The Immaculate Heart of Mary

Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we can reflect on Our Lady’s beautiful witness and on how it sets an example for all believers.  While Our Lady was the mother of the Redeemer, she was also dependent—like the rest of us—on the Redeemer’s saving grace.  We may not be sinless like she was; nevertheless, we are all called to live the life of the new creation that Our Lady so perfectly embodied.

Saint Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).   Our Lady’s heart was set on pleasing God. In everything she did, she demonstrated a childlike faith and trust in God and in his promises to her.  When she accepted the angel’s call to be the mother of the Messiah, Our Lady freely surrendered her rights to a normal life.  Instead, she determined to follow God’s plan wherever it led.  All of us who have experienced the love and forgiveness of God in a personal way understand how dramatically our entire perspective can be changed by one touch from the Lord.

Saint Paul says, “Jesus died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15).  As a new creation living for Our Lord, our lives are drastically different from those whose hearts are set on this world alone.  When we live for God we no longer live for ourselves, or the approval of others.  Our primary desire is to please the One who died for us!  We want to become ambassadors for Christ, bringing his life and light to a world in need.

Our Lady’s entire life was set on fulfilling God’s plan and advancing his kingdom.  In prayer, she sought out his wisdom and direction and then moved in simple, trusting obedience. Neither years of patient waiting nor the painful culmination of Our Lord’s ministry caused her to lose heart.  Let us continue to imitate Our Lady’s example: by faith, she moved in the blessed freedom of a true daughter of God.

Immaculate_Heart_of_Mary

Advertisements

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Images of the sun’s surface reveal dynamic surges of fire exploding from its surface in continuous and powerful waves. We don’t have pictures of the sacred heart of Jesus, but by God’s revelation, we know that this heart, like the sun, is also a raging fire—a fire of divine love. It is a constantly burning furnace with charity, mercy, and forgiveness always surging out to all of humanity.

The passionate love contained in the heart of Jesus has no beginning and no end. It is eternal, exalted far above our limited abilities to love. Nothing can stop it or dampen its fervour—not even death on a cross. Jesus loves us so much that he is determined to do anything he can to save us and to empower us to live life to the full. And yet, as high and “other” as it is, this love is also deeply personal and intimate, capable of touching us at every level of our being.

As we surrender ourselves to Jesus, as we ask him to warm our hearts with his divine love, we will begin to experience a new joy and passion, both for the Lord and for life itself. We will find ourselves wanting to spend more time with Jesus in prayer, and we will begin to treasure his words in the gospels. In short, our hearts will begin to burn with the same fire of love that is in Jesus’ own heart.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux once said that the church must have a heart, and that this heart must be on fire with love. “Jesus, my love!” she cried. “At last, I have found my vocation. My vocation is love.”

Something else happens when we encounter Jesus’ Sacred Heart: We find a deeper love and compassion for other people. The author and French priest, Fr. Jean du Coeur de Jesus d’Elbée, imagined that St. John, as he neared the end of his life, repeated only one teaching over and over again: “Love one another!” He said that if you want to love in this way, the only answer is to “plunge yourself into his heart and draw love out of his abyss of charity.” May we all learn to love!

344

CORPUS CHRISTI

dfr

In all the years I’ve been here I don’t think I’ve ever set you any homework.  On this Feast of Corpus Christi, it would be a very good thing, if at some point during the day, we could all read the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel.  It won’t take very long and yet it will take us to the very heart of the Church: everything and anything ‘Catholic’ flows from the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  Christ’s Presence among us in the Blessed Sacrament is the summit and the source of our lives together in the Church.  Everything else we do, all the good works we perform, all our apostolates and activities, all our acts of charity, flow from what we do here right now.  In the Collect for today’s Mass we prayed these words: O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament have left us a memorial of your Passion, grant us, we pray, so to REVERE the Sacred Mysteries of your Body and Blood so that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption.

It’s true that a single word can jump out at you as you read something; and in today’s Collect the word that jumped out at me is REVERE.  In this Mass we are asking God to help us so REVERE the mysteries of His Sacred Body and his Precious Blood.

