Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Holy Week & Triduum photos from Blackfriars

Below are some photos from this year's Holy Week and Triduum at Blackfriars, Oxford:

The Final Station

On Holy Monday, the community hosted an ecumenical Stations of the Cross. It was a chance for us to introduce the 14 Stations to other Christian communities in central Oxford and three Dominican students and members of other Christian communities gave brief reflections at each station.

This act of witness to our faith in Christ's saving death was expressed more publicly on Spy Wednesday as we walked through the busiest streets of Oxford, carrying a cross and giving out leaflets to shoppers and passers-by on the true meaning of Easter:

Oxford Walk of Witness

During the Triduum, the Office of Tenebrae was celebrated. A hearse of 15 unbleached candles is prepared and similarly unbleached candles are placed on the High Altar. In the Dominican custom, these are all gradually extinguished as the Office progresses.

Tenebrae Hearse at Blackfriars

The Office ends with a short litany at the foot of the Altar sung by four cantors alternating with the friars' choir and it ends, not with the loud banging some may remember in the Roman rite but with the words mortem autem crucis sung loudly and at a high pitch, after which the cantors prostrate themselves dramatically as the friars in choir kneel in prayer.



Altar of Repose in Blackfriars

Above, the Altar of Repose on Maundy Thursday.

The Good Friday liturgy is very well-attended and many come, I suspect, for the distinctive Dominican way of performing the Veneration of the Cross. As has been posted here previously, the friars creep to the Cross by prostrating themselves three times. A relic of the True Cross is embedded in the cross which is held for veneration by the friars and the faithful, who come up, genuflecting thrice as they approach.

Creeping to the Cross

Good Friday in Blackfriars

Finally the bleakness and austerity of Good Friday gives way to the light and richness of Easter Sunday. Below are photos from Solemn Vespers on Easter Sunday:

Solemn Vespers of Easter

Incensing the High Altar

Sacred Ministers at Vespers

Easter finery

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday - The Tomb is Empty


The desolation of the previous few days was magnified when Mary of Magdala discovered the empty tomb. “They have taken away the Lord, and I do not know what they have done with him.” Insult was being added to injury, as it was unimaginable that any further ignominy could be done to him.


When Mary runs to tell the disciples, they come in haste. As soon as they arrive, they see what they had never understood. The scriptures had been telling them clearly, the Lord had tried to tell them. But the action spoke louder than the words, and when they saw, they believed: he must rise from the dead.


Before his death, Jesus seemed unconquerable – he made the lame to run, he gave the blind their sight. Now he seems invincible. He has shattered the greatest horror of all: the horror of death. That tomb was the place of desolation. He was laid there dead, a defeated man. He comes out alive, victorious over evil. Thus the tomb of death becomes the womb of new life.


The Lord is not in the tomb. The tomb is not his place. The disciples did not find him there. He is not to be found among the things of the world, but in the things of heaven. The empty tomb is good news for the disciples. In the depths of their horror, they are shown that their trust was not misplaced. We will not find him in the tomb. We will not find him if we search for worldly glory or riches. He has given us new life so that when his glory is revealed, it will also shine in us. Resurrexit sicut dixit! Alleluia!

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Easter Vigil

The Readings may be found here.

We have come to Saturday evening at last. Those who have joined in the Triduum liturgies will, perhaps, be slightly worn out. The evening Mass of the Lord's Supper and the Solemn Liturgy of Our Lord's Passion, certainly as celebrated here at Blackfriars in Oxford, mean spending an impressive amount of time in Church - close to four hours in our case. We have celebrated our Lord's Passion and death by recalling and entering into the mysteries. Even though we all know the story, when we hear and see the Scriptures acted out for us, we cannot help but be left marked by the injustice and brutality of Jesus' death: all seems to be lost.

It is against this background that the joy of the resurrection breaks through at the Easter Vigil. We get a second wind despite our tiredness, because we know that death is not the end of the story, but the beginning. The austerity of Good Friday gives way to the light and life that the resurrection brings. What looked like defeat becomes the victory. In the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, we are given a survey of salvation history, where we see the unfolding of God's plan since the beginning of the world, a plan which reaches its high point in the death and resurrection of Christ.

What is enacted for us in the Triduum in such a careful and deliberate way should not only transform these few days and weeks, but our whole lives. We are shown what great love God has for us, and we are given a pattern for our lives. The death and resurrection of Christ effects an outpouring of grace that helps us to die to our pride, selfishness, anger, and greed, and rise to live lives that are joyful, peaceful, and useful in the service of God and neighbour. The message of the angel is that Christ is risen. Let us live each day as children of the risen Christ, rejoicing in the freedom won for us at so great a price.

Happy Easter!

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Holy Saturday - Is nothing happening?

