Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

 

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Saint Alban

Today we honour the memory of Saint Alban, the first Christian to shed his blood for Christ in England.  Saint Bede – the author of The Ecclesiastical History of the English People – tells us that Alban was converted to Christianity by a persecuted priest whom he sheltered from the Roman authorities.  Alban was arrested for assisting the priest and was beheaded after refusing to abandon his faith. We ask Saint Alban’s intercession and protection for the Church in England, that we may all be faithful and fruitful in the practice of the faith for which this martyr sacrificed his life.

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While she was still a novice, Saint Catherine of Siena had a vision of Our Lord presenting her with two crowns: one of gold and the other of thorns.  Catherine reached out for the crown of thorns and placed it firmly on her head.  Knowing that the crown of gold reflected earthly glory, she chose the crown that, while involving some suffering, would ultimately result in eternal, heavenly glory.

Undoubtedly, Saint Catherine is wearing a crown of gold now in heaven.  And I’m sure she would tell us that wearing the thorns was worth it.  But how tempting it can be for us to take the reward now.  How tempting it is to want honour and recognition for ourselves rather than building up others around us.  How easy it is to let our devotion become a badge of honour rather than the way to stay close to God.

In contrast to the world’s addiction to pride and celebrity, God is looking for modesty and generosity.  In today’s gospel, Our Lord shows us that living out our faith—which involves performing good deeds, giving alms, praying, and fasting—all this requires humility so that God will receive all the praise for our fidelity.  All that matters is that our devotion, in whatever form it takes, glorifies God.

In the first reading, Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit; in other words, he wants to be heir of the great prophet’s calling; he wants to take over from Elijah when he dies.  Elijah tells him, “You have asked a hard thing”, knowing that any prophetic call includes suffering, opposition, and temptation.  Being Elijah’s companion, Elisha must have known that what he was asking wouldn’t be easy.  And yet in humility, and with full understanding of what he is embracing, Elisha chooses to serve God with his whole life.

This is the same disposition God wants to give us.  And so, may we all yearn for a double portion—not for our own sake but for the sake of the Church and the kingdom of God.  And may the thorns that come our way keep us humble and pure.

Tuesday of Week 11 in Ordinary Time

Ahab was one of Israel’s most wicked kings who was egged on by his even more wicked wife Jezebel; and the prophet Elijah spent much of his ministry battling the idolatry of Ahab and Jezebel.  We heard yesterday how Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be murdered so that Ahab could take possession of his vineyard.  This is a prime example of how the wicked and the strong triumph over the weak and vulnerable; that is until God intervened and sent Elijah to restore balance.

Now we might expect Ahab and Jezebel to be punished severely for what they did.  But that’s not what happened.  When Elijah pronounced God’s judgement, Ahab repented.  And God forgave him.

Ahab showed his repentance when he tore his garments and put on sackcloth.  These outward signs of his inner sorrow were very important.  God used them as evidence to convince Elijah that Ahab’s heart really had changed.  And on the basis of this evidence, the prophet felt confident enough to speak words of divine mercy to the king.

We would never consider ripping our clothes or dress in sackcloth before we go to Confession.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something to express our sorrow and to emphasise the gravity of our sins.  Spending extra time in prayer can help us draw closer to God so he can continue to transform us.  Performing an act of charity can help put us in touch with the needs and sufferings of others.  Fasting can reveal our spiritual emptiness and show us just how deeply we need God in our lives.

Now of course, none of these actions can win God’s mercy which, at the end of the day, is a gift God freely gives.   But they can teach us self-control, humility, and openness to God.  And if Ahab can repent, so can we.  It’s a marvellous thing to be able to work with God in order to experience his healing and restoration.

