Tuesday, October 25, 2016
You may have heard of the Ashers' Bakery court case in Belfast and how they lost. You can read about it here. Fr Hunwicke has commented on it here. He makes the interesting point, which the court seems to have missed or disregarded, that the cake was not refused because the customer was gay but because the bakery objected to the message he requested to be put on it. (Set up? one wonders). In addition Fr Hunwicke points out that 'Gay' marriage is still illegal in the North. So someone requests a decoration on a cake that advocates an illegal act and the baker who objects gets fined for not acquiescing? Have we passed through some barrier into another dimension where logic and reason no longer apply? With the widespread rejection of the Natural Law (isn't such a rejection already implicityl enshrined in our own Constitution?) what kind of monstrous deformation of our society is coming into existence? Are we now seeing the ascension of an age of unreason? Perhaps it has been with us for some time (e.g. Fascism, Communism and all other collectivist ideologies). Prayer is probably our only reliable weapon. We need to wrap the world in rosaries.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
As usual one can listen to the homily here.
I suppose we have all come across people “who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else”. If we are honest we might admit that we too can be that way. How many of us think that we are not that bad? How many of us are convinced of our own sinfulness? How many of us think that God owes us something, that He is unfair and unjust when something bad happens to us and that we do not deserve our misfortunes? These “Two men” represent the two camps within the human race and perhaps the two sides of the fallen human heart. Both turn to God but only one of them is praying, only one is worshipping.
The Pharisees were a lay movement within Judaism: concerned with ritual and legal purity, rigorist in their thinking, caught up in externals and the keeping of the Jewish Law. By Law they meant not just the 601 commandments of the Old Testament but the whole body of other laws and interpretations of that Law that had been built up around it over the centuries. This Pharisee was as socially acceptable, as politically correct, as one could get.
The Pharisee “took up his position”, that is, his usual spot where he could be seen by everyone and spoke this prayer to himself, not to God. He fails to acknowledge God’s righteousness and his own sinfulness. He gives thanks to God but stands in judgment on everyone else, especially the tax collector. He rightly lists the sins of mankind but fails to acknowledge that he too is a sinner in need of God’s mercy. Instead his real religion is built entirely on his own achievements: his fasting and his tithing (one tenth of all his income). That’s the full story of his righteousness – fasting and tithing – he has nothing else of which to boast. He’s devoid of humility, compassion and love. Here is a danger for all of us, that we pray to God as we want Him to be not as He is. We can risk praying and relating not to God but to a projection of our own self.
Our era did not invent out-sourcing. The Romans already understood the concept. The tax collector was collaborator with the unclean, pagan, and oppressive Romans, an extortionist, and a traitor. This man made his living by buying the right to collect taxes from the Romans and then extorting what he could from the people in his area. He would not have been welcome in the Temple. The tax collector “stood off at a distance and beat his breast” as an expression of sorrow and repentance for sin and humility before God, that we emulate at the Confiteor. Note that he “would not even raise his eyes to heaven” because of his humility, for we are unworthy of seeing God and he prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ Again the humility and sorrow because his prayer acknowledges his utter dependence on God for mercy. He has nothing to boast about before God and he knows it.
The humble, repentant tax collector went home right with God because God, in His mercy, has made him just because he humbly asked for mercy. While the Pharisee, for all his efforts, has failed simply because he could not admit his need of God’s mercy. The Lord admonishes us that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The path to holiness is through humble admission of sin and guilt, through throwing ourselves on the mercy of God.
I have often heard people speak about God’s mercy as if they will be able to appeal to it when they are dead. Even priests seem to speak as if God’s mercy comes into play after we leave this world. While it is true that when we die we will really come to understand His mercy that will not be the time to appeal to it. The time to appeal to God’s mercy is now. This is the time of His favour when we can call on Him and make use of His generosity towards us. Leaving off repentance until our deathbed or later is the height of stupidity. When we are dead we face not God’s mercy but His justice.