'What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh, and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled. Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.' - from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Galatians 3:23, ' now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed' (NRSV).

Before faith came, as it were, we - being in the loins of Adam - were barred from partaking in the tree of life. We were cast out from the presence of Almighty God. 'He [God] drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life' (Genesis 3.24).

In Adam, and because of whom we are mortal, we lost our status as sons and daughters. We became bound to mortality - a kind of slavery. Our status became that of slaves.
Reigning from the Cross
But, thanks be to God, 'when the fullness of time had come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children' (Galatians 4.4-5).

The Son bore the name Jesus. He was/is the Son by nature, for, He is what the Father is. The Son enjoyed a naturalis aequalitas (natural equality) with the Father. Yet, for the sake of a lost world, for the sake of lost mankind, He did not scorn participation in humankind's nature. For our sake the Son of God, one who was/is equal with God, one who himself was/is God, was paraded as a common criminal before the eyes of the entire world. Then, He was raised up on a tree born-naked. He was made a curse. For, it is written, 'cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'.

The devil and his little demons must have thought there is no way these human beings are going to get free now.

But, thanks be to God, the Father had something other in mind. When Jesus hung on that cross water and blood flowed from his side. As the Blood was flowing, the price for our redemption was being paid. 'He was handed over to death for our tresspasses ... ' (Romans 4. 25). That text from Romans goes on to say, and he 'was raised for our justification'. A justification that gives us access to the Father. Jesus' death swallowed up mortality and, in that death, we too can partake in that swallowing up of mortality. Thanks be to God.

John, the beloved disciple, said 'and just as Moses lifted up the serpeant in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up' (John 3.14). We know Moses lifted the serpeant as a sign for those who were going to die, that if they should have looked on the serpent they would be healed. In the same way, when we look at Jesus on the cross, freed from death, we are healed. Unlike the uplifted serpent, Christ uplifted is an enduring, eternal sign - ever-powerful.

Thus, Augustine was most right, when he said that if humankind were to forget that Christ died for humanity and it was effaced from the history of time then there would truly be dying.

Let us, therefore, look on Christ crucified.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Week & Triduum at Blackfriars

Pascha 2008

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Maundy Thursday - The Institution of the most Holy Eucharist

On this night Jesus enjoys a final meal with his disciples. But unlike any meal before this, Jesus does something extraordinary. Matthew’s Gospel tells us: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” And he took a chalice, and when he had given thanks ha gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”. (Matt 26:26-29)


This happened during the ritual meal of the Passover, the deliverance of Israel from slavery. Yet, after the escape from Egypt, humanity remained bound to the slavery of sin. But Jesus doesn’t wish us to be slaves or servants. He wants to break our bonds and call us into the freedom of love that is his friendship. On the Cross he shows us the absolute depths of that love and mercy. In the Eucharist, “Jesus anticipates and makes present the sacrifice of the Cross and the victory of the resurrection”.1 In this miraculous gift, Jesus fulfils his promise given at his Ascension, “and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt 28:20) In his sacred Body and Blood, Jesus gives his very self as our spiritual food, gives himself for the life of the world.


As Jesus prepares for the long and brutal journey towards death on Calvary, he leaves us this sign of his self-giving love. In washing his disciples feet, Jesus shows us that this love is always in the humble service of others. We are to imitate his self-giving. As brothers and sisters united in the one body, the Church and sharing in the one body, the Eucharist, Jesus calls us to love one another as he loved us, even unto death.

1. Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, Page 14.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Sixth Station of the Cross

Imagine the scene. It is a hot Friday, hours away from the great feast of the Passover Sabbath. You have come into the markets of Jerusalem, maybe for some last minute shopping. Perhaps you forgot something you need for the Passover meal; perhaps you are looking for a last minute bargain. The streets are thronged with people, all with the same idea as you. But added to this are the thousands of pilgrims who have come to the holy city to celebrate the feast, or to see the temple, perhaps for the first time. It is very hot, dusty and very, very full. There are so many people you cannot see the stalls of foot. All around you are strangers laughing, talking, sellers shouting. The air is full of excitement, confusion, rushing! You are pushing against the crowd, trying so hard to move forward, sometimes fearing that you will be trampled on. You hear the bleating of lambs in the background, being sold for the Passover meal. You know you are near the stalls. Soon you will get what you need, and return to the peace of your home, leaving all this madness behind. Soon you will be with your family, preparing for Passover.

