Sunday, January 31, 2010

Prayers this week: Save us, Lord our God, and gather us together from the nations, that we may proclaim your holy name and glory in your praise. (Psalm 105: 47)

Lord our God, help us to love you with all our hearts and to love all men as you love them. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.

St. John Bosco (1815-1888)

John Bosco’s theory of education could well be used in today’s schools. It was a preventive system, rejecting corporal punishment and placing students in surroundings removed from the likelihood of committing sin. He advocated frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion. He combined catechetical training and fatherly guidance, seeking to unite the spiritual life with one’s work, study and play. Encouraged during his youth to become a priest so he could work with young boys, John was ordained in 1841. His service to young people started when he met a poor orphan and instructed him in preparation for receiving Holy Communion. He then gathered young apprentices and taught them catechism. After serving as chaplain in a hospice for working girls, John opened the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales for boys. Several wealthy and powerful patrons contributed money, enabling him to provide two workshops for the boys, shoemaking and tailoring. By 1856, the institution had grown to 150 boys and had added a printing press for publication of religious and catechetical pamphlets. His interest in vocational education and publishing justify him as patron of young apprentices and Catholic publishers. John’s preaching fame spread and by 1850 he had trained his own helpers because of difficulties in retaining young priests. In 1854 he and his followers informally banded together under Francis de Sales. With Pope Pius IX’s encouragement, John gathered 17 men and founded the Salesians in 1859. Their activity concentrated on education and mission work. Later, he organized a group of Salesian Sisters to assist girls.

“Every education teaches a philosophy; if not by dogma then by suggestion, by implication, by atmosphere. Every part of that education has a connection with every other part. If it does not all combine to convey some general view of life, it is not education at all” (G.K. Chesterton, The Common Man).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (4:21-30)

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

The Heart of Man
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Our Gospel passage today presents the reader with an extraordinary occasion. Our Lord returned to Nazareth, and went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath day as he usually did. He got up to read, read the prophecy that was about himself, gave his breathtaking comment on it, and his townspeople were so angry that they hustled him out of the town to throw him over the cliff (Luke 4: 21-30). They intended to murder him. These were the ordinary people he knew and loved, his neighbours when he was a growing boy. He had visited their sick, attended their weddings, sorrowed at their funerals, and enjoyed their festivals. As the carpenter-builder he had perhaps built their houses, made their furniture and fashioned their ploughs. We can imagine what a neighbour and friend to them our Lord would have been all those years. How could they have turned on him in this way? To ask that question is to raise the mystery of sin. Sin was present in their hearts, and it is present in our hearts as well. There is an old saying - at times attributed to John Bradford (circa 1510–1555) - which runs, but for the grace of God, there go I. We ought not think that it would have been impossible for us to have been among those at Nazareth who turned so violently against our Lord. We ought never think that we are too good for what we see others do, for there go I but for the grace of God. As we consider the reaction to Jesus as narrated in the Gospel, let us consider the awfulness of sin and what it can lead the human heart to choose. Sin must be overcome! There was once a famous catchcry of classical Rome, “Cathago delenda est!” By the end of the second Punic War in which Hannibal and his elephants crossed the Alps, Rome hated Carthage. Marcus Cato, a respected senator, began to clamour "Carthago delenda est!" "Carthage must be destroyed!" Well, a similar cry must ring out in our hearts: Sin must be overcome! Sin is the most hateful thing, and by God’s grace it must be overcome.

Our Lord could see that his words to his townsmen were not being accepted, and he told them that they were in danger of not receiving the blessing of God. Elijah, he reminded them, was sent not to God’s people to work his miracle, but to a pagan widow. The prophet Elisha cured none of the many Jewish lepers, but a foreigner. That is to say, God would pass the townspeople of Nazareth by - unless they changed their attitude. At this, they were furious and tried to do away with him. In effect they said, “we will not listen to you about our spiritual and moral shortcomings. And never you dare to tell us that we reject God’s messengers!” It was an omen of our Lord’s public ministry and a manifestation of the sinfulness which is at the root of the rejection of Christ. This same drama plays itself out in all times and places, including in our own lives. Jesus Christ speaks to us in the Scriptures, in the pastors of the Church - priests, bishops, and especially in the Pope - and at times in one another. He speaks to us also at Mass. At Mass our Lord is present in the gathering of God’s people, in the person of the priest, in Christ’s word, and most of all in the Eucharist. He speaks to us there just as truly as he did in that Synagogue of Nazareth. Do we, at both Mass and generally in our religion, have listening hearts, or are we a little like the people of Nazareth? When the Church - say, in the person of the Pope - speaks on a point of faith or morals, the response of some is very far from what it should be. St Augustine had the experience of preaching a message that was unwelcome. He once wrote to his flock in these words: However unwelcome I may be in what I preach, I have to say this to you: You wish to stray, you wish to be lost, but I cannot want this. This is because I am a shepherd and God will be angry with me if I am an unfaithful shepherd. Shall I fear him rather than you? Remember we must all present ourselves before the judgment seat of Christ. I am obliged to be a good shepherd and preach the word no matter whether you like it or not.

As we think of how the Nazarenes reacted to the preaching of our Lord, we ought examine our own attitude towards the teaching of the Church as it comes to us in the preaching and teaching of the Church’s pastors, especially the Church’s chief pastor, the Pope. Today we are invited to cultivate hearts that constantly listen to Christ. The heart that listens to Christ is a heart that loves him. It is a heart like that of Mary, who was the shining exception to the attitude of many who heard our Lord at Nazareth.

A second reflection on the Gospel

“When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crown and walked away.” (Luke 4: 21-30)

Dispositions During the second half of the twentieth century some archaeological work was done on the village of Nazareth of the time of Christ. Interestingly, the digs indicated that the village had a lengthy if fitful history prior to Jesus. But in all of its obscure history to that point, there was surely no event so important as the one we read in today’s Gospel. On this occasion (Luke 4:21-30), Jesus reveals to them that he is the Messiah, and that they beheld before them the fulfilment of the promises of the prophets. In the nature of the case, our Lord’s words and presence occasioned the greatest decision that the town and each of its inhabitants had ever had to make. It was the chance of a lifetime, and it was lost. They rejected Jesus and his claim to be the Messiah, and so he passed through their midst and went on his way. It is surely a tremendous lesson for every person of every time.

Now what, we might ask, did those people do that led them to go so wrong? Why did they make that terrible decision to reject Jesus? Of course, there must have been many reasons, but a simple yet very important one comes to mind. Speaking simply, fundamentally they were not properly disposed. They lacked a proper readiness of mind and heart to believe our Lord and his word. The immediate question then is, And why was this? Of course we must speculate, but surely we can assume that an important factor was that they were leading lives of religious and moral mediocrity. The life of Nazareth and its inhabitants consisted of plain and ordinary duties, a daily round of doing the simple things. In those many little duties that made up their daily existence at Nazareth, in unnoticed ways they were failing to obey God’s will. A repeated moral failure in little duties, unrepentant and continual, will assuredly produce a reluctance to do whatever God asks. Their rejection of Christ indicates that sanctity was not their everyday ideal. They did not have the moral readiness to hear the word of God and to put it into practice. Perhaps a hint of this is given in Nathanael’s answer when told by Philip of Jesus of Nazareth. He said, can anything good come out of Nazareth? Mary was a shining exception.

By contrast, let us compare the reaction of Nazareth to Jesus’ claims with the reaction of Simeon and Anna years before, when the infant Jesus was presented in the Temple. They accepted the Child for who he was. Why? They were properly disposed in the first place. They accepted him because they were open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They were disposed in this way precisely because their whole lives had been lives of fidelity to their conscience. Their holy lives sustained their moral and religious disposition, just as their moral and religious disposition sustained their holy lives. Their fidelity to grace and the dictates of conscience disposed them to accept God and his revelation when the critical moment came. When God’s will became manifest, no matter what it was, they were ready to do it. Aquinas says somewhere that holiness consists in the total readiness to accept and do God’s will. This readiness is developed in the constant doing of God’s will in the little duties of every day.

