1. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
3. Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
4. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
5. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
6. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
8. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Some (mercifully few) people look on the poor with disdain as if poverty is their fault. Most of us have some sympathy for those who find it difficult to meet their needs for whatever reason. So, when Jesus talks about the “poor in spirit”, and urges us to seek it, what exactly does he mean?
Simply this: we must be humble in our spiritual life. “Humble” has some negative meanings these days, thanks to Charles Dickens and his creation, Uriah Heap, a swivel-eyed, leering hypocrite who proclaims frequently that ‘I’m very ‘umble’. Fortunately Uriah is not the role model for what Jesus meant.
“Humble” emerged in English 800 years ago and meant “submissive, respectful, lowly in manner, modest, not self-asserting, obedient." So, to be “poor in spirit” is to acknowledge in modesty our spiritual poverty and sinfulness and – this is where humility is essential – our need for salvation, for Jesus’ saving love, if we are to overcome our spiritual poverty and move onwards in our spiritual journey.
There are both negative and positive consequences of this acknowledgement. On the one hand we must not be self-satisfied or proud, acting as if we don’t really need God, because we are good enough. On the other hand, we must put self-interest aside and focus on God’s gift of love to us, sharing it with all who are part of our lives. This means trusting Him to protect us and give us the Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment that enables us to sense what he asks, and to use our talents in His service,
Like everything that Jesus asks of us, when we put our self-interest to one side, it is all quite – Simple!!
Meekness ≠ Weakness
“We have every reason to be meek. We did not bring ourselves into existence. Every good we have is a gift ..… We cannot prevent our own deaths. We cannot raise ourselves from the dead and give ourselves the gift of eternal life with God. But God can.” Kevin Aldrich • Catholic Stand • May 2014
Of all the Beatitudes, the one calling for meekness might seem the most puzzling. Isn’t it the strong and most forceful who conquer lands and acquire power? From our Catholic perspective meekness means making choices: choosing to embrace humility, to put aside arrogance, and to be kind and open to others. These are not the actions of the weak and naïve! To make and stay with these choices, you have to have courage, strength and stamina.
Across the Church there are priests, religious, catechists, teachers, ministers, parents and young people who strive to live Catholic virtues and who do so in a meek and humble fashion. Their gentleness of heart and spirit shows that, in their own way, they are claiming their inheritance by the power of love, compassion, mercy, and understanding: - the outward signs of meekness.
How do we become meek? We must throw away anger. Meekness is the opponent of anger. Therefore, we return love for hatred and blessings and prayers for curses. One thing we do not do is violently impose our faith on others. The early Church conquered the Roman Empire through non-violent means and we will re-evangelize our society in the same way.
So Meekness is chiefly about the virtue of hope. We trust that God will keep his promises to us: to give us eternal life.
In the last two weeks we have reflected on humility and meekness. This week we look at one of the most difficult of life’s experiences – grieving and comforting those who mourn.
It seems a bit odd that the mournful can be called ‘blessed’. We all understand how painful grief can be, whatever the loss – and it doesn’t feel like being blessed. Indeed, it can feel like a punishment. But this beatitude refer to a special kind of mourning that is, in fact the antidote to grieving.
If we love God, we will love all those who belong to God, that is, everyone. God’s incomprehensible love is given to every human being without exception.
When we truly love others, their happiness becomes ours. Even so, we may find them in pain, suffering and struggling to be happy. Because we love them, their suffering also becomes ours. We mourn for and with them. It is impossible to remain indifferent to the sufferings of others, once we have discovered and recognised God’s love. It is the sins of human beings, the cold indifference of others towards God and our neighbour that fills us with sorrow.
God’s love is there for all who grieve. We can be a channel of God’s love for those who mourn, by sharing their grief.
Through this sharing, both become blessed.
Source: The Beatitudes: A Concise Summary Deacon Douglas McManaman • catholiceducation.org
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” 1 John 3.1-2
Those who heard the fourth Beatitude would recognise immediately the terms He used. At the time Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, hunger and thirst were quite common. However, Jesus did not intend his words to be taken literally. He is pointing to what John (above) says: that God’s love is so great that he gave his Son in sacrifice to save us. Through this act of love our identity as children of God is confirmed.
The foundation of love is justice and moral perfection. This makes sense. To pursue justice is not to obey passively God’s law, but also to act: - to achieve, sustain and promote brotherly love of Jesus. In other words, following this beatitude means committing ourselves to establishing and maintaining the right (just and loving) relationship between ourselves, God and the people we live and work with.
So, why ‘hunger’? Hunger is a sign of life. We become spiritually alive when we hunger to love others for their sakes, not as snack food to meet our needs. Jesus says those who have this hunger will find their appetites filled. This makes it easier to see the wrongs about us and to want to do battle to fix them. We cannot do this relying on our own strengths, but, as with the first three Beatitudes, by abandoning our self-interest to allow Jesus to work within us.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7
What is Mercy?
Mercy is the unmerited act of kindness to someone in need. It is kind to do something good for another. This may be giving some water to someone who is parched or giving all one has to people who have nothing.
It is unmerited because it is not something the recipient has ‘earned’. It is a just act to reward employees for doing their jobs not an act of mercy! Contributing to the second collections in church are acts of mercy because they invite you to make an unmerited act of kindness for people in need.
Being merciful is not just about giving money. It is, more importantly, about our use of the power we have over others. You may think you don’t have any power, but you do - over elderly relatives who need you to ensure they are cared for; children whose education is in your hands; neighbours who may need friendship. Mercy also extends to those who may have offended or hurt you, when forgiveness may lead them to do good.
