Once again we are into Summer time! Thoughts, naturally, turn with thankful hope to extended leisure – a brief respite from the continual ‘grind’ of everyday life such as commuting, school runs and other ‘everyday’ pursuits. Teachers, Parents and Students look forward to ‘recharging their batteries’ before September rolls round again!
The Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland; photo' taken by Michal Osmenda
While, of course, a break from routine work is indeed good and necessary for physical and mental wellbeing (none of us is indestructible) let us not forget the Source of Life and wellbeing, God who ‘…slumbers not, nor sleeps…’. Fortunately for us, He has no need to rest from His eternal labours; everything and everyone will, through His Will, continue uninterruptedly in existence and will do so until the end of time when, please God, life will continue eternally in Heaven. God, in His infinite Love, watches over and calls us to share in His Life 24/7, 365 days a year! Our debt of thanks to God is immeasurable.
How, then, might we capitalise on holiday time to draw closer to our Creator? Hopefully daily prayer is already an integral part of Family life (‘The Family that Prays together, stays together’) but do we consider that, time permitting, we could ‘dig deeper’ into the immense Treasury of Grace, so vital to our Heavenward journey? Unlike some parishes which, due to shortages of Priests and Laity, have been forced to either close down or greatly curtail their spiritual services, Saint Bartholomew’s is, through the generosity of retired Priests and of those able and willing to come and say Mass and lead other liturgies in addition to responsibilities in their own parishes, able to offer this great treasure throughout the year.
While, of course, parents cannot simply ‘down tools’ and relax with their children for six weeks or so because of ongoing financial and/or work commitments, to say nothing of day to day issues involved in raising a Family, hopefully opportunities will arise when you can bring your children to weekday Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Mass in addition to Sundays and Holy-Days. Even if this is not possible, how about suggesting to those of the children who are Altar Servers and, of course, able to go out and about independently, that they might like to take up the great privilege of serving at an extra Mass during the week. Children may well take more notice of peers than they do adults; please God some of these young people, in making daily Mass a priority on even just one extra day during the week, will encourage others of their circle of friends to see that it has an important role in their free time.
When arranging your holidays away, is it a priority to ensure that Sunday and Holy-Day Masses, at least, are factored into your plans? So many of the foundations of future Catholic Practice among our Young People are laid at a very early age. The world is increasingly a place where religion is not regarded as ‘cool’ and may well be actively opposed as ‘irrelevant’. Our Parish Deacon is currently studying the worrying claim that the Sacrament of Confirmation, for example, can mark, for some, not a more mature and personal commitment to and practice of one’s Faith but rather its abandonment! Faith must be presented and lived as integral to Life rather than as an appendage ‘tacked on’, a ‘passing phase’ in life.
We are blessed, at Saint Bartholomew’s, with a diverse and active Community, encompassing a wide age range. May we ever centre the life of our Catholic Parish Family on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In striving to take an ever greater part in the Liturgy, let us also not forget that, even today, in these apparently ‘enlightened’ times, many of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ still risk persecution and even death for their fidelity to the Mass and Sacraments which, perhaps, we may take for granted. May God grant us the Grace to be ‘..light and salt..’, a constant sign in a darkened world of His Saving Presence!
God, as we know, loves us as only He, our Creator, can. The reason for our continued existence, from the moment of our conception, is that He holds us, constantly, in His Mind; in fact, everything that exists, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, down to the smallest undiscovered particle, exists because it is ever in the Mind of God. Even the most loving and conscientious of earthly parents cannot have this infinite view of the Life of their offspring or see clearly how and when we will come to face Eternity. Small wonder then, that the Church, founded by Our Lord to protect and guide us in His stead, is very definite in Her Teachings. As any loving parent will direct their children’s lives towards Good and train them to perceive and avoid what is (even if outwardly attractive) evil and, therefore, harmful, so the Church makes very clear to us what must be done and indeed what must be avoided if we are to reach Heaven as planned.
God’s creatures are, as Matthew underlines in his Gospel, a ‘mixed bunch’. Due to the Original Sin of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, we do not, naturally, incline to Good. We can become very worldly, in danger of coming to believe that our destiny is entirely our own affair and that, whatever we do or do not do in this life, ‘everything will come right in the end’, seemingly believing that we know better than God!
God, unlike His creatures, cannot change. Our love for Him cannot be forced; it must freely come ‘from the heart’. However, all is not ‘doom and gloom’. As the psalmist says, God knows us ‘…through and through…’. Unlike the often subjective media, He truly sees our good points and our bad; more importantly, He sees our intentions in making decisions and whether it is through ignorance or wilful rejection of the truth that any of us depart from the, ‘...straight and narrow way…’. God will keep calling us to Him until our earthly life is over. Let us continually beg Him, challenging though life may well be, for the Grace to enable us to stay on (or get back on) the road to Eternal Happiness!