You finally see what you need, and after some haggling with the stall owner, you are ready to leave. Finally, you can get out of the city centre, and get home to the cool of your home. You turn to face home, but really all you can see are thousands of faces, and the loud hum made up of many noises. Slowly you push your way against the crowd, nervously clutching your purchases, lest you lose them. The last thing you want is to have to go back to a stall. Suddenly you notice that the noise of the people in front of you changes from the usual drone, to something quite more excited. You hear men and women shouting “all right, all right”, with a sense of panic. You notice people darting away, as if push by something you cannot see. But suddenly you see what is causing the panic, what is causing the crowd to dart out the way. You see metal reflecting the sun, moving through the crowd. You now realise that a group of Roman soldiers are moving through the crowded street. You immediate fear is that there will be trouble, maybe the frightened crowd with surge forward at once, causing a crush. “Please God, not now” you say quietly to yourself. Suddenly you realise that the group of Romans are moving towards you. You decide the best thing to do is stand out of the way, against the wall, and pray you don’t attract their attention, just hope the pass by.

As they get closer you see in the middle of the soldiers three men, carrying large wooden beams. An execution, on today of all days, with the city thronged. Typical Romans, always causing problems for us. As they get closer, you can see the three wretches more clearly. The one in the middle has bad bruising to his face, a cut eye, bloody lips, and cuts on his head. His hair and beard are matted with blood. His tunic, also, has blood on it. He falls face down on the ground; the soldiers are kicking him, in the rips, in the head, ordering him to get up. You hear the crack of a whip, causing you to flinch with each crack. You don’t want to even think about it. Then you see a solider pull a man from the crowd, ordering him to help the man off the ground, and help him with the wooden beam. They move forward closer to you, by now their faces are visible, and the voices of the soldiers clearer. The soldiers are shouting like mad men; they seem to be more animal than human. You decide the best thing to do is keep your head down, not to attract attention. Look at the man pulled from the crowd, you don’t want the same the happen to you, do you? They pass by, you are so nervous, you shake, you turn your head away, still clutching you parcels. Just pass by, you thing, just leave. Your heart is pounding.

You still don’t know what possessed you, but for an instant you looked up. There, staring into you face was one of the condemned men, the one who had been on the ground. Through the blood you see his eyes, those piercing eyes. He sees everything inside you, your fear, your worry, your shame. In that instant it all disappears, you just see those beautiful eyes behind the bruised face. The noise around you has disappeared, in that moment there is only you and him. What happened to your parcel, who knows? Before you realised it you were moving towards him, you felt something, perhaps it was the soldiers pushing you, you don’t remember. Suddenly you were beside him, into whose eyes you were lost. You rip off part of your veil, and gently wipe his bloodied face. Those eyes continue to pierce you; this stranger knows everything about you. You want to weep, weep with pain at his pain, weep with joy because of his ..., because of his... - you don’t know. But he does. Before you realise it, you were thrown to one side, and the group have moved off. You run into the shade, between two buildings, shaking, clutching the rag you wiped his face with, holding it close to you. Who was that man, how did he know me, how did he know my fear, my shame, the darkness inside me. And how, by looking at me, did he take it all away. Those eyes saw more than my body, they saw my soul.

There will be times when we, like Veronica, will have to push against the crowd to witness to the face of Jesus in our world. There will be times when we will find it hard to recognise his face in those around us. But the face of Jesus is always there looking at us, but we have to be prepared to see it. And if necessary risk out anonymity to witness to it. Sometimes we will have to lift our faces up to others so that they can see the loving stare of Jesus. Let us pray that it will always be a face of mercy, not a face disfigured by hate.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Second Station of the Cross

Br Daniel Jeffries, OP gives a reflection on the Second Station of the Cross - Jesus takes up the Cross - in a video specially pre-recorded for Godzdogz.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Ecumenical Stations of the Cross

In association with Churches Together in Central Oxford, Blackfriars hosted an ecumenical Stations of the Cross which was led by Br Robert Verrill OP. Christian leaders and members of the different Christian communities in central Oxford, including three Dominican students, gave a short reflection at each station. Tonight's gathering was a more intimate witness to our common faith in the one Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who gave His life on the Cross for our salvation; on Wednesday, we will take this faith into the streets of Oxford with an ecumenical Walk of Witness.

Below are some photos from tonight's event:

Introducing the Stations

Ecumenical Stations

The 10th Station

The Final Station

The 14th Station

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The Stations of the Cross

In the Stations of the Cross, we contemplate Jesus’ last hours of suffering, as we join Him on His final journey to Calvary. When confronted with this suffering we have to face the fact that our redemption comes at a huge price – Jesus, true God and true man is put to death.

It might be tempting to close our minds to this fact. We might prefer just to enjoy Christ’s glorious resurrection without thinking about the intense agony He went through for our sake. However, we need to first come to terms with Jesus’ passion if we are to believe in His resurrection. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Sometimes it is necessary to suffer. Jesus chose to suffer because of His great love for us. So whilst the Stations of the Cross may make us feel great sorrow for the terrible consequences of our sins, we should not forget that Jesus loves us so much that He takes these consequences on Himself.

