Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Shocking News

I was at a meeting in Dublin this evening when shocking news came through: the Blessed Sacrament has been desecrated in a suburban Dublin church. The Eucharist was reserved in an adoration chapel, the Host was taken out, torn apart and stamped into the ground, while satanic slogans were written on the altar cloths. It is a terrible turn of events, one which causes all of us deep distress. Please pray for the priests and parishioners of this parish, and for those responsible for this heinous act: for their conversion. Sadly, it is an extreme expression of a growing anti-Catholic hostility here in Ireland.

Could I ask you to offer a prayer in reparation for this incident. I include a lovely litany of reparation if you have a moment to pray it after reading this post. Such incidents are happening all over the world, it might be a good idea for us to make space in our prayer life for regular offerings of reparation be they prayers, holy hours or acts of charity. 

How much the Lord loves us, he becomes so vulnerable so as to be with us in the Holy Eucharist.

Litany of Reparation in honour of the Blessed Sacrament
Lord, have mercy on us;
Christ, have mercy on us;
Lord, have mercy on us;
God the Father of Mercy, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Mediator between God and man,
Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, the Enlightener of hearts,
Have mercy on us.
Holy and undivided Trinity, Have mercy on us.
O Sacred Host! Victim of reparation for the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.
O Sacred Host! Annihilated on the altar for us and by us, Have mercy on us.
O Sacred Host! Despised and neglected, Have mercy on us.
O Sacred Host! Neglected and abandoned in Your temples, Have mercy on us.
Be merciful unto us: Spare us, O Lord.
Be merciful unto us: Hear us, O Lord.
                     (Response: We offer You our reparations, O Lord)

For so many unworthy Communions
For the irreverence of Christians,
For the continual blasphemies of the impious,
For the infamous discourses made in Your Holy Temples,
For the crimes of sinners,
For the sacrileges which profane Your sacrament of love,
For the coldness of the greater part of Your children,
For their contempt of Your loving invitations,
For the infidelity of those who call themselves Your
For the abuse of Your grace,
For our unfaithfulness,
For our delay in loving You,
For our tepidity in Your Holy Service,
For Your bitter sadness at the loss of souls,
For Your long waiting at the door of our hearts,
For Your loving sighs,
For Your loving tears,
For Your loving imprisonment,
For Your loving death,

                      (Response: We sinners beseech You, hear us) 
That You spare us, that You hear us,
That You will make known Your love for us in this most
       Holy Sacrament,
That You will vouchsafe to accept our reparation, made in
       the spirit of humility.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world:
Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world: Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world:
Have mercy on us, O Lord.

Let us pray:
Lord Jesus, Who has chosen to expose Yourself to all the outrages of the impious, rather than withdraw Your Sacred Body from our Churches, grant us the grace to bewail, with true bitterness of heart, the injuries and sacrileges committed against you, and to repair as far as lies in our power, and with sincere love, the many ignominies and contempts You have received, and still continue to receive, in this ineffable mystery, Who lives and reigns with God, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

Inherit The Earth

Regal tenant: Elizabeth I claims the world for herself

In our Gospel today we are told by Jesus that he has come to save the world, not to condemn it. It is an interesting teaching that should lead us to reflect on our place in the world. We often hear about the "values of the world" and how we should not make them the foundation of our lives, and that is true. The "values of the world" are those grounded in the merely materialist, eschewing the divine and transcendent, fallen human values rather than those of God. But, in a way, these "values of the world" are actually alien to the world, since the world was made by God and he has impressed his divine artistry on it. The world is passing away, but rather than turning into itself, as the "values of the world" do, it points to something greater than itself, to the Creator whose signature we see in the beauty of nature, in the wonder of the stars, in the fascinating host of creatures. 

As Christians we can tend towards shunning the world, we keep to ourselves in order to be pure - we might think we have to sit it out and await the Second Coming. Well, St Paul tackles that attitude in his letters to the Thessalonians - we cannot and should not withdraw from the world, we must live in it. And living in it, we are to change it. Let us not forget that the world belongs to us - it was made for the children of God and so it is ours - Jesus reminds us of this in the Beatitudes when he says that the meek shall inherit the earth. We do not make the world our basket (again, the meek - they are the ones who can see things correctly), but we make this world a better place, a forum in which our souls are prepared for heaven and all those wonderful gifts given to us by God can be used for his glory and the encouragement of our fellow pilgrims. We never forget that we are passing through, but as on every pilgrimage, the journey is important too.

