Blasphemy – a grave sin against the love of God

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

See also the article in the Catechism: CCC 2142f.

* Pressure can come for example from peers or from bad habits. If we have laid down a habit of blaspheming over a long period of time while the first times we blasphemed might have been mortal sins, now because of the habit, the sin though grave is not a mortal sin. However recourse to the sacrament of penance is the best course of action after committing blasphemy.

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No other option if we take the evidence seriously

John 8:51-59

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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The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience

The angel announced that Mary was “full of grace.” This fullness of grace means that there was nothing in the way of Mary’s relationship with God; nothing contrary to her relationship with God. And not only was she without sin, but she was without concupiscence, that is, inclination to sin. Mary was preserved from original sin. Unique amongst humankind since Eve, Mary came into the world without the burden of the Fall. She knew true freedom. She was free from finding sin attractive; however, this does not take away her free will. Mary had the capacity to sin but unlike Eve (who was also free of original sin and lived in harmony with God) Mary chose to obey God rather than disobey.

St Irenaeus, of the second century, wrote:

The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.  (St Irenaeus of Lyons, Adv Haer 3,22,4)

To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary had to be the perfect door through which the perfect God could come into our imperfect world. Where Eve said, ‘No’, Mary said, ‘Yes’. Where Eve’s faith failed, Mary’s stood firm.

God’s purposes for Mary are also God’s purposes for all mankind. Mary shows us the summit of God’s success, for she is perfectly conformed to Christ by grace. She is the summit of God’s business of making Saints. She shows how high humanity can rise with grace.

Saints are made by love. Mary is the greatest saint because she was full of the most perfect love. She was full both of God’s love to Mary and Mary’s love to God. In Mary, God exalted a creature as much as any creature could be exalted. He gave to the “max” in Mary. And Mary gave to the “max” to God. She obeyed the first and greatest commandment, to love God with her whole heart, mind, soul and strength. She loved God simply and purely. God withheld nothing from her, and she withheld nothing from God: “Be it unto me according to thy Word.”

May her response to God be our response to God in the same fullness, simplicity, and purity. Amen.

Fr Ian

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Sin is to enclose ourselves in on ourselves

John 8:21-30

Our Lord says in our gospel today to the crowd following Him, “You will die in your sin.” (Jn 8:21,24) Sin is not just doing something bad. Sin is, also, to enclose ourselves in on ourselves – to be wrapped up with ourselves. Enclosed in on ourselves in our own petty problems and relying only on human wisdom, we refuse to open ourselves to the horizons of God. This leads to death. A life closed to God is no real life at all.

In Holy Scripture people are divided into two camps: those from above, who seek God’s ways, and those from below, who seek limited human goals. Sin is to refuse to allow oneself to be born again from above, as Jesus told Nicodemus (Jn 3:3). The Jews, Jesus was speaking to, did not believe in Jesus. Jesus’ life and Jesus’ message reflected a world of transcendent values and goods – values and goods beyond this world. This did not attract them. Speaking any more with those Jews who did not believe in Him would have been a waste of time. They were closed; they were locked in on their sin.

In this part of the Gospel Jesus gives witness to His own divinity by using the expression “I AM” seven times. This was how God designated Himself before Moses, and thus Jews called God “Yahweh”, that is, “He who IS”. Jesus claims for Himself “I AM” which is a claim that should not be applied to any creature. Jesus IS. But the fullest expression of who Jesus IS will be when He is “lifted up”, that is, in His Crucifixion, His Resurrection and in His Ascension.

Fr Ian

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Christ desires to forgive rather than condemn

When the woman caught in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus by the Pharisees and the Scribes, they were not seeking legal advice from Jesus, they were setting a trap. If Jesus authorised capital punishment then He could be reported to the Romans – the Jews were not permitted to administer capital punishment. If Jesus forbade the stoning, He could be discredited as a false messiah because He contradicted the Law of Moses, which made adultery a capital offence (Lev 20:10; Dt 22:22).

So Jesus’ response is a way of thwarting their trap: “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” He neither authorises the stoning, nor does He forbid it. The genius of His response is of course that He turns the tables on the Pharisees. They have now been trapped in their own snare. Although the Pharisees might well have regarded themselves as sinless (as Saul had done, see Phil 3:5-6) they knew that if they had condemned the woman to stoning the power of Rome would have fallen on them. So the Pharisees walk away because they are frightened, and thus they have been made to look like sinners, which they didn’t believe was true, but Jesus knew was true!

The Pharisees’ actions are a warning for those who are tempted to condemn others and bring the full weight of the consequences on that person. They also warn us that we need to be more sensitive to our own sin (which we can truly do something about) than other’s sin. The Lord is merciful and so must we be. However we must be under no illusion that adultery (and all the sexual sins that come under that heading) is a grave sin. Jesus does not condemn the woman, but neither does He condone her sin. She is forgiven rather than condemned. By the action of Christ, by grace, she is made ready to be able not to sin again, which is what Jesus exhorts her to do.

