Christ with us

Today we hear (Lk 24:13-35) of the appearance of the risen Lord by some disciples on the road to Emmaus. We learn not only of this amazing encounter between the two disciples and the resurrected Jesus, but also at another level how it is a model of what the Church does for us.

The Church does for us what the risen Jesus did for the disciples on the road. First He walked with them. Secondly He gave the ‘interpretation of Scripture’. Thirdly He celebrated the Eucharist  (He took bread; He said a blessing; He broke it and gave it).

Through the Church our risen and ascended Lord walks with us. Our pilgrim journey as disciples is not a lonely one, but one in which we are accompanied by the Lord through His Church. The Church gives us the ‘interpretation of Scripture’, through the Church’s teaching authority (the magisterium). We do not need to wrestle alone with understanding the Scriptures but have the wisdom of all those who have been guided by the Holy Spirit to teach with authority. And, the Church celebrates and most truly is the Church when she celebrates the Eucharist.

We can come close to Jesus in the conversation of personal prayer and meditating on His words. We find Him present in our fraternal meetings, for when “two or three are gather in my name, there am I in your midst.” But our risen Lord makes Himself known to us in a wholly and qualitatively different way when we share the Bread of Life, His Body and His Blood.

Fr Ian

 

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Noli me tangere

“Do not cling to me,” are words that might seem quite harsh to those, like Mary Magdala, who love Jesus so much and were filled with intense grief, but at his risen appearance are asked to hold back. Jesus has not, all of a sudden, become like an Englishman, who prefers not to be so demonstrative with regard to affections! So what is happening here?

Well of course the Resurrection has occurred! And this is not just a resuscitation of Jesus’ body (like Lazarus being raised from the dead) but a wholly new way of being human. So of course the way in which people relate to the risen Christ is now different. Yes it will be a human way of relating but it will necessarily be a spiritual way and a deeper way. Eventually of course, after the Ascension, the risen Lord will not be seen until the end of time, but only seen through the sign of the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of the Eucharist. The disciples must relinquish the physical presence of Jesus with which they were so comfortable. From now on the disciples of Jesus must embrace Him in a secret and marvellous way through prayer and faith. Mary Magdalene here may well represent the contemplative spirit of the Church and thus shows us how we are to embrace the whole of Christ.

Fr Ian

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Joy at the resurrection

Both the joy and the import of the Resurrection are imbued in the words of St Peter as he preaches the first papal sermon in Jerusalem on Pentecost Sunday. Peter is of course filled with joy – who would not be? His Master and Saviour who had become a victim of the Jewish authorities and then a victim of the Roman authorities even to a brutal death, was not overcome by death, but had risen. For Peter personally, his sin against the Lord, of denying his Master three times, had been forgiven. This is the joy we have too when we confess grave sin and experience the release from bondage in the absolution. It is a joyful resurrection experience – we were dead to sin, now we are alive to Christ! St Peter had been dead to the grave sin of denying Christ – now he was alive to the risen Christ!

And his joyful message for the Jews listening to him is that this Resurrection joy, through the forgiveness of their sins, can be there’s too. And of course, St Peter is addressing all of us in our sin; we too can receive the forgiveness of sins and experience the joy of the Resurrection life.

We who experience the Resurrection in this way, making use of the sacrament of penance, also have a duty to share it with others. Not necessarily like St Peter preaching in the streets of course, but nevertheless the joy of the Resurrection is not to be kept to ourselves.

Let us pray this Easter, that all of us may have the courage to proclaim in one way or another the joy of the Resurrection with those who do not know it.

Amen.

Fr Ian

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Sacred Triduum 1: The Lord’s Supper

Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of The Sacred Paschal Triduum. These three solemn days celebrate the greatest mysteries of our redemption. The Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church gathers and with special celebrations keeps the memory of our Lord’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

On Maundy Thursday the Holy Church begins the Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. When our Lord was about to be handed over to death, He entrusted to His Church a sacrifice which was New for all eternity. This was the New Covenant in His blood; the banquet of His love.

