This week our country calls us to vote. We have had various political parties making incredible promises in a very nice and heart-warming way. But today we meet someone who is no politician, whose words were challenging and uncompromising. He uses strong language as the Pharisees and Sadducees discover in todays gospel. He told his listeners to repent, to turn their lives around, to become new people. He told them to get ready for the coming of the reign of God. Now the extraordinary thing is that rather than being put off by this tough talk the people welcomed it. In fact, they journeyed out into the inhospitable desert to listen to him. They stepped forward to confess their sins and be baptised in the Jordan. They saw that unlike other religious leaders and politicians, John spoke with real authority. He was not interested in promoting himself but only in promoting God’s word and in pointing people towards God. So, they took his message on board. They listened to him, they heeded him, they were baptised and turned their lives around. John the Baptist’s uncompromising message is directed to each one of us today. We must repent, change whatever in our lives need changing, so that we will be ready to celebrate Christmas well.
Advent is a real challenge for parents. Why? Because it has been turned upside down by our culture and only the church continues to remind us that this is not a commercial time (to overspend, to party, to be exhausted, to pile up presents) but rather a very sacred time and so four weeks before Christmas the church begins the season of Advent. This word from the Latin ‘Adventus’ meaning ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. Advent reminds us that Jesus came among us in history, is even now among us in mystery (spiritually) and will come again in glory at the end of time. We start to unpack the nativity set we carefully put away last year when the Christmas season was over, we start to think about Christmas trees, decorations and even now singing along to Christmas songs and carols. It is good to remember Jesus’ birthday in this way, but Advent is a time to do more. The Advent season is all really to do with preparation, preparing our homes and preparing our families and preparing ourselves to celebrate Christmas. Besides the fun way of all these preparations we must remember our own personal preparation to give time to what the birth of Christ means in our lives. Perhaps to refresh ourselves for the celebration by going to confession and to renew ourselves of the Christmas story.
The celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, brings to an end the Liturgical year. We are presented with the kingship of Jesus which is revealed to us in a very surprising way. “The Christ of God, the Chosen One, the King” (Lk 23:35,37) appears without power or glory: his throne is the cross; his crown is made of thorns; he has no sceptre but his hands are pierced with nails; he has no treasure, but is sold for thirty pieces of silver. Saint Paul tells us in the Second Reading, that in Jesus we find redemption and forgiveness. The grandeur of Christ’s kingdom is not power as defined by this world, but the love of God, a love capable of encountering and healing all things. This love alone overcame and continues to overcome our worst enemies: sin, fear and death. However, it would mean very little, if we believed that Jesus was King of the universe but did not make him Lord of our lives. Today’s gospel presents us with an encounter between Jesus and a THIEF, who begs the Lord: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42). This person, simply looking at Jesus, believed in his kingdom. Though crucified because of his errors, sins and troubles – this man still turned to Jesus. He asked to be remembered, and he experienced God’s mercy: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). Throughout his ministry Jesus shared his forgiveness; he dies breathing it. He died as he lived, reaching out to the distressed on either side of him. In the midst of his agony, he still had time for others. This is the gospel image of royalty – the king and the criminal who go together into paradise. This is the King we celebrate and whose values we try to live. May His kingdom come.
The end of the liturgical year reminds us of the approach of the end of time at the second coming of Christ. This must be a central desire to our faith. We profess in the Nicene Creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” After the Consecration, we profess, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.” The Theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin tells us “we must renew in ourselves the desire for the great coming.” Our fear should be of putting false pretences in things that are perishable. The people of Israel put their trust in the beauty of the Temple. They witnessed its destruction at the hands of the Romans in 70AD. Luke, writing his Gospel just after this event happened (around the year 80AD), wanted to tell Christians that the destruction of the Temple did not signal the end of the world. He cautioned the people not to listen to anyone who claimed to know the time of God’s visitation. Since Luke’s time, many people have claimed to know when the end of the world will come. Some claim a special revelation from God or Mary, and others claim to have calculated it from the Bible. All such claims should be ignored. We should not allow ourselves to be misled by claims or speculations that the end is near but must maintain a constant watchfulness. Before God’s final advent, there is life to be lived and struggles to be endured. Luke’s Gospel offers hope and encouragement in the face of conflict, persecution and family division. Jesus himself was about to experience a violent rejection by his own people and he prepared his disciples for the persecutions that they were to experience as they brought His message to the world. As disciples of Jesus, we trust in God’s mercy and protection, even when we are facing difficulties. Luke presents persecution as an opportunity for the followers of Jesus for “It will lead to your giving testimony” (Luke 21:13). In persecution, God’s wisdom and power will prevail. Perseverance in the face of persecution will lead to our salvation.