Take a moment now to write down the people in your life who could or do benefit from your unmerited kindness towards them. I think you’ll find it a long list!
Christ promised that those who show mercy will receive it. We need His mercy; we are sinners and prone to use our power over people to act in our interests, not theirs. As with a hunger for justice, we must also search within ourselves for the mercy that wants no reward. Acts of mercy are powerful ways of sharing God’s love with others
Prayer: Lord give me eyes to see how I can make an act with kindness today to someone in need. Amen.
“Fear is a force that can turn that which is real, meaningful, warm, gentle, and kind in your life into devastation and a desert. It is a powerful force….
“The best story I know is from India … and it is a story about a man who is condemned to spend a night in a cell with a poisonous snake. If he made the slightest little stir, the snake was on top of him and he was dead. So, he stood in the corner of the cell … petrified. He barely dared to breathe for fear of alerting the snake. … When the full force of light came in with the full dawn he noticed it was not a snake at all. It was an old rope.
The moral of the story is very profound: …… in our minds there are harmless old ropes, but when fear begins to work on them, we convert them into monsters who hold us prisoners.”
Walking in the Pastures of Wonder John O’Donohue
Help is at hand. There are 33 places in the Bible where God tells to be not afraid: e.g.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
We celebrated this event on August 6th. In the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration, we see the explicit desire on the part of the eternal Father to glorify his Son before he undergoes the sufferings of his Passion. For the moment the veil covering his divinity is lifted and, suddenly, Jesus appears clothed in unsurpassed beauty. He is luminous, translucent with the Father’s glory. The disciples present at the event instantly recognise the glory of God shining from that human face. From the mysterious, enveloping cloud, they hear the solemn declaration: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt 17:5) This is the Father speaking, with nearly the exact words he spoke from on high at the baptism of Jesus. He bears witness to the fact that Jesus is the only Son of God, true God from true God, as we believe and assent in the Credo.
From Blessing of the Daily Br. Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Laturette
Most people seem to think of ‘freedom’ and ‘obedience’ as opposites. This usually in reference to some ‘rules’ that a person wants to break or dismiss. “Now I work for myself, I can express myself fully.” “I’m retired, so I can do what I want.”
In reality, freedom and obedience go hand in hand:
“Freedom of choice is a core value of modern life. Somebody might express it as follows: ‘I don’t want to be told what to do. I want to be free to be me. I express my freedom by exercising my right to choose … Yet, for many people, their supposedly free choices are driven by obedience to a hidden agenda.”
Rev. Christopher Jamison Finding Sanctuary
“Choice” of clothing is a good example. People may think they have many choices when buying clothes, ranging from grunge jeans to smart suits, differing styles, materials and prices. Yet these ‘choices’ are only responses to other people’s ideas about what we should wear. Fashion houses, retailers, fashion leaders, friends and associates’ preferences - few of us can claim to be truly independent in what we wear. Using the language of freedom while being ruled by hidden agendas is dangerous. We may claim to be doing one thing but are actually doing the other. I know someone who often says, “I’m still a Catholic, but I don’t go to mass. It does nothing for me.” Can you be a Catholic and refuse to go to mass?
Obeying good rules is healthy and life fulfilling. So is true independence. So how can we do both? First we must know what we are choosing to obey. Second we must look for choices which improve our spiritual wellbeing. How can we tell that? It’s very difficult, but there are two things we can do that help us – listening to God as he talks to us through scripture, the Mass, the words of our parish priest and other good people we may meet: then, we can ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?”
Do Your Children a Favour — Be a Burden on Them
God gave us the Ten Commandments to guide us in right living. The Fourth Commandment, “Honour your father and mother,” is the last of the “Do” Commandments (as opposed to the 6 “Don’ts” that follow).
We get plenty of opportunities to freely choose obedience to the first three Commandments. But once our parents get older — much older — and need more and more assistance, we don’t always get the opportunity to “honour” our parents — to take direct care of them. Many parents have chosen to not allow this, because they don’t want to be a “burden.”
At one time, it was common for three (or more) generations to live under one roof. Now, the elderly have strangers taking care of them in institutions. Multiple generations of children have been conditioned to think “it’s probably better” to arrange this and call or stop by for a visit once a week, or once a month... or not at all. It has become “normal” to see taking care of one’s parents as just not practical — that we’re not qualified or we’re too busy. In the meantime, many elderly parents sit in hospital-like rooms in soulless facilities growing depressed that they see their children and grandchildren seldomly, and wonder why life turned out this way. Some ask God why he continues to let them live, because what’s the point? Some children wonder the same thing.
When you look at this issue from the perspective both of the elderly parent and of the not-very-involved adult child, is it any wonder that assisted suicide has become culturally acceptable? In this context, even some Catholics are tempted to think “It’s probably better.” It isn’t.
So, when you’re considering how you might want to handle retirement, consider the value of being a burden on your children.
Recently someone asked me “How holy do you have to be to become a saint?” The Church’s teaching is that we can all become saints:
“A "saint" is anyone in Heaven, whether recognized on Earth or not ……. These may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5) who may have not always lived perfect lives but amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord"
(What is a saint? Vatican Information Service, 29 July 1997)
Of course, there are saints and Saints, the latter being those officially proclaimed by the Church as a Saint. And I think that was what my friend was asking about – how the Church recognises that someone is in heaven and that their life was such that they should be held up as an example to all.
5 Steps to Sainthood
First, the person’s local bishop investigates their life. If the bishop is satisfied, he submits the information to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS).