Today we will be holding an ecumenical Stations of the Cross, where members of different churches around Oxford have been invited to meditate on Christ’s passion. Tomorrow and on Wednesday, two Dominican brethren will be leading our own Stations of the Cross, and videos of their reflections will be posted on Godzdogz.

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Join us for Stations of the Cross

Via Crucis poster 2008

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Palm Sunday - Prophetic witness with Christ

Readings: Mt 21:1-11; Is 50: 4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14-27:66.

Palm Sunday begins holy week, the ‘great week’ of our annual commemoration of God’s work for our redemption, the essential liturgical elements of which are attested as early as the fourth century. Jesus goes up to Jerusalem in triumph, accompanied by his disciples, acclaimed by the populace as a prophet and wonder-worker, even as the long-awaited Messiah. Yet, some days later, he will be led out of the city, abandoned by his disciples, to an ignominious execution accompanied by the jeers of the crowd. What had happened?

Palms

Familiarity might lead us to overlook a certain ambiguity or tension in the accounts of the Passion. Take the Gospel we read before our solemn and joyful entry into the church, bearing palms. The Evangelist cites this as being the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy of the expected Messiah: “Look, your King comes to you; he is humble, he rides on a donkey, and on a colt…”(Zech 9:9). Matthew in his paraphrase omits the phrase “righteous and victorious is he”, so emphasising, some scholars think, Jesus’ humility. But Jesus rides into Jerusalem, which is an ostentatious action: people would normally approach a place of pilgrimage on foot. Jesus, then, is demonstrating his God-given authority, but that authority is not what people expect. The horse in ancient cultures was primarily a weapon of power, of war - the modern parallel might be a military tank: for example, Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen in the Exodus, or the psalmist’s warning of trusting to human power rather than God “a vain hope for safety is the horse, despite its power, it cannot save”(Ps 33:17). But Jesus does not approach Jerusalem as a conquering ruler, but as a peaceful king, riding an ass, which also reflects the typology of the expected Messiah: like Moses, who places his wife and children upon an ass (Ex 4:19-20) and Solomon, riding his father David’s mule to be anointed king (1 Kings 1:38,44), perhaps recalled by the acclaim of the crowd: “Hosanna to the son of David”.

Immediately after the passage we have listened to, we have Matthew’s account of Jesus cleansing the Temple, driving out the moneychangers, those who have reduced his Father’s house to “a den of bandits” (Mt 21: 12-14). Jesus’ action is best seen as a symbolic action, typical of a prophet; further emphasised by his healing the blind and the lame, who, according to Jewish tradition, should not have been admitted into the Temple precincts. Jesus is challenging the order of worship in his own day, and in so doing winning no friends: Jerusalem’s economy depended largely on pilgrims spending money during major religious festivals. Not surprisingly, this draws criticism: the chief priests and elders ask “By what authority do you do these things?”(Mt 21:23).

Now for us, this side of Easter, our processing with palms is a symbol of our baptismal authority, of our having become members of the body of Christ. Will we exercise that authority, the authority of loving service, even to the cross? Because taking up our cross, taking up the burden of speaking truth to kings, principalities, and powers, is also our way to resurrection.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Silence of Joseph

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16; Psalm 89; Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22; Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a

Joseph was told in the dream to accept Mary as his wife because the child that is going to be born of her will be born through the Holy Spirit. These words must have been difficult to hear for a young man who is about to start his own family. What was the guarantee that the words heard in a dream will come true? Was the dream just a dream?

Yet no word of Joseph is recorded in the Gospel. He is silent.

We do not know if he hesitated, we do not know what was his prayer before he accepted the angel’s words. What are we to make of it?
We have to look at his actions. Joseph followed Abraham, his ancestor, in the way he accepted God’s promise. He did it with the silence of faith. Joseph believed the angel and took Mary into his house. In this way he was not only privileged to be a parent to Jesus but he was also made a witness to God’s Word. Through his faith Joseph inherited the promise given to Abraham, that he ‘would become a father to many nations.’

It is in silence and faith that we meet the Word of God and Joseph is for us a model to imitate.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

The Fifth Glorious Mystery - The Coronation of Our Lady

Our Lady enthroned with Christ

In this final decade of the Glorious Mysteries, it is the turn of Our Blessed Mother to be rewarded for her “YES” to God. After the ascension into heaven, and as mother of Jesus her Son, she is entitled to share in the universal monarchy. What makes this more fitting is that her Son, Jesus, crowned her and they are united together once again for all eternity. Her “yes” to God was the most important word said since the creation. Here Our Blessed Mother shares in the Kingship of Heaven with God; she is the Queen of all creatures. She can be Queen in this sense by reason of her fullness of grace and the charity which raises her above all creatures. Now she reigns above all. As Queen of Heaven, Our Blessed Mother can be an intercessor for us to her Son Jesus Christ. 

