Tag Archives: sinner

25 February: Judgement I

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Saint Francis was very conscious of himself as a sinner: perhaps I should be more so. The trouble is that dwelling on personal sinfulness can be crippling: ‘I’ll never get out of this mess!’ Of course, on my own, I won’t. So who can get me out of the mess?

Canterbury’s Father Daniel Weatherley challenges us to ponder the last times in preparation for our death and resurrection, when the secrets of hearts will be laid bare. He offers us three steps on our journey through Lent.

The Cosmic Courtroom is a truly awesome scene. When Jesus comes in glory every single one of us – and everyone who has already passed through the first death – will stand before Him as one great sea of humanity. Each one willed into being by God, each one loved totally and uniquely by Him. But this is a courtroom with a difference. Not only are there no attorneys, no advocates, but there is no trial! The verdict upon each has already been decided. The proceedings consist only of the sentencing. And the pronouncement, comes as a surprise for everyone: whether it be punishment or paradise. Only then is the summing-up offered.

There are, however, witnesses. Firstly, each of us will witness the judgement of each other, as our hidden motives and acts of love (or otherwise) are laid bare. And then there is the vast array of angels, all of whom made their decision to serve, to love (or not), in the first instant of their creation. Since that moment those angels who rejected God have persistently laboured to tempt men and women to do the same – usually so subtly that it goes unnoticed. And then there are the holy angels – thankfully in the majority – who have spent their existence urging us on to lives of perfect love and selfless service, to conform ourselves to Jesus Christ. And at the same moment each of us will behold that angel which has been given to us alone as our guardian.

Jesus’ own account of how this scene will unfold is, in Matthew’s Gospel, magnificently constructed. The Lord’s authority is depicted in a rapid succession of 6 action verbs: He comes; He sits; He separates, He sets on His right and left; He speaks out and declares blessed; He commands to approach and inherit. And then comes the stunning revelation: 6 conditions of wretchedness in which He has been anonymously present with us all the time, just as He promised: hungry; thirsty; stranger; naked; sick; in prison.

 

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24 February: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XIII: A sense of humour helps 2.

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Hearing this Saint Francis, all overjoyed in spirit, lifting up his face unto heaven, stood for a great while with his mind uplifted in God; anon returning to himself again, he knelt him down and rendered thanks and praises unto God: and then with great fervour of spirit turned him to Brother Masseo and said: “Wilt thou know why after me? wilt thou know why after me? wilt thou know why after me? that the whole world doth run? This cometh unto me from the eyes of the most high God, which behold at all time the evil and the good: for those most holy eyes have seen among sinners none more vile, none more lacking, no greater sinner than am I: wherefore to do this marvellous work the which He purposeth to do, He hath not found upon the earth a creature more vile, and therefore hath He chosen me to confound the nobleness and the greatness and the strength and the beauty and wisdom of the world: to
the intent that men may know that all virtue and all goodness come from Him, and not from the creature, and that no man may glory in himself; but whoso will glory, may glory in the Lord, unto whom is honour and glory for ever. and ever.”

Then Brother Masseo, at so humble a reply uttered with so great fervour, was afraid, and knew of a surety that Saint Francis was rooted and grounded in humility.

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Autumn Evening Lectures at FISC: “What is theology saying?”

austinFr Austin McCormack will be speaking on Thursday evenings this term. I recommend these lectures to any Christian, including those from Reformation traditions who may wonder what we Catholics are all about. Please feel free to come to as many of these lectures as interest you.
Start time 19.00. You are asked to make a donation to cover expenses.
WT.
The subject of the course is:

“What is theology saying?”

7. 24/11: What about Original Sin?
8. 01/12: What morality did Jesus teach?
9. 08/12: Should we renounce the world or change it?
10. 15/12: Is there salvation in other religions?

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August 4: The Psalms as Personal Prayer V.

