30 September 2009
I just have to share this with you, if you didn't already get it on ICN, the Catholic online news service.
Mary Wang writes about waiting at a hospital A&E department. Having been on call at the University Hospital this week, and being called out to an emergency, Mary's reflection rang so many familiar bells. I was struck, spending just a few minutes in the A&E just how stressful it was for so many people. Mary writes:
"Midnight in the waiting room for Accident & Emergency, and you can tell who the worried newcomers are. They pace around and still think it will make a difference to their place in the queue if they hassle the poor receptionist every twenty minutes. A few years ago there was a time when I regularly needed to take someone with a heart problem to the Accident and Emergency department. The first few times were quite stressful and I was unprepared. After the canteen shut I couldn’t find anywhere to get us food whilst waiting through the night. Or I’d worn a thick top which was sweltering in the hospital, kept warm for patients in nightclothes. The general feeling was one of worry and anxiety, all that mattered was getting to the front of the queue. After a few visits we were more prepared. I had a bag packed and ready with change for parking and for the coffee machine, snacks, enough books and newspapers for us to last through hours of waiting and treatment, and a fully charged mobile phone."
I do commend the whole piece to you, and especially the link to Our Lady who teaches us much about waiting.
29 September 2009
24th Sunday, OT, Year B
In the women’s concentration camp of Ravensbruck an unknown prisoner wrote this prayer on a torn piece of wrapping paper and left it on the body of a dead child, later to be found in her clothing:
Oh Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill, but also those of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember also the fruits we reaped, thanks to this suffering: Our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgement, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.
It seems unimaginable that in the midst of such suffering someone could pray for those killing them. Truly such a person is a martyr to their faith in God. The prophet Isaiah presents, in his third Servant Song, the picture of the perfect disciple: Someone who makes no resistance nor turns away from those who strike and insult him. He knows he can rely on the Lord in his hour of need. In the midst of his suffering his faith is strengthened.
A question often asked of a priest, asked of those who are Christian, is: why does God allow suffering? Now, there are many complex aspects to the answer to this deeply human dilemma, all of which ultimately lead us to delve into the mystery of Christ and of our Faith. There is no human answer which satisfies those with a hungry mind, or those who seek to undermine our faith and much less those who are in the midst of deep personal suffering.
Suffering has many faces, but in the end it is the cross of Christ and it is a mystery. Jesus tells his disciples, today, for the first time that the Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously and to be put to death. He invites those around him, and this includes you and me, that if we wish to be a follower of His, then we must take up our cross and follow Him.
What is this suffering, then? Is it to suffer because of our sins? The result of our freedom to choose: pride, selfishness, greed, envy. If I am inquisitive and put my eye to the keyhole to see what is happening next door, then I catch a cold in the eye! Is it suffering because we are followers of Christ, in love to the point of martyrdom? Could I pray for those who persecute me, those who ridicule my Faith or pour scorn upon me because I fail in my professed Christian values? If I was a nurse, would I have the courage to suffer the loss of my job because I refused to assist in an abortion?
Or is it the suffering God gives us to prune and cut back, like the gardener who prunes the vine that yet more fruit will grow? Perhaps it is the suffering inflicted by others, intentionally or unintentionally. One thing is certain, however, that Jesus does not teach in parables regarding the pain He will suffer. He is quite open and we should not, therefore, deny that suffering is a part of our Christian life. That is not to say that God inflicts or even desires that we suffer for its own self. He does not desire that we be in pain because He is a cruel and harsh God.
Christ shows us, through His cross, the way to the resurrection and it is a way that is for others. He did not die in order that He could get into heaven. Jesus Christ is and was always fully divine. He died in order that we could get into heaven. He is the perfect example of which St James talks in his letter when he says “I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds.” Greater love has no man that to lay down his life for his friends and we must do the same. We do not know the way in which we will suffer in this life, we do not know why we are suffering now and we do not yet understand why we have suffered in the past. We do know, however, that we can offer our suffering, with a willing heart, for those who need our prayers and we thank God above for the sacrifice of those who give their lives that we might have life and life to the full. And we pray, too, for our enemies!