Second, the CCS can choose to reject the application or accept it and begin their own investigation of the person’s life. The person may then be called Servant of God.
Third, if the CCS approves of the candidate, they can choose to declare that the person lived a life heroically virtuous. This isn’t a declaration that the person is in heaven, but that they pursued holiness while here on earth. The person may be called Venerable.
Fourth, to be recognized as someone in heaven requires that a miracle has taken place through the intercession of that person. Miracles have to be first verified as scientifically unexplainable by independent experts, then the person is approved by a panel of theologians. Final approval lies with the pope. The person is then declared Blessed.
Fifth, a second miracle is needed in order to declare someone a Saint. The confirmation of a second miracle goes through the same scrutiny as the first.
More about this and our own progress toward sainthood below.
Last week we saw how the Church recognises a person as a Saint – i.e. someone who has entered heaven and is a model for the rest of us. We also saw that everyone who gets to heaven is a saint, including those whose credentials for canonisation may not be known or recognised on earth. That is probably what will be the case for most us! So, it is worth exploring what it means in practical terms.
Essentially, becoming a saint (whether canonised or not) means living a holy life. The question we might ask is how do I become and remain holy? That, however, is not quite the right question:
Do you not know and understand that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells permanently in you? … for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (I Corinthians 3:16-17)
We do not become holy by what we do, but by what God has made of us - His temple. The message of the Gospel is not about being egotistical and having a (cunning?) plan for becoming holy. The Gospel’s message is about what God has done for us, through the sacrifice of His Son. We have been set aside for a specific purpose. You can’t become holy – you are made holy by God’s grace. This not something that happens in stages, but the act of God within us. Holiness is not a thing: it is a person and his name is Jesus. We live in Him and are eternally holy because of it.
That is not to say we can sit back smugly and watch the world go by. That would be placing ‘ME’ before Him. The purpose that God has for us in this life is to grow in the way we express the holiness within us. The Beatitudes tell us the different ways in which we can express this in terms others can recognise. It is our witness to the truth of the Gospel. It is worth reading and reflecting on the Beatitudes and the part they play (or should play) in our day-to-day lives. So, you can stop running to find what you already possess. Instead, use it!
is the mystery of God within himself. A mystery in theology does not mean that something is unknowable, it refers to something beyond reason that is revealed by God. This is an important point: We can talk and write about the Holy Trinity and we can say some reasoned and necessary things–things that are true, but as true as they are, they are always going to be an incomplete truth about God. A good image for this might be a beach: Imagine a sandy beach with the sand representing the whole mystery of God. One person could pick up a few grains of sand in his or her hands and in holding those few grains they would be holding true grains of sand. In other words, part of the mystery literally could be grasped. As hard as one might try, however, it would be impossible for one person to grasp all of grains of sand in his or her hands. Basically, we can grasp something of the truth, but not all of it – and that’s okay! Humans are finite beings and trying to grasp the fullness of infinite truths is, quite simply, beyond us.
Well, from all eternity God existed both as one being but three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The masculine terms Father and Son are used, not because God is male or female but because they express the nature of a relationship between these two persons. Before there is anything there is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: The Father loves the Son with a perfect love and the Son loves the Father with a perfect love and the love which goes from the Father and Son is a perfect person: the Holy Spirit. The Greeks used a special word: ‘Perichoresis’ to describe this relationship. A good translation in English is ‘dancing’ From all eternity God exists as a perfect dance of love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To believe in God the Father, is to believe in God the Son and the God the Holy Spirit. It is to believe in a God who is communion of persons caught up in an eternal dance of love – and as Christians we called to share in that divine dance!
What is the difference between a mystery and a problem? The one is frequently mistaken for the other. So we have crime “mystery” books and TV shows, and problems such as “The Problem of God”, or the problem of knowing how Jesus ascended to heaven or what happened at Pentecost.
The difference is simple but profound: a problem is solvable: a mystery is not - it is something we have to grapple, learn to live with and make sense of as much as we can.
So the establishment in Jerusalem had a problem with a man from out of town, a Nazarene, and they solved it by having him falsely accused and executed for treason. But they could not stop his followers from continuing to believe in him, and to get others to believe in him. They and authorities across the Roman Empire tried to solve that ‘problem’ by persecution of the bloodiest sort. They failed because they were dealing with a mystery - the mystery of Faith, why anyone should put their trust in someone who claimed to be God.
So, at this time of Pentecost, we may ask “How did that happen?” or “Tongues of Fire? What was all that about? The Holy Spirit? What’s that? How can there be a 3-in-1 God?” Although we may find explanations for these events: we. will never - in this life - fully understand them. They are mysteries, a focus for understanding our loving God. It is right to question this and other fundamentals of our faith. However, we need to ask not to find a complete answer, but to refurbish and add to what we understand about our trust in God and the wonders of his love.
It’s like asking ourselves “Why should God love me?”
Now that’s what I call a mystery!
Today we complete the days of the Easter cycle - exactly fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus. Today we experience the descent of the Holy Spirit into our lives Today, he comes to reveal to each of us the hidden meaning of all that Jesus taught during his earthly years. “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.” John 14: 25-26)
Today, the Holy Spirit is given to us as he was once given to the Apostles: to understand with greater clarity and depth the teachings of Jesus. The gift of understanding is essential if we are to continue, in our own small way, the work of Jesus. The Holy Spirit descends upon the entire universe. We realise that he descends upon people of different places, races, cultures, tongues and times. He fills all things with the gift of himself.
Thus, today, both creation and the Church are renewed by the Holy Spirit who sustains all life.
Saint Seraphim of Saros never ceased to remind his disciples that, “The only purpose of Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.”
