31 July 2010

Need not Greed

Today's readings

O that today you would listen to his voice! This response to our psalm is more urgent now than it has ever been. It recalls a time at Meribah when the Israelites were travelling through the desert and they doubted God speaking through the prophet Moses. How many of us listen to today’s Gospel and think that Jesus is talking about someone else? How many of us assume that it is good to make ourselves secure in this life with material possessions? Perhaps we convince ourselves that we’re saving to ensure our children have a secure life – it is surely good to save for a rainy day, is it not?

Only a fool would deny that we are gripped by economic hardship. Massive cuts in public spending are afoot; we know we are in for a rough ride; hard times are upon us. So perhaps we are saving, or at least being a little more economic. We don’t know what the future holds, so we are playing it safe. Now I don’t want to get into the politics of economic policy but we do need to refocus on our priorities. There is a lovely short story written by Leo Tolstoy called ‘How much land does a man need?’

A peasant, named Pahom, is fearful of the devil and is heard to exclaim ‘if I had enough land then I would not fear the devil’. A laudable cry! A local landowner decides to sell some land and many in the village buy a small piece each, including Pahom. He works the land and soon repays his debts but becomes very possessive and seeks to buy more land so he moves to a larger town buying more land and earning more and more money. He has become quite secure but seeks yet more security, more land.

Pahom hears of a nearby people who have plenty of land and are willing to sell so he sets off to negotiate as much land for as little money as he can get. He seeks a bargain. The Bashkirs, however, have an unusual policy of disposing of the land. They offer him as much land as he likes for only 1,000 rubles on one condition: he may steak out as much land as he likes but must return to the exact spot from where he starts within the same day. If he fails to return to the spot, then the Bashkirs will keep the money and all is lost. Pahom is excited as he is a fit man and can cover quite a distance in one day, so he goes to bed to get a good night’s rest.

That night Pahom has a terrible dream. He sees himself lying dead at the feet of the devil who is laughing! The very next morning Pahom sets off at the break of day. He covers a vast swathe of land and notices that the land is getting better and better the further he travels. Soon the sun begins to set and Pahom makes to return to the spot from where he began. It is some way and he has to move quickly to reach the point. Eventually, just as the sun sets he finally makes it and falls face down on the spot from where he started, now totally exhausted. The Bashkirs rejoice at his great triumph but are surprised when Pahom fails to respond. As they roll him over, they see he has died with exhaustion. Pahom is then buried in a grave exactly six feet long – the amount of land perhaps a man needs!

Today’s Gospel is not about need. It is about greed. The man was already rich and had no need of more. Perhaps a telling tale of our times is that we simply don’t know how rich we are. We may worry about the level of debt we now have in our country and yet we were in far harsher economic times just after the war in the 1940s. Everything, it may seem, is relative. What is never relative, however, is that we do well to listen to St Paul’s advice to the Colossians: you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is. Now, how wealthy do we seem in these terms? Suddenly we see that all we possess is as nothing! It is but vanity of vanities, the Preacher says. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!

O that today you would listen to his voice!

29 July 2010

The guilty pleasure of Caravaggio

Thanks to Rorate Caeli for today's post with a film all about The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio. It was a pleasure to watch, perhaps even a little self indulgent, and wonderful to learn more about both the artist and his work. The film got me to thinking about why I'm such a fan of this sixteenth century Italian painter and, more specifically, his art. Caravaggio's life was, at best, far from the Christian ideal but it was real and it was of it's time and it was what it was. From this God brought forth great pictures that help us to enter into the mystery of his passion. As the film notes, The Taking of Christ is a reflection of the first act of violence which began the passion of our Lord. The film was, as I say, a pleasure to watch and I encourage you to spend some time thinking about the passion of the Lord, perhaps even through the medium of art.

28 July 2010

Slow posting - but think about this...

H/T to Love Undefiled

20 July 2010

To Be the Balm

By Fr. Robert Barron

All priests are shaped by the times in which they come of age. Our newly ordained, young-in-service clerics belong to a generation of priests ordained to follow the greatest crisis in the history of American Catholicism, the Long Lent of the clerical sex abuse scandal. They are not responsible for this mess, but, fairly or not, they will carry a good portion of its burden. These men will experience a scrutiny and suspicion that previous generations of priests never did.

My advice to them is this: seize this chance to heal; you are up to the task. In the immediate wake of the scandals in 2002, there was great concern among seminary faculty and administrators that numbers would plunge. Who, after all, would want to sign up for a form of life that was regularly subjected to bitter critique and that seemed, in the eyes of many, to be dysfunctional? And yet you came, and you stayed.

