April 20, 2018
We have four gospels that the Church tells us are authentic records of the doings and sayings of Christ. Other gospels exist (such as the ones that I suspect Pullman bases his book on) but the Church has always ruled them out as inauthentic and misleading.
One of the authentic gospels is that written by the saint we celebrate on Wednesday, Mark.
Mark’s gospel is the plainest of the four. He is no great stylist, and the language he uses is stark and simple. He is also not flattering to the apostles who are depicted as slow on the uptake and slow to believe. The core of Mark’s message is the same as the other gospel writers however. Jesus is the one sent by God, who was crucified and is now risen from the dead. Through him we are saved.
What is startling when we read all the gospels together is not that they are different in style and tell the story in different ways but rather the story they tell. They are convinced, as Mark states in his opening lines, that here is good news.
Our task is to put that good news on the page into practice in our lives. The world has grown tired and cynical about preachers and teachers but the people of our generation will be convinced when they see us living out the good news in our lives.
April 11, 2018
The Church’s joy in the resurrection is boundless because it is at the very heart of all that it does. Every celebration of the sacraments, every good deed, every preaching of the word is because of the power of the resurrection.
In the liturgical year while Lent lasts for forty days, Eastertide lasts for fifty. During that period the new life that Jesus won for us, and what it now makes possible, are presented for our contemplation. We hear the accounts of the resurrection appearances but we also hear of the transformative effect these encounters had on the disciples. As we go through Eastertide the Sunday liturgy makes clear to us what the resurrection means.
As we celebrate the feasts of the saints during this period we are also made aware that their strength and power comes from the resurrection. They were faithful to the risen Lord and filled with his life. Those who were, and are, called to martyrdom could do so because they believed in the resurrection. Their deaths are another sign of the risen life of Christ at work in the church.
Let us pray that as we journey through Eastertide we may become more aware of what the resurrection means for us in our lives today.
March 15, 2018
Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of St Patrick. One of the things that we should remember about him is that he is first and foremost a missionary bishop – he went out to preach the gospel to those who had not heard it.
We all know the story about his capture and slavery, but is it not truly remarkable that he went back to those places? He had come to love his captors so much that he wanted to share the gospel with them to make them free.
Patrick was a man of immense faith but also immense courage. Again we know the stories of him challenging the High King of Ireland over the lighting of the Easter fire and the like. His faith was something that empowered him.
In our own day we don’t have to go far to encounter those who have never heard the gospel message. They are all around us. We need something of Patrick’s courage, something of his faith, but above all something of his love so that we too can go out and proclaim the gospel in all its fullness.
May St. Patrick, one the greatest missionary saints the church here has produced pray for us to follow his example. P.D.
March 2, 2018
Perhaps it comes as something as a shock to realise that north Africa was once a thriving outpost of Christianity. Apart from the Coptic Christians in Egypt little now remains of those communities. But what does remain is vitally important. On Wednesday we celebrate once such legacy: the feast day of Saints Perpetua and Felicity. Unlike some of the early martyrs we know quite a bit about these two woman and their deaths.
They died in the year 202. The Emperor had just forbidden conversion to the ‘new’ religion of Christianity. Perpertua and Felicity were catechumens when the decree came but still proceeded to baptism. They did nothing to hide their new allegiance and died in the arena at Carthage.
These two martyrs tell us so much about our faith. They remind us of the centrality of Christ and of the absolute demands of his gospel, which are above even those of the state. But they also remind us of the catechumenate which slowly we’re rediscovering: the state of preparing for baptism. Up and down the country we now have catechumens who are preparing for baptism at Easter. Although they will not be called on to die for Christ like Perpetua and Felicity they can revive our belief and love of God by their own manifest enthusiasm and faith.
As we journey to Easter let us these two saints to pray for us and also for those who, like them, long for baptism and eucharist. P.D.
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.