Last week, on Ascension Thursday, 10th May, the fortieth day of Eastertide, in the Entrance Antiphon (Acts 1:11), we pronounced the words of the Angel to the Apostles who, following their beloved Master’s departure from their sight into Heaven, remained for a while gazing (surely sadly and longingly) into the empty sky. The Angel assures them that, one day, Jesus will return when He comes, of course, to Judge us all at the end of time.
This year, as the Solemnity fell on the exact day, i.e. Thursday, that day was, of course, a Holy Day of Obligation, binding on the Faithful, as are all Sundays, giving us the very clear message that the Eucharist has an indispensable and central role in our lives.
The First Reading (Acts 1:1-11) narrated that familiar scene in which Our Lord took leave, so to speak, of His Apostles.
In the Second Reading (Ephesians 1:17-23) Saint Paul prayed (as must we!) for the necessary Graces to aid us in understanding and living by the Teachings of Our Lord who, alone, can give us Eternal Happiness. We must recognise that those who consider themselves ‘worldly-wise’ among us will, at times, not accept Jesus as ‘…the ruler of everything…’, as is evidenced by the continual challenges to Catholic Moral Teaching around the world. We may be challenged, sometimes shunned, because we practise and profess the ‘unpalatable’! In the Gospel (Mark 16:15-20) we heard the Apostles (now ourselves!) being told to, ‘…Go out into the whole world, proclaim the Good News to all creation…’. We are assured that we, and those we evangelise (and who embrace the Faith) ‘…will be saved…’.
In France and Germany, among other countries, the importance of this day was emphasised by its being a Public Holiday, echoing the deep Catholic Faith of former times. In the days when England proudly proclaimed herself the Dowry of Mary, Holy days were, very often, the only days off in addition to Sunday, especially, probably, for the Poor. From this extra day of rest, of course, comes our word, holiday. Hopefully the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord was a joyful day in our Families, encouraging not only us and our children but, also, through us, those of other faiths (or none) that we may encounter, to see beyond the limits of this world.
For us, this last week in the Church’s Year is not unlike New Year’s Eve. Next Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new lectionary cycle Year B, the Year of Mark. Throughout each Liturgical year we re-live, through scriptural ‘snapshots’, the long and arduous history of Salvation, recalling how, in spite of the sin of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, God did not renege on His side of things. Through first the Old Testament, then the New Testament, we hear how the Father promised His errant creatures a way back on the road to Heaven. He chose and called Abram (later Abraham, our Father in Faith) whose descendants, the Jews, were to keep alive, over centuries, the message of Salvation, worshipping and obeying only Him, the One True God. Through His Son Jesus, ‘…born of the Virgin Mary, He shared our human nature in all things but sin…’ (Eucharistic Prayer 4) the Father set mankind back ‘on course’. He provided them with the fullness of Truth through the Catholic (Universal) Church, the Priesthood, Mass and Sacraments, pointing clearly to Eternal Life.
The Responsorial Psalm (22: 1-3, 5-6) the ever familiar, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, which is commonly referred to as the 23rd psalm, again highlights the blessings of staying close to Christ Who will never abandon us, guiding, protecting and nourishing us, providing for us throughout our Earthly Life until we pass on to Eternity! The words, ‘…there is nothing I shall want…’ provide a good basis for an examination of conscience in an age when, certainly among the wealthy nations, ‘want’ and ‘lifestyle’ seem to be regularly confused with ‘need’!
Saint Paul, (1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28), recalls Christ’s Resurrection, through which we were definitively given back the chance of Life after death with God in Heaven. He shows how, just as Adam and Eve lost the way to Heaven for us, so, in taking flesh as a Human Being, living in Perfection, Dying and Rising from the dead, Christ put Mankind 'back on track'. By faithfully co-operating with Grace in the here and now we shall come to share, one day, in Christ’s Eternal Victory over evil.
Lest we grow complacent, due to the, sometimes, one-sided image presented of God’s Love, forgetting that Love is a two-way process, the Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46) gives us a salutary warning that, for each and every one of us, life will come to an end; Christ will judge us and, if we are to live with Him in Eternal Happiness, we must have, during our lives, done what we can to exercise the virtue of Charity towards our fellow Human beings, many of whom do not have the spiritual and material advantages that we so often take for granted. It is made abundantly clear that, if we expect to receive a welcome in Heaven, we must, here and now, have extended help either directly or indirectly, to those around us who lack the spiritual and material necessities of life. How well are we preparing for Eternity? How ready are we?!
'From sudden and unprovided death, Good Lord, Deliver us!'
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!?
The Responsorial Psalm highlights our innate obstinacy, or hardness of heart, which can blind us to the gravity of an action; our fallen nature inclines more readily, as we know, to sin than to goodness which often involves self-denial. It is, sometimes, frighteningly easy to justify what we know in our heart to be wrong.
Saint Paul makes it very clear that God insists on the Commandments and our obedience to them out of Love. That is not, of course, what is so often portrayed by the media as love, which is often directly opposed to this Virtue! Promoting Love as God intends can make one very unpopular indeed, even among one's fellow Christians!
Through the Alleluia verse we beg that Truth will underpin all that we do in life.
Jesus, in the Gospel, echoes Ezekiel's call for the correction of sinfulness among those around us. He also confirms that, in binding us to certain ways of conduct or, indeed in absolving us of any, the Pope and Bishops act with His Authority.
Lord, grant us courage!
