Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lent Week 5 Wednesday - The Truth will set you free

Readings: Daniel 3: 14-20, 91-92, 95; Daniel 3: 52-56; John 8: 31-42

Freedom is much prized in contemporary Western secular thought: at the political level, wars are fought to bring ‘freedom’ to the population of various countries, while at the level of the individual, the freedom to do whatever you want (perhaps with the proviso that it shouldn’t harm anyone else) appears to be the basics of popular ethics. Of course, the pursuit of freedom independent from God is not a new thing: we find it in the book of Genesis, in the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) and, indeed, in the sin of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:1-7).

And yet in today’s readings we are reminded that autonomy is not true freedom. In the book of Daniel, the three young men choose death rather than worshipping false gods (though that would have preserved their life and autonomy), because they understand that sin is a more radical rejection of their God-given freedom even than loss of life. This is because true human freedom is the freedom to flourish as human beings. Sin does thus indeed, as Our Lord says, enslave us (Jn 8: 34), since it prevents us from sharing in the life of God: that sharing in his life is the purpose for which he made us, and so only in him can our human nature fully flourish.

But how, sinners that we are, can we escape that slavery? Our Lord tells us in today’s Gospel: it is the truth that will set us free (Jn 8: 32). How, though, do we come to share in that truth? By being disciples of him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life and who, by his free choice, suffered death and rose again that we might share in his life.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Saints This Month - 25 March Saint Dismas

Tradition has given the repentant thief, crucified with Jesus, the name Dismas. Apocryphal writings have suggested that Dismas was a member of a band of thieves which set upon the Holy Family during the flight into Egypt. Being moved with pity for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Dismas is said to have made his cohorts retreat, allowing the Holy Family to continue unharmed.

On Calvary Dismas rebukes his fellow criminal (traditionally called Gestas) for mocking Jesus. In a great example of repentance and faith Dismas repents of his sins, and asks Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. Our Lord, ever merciful even on the Cross, says "today you will be with me in Paradise". This Divine promise has often led to Dismas being shown accompanying Jesus in the Harrowing of Hell and in opening the gate of Heaven. As a criminal, Dismas has been held up as a great practitioner of penance. He therefore has been adopted as a patron of prisoners, especially those on death row. Let us therefore pray for all prisoners and criminals, that they may accept the forgiveness of Christ and reform their ways. Let us also remember that Dismas is an example to us all. As a Russian Orthodox Good Friday hymn or exapostilarion puts it:

The Wise Thief didst Thou make worthy of Paradise, in a single moment, O Lord. By the wood of thy Cross illumine me as well, and save me.


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Lent Week 5 Tuesday – Look Up!

Readings: Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 102; John 8: 21-30

Snakes have a terrible reputation. Their anthropomorphic representations such as Kaa, The Lady of the Green Kirtle and Lord Voldemort, are always sly, cunning and evil characters. The Bible is bookended by the cunning serpent in Genesis and the “ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray”, in the Book of Revelation. Even Our Lord insults the Sadducees and Pharisees by calling them “serpents and a generation of vipers.” It is no surprise that Christians have often represented sin using the image of a serpent.

When the wandering Israelites fail to trust in God they are punished for their sin by a plague of fiery serpents, which kill many of the people. They repent for their sin and God instructs Moses to build a brass serpent and to put it on a standard. God promises that all who look upon this raised brass snake or Nehushtan will live. This episode foreshadows the salvation found in the Cross. Due to our fallen nature we will often come under attack from the ‘fiery snakes’ of sin and if we lose sight of our Lord, if we do not put our Faith in Him, we will die in sin. When Our Lord is “lifted up” upon the Cross, we must look up and see, as the centurion did, that Jesus is the Son of God.When we do this, we shall live and be healed, because all sin is crucified with Him. His Blood will heal and save all who ‘look up’ and believe.


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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lent Week 5 Monday – Go away and do not sin again

In today’s Gospel passage from John, Jesus returns from the Mount of Olives to the Temple in order to teach and is almost at once embroiled in a most dramatic episode. The scribes and Pharisees bring before him for judgement a woman who has been ‘caught in the very act of committing adultery’. But the case is far from clear cut; a trap has been laid for Jesus. Is he to advise condemning the woman under Jewish Law and sanction death by stoning, disobeying the Roman authorities who had forbidden the Jews to exercise such power over their own people, or is he seemingly  to  condone her actions and do nothing?

The trap is, however, a little crude, for those assembled surely know a little more than they let on. Where for instance is the man they must also have caught ‘in the very act’ for he too is surely liable for the same judgement under Jewish law? That the woman is indeed sinful is not disputed but that there is much more to the case clearly impresses itself upon Jesus. He declares, 'if there is any one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her'. This is often misquoted and taken by some as a licence to sin, or as a sign that no one can take up a moral issue and censure sinful behaviour since none of us is without sin. This is a sad corruption of Jesus’ words in which he wishes to chastise severely those present in the Temple for their part in this distasteful affair. They are not without sin in this regard because they are in some way complicit in the adulterous actions that have been committed.

We, therefore, often miss the most important aspect of this passage, that of the unrestrained mercy of Christ. The woman has sinned, she makes no effort to deny or conceal this, and stands humbly before him. Subsequently Jesus extends to her the Divine forgiveness that we are all in need of in our lives. It is right that we are not too quick to judge and it is certainly right that we do not put God to the test as the Pharisees tried to do to Jesus, but neither is it a matter of condoning wrongful behaviour, turning a blind eye to sin (especially in our own lives). It is a matter of recognising our sinfulness and placing our humble trust in Christ before whom we must all be judged. Let us then hide nothing from him but turn towards him with all our hearts for forgiveness and by our example encourage others to do the same.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lent Week 5 Sunday - The Raising of Lazarus

Readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

John is the only evangelist to narrate the story of Jesus’ act of bringing the dead Lazarus back to life, although both Mark and Luke give examples of how Jesus restored life to the dead (Mark 5:23-23, Luke 7:11-17).  There is, however, something particularly dramatic about the story in John.  Here is a man who lay dead for four days and whose body had already started to decay.  The raising of Lazarus represents the last and the greatest of the seven miracles or ‘signs’ in John’s Gospel.  After this event no further miracles are recorded by John until the Lord’s own Resurrection.  In fact, the ‘sign’ of Lazarus serves in a way to prepare people for the coming death of Jesus and to point to his conquest over death in the Resurrection.

The family of Lazarus are plainly drawn to the person of Jesus and know of his ability to heal the sick.  But their expectations of him are somewhat limited.  Mary, who had anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her own hair, now prostrates herself once again at the feet of Jesus and declares: ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.’  And Martha, a woman known for straight talking, directly challenges Jesus. It is simple: if he had come when he was asked, her brother would not have died.   Similarly, some of the onlookers wonder: ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’  Jesus, however, clearly demands a response and a trust that goes deeper than this, that is to say, he looks for faith in his power to bring the dead back to life.  We all pray for those we love to be cured when they are sick and no doubt we praise God if our prayers are answered in this way.  But Jesus wants us to believe even in the face of death, to believe that he has the power to restore life: ‘He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live’.

