Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Stations of the Cross
Tuesday of Holy Week - The Sixth Station of the Cross
Monday, March 29, 2010
Monday of Holy Week - The First Station of the Cross
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Lent Retreat - PALM SUNDAY
Sometimes following Christ can seem fairly easy: things are going OK in our lives, and there isn’t anything or anyone really challenging our faith. We happily go to Mass on Sundays, and say, like the crowd of disciples following Jesus into Jerusalem, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Often, perhaps, we don’t really think about what we’re saying, but when it’s what everyone’s doing, it’s natural and easy to join in.
The Church’s liturgy for today, though, reminds us that things are not always like that. After hearing St Luke’s description of the entry into Jerusalem, we go into the church in a joyful procession, only to be confronted with his account of our Lord’s Passion. The crowds that eagerly welcomed Jesus are now shouting not, ‘Hosanna!’ but ‘Crucify him!’ Jesus is mocked and beaten and finally put to an agonising death. Suddenly following Jesus doesn’t seem quite so easy: it involves following him in his suffering, too, both physical, perhaps, and mental. It involves following him when everyone around us rejects him, when people ridicule our faith, or are openly hostile to it.
This, of course, is a common experience. Often our faith will challenge us and force us to make difficult choices, ones which won’t make our life any easier, as far as we can see. Some, of course, experience greater suffering in this regard than others – some are called upon, for example, to bear witness to the faith through martyrdom, while others might have to put up with being laughed at at work, but, if we do it for Jesus’ sake, it is all nonetheless a sharing in his sufferings.
And that’s the point: it is in uniting ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, both by living our lives, in joy and in suffering, in Christ, and also by sharing in the sacrament of his Body and Blood which makes his sacrifice present to us, that we become his true followers, and can be led by him through suffering and death to the resurrection life he has won for us. And so, during this Holy Week when we call to mind our Lord’s suffering and death, and their place in the mystery of our salvation, let us seek to unite ourselves more closely with Jesus in his suffering so that finally, we may be part of that crowd which follows him into the heavenly Jerusalem, singing together with the angels, ‘Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
Lent Retreat - Week 5, Saturday
Some things which occur in the Church are rightly called scandals, which is to say, that they are stumbling blocks for one's faith. This Lent, the scandalous acts of certain churchmen have been exposed once more to the public gaze, and we are rightly ashamed and aghast. As the prophet Ezekiel puts it in today's First Reading, these men of God have "defiled themselves... with their idols and their detestable things [and with] their transgressions" (Ezek 37:23). The scandal of clerical sex abuse is a betrayal on so many levels. It breaks faith with God, with those of God's beloved people who had been entrusted to the pastoral care of the Church, and with all the baptised who are members of the one Body of the Church. As St Paul said, "if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor 12:26). For the suffering of the victims is shared by all the baptised, and the shame incurred by the perpetrator of abuse is shared by all of us too. Moreover, these scandalous acts are not only a betrayal, but above all, deeply sinful. And as sin, they bring many evils in their wake, including trauma, pain, division. Thus, these sinful acts are a scandal, an obstacle to faith, for sin always divides us from one another and from God.
However, as Holy Week approaches, we are challenged once again to make an act of faith. We are called to look not at the sins of these churchmen, or even at our own sins, but on the One who takes on our sins and, in pain and suffering, dies for all "the children of God who are scattered abroad" (Jn 11:52). Indeed Christ is the Victim who dies for all victims, and particularly fallen humanity, who are the victims of sin. As St Paul puts it so strikingly: "For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21). Therefore, Christ suffered for all of us and by his death on the Cross he conquered sin and death, and healed the wounds and divisions of sin. So, through his love shown on the Cross, he gathered all God's people, who had been scattered by sin, into one, as Ezekiel prophesied.
As such, we are called to exchange the scandals of sin that divide us for another scandal, a "stumbling block" that unites us if we have faith, and so it becomes the cornerstone of our faith. And this is, as St Irenaeus calls it, the scandal of the Incarnation. For it speaks of a God who loves all sinful humanity so very much that he became Man and even "became sin". We cannot explore that theologically challenging phrase from St Paul now, but we can say that Christ was born "for us and for our salvation", which means that the Incarnation is oriented towards the Cross. The Cross, which is our focus this Passiontide and which culminates on Good Friday, is that scandal of God's love made visible to the whole world. St Paul says that "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8), which means that Christ's Cross embraces all sinners, no matter how unloveable they may be, or how detestable their sins are. At the hour of his Passion, Jesus said: "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12:31f). This suggests that we sinners are not just let off, but we are judged by love, and all of us will be found wanting. So, we're all together, under the Cross and we all need God to "save [us] from all the backslidings in which [we] have sinned, and [to] cleanse [us]" (Ezek 37:23). Therefore, the Cross unites all of us in the purifying love of God, and casts out sin, division, hatred, enmity, and hard-heartedness, which belong to the ruler of this world and not to Christ.
