Monday of Week 11 in Ordinary Time

I would dare to say that most of us don’t usually take to people who brag about their own accomplishments.  Their boasting leaves us thinking that they must be conceited to say the least.  In the first reading, Saint Paul boasts to the Corinthians, but his purpose is not to inflate his own ego but to put the Christians of Corinth back on the right path – the path that leads to life.

After Paul had preached the good news in Corinth and established the church there, some false preachers came along to turn Paul’s converts away from the true faith.  They were persuasive and Paul was so disturbed by this that he felt compelled to present the Corinthians with his credentials as a true Apostle to whom they should return in obedience and docility.  By all that he had endured for the Gospel, Paul demonstrated his love for Christ and for the Church, something the false apostles couldn’t do.

The Church in her liturgy boasts, not about herself, but about God.  One of the main purposes of the liturgy is to make present throughout the liturgical year all the saving acts of God from the conception and birth of Christ, through his life of ministry, and to the high point of his death and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit.  And every Mass centres on that high point since every Mass is the living memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ.

The liturgy, constantly recalling all that God has done for us, wants us to appreciate that all God’s actions show his wisdom and his love.  We must never abandon God in order to follow the false apostles and prophets of our time whose only purpose is to deceive us.  Faithfully participating in the liturgy should help us to turn all the more in love and devotion to God.

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The Most Holy Trinity

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I’ve just finished reading the latest excellent book by Andrew Cohen and Professor Brian Cox, entitled The Planets, which brings to life the most memorable events in the history of the Solar System.  It’s also been turned into a TV series being shown on the BBC, and critics say it’s much better than the book, so I look forward to watching it.  As I read the book, my memory was drawn back to a book I read way back in 1983, Lost in the Cosmos, by Walker Percy, in which we find an extraterrestrial being persistently signaling these questions to earthlings: “Do you read?  What do you read?  Are you in trouble?  How did you get in trouble?  If you are in trouble, have you sought help?  If you did, did help come?  If it did, did you accept it?  What is the character of your consciousness?  Are you conscious?  Do you have a self?  Do you know who you are?  Do you know what you are doing?  Do you love?  Do you know how to love?  Are you loved?  Do you hate?  Do you read me?  Come back.  Come back.”  ‘Come Back’ is a term used in CB short wave radio (Citizens Band) lingo which has been widely used since its invention in 1945: ‘Come Back’ is a request for someone to acknowledge a transmitted message or reply to a question.

Humanity has spent billions on space exploration and will spend billions more.  We devote enormous resources to our communications industries.  We have built and will continue to expand an information highway that has radically changed the way we live.  But when it comes to discussion about whether or not there is a personal God, we are quite skittish.  Many of our contemporaries are actively sceptical that God has anything to say to us.  Others say we shouldn’t take God seriously.  Still others want to remove all references to God from our schools and away from all public discourse.  Any number of intellectuals inform us that when it comes to the cosmic stage upon which we act out our lives, there is no author, no director, and no text.  They suggest that it is man’s task, not God’s, to bring order out of chaos and to create things out of nothing.

It is in this context that the Church puts us today in contact with that Being upon which all realities find their purpose and meaning.

Is religion based on myths and lies?  Well, the author of The Da Vinci Code and many books like it would have us believe that.  Others tell us that humans have constructed a God for themselves.  What they are telling us is that God is fiction.

And yet, when you sit down and think about it, no human intelligence would have ever fabricated a God that was three Persons in one God.  Such a depiction of God would have been beyond the wildest imaginings in any human’s mind, if not now, then certainly two thousand years ago.  It is, at least to me, absurd to think that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was invented by monks in the Middle Ages or created by otherworldly priests incarcerated in some impregnable citadel in Spain.

The teaching that God is Three Persons in One comes to us only from Jesus Christ.  It’s a doctrine found nowhere else in any other known religion, past or present.  It is totally unique.

Our Lord commissioned His Apostles and sent them out into the world to baptise believers in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Our Lord asks His followers to live in the life of the Triune God and to share that life with others.

Those first followers were Jews, children of the Faith of Abraham.  Their view of God’s presence was magnificent.  God was everywhere and in everything.  For example, when it rained, they didn’t complain, because they saw rain as a blessing, rain made things grow and gives us life.

When the Jewish converts to Christianity met Jesus, their vision of God took on another dimension, one requiring a stupendous adjustment.  In Jesus of Nazareth they discovered that God lived among us.  They observed how He behaved, how He cared and loved, how He lived his life with an inner authenticity, an integrity, and an authority that gave His humanity powers never before known in any human being.  Saint Peter announced Him to be the Messiah.  Saint Thomas, when he encountered the risen Christ, declared “My Lord, and my God!”

After Our Lord’s Ascension these same followers experienced God’s Presence in yet another way.  They realised that Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, was personally present to them in His Spirit-filled, resurrected humanity.  They experienced God’s Presence in the Eucharist and the other Sacraments, they experienced God in moments of special and great human significance, in suffering, and even in death.  They came to know and experience the Holy Spirit who comes to us now and forever in His Mystical Body, the Church.