No one could possibly accuse you of seeking an easy life or hiding from your problems. Your very presence and perseverance in the seminary constituted, therefore, a vivid sign that God stubbornly, in season and out, calls people to the priesthood. Don't lose the love that brought you to the seminary, or the grace that saw you through it during a remarkably dark time; instead, deepen the love, broaden it, strengthen it through that grace.

Be strong and holy priests. Remain focused on prayer, both private and public; live your lives with integrity, realizing that you are a priest whether before human eyes, or God's alone; preach with energy and panache; love your people the way parents love their children. The many institutional changes that the church has made in regard to the protection of children are, obviously, indispensible, but they alone will never constitute an adequate response to the scandal. What is crucial is the decency of your generation of priests.

Don't think of this as an unfair expectation, but rather as a thrilling opportunity.

Your priesthood has a great assist in the accessibility of communications technology that men like Billy Graham or Fulton Sheen would have embraced and quickly mastered, to powerful effect. Take advantage of all of this; seize it for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus told us to preach to "all the nations," and Vatican II specified that that the primum officium (first duty) of the priest is to proclaim the Word. Today the average parish priest has the capacity to get the message out 24/7, all around the world. Use new media pro-actively; let the Holy Spirit guide you to the allurement of God's people -- as in Hosea 2:14 -- in bold and sanctifying contrast to the vast wasteland that clutters the mind and warps the soul. Mount a website, get something on YouTube, pod-cast your sermons, post advice on FaceBook and tweet daily. Yes there is always the danger of superficiality, but Fulton Sheen faced that same danger fifty years ago and met it with enormous intelligence and creativity.

I really believe that now is a great time to be a priest. Some of the holiest saints have emerged during periods much like our own, fraught with difficulties and rich in opportunities. Don't shrink from any of it, brothers. Ad multos annos!

Fr. Robert Barron is an award winning author and prominent theologian. His Word on Fire ministry evangelizes using a broad range of new media. George Weigel has said Barron's Catholicism Project "could well become one of the most significant efforts ever to advance what John Paul II called "The New Evangelization." This piece was part of an address delivered to new priests at Rome's Pontifical North American College.

H/t to The Deacon's Bench for leading me to this article on patheos.

13 July 2010

St Henry

Happy Feast, Dad!

11 July 2010

What does God ask of me this day

Readings for the 15th Sunday, Year C

Each Sunday we come to Church and we listen to the Word of God. Perhaps we come to Mass every day and we listen to the Word of God. Maybe we have a bible at home and we read the Word of God. The Word of God is all around us and yet how often do we stop to think about why we have the Word of God. Why is it given such prominence in the liturgy, in our homes , in our schools and in our lives?

The obvious first thought is not so much what is the Word of God but who is the Word of God and that is, as St John’s Gospel teaches us: The Word became flesh; so Jesus is the Word of God. Here, however, I’m talking about Scripture itself. The written words of the Bible which we read and hear proclaimed before us.

The Council Fathers teach us, in a document called Dei Verbum, which is Latin for the Word of God, three clear principles to guide us. Firstly we needed to consider the context in which scripture is written. In other words, whilst God is the author of the bible he speaks to us through the words and writings of humanity. This is portrayed beautifully in Caravaggio’s painting of St Matthew writing the Gospel. An angel whispers into his ear clearly revealing to him what is to be written. It is, however, Matthew's hand which writes the words. In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to listen afresh to the parable of the Good Samaritan. A typically Ignatian approach to scripture might be to immerse yourself into the situation which is described. Within the context of this parable we might put ourselves in the place of the Lawyer: are we familiar with our faith, do we seek to test Jesus in some way, perhaps we are deeply searching for something within that will justify why we are the person whom we have become.

Or perhaps we might think what was it like to be the first listener to Jesus as he spoke this parable. What would we have thought of this story? We certainly, within the context of being a first century Jew, would hear the shock of a seemingly impossible hero emerging. The Samaritans were not, as they are today, good people who listen to the woes of others. They were the enemies; they were those who were likely as not to be the attackers, they were certainly not someone upon whom you modelled yourself. Perhaps there are people in our own lives whom we know to be good people yet our culture dictates they are not to be trusted and we, therefore, struggle to accept their heroic virtue.

The second principle to guide us is to consider scripture as a whole. We are, at all costs, to avoid becoming fundamentalists. In other words we are not to take scripture out of context to fit our own agenda. Typically this might be to take the passage an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth to mean that we can take revenge upon someone who has harmed us. People use this kind of fundamentalism to justify their stance of favouring the death penalty. It was Ghandi who is said to have noted the policy of an eye for an eye simply leads to a blind world! When we hear today’s reading from Deuteronomy we could be mistaken for thinking that ‘keeping those commandments and laws of his that are written in the Book of this Law’ meant only the Jewish scripture handed down through Moses, yet that very quote begins ‘obey the voice of the Lord’; a voice we hear proclaimed at every Mass in the Word of God.

