Thursday, July 31, 2008

John Paul II Pilgrimage from Ely to Walsingham

Last week, the annual John Paul II pilgrimage from Ely to Walsingham was held. The pilgrimage was a great success with over 30 people, both young and old, taking part, walking along some of the same paths that have been used by pilgrims for centuries.

It was organised by Sr. Hyacinth of the Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph, and Fr Ben Earl was the Dominican Chaplain. As we walked the fifty mile journey over two and a half days, there was a real sense in which we were capturing the Dominican spirit. Like St Dominic, we were on the road for the sake of the Gospel, for the salvation of souls, praying and singing hymns as we walked along.

Pilgrimage can be seen as a metaphor for the Christian life. A pilgrimage has a clear destination, a definite purpose and goal, and this is reflected in life, a journey in which our final destination is with God. On a pilgrimage we need to continually check that we are going in the right direction, and so too in life, we need to continually check that our lives are directed towards Christ. As we journey, we do not go it alone, but we travel down paths which others have trod, we journey as a community of believers helping each other along the way, always encouraging, building friendships and bonds of love, not letting anyone get left behind.

Pilgrimage can also be a way of discovering that ascetic dimension to life, a dimension in which in one way or another, all Christians are called to participate. Christ showed his great love for us by dying on the cross, and so in a small way by doing something arduous and renouncing ourselves, we can show our love for Christ and grow in the virtue of charity.

In the Middle Ages, pilgrimage was very much associated with penance. In the 12th Century, Pope Eugenius III gave St Gerlac the penance of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and spending seven years there serving the sick and the poor. St Gerlac had asked for a severe penance in order to make amends for his former way of life. Whilst our two and a half day pilgrimage hardly compares with the efforts to which St Gerlac went, the penitential nature of our pilgrimage was still present. We were reminded of the great importance of the sacrament of reconciliation and we were encouraged to go to confession so that we could enter Walsingham having been forgiven of all our sins.

On arriving at the Slipper Chapel, we prayed to Our Lady for the conversion of England and Wales, before going into Mass in the Chapel of Reconciliation. We then walked the final mile into Walsingham, praying the Rosary as we went, joyful in the anticipation of reaching our final destination. Our pilgrimage came to an end with Benediction in the Church of the Annunciation in Walsingham; it was a chance to focus on our final goal, life with Christ, and an opportunity to be thankful for the many graces which we had received through the prayers of Our Lady of Walsingham on our pilgrimage.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

A-Z of Paul: Love

Paul's most famous statement about love is in 1 Corinthians 13: 'I may have tongues of angels, I may prophesy, and I may give my body to be burned but if it is without love then I am nothing, I gain nothing'. Love is always patient and kind, never jealous or rude, believes all things, endures all things, hopes all things. It is important to remember how the passage is introduced as otherwise it can seem simply incredible: 'I will show you a WAY that is better than any other'. What Paul means by love is a way of living, an ideal towards which we must continually strive, a direction in which we ought to be moving. It is unlikely that anybody, on reading 1 Cor 13, would say 'I know someone like that', far less 'I'm just like that'. We can meditate on it replacing the word 'love' with the name Jesus and it still works. Meditating on it while replacing the word 'love' with your own name is a salutary, humbling exercise. Paul speaks elsewhere too of love as a way in which Christians are to walk (Col 3:14; Eph 5:2).
Sacred Heart of Jesus
What had swept Paul off his feet and turned his life on its head was a realisation that the Christian gospel was true: Jesus was not only messiah but Son of God, the final and complete revelation of the Father's glory, a glory revealed as love. This is why Christians can dare to hope that they might one day love God and one another as Jesus has loved us, because 'God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us' (Rom 5:5). Paul is overwhelmed by seeing that the love of God revealed in Christ is the most powerful reality there is, the most real thing. Nothing can prevail against it, whether past, present or future, whether physical or spiritual, whether powers or heights or depths, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:31-39).

Love is not a new law imposed from without. It is, certainly, a word in which the whole law is fulfilled (Gal 5:14) but it is a new kind of law, something bubbling up urgently inside us (2 Cor 5:14) , the first fruit of the Spirit in us (Gal 5:22). To know Christ's love surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:19). The Spirit we have received is a Spirit of power, love and self-control (2 Tim 1:7).

In spite of such profound statements Paul is not starry-eyed or unrealistic about love. He knows that God's love has been revealed in the suffering and death of Jesus. In his first recorded reference to it he speaks of 'the labour of love' (1 Thess 1:3). The truth is to be lived out in love, in many very practical ways of loving and supporting the neighbour (Romans 12-16; 2 Corinthians 8-10). The supreme and most ordinary example of human love, that of husband and wife, is itself a mystery that reveals something to us of the love Christ has for the Church (Ephesians 5).

Paul is not shy about proclaiming his love for the people who have come to faith through his preaching. So often at the end of his letters he says 'give my love to X', 'give my love to Y', 'you know how much we loved you, like a nurse, like a father, like a mother ...' The heart of the gospel is the great truth that 'God is love', that God has revealed his love in Jesus Christ, and that the Spirit of God's love has been given to us so that we can work in it and walk in it. All who come to believe in Jesus belong to a great communion of love, a body held together and given life by the same Spirit of love. Paul says we are to seek to outdo one another only in this matter of love, not allowing ourselves to be overcome by evil but overcoming evil with good (Rom 12:9-21).


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Saturday, July 26, 2008

A-Z of Paul: Koinonia

What does it mean for us to receive Holy Communion? The Greek word St Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 10:16 is koinonia, and so that verse may be translated thus: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." Paul used this word frequently to signify the relationship that we have with one another because of our common salvation in Christ. Through his saving body and blood, we are united and held in fellowship, koinonia, by the Holy Spirit.