Those of us with a few grey hairs on our heads will remember participating in Forty Hours Devotions, Eucharistic Adorations, Corpus Christi Processions, reciting the prayers of Thanksgiving after Mass, genuflecting to Our Lord’s Presence in the tabernacle, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, fasting from midnight prior to receiving Holy Communion the next morning, and a host of other ‘Catholic’ practices; all built up from and pointing toward our contact with Jesus Christ truly and really present in the Eucharist.  We were careful always to refer to the consecrated host as the Body of Christ; we never spoke of it simply as ‘the bread’, and never did we touch the sacred host with our grubby hands.  The Sisters begin their annual Retreat this evening, and one of the few gems I remember from retreats in years gone by, is one friar saying that when we receive Our Lord in Holy Communion we let him feed us; he suggested that we shouldn’t take the Host in our hands and feed ourselves.  Now, you may say, and rightly so, that we have a choice in the manner of how we receive Holy Communion, on the tongue, or in the hand.  But which is the more correct and profound choice?

I remember when Catholic men in the North passed by a church and they tipped their cloth caps to acknowledge and reverence the Presence of Christ in the tabernacle.  Women covered their heads while in church.  People driving by a church in their cars would make the sign of the cross out of reverence and respect.

It wasn’t all that long ago when everyone dressed up for Mass.  Going to Mass in T-shirts, tank tops, jeans and shorts was UNTHINKABLE.  Church was special, not ordinary.  Church was supposed to be extra-ordinary.  The inside of a Catholic church was holy space; it was sacred space.  God in His holiness dwelled there and people dressed up accordingly.

But all that was years ago.  We’re living in the 21st century now, times have changed and now anything goes.  But today’s feast should cause us to consider whatever happened to reverence? Do we reverence anything today?  As a nation we no longer kneel to anything, let alone anybody.  There are those who advocate that we abolish kneeling in church and during the Canon of the Mass.  And yet when you think about it, kneeling during worship is the only thing left for us by which we can express our profound reverence for God’s presence among us.  For those of us who physically can kneel, kneeling is our last remaining experience of reverence and awe in God’s closeness to us.

Few things are revered nowadays, except perhaps famous footballers and celebrities.  On the whole, human life itself is no longer revered.  If human life gets in the way, we kill it.  Abortion has become part and parcel of everyday life.  What a dreadful indictment on our society when a human child is not even safe in its own mother’s womb.

Again, on the whole, we no longer respect each other; we’ve lost reverence not only in the way we live but for human life itself, and now we seem to be losing reverence and respect for the Presence of God Himself in the Blessed Sacrament.

So whatever happened to sacred space?  Just witness what goes on in many of our parish churches on a Sunday morning.  The commotion and cacophony before and after Mass, and sometimes during, will remind you of a railway station or a market place.  Remember when the interior of a church was regarded as sacred space?  The lingering smell of incense and highly polished furniture inspired us to speak only in whispers.  Now our parish churches have become talking shops.  Some parents even treat the church as a sort of playpen, allowing their children to wander up and down the aisles and scream and shout until they’re blue in the face.  I’ve seen people eat and drink in church, listen to the radio or simply sit there bored out of their minds with absolutely no awareness of God’s Presence in this sacred space.  I’ve even known people come to receive Holy Communion while chewing gum.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve become an old fogey, but all this seems so odd to me because most, if not all of us, will still pull out the proverbial stops if we were invited to a party or a wedding, or if we were to visit some distinguished person.  Haircuts, manicures, polished shoes, perfectly pressed clothing.  And yet how is it that many of us no longer dress up for Mass?  We’d be appalled if someone turned up at a wedding in a dirty tee shirt, shorts and pink plastic flip-flops.

The communion of the Mystical Body of Christ flows from the Holy Communion we share in the Eucharist.  But we need to reverence God’s presence in a whole lot of different ways, not just in church and at Mass.

Reverence of God takes many forms.  Yes we need to reverence the Son of God, present for us here in the Eucharist.  We need to reverence the presence of the Holy Spirit in other people, along with the Presence of God in all of His creation.  Many people have lost reverence for the presence of God in our world; in the trees and natural resources, in nature’s pure waters clogged now with discarded plastic and other human waste, in animals, in all of God’s creatures.  We regard them today merely as useful, as things to exploit for profit.  We’ve handed most of the earth and its natural resources over to multi-national corporations who are only interested in making money out of them.  We’ve lost our reverence for nature.  Perhaps if we recovered a sense of reverence, then our world may be a better place in which to live.

There was a time when the things of nature, water, trees, and natural resources were seen as given to us by God as His stewards, to be used to accomplish His work.  Nowadays water, resources and the environment are only useful for their owners, as things to be sold for profit, as things to be exploited.  A sense of reverence perhaps would return balance to the way in which we treat our environment and our natural resources.

It seems to me that the recovery of reverence ought to be one of our chief goals in life during the 21st century, particularly in the context of the increasingly secular and materialistic culture that surrounds us.