Looking around us in the world we live in you must surely be aware of the horrors, the violence, the lack of respect of human beings and God’s creation continues to be an ongoing presence which is hard to ignore even if we are not immediately involved. It is always interesting to read about heroic responses by ordinary people that stand up for those caught up in such difficulties such as things related in the first reading this weekend (2 Maccabees 7). Seven sons and their mother to stand against being forced to break the law. Their mother urged them to remain faithful at all costs. One son in particular is mentioned who cried out, “Heaven gave me these limbs; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again.” This also reminds us of all those who have died for what they believe in on this Remembrance Sunday. We remember all who died in the wars in our country fighting for peace. We remember those martyrs who died for their faith and we remember those who have also died in helping those on the edges of society, the lost and unloved in caring and supporting them. We will always be judged by our loving God on how we have loved our neighbour, cared for our world and loved God. Consider that phrase, “Where your treasure is, your heart is also.”
Zacchaeus was a wealthy man from Jericho. His job as chief tax collector put him in a position where he could get “perks” through extortion, and by overstating monies due from powerless citizens. The wealthy Zacchaeus, who exploits people, hears that Jesus, a charismatic teacher and healer, is going to pass through the town. Curious, Zacchaeus desires to see Jesus. He climbs up a tree to do so. When Jesus arrives, he stops close to the tree, and tells Zacchaeus to come down, for he wishes to stay at his house. We can imagine Zacchaeus’ astonishment! Had Jesus said: ‘Come down, exploiter, betrayer of the people! Come to speak with me to settle the accounts!’ No doubt the people would have applauded. Instead, they began to murmur: ‘Jesus goes to his house, that of a sinner, of an exploiter.’ Jesus’ gaze goes beyond sins and prejudices. He sees a person through the eyes of God, who does not stop at past evil, but perceives the future good. Jesus looked at Zacchaeus’ wounded heart. God is not blocked by our sin but overcomes it with love and makes us long for the good. All humans contain something of good inside their hearts and God looks for this, to help us step away from sin and return to our good selves.
What Do We See? I am drawn by a detail in today’s gospel. It has to do with eyes, with what the main characters are seeing. It is striking that the Pharisee sees the tax collector. His eyes are roving about as he prays in the temple. By contrast, the tax collector sees nothing, certainly not the Pharisee, since we are told that the tax collector “would not even raise his eyes to heaven.” This detail raises the of question what one sees, how one sees, and reminds us of the haunting phrase spoken by the Lord in 1 Samuel 16, 7. As the sons of Jesse are presented before him, he is sure that the number one son is the Lord’s choice. But here the Lord trains and corrects Samuel’s sight: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” How do we acquire such sight, eyes that see as the Lord sees? One only begins to see with God’s eyes when the heart has been humbled. Knowing our own sinfulness, our identity as loved sinners, gives us new eyes so that we look out on the world and, especially on other people, the way God does. When we see others from such a heart, we see brothers and sisters who are “like me,” in contrast with the eyes of the Pharisee, who does not see from the heart and can only observe that “I am not like the rest of humanity.” Such a humble heart is the key to everything: “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance” (St. Augustine). Lord, humble our hearts. Give us your eyes!
The opening line of the gospel makes it clear that this parable is a lesson about persevering in prayer. The parable involves the conflict between two stock characters. The widow stands for the most vulnerable kind of people in Israelite society – with no husband to ensure their rights widows were at the mercy of others. The rather important judge who neither fears God nor listens to public opinion isn’t going to allow a defenceless woman like her to get the better of him – or at least that’s what he thinks. In the last line of todays gospel something of a reverse takes place. The main character of the parable was an earthly judge but not a very good one at that. Another judge is coming – the Son of Man who will be even more searching than even the most stringent earthly judge. Perseverance in prayer is the key to everything. If I persevere love and trust and patience all grow, and God becomes more real. God is leading us, loving us and the Spirit prays for us when we do not know what to say. So, as the example the widow shows in today’s gospel – have courage, trust and pray.