From Blessings of the Daily: Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourette
Jesus has just ascended to rejoin his heavenly Father. Christ, of course, was not abandoning his followers. He went to fulfil his promise to send the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide and inspire us in the mission Jesus has set us - to bring all to Him and to the path to heaven.
The Holy Spirit is not an “add-on”, a worthwhile bonus to the wonders of Jesus. St Basil the Great wrote:
“All living things turn to the Holy Spirit in their need for holiness. … The Holy Spirit … extends his own light to every mind to help in its search for the truth.”
This is what those in the upper room that day experienced - not just a capacity to communicate with their world, but the insight, wisdom and language to bring forth the Good News. And the Holy Spirit offers us the same gift - not a Berlitz course in a foreign language, but a far more exotic tongue - the language of love and salvation.
In that room the world turned upside down.
This was no gift of Greek or Latin
nor any patois of the world then known,
These were words familiar but forgotten,
grammar and syntax learnt at mother’s
breast, cast off, life’s first lessons unlearnt.
New understanding bursts into flame,
excised crisp cynicism and terror’s fear,
the dull language of despair and death
displaced by a lexicon of love: -
a language to talk peace, abandon war;
to join in reconciliation
minds and bodies once used to slaughter;
to win what’s worth the winning for all;
to deploy the strong subtle syntax
of forgiving; to give and accept
clemency with humble compassion;
to slough despair, put on hope;
to put up with, and not to put down;;
to offer a hand, withhold the fist;
to offer words for unity, not croak
apartheid; to sing love, drown out hate.
The Bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly, I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Matthew 25: 10-13
“How many are the moments in which we can be Christ for others?
Now is the moment: do not delay. The Bridegroom is coming. Trim the wicks of your lamps. Perhaps next to you, perhaps now reading your email, perhaps sleeping next to you, perhaps in the cubicle next to yours, perhaps on the other end of the classroom, perhaps on the playing field, is someone whom Christ must touch right now.
And perhaps yours are the only hands, the only voice, the only smile, the only embrace, the only look that He can use to touch His beloved.
Be alert! The moment will never come again. Trust yourself to God and He will act.”
Tim Muldoon Dot Magis blog cited in An Ignatian Book of Days
We celebrate Christ’s Ascension on Thursday, 30th May. Though Christ has ascended, let us remember that God is not absent. Christ has raised us up so that we can experience God in the many details of daily life and to be the channel for His love for us and all around us.
“When Spring arrives, I turn my ears to the joyful and sublime music of Mozart. I have heard musicologists describe Mozart’s music as ‘divine’, ‘heavenly’, or ‘out of this world’. It is probably all of that and more. The appreciative listener is susceptible to the wide range of feelings and emotion the music of Mozart inspires: joy, serenity, graciousness, civility, refinement, melancholy, a sense of longing for the inner world. In the music of Mozart, one seldom confronts the sense of tragedy or struggle of other composers. Mozart, deeply human as he was, used his music in a positive manner. He wished to affirm all that was good in creation, such as it came from the hands of God.
“Every Spring, as we relive the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection and feel the resurgence of life taking place all around us, I am quietly drawn to Mozart. His music, a metaphor for God’s life in us, inspires us to incorporate in our daily lives a sense of sobriety, beauty, goodness, godliness, joy, and all other positive attributes connected with the divine. Thus, through listening to Mozart and through the mysteries celebrated during the season, we may experience the truth hidden beneath the words of the Cure d’Ars: It is always spring in the soul united with God.
“…… Mozart’s music seems to divulge in a lyrical fashion the sublime sense of renewal and amazement taking place in our midst…… Mozart, in his own incomparable way, affirms our faith in the reality of the Resurrection. Life is worthwhile and there is meaning in it after all, for Jesus is indeed risen!”
Blessings of the Day Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette: Liguori-Triumph 2002
It is something of an oddity that we celebrate St Stephen’s feast day at Christmas, some thirty years before he was martyred. Yet, it is in the third week of Eastertide where we read of his reproof of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council which had accused him of “speaking against this holy place (The Temple) and the law”.
In his response he turned the tables on his accusers, claiming that they were the ones who, with their ancestors, resisted the Holy Spirit and persecuted prophets. Naturally this did not go down well, and the council members drove him from Jerusalem and stoned him to death.
What Stephen did before the council was to stand up to those who had been responsible for the legal murder of Jesus. You have become his betrayers, his murderers.” [Acts 7,51-8.1] As such it is a message to all Christians to stand up in defence of our Saviour. The stones we face today are the jibes, lies, and objections hurled at Our Lord and at us, his followers, each ‘stone’ intended to hurt with dismissal, denial and claims that our faith has no meaning or goodness.
As the stones rained down on him, Stephen knelt in prayer: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” [Acts ibid.] Even as an agonising death overtook him, he called for mercy on his persecutors, as Christ did on the Cross.
Before this, Stephen had been an active follower standing for Christ, busy in synagogue and meeting places bringing the Good News to fellow Jews and irritating the Establishment to the point where they decided to get rid of him.
In these ways - standing up to Christianity’s opponents, being humble in praying for their salvation and standing amongst non-believers proclaiming the Good News - he is the very model of an active Christian we should all aim to be.
The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had as everything they owned, they held in common. … None … was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money … to the apostles; it was then distributed to members who might be in need.
Acts of the Apostles 4:32-36
This is a vivid picture of the early Church: a small group, living simply, sharing what they had, joined in faith and committed to the mission Christ has set them.