This is hard for us to fathom, and even harder to accept when the crimes that some people commit are so grievous and harm others (or us) so deeply. And yet, that is the challenge of the Cross: we are united as sinners, albeit not all equal in gravity, but nevertheless we are united in our need for Christ's healing love; we are called to focus on what the Cross accomplishes for humanity, and not on the failings of humanity which keep us from Christ and His Body, the holy Church. None of this absolves the failure of judgement shown by certain leaders of the Church, nor the evils perpetrated by some churchmen, but it does remind us that Jesus Christ alone is the Head of his Church, and we receive grace flowing from the Head to us in the Body of the Church. So, although we are scandalized by the sins of some churchmen, we should not let that keep us from Christ and his Church. For it is in this same Body that we approach the Crucified One, whom St Paul called "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Greeks" (1 Cor 1:23). If any scandal should draw our attention this Holy Week, let it be the scandal of the Cross and of God's prodigal love for all sinful men and women.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Stations of the Cross 2010
Join us this Holy Week in Oxford for Stations of the Cross with meditations given by members of the Godzdogz team.
Lent Retreat - Week 5, Friday
The opening line of today’s Gospel reading plunges us directly into the midst of a heated debate between Jesus and his Jewish hearers. But to understand its opening we must look to the wider context of Chapter 10 of John. Throughout this chapter we see the allusions to Jesus’ divine status being emphasised more and more emphatically, that the eyes of the people may be opened and that in following him they may be set free. But, as we can read in Luke, the hearing is often not a favourable one - 'And he said: Amen I say to you, that no prophet is accepted in his own country' (Luke 4:24). Finally, the people ask him plainly to reveal his identity and Jesus replies 'the Father and I are one'. For his Jewish hearers, as for many people today, it really is too much and 'they pick up rocks to stone him'. Though many of his hearers witnessed the good works Jesus performed, this statement of fact is denounced as blasphemous but, far from retreating, Jesus continues to defend his position.
By quoting from Psalm 82:6, 'I said you are gods', Jesus does not water down his claim by simply suggesting that others have been given the title of ‘god’ before him – such a claim would not have infuriated his hearers to such a degree. No, in this crucial exchange Jesus identifies himself as encapsulating the whole heavenly court in his person, a claim too far for some. This powerful use of scripture and argument from Jesus reminds us that we, through faith, can be co-heirs with Christ, and thus participants in the life of the Trinity and as such we can understand why Jesus is so passionate in this encounter. What lies at stake is something of the greatest magnitude – the salvation of humankind! The message is hard to assimilate but if we have faith, if we believe in his word of truth, then through his abundant love we will be given all the grace we need to share in his divinity. Some of his hearers were willing to do so, and if we also keep faith by acknowledging Christ as the Son of God, we can be set free and walk with him on the path toward the Heavenly Kingdom.
In a week's time we shall witness the very way in which our salvation was wrought by Christ’s bloody death and resurrection and to prepare we must open our hearts and minds fully to him. Let us not be hard of heart but instead see in Christ’s words and deeds the very truth for which we ultimately long, and allow ourselves to be united with him in his Passion for the salvation of our souls.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
On the first Sunday of Lent we heard how Jesus prepared for his active ministry by fasting in the desert for forty days and nights, and in a limited sense we try to replicate this desert experience in our own lives via our Lenten penances.
The desert is barren and sterile. There is no water, and hence there is no life. Yet throughout history men and women have escaped to the wilderness, to deserts, to mountains, in order to become closer to God. The harsh environment forced them to confront the fragility of human existence. They were forced to recognise and accept the complete sovereignty of God over their lives, and their utter dependence on his grace. In this recognition and acceptance they gained a certain sensitivity to the presence of God and his activity in their lives, and it is this awareness that we aim to foster by our Lenten devotions.
Yet we can hope for more than simply to endure the desert in the knowledge that God is with us. Isaiah prohesized that the 'desert will rejoice and bloom' (35:1). In the Gospel of John, Christ tells us that he has come in order that we may have life and life to the full (10:10), and he promised us living water that will well up to eternal life (4:10-14).