The central act of Christian being is the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Everything we seek to do, seek to be, all the other Sacraments, all church ministries, and the works of the apostolate, are all bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented towards it. It is in the Holy Eucharist itself that is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, because it contains Christ Himself, our paschal lamb.

The most sacred Eucharist is both a giving and a receiving. In this great mystery of salvation God gives Himself to us, and, if we are in a state of grace*, we receive and consume Christ the paschal lamb, who sacrifices Himself for us on the Cross. Albeit in a lesser way, we also give; we give ourselves in worship and prayer to God, uniting our sufferings and trials with His on the Cross, and if we have done this worthily, He receives us into that communion in the divine Life by which the Church is kept in being.

By the Eucharistic celebration we unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy. We anticipate eternal life when God will be all in all.

So the Eucharist, the Mass, is the sum and summary of our Faith, our Christian life, and it is the most sacred and most mysterious act of the Church, in which we have the greatest privilege of participating in one way or another.

Thanks be to God for His most ineffable Gift.

Fr Ian

* If we are in a state of mortal sin (by committing a grave sin freely and with knowledge) then we cannot receive the Eucharist until we are reconciled to God by the Sacrament of Penance. If we receive the Eucharist unworthily we profane Christ and commit a further grave sin.

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The valuing of Jesus

Jesus had been anointed with the costly ointment, oil of nard, by Mary of Bethany*. When that had occurred some of the disciples, and in particular Judas Iscariot, had complained that this was an over the top gesture towards Jesus. The cost of such ointment was estimated at over 200 denarii – and we get an idea of how expensive that was if we realise that 1 denarius was the day’s wage for the average worker. So the ointment of nard cost the wages of a worker for 200 days. So Judas and some of the others rebuked Mary for “wasting” this on Jesus, suggesting that it be sold and the money given to the poor.

The generosity of Mary reveals how much she values Jesus. For her, no gift is too much for her Lord and Saviour. This is in complete contrast to Judas Iscariot who not only betrays Jesus but does so for money. He only values Jesus at thirty pieces of silver, which is the price of a slave (Ex 21:32).

What do we give our Lord? How generous are we? Or are we grudging in our gifts? Perhaps we think our Lord does not need our gift, and there are better uses for it? There is a world of difference between the giving of Mary and Judas. So how willing are we to give generously to our Lord? The Lord preserve us from giving a gift like Judas.

Fr Ian

* Although Matthew does not reveal who anoints Jesus and merely says “a woman” (Mt 6:7), in John’s gospel (Jn 12:1-8) we hear that it was Mary of Bethany who anointed Jesus, and it is primarily Judas Iscariot who objects.

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The darkness grows but love in weakness conquers

The darkness around Jesus grows as we hear today of the betrayal of Judas and the cowardice of Peter.

It is important for us to realise that Jesus is not powerless against the growing evil intentions around Him. He could, as He tells us later in the Gospel, summon legions of angels to defend Himself. It is important for us to realise that Jesus chooses not to summon legions of angels; He chooses not to use force, of any kind, to defend Himself against the various attacks that are coming His way.

This can seem strange to us. We think it an obvious thing to use one’s power to defend oneself and avoid evil. But of course that is to think of just one’s self. Jesus, on the other hand, is on a mission and it is not about saving His own skin; it is about saving mankind! His mission is to face evil, to face betrayal, to face the cowardice of friends, to face false accusations, to face an unjust sentence, to face scourging, to face immense violence, and to face even death itself not with fear but with perfect love. He seeks not to avoid these things but to conquer them with love.

The darkness that is growing around Jesus is not just the darkness of human sin, human fear and human folly but also the darkness of the kingdom of Satan. It is Satan’s kingdom that is growing around Jesus in order to do away with God! Satan seeks to destroy God and all His Kingdom. And the only way He can do this is to pervert the hearts of men in their sin. In Peter’s heart is fear and Satan uses this to make Peter into a coward – Peter is not strong enough to resist fear, and so Peter ends up denying this man whom Peter says He is prepared to go to death for. In Judas is a heart of duplicity: he hides from the others his malice and evil intent, and for whatever reason he is willing to sell his loyalty to the enemies of his Master – and thus in Judas’ heart is a place ready for Satan to dwell. Satan enters Judas. Darkness falls all around.