What would it be like if Pope Francis issued an instruction for all Catholics to live like this? And to say to the world, “If you wish to be a follower of Christ, you cannot until you sell your house or land and car(s) and give the surplus to the poor, give away your iPad, unwanted designer shoes, fashion clothes, jewellery - everything you don’t really need.”
No doubt there would be cries that the pope had gone mad, or was a heretic, and riots would follow. Why? Because, where the early Church sought to be noticeably different from the rest of society, today it seems that we Catholics want to be seen as a ‘normal’ part of our society, following society’s norms and ways of doing things. All very well until your life bumps into racism at football matches, drug selling on the streets, young people knifing one another, inequalities in working practices, corruption in public office and private business, sexual exploitation and abuse of children as well as adults, evil gossip and foul language everywhere. These are part of ‘normal’ society, but no part of a Christian way of life. So what do we do? Walk on like pharisees? Or show the world in our actions and demeanour what a Catholic life is and how different it is from the lives of many around us?
were donated to the parish and have come from the shrine at Krakow. To find out more about this devotion please take a leaflet from the rack at the back of Church.
Dali’s painting Christ of St John o the Cross is a breath-taking vision of what Christ has done for us. The original can be seen in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow and is well worth a visit.
The painting is known as the Christ of Saint John of the Cross, because its design is based on a drawing by the 16th-century Spanish friar St John of the Cross. The composition of Christ is also based on a triangle and circle (the triangle is formed by Christ's arms; the circle is formed by Christ's head). The triangle, since it has three sides, is a reference to the Trinity. The circle represents Unity.
Like its subject, the painting caused controversy when first acquired by the Art Gallery. Heated debates ensued about the propriety depicting Christ in a secular place, whether it was blasphemous and whether it was too clearly ‘papist’ propaganda. There was also a petition to have the money used to buy it (£8,000) spent on facilities for art students. The fury of this brouhaha led one over-zealous opponent to attack it with a stone and his bare hands, causing considerable damage that, fortunately, could be repaired by conservators. (Since then it has won a poll as Scotland’s favourite painting.)
It is ironic that the attack on the painting with stone and hands mirrors the attempts, and ultimate failure, of his enemies to humiliate and destroy him. Christ lives with us still, as does this painting.
“For many, God seems to be distant: he does not evoke any emotional resonance. They do not love God less, if they venerate him as God and do his will. [However] by becoming man God gave us an object more accessible to our emotions. By loving Christ, and our neighbour in him, we love God with our heart of flesh……
“He who sees Christ, sees the Father. Christ giving himself up to death for love of us - that is what the Father is like. He gave what was most dear to him, his Son, who is ‘the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being’ (Hebrews 1:3), whom he loved with a love that is his eternal substance. Could he love us with such great love and remain beyond reach?................
Perhaps the deepest mystery is not that God loves us, for he is Love, but that he wants our love - for he is God.
“That love is pure gratuitousness, before any response on our part. ‘Christ died for us while we were still sinners … enemies [of God].’ (Romans 5:8, 10). My faith is o believe in the existence of this love, not in the perfect, abstract love as the philosophers would like to imagine it, nor in a universal love for my fellow humans as such. It is in this scandalous, irrational, gratuitous, absolute love of God in Christ that I believe.
‘The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Galations 2:20)”
From ‘From Advent to Pentecost: Carthusian Novice Conferences’ by A Carthusian: DLT 1999
“I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God.”
These are the words of Abba Agathon, one of the Desert Fathers, the founders of monasticism. Prayer for the desert monks was a constant practice. Every form of prayer came from and resided in the recesses of their hearts. They did not use long formulas or prayer books as we might today. Instead they prayerfully read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels and the Psalms, drawing from short prayers, such as “Lord, have mercy.” `these brief prayers would be uttered repeatedly throughout the day until they became part of the monk’s being.
We can learn much from the desert monks (without having to imitate all their practices. Start with the basic question What is prayer? Or, specifically, what is praying to God?
Essentially it is a conversation - “A talk, often informal, between two or more people” (OED) - i.e. between God and you. Does this really happen? Too often, I find myself conducting, not a conversation, but a monologue, especially with long, formulaic prayers that go on and on. And I don’t think I’m unique. [I suppose one proof that God loves us is that He can listen to all this, not nod off and still be patient with us!]
So prayer, as a conversation, is two-way: not just praying to God but also with Him and listening for His response- at the very least pausing in case He wants to say something.
A successful and meaningful conversation means that the participants really mean what they are saying. In praying we always have an obstacle to face - the more familiar the prayer, the more the risk that the words come out but our minds are somewhere else. Familiarity can breed superficiality, where what’s said is correct, but the saying is empty of real meaning. One short prayer in which you concentrate fully on the meaning of each word may be harder at first, but more fruitful in its outcome, than a long over-familiar one that trips off the tongue before meaning can catch up. One test of this to say a prayer then ask yourself what you just said, what you were telling or asking from God.
Short spontaneous prayers can be powerful. A short prayer may be exactly what God wants to hear, so that by talking to him we can avoid the banana skins Satan puts under our feet. Here are some:
Prayer: ... So that you can:
"Thank you for this breakfast, Lord." .............. ... Remember how He blesses us in practical ways.
"Help me stay calm in this traffic jam." ........................................... Keep cool and manage anger.
"Help me love this person now." ................................. Show respect & avoid scorn/hatred/ anger.
"Lord, show me what to do." ................. Discern God’s will; avoid one’s own impulses and wants.
"Lord, I love you. Be with me!" ................... Have courage to protect myself from fear or negative reactions.
"Lord, let me be honest." .............................................. Avoid deceit, conceit & misleading others.
