The end of yet another Liturgical year is fast approaching. Throughout each and every one of these years as our knowledge and love of God, hopefully, grows, we are also preparing for a more significant ‘destination’, namely the end of our Earthly life, and life’s continuance eternally with our Creator in Heaven. Today we review the requirements for a successful realisation of our Created destiny.
The Entrance Antiphon (cf Psalm 104:3-4), speaks of the true joy which is only to be found through seeking and following our Lord in the particular circumstances in which we live, aided by unlimited Graces, ours for the asking!
In the First Reading (Exodus 22:22-26) we are left in no doubt as to the way we must treat others, with love, compassion and justice; as we expect God to regard us, so are we bound to regard our fellow humans. We are left in no doubt that (as in the parable of The last Judgement) our charity or lack of it towards others will determine the ‘verdict’ of our Loving and Merciful Judge on ourselves.
Through the Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 17:2-4, 47, 51 response v2), we declare our love for our Father, recognising that He alone can equip us for our lifelong struggle against evil. Just as a healthy diet, good exercise and, on occasion, medical intervention are essential in maintaining or restoring the health and strength of our bodies, so God’s Grace cannot be dispensed with if our souls are to stand firm against Satan’s temptations which assail us from so many directions and can, should we give in to them, undermine our spiritual health, even leading to the death of our soul.
In the Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 1:5-10) Saint Paul cites his practical Christian example which first moved his converts to seek and welcome the Gift of Faith. This example, subsequently lived out in their own lives, will cause many more to see the beauty of God’s Truth; in other words we must ‘practice what we preach’ if we are to play our own part in bringing others to God.
In the Alleluia verse (cf Acts 16:14) we ask the Father for the Grace which, alone, can ‘…open our hearts…’ and so bring about our personal conversion to and persistence in following the Way opened up by the Son.
Finally, in the Gospel (Matthew 22:34-40), our Lord, not in the least ‘caught out’ by the wiles of the Pharisees, again underlines the essential foundation of a holy life. Wholehearted love of God and Neighbour alone demonstrate our adherence to the Truth we proclaim and underpin our obedience to the rest of the Commandments.
In the following week we will look ahead to the happy fulfilment of a faithful life spent in love of God and Neighbour, namely Eternal Joy with God in Heaven. On Wednesday we will celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, a Holy Day of Obligation. On that day we will contemplate those who have ‘...fought the Good Fight...’, ‘...kept the Faith...’ and now ‘…from their labours rest…’ We will rejoice in their Joy and ask for their help in our continued journey on Earth.
Although the following day, All Souls’ Day, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, is not a Holy Day of Obligation, Mass on that day should surely, unless impossible, be a priority for us, as a profound expression of our love of Neighbour. Countless ancestors have already died and count on our assistance, to say nothing of people who have died with no one to pray for their souls. A Priest (who, generally, may say two Masses a day) may say three Masses for the Dead on this day. As we are told in Machabees 12:46, “It is a Holy and Wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins”. In Charity we must strive to help those who, whether we know them or not, have died and are now in Purgatory, undergoing that final Purification from sin, necessary if they are to enjoy Eternal Happiness. The Holy Souls are certainly on the way to Heaven but can no longer help themselves get there. As a beautiful hymn puts it, they are ‘…in prison for the debt unpaid of sins committed here…’ Our Loving Duty, emphasised by the dedication of the entire month of November to the Holy Souls, is to help them on their way. One day, please God, it will be our turn to look for this help!
If one is able it is good to make a week's retreat, conducted by Priests and Religious, distancing oneself from everyday distractions and spending more time contemplating the things of God, through daily Mass, talks, prayer and Spiritual-reading. For those of us with limited time it can be possible to go on retreats, lasting only a day or two. There are numerous monasteries and retreat houses to which one may go. For some ideas see this wonderful Web site.
Such options may well not necessarily be open to many of us. However, that does not prevent us from reaching out to tap the sources of Grace which God wills to give us. Mass and Holy Communion, the foundation of Catholic life, are widely available in our Parish on Sunday and offered twice daily during the week. In addition to this treasure, on weekdays and Saturdays, groups meet to pray Morning Prayer of the Church and the Holy Rosary. Maybe, at least once a week, time could be made for an extra Mass or, if time is really limited, to 'pay a visit' to meditate while the church is open.
A church can be a quiet and contemplative oasis in a noisy environment; many busy people, where churches are open all day, will pop in and, perhaps, just for a few minutes, pour out their hearts before Our Lord in the Tabernacle; they 'recharge their spiritual batteries' and can go on to face the rest of their day. For many of us, however, our 'retreat' times are those precious minutes before and after Sunday or Holy Day Mass. May we make the most of these opportunities!
"Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar - and to God what belongs to God."