Jesus hated no one. His love and compassion extended to all people no matter who they were or what their plight. Today’s gospel speaks about the need to be thankful to God for all God gives us and does for us. It also challenges us to think of our attitude to other people who because of their race, colour, creed, wealth, sexuality or health are different from us. Pope Francis has decided that October 2019 is a special month of prayer and action to strengthen and grow God’s mission throughout the church. Each of us is a mission to the world and each of us is the fruit of God’s love. This is where we respond generously to the call of helping and supporting all our brothers and sisters in the world who are in need. Prayer is at the heart of the church’s mission and prayer puts Christ at the centre of our lives so that we as his church will permanently be on mission in the world. Be loving in the support of your brothers and sisters.
A missionary in Africa was translating John’s Gospel into the local dialect and he encountered many problems with certain words. One such word was ‘to believe’. There was no exact word in the dialect, so he approached one of the natives for help. When he explained his problem, the native replied without hesitation, “To believe should be translated to ‘listen with the heart’”. The apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith, but I don’t think they were merely talking about and academic knowledge you get from reading books or studying the bible. Faith also involves ‘prayerful listening with the heart’ to the words of Jesus, modelling our lives on his. Our faith grows when we are no longer uncomfortable about practising our religion in public especially among those who are no longer church goers. St. Paul says in the reading today, “Never be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord”. To increase our faith in the world we live in today is about listening more to God’s word.
In Jesus’ time as indeed today, there was the feeling that the better person you were the richer you were. So a rich person was a good person and a poor person was a bad one. But in today’s gospel Jesus turns this on its head. This message of hope for the poor and oppressed is one that appeals to many but in real terms people do not live up to it even today. Many people today are rich and successful by exploiting others. This weekend in particular we remember migrants and refugees and victims of human trafficking. We are asked by Pope Francis to remember them in our prayers and to help wherever possible. Every person in this world deserves a life and as a Christian we should not use people or walk on the others side of the road when we see people needing help. I would urge us all to pause and think and pray and be of good heart.
In today’s gospel Jesus uses a rather unusual parable about a steward’s sharp practise to make a point about our relationship with God. In telling this parable Jesus isn’t condoning improper behaviour but rather he uses it to stress the importance of taking decisive action when decisive action is needed. The steward hadn’t been doing his job properly and so faced the sack but when his future security was on the line he acted quickly. He didn’t hesitate – he saw he needed to act and he did. It must be the same with our spiritual life. Our relationship with God is of paramount importance in our life but we can easily neglect it and allow it to drift along or we can get distracted by other things, become dishonest and fall into bad habits. If we neglect our relationship with God, if our spiritual future is threatened, then we need to act as quickly and decisively as that astute steward. We need to be as clever at safeguarding our spiritual future and the salvation of our souls as the clever people of this world are when their financial future is in peril.
Mgr. Gerard writes: Whether you are a brand new catholic, a “cradle catholic”, new to the area and parish, young or not so young, now is the time to get involved with your church. Members of the parishes who are actively involved often feel more at home and find joy in serving the Lord and others. Many also say they grow in their spiritual life. Do you want to be an usher, altar server, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, minister to the sick and housebound? Do you have experience in work relating to health and safety or finance? Are you willing to get involved in flower arranging, helping with tea and coffee, fund raising for the parish and being a welcomer, joining the choir, the offertory procession rota? In all our parishes I am extremely grateful for everyone that is currently involved, and I don’t take the support and help for granted but I am also aware that many things that happen in a parish revolve around the same people. At every parish this weekend I am distributing a form that I would like you to take and fill in a form and tick a box what you could on a regular basis become involved with in the parish. I know we all lead very busy lives and have many family commitments but over this past year since taking over the admin of St. Francis’ and St. Clare’s as well as the Shrine and the Cathedral I am asking for more help and support. Sadly, particularly at St. Francis’, our deacon Ray Hall will be stepping down from ministry from 6th October and Ray has been a great help and support to me and the priests in opening the church and setting things up for Mass etc. and I need to rely on people to come forward and take those duties on. Once you have filled these forms in please return them to each of the sacristies where I will personally collect them over the next few weeks. It takes one easy step to volunteer and become part of what are already great teams of people that really look after our churches and our Shrine. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be starting to put the heating back on in all our churches. Recently there have been fairly big bills coming in with all the heating costs and we have also at all our churches had some fire risk assessments and this has resulted in a number of recommendations that must be adhered to and some of those incur costs, in particular the lighting for all of the churches which will be a major cost. But the big change will be when we light the candles. First, we are not allowed to have the seven-day candles at St. Clare’s and the Shrine because I am not allowed to have a church that is not manned while candles are lit and therefore I am having to remove the seven-day candles. I would recommend if you want to light a tea light at any of our churches I would recommend that you do that before Mass begins and not at the end as all candles need to be extinguished when we lock the church. In order to comply with our insurance I have to comply with the fire regulations. Obviously, the recent fire at Notre Dame in Paris is still under investigation as to how the fire started and has brought in stricter controls over the use of candles. Finally, may I thank you for your patience and help over the past year trying to juggle between three churches has been an interesting experience for all the priests but I think we are all slowly getting there.