“But if you faithfully obey the voice of your God, by keeping and observing all his commandments … all these blessings will befall and overtake you…” Deuteronomy 28: 1-2
Blessing is the enjoyment of God’s divine favour. It isn’t just about having more stuff; it’s being able to enjoy what you have. Blessings aren’t necessarily material things. We should remember this at Christmas. Which gift would you prefer - an iPhone X(S) or the embrace of someone you love?
When the Bible was first translated into English, blessing was used to equate to the Latin benedicere, meaning to speak well of. So, blessing became an expression of a key feature of the relationship between God and humanity. When, at the end of mass, the priest gives us the blessing, he asks God to favour us.
What form may this favour take?
First, we can expect God to hear our prayers.
Call on me in the day of distress.
I will free you and you shall honour me. Psalm 49: 15
Second, we can also expect God to meet our needs. God knows all we need even before we do, and has all the resources of the universe! Of course, what we need may be different from what we want!
Third, we can expect God to guide us, not only in dealing with important issues or major challenges in life, but also in our day-to-day work and leisure.
Blessed by all things
wings of breath,
delight of eyes,
wonder of whisper
intimacy of touch
eternity of soul,
urgency of thought,
miracle of health
embrace of God
May I live this day John O’Donohue: Eternal Echoes: Matins
Finally, we can expect a life of joyous celebration of God’s blessings to bring us the peace and calmness that nowadays it is fashionable to call “wellness” - and we don’t have to spend a penny or eat a strange diet or sign up to an expensive club to achieve it! TC
On Sundays and special feast days the Church requires the singing of the “Gloria.” It is an ancient hymn, one that started out very humbly as a personal poem, imitating the Psalms, seeking to praise God.
The initial words of the Gloria are straight from the Bible and part of an angelic hymn to God on that first Christmas night. (Luke 2:14)
However, after that line everything else was composed separately. Who com-posed it? There is no known author, but it can be traced back to the third century., “The Gloria, like the Kyrie, was not created originally for the liturgy of the Mass. It is an heirloom from the treasure of ancient Church hymns, a precious remnant of a literature now almost buried but once certainly very rich.”
Joseph A. Jungmann in The Mass of the Roman Rite
These early hymns were called, “psalms by private persons” and were not written for any particular liturgical use. At first it was used in the East as a morning hymn in the Little Hours of the Divine Office, as a general hymn of thanksgiving and praise used outside the main liturgical events. One of the first instances of its use during the Mass was at the Mass of Christmas night. Later it was added to Sundays and feasts of martyrs. As the centuries went by this particular hymn became more and more a central part of the Mass and was obligatory on certain days by the 5th century.
The current General Instruction of the Roman Missal explains its vital importance:
The Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is a most ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced by any other.
It is a glorious song, one that invites us to complete the hymn of the angels and to add our voices in thanksgiving for everything that God has done for us.
“It was revealed to Abba Antony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession, and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.
ST ANTONY THE GREAT
Re-reading this episode about the life of St Antony of the Desert is always refreshing. One wonders who is worthy of greater admiration: Saint Antony, the father of monks, who with deep humility recognises the holiness in another and rejoices in it: or the admirable evangelical witness of this doctor’s life, who strove to live by God’s word in the midst of the wicked world of his times!
Both lives, one lived in the solitude of the desert and the other amid the distractions of the world, spring from the same love for God, the same purity of intention in God’s service, possess the same love for the poor in whom both recognise the person of Christ, and practise the same detachment in giving up what is superfluous in their lives.
Because of this, both Abba Antony in his austere desert solitude, and the humble doctor in his noisy city environment are equally pleasing in the sight of the Lord and are given the equal joy of praising God unceasingly, singing daily in the company of the angels the thrice-holy hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Brother Victor-Antione d’Avila-Latourette: Blessings of the Daily
At the end of the fourth century, a woman named Etheria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her journal, discovered in 1887, gives an unprecedented glimpse of liturgical life there. Among the celebrations she describes is the gala procession in honour of his Presentation in the Temple 40 days later—February 15.
This feast emphasizes Jesus’ first appearance in the Temple.
The observance spread throughout the Western Church in the fifth and sixth centuries. Because the Church in the West celebrated Jesus’ birth on December 25, the Presentation was moved to February 2, 40 days after Christmas. At the beginning of the eighth century, Pope Sergius inaugurated a candlelight procession, which has become part of the celebration, giving the feast its popular name: Candlemas.
After celebrating the Nativity of our Lord, with its splendour in both the Church and the popular culture, it would be easy to overlook the significance of this feast. Yet Joseph and Mary’s presentation of the baby was no pro forma event. They did this to conform with the Law and in doing so God enters the Temple. The words of the prophet Malachi are fulfilled in the poor parents presenting their firstborn son along with their humble sacrifice of two turtledoves.
Simeon and Anna, having spent their lives in prayer and waiting in the Temple for the Messiah, have their ‘moment’ with the glorious Nunc Dimittis of Simeon. With Candlemas we celebrate the coming of the Light of the World. But a shadow also passes. Simeon not only proclaimed that he had seen his salvation, but also told the Mother of our Lord that her share would include a sorrow-pierced heart.
Laetare is the Latin for Rejoice and comes from the first words of the Introit at Mass - Isaiah 66:10-11, which begins "Rejoice, O Jerusalem" and continues "Rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow". Today, the Fourth Sunday, has been viewed traditionally as a day of celebration tinged with sadness, coming in the middle of Lent when Easter is in sight and Lenten austerity can be lessened briefly to encourage people to continue with the discipline of penance. So the purple of Lent is put aside and rose vestments are used instead.