Let us learn from the tragedy of the rejection of Jesus by the people of Nazareth. Let us be ready for whatever God asks in life, wherever and whenever it might be. We shall only be ready if we are trying to do his will every day in the seemingly ordinary unimportant things of life.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

St. Hyacintha of Mariscotti (1585-1640)

Hyacintha accepted God’s standards somewhat late in life. Born of a noble family near Viterbo, she entered a local convent of sisters who followed the Third Order Rule. However, she supplied herself with enough food, clothing and other goods to live a very comfortable life amid these sisters pledged to mortification. A serious illness required that Hyacintha’s confessor bring Holy Communion to her room. Scandalized on seeing how soft a life she had provided for herself, the confessor advised her to live more humbly. Hyacintha disposed of her fine clothes and special foods. She eventually became very penitential in food and clothing; she was ready to do the most humble work in the convent. She developed a special devotion to the sufferings of Christ and by her penances became an inspiration to the sisters in her convent. She was canonized in 1807.
How differently might Hyacintha’s life have ended if her confessor had been afraid to question her pursuit of a soft life! Or what if she had refused to accept any challenge to her comfortable pattern of life? Francis of Assisi expected give and take in fraternal correction among his followers. Humility is required both of the one giving it and of the one receiving the correction; their roles could easily be reversed in the future. Such correction is really an act of charity and should be viewed that way by all concerned. Francis told his friars: "Blessed is the servant who would accept correction, accusation, and blame from another as patiently as he would from himself. Blessed is the servant who when he is rebuked quietly agrees, respectfully submits, humbly admits his fault, and willingly makes amends" (Admonition XXII).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (4:35-41)

That day when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, Let us go over to the other side. Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, Teacher, don't you care if we drown? He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, Quiet! Be still! Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? They were terrified and asked each other, Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!

Answering our prayer
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

A notable feature of many of the religions of man is myth. Myth — rather than philosophical reason — is dominant. Further, the mythical deities of many of the religions appear very arbitrary. In the myths, they do what they like, often to the point of appearing lawless. In this, perhaps they project the pining of man who sees in them a state that overcomes the stony oppression of so much of life. By contrast, the one true God who revealed himself to Abraham, Moses and the prophets, and then fully and definitively in Jesus Christ, is not arbitrary. He is good, and he requires goodness. Be holy, he commanded, for I am holy. God commands that we do what is objectively good, and that we avoid what is objectively evil. As opposed to so many of the gods, the one true God consistently binds himself to what is objectively good, which, of course, has its foundation in his own nature. The point I am making is that God, in being absolutely supreme and almighty, is not arbitrary. He does not do things simply because “he wants to.” He acts with consistency. That said, let our gaze turn again to Jesus, the almighty Son of the Father, asleep on a cushion in the buffeted boat. It is a powerful image of the Incarnation, of God becoming thoroughly man by taking to himself a human nature. In that incarnate setting, though he is God, he subjects himself to his human condition. He is overcome by sleep because of an exhaustion far greater than that of his disciples, for he had worked far harder than they. The pounding storm could not awake him. This respect for the condition he assumed — as exemplified in his exhaustion and sleep — let us take to be an image of God’s respect for the laws of the world he sustains. He acts as Creator and Father of us all in ways that are not arbitrary. He is not one of the gods of the religions, doing this and doing that in accord with his whims or in response to a range of pressures applied to him by mortals. He is sovereign, consistent, and respectful of his own plan and of what is right and good. This ought be kept in mind in our prayer before God.

In our Gospel passage today (Mark 4: 35-41) the disciples are terrified at the fury of the storm, and see that they are in imminent danger of going down. They vigorously wake our Lord and force his attention to their plight. Notice that they do not ask him to quell the storm — their amazement at his doing this, suggests that this had not occurred to them as being possible. They were rousing our Lord in desperation, not sure what there was to be done, but appealing to him nevertheless. Then in response to their appeal, the great miracle occurred. Now, the two stages of our Gospel scene of the boat can each be taken as symbolic of the ways of God. There is Christ asleep on the cushion, and there is Christ commanding the storm. The spectacular miracle is clearly an exception to the divine ways, while Christ in repose may be taken as typical of his ordinary ways. God normally acts in accord with the laws of the world he sustains. This pattern has implications for our prayers to him. God can and occasionally does act miraculously, suspending the laws he himself has instituted, and our Gospel scene gives an instance of this. However, God can also answer our prayers through the ordinary laws of the world. Let me give an example. I knew a person who was driving along a freeway and his mind was distracted. His foot inadvertently pressed on the accelerator and he exceeded the speed limit in an area where there were traffic cameras. Just before he reached a camera, there suddenly came to him the awareness that he was speeding. He pressed on his brake and thus avoided the camera. He was convinced that he had been helped from above to avoid a serious traffic penalty. But there was no “miracle.” He had been helped by God in and through the normal processes of thought. Then again, if we pray for some request and it is not immediately granted, we must keep up our prayers because God may be biding his time for the right moment. A tiny push by him within normal processes of life could grant to us what we are praying for. I suspect that this is the way God normally works. He extends a favourable situation, or gives some tiny factor a nudge.

Let the image of the sleeping Christ remind us that God normally acts within ordinary processes. He can easily answer our prayers in a miraculous fashion, if it serves his plan for us and for his glory. Thus we see Christ standing in the boat and commanding the wind and the sea to be calm. But usually he works in accord with the ordinary processes of the world he sustains. God is our Creator and loving Father, and he answers our prayers even if it is not usually by a miracle. He is not an arbitrary God. Christ says to us, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find. Pray always, he says elsewhere, and never lose heart. Let us never give up on him, then, and turn to him in all our needs.

A second reflection on the Gospel:

“With the coming of evening that same day, Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat, and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep.” (Mark 4: 35-41)

God present in suffering There can be a tendency in persons with a conscience, and so with a sense of personal sinfulness, to think that if things go wrong, it is their fault and that perhaps they are being punished. In our Gospel scene, the plight of our Lord’s disciples was very great: they were almost swamped. But notice why they were in this situation. It was because our Lord himself had asked them to go across the lake. They had been doing what God wanted them to do, and this was why they were in this frightening peril. They were suffering because they were doing Christ's will. Moreover, many benefits flowed from their being in this peril. They were led to appeal to Jesus, and seeing his power in response to their petition, they came to know our Lord better than before.

When suffering or some evil persists, persons can imagine that they are abandoned by God, and that God does not care. Conversely, a person who is suffering or in some peril can wonder why they are suffering if in fact they are not at fault. In our Gospel scene, the disciples felt abandoned (‘Master, do you not care?’). But they were not abandoned, for though our Lord was asleep he was there. He rebuked them for their lack of faith. So despite appearances, they were indeed in his care. Jesus was silent, but present.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Servant of God Brother Juniper (d. 1258)

"Would to God, my brothers, I had a whole forest of such Junipers," said Francis of this holy friar. We don’t know much about Juniper before he joined the friars in 1210. Francis sent him to establish "places" for the friars in Gualdo Tadino and Viterbo. When St. Clare was dying, Juniper consoled her. He was devoted to the passion of Jesus and was known for his simplicity. Several stories about Juniper in the Little Flowers of St. Francis illustrate his exasperating generosity. Once Juniper was taking care of a sick man who had a craving to eat pig’s feet. This helpful friar went to a nearby field, captured a pig and cut off one foot, and then served this meal to the sick man. The owner of the pig was furious and immediately went to Juniper’s superior. When Juniper saw his mistake, he apologized profusely. He also ended up talking this angry man into donating the rest of the pig to the friars! Another time Juniper had been commanded to quit giving part of his clothing to the half-naked people he met on the road. Desiring to obey his superior, Juniper once told a man in need that he couldn’t give the man his tunic, but he wouldn’t prevent the man from taking it either. In time, the friars learned not to leave anything lying around, for Juniper would probably give it away. He died in 1258 and is buried at Ara Coeli Church in Rome.

