June 30, 2011
There have always been those within the church who have wanted to take a ‘tough line’ with sinners, laying down the law and demanding the highest possible standards. They have little time for backsliders, and can be very impatient and lacking in understanding of human weakness. Thankfully the words of Jesus are unequivocal: he loves sinners and came to save them.
On Friday we celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart. This devotion is centred around the love of Jesus. Although known before then it really came into its own in the seventeenth century when a heresy known as Jansenism overemphasised the justice of God and started to lose sight of his mercy. The Sacred Heart reminds us of the truth spoken about above – Christ came to save sinners.
This feast is always a challenge to those who want to see the Christian faith as a set of rules and regulations, of laws that must be obeyed, of threats and punishment. It grounds us in the right place, the love of God. The feast does challenge us – but to imitate the love we see portrayed. We are to love as we ourselves have been loved.
June 24, 2011
On Wednesday we celebrate the wonderful feast of Saints Peter and Paul. Peter and Paul remind us on the two imperatives of the Church: to keep ‘the catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles’ but also to spread it throughout the world. We are Christians who have inherited a living tradition and are duty bound to share it with others. Both those things are necessary. Tradition without preaching is dead, preaching without the tradition is rootless.
One of the striking things about the early Church is the way in which the gospel message exploded across the Roman Empire. Well within a hundred years it had reached its remotest corners such as the British Isles. The Apostles we celebrate on Wednesday and their fellows were responsible for this because they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter and Paul were in no doubt about their need for this divine help: Peter had denied Christ and run away, Paul had persecuted the early Church. Perhaps if they had been less cowardly and less opinionated they wouldn’t have known their need of God?
Peter and Paul show us how God can take our weak points and transform them. On this feast day let us reflect how God will transform and build up his Church once again if only we will let him have his way. May the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul pray for us so that we can hear what the Spirit is saying to us today.
June 15, 2011
I wonder how many sermons this Sunday will tell us how ‘difficult’ the doctrine of the trinity is to understand. It’s a shame really because the ‘problem’ with the Trinity is not that the concept so distant from us but rather because the persons are so close – in fact closer to us than our own breath. Just think about any act of prayer. We don’t pray to some distant deity hoping that they may just about hear us. Rather our desire to pray is the sign of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Similarly we don’t pray as creatures, though we are that, but as children, because we share in the Son’s risen life. And we don’t pray to any old god but to our Father. All our prayer is Trinitarian.
And that’s true of the greatest prayer of all – the Holy Mass. We are gathered by the Spirit to be the Body of the Son offered to the Father. At Mass we are not just in the presence of God we are caught up into that presence. We share in the very life of the Trinity.
Every aspect of our faith and practice flows from and is directed to the Holy Trinity. In the words of the Catechism ‘the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life’. It’s not a riddle or a conundrum or a problem, it is the mystery of God’s life shared with us.
June 9, 2011
Next Sunday is the fiftieth day since Easter, hence its name – Pentecost, from the Greek for ‘fifty’. It marks the end of the Easter season during which the Church has celebrated the resurrection of Christ for a week of weeks, seven times seven. But the end is not a whimper but a bang: the Holy Spirit is poured out on the infant Church and it is empowered to carry the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth.
The first Pentecost, which we will hear about in the first reading, is just that – the first. Each year, and indeed each Sunday, we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit. We are not just called to remember Jesus’ teaching and deeds like some other holy teacher but are enabled to make him present in our world today. The Spirit is continually poured out on the Church for that task.
It is easy to get despondent and to worry about the fate of the Church. We should not do so. Although it is comprised of frail and weak human beings like ourselves its life is so much, much more. In fact it is the Spirit of God himself that invigorates the Church.
Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of the faithful!
June 6, 2011
On Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Ascension, one of the greatest feasts in the Calendar. The readings and the prayers speak of the mystery of Christ’s continued presence with his church. Although we cannot see him we know that he is with us in what we do. And this is no vague feeling of closeness, through the power of the Holy Spirit he continues through his church what he began in his own bodily presence of earth.
Christ has not abandoned us to our own devices, or told us to get on with things as best we can until he returns. Rather he is with us ‘til the end of time’. All the sacraments and sacramental signs we celebrate in the Liturgy speak to us of that presence – but even more importantly make it effective in our lives. When the Church baptises it is Christ who baptises, when the Church teachers it is he who is teaching. When the Church forgives it is Christ who takes away our sins.
Pope Leo the Great summed it up well when he said: ‘after the Ascension the visible presence of our Saviour passed over into sacraments’. That is a wonderful statement. When we celebrate the sacraments we are not just performing a ritual, rather we are making Christ living and present in our midst. We can no longer see him, but we can be confident that he is continuing the work he began as effectively as ever. P.D.