Sunday, February 28, 2010

Prayers for today: Remember your mercies, Lord, your tenderness from ages past. Do not let our enemies triumph over us; O God, deliver Israel from all her distress. (Psalm 24: 6.3.22)

God our Father, help us to hear your Son. Enlighten us with your word, that we may find the way to your glory. We ask this through Christ our Lord in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Blessed Daniel Brottier (1876-1936)

Daniel spent most of his life in the trenches—one way or another. Born in France in 1876, Daniel was ordained in 1899 and began a teaching career. That didn’t satisfy him long. He wanted to use his zeal for the gospel far beyond the classroom. He joined the missionary Congregation of the Holy Spirit, which sent him to Senegal, West Africa. After eight years there, his health was suffering. He was forced to return to France, where he helped raise funds for the construction of a new cathedral in Senegal. At the outbreak of World War I Daniel became a volunteer chaplain and spent four years at the front. He did not shrink from his duties. Indeed, he risked his life time and again in ministering to the suffering and dying. It was miraculous that he did not suffer a single wound during his 52 months in the heart of battle. After the war he was invited to help establish a project for orphaned and abandoned children in a Paris suburb. He spent the final 13 years of his life there. He died in 1936 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Paris only 48 years later.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (9.28~36)

About eight days after Jesus said this, He took Peter, John and James with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to Him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters— one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him. When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no-one at that time what they had seen.

(Homily by Fr. E.J Tyler)

Perhaps the most striking thing about reality is its variety. Everywhere there are differences. Look at a garden, look at the animals in a zoo, look at any group of persons, look at a family, look at even a pair of twins. One sees many differences. The differences among the things that make up visible creation are not only of kind but of degree within the various kinds. Though all men are of the one kind, who could calculate the number of differences among individuals within humankind? Particularly notable are the differences in talent, in capacity. All his life one man does the most humdrum of things and, though he may be happy, never achieves anything beyond the ordinary. Another man arises from obscurity and is in sight of becoming, even if briefly, nearly the master of the world. Where did Napoleon Bonaparte come from? He was an obscure Corsican from off the coast of Italy and yet by the age of 35 was Emperor of the French and within five more years was master of Europe. He fell, but his talent was extraordinary. Eighty years after the birth of Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler was born in obscurity in Austria. By the age of 44 was head of the German state and on his way to a despicable career of carnage and blood that brought death and injury to untold numbers all over the world. He had extraordinary talent. We can think of numerous high achievers in history, including some who were saints, and others who were filled with evil intent. In all high achievers there is once common element: hope. They had high hopes. Now, hope is not exclusive to high achievers who have great talent, for even in those of very ordinary talent it is essential that there be hope. Hope is a fundamental human requisite. The ordinary person who in his obscurity lives a beautiful life, humbly raising his several children, day by day engaged in a tedious round of humdrum activity such as delivering bread or stacking provisions, and ending his days having done his best at his uninteresting tasks, must live in hope. Were he not to have hoped, he would have long since given up on life. If there is not hope, all is hopeless.

There is, however, a grand undertaking that is ahead of every man and woman, be he high or low in talent. The distinguished and the ordinary must make this undertaking his own. What he makes of it will depend on his calling and his spiritual talent, but make it his own he must. That undertaking is the work of personal holiness in Christ. It is the common undertaking of all who are baptized. Now, in this, just as with everything, hope is a fundamental prerequisite. Each must have a high hope of attaining this goal if he is ever to attain it. If he has little hope of it, he will not give it the energy and dedication it requires. This hope is a God-given virtue, imparted at our baptism, by which we desire the kingdom of heaven that our Lord announced and established. By means of this supernatural hope we desire eternal life as our happiness, and the virtues that are necessary for it. The foundation of this hope, a hope that has to be high indeed, is the trust we place in Christ’s promises rather than our own strength, together with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Only the grace of Jesus Christ can take us to holiness, but we must apply ourselves to the work — and for this application we need to have a great hope. This hope is the gift of God, as is our faith in Jesus Christ and as is our love for him. This virtue that is God’s gift responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man and woman. We naturally hope for happiness and this natural hope drives our efforts and decisions during life. The hope that is supernatural and specifically Christian is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It completes and gives focus to the natural hope of every human heart. Buoyed up by this hope, we are kept from sin and selfishness and led to holiness, which is the true happiness of man. Abraham hoped, and we are his children in the faith. In the beatitudes of Jesus Christ (in Matthew and Luke) our hopes are raised to heaven, and the grace won for us by the Passion and Death of Christ sustains our hope. Thus hope becomes the steadfast anchor of the soul and our weapon in our spiritual struggle.