Today Jesus reminds us that the choice to follow him is the most radical decision we could take in our life. It touches us far more deeply than, for example, the decision to join a political party or to emigrate or to get married. Jesus must be important to us and if we don’t realise that or if we hesitate to affirm it then we are not keeping our baptismal promises.
If we think we can be true disciples of Jesus by going to Mass occasionally, saying the odd prayer, maybe even wearing a cross and making occasional donations to charity whilst remaining radically selfish and easily going along with the norms and patterns of our secular society then we deceive ourselves and our great need is to be shaken out of our spiritual complacency and be truly converted. Setting out in the race as a believer is one thing, crossing the line at the finish is quite another
The truly humble don’t pretend to know everything. They are aware of their limitations and they give respect for everyone. Jesus himself suggests that humility is linked with the way in which we treat other people. So he is actually posing a challenge here to all of us. The word humility is from the Latin word humus meaning ground so a humble person is one with their feet on the ground, a realist who is unpretentious, unassuming, self-accepting. Interestingly in contrast hypocrisy is associated with stage acting so a hypocrite is a pretender, a person who acts a part, wears a mask and puts on an external show. In today’s gospel Jesus calls us to turn from the play acting of hypocrisy and turn to authentic humility. If you want your humanity to reach it’s richest expression then live humbly.
“Try your best to enter by the narrow door…” The passage to salvation described for us in today’s Gospel is Jesus himself. He is the only door through which we can travel in order to come to the Father’s eternal Kingdom. However, part of following Jesus’ path, as we know, involves suffering. Just as he endured Calvary for our salvation, so too he asks us to take up our crosses and follow him.
Many currents in our society perceive suffering as something evil, to be prevented at all costs. But as the Letter to the Hebrews says in today’s second reading, “suffering is part of your training.” We might not be able to explain the reasons for suffering, but by our faith we know that it has a salvific meaning and purpose.
Of course, we make every ethical effort to help those who are suffering – whether that be through medical or pastoral care. However, we should hold fast to the words of Saint John Paul II in his 1984 encyclical letter on the Christian meaning of suffering. He wrote: “…to share in the sufferings of Christ is, at the same time, to suffer for the Kingdom of God. In the eyes of the just God, before his judgment, those who share in the suffering of Christ become worthy of this Kingdom.” (Salvifici Doloris, 21)
Our struggle against sin is a challenging one. Although as the Lord’s faithful we strive to be like Him, we are also fallen human beings who have a weakness, an inclination, to go against God’s law. Today’s world throws at us a whole range of temptations that we have to enter into spiritual battle with.
To help us throw off “the sin that clings so easily” which allows us to continue running in the race towards everlasting happiness, today’s second reading commends to us the “many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us”. The saints throughout every age who are now high in glory all fought against temptation. They teach us to have courage and to not be disheartened when we struggle, particularly when it comes to habitual sins. Their lives are testimonies of opening ourselves to God’s grace, in order that we may reject vice and embrace virtue.
The saints teach us to seek the Lord’s forgiveness and healing by approaching the Sacrament of Confession with humility. The great 19th century Italian priest, Saint John Bosco, said: “Do you want to become saints? Here is the secret: confession is the lock; confidence in your confessor is the key. This is how you open heaven’s gates.”