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Statue of the Visitation at Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Israel by Deror avi see: Visitation Church

On the opposite end of the scale to the angry psalms perhaps, are psalms which may express states which we feel unworthy of calling our own: states of innocence, maybe.  Or holiness.  The New Testament Canticle, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), might fall into this category.  It’s not actually a psalm, strictly speaking – but we pray it every night at Vespers, so I think it deserves a mention.

We might think, ‘How can I, a twit and sinner, pray the Magnificat.  How can I say, “henceforth all ages will call me blessed”, for example.  But, once again, the Divine Office is not just about me.  St. Augustine says about psalmody that sometimes we pray in the voice of Christ our head, sometimes we pray in the voice of his members.  Here, we pray in Our Lady’s voice, and in our way, we allow her words to continue to resound in the Church.  Imagine the impoverishment to the Church if, out of a misguided humility, the Church had no tradition of praying the Magnificat!  In the Magnificat, we are recalling – re-presenting – the astounding fact of Our Lady’s immaculate heart.  She knew that it was all God’s gift – and says so in the canticle.  When we pray it, we pray in hope that we might receive a like gift of purity of heart.

Admittedly, the Magnificat is one of those prayers that are too big for us, and maybe we feel like the child trying to walk about in its parent’s shoes when we pray it.  We need to “grow into” it.  But, people, by God’s grace, do grow into it.  It’s not a futile hope.  He does give the gift of holiness.  Saints are real people.  I was just reading about the recent martyrdom of a group of Missionaries of Charity and their volunteer helpers in Yemen.  I suspect they felt themselves to be pretty ordinary people.  Yet, the gift of holiness was given, and they gave the ultimate gift of their lives to murderers who shot them because they were Christians.  Now all ages will call them blessed.

SJC

Follow this link to read about the martyred sisters: Missionary Sistersof Charity in Yemen

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9 June, Year of Mercy: Written in our Hearts.

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St Stephen the Deacon, appointed to deliver  Christian Mercy, carries a basket of bread. Church of St Stephen, Hackington, Canterbury.

mercylogoAll the major religions – enjoying many differences – come together in accepting the Golden Rule: do not do to another what you would not want done to you. Expressed positively – do everything to others that we would relish being done to us [find the negative formulation in the Old Testament and the positive in the New]. Augustine maintains that God wrote this rule on human hearts – it is the embodiment of the Natural Law.

However, in everyday expression religions are not only ambivalent, they are also contradictory; yet do possess things in common. According to the basic tenets of religions the connection of religion with violence represents a misunderstanding of real religion. Kant calls the Golden Rule trivial because it does not specify obligation. George Bernard Shaw observed: do not treat others as you would want them to treat you. Their taste may not be the same!

How does Jesus adopt the Golden Rule? See the Sermon on the Mount and its essential link with the love commandment – including love of enemies. Christian ethics links with a religious tradition that is open and common to all religions – yet cannot be reduced to a universal humanism, as if it were an acquired value. The fact is that compassion and mercy are inbuilt universal human values. Where compassion and mutual forgiveness are lost in favour of egoism and apathy towards fellow human beings gives rise to personal relations are confined to economic exchange. Whereas Christian mercy has shaped Western culture in a decisive way.

It is a common opinion that God in the Old Testament is a vengeful and angry God, while the God of the New Testament is gracious and merciful. There are Old Testament texts that support this – which speak of killing and expulsion of paganism, including some imprecations in the Psalms. However, this does not do justice to the gradual process by which the Old Testament view of God is transformed – ultimately both testaments witness to the same God.

In the Old Testament God’s mercy serves justice – mercy is God’s justice. In Scripture, the heart is not simply a human organ; it describes the core of the person, the seat of feelings as well as power and judgement.

Compassion is not regarded as weakness or as unworthy of a true hero. We are encouraged to show feelings and sadness, joy and grief – nor be ashamed of tears. Scripture speaks of God’s heart – God chooses according to his heart; his heart is said to be deeply troubled by the impact of sin on sinners. God leads with an upright heart. Hosea speaks of God’s heart recoiling, and God’s compassion grows warm and tender.

AMcC

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6 June, Year of Mercy: Not by Conflict but by Encounter!