This sacred fellowship of all the baptised who are united in the Spirit is called the Church. We become the Mystical Body of Christ because, having been baptised into Christ, we receive his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Holy Communion is thus a sign of the holy koinonia we share; it is a mark of our unity and love for one another, precisely because we have been called together as God's people and continue to be transformed by the Eucharist into the Body of Christ, the Church.

St Paul strongly berates those who gather for the Eucharist but remain divided from their fellow Christians (see 1 Cor 11:18-34). Indeed, he says that the one who "eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself". On one level we can say that this refers to those who do not realise that the Eucharist is the real Body and Blood of Christ, but we can also see that St Paul refers primarily to those who receive Holy Communion but do not discern that our Eucharistic koinonia is a sign of the real unity and communion that exist among us in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Therefore, the Church also teaches that grave sin wounds our communion with God and one another. Thus, communion has to be restored through the sacrament of Reconciliation (penance, or confession) before one can receive the Eucharist with integrity.

Moreover, as Pope Benedict has said: "The Eucharist is the sacrament of communion between brothers and sisters who allow themselves to be reconciled in Christ, who made of Jews and pagans one people, tearing down the wall of hostility which divided them (see Eph 2:14). Only this constant impulse towards reconciliation enables us to partake worthily of the Body and Blood of Christ" (Sacramentum Caritatis 89).

Furthermore, since Holy Communion is an expression of the unity of the entire Church, we should not make the Eucharist into a celebration of private groups and cliques thus dividing the Church into various parties. Rather, as the Pope, when he was Joseph Ratzinger, reminded us, Holy Communion calls us out of ourselves into the Body of Christ, "beyond all boundaries and divisions [so that the Mass] becomes a point from which a universal love is bound to shine forth", drawing others into the unity of the Church and communion with God.

Finally because of the essential communion that exists among Christians, St Paul also speaks of koinonia as a sharing of finances, of helping to further the preaching mission, and of sharing in the sufferings of Christ and of the members of the Church. Thus, ideas of Christian charitable aid, prayers for one another, and solidarity with poor and persecuted Christians around the world, are all expressions of our sacred communion in Christ that is rooted in the sacrament of Holy Communion.


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Thursday, July 24, 2008

July 25 - Saint James

Readings: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Psalm 125; Matthew 20:20-28

The Gospel lists of the twelve disciples appointed by Jesus to be his companions mention two who share the name James: James, the son of Zebedee and James, the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:17-18; Matthew 10:2-3). To distinguish the two, the first James, whose feast we celebrate on the 25th July, has commonly been styled "James, the Greater" while tradition has designated the second "James, the Lesser". These titles perhaps refer to the different degrees of attention each of these disciples receives in the New Testament accounts of Jesus´ministry.

James the Greater and his brother, the disciple John, received from Jesus the nickname Boanerges, or "Sons of Thunder". Several incidents in the Gospels point, in fact, to their fiery, impetuous temperaments. For example, when some Samaritans refuse to receive Jesus into their village James and John ask that they might be allowed to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans (Luke 9:54). Together with Peter, James and his brother John form part of a privileged group within the circle of the Twelve permitted to witness important moments in the life of Jesus. The three disiciples are present at the miracle of the raising of Jairus´daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51), at the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:28) and during Jesus´agony in the garden of Gethsemene (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33). They are thus witnesses both to the divine splendour and glory of Jesus and to his suffering and humiliation as the moment of his Crucifixion draws ever closer. It is within the context of these events that James and the other disciples had to learn what kind of Messiah Jesus was to be. In particular, they had to adapt their triumphalist understanding of Jesus seen, for example, in the request of James and John to sit in glory, one on the right and one on the left of Jesus, in his kingdom (Mark 10:37), learning instead that Christian discipleship involves drinking the same cup that Jesus was to drink, that is to say, sharing in his suffering and in his Cross. It is precisly this cup that James was later called to share. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that several years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, perhaps in AD 44, James suffered martyrdom at the hands of King Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great (Acts 12:1-2).

Various traditions exist claiming that Saint James preached Christianity in Spain and that his body was later translated to Compostela, in the north-western corner of the Iberian Peninsula. During the Middle Ages Compostela became one of the most frequented pilgrimage sites and even today it continues to be the destination for many pilgrims. Pope Benedict XVI has pointed to three important features in the life of James the Greater that continue to provide an example for Christians today: "promptness in accepting the Lord´s call even when he asks us to leave the "boat" of our human securities, enthusiasm in following him on the paths that he indicates to us over and above any deceptive presumption of our own, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of life".


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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A-Z of Paul: Justification

The New Adam raises the old AdamThe arguments that broke out at the time of the Protestant reformation ensured that 'justification' became one of the best known and most controversial of Paul's words. Justification is the usual English translation of the Greek term dikaiosune when it is applied to human beings: in what Christ has done, God has 'justified' us. When the same term is applied to God it is usually translated 'righteousness'. So Paul says that 'the righteousness (dikaiosune) of God is revealed in the gospel by faith for the purpose of faith, as it is written 'the righteous one (ho dikaios) by faith shall live'' (Romans 1:17, quoting Habbakuk 2:4). God who is just and faithful has put forward his Son as atoning sacrifice, Paul continues (Romans 3:24-26). The faithfulness of Jesus seen in the shedding of his blood reveals God's righteousness, that God has been patient and 'passed over former sins'. The action of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus has not only shown God to be righteous but has revealed also that those who participate in the faithfulness of Jesus are 'justified' and 'made righteous', 'brought into right relationship' with God.

So 'justification' is another in that list of terms needed to bring out the implications of what God has done in and through Jesus. Paul speaks of it as grace, salvation, redemption, reconciliation, life, freedom, sanctification, new creation, and also as justification. In Romans 5, he contrasts the consequences of Adam's trespass (death, condemnation, judgement) with the consequences of Christ's obedience (grace, justification, acquittal and life). In Romans 8 when speaking of the life in the Spirit made possible for those who believe in Christ he speaks of predestination, vocation, justification and glorification: 'We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified' (Romans 8:28-30).