The love of God is fertile, it is generative, it is creative. Grace perfects our humanity, makes us more human, more alive. Grace brings life to the places where humanly speaking, there is only death and sterility. Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Annunciation. We celebrate the day when, by the grace of God, a virgin conceived. In nine months time we will celebrate the birth of this child. In a few weeks we will celebrate his resurrection. For today we are reminded that like the pregnant Mother of God, we bear the new life of Christ inside of us. It is a new life that has the power to transfigure us.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Lent Retreat - Week 5, Wednesday
The readings today speak of following the Lord whatever the cost. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are willing to suffer and to die rather than betray their Lord and God by worshipping false idols. Lent is a time for recognising the idols that we often prefer to worship and doing our best to wean ourselves off them. If we claim to place God above all other loves and concerns in our lives then we must back this statement up by actions that speak louder than words. When we love someone then we want to spent a lot of time with them, so how can we say that we love God if we hardly ever make time to pray? Part of the point of self-denial is that by uncluttering our lives we free up time and energy that can be used to come to know and love God more perfectly. We never know when me might be called upon to give witness to our faith, probably never in as dramatic a fashion as the three boys in the furnace, but the very real possibility still remains that we may be called to risk ridicule, rejection and worldly failure in order to be true to the Gospel. The training that we undergo in Lent helps us to be ready to face these dangers. Once we have become accustomed to putting the Lord's will first, we have grown in virtue and will thus find it easier to do the right thing should the challenge ever come.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Holy Week and Easter 2010 at Blackfriars
Those of our readers who are able to will be very welcome to join the Dominican community of Blackfriars, Oxford in our celebration of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum. Below are the times of the main services:
|Palm Sunday (28th March)|
8am, 9.30am Masses
11.15am – Polish Mass
6.15pm – Conventual Mass
Holy Monday (29th March)
12.00pm – Stations of the Cross
6.15pm – Conventual Mass
7.30pm – Ecumenical Stations of the Cross
Holy Tuesday (30th March)
12.00pm – Stations of the Cross
6.15pm – Conventual Mass
|Spy Wednesday (31st March)|
12.00pm – Stations of the Cross
6.15pm – Conventual Mass
Maundy Thursday (1st April)
9.30am – Tenebrae
6.00pm – Polish Mass
8.00pm – Mass of the Lord’s Supper
(followed by Watching at the Altar of Repose until Midnight)
Good Friday (2nd April)
9.30am – Tenebrae
3.00pm – Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion
6.00pm – Polish Liturgy
Holy Saturday (3rd April)
9.30 am - Tenebrae
11.00am – Polish Blessing of Foods
12 – 1pm – Confessions
5 – 6pm – Confessions
6.00pm – Vespers
7.00pm – Polish Vigil of Easter
11.00pm – Easter Vigil & First Mass of Easter
Easter Sunday (4th April)
8am, 9.30am Masses
11.15am – Polish Mass
6.00pm – Solemn Vespers
Easter Monday (5th April)
11.15am – Polish Mass
6.15pm – Conventual Mass
Lent Retreat - Week 5, Tuesday
It is quite likely that sometimes we forget how dramatic and powerful the image of the cross is. During Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent, it is traditional for all crucifixes and other religious images to be covered with veils until Good Friday. During this period when we can't look at images of our suffering Lord, it seems appropriate to think of other images which might still point to the symbolism of the cross.
In today's reading we hear about the Israelites complaining in the wilderness and of the fiery serpents who went among them as punishment. Realising they have sinned, they ask Moses to pray to the Lord to take the serpents away. The Lord responds by telling Moses to make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, so that everyone who is bitten can look at the bronze serpent and live. It is a powerful reversal of roles. What was once seen as a great enemy becomes the source of salvation. When we are living sinful lives, God can be seen as an enemy and this sorry state of affairs is only possible because human nature has been poisoned. The Israelites needed a striking image to bring them back to their senses, a reminder that they were sinners and dependent on God's loving mercy.
An awareness of our sinfulness can be discouraging and depressing, but it's not something we can just ignore. Jesus reminds us that sin can be deadly. We need healing and Jesus is our healer. All we have to do is come to Him with an open heart and confess our sins. Although this may sound daunting, what is asked of us is relatively small in comparison to all that Jesus has done for us.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Lent Retreat - Week 5, Monday
In today’s reading from the book of Daniel, we hear the tale of the two judges who attempt to seduce Susanna; they think that they are so important, and carry such authority among the people, that they can get away with their sin, because Susanna’s side of the story will never be believed. Led on by lust, they abuse their position of power: they ‘turn away their eyes from looking to heaven’ (Dan 13: 9), where alone they can find a guide to right judgement. These men, then, are an example of hypocrisy, judging others as their profession, but not applying right judgement to themselves (and, indeed, trying to use the law to cover their wrongdoing).
In every sin there is a turning away from heaven, the source of our right judgement, which is why it can be said that pride, failing to recognise a truth beyond “my truth”, lies at the root of sin. How can we avoid this, though? The tradition of the Church opposes pride to the virtue of humility – of being capable of looking beyond ourselves and our own interests, because of an awareness of the truth about ourselves in relation to other people and to God. The season of Lent helps us to cultivate this virtue by our works of penance and it provides us with the greatest example of it in the passion and death of Jesus. As our celebration of Holy Week draws nearer, then, let us seek to grow in humility, in imitation of him who ‘humbled himself and became obedient unto death’ (Philippians 2: 8).
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Lent Retreat - FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT
One of the great mysteries of today’s Gospel is what did Jesus write in the dust? The Fathers of the Church have proposed numerous theories. Some have suggested that Our Lord was writing the Law, others have suggested that he was writing the sins of the mob. It has even been suggested that he was doodling to show his contempt for the actions of the the scribes and Pharisees. Some have suggested that Jesus’ writing is a foreshadowing of the Book of Life, the allegorical book in which God records the names and lives of the righteous. Judgement certainly is one of the main themes running through this passage.