This mercy of Christ to desire forgiveness rather than condemnation is what He offers us all in the Sacrament of Penance. Our imagination tells us sometimes that confession is condemnation, but that is a lie. Our Lord is merciful and so the Church’s Sacrament dispenses Christ’s mercy to all of us who are sinners and who are repentant. Let us repent and receive that mercy as often as we can, that we may have the grace to sin no more.

Fr Ian

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This fundamental truth

John 7:1-2,10,25-30

Jesus said, “You know me, and know where I come from.” (Jn 7:28)

Amongst the Jews there were two traditions regarding the birth of the Messiah: that he would grow up in obscurity and be manifested to the world as an adult, or, that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem according to the prophecy in Micah (5:2). In fact the Messiah fulfilled both these expectations – His heavenly origin in the Holy Trinity is unknown to His hearers, and He was born in Bethlehem!

Who is Jesus? It is important for us to know the answer and from where He comes from. Unlike the founders of the world’s various religions (Mohammed, Buddha etc) Jesus offers us the unheard of gift of sharing in God’s very life. So, if Jesus does not come from God, of what value is the promise?

So we need to discover who Jesus is because it is through knowing Him that we come to salvation. And this is not just about learning by rote the church’s formulae of who Christ is (although that is a good start) but also internalising them and making them our own. We need to know the person of Jesus Christ in our hearts and minds.

This is why it can sometimes be better not to talk too much with someone who is beginning to come to faith. They need to find internally who Jesus is before they can develop and grow. We need to respect that inner journey. We need to pray for it to develop certainly, but too many words can be off-putting. What can be much more important is whether they see the truth of Jesus Christ in His followers!

So for each of us we need to ask deep within ourselves: who is Jesus for me? Does He come from the heavenly Father? Does He have the life of God to share with me? Do I respond to Him believing these things? What is holding me back from shaping my life based on this fundamental truth?

Fr Ian

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Blessed spouse

Standing with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords, and also the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Angels, St Joseph tends to fade into the background somewhat. And this is of course understandable and to an extent quite right. However on this his day we do well to consider this man.

We do not have too much information about him beyond what the gospels tell us. His lineage is that of the House of David, but he is a humble artisan. He is betrothed to the Virgin Mary, who like him is of a poor Nazareth family. He is a carpenter; a man of wood and tools. We are told he was an upright man. For Joseph to be espoused to Our Lady, we can assume that her parents must have regarded him as a suitable husband for their remarkable and highly virtuous daughter.

As the drama of the Incarnation unfolds in the Gospels (especially Matthew and Luke) St Joseph receives his vocation by an angel in a dream. Here we receive a clue that St Joseph was a man of faith and discernment. He knew the truth of the dream, and he acted upon it decisively. How remarkable was the message the angel gave him! Yet Joseph obeyed his Lord through the Angel. This obedience led him to accept his betrothed in marriage as the Mother of God. As a husband and as guardian of the divine child he protected them from the forces of evil. In Bethlehem he thwarted Herod’s plan to eradicate challenges to the throne of David by once again trusting the message of the Angel in a dream. He led his family to Egypt for a time and then home to Nazareth where he could return to his trade. In the hidden life of Jesus’ childhood (hidden except for the incident in Jerusalem) we can only surmise that the fatherly and manly example of Joseph would positively influence the human nature of the Christ-child. We presume that Joseph died some time after Jesus had reached 12 years old (for he was with them on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem) and before Jesus’ own death, for Christ places His mother into the care of St John on the cross.

St Joseph was a man chosen by God and set apart. It was under his guardianship and fatherly care that Jesus was introduced into the world. Yes we honour and are indebted to the Virgin Mother because through her came the Christ, but after her we owe special gratitude for Saint Joseph. Christ does not now of course deny Joseph that intimacy, reverence and honour He had shown His foster-father on earth.

St Joseph is not patron, I believe, to any particular matter in human life (like other saints) except that he is patron of the whole Church. As he was chosen by God as guardian to the Holy Family so St Joseph continues to be guardian of all the brothers and sisters of Christ by adoption. Let us call on his intercession for protection from all evil and for guidance to walk the right path. May all earthly fathers find in him a worthy and chaste example to follow. May all men find in him an example to follow of honour and virtue.

Fr Ian

 

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What is it like to be God the Son?

We are privileged to hear in today’s Gospel our Lord revealing something of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Our Lord is responding to opposition amongst the Jews to what He is saying about His own equality with the heavenly Father.

The accusation “making himself God’s equal” is an accusation of some sort of megalomania, or we might say, “mega delusions of grandeur”. But our Lord is keen to emphasise that His relationship with the Father is not that of a wayward son drunk with power, but a relationship of both complete unity and also hierarchy. In God the Trinity there is both perfect unity and equality, but also hierarchy. As with much of our understanding of the life of God in the Trinity it is tricky to get our heads around it. We tend to try to project our own experience on to God which always results in dodgy theology. We tend to think equality and hierarchy are opposite and we have to choose between the two. We see this for example in politics with communism/socialism and feminism essentially rejecting hierarchy as something intrinsically wrong.