Justification is by faith, our participation in the faithfulness of Jesus. This is made possible by the gift of the Spirit, the love of God poured into our hearts who assures us that we are children of God, heirs with Christ, destined to be glorified with him if we share his sufferings (Romans 8:17). 'For in Christ Jesus we are all children of God, through faith' (Galatians 3:26).

Click here for the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification of the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church


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Monday, July 21, 2008

A-Z of Paul: In Christ

Cross & ResurrectionIt is dangerous to pick one sentence from the letters of Paul and claim that it contains the whole of his theology. Some of the Protestant reformers tended to do this with Paul's comment in Romans 3 about justification by faith. In recent years scholars of the so-called 'new perspective' on Paul (Sanders, Dunn, Wright, and others) have been working hard to promote a fuller reading of Paul within Protestantism.

Pre-reformation and subsequent Catholic understandings of Paul tended not to focus on one sentence in this way but rather to try to integrate the variety of ideas and themes found throughout his letters. It is true that Romans is the closest Paul comes to writing a systematic theology but even there his arguments and preoccupations are determined by the needs of the Church to which he is writing rather than by the requirements of a system of thought.

If Catholics were to opt for the one sentence approach to Paul's letters, however, they might be tempted by 2 Corinthians 5:17: 'Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come'. The insight, like so much in Paul, can be traced back to Jesus' question to him on the road to Damascus: 'why are you persecuting me?' In identifying Himself with the disciples whom Paul was pursuing, Jesus teaches him so much about the new reality that has come with the resurrection. Christ and those who belong to Him form one body. Those who come to faith and baptism, and who walk in the way of love that He taught, are 'in Christ', members and parts of one Body, united and animated by one Spirit. He is in them and they are in Him. The creation groans and waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God, Paul says in Romans 8. And even if, as he goes on to say, we too groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies, nevertheless we are already living the life of the Spirit because we are 'in Christ'.

The new creation is underway. The resurrection has begun. We have died to sin and been crucified to the world so that the life we now live is no longer ours but is the life of Christ in us (Galatians 2:20). For Colossians 1:15 Christ is the image of the unseen God and for Hebrews 1:3 he is the perfect copy of God’s nature. Those who are 'in Christ' are re-created in his image which is the perfect likeness of the Father: we are to be conformed to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29). By the Spirit we are adopted children of God and heirs with Christ of the glory which is his (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7; Ephesians 1:3-6). Colossians 3:10 speaks of us being renewed after the image of the Creator through the work of Christ and our coming to live in him (see also Ephesians 4:24). Looking beyond the Pauline texts for a moment we recall that 2 Peter speaks of us becoming 'partakers of the divine nature' (1:4).

To be 'in Christ' is to be a member of His body, the Church. It is to live by the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus that has set us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). It is to be one with Him in His death in the hope of sharing fully in His resurrection (Romans 6:3-11; Philippians 3:10-11). The Christian life, Paul says in his earliest writing, is made up of 'the work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Thess 1:3).


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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Receive the Power

Lately there has been a lot of media interest concerning our young people, their insecurities and fears, and the gangs and violence that are sometimes the result of their longing for love in a troubled world. Newspapers typically concentrate on the negative aspects of youth culture today, so they have largely ignored what the Australian government calls “the largest youth event in the world”. This past week hundreds of thousands of young people have been gathering in Sydney for the 23rd World Youth Day (WYD08), an event that has brought more people to Sydney than the 2000 Olympics did and which presents a positive and encouraging vision for young people today. For Pope Benedict said in his World Youth Day (WYD) message: “only Christ can fulfill the most intimate aspirations that are in the heart of each person. Only Christ can humanize humanity and lead it to its ‘divinization’.”

The young people who have gone to WYD will hopefully discover more profoundly the truth that God is the one for whom our peers long. For those whose humanity is shrunken by fear, Christ our light says: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (Mt 14:27), and he reaches out his hand in the darkness. For those who desire to be loved and to know the shelter of a home, Jesus says “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). For those who seek power and influence, the Lord promises a real power that will last, the Holy Spirit who is the power of divine love. Indeed, the theme for WYD08 is “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

However, as Pope Benedict XVI said last week, WYD is “not just these three or four days, but the entire journey that precedes it and follows it.” It is a stopping point in the pilgrim journey of each of us, and also a gathering of the universal Church in which young people can see “from different points of view and different parts of the world [that] we’re moving forward towards Christ and towards communion.” Since this is what it means to be part of the Church, so, all of us, from anywhere in the world, can also participate in the essence of WYD. We too, through our participation in the sacraments and especially the Eucharist have received the power of the Holy Spirit, and because of God’s Spirit, we are rejuvenated and ever-young.

Therefore, we Christians who have received the Spirit are empowered to be witnesses to the love of God and his grace. This is precisely what troubled young people need today: role models who can inspire them by their witness to a good life that is happier and more fulfilling than anything the world offers. Through the witness of a joyful faith in Christ, hope in God’s promises and love inflamed by the Spirit, we can counteract the despair and violence presented by certain elements of the media, video games and popular culture.

One such role model is the lay Dominican, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (d.1925), whose incorrupt body has been taken to Sydney for the veneration of the youth, and he is the saintly patron of WYD08. Born in 1901 to an agnostic father who owned a liberal newspaper in Milan, Pier combined prayerful piety with an active love for the poor. Rooted in prayer, he also loved politics, sports and the outdoors and he was known for his humour and joie de vivre. His promising life was painfully cut short by polio and he died at the age of 24. As his sister said, “He represented the finest in Christian youth: pure, happy, enthusiastic about everything that is good and beautiful.” To the modern world burdened by cynicism and angst, his holy life offers a brilliant witness: a life rich in meaning, purpose, and peace because of the power of the Holy Spirit. The good life God promises is open to all of us if we are open to God’s free gift of grace and ask the Spirit to “help us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26).


