Tag Archives: sin

28 November, 1st Sunday of Advent: The Innocent.

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Bro Stefan Anacatrinei OFM Conv  preached this homily at FISC on the First Sunday of Advent, 2015, so its readings are repeated this year. Stefan was always worth listening to!

Welcoming the Innocent into Our Hearts

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, we begin a new liturgical year.  Yet, as we can see from today’s Gospel, the beginning of a new year is very much connected with the end.  This is the reason why today’s Gospel text is full of warnings about the end of times and about being prepared and making ourselves ready. Actually, the first two weeks of Advent continue the theme of the last coming before speaking about the first coming.

Anyway, during this season of Advent we are all called upon, and exhorted by the Church, to prepare ourselves to commemorate worthily the coming of our Brother and Saviour. We are called to welcome the baby of Bethlehem into our lives with a clean, sincere and grateful heart. This will help us to remain in close contact with the Lord, and our present lives will be sanctified. God indeed cares for our welfare and He wants us to enter deeply into His mystery. The Advent season actually is indeed nothing else than a good opportunity to make ourselves ready to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.

How is this possible? I mean how can we prepare ourselves properly? What can we do to enjoy Christmas with a happy and sincere heart?

Simple. We have to purify our senses. We have to bring them back to their original state when they were not yet contaminated by sin. Like Adam and Eve, who before their fall were able to feel and to enjoy the presence of God with all their whole being – they could see Him, talk and listen to Him – we also will be able to enjoy the presence of Jesus fully and properly, if we dare to purify our sight, our hearing, touch, taste, smell and sight. I’m afraid that if we do not do this,  we will only be able to see the beautiful Christmas lights and ornaments, but not be able to glimpse of the real Jesus; we will be delighted to listen to the amazing Christmas carols, but not to hear the sweetness of the voice of Jesus in our heart; we might touch the precious gifts which we will give or receive, but never, ever touch the priceless gift of God, I mean the love of God made visible and palpable for us in his beloved Son, Jesus Christ; which, of course, we can already experience particularly in the Eucharist. He will want us to clothe his tender naked body with a pure, warm and loving heart, not a cold and indifferent worldly one. God is love and he wants us to love him. Christmas is a special time when you can say to Jesus; “I really love you” and he will say to you in your heart: ‘I love you more than you will ever know, but thank you for your love, it is very precious to me. Please keep loving me, and I will keep loving you.’

Can you imagine that someone could be foolish enough to miss such an important event, by ignoring the meaning and the task of this precious time, called the Advent season?

It is possible, but I hope that it will not be a member of this congregation, or a person who has discovered Jesus and the Good News that he brings to the world, but has since ignored it.

I’m sure that our presence here, in this chapel, is evidence that we are concerned about our preparation during Advent, and that we really want to welcome the Innocent with open arms and our whole heart. It is impossible for Jesus to cause any harm to anyone or anything, because that’s his nature. Jesus, the Son of God, who for our sake become man in Bethlehem. He is the Innocent par excellence.

But, even if the Innocent cannot harm, his presence is not always a pleasant experience for everyone; for example, think of King Herod, who was very disturbed simply by hearing of His existence and  so wanted to kill Him. We have to acknowledge, that those who are under the influence of sin cannot stand His presence, and think that to make themselves comfortable, they can and will destroy Him, but the Innocent is indestructible. It is true, the Innocent sometimes hurts me too, by showing the difference between what I am and what I should become. I feel, I see my vocation in his presence, I become aware that I can be a saint, although I’m not and I do not try very hard to become one.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we really want to avoid hurting ourselves, I mean feeling uncomfortable in presence of the Innocent, let us take advantage of this beautiful season for restoring our hearts and our senses, by bringing them back to their original innocence in order to be able to welcome the Innocent. The place to start is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we wash our souls in a new baptism, which will renew our thirst for God. We will then, during this beautiful and meaningful season of Advent, be able to wait for Jesus as his coming contains promise, love, preparation, prayer, new beginnings and fulfilment.

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13 November: Grief must be digested: I


While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.

From Life of Johnson, Volume 3 1776-1780″ by James Boswell.

It can be difficult to get alongside someone grieving. We want to take the pain away, but our attempts at comfort are rejected, quite possibly irritably. Johnson lost his wife young and never remarried; she had been the love of his life. Although he was a thoughtful, believing Christian, he was acutely aware of his own sinfulness, and had to make an effort to accept that God’s forgiveness was indeed extended to himself. He was melancholic and understood all too well how well-meant kind words can sound like hollow platitudes.

Waiting till grief is digested does not mean shunning a bereaved relative or friend, but something like a waiter in a restaurant: attentive waiting, not fussing. A hard role sometimes.

WT

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7 November: Rescue me from the captivity of sin.