In the Entrance Antiphon, we acknowledge the enormity of our sins and God’s unlimited Forgiveness to those of us who repent. We then, in the First Reading (Isaiah 25:6-10), look with Faith and Hope towards the infinite happiness of Heaven which will be ours if we have striven, in this life, to stay close to our Father. All trials and evils, including death, which result from the Fall into Original Sin, (and which sometimes appear to monopolise the daily news) will be no more!
This theme of joyful hope continues in the Responsorial Psalm, (Psalm 22) in which, through the refrain to the verses (which we often sing as “The Lord’s my Shepherd”) we proclaim our belief that, “In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for ever and ever”.
In the Second Reading, Saint Paul (Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20), while thanking those who have selflessly supported him in various ways in his mission, underlines that all he has achieved (and will achieve) has been possible only because of the strength given him by God; every good that we do is a positive response to God’s Grace just as an evil deed involves a refusal of this Life of the Soul. Through the Alleluia Verse we echo this Truth, proclaiming Christ, the Word made flesh, to be the Source of the “...power to become children of God”.
The Uninvited Wedding Guest, an oil on panel painting dating from 1631 by the Flemish painter
Vincent Malo (c.1595-1649) which is currently on display in the Brukenthal National Museum in Romania
Finally, in the Gospel, (Matthew 22:1-14) Our Lord makes it very clear that Salvation, first offered to (and through) His Chosen People is, of course, offered to all; The Magi at the Nativity stood for all the Gentile (non-Jewish) races, also called to be saved and live the Life of Grace. As the Parable of the Wedding Feast makes abundantly clear, those who will, one day, be told, “Come, Blessed of my Father…” into everlasting Joy, will be those who truly wished (and made the effort) to get to Heaven.
We may, sadly often, through sin, damage or lose the Wedding Garment of God’s Grace, but as long as earthly life remains we may, through repentance and the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), ‘repair’ or ‘restore’ this Garment. Unlike those in the Parable who refused the initial invitation through material preoccupations or through wilfully failing to ‘come up to the mark’, may we ever set God as our priority in life!
Our prayer might well be, in the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, whose memorial we have recently celebrated, “Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom...”. How can we err if we keep the ‘eyes’ of our Soul fixed on the light which can never fail!?
As we know, Our Father has created each us to know, love and serve Him, and so fulfil His Plan that we live eternally with Him in Heaven. As we also know, Adam and Eve, through disobedience, lost for themselves and us, original Innocence and the joy of going straight to Heaven. As we proclaim in the Creed, in His Infinite Love, God sent His Son, who took on Human flesh and was born of Mary. Perfect man, through total and loving obedience to the Will of His Father, while living on Earth, He founded the Catholic Church and died on the Cross to atone for sins committed since the beginning of the world and for all that will be committed until the end of time. Having perfectly paid the ‘debt’, Our Lord Rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven, having promised that He would be with us, ‘until the end of time..’.
How was this promise carried out? The immediate answer is through the Church He established, passing His Godly Power and Authority to the Apostles, the first Pope, Bishops and Priests, commanding them to teach and make people holy, bringing Grace to us through the Mass and the Sacraments and ever proclaiming Truth and correcting error. The Bishops had the power to ordain men who would carry on this mission on His behalf until the end of time. Pope Francis, Archbishop Peter and Bishop Pat are part of an unbroken line reaching back to the Apostles at the Last Supper, back, therefore to God Himself. Every Priest has that link with the Saviour; he is ordained to be an alter Christus (another Christ) especially when, at Mass, with Christ’s Power, he re-enacts the once-for-all Sacrifice of Calvary and, in Confession when he absolves (forgives) us from our sins.
Since Holy Mother Church was founded, She has celebrated countless men and women who, through their example and, sometimes through sacrificing their lives, have given great lessons in living the Faith. We also celebrate the Angels, spirits created to serve God (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church 325ff). The following is a summary, given in the hope that it will provide a stimulus for research.
Friday, 29th September. Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels: Michael (Revelation 12:7), credited with leading the Angels obedient to God against the rebellion of Satan. Those who came to be known as fallen angels, in refusing to serve God, literally sent themselves to that eternal separation from the Creator we call Hell. Pope Leo XIII composed the prayer seeking his intercession (‘Holy Michael Archangel….’). Very sorely needed today, you can find the full text in the prayer section of our Parish Website. Gabriel (Luke 26ff) brought Mary the news of her Vocation to be Mother of our Redeemer. Raphael appears in the Old Testament book of Tobit.
Saturday, 30th September: Saint Jerome a Doctor (particularly, a teacher of Theology or Doctrine) of the Church who, most notably, translated the Bible, a lot of it originally written in Greek and, perhaps Hebrew, into Latin, still the language of the Universal Church.
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church