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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A-Z of Paul: Holy Spirit

Veni Sancte SpiritusOne thing that is very clear from the writings of Paul is that Christianity brings us a great freedom. As Paul says in his Letter to the Galatians ‘For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery’ (Gal 5:1). Why then are we free? Well, we are free because of the Holy Spirit: slavery comes through living a life in the flesh, but freedom comes ‘because the Spirit of Christ dwells in [us]’ (Rom 8:9).

Paul’s ideas about the Holy Spirit and about the Church are closely linked. For Paul, the Church is the body of Christ, joined to Jesus as its head. And the power of the Holy Spirit is made manifest in a powerful way in the Church, precisely to build up the Church, to strengthen her unity while giving her all the gifts she needs, and to make her the witness to Christ that she is called to be.

The gifts that Paul speaks of are often known as charismata, or charisms, and are all ordered towards the service of others in the Church. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he gives an account of their diversity. They allow members of the Church to utter wisdom and knowledge, to heal, to work miracles, to prophesy, to discern, and so on. All these gifts are inspired by ‘one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills’ (1 Cor 12:11). Paul’s account of the working of the Holy Spirit shows us how important each member of the Church is in the work of Christ.

The Church now understands the concept of charisms in a wider sense, seeing them as the God given talents which help each of us to follow our calling, and to live out our vocation in the fullest way. The fact that all of us possess gifts that differ but are complementary shows us how the Holy Spirit works. We should never feel the need to compare ourselves with others, because the Holy Spirit is at work in all of us. At an individual level, the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives brings us to maturity as individual Christians. The Holy Spirit helps us to grow up in our faith, which in turn helps the whole community to be the mature Christians that we need to be, so that we reach our final goal, and draw others into the love of Christ.


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Monday, July 14, 2008

A-Z of Paul: Growth

The Court outside St Paul's
'I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth... For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building' (1 Corinthians 3:6,9).

We have heard a lot in recent years about disunity and factionalism in the Church. Christians often appear to define themselves according to which wing of the Church they belong to, or which Church leader they most admire. Each side seems to have its own ideas about the best way for the Church to move forward and grow.

In the early days of the Church, Christians at Corinth also seemed to define themselves by their differences rather than their common life. This was made manifest in their allegiances to particular apostles: "I am for Paul", "I am for Apollos" (1 Cor 3:4).

For Paul the Christians of Corinth were destroying themselves by their factiousness. Their party spirit had divided Christ. He therefore exhorts them to be of the same mind, to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), for those who have the mind of Christ know how to use their gifts for the building up of the Church.

Paul seeks to relativise the importance of the leading personalities around which the Christians of Corinth were grouping. He tells the Corinthians that these leaders are all servants of their salvation. In the agricultural imagery that Paul uses he describes both himself and Apollos as fellow workers in the field of the Lord. Both work together in a common enterprise for the benefit of the Christian community: Paul 'planting' as the initial evangeliser, Apollos 'watering' by carrying forward the work Paul had begun. Yet neither is anything without God. Both are channels for the creative work of God for ultimately the effect of their ministry must be attributed to God. God is the source of all growth in the Church. The efforts of people like Paul and Apollos, important as these might be, would be nothing unless God was at work building up the Church. It is God, who through Paul and Apollos, has cultivated his precious field, the Christian community at Corinth.

A similar theme is developed in the letter to the Ephesians. Here Paul writes of Christ as the source of all growth in the Church (Eph 4:16). Yet Christ achieves this growth through all sorts of joints and ligaments, namely, the mutual support of the members of Christ's body. It is not, therefore, division, jealousy and rivalry, but Christ's love at work in the members of his body that is the decisive power in building up the body of Christ, the Church.


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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Good soil yielding fruit that will last...

Br Lawrence Lew OP is on a month-long pastoral placement at the UCL Hospitals in London. Below is a reflection he has prepared for tomorrow, the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A). The readings are Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23.

Christ the Divine Sower

Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God, has been sent by the Father into the world. The Son has been sown in the earth, taken root in the soil of our humanity, and has become one with us. This marvellous truth, this wonder of the Incarnation of Christ, is that great thing that prophets and the righteous longed to see and hear but did not.

Yet you and I, who are baptized in Christ and have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, are the ones whom Jesus calls ‘happy’ or ‘blessed’ because we have seen and heard Him whom so many before us, and so many around us, long for. We have not perceived this by our own efforts, but rather because of the gift of faith. The grace of the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts and it is the Spirit who teaches us, leads us into all truth, and gives us the gift of understanding. This is the source of our Christian joy for we, because of God’s generous love and the free gift of his grace, have seen and heard God’s divine Word, Jesus Christ his Son.

Just as the dry land thirsts for rain, so too, every human heart thirsts for God and desires the good news of God’s love and salvation. And it is our great privilege as living parts of the Church, the Body of Christ, to help quench the thirst of those who long for God’s love. For it is through the ministry of the Church that Jesus continues to be present in our world. This practical consequence of our faith is very evident in a place like this. Here, in these hospitals, those of us who are engaged in caring for the sick and serving those in need, are bringing God’s love and care to others, and often we can heal not just bodies but hearts and souls too, with a loving word, sincere concern and even just the gift of our time and attention. Thus we care for the whole human person – body and soul.