Our Gospel today (Luke 9: 28-36) places before us the transfiguration of Christ, manifesting his glory. It shows forth what we are called to hope for. With the grace of God for which we ought pray, let us maintain high hopes of attaining our true end, which is union with Christ in his glory. This we attain by obeying the will of God in union with Jesus who attained his glory through suffering. We hope for union with the Bridegroom in the glory of heaven. As St Teresa of Avila wrote, “Hope, O my soul, hope.” Let us pray for the virtue of hope, and never let it fade away.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (1838-1862 )

Born in Italy into a large family and baptized Francis, he lost his mother when he was only four years old. He was educated by the Jesuits and, having been cured twice of serious illnesses, came to believe that God was calling him to the religious life. Young Francis wished to join the Jesuits but was turned down, probably because of his age, not yet 17. Following the death of a sister to cholera, his resolve to enter religious life became even stronger and he was accepted by the Passionists. Upon entering the novitiate he was given the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone. His superiors had great expectations of Gabriel as he prepared for the priesthood, but after only four years of religious life symptoms of tuberculosis appeared. Ever obedient, he patiently bore the painful effects of the disease and the restrictions it required, seeking no special notice. He died peacefully on February 27, 1862, at age 24, having been an example to both young and old. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was canonized in 1920.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (5.43-48)

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

(Homily Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Wonder is an important act of the mind and there are things in life we ought wonder about. Plato in his Theaetetus wrote that the origin of philosophy is “wonder” — in the sense of 'puzzlement' or 'perplexity' (155c-d). Aristotle too, sees wonder as the origin of philosophy: “For men were first led to study philosophy, as indeed they are today, by wonder....they took to philosophy to escape ignorance ...” (Metaphysics Book 1,2: 982b). Wonder leads us to consider life and the world more deeply. Consider some of the things one might wonder about, such as the very existence of things. The world exists, but why is there anything at all? We exist — but why is that? In January 2010 a massive earthquake convulses Haiti, and incalculable suffering ensues. There is so much evil and suffering in the world. Why is life and reality such, as to involve so much evil? Extending the point, there are students of animal life who are shocked by the scale of brutality and suffering perpetrated among the species. The relentless pursuit of a small bird by an eagle and its lethal attack on it seems to belie the notion that the world comes from and is sustained by a loving Creator. But now, there is another thing to wonder about. Yes, there is much evil and suffering everywhere, but despite this there is the wonderful fact of love. There are amazing fountains of love everywhere. Haiti falls amid the crash of the earthquake and the world scrambles to help. There is love amid the evil and suffering. Or again, a profoundly handicapped young man is constantly assisted with sensitive attention by his widowed father. This care goes on for years, and is unfailing. Again, an elderly parent is in a nursing home, lost in her mental dementia. She recognizes no one and says nothing. But every day she is attended by her loving son. So, let us wonder at the phenomenon of love! I propose that love is the greatest thing in the world. It is love that must noticed, treasured, admired, protected, cherished and resolutely helped to flourish. Love is absolutely indispensable.

As a matter of fact, it has been revealed to us that love is the heart, the soul, the core and the source of all reality, visible and invisible. Were we able to plunge to the very depths of all that there is, and rest our hand on the very first element from which everything else flows, we would touch love. Evil is not at the heart of things, but love. God, the inspired Scriptures teach us, is love. There is one Creator of all, and he is love. So much is he love that in fact, while he is one in being, he is a communion of three divine persons. God is a loving communion. He is love in his life and in his activity. He creates out of love and leaves his loving imprint on all that he does. Somehow, large and numerous weeds appeared in the field — and an enemy had done it. But love is the start of everything. Love sustains the world, and love will be the final term of the world. The only final evil will be to have turned one’s back on this love — and it is within our power to do so. We come from a loving God and if we live in union with him we shall go to him at the end. There is, then, a momentous choice facing every person. Shall I choose to love, or shall I choose not to? Our Lord is very clear about this. We must strive to become perfect in love, the love that he manifested and which, by the sacrifice of his life, he made possible for us. He has won for us the grace to grow mightily in love. “Be perfect” he says in today’s Gospel, “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We must strive to imitate God our loving Father, loving even those who inflict suffering and evil upon us. Evil comes, suffering comes, and this evil and suffering all too often has its origins in evil human hearts. But our response must be that of love. Love is the most beautiful fact of the world, and we must have it flourish. “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5: 43-48). Love is the imperative project of every man and woman.

Amid all the din of suffering and evil in the world, and amid the numerous instances of love that are present amid this evil, there is something most beautiful that appears aloft amid the haze. It is the Crucified One, hanging from the nails driven into Him by the sin of the world. He hangs there because of His Love, and that love has broken the power of sin. By the grace His sacrifice won for us we must aim to become like Him. This means aiming for the holiness that is the love of God. God is love and our true life consists in sharing in God’s life of love. This we do by loving and following Jesus Christ, Son of God and Redeemer of man.