It is said that St. Francis once described the perfect friar by citing "the patience of Brother Juniper, who attained the state of perfect patience because he kept the truth of his low estate constantly in mind, whose supreme desire was to follow Christ on the way of the cross" (Mirror of Perfection, #85).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (4:26-34)

Jesus said, This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn— first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come. Again he said, What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade. With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

True Hope
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

One might say that the story of each human life and, indeed, of all human history, is the story of hope. How sad, unusual and even unnatural it is to come across a person who has no hope. The normal thing is that a young person grows with hope as he thinks of his future and what he might do with his life. Hope drives his efforts at study, sport, friendships and other spheres of his activity as he looks forward to a career, a future family and a life of doing worthwhile things. Countless millions have some hope in their hearts, and even in the midst of poverty and suffering they hope to improve their lot. Hope is a natural gift and it is the engine of great things in the life of both the individual and the world. But what happens? The likelihood is that hopes will experience disappointment. A person will have to adjust his hopes to the limits and realities of what he manages to achieve. Importantly, there is the danger that, due to disappointment and many failures, hope can weaken and even become minimal. Thus there are many who reach something of a plateau in life, and beyond that they hope for little. They “retire.” There is hope there, but they do not hope for very much, and so they do not do very much. Life becomes very ordinary in the sense that it lacks dynamism and striving. It ceases to be a life of real work. It ceases to be a life of joy. The core of the problem would seem to be that no reason is seen to hope, that life appears as a great brute fact that must be accepted, offering little reason for high hopes. The person is now “over the hill.” His dreams have gone because of the hard surface of reality. Inasmuch as hopes and dreams are quite evidently central to a fulfilled life, how can a person maintain his hopes undimmed to the end? Instead of passing from this life with his hopes worn down to the barest flicker, how can he reach his end with his hopes higher than ever? I tend to think that this is a very fundamental issue for happiness, goodness, joy and fulfilment in life.

To begin with, if in reality our hopes are dependent entirely on ourselves, ordinary human reflection will suggest that they rest on a very insecure foundation. Goals that are chosen on the simple basis of personal preference or personal ability are tenuous because, obviously, there are so many factors beyond this basis that will affect the goals in question. Napoleon Bonaparte chose his goals — to be master of Europe — on the basis of preference and ability, but there were many other factors which resulted in these goals being denied him. If hope is to remain undimmed and indeed grow, then while to an extent is must depend on ourselves and on what we choose to do, it cannot depend entirely on ourselves. What, then, is the ultimate basis of true and enduring hope? It has to be God and his holy will. All things depend on God. He is ever active in sustaining the world and bringing to fruition his Plan. The inspired Scriptures show us that God has a Kingdom that he is developing, and that Christ has established this Kingdom here on earth. Jesus himself is the heart of the Kingdom of God, and we enter that Kingdom and become its citizens by entering into union with the person of Jesus, whose body is the Church he founded on Simon Peter. This glorious Kingdom is growing, due to the power of God. This brings us to our Gospel passage today (Mark 4: 26-34), in which our Lord describes what the Kingdom of God is like. “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” Our best hopes ought be in God, who will assuredly attain his goals. Our goal ought be to devote our lives and energies to playing a modest, though whole-hearted part in God’s work. The ultimate basis of true hope is God and what he is doing. Thus, even apparent failure will not diminish our hopes. In the midst of the many failures in life, our hope will remain undimmed right to the end, for it is based on God and his almighty will.

The Christian contemplates Jesus his divine Master — hanging from the Cross. That is what his earthly ministry led to. It looked like a spectacular failure. But to the last, the vision and the confidence of our Lord remained undimmed. In Christ, an amazing reversal becomes manifest. Failure and reversal is no reason at all for the loss of hope. Rather, it is the reason for hope. The Cross is the path to glory, and in God’s saving plan, the glory did not come without the Cross. It was necessary that the Son of Man suffer in order to enter into his glory. All this is to say that the natural life of hope finds its surest and truest home in the Christian life. Every person is called to place his or her hopes in the surest basis of all — the person and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

St Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor (1225-1274)

By universal consent, Thomas Aquinas is the pre-eminent spokesman of the Catholic tradition of reason and of divine revelation. He is one of the great teachers of the medieval Catholic Church, honoured with the titles Doctor of the Church and Angelic Doctor. At five he was given to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino in his parents’ hopes that he would choose that way of life and eventually became abbot. In 1239 he was sent to Naples to complete his studies. It was here that he was first attracted to Aristotle’s philosophy. By 1243, Thomas abandoned his family’s plans for him and joined the Dominicans, much to his mother’s dismay. On her order, Thomas was captured by his brother and kept at home for over a year. Once free, he went to Paris and then to Cologne, where he finished his studies with Albert the Great. He held two professorships at Paris, lived at the court of Pope Urban IV, directed the Dominican schools at Rome and Viterbo, combatted adversaries of the mendicants, as well as the Averroists, and argued with some Franciscans about Aristotelianism. His greatest contribution to the Catholic Church is his writings. The unity, harmony and continuity of faith and reason, of revealed and natural human knowledge, pervades his writings. One might expect Thomas, as a man of the gospel, to be an ardent defender of revealed truth. But he was broad enough, deep enough, to see the whole natural order as coming from God the Creator, and to see reason as a divine gift to be highly cherished. The Summa Theologiae, his last and, unfortunately, uncompleted work, deals with the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped work on it after celebrating Mass on December 6, 1273. When asked why he stopped writing, he replied, “I cannot go on.... All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” He died March 7, 1274.

“Hence we must say that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act. But he does not need a new light added to his natural light, in order to know the truth in all things, but only in some that surpasses his natural knowledge” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, 109, 1).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (4:21-25)

Jesus said to them, Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. Consider carefully what you hear, he continued. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you— and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

Becoming rich
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

The visible world is the source of unending fascination. Inanimate matter is teeming with unsolved mysteries, and the mystery deepens as we pass to the contemplation of living things. Let us divide life into two broad groups: life that has the power of awareness, and life that does not. An ant has awareness. A mighty oak tree does not. For all its luxurious growth, the oak will never attain to the slightest awareness. The ant has the power of awareness from the instant of its appearance. But if we compare the awareness of a gifted sheep dog with the awareness of a ten-year old child, there is a critical difference between the two. The child has self-awareness, while the sheep dog does not. There are numerous other differences between human awareness and animal awareness too, of course. The human being is aware of abstractions and categories: he is aware that he is, for instance, “a human being.” The animal is not aware of such abstractions. It has no idea that it is, say, “a tiger” — even though it feels at home with tigers as the case may be. Very importantly, the human being is aware of objective duty. For instance, he knows he should not murder. The animal has no such awareness. It would be absurd to speak of an animal “murdering” another. The animal is driven by instinct. I make these brief observations to introduce another distinctive feature of the human being. I refer to the power of the human being freely to perfect himself. It would be ridiculous to expect an animal to set out to perfect itself, to enrich itself by deliberately cultivating its powers, indeed to set its goals for a flourishing life. It acts by instinct and its development is instinctive. It cannot get beyond where its instincts take it, however impressive those instincts may be. The human being can set his goals for an enriched life, and he is even obliged to do this. He is obliged not to squander his capacity for self-improvement, but to seek what is truly best for himself. He has a duty not to impoverish himself by neglect, but to become genuinely rich.

The question is, what does this really mean? What does it mean to enrich oneself? Many think that it means becoming rich in material goods. If a person acts on this and makes this the dominant goal of his life, then the danger is that he will be impoverished — through neglect — in more important riches. He may find himself with scarcely any true friends, even within his own family life. Another person may silently have formed the notion that he will be most fulfilled if he gains most power. So he sets out to attain that goal and he may or may not achieve it, depending on his abilities. But in the process he may find himself bereft of other riches. He may have virtually no religion in his life, through neglect. God is distant from him. So the seeking of riches — or, to put it better, enrichment and perfection — is a good thing and is a moral obligation. But part and parcel of the fulfilment of this obligation is the duty to determine correctly what is true enrichment in life. For this we need not only a prudent personal judgment, but the guidance of God himself. We need this divine guidance because our own minds — as is evident from ordinary experience — are clouded and influenced by sin. We tend to think that self-gratification, personal power, and other egocentric goals are the way to true wealth in life. We need the guidance of God and his grace to follow this guidance. But the ultimate goal remains the same: personal perfection and the flourishing of our best potential. We just need to know clearly in what this really consists, how to get there, and whatever help we need to attain it. All of this brings us to our Gospel today. “Consider carefully what you hear, he continued. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you— and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Mark 4: 21-25). Whoever has, will be given more, our Lord says. What is it that we must have? We must have the love of God in our hearts. That is what true wealth consists in. If we have that, we shall be truly rich. All other things we seek and attain in life ought serve to enrich ourselves in the love of God. With this we are rich indeed.