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Monday of Week 11 in Ordinary Time

Ahab was an evil king who was only exceeded in his wickedness by his wife Jezebel, so much so that the name ‘Jezebel’ has entered our vocabulary to refer to a wicked or bold woman with a vicious tongue in her head, who works behind the scenes and gets her husband to do her dirty work for her.  Ahab wasn’t satisfied with all he possessed as king and he coveted Naboth’s vineyard; when Naboth, who was fully within his rights, refused to sell his vineyard, Ahab was more than willing to back off, but not Jezebel.  She perpetrated the terrible murder of Naboth and told her husband that he could now take the vineyard without even paying for it.

People like Ahab and Jezebel are still around today, and they arouse our anger.  When we hear in the news about terrible crimes being committed we wish that God would follow the old way of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  Tomorrow’s reading will tell us how God relented in the punishment due to Ahab because he repented.  Now there is a temptation for us not to go along with that kind of mercy.  It goes against our human nature to forgive and forget because we want criminals to suffer.  Some people are so uncharitable that they just can’t let go of a grievance and you can see it in their face.  And yet Our Lord came to reveal that God doesn’t will the death of the sinner but that he repent and be saved.

Despite the love and concern that flows so eloquently from our lips, our ways are still far from God’s ways.  God sees the whole picture in a unique light, and he views human activity as a loving Father who is eager to have all his children return to him, no matter what they have done.  Now, it isn’t that God fails to mete out justice; he does, but his sense of justice is entirely different from ours.

And so rather than getting upset with God that evil people are ‘getting away with murder’, we must learn to leave the matter of ultimate judgement and punishment in his hands.  Rather than call down God’s anger on the people we detest, we ought to pray that those who do evil will repent and return to God.

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11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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We are blessed to live in such a beautiful place and as we walk or drive through the New Forest we see the miracle of growth taking place all around us in flowers, trees, plants and shrubs, not to mention the foals of New Forest ponies gambolling along the lanes.  Many poets have tried to describe the miracle and beauty of nature; one of my favourites, William Wordsworth came close, but words can’t really capture the magnificence of the scene as the cycle of nature blossoms in all its beauty.  We don’t have to be professional gardeners or farmers to appreciate that growth is a gradual process.  Many plants and flowers have their origins in tiny seeds being buried in the earth and they demand time, tender care and patience for them to blossom and bear fruit.

The readings of today’s Mass are concerned with growth, not physical growth but spiritual growth.  They speak of the importance of us coming to God in prayer and good works in order to grow in God’s favour and friendship.  God is at work in every age and in each of our lives.  The seed of God’s word was first planted in our hearts at baptism.  Our task is to water and tenderly care for that word so that it can work powerfully within us.  As most of us were baptised as infants, parents have a vital role in nurturing the seed of God’s word in their children.  The example good parents set by prayer and good Christian living in the home will go a long way in determining their children’s attitude to life and to God.

The mustard seed reminds us of an important truth of the Christian life: the seed of God’s life within us grows slowly and invisibly.  We can’t rush the growth of seed in the earth and neither can we rush God’s growth in our hearts.  There’s nothing we can do to hurry it along.  Because our path to perfection seems so frustratingly slow at times we may be tempted to lose heart.  Some of us may have the uneasy feeling that after years of struggling with the Christian life, we are no nearer to God.  There appears to be no mastering of our personal shortcomings.  The same old sins keep recurring and prevent our progress on the path to perfection.  And yet, how easily we forget that God rewards our smallest efforts, he rewards our ability to keep trying.  We fail to realise that God’s grace can work best through our human weaknesses and limitations and can accomplish what is beyond our wildest dreams.  We are not going to be able to measure it, but we can be certain that it will happen provided we play our part and are intent on pleasing God.

We tend the seed of the Word of God that has been planted in our hearts by prayer and by the faithful and frequent reception of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, and these, in turn, dispose us to perform good works and acts of loving kindness.  In this way we make ready the earth in which the seed of God’s word can blossom.