Jesus describes himself as ‘the resurrection and the life’.  He is able to do this because his union with the Father is so intimate that the life of God is his life.  Indeed, this intimacy is so close that Jesus is able to associate himself with the divine name: I AM.  He says: ‘I am the resurrection and the life’.  In Jesus we see the power of God at work to save.  Throughout the whole of this scene Jesus is completely calm and in charge of the whole situation.  His final words - 'Lazarus, come out!' – are as powerful and efficacious as the divine fiat at the creation.

This reflection is on the alternative, Year A, readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent. For a reflection on the Year B readings see here and here.


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Friday, March 27, 2009

Lent Week 4 Saturday - When Trust is Difficult

Readings: Jer: 11:1-20, Ps 7, Jn 7:40-52

Just before the passage that we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus had been preaching during the Jewish festival of booths which commemorated the wandering of the Jewish people in the wilderness for forty years. Jerusalem is packed with pilgrims so Jesus has a large audience. We see that many Jews were deeply impressed by the substance of Jesus’ words. They recognised at once that what he said came from God for they felt that he was at least a prophet if not indeed the long awaited Christ, or anointed one. But others could not see this at all. Jesus did not fit into their fixed notion about what the Christ would be. He obviously does not fit into their expectations or categories.

So often in life we do not want to hear the message of Jesus or acknowledge his authority, compelling though it may be. Perhaps it just makes us too uncomfortable or makes demands on our lifestyle choices that we just find inconvenient. Perhaps we feel that we have met him half way or that we are doing just fine being nice and at least not hurting others. Then we realize what the extraordinary claims of Jesus require. Often one of our responses to this challenge is to try and poke holes in Jesus' right to ask anything of us. This is what the chief priests and the Pharisees do when they make the claim that this man cannot be a prophet for “prophets do not come out of Galilee”. If they bothered to investigate the truth about Jesus instead of rushing to cut him down and therefore enforce their own positions, they could have discovered that he was born in Bethlehem which is not in Galilee! 

Another temptation when challenged by Jesus' message is to shoot the messenger which can often be the Church, bishops or perhaps someone who dares to speak the truth to us. Rather than listen and enter into dialogue we can hit out as the Pharisees do to Nicodemus: “Are you a Galilean too?”

But to all who try to take up the challenge of Christ, who take the risk of moving out of their comfort zones by following him with all their struggles, weaknesses and shortcomings, Jesus offers something extraordinary: new joy, new strength, and hope that wells up to eternal life. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (Jn 7:37-38).

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lent Week 4 Friday - Is this the Christ?

Readings: Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22; Psalm 34:17-18, 19-20, 21, 22; John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? Yet we know where this man is from (John 7:26f)

How arduous it is for Jesus' contemporaries to accept the messianic pretension in his words and deeds. They cannot believe that this man from Nazareth, the son of the carpenter, should be the Messiah. Jesus is too well known, too ordinary, too human. What they expected was a mighty leader, one on whose shoulders authority rests (cf. Isaiah 9:6), who would free his people from oppression and foreign rule. Jesus seemed unsuitable to fulfill these expectations. But while his parentage was too earthly, his appearance and behaviour was too heavenly. He scandalised with his teaching, his healings, his disciples and his self-reliant manner. This was even more than messianic. It was divine. And therefore, it was blasphemy.

We can find in today's Gospel a foretelling of the Church's difficulties in defending Christ's perfect divinity and his perfect humanity. In the first centuries and throughout the ages we have been challenged to hold together both truths, that Christ is truly God and truly Human. If he were merely a good man and not God, how should we be redeemed? And if he were really God but not a man like us, how could his death bring us salvation? But it is the constant faith of the Church that he, the eternal Son of God the Father, became man "for us and for our salvation". The Christian faith stands and falls with it.

This is, of course, difficult to follow and impossible to understand fully. It can only be grasped in faith. Let us therefore in this season of Lent meditate on what God has done for us in Jesus. Let us consider that he whom we know to be from God is the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour of the world.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lent Week 4 Thursday - Knowing and Not Knowing the Scriptures

Readings: Ex 32: 7-14; Ps 106: 19-20,21-22, 23; John 5:31-47.

There are interesting links to be made between the first reading and the Gospel. In the first reading we see Moses pleading, interceding for the people of Israel, that God might show them mercy. Today's psalm also speaks of Moses standing 'in the breach' between the people and God, so that God might 'turn back his destructive wrath'. It is then interesting to find Jesus saying in the Gospel that the people will be accused by Moses. What is going on? So often we read how the people doubted the message that Jesus brought, a message that was preached not only by what he said, but by what he did, through his works of healing, and of ministering forgiveness. All these things point towards who Jesus is, and to the Father whom he reveals. But the people just don't get it ...

There is a lesson for us all in today's readings. The people to whom Jesus is speaking seem to know the content of the Scriptures but at a more fundamental level are completely blind to their message. There is a deeper meaning to the story of Moses, one that points towards Christ, the very man who is stood before them. But this is something that is only revealed to those who sincerely search. The crowd 'know' the Scriptures but actually don't really 'know' them at all. So also there is a depth and meaning to the message of Christ for us. Let us make sure that we do not fall into the trap of thinking that we know the message and its richness, but rather seek to turn back to that message in humility each day, and allow its meaning to open us up to more fully receiving from God.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March 25th - The Annunciation of the Lord

Readings: Is. 7: 10-14, 8:10; Psalm 40; Heb. 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38

We celebrate today one of the greatest feasts of the liturgical calendar: the day when Our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived in the womb of Our Lady by the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, this feast was considered so important that it once marked the start of the new calendar year, symbolising that all time belongs to Christ.

The readings for today are all concerned with the loving obedience of men and women that is needed for God’s will to be done in this world. Since God chose to create the human being with free will, it is necessary for him to incline his will toward God for the Kingdom of God to be made real in this world. The reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tell us that the person who does the will of God is more pleasing to the Lord than the one who offers sacrifices and offerings.

Our Blessed Mother sets us the example of this perfect obedience to the Father in her humble and joyful acceptance of the most wonderful work that God was to do through her. By agreeing to be the Mother of God, the God-bearer, Theotokos, she made a space for Christ in this world and made possible the salvation of all humanity. In her readiness to do the divine will, Mary shows us what is possible when we allow our lives to be shaped by God’s loving providence. As the handmaid of the Lord, Mary embraced thorns as well as roses, suffering most deeply the passion of her son within her heart, and yet it was through the suffering that Christ and his mother endured that we have been made sons and daughters of God, united in Christ’s mystical body. This Lent may we learn better to lift up our hearts to the Lord, the Father who longs to give us all that is good, that he may do great things in this world through us.