Finally, and most importantly, we ask ourselves, what is God teaching us for our salvation? The Word of God, like the totality of our Christian lives, is for the sole benefit of leading us to Heaven. Each and every thought, action and deed is to bring about our salvation, nothing less. This is what God asks of us and teaches us in the Word of God. When we hear scripture today, and every day and in every reading, we ask: Lord what are you teaching me today? St Paul teaches us ‘God wanted... all things to be reconciled through him and for him’.

So ask yourself – what does God ask of me this day?

Fidelity over Success

H/T to Jeffrey Steel for highlighting the Archbishop of Westminster's recent interview on the BBC Hardtalk programme. You can follow the link here. The iplayer says the programme will be available until 02.07.11 so no rush to watch, but do take the 25 minutes necessary to view. I'm sure it's just in the way the programme is edited but Archbishop Vincent responds well to just about every modern concern about Catholicism which can and is thrown at him. It rather reminded me of dinner parties I have been to when you have to 'defend' the Church. It's a hard struggle, but in the end you're smiling as you are given the great opportunity to express our faith and, in so doing, you bring the light of Christ into the arena.

Jeffrey writes:

This morning I listened to the Hardtalk interview of Archbishop Vincent Nichols. It was so refreshing to see how well he handled himself under the scrutiny of a silly journalism that has occurred since Lent this year concerning the Holy Father. The last statement that he would follow the Pope rather than Tony Blair was fantastic. I am so thankful for Archbishop Nichols and it reminds me of how much we need to pray for him and all our bishops who face the pressures of a society that seeks to pull out the foundation of truth from underneath the Catholic Faith. This whole question and answer session reminded me of a Chesterton quotation where he said, 'Art, like morality has to draw a line somewhere.' This is why the reference to the Church of England was so telling as to why they are not attacked and taken seriously. Conforming to the spirit of the age only shows a lack of substance to the message one claims to deliver as truth but is only counterfeit. That is something that this secularist society is not able to get its head around because it no longer can think logically about truth and its absoluteness. The truth is being attacked at all sides and this is why the Catholic Church is persecuted in the press. The secular media and its bankrupt philosophy can't handle the truth.

10 July 2010

Prayer Request

Whilst I often get asked to remember someone in my prayers, it's not often from a reader of this blog. Therefore, it seems appropriate to ask all the readers of this blog to pray for Courtney. Ask the Lord to be with her, show his presence in her life and bring her comfort during her illness. Perhaps even, through the intercessions of the great saints, Courtney may come to trust in him alone. May Mary be with you in your hour of need and seek the intercession of her mighty Son.

6 July 2010

Pallium and Diaconate

This post is, with permission Your Grace, an opportunity for all within our parish who have been praying for Padraig on his route to priesthood. Padraig is a good friend and, when visiting the parish, has been prayed for fervently within our community. Just recently he came to visit and cooked a wonderful lunch. A great gift to share with needy priests busy about the Lord's work. When I looked, today, at the diocesan website it was great to see Padraig on the front page. So for the many readers within the parish we have the satisfaction of knowing our prayers have been answered and Padraig is, indeed, now a deacon.

We pray, also, for our Archbishop and this photograph is further evidence of an answer to prayer in seeing His Grace with the pallium; bestowed by the Pope last Tuesday.

5 July 2010

Yet more anniversaries

This is the season of ordinations and thus my 'happy anniversary' wishes continue. Today we give thanks for the priesthood of Paul Smith, ordained two years ago, and for David Oakley, ordained thirty years ago! Well done, to both men, and especially to Fr David for his longevity.

To celebrate Fr David's anniversary a few of us enjoyed a rather splendid lunch at The Boathouse in Sutton Coldfield Park. A magnificent setting, but there doesn't seem to be a website to direct you to. Rather an exciting venue to happen upon whilst out meandering the billowing meadows and glens of one of the best parks in the country. It struck me as a nice day out, all told, though I'm bound to say there was no meandering for me. Rather a fast drive up from Coventry right to the door. A repeat visit is a must, not least to have more of that delicious Eynsham Asparagus Mousse and let us not even think about the Chocolate Brandy Cake. Mmm, humm.

4 July 2010

Happy Anniversary, Father

(This is Fr Paul looking over Jerusalem
whilst on pilgrimage to the Holy Land)

Today is the first anniversary of ordination to the priesthood of my one time class mate, Fr Paul Leonard. So let us publicly say, Happy Anniversary, Father.

3 July 2010

Rejoice in your gifts

This remarkable video of Stephen Wiltshire's ability to draw a panorama of Rome from memory of a 45 minutes helicopter ride rejoices in the many gifts which we have from God. I wonder, what special gifts does the Lord present you with?

H/T The Deacon's Bench blog.


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