28 September 2009
When we speak out, let it be against those who are, in fact, against us. In particular we think of ideologies like Atheism. We live in a world where pernicious secularism is driving at the heart of the people of God. We have to speak out when we see evil being perpetrated.
I read, recently, of Camden Council who were denying a poster to be displayed because it alluded to a Christian root. I think it actually dared to use the word Christian. Even with the support of other faiths, the Council would not change it's position. The poster will not be displayed.
Who is offended by this poster? If it is not, seemingly, other religions, then who? It is, I suspect, those who hold with atheism. What gives the right to an atheist, which is nothing more than an ideology like communism or Marxism, to deny a basic freedom of religion. Are we moving to a country which seeks to deny religious freedom.
Speak out. Remain silent and we deny the love of Christ we cherish so dear. Lord Jesus, forgive us the times when we have lacked courage to dare to say your Holy Name.
26 September 2009
Su Wk 22 Yr B
Suppose a woman murders her husband. She is questioned by the police, charged and eventually brought to trial. During the case, however, she is released and set free due to a technicality. She is not guilty and it would be wrong for us to judge her guilty and yet, before Christ she may well be guilty. Christ does not judge using human law but rather the law which is written upon our hearts. If you like, he uses the Ten Commandments and he has given them to us through the prophet Moses. The book of Deuteronomy teaches us to “take notice of the laws” in order that we may have life.
When we gather for the Eucharist, the great prayer of thanksgiving, we are blessed with Jesus coming amongst us in a particular way when he gives us His Body and Blood. This absolute gift is, for us, both the source and summit of life. It is that which feeds us and that from which we are able to feed those whom we meet. As we present ourselves before the Lord I wonder how often we are fully present to Him. Have we properly prepared before Mass? Have we come to this Eucharist with our heart and soul, or have we come merely from obligation.
Many times we may be like those Pharisees and Scribes whom we hear about in the Gospel. We observe the rules, we come to Mass and we think we are doing all that is required of us. We can be guilty of empty religiosity, here in body but not in spirit. Do we sit in judgment of those who do not come to Mass? Perhaps we are jealous of them, or consider them to be unworthy. Are we the ones who ask Jesus why others do not “respect the tradition of the elders”?
Sometimes we can be guilty of placing unreasonable burdens upon ourselves too. We judge ourselves harshly when we have been unable to get to Mass, or we miss our prayers, or we have failed to help the orphan or the widow, those in need.
When we cannot join someone for a celebration, we say “I’ll be there in Spirit”. We want them to know that whilst we cannot physically be present, we wish them well and if it were possible we would be there. We want them to feel the love that we have for them. We wish them to know the thoughts of our hearts.
If you are thinking that I am saying it is okay to miss Mass, or not to say your prayers, or even to leave orphans and widows to their own devices, then I have failed to crack open the Word today. All of these are important, but they are not important in and of themselves. They are important because they show us a loving and forgiving Father. They bring us to God. He has given his law not to restrict but rather to lead us, to lead us to Him. And the path to God is nothing less than a heart filled with love.
When we see Him as He really is, then we will know our hearts beat to the rhythm of love. If the woman who has murdered her husband is repentant, then like the thief who hangs upon the cross, she will be with Jesus in His kingdom, most especially if she’s been to Confession, like all good Catholics.
It is the Holy Spirit who instructs the hearts of the faithful, and it is to him whom we cry out: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
25 September 2009
Sunday, Wk 21, Year B
Joshua asks the people of Israel: “choose today whom you will serve.” This is a fundamental question for us now, and most certainly it has been an important question in my life. Not least was it a key question when I decided to leave behind the life I had led and follow Christ as his priest. Let me tell you a little about how I come to be here before you today.
Growing up a Catholic, having been baptised as a baby, meant that I went to Catholic schools, went to Church regularly and even served at Mass. I think it’s fair to say until I was in my mid teens I was a good Catholic; whatever good means. I recall as a child watching the priest during the elevation of the host and knowing that one day I would do that. I did not want to be a priest. I didn’t even realise that only a priest could do this. No, I wanted to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or even a barrister. I wanted to help people.