Today’s Gospel has often been misused by groups and individuals both outside and within the church to justify actions and lifestyles opposed to the teaching of the Church. However I always find that citing this passage and using the phrase “what would Jesus do?” is a bit of a cop out. To say that Jesus did not judge the women is not true. He does judge the woman. He acknowledges her sin but he does not endorse her actions. In fact he tells her not to sin again!
Nevertheless there is a stark comparison between Jesus’ judgement and the judgement of the Pharisees. The Pharisees are not only quick to condemn this woman but they are also perversely using her and the Law as a means to an end, an opportunity to trick and trap Our Lord.
On the other hand Jesus simply does not condemn the woman. He challenges her. He challenges her to a life without sin. He challenges her to strive to live in holiness. Unlike the Pharisees Jesus confronts a bad life, not with the exclusionary condemnation which is always tempting for those who consider themselves pure and holy. Instead, he confronts it with the challenge of a good life in Him.
Jesus gave the woman a choice: she could return to her sins, or she could embark on a life in the holiness of those liberated through God's grace. Jesus challenged her to have a new life in union with Him. This is the challenge that Christ puts before each and everyone of us every moment of the day.
Lent Retreat - Week 4, Saturday
'Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee': so today's gospel reading ends. Another translation puts it this way: 'go into the matter, and see for yourself; prophets do not come out of Galilee'. So that's that then. Here are people who know where God is allowed to show Himself and where He is not allowed to show Himself.
Of the different levels of conversion to which we are called intellectual conversion is perhaps the most difficult. The Greek term for conversion is metanoia which means 'change of mind'. It is not unknown for people to change their minds but if they have committed themselves to some position, and invested heavily in its being correct, then it can be very difficult for them to do so. It is like trying to move a mountain. Many intellectual convictions become so ingrained and precious to people that it becomes difficult to distinguish such convictions from prejudices, judgments that will not give a hearing to anything new. Donald Nicholl wrote of how Aquinas associates the beatitude of mourning with the gift of knowledge: it is the beatitude for intellectuals according to Aquinas. This is, says Nicholl, because
... whenever our minds yearn towards some new truth then we become afflicted with pain, because our whole being wishes to protect the balance of inertia and comfort which we have established for ourselves; and the pain is a symptom of our distress at its disturbance. Moreover, we experience a sort of bereavement when those formulations, images and symbols through which we had in the past appropriated truth have now to be abandoned. For those formulations, images and symbols have over the years become part of us. To lose them feels like losing part of ourselves. And we mourn that loss as we would the loss of a limb (The Tablet, 26 May 1990, p.662).
Lent offers us the possibility of thinking again about the new thing God has done through the prophet from a town in Galilee (where we do not expect God to reveal Himself) called Nazareth (can anything good come from there?!). It calls us to think again about our cherished convictions that may now be nothing more than prejudices protecting our balance of inertia and comfort.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Lenten Retreat - Week Four, Feast Of St. Joseph
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Lent Retreat - Week 4, Thursday
God is the source of all being, and so all creation is good because he made it and continually holds all things in being. So creation testifies to God’s goodness and, when it is properly ordered, it points to God’s beauty, truth and goodness. However, every good thing can be misused, misdirected and abused. Worse still, we can become so enamoured by created things that we love them for their own sake and fail to acknowledge and love the creator of all that is good.
The idolatry of the Israelites in today’s First Reading is not an isolated past event, but the lure of idolatry is ever present whenever we turn from God and place our hope in created goods, whatever they may be. During Lent, we forsake certain goods by fasting, alms-giving and prayer so as to focus our attention on the greatest good, God himself. And we give up certain things - whether it is chocolate, or alcohol, or money, or sex, or work, or the internet, and so on - not because they are bad in themselves, but precisely because they are good gifts from God, and the pleasure they bring us should not be an end in itself but should stir love and gratitude in us for God himself. The aim of Lenten penance and abstinence is to liberate us from our enslavement to the pleasure of created goods, so that we can properly use them to redirect our hearts to God alone, who is the source of all good.
So, in today’s Gospel, the Lord reminds us that even such great goods as the study of Scripture, or the testimony of his cousin, the Baptizer, or the law of Moses, are subordinated to the greatest good and point to him. Thus, we are called to move beyond all the good things given us by God, and to put our faith in Christ who alone can satisfy our deepest desires and who is infinitely good.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Pope Benedict in Great Britain
The details of the Holy Father's state visit have been published and are available here.
There have been many attacks on the Pope's visit in the mainstream media and it is to be expected that they will intensify as his arrival draws nearer.
We would encourage everyone to pray for the Pope and for the success of his visit.