Sin is not about breaking the arbitrary laws made up by the Pope. Sin is a violation of that moral order I spoke of some weeks ago. Sin is fundamentally an attempt to place ourselves in God’s place, at the centre of everything and to have everyone and everything orbit around us. If you think about it anything that is wrong is rooted in human self-centeredness. As creatures who are fallen we are prone to confuse the good with our own selfishness. We have this disordered drive to be at the centre. The paradox is that God, the true source and centre of everything, is all gift. The Holy Trinity is all love, each of the Three Persons eternally giving themselves away. It is God, because of His love and mercy, that has created us and sent His Son to us and offers us His mercy through the Church and the Sacraments.
Therefore we ought to avail ourselves of that which He has provided: especially Confession! This is such a neglected Sacrament. Yet we cannot make progress in holiness without it. To make a good confession it is required that we have sincere contrition, that is sorrow, even partial sorrow, for our sins, confess them, especially mortal sins, in kind and in number and receive absolution. None of us can guarantee that we have sufficient sorrow for our wrongdoing. Perfect contrition is when we are sorry for the offence we have given to God’s goodness and love. God is not personally offended like some cantankerous old man but we owe God as our creator and redeemer, we owe Him respect, love and worship not just in our words but in our actions.
When we are asked to confess our sins in kind and number it is not because God does not already know nor because the priests are keeping a record! It is because God wants to be intimately involved in everything we are and to heal each of our wounds individually. Just as a mother will kiss her child’s bruise better so in confession God wishes to kiss each of our sins away. Unlike a mother’s kiss though God’s grace can heal and restore any wound. In addition naming our sins in kind and number helps the priest help us. If one has stolen once then that is wrong but if one has stolen a hundred times then one is either a professional thief or a cleptomaniac. Yes it can be embarrassing to name ones sins just as it is painful to let the doctor examine our wounds but if we do not let the doctor near the wound how can he heal it?
Some say they find they only repeat a shopping list of sins, always the same. Of course you do – they’re your sins. Our fallen state affects us all but it expresses itself differently in different ways. Just as each of us has a particular way of speaking, walking and thinking so each of us has his or her own particular way of sinning. Don’t be surprised that you confess the same sins be surprised that you make no effort to change!
There are two things that the Church has long recommended as aids to changing, that is, growing in holiness: that we examine our conscience daily and that we go to confession regularly. There are many ways to examine your conscience (check the internet) but here is a simple one. Begin by counting your blessings and give thanks for them. Then ask how yourself whether you have been a blessing that day? How have you treated God and the things of God, how you have treated your neighbour and your neighbour’s property? Was there anything good that you could have done, or done better, but didn’t? Then ask God’s forgiveness for your failings and resolve to do better. The bare minimum required of a Catholic, apart from Sunday Mass, is to confess once a year and receive Holy Communion in a state of grace, that is, without a mortal sin on ones conscience. Once a year is the bare minimum. A good average is about once a month. It does not take long but then the tax collector’s prayer was short and he went away right with God.
Now is the time to appeal to God’s mercy and avail of it. Now is the time to form and check our consciences and make the changes we need to make so that we grow in holiness. Let us not be like the Pharisee and assume we are right with God. Let us be like the tax collector and cast ourselves on the Lord’s mercy. We will find that He has a warm embrace.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
|I don't know who made this painting! I will update it as soon as I find out.|
As usual you can listen to the sermon here.
Very few of us are familiar with lepers. We may have seen pictures but thank God it is not a disease that is found here anymore. It was a living death. Some have suggested that our modern fascination with zombies is an echo of our forefathers’ horror of lepers, the real walking dead. The Gospel taught our ancestors to show compassion and charity to lepers and in many places they founded hospitals to that end. They listened to the Word of God and put that word into action. They acknowledged God’s mercy to them by showing mercy on the weak and vulnerable.