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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lent Week 4 Monday - The Joy and Gladness of Life

The phrases, “life’s not fair” and “life is tough” are not without warrant. These things are said because in the realest of real worlds we must take the rough with the smooth. That is our knowledge through experience, and that is the way it has always been. But the Prophet Isaiah promises something different: “No more will the sound of weeping or the sound of cries be heard.” Life will be abundant, and God and his people rejoice. No more will the past impede on the loving covenant between God and his people. This is the great summit of faith, hope and charity: of such a joyous communion with God and one another so that life is abundant. Yet it seems we cannot have it now. We still have to live with the rough and the smooth.

Once upon a time there was a court official who knew all about the rough and the smooth. His son was gravely ill. Within him, he felt deep desolation watching his son dying. Are we not promised life to the full? Cannot God rescue this young life? Lord, show us a sign of your love. In that desolation, we need a sign of the promised life and joy. But in Him, in Jesus, the promise is already being fulfilled, so there is no need for signs: “Your son will live” (John 4:50).

We already share in the fullness of life through our union with the Son. How can life be tough when we have such joy? The fullness of life is ours: we can endure the rough with the smooth. Because we are destined to rejoice in the eternity of life with God.


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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Quodlibet 15 - Can the Church change its teaching?

A friend has asked me a number of times if Popes and Councils can contradict their predecessors, or even verses of Scripture. I have told him that they don't, but now he wants to know how they avoid doing that, and I would like to know as well!

The teaching of the Church as expressed by Popes and Councils is an unfolding of the Revelation of God: what God reveals about himself and his creation.The definitive revelation of God to the world is in his Word, Jesus Christ. He is the context for what the church calls the ‘sacred deposit of faith’ consisting of Scripture and Tradition. 'The deepest truth thus revealed both about God and about our salvation shines out for us in Christ, who is the mediator and at the same time the fullness of all revelation’

The Church, as the living community of the gospel, founded by Christ and animated by the Holy Spirit, presents this Revelation in every age in her teaching through the same Spirit. She is a witness to and custodian of Divine Revelation through the ages and not its originator. Thus, in matters pertaining to Divine Revelation there can be no contradiction of teaching by the Magisterium since its role is to declare and defend what has been revealed in Scripture and Tradition not to create.

Further, the teaching office of the Church is animated by the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth (Jn 16.13). In this way too, declarations and defence of Divine Revelation are without error. However, this infallibility in teaching is with respect to the content of the divine and Catholic faith. Not everything that is taught by Popes and Councils is directly such content. Some teachings explain and defend the faith; others provide rules, customs and exhortations for the age. So, there are different levels of magisterial teaching. For example, the teaching of the Council of Nicaea in 325 on the consubstantiality of the Son and Father is part of the creed, revealed by God and so infallibly part of the faith, never to be contradicted. The teaching of Nicaea that, ‘there prevails a custom and ancient tradition to the effect that the bishop of Aelia is to be honoured’ or that ‘one should offer one’s prayers to the Lord standing’ is disciplinary and customary for the age and not being the direct content of revelation is subject to revision.

This Quodlibet was answered by Fr. Bruno Clifton O.P., formerly a member of the Godzdogz team who now works in the Student Chaplaincy at our Edinburgh Priory.

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Lent Week 4 Sunday - Christ will give you light

1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Psalm 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

What does it mean to see? In today’s Gospel we hear St John’s account of how Jesus healed the man born blind. One of the interesting aspects of his account is that this amazing miracle is only the beginning of the story. It is pointing us to a deeper understanding of what it means to see.

If we were suddenly to become blind, many of the day to day tasks which we take for granted would become almost impossible. It would be very difficult to cope without having someone else to rely on, someone who could act as a guide and help us make our way through life. So we might think that sight gives us a special dignity in which we don’t have to rely on other people, that because of sight, we have independence and control over our lives. However, this understanding of sight does not sit easily with today’s psalm about the Good Shepherd. This psalm is not about independence and control, but about being led by our Lord to what is good, to what refreshes our soul. He gives us everything we need. We are given sight to recognise Christ as the shepherd who leads us. Our dignity lies in being able to see who Christ is and being able to follow him under own free will, a will that is transformed by the light of grace.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians takes up this theme of light. He rather uncompromisingly says ‘Live as children of light … Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness’. This is a difficult message to preach in the world today. We are always being asked to make comprises, to choose between the lesser of two evils, and sometimes we may even find ourselves confusing sin with virtue. But these difficult situations, in which every course of action seems wrong, can be a moment for conversion, the possibility of making a fundamental shift in the way we see the world and ourselves. This is something we can only truly do with the grace we receive through Jesus Christ. So today on this Laetare Sunday, let us rejoice, because as St Paul say, ‘Christ will give you light’.

This reflection is on the alternative, Year A, readings for Laetare Sunday. For a reflection on the Year B readings see here and here.


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Friday, March 20, 2009

Lent Week 3 Saturday - Comparing with Others

Readings: Hosea 5:15-6:6; Psalm 50; Luke 18:9-14

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector is a wonderful trap. It is so easy to find oneself thinking 'thank God I am not like the Pharisee in this story' - which is exactly the Pharisee's mistake, to compare himself with another human being rather than trying to see himself in the light of God. To avoid that we might say to ourselves 'well actually I am quite like the Pharisee - I too have complicated spiritual weaknesses, pride and such things - more challenging actually than the straightforward sins of the tax-collector' - and then we are back in the same position again!

So what are we to do? In the words of a Dominican friend during a 'practice homily' many years ago we are to 'compare ourselves only with God and thereby know our greatness and our nothingness'. Comparing ourselves with others is no way forward. Humility, as St Thomas says, is about truth, living in the truth about ourselves. What makes that possible is the assurance that we are loved. If we are secure in someone's love (and we are secure in Someone's love) we are free to accept the truth about ourselves, about our gifts without becoming proud and about our weaknesses without becoming depressed.

Lent is a time for seeking such truthfulness and what makes it possible is the security of knowing we are loved by God. Hosea tells us that God will tear us to pieces, slaughter us with the words from his mouth, and subject us to a judgement that rises like the light. What kind of love is that we might think? But what is destroyed by the power of this light is whatever is false, whatever is a sham, everything in us that belongs to the kingdom of the father of lies. What is established through God's judgement is the kingdom of truth and justice, a way of living that flows from the sacrifice of Christ's love. To live in that kingdom is to live in freedom and joy.