Of course we cannot forget that the tenants have taken over the vineyard and many many times down the centuries the tenants have tried to dispossess the children of God. The tenants are themselves children of God, but in their way of life they have turned their back on him and so renounced that status. They take the world for themselves and seek to change it to suit themselves and those who still adhere to God's plan and way of life are alienated. It is through these tenants that the "spirit of the world" and the "values of the world" come into being. On conquered land they establish the city of the world while the children of God struggle to maintain the city of God, if I may use Augustinian terms. But our task, as children of God, is to reclaim our inheritance, our world, and Jesus announces this mission in our Gospel today. However we have to  be careful and discern as we engage in a mission of reconquest - it is not for the sake of the world, but for the souls of the tenants. They have built their cities, their fortresses, but they are more akin to prisons where they hold themselves captive lest the transcendent get them. It is like a gang of pilgrims who hijack the bus on the way to Lourdes and won't let any of us proceed to the shrine because they want to stay at the roadside cafe, but nobody gets anywhere then, and we'll eventually run out of tea!

Why such thoughts today? Well, looking around us in Ireland I see the tenants are building walls to keep us all in their fortress. The children of God are being dispossessed and alienated, there is now an insistence that we conform to the values the tenants have devised for themselves. 

I am reminded of Queen Elizabeth I's religious revolution. She said at the beginning of her reign that in terms of the religious question, she could not see into the consciences of men, nor did she intend to. It seemed as if she was going to tolerant of Catholics, but not so. She established the Church of England and then expected all of her subjects to conform regardless of their conscience, those who did not paid for it either through fines that impoverished them or with their lives. She replaced the Virgin Mary with herself, establishing the cult of Gloriana, and everything was to revolve around her and her desires, secular and religious. We see the same today. The tenants tell us that we can believe what we like as long as it is private, yet they do not mean what they say: they will expect us to conform in every way to what they decree, even at level of our conscience which must be violated if they see fit. This is how they mean to dispossess the children of God.

But the meek shall inherit the earth, the Lord has come to redeem the world, and our task is to participate in that mission. We are not cower in the trenches or privatize our faith and values, but we are to go out into the world and live them and live by them even if it challenges the tenants, even if it means we may have to suffer. This will require a good dose of courage (cardinal virtue!), stamina (they will try to break us down), love (for we do it for love of them, for the salvation of their souls as much as our own) and ingenuity (the wily wisdom of the serpent married with the innocence of doves), but the Lord will give the grace to do this. Of course prudence is important, but we must be careful not to turn prudence into a vice, an excuse to feed our fear. There are too many Christians in the trenches cowering beneath a white flag, trying to appease the tenants and announcing peace in our time for the sake of a quiet life. 

At prayer this morning I remembered that Archbishop Oscar Romero will be beatified on the 23rd May, the day after the gay marriage referendum here in Ireland. Is that a coincidence or a God-incidence? The ballot takes place on the feast of St Rita (a necessary patronage there), but if the tenants win, then Oscar Romero's life and struggle may well be an example and inspiration for us: he too had to stand up to a corrupt regime and unjust laws, he had to defy them. He knew that the world belonged to the children of God and they should not be dispossessed of that which God has given them. Yes, they are pilgrims, but they do not walk on another's property, they tread the path their Father laid for them. We should never forget this. May the soon Blessed Oscar intercede for us in these times and obtain from the Lord the courage, wisdom, prudence and zeal we need to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

If You're Not In Kansas Anymore, Then....

The media are starting to make a thing of the Irish Bishops's suggestion that should the gay marriage referendum be passed, the Catholic Church here may no longer carry out the civil aspects of weddings, The reason for this, as stated by the Bishops in 2013, will simply be the differing views of marriage held by Church and the State. The Irish Times refers to it as a threat, no doubt trying to paint the Church as the bad guy holding a gun over the heads of those in favour of the referendum. It is not a threat, it is an honest recognition of a serious rift and an abyss that cannot be bridged and so instead of limping along in denial, the Church will conduct her own affairs and let the State conduct theirs. Nor is it a matter of signing a form, as the Irish Times inaccurately suggests: it is about a priest serving as a solemniser of a civil marriage. This cannot continue should things change. If I may remodel a famous quote: If you're not in Kansas anymore, then do not expect things to stay the same... All will be changed utterly, as Yeats wisely wrote.... 

Of course should this happen you can expect the media to launch an attack on the Church. We will hear of lots of poor couples in a quandary, put out, having to spend more money and make arrangements in now over-crowded registry offices to solemnise a civil marriage on top of a religious one. We will probably not hear about how many countries in Europe already have separation of religious and civil weddings and no one gets upset, they just accept it and get on with it: they have the civil wedding first and then head straight to the Church for the sacramental wedding. That's what will happen in Ireland should the Bishops stick to their proposal if the referendum is passed. 