Rood: Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge. MMB.

mercylogoWe need to be moved to look into the depths of conscience and listen to that word which says: Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation. Look upon your brother’s sorrow and do not add to it, stay your hand, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this achieved not by conflict but by encounter!

War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: “No more one against the other, no more, never! … War never again, never again war!” (Address to the United Nations, 1965). Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace for Syria, the Middle East, and the whole world!

The boundary set for evil is divine mercy – Jesus is mercy in person. To meet Christ is to meet mercy – who sees me sees the Father. Justice is never the foundation for mercy – simply love. Sadly, in the theological manuals mercy was relegated to a footnote – mercy is concerned with the justification of the sinner not the sin! Divine Mercy, of course, is the unconditional love of God seen from the point of view of the sinner. It is the fidelity of the love of God. This is the Good News of the Gospel.

First of all there is the Incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas. Though he was God he emptied himself, becoming like unto us in all things but sin. He became obedient to death on the cross as we see during Holy Week. John said, “Greater love than this no one has that he lay down his life for his friend.” Paul said that there is an even greater love and that is when we lay down our life not for our friend but for our enemy. And he reminds us that we were sinners when Jesus died for us. And there is an even greater love than this and that is that after having given his life for his enemy he offers it again in the Eucharist to be rejected and crucified again.

Jesus said that he came not for the just but for the sinner. He ate and drank with sinners. He forgave sins and delegated that same power to his apostles. He taught the parables of the lost coin, the Good Shepherd, and the prodigal son, all of which tell us that the Divine Mercy is not “the pardon of a judge, but the embrace of a lover.”

AMcC.

 

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5 June, Year of Mercy: Mercy is what God would be in all of us!

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Adam and Eve at Dryburgh Abbey ruins, Scotland. MMB.

mercylogoFor Pope John XXIII Christian meant the most beautiful way to own God as mercy. Opening Vatican II he said what our world needs is the medicine of mercy. John Paul II, who knew innocent suffering from personal experience in his homeland under Nazi Germany – living close-by Auschwitz – and through the assassination attempt on his life said, Justice alone is not sufficient.

The tragedy of World War II helped highlight mercy as the source of hope.

The Church must spread the fire of mercy to the whole world. Benedict XVI quoting his predecessor said: Easter’s secret is God’s mercy.

Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and between nations? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?

But then we wonder: Is this the world in which we are living? Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also “violence, division, disagreement, war”. This occurs when we, the summit of creation, stop contemplating beauty and goodness, and withdraw into selfishness. When we think only of ourselves, of our own interests and place ourselves in the centre, when we let ourselves be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when we put ourselves in God’s place, and all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict.

This is precisely what the passage in the Book of Genesis seeks to teach us in the story of the Fall: we enter into conflict with ourselves, realising we are naked and we hide because we are afraid (cf. Genesis 3: 10), afraid of God’s glance. The man accuses the woman, she who is flesh of his flesh (cf. v. 12); he breaks harmony with creation, he begins to raise his hand against his brother to kill him. Can we say that from harmony he passes to “disharmony”? No, there is no such thing as “disharmony”; there is either harmony or we fall into chaos, where there is violence, argument, conflict, fear…

It is exactly in this chaos that God asks: where is your brother? (Genesis 4:9). Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, we are our brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another! But when harmony is broken, a change occurs: the brother who is to be cared for and loved becomes an adversary to fight, to kill. What violence occurs at that moment, how many conflicts, how many wars have marked our history! We need only look at the suffering of so many brothers and sisters.

AMcC

 

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11 May, Wednesday: God’s Wonderful Railway?

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I wrote disparagingly of commuters the other day; at least those who deplored being on the train to work. Today, I was in that number, when the saints go snoozing in; even sitting on the floor I snoozed. But the train got me to the end of the line: ‘our last and final destination’ as a guard on the Manchester to London run likes to announce.

I was now awake enough to start composing this mea culpa in my head!

To paraphrase John Betjeman, the saviour of St Pancras station:

The old South-Eastern Railway shakes,

The old South-Eastern Railway spins –

The old South- Eastern Railway makes

Me very sorry for my sins.

