to be rocked by immoral behaviour which falls short of what it expects of its clergy. People are hurt and they find it very hard indeed to trust many of our public institutions. The wounds are deep, they will not be healed easily. It will take time, and effort, and energy. There needs to be the recognition of having done things wrong and a desire and heartfelt commitment to turn away from the sins of the past and to work to make things better: this is what repentance is, what it looks like in practice.
            Today’s Gospel begins with a very human question about forgiveness. In answer to Peter’s question Jesus tells him to forgive his brother not seven times but seventy-seven times. We are to forgive each other as many times as is necessary because God in Christ forgives us. God loves us even to the extent of giving His only Son to die for us, to take our sins upon Himself; to heal our wounds through the shedding of His Blood upon the Cross. God demonstrates to the world the costly nature of this forgiveness – it is not easy, it is painful, nasty, and cruel. But in the midst of this evil and cruelty God’s love and life shine through: an act of torture, sending an innocent man to His death, can become the place where our human nature is restored and we can share in the divine life of love.
            Our response to such divine compassion has to be that we, as Christians, live lives of love and forgiveness: we live it out as a sign to the world that the ways of cruelty and retribution do not achieve anything. This will not be easy, it will be difficult: impossible on our own, and still barely achievable when we do it as a community, unless we rely upon the God who loves us and forgives us, who heals and restores us. It will look like foolishness to the world, which demands retribution: there must be someone to blame, someone must pay the price.
Well, someone did, two thousand years ago in a town in the Eastern Mediterranean – a troublemaker, a prophet, who said he was the Son of God. He was not just a man, but God himself, who came to preach Good News to a world which did not want to hear him, which found it easier to kill a man who made people feel uncomfortable, who offered a radically different way of living and being. He offers the world unlimited forgiveness, not so that it can just carry on regardless, but so that it can be transformed into a community of radical love. This is not to disregard the matter of judgement: the master settles his accounts but is willing to give the servant a chance to make amends. We are the servant: we have a debt which we cannot pay. We have been forgiven, and so we are expected to do likewise. We live lives of truth and love and forgiveness to proclaim God’s marvellous love to the world and to invite it to join in. That is why every day we pray ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’ so that the ways of envy, of hatred, of retribution, are replaced with those of love and forgiveness. God does it for us, so that we can do it to others: recognising our human sin and weakness so that we can turn away from it. We are to transform the whole world and everyone in it, so that they may have live and life in all its fullness. We are fed by the word of God and by the sacrament of His Body and Blood to be strengthened, to share in His divine life, to fit us for Heaven, and to transform all of creation that it may resound his praise and share in his life of the Resurrection, washed in His Blood and the saving waters of Baptism: forgiven and forgiving so that all that we say, or think, or do, all that we are may be for 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