This decade of the rosary shows us not only the splendour of Our Blessed Mother but of the riches that await us in Heaven. As we finally reach our destination we pray in this decade that we all will be united with her in Heaven to share with her its glories for all eternity. Let that be our prayer as we meditate on this holy mystery.

Our Lady Queen of Heaven, pray for us.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Fourth Glorious Mystery - The Assumption

This mystery presents, perhaps most clearly, how concrete our hope in God is. It is as concrete as the fact that we are bodily creatures. What difference does it make for Christian hope? It is of revolutionary importance: we do not spend this present life trying to escape from the body, we do not believe that the body is evil. The Christian way of life is a witness to the fact that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is in the body that we experience God and it is our hope and faith that we will rise again and live forever in our transfigured bodies. What it means exactly we still do not know, but we already know that Mary is the first disciple of Christ who is already with God body and soul. She is the one in whom the Holy Spirit lived most perfectly as she carried God’s Word in her body, and in her we see the model of the whole community of believers.

This obviously invites a deeper reflection on our attitude to ‘bodily matters’. Both our bodies and souls have been sanctified through Christ's death. If this is so then every act of violence, every suffering that we inflict on others, every help that we refuse to give to the hungry, is in a sense an act of desecration.

Perhaps awareness of the fact that our bodies are in such an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit will help us understand the Christian stance on many ethical issues such as human-cell-engineering. Humanity is an ‘inspired’ race and Mary reminds us of it.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Third Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit

Descent of the Holy Spirit
In the Gospel of Luke 24:48-49, Jesus tells the disciples: "And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then in the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-4, we read: "When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” These two readings beautifully illustrate for us the promise of Jesus to be present always in his church.

How is Jesus present? A week ago we reflected upon the Institution of the Eucharist. The Holy Spirit is present and active in the celebration of the Eucharist, because the priest having been ordained and marked with a special character is configured to Christ and able to act in his person, to take part in the worship of the body of Christ, not just as a member of the body, but as a member who represents the head of the body, and through whom the head acts by the grace and action of the Holy Spirit.

Christ is not only present in the Eucharist but is also present in the other sacraments of the Church. In baptism, we were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit becoming a new creation in Christ. The book of Genesis 1:2 tells us: “a mighty wind swept over the waters.” From this we can see that the Holy Spirit is the creative power of God. The Holy Spirit is also present in the sacrament of confirmation. According to the Acts of the Apostles 8:15-17, "while there they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, they laid hands on them and they received the Spirit for it had not fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands upon them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

Earlier we made reference to the sacrament of Baptism. The Sacrament of Baptism washes away the guilt of original sin, making us new creatures in Christ, opening to us the gift of salvation. For this reason it is clearly linked with sacrament of reconciliation (confession) which is the way in which post-baptismal sins are forgiven. According to Pope John Paul II in the document Reconciliation and Penance: “Jesus confers through the Holy Spirit upon ordinary men, themselves subject to the snare of sin, namely his apostles: receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”

From our reflections, it is possible for us to realize that we are not alone in our journey of discipleship. Christ is present to us because the Holy Spirit is present and active in all areas of the life of faith and the Church, so that we as Catholic Christians can more faithfully live out our baptismal call to holiness. As we approach the end of Lent, let us thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit by asking Him for the grace to help us recognize the areas of our life that need healing. Let us also ask for the necessary graces to help us confess our sins, so that we may receive the healing love and mercy of Christ.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Second Glorious Mystery - The Ascension

Ascension Hawkesyard
Set in the joyful post resurrection days, the ascension is Christ's final great act on earth. For the previous forty days Jesus, in his great love, has been instructing the Apostles, making clear to them what his life and death means for mankind, and how they are to carry out their future mission. They must preach in his name, baptise, create a community of believers based on all he has taught them. But the day has come when they must now do it without Jesus being physically with them. It is time for Jesus physically to leave them and return to the company of his beloved father, by whose will he had been on earth, for the salvation of all. But the ascension is not just about Jesus leaving the Apostles. Yes, he does physically leave them; however he promised that they would not be alone. Jesus had promised the send the Apostles the Holy Spirit after he had left them, to make known to them what they still did not know, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth ... and he will declare to you the things that are to come" (John 16:13). So the ascension involves two things: Jesus is departing, yet he is making a promise that he will send the Holy Spirit upon them, to guide them in all truth and strengthen them for the mission of making Jesus known to all people.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