Lent Retreat - Week 4, Wednesday, St Patrick's Day
The Gospel from Luke for this St Patrick’s Day places before us the call of Jesus to his first disciples. After preaching from the boat of Simon Peter, Jesus offers the fishermen a daring invitation that will call them to far greater horizons than they could ever imagine. “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Christian discipleship is indeed a journey into deep water. Like Simon Peter, Jesus calls each of us to move beyond the shallow waters of life to explore the immeasurable depths of God’s love and mercy, to journey deep within ourselves to discover the truth of what God has done in us by calling us into existence, by shaping us to be the unique and wonderful people each of us is and to discover and celebrate this same dignity and wonder in each other.
If we seek to discover the mystery of God and the boundless ocean of his love then we must begin with looking within ourselves. In coming to know and love ourselves as God created us to be, we also discover the loving presence of God who dwells in our depths and speaks to our hearts. As Saint Augustine said, “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves”. Only when we have taken this risk and begun to find God in the deep water of our inner life can we be truly convincing disciples of Christ and bring him to others in the world who seek this perfect love of God so much.
St Patrick discovered this in his life. Afraid and enslaved, it was while herding sheep on a lonely Irish mountain that he turned to prayer and discovered the inner strength that comes from that deep relationship with God. It was this relationship that spurred him on to preach and teach the Christian faith for the rest of his life and to convert an island nation. This Lent we can begin to take more time aside each day in silence and prayer so that we too might discover in the deep waters of our own being this God who loves us and speaks to us in the very depths of our being. “O unchanging God, let me know myself; let me know you. That is my prayer” (St Augustine).
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Lent Retreat - Week 4, Tuesday
'Do you want to be well again?' This is the question that Jesus asks the sick man at the Sheep Pool in today's Gospel. We might think at first that the answer to this question is fairly obvious – 'yes, of course.' So it is slightly surprising that the sick man in today's Gospel doesn't answer yes. Instead the man makes an excuse: no one is there to put him into the pool. At this point, especially if you know the rest of the story, it's tempting to be rather judgmental of this man. Maybe he was just wallowing in self-pity, perhaps he was frightened of the responsibilities health might bring, or perhaps he was just lazy, one of the undeserving poor. I think it would be wrong to come to such conclusions too quickly. Jesus was not averse to telling people what he thought, yet he didn't give this man a ticking off. Instead he healed him.
The story of this sick man can teach us some valuable lessons. The man is aware that he couldn't come to health just by his own efforts. In a spiritual sense, this is true for all of us. To live the fullness of life which God intends for us is not possible by our own means – it is only possible through Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus doesn't wait patiently on the side lines waiting for us to invoke His name. He can come into our lives uninvited, healing us even before we have the chance to ask. Whatever our background, whatever sins we have committed, Christ gives us sufficient help to make us holy. But even in a state of holiness, we can still be tempted to sin. The warning Jesus gives to the man when He sees him later on in the Temple suggests this. We still have to cooperate with Him. But once Christ has sanctified us our dignity is raised: we do not become less free, but more free.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Lent Retreat - Week 4, Monday
The readings today teach us to trust in the Lord and his power to transform both the whole of creation and our lives. Sometimes we may wonder if God really cares about the little things and even the big things that happen in our lives, we can feel as if our actions, and even our very existence, is insignificant in a world that is so vast. Whenever we feel like this we should look to the Cross, the place where we will always find reassurance and consolation. God cares for us so much that he is to die for us on Good Friday, to pour out his life on the Cross for our salvation. The readings ask us to place our faith in him as the God who can create a new heavens and a new earth, both definitively at the end of time and also in our individual lives, with their cares and concerns, joys and sorrows. If we have faith to believe in the power of God to change our lives, then we can trust in his merciful love to guide us into all truth. Just a word from God is enough to change everything, to lead us from the darkness into the light, to use our broken and sinful lives as a means to do something beautiful and glorious. This way our lives become signs, like the sign in the Gospel, beacons of hope to those who have no hope, light to those in darkness.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Lent Retreat - FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT
In today’s Gospel from Luke we hear the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the last of a trilogy, following the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin. All are intended to teach of God’s infinite love and mercy, and serve to rebuke Jesus’ critics and defend his actions.
This story contains much behaviour that is scandalous, perhaps more than we may think at first glance. We are told of a younger brother who claims his inheritance early and who then goes off into the world, no doubt full of great expectations! This may not seem to us entirely normal behaviour but it does not register as being the great scandal it was in Jesus’ time. To claim one's inheritance in this manner was practically unheard of and can be seen as akin to wishing one’s father dead, and so the ingratitude of such an action cannot be overstated. For the family too, it meant shame and disgrace, a loss of their honour among fellow citizens. Both father and elder brother are seen to fail in their duty to reconcile the younger son.
Upon this initial disgrace is heaped further ignominy, the son squanders all his inheritance and has to take a lowly job tending unclean animals. Such a fall was, perhaps, to be expected in one so reckless, but the social implications for him and his family are disastrous. To lose one’s inheritance to the Gentiles meant that returning to one’s own community was almost impossible. One would have to bear the shame of the kezazah ceremony in which such a man is disowned by his community until he can repay all that he has lost. Sick of hunger and disease but without any display of real repentance this is what the son does, he returns home intent on pleading to become one of his fathers ‘hired workers.’
