Sunday by Sunday
|Ross Crichton FAITH Magazine May-June 2008|
Fr Ross Crichton is Parish Administrator of the Isle of Benbecula, in the Western Isles
7th Sunday of Easter/(Ascension Sunday in England and Wales) 04.05.08
On Passion Sunday, we witness the disciples leaving the Upper Room and heading to the Mount of Olives where Jesus instructs them to keep watch and pray. Heavy with sleep, they are unable to fulfil Our Lord’s instructions. Today’s first reading sees the disciples heading in the opposite direction, from the Mount of Olives back to the Upper Room, where this time they join together in “continuous prayer” . The nine days which the disciples spent in prayer with Our Lady forms the basis of our modern-day practice of keeping a novena – nine days of prayer for a specific intention.
Following on from the Ascension, the ministry of the Incarnate Jesus passes into His Mystical Body. “I am not in the world any longer, but they are in the world” proclaims the Gospel. These nine days of prayer are the Church’s period of gestation before she is born at Pentecost. The Upper Room becomes the womb in which the members of Christ’s Mystical Body are knit together in prayer under the action of the Holy Spirit. The disciples are once again listed by name, along with the “Mother and brothers” of Jesus. Who is my mother and my brother and my sister? – those who do the Will of God; this becomes the defining characteristic of the family of God.
Just as the Mystical Body of Christ shares in the ministry of the Incarnate Jesus, so also must it share in His Passion. The First Letter of St. Peter and the Gospel remind us that God’s glory is revealed in the Passion of Christ. Christ’s Passion glorifies God because it reveals the extent to which Christ obeys the Father’s Will. It is on the Cross that God is revealed to human eyes, provoking the Centurion’s profession of faith in Christ’s Divinity. Christ glorifies God in His suffering, because He reveals to us the depths of Divine love.
Pentecost Sunday 11.05.08
The Mystical Body of Christ is brought to life by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the animating principle of that Body -the very soul of the Church. For all the differences of culture, language and background its members may display, the Church is bound together by the Holy Spirit; “In the One Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens...”Bound together by the Holy Spirit, the Church’s diversity becomes the very instrument of its mission. God uses each member of Christ’s Mystical Body to accomplish the Church’s mission.
As the psalm reminds us, the Spirit of the Lord renews the face of the earth. With the birth of the Church, a new era dawns upon the world. Just as the Spirit was present in Genesis at the Creation of the World, so also is He present at the birth of the Church. It is not by accident that St. John tells us in His Gospel that Christ came to His disciples on the “first day of the week”. The Word, through whom and for whom all things were created, breathes His Spirit upon the disciples on that symbolic first day of the New Creation.
Christ received the Holy Spirit at His Baptism - anointed for the ministry He was about to undertake. Likewise, He anoints His disciples with the Spirit before they continue that same ministry as members of His Mystical Body. Just as Christ forgave sins, so also does He charge His Church with that task. Scripture is quite clear that Sacramental Confession is the ordinary means by which our sins are forgiven, according to the will of Christ Himself. “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”
Trinity Sunday 18.05.08
The union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a communion of divine love. We have discovered that divine love does not simply exist in and for itself. His love overflows and bears fruit. God has established a communion of love with mankind through the Incarnation of Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not be lost, but may have eternal life.” The love of God has been poured into our own hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rm.5:5) and it is that love which binds the members of Christ’s Body together. Says St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, “Be united, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
The Mystery of the Trinity provides the model of our own Christian fellowship. Something of the nature of God is revealed to Moses in our reading from the book of Exodus. “Lord, Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.” This encounter with the living God moves Moses to imitate these qualities and thus he intercedes for the headstrong and rebellious Israelites showing forth the same tenderness and compassion found in God.
The Christian community is not called simply to imitate the characteristics of God as if by its own feeble efforts. Rather, the Church is called to become the very dwelling place of God so that it is God Himself who shines forth in the life of the Church and its members. As Father, Son and Spirit are bound together in love, so also the members of the Church are bound together by divine love. As the love of the Trinity overflows and bears fruit in us, so also must that love which marks the Christian faithful flow out beyond the bounds of the visible Church, bearing fruit in the world around us. In his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI quotes St. Augustine saying, “You see the Trinity when you see Charity.” (Deus Caritas Est.n.19).