We ought aim to become rich in life. By the time our last breath arrives, we ought be wealthy. But it has to be wealth that we can take with us, wealth that is not subject to destruction. The wealth that God wants us to have is faith, hope and love for him. At great cost to himself God made available to us real wealth, not the wealth that is a mere illusion. The one thing necessary is the love and friendship of Christ. It is in him that we are to seek and use the other things of life, which all too many consider to be the only true wealth. Let us then seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these other things will be given us, in the measure that God sees fit.

A second thought: Consider carefully — take notice of — what you hear (Saint Mark 4: 21-25).

What we take notice of in life depends largely on what our interest is. If we are interested, we will take notice of what we are seeing and hearing. And there is much in life that we see and hear which we take little notice of. If we take little notice of something, we will scarcely remember much of it, nor will it play much part in our life. Our having seen or heard will bring little profit. Our Lord said that, in respect to his word, we must take notice. We can know his word by means of the inspired Scriptures and the teaching and preaching of the Church, but do we take notice? In our Gospel today, our Lord says this: “Take notice of what you are hearing... for the man who has will be given more; from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’..” (Mark 4: 24-25). On another occasion our Lord told the parable of the sower going out to sow. The seed that fell on the good soil is the man who hears the word of God and accepts it (Mark 4: 20). But to accept it, one must take notice of it. If we are to take notice of it, we must be genuinely interested, committed to God and his word. That is to say, we must be good soil. We must be disposed to take notice. It is this soil that, with the seed having fallen, produces the harvest.

This is a crucial matter because our Lord says that ‘the man who has will be given more; from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

St. Angela Merici (1470?-1540)

Angela has the double distinction of founding the first teaching congregation of women in the Church and what is now called a “secular institute” of religious women. As a young woman she became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis (now known as the Secular Franciscan Order), and lived a life of great austerity, wishing, like St. Francis, to own nothing, not even a bed. Early in life she was appalled at the ignorance among poorer children, whose parents could not or would not teach them the elements of religion. Angela’s charming manner and good looks complemented her natural qualities of leadership. Others joined her in giving regular instruction to the little girls of their neighbourhood. She was invited to live with a family in Brescia (where, she had been told in a vision, she would one day found a religious community). Her work continued and became well known. She became the center of a group of people with similar ideals. She eagerly took the opportunity for a trip to the Holy Land. When they had gotten as far as Crete, she was struck with blindness. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going through with the pilgrimage, and visited the sacred shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way back, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the same place where it had been lost. At 57, she organized a group of 12 girls to help her in catechetical work. Four years later the group had increased to 28. She formed them into the Company of St. Ursula (patroness of medieval universities and venerated as a leader of women) for the purpose of re-Christianizing family life through solid Christian education of future wives and mothers. The members continued to live at home, had no special habit and took no formal vows, though the early Rule prescribed the practice of virginity, poverty and obedience. The idea of a teaching congregation of women was new and took time to develop. The community thus existed as a “secular institute” until some years after Angela’s death.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (4:1-20)

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered round him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times. Then Jesus said, He who has ears to hear, let him hear. When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!' Then Jesus said to them, Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop— thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.

Hearing the word
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

One of the truly great contributions to civilization made by Christianity is its insistence on the inalienable dignity of each person. Especially among some secular humanists there is a denial of the validity of this concept of dignity. For instance, the philosopher John Aldergrove has written that dignity, regardless of its meaning, cannot justify the claims that are attached to it — claims which are precluded by the observations of David Hume. Now, it may be that philosophical work on the foundations of human dignity still needs to be done in order to answer the objections of those who deny it. Nevertheless, under pressure from the religions of man and in particular from Christianity, in fact the dignity of each person has come to be recognized by the world. Yet it is a truth that is easy to forget because the individual can be quickly lost, forgotten and swept away in the ebb and flow of the tides of history. A person rises suddenly from his obscurity and gradually captures the organs of power — Bonaparte, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao. There is set in motion a pattern of war and seizure. Armies march and clash, thousands — perhaps millions — are lost from this life. What is to be said of all the ordinary persons thus sent spinning down the drain of death and obscurity? They have been used and forgotten. Alternatively, consider the countless persons who have spent their lives in the search for pleasure and immediate satisfaction. Perhaps it has been, not instant pleasure, but power or possessions they have sought. Still, their brief spans have been without consequence. They have forgotten their own dignity and have built nothing upon it. Lives without number have been like the seed that is scattered here and there and has come to nothing. We may say that much of human history is evoked by our Lord’s parable in our Gospel passage today. “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.”

The fact is that often there is not a lot that an individual can do to radically change the circumstances of his life. Granted many exceptions, generally if a person is born poor he will not end his life immersed in riches. The effect of circumstances is considerable — so much so that there have been many who have seen the human being as simply the product of his circumstances. He begins his adulthood with what he takes to be a happy marriage, but ten years later all has broken down and prudent observers cannot say it has been his own fault. He had bad luck in the circumstances of his marriage. Again, he is a well-qualified man and yet due to circumstances he has lost his job and it is very difficult for him to find work again. His entire life is affected by the circumstance that he has little money. Or again, he has, despite his best efforts, two or three extremely difficult children. It virtually breaks his heart. There are so many things in life that can thwart and stultify the flourishing of man’s dignity and potential. The question is, is there any way the dignity of a person can flourish, whatever be the circumstances that come his or her way? Let us put it in the context of our Gospel passage today (Mark 4: 1-20). How can a person yield a harvest in his life, even if his circumstances be hopeless in their natural potential? Our Lord gives the answer. If we receive the word of God and resolutely put it into practice, receiving and accepting it with a good heart, that word will yield the harvest that God our creator wants. And so it is, for example, that the person who remains in an iron lung all her life can pass from this life with dignity unimpaired and wonderfully enhanced. She has striven to live in gratitude and every day has kept close to Christ her Saviour. Or consider the wife with an impossible husband who, day by day lives in union with Christ, is unfailingly patient and kind with her husband, and wins out in the end by drawing him back into the practice of religion. She has not been the product of her circumstances because she has been good soil for the word of God.

If we wish our lives to be a success no matter what the circumstances might be, then we have before us the key to it. The key lies in our attitude to Christ and his word. The most important “circumstance” in life is that we make the decision to be a disciple of Christ and to receive his word in faith and obedience. That word comes to us in the teaching of the Church and in reading the Church’s Book, which is the inspired Scriptures. Let us be like the good soil in our Lord’s parable, receiving the word of Christ with joy and faith, and putting it generously into practice.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Saints Titus and Timothy, bishops

Timothy (d. 97?): What we know from the New Testament of Timothy’s life makes it sound like that of a modern harried bishop. He had the honour of being a fellow apostle with Paul, both sharing the privilege of preaching the gospel and suffering for it. Timothy had a Greek father and a Jewish mother named Eunice. Being the product of a “mixed” marriage, he was considered illegitimate by the Jews. It was his grandmother, Lois, who first became Christian. Timothy was a convert of Paul around the year 47 and later joined him in his apostolic work. He was with Paul at the founding of the Church in Corinth. During the 15 years he worked with Paul, he became one of his most faithful and trusted friends. He was sent on difficult missions by Paul—often in the face of great disturbance in local Churches which Paul had founded. Timothy was with Paul in Rome during the latter’s house arrest. At some period Timothy himself was in prison (Hebrews 13:23). Paul installed him as his representative at the Church of Ephesus. Timothy was comparatively young for the work he was doing. (“Let no one have contempt for your youth,” Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:12a.) Several references seem to indicate that he was timid. And one of Paul’s most frequently quoted lines was addressed to him: “Stop drinking only water, but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23).

