February 23, 2018
‘Tradition’ has become something of a dirty word in certain quarters. This is a great shame as properly understood it means the process whereby what is valuable is handed on to the next generation. For the Church, tradition is not the dead faith of the living but rather the living faith of the dead. We have received our faith from those who have gone before us.
All the saints have played a vital part in this process but some of those from the earliest days of the Church deserve a special mention. One such is the saint we celebrate today. Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna in modern day Turkey. He was martyred there as a very old man of 86 in the year 155. He had been taught the faith by St. John the Evangelist. And in his turn he taught St Irenaeus, whose feast we celebrate in June, and who wrote the first systematic exposition of Christian doctrine. Reading the writings of these ‘Fathers’ of the Church and others we see clearly already well developed doctrine about the Eucharist, the sacraments and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
We are called now not to make up a new faith and new understanding but rather to hand on faithfully what we ourselves have received: the faith that can be traced back to the Apostles and Christ himself. P.D.
February 16, 2018
It has become fashionable to decry the idea of sin. We are told that it means little to the men and women of the twenty first century. A quick look at the news should show that the effects of sin are still all too present: angry zealots, greedy bankers, lustful opportunists, and so many more. We can see the deep disharmony that sin brings all too often. The truth is not that ‘sin’ means so little but rather that people don’t want to admit that they are responsible for their actions.
The Church tells us otherwise. It tells us the truth. We are fallen human beings. We do what we know we shouldn’t. It’s almost as if we can’t help ourselves. In one sense we can’t. That’s why the gospel on Sunday is so important.
There we see ‘one who is like us in all things but sin’ triumphing over the temptations that are placed in his way. They are real temptations, Jesus is not play acting. But unlike us on so many occasions Jesus is able to see through the quick fix, the easy lie, the misplaced confidence.
The wonderful thing is that he wants to share his victory with us. By works of fasting , prayer and almsgiving we are able to see correctly and choose the good. P.D.
February 12, 2018
Next Wednesday we begin our celebration of Lent. While the world will be celebrating the rather spurious St Valentine’s Day we will be told of our fate loud and clear in both word and action: ‘Dust you are unto dust you shall return’ will be the stark message as our heads are sprinkled with ashes. No purely human organisation or individual ever tells us this obvious truth in cold, clear terms. The Church alone has courage to do so.
But the Church is able to proclaim this seemingly hopeless message because, on the contrary, She knows our true destination and calling. We begin Lent as a journey to Easter. We put on ashes to follow Christ to his death – and resurrection. We may go down into the dust but we shall rise again from it.
Our Lenten observance is a time for us to refocus on what really matters. We undertake fasting, prayer and almsgiving, not because we want to punish ourselves but because we want to be liberated from the things that bind us. We give things up to take on a fuller understanding of what it is to be human.
We begin our journey with the stark truth but we undertake it because we know the glory to which we are called. P.D.
February 5, 2018
Tomorrow we celebrate the lovely feast of The Presentation of the Lord. The feast marks 40 days since the celebration of Christmas. It recalls the time when Christ was brought to the Temple by Our Lady and St. Joseph. The holy old woman Anna realises the presence of the Saviour while the holy old man Simeon cannot contain his joy and proclaims that this child is the Light of the World.
Picking up on this latter insight during the Liturgy candles are blessed as a sign of the light that overcomes the darkness. With the evenings still dark and cold these speak of the warmth that will soon be arriving but also, more importantly of the kindling of the Easter Fire and Easter Candle which speaks of Christ’s glorious resurrection.
Our worship is not just words, it utilises action and material things as well. Look around on this feast and see how your fellow worshippers faces are irradiated by the candle light. We are called to be reflections of the Light of Christ in our world today. It is a world that has many dark places but into those Christians plunge to bring the good news: this child is the Light of the World. P.D.