April 19, 2019
We are in the middle of the most important and solemn celebrations of the Church’s year. Last night we recalled the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood as we celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We then watched with Christ.
Today we remember the death of Jesus in the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. This is no mere commemoration of an event in the past. It is a powerful proclamation of the effects of that death in the lives of believers.
Tomorrow we are caught up into the power of the resurrection as we take part in the Easter Vigil. In words and in symbols we show what the new life of Christ means. We hear the word, we bring light into the darkness, we renew our baptismal promises, and we eat the Bread of Life.
These three days are the highpoint of our Christian life. All that we do during them shows what we believe and what we are. The words and actions reveal our faith in the crucified and risen Lord.
These are wonderful days in every sense of the word. They take us deep into the heart of our faith. We are not merely remembering, we are actually participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
April 8, 2019
This weekend we begin our celebrations of Holy Week with the beautiful liturgy of Palm Sunday leading us into the contemplation of the very heart of our Christian faith. This liturgy like all liturgies commemorates events in the past – but it is not solely that by any means. It also effectively makes present the saving reality of those past events and points us to their completion in heaven.
On Palm Sunday we are not engaged in some holy pantomime trying to pretend that we were present in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago. We are rather celebrating what it means for us and our lives. Similarly with Good Friday and Easter Eve we are not pretending that we were there at the foot of the cross or empty tomb. We are celebrating the fact that we too pass from death to life by the power of Jesus Christ.
Every Mass is a celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. Holy Week, especially the Easter Triduum at its end, gives us an opportunity to enter more fully into the mystery at the heart of our faith.
Listen to the words, and watch the symbolism of these few days. They will tell us what how we are saved, how we should live, and what our future hope entails.
March 25, 2019
On Monday we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Annunciation. We recall the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to Our Lady, his message, and her response. The encounter is beautifully described in the opening of St. Luke’s gospel.
It is Mary’s ‘Yes’ that makes the incarnation possible. We rejoice in her openness, bravery, and above all faith. The dialogue between Mary and Gabriel show us the pattern for our faith too. We must be open to the initiatives of God. We must be bold in responding to them. We can do so through faith. Note that Mary’s faith grows through her questioning of Gabriel. We don’t question because we are sceptical – we question so that we can gain a fuller understanding.
Note also that Mary does not keep the message to herself. She goes out to spread it. True faith has that effect on people. They want to share the good news that they have experienced with those around them. Mary is the first Christian missionary.
One last thing we can take heart from is that although this episode is of the utmost importance in human history Mary, in the world’s terms, is insignificant. The same has been true of many of the saints. We might feel small or powerless – we are. But with God’s grace we can change the world.
One of the things we might want to do on Monday is to recite the Angelus with our class. It sums up in a nutshell this great feast.
March 12, 2019
For centuries the Church has combined the gospel we heard last Sunday about Christ’s temptations with the one we hear this weekend about his Transfiguration. We might have expected on the Second Sunday of Lent some more admonition about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving but instead we are told the wonderful story of the vision of Christ transformed. The juxta positioning of these two gospels is no accident. They remind us that we undertake penance with the hope of transformation. We are tempted but in Christ we can overcome. Although we need to fast we do so in the hope of future glory.
As ever what happens to Jesus is what can happen to his faithful followers. We are tempted – but we can resist and repel the Devil’s advances. We are called already to glory and we too are acknowledged as the children of God. Lent is not a time for gritting our teeth and getting on with things. It is rather a time when we open ourselves up to the transforming power of God. We fast to create a space in our lives for that. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving make us less self-centred and more God centred.
We were told on Ash Wednesday that we are dust – we are told this Sunday that we are God’s children.
March 8, 2019
Lent is upon us. On Wednesday we heard again those two great warnings with which we begin this season: ‘Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’ and ‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel’. These are words which conflict so starkly with our modern society’s obsession with fame, wealth and youth. But as well as warnings they also contain the seeds of hope. We are dust, fashioned by God himself, but we shall rise again from the dust. By being faithful to the gospel we shall come to eternal life and everlasting happiness. The cross is traced in ashes on our foreheads, but that same cross was traced on our foreheads with holy oil at our baptism. We are marked men and women – we are marked with the cross that saves us.
The readings of this Sunday and next, which have been heard by Christians beginning their Lenten journey for over a millennia, tell us more. In Jesus we are tempted – but in him we also overcome. The devil is not too powerful for us because the man Jesus has triumphed. As we journey through Lent we realise that we are on the road to the cross and the resurrection. It is our story that is unfolding. P.D.
March 8, 2019
Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. There are three main disciplines in Lent – as the gospel of the day very clearly indicates. Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. All three should be part of our Lenten devotions – we need to take things on as well as give things up.
As we prepare for the start of the season this weekend perhaps we should pause and reflect: from what exactly do I need to fast? How should I deepen my prayer life? How will I give alms? Before we get into a regular routine we need to ask ourselves if we’ve outgrown what we’ve done in previous years or if some other penance is now more appropriate in our lives.
The gospel is also insistent that we do not parade our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. How absurd it would be if we took a boastful pride in those things. Rather they are between us and our heavenly Father.
The message we will hear on Wednesday is stark and uncompromising: ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. No politician, no philosopher, no celebrity would dare tell that amount of truth! Yet we can cope with because we know that this journey will lead to Easter. P.D.
February 22, 2019
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Chair of Peter, which stresses the importance of the Bishopric of Rome in maintaining the unity of the Church. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St Peter.
Tomorrow we celebrate another feast which is very important to our self-understanding as Catholics – the feast of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp. He was martyred in Smyrna in modern Turkey around the year 155AD. He was 86 when he was asked to renounce his Christian faith, and the Bishop of the area. On his refusal he was burnt to death. His feast day has been kept ever since.
Polycarp is important for all sorts of reasons. One the chief being an exemplification of the process whereby we can be confident that we believe in the ‘Catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles’. Polycarp himself had been taught in his youth by St John the Evangelist. In his turn he influenced St. Irenaeus of Lyon who wrote some of the first systematic theology of the Church about matters such as the Eucharist and the importance of the See of Rome.
Ask Catholics we accord a special place to tradition which is not the dead faith of the living but rather the living faith of the dead. We believe nearly 2,000 years later what Polycarp believed and what he himself had received from the Lord’s Beloved Disciple.