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Catholic Herald Film Poll

Some of the student brothers have commented on the Catholic Herald’s reader poll of the top 100 films. One of featured films is Into Great Silence which was reviewed by Br. Lawrence here.


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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Saints This Month - 5 March St Piran of Cornwall

Saint Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall. Until the English reformation Cornwall was a distinct nation under the Crown of England with its own language, customs and traditions. Since the beginning of the 20th century Cornwall has begun to rediscover its Celtic heritage. One of the major focus points has be the devotion to Saint Piran and his symbols, most obviously his flag which is said to have been flown at Agincourt and the Crusades. Very little is known about his life apart from the fact that he was an Irish abbot who came to spread the gospel to the pagan Cornish and his mission was blessed with great success. His remains lie at Exeter Cathedral. His flag should be of interest, especially to Dominicans, as it is black and white. Whilst it is similar to the Flag of St. David and the Kroaz Du of Brittany it is said to represent the truth of Christianity against the darkness and falsehood of paganism. An alternative origin suggests that St. Piran adopted these colours when he saw molten tin spilling out of the black ore in his fire. This occurred during his supposed discovery of tin in the sixth century and so he became the patron saint of tin miners. We should pray for the Duchy of Cornwall and remember that it has a firm and solid Christian foundation or rydhsys rag Kernow lemmyn as the Cornish say.

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Lent Week 3 Friday - You shall love the Lord your God

Readings: Hosea 14:2-10; Psalm 80; Mark 12:28-34

Jesus’ summary of the law which we find in today’s Gospel clearly meets with the approval of the scribe who asks for it, and indeed the second part of it – love your neighbour as yourself – is sometimes identified as the so-called “Golden Rule” of a global ethic with which all humanity can identify without reference to religious beliefs. Yet this is not what Our Lord puts first: as in the Ten Commandments, it is our love of God which must come first, and from this flows our duty to love our neighbour. Why this way round? As we read in the first Epistle of St John (1 Jn 4:19), ‘we love, because he first loved us.’ It is in response to God’s love that we are called to love him above all, and then our neighbour as his creation. But this is not all: we humans, in our fallen state, cannot achieve on our own the fulfilment of the “Golden Rule” – it is only, as the prophet Hosea reminds us in the first reading, by returning to the Lord and asking him to ‘forgive all iniquity’ (Hos 14:3) that we can hope to achieve the fullness of happiness which is the fulfilment of our human nature.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

19 March - Sons of St Joseph

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16; Psalm 88; Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22; Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24 or Luke 2:41-51.

St Joseph's AltarpieceI attended a secondary school which had St Joseph as its patron, and every morning we would sing the school song, declaring our desire to be "sons of St Joseph, valiant and true". There is arguably no better patron for teenage boys than St Joseph who was foster-father and guardian of the teenage Jesus, and this phrase from my school song indicates two virtues in St Joseph that we would do well to develop and pray for: courage and righteousness.

The virtue of courage, or fortitude, is evident in St Joseph's life. As St Thomas Aquinas tells us, fortitude is a spiritual bravery that fortifies the person to endure all things, even martyrdom. We see this kind of courage in St Joseph, who was told by the angel "Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife" (Matthew 1:20), even if society thought him to be a cuckold. How often we are swayed from doing the right thing because we fear what others think. Without the virtue of fortitude, we lack the valour to endure humiliation, the cross of society's scorn and rejection.

However, courage is not foolhardiness or rashness: something to which youth is prone. For St Joseph did not stand up to Herod's murderous wrath but fled with Mary and Jesus into the safety of Egypt, and they remained there until it was safe to return. To be sure, this kind of action took courage and wisdom, but above all it took prudence. Prudence is a key virtue in the Christian moral tradition because it shapes human actions in the concrete situations of human life so that we know how to act well. Prudence, then, is the ability to decide and do what is right and inclined towards God. In the language of the Scriptures, this is righteousness, and St Joseph is thus described in Matthew 1:19.

These virtues can be acquired through practice, but to be a saint they have to be infused, which is to say that they are given by God through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, to be truly sons of St Joseph, we have to seek that divine foster-son of St Joseph, who was busy with his heavenly Father's affairs (Luke 2:49). For it is from Jesus Christ that we receive the grace and virtues that fashion us in the image of Christ, so that we become not just sons of his earthly father St Joseph, but adopted as sons of our Father in heaven.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Saints This Month - 2 March St Nicholas Owen

Nicholas Owen was a man of very short stature, possibly suffering from what we would diagnose as skeletal dysplasia or dwarfism. He was known as little John or little Michael. He was however a giant with regards to his faith. During the Elizabethan persecution of Catholics he constructed a vast number of “priest-holes” for priests to hide in. The number of hiding places he created is unknown but his skill and genius in concealing his work mean it is possible that some have still to be discovered. He entered the Jesuit Order as a lay-brother and was in the service of the Jesuit priest Henry Garnet (who would be executed for his involvement in the gunpowder plot) for many years. It is though that for over thirty-years he wandered from house to house offering his services in return from just the necessities of life. He worked at night to avoid detection.

He was first arrested for publically defending St. Edmund Campion in 1582 but was later released. He was arrested again in 1594 and tortured, yet revealed nothing of the Catholic mission in England. The authorities however assumed he was the insignificant friend of some priests and he was released after a Wealthy Catholic family paid the fine. He went straight back to work and it is believed that he engineered the escape of the Jesuit John Gerald from the Tower of London.

Nicholas was arrested for the final time in 1606. He gave himself up voluntarily to distract the authorities form some Priests hiding in the area. He was sent to the Tower and subjected to the Topcliffe rack. He was dangled from a wall with both wrists held fast in iron gauntlets and his body hanging. When this proved insufficient to make him talk, heavy weights were added to his feet. He died as a result of his torture.

St. Nicholas Owen has been adopted as the patron Saint of illusionists because of his great skill in using the Trompe-l'œil in his work but his courage and faith are a serious example to all Christians. As Henry Gerard S.J. said:

"I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular."

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Lent Week 3 Wednesday -Keep the Law and Teach it

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1,5-9; Psalm 147; Matthew 5:17-19

Our Lord and Moses are both very clear: It is not enough to keep God’s commandments but we must teach them to others. Before we may teach however, we must be taught. The season of Lent allows us to refresh our faith and understanding of the Law that we may pass it on with greater vigour. During Lent we should go back to the “class-room” of the true teacher. Jesus completes the Law and he gives it purpose. It is not enough to know every dot and stroke and to know all the rules. We need the light of Christ to help us understand the true objective of the law; to bring us nearer to God. Through prayer, fasting and giving, we can refresh or even rediscover this Light in our lives. When we live in the true spirit of the Law, we must “demonstrate to the nations” and be examples to the world. The rewards of living the law in the spirit of Christ are infinite and we must pass them on. Our Lord promises that all, who keep the Law and teach it, shall be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore we must prepare ourselves to go out and proclaim the risen Christ to the world.


