The Eucharist makes the fruit of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus continually available
Posted on March 24th 2013 in Weekly messages
Twenty years after the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, in the early AD 50s, St Paul wrote to the Corinthian community in reply to questions they had raised after his first visit that established the Church in its earliest days. He quotes one of the earliest extant forms of the Creed; that Christ both died and rose according to the Scriptures and that these events were explained as dying for our sins and rising on the Third day.
This very early form of the Creed demonstrates that the events surrounding the Passion, Death and Resurrection were foundational to Christian faith and that they were pre-figured in what Christians call the Old Testament (described in the New Testament as ‘the Scriptures’). This sense of fulfilment gives a double meaning to the actions of the participants in the Passion. All acted freely, but were also in some sense pre-determined to act in that particular way. The connection between the Scriptures and the Passion is not a set of precise intellectual clues, but rather of the analogous use of figures. Some are well known historical figures, Abraham, Moses, and David; others are more ahistorical such as the ‘Suffering Servant’ of Isaiah, Abel and Noah.
The figure of Abel helps throw light on the emphasis placed on blood in the Passion, the purchase of the ‘field of blood’ by the Sanhedrin from the money returned by Judas, the exclamation of Pilate, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’, and the crowd’s response, ‘His blood be upon us and on our children’. The murder of Abel by Cain out of jealousy was the first act that took place after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and this has set the scene for the pattern of violence that has continued throughout human history. The jealousy moving to murder leads God to ask Cain, ‘is not sin at the door like a crouching beast hungering for you’ (Gen 4:7). There is a repeat of this sentiment of jealousy when Pilate’s says to himself; ‘that it was out of jealousy that they handed him over’. (Mt 27:18) Though Pilate knows of their jealousy, he is unwilling to stand up for Jesus and thus becomes complicit in the shedding of innocent blood. St Peter, representing the Apostles, unwittingly echoes the words of Cain as well, when he denies three that times that he did not know Jesus. Cain had been asked by God where was his brother? He had replied. ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Then St Peter fulfils the prediction of Jesus that all would run away and that he, Peter, would deny Him three times. The account of the Passion is an account of the contagion of violence stemming from jealousy and aided and abetted by weakness and denial.
The analogy of Cain and Abel expresses the human condition, but the Passion is, at its heart, an account of the steadfastness of Jesus Christ as the conscious Suffering Servant who offers His life for the many. This conscious offering will break the cycle of violence that wraps up the account of the Passion and, although the history of the world since the Resurrection has known violence, individual and collective, this never has to be the last word on human relationships.
The death of Jesus Christ is neither just an example for us, nor is it the means to transform an unwilling humanity. The account of the Passion and death of Jesus begins with the invitation to participate in the events from the inside, through the Eucharist. The bread and wine of the Passover meal become the Body and Blood of the one about to be crucified. The command, ‘Do this in memory of me’, is an instruction to continue through the Eucharist to make the fruits of the death and Resurrection continually accessible through life, being the spiritual food needed to break the cycle of violence and jealousy that conspired to the shedding of truly innocent blood.
The election of the new Pope re-enforces our own identity at Parish level
Posted on March 3rd 2013 in Weekly messages
The last month has witnessed some extra-ordinary events in the life of the Church. There can be few institutions that can point to a six hundred year precedent for resignation on the grounds of advancing age and frailty as in the case of Pope Benedict XVI. This is the first time in all those years of the Church having a Pope Emeritus. Now the Cardinals of the Church, or more specifically those under 80, will meet to elect the next Pope under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit The setting could not be bettered as they sit under the Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes of the opening Chapters of the Book of Genesis and in front of the Last Judgement. The setting alone would concentrate any mind as to the essentials of life and death, and in particular the governance of the Church as the community established by Jesus Christ to preach the message of the Gospel.
During these last few weeks the press, Catholic and secular, have been identifying possible candidates amongst the electors, but it is probably best to say that no-one knows the outcome, and that would include the electors themselves. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and their collective discussions before and during the conclave, might well bring to the fore a relatively unknown candidate. Whoever is elected will bring with them the fruits of their priesthood to date, and will be fortified by the particular gifts of the Holy Spirit. The prayer of Christian believers throughout the world will help sustain whoever is elected at the conclave.