On seeing him the father runs to meet him, another scandalous act in itself, for a man of wealth and position. The son, on seeing such a display of fatherly love, finally comes to complete repentance – ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ He recognises he has been truly lost but has now been found. The father then bestows upon him all the trappings of an honourable and worthy man, a man worthy to be called his son – the robe, the ring, the sandals, and orders a rare feast in his honour. Such complete and unquestioning forgiveness is seldom seen. The elder son is understandably stunned but must ultimately reconcile himself to the fact that this is not a display of favouritism, or a reward for wayward behaviour, but an act of complete and selfless love and mercy. ‘Your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’
In this parable we see a powerful argument against self sufficiency, of trying to live a life detached from God and our neighbour, a life which rejects the inestimable grace of God. Our Father’s arms are always open to greet us, he is always willing to run to meet us no matter what sins and misdeeds have led us away from Him, and so this parable is, at once, a sign of the enduring love our Father has for us, and of the daring invitation for us to emulate such forgiveness and mercy in our own lives, not just this Lent but always.
Lent Retreat-Week 3, Saturday
The American saying "we all have to put our trousers on one leg at a time" is almost a cliché but nevertheless it is full of truth. Despite the differences between people, all of humanity is equally in need of the mercy of God and the salvation found in the Cross. The two prayers in today's Gospel remind us of this important point. The prayer of the Pharisee, if we strip away for a moment its uncharitable tone, seems to be a reasonable prayer. He is not an extortionist, and gives thanks to God for this fact. He keeps justice, for which he again offers thanks. Nor is he an adulterer, nor a tax collector, the latter group being one known for fraud, deception and theft, especially of the poor and misfortunate. He keeps the fasts. He offers of his wealth in tithes to the temple. He seems in every way 'religious'.
The mistake of the Pharisee is to declare himself "not like other men". He has said too much and unintentionally revealed a sad truth about himself. He has turned the elements of his religious life into objects. He has twisted prayer into a divisive act that rends men apart. However we must be careful not to judge the Pharisee.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Lent Retreat - Week 3, Friday
Lent is a time for re-orienting and refocussing our lives on the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, which we prepare to celebrate at the culmination of this season. We do this through our penitential practices which, through our “giving something up for Lent”, remind us of how easily our lives can become unbalanced, giving too much attention, for example, to eating or watching television or whatever it may be. As we recognise our failings, the Church in our Lenten readings points us towards the solution: we must return to the Lord, who alone can save us (Hosea 14:4), and who only asks that we turn to him, and he will heal our disloyalty (Hosea 14:5).
At the same time, today’s Gospel reading presents us with that principle which will give balance to our lives, and by which we are to return to the Lord, namely love. If it is love of God and of neighbour which motivates our actions, then we will be living in accordance with God’s will. In this way, too, we draw near to the Paschal Mystery, for it is here above all that we see, in Christ, a human life lived out in perfect love (for, as Jesus reminded his disciples at the Last Supper, ‘greater love has no man that this, that he should die for his friends,’ John 15:13) .
So, then, let us allow ourselves this Lent to be drawn more profoundly into the great mysteries of Holy Week and Easter, both by recalling our need for the salvation won by them, and also by allowing our lives to be conformed more closely, through God’s saving grace, to the model of love presented to us in them.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Lent Retreat - Week 3, Thursday
"Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste" (Luke 11:17).
In today's Gospel we find the people marvelling at how Jesus has cast out a mute demon. At least some of them are marvelling. Others have immediately set about trying to disparage the miracle and conspiracy theories abound. They claim that Jesus owes his power over demons to Be-el'zebul himself, the Prince of demons. The implication is clear: do not trust this man Jesus, what appears to be good is in fact evil.
When we reflect upon this passage it becomes depressingly obvious that this is a story that is repeated time and time again both in our own lives and in our communities. Wherever the Gospel is preached, wherever the truth is spoken, wherever good is done, there seems to be some who embrace the Good News and others who feel threatened by it. Often this sense of danger prompts them to try and deface what they have received. Like the conspiracy theorists in today's Gospel, they try to distort what is good into an evil, they deface the truth.
This division in a community between those that embrace the truth and those that fight it is founded on internal divisions within each of the community's constituent members. There are aspects of our personality, aspects of who and what we are, that are powerfully drawn to God. At the same time there are levels of our being that are frightened by truth and goodness, frightened by what allowing truth and goodness into our lives might entail.
When we are confronted by what is true and what is good we are immediately confronted with our own helplessness, our own dependence, our own failings. God shines a light into our heart and reveals what we really are. These can be frightening realities to face. It often seems easier to try and smother the light, to try and cloak the truth in deception, so that our vulnerability remains hidden. Yet this is not what we really want. By nature we are made for communion with God. To try and resist him is to wage war on ourselves and our deepest desires for love, truth and goodness.