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Monday, March 16, 2009

17 March - Saint Patrick's Hope

Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-9; Psalm 116; Acts 13:46-49; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

One of the regrettable features of the modern version of the celebration of St Patrick's Day is a complete divorce from its true meaning and foundation. It seems to have gone the way of many of our most beautiful Christian feasts such as Christmas and Easter and been reduced to merely a cultural celebration, an excuse to party. Just as Christmas and Easter can seem to have been reduced to Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, St Patrick's Day for many is solely about a day off work, a street parade, and a party. St Patrick himself has been reduced to the figure we find in the legends about him mostly, banishing snakes and having magic contests with ancient druids.

Yet from the Confession of St Patrick we can get some sense of the real man and what motivated him. Here was a man who had been torn from his family and all that he loved by Irish pirates and sold into slavery to work as a sheep herder on a cold, desolate mountain. Having escaped from bondage, he had every logical reason to hate the Irish and to immerse himself in the life of a Roman citizen. Yet the Christ he encountered and found his strength in on that lonely mountain had utterly transformed his heart with love. And one of the greatest acts of love for a Christian is the sharing of the hope we have in Christ with others. This is the voice Patrick heard and never forgot as he returned to the land of his former captivity to preach the hope of Christ.

"I give thanks to my God tirelessly who kept me faithful in the day of trial, so that I offer sacrifice to him confidently, the living sacrifice of my life to Christ, my Lord, who preserved me in all my troubles. I can say therefore, who am I, Lord, and what is my calling that you should co-operate with me with such divine power?" Today's second reading speaks of our call as Christians to be a "light for the nations". Jeremiah in the first reading was helped to overcome his doubts and fears about his call and was assured that the Lord would give him the words, the strength and protection to fulfill the extraordinary mission with which he had been entrusted. And in the Gospel we hear Christ sending out the seventy two to preach and rejoicing on their return. All of these people overcame fear and gave their lives completely to preaching the hope and joy of God which they had in their hearts and which would not stay silent. All of them found true joy and peace in giving their lives to the mission.

Christ continues to call Christians to be missionaries for the faith. Christ still calls many men and women to the religious life to bear witness to him. Christ is still calling many men to be his priests. Beyond the fears and worries that can come with answering this call, there is the sure knowledge shown from the life of St Patrick and found in today's readings - if we follow the call of Christ, entrust our lives to him and cling to him as our hope and strength then we will find our true treasure and joy to the full, even in the midst of trial and difficulty.

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Almighty Answers to Mighty Questions ...

... we have just been informed of another new blog that will be of interest to Godzdogz readers. Almighty Answers comes from the Catholic Students Union at the University Chaplaincy in George Square, Edinburgh (pictured above). The blog is launched today, Monday 16th March. Check it out here.


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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lent Week 3 Sunday - A spring of water welling up to eternal life

Readings: Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42

Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the wellAs human beings we all want to find happiness and to rejoice in it. This might mean for some to have a nice house, for others to own an expensive car or to go on exciting holidays. But whatever we have or achieve we can often feel that it is never enough. There is always something better, something more desirable. We can be happy having achieved one thing but then quickly grow disillusioned and feel that we have to achieve something more, something else.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says to the Samaritan woman: Trust me, come to me! What I have to give, nobody can give you. He does not use these exact words instead he talks about water, about the mysterious “living water” and makes clear that everyone who drinks of it will never thirst. This is perhaps a good image for our lives for we are always thirsting but we are often misguided in our choices and so it does not take too long before the thirst is back, sometimes even stronger than before. But Christ tells us that if we attain our goal in him we will not have to keep on searching for new waters all the time. The Samaritan woman, like us, would be fully satisfied if she had this water, she would not have to go out to the well every day.

What are our wellsprings to which we go again and again? For many people it is simply the material things in life. For many others the source is a beloved person, somebody whom they can absolutely trust, a partner or a good friend. This is good and important; we need such relationships and they can truly be our oases in the desert. At the same time, however, we must realise that no human relationship is inexhaustible. There are limitations and failures to be endured. As sinners we tend to be self-serving, to take more care of ourselves than of others. Indeed, we might have been one of the “others” and experienced a bitter disappointment from somebody close, somebody in whom we trusted.

But more than any human friendship, we can trust in the friendship which Jesus offers us. We can trust in him without any reservation, for we know what his love for us is. As Christians we know that he lived his life for us and died for us. And we know that he rose from the dead and lives, so that we can, like the Samaritans, confess: “We know that this is indeed the saviour of the world”.

Let us in this season of Lent try to cultivate a living friendship with him. He is the wellspring of our life, of our love and of our happiness. We should not settle for the waters that do not quench our inner thirst, but embrace the water which he offers us, the water of his love. When we drink this water, it will become in us a living spring. We will flow over with love towards God and towards our neighbour.

This reflection is on the alternative Year A readings for the Third Sunday of Lent. For reflections on the readings of Year B see here and here.

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Upcoming Events at Blackfriars Hall

Please click the above image to enlarge it. These events are organised by the Las Casas Institute, which is part of Blackfriars Hall. For more information, contact <lascasas@bfriars.ox.ac.uk>.


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Friday, March 13, 2009

Lent Week 2 Saturday - The Prodigal Son

Today's gospel, the Prodigal Son, must surely be one of the best known and best loved stories in the whole Bible. It is a story that seems to strike a chord with everyone, whether they read, hear or see the story portrayed in one of the many famous depictions of it. This story resonates with so many people because the subject is something with which we are all familiar. We all have had a time when we have acted like the prodigal son, not necessarily in such a dramatic fashion, but we have all known times when we have been in need of the forgiveness of another, have been subject to their mercy, so to speak. Those of us who have experienced another’s refusal to forgive us know how painful this can be. What a comfort it is to hear that our loving Father in heaven will never treat us according to our faults, but instead will come towards us with arms open, longing to welcome us back into his embrace. This parable reminds us not only of our need to confess our sins to our heavenly Father, especially in this time of spiritual renewal, but also that we are called to be merciful to others, as our Father has been merciful to us. The other son, who resents the unconditional love shown to his brother by the father, reminds us of the importance of being generous and tender hearted to those who have gone astray. Let us pray that this Lent we will undergo a purification of heart, so that we more effectively embody the unconditional love and mercy of the Father for our world. 


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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lent Week 2 Friday - Christ, the corner stone

Readings: Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28; Ps 105; Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46

Christianity has provided society with many benefits – schools, hospitals, wonderful culture, social cohesion etc. Many non-Christians are perfectly willing to accept this, but they believe that things have moved on: Christianity may have been a useful scaffold in building up modern society, but now society is able to support itself.
Exeter Chapel screen detail
Today’s Gospel shatters this world view. Christ is not some support that we can ultimately do away with, but rather He is the corner stone. We abandon Christ at our peril.