Our Lord does not project human ideas onto God of course, but is revealing to us the way the relationship is. The Son does nothing independent of the Father but does the Father’s will. The Father loves the Son and reveals to the Son everything the Father does. Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to anyone He chooses. Judgement has been given to the Son by the Father. And so those that honour the Son, honour the Father. And those that refuse to honour the Son refuse honour to the Father. The Father is the source of life and has made the Son the source of life. And because the Son is incarnate, because He is both divine and human, the Father has made the Son judge. Though as judge the Son judges as the Father tells Him to!

The inner life of the Holy Trinity as revealed by God the Son is also our goal as Christians, for we are called to divine life which is heaven. And so because the Church on earth (Church militant) is those journeying towards this divine life, the Church is structured both with hierarchy and with equality of communion. But this is a necessary part of preparing for heaven. Of course the Church militant gets it wrong* and we can develop the Church structure to make it closer to the divine life (especially through greater holiness), but nevertheless we cannot restructure the Church in order to fit in with contemporary, human ideas.

The Father has made the Son our judge because the Son knows what it is to be human. Judgement is not to do with a fearful figure wagging his finger in our direction, but our deeds themselves judging us and showing to what extent we were willing to cooperate with the grace our Saviour brings us through His self-giving on the Cross. Judgement is truth.

So let us continue our Lenten journey in the secure knowledge of God the Son’s giving of Himself for our salvation, and that our work is to cooperate with all the grace He is pouring on us, grace that is life for us.

Fr Ian

* Our Lord warned the Apostles against “lording” it over others ; though they were high up in the hierarchy of the Church they were to consider themselves servants. And this has been echoed by our recent Popes, not least, Pope Francis. Authority and power are given not to “lord” it over others, but in order to be able to serve them, more specifically, to bring them grace and order. That does not mean the hierarchy is greater than the laity, nor that the work of the hierarchy is more important than the laity. This is where clericalism comes in – trying to make the laity like clerics is clericalism. But for the Church to function well the laity need to be the laity, served by the clergy.

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The Perseverance of the Paralytic

John 5:1-3,5-16

Thirty-eight years is a remarkably long time to wait for healing. St John Chrysostom comments that this perseverance of the paralytic should serve as an example to those who give in too easily when their prayers are not immediately answered. Despite his circumstances, and difficulty of entering the water in time, the man still has hope.

Thirty-eight years is also the time the Israelites sojourned in the desert after the rebellion at Kadesh, before they went through the waters of the Jordan into the Promised Land.

For many of the Fathers of the Church, this passage also alludes to baptism. At Bethesda the sick waited for the opportunity for bodily healing to take place whenever the waters were disturbed (they believed it was because of an angel), but water can heal the disease of the soul too. The waters of Baptism heal the soul and are much more abundant than the waters at this pool. In Baptism it is not an angel that descends but the Holy Spirit that descends to hover over the waters for the new creation. Jesus also later tells the man to make sure he sins no more. We do not know the sin of this man but it is clear his sins had been forgiven through the healing of Christ. In Baptism all our sins (both original and personal) are forgiven.

After waiting thirty-eight years the Israelites entered the Promised Land through the waters of the Jordan, it was not the end of their journey, but the beginning of a new phase in which they enjoyed the benefits of living in God’s Land that He promised, but also had to strive to live God’s ways obediently and with gratitude. The paralytic man healed by Jesus now began a new life striving to be free from sin. Though healed through Baptism, we still have work to do and must struggle not to sin again. The healed man was told to “arise”, “take up your bed” and “walk”. We too are bidden to not just remain where we are but to rise up with joy, to have mastery over our flesh and walk the way of the Cross that our Lord and Saviour has walked before us. And, oh yes, we are to strive to sin no more!

Fr Ian

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Petitioning the Almighty

Jesus returns to Galilee from Jerusalem and returns to Cana, the site of His first Sign (changing water into wine). Now a court official approaches him petitioning healing for his son who is dying.

Though the Lord God knows our need He desires we ask for help. Why? He desires that we reach out to him. He desires we establish, maintain and deepen a relationship with him. He desires us to know that we are not autonomous.

What is a good way to petition God for our needs? The first step of the prayer of petition is in fact a prayer asking for forgiveness. We need to make our hearts pure and our intentions righteous, before we ask for something. We need the prayer of the tax collector: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Lk 18:13) It is with a humble and trusting disposition that our prayers can be heard in the first place. This disposition is necessary both for preparation for Mass and for personal prayer.

Also our hearts need to be filled with hope – we need to be searching for God’s Kingdom to come. After a humble and contrite disposition we need to petition first for the Kingdom of God, asking for what is necessary to welcome it and what we need to cooperate with the coming Kingdom. By doing this we align ourselves with the whole mission of the Church, and unite our intentions with the apostolic community.

Then in humble trust and within the whole mission of the Church we make our particular petitions known to God. Every need we have can be brought to God. Both St James and St Paul exhort us to pray at all times and by this they mean for us to bring all our needs to God in prayer.

Finally we must remember that perseverance is often necessary in order to prove our trust. Like the persistent widow we often must ask over and over again.

When our prayer is pure and humble, when it is aligned within the apostolic mission of the Church, and when we are willing to persevere to show our trust in our Father’s care, God will answer our prayers as is most expedient for us.

Fr Ian

 

 

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