Friday, December 11, 2009

Prayers today: The Lord is coming from heaven in splendour to visit his people, and bring them peace and eternal life.

All-powerful God, help us to look forward in hope to the coming of our Saviour. May we live as he has taught, ready to welcome him with burning love and faith. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

Pope St. Damasus I (305?-384)

To his secretary St. Jerome, Damasus was “an incomparable person, learned in the Scriptures, a virgin doctor of the virgin Church, who loved chastity and heard its praises with pleasure.” Damasus seldom heard such unrestrained praise. Internal political struggles, doctrinal heresies, uneasy relations with his fellow bishops and those of the Eastern Church marred the peace of his pontificate. Possibly of Spanish extraction, Damasus started as a deacon in his father’s church, and served as a priest in what later became the basilica of San Lorenzo in Rome. He served Pope Liberius (352-366) and followed him into exile. When Liberius died, Damasus was elected bishop of Rome; but a minority elected and consecrated another deacon, Ursinus, as pope. The controversy between Damasus and the antipope resulted in violent battles in two basilicas, scandalizing the bishops of Italy. At the synod Damasus called on the occasion of his birthday, he asked them to approve his actions. The bishops’ reply was curt: “We assembled for a birthday, not to condemn a man unheard.” Supporters of the antipope even managed to get Damasus accused of a grave crime as late as A.D. 378. He had to clear himself before both a civil court and a Church synod. As pope his lifestyle was simple in contrast to other ecclesiastics of Rome, and he was fierce in his denunciation of Arianism and other heresies. A misunderstanding of the Trinitarian terminology used by Rome threatened amicable relations with the Eastern Church, and Damasus was only moderately successful in dealing with the situation. During his pontificate Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman state (380), and Latin became the principal liturgical language as part of the pope’s reforms. His encouragement of St. Jerome’s biblical studies led to the Vulgate, the Latin translation of Scripture which the Council of Trent (12 centuries later) declared to be “authentic in public readings, disputations, preachings.”
The history of the papacy and the Church is inextricably mixed with the personal biography of Damasus. In a troubled and pivotal period of Church history, he stands forth as a zealous defender of the faith who knew when to be progressive and when to entrench. Damasus makes us aware of two qualities of good leadership: alertness to the promptings of the Spirit and service. His struggles are a reminder that Jesus never promised his Rock protection from hurricane winds nor his followers immunity from difficulties. His only guarantee is final victory.
"He who walking on the sea could calm the bitter waves, who gives life to the dying seeds of the earth; he who was able to loose the mortal chains of death, and after three days' darkness could bring again to the upper world the brother for his sister Martha: he, I believe, will make Damasus rise again from the dust" (epitaph Damasus wrote for himself).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (11.16-19)

Jesus said, To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market-places and calling out to others: 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is proved right by her actions.

The Great Opportunity
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

It has been said that youth is the time of ambitions, while the later years of life is the time of regrets. That, of course, is a simplification but there is no doubt that as the years go on, the challenge is to keep alive the vision splendid, while recognizing the many opportunities that have been lost. A person looks back and by hindsight can see this or that golden opportunity that was lost — if only I had taken notice of what my friend, my mentor, my parent, had said to me! If only I had grasped the opportunity my friendship with that person offered me! Lost opportunities! It is a feature of the years of maturity that this is recognized, and with it ought come the recognition of the opportunity that the remaining years of life still offer. The Pope visits one’s country and hundreds of thousands pour out to see and be with him. He celebrates a great Mass in the largest venue of the capital city and throngs surge in to participate. They recognize that it is an opportunity they do not wish to miss. Following his visit to the country, there are special publications containing his speeches and people are invited to study more carefully what they heard during the occasion itself. The opportunity they availed themselves of is something to be cherished and built upon. Opportunities! In the twilight of our life, our minds will go back and think of the opportunities that have been ours and of how we have availed ourselves of them. Now, the greatest opportunity that mankind has had is the coming among us of God himself. God has visited his people. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. As St John writes in the prologue of his Gospel, we saw his glory, the glory of the only begotten Son, full of grace and truth. The world has had a tremendous opportunity in the coming of God the Son made man. But let us notice what we might call the character of his coming. One would have thought that a single, one-off intervention of the great God would have, as it were, brought the world or at least all those in a position to know of it, to a standstill in appreciative wonderment. But no. The case is very different.

In fact, through the ages God has offered opportunity upon opportunity to his wayward and sinful children. He tried this and tried that, calling Abraham, revealing himself to Isaac and Jacob, then to Moses and the prophets. God was now tender, now severe. In our Gospel today our Lord speaks of God endeavouring in different ways to bring his people to him, but all too often to little avail. “Jesus said, To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market-places and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions” (Matthew 11: 16-19). Our Lord’s own description of John suggests one who manifested severe self-denial and a way of life vastly different from that of the ordinary person. His critics said “He has a demon.” In him God sent a great saint whose holiness was evident, and yet the opportunity was spurned. We might say that in John we have a symbol of all that God had done in pursuing his people to that point. Finally he sent his very own Son. How different was Jesus Christ! His holiness was indisputable, so much so that he himself challenged his critics in a way that John would never have done: Can any of you convict me of sin? Or again, I always do what pleases my Father. But our Lord mixed with sinners, drew them near to him, ate with them and drank with them. He invited them to be his disciples and even, in a sense, to be among the Twelve. They loved his company and he mixed with all. He was accused of being a “glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Matthew the tax collector was a member of the Twelve, no less. In our Lord’s person and ministry we have revealed at its noblest level the solicitude of God who pursues wayward man till he finds him. He is the Good Shepherd who goes after the stray, leaving the ninety-nine till the stray is reclaimed.

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ except our decision to separate ourselves from him. Let us take hold of this opportunity, then. God will do anything to save us and however riddled with sin we may be, God is the Beauty of our life. St Augustine, converted from sin, made of his conversion a magnificent opportunity. Late have I loved thee, he could only exclaim, O Beauty, so ancient and so new! Late have I loved thee! Let us, sinners though we be, place ourselves in the company of Jesus, and gaze upon him. He is already gazing upon us with a loving smile. He is the Beauty of our hearts. Let us not lose this opportunity. Jesus Christ and his friendship is the abiding opportunity of every day. Let it not pass us by. So then, now I begin!

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