Today, in the Entrance Antiphon, we call on our Merciful God Who, in His Goodness and great Love, is ever ready to forgive our sins, should we repent and put us, spiritually, ‘back on our feet’. The Responsorial Psalm speaks first of our great longing for God’s Grace which, alone, can give Life to our souls. A soul fallen from Grace may be compared to drought-stricken land, lifeless without water but in which plants will spring into growth when rain falls and irrigates it. Through the words of the psalm we proclaim our belief that it is only by constantly drawing on the Strength that comes from God, that only by looking to Him, whose ‘…love is better than life’, will we attain the Eternal Life He has created us to live! We recognise that true happiness lies in ever drawing on the Source of Life and Help, staying close to our Father who, unlike the fallible promoters of solely material success, will never let go of us and can and will actually give all He promises!
In the First Reading we are reminded that fidelity to God’s Call does not promise Heaven on Earth as we hear the Prophet, Jonah’s lament over the humiliation he is facing from those who resist his preaching of the Truth. If one really sets one’s sights on living God’s Way, then one may well experience a ‘bumpy ride’ or even, as are many of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ in various parts of the world, be called to lay down one’s life. In the Second Reading Saint Paul underlines the Sacrificial aspect of being ‘in the world but not of it’; our priority must, of necessity, be that of loving and pleasing God, however ‘uncool’ such a way of life may appear to those for whom the world and material success are the be all and end all of life! Through our example of fidelity to God may we draw lost souls back on track!
In the Alleluia verse we call for help to be able see beyond the here and now, with its ups and downs, to the true goal of Eternal Life, often obscured by materialism.
Finally, in the Gospel we see, from the words of Our Lord, that there is no cosy alternative to self-denial in this life. As Jesus, very bluntly, reminds a well-meaning Peter, who had expressed horror at the thought of His coming Passion and Death, eternal unhappiness is the only destination of a life lived, knowingly and intentionally, apart from God. However self-sufficient our life in this world may appear, it will very definitely come to an end and we will be rewarded, “…each one according to his behaviour…”. Our eternity is, very clearly, in our hands (we have Free-Will) but, if we are to be eternally happy with God, we are personally charged with working at it! We are crew, not passengers!
On Friday we will celebrate the Birthday of Our Blessed Lady who set us a striking example of Faith, Hope and Love in embracing God’s Way over Man’s! Sinless from conception, therefore unflawed by a fallen nature, Mary was dedicated to God as an infant by her Parents, Joachim and Anne. Her whole life, untainted by personal sin, was a preparation for her mission. As a young woman she took up the challenging assignment offered her by the Father through the Archangel Gabriel and, in her Womb, ‘the Word was made Flesh and Dwelt among us!’. Mary, our Mother, is ever watchful over us.
‘…Dark night has come down on this…world…
and the tempest-tossed Church, all her eyes are on thee….’
May we never cease to implore Mary’s protection throughout our life’s journey towards Eternal Bliss with her Divine Son!
Infallibility, per se, covers the formal definition of a Doctrine, which we must believe, by the Pope, in his Office of Supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the Faithful. This gift is extended to the College (or Body) of Bishops who, perhaps in an Ecumenical Council, in union with the Pope, propose, as coming from God, a Doctrine for our belief. For a more detailed explanation of Infallibility, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 890-892. See also the Vatican Council document, Lumen Gentium, 25.
How does this freedom from error in the Teaching of Catholic Dogma work? We know, for example, how certain changes have been made to the outward way (i.e. the language and actions) that Mass has been offered. The essence of the Mass, however, is unchanged. Acting in the person of Our Lord, who commanded, “Do this in memory of Me”, Father, our priest, still re-enacts the once-and-for-all Saving Sacrifice of Calvary for our participation; he changes bread and Wine into Jesus Himself, offers Him for us all to the Heavenly Father, Who Himself offers Jesus to us in Holy Communion.
During the coming week we will recall two other great defenders of the Truth: Monday, Convert and Theologian, Saint Augustine of Hippo; Tuesday, Saint John the Baptist, beheaded for publicly defending God’s Laws regarding Marriage. Then, on Wednesday, comes the memorial of Saints Margaret Mary Clitherow, Anne Line and Margaret Ward, three of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, all of whom were put to death for hiding, sheltering and protecting Catholic Priests. May their Prayers strengthen all who are called to be our Shepherds!
In the Gospel account, the humanity and humility of Saint Peter are demonstrated in his offer to construct some kind of earthly dwelling for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Of course, as The Father reminds him (and us), what is needed for our worship of God and consequent Salvation is firstly internal, i.e. our loving acceptance of and positive response to the Truth.
As created beings of flesh and blood, we are called to and certainly must employ our God-given bodies and our senses in participating in the Life of the Church. Today’s Feast firmly grounds all that we think, do and say on the ‘Truth that comes from God…’ which, alone, can strengthen us against and, ultimately, free us forever from the constant ‘pull’ of our Fallen Nature. Through the Teachings of the Church, challenging as they undoubtedly can be in this life, and through the Mass and the Sacraments, we are provided with a sure ‘route-map’ to our Heavenly destiny. God has endowed Humans, His highest Creation, with intelligence; we are capable of reason and can discern right and wrong. While intimately knowing our weakened Nature and making full allowance for our being misled, through ignorance, into genuine error, He will respect any choices we make with full knowledge and understanding for or against His Laws.
Perhaps we can interpret The Father’s words to the Apostles that day as reminding us that although, being Human, we must live as and where God has put us, we have immortal spiritual Souls and so we must keep our sights firmly set on our true purpose, to ‘know, love and serve God in this life so as to be Happy forever with Him in Heaven’. May God continue to grant us the Gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity, ever drawing us Homewards! May we ever, ‘…listen to Him...’.
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.
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church