The election of a new Pope identifies clearly the universal nature of the Church, and how this country, like any other, is but one tiny part of a worldwide mission. Indeed, each individual Parish looks to the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, as the visible focus of unity. The relationship is not all one way as the Bishop of Rome looks to the local level, whether Diocese or Parish, to take responsibility for the preaching of the Gospel. There is no other Parish other than our own to preach and to understand the Gospel. The Parish structure has by and large stood the test of time. Many Parishes in mainland Europe can trace their origin back to the earliest days of the Church. In this country some Church of England Churches can trace a tradition of Christian worship back to Saxon times. Every Parish gives witness to a history of care shown by previous generations, marked by a continuity of worship and pastoral care. This process could never have existed without the conscious support of each generation of parishioners, and our generation is no different. There is something very comforting to think that previous generations of Catholics came to this Parish to bring their concerns, their hopes and their thanksgiving. The continuous history of the Church has always been recognised as being a mark of credibility and, without ever taking this for granted, this history is a source of strength. It is a precious mark which requires careful nurturing and watchfulness, and of a perpetual return to the source, the saving message of Jesus Christ. Left to itself this mark of credibility is easily sullied by indifference, which in turn can and has led to the Church being damaged by scandal. The Church is a spiritual reality found in human form but the spiritual cannot replace the human responsibility required to govern and participate in the life of the Church. The Holy Spirit will grace our efforts but cannot replace them.
We pray for the Conclave as it gathers to elect a new Pope. We give thanks for the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI and we pray for our Parish that it may be one more clearly visible sign of the universal Church through the preaching of the Gospel, the celebration of the Sacraments and the care for our neighbour.
The season of Lent is the time to recommit ourselves to the central tenets of our faith
Posted on February 10th 2013 in Weekly messages
This Wednesday sees the beginning of Lent and some of us might have already thought as to what we might give up or undertake over the coming weeks. Lent though is also a time to appropriate a deeper understanding of our Christian faith, and rediscover what lies at the heart of the Gospel message. The second reading this Sunday, taken from St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15;3-5) includes a very early formula of faith, namely that Christ died, and Christ rose. St Paul was writing in the early AD 50s, about his previous visit ten years earlier. It was then that he first taught them this creedal formula, which must have originated from the earliest days of the mission of the Church.
Both events were public in different ways. Jesus was buried, a fact witnessed by the women mentioned in the Gospels, and the risen Jesus was seen by the Apostles and many others. Both the burial and the resurrection happened according to the Scriptures. The death of Jesus brought to realisation the prophecies of Isaiah concerning the Suffering Servant, and the predictions of Jesus’ Passion pointed forward to His resurrection. These two key events in the life of Jesus are packed with meaning and cannot be disentangled. To some this might indicate an explicitly unscientific mindset since, to their minds, facts are devoid of interpretation. This may well be so with regard to numbers. The arithmetical sum of 2 plus 2 is 4 requires no existential commitment other than to the truth. However, the identity of our parents would be a different case. The fact of who they are has an essential import for our own identity and requires a life-long effort to interpret and understand. A similar connection exists between fact and interpretation with regard to our Christian faith. The Catechism’s definition of faith as the ‘submission of the intellect and will to God’s revelation’ is not the unconscious submission to an abstract concept, but rather to a way of life. The fact of Jesus Christ becomes the interpretative key to a believer’s own life.
The invitation to trust through the submission of the intellect and will is to an internal dialogue with God. Sometimes this dialogue can be quite painful, as can be the lessons of the Gospels. Jesus repeatedly challenges St Peter and the apostles to a more profound grasp of the meaning of discipleship. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tells St Peter to drop the nets one more time after a fruitless night of fishing. Peter doubted as to what Jesus would know about fishing. The same is true of ourselves. There are parts of own lives about which we may think Jesus must be ignorant and on which He has nothing to say. Peter demonstrated sufficient humility to accept what Jesus asked of him, and the immediate consequence appeared incredible. But it went further. The resulting effect was that Peter drops his nets and follows Jesus. This might not be the consequence of our own internal dialogue, but it could be as revolutionary for our own life.
The effects can begin at home by reflecting on how one treats one’s wife, husband, children, or parents and in-laws. They could also begin at work with a reflection on business methods and office culture. Each of these has existential bite; this is the reflection that can, through the power of grace, effect real change in one’s life. They are the personal steps out of a rootless acceptance and uncritical conformity to contemporary culture, whether that relates to cohabitation, sexual relations before marriage, the use of artificial contraception, the use of pornography, the taking of drugs, the dependence on alcohol, or being consumed by envy of the wealth and success of others. No-one is going to change their pattern of behaviour overnight but, without an internal dialogue with Christ, there can be no lasting change, and no positive vision of humanity can begin to emerge. The practices of the Lenten season should lead to lasting change rather than relief that Easter has come, and with it, back to normality.
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