I believe the Feast of Corpus Christi has a lot to teach us about that.

cde

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Saint Luke tells us that after Mary said “yes” to the angel’s invitation to bear God’s Son, she “arose and went with haste” to Elizabeth’s home (Luke 1:39).  Try to imagine what might have been on Mary’s mind as she made this journey.  Think of how she must have rejoiced at all that God was doing in her, even as she entrusted to God all her concerns or fears about the child miraculously growing in her womb.

We can look at Mary’s Magnificat as the fruit of her reflection during this journey.  As Mary considered what was taking place, she recognized that all the joy foretold by the Old Testament prophets had come to rest on her.  All of Israel’s deepest hopes and desires would find their answer in her child.  She marveled that what God was doing through her was intended for all people, and not just Israel.  Her whole being was caught up in the God whose greatness was magnified by the lowly vessel he had chosen to accomplish his purposes.  Mary knew that in her lowliness God’s power was manifested.

As she prayed, Mary came to see God’s grace in a whole new way.  She came to understand that God comes to the aid of the poor and humble, not the rich and mighty.  This glimpse of God’s character thrilled Mary and filled her with hope, because in faith she could see that the God of mercy had indeed fulfilled his promises to Israel.

We should often ponder God’s work in history and in our own lives, so that we can join the Mother of God in singing the praises of our great God and King.

Visitation LMonaco

THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

Way back in 1983, Walker Percy wrote his book Lost in The Cosmos in which we find an extraterrestrial being persistently signalling 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 = CB lingo: 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?  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.

We’ve just heard how Our Lord commissioned His Apostles and sent them out into the world to baptize believers in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Our Lord is asking 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 harvest was good, God was caring for them, feeding them with the stuff of 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 realized 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.”

Come back to me with all your heart.

seds

Our Lord Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest

It’s not often we witness two new liturgical celebrations introduced into the Calendar in one week.  In fact, it’s quite historic.  On Monday, for the first time, we celebrated the Memorial of Our Lady, Mother of the Church; and today we observe, again for the first time, The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Eternal High Priest.  Upon investigation, I discovered that this is not a new feast; the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments approved this feast way back in 1987.

According to recent 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.

arton218

PENTECOST

comeholyspirit

For the past seven weeks, we have celebrated Our Lord’s Resurrection and recalled his many appearances to the Apostles.  As they recognized Our Lord’s presence among them they were filled with comfort, reassurance, inner-peace and strength.  Today, as the Easter season draws to an end, we commemorate the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles in the form of a roaring wind and tongues of fire.  The first reading describes the spectacular baffling effect produced on the Apostles by the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The change in their lifestyle was startling: they threw aside caution; no longer afraid they rushed out into the streets to begin their mission of preaching the Good News.  Suddenly there was no longer uncertainty, rather everything fell into place and made sense.  At that moment the Church was born.  The Holy Spirit filled the Apostles with new hope and courage.  They received the power and the strength to go out into the world and enthusiastically continue the work that Christ had begun.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost wasn’t a once and for all event, but the beginning of his permanent presence in the Church.  By virtue of our Baptism, the Holy Spirit is closer to us than we dare imagine.  Wherever there are hearts open to receive him, the Spirit of God is poured out, inspiring minds to undertake their mission as Christ’s representatives.

Today’s feast brings home to us the fact that God calls us to a deeper relationship with him and wants us to share in his life.  It’s an invitation to enkindle the fire of love and to stir up the grace of our baptismal calling.  We don’t always know when the Spirit moves us, yet we are frequently surprised by the power that drives us into action.  Whenever we go beyond our own selfish indifference and reach out in genuine concern for other people, then God’s Spirit is at work guiding us, giving us renewed strength to turn upside down accepted human values, and give us the will to move along in a completely new direction.

As we face the inevitable trials and crosses of life, and encounter the difficulties and disappointments which can leave our daily lives in tatters, we stand in need of the help of the Holy Spirit, whose presence makes such a difference to our outlook on life.  Christ has promised that the power of the Spirit will come, but only if we ask for him.  And so it’s essential then that in our prayer we leave the door of our hearts open to invite him in.  We become different and changed people to the extent that we allow the Holy Spirit to disturb our selfish complacency, uproot our mediocrity, and make way for fresh growth.  What the Holy Spirit will bring into our lives, if we permit him to lead us, is joy, peace and love.

On this day of Pentecost, we thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who works in countless hidden ways to deepen our faith, fill us with strength and inspiration, and to renew our lives.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.  And you shall renew the face of the earth.

221