Titus (d. 94?): Titus has the distinction of being a close friend and disciple of Paul as well as a fellow missionary. He was Greek, apparently from Antioch. Even though Titus was a Gentile, Paul would not let him be forced to undergo circumcision at Jerusalem. Titus is seen as a peacemaker, administrator, great friend. Paul’s second letter to Corinth affords an insight into the depth of his friendship with Titus, and the great fellowship they had in preaching the gospel: “When I went to Troas...I had no relief in my spirit because I did not find my brother Titus. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.... For even when we came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—external conflicts, internal fears. But God, who encourages the downcast, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus...” (2 Corinthians 2:12a, 13; 7:5-6). When Paul was having trouble with the community at Corinth, Titus was the bearer of Paul’s severe letter and was successful in smoothing things out. Paul writes he was strengthened not only by the arrival of Titus but also “by the encouragement with which he was encouraged in regard to you, as he told us of your yearning, your lament, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.... And his heart goes out to you all the more, as he remembers the obedience of all of you, when you received him with fear and trembling” (2 Corinthians 7:7a, 15). The Letter to Titus addresses him as the administrator of the Christian community on the island of Crete, charged with organizing it, correcting abuses and appointing presbyter-bishops.

“But when the kindness and generous love of God our Saviour appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. This saying is trustworthy” (Titus 3:4-8).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (3: 31-35)

"The mother and brothers of Jesus arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him. 'Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.' He replied, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.' "

(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There are numerous things we take for granted, day by day. We take for granted the air we breathe, the shelter we have, the work that is ours and the health we might enjoy. We take for granted the family into which we were born and the nation of which we are citizens. If for any reason we are suddenly deprived of these blessings, it is then that we understand how much we depend on them. A catastrophe occurs and one’s family is lost — how forlorn does life suddenly become and what a struggle lies ahead! Or again, we are made redundant and our job is lost. The mortgage cannot be met and in due course the home is lost. To that point we had taken so much for granted. There is another blessing, a feature of life that is almost like the air we breathe and which we also tend to take for granted. I refer to the entire social dimension of life. We are profoundly dependent on relationships with others. We are not made to be alone. We are so constituted that if we are to flourish at all, then in some sense we must be in relationship with others — or at least another. This is so evident that it barely merits observation, except that its implications are very often not realized. In actual fact, the entire universe is essentially relational. Virtually nothing stands alone, down to the tiniest neutron. Inanimate things depend on other things, as does the vast realm of living things — right up to the family of man. All things are enmeshed in a network of relationships which give to them their true dynamism and life. If a human being is completely isolated, it is certain that, like other things in the world, he will crumble to pieces. In all of this, the world bears the imprint of the Creator himself. While God is one infinite being, he is not solitary. He is three divine persons in an ineffable mutual relationship. Now, while the universe is a heaving, throbbing network of mutual relationships, what especially distinguishes man is that the soul of all his relationships is his bond with God. He is called to be involved with God his creator. That is, he is a religious being.

Man instinctively knows this. He takes to being religious, unless his culture or his own deliberate neglect smothers this natural propensity. As God’s creature, he has been so constituted as to tend to want to be in some relationship to God. The challenge is to make of this the foundation of his life. That is to say, it is not enough that he acknowledge the existence of God and turn to him often enough, especially when in difficulty. Essentially, he must accept God’s authority and respond to it with obedience. This is the perennial challenge for religious man. It is no great thing to be religious — it is natural to man for he is God’s creature, even though modern secular man characteristically suffers from the aberration of lacking religion. What man is called to do is not just to be in some conscious relationship with God, but to be in a relationship distinguished by continual obedience. If he fails in obedience, he must recognize this, repent of it, and get back on course. All of this arises from the fact that he is God’s creature. But a new situation has come into being by the direct intervention of God. It is that God has become man and has inaugurated a new family around him. We are now called to a wondrously new relationship with him. We are to be brothers and sisters of the Incarnate God himself. God is now not only my Creator, but he is my Brother. This is one of the most obvious differences between Christianity and, say, Islam. Jesus, my God, is my Brother because of the Incarnation and because of the Atonement. He took to himself our human nature and he redeemed us from our sin. We are his brothers and sisters, as he says in our Gospel passage today. “Who are my mother and my brothers?' And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers.'” Let us not take this new relationship for granted. God has made himself our kinsman. But the same challenge lies ahead. We must accept God’s authority and respond in obedience. “Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3: 31-35).

Life is meant to flourish, and we all feel sad when life fails. The life of man depends especially on a flourishing relationship with God his Creator. For man this means a life of obedience to him, and more precisely, a loving obedience. This is not just something we must search for according to our best lights. It is something which God has revealed and instituted in an extraordinary fashion. God has become man to make of us his brothers and sisters. The invitation stands, and the deepest human tragedy consists in the invitation not being accepted. But once accepted, we must then do what Christ our Brother did. We must do the will of God. Therein lies true life.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Conversion of St. Paul

Paul’s entire life can be explained in terms of one experience—his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, who was only a few years older. But he had acquired a zealot’s hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: “...entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” (Acts 8:3b). Now he himself was “entered,” possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal—being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Saviour. One sentence determined his theology: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5b). Jesus was mysteriously identified with people—the loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfillment of all he had been blindly pursuing. From then on, his only work was to “present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labour and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Colossians 1:28b-29). “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5a). Paul’s life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ’s victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new. So Paul’s great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more “works” than the Law could ever contemplate.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (16:15-18)

Jesus said to them, Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

St Paul
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

I remember attending an address given by an Archbishop who happened to be a well qualified Scripture scholar with a pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Biblicum in Rome. His own speciality in Scripture had been, I think, the Gospel of St Luke, and he made the (tongue-in-cheek) observation that when he was eventually asked to teach the Letters of St Paul he discovered that he did not much like St Paul. He was joking, but I think he was saying that the image of St Paul that we can so easily have is of a person who was driven by his sense of mission and not notable for his humanity. But he quickly realized — as we all do — that St Paul had a tremendous heart. It is his love for people which is especially striking in his Letters. Love urged him along in his missionary life, a love which reflected the love of Christ. Moreover, when we think of St Paul, there is this to be remembered. I mentioned the Gospel of St Luke. St Luke’s writings occupy more space in the New Testament than any other author, closely followed by the writings of St Paul (if we allow that Hebrews did not have Paul for its author). Paul’s experience of Christ was of him as risen from the dead. He did not know him personally during his earthly sojourn. But he had Luke the historian for his friend and assistant in some of his missionary journeys. Luke carefully gathered and compiled much historical information about the birth and infancy of Christ, about Mary and Joseph, Christ’s years in Nazareth, his public ministry, his Passion and Death, and also the early history of parts of the infant Church. This material was becoming his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, and in his research he was guided by the Holy Spirit. I like to think of St Paul being filled with the facts of our Lord’s life and death by what his friend was compiling so successfully. On the feast of the conversion of St Paul when we think of his first encounter with Christ, let us also think of the influence of the companion who would have told him many of the facts about Jesus — Luke, the author of the Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles.