In fact ‘Rose Sunday’ is another traditional name for this day, although by far the most recognisable name is ‘Mothering Sunday’ - not, note, “Mother’s Day”, which is a modern commercial invention.
Mothering Sunday got its name during the Middle Ages, when people were expected, at this time in Lent, to go to mass at their ‘Mother’ church; i.e. where they were baptised, or their parish church or their cathedral (a cathedral being the ‘mother’ of all the parish churches in a diocese).
In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother church, usually with other family members. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, since on other days they were prevented from doing so by conflicting working hours. Today is not much different.
As for “Mother’s Day”, my mother got it right: she would always say
”Why one Mother’s Day? Every Day should be Mother’s Day!!”
“The Trinity” is the most famous of Andrei Rublev’s icons and the most famous of all Russian icons.
Painted in the 15th century, the icon depicts the three Angels who visited Abraham (Genesis 18: 1-8), but it is usually interpreted as representing the Holy Trinity, with God the Father on the left, blessing the cup on the table. His hand is painted as if he is offering the cup to the central person, Jesus, who in turn blesses and accepts it with a bow indicating his acceptance of the Father’s will. The Holy Spirit stretches his hand in blessing too and observes the interaction of Father and Son.
The three figures form a circle, with one space free. Rublev’s intention here appears to be to invite the painting’s observer to take the fourth place in adoration of the Trinity and as an act of commitment to follow Jesus.
The icon is full of symbolism and well worth studying as part of a meditation on the Trinity. It is currently held at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Copies of it are easily found on the Internet. For a clear explanation of the icon go to:
This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.
This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.
This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.
And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.
U A Fanthorpe
Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, O Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem star may lead me
To the sight of Him who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord. Thou art holy;
Make me meek. Lord, thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day
Gerard Manley Hopkins
The story of the Messiah in the Bible is a complicated one. In the earliest biblical texts, the word originally referred to the king of that time. It later came to refer to some future ruler, then eventually a heavenly redeemer along the lines of the archangel Michael before, in the New Testament, Jesus is born and the mantle of Messiah falls firmly on his shoulders.
What does ‘Messiah’ mean?
It means “anointed one.” The term was originally used to refer to the king. Over time the word developed the connotation of something in the future—of a time when there is no longer an actual king. To call somebody anointed meant that he had a special role to play, whether or not any anointing oil was used.
How did the word messiah come to mean a future saviour figure, as we understand Jesus Christ today?
2 Samuel, Chapter 7 tells the story of God’s promise to David that one of his sons would always sit on the throne in Jerusalem. That promise held good for about 360 years, which maybe is a reasonable approximation of forever. But then the Babylonians came in and put an end to the native kingship in Jerusalem. The people had a record of a divine promise that something would last forever and had to face the fact that this was actually not the case. This is what gives rise to the hope that God will restore the monarchy, which is to say bring a new messiah, a new anointed king. People’s original messianic expectations were the hope for the restoration of the monarchy.
It should be noted that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah. This was what the crowd called him when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. After his death, his followers concluded, yes, he is the Messiah, but not the kind of messiah that everybody was expecting - i.e. not a political ruler. Jesus made this quite clear to Pontius Pilate when he explained that his Kingdom was not of this earth. Jesus is a messiah who has to die first and then come back - which is what happened.
So, as we anticipate the Lord’s birth, let us remember that he comes not to stand in for those who rule (in any sense) but to bring forgiveness, and joy as we journey towards paradise.
This is still for some, the lambing season. For Christians, the presence of a new baby lamb is an intimation of another lamb.
Jesus the Lamb of God, offered himself in sacrifice to the Father at the exact time of the Jewish Passover, at the very moment that paschal lambs were being killed for sacrifice in the Temple.
The Lord’s self-sacrifice was accomplished out of that incomprehensible love he had for us, so that he might “take away the sins of many and bring salvation” to those who eagerly await him.
O long-suffering Lord, who accepted death for our sake, glory to you!
May we walk by your side and bear witness to your love for all mankind.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords that imprison unfairly,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.
Isaiah 58:6–9 (NIV)
“Too often we become enemies of others: we do not wish them well. And Jesus tells us to love our enemies! And this is not easy! Let me just answer this question and let each of us answer it in our own heart: ‘Do I pray for my enemies? Do I pray for those who do not love me?’ If we say ‘yes’ I will say ‘Go on, pray more, you are on right path.”
Pope Francis - Vatican Radio
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Reconciliation is not an end in itself. St Teresa of Avila summed up beautifully why we need to cleanse our souls in readiness for Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension.
CHRIST HAS NO BODY
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
is more than giving money. It is stretching out to those in need with Christian love:
“If you break the chains of oppression;
if you set the pris’ners free;
if you share your bread with the hungry;
give protection to the lost;
give a shelter to the homeless;
clothe the naked in your midst;
then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
Marty Haugen ‘Return to God’
The Holy Humility of Christ
The ‘Kenosis’ icon reminds us of the trial and death of Christ and his patient endurance throughout. These are not the sufferings of an ordinary man. They are endured by the Son, in whose person the divine and the human co-exist. Christ’s humility in accepting suffering is a lesson and model for us all.
The icon (see below) is the focus of “The Bridegroom” service celebrated in churches of the Byzantine tradition in Holy Week. The stanzas of the Bridegroom hymn are beautiful and expressive, especially when sung. Here are some in loose translation:
O Bridegroom, more beautiful than all men,
Called to your kingdom’s spiritual feast,
We need your flawless wedding garments,
So that clothed in all your beauty’s raiments
We may come into your bridal chamber,
Shining as your guests with glory and joy.