We all want to live in a pleasant and prosperous society, but we need to remember that ultimately we are working for the glory of God. There may be times when we forget this, times when we put our own desire for pleasure and prosperity above seeking God’s glory. But it is never too late to turn back to God, as the story of Joseph and his brothers teaches us. It was jealousy and envy that caused Joseph’s brothers to sell him to the Midianites, but this led to a sequence of events that ultimately resulted in Joseph’s family being saved in a time of famine.

Due to the financial crisis, our society will be facing difficult times over the coming months and possibly even years. Yet we shouldn’t despair. We need to turn back to Christ and remember that He is the corner stone, the basis for how we see and understand the world and that everything we do in Him will bear fruit.


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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lent Week 2 Thursday - Thirsting for God

At the core of human nature is a fundamental dis-ease, a nagging loneliness, an incessant desire for more. St Augustine summed it up beautifully when he said: "You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you". The soul's restless longing for love, for goodness, beauty, and truth, is due to humanity's fundamental longing for God. That is how we are made, and that God-shaped lack can only be satisfied by God, and ultimately we will only find rest "in the bosom of Abraham", in heaven.

Flowing waterAs Jesus' reference to the rich man's costly "purple garments and fine linen" suggests, some people hope that wealth and 'retail therapy', drugs, drink, fancy holidays and the latest gadget, will alleviate the soul's ache. Others turn to sexual gratification. Jeremiah's reference to the one who "seeks his strength in flesh" suggests that some use sex and power as means to escape from the soul's angst. None of these work, of course, and one is eventually left feeling like "a salt and empty earth": empty, life-less and drained. For only God, who alone understands the human heart, can slake the soul's thirst. The psalmist perceived this essential truth when he said: "O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water" (Psalm 62:1-2).

Many of us may already know this, but nevertheless, we still repeatedly reach out for lesser goods, deluded into thinking that many of those will fill the God-shaped hole in our lives; but only living water, Goodness itself, can quench the thirsty, parched soul. At our Baptism, and again in Confirmation, Christ poured out his loving Spirit into our souls to quench and refresh us. Thus, we have been rooted in the living water of the Spirit who gives us strength to endure all things, as Lazarus did. When we feel restless and long for more, it is really more of God that we want and need: let us reach out, then, for the God who unfailingly desires us.

This Easter, many catechumens, having emerged from the barren desert of Lent and their lives, will be plunged into the waters of Baptism, and the rest of us will renew our baptismal vows. To prepare for that, let us recall how at our own Baptism we first placed our hope in God, becoming "like a tree planted beside the waters, that stretches out its roots to the stream". Let us return to God, place our trust in Him, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill our lives and "water that which is dry" in our lives, so that we may be fruitful and savour the sweetness of eternal life.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lent Week 2 Wednesday - The Place of Honour

Readings: Jeremiah 18:18-20; Psalm 30; Matthew 20:17-28

I find today’s gospel quite funny, it has the air of a black comedy about it, mainly due to the misunderstandings of the disciples. In today’s Gospel Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem with his disciples. On the way he breaks the news of his impending death. He tells them that when they reach the city he, Jesus, will be handed over to the temple officials and the Romans to be killed. He also tells them that he will rise again on the third day.

How do the disciples react? Do they get upset? Do they try to get Jesus to turn away from Jerusalem? No, they do none of these things, but rather begin to argue over stupid things. The mother of Zebedee’s sons approaches Jesus to try and get places of honour for them in the kingdom of Jesus, completely misunderstanding what he meant by kingdom. Jesus tries to inform her that to gain places of honour in his kingdom is to take up the cross and suffer as Jesus himself soon will, and that it is his Father who will give out places there.

You would think that this would have been the end of the discussion. But no, the other ten disciples obviously have the words “places of honour” stuck in their heads, and they begin to get annoyed, one suspects because they didn’t get their request in first! Again Jesus tries to give a lesson on what a Christian leader ought to be like, one that follows his example, to serve those over whom they have authority. This is a reversal of what we think someone in a position of authority ought to be like. Yet that is what we are called to be.

So Jesus has told his disciples he is going to die horribly, they fight among themselves for positions of honour, then Jesus has to give them a lesson in Christian leadership! Their reaction to his news is not what one would expect. That is what sin, in the form of ambition in this case, does. It prevents us from hearing clearly the word of God, which means that we cannot follow it. But by being the type of people that Jesus instructs his disciples to be we will hear his word, and be able to follow it.
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Youth 2000 Christmas Retreat in Newbridge

Our Irish students were involved in the Youth 2000 retreat, in Newbridge, last Christmas. The video below, created by the Irish Province, show highlights of this wonderful event.


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Monday, March 09, 2009

Lent Week 2 Tuesday - Practise what you preach ...

Readings: Isaiah 1:10, 16-20; Psalm 50; Matthew 23:1-12

The phrase “practise what you preach” has become something of a cliché: sound advice, but we have heard it all before. And yet we all know exactly what is being criticised by that phrase. There are people who simply do not practise what they preach: they say one thing and do the opposite. With words they set themselves up as an authority, and with actions they show themselves to be ignorant. There is little more repulsive than listening to one who does not practise what they preach.

But then there comes a time when I realise that I do not practise what I preach. I recognise in myself a gap between saying and doing: where do I stand now? Am I no better than the people I detest because they do not practise what they preach? No, is the answer. We are not called to preach anything apart from Christ, or to do anything apart from conforming to him. It is at this moment that I realise that I have exalted myself, and when I have done that, the Lord warns me that I shall be humbled.

Humbled, not humiliated. The moment I realise that I do not practise what I preach is the moment when I stop making noise and listen. There is only one Master; there is only one Father – without union with Him I am nothing. If I preach the Love of Christ, and remain in that, then what I say is already being practised.


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Sunday, March 08, 2009

A new Dominican blog

If you like Godzdogz the chances are you will also enjoy My Way God's Way, a new blog being published by twin Dominican brothers frs Peter and Isidore Clarke. fr Peter is prior at Rosary Priory, Grenada (pictured below) while fr Isidore is a member of the community in Leicester. To stay with the Domini canes analogy, it looks like it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks!

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Lent Week 2 Monday - The Measure of Love

Readings: Daniel 9:4-10; Ps 78; Luke 6:36-38

In his first letter to the Corinthians Saint Paul says that 'knowledge puffs up while love builds up'. He refers, then, to two kinds of expansion, puffing up and building up. That which comes through 'knowledge' tends to expand the ego and leave less room for others and their concerns. That which comes through 'love' tends to expand one's environment, leaving space for others to grow and flourish. Knowledge tends to exclude as it inflates the knower, love tends to include as it reaches out to more and more. The Christian call is to live in a more spacious place and in Lent we try to remove the clutter from our lives so that there will be more space for what really matters.