This decision by the Bishops might also stave off attempts by some to force the Church to conduct gay marriages. I can see some sort of challenge emerging if the referendum is passed, a priest or minister who refuses to carry out a gay wedding being sued under equality legislation and the new position of the Constitution. In a conversation yesterday with friends it was suggested this would never happen since we have freedom of religion, however as we have seen equality legislation tends to overrule all other rights and freedoms nowadays, including religious freedom, so I would not be so optimistic. If we no longer carry out the civil aspects of marriage, the State may well no longer recognise Catholic marriages and so a case against the Church may not be able to proceed. But we shall see.

That said, it all depends on the outcome of the referendum, and given the serious issues which will arise should it be passed - not only for the Church, but for families and children, a no vote is not only prudent but better. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Heroic Priest And Witness To Hope

The Parish Priest of St Helen's in Ongar, Essex, Fr Graham Smith, is among those proposing that a former parish priest, Fr Thomas Byles, be put forward as a candidate for canonisation. Fr Byles is, of course, the heroic priest who prepared the doomed passengers of the Titanic for death, twice refusing a place in the lifeboats so to be with those who were going to die, hearing confession, giving absolution, encouraging them and praying for and with them. In the midst of all the panic - and indeed apathy of some, he offered hope to those about to die, commending them to the care of Our Lady as he recited the rosary. Here was an example of a priest who did indeed have the "smell of the sheep" about him and a perfect fulfillment of the Gospel's man who lays down his life for his friends.

I wrote a little piece about him a few years ago on the centenary of the Titanic's sinking, and there is a wonderful article on him in the Catholic Herald from the same time, well worth reading. Rereading that Herald article I am filled with admiration again for this man: here was a true priest, a courageous priest, a priest who manifested all that is good, heroic and holy in the sacred ministry. A priest who is indeed worthy of being raised to the altars. 

As I mentioned in a post a couple of days ago, Pope Francis is open to suggestions that arrive in the post, and he is keen to offer new Saints to the Church - he holds the record and has invoked his right to dispense with miracles in order to beatify or canonise individuals in order to give the Church heroic examples of the Gospel - surely Fr Byles would inspire him in this regard? So let us support Fr Smith and his colleagues in their efforts to have a Cause started.

Now, the question: was Fr Byles a confessor or a martyr? When he heard of Fr Byle's heroic sacrifice, Pope St Pius X said that he was "a martyr of the Church", could a Cause be introduced to have him declared a martyr and thereby dispensing the need for a miracle for beatification? Traditionally his death would fall under the category of "martyr of charity" and in the past such figures were put among the heroic virtue Causes and so required a miracle before glorification. That may well apply to Fr Byles, as Fr Smith suggests. So prayer for miracles and favours would be needed. That said, a Cause for a group of nuns, six Sisters of the Poor, who heroically offered their lives to treat victims of the Ebola virus in 1996 has been introduced as a martyr Cause, so things may be shifting with regard to categorization.  

Fr Joseph Benedikt Peruschitz and Fr Juozas Montvila

If Fr Byles's cause is introduced, surely the other heroic priests of the Titanic should also be included, the Benedictine Fr Joseph Benedikt Peruschitz, who had to endure the mockery of some passengers as he was administering absolution to those about to die, and the young Fr Juozas Montvila who, by the time he arrived on the ship, had already endured persecution for his faith in his native Lithuania. My proposal would be to form one Cause for the three as a group. If permitted to go forward as martyrs then a group Cause would be normal, but if a heroic virtue Cause, then, taking the cue from the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order, they could be put forward as group of confessors and a single miracle needed for beatification and another for canonisation.

Let us remember this intention in our prayers. Given the scandals and the difficulties many priests face, Fr Byles and his companions offer us priests and laity an edifying example of holy priesthood and faithful Christian discipleship, a discipleship immersed in faith, hope and love even in the face of panic, horror and anguish. How many of those Titanic passengers died in peace thanks to the sacrifice of these holy men? Many I am sure.

Here is a website dedicated to Fr Byles.

Armenia, Turkey And Europe

The Holy Father seems to be drifting into a diplomatic incident with Turkey following his remarks on the Armenian genocide: the Turkish ambassador to the Holy See has been recalled for "consultations".  The Pope spoke of the genocide during the ceremony yesterday in St Peter's Basilica, when he declared St Gregory of Narek a Doctor of the Church.

For a hundred years Turkey has lived in denial, refusing to admit the genocide, though historians are generally agreed that it happened. Indeed it was a martyrdom, one similar to what is happening in Syria and Iraq.  It is ironic, then, that the Turkish foreign minister should accuse the Pope of being "out of touch with both historical facts and legal basis" - in reality the delusion lies with Ankara. 

Such comments from an government official will not help matters. Turkey is still looking to enter the EU, denying what is obvious to all will not  help their case. Many Europeans have serious concerns about Turkey's accession to the Union, these concerns are heightened by Turkey's refusal to admit the sins of its past as they are by reported human rights abuses in the country. 