But today we think of the occasion which began the story of the Apostle Paul. Paul had been, as we all know from the Acts of the Apostles and from the Letters of St Paul, a ruthless persecutor of the early disciples. There were other persecutors at the same time and before him. There had been persecutors at the time of our Lord himself, and some had succeeded in putting our Lord himself to death — but all under the Providence of God. Now, what became of these persecutors? They disappeared into the mists of history. They had been kicking against the goad, and to no ultimate effect. Now, for all Paul’s energy, he too would probably have disappeared into the obscurity of history, unknown to us if he had proceeded along that course. But that course changed and it was due to the intervention of Jesus Christ. Paul was, we might say, in full flight and he was brought down to the ground. There, like a bird shot in the wing, he struggled and limped along. He was blinded and the risen Jesus spoke to him. From that point everything changed. Paul was converted from implacable opposition to Christ to an unyielding love for him. It shows two things. Firstly, it shows the power of God’s grace. We ought never give up on what God can do. Time and again in the history of the Church there have been massive threats, but prayer and resolve have turned the tide. Even military battles have been won due the power of prayer — let us think of, say, the battle of Lepanto in 1571. Paul himself always looked on his own conversion as a signal sign of the power and the mercy of God. God can overcome sin and blindness. At the same time, as our Lord pointed out in his parable of the Sower going out to sow, there has to be good soil to receive the seed. For all his ferocity against the Church, Paul was acting sincerely according to his lights. That is to say, he was acting in accord with his conscience. Fundamentally he was striving to obey God. When the true light entered his life, he changed his course and followed that light. The Conversion of St Paul shows the power of God’s grace and the importance of fidelity to our sense of duty, even if it be temporarily mistaken.

Every day we ought begin anew in our love and service of Jesus Christ. Each of us has a mission in life, even if it appears modest indeed. Each of us has a place in the providence of God. Let us then do our best to fulfil the work that has been given to us. It will be our way of showing our love for God and for Christ, and of doing all we can to fulfil the saving work of God. Let us take St Paul for our example, and make the love of Christ the defining element in our daily life.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Prayers today: Sing a new son to the Lord! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Truth and beauty surround him, he lives in holiness and glory.

All powerful and ever-living God, direct your love that is within us, that our efforts in the name of your Son may bring mankind to unity and peace.

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

Francis was destined by his father to be a lawyer so that the young man could eventually take his elder’s place as a senator from the province of Savoy in France. For this reason Francis was sent to Padua to study law. After receiving his doctorate, he returned home and, in due time, told his parents he wished to enter the priesthood. His father strongly opposed Francis in this, and only after much patient persuasiveness on the part of the gentle Francis did his father finally consent. Francis was ordained and elected provost of the Diocese of Geneva, then a center for the Calvinists. Francis set out to convert them, especially in the district of Chablais. By preaching and distributing the little pamphlets he wrote to explain true Catholic doctrine, he had remarkable success. At 35 he became bishop of Geneva. While administering his diocese he continued to preach, hear confessions and catechize the children. His gentle character was a great asset in winning souls. He practised his own axiom, “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.” Besides his two well-known books, the Introduction to the Devout Life and A Treatise on the Love of God, he wrote many pamphlets and carried on a vast correspondence. For his writings, he has been named patron of the Catholic Press. His writings, filled with his characteristic gentle spirit, are addressed to lay people. He wants to make them understand that they too are called to be saints. As he wrote in The Introduction to the Devout Life: “It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman.... It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world.” In spite of his busy and comparatively short life, he had time to collaborate with another saint, Jane Frances de Chantal (August 12), in the work of establishing the Sisters of the Visitation. These women were to practice the virtues exemplified in Mary’s visit to Elizabeth: humility, piety and mutual charity. They at first engaged to a limited degree in works of mercy for the poor and the sick. Today, while some communities conduct schools, others live a strictly contemplative life.

Francis de Sales tells us: “The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: he is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.”

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (1:1-4; 4:14-21)

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

The Messiah
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There are certain features of the religion of Judaeo-Christian revelation which are common to many other religions. One basic common element is, of course, belief in an unseen world which profoundly affects the visible world. In his religion, man attempts to be involved with the supernatural world and its higher powers so as to obtain aid in dealing with his various needs. The classic secular man denies that there is this supernatural. And there are many other things common to most religions. On the other hand, there are features of Judaeo-Christian religion which are especially notable, and perhaps unique to it. One is the expectation of God’s coming and its fulfilment. Expectancy pervaded the religion of Abraham, Moses and the prophets prior to Jesus Christ — and it passed over, in a new sense, into the Christian religion. It is a religion which expects that God will come and do things for man. He will save him from his difficulties. In the biblical account of the beginnings, God promises that there will be one who will crush the Serpent’s head and thus undo his bad work. God promises that through Abraham all the nations will be blessed. He promises to David that his kingdom will never end. The promises continue and they increase with the prophets, and this glorious future which God continued to guarantee was focussed in an individual anointed by God. Snapshots of him in the prophecies from one angle and then another flashed before the chosen people, but it was very difficult to achieve a united and common understanding. So, on the one hand there was the firm expectation that God would come to help and to save — and an iconic type of this was his saving of his people from their slavery in Egypt. A Messiah was coming — perhaps a new Moses, or a new Prophet, a new David. But his nature, his person, and his saving mission were contested. Very many thought he would save his people from political oppression. One could even describe Jesus Christ as being the definitive resolution of this confusion of interpretation. He came revealing himself as the divine fulfilment of all the longings and all the predictions.

In our Gospel today (Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21), our Lord has returned from his initial sojourn in Judea, during which he was baptized by John in the Jordan river, anointed by the Holy Spirit and launched on his messianic mission, and made contact with is first Apostles. He was now back in Galilee in the power of the Spirit. We read that “news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.” A new and great prophet had arisen, and John had pointed to him as the one to whom all should listen. And so he returned to the scene of his childhood, youth and manhood. All his human roots, the ties of human affections and his memories, were here. We read that in the synagogue “he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.” All of this, he then said, is being fulfilled here and now in my very person. I am the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah. Our Lord would go on in his ministry to show that all the prophecies had their fulfilment in him, but in a sense that too few had expected. He had come to save his people from their sins and to give to them a share in his own divine life. He was the God-given Saviour of the world in a sense far greater than they had divined. Peter would proclaim before the Sanhedrin that “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we can be saved” than that of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the Messiah awaited by Israel, sent into the world by the Father. He is crucified and risen, the Suffering Servant “who gives his life as a ransom for the many” (Matthew 20:28). It was a triumph and a fulfilment which few expected, but which in the event was shown to be the true meaning of the prophecies.

Jesus means God is saving. Christ means, the anointed one. Jesus Christ is the one God anointed to save mankind from its worst and basic affliction, sin. This kind of salvation has little interest for many, and there were great numbers in our Lord’s time who had little interest in it too. They wanted salvation from sickness, hunger, political oppression — which were true and great evils, but they all stemmed from the basic evil which is sin. Sin entered the world through one man, and with sin came death. Christ is the Saviour of the world in that he took away the world’s sin — but this blessing has to be brought to every person. It is in friendship with Jesus Christ that this salvation comes to us. Let us, then, be his true friend!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Blessed Mother Marianne Cope (1838-1918)

Though leprosy scared off most people in 19th-century Hawaii, that disease sparked great generosity in the woman who came to be known as Mother Marianne of Molokai. Her courage helped tremendously to improve the lives of its victims in Hawaii, a territory annexed to the United States during her lifetime (1898). Mother Marianne’s generosity and courage were celebrated at her May 14, 2005, beatification in Rome. She was a woman who spoke "the language of truth and love" to the world, said Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. Cardinal Martins, who presided at the beatification Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, called her life "a wonderful work of divine grace." Speaking of her special love for persons suffering from leprosy, he said, "She saw in them the suffering face of Jesus. Like the Good Samaritan, she became their mother." On January 23, 1838, a daughter was born to Peter and Barbara Cope of Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany. The girl was named after her mother. Two years later the Cope family immigrated to the United States and settled in Utica, New York. Young Barbara worked in a factory until August 1862, when she went to the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York. After profession in November of the next year, she began teaching at Assumption parish school. Marianne held the post of superior in several places and was twice the novice mistress of her congregation. A natural leader, three different times she was superior of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, where she learned much that would be useful during her years in Hawaii. Elected provincial in 1877, Mother Marianne was unanimously re-elected in 1881. Two years later the Hawaiian government was searching for someone to run the Kakaako Receiving Station for people suspected of having leprosy. More than 50 religious communities in the United States and Canada were asked. When the request was put to the Syracuse sisters, 35 of them volunteered immediately. On October 22, 1883, Mother Marianne and six other sisters left for Hawaii where they took charge of the Kakaako Receiving Station outside Honolulu; on the island of Maui they also opened a hospital and a school for girls. In 1888, Mother Marianne and two sisters went to Molokai to open a home for "unprotected women and girls" there. The Hawaiian government was quite hesitant to send women for this difficult assignment; they need not have worried about Mother Marianne! On Molokai she took charge of the home that Blessed Damien DeVeuster (d. 1889) had established for men and boys. Mother Marianne changed life on Molokai by introducing cleanliness, pride and fun to the colony. Bright scarves and pretty dresses for the women were part of her approach. Awarded the Royal Order of Kapiolani by the Hawaiian government and celebrated in a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, Mother Marianne continued her work faithfully. Her sisters have attracted vocations among the Hawaiian people and still work on Molokai. Mother Marianne died on August 9, 1918.

