April 11, 2016
For most of those elected Pope in the earliest years of the Church their choosing meant almost certain death at the hands of the Roman state which was vigorously trying to supress the new religion. The Roman Canon gives a long list of those Bishops of Rome who were martyred for their faith. Surprisingly, the last Pope to be martyred was St. Martin in 655 AD, long after the Empire has adopted Christianity as its religion. We celebrate his feast on Wednesday.
Martin was born in Umbria in Italy. He fell foul of the Byzantine Emperor, Constans II, for his vigorous opposition to a heresy favoured by this ruler. He was starved and banished and died in exile in the Crimea.
Christians will never sit completely easily with any state. As St. Augustine said: ‘here we have no abiding city’. Tyrants and dictators fear the Church because it commands a loyalty beyond their craven desires for complete service. The history of the Church is scattered with countless numbers of saints like Martin who, in the words of St. Thomas More, were ‘the king’s good servant – but God’s first’.
The strength of the martyrs comes from their Easter faith. They know that Christ has lordship over death, and so they are prepared to die if need be.
We will probably not be called upon to die for our faith, which is all the more reason to live it as a proclamation that Christ is risen from the dead.
March 22, 2016
This weekend is the most solemn and sacred in the Church’s year. We are celebrating the passion, death and resurrection of Christ: the mystery which lies at the very heart of our faith. The Liturgy speaks to us of past events and engages us in present reality. We are not just recalling but reliving the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. We are sharing in his death so as to share in his resurrection.
The Liturgy is replete with this symbolism. Take just two aspects. On Friday we will kiss the cross. In so doing we are not just venerating our crucified Saviour, we are also embracing our own share in the cross of Christ. On Easter Eve we carry candles not just to celebrate the resurrected Light of the World but to emphasise that we are that Light in the world today.
These days are wonderful in the proper sense of the word. They take us deep into the essence of our faith. What we celebrate every Sunday is unfolded in an even more dramatic way. We proclaim to all who will hear that Christ has died for us, risen for us, and shares his life with us. Alleluia!
February 16, 2016
This weekend we celebrate the Second Sunday of Lent. We have to locate and understand the readings and liturgy in the context of what we heard last week. There we saw Jesus tempted, here we see him glorified. There we saw him in his human state, here we see his divinity revealed.
But this is not just about Jesus. It’s about us too. The readings of last Sunday and this tell us who we really are as well. We are tempted but we too can share in the divine life. The difference lies in this: what Jesus is in his nature we are by grace. He is God’s eternally begotten Son. We are God’s adopted children.
The proof of this adoption is not in a piece of paper or in a court decree but rather in our baptism. At the font we were reborn as God’s sons and daughters. This is why Lent is a time when we recall our baptism and renew that new life. Lent is also the time when those who are seeking to join the Church at Easter are prepared for the new life it brings.
At the Easter Vigil we will renew our baptismal promises. We will be sprinkled as a sign of that wonderful sacrament in which we became in truth and in fact the sons and daughters of God, the coheirs of his Kingdom.
February 16, 2016
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent. As with every other year the readings this weekend and next should be taken together. This Sunday we see Christ tempted, and next Sunday we see him transfigured. This tells us both about the Lord we believe in, but also about the people we are called to be.
In today’s gospel we see the devil displaying all his wiles to outwit Our Lord as he tries to tempt him into sin. Jesus is robust in his replies. He sees through the devil and drives him away. During the liturgy of baptism, and at the Easter Vigil, we are asked him we reject Satan and all his empty promises. We can be confident of doing so, not because of our own strength, but because Jesus has overcome the devil for us. If we rely on him and on his grace then we too can dismiss Satan and his false promises.
Our Lenten observance is aimed at strengthening our faith and our love. We undertake fasting, prayer and almsgiving so we can see more clearly where the truth lies and where falsehood lurks. As we begin our Lenten journey let us take heart from Jesus, true God and true man, who is tempted but does not fall.
February 5, 2016
It seems difficult to believe but next Wednesday is actually the start of Lent. Easter is very early this year so our penance starts earlier than usual too.
Ash Wednesday tells us the truth about our human condition: ‘Dust you are and unto dust you shall return’. No wealth, no fame, no healthy diet will save us from this inevitable fate. The modern world finds this very difficult to accept and beguiles us with promises we know are false. We need to face up to reality and the imposition of ashes makes us do just that.
But this is not the only truth about our human condition. The Liturgy also tells us to ‘Repent and believe the Good News’. And what good news it is – we are called to share in the eternal, divine life of God. Jesus, the Son of God, comes to make that life available to us. Throughout Lent we will ponder what that means. At the end, during the Triduum, we will live it out.
Lent is a journey to Easter. Whatever penance we undertake should enable us to celebrate Easter more fully. We are called to fasting, prayer and almsgiving to prepare us for the great feast of the resurrection. We might be dust but we are not only dust. We are dust that will be transformed and transfigured.
January 29, 2016
Next Tuesday we celebrate the lovely feast of the Purification, or as our ancestors in these islands called it, Candlemas. You can read the account of Jesus being brought to the Temple 40 days after his birth in St. Luke’s gospel. The characters we find there are very important ones. Obviously there is the baby Jesus and his mother, and step-father Joseph. They are devout Jews who are observing what the law commands. But we also meet Anna and Simeon. They realise that in this child the hopes that they and their ancestors have been cherishing are now come to fruition.
Simeon praises God in words now familiar to us in the Nunc Dimittis which is sung at compline, and at Evensong in the Anglican church. He speaks of Jesus as a ‘light to lighten the gentiles’. This baby is the means through which God will extend salvation to the ends of the earth.
The Liturgy picks up this theme of light. We process with lighted candles and often all the candles that will be used during the year are blessed at this Mass. This lovely feast, celebrated on a dark and miserable February evening, reminds us of Christmas. But it also points us towards the Easter Vigil.
January 25, 2016
Next Monday we celebrate the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. This event was so momentous in the history of the Church that it is commemorated like no other. The story of Paul’s conversion can be found in the Acts of the Apostles, but Paul himself refers to it in several of his letters.
As we know Paul, or as he was originally known, Saul, was one of the chief opponents of the ‘new religion’ that proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah. As we also know he became one of its chief proponents and advocates. His influence was felt throughout the early church and he has shaped our understanding of the Christian faith to this day. His letters are full of sound teaching and practical advice for the earliest believers as they strove to deepen their understanding of Jesus, his message, and the role of the Church.
Paul was full of zeal and his determination to preach the gospel took him across much of the Roman world. He eventually died a martyr’s death in Rome and his body is still venerated there in the basilica that carries his name.
Paul shows us how God can turn things around, how God has plans for us beyond our wildest imaginings. Let us for his prayers to that we too may experience an ever deeper conversion.