That said Europeans can hardly take the high moral ground on human rights abuses what with the prevalence of abortion and the growing persecution of Christians: we need to get our own house in order. Indeed Europe needs to face up to its current sin: the mass extermination of pre-born infants in the name of "choice" - more children have died in the clinics of Europe that Armenians in the genocide - that is not to lessen the horror of the genocide, but to make us realise that the horrors continue to this day in a different form, and there are many who are in state of denial.

The full text of the Holy Father's speech can be found here.

A Martyr For Truth

After Holy Week and the Easter Octave the feasts begin again, and what a wonderful feast today for us in these times: the martyr, Pope St Martin I. Pope St Martin died in exile in the Crimea in the year 655, the last pope (to date) to be martyred.  St Martin died from the harsh treatment that was meted out to him by officials of the Roman state which, though it considered itself Christian, had embrace the Monothelite heresy. As the defender of orthodoxy, Pope Martin fell foul of the emperor, Constans II, and because he refused to change Church teaching to accommodate the heresy he was arrested and exiled. It is also interesting to note that St Martin's election was not approved by the emperor.

There are many lessons to be drawn from St Martin's life and suffering - endurance being one of the most important. But there is also another which is of relevance today and it concerns the unwelcome interference of the State in matters of doctrine and moral teaching. Martin suffered because he would not allow the secular state to redefine who Jesus Christ was. The Monothelite heresy emerged out of a disbelief in the fullness of Christ's humanity, the State approved of that and so sought to coerce the Church to adopt it as official teaching. Martin stood firm. 

Today the state often interferes in matters beyond its competence, the recent push to redefine marriage, family and gender, not just theological issues, but issues of natural law and biology, being a case in point. I have no doubt that if the state is successful in this it will bring untold suffering - not just to Christians who remain true to God and nature (I have no doubt that certain lobby groups will use the full force of the law to persecute orthodox Christians to annihilate all opposition), but also children and even the very people who are pushing for these changes.  While God is forgiving, nature isn't - mess with nature and it will come back at you with devastating results.

The great theologian St Maximus the Confessor was arrested with Pope St Martin and shared many of his trials and sufferings.  As is always the case those who are most articulate, the great defenders of truth and orthodoxy, tend to be taken out, silenced so they cannot speak - Maximus had his tongue cut off. Again we are seeing that today. In Ireland, for example, in the campaign for the gay marriage referendum the articulate defenders of the family, nature and truth are being rounded on by proponents of the change and the media in attempt to silence and demonise any opposition. We are in a very bad place at the moment, the pillars which hold up society are being pummeled by ideologues, if they keep at it, they will crack and collapse and fall down on us all. 

Let us ask Pope St Martin and St Maximus to pray for us in these times.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dottore Subito!

St Gregory of Narek is now officially a Doctor of the Church, following a ceremony in St Peter's today. I note with interest a post by Fr Z, in reality a petition to Pope Francis, to declare St John Paul II a Doctor of the Church. Father is certainly zealous and daring: he asks for it to be done on Divine Mercy Sunday next year, and even suggests a doctoral title: Doctor Misericordiae, the Doctor of Mercy.

This time last year I was at the canonisation, and after it I sent a tweet saying that now we had him canonised, the next process is to get him declared a Doctor, so I am in total agreement with Fr Z on this. 

So, dear faithful, what can we do? Well, Fr Z has shown us: we petition the Holy Father - that's how it starts. The faithful, and then of course theologians, preferably groups of them, send formal requests to the Pope that a particular saint be considered for the honour. If there is merit in the requests, an investigation is opened in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. As we know from incidents since his election, Pope Francis takes great interest in his post, so we have no excuse. Off we go. 

Dottore subito!

The New Doctor Formally Declared

Today in a ceremony in St Peter's, the Holy Father will formally declare St Gregory of Narek a Doctor of the Church, members of the Church in Armenia will be present, including the head of the Armenian Orthodox Church.

Divine Mercy Sunday

A happy feast day to you all.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Holy Year of Mercy: The Papal Bull Of Indiction

Here is the link to the text of Misericordiae Vultus, the Pope's Bull promulgating the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I note with interest the title: the Face of Mercy, from the first sentence of the Bull: "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy". Wonderful! 

A year to celebrate Mercy, so a great opportunity to promote the devotion to Divine Mercy. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Media Is Baffled

I note with interest the surprise some in the media are expressing with what seems to be Pope Francis's rejection of France's candidate as ambassador to the Holy See. The candidate, Laurent Stefanini, the media maintain, is openly homosexual, although other sources deny it, the man seems to have backing from some solid people in France. We don't know. However, the media reaction is telling. The Telegraph has an interesting article informing us that Francis's reputation as a liberal is now taking a hitting because of this supposed move. The journalist here, Henry Samuel quotes - or more correctly misquotes Francis's "Who Am I To Judge" remark, and wondered what has happened.