They understood that following Christ means giving testimony to want He has done for us above all by how we live. There can be no separation of our Faith from our private lives. We cannot be Catholic only in private or only on some issues. It is all or nothing. While there are many areas that Catholics can disagree with one another over e.g. immigration, taxation, water charges etc., the fundamental moral teaching is not for negotiation. The Church does not get her moral teaching from Revelation (that which has been revealed to us above all through Christ and His Apostles) but rather Revelation affirms, expands and deepens what we already know by reason. That is, Revelation affirms the Natural Law. The Ten Commandments are a condensation of the Natural Law. As an aside if anyone ever wonders why there are Ten Commandments then simply count your fingers. The Ten Commandments were revealed to a people that was largely illiterate. There is a lot more to right and wrong but most of our morality is an ‘unpacking’ of those Ten Commandments. Of course our Lord added another commandment that we love one another as He has loved us. This we could not know by reason but only by Revelation. It required revelation for us to know about the important of forgiveness, of turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile, of imitating Christ in His humility and obedience. This is why our Lord said that not one iota, not one little dot, of the Law would be changed and that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil, that is, complete it.
Now we must not confuse the Natural Law with the Laws of Nature. The Laws of Nature are what rule the physical world and are studied through the disciplines of science: physics, chemistry and biology. The Natural Law is what rules the moral world and it is studied by moral philosophy and moral theology. The Natural Law is known not so much by experiment (unless all of human history can be understood as an experiment) but it is perceived by reason reflecting on what it is to be human and on the experience of conscience. Conscience is that capacity of the soul to reflect on and examine our actions, to hold them up to inspection and judge them. Conscience is not infallible but it is a capacity that we must form and foster, educate and nurture so that it becomes ever more sensitive. The best education and formation a conscience can get is to be informed by the Word of God in the Catholic Faith. Indeed to listen to an educated and well-formed conscience is place one’s ear next to the mouth of God.
It is conscience that tells us about the demands of the Natural Law which is also the will of God. For instance, conscience that tells us, without too many arguments or without much thought, that it is always wrong to deliberately and directly take an innocent human life. That is why we expect a man to go to prison for shooting his neighbour but not for shooting his neighbour’s duck. The fact that we are fallen of course has shaped how different societies have understood that Law. The more civilised the society the wider the understanding of the sanctity of human life has become. It is said that an atheist once while visiting the South Sea Islands commiserated with a Chieftain on how Christianity had damaged his culture. The Chieftain listened patiently and then said “You see this rock? Before the Christians came I would have killed you with it and eaten your brains. It is because of the Christians that you are still alive.” Christianity widened our understanding of ‘innocent human being’ to the utmost. Yet there remains a constant battle against those who would narrow that understanding again. Some Catholics call them pagans but I call them barbarians because it is back to barbarism they would take us.
It is the conscience, aware of the Natural Law, that affirms that one ought not to speak badly of others, that it is wrong to take what does not belong to you, that one should not covet not only what one’s neighbour owns but that one should not covet his or her spouse as well. It is the conscience, attentive to the Natural Law, that recognises that the abuse of anyone, especially the young and vulnerable, is deeply evil.
To say that there is a Natural Law is to say there is an objective moral order. It is Objective because it is outside ourselves and not dependent on our ideas or feelings. It is Moral because it concerns the actions of all conscious and sentient persons. It is an Order because it has structure and it is complex. Indeed it has a beauty all of its own. That is why the Israelite King Jeshoshaphat led out his army by singing of the beauty of holiness and he won the victory without lifting a sword. This Natural Law was taken for granted up until a few centuries ago when there began a great decay in the intellectual life of the West. Now it is openly rejected where once it was taught as truth. This is why our intelligentsia are so distant from the rest of us mere plebs. Instead of upholding the idea that there is a Natural Law, an objective moral order, that binds us always and everywhere they have erected various theories of law and morality where whatever the State says is legal is also moral unless, of course, they don’t like it. There are some ideas so stupid only really clever people will believe them.