Soon after Mother Marianne died, Mrs. John F. Bowler wrote in the Honolulu Advertiser, "Seldom has the opportunity come to a woman to devote every hour of 30 years to the mothering of people isolated by law from the rest of the world. She risked her own life in all that time, faced everything with unflinching courage and smiled sweetly through it all."

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 3:20-21

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, He is out of his mind.

Christ at work
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There is a difficulty in the interpretation of this Gospel passage that is noted by many commentators. For one, it is not clear from the Greek whether it is Christ’s "family" (Greek: hoi par outou) or his friends, or others who wanted to take charge of him. Nor is it clear whether it was he or the crowd that was said to be "mad" (or better, "beside himself" — exestee). That is, it may have been the crowd that appeared to be "beside itself." Our Lord’s friends wanted to take charge — or manage — the crowd, for it — the crowd — seemed "beside itself" in pressing on our Lord from all directions for his help. The point is that the Greek is a little obscure in the matter of what certain words refer to, and so different translations are legitimate. So let us refrain from too much detail in interpreting the meaning of this brief passage. What is very clear is our Lord’s entire immersion in his mission. He had given himself over to the service of God’s people. Now, let us remember that Jesus was not simply a profoundly religious and dedicated man — he was all of this, but immeasurably more. We are speaking of the Son of God. It is God who is given over to an unstinting service of his chosen people. The great God! In the Sistine Chapel in Rome there is a famous painting of God touching the hand of Adam and giving life to him. That touch can be seen as extended to all of creation. By the touch of God all things are sustained in being, and God transcends all else in his infinity. God transcends all, and does so ineffably. The thought of this, though, can leave an impression that God is far from man and creation, whereas he is indescribably near. But this nearness of God which is philosophically comprehensible is, as it were, outshone by further facts. The fact is that he became one of us. So extraordinary was this fact that, ever since the Incarnation many have refused to accept that the man Jesus Christ is actually God. But further to this, the incarnate God became man’s friend, and set out to serve man in a way that must absolutely transform our impression of the one, only and infinite God. God is man’s friend, and consumed with the desire to serve him.

Our Gospel passage today (Mark 3:20-21) presents our Lord as utterly immersed in the service of needy man, so much so that, as we read, "he and his disciples were not even able to eat." Throughout the Gospels we see this unbounded zeal in Jesus. At the outset, Christ fasts for forty days in the wilderness. For all his penance, we do not read of John the Baptist doing this. John the Baptist awaited the people as they came to him, but Christ travelled wherever he could throughout the land of the chosen people of God. He went to towns, villages, farms. We can imagine people thronging to him from right, left and centre. At the same time we can imagine him visiting individual farms — and other homes. He invited himself into the home of Zacchaeus the chief tax collector. He dined in the homes of leading Pharisees, on their invitation. He made his way to the home of a centurion who had requested his presence. It was a ministry of consuming service, and whole nights were then spent in prayer to God his heavenly Father. Christ was a man of work, and this means that God is a God of work. He works for our salvation, and the intensity of his love and dedication to which our brief passage today alludes, translates into a corresponding love and dedication to us. Each of us is loved by Jesus Christ as if there is no one else for him to love. Each of us who is baptized has been taken into a personal union with him and invited to live, by personal choice, a life consistent with that personal bond. The picture of Christ having no time to eat because of the needs of the crowds pressing around him, ought be for each of us a picture of his love for us. As St Paul wrote, Christ loved me and gave himself up for me. It also means that we are called to serve others in need. Let us note that not only Jesus had no time to eat. His disciples also had no time to eat. They were caught up in the life of service which marked the ministry of Jesus. So too with us. Every day we are called to spend ourselves in a Christ-like service of our brothers in need. When we do this, it is Christ who is loving and serving others through us.

There are two fundamental aspects of the life of the Christian, and indeed, of any human being: work and prayer. We are called to serve others every day by our work — and we have the picture of Christ at work in our Gospel passage today. Our work must be sanctified and made holy. This is done by doing it as well as we can for love of Christ and our fellow men. At the same time we must grow in our life of prayer. Christ spent himself for the salvation of souls by day, and much of the night he spent in prayer with his heavenly Father. Something of this must mark our lives too, according to our proper measure. Let us give ourselves over to it, then!

Friday, January 22, 2010

St. Vincent (d. 304)

When Jesus deliberately began his “journey” to death, Luke says that he “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. It is this quality of rocklike courage that distinguishes the martyrs. Most of what we know about this saint comes from the poet Prudentius. His Acts have been rather freely colored by the imagination of their compiler. But St. Augustine, in one of his sermons on St. Vincent, speaks of having the Acts of his martyrdom before him. We are at least sure of his name, his being a deacon, the place of his death and burial. According to the story we have (and as with some of the other early martyrs the unusual devotion he inspired must have had a basis in a very heroic life), Vincent was ordained deacon by his friend St. Valerius of Zaragossa in Spain. The Roman emperors had published their edicts against the clergy in 303, and the following year against the laity. Vincent and his bishop were imprisoned in Valencia. Hunger and torture failed to break them. Like the youths in the fiery furnace (Book of Daniel, chapter three), they seemed to thrive on suffering. Valerius was sent into exile, and Dacian, the Roman governor, now turned the full force of his fury on Vincent. Tortures that sound like those of World War II were tried. But their main effect was the progressive disintegration of Dacian himself. He had the torturers beaten because they failed. Finally he suggested a compromise: Would Vincent at least give up the sacred books to be burned according to the emperor’s edict? He would not. Torture on the gridiron continued, the prisoner remaining courageous, the torturer losing control of himself. Vincent was thrown into a filthy prison cell—and converted the jailer. Dacian wept with rage, but strangely enough, ordered the prisoner to be given some rest. Friends among the faithful came to visit him, but he was to have no earthly rest. When they finally settled him on a comfortable bed, he went to his eternal rest.

“Wherever it was that Christians were put to death, their executions did not bear the semblance of a triumph. Exteriorly they did not differ in the least from the executions of common criminals. But the moral grandeur of a martyr is essentially the same, whether he preserved his constancy in the arena before thousands of raving spectators or whether he perfected his martyrdom forsaken by all upon a pitiless flayer’s field” (The Roman Catacombs, Hertling-Kirschbaum).

A reflection on the first reading: Samuel 24: 3-21

“David’s men said to him, ‘Today is the day of which the Lord said to you, “I will deliver your enemy into your power, do what you like with him.” David stood up and, unobserved, cut off the border of Saul’s cloak. Afterwards David reproached himself for having cut off the border of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, “The Lord preserve me from doing such a thing to my lord and raising my hand against him, for he is the anointed of the Lord.” David gave his men strict instructions, forbidding them to attack Saul.’