The First Glorious Mystery - The Resurrection

Christ ArisenFor Saint Paul, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the foundation upon which our Christian faith is based. 'If Christ has not been raised', he tells the Christians of Corinth, 'your faith is pointless and you have not, after all, been released from your sins' (1 Corinthians 15:17). He goes on to teach that Christ’s rising to life on the third day took place ‘in accordance with the scriptures’. Some have suggested that Paul may have had in mind the passage from the prophet Isaiah which talks of the suffering and exaltation of the servant of the Lord: ‘He was wounded for our rebellions, crushed because of our guilt […] And we have been healed by his bruises […] After the ordeal he has endured, he will see the light and be content’ (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

The resurrection of Jesus is the basis of our own future resurrection. It is of course difficult to imagine what this resurrected life will be like, but Saint Paul offers us some helpful images. He compares, for example, our present life and the life to come with the sowing of a seed and its growth into a plant. While the seed does not tell us what the future plant will look like, this image does suggest some sort of continuity between our present and future existence while pointing at the same time to the fact that our resurrected bodies will be much more glorious and beautiful that our present existence. Paul thinks of our future life as a change from bearing the likeness of the first man Adam, to bearing the likeness of Christ, the last Adam. The resurrection of Christ is the first fruits of a new creation. In this new creation we shall no longer be patterned according to the earthly man Adam, but to Christ the heavenly man, enjoying like him a new and glorious, incorruptible bodily life.

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Quiz Night at Blackfriars

As part of our fund-raising for the Priory Renewal Fund, a Quiz Night was held in the refectory at Blackfriars, Oxford on 1 March. The quiz was organised by Br David Rocks OP with help from members of our 9.30am Mass congregation. As it was the eve of Laetare Sunday, the spirit of good fun and laughter seemed especially appropriate. Below are some photos from this event:

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Catholics Anonymous

Victory

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Fifth Sunday of Lent - Freedom through Judgement


Much of our focus in Lent is on the condition in which we find ourselves. At the very beginning of this season, we reluctantly take the opportunity to take a long hard look at ourselves. And from this self-examination, there are few of us who are able to say that we have not been found wanting in some way. We shake our head, sigh deeply, then start off on our Lenten journey, heavy-heartedly refusing to give in and buy the rather superb looking chocolate muffin that we see in the coffee house on the high street. We long for Easter, when our feasting and celebrations mean it would be perfectly proper to buy that muffin, maybe even two.....

But hang on a moment.... isn't this supposed to be the 'joyful season'? It seems so strange that joy and austerity can go hand in hand. But perhaps today's readings show us something about why this season should be joyful. If we examine our lives and find ourselves lacking in some way, we should be aware that this is not the end of the story. Yes, we have allowed sin, and the spiritual void that creates, to enter our lives, and we stand accused. But God gives us an assurance: our graves will be opened, we will be restored to life. Judgement is the beginning of new life. As the Psalmist says in today's reading, ' If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand? But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered'. Knowing that we have sinned is the beginning of the path to freedom and holiness. The repentant sinner is brought to life again.

The story of the raising of Lazarus is one of the most beautiful passages in the Gospel. It is hard not to be struck by the fact that Jesus hears of Lazarus' death, and he goes to seek him out. And on finding him, he weeps. And so it is for us, that when we are dead through sin, Jesus comes and seeks us out, seeks us because he loves us, and has compassion for us. He seeks us out that we might have new life, that we might be free from the bonds which keep us from living a life of friendship with God. So judgement is good news for us, because standing before God, imperfect as we are, we can receive the grace that leads us to a new fullness of life in Christ.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Glorious Mysteries.

John 12.20: 'Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, sir, we wish to see Jesus' (NRSV).
Looking to Jesus
Jesus responded: 'The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified ... unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain ... whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour' (John 12.23-26).

Many might think this response does not address the desire of these men, who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover.

The issue is, we want to see Jesus!

On the evening of the first day of the week, after the crucifixion, Jesus appeared to the disciples. They had shut themselves in a house. Jesus appeared to them and he said 'peace be with you. After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord' (John 20. 19-20).

They did not ask to see Jesus. His Majesty simply showed up. They saw and touched the glorified Lord. This was Almighty God sovereignly acting. Jesus told his disciples before he died, whoever serves me, follows me, and where I am, there they will be also. Jesus says honour follows all of this. Thus we see the disciples were being honoured when they saw the Lord of Glory.

That honour stands for 'whoever' would follow the master.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery - The Crucifixion and Death of our Lord

"We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."- 1 Corinthians 1:23f.

There are times when the weight of sin and suffering in the world threatens to overwhelm us, when life is so disfigured by evil that we physically and emotionally buckle under its weight, and we wonder about the meaning of such a pain-filled life. There is no escaping the reality of suffering and evil in our fragile and passing world, and it is not surprising that we should find it incomprehensible in relation to a good God. And so, it is not unexpected that we should wonder and ask God what is the point of suffering.