What dimensions is this spacious place to have? The measure of love's expansion is to be taken from God as Jesus teaches in today's gospel: 'be compassionate as your Father is compassionate'. To be holy since God is holy - this teaching is found already in the Old Testament. The gift of the law is the gift of God's loving wisdom to the people to show them how to live in accordance with what God is like and so be worthy to be God's people. Again and again they fail (as we all must do) to live up to this measure. But the life and death of Jesus give flesh to the measure of God's love - it is infinite, he loved them to the end, and his sacrifice, like his outstretched arms, reaches from the rising of the sun to its setting. The gift of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to us too so that we may live a supernatural, theological life, a life beyond our natural capacities, reaching to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

Knowledge remains knowledgeable and in that space we know where we stand. But love is always also knowing, and wise, and understanding, and so to grow in love is to grow in all other ways too. But love's knowledge is more risky and we will not always know where we stand as we venture into God's world, the environment that we call 'the kingdom of God'. There it is more a matter of being known than of knowing, and of allowing God's grace to lead us. 'I loved to choose and see my path, but now lead Thou me on'. Faith and hope give us our hold on this infinitely spacious world and assure us that we are growing into Christ, our tremendous Lover.


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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Second Sunday of Lent - Possession

Readings: Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Ps 116; Romans 8:31b-34; Mark 9:2-10

Our readings today give us much food for thought. Abraham's sacrifice is a story which should disturb us very deeply. God seems to be asking him for that which he holds dearest - his only son Isaac. How could a father even contemplate sacrificing him? It seems absurd, complete madness that he is even willing to go that far. Why? Perhaps the answer is that Abraham recognises that his son is a gift from God. This opens our eyes to a truth that we all know, yet so rarely live by - everything that we have comes from God, and so everything that we have comes as a gift. But how much do we tend to feel that the things that we are given are rightfully ours? As the main character in C.S. Lewis' 'Screwtape Letters' says: “All the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything.” And yet we utter it so often. What Abraham succeeds in doing is abandoning his sense of possession over his son, for love of God, and he is rewarded greatly. God promises him as many descendants as stars in the sky. Abraham’s legacy will live on, because he understood Isaac was a gift of God and responded with the ultimate sign of love, of his own love for God.

At the Transfiguration we see a similar struggle for possession. The disciples want to possess that wonderful moment of the manifestation of the glory of God. They want to capture it and live in it forever. We see that Screwtape also understands the disciples' folly well: “Man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift”. We cannot possess the glory of God. We can only enjoy those fleeting glimpses when they come, then continue on our journey, just as the disciples had to do. After the transfiguration, Jesus journeys on to the cross. His death on the cross is also a manifestation of the glory of God, but one which the disciples are not prepared to accept. It too is a gift, in the same form that God had requested but in his mercy not accepted from Abraham.

We must be careful in our own lives that we do not strive to take possession of God's glory, to hold on to those moments of joy in our lives to the extent that we are unwilling to accept the cross when it comes our way. And it surely will come our way in moments of personal loss, illness, desolation. Just as the cross could also manifest the glory and love of God, so the moments of difficulty in our lives can also be moments of transfiguration for us. Often, it is in suffering that we feel his presence more powerfully than ever. This paradox is at the heart of the mystery of Jesus, and at the heart of the mystery of our own lives. Let us not cling to whatever it is we hold dear in such a way that we prevent ourselves from embracing this life-giving mystery with faith, hope and love.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Dominicans in Lambeth Palace

On Tuesday 24 February, over twenty Dominican friars descended on Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. As fr Timothy Radcliffe OP remarked, the last time so many of us were seen in the Palace was probably in the 1270s when fr Robert Kilwardby OP occupied the See of Canterbury!

Black & White

The occasion was a gathering of considerable ecumenical import: the official launch of the Archbishop of Canterbury's 2009 Lent Book, which had been written by fr Timothy. Entitled Why Go to Church? the book's first print-run of 15,000 was sold out by the time of the launch, but we were assured that thousands more were being printed and should be available in the shops. The book is an excellent meditation on the Eucharistic Liturgy as a drama of faith, hope and love. It is very accessible and a fitting gift for friends and family.

Book launch in Lambeth Palace

During the reception in the Great Hall, speeches were made by Robin Baird-Smith of Continuum (the publishers), Dr Rowan Williams, and fr Timothy. Robin Baird-Smith re-iterated what he had said previously in The Times:
"The one religious order in Britain which is really flourishing today is the Dominican Order, with lots of young people signing up. That is because they have got it right. They are open to God and open to the world. And their motto is one word: Truth. I think we need a blast of Dominican fresh air."
In a similar vein, Rowan Williams praised the freshness of fr Timothy's writing, joking that just as the Vatican Palace had a Dominican theologian, so Lambeth Palace had a Dominican as its favourite theologian.

Inside Lambeth Palace chapel

Dominican friars in Lambeth Palace

After the reception, the invited guests filled the 13th-century chapel of Lambeth Palace, and it resounded to Dominican chant and the Salve Regina as the friars closed the night with the tranquil Office of Compline. It was a gracious end to a convivial evening, and a good start to the Lenten season of reconciliation.

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Lent Week 1 Saturday - Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect

Readings: Deuteronomy 26: 16-19; Psalm 119: 1-8; Matthew 5: 43-48

Today’s Gospel passage, in which Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us, is perhaps one of the most daunting in the whole Gospel. How are we meant to manage that? And why should we? The answer to the first question can be found, to some extent, in the answer to the second.

During this season of Lent, we prepare ourselves by prayer, self-denial and charitable deeds to celebrate the mysteries of the Cross and Resurrection, in which we see revealed God’s love for us, for whose sake while we were at enmity with Him through sin, he sent his Son to die on the Cross, and thus to consecrate us to himself. It is in response to the boundless love revealed in Christ that we are called to imitate the Father’s perfection: just as, in the reading from Deuteronomy, we hear that the people of the Old Covenant are called to obey the commandments because God has made them a people sacred to himself, so we, who have been incorporated into the New Covenant by baptism, must try as best we can to live up to the great gift that has been given us. But how? On our own, we cannot: we must allow God’s grace, which is that same gift of his love working in us, to guide us.

