September 27, 2010
Dotted around Europe are a large number of hill top shrines. There are famous ones in northern France and Cornwall. Their name links them together – Mont Saint Michel, St. Michael’s Mount. In south Wales there is St. Michael’s chapel on top of the Skirrid mountain, and hundreds of others are found across the continent. Saint Michael is the Archangel whose feast day we keep on Wednesday. He has been venerated throughout the Church from the earliest times.
In the Bible we are given various accounts of Michael, one of the most vivid being in the book of Revelation where he throws Satan out of heaven. But in them all he is depicted as the champion of God’s people, defending them from all the assaults and attacks of Satan. In statues and stained glass he is often shown as a mighty warrior treading the devil underfoot.
We can often feel that we are battling alone against an ever rising tide of materialism and indifference. We are very aware of the weakness of individual Christians and how this impacts upon the Church. Wednesday’s feast should give us new heart. We are not alone – we have the angels fighting for us as well. And, above all, we know that through their help and prayers good will triumph, evil will be defeated, and God will reign.
September 17, 2010
On Tuesday we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew the evangelist. It is to Matthew that we owe the story of the wise men coming to the infant Christ and the desire of Herod to destroy him. But it is also Matthew’s gospel that is most concerned to show us that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament. Matthew quoted the OT more than the other evangelists and is keen to use phrases such as ‘this was to fulfil the scriptures’.
All in all Matthew emphasises the Jewishness of Jesus and in so doing reminds us of his birth into a particular time and place. This is an important reminder to us of the nature of our faith. We do not believe in an ideology or a philosophical system, a god who is remote from us or a deity who is manifested in various ways. We believe in God who has been made fully known in the man Jesus Christ, the man who is also the second person of the divine trinity. We believe in an incarnate God who walked and talked and lived among us. Matthew reminds us of the human roots of this God. We should relish learning about the Old Testament and about Judaism because in learning more about them we learn more about Jesus.
September 14, 2010
On Tuesday we celebrate the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, or Holy Cross day as it is often known. It gives us a chance to think about the vital importance and meaning of the cross in our Christian lives.
It would be a worthwhile exercise to gather a number of images of the cross together. We will obviously find the ‘traditional’ crucifix with the dead or dying Jesus but we will also find the image of Christ the King, dressed in his priestly vestments, and other images in which Christ is very much alive and reigning from the cross. Images from other cultures show Jesus in every human hue and in a variety of costumes.
All this shows that while the crucifixion took place at a particular moment of time the Church has reflected and meditated on the meaning of that event for every time and place. The cross has a universal significance and the feast we celebrate on Tuesday emphasises that fact. We are not just recalling an historical event but a living reality and the powerful sign whereby we are saved. ‘Lord by your cross and resurrection you have set us free, you are the Saviour of the world’.
September 6, 2010
There are three birthdays commemorated in the Church’s Calendar: that of Christ at Christmas, St John the Baptist’s in August, and that of Our Lady which we celebrate on Wednesday. We often find these three depicted in paintings and icons because all three are central to the mystery of the incarnation. We do not believe in a God who is distant from this world, who is above earthly cares and concerns. We are not called to be disembodied beings – that role is for the angels. Our humanity is not an obstacle to our holiness but rather its precondition and possibility.
Because in Christ God has taken on our human nature, our human nature is for ever linked to the divine. Feasts like the one we celebrate on Wednesday call us back to the profound truth of the incarnation. Mary was born like one of us, though without sin, and had to grow in her knowledge and understanding. Paintings often show the child Mary learning to read at the knee of St Anne her mother.
As we begin a new term we can reflect on the high, God given vocation that is teaching. Mary had to be taught and so did Jesus. Both in their turn taught those around them. Our quest for knowledge is one of the things that makes us truly human, and as such it also leads to God who is the source of all wisdom.