I shall glory in the Cross of ChristThis mystery of the Rosary invites us to contemplate a profound and difficult answer to this perennial question that is sketched out for us in the person of Christ who, out of an unfathomable love, shares in our suffering through the mystery of the Cross. As Pope John Paul II said, Man "often puts this question [concerning suffering and evil] to God, and to Christ, [and] he cannot help noticing that the one to whom he puts the question is himself suffering and wishes to answer him from the Cross, from the heart of his own suffering. Nevertheless, it often takes time, even a long time, for this answer to begin to be interiorly perceived. For Christ does not answer directly and he does not answer in the abstract this human questioning about the meaning of suffering. Man hears Christ's saving answer as he himself gradually becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ".

Thus, St Paul who preached Christ crucified also said, "in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Colossians 1:24), for it is through a certain solidarity with Christ crucified, that the meaning of suffering is revealed to us and indeed it transforms us and makes us Christ-like. Moreover, we look to the Cross with faith and trust in God's divine promises which are already fulfilled in Christ and the saints. As Basil Cardinal Hume once wrote, "The cross speaks, too, of triumph - the triumph over sin and death - because we can never look at the cross without being reminded of the resurrection... Life won because love was strong" (see Song of Songs 8:6ff).

But such an understanding of suffering and death makes no sense without this Easter faith; it would remain a folly and a scandal. However, for those who ponder the mystery of sin and the Lord's Cross, perhaps we may begin to see something of the power of divine love and God's wisdom which transforms death into life.

For more on the mystery of suffering, do read John Paul II's encyclical, Salvifici Doloris.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery - Jesus carries his Cross


"So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is Golgotha" (John 19:16-17). Most of us know that life presents us with many problems, difficulties and much suffering which is often very hard to bear. These crosses come in many ways: death, misfortune, poverty, illness. Sometimes the suffering comes from our own sinfulness and having to face the fact that we have made mistakes and need to seek forgiveness from God and others. This letting go of our selfish selves is not easy and can often involve painful self awareness. Sometimes the cross can come in the form of people who hurt us and whom we find difficult to get on with. Often too suffering comes when someone stands up for the right and faces rejection and derision. The cross will come in many ways for all of us.

Christ’s attitude to the cross is different. He embraces it not because he wants suffering and pain but because through this supreme act of loving sacrifice he will give everything to the Father and ultimately will find resurrection and eternal life. The Christian, in bearing the crosses of life with hope, knows that their real treasure is not in the passing wealth or health of this life but is bound up in the life giving promise of Jesus. It is finding in our helplessness and emptiness that it is the power of God working in us that will truly sustain us and ultimately bring us to eternal joy with him. “Father, if you are willing remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Third Sorrowful Mystery - Crowning with Thorns

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.’ Deep down we all know that this saying is false. Being tormented is one of the most painful things we can experience. In situations that are very hostile to the Faith, it can be very difficult to stand out and admit to being a Christian. I remember times that I’ve tried to hide my faith for fear that I would be made fun of.
Corona spinis...Jesus does not hide his face from shame or spitting. All they that saw Him laughed Him to scorn; they curled their lips, and shook their heads. Jesus goes through all this for the atonement of my sins. Yet there are still times that I remain silent and do not stand up for Christ. He does so much for me, but I do so little for Him.

Meditating on the crowning with thorns makes us realise that Christ is King, but a very different kind of king from kings of the world. This meditation is an opportunity to let go of the pride that makes us want to save our faces. We can pray that we might have the courage to share in Jesus’ humiliation, for in this suffering Jesus is truly with us.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Second Sorrowful Mystery - The Scourging at the Pillar

Our Lord has just been condemned to death; the crowd freed a thief and called for the crucifixion of the prince of life. Tied to a pillar, the soldiers tear into his flesh with lashes of the whip, only stopping when they are exhausted. We see Jesus as the suffering servant, the man of sorrows as depicted in the Book of Isaiah. "But he was wounded for our iniquities : he was bruised for our sins" (Is. 53:5). Surely there can be no better fulfilment of this prophecy than the sufferings of Christ? To the crowd who mercilessly cried for the blood of an innocent man he must have seemed to be "despised and the most abject of men" (Is. 53:3). It is because of our sins that Our Lord suffers such agony. St. Thomas Aquinas thought that because Our Lord was not subject to the effects of original sin, his body must have been much more sensitive than the bodies of other human beings, dulled as they are by the effects of sin, and so the physical pain he endured must have been so much greater. In the scourging we are taught that to follow Christ is to be unafraid of shame and humility for the sake of the Gospel, following Christ will sometimes cause us to be attacked by those who oppose the Gospel through misunderstanding, hatred or a failure to love others. In this time of Lent let us learn to submit our hearts so that we may be freed from fear and pride.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Please Help Us!