This Lent, then, as we try through self-denial to become more responsive to God’s will and through almsgiving to follow his example of love, let us pray that he will grant us the grace to grow towards the perfection which he shows us and to which he calls us all.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Lent Week 1 Friday - Not Just Following the Rules

Readings: Ezekiel 18:21-28; Ps 130; Matthew 5:20-26

As naturally social creatures we need laws and regulations but these are only ways of coping with the fallen nature of humanity: they are not the solution. The true life of virtue or the “practice of integrity” must come from within. It is not enough to have the skin-deep morality of the Scribes and Pharisees and to adhere to every rule blindly. We must exceed it! Our Lord shows that the crime of murder stems from the interior state of anger. We must combat the interior causes of our sins; not just anger but greed, lust, vanity and all the other emotions and feelings that prevent us from truly flourishing in friendship with God. It is not enough to keep these attributes “in-check”, to limit their consequences by laws and penalties. We must go to the source. During this season of Lent, we need to purify and refine our spirits, through prayer, fasting and alms-giving. We need to have a “spiritual health-check” and begin afresh.

As we follow Jesus to Calvary, the ultimate altar of sacrifice, we must make peace with our neighbours, ourselves and God. Then we may stand in front of the Cross in good conscience and through the Cross, those “who renounce all previous sins, shall certainly live”.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Lent Week 1 - Thursday - Ask and it will be given to you

Through the cloister doorToday’s Gospel, taken from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, is a salient reminder to us of the importance of prayer in our lives as Christians, it is in fact the very basis of our lives lived in Christ. Few would claim that prayer is always easy, whether we are disciplined in setting time aside for it or not, but today’s Gospel should fill us with hope. It is an exhortation to prayer, a timely reminder in this penitential season not only of the importance to give thanks to God but also of our need to place before Him our petitions. The message is clear, “ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” It is important to understand that here Christ is urging us to be persistent in our prayer; no prayer should be considered too small or unimportant. How much do we actually value that for which we ask, how sincere are we in our search?

God is always ready to listen to us, we simply need to become more aware of His presence in our lives through prayer and open ourselves to His saving grace. We need to humble ourselves and trust in Him as His children. We have Christ’s assurance that our prayers will be answered, perhaps in ways or at times which we do not expect or even recognise, but they will be answered if they are made in faith and obedience to the will of God. Finally, in this Gospel passage we are reminded of our obligation to treat our neighbour as we would wish to be treated ourselves. This commandment is at the very heart of the Christian vocation. How well disposed do we find ourselves to forgive, to counsel, to assist, and to praise others? If we are unsure as to what to pray for, perhaps we would do well to begin by reflecting upon that most important line of scripture.


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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lent Week 1 Wednesday - Turn from your evil way and live

Readings: Jonah 3:1-10; Ps 51; Luke 11:29-32

Jonah's Whale!It has often been remarked that the book of Jonah has at least a comic mode of expression, if it is not in fact a comedy. Like the book of Esther, it has a touch of the pantomime stage about it. For instance, the king of Nineveh declares that the beasts must be covered in sackcloth and ashes, something which when you think about it - imagine a cow in a torn garment and with ash upon its head - cannot fail to raise a smile at least. It’s something that I've always found very heartening, that the Holy Spirit inspired the author of the book of Jonah to use comedy in expressing the need for repentance, the most necessary of all human acts. In the gospel for today Our Lord calls us to turn back to him with contrite hearts, something that we, all of us, need to do every day. How many times have we heard the voice of the Lord leading us away from our favourite vice in so many different things around us: the scriptures, prayers, our friends, and failed to respond with gratitude and heartfelt praise? The love of Christ that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit cannot be placed alongside all the other influences upon us and be made to compete. Let us not allow this Lent to be a time of regret and of lost opportunity, but of perfect love that casts out fear.


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Monday, March 02, 2009

Lent Week 1 Tuesday - How are you going to pray?


Lent is a time for prayer and fasting. A very common question around this time of year is ‘What are you giving up for Lent?’ A far less common question is ‘How are you going to pray?’

Today’s Gospel is a reminder that Lent is a wonderful opportunity to renew our prayer life. In prayer, we express our desires before God. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus not only teaches us what we should desire, but also the order in which we should desire. God is our final end, so it is fitting that we should first seek His glory. We express our love by affectionately calling Him ‘Our Father’. We should also love ourselves in God, so we pray for the coming of His kingdom so that we can enjoy participating in His glory. Then we pray for the means by which we can share in His glory, that God’s will be done in us so that we might merit eternal life with Him. We also pray for the basic sustenance which enables His will to be done in us. Finally, we pray for the removal of all those obstacles which stop us attaining our end with God, such as our sinfulness, our false desires and our hardness of heart.

Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew’s Gospel comes between his teaching on almsgiving and on fasting, a sure indication that all these activities are intimately related. So this Lent, whatever acts of almsgiving or fasting we undertake, let us do them prayerfully.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Lent Week 1 Monday - Love in Action

One could not underestimate the importance and influence of today's parable in Matthew 25:31-46. Because Christ said that "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me", Christians have distinguished themselves for two millennia with a spirituality of service and social concern that is rooted in the love of God. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, "prayer in action is love, and love in action is service". At the heart of Christian charity, then, is an active love for the stranger, the marginalised and the oppressed.

Charity & MercyWe are impelled by love, and not by duty or the bonds of the law, to act on behalf of others; mere lip service and pious promises of prayer are clearly insufficient. St Thomas Aquinas notes that we act according to our desires, and if we wish to see what one truly desires, we should look to what one does. Thus St James also says that "Faith was active along with... works, and faith was completed by works" (James 2:22). In this Lenten season, we are called to consider what we truly desire and re-align that desire so that we love our neighbour at least as much as we love ourselves.

However, although Christian charity is rooted in this Levitical injunction, even this is not adequate. It is true that Cicero said that the love which we call friendship is like loving a "second self", thus when we love our friends we love ourselves. In a sense, then, love of our friends can be likened to love of our neighbour whom we love as ourselves. However, Christian charity calls us to go beyond even this love: we are called to love our enemies, and to love the least of our brothers and sisters, which is to say those whom society rejects and scorns: prisoners and sex offenders, AIDS victims, those who are mortally ill and suffering, the 'unwanted' baby, the 'tramp' who makes a mess in our church ...

The love which moves us to charity is not love of self, nor even friendship as Cicero understood it, but love of God. And it is God who shows us how to love well and gives us his grace to do likewise. Christ said to his disciples: "Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Christ put these words into action when he gave his life for all humanity on the Cross. We are called to do the same, to offer our lives so that others may live. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "To serve our brother, to please him, to allow him his due and to let him live, is the way of self-denial, the way of the Cross".

This Lent, let our Via Crucis be more than just a prayerful devotion, and let our self-denial go beyond chocolates and alcohol. Rather, may the Lord give us a heart of flesh so that our prayers and self-denial is enfleshed in prayerful action. How might we do this? Blessed Teresa said: "Try to give unconditionally whatever a person needs at the moment. The point is to do something, however small, and show you care through your actions by giving your time ... Do not worry about why problems exist in the world - just respond to people's needs". Let us love as Christ loves us.


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