Christ gave these people courage.  He gave them joy. He gave them love.  He gave them power to face the world.  He gave them God’s Presence.  Filled with God’s personal Presence, they entered into our world.  We, their successors, do the same as we carry on their mission.

That same Holy Spirit is present among us to empower us, to heal us, to love us, and to lift us up.  That same Holy Spirit invites us into God’s life.  He is like Walker Percy’s extraterrestrial who persistently signals these questions to us: “Are you in trouble?  How did you get in trouble?  If you are in trouble, have you sought help?  If you did, did help come?  If it did, did you accept it?  What is the character of your consciousness?  Are you conscious?  Do you have a self?  Do you know who you are?  Do you know what you are doing?  Do you love?  Do you know how to love?  Are you loved?  Do you hate?  Do you read me?  Come back.  Come back.”

God says to us: Come back to me with all your heart.

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Saturday of Week 10 in Ordinary Time

When a man and a woman get married, they begin a whole new way of life.  Their union as husband and wife will affect their whole future, a future that is hidden from their eyes.  Their lives will be filled with hopes and disappointments, successes and failures, joys and sorrows.  They take each other, not knowing what is before them, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death.  It is their love for each other that moves them to approach the future with confidence and they live for each other.

Our reconciliation with God by Christ is somewhat like a marriage.  Sin separates us from God but reconciliation unites us with him again.  And it’s a whole new way of living: “The old order has passed away; now all is new”.  There is a driving force that should motivate our new life and St. Paul expresses it by saying “The love of Christ impels us”.  That love should move us to accept with equal devotion both hope and disappointment, success and failure, joy and sorrow.

In secular society marriage is often referred to as a contract, but the sacrament of marriage is more aptly termed a covenant.  A contract is an agreement based on law; whereas a covenant is a union between people based on love.  God entered into a covenant with the Hebrews.  Our Lord has given us a new covenant with God, sealed by the greatest sign of love, the shedding of his blood.

This covenant of love with God is renewed every day at Mass.  As we receive Our Lord in Holy Communion today, we should pledge ourselves once more to God in love and service.

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Friday of Week 10 in Ordinary Time

We can just imagine how the disciples’ jaws must have dropped when Our Lord spoke about plucking out eyes and chopping off hands.  Like the Bishop wrote in his latest pastoral letter, this is one of those instances where we can’t take the scriptural text literally, or else we would all be missing body parts.  Self-mutilation is not a necessary step to holiness.  It’s that God craves our holiness.  The purity and faithfulness that he intends for us are worth more, even, than a sound, whole body.

God has called each one of us to be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15).  We carry God’s likeness in us by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation.  What Our Lord says to us is if something threatens that holiness, get rid of it.  Throw it away.  It’s better to do without something than to have it and to sin because you do.

But holiness is not just about cutting things out of our lives.  There are other ways we can preserve and foster holiness.  Simply pick up the Scriptures and read.  Fall to your knees in prayer.  Even remind yourself that you are, as Saint Paul says, “created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:24).

God wants us to be holy, and he gives us all the tools we need to achieve that state of blessedness.  But we have to make some effort and use the many gifts God gives us.  The Holy Spirit is always there, and especially in the moments when we are sorely tempted, to give us his grace and to help us grow in the fruit of self-control.

And yet when we do fail, there is no need to fall into the pit of despair.  God knows us.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows we are trying to live better lives.  He knows that, because we are human, we are going to fall flat on our faces in the dirt.  This is when we need to remember that no sin is beyond his reach.  God is always ready to forgive us, even if we commit the same sin over and over again.  We should never hesitate to turn to the God of Mercies who, like the rain falling from the heavens, is always ready to shower us with his mercy and grant us the grace to live holy lives.

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Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest

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Today we observe The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Eternal High Priest, which the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments approved way back in 2012, and which our own bishops introduced into the English Calendar last year.

According to the latest statistics, there are just over 400,000 priests in the world today; this is around the same number as there were back in 1970.  And yet the Catholic population since 1970 has doubled, while the number of priests has remained much the same.  I thought that was an interesting statistic, and it could provide food for thought for another day.

In the most proper sense of the word, there is only one Priest, and that Priest is Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  All other priests, all 400,000 of them, are sharers in that one priesthood of Christ; but only Christ himself has the fullness of the priesthood.  Now, we say that the Bishop has the fullness of the priesthood, and in a sense he has, as a successor of the Apostles; but even the Bishop’s Priesthood is subject to Our Lord’s Eternal Priesthood.  And this is because only Christ himself is the Victim and the Priest who offers the Victim.  As Saint Paul says, “There is one mediator between God and man, the Word of God who is himself a man, Jesus Christ” (1 Tim 2:5).  In a sense, he is the Vine, and we his priests are the branches.  Our Lord is the source of the priest’s priesthood which sustains them, from day to day, in their priestly functions.

