A thought for the day

Having withdrawn from the palace to the solitary life, abba Arsenius prayed and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the source of sinlessness.’

Abba Nilus said, ‘The arrows of the enemy cannot touch one who loves quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will often be wounded.’

Theophilus of holy memory, bishop of Alexandra, journeyed to Scetis and the brethren coming together said to abba Pambo, ‘Say a word or two to the bishop, that his soul may be edified in this place.’ The old man replied, ‘If he is not edified by my silence, there is no hope that he will be edified by my words.’

Sermon for Evensong Trinity XXII

War may be either a crusade or a curse: either a token of man’s love of God, or the fruit of man’s godlessness; either a sign that men are with God, or a token that they are againsthim

Fulton Sheen Whence come Wars? 1940: 1–2

 

There is something about martial or manly language when used in Christian context which is apparently politically incorrect these days. We have hymn-books which no longer allow the faithful to sing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ instead we are supposed to sing ‘Onward Christian Pilgrims’ and other such trite nonsense because well-meaning so-called ‘liberals’ tell us that we should. Despite their best intentions the Christian life is one of constant warfare: spiritual warfare against the powers of this world, and the Prince of Lies, Satan, who though utterly defeated on the Cross still wages a campaign against the Body of Christ. Our vocation, then, is to fight, armed in the way described by St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:11–17).
        In this evening’s second lesson we see St Paul giving advice to Timothy, the Bishop of Ephesus. He addresses him as ‘my child’ not only because he is younger but also because the Church is a family, which is one in Christ – we are a family which cuts across gender, race, class, and time. Timothy is strengthened ‘by the grace that is in Christ Jesus’ it is the only source of grace, and it alone can strengthen us, the Church, and her bishops. He is encouraged to pass on to others what he has heard from St Paul in the presence of many others – the teaching office of the Church is something public, to pass on the truth and to share it with others so that they too may pass it on. It is a serious task, one which is entrusted to me, and which I am to entrust to you. We are all part of the greater whole charged with the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ by thought and word and deed. It is a serious business, and not to be taken lightly. It is of the utmost importance, so that we all may stand strong in the faith, entrusted to the Church.
        It is something which will lead us to share in suffering – our sharing the Good News will lead us to share the suffering of Christ, we are to be conformed to Him, sharing his pain, his trials, for His sake. The world is always ready to persecute the Church because the message of the Gospel seeks to transform it, to turn away from the ways of selfishness and greed and sin, to establish a kingdom of love. All around the world our brothers and sisters are persecuted for their faith, they have to practise it in secret; they risk imprisonment, torture, and death, all for their allegiance to Christ Jesus. As those who have been baptised, we are to share in Our Lord’s death and new life; we are to place our allegiance to Him before anything else. It is radical; it has the power to change the world. The world is rightly scared of the power of the Gospel – nothing, not even Satan himself, can stand against it.
        We are to approach our faith with the training and resolve of a soldier – we are to be single-minded, and not led astray by worldly things, so that we can do the will of Him who loves us, and who died for us. We are to be like athletes, competing to win a prize, playing by the rules, living out the love which we have received. We are to toil like a farmer – it is hard, back-breaking even, but we will receive our reward. It is through doing this and through thought and prayer that we can come to understand what God has in store for us.
        It is not an easy undertaking, it is not for the faint-hearted, and if we were to rely upon our own human strength then we would most surely fail – but if we rely upon the God who became human so that we might become divine, who understands our weakness, who proclaimed the Gospel of love, and healing, and forgiveness, then we can do marvellous things for the love of Him who loves us. It will be difficult; we will face opposition, from a world which would rather not be transformed into the image of God, but it is our calling. So let us stand firm, and fight the good fight, so that the world so that it may believe and be transformed to sing the praise of 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, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday of Year C