While I was chaplain to UCC I asked a young Catholic student who was doing a Masters on human rights about where those rights came from and she was unable to answer me. She didn’t know because they had never told her on her course, the question wasn’t raised. I explained to her that human rights theory grew out from, is founded on, the theory of the Natural Law and that therefore one cannot merely claim a right one has to show that it is in accord with the Natural Law. It was by the Natural Law that the Nuremberg trials were held because there was no International Law to try the Nazis for what they had done. What the Nazis did to the Jews was truly evil but it was legal under German Law. Much of our legal tradition was based on this Natural Law but that is being dismantled and rejected. It does not suit the social engineers and ideologues who run our country and much of the West. They want to be able to do what they must because they can. They want no limit on their actions except the approval of their own followers. Where once society held up the virtues for us to emulate and extolled moral goodness now we are subjected to the idolatry of personal freedom and the monstrous worship of depravity. This goes hand in hand with the rejection of Christ and His Church. One cannot behave as one wishes and still hold to an objective moral order, a Natural Law nor can one hold to Christ and His Church. Reject the Natural Law and one necessarily rejects Christ.
There is a battle for the soul of our own nation and that of the whole world. That is where the matter of the Eight Amendment to our Constitution and other issues come in. Either we give glory to God, proclaim His Truth and uphold what He has established or we deny Him by our silence and inaction. The Nazis and Communists came to power in various countries because the good stood by and did nothing when they had a chance to make a difference. The moral order in our society is under revolution and we are called to action. A soldier who sits in the trench during a battle might as well be siding with the enemy. It is not just a matter of voting in the right way or for the right politician. If you do not speak up and get involved in resisting the evil that is threatening this country and the lives of the most vulnerable then you risk forfeiting Heaven. We cannot expect a welcome from God if we have stood by and allowed His children to be murdered. You would not welcome such a person into your home so why should God?
Sunday, October 2, 2016
It is not easy to be a believer today. Our Faith, indeed the idea of faith itself, is under constant attack like never before. We are told that any faith, especially the Catholic Faith, ought to be a private matter, kept at home and done in private, like knitting. Whereas once the precious gift sex was spoken of in private and in whispers but now is broadcast on every wavelength so now faith that was once such a major part of public life is under pressure to abandon the public sphere and retreat behind closed doors and pulled curtains and dare I say it to retreat even to the bedroom where not so long ago it was told it was not wanted. The Son of Man has still no place to lay His head.
In that context in today’s Gospel we hear the disciples asking the Lord not for faith but that He literally “Add faith to us.” They ask Christ for an addition to their faith and to be strengthened in faith. Faith partly depends on us and partly is the gift of the divine grace. We respond to God’s grace by accepting what has been revealed to us through His Son and His Church, that we have received from our parents, priests and teachers, and living it day to day. The beginning of faith depends on us and our maintaining confidence and faith in God with all our power, through prayer and conversion of life. Faith is a seed that we nurture and a flame that we feed.
The confirmation and strength necessary for this comes from Divine grace. For that reason, since all things are possible with God, the Lord says that all things are possible for him who believes. The power that comes to us through faith is of God, it is a gift and a work of the Holy Spirit. Knowing this, blessed Paul also says in the first epistle to the Corinthians, “For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit, and to another faith in the same Spirit.” You see that he has placed faith also in the catalogue of spiritual graces. The disciples requested that they might receive this from the Saviour, contributing also what was of themselves. Our Lord granted it to them after His death and Resurrection by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them at Pentecost. Before the resurrection, their faith was so feeble that they were liable even to the charge of being of “little faith” but afterwards, thought they remained weak and sinful men, they were made strong enough to proclaim Christ even at the cost of their lives.