Good soil, that is, hearts that understand God’s word and are watered by God’s grace, yields a harvest and bears fruit. Just as a tree bears fruit which is attractive and delicious and offered to all who pass by to receive it and taste its goodness, so too with us. If we draw from God’s grace and live in Him, then we will bear fruit that will last and which our world longs for and needs so very much. St Paul tells us that the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22f). A hospital, it is apparent to me, is a place where these fruits are evident but also where they can be ripened, for here we can slowly and gradually develop these virtues, and indeed learn so much about them from those whom we serve. Together, our faith, hope and love – those 'higher' gifts of the Holy Spirit – will be attractive to those around us, like good fruit, and others will wish to taste that sweetness which is ours in Christ. This is why saints are such attractive people, and I know that I am in the presence of a saintly person when I am drawn to experience their peace and joy. In my brief time here, I have already seen several such people who inspire and bless me with their presence.

Isaiah says that God’s word does not return empty but achieves God’s purpose and prospers in the thing for which it was sent. But what is the purpose of Christ’s coming among us as a man? God’s purpose was that we should have communion with Him; that we should be raised up from our sins with the risen Lord Jesus; that we should become one with God and share his divine life. For this reason, God became human, so that humans might become ‘gods’. The fruits of the Spirit which I have mentioned are marks of this intimacy with God. God achieves this purpose of making us one with Him through his sacraments which give us a share in the life of Christ, and it is a gradual, life-long process that is not without pain and difficulty, as we know so well. For suffering is a mark of our humanity, just as Christ who became human suffered. As St Paul says: “all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free” (Rom 8:23). Imagine the seedling breaking free from the seed-pod, straining towards the light, growing into a fruitful tree. We too are struggling, straining to become more fully who we are called to be, reaching for the light of heaven, and that is a painful process.

Ultimately, then, we long for union with God in a new creation which is described in the Book of Revelation as a world without pain, sorrow, tears, sin or evil. This is something we all hope for because it has been promised us, and God will keep and fulfill his promise, for he is good and faithful. This promise is made through the gift of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. For in the Eucharist we, together as the one Body of Christ, have Holy Communion with the Body of Christ; this is the “bread for the eating” (that Isaiah mentions) that makes us one with God. So, we take Communion to the sick not because it is magical or even because it primarily imparts physical healing (even though this miracle is occasionally possible), but chiefly because it makes us all – sick and carer – one in Christ and makes real the promise of a new creation and eternal life with God; it heals and strengthens our souls. Through a worthy reception of the sacraments, God’s Spirit dwells within us, and God’s Spirit will help us to be that good soil that will be fruitful and prosper, yielding the gift of eternal life.

It is God’s grace alone that accomplishes all this; not our effort. We on our part are to be soil, to be humus. That word for top-soil, humus, is the root word for the word ‘humble’. And that is what we are called to be: humble, grounded people, like Our Lady, so that God’s word can be sown in our hearts and take root there. As St John the Baptist said, “I must decrease so that He can increase”, and then like St Paul, we can say: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).


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Friday, July 11, 2008

A-Z of Paul: Faith

For the Apostle Paul, those who are now baptized into the life of grace in Christ, are freed from a live of observance of the Law of Moses, which has now been subsumed into Christ. Christ is now the law, which is to be “observed” by faith. The basic question that St Paul answers is how God is gracious to humans who stand condemned as sinners. How can we humans, who are sinners, be deserving of salvation, how can we become holy in the sight of God. Under the old covenant we could only be saved by observing the law of Moses, thus in a sense our salvation depended on how capable we ourselves were in following follow that law in our lives. St Paul realised that with the advent of Christ something radical had happened. Jesus Christ himself fulfilled the law for us, and ended the reign of sin, which had begun at Adam's fall. The crucified Christ is the source of our holiness, which he has given to us as a free gift. We ourselves could never earn salvation through our own efforts; Christ has done it for us in his one eternal sacrifice on the cross. We, by having faith in Christ and what he did for us, are justified in the sight of God. Faith in Christ is what saves us, not our own efforts. For St Paul faith in Christ is what brings us eternal life.


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Thursday, July 10, 2008

St Benedict

One could explain in many ways, I suppose, why St Benedict is one of the patron saints of Europe. We could see it clearly when we think about the influence of his Rule on monastic life in the West, or when we think how much good has come from the lives of generations of various orders of monks and nuns inspired by his Rule: apart from saints, preachers, bishops and writers, so many copyists, teachers and ingenious artists, inventors of various agricultural tools, cheese, chocolate and wine makers ... the list is long.

But there is one special thing that comes to my mind on this feastday, that explains far better why Benedict is patron saint of Europe: Benedict was there when, in a sense, Europe was being born. The Roman Emperor had just moved to Constantinopole, Rome was at the mercy of newcomers, the tribes that found their way to the city and were accepted as 'friends'. This was in practice the end of the Empire in the West.

But in what why does Benedict get involve in this apocalyptic scenario? He decides to lead a life totally dedicated to prayer and solitude and later on is joined by various other eremites who want him to become their spiritual father, their abbot.

Obviously we are tempted to ask why did he withdraw from the society that badly needed people like him. Why did he not get involved? This question however is not a good one. It is based on the false premise that a life dedicated to prayer and contemplation is a selfish life, lead somewhere on the margins of the community. And it is quite the opposite. When we pray in solitude we never pray alone, or on our own account but always as members of One Body. In this way the prayer of those who physically seclude themselves from others or live in secluded communities puts them at the heart of the Church. Prayer is never private, that is, done outside the community, even if we pray alone. This is a basis also for our belief in the intercession of saints, who being members of the same Body are in communion with us, and their prayer is united with ours when we pray. So St Benedict's prayers were always with the Church in those difficult times for the community of believers when a new Europe was being born. We believe his prayers have been there ever since, in the heart of our community, the Church.