Let us love the Bridegroom, ready our lamps.
Let virtue’s radiance and faith’s depth shine,
And thus, wise virgins, let us come with Christ
To the wedding feast and receive from God
The incorruptible garment and crown.
(for more go to http://standrewgoc.org/hom
"Nor do I condemn you. You may go." (John 8:11)
Forgiveness, in its truest and highest form, is a free act of love. But precisely because it is an act of love, it has its own intrinsic demands: the first of which is: ”God alone is absolute truth. But He made the human heart open to the desire for truth, which He then fully revealed in His Incarnate Son. ...”. Pope John Paul II
Christians must let go of resentments and forgive those who have wronged them so that they may experience God’s forgiveness, Pope Francis has said.
This can be particularly difficult when “we carry with us a list of things that have been done to us,” the pope said in his homily on March 6th at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
“God’s forgiveness is felt strongly within us as long as we forgive others. And this isn’t easy because grudges make a nest in our heart and there is always that bitterness,” he said.
In your mercy heal us;
In your love and tenderness, remake us;
In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness;
For the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.
There are many myths about the origins of the snowdrop. Among these is the story of Eve, who was distraught after God had expelled her and Adam from the Garden. As Eve sat weeping, an angel appeared to comfort her. The angel caught a snowflake and breathed upon it. The snowflake fluttered to the earth and gave birth to the snowdrop. Thus did this delicate bloom come to symbolize hope and rebirth.
Snowdrops bloom in late winter and so it is no wonder that they are regarded as indicators of forthcoming Spring and better weather. They also have a special meaning for Christians. They bloom before or at the beginning of Lent, the season in which we remember Christ’s sacrifice to redeem us, and when we anticipate the glory of Easter and the Resurrection. It is perfectly proper then that we rejoice in the blossoming of snowdrops, for they give us hope, reassure us of rebirth and provide consolation as we recall our Saviour’s suffering.
Felix of Burgundy, also known as Felix of Dunwich (died 8 March 647 or 648), was the first bishop of the East Angles. He is widely credited as the man who introduced Christ-ianity to the kingdom of East Anglia.
Felix travelled from his homeland of Burgundy to Canterbury before being sent by Honorius to Sigeberht of East Anglia's kingdom in about 630. On arrival in East Anglia, Sigeberht gave him a see at Dommoc (possibly Walton, Suffolk or Dunwich in Suffolk). Felix helped Sigeberht to establish a school in his kingdom "where boys could be taught letters". He died on 8 March 647 or 648, having been bishop for seventeen years. His relics were translated from Dommoc to Soham Abbey and then to the abbey at Ramsey.
Patron saint of sailors, merchants, repentant thieves, archers, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students
On December 19th, we celebrate the memorial of St Nicholas. Like many early saints we know little about St Nicholas. He was born (c. 270) into an affluent Greek family in Myra (now Demre, in Turkey) and, after becoming a priest at an early age, became Bishop of that area, and served there until his death c.343. Over the centuries, many tales have been told about his life and miracles, although there is little evidence to support the claims made for him in most of these.
The most famous story is about how he rescued three sisters from the threat of becoming prostitutes. He heard about a devout man who had lost all his money; his three daughters had no dowry and no prospects of marriage. Instead, they would be sold into prostitution. Rather than humiliate the man by a display of his generosity, Nicholas visited the man’s house over three nights and, on each occasion, threw a bag of gold coins through an external window. This meant that the girls would each have a dowry and could marry. From this and other tales, he became renowned for his generosity, modesty and discretion.
St Nicholas’ descendant is, of course, Santa Claus, who secretly visits families at Christmas to give them gifts. As the commercial world has kidnapped Santa,
Saint Nicholas’ purpose in helping the poor has disappeared under an avalanche of goods. This misses the point: St Nicholas was motivated by two things: first, following Christ in aiding the poor (”Blessed are the merciful’); second, following Christ in respecting the poor. So, as you go about giving presents this year, think like St Nicholas, not ‘Santa’, and seek out someone who needs your gift. This doesn’t have to be money…A CAFOD World Gift given under a relative’s name may be a blessing for a poor person elsewhere and a blessing for the relative. Or again, ten minutes talking to a lonely person may be a bigger, better gift than a box of chocolates.
Doctor of the Church
Remembered especially on January 28th.
A man who dedicated his life to the service of abandoned young people. Founder of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
Remembered especially on January 31st.
Patron saint of virgins, chastity, and gardeners.
Remembered especially on January 21st.
Patron saint of writers and journalists.
Remembered especially on January 24th.
Remembered especially on January 26th.
He was an Irish monk who did much to establish Christianity throughout the British Isles and particularly in East Anglia. Born in Ireland, he established a monastery at Rathmat, on the shores of Loch Corrib, and then journeyed to England where he founded another at Burgh Castle, near Yarmouth.
Remembered especially on January 16th.
St Antony is the originator of the monastic life. He was born in Egypt: when his parents died, he listened to the words of the Gospel and gave all his belongings to the poor. He went out into the wilderness to begin a life of penitence, living in absolute poverty, praying, meditating, and supporting himself by manual work.
He suffered many temptations, both physical and spiritual, but he overcame them. Disciples gathered round him, attracted by his wisdom, moderation, and holiness. He lived to be 105, and died in 356.
Remembered especially on January 17th.
Remembered especially in January on the first Sunday after the Christmas period.
Patron saint of Ireland
Remembered especially on March 17th.