The mustard seed is about the size of those little black seeds you see on some kinds of bread. It has a much stronger taste, though, out of all proportion to its size. To put it in more familiar terms: just as the electrical wires in your house are thin yet carry so much power likewise our faith seems small and thin but when it is empowered by the Holy Spirit it can do wonders. We are not only asked that we believe that God exists. That is mere natural faith and it cannot save, it cannot get us to Heaven. We are asked to believe that Jesus is who He says He is, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity made fully human for us, that He is the one and only Saviour of mankind and that He established His Church. All of this is encapsulated in the Creed we will recite in a few moments. You should read it in your spare time, even better, pray it!
How are we to nurture the seed of faith, to fan into a flame the gift that God has given us? First through heartfelt prayer, then through charity to our neighbour but also through study and learning either by reading or by listening. We have immense resources available to us today that our ancestors never had yet never has there been such ignorance of the Faith among believers. A Christian who does not know what Christ and His Church teaches and why is like a soldier who goes into battle with no bullets in his rifle. He can shout at the enemy but not much else.
It is because of all that Christ has done for us and the infinite love that He pours out upon us that we are to respond not just as servants, still less as slaves, but as friends and lovers, giving our all in return for His all. We are soldiers on a battlefield and our captain Christ has won the day, it is for us to advance though still under fire from our defeated enemy, and to take souls for Christ. Even when we have given our all we will not have begun to even approach what He has done for us. We can never equal His love for us or His generosity but we can at least do our best. The joy and peace, glory and beauty of Heaven lie ahead of us where we can take our eternal ease but in the mean time we must fight for Christ and take the battle not only into our homes but onto the streets, into our shops and businesses, our jobs and activities and win as many souls for Christ as we can. He has given us the weapons of the virtues, empowered us with His Holy Spirit and it is He who leads us. With faith in Him we cannot lose.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Sunday, September 25, 2016
SUNDAY C26 Luke 16:19–31
As usual you can hear the sermon here but this time there are two versions with one from the 11.00 am and the other from the 12.30 pm Mass.
I love reading history, especially ancient history. From that reading I have learnt that people do not change. The wealthy two thousand years ago behaved much as the wealthy today. Often the more we have the more indifferent we are to those who have not. Christ is not indifferent. He measures our love for Him by our love for others especially those who are in need.
The rich man is this parable is not just wealthy. Purple is an ordinary colour to us but at that time it was extremely expensive and associated with the Emperor in Rome. So this man was in the highest class of wealthy. Imagine his gated home surrounded by gardens, full of marble, mosaic floors, walls covered with colourful frescoes and many statues and works of art. He wears fine linen and dines on the best of food everyday. Imagine the expensive ingredients in his food, the rare perfumes in his house and the costly fabrics of his furnishings of his household. A man of his wealth and standing would own many slaves, always available to serve him. This man lives very well, better than most even today. Note that he is not accused of any wrongdoing other than his failure to care for Lazarus. It seems his only sins are his pride and indifference to the poverty at his door. He is without mercy and devoid of compassion and we may fairly accuse him of greed for greed and avarice lead to the loss of charity and compassion.
In contrast there is Lazarus, sick and starving, whose only friends are the hungry, mangy dogs in the street. They alone have compassion on him and tend his sores. The Jews had a horror of skin diseases which they associated with leprosy and so Lazarus is literally shunned like a leper. Like the Prodigal Son Lazarus is so hungry that he longs to eat the slops from the rich man’s table but he is offered nothing. The rich man could’ve done something but he chose not to. He could’ve sent a servant or arranged with someone to help Lazarus but he didn’t. He did nothing. This was his sin, a sin of omission.
Note too that he is nameless. Our Lord does not name him because his name is not written in Heaven. We have our humanity as a gift, something that we are to unfold, unwrap and explore, to make grow and deepen through loving care for others. Love is not a feeling it is an act of your will, a choice to treat another person as a good in themselves, to give oneself to them in service. To choose not to serve, not to care is to choose to become less human and in the end to become inhuman and therefore nameless before God. We earn our names in Heaven by our compassion and care for those in need, especially those who cannot pay us back.