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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A-Z of Paul: Eschatology

Last Judgment detailFor the Lord himself shall come down from heaven with commandment and with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God: and the dead who are in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air: and so shall we be always with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

On several occasions within his epistles, Paul dramatically and vividly describes the parousia, the coming of the Lord in judgement at the end of time. A common characteristic of all these passages is the apparent nearness of this parousia. And yet Paul does not assert that the coming of the Saviour is at hand. In each of the five epistles wherein he expresses the desire and the hope to witness in person the return of Christ, he at the same time considers the probability of the contrary hypothesis, proving that he had neither revelation nor certainty on the point. He knows only that the day of the lord will come unexpectedly, like a thief (1 Thess 5:2-3), and he counsels the neophytes to make themselves ready without neglecting the duties of their state of life (2 Thess 3:6-12).

A particular circumstance of St. Paul’s preaching is that the just who shall be living at Christ’s second advent will pass to glorious immortality without dying. Although the coming of Christ will be sudden, it will be heralded by three signs, general apostasy (2 Thess 2:3), the appearance of the Antichrist (2:3-12) and the conversion of the Jews (Rom 11:26).

In line with the synoptic authors, Paul views the judgement as closely connected with the parousia and the resurrection. They are the three acts of the same drama which constitute the Day of the Lord: "For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he has done, whether it be good or evil" (2 Cor 5:10. See also 1 Cor 1:8; Phil 1:6, 10; 2:16). Thus the judgement on that day will be upon all the living and the dead, and none shall escape, for that judgement will be universal. The judgement of each one will then be made on account of their works, as all people will be brought to account for their use of their freedom.

St. Paul’s eschatology is not as distinctive as it has sometimes been presented. Perhaps its most original characteristic is the continuity of the just between the present and the future, between grace and glory, between salvation begun and salvation consummated. A large number of terms, redemption, justification, salvation, kingdom, glory and especially life, are common to the two states, or rather to the two phases of the same existence linked by charity which “never falls away”. The eschatological message of Jesus urges us to keep alert always, because we do not know the time when the actual end will happen. If Paul adds to this, it is by exhorting us to be consistent with what we know to be true. Our identification with Jesus is as important as Jesus’ identification with us. Paul understands that we are already united with Jesus in His death and resurrection.


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Sunday, July 06, 2008

A-Z of Paul : Damascus

Conversion of St PaulThere was a time when every schoolboy (and girl) knew that Saul of Tarsus was struck down on the road to Damascus and that his life was completely transformed by that experience. (Most of us also thought he was riding a horse at the time but there is no mention of this in the Bible.) After this 'conversion' or 'call', and then better known by his Greek name, Paul became the great missionary of the early Church, establishing Christian communities all across the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean.

The event outside Damascus was crucial, not just for Paul personally but for the whole Church. The Acts of the Apostles recounts it no less than three times, in chapters 9, 22 and 26. Paul himself refers to it again and again: 1 Corinthians 9:1 (have I not seen Jesus our Lord?) and 15:8 (last of all as to one untimely born he appeared also to me); Galatians 1:11f (the gospel which was preached by me came through a revelation of Jesus Christ) and 1:15f (he who had set me apart before I was born, and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me).

Why was it so crucial? Well, it turned round completely one of the most zealous persecutors of the early Christians. Paul was a Pharisee, proud of his Jewish faith, zealous for the Lord as Elijah and Phinehas and others had been. As a Pharisee he believed in the resurrection of the dead. What amazed him on the road to Damascus was an encounter with Jesus risen from the dead: the resurrection was underway, or at least it had happened in the case of this man Jesus, exactly what was being preached by some Jews in Jerusalem, Damascus, and elsewhere.

Paul was not converted in the sense that he came to believe in a different God. It was rather that he came to see that the God of Abraham, 'a God who can raise the dead and bring into being that which is not' (Romans 4:17), had indeed acted, as his followers claimed, in the resurrection (and so also in the death) of Jesus of Nazareth. We owe to St Paul some of the most beautiful and profound reflections on the mystery of how God acted in Jesus and the meaning of that action for humanity: the Father sending His Son through whose faithfulness the Spirit of adoption is poured on all who come to believe in Him.

The rest, as they say, is history. Paul is brought into Damascus where he is instructed further in the Christian faith by Ananias and then baptised. Immediately he began preaching that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God but soon he had to flee Damascus, being lowered over the wall in a basket (Acts 9:19-25). His own account says that he went first to Arabia, then back to Damascus (perhaps when the fuss about him had died down) before, three years later, finally going back to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and James (Galatians 1:17-19).

Damascus, one of the great cities of the Middle East, thus gained an honoured place in the history of Christianity. A 'Damascus road experience' is a moment of illumination or conversion, a radical change of mind or direction. Although the phrase is often used, no experience so described can compare with the original one when Saul of Tarsus encountered the risen Lord Jesus and became Paul, apostle of the gentiles, tireless preacher and teacher, called finally to give his life far from Damascus for the Lord he had there come to know and love.


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Friday, July 04, 2008

Preaching through the Beauty of Music

On 28 June, Br Lawrence Lew OP was invited to speak to the Dominican Family on preaching through music. Below is an abridged version of his talk with pictures from the day, which took place at the Niland Conference Centre in Bushey near London:

In that gospel of Matthew which our holy father Dominic loved and carried with him, we read that after the Last Supper, Jesus and his apostles sang a hymn and then went to the Mount of Olives. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that when Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi, they prayed and sang hymns to God, and the prisoners listened to them. In Colossians 3:16, St Paul instructs the Christian community to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God”. Hence Joseph Ratzinger has said that: “Right from the beginning liturgy and music have been closely related [for] wherever people praise God, words alone do not suffice.” St Augustine said that “only he who loves can sing” and the Christian is one who loves the God who has first loved us. Therefore because music expresses our Christian joy in salvation and hope of eternal life, it is right that it plays such a central role in our lives and worship. Moreover, as Timothy Radcliffe OP has said, “Music overcomes the darkness and speaks a hope for what we cannot imagine”. Music is thus a powerful form of preaching.