Get yourselves “treasure that will not fail you…For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel remind us where our true treasure lies: not in wealth, money or success, but in our faith. The second reading presents to us two fine examples of faith: Abraham and Sarah. Their great trust in the Lord amid the challenges they faced came from their desire and thirst for “their heavenly homeland”.
As the Letter to the Hebrews says: “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for…” So, to have a sure hope of heaven, we need to clutch onto that treasure of faith in Christ that we were given on the day of our baptism. As Sarah and Abraham demonstrate by their belief in God’s Providence, holding fast to the gift of faith isn’t fulfilled in a half-hearted acknowledgement of God’s presence in our lives, but a complete and total commitment to the only One who has the power to save us.
In his encyclical Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis describes faith as a “priceless treasure”, which “God has given as a light for humanity’s path” (Lumen Fidei, 7). May we always cling to that treasure so that we can present it back to the Lord as a testament of our desire for Him when the time to meet our merciful judge comes.
The Gospel today calls for persistence in prayer. It would be sad if we only pray to God in time of difficulty or when confronted with a problem and ignore him the rest of the time. Prayer should become second nature to us. Normally we don’t skip meals so also no day should go by without raising our hearts and minds to the one who made us even if its only for a few minutes a day.
Some people give up prayer when they don’t get what they want. Others give up on God when he unexpectedly takes someone away from them. Have we ever been tempted to do the same when we felt hard done to by God?
In one of the Sunday prefaces we say, “In him we live and move and have our being” so we know who is in charge of things both up there and down here. Prayer is a journey into love. Loving God and neighbour without any depth would be an uphill struggle.
You can pray anywhere – before you get out of bed, waiting for a bus, walking the dog. As long as we take time out of each day to pray then we will be constantly connected to God our Father.
Do we ever make space in our lives for people who could do with a listening ear, especially if they catch us on the hop and we are not expecting them? Loving someone is just not helping someone in a time of crisis like the Good Samaritan in last Sunday’s Gospel but also about making them and space for them on a more mundane level and especially if it is inconvenient to us.
But before this happens it is important to make time and space for God in our busy lives. Martha and Mary were equally loved by Jesus. The Gospel tells us that Mary sat down at the Lord’s feet to listen to his words. Jesus gently reminds Martha that Mary had chosen the better part on this occasion and it would be a shame to take it from her.
Blaise Pascale, the renowned 17th century philosopher and mathematician, wrote that “all of humanities problems stem from the inability to sit quietly in a room alone”. If that was true of the 17th century how much more relevant is it for us today? We need to make uninterrupted time and space for God if we are ever going to give quality time to others.
Have you ever reflected on the parable of the Good Samaritan from the innkeeper’s perspective? Why did Our Lord include this character into the story? Perhaps he wanted to teach us the importance of witnessing the charity of others.
Imagine the innkeeper’s reaction seeing a Samaritan man, a foreigner, arrive with the beaten man bandaged up and treated. He would have witnessed first-hand the care, love, and attention the Samaritan would have given the man. This would have inspired and strengthened him to take on the care of the man when the Samaritan said: “Look after him…”
There are many people in our own community who do heroic things for their neighbour, even if they be a stranger. Just like the innkeeper, may we be given the gift of recognising charity when we see it, being moved by it, and then letting holy charity be our outward clothing as well.
When you walked into Church today, the chances are that you dipped your hand into the holy water stoup and blessed yourself: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It’s a practice that can easily just become part of a Sunday routine. But have we ever stopped to think about the significance of what we do?
Primarily, blessing ourselves with Holy Water reminds us of our baptism, our birth into the divine life of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. By the waters of baptism, we were immersed into the depths of a profound relationship with One God, Three Persons – the Holy Trinity, the central mystery of our faith that we celebrate with today’s feast.
Blessing ourselves with Holy Water as we come into Church prepares us to receive the graces we receive in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It’s also a wonderful practice to have a holy water stoup at home as well. By blessing ourselves regularly, we’ll be reminded of the day we became adopted sons and daughters of God and come ever more deeply into relationship with the Blessed Trinity.
It’s always wonderful to welcome guests. To have people over for a meal or even to have them stay over for a night is a great joy and builds our friendship with them. But to have guests, preparations are required. Firstly, we have to be open to receiving them. Then, we have to prepare the food, the drink, and their accommodation. While they are with us, we have to give our time to be in their company.
