Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Advent thought: Lost

Our Lord is often referred to as a shepherd. This particular parable alludes to the messianic prophecy of Ezekiel (34:11-31) in which God Himself would come down and shepherd His people, seeking them out and rescuing them:

Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered…

The parable is understood allegorically by St Anselm and St Hilary of Poitiers (both Fathers of the Church). The lost sheep represent mankind who had strayed through sin. The 99 sheep on the hills are the angels of God in heaven. In the Incarnation, God the Son descended ‘from the hills’ (i.e. from heaven) to seek the lost souls of men and to rescue them through His death and resurrection. And so Christ restores men to grace and leads them back to the company of angels in heaven (see Heb 12:22).

This shepherding of lost souls to safe pastures continues in the Church, for Christ continues to operate through the Church, His mystical Body. As the parable reminds us, “it is not the will of my Father who is heaven that one of these little ones should perish (v.14)”. So too in the Church, we must never cease to reach out to the lost, and be ready to shepherd them and provide them with the grace won by Christ in our redemption. As we await our coming Saviour, we have been given the gift of time in order that the lost may be found.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Advent thought: What is in a name?

Sometimes we become so familiar with a word that we use it without thinking about what it means. We refer to our Lord and Saviour as Jesus Christ. We know Jesus was the name given by the Angel, and many will know that it means ‘God saves’, but what about Christ. When asked about this in catechesis many will simply suggest it is our Lord’s surname!

‘Christ’ actually is not a surname but who He is. The name remarkably infers the Trinity. Let me explain. ‘Christ’ literally means ‘anointed’ (and this is sometimes translated as ‘messiah’). It infers the Trinity because quite simply the ‘anointed’ requires both an ‘anointer’ and an ‘ointment’! And this is particularly made manifest to us at the river Jordan when St John the Baptist baptises our Lord. Through the Gospel we hear the Anointer and see the Ointment. The Anointer is God the Father saying “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.” And the ‘ointment’ isn’t a thing but a divine Person, the Holy Spirit, whom descends as a dove. ‘Christ’ is a Trinitarian name.

Many Jews, and even some Gentiles, recognised in Jesus the fundamental attributes of being the Messiah, the Christ, and so they gave Him the messianic title “Son of David” – as they do in today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 9:27-31): “Have mercy on us, Son of David.”

Yet our Lord is also reticent that this title be used too much – “See that no one knows”. The Jews of His time used the title in an overly political way; they wanted an earthly king to lead an earthly army against the Romans. The Incarnation was not for a mission of earthly politics or warfare. It was the announcement of a supernatural reality: the Kingdom of God, and the spiritual solution to all human evil; a solution found not in armed struggle but through the Crucifixion.

Christ’s Kingship is truly revealed only when He is raised high on the cross.

What’s in a name? Well a great deal actually, especially the name “Christ”. Let us then treasure this name and when we pray remember the depth of its meaning, and that Christ is our Messiah, our Son of David, under whose Kingship we are called to live.

Fr Ian

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Advent thoughts: Building the house on rock

Matthew 7: 21 - 27

Can this be right? That to even those who know the Lord and have exercised miraculous gifts, the Lord might say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” Surely something is wrong here in the translation?

The reason our Lord warns us in this way is that we have a tremendous capacity for self-deception. We might think we know the Lord, but we might well have deceived ourselves. So how can we know that we are the Lord’s?

Well we are apt to see miraculous gifts as proof that we are on God’s side. Surely if someone is exorcising demons or doing other might acts in the name of the Lord, that person is on the way to salvation? We might seek signs in the world that suggest that we are going the right way.

In fact that may not be the case, as the Lord warns us. We draw closer to the Lord through grace. According to Catholic teaching there is a distinction made between sanctifying grace and the graces we might call charismatic. Particular charismatic graces are for the building up of the whole Church but are not necessarily signs that we are close to God and truly know Him! Sanctifying grace alone makes us fit for heaven. Sacramental grace is grace proper to each of the Sacraments and sanctifies us. Charismatic gifts are not for our own sanctification, they are for the whole Church in order to build the Church up and to save souls.

Grace is not something we can feel. Grace is of the supernatural order. Because of this, we cannot tell through our feelings whether or not we are growing in grace. So the question then is how do we know we are growing in sanctification?

There is only one sure test. The answer is given by our Lord in the gospel today: “he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Sanctifying grace is manifested through conforming our will to the Father’s will. We conform our will to the Father’s will through knowing our Lord Jesus Christ (in prayer, sacraments, and Holy Scripture) and, most importantly, by obeying Him. This, and only this, will reveal to us that we are growing in sanctifying grace.

So the Lord invites us to build our house on the rock, which is listening to our Lord Jesus Christ and obeying Him.

Fr Ian

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Advent reflection: taken, blessed, broken and given

Mission: We are to be taken, blessed, broken and given

The miracle of the feeding of the four thousand is a miracle of generosity. It is a miracle that also recalls the miracle of the great prophet Elisha (in 2 Kings 4:42-44) when he multiplied 20 barley loaves to feed 100 men, with some left over.

The miracle also prefigures the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In the account, our Lord takes, gives thanks, breaks and then gives them food (Mt 15v36). This pattern is the pattern of the holy Mass. Through His disciples the multitude, over whom Jesus expresses much compassion, are fed. So He also feeds us with compassion through His disciples today. But he not only feeds us, He also calls us to go out. The Lord has taken us, we give thanks for the Eucharist and are given new life through it, and we then go out into the world.

Going out into the world we come into conflict just as Jesus did. Christ was broken on the cross for our salvation. So we also suffer because we witness to Christ in our lives. Through faith and hope, our suffering is united to His suffering, and because His suffering is redemptive, so our suffering participates in His redemption. By our witness and suffering in the world, others can be given the new life they so desperately need. The pattern of the Eucharist is also the pattern for effective mission.

The superabundant generosity of God is nowhere more manifested than in the Holy Eucharist. For the Eucharist is the superabundance of the Father’s gift of His Son to the world for our salvation.

Fr Ian

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Hiding things from the wise

St Luke has preserved for us one of Jesus explicit prayers to the Father. These prayers of our Lord are a very precious and wondrous thing for us to have.

We notice that our Lord begins with thanksgiving. He thanks the Father for ‘hiding’ the mysteries of the Kingdom from those who think they are ‘wise’ and ‘understanding’. This is not our Lord being anti-intellectual. Our intelligence is God-given and therefore good, but if we suffer with pride our intelligence can get in the way. Pride means we forget God; we make our own human intelligence the superior intelligence. And this blocks our minds from opening to the truths revealed by God.

Our faith is a faith based on divine revelation. It does not contradict our God-given intellectual powers, but if we are proud then we will not be open to divine revelation, because we will not be willing to humble ourselves to accept it. Just as God is willing to condescend to reveal Himself out of His great love for us, so He requires of us to humble ourselves to accept His revelation. We must be like infants. To accept divine revelation does not require us to be super-intellectual and neither do we need to be anti-intellectual, but we do need to humble ourselves.

Our Lord’s exclamation, “Yes Father!”, mirrors the fiat of His mother when at His conception she gave herself to become the Mother of God the Son. It expresses the depth of His sacred heart and prefigures His prayer at Gethsemane, when He gave Himself to His Father’s will.

The whole prayer of our Lord is an expression of the loving adherence of His human heart to the will of His heavenly Father.

So let us this Advent, following the example of Our Lord and His mother, give our hearts to the will of our heavenly Father.

Fr Ian