Abraham, the father of the Jewish people and all the righteous, was a just and hospitable man, compassionate to the poor. He was a man of faith who sacrificed financial security in this world because of his faith in God and his hope of future, everlasting security in Heaven. It was he who haggled with God to try to save Sodom from destruction. Both men die but it is Lazarus who ends up in the ‘bosom of Abraham’ while the rich man ends up in Hell. The ‘bosom of Abraham’ may refer to Heaven or to that place where the just awaited the resurrection of Christ. Lazarus is consoled and soothed but the heartless rich man is immersed in fire and cannot escape. Yet he remains unchanged by his torment. He is suffering for his pride, greed and lack of compassion but remains as proud and indifferent to Lazarus as always. This is what he has made of himself.
In his arrogance the rich man still calls Abraham ‘father’ and expects that Lazarus will be treated like a servant sent to do his bidding. Yet there is malice here too. He does not ask to be removed from the fire and to be allowed to join Lazarus but that Lazarus be sent to serve him in his torment. Abraham explains the reality to him. He has made his bed in Hell and now he must lie in it for all eternity. He is suffering for wasting his wealth on himself, for being mastered by his appetites and for being without compassion while Lazarus, who did no wrong, who did not curse, who did not even resent the rich man, is granted everlasting consolation.
The Fathers take the ‘five brothers’ to mean the five senses. Wealth and comfort can seduce us into materialism and its spouse atheism. We can grow indifferent to the needs of others and even to our eternal salvation. How often do those we mock the things of God and ignore the moral law that one ought to care for those in need? Moses and the prophets warned about the demands of the moral law and what awaits those who ignore it. Wealth, if it is not put at the service of charity, is a trap for the careless soul. The rich man was enslaved to his senses and so lost his freedom in eternity. Lazarus remained poor but free in this world and so won his freedom in Heaven. By rejecting the warning of ‘Moses and the prophets’ we are rejecting Christ too.
Christ is the true rich man who has made himself utterly poor for our sakes for He left the wealth of Heaven to enter our spiritual poverty on Earth. He comes to us not only in Holy Communion, though that is, by far, the greatest of His gifts to us, but He comes to us also in the poor. He is the poor man who sits at our doorsteps and on our streets. He hides the wounds of the Cross under those of addiction and poverty. He suffers in all who are poor, needy or abandoned, from the child in the womb to the old person dying alone, from the poorest of the poor in Africa to those unjustly imprisoned. What we do to them we do to Him.
Compared to so many people in our world we are rich. We have a low crime rate, a huge variety of food in our shops, heating, light and a health care system, good schools and so many other amenities. Yes we pay for them but they are luxuries beyond imagining to most of humanity. There are families in some parts of the World today where their annual income is about €100. Here in Ireland there are 228 people homeless in Dublin alone and yet how many houses and apartments lie idle? We deplore this fact but how many of us have called or written to our elected representatives to complain about this situation?
We are faced with this choice: either we serve the world or God, wealth or good. Christ demands of us that we care for those in need. He expects us to use what we have on Earth to invest in Heaven by looking after others, firstly among our family, friends and neighbours but among strangers as well. As St Ephrem said “we cannot hope for pardon at the end unless the fruits of pardon can be seen in us.” Show your faith and the work of God’s grace through charity to those who are poor and struggling. The rich man got no mercy because he showed none. You will receive from God in accord with how you have given. If you want to show sorrow for your wrongdoing look after the poor and needy. You will not have to look far to find them. Go further than money. Volunteer your time, offer to fundraise, search for things to do for those in need and you will find plenty to do.
The rich man did not hold faith with Lazarus, his fellow Jew, in his suffering and poverty on Earth so he could not share with him in his blessedness and good fortune in Heaven. Likewise we too cannot share in the blessedness of Heaven if we ignore those who are in need here on Earth.