Anyway, I stopped serving at Mass, even stopped going to Mass and there were huge rows at home about this. There were many reasons why I decided not to fulfil the promises made for me at my baptism, indeed not to keep the promises I made to God myself. At the heart of the problem seemed that I was growing up and growing away from God. I never stopped believing in God, though it did, at times come close to that, but I just didn’t believe the Church was best placed to interpret the will of God. I didn’t think that men with white hair living in Rome could tell me what I should and shouldn’t do. I think it’s a common enough problem and, of course, it’s really not about the Church but rather that I was deciding the doctrine, or teachings, of Jesus were just too difficult. I, like those in today’s Gospel, was one who said: “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?”
It’s true to say that our Faith challenges us at time, and rightly so. The easy option is to simply reject those parts of our Faith, or the parts of the Mystery of Christ, which don’t suit us. But in the end, like St Paul teaches; “this mystery has many implications.” My seeming rejection of the Church, which would last nearly 20 years, never led to me being rejected by Christ. Rather, I now see, He waited for my return and it came in the most unexpected of ways.
I was at work surfing the internet, as you do, and anyone who has surfed the net will know that it is very easy to click from one page to the next and before you know it, you are looking at something completely different. I ended up looking at ukpriest.org, which is a web site all about formation for the priesthood. To cut a long story short, as they say, I went to see my parish priest (that’s when I found out which church it was) and he very gently listened to my tale of woe. At the end of an hour long chat, I suggested that I wanted to be a priest: this from a man who had barely stepped foot in a church for nearly two decades.
He gently encouraged me to come to Mass regularly, to become involved in the parish and to see where the good Lord was leading me. Like the psalm says: “taste and see that the Lord is good.” I did taste and see, and after a few months of discernment applied to the Archdiocese to be considered for priesthood. When Archbishop Vincent said yes, I was totally shocked. I truly believed he’d ask me to wait a couple of years but he didn’t. He sent me to Spain, to Valladolid for a year, and then to Oscott for six years – which I have just completed. Where the time has gone, I do not know.
How did I come, in a few short years, from rejecting much of what the Church teaches to being today an officer of the Church, one who is expected to uphold the teachings of the Church? Well, it’s a long and complex story and far more than I can cover here. Save to say that I have come to see, as you already know, and St Paul teaches, that the Church is you and I. It is not some distant institution in far off lands but rather it is the Body of Christ. It is the mystery which “applies to Christ and the Church”, as St Paul tells us. It is the head and body together. As we can no more separate our body from our head, so we cannot separate the Church from Christ. A rejection of the Church is a rejection of the Son of God himself. Wow, a big decision to make and not one that a young lad with his whole life ahead of him can make easily.
For me, my foolish ways were soon forgiven and the path toward priesthood became a very easy one. In fact, as I journeyed ever closer to Jesus and to become the priest he wants me to be, a priest for you; I came to see that it was in his holy consolation that I longed to be. Just like St Peter says; “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life... you are the Holy One of God.”
But in the end it is not me who chose to be a priest; rather it is Christ who chose me. Our readings, today, teach us one thing above all, however, and that is that whilst it is true to say He chooses us, we are always free to make our own decisions. Joshua asks the tribes to choose and Jesus asks the Twelve to choose. Just like our Faith, when pushed to the limit, we are free to choose Christ, just as I accepted His call to the priesthood.
Let me end with a tale in being faithful; faithful to the Sunday Eucharist, a small and regular commitment we can make to Christ and to one another as the Church.
There was a Catholic man who would always say to his wife on Sunday morning, “You can go to Mass for both of us”. One night he dreamed that he and his wife died and together to heaven’s gate. St Peter asked, “Are you Mr and Mrs Smith?” The couple both nodded their heads. “Well, Mrs Smith can come in for both of you”, declared the saint. Church membership is not necessarily an elevator to heaven.
23 September 2009
H/T to Ruth Gledhill in the Times.