Today’s Entrance Antiphon anticipates the Joy which will be ours when, following a life of faithfulness to God, we come before Him at our Judgement and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant….”. Today we consider how God provides us, through the Pope, Bishops and Priests, the Teachings of the Church and the Sacraments, with the means to reach Eternal Life and our fundamental responsibility to make use of these means.
Isaiah compares weather conditions, which nurture growing crops, with God’s Word, which stimulates our spiritual growth. Of course, just as crops cannot grow and flourish without the farmer’s efforts in conjunction with the weather so, to attain Eternal Happiness, we must ‘take on board’ and act upon God’s Truth, aided by His Grace.
The Responsorial Psalm might be read as a ‘companion piece’ to the Gospel, talking lyrically of God the Creator’s limitless Love which provides for us in this life, seeks our willing response, and, so, brings us to live forever in Eternal Joy once our time on Earth is over.
A major stumbling block for some could be the growing materialism and declining moral standards of the world, so clearly in opposition to our Creator. Satan, knowing as he does that God will, in the end, triumph over evil, nevertheless does not give up tempting souls to join him. Temptations will only cease when we enter Eternity.
Of course, Good Shepherd that He is, God does not cease to love, watch over and call each and every one of us to Himself until the day we die. Those who drift away may, please God, in time, return to the practice of their Faith. It is an act of Charity (certainly not judgmental) to pray for the return of our lapsed Brothers and Sisters, sometimes nicknamed ‘resting Catholics’. It is exceedingly unwise, however, to gamble one’s Eternity by putting off a return to the Church on the basis that ‘God won’t let me be lost’. Saint Augustine reminds us that God created us without our co-operation but makes our Salvation totally dependent upon that co-operation throughout our life. God knows (but we can rarely be certain) when we shall die and come before Him, but to love Him and go to Heaven is a choice He will not force upon us. Love must come freely from our heart in return for His Love, as we meditated more deeply in June.
Christ’s parable, of course, ends on a ‘high-note’; countless souls will hear, be inspired and live by the Church’s Teachings, thereby coming, as planned, to be happy with God forever in Heaven, the “…glory…which is waiting for us”, as Saint Paul writes.
The recent Feast of Saint Thomas, the Apostle, famously known as ‘Doubting Thomas’, is another clear illustration of the power of God’s Grace in overcoming the weaknesses of human nature. He is a Saint in whom many of us might find a kindred spirit. Thomas was not with the other Apostles when Jesus first appeared to them following His Resurrection. When they told him, with great excitement, “We have seen the Lord!”, he flatly refused to believe unless he could both see for himself and touch the Wounds of the Crucifixion. Having been granted this privilege and having acknowledged Jesus as his Risen Lord and God, he was gently chided by Our Lord for requiring concrete proof of the Resurrection. Referring to the countless generations (including ourselves) who, thereafter, would have no choice but to have faith in the Teachings of the Church on this Miracle of Life over death, Christ praises those who believe without having seen Him in His Human nature.
On 29th June we celebrated the Solemnity of Saint Peter, the first Pope (his role presently shouldered by Pope Francis) and Saint Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Should this date fall on a day other than Saturday or Monday, the Church declares it to be a Holy Day of Obligation; we are bound to go to Mass as we are on Sundays. The secular word ‘holiday’, (i.e. rest from work) is derived from this word. Centuries ago, Holy Days were the only days off, apart from Sundays, for the poor.
Both these men, in working to spread the Faith, wrote follow-up letters (in latin, 'epistola') to various members of the growing Church over the years, confirming and strengthening them in their Faith and resolving queries or disputes which arose. Saint Peter is credited with two Epistles, while Saint Paul’s output, as with his missionary travelling, is far more extensive, with extracts from his letters featuring regularly during the Mass. In those times, much was passed on by word of mouth as widespread literacy and the advent of printing were yet to come.
Both Peter and Paul were to die Martyrs’ deaths. Peter was crucified; humility moved him to request that he be crucified upside-down, as he felt unworthy to die in exactly the same manner as his Lord and God. Paul, claiming the privileges of Roman citizenship, requested that he be taken to Rome for trial.
Throughout his subsequent travels, he continued to seize every opportunity to evangelise, including the time he was shipwrecked on Malta. He finally reached Rome, where he continued to teach, suffering two terms of imprisonment, until he was beheaded under Nero.
Both men returned that ‘Love unto death’ shown them by Jesus and, in the following centuries, many other men and women, drawing courage from their example, would (and, indeed, still do!) relinquish their freedom and their lives on this earth, rather than deny the Truth that comes from God. Generally speaking, we are probably very unlikely to be asked to make this ultimate Profession of Faith. We may well, however, need to be prepared to face disbelief and even scorn, for living as faithful Christians. Are we willing to make the sacrifice, not necessarily of our life, but of our reputation?
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church