Well, actually, nothing has happened. You see, if the media had reported that remark as it was made and not according to their own agenda they would not be confused now. Francis said that if a gay person was living a good life, following the Gospel and nurturing a relationship with God, then who was he to judge them. And that is orthodox, old fashioned Catholic teaching. If someone adheres to the moral law laid down by Christ, regardless of their sexuality, living it and seeking holiness, then there is no issue. The Church does not condemn a person for their sexuality, but rather counsels us all to use our sexuality in accordance with the moral law (though it may be more difficult for some than others - sacramental grace is there to help those who have a hard struggle) . 

This is what Francis meant, but it is not what the media reported. It reminds me of the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, a story usually half-told. Jesus does not condemn the woman - he will not kill her for her sin because he is the one who will die for it. However before he lets her go he says, "Go, and sin no more"; this last bit is usually omitted and then leads to the error, propagated by some, that Jesus does not judge our sins.

As for this story, there are lots of unknowns, so caution.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Man Of Mercy And Truth

I have to draw your attention to this article by Dame Joanna Bogle concerning Cardinal Jean Danielou. The Cardinal, a saintly man, was one of the architects of the Second Vatican Council. He was a member of the Ressourcement movement - those theologians, including Joseph Ratzinger, who wanted the Church to go back to her theological roots - the Church Fathers, in her process of reform; a process  which is part of what we now call the hermeneutic of continuity. Cardinal Danielou was a Jesuit, but found himself at odds with the way the Jesuits were going following the Council.  He spent the last years of his life having to defend the Council from those who misinterpreted it while defending religious life. When he stood faithfully by Blessed Paul VI following the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, this great theologian was ostracized and shared in the Pope's suffering - for this reason Blessed Paul made him a cardinal.

The good cardinal died suddenly when he was out on a mission of mercy - bringing alms to a woman who in desperation had turned to prostitution. The cardinal brought money so she would not have to sell her body for an income. He collapsed and died in her arms. For years rumours circulated that he was availing of her services, and though the truth was known, the circumstances of his death were easily investigated, it was hidden and so the rumours gained the presumption of truth and the reputation of a holy man was destroyed. 

I agree with Dame Joanna, I think the Cause of this great theologian should be opened. He was a man who was not just a great mind, but a great soul, a man of charity who was well known to reach out to the poor, a man of mercy and a man who endured the suffering of the cross for the sake of truth.

Here is another excellent article from Crisis Magazine, on the Cardinal, his life and his death.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Easter Mission

Homily for Easter Sunday

The Holy Face of Jesus IV: His Face In Us

The shock of the empty tomb was devastating for Mary Magdalen; it was salt in the wound already opened by the agony of the last few days. She witnessed Jesus' horrific suffering, saw him die on the cross, she had tried to comfort his mother as she held her son’s dead body in her arms. And then there was the loneliness of the burial rites, the hesitancy to leave the tomb because when she did she knew it was now definitely all over: he was gone. Now his body had been further defiled, stolen: "where have they put him?" She was desolate, empty and distraught; and yet, ironically, in reality this was a moment of victory and triumph. 

Mary Magdalen’s encounter with the Risen Jesus would exorcise this desolation – a desolation which was necessary, I believe, to prepare her heart for the new joy which was to come, and the mission the Lord had prepared for her. When she looked on the Face of her beloved Rabboni her anxiety evaporated and her faith was restored, renewed – transformed and deepened. She was a new woman: reborn, we might say, through the gaze of her resurrected Lord. Though she would want to stay and cling to him, Jesus immediately sends her out to the disciples to announce the resurrection. She will go before him like a new John the Baptist. This pattern will be repeated with the other disciples too: they will come to life again when they see the Risen Lord and he will send them out to the world to proclaim the Gospel and the Resurrection.

Many of the Church Fathers teach an astounding truth: God became man so man could become God – Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus, and we see the proof of this in the Resurrection. But this truth is not one which will only come to pass in the next life, it is to begin here and now in this world. When we look on the Face of Jesus, now glorified in the Resurrection, we not only see our destiny in heaven, but also our task on earth – we are to become the face of Jesus Christ in the world so in us the people of the world may come to see his Face, hear his voice through us, come to believe in him through the humble service we are called to carry out. As the disciples were sent out to proclaim Christ and the resurrection, so are we, and all of us are to bear the features of Christ himself.  Jesus said to St Philip: “To see me is to see the Father”, now it must be said that to see the disciples of Christ is also to see Christ who is living and working in them.  This was the intention of God from the beginning when he created man and woman in his own image and likeness; it was intended in the Incarnation when God became one of us to reveal himself to world through human flesh. And now we are the flesh which cooperates with God to reveal the Saviour and his message for all humankind. We are to be the Veronicas - the true icons of Christ in the world.