Blackfriars Priory Renewal Fund

The Dominican community at Blackfriars Oxford, which is the Studentate house of the English Province, has recently launched a fund-raising campaign for the renewal of our Priory.

There is information, photos, and news at the new Priory Renewal Fund website. Click here to visit it.

We hope that Godzdogz readers will visit the site, learn about our needs, consider making a contribution and spread the word. Thank you for your support.

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The First Sorrowful Mystery - The Agony in the Garden

The Agony in the Garden“Like the deer that yearns for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food, day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’” (Ps 42: 1-3).

Where is your God? Where is God in the time of trial, of testing, of our coming to judgement, to the crisis of our lives? Mark offers us an example of faith and prayer in the prayer of Jesus. It is, paradoxically, on the example of his lonely waiting on God, abandoned by his friends, that the Christian community of fellowship in the Spirit will be built. Jesus prays to God, alone, in the Garden; as later he will cry out to God, alone, on the Cross. There is no answer in the Garden, as later on the Cross Jesus’s dying cry will be met with silence. Where is your God?

But like the psalmist “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (Ps 42: 5b – 6; 11b) Jesus concludes his petition with an act of self-abandonment to the Father’s will “yet not I will, but what you will"; in terror and fear of death, yet still determined to trust in God. But what Word has the Father, except his self-communication in the Son? Jesus then tells the disciples – who have, as usual in Mark’s presentation, failed him completely - to pray that they are not brought to the time of trial (as we pray in the Our Father) because they are clearly not yet able to cope with it. Yet he nonetheless permits them to accompany him, even though they will fall away “Arise, let us go hence”.

Arise, let us go hence. That phrase is used in an ancient homily read every Holy Saturday, between our commemoration of the crucifixion and our celebration of the Resurrection, God’s silent response which remakes our world. Arise, let us go through all our sufferings into the day that the Lord has made new.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Fourth Sunday of Lent: "I See", said the Blind Man ...

Jesus heals the Man born Blind
‘I see’ said the blind man is a paradox beautifully encapsulating today’s Gospel story. This man who had been blind from birth, who had never been able to see anything, suddenly is able to see clearly. It is fitting, then, that one who has lived in perpetual darkness is given sight by the one who calls himself the Light of the World. But the man who has been healed received more than just bodily sight, for while the first focussed images formed on his retinas, another focussed image was formed in his heart. The man blind from birth was healed so that he might be a true witness to the glory of the Lord.

The unfortunate circumstances of the man’s birth caused many to condemn him: who sinned in order for this misfortune to befall him, they asked. But Jesus answers that the man was born blind so that the glory of God and his works would be manifested in this man. There is a simple clarity to his new found vision, and when the Pharisees look into Jesus in order to condemn him as a sinner, the man whose eyes have been opened declares: “I do not know if he is a sinner; I only know that I was blind and now I can see.”

The Pharisees, all of whom had been able to see since their birth, cannot see from where Jesus comes. The healed man cannot believe this: his eyes have been opened by Jesus, so he must come from God. God does not listen to the sinful, but to men who are devout and do his will. If Jesus were not from God, he would have been incapable of such miraculous acts – acts that we sinful people cannot effect.

Seeing that Jesus is from God, he rejects the falsity of the Pharisees, and returns to Jesus: ‘Tell me who he is, so that I may believe in him.’ “You are looking at him’, says the LORD, and the man responds, ‘Lord, I believe’.

The gift of sight is precious, and all too often taken for granted. Those who cannot see are denied a great privilege. But sometimes we need to have our eyes opened in order to see the things that are true. If we might be healed from our blindness and see the truth, then we might be ever more truly able to say, ‘Lord, I believe.’

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

St David's Day

St David in Cambridge
‘Do the little things in life’ (‘Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd’) is a very common Welsh phrase, and one that has stood many in good stead. It originates in the words of their Patron, Dewi Sant, St David, whose feast we celebrate today.

In contrast to the other patron saints of the British Isles, we have quite an amount of information about the life of St David. This is largely due to the work of Rhygyfarch. He encouraged a life of great asceticism: the Monastic Rule of David insists that monks pull the plough themselves without draught animals; to drink only water; to eat only bread with salt and herbs; and to spend the evenings in prayer, reading and writing. Without possessions, they are to life a simple life for the glory of God.

Tradition and legend holds that David lived for over 100 years, dying on Tuesday 1 March, around the year 590. The monastery is said to have been ‘filled with angels as Christ received his soul’. His last words to his followers were in a sermon on the previous Sunday. Rhygyfarch transcribes these as ‘Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.’

As we journey towards Easter, we are grateful for the example of David. May his teachings on the little steps to heaven bring us also to share with him the same glory.
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