Homily for Lent III

God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable; His love exists not on account of our character, but on account of His. Our highest experience is responsive, not initiative. And it is only because we are loved by Him that we are loveable
Fulton Sheen Rejoice (1984) 9
There exists a great spiritual thirst both outside the church in the world around us and in the church itself. We are like people in the desert, not just in this period of 40 days but throughout our lives. The modern world is deeply consumerist: shopping centres replace cathedrals and yet we are still thirsty, thirsty for the living water, thirsty that our needs may be satisfied. We all of us realise, deep down, that commercialism cannot save us: that what we buy doesn’t really nourish or satisfy us. There can be no commercial exchange with God; we simply have to receive his gifts. We are not worthy of them are, that’s the point: God satisfies our deepest needs and desires out of love for us, wretched miserable sinners that we are, so that enfolded in his love we might become more lovely. Only if we are watered by God can we truly bear fruit, only if we are born again by water and the spirit in baptism can we have any hope. This is what the season of Lent is for: it is a time to prepare for baptism – to share in our Lord’s death and his new life. We do this as individuals and indeed as an institution, so that the church may be born again, renewed with living water, so that it may be poured out over all the world to satisfy the thirst which commercialism cannot.
            In our second reading St Paul writes the church in Corinth to warn them to keep vigilant: the church can never be complacent. For us Lent is to be a time when we learn not to desire evil: we have to turn away from sexual immorality and idolatry. In the last couple of generations the laissez-faire attitude in the world around us has not empowered people, it is not made them happier, it has just given us a world of fornication and adultery, where people worship false gods: Reason, Consumerism, Fulfilment, Money and Power. The ways of the world will always leave humanity empty. It’s why the Gospels show Jesus living a radically different life, a life in all its fullness, which he offers to people: to turn their lives around, losing their lives to find true life in him. He suffers and dies for love of us, to heal us, and restore us, so that we may share in his life of love, nourished by his body and blood, strengthened by his word and sacraments, and to share this free gift of the world around us.
            This morning’s gospel acts as a warning to us: that we are in danger if we continue to sin. We are, however, not simply condemned but offered another chance. The gardener gives a fig tree another chance. This is grace: the free gift of God, not something which we have earned, and only through God’s grace can we hope to bear fruit. The gardener, who created man in Paradise, who will offer himself as both priest and victim upon the tree of life, to bleed and die for love of us, this gardener will meet Mary Magdalene by the empty tomb on Easter day, so that we all humanity may share his risen life.
            So let us turn away from the ways of the world, its emptiness, its false promises, its sexuality immorality, the ways of emptiness and death, to be nourished by the living water, which satisfies our deepest thirst, which makes us turn our lives around, so that we may live in him, who loves us, who heals us and who restores us. The world may not understand this, it may be scandalised by it, it will laugh at us and mock us, in the same way that it mocked our Lord on the way to Calvary and upon the cross. Let us share in his sufferings, knowing that we are loved by him who died for love of us. Let us live as a witness, to share in his work of drawing all humanity to him: so that all people may come to the living water and finds new life in 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 do-minion and power, now and forever

Gŵyl Dewi Sant – S. David’s Day

Frodyr a Chwiorydd, byddwch lawen a chedwch eich ffydd a’ch cred, a gwnewch y pethau bychain a glywsoch a welsoch gennyf fi.
Brothers and Sisters, be joyful, keep your faith and creed, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do. 
These words are the words spoken by St David on his death-bed. As such, they represent an important distillation of his life and teaching. They are as relevant now, to us here today, as they were 1400 years ago. And I would like to go through them to see how they can still speak to us. The first command that David gives the Christian community is to be cheerful, to be joyful: just as the Psalmist encourages us to be joyful in the Lord and to serve the Lord with gladness, so as Christians we should live lives which proclaim in thought and word and deed the joy and freedom which Christ came to bring, it is through our example that the world will come to believe. To be joyful is to live as an Easter people, confident in Christ’s victory over sin and death. It is not to say that life will be difficult, but that in all things we must hold fast to the source of our joy, namely Christ.

          We are to hold fast to our faith and our creed. Throughout David’s ministry he found himself combating the heretical teachings of Pelagius, who taught that it was possible for humanity to enter into a right relationship with God through their efforts. Sin was not a problem, and the saving work of Christ wrought upon the altar of the cross was diminished by this. David fought for an Orthodox understanding of the Christian faith, the teaching he opposed was popular, but it was wrong, and for the good of people and their souls he bore witness to the truth. He was not afraid to go against the prevailing opinion when the good of people’s souls was at stake. So we should be inspired by the example and witness of David to hold fast to the faith which comes to us from the apostles, the same faith which David believed and taught. This will not be easy and certainly, given the current state of the church, it will not be popular, but it will be right.
In doing the little things which people heard and saw David do, we are reminded that for most Christians, ourselves included, it is how we live out our faith in everyday life which matters. The small acts of kindness and generosity, of Christian love and service, which we often do without thinking, are the key to putting our faith into practice. Rather than worrying about the bigger picture, or the grand gesture, we can bear witness to our faith in the ordinary humdrum mundane existence of daily life. This may not sound exciting, it may not sound terribly encouraging, but it is nonetheless still true. When we reflect upon Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels, we can see whether a lot of it happens in the context of ordinary day-to-day existence. In the miracle of the Eucharist, Jesus takes the ordinary stuff of daily life, the basic foodstuffs of bread and wine, and transforms them into his body and blood so that our souls may be fed. So as we prepare to be fed once again by him let us pray that he will also take the ordinary stuff of our lives and, through his grace, transform and transfigure them for his glory. That strengthened by him, our lives may reflect that glory, joy, and love, which is the nature of the triune God that which we hope to enjoy forever in the life to come.