Corpus Christi 25.05.08
On their journey through the desert to the Promised Land, God fed His people with bread from heaven. The very name that the Israelites give to that miraculous bread reveals their attitude towards God’s gift; Manna – which sounds like the Hebrew for “What is it?” They failed to recognise the great gift before them – a foretaste and prophecy of the true Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ.
Once again, in the Gospel of John, we encounter that same attitude: “The Jews started arguing with one another, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’ they said.” Once again, they fail to recognise the gift of God in Jesus Christ. Time and time again, even in our own age, people fail to recognise the gift of God that is before them, even under the humble forms of bread and wine. It is Christ Himself who is with us in the Eucharist! He who promised to be with us, “even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him”– Pope Benedict explains the effects of communion, “It is notthe Eucharistic food that is changed into us, but rather we who are mysteriously transformed by it. Christ nourishes us by uniting us to Himself.” (Sacramentum Caritatis 70)
A central element in the Eucharist is the act of anamnesis – recalling or remembering. Moses’ discourse in the first reading contains the imperatives, “Remember...!” and “Do not forget...!” But that remembering is not simply a calling to mind of a past event. The act of anamnesis implies that each generation enters anew into the mystery of redemption and lives it as its own. At each Mass, Christ is truly present to us in the Sacrament of the Altar; but we too, by our ‘remembering’ are made present at Calvary where we partake of the Bread of Heaven, the Lamb of God, who liberates us from our slavery to sin and feeds us on our pilgrim way to our true homeland in heaven. ‘Behold the Bread of Angels, sent for pilgrims in their banishment’ (Sequence).
Ninth Sunday (A) 01.06.08~
Our religion must be deeply rooted in the heart. It is not enough for us to outwardly conform to an expected pattern of religious behaviour. “It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Even the performance of miracles in Christ’s name is not sufficient to guarantee a place in His Kingdom. The route from hearing the Word of God to putting it into action must, of necessity, pass via the heart. “Let these words of mine remain in your heart and in you soul.” In other words, the very essence of who we are, symbolised by the terms ‘heart’ and‘soul’must be profoundly affected by our faith. External conformity is not enough!
The media images of the gales and floods which battered the country have revealed to us the havoc that can be wreaked on what appears to be the strongest of buildings. When extreme weather conditions hit, a building’s internal weaknesses and structural flaws are laid bare. Nevertheless, strong foundations will enable a building to weather the storm, no matter what damage is done around and inside. A strong building is one which is inseparable from its foundations.
The commandments of God provide a foundation of rock for our own lives. The storms will no doubt come and we will be buffeted by trials and temptations, but if our hearts and souls are inseparable from their foundation on the rock of God’s Word, then we will come through unscathed. Christ describes the sensible man as one who “listens to these words of mine and acts on them.”Listening, as understood by the great masters of spirituality, is listening with the heart. The opening words of the Rule of St. Benedict put it succinctly, “Listen, O my son to the precepts of the Master, and incline the ear of your heart...” Such deep listening will ensure that the practice of our faith is more than skin deep.
Tenth Sunday (A) 08.06.08
The theme of deeply-rooted faith is continued in this Sunday’s readings. The external rituals of offering sacrifice and holocaust are not of the essence of true religion. These rituals are meaningless if love and knowledge of God do not accompany them.
It is their attachment to the mere external practice of their faith that has blinded the Pharisees to the meaning of Christ’s mission. Christ tells them, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick.” The Pharisees objected to Christ’s mingling with sinners. In so doing, they were placing themselves among the ‘righteous’, but there is a certain irony in their question, “Why does your master eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” They may have been blissfully unaware of it, but they themselves are numbered among the latter, only they were not aware of their sin-sick souls.
Those who do not know they are ill cannot know that they need a doctor. The process of healing can only begin when the sick person recognises that he or she is ill. The Pharisees, unaware of their spiritual malaise, would not recognise their need of Christ. In our own society, the proclamation of the Gospel must begin with the diagnosis of society’s ills. We must talk about sin! A society unaware of its sinfulness will not be aware of its need of a Saviour. And if society doesn’t need a Saviour, it doesn’t need the Sacraments or the Church. Hearts hardened by sin will remain closed to God. Even within the Church, there is the danger of taking refuge in empty externals of Pharisaical ritual, while our hearts remain far from God. As those who sit at the Lord’s Table, let us have thehumility to count ourselves among the tax-collectors and sinners rather than the Pharisees.