In today's Gospel we hear how any Kingdom that is divided against itself is laid waste. Any person that is in a state of civil war is similarly devastated. Freedom from this struggle comes when we are able to bring our fears, vulnerabilities and shame into God's light and stand before him knowing that we are loved for what we are, not what we think we are.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Lent Retreat - Week 3, Wednesday
The end or purpose of the law is that the holiness of God be revealed, and that a people living according to that law might be brought into communion, a sharing of life and love, with God who is holy. What does the word 'holy' mean? We know it means infinitely just and loving, and we know this from Christ who is the fulness of the law.
The verses of Matthew read today are said to be the most controversial in that gospel. If we have a narrow understanding of 'law' and of what the term refers to here then they are very difficult verses to reconcile with, for example, some of Paul's statements about 'law'. But if the term is understood more profoundly - as it is for example in Baruch or Psalm 119 - then it refers to God's wisdom, God's word, God's way for His people. We know where that way, that truth and that life are revealed fully. It is he, Jesus, who is the fulness of the law, he is the one who keeps it to the letter because he is himself the Word.
Two phrases in the gospel support this interpretation. Jesus says he has come not to abolish but to complete or fulfill the law, to bring it to its pleroma. He is the pleroma, the fulness of time and the fulness of things, and God's wisdom, word and way are all complete in him.
The other phrase is variously translated. Nothing disappears from the law 'until its purpose is achieved', or 'until all things are accomplished'. At this point in Lent we cannot but think of Jesus' 'hour', the fulness of time, when all that has been foretold and all that has been promised will be fulfilled. God's holiness will be revealed as never before, God's heart of justice and love exposed as never before.
The new and eternal covenant sealed in Christ's blood replaces the old by bringing it to its full flourishing. The Lord our God is 'nearer to us now than when we first believed' is how Paul puts it, the wisdom of God's Word and Way now dwelling in our hearts through the Spirit that has been poured into them.
As we turn the corner at this mid-point of Lent we begin to look away from ourselves and our own spiritual and moral efforts, to look simply at Christ in whom those efforts dissolve on the one hand and in whom they find their destination on the other.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Lenten Retreat - Week 3, Tuesday.
Monday, March 08, 2010
Choosing the Common Good
Lent Retreat - Week 3, Monday
In the Gospel for today Jesus has returned to his home town, Nazareth, and is speaking in the synagogue. A few lines before this Gospel passage in Luke, we can see that Jesus has gained the admiration of his listeners with his opening remarks: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” (Luke 4:22). But their mood soon changes. He reminds them of how they, the chosen people of God, had rejected the great prophets of the past, Elijah and Elisha to name just two. When God had sent his word to his people to correct and guide them back to the straight path, they were rejected and persecuted as Jesus predicts he will be. Indeed the rage of the people that follows as they try to kill Jesus for his hard words is a foreshadowing of his Passion.
It is interesting to note how quickly the mood of the crowd changes when Jesus begins to say things they don’t like. There is no discussion or analysis among them of what Jesus says. They know the truth of what he said. Yet they are a proud people, confident in their identity as God’s people, proud of their position as being the insiders with God. But this pride seems to have led to a complete inability to recognise their own mistakes, to be intelligently self critical and thereby open to change and conversion. But Jesus isn’t interested in pandering to them. He speaks uncomfortable words of truth to wake them up to their need for a change of heart.
While we may be shocked at the crowd's angry reaction to Jesus in trying to kill him, many of us can react in similar ways when we hear words that make us uncomfortable and demand we change. Instead of listening and thinking about what is being said to us, we can react violently or dismissively. None of us likes to be pushed from our comfort zones. Yet this Lent this is what we are called to do, to listen attentively and quietly to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us about who we truly are and where God calls us to be and to summon up the courage and openness to change our lives and to “make straight the way for the Lord” when Easter dawns upon us. We never do this alone but with the grace of God which he generously gives in abundance.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
Lent Retreat - THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT
This week we are almost half-way through our Lenten journey, and in our trek across the desert we encounter in today’s Liturgy not just one but two bushes. For the parable in today’s Gospel needs to be juxtaposed with our First Reading, which is the well-known story of Moses and the burning bush. In the Patristic tradition, the burning bush came to be seen as a symbol of the Virgin Mary, who was consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit but whose virginity remained untouched. By God’s grace, Our Lady was most fruitful and she bore the most wonderful fruit of all: Jesus Christ himself. In contrast, the parable presents a bush which is barren; for three years it has produced no fruit at all. As such, it is fit only to be cut down and burnt up.