Humility is not self-contempt but the truth about ourselves coupled with a reverence for others; it is self-surrender to the highest goal.
Fulton Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living, 1955: 121
Most of us, I suspect, almost all of us don’t really like paying taxes; we know that we have to, but we’d rather not. There were taxes in Jesus’ day and tax collectors were privatised in the Roman Empire: they had to pay for the contract to collect the taxes, and recouped the cost of gaining the contract by over-charging people. They were not popular people, they were resented, they were hated, and with good reason.
          We know that in this morning’s Gospel that he’s supposed to be the villain of the piece, the Pharisee, a religious authority, is supposed to be the person to whom we look up, the example one might expect to follow. The parable, then, turns our understanding of the world on its head. The key to understanding the parable lies in Luke’s opening comment regarding those: ‘who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt’ (Lk 18:9). There is a fundamental problem with the difference between how they think of themselves and others. The Pharisee isn’t praying, he isn’t talking to God, he’s praying to himself, justifying what he thinks of himself, saying to God, ‘Look at me, am I not good?’
          But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner! (Lk 18:13). His prayer is that God will be merciful. He is so conscious of his own sin and need of God that he opens up a space in which God can be at work. It is in this space that we all need to be. We need to recognise that we need God to be at work in us, that we need to rely upon him to change us, to transform us – so that we can become the people that God wants us to be. All the prayer, all the rituals, all the externals of religion, are of no use unless they go hand in hand with an attitude which recognises that we need God, that we are sinful, and need his love and his mercy to transform us.  
          That is why, as Christians, we pray, why we come to Mass each and every week to be fed by word and sacrament, so that God’s grace and transforming love may be at work in us, transforming our nature, making us more like him. Everything that we say or think or do needs to be an outworking of our faith, so that our exterior life and our interior life are in harmony with each other – so that our lives, like St Paul’s, may proclaim the Gospel. This is what we are called to, and how we are to live. Unless we start from the point where we know our need of God and rely upon him, where we too make that space where God can be at work in us, in our souls and our lives, we are doomed to be like the self-righteous Pharisee, talking to ourselves, massaging our own egos, wallowing in selfishness and narcissism, proud and cruel.
          Is this the kind of life we really want to lead? Is this really the path of human flourishing? Or are we called to something better, something greater, something more lovely? So let us put our trust in the God who loves us and who saves us, let us know our need of him and his transforming grace to fill our lives and transform all of his creation so that the world so that it may believe and be transformed to sing 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 the Desert


Abba Poemen said, ‘There is no greater love than a man lays his life for his neighbour. When you hear someone complaining and you struggle with yourself and do not answer him back with complaints; when you are hurt and bear it patiently, not looking for revenge; then you are laying down your life for your neighbour.’

Trinity XXI Evensong


For the joy of the Lord is your strength
Living as we do in difficult and uncertain times it is all too easy to become downcast, to let the cares of the world, our worries and our frailties get us down. It can be all too easy not understand quite what God may have in store for us. We can be like Mary and Martha perplexed at why Jesus does not come immediately, why he goes away, only to return once they fear all hope is lost.
In such moments which happen to us all from time to time, we can trust that our vocation as Christians is one of JOY, a joy which comes from the Lord. The following words of Fulton Sheen are helpful in reminding us of this:
Lightness of spirit is related to Redemption, for it lifts us out of precarious situations. As soon as a priest goes in for revolutionary tactics in politics he becomes boringly serious. This world is all there is, and therefore he takes political involvements without a grain of salt. One rarely sees a Commissar smile. Only those who are ‘in the world, not of it’ can take events seriously and lightly. Joy is born by straddling two worlds – one the world of politics, the other of grace.
Those Mysterious Priests 1974: 238
In this evening’s first lesson we see the people of Israel celebrating. They are told to ‘Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord’ (Neh. 8:10). There is something about feasting and rejoicing which is good for the soul, the Christian faith should never be dour or miserable, we proclaim Good News to all the world. There is also the instruction to give to those who have not. Our faith is something which needs to be put into action – it requires a generosity of spirit, of showing love and care to all those around us – to care for the spiritual and physical well-being of our fellow men and women. This generosity and care, like that of God for us, forms the church into a community of love, a place where people may have an encounter with the living God, and through His Holy Spirit receive joy and peace.
As Christians it is up to us to help make this a reality here and now. We live in the expectation of Our Lord’s Second coming, so surely we should be doing what he tells us, living out our faith in the world, so that it may believe. Our lives need to be attractive, and filled with joy, freed from the cares of this world, freed to sing God’s praise, freed to share his love with others.
As people rooted in the joy and generosity which characterise the love of God, shown to us in Christ Jesus Our Lord, we can all be truly joyful, knowing that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Our strength as the people of God comes from Him who saves us out of love, who commands us to feast (as well as fast) a feast we celebrate day by day and week by week when we feed on the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion, to be strengthened body and soul to love Him and serve Him, and to live out His joy in our lives. It really is the most wonderful thing, it should leave us with beaming smiles and joyous expectation to share the love and joy with others. So let is live out our vocation, to be joyous Christians, servants of  a loving God, to the praise and honour of his name.