The dimensions of the love of God are shown precisely by Christ’s acceptance of His suffering at the hands of evil men. This love of God cannot ever be conquered because it is divine. But Satan cannot see this! Evil men cannot see this! Men filled with fear cannot see this! Can we?

Love, perfect love, becomes a victim of all the schemes of wicked men, and becomes a victim of the kingdom of Satan, but remains true, remains unsullied, remains bright. And thus love conquers fear, hate, evil intent, violence, mockery, suffering and death itself. It does it not by human power but by human weakness re-made into the power of God. This path of self-emptying love is the path we are called walk because by it we share in our Saviour’s victory.

Amen.

Fr Ian

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Palms and Passion

Palm Sunday at St Mary’s Abbey was beautiful and sunny at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Lord’s Entrance. The choir sang beautifully. After the blessing of palms and the procession, upon entering the Abbey church we sand “Ride on, ride on in majesty”.

Father Abbot gave the homily. The weeks of Lent, he said, were a time where we are assessed as followers of Christ. Our following of Christ is a real following/journey towards our mother Jerusalem on high. There God lives amongst human beings and there is no more weeping or mourning. In the procession of palms we do not reconstruct historical events, but celebrate the mystery of salvation. For we journey towards the Altar which is at once both place of sacrifice and throne; of joy and mourning mingled together. Our Christian faith faces the reality of the human condition: where people cry “Hosanna to the King of David” one day, and in the same week cry “Crucify Him!” How fickle our feelings especially in a crowd! Where the inner vision is blurred human feelings and desires can lead to inhumanity. The Saviour’s way leads through suffering by sacrificial love nailed on the cross. His way does not stop us weeping nor takes away our pain, but it alters our inner vision and thus gives meaning to our pain and our weeping, and allows Christ’s power to work in us – then we followers are adopted sons and daughters.

Thanks to Father Abbot Holy Week, or Hebdomada Sancta (hebdomada being the Latin word I learnt today!), began with inspiration for the whole of Christian discipleship caught up in the triumphant entry of Our Lord into His own city, that would crucify Him, but would be the place where His final victory is won and where He would rise from the tomb.

Following the Mass my family had a picnic in the grounds of the Abbey. What do young boys do on Palm Sunday at an Abbey after lunch? They disappear into the undergrowth of course!

The Abbey grounds were looking beautiful and some of the spring flowers were still out.

Every blessing to you this Hebdomada Sancta!

Fr Ian Hellyer

 

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Blasphemy!

Jesus was accused of blasphemy which was punishable by stoning. It was a serious crime then and it is for us today also a very grave sin. Sadly it is all too common for us to hear people uttering blasphemous words and sentiments in everyday speech; we need to be very careful indeed about our own speech with this regard because we can easily put ourselves out of a state of grace.

Because of its gravity and because it is so common, we need to be clear what the sin is and what to do if we commit it.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Ex 20:7; Dt 5:11

Blasphemy is a sin against the love of God and opposes the second commandment. It is any uttering against God. This uttering can be silent and within, as well as audible. And it does not affect the gravity of the sin whether others can hear it or not. Any words of hatred, reproach or defiance against God are blasphemy. It can be speaking ill of God. It can be failing to respect God in one’s speech. And of course blasphemy is misusing the name of God, not least in a curse.

Blasphemy also extends to language against Christ’s Church, against the Saints, and against sacred things or places. It is also blasphemous to use God’s name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce people to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death. Blasphemy is contrary to the respect and honour due God and His holy name.

Blasphemy is intrinsically a grave sin. Some sins are intrinsically grave, and this means that whatever the circumstances are, and whatever the motives for sinning are, it is an act which in and of itself is gravely sinful. We cannot talk our way out of it!

So blasphemy’s intrinsic gravity means that if we commit that sin knowing it is sinful and we were not pressurised into it, we have committed mortal sin. By this sin we have cut ourselves off from God, turned away from Him and destroyed charity in our heart. In the state of mortal sin we can only be brought back by a new initiative of God’s mercy – that is, through the sacrament of Penance. In the state of mortal sin we may not receive the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar without bringing condemnation on ourselves and committing sacrilege.