In the Dominican tradition we have a story in which St Dominic’s successor, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, exhorts the novices to laugh and be merry because they have been “saved from the Devil’s thralldom”. Paul Murray OP comments that this story “serves to underline something really fundamental about the early Dominicans and their fresh grasp of the Gospel. Throughout the preaching ministry of Dominic, a vision of Gospel joy had come to define itself over and against some very grim and very gloomy notions indeed.” He goes on to say that “the deep, almost uncontrollable laughter which springs from Gospel joy… is, in fact, simply an ecstasy of the inner heart… an impulse of surrender and delight towards the neighbour and towards God.” For Dominic, his Gospel joy is expressed in his life through his impulse to preach. However, the stories about St Dominic recount that his joy was also frequently expressed in song, and it is reported that he sang as he traveled throughout Europe. Singing and preaching are closely related for both find their root in Gospel joy and this joy that bursts forth as laughter also bursts forth as wordless song.

Let us consider the words of St Augustine in this regard. He says: “‘Shout for joy… sing a new song’ (Ps 33:3). What would this song of joy mean? It means something that cannot be explained in words: it is what the heart is singing… those who start singing [ ] while they are eagerly carrying on some other work, start with the words of a song to express their joy, but then it is as though they are overcome with such happiness that words no longer can express it and they leave out the words and simply give themselves over to sounds of jubilation… [God who is ineffable] not only cannot be expressed in words but also cannot be passed over in silence, and so, what can one do but jubilate? For in jubilation the heart opens up to joy without words, and that joy widens out immeasurably beyond the utmost reaches of our words.”

St Paul sees this outpouring of love as something caused by the Holy Spirit, and so he writes to the Church at Ephesus, saying: “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart”. I will return to St Augustine’s exhortation to wordless jubilation in due course, but for now, let us consider St Paul’s instruction. It is noteworthy that he says we should sing to one another, for there is a sense here of holy preaching in song. If we think about it, isn’t this precisely what we do when we sing the Divine Office antiphonally? For then we address one another in psalms, hymns and sacred songs, and so, we recall and preach the mirabilia Dei to one another. Seen in this way, the sung Liturgy is an important kind of holy preaching that we, gathered as the Body of Christ, can perform together. Truly then, singing the Office, is a kind of preaching that all of us – lay and ordained – can share in.

Timothy Radcliffe OP has said that “the singing of the liturgy… discloses the meaning of our lives”, and this is true because our song is an expression of the joy and hope that is the bedrock of our Christian lives. Music, which is marked by form, structure, rhythm and shape is a discipline, and so, Timothy also suggests that it points to the kind of life we are called to lead, that is, the virtuous life. Thus, “St Augustine thought that to live virtuously was to live musically, to be in harmony.” Music that is harmonious is beautiful, just as virtuous lives are beautiful, and such beauty gives praise to God who is beauty. In this regard, Timothy goes on to say that “if the Church is to offer hope to the young, then we need a vast revival of beauty in our churches” and we can begin with re-beautifying our Church music. I would agree with Timothy that “much modern music, even in Church, is so trivial that it is a parody of beauty” and he suggests that the Church is called to be “a place of the revelation of true beauty” for then, God is revealed, and God is preached through beauty. Joseph Ratzinger has said much the same. He says: “The Church is to transform, improve, ‘humanize’ the world – but how can she do this if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love? For together, beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection. The Church must maintain high standards; she must be a place where beauty can be at home”. Therefore, it is clear that we need to re-discover beauty in the Church and particularly beauty in song.

Let us return to St Augustine. You may recall that he said that Christian joy spills over into an inexpressible song of joy. St Paul sees this song as being inspired by the Holy Spirit, and one can think of the great outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. Then, the Spirit inspired the apostles to speak in tongues and to babble with joy. The Spirit filled the disciples with such joy that they burst forth in song and so St Ephrem compared the disciples at Pentecost to small birds. This same Spirit fills the Church so that she bursts forth in song and we are singers of the Church’s song; we become little birds. Thus Simon Tugwell OP considers this kind of joyful singing as “words released in us by the Holy Spirit [which] are primordial words; words which spring from our creatureliness as deeply and simply and inexplicably as birdsong”.

What is this wordless song that the Spirit inspires and what might it sound like? We can clearly hear this characteristic in Gregorian chant, whereby words give way to pure music, called a melisma or jubilus. Daniel Saulnier OSB describes this as “a moment of pure music that blooms on a syllable” and he says that “this manner of singing and of pouring out one’s inner life by means of a vocalise that transcends the limits of syllables, and therefore, of thoughts, is probably as old as humanity.” Melisma is of such importance to plainsong because it is a jubilation, a sacramental sign of the inner joy that inspires all Christian song; it is an expression of sacred song inspired by the Holy Spirit.

As song that is inspired, it was also written down and preserved for the good of the Church, that it might be handed down and sung in every age. Thus, Pope Pius X said that “Gregorian chant [is] the only chant she [the Church] has inherited from the ancient fathers” and so, Vatican II says, it is “specially suited to the Roman liturgy”. If we recognize plainsong as inspired music that has been written and handed down, then we could perhaps see it as being analogous to the Scriptures. For just as the Spirit once inspired human beings to write down sacred texts and hand them down in the Church, so the Spirit also inspired human beings to write down sacred song and it forms a vital part of the Church’s tradition. Both the Scriptures and chant, then, are rightly used in our preaching. It is this marriage of the inspired word of God and inspired song, found in the Church’s treasury of sacred music, that has moved the Fathers of Vatican II to call it “a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.”

