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!'
Next Sunday, we shall celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Universal King who will, when earthly life ends, show us the eternity which that life has pointed us towards. If we have tried to, ‘...know, love and serve God...’, then Christ will be able to call us to, ‘...be happy with Him forever...’.
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6) delivers a timely warning of the foolishness of presuming that one can live as one pleases in this life and still count on attaining Heaven. We must, ‘Be Prepared!’ Scripture contains ample warnings to anyone who chooses a self-centred life at variance with God’s Wise and Just Laws, such as the man who rejoiced in his material wealth and prosperity only to be told, ‘...Fool! This night your Soul is required of you!’ (Luke 12:20). The story of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) warns of the danger to one’s soul of amassing personal wealth while failing to aid those who lack even basic necessities. Paul cautions us that death can come, ‘...like a thief in the night...’ i.e. when one may be unprepared for it.
We have recently remembered men and women killed in war. We, rightly, remember the members of our Armed Forces but, of course, many more souls found themselves before God's 'Judgement Seat': those civilians killed, for instance, in the Blitz or those who died in an instant at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We seem, regularly, to hear news of sudden and unexpected deaths in events such as terrorist attacks. We have recently commemorated the anniversary of the Croydon tram derailment. No-one can guarantee that they will have time to ‘put their affairs in order’. However this is not something to grow morbid about or to despair of. We are, simply, being warned to ‘...stay wide awake and be sober...’ i.e. always keep in mind that earthly life is but a preparation for Eternity, divesting oneself of the treasures of this world in order to amass ‘Treasure in Heaven’. We recently celebrated the Memorial of Saint Martin de Porres. Considered ‘inferior’ by those who counted themselves as ‘superior’ at the time, he was, in fact, richer than his detractors in what really counts with God, namely Grace and Charity. We can learn many lessons from this Holy man.
Saint Augustine underlined the vital role each of us is expected to play in our Salvation when he famously (at that time referring specifically to the Just War doctrine) exhorted peacemakers to ‘Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you!’ It is a sobering consideration that Peace, or the lack of it, comes from within ourselves. As the proverb states, ‘Charity begins at Home!’. Through the Church, Mass and Sacraments we are offered abundant help. Please God we will avail ourselves of this Treasure and, ‘Walk in the Light of the Lord’.
So how do we repay this debt? Certainly through offering Prayers, Masses and Sacrifices for the repose of their Souls; in the heat of battle many, possibly, would have died unprepared. Many may do so today. It is an act of Charity to pray daily that anyone now living apart from God will accept the Grace of Final Repentance, offered until they draw their final breath in this world.
There is yet another obligation placed on our shoulders. These men and women died in defence of Human Rights, fundamental to which is the Right to Life itself! It is, consequently, up to us, living in the 21st century, to oppose those who, as we well know, believe that they ‘know better than God’ and seek to impose ‘agendas’ which directly oppose the Laws of our Creator. Confusing Love with license, they can seriously mislead many. News of conflict is constantly on our TV screens; these conflicts do not necessarily involve force of arms and physical destruction. They may (depending on the issue) involve the killing of the Soul as much as the Body. There is a great and indeed ever present need to stand up for what is right.
Far more than words, the examples of lives lived maybe, at times, heroically in willing obedience to God’s Laws, can bring the unenlightened to see the Beauty and Wisdom of the Church’s Teachings. Today Catholics may well be required to be ‘counter-cultural’. If we were to live contrary to God’s Holy Will, that would set a bad example to others and would make a mockery of those who sacrificed their lives for us so that we might be able to exercise our Free Will unimpeded, to say nothing of mocking our Lord whose Passion, Death and Resurrection give meaning and purpose to our Prayers for the Faithful Departed.
It is truly good to condemn unjust aggression and to mourn and pray for those who strove against it on our behalf. As ever, if we are to be credible witnesses of the Truth, we must, ‘practise what we preach!’.
On 31st October, many people will have celebrated Halloween (Hallow e’en - from ‘Hallow’ - to make Holy). This somewhat secular occasion, nowadays with somewhat of an emphasis upon magic, was, long ago, a Christian event, namely the Eve of the Feast of All Saints. The Church has, through events such as the Night of Light, tried to restore this celebration to its Catholic roots; children have been encouraged to come to church dressed, perhaps, as the Saints after which they were named (Name-Saints) having, hopefully, with the help of their parents, done a little research on these illustrious forbears in the Faith. In the Light of Faith, they have looked towards the Light of Heaven.
On the first day of this month, we celebrated the Saints: those who have ‘…fought the good fight… finished the race… and… kept the faith’ (2 Tim.4:7). On the following day, we commemorated the Holy Souls in Purgatory, to whom the month of November is dedicated. We are all, living and dead, members of the Communion of Saints. Those in Heaven (the Church Triumphant) now intercede for us, (the Church Militant) and for the Holy Souls in Purgatory (the Church Suffering) who we can also help through our Masses, Prayers and Sacrifices. There is a very beautiful prayer, particularly appropriate for this month, which we can say for our Brothers and Sisters in Purgatory: the ‘De Profundis’ (‘Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord…’). This prayer may be found in the Prayer section of our Parish Website.
Perhaps November, with its emphasis upon those who have, ‘…gone before us…’ (i.e. the Holy Souls and the Saints), might provide a good starting point for research by parents and children into their Name-Saints. Our names do more than simply distinguish us one from another within our families. First names are traditionally called ‘Christian Names’ for a very good reason, in that they are primary evidence of our Christian heritage. This is a practice which has sadly lost its importance as secularisation has increased its grip on society. Indeed, when parents present their children for Baptism, they are reminded of the importance of giving them at least one such name. Which of our Christian forbears are we named after? When did they live, and where? What kind of lives did they lead? Can we identify with any of their faults and failings? How did they die? etc.
This list barely ‘scratches the surface’ of a treasure trove of Christian Witnesses from all over the world. Here, expectant parents, those preparing to become Catholics, and Confirmation candidates will discover truly wholesome and inspiring role models, to be looked up to, imitated and prayed to as we strive to join them in Heaven. In an age when highly unsuitable role models may often be presented to children through the Media, there is an urgent need for them to, in some cases, rediscover their Catholic identity and purpose in life. They can best do this with the loving help of their first teachers, their parents!
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church