On this great Feast of Pentecost, we’re asked to welcome the greatest “guest” into our hearts – the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity. Given to us in today’s liturgy, the beautiful 13th century Veni Sancte Spiritus, known as the “golden Sequence”, contains the striking line: “Thou, of all consolers best, Thou, the soul’s delightful guest, Dost refreshing peace bestow.”
It’s wonderfully comforting to know that the Gift of the Holy Spirit brings a lasting peace to our soul. But notice how the Paraclete is described as a “guest”. That means to receive the plenitude of gifts He brings, we have to be well disposed to receive Him, not just once in a while, but in every minute of every day.
Through our daily time of silent prayer and regular reception of the Sacraments, we allow the Holy Spirit, the greatest guest of all, to enter into our hearts and set us on fire for love of God and each other.
Parishioners and clergy from St Mary’s Cathedral, St Francis & St Clare’s, and the Lady Chapel, Mount Grace, gathered to say prayers and light candles across the River Gave de Pau from the Grotto in Lourdes during the recent Middlesbrough Diocesan pilgrimage.
Monsignor Gerard led the prayers, which included various intentions from people of the parishes, as well as prayers the sick and housebound and for those who have died. Parishioners were also invited to voice their own intentions which they had brought with them to Lourdes.
Several candles were then lit, for the people of all the churches, and for the various intentions of parishioners who had joined the pilgrimage as part of various groups.
It is easy to witness your faith in Lourdes. Young and old are happy to pray together, to come together in friendship and community and to live our faith by the kindness shown in so many different ways. But sadly that time in Lourdes comes to an end and we have to return to our homes and then witness to our faith can be a lonely business.
But in order to sustain our faith – this is where community comes into its own because we need the support of the community. A Christian community is not made up of perfect people. The little community of disciples that Jesus prayed for was made up of people who were, timid, weak and fearful.
Jean Vanier talks about ‘the fellowship of the weak’ and says that greater solidarity can result from the sharing of weakness and the sharing of strength. This might seem a contradiction but if you take a bunch of reeds for example, individual reeds are weak and easily broken. But tie a bunch of reeds together and they are almost unbreakable – and so it is with people.
Great strength comes from togetherness especially for weak people. There is a hidden strength and this is supported through prayer and worshipping together and by a loving service to one another and this is how we bring back from Lourdes all the wonderful gifts and love that we are so easily able to show and give to our communities back home. This is why community should be genuine and help work together.
It is too easy to walk away and join another community simply for our own selfish purposes. During the Last Supper Jesus prayed for the unity amongst his disciples: Father may they be one as we are one. This is our task as a community and it is a great challenge.
Recently, an elderly gentleman was dying. He had had a good life and he would have it all over again. He said he would gladly forego money and health as long as he could have the same wife, same family, same love again.
Love – that was what was important in life. It was love which kept things together and it made sense of life. The day before this elderly gentleman died all the family were around his bedside but as usual some were quite quarrelsome and some at odds with one another. As the elder of the family and the father of the family he told them they must learn to love one another and try harder. This was everything and they must believe this as these were the words of a dying man.
Jesus spoke his similar words to his friends the night before he died. It was a simple clear message “Love one another as I loved you.” We pray that God will touch our hearts so that we are people who are able to love and show love to and for others.
This Sunday is used throughout the world as a day of prayer for vocations to the priesthood.
Vocation is a much more generalised call than simply to the priesthood but this day is set aside for centring on those who the Lord is calling to the specialised ordained ministerial priesthood. I hope we all know that there is the wider royal priesthood. But here we are facing the call to accept a particular ministry which involves celebrating the Mass or Eucharist, normally the administration of other Sacraments and also often the pastoral care of some of the flock of Christ.
As a priest, I can assure you how much I owed to the prayers of others as I tried to seek God’s will in finally going forward to ordination. That was up to ordination. Needless to say, the need and the support has continued. But today especially we are all asked to pray that the Lord will send men to lead his flock.
There are two calls of Peter related in the Gospels. The first occurrence is at the start of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1: 16-18). The second occurrence is after the resurrection in today’s Gospel.
Three years separated those two calls and during that time a lot of things had happened to Peter. He had found out a lot about the man who had called him, about the task to which he had called him and all about himself. When the second call came Peter was a wiser and humbler man and therefore his second ‘yes’ was far more mature and enlightened than his first ‘yes’ had been.
