June 6, 2016
On Saturday we celebrate the feast of St. Barnabas. He is called an ‘Apostle’ though he was not one of the original twelve chosen by Christ himself. He is described in the Acts of the Apostles as ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’. He vouched for the trustworthiness of the recently converted Paul. And with Paul he was sent off on the first missionary journey that the infant church undertook. Part of that journey encompassed Cyprus and the church there claims its descent from him. He is reckoned to have suffered a martyr’s death at Salamis, a port on the island of Cyprus.
Barnabas teaches us a great deal. He shows how the early church was keen to call others into what we now call ‘holy orders’, so that the Apostolic preaching and teaching could be continued. He also shows us that the early church realised that it has a divine calling to spread the word. Finally, he shows us that following Christ can be costly to the point of giving up one’s life.
Let us ask Barnabas for his prayers for ourselves so that we too may be missionaries in our world today. And let us also ask his prayers for the people of Cyprus.
May 5, 2016
On Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Ascension (transferred from Thursday). It is vital that we realise the imagery used in this feast is not about departure but rather about presence. Jesus, as the gospel recalls, passes from the Apostles’ sight but he is still intimately with them in everything they do and say. And that presence continues in the church today. It is Christ who preaches and heals and reconciles. At his Ascension he doesn’t say ‘Over to you’ but rather ‘I am with you always.’
Pope St Leo the Great, who was Bishop of Rome in the fifth century, put it succinctly when he said: ‘After the Ascension the visible presence of our Redeemer passed over into sacraments’. Christ is still present in the world today, continuing His saving mission, but that presence is seen through sign and symbol which don’t just point to Him but making Him effectively present.
The other aspect of this feast that we must not neglect is what it tells us about ourselves. By his Ascension Jesus has taken our humanity into the Godhead. Everything that makes us truly human is therefore redeemed and saved and loved. The feast promises us that we shall share in His divinity because He has shared in our humanity.
April 15, 2016
The Archbishop of Canterbury was recently in the news, as revelations were made about his paternity. His response was very measured and kind, but also showed his deep Christian convictions. Next Thursday we celebrate the feast of St. Anslem, who a thousand years ago occupied the same See.
Anselm too had his troubles, but like Archbishop Welby, his trust in Christ was made manifest. He was born around the year 1033. He became a monk at the famous abbey of Bec in Normandy, becoming Abbot in 1078. He wrote a number of theological and philosophical works about faith and reason. In 1093 he became Archbishop of Canterbury.
Because he was keen to defend the honour and independence of the Church he did not endear himself to the kings he had to deal with, and several times he was forced into exile.
What comes across in Anselm’s writings are a razor sharp mind wrapped in sensitivity and kindness. He was much loved by his monks and the ordinary people. He was keen, for instance, to abolish slavery which still existed in England at that time.
Let us pray to St. Anslem for those same gifts: absolute commitment to the truth, courage to stand up for it, but also the love to put it into practice.
April 11, 2016
For most of those elected Pope in the earliest years of the Church their choosing meant almost certain death at the hands of the Roman state which was vigorously trying to supress the new religion. The Roman Canon gives a long list of those Bishops of Rome who were martyred for their faith. Surprisingly, the last Pope to be martyred was St. Martin in 655 AD, long after the Empire has adopted Christianity as its religion. We celebrate his feast on Wednesday.
Martin was born in Umbria in Italy. He fell foul of the Byzantine Emperor, Constans II, for his vigorous opposition to a heresy favoured by this ruler. He was starved and banished and died in exile in the Crimea.
Christians will never sit completely easily with any state. As St. Augustine said: ‘here we have no abiding city’. Tyrants and dictators fear the Church because it commands a loyalty beyond their craven desires for complete service. The history of the Church is scattered with countless numbers of saints like Martin who, in the words of St. Thomas More, were ‘the king’s good servant – but God’s first’.
The strength of the martyrs comes from their Easter faith. They know that Christ has lordship over death, and so they are prepared to die if need be.
We will probably not be called upon to die for our faith, which is all the more reason to live it as a proclamation that Christ is risen from the dead.
March 22, 2016
This weekend is the most solemn and sacred in the Church’s year. We are celebrating the passion, death and resurrection of Christ: the mystery which lies at the very heart of our faith. The Liturgy speaks to us of past events and engages us in present reality. We are not just recalling but reliving the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. We are sharing in his death so as to share in his resurrection.
The Liturgy is replete with this symbolism. Take just two aspects. On Friday we will kiss the cross. In so doing we are not just venerating our crucified Saviour, we are also embracing our own share in the cross of Christ. On Easter Eve we carry candles not just to celebrate the resurrected Light of the World but to emphasise that we are that Light in the world today.
These days are wonderful in the proper sense of the word. They take us deep into the essence of our faith. What we celebrate every Sunday is unfolded in an even more dramatic way. We proclaim to all who will hear that Christ has died for us, risen for us, and shares his life with us. Alleluia!
February 16, 2016
This weekend we celebrate the Second Sunday of Lent. We have to locate and understand the readings and liturgy in the context of what we heard last week. There we saw Jesus tempted, here we see him glorified. There we saw him in his human state, here we see his divinity revealed.
But this is not just about Jesus. It’s about us too. The readings of last Sunday and this tell us who we really are as well. We are tempted but we too can share in the divine life. The difference lies in this: what Jesus is in his nature we are by grace. He is God’s eternally begotten Son. We are God’s adopted children.
The proof of this adoption is not in a piece of paper or in a court decree but rather in our baptism. At the font we were reborn as God’s sons and daughters. This is why Lent is a time when we recall our baptism and renew that new life. Lent is also the time when those who are seeking to join the Church at Easter are prepared for the new life it brings.
At the Easter Vigil we will renew our baptismal promises. We will be sprinkled as a sign of that wonderful sacrament in which we became in truth and in fact the sons and daughters of God, the coheirs of his Kingdom.
February 16, 2016
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent. As with every other year the readings this weekend and next should be taken together. This Sunday we see Christ tempted, and next Sunday we see him transfigured. This tells us both about the Lord we believe in, but also about the people we are called to be.
In today’s gospel we see the devil displaying all his wiles to outwit Our Lord as he tries to tempt him into sin. Jesus is robust in his replies. He sees through the devil and drives him away. During the liturgy of baptism, and at the Easter Vigil, we are asked him we reject Satan and all his empty promises. We can be confident of doing so, not because of our own strength, but because Jesus has overcome the devil for us. If we rely on him and on his grace then we too can dismiss Satan and his false promises.
Our Lenten observance is aimed at strengthening our faith and our love. We undertake fasting, prayer and almsgiving so we can see more clearly where the truth lies and where falsehood lurks. As we begin our Lenten journey let us take heart from Jesus, true God and true man, who is tempted but does not fall.