O, GOD, giver and preserver of all life, 
by whose power I was created, and by whose providence I am sustained, 
look down upon me with tenderness and mercy; 
grant that I may not have been created to be finally destroyed; 
that I may not be preserved to add wickedness to wickedness. 

O, LORD, let me not sink into total depravity; 
look down upon me, and rescue me at last from the captivity of sin. 
Almighty and most merciful Father, 
who hast continued my life from year to year, 
grant that by longer life I may become less desirous of sinful pleasures, 
and more careful of eternal happiness. 
Let not my years be multiplied to increase my guilt; 
but as my age advances, let me become more pure in my thoughts, 
more regular in my desires, and more obedient to thy laws.

Forgive, O merciful LORD, whatever I have done contrary to thy laws. 
Give me such a sense of my wickedness as may produce true contrition and effectual repentance; 
so that when I shall be called into another state, 
I may be received among the sinners to whom sorrow and reformation have obtained pardon, 
for JESUS CHRIST'S sake. 
                                               Amen. 


From "Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784" by James Boswell

Boswell acknowledged Johnson as a most pious friend, who was by no means as wicked as the reader might imagine. Johnson was inclined to melancholy and to a deep sense of his own sinfulness, but any of us could make our own the last paragraph of this prayer.

Blake’s Jacob’s Ladder dates from some 20 years after Johnson’s prayer. May they both be received among the sinners who have obtained pardon.

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2 October, Season of Creation XXXIII, Laudato Si’ XVII: family and a secure life.

The Christian tradition has never recognised the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property. Saint John Paul II forcefully reaffirmed this teaching, stating that “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone”. These are strong words. He noted that “a type of development which did not respect and promote human rights – personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples – would not be really worthy of man”. He clearly explained that “the Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property, but she also teaches no less clearly that there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them”. Consequently, he maintained, “it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few”. This calls into serious question the unjust habits of a part of humanity.

94. The rich and the poor have equal dignity, for “the Lord is the maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2). “He himself made both small and great” (Wisdom 6:7), and “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Matthew 5:45). This has practical consequences, such as those pointed out by the bishops of Paraguay: “Every campesino has a natural right to possess a reasonable allotment of land where he can establish his home, work for subsistence of his family and a secure life. This right must be guaranteed so that its exercise is not illusory but real. That means that apart from the ownership of property, rural people must have access to means of technical education, credit, insurance, and markets”.

95. The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. That is why the New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “Thou shall not kill” means when “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive”.

There is a verse suppressed in modern editions of the Victorian hymn ‘All things bright and beautiful’, which runs:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

It was a struggle, led by the churches, to establish the right to universal education in Britain, a struggle they are still involved with elsewhere. ‘Instructing the Ignorant’ is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, which together with the Corporal Works of Mercy are long seen as a distillation of Christian living. Ignorance, that is lack of education, orders the lowly estate of many people.

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28 September, Season of Creation XXIX: Respecting the rhythms; Laudato Si’ XIII.

Ploughing in Sussex

Pope Francis describes how God and Creation, creation and humanity, and humanity and God are all intimately connected, and a breakdown in one relationship jeopardises the other two. We humans, of course, also undermine what should be loving relationships with each other. Is there one good person on God’s Earth?

70. In the story of Cain and Abel, we see how envy led Cain to commit the ultimate injustice against his brother, which in turn ruptured the relationship between Cain and God, and between Cain and the earth from which he was banished. This is seen clearly in the dramatic exchange between God and Cain. God asks: “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain answers that he does not know, and God persists: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground” (Genesis 4:9-11). Disregard for a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth. When all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible tells us that life itself is endangered. We see this in the story of Noah, where God threatens to do away with humanity because of its constant failure to fulfil the requirements of justice and peace: “I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them” (Genesis 6:13). These ancient stories, bear witness to a conviction which we today share, that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.

71. Although “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Genesis 6:5) and the Lord “was sorry that he had made man on the earth” (Genesis 6:6), nonetheless, through Noah, who remained innocent and just, God decided to open a path of salvation. In this way he gave humanity the chance of a new beginning. All it takes is one good person to restore hope! The biblical tradition clearly shows that this renewal entails recovering and respecting the rhythms inscribed in nature by the hand of the Creator. We see this, for example, in the law of the Sabbath. On the seventh day, God rested from all his work. He commanded Israel to set aside each seventh day as a day of rest, a Sabbath, (cf. Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 16:23; 20:10). Similarly, every seven years, a sabbatical year was set aside for Israel, a complete rest for the land (cf. Leviticus 25:1-4), when sowing was forbidden and one reaped only what was necessary to live on and to feed one’s household (cf. Leviticus 25:4-6). Finally, after seven weeks of years, which is to say forty-nine years, the Jubilee was celebrated as a year of general forgiveness and “liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (cf. Leviticus 25:10). This law came about as an attempt to ensure balance and fairness in their relationships with others and with the land on which they lived and worked. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after the harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner” (Leviticus 19:9-10).

