October 30, 2009
Tomorrow evening we will be subjected to the rather silly American invention of ‘Halloween’, at root just another attempt by shops to make money.
The real feast, of course, comes the next day on Sunday when we celebrate All Saints. This is a wonderful feast day. It celebrates the Christian understanding of death, not something to be afraid of or terrified about but rather an enemy to be conquered through the power of Jesus Christ. In Him we shall all be made alive.
Throughout the year the church’s calendar in littered with saints of all sorts. On Sunday we celebrate with them but also realise that we are called to join them. The saints are the ‘celebrities’ of the Church but unlike a lot of our worldly celebrities, who are often vain and conceited, they proclaim that their status is a gift from God. It’s not something they’ve earned but something they’ve been given. And we too can share in that gift if we open ourselves up to God’s transforming love.
This feast proclaims very vividly that for Catholics the dead are not out of sight and out of mind. Rather they are in communion with us. We can pray to them and they can pray for us. Their lives inspire us but they also help us here and now as we journey to meet them.
October 27, 2009
On Wednesday we celebrate the feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude. We know little about them – the scriptures tell us that Simon had once been one of the ‘Zealots’ (a sect within Judaism), and that Jude is not to be confused with Judas Iscariot. Legend holds that they suffered a martyr’s death in Persia, but we have no reliable evidence for this.
The one thing that is certain though is that they were part of ‘the Twelve’. We find their names in each list of the Apostles, albeit with some variation in reference. And this is what we can recall today: we ‘hold and teach the Catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles’.
We live in an age in which people think that in religion, as with almost anything else, they can do their own thing. This D-I-Y approach is not the Christian understanding. We don’t make up a faith to suit our needs and desires. We receive the faith of the Church which teaches what God has revealed about himself. But as well as receiving we’re also called to give. The Catholic ‘tradition’ is the process of handing on the faith from one generation to another. May the holy Apostles Simon and Jude help us with their prayers as to engage in that task.
October 15, 2009
How can we know that what we believe is what Christ actually taught? Some would have us believe that the Church has distorted the simple original teaching of Jesus. That is where saints like the one we celebrate today are very useful guides. Ignatius was the second or third bishop of Antioch. By the time he was martyred in 107AD he was already an old man. He had learnt his faith from the Apostles themselves and like them he was prepared to die for it.
Ignatius wrote a number of letters to other Christian communities which we can still read today. They show us what the Church was like in the opening century of its life. And, we can clearly recognise in these letters what we believe today. For instance, Ignatius was insistent that Christians should meet together to celebrate the Eucharist Sunday by Sunday. They are to do this because Christ commanded it, and also because there they meet Christ in word and sacrament.
The idea of a ‘simple Christianity’ devoid of leaders, sacraments, doctrine is a very late invention. The writings of Ignatius and the other early martyrs show us clearly that we believe the ‘faith that comes to us from the Apostles’.
October 12, 2009
Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint John Leonardi. Some readers may have visited the beautiful little city of Lucca in Tuscany where John was born in 1541. He was ordained a priest in 1572 and was very concerned to teach the children and young people in that place.
John was one of a group of saints who lived out the ideals of the Counter- Reformation and emphasized the importance of the Eucharist and devotion to Our Lady in his sermons and teaching. He founded a religious order to help him in this task. It was characteristic of John that he should die in the service of others nursing those who were victims of the flu epidemic raging in Rome in 1609.
When we read about the saints of this period what is striking is how faith and works went together in their lives. They were not concerned with doctrine alone but how that doctrine was lived out in love. John’s devotion to the Body of Christ was not just to that body sacramentally present in the eucharist but also physically present in those in need – the poor, the sick, the destitute.
Let us pray that through his prayers we may always venerate the present of Christ wherever he is to be found – at the altar but also in the street and in our daily lives.
October 3, 2009
The recession is affecting us all in different ways: we may be concerned about our jobs or our mortgages, we may have cut back on our foreign holidays or eating out, we may be wondering how public spending cuts are going to affect our school. All these are legitimate concerns and we are right to feel angry with those whose reckless pursuit of money has caused this financial crisis. But for the poor in the third world the situation is much bleaker. There the recession is a cause of hunger before it is a cause for anger. Families who have worked hard to earn meagre wages and a modicum of stability find those things now completely imperilled.
That’s why today we need to step aside from our concerns and think of those who are in much greater distress. CAFOD’s Harvest Fast day gives us the chance to show our solidarity with those have been hit hardest of all in the present crisis. We may now have less but they are lucky to have next to nothing. As well as digging into our purses and wallets we also have to dig into our consciences: is it right that the world’s resources are so unfairly shared. In a little while the politicians will be canvassing for our votes in the General Election. We need to ask them how they propose to make Britain, but more importantly, the world fairer and more just. P.D.