Our Easter joy emerges from the rising of Our Lord from the dead – death is conquered; it is the joy of the disciples gazing now and forever on the Face of their beloved Master; but it is also the joy of being sent out as his missionaries, transformed by him into images of him to win souls for him.  The veil has been lifted; the veil of our shadowy humanity has been torn down, from top of bottom, by Christ himself, and now he intends to shine through us so he can touch the lives and hearts of those who still live in the shadow of death. Gazing on the glorious Face of the Risen Jesus we are made to realise that we are to become like him, made into authentic images of him, not just for ourselves, but for the sake of the world.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

His Glorious Face

Holy Face of Jesus Icon by Anna Chapin OCDS

For what it's worth. It's been a long weekend, I hope this makes sense.

Homily for the Easter Vigil 2015

The Holy Face of Jesus III: His Glorious Face

One of the most intriguing things about the accounts of the Lord’s resurrection is that some of the disciples did not recognize him. He stood in their midst but they thought he was someone else, a stranger. They knew what he looked like, they knew his particular features, they had often read his Face to understand what was going on in his heart and too often they failed to read as deeply as they wanted – the Heart of Christ was an unfathomable mystery, but his gentle Face was familiar and expressive. 

But in the resurrection accounts the Face of Jesus is itself for some, at first, an unfathomable mystery. And indeed it is, for now his Face reveals the glory of his divinity and the effects of the resurrection on his humanity. The Face of Jesus is transformed because he has been transformed. His disciples do not recognize him yet because they have not yet understood the resurrection; they still do not understand who he really is. It is when he calls them by name, or breaks bread in their midst, when he draws them to himself again, that their eyes are opened and they know him. Some like John, though, can recognize him from the distance.

The resurrection of the Lord is an unfathomable mystery, but to those with faith, who have entrusted themselves to Christ, it is the vision of his Face which leads them to understand and to plumb the depths of this mystery. It is through Christ that we not only come to understand the resurrection, but that through him we will come to share in it. In contemplating the Face of the Risen Jesus we come face to face with the reality of our redemption and our proposed transformation (I say proposed because God always leaves it up to us to accept it or reject it).

The human Face of Jesus, glorified in the resurrection, tells us that this event is no myth, it is real, it is physical, no mere spiritual phenomenon.  Gazing upon the Face of the Risen Jesus we look on the reality of God, on his work in the universe, on his presence among us and his plan for the human race; as St Paul reminds us in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “the glory of God is seen in the Face of Jesus Christ”.  Gazing on the Face of the Risen Jesus we see the full thrust of the Incarnation, a mystery that stretches from all eternity in the heart and will of God, enters time and gathers us up to the Cross and the empty tomb to the throne of the Eternal One. Contemplating the Face of the Risen Jesus we look right into the mysteries of God, into his life and we see what he has prepared for those who love him. 

In Face of the Risen Jesus we also see what our humanity really is, what it was meant to be and what it can be again thanks to Christ’s sacrifice. In his Holy Face we now see our future, our eternal life, a restored humanity. Perhaps one of the reasons many did not recognize the Risen Lord, and why many today do not know him, is because they do not know what humanity is, what God intended it to be. We misunderstand our existence, its purpose and its eternal destiny – we underrate it. When we encounter the fullness of humanity, which we see in Christ, we do not know how to cope with it because it challenges us, turns our lives upside down, we realise that we might have got it wrong. The Risen Christ tells us not to be afraid – we can get right and he is the one who can help us – he has already laid the groundwork for our transformation. When he appears before us in glory he invites us to embrace him and his work for a renewed humanity. So when we gaze on the Holy Face of the Risen Christ we are to see him in all his glory, but also see ourselves renewed and sharing in that glory. 

There are some who see that instinctively, like John who immediately saw and believed, who recognized Jesus from the distance; and then there are others who will struggle but in the process lay up a crown for their determination to surrender to Christ. Tonight we are to see that the veil has been lifted once again, the Face of Christ is revealed to this and we are now called to enter into that holy place where Christ is so we are changed and our world is changed. This holy night is a night of light, of mystical encounter, of praise and joy, because the glorious vision of the Risen Lord is offered to us, let us open our hearts and our lives to it. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

His Suffering Face

"You've started, so you can finish". Following last night's post, I'm told I have to continue. Here is the text of my homily at the Liturgy this afternoon, today we reflected on the Suffering Face of Jesus which is preserved in the Holy Shroud, but also on St Veronica's veil.