Just as plainsong and its melismas capture a moment of inspired song, so we might hear polyphony as an evocation of singing in tongues that thus captures the beauty and harmony of the Pentecost moment. In polyphony, each voice is unified by the text but each sings a different melody so that together they create something greater than the sum of its parts. This musical form has something to teach us because preaching the gospel, studying theology and the exercise of ministry in the Church, I would suggest, should also be polyphonic. In this way, we mirror St Paul’s idea that the Church is like a body made up of many parts who need one another and serve the growth and progress of the entire organism. This is also true when we act polyphonically, singing the same gospel song but with the harmonious contribution of our different voices.

C.S. Lewis said that in hell there is neither silence nor music. It is not accidental that he should link the two, because music, as we have seen, is the gift of the Spirit and it seems to me obvious then, that music is the fruit of silence. In the first book of Kings, we recall that God’s still small voice was heard in the silence. Therefore, silence is a necessary pre-condition of listening, of being inspired, or encountering the beauty of God and thus, of making music. There is a Dominican motto: silentium pater praedicatorum, silence is the father of preachers, and this motto draws on the same idea, for preaching and music both flow from silence, and this is to be expected, as both are inspired by the Spirit. Moreover, Josef Pieper points out that music, “to the extent that it is more than mere entertainment of intoxicating rhythmic noise”, creates a kind of “listening silence” and opens up a space in which we encounter beauty, and so can experience God. Gregorian chant and the Church’s sacred treasury of music is precisely this kind of music that flows from silence, encourages contemplation of the Word and opens up a space in which we can find God. Church music, then, is a kind of holy preaching because it encourages us to listen to the Word, and teaches us to seek God in silence and contemplation.

The appreciation of beauty born of contemplation is something that our noisy world has to re-learn and this education begins with us in the Church. Timothy Radcliffe suggests that we have lost sight of beauty because we “fall into the trap of seeing beauty in utilitarian terms, useful for entertaining people, instead of seeing that what is truly beautiful reveals the good.” I believe that Gregorian chant and polyphony challenges us to really listen, to transcend merely entertaining music, and to glimpse the mystery and beauty of God. Finally, Pope John Paul II leaves us with food for thought, something to inspire us to cultivate and to draw from the treasury of sacred music and hopefully, to pray and contemplate with music. He said: “As a manifestation of the human spirit, music performs a function which is noble, unique and irreplaceable. When it is truly beautiful and inspired, its speaks to us more than all the other arts of goodness, virtue, peace, of matters holy and divine.” And this, surely, is the hope and goal of the preacher?

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

A-Z of Paul: Cross

The Tree of Life
When Paul writes about the cross of Christ, he normally means something more than the tree of the cross, the way of the cross, or even the moment of crucifixion itself. It is the death of Christ and its implications for the human race that is the subject of Paul’s teaching or reflection. What does he make of it then?

First of all for Paul, the death of Christ on the cross is a life-giving act. The cross is the tree of life because we can all live a new life by participation in the death of Christ. This is what the sacrament of Baptism means: ‘the dipping in the death of Christ’ so that we may rise with Him again. It may seem a paradox that the cross should become such a symbol, but still, the cross never stands on its own separated from resurrection. We cannot chop up the acts and words of Jesus and treat them separately – each of them is only well considered when we look at it in the light shed by other.

Secondly, when we are made to share in the cross and death of Christ this does not make us any better people. Consider the following passage: ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Cor 15:22). The temptation is to see it as a judgement on what we were before Christ came, a judgement that would essentially mean that we are evil by nature, because we all share in one nature that is subjected to death. Such a reading is obviously misguided. Paul is not re-writing the beginning of the book of Genesis here. Rather is he explaining the importance of the death of Christ: His death has a universal reach, salvation is available to all through the cross, and this is just as sure as the fact that all who are share in Adam’s nature die. Christ’s death is an act of re-claiming for his own something that he has always had: ‘Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?’ (Romans 14:9-10).

There is no place then for elitism among the believers: Christians by virtue of being Christians are not made any better people than those who do not believe. All that God created was very good (Genesis, 1:31), and Paul is not denying it here.

For St Paul then the cross is not a sign of division and warfare, it is the source of love and unity for all. We draw our strength from the fact that we share in it in baptism, and following the cross we can flourish even in difficulties, having the courage to choose what is true and helping others on their way. We are to support them above all by preaching Christ to them.


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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A-Z of Paul: Body

In antiquity the imagery of the body was used in a figurative and corporate sense in mythology and for groups of people. Thus the term 'body' referred to the whole group and the term 'limb' to an individual within the group. St. Paul used this already existing metaphorical language and applied it to a reality that took the language beyond mere metaphor. For when St. Paul refers to the Body of Christ, in Ephesians 5:30 for example, "because we are members of his body", he is not simply referring to Christians as individual members linked together as the limbs of a body are linked together but is referring to a mystical reality. In baptism Christians are united into one body not only as the members of an organisation are joined together by their common allegiance - although this is also true - but principally by the mystical character that the sacrament confers.

St. Paul also uses the Greek word for body, soma, to mean a person, a human being. For Paul, in contrast to those who would deny the value of the body (such as the gnostics who were to come later) human beings are a union of soul and body, both of which were created by God and are therefore both good and holy. Even in the realm of the spirit, or soul, human existence is a bodily existence. However, Paul also uses the word body to speak of sins that are bound up with our physicality. Certain sins come about when one gives in to the ways of the flesh rather than following the ways of the spirit, spiritual ways. In using the term "sins of the flesh" St. Paul is not claiming that the body is inherently bad but only that there are certain sins which those who place their physicality above their spirituality will be liable to commit.

Indeed Paul makes clear the exalted place given to the body in the Christian faith by his focus on the bodily resurrection from the dead. We will not be ourselves again, even if we are in heaven, until we are re-united with our bodies at the general resurrection. The body is the place where the Holy Spirit dwells within us as baptised Christians: "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you which you have from God? ... So glorify God in your body"(1 Cor. 6:15, 19f).


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