There is no age at which we cannot grow in God’s grace.  So let us realise that life is but a passing shadow and the few years given to us here below are for soul-making.  If we don’t grow in moral and spiritual stature while on earth, there will be lots of growing up to be done in purgatory.  This is why we should pray for the Holy Souls, for we will be counted among their number when we die.  As we pray for them we ask them to pray for us when they find themselves kneeling before the Throne of Glory for all eternity.  May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

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Saint Richard of Chichester

Today we honour the memory of Saint Richard of Chichester, who is not quite a local saint, but he was chancellor to our own Saint Edmund of Abingdon when he was Archbishop of Canterbury.  After Saint Edmund’s death Richard was appointed Bishop of Chichester.  He was also a Dominican tertiary.  The Church in England honours Saint Richard for his pastoral zeal and for making a moral stand against corrupt government.  He died in 1253 and was canonised nine years later.

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It’s getting harder for news reporters and, even ordinary people, to get a straight answer out of politicians.  What does Our Lord say to us today?  Let your “Yes” mean “Yes,” and your “No” mean “No.”  One of the few things we expect from our elected representatives is for them to be honest and truthful with the electorate.  And it’s not only politicians who find it difficult to tell the whole truth, we are all disposed to twisting the truth when it suits us.

So, why is it so hard to be honest and truthful?  Is it because we are afraid or insecure?  Or maybe it’s hard sometimes to face the consequences of the truth.  Even the Prince of the Apostles told untruths.  In an attempt to save his own skin, Peter denied knowing Our Lord not once, but three times.  And yet, in contrast to Peter’s denial was Our Lord’s response when he was asked if he was the Messiah.  Jesus simply replied, “I Am” (Mark 14:62).  By giving such an answer, Our Lord signed his own death warrant.  Fear didn’t overcome him because he had placed himself in his Father’s hands and he knew that God’s Word could never be overcome.

At the Last Supper, Peter boldly proclaimed that he would willingly die for Jesus, but his bravado and enthusiasm soon evaporated when he saw how meekly Jesus surrendered to his enemies.  Peter discovered the sad truth that he could not follow Jesus to the Cross solely by the power of his own resolve.  It was only after Pentecost that he received the power of the Holy Spirit and began to preach the Gospel with courage, even in the face of punishment and death.

As we surrender our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit, we learn how to master our emotional life and experience something of what it means to be holy.  The reality of heaven, the promises of a faithful God, and a healthy fear of sin work together to form in us the simple commitment to the truth that Our Lord revealed.  So let’s keep asking the Holy Spirit to mould us into the image of Christ.

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Friday of Week 10 in Ordinary Time

After defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah’s life was in danger and he fled from Queen Jezebel’s wrath, which thundered on the horizon like a threatening storm.  Weary and discouraged, yet poised at a new chapter in his prophetic ministry, Elijah needed to hear God’s voice; and God’s messenger promised that he would.  But it was only after Elijah had passed through the storm that he was able to hear God’s voice in a “tiny whispering sound” (1 Kings 19:12).

Elijah’s story offers some encouraging insight into how we can hear God speak to us.  In our natural desire to avoid stressful or challenging situations, we may think that the only way to hear God’s voice is in picturesque, quiet moments, or during a retreat when we are secluded and free to spend time with him in prayer or meditate on his word.  Of course, those times are essential, but they are not the only way God speaks.  And neither are they always the most effective way.

In fact, God often uses the storms of life to help us find his presence and his wisdom.  Life is not picture-perfect.  We know what it’s like to feel buffeted by forces beyond our control and by situations that affect our work or our health, or our vocation.  Our foundation gets shaken by problems we can’t fix, and that can unnerve us.

But there’s always a hidden blessing in these challenging situations which can bring us to our knees.  It’s when we find ourselves nearing the end of our strength, as Elijah did, that we are more likely to listen for that still small voice.  We sense that we need God in the midst of whatever storm is swirling around us.

The surprising thing about making it through the storms of life is that we can look back and realise God has been with us all along.  As he promised, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” and God is always true to his word (Matthew 28:20).

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