Homily for Good Friday 2015

The Holy Face of Jesus II: The Suffering Face

In his meditation on the Holy Shroud of Turin, during his Apostolic Visit to Turin in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI described the relic as an icon, and on this icon is preserved the image of the sufferings of Jesus, the wounds, the marks of his passion, that passion which we enter into today.  Contemplating the Shroud the full extent of the brutality meted out on the Lord becomes all too clear and it is hard not to become emotional as you count every wound (as if that was possible) and realise what each blood stain signifies. In this blood, his blood, the Lord reveals his image, and much more. Before being elected Pope, the then Cardinal Ratzinger elaborates on this in a paper delivered to a conference in Rimini in 2002; he wrote “He Who is Beauty Itself has let His Face be hit, has let Himself be spat upon and crowned with thorns. The Holy Shroud of Turin can let us imagine all that in a touching way. But in such a disfigured Face authentic, extreme Beauty appears: the beauty of the love which lasts "unto the end' and.....reveals itself as stronger than falsehood and violence”.

Today we can all become Veronica: today the suffering Face of Jesus is presented to us, a Face transfigured by pain, bearing the full burden not only of human affliction and suffering, but the greater burden of the sins of the entire world. Revealed on this Face is not just the suffering of man, but also the suffering of God. The Face of Jesus is covered in his blood, and with this blood he will imprint the image of his Face first on the towel of St Veronica as he makes his way up to Golgotha, and then, later, on the Shroud as he rests in death, the ordeal finally over: the Face of the Lamb of God sacrificed for us. We are to understand that if we wish to come to the vision of the Face of Christ, the vision of the Face of God, we must first enter into his passion and death. We are redeemed by that suffering, by that eternal oblation, so it is fitting that the only authentic image of Christ should be preserved on the cloths recording his passion, cloths that themselves were used to console: Veronica’s veil, lovingly offered to provide some comfort, some relief - to wipe away the blood, sweat and sand; the Shroud in which he was tenderly wrapped, as in swaddling clothes, to lay his body in the tomb.

This image of the suffering Face of Jesus is an icon in another way too: it is an icon of love, of the love of God. Here, reflected on the Lord’s suffering Face is the extent of how far God was prepared to go to save us – to offer his only Son as expiation for sin. There is no greater love, Jesus tells us, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend; Jesus laid his down for those who consider themselves his enemies: there is true love. The suffering Face of Jesus which we see imprinted on the Shroud is an invitation for us to draw close to him who was raised up for us to be reconciled. 

The veil is pulled across for us again today so in the Face of Jesus we can see God’s love, so we can be transformed by that image, touched to the heart, become repentant and be received back into the fold.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

His Eucharistic Face

Maundy Thursday is the day of the Eucharist and the day of the Priesthood. At our Mass this evening I preached on the Eucharistic Face of Jesus - I'm taking the Holy Face as the theme of my Triduum homilies. I was asked to put the homily on my blog, I usually don't, but I agreed. So here is the text of my reflections this evening; it might be of use to some of you.

Homily for Maundy Thursday 2015

The Holy Face of Jesus I: The Eucharistic Face of Jesus

In a few weeks’ time the famous Shroud of Turin will be exposed in an Extraordinary Solemn Exposition to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of St John Bosco. Millions will come from around the world to see it. It is a relic that has captured the attention of generations and for many it is intriguing not only because of its age, the seemingly miraculous nature of its composition as an image, but also because it may well reveal the very Face of Jesus himself. It is a relic associated with these days of the Triduum because in it we are confronted us with the reality of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection. Over these days of the Triduum, in my homilies, I would like to take as our focus the Holy Face of Jesus not only to help us enter these days, and the forthcoming Exposition of the Shroud, but also to help us grow in our relationship with the Lord who became man so we could look upon him and be fulfilled in that desire to see the Face of God.

In his last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the Church and the Eucharist, Pope St John Paul II speaks of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. This last encyclical, written for Holy Thursday 2003, was prompted by his visit to the Upper Room in Jerusalem in 2000, to the place where the first Mass, the Last Supper, was celebrated. He says in the letter, “I cannot let this Holy Thursday 2003 pass without halting before the “Eucharistic face” of Christ and pointing out with new force to the Church the centrality of the Eucharist”. Tonight as we celebrate that first Mass and ponder the mysteries of the Passion, death and resurrection of the Lord we too must halt before his Eucharistic Face to contemplate, to pray and to enter more deeply into his life, for there we find our own lives. On this Holy Night, we also recognize the centrality of the Eucharist, its venerable nature, and also understand that in it the Face of Jesus Christ is revealed. 