Peter’s story is one of calling, falling and recalling. It shows that Christ’s call doesn’t exclude falls. A vocation is not something one hears once and answers once. A call has to be heard many times and responded to many times. Each day a part of the chosen path opens up before us. A part we have not traveled before. As one goes on the call gets deeper and the response becomes more internal and personal.
Peter is a great consolation to us. Courage fails us all. In the end all of us are mere mortals who are inconstant in our belief. We must learn to forgive ourselves, our moments of weaknesses and failures. We must not judge ourselves or others by momentary lapses and work as Peter did to look after our brothers and sisters in our community.
“Christocentric” is one of my favourite words. It simply means that Christ, a name which means “anointed One”, is at the centre of all teaching of the Catholic faith and should be at the centre of our lives.
Saint John Paul II in particular emphasised this truth, reminding us that Christ is the “centre of salvation history” [GDC, 1997, no. 98]. The General Directory for Catechesis published in his papacy also says that “at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. In reality, the fundamental task of catechesis is to present Christ and everything in relation to him.” [GDC, no. 98].
This “Christocentricity” is what we find St Paul expressing in today’s Second Reading, where we find the name of Christ no less than six times in six verses. “I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him.”
St Paul reminds us that Christ is the most important Person in our lives. He should be at the centre of our homes, families, schools, workplaces, communities, and, of course, the Church.
Transfiguration is a name we give to our breakthrough moments. It can be as simple as discovering a solution to a vexing problem or as horrific as watching the Twin Towers collapse. It can be Martin Luther King saying “I have been to the mountain top and seen his glory” and we know that integration will happen.
There is no planning for the transfigurations that enrich our lives. All of us have experienced some degree of transfiguration. We just need to let ourselves be caught up in the moment and become lost in the experience.
It is like receiving the Body of Christ. It is quite awesome to think we are receiving Christ because the host is more than bread. We should always say “Amen” with such profound reverence. God gives us rare moments when we hear more than is being said and see more than is obvious. During Lent and beyond how can we better treasure these moments of grace?
Jesus was tempted in the desert. It’s not so easy to understand how Jesus and temptation can come together but we are told clearly that Jesus was like us in all things except sin.
To me, it seems when we are faced with learning to believe, that Jesus Christ really was a man living in the same world that we inhabit today. He had all the human emotions: affection, love, fear, anger and so on. In use of his mind, his body, his heart he was free as we are free, but when tempted he never chose himself rather than his father’s will.
Like him we are free, but when tempted unlike him we often choose our will rather than God’s and this can lead to sin. But God is with us in our struggles always helping us to overcome them.
St. Augustine says: “it is through temptation that we come to know ourselves. We cannot win our crown unless we overcome and we cannot overcome unless we enter the contest and there is no contest unless we have an enemy and the temptation he brings.”
Forty days of Lent from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday is a period traditionally for prayer, fasting and doing special good works. The number forty comes from the Lord’s fasting recorded in the gospels and earlier generations associated Lent with giving up things like sweets or some luxury. The key question is to make Lent meaningful and that we undertake to do or give something up for the whole period. If we do not set down something special and be content with, “I shall be good during Lent” nothing much is likely to result. We also need to look at conversion, where do I fail?, in what areas do I need to be more generous?, where do I need the Lord’s healing love?
Some of the greatest exponents of Our Lord’s command to “love your enemy” that spring to mind (aside, of course, from the greatest example of Jesus Himself) are the martyrs of England and Wales. Many of these faithful men and women, seconds before facing the horror of being hanged, drawn and quartered, begged God’s forgiveness for the executioners, priest-catchers, and indeed the monarch.
Look no further that the very last words of our very own Blessed Nicholas Postgate: “Mr Sheriff, I do not die for the plot but for my Catholic religion. Be pleased to acquaint His Majesty that I have never offended him in any way. I pray God to give him His grace and the light of truth. I forgive all who have in any way wronged me and brought me to this death, and I desire the forgiveness of all the people.”
The witness of the ‘martyr of the moors’ provides a fine example for us of Jesus’ instruction to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly.” Safe in the knowledge that we won’t be treated as badly as the martyrs were, let us ask for their intercession that we may have the humility to love those who hate us.