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is our Eternal High Priest, because of his own priestly offering that is given to the Father; the unique sacrifice of his life on the Cross, offered in atonement for humanity’s sins, and in reparation, to the honour and glory of God.

Our Lord instituted the Priesthood so that his Church could continue, beginning with Saint Peter and the other apostles; a ministry which they, in turn, handed on to their successors, so that bishops and priests, who are part of that unbroken line, and when they exercise their priestly power, exercise the same priestly power as that of Christ himself.

This priesthood of Christ is eternal: “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:7).  Christ is the Eternal High Priest because he is such by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.  Even death on the Cross couldn’t destroy the life of Christ, who is at the same time both God and man.  This perpetual, personal union of the Son of God with his manhood—his individual human body and soul—is guaranteed by God the Father himself: “The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent: ‘you are a priest forever’” (Ps 110:4; Heb 7:21).

The Letter to the Hebrews goes on to state: “Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is our Eternal High Priest who makes intercession for us, both in our state of grace as pilgrims here and now, and in our future state of blessedness in heaven.  Our hope of heaven can never be taken away, because Christ has an eternal priesthood, of which “The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent, ‘You are a priest forever’” (Heb 5:7).

May today’s feast inspire us to show gratitude to God for the priesthood, and may we think kindly and say a prayer for all those priests we know personally.  And may we pray earnestly that young men may continue to offer themselves for the priesthood, so that the Eternal Priesthood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may endure and contribute to transforming the face of the earth.

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Wednesday of Week 10 in Ordinary Time

There are those who may be tempted to think that Our Lord came to earth carrying one of those jumbo erasers, and that when he redeemed us, he simply wiped out all the regulations of the Old Testament.  But just because he criticised some of the Pharisees, we shouldn’t think he had the same attitude towards the Law that they upheld so rigidly.  In fact, Our Lord tells us that not only did he come to uphold the Law but that the least transgression against it can make us among the least in his kingdom.

It’s important to know that Our Lord didn’t say these words to condemn us, but to save us.  After all, he came to bring us life, but he knows that in order to experience that life to the full, we need to follow his commandments.  Like a parent who is trying to keep us out of trouble, he warned us to be vigilant against sin, because he knows that giving in to temptation will make us anything but happy.  He knows that falling into sin leaves us with less freedom, not more.

How fortunate we are that Our Lord is with us in all our struggles.  He doesn’t just issue warnings from afar; he helps us to root out sin wherever it shows up.  By examining our conscience daily, we can make sure that sin doesn’t gain a foothold in our hearts.  At Compline as we look back on our day, we ask the Holy Spirit to show us how we may have strayed from God’s truth.  Then, bringing our failings into the light of God’s love, we can experience his grace and his mercy, and we can get a clearer sense of how we can do better tomorrow.

It has been said that if we want to move mountains, we have to start by carrying away pebbles, and that’s certainly true with sin.  If we keep fighting the daily battles against little temptations, asking for God’s help every time we’re tested, we will soon start to make progress.  If we give every area of our lives over to God—even those hidden, dark corners—he will give us the grace to conquer them, and perhaps even to become one of the “greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

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Saint Barnabas

Quite a few of us are fans of Agatha Christie, and if you read her novels, or watch the TV series or films then you know that overlooked, but ever-present, details can be the key to solving the crime.  St. Barnabas is one of those often overlooked details.  Much of the time when we read about St. Paul’s adventures in the Acts of the Apostles, Barnabas is right there with him.  But since Paul is so famous, Barnabas tends to remain in the background.  So when we look more closely at Barnabas, we may be surprised at how important and influential a figure he was.

Without Barnabas, Paul may well have remained an overzealous convert in faraway Tarsus.  It was Barnabas who convinced the Apostles to accept Paul after his dramatic conversion.  It was Barnabas who brought Paul to Antioch, enlisting his help and placing him in his first leadership role.  The two traveled together, evangelizing, establishing churches, braving persecutions, and working out what it meant to be a Christian in the pagan world outside Jerusalem.

Barnabas was the epitome of generosity.  He gave much of his wealth to help the poor in the Jerusalem church, and he gave John Mark a second chance when Paul was ready to reject him.  His gift of gentle persuasion also helped Jews and Gentiles overcome centuries of animosity as they forged a new church in Antioch.

Luke tells us that Barnabas’ real name was Joseph, but that the Apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement”.  It’s possible he earned this title because he had a talent for saying just the right thing at the right time.  It’s also possible that he earned the name because of his godly character.  Dedicated, generous, and faithful—anyone who demonstrated these virtues must have been very welcome among the first believers as they worked to build up the Early Church.

In a world that is often hostile or indifferent to the Gospel, those who manifest a strong Christian character—even the hidden, backroom boys like Barnabas—can play a vital role in evangelizing and in encouraging other believers.  May we all follow St. Barnabas’ example and take up the call to become sons and daughters of encouragement.

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