David was one of the very greatest of the Old Testament figures, as a father and king of his people, and as a forerunner of his descendant the Messiah. His kingdom in some sense would never have an end. But let us ask, in what did his greatness consist? A central feature of the grandeur of David was his reverence and submission to God, which was manifested in his reverence and submission towards God’s representatives, even if they were unworthy. David knew that when God had anointed an individual as prophet or king, to reverence that person and to submit to him in matters due to him was to reverence and to submit to God. A second feature of his greatness was his readiness to repent, and this we see in him both here and on other occasions. How different in this respect was David from so many other figures in the Scriptures! In both these outstanding qualities we have a model. We ought have reverence towards those who represent Christ - particularly the chief pastor, his Vicar here on earth. If we fail in this (as did David here) we should repent.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 3:13-19

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve— designating them apostles— that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

No one is left out
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

One of the most fundamental features of creation is that there is a profound variation evident everywhere. There is small and large, high and low, powerful and weak, prominent and unnoticed. In the sea there is the whale and there is the micro-organism in a deep-sea sediment. On land there is the powerful bull-elephant and there is the humble rodent. Among men there is Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte, while at the same time there are the many obscure urchins who have nowhere to lay their heads. In his Providence, God calls some to prominence in the full light of day, while others remain unnoticed in the impenetrable darkness of history. Consider our Gospel scene today (Mark 3: 13-19). Our Lord has begun his redemptive mission and has gathered about him his many disciples - and it would become evident that his mission is to make of all the nations his disciples. Here, now, he calls from among his disciples a definite Twelve. He gave them a name which will be theirs forever. They were “apostles” - the word is Greek (apostoloi) and it meant “envoys,” “ambassadors.” They were called to be with him on a continual basis and to work with him in his mission. He would send them out as his envoys, and they would teach what he taught and drive out demons with his power. They would multiply his presence. At the heart of this call was his love for them, and their growing love for him. It was an immense dignity, to be his friends and collaborators. On his rising from the dead he would give to them a unique share in his own Holy Spirit. They were the object of his special love, and for all eternity they will have a unique status and dignity. On their part, this dignity was matched by worthy and holy lives, and the feast day of each is celebrated annually in the Church’s Liturgical Year. The one tragic fall was that of Judas, who was soon replaced by Matthias. The point being made here is that it all flowed from the special call of Jesus to each Apostle - a call not granted to others. It was a mysterious call, and not to be explained by mere human reasoning.

Now, why did Christ choose some and not others? Consider even the Twelve. We notice that on various occasions our Lord selected certain ones and not others to enjoy a special association with him. John is called in the Gospel (of John) “the one Jesus loved.” Peter, James and John are seen to be taken aside by our Lord for special time with him. For instance, our Lord took these three with him up the mountain to witness his Transfiguration. He took them with him into the house where he raised the little girl from death. He took them with him to be present during his Agony in the Garden. They are referred to by St Paul as the “pillars” of the infant Church in Jerusalem. So as Apostles, they had a special vocation that differed from other disciples. Within the Apostolic band they also had a special calling that differed from the other Apostles. Why did Christ leave some out? Well, of course, if there are special works to be done in the saving plan of God, then some must be chosen to do them. This necessarily means not choosing others. But there is this to be said. Selecting some does not mean that others are “left out” in a much more important sense. The entire purpose of special callings such as those of the Apostles was in order to bring to all mankind the invitation to a personal friendship with Jesus. It is this which is the fundamental and saving vocation. It is this which is the primary dignity. The Apostle is called to be Christ’s friend - Simon, do you love me? we remember Christ saying - but the humblest disciple is also called to be Christ’s friend. Indeed, the whole world has this calling, and the Church’s mission is to bring this call to all and to make it fruitful. Thus it is that the most obscure of the baptized has the marvellous call to sanctity, just as real a call as that possessed by one of the Twelve. Indeed, such a person can attain a level of sanctity not reached by the one who has received the dignity of Apostle and Priest. St Joseph did. No one is “left out.” Each human being is the object of the special love of God and has received a special call to love and serve him.

The fundamental thing about the Christian religion is the revelation of the love of God for all of mankind and for every single human being. Thus does everyone have an inalienable dignity which under pain of divine judgment must be recognized and respected by others. I am loved by God, each can and should say, and he, God, wants me to love him. As St Paul wrote, Christ loved me, and gave himself up for me. This is the foundation of the universal call to holiness and of the dignity of every man and woman on the face of the earth. No one, no one at all, is “left out.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

St. Agnes (d. 258?)

Almost nothing is known of this saint except that she was very young—12 or 13—when she was martyred in the last half of the third century. Various modes of death have been suggested—beheading, burning, strangling. Legend has it she was a beautiful girl whom many young men wanted to marry. Among those she refused, one reported her to the authorities for being a Christian. She was arrested and confined to a house of prostitution. The legend continues that a man who looked upon her lustfully lost his sight and had it restored by her prayer. She was condemned, executed and buried near Rome in a catacomb that eventually was named after her. The daughter of Constantine built a basilica in her honour.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (3:7-12)

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, You are the Son of God. But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.

The True Work
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

If we let our minds range across the Scriptures and think of the prophets and holy men who preceded Christ, is there any prophet who - on the very face of it - appeared as being in his class? In this Gospel of St Mark another prophet is described - John the Baptist. Mark tells us that “there went out to him from all Judea and Jerusalem” people who were baptized by him in the Jordan. They came from Galilee too because our Lord, for one, came from Nazareth to be baptized by John, and we find Galileans among John’s disciples - such as Andrew and John. But in the case of our Lord, our passage today tells us that apart from the “large crowd from Galilee” that followed him, people came from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. His fame went abroad, and once when he retreated to neighbouring pagan territory we read that a Canaanite woman pursued him addressing him as the “Son of David.” She would not leave off till she obtained the cure of her daughter. Granted the greatness of such as Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezechiel, still, the Gospel texts suggest that the people were drawn to Jesus to a degree that was not matched by the prophets before him. The authority with which he spoke, and the constant power he wielded over nature and the underworld eclipsed the holy men before him. As Matthew reports (9:33), the people were amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” In the accounts of the prophets before Christ we do not read of the demons being flushed out in such numbers. Their presence was brought to light, and they could not restrain their fear and frustration before Christ. In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel our Lord taught and healed in the synagogue of Capernaum. It was too much for an unclean spirit that was also there - it bawled out at Jesus demanding that he leave them alone. They knew who he was, it said: the Holy One of God! In our Gospel passage today, whenever the evil spirits saw him they fell down and cried out, “You are the Son of God!” But he imposed silence on them.

The entire scene (Mark 3: 7-12) bespeaks power, authority, stature and holiness. Jesus Christ towers above all. Yet he is humble, unassuming, and while imposing limitations on the demons, he does not compel the recognition or allegiance of his fellow men. But let us notice his command to the demons: they were not to “tell who he was.” Our Lord was well aware of the impression he was creating on the people, but he was also well aware of how ephemeral this impression was. He was a great light that had arisen in the land of darkness - as the prophet had put it - but his work required much more than impressions. The pressing danger was that the people would look on him merely as a great wonder-worker who could provide for their temporal and material needs. Our Lord’s intention in healing the sick and casting out demons was to point to the greatest liberation yet to come and which he would soon effect. He had come to take away the sin of the world, to give men the gift of holiness and the power to be children of God. The problem with many in the vast crowds seeking out our Lord, was that they desired not freedom from sin and the gift of sanctity, but benefits for this life alone. Our Lord could provide those things - he healed, cast out devils, raised the dead - but these miracles were a sign of something far greater that he wished to give. Some even wanted our Lord to be just a political king who would bring them a regime of great material prosperity. They wanted a kingdom of this world filled with the benefits Jesus was providing in his miracles, whereas our Lord had come to establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth. The challenge before our Lord was to bring the children of Israel to desire this far greater benefit and to do the work that was required for it. That work was repentance: repent, for the kingdom of God is near at hand. It was also a work of faith: this is the work of God, that you believe in the one he has sent. A great change of mind was required of the people if the striking impression, which because of his person and ministry he was giving, was to have its intended effect. However great Jesus Christ was and is, man must be properly disposed to receive him.

In a word, we must approach Christ with the desire for God. He it is who brings God to man. He it is who redeems man from the thraldom of sin and enables him to love God. Do we wish to be freed and cleansed from sin? Do we wish to be good? Do we wish to be holy? If we desire it, Christ will enable us to attain it with the gift of his grace, which comes with the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray for these fundamental predispositions that make of us good soil for the seed of God, a seed that can, together with our work, produce in us a harvest.