If we realise we are a blasphemer we need to repent as soon as possible and we need to get to confession regularly until we have driven the habit out of our system.

We live in a time and place where God and His Holy name is regularly profaned, but for those without faith there is ignorance to defend their action. For those of us with faith, we have no such defence. God’s Holy name is for salvation not for cursing – by profaning His holiness and His sacred name we curse no one but ourselves.

Fr Ian

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Scandal

Jesus scandalised the Pharisees by eating with tax collectors and sinners. He spoke against those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus scandalised them when He suggested that the mercy He showed to sinners was that of God’s own attitude to sinners; by sharing the table of sinners he was admitting them to the messianic banquet. Perhaps even more did He scandalise them by forgiving sins. Only God can forgive sins, so either Jesus was blaspheming or He was speaking the truth.

Only if Jesus is truly divine can He justify such claims that would otherwise be scandal and blasphemy. So all who listen to the Gospel must decide, is Jesus insane/wicked or is He divine – there is no other option if we take the evidence seriously.

Jesus’ divine identity was gradually revealed in what He said. When He said, “He who is not with me is against me”, this could only be taken seriously if Jesus was divine. Similarly when He said, “something greater than Jonah… greater than Solomon”, and something “greater than the Temple” was in Him. His reminder that David called his Messiah his Lord, was also revealing the Messiah as being divine. But then we come to the gospel of today (Jn 8:51-59) and Jesus then makes it quite plain: “Amen. Amen. I say unto you, before Abraham was, I AM.” “I AM” was the divine name revealed by God to Moses at the burning bush.

Thus the Sanhedrin had to make a stark choice: was this man the Messiah God, or was Jesus a blasphemer deserving death? They made their choice and Jesus became the victim.

We too must make this choice. We make this choice when we accept the Christian faith as our faith. But we must also make this choice in the moral decisions of daily life. When we choose to sin, we choose to go against the way of Christ, and we thus make Him out to be a liar. Sin is an anti-Christ action, and in that sin we are identifying with the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus. When we resist temptation, we affirm that Jesus is God the Saviour.

Fr Ian

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Enslaved

Many people today who have heard of Jesus think He is a good chap. “He did lots of good things for people, didn’t he?” they might say. Indeed our Lord did many good works. He healed the sick, He taught the ignorant, He forgave sinners, and He restored lepers. This much most people are willing to accept as evidence of a good man. (In acknowledging this much they are of course conveniently ignoring that He also raised the dead, He exorcised demons, He disturbed as well as comforted, He angered some people until they hated Him, and He also claimed to be divine!)

Christ’s good works were not done however because He was a nice chap. They were signs. His mission was not to eradicate earthly evils: hunger, injustice, illness and death. Jesus performed messianic signs. He came not to abolish all evils on earth, but to free men from the greatest slavery, sin, which thwarts them in their vocation as God’s sons and daughters. The slavery of sin is the root cause of all forms of human bondage (Jn 8:34-36).

We need as Christians to appreciate that there are two kingdoms. One kingdom is of injustice, hunger, illness, misery, bondage and death – this is the kingdom of Satan. The Good News is that there is another kingdom – the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is justice, generosity, health, blessed happiness, freedom and life eternal. The kingdom of Satan enslaves and it does so through sin. People cannot just merely choose not to do unjust things etc.; they are enslaved into thinking that some things are good when they are actually evil in God’s eyes. They are also enslaved by habits of thinking and habits of deed which cloud their vision and make it difficult to change.

So Jesus performed messianic signs pointing to another reality, but He called on people to repent, and He forgave sins. In some cases He performed exorcisms which freed some people from the domination of demonic powers.

It is therefore no good just battling against injustice, or hunger, or any particular evil, because if one does not go to the root of the problem they will continue to spring up over and over again. The battle we wage as Christians, in Christ’s name and in Christ’s power, is against the principalities and powers of the kingdom of Satan, and it is against sin. We Christians work most of all to free others from their enslavement to sin, and consequently their blindness to what is actually evil.

Fr Ian

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