Eleventh Sunday (A) 15.06.08
One of the themes in today’s readings concerns God’s choice of His “flock”. It is not through any merit of their own that God chose the sons of Israel to be His own. God’s relationship with humankind is enshrined within the framework of the Covenant. All that is asked of His people is that they show themselves to belong to God by “obeying my voice and holding fast to my covenant.” God’s election of Israel is an act of His own sovereign choice, but it imposes obligations on those who are chosen.
God never revokes His choice or calling. Israel still remains the chosen people of God. Christ’s primary mission was to those very people in another attempt to recall them to their covenantal relationship with God. “Do not turn your steps to pagan territory,” says Jesus to the Twelve, “go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” God’s election of the Gentiles is a similar act of His own sovereign choice and we forget that at our peril. As Christians, we have been grafted onto the vine of Israel – the New Covenant has its roots in the more ancient covenants established with the Jews.
The Covenant and the Commandments exist only for our good. Failure to live up to the commandments of God only leads to the flock being “harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.” Time and time again, when Israel strayed, God used faithful individuals to restore His covenantal relationship with His people. From Moses in the first reading, through the prophets to the Twelve in the Gospel, God sends labourers into His harvest. Those labourers are equipped with the graces necessary to accomplish their mission – “He...gave them authority over unclean spirits, with power to cast them out.” Those whom God calls, He also equips. The labourers have always been few and the harvest has always been rich. God’s choice of a people or of an individual is an act of Hisunmerited grace. Awareness of God’s generosity to us should provoke a generous response in our own hearts. “You received without charge, give without charge.”
Twelfth Sunday (A) 22.06.08
In a ‘tolerant’ secular society, it is tempting to want to keep the peace by keeping our mouths firmly shut. It seems so much easier to soft-pedal the more difficult teachings of the Church and go with the flow rather than create problems between family members, work colleagues or friends and ourselves. Christ’s words at the end of the Gospel are a stark reminder of our primary duty of faithfulness to Him. “But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the present of my Father in heaven.”
The Twelve Apostles were to become public figures. Their successors, the Bishops of today, are also public figures with the same responsibility to stand up for the teachings of the Church in what is very often a hostile environment. The Church’s teachings are not mere theory or ideals to be debated and discussed; they are given to be lived! Every Catholic, Bishop or layman, has the responsibility to live the faith, whatever the opposition. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
The experience of opposition is a mark of Christian discipleship. Jeremiah and all the prophets experienced opposition – “I hear so many disparaging me...Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” Christ Himself experienced opposition as did the Twelve to whom He entrusted His ministry. It should come as no surprise that our ‘tolerant’ society displays similar opposition when Catholics – cleric and lay alike – proclaim the Church’s teaching in word and in action. But in the midst of opposition, we are assured that God supplies strength to those who commit their cause to Him. “But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero.” Truth, even if it is only now ‘heard in whispers’, will one day be ‘proclaimed from the housetops’ as long as there are bold apostles to proclaim it.
Sts Peter & Paul 29.06.08
The story of St Peter’s rescue is far removed from the experience of most Christian martyrs. Rather, their experience is more like that of St. Paul, “my life is already being poured away as a libation.” Nevertheless, the martyrs are always aware that what they are undergoing is not in vain. They are participating in the sufferings of Christ, confident that the via dolorosao f their passion will lead them to the via gloriosao f the Resurrection. Centuries on, the Church still remembers and celebrates the martyrdoms of St. Peter and St Paul, along with countless other saints who shed their blood for Christ.
Martyrs are not made by the Church; they are made by those who oppose what the Church stands for. The word ‘martyr’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘witness’. A Christian martyr is one who gives his or her life in supreme witness to the Truth. Our world is less concerned about the truth than individual opinions. Truth binds us; opinions free us to follow our whims. In today’s Gospel, Christ asks His disciples a question which rings down through the centuries to our own generation. “Who do you say I am?” The disciples begin by citing the various opinions about Christ, but there is only one correct answer and it is St. Peter who gives it. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
It is only after St Peter’s confession of the faith, that Our Lord confers on St Peter the Petrine ministry, whose essential characteristic is the proclamation of the truth. Only the truth can unite us; opinions divide us. In every age, each generation must answer Christ’s question, “Who do you say I am?” and various opinions exist even now as to who Christ was. But the truth proclaimed by St Peter two thousand years ago has not changed and his successor, Benedict XVI, faithful to the Petrine ministry, has given that same answer in his book, “Jesus of Nazareth” . This is the truth for which all the martyrs shed their blood; the truth which we proclaim and celebrate today.