(See his ‘Distant View of a Provincial Town’).

Sometimes in life we are carried along, all but willy-nilly, all but unaware of who is next to us, where we are going, of anything but our own fatigue, depression or pain. Though we may not acknowledge it, at such times other people make life possible: our families, the shop workers who are the last link in the food chain that begins in farms across the world; the driver and guard on the train.

Just as the Mancunian guard’s announcement can elicit a prayer that we will reach a last and final destination more humane and divine than London Euston, so we can give thanks for the food we eat and the many people who make that meal possible. Such prayers hardly need words or thought. I suggest that if we dig out a smile and a friendly word for the train guard or the checkout worker, we can hope that at journey’s end the Lord will not have to dig too deep for a smile and friendly word, even if we have snoozed half way to heaven, missing many delights and many opportunities as we go.

MMB.

*Betjeman was writing of a journey on the Great Western Railway, ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’ to Bristolians! The picture shows a GWR engine at work in the South East on the Kent & East Sussex Railway.

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March 6th The midpoint of Lent: the Incipience of the Kingdom

 

Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 33; 2Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15

Today’s Liturgy of the Word anticipates the Kingdom in the most immediate and embodied metaphor of all: that of eating. The Israelites eat their first meal of the produce of the Promised Land. And what a feast it is: unleavened bread and roasted corn; simple, flavoursome and nutritious (and as such, a rather apt metaphor for God). The psalm response calls us to Taste and see that the Lord is good! Paul speaks of our becoming the goodness of God. And Jesus responds to Pharisaic criticism of his eating with sinners by recounting the tale of the Prodigal Son, a ‘sinner’ whose conversion comes when in his hunger he envies the pigs the husks they eat, and whose homecoming is celebrated with a banquet. Just as spousal metaphors for union with God illuminate its interpersonal nature, so culinary metaphors illuminate its transfigurative dimension. We become what we eat. Sacramentally, we become the goodness of God by eating the goodness of God. But as the thirteenth century Dutch poet Hadewijch saw, where God is concerned, eating too is interpersonal: when we eat God, he eats us:

 

Each knows the other through and through

In the anguish or the repose or the madness of Love,

And eats his flesh and drinks his blood.

The heart of each devours the other’s heart,

One soul assaults the other and invades it completely,

As he who is Love itself showed us

When he gave us himself to eat,

Disconcerting all the thoughts of man.

MLT.

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Saturday 5th March: The Pharisee and the Publican

 

Picture Saturday wk 3

(Image from www.slideserve.com )

In our house, we used to have a poster of different people doing different things.  The caption read: “Thank you, Father, for making me”.  I often thank God for making me the person I am, with my gifts, my way of life, and my relationships but I also thank Him for helping me as I try to overcome my faults.  Today’s Gospel reminds me of this poster.  It is a picture of two men praying, but their attitudes are very different.  One, the Pharisee, is pleased with himself and just thanks God for making him who he is, while the other, the publican, is obviously not pleased with himself: he sees his faults and prays for mercy.

In praying, our relationship with God should be primary. We think of our relationships with people only when we intercede for them or think about how we can help them. The Pharisee – standing at the front – does not think of people in this way, but thanks God for his ability to keep the rules of the Law as to tithes and fasting, unlike others, namely, the publican.  Meanwhile, the publican, who loves God, and knows himself to be a sinner, stands at the back and humbly pleads for mercy.  This is a correct way to relate to God. The Pharisee does not seem to realise he needs mercy – he seems to think he has earned it by keeping the rules. He does not realise that the important thing is to love others, not despise them.

The Pharisee will feel nothing after praying, for he put nothing of his real self into his prayer, while the publican poured his repentance into his. This is why he goes home feeling “at rights” with God.  Note that Jesus spends time with publicans and sinners, while he accuses the Pharisees of being hypocrites.  As He says today through Hosea: “What I want is love, not sacrifice”.  It is the inner attitude that is important, not the outward ritual.

FMSL

 

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