72. The Psalms frequently exhort us to praise God the Creator, “who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (Psalm 136:6). They also invite other creatures to join us in this praise: “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created” (Psalm 148:3-5). We do not only exist by God’s mighty power; we also live with him and beside him. This is why we adore him.

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16 September, Laudato Si’ II, Creation XVII: we look for a change of humanity.

Monkey orchid, Kent.

After discussing statements on the environment and the misuse of Creation by popes over the last fifty years, Pope Francis continues by saying how scientists and other thinkers have contributed to church thinking.

7. Other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.

8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”. As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.

Bartholomew and Francis are close to Blake’s vision:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.

But Blake is not sentimentalising. He goes on to catalogue some sins against Creation, specifically cruelty against animals. If we saw a Heaven in a Wild Flower we would accept the world as a sacrament of communion, and not act in this way:

A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions.
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State. 
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
A Skylark wounded in the wing 
A Cherubim does cease to sing.
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright.

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence.

Lord open our eyes!

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And here is the link to Sister Johanna’s final reflection on the Psalms:

I am never alone when praying the psalms, and this is not just because I pray them in the liturgy and in community.  Many people pray the psalms privately, and they, too, are not alone.  This is because the psalms, you might say, “refashion” the heart of the person praying. 

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27 August: a token of respectability

On this day in 1773, James Boswell was conducting Dr Johnson around Scotland en route to the Western Isles. They have come as far as Nairn, some 20 miles East of Inverness, ‘a miserable place’, according to Boswell, but today ‘Scotland’s Highland playground’ according to the Tourist Board.

Here they came upon a Presbyterian response to a modern phenomenon: how to deal with scandalous behaviour among the Christian flock. Boswell and Johnson waited for hours while the minister, Mr Kenneth McAuley, was distributing tokens to parishioners.

Over to Boswell:

In Scotland, there is a great deal of preparation before administering the sacrament. The minister of the parish examines the people as to their fitness, and to those of whom he approves gives little pieces of tin, stamped with the name of the parish as tokens, which they must produce before receiving it. This is a species of priestly power, and sometimes may be abused. I remember a lawsuit brought by a person against his parish minister, for refusing him admission to that sacred ordinance.

(from Life of Johnson, Volume 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773) by James Boswell)

This does not sound like the ministry of Alistair Maclean!

One might ask, is the Sacrament, the Eucharist, a reward for good behaviour or food for the journey? Can we ever eat and drink worthily? Not by our own efforts! Does the grace of the Sacrament reach in to where we hardly know ourselves, but God knows? Did the use of tokens enhance or debase the Sacrament? Does denying it to anyone serve to bring the sinner to repentance, or lead to split or unity in the church?

Stamped tokens from post Great War Germany, when the currency was greatly debased due to inflation.

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8 June: A little longer.

In old age Johnson observed: I hope GOD will yet grant me a little longer life, and make me less unfit to appear before him.

Life of Johnson by James Boswell.

Amen to both these prayers!

When Johnson visited Skye in the late XVIII Century, the crossing from the mainland was by boat – rowing boat – the bridge would have been unimaginable. The rain, and the rainbow, were facts of everyday life. And still are.

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20 May: Environment Novena – Day VII

This is the seventh of nine days of prayer proposed by the Bishops of England & Wales and Scotland before Pentecost, placing before our creator the environment we – and all creatures – live in. The full post can be read here.

God entrusted the whole of creation to the man and woman, and only then – as we read – could he rest “from all his work” (Genesis 2:3).

Adam and Eve’s call to share in the unfolding of God’s plan of creation brought into play those abilities and gifts which distinguish the human being from all other creatures. At the same time, their call established a fixed relationship between mankind and the rest of creation. Made in the image and likeness of God, Adam and Eve were to have exercised their dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28) with wisdom and love.

Instead, they destroyed the existing harmony by deliberately going against the Creator’s plan, that is, by choosing to sin. This resulted not only in man’s alienation from himself, in death and fratricide, but also in the earth’s “rebellion” against him (cf. Genesis 3:17-19; 4:12).

Pope John Paul II, ‘Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all of creation.’
1 January 1990.

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22 April: A Prayer of Saint Anselm

Saint Anselm’s chapel, Canterbury

O Lord our God,
Grant us the grace to desire you with our whole heart;
that desiring, we may seek, and, seeking, find you;
and finding you, may love you;
and loving you, may hate those sins
from which you have redeemed us. Amen

Anselm is remembered by Anglicans and Catholics alike.

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