November 30, 2010
Sunday was the beginning of Advent. I wonder how many sermons mangled the readings trying to find something that’s not there. The plain fact is that they’re not about Christmas at all, preparation for that will come later in the season. These readings are about the Second Coming of Christ and that’s what the first part of Advent is all about. Our thoughts and celebrations should not be turning to cribs and managers, shepherds and angels but to Christ who will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead.
The Church does this deliberately. We are to prepare for Christmas by first thinking of the time when Jesus will come again. Many of the older hymns in the hymn book grasp this very well. We celebrate Jesus’s birth because of who he is – the eternal Son of God. The Creed similarly reminds us that he became incarnate to suffer, die and rise again – and that he will return in glory.
We are called to ‘stay awake’ because we must be ready for that return. As the shops fill with Christmas knickknacks and the whole yuletide paraphernalia is unfolded we would do well to realise that this world is not all there is, it will come to an end. We have the Lord’s own words for that. But we can be hopeful because the one who will come to judge is the one who has come as a babe in the manager, and who is present now in his church through word and sacrament.
November 22, 2010
Sunday is the wonderful feast of Christ the King. First initiated when storm clouds were gathering around Europe in the run up to the second world war, the feast still reminds us that, in the midst of economic and social turmoil, Jesus Christ is the King of all creation. He has already achieved victory through his cross and resurrection and he will come again in glory to establish his rule at the end of time. In the interim the church is called to be the sign and seed of his kingdom in our world today.
The values of the world are not the values of the Church. As we look back over the last year, because Advent Sunday in a week’s time is the beginning of a new liturgical round, we see the saints who are ambassadors of Christ’s Kingdom. They are drawn from all classes and colours, places and times, rich and poor, clever and illiterate, kings and paupers. They challenge the world’s view of happiness, power, and importance. They point us towards Christ the King.
Sunday’s is a majestic feast. It shows us Christ in his glory, but also shows us how that glory is shared with the saints and can be ours if we are prepared to open ourselves up to the rule of Christ in our lives.
November 15, 2010
November has traditionally been the month when we remember the dead. Throughout its thirty days requiem masses are frequently offered, lists of the dead placed at the foot of the altar or the paschal candle, and prayers for the faithfull departed encouraged. None of this is gloomy or morbid. It is realistic and a counterblast to our deceptive contemporary culture which wants to pretend that we can live for ever in this world or that entry into the next is automatic. Neither are true. One day we will leave this world and we hope – but are not assured – that we will enjoy eternal happiness. Both these facts – our death and the contingency of our future happiness are the result of sin. Death is caused by sin, and sin can separate us from God.
Although these facts are true they should not cause us to be paranoid. Through the cross and resurrection of Jesus we triumph over death and sin – but it is his work and his achievement not ours. That fact sits ill with our modern world that wants to talk about rights and entitlements. Those concepts are correct in some cases but we have no right to eternal life or entitlement to it. We are given it as a gift. And we can pray that others receive that gift too – hence our prayers for the dead.
The souls in Purgatory are contented souls, they are assured of salvation, but they are also suffering souls because they have not yet reached the state of the blessed in heaven. Our prayers can help them, and so throughout November let us say the age old Catholic prayer: Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May thier souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.
November 8, 2010
There are just two Popes referred to as ‘the Great’ – St Gregory, who reigned in at the start of the eighth century, and St Leo who was Pope from 440 until 461. Leo, whose feast we celebrate on Wednesday, was the embodiment of the ‘rock’ that Peter and his successors were called to be for the Church. At a time when the political and social world was falling apart – the Roman Empire was being overrun by the barbarian hordes, and the Church riven with heresy, Leo stood firm for the truths of the faith. He upheld orthodox teaching about the human and divine natures of Christ, and persuaded the Huns and Vandals to respect the weak and impoverished.
We still have many of his letters and sermons. They are models of clarity and explanation. Even today they are eminently readable and they teach us so much about Christian doctrine. They are also practical and give sensible advice to their recipients. Leo epitomises everything that characterises the good teacher: he has a firm grasp of the facts, he is imaginative in how he puts them across, and he is concerned that his hearers understand.
We face an uncertain world with threats of terror, economic gloom, and the collapse of many trusted institutions. The Church is under threat from new barbarians who do not appreciate its culture or teaching. Let us St Leo to pray for us to be like ‘rocks’ for those around us, and also let us pray for Pope Benedict his successor.
November 1, 2010
The shops are full of rubbish trying to tempt us to part with hard earned cash for skeletons, bats, pointy hats and other such Halloween tat. Perhaps a sign of the ‘Americanisation’ of our culture but certainly an indication of a society that has completely lost its compass for the spiritual world. For the Christian the spiritual world is not about ghouls and ghosts but about the Holy Spirit who transforms and ennobles our weak human nature. That’s what we’ll be celebrating on the Feast of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls.
The feast of All Saints brings to our gaze the countless host of man and women who have lived the spiritual life to the full and now enjoy the life of heaven. The Commemoration of All Souls reminds us that the dead are not to be feared but loved and helped with our prayers. The wonderful things proclaimed in these two days are not to be passed over lightly.
Both tell us of the triumph of Christ over sin, evil and death. Both tell us of the power of his resurrection. Both show us where our real destiny lies. Let us ask the saints to pray for us, and let pray for our loved ones now departed. We can do so because we believe in the communion of saints – a community created by Christ that shares in his risen, healing love.