Why did Jesus give us the Eucharist? As a memorial, as he says himself: but as a memorial of what?  A memorial of his suffering, death and resurrection. The Last Supper was to be understood in the context of the Passover – it was a Seder meal, but of a new Passover, the Passover which would take place the next day when the Lamb of God, Jesus himself would be sacrificed for the people, when his blood would be daubed on wood and the angel of the Lord would pass over the sinful nations and gather the blood of Christ as the expiation for our sins. The Eucharist is that sacrifice which continues in the Church to this day each time Holy Mass is offered. Each time we gather for Mass, we enter that sacrifice and its fruits are given to us to eat, its graces are poured over us. The Church is nourished by the Eucharist, she truly becomes the Church in the Eucharist.

The Eucharistic banquet is one in which we are fed by his own body and blood, with his own life to give us life, with his grace so we can live as his people. The sacramental grace we receive in the Eucharist is one which nourishes our souls and makes us strong, strong to live the Gospel, to excel, to become heroic in the practice of virtue, to face the challenges, trials and sufferings of life. The heart that is open to this will derive great benefit, many blessings and divine strength from the Eucharist. They will no longer complain about not being able to live the Gospel, meet its standards, but like any athlete will rise to the challenge and triumph.

In the Eucharist Jesus also fulfills his promise to stay with us even to the end of time. Present in our tabernacles, he is here for us, he calls out to us, invites us in to is company, and in his company we will never be alone.

And then in the Eucharist we receive the vision of the Face of Jesus. In faith, when we gaze on the Host, but even better still when we receive him in Holy Communion, we are allowed to see his Face – not with the eyes of the body, but with the eyes of the soul. To the soul that is open, living the way of the Lord, to the humble soul that Face is revealed. In his life many saw Jesus, they saw his Face, but to them he was just another man, indeed a man they came to hate. But his disciples, those who believed in him, they looked on his Face and saw the face of God. As Jesus himself said to St Philip: “to see me is to see the Father”. Likewise to some the Eucharistic is just bread, taken, eaten, forgotten. But to those who believe – who know the truth, it is the Lord, and when he enters in Holy Communion, they are filled with his presence, and their souls can see his Face, they contemplate his features, they look upon him as he looks upon them. 

The Holy Face of Jesus is revealed in the Eucharist and he intended this: that those who worship him in that holy sacrament may rejoice in this vision that is waiting for them. In giving us the Eucharist, Jesus offers us that vision and it is only the blindness our hearts impose on our souls that prevents us from seeing him. This vision is offered to console us, to strengthen us, and like the lovers who gaze into each other’s eyes we are to do the same – to look on him and fall deeply in love with him. Our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist is to be the meeting of lovers, where we ponder the beauty of his Face, the majesty of his body offered for us, the glory of his divinity. 

On this Holy Thursday we enter into the events of that night when Jesus offered the Last Supper, suffering the agony in the garden, was betrayed and arrested and taken from his disciples to begin his passion. Some, and I hope, many of you will spend time at the Altar of Repose tonight and there, I also hope, you will seek to contemplate his Holy Face as you meditate on these events. Jesus himself said to one of his visionaries, Blessed Maria Pierina de Micheli “He who contemplates me, consoles me” – your contemplation of his Holy Face tonight will console the Lord in his agony. But as you receive him in Holy Communion tonight, remember that kiss – the kiss of Judas planted on the Lord’s face, the ultimate symbol of betrayal. In your Communion, in your contemplation, kiss him too, but let your kiss be one of veneration and adoration, to console rather than betray, and make that kiss a sign of your determination to love him more, as we all should.

Tonight, the veil is lifted, the Eucharistic Face of Jesus is revealed, come us let us worship, let us gaze on him and console him.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Judas: Betrayer and Betrayed

Spy Wednesday. Judas betrays Jesus. Pope Benedict has an interesting insight to offer us on this: 
This Judas is neither a master of evil nor the figure of a demoniacal power of darkness but rather a sycophant who bows down before the anonymous power of changing moods and current fashion. But it is precisely this anonymous power that crucified Jesus, for it was anonymous voices that cried "Away with him! Crucify him!"
That should hit home for all of us, especially when we are inclined to modify our lives, our beliefs and even our Church to the passing winds of fashion and opinion. Judas sold Jesus out because he did not conform to the political and societal mores of the time. Judas wanted to be popular, contemporary, respected by the secular powers, and of course wealthy, and he had to betray his God to be so. But in the end these powers betrayed him, they moved on and he ended up hanging from a tree with his innards falling out - gutted by the jealous self-obsession of this anonymous power that governs the world.

A timely warning for us, one I hope we heed as we approach the Synod in October.

UPDATE: I see Fr Ray Blake has an interesting blog post related to this issue.