This unfruitful bush, I think, stands for us and it is a reflection on our sorry state, for we, that is to say, all human beings, are sinners. Thus, we are all equally in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. But although God is ever-ready to rescue us, we can only avail of his goodness if we acknowledge that we are sinners, repent, and open ourselves to his grace. If we don’t, and if we rely on ourselves, then we shall remain unfruitful and ultimately perish. As St Paul warns in our Second Reading: “let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12). Jesus uses two striking incidents, presumably taken from contemporary events of his time, to illustrate this. In our day, one might think of those killed in the recent tragedies in Haiti, or Chile. Were they greater sinners than us so that they deserved to die in this way? Jesus quite unequivocally says: ‘No’. The point, then, is not that misfortune or suffering afflicts those who are greater sinners; those people who have tried to say this about Haiti are thus contradicting the Gospel. Rather, Our Lord’s stark reminder is that, unlike the dead, we who are alive still have time in which to take heed, to repent, and to be fruitful. And how are we to be fruitful? By calling on God alone - as Moses’ people did - and relying on his grace to rescue us from the slavery of sin.
Therefore, in the parable, the gardener asks for a year’s reprieve for the fig tree. His plan is that the barren bush would become a burning bush, bearing the most beautiful bounty. For the gardener is the divine Vinedresser, God himself, and the year which he gives us is our very lifetime. As such, each day of our lives is God’s grace-filled time, in which he patiently cares for us and coaxes fruit from our barren, sinful state. The means, of course, is the grace of the Holy Spirit, who inflames us with charity but does not consume us. For God’s grace does not destroy our human nature but perfects and elevates it. And if we grow in grace and flower in virtue, then we too, like Our Lady, will bear that most wonderful fruit, Jesus Christ. For grace divinizes us so that we are transformed and become Christ-like, partakers in the beauty and being of Christ.
The season of Lent thus focuses our minds on this perennial task, on God’s plan for all human beings, which takes not just forty days but the entire ‘year’ of our lives, a lifespan. The question is, are we using this time well, living life to the full by allowing ourselves to be cultivated by the grace of God?
Lent Retreat - Week 2, Saturday
In this season of Lent, as we think about the renewal of our relationship with God, it is helpful to think about the parable of the prodigal son. How did this relationship between father and son become so damaged and how was it healed?
Perhaps the son thought he could manage the estate better than his father, or maybe he saw his father as inhibiting his freedom, but even with these reasons, there is still something rather shocking about a son who can barely wait for his father's death, a son who prematurely demands his inheritance. Such a cold hearted attitude towards one to whom he owes so much is not easily explainable. There is something unintelligible about sin.
In the parable, it is the pangs of hunger that make the prodigal son come to his senses and realise the unreasonableness of his behaviour. But is this realisation enough to heal the damaged relationship with his father? For all the son knew, his father could have died whilst he was away, or he might have wanted nothing to do with him, or lacked the resources to help him? From the parable, we know this is not the case. God is more merciful than we could possibly imagine, and even if we only have the vaguest inkling that God is alive, that He loves us and has the power to heal us, this is enough to get us to turn towards Him and make our first tentative steps towards salvation. And as in the parable, God is scouring the horizon, looking for those who are far off, ready to run towards those who are seeking Him. Christ's Passion and Resurrection is the clearest sign we have that God lives, that He reigns and that He loves us, and this realisation is crucial if we are to live our lives for Him.
It is worth asking where does Jesus Christ fit into the parable of the prodigal son. Unlike some of the other parables, there is no one with whom Jesus is obviously identifying Himself. But all we have to do is take a step back - Jesus is the one who is telling the story. He is the one who communicates the Father's love for us, and during Lent, this is what we are preparing to celebrate.
Friday, March 05, 2010
In the News...
Lent Retreat - Week 2, Friday
Our Lord reminds us in the gospel that in God’s eyes it is often those things we regard as our weaknesses that we will come to recognise as our strengths, and those things we think of as our strengths that in fact block the way to our progress in virtue. Charity is the greatest of the virtues and the key to the whole spiritual life, since, for those who love God, everything will work to the good.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Match Report: Newman House vs Blackfriars
The game began in a blaze of goals as the athletic Newman House forwards overran the Dominican defence. Despair was beginning to overwhelm the Godzdogz faithful when an observant spectator spotted that in fact the chaplaincy students had, accidently, been playing with one extra man. Sportingly, Newman House agreed to return the score to 0-0, and immediately set about terrorizing the Blackfriars defenders with renewed vigour, quickly finding themselves 2-0 up once again.
Even the early introduction of Jeffries, returning as a Dominican to his old stamping ground as a student, could not stem the tide and as half-time loomed Newman house were 4-0 up. Blackfriars' only consolation was a late goal from Bungum, Blackfriars' top scorer this season, who headed home Gay's penetrating cross from a set piece to leave the score 4-1 at the break.
At half time, following a meeting between the two captains, it was agreed that Geoffrey swap teams and join the Dominicans (at least for the duration of the game), one of the few occasions when a transfer between two clubs has taken place mid-match. Geoffrey gave Blackfriars a desperately needed attacking outlet and his introduction completely changed the nature of the game. Suddenly the Dominicans began to string passes together and soon had pulled two goals back leaving the score 4-3.
After the game we headed back to Newman House for the now traditional post match beer and pizza. Thank you to our hosts for their generous hospitality and a good game!