Friday, February 26, 2010

St. Porphyry of Gaza (353-421)

We go far back in history today to learn a bit about a saint whose name is not familiar to most of us in the West but who is celebrated by the Greek and other Eastern churches. Born near Greece in the mid-fourth century, Porphyry is most known for his generosity to the poor and for his ascetic lifestyle. Deserts and caves were his home for a time. At age 40, living in Jerusalem, Porphyry was ordained a priest. If the accounts we have are correct, he was elected bishop of Gaza—without his knowledge and against his will. He was, in effect, kidnapped (with the help of a neighbouring bishop, by the way) and forcibly consecrated bishop by the members of the small Christian community there. No sooner had Porphyry been consecrated bishop then he was accused by the local pagans of causing a drought. When rains came shortly afterward, the pagans gave credit to Porphyry and the Christian population and tensions subsided for a time. For the next 13 years, Porphyry worked tirelessly for his people, instructed them and made many converts, though pagan opposition continued throughout his life. He died in the year 421.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (5.20~26)

Jesus said, "I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."

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

The discovery of tools is usually a standard indicator of the one-time presence of human beings at archaeological digs. But in recent decades there have been many who have argued that various animals use tools — especially those animals which are close to man in their DNA. For instance, in their DNA, apes and men have some 97.5 % in common. There are scientists who claim that various species of ape in effect use tools. Therefore, they think, there is but a difference of degree (in animality) between man and the ape, rather than a radical difference in kind. Setting aside the question of what it is to use something as a tool, I mention this merely to introduce yet another feature common to animals and man: they engage in activity that serves their needs. The lion sets out in the morning and the whole day is engaged in gaining its food. Very many human beings are simultaneously engaged in the same project. Do they both, then, engage in “work” — the “work” of gaining sustenance? Just as with the use of tools, do they both really “work”? Instinctively, we say that the animal does not do a “work,” whereas man does indeed “work.” What is it, then, to “work,” which makes of it an activity distinctive to man? This is not the moment to explore this philosophically, but one feature of “work” could be mentioned immediately which would seem to make of it a human activity. The animal does not have the capacity to choose between its activities, nor does it choose the degree of energy it invests in the activity. Both are governed by instinct. The lion on the hunt must hunt, unless its instinct leads it to desist. It is a captive of its instincts, and so it is not responsible for its actions. Moreover, its degree of effort in the hunt is entirely dependent on factors governing it, such as instinct, immediate strength, and so forth. What the lion does is the work of its instincts and circumstances. Man, though, may freely choose among his works which is to his liking or best interest, and he is free to devote maximum strength to the work, or little at all. We may say that choice of work and choice of effort applied to his work is distinctive of man. It is he who does the work, not his “instincts.”

What has this to do with what our Lord tells us in the Gospel today? Ah! Much indeed. Our Lord begins with this warning: “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Christ is saying that we must aim high in the matter of righteousness. Our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. He is telling us that every man and woman has a great “work” to do in life and he must deliberately choose to do that work. Man cannot just drift along. He cannot be governed by self-interest, by “instinct” as it were, or by any other circumstance which, broadly, may govern other living things. He must choose among works in life and the one work that is absolutely necessary is “righteousness” — the holiness of Jesus Christ. He must work at being good. This is the supreme work and it is a work of choice. Included in this choice is a further choice — the degree of effort to be put into it. There are those who make the supreme work of choice their careers, their health, their popularity, and include the work of righteousness as something largely incidental. This means that they also choose to put little real effort into it. Christ says that the righteousness which we must choose has to be of a high order, one that surpasses “that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.” Most especially it means cultivating with energy and persistence a true religion of the heart, with the heart of Christ being the model. It means working at love and forgiveness. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:20-26).

Every man and woman born into this world has a magnificent project ahead. The project is personal holiness, a project that must be deliberately chosen and then sought with all one’s powers. The attainment of goodness is the supreme work of personal freedom, and its most singular manifestation. It will never come as a result of mere instinct, and it will never come unless the choice is made to give to the work one’s very best. Indeed, it is commanded by God that we make this choice and carry it through. We must love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and our neighbour as ourself. The grace has been won — let us to it, then!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio (1502-1600)

Sebastian’s roads and bridges connected many distant places. His final bridge-building was to help men and women recognize their God-given dignity and destiny. Sebastian’s parents were Spanish peasants. At the age of 31 he sailed to Mexico, where he began working in the fields. Eventually he built roads to facilitate agricultural trading and other commerce. His 466-mile road from Mexico City to Zacatecas took 10 years to build and required careful negotiations with the indigenous peoples along the way. In time Sebastian was a wealthy farmer and rancher. At the age of 60 he entered a virginal marriage. His wife’s motivation may have been a large inheritance; his was to provide a respectable life for a girl without even a modest marriage dowry. When his first wife died, he entered another virginal marriage for the same reason; his second wife also died young. At the age of 72 Sebastian distributed his goods among the poor and entered the Franciscans as a brother. Assigned to the large (100-member) friary at Puebla de los Angeles south of Mexico City, Sebastian went out collecting alms for the friars for the next 25 years. His charity to all earned him the nickname "Angel of Mexico." Sebastian was beatified in 1787 and is known as a patron of travellers.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (7.7~12)

Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. "

Pray for it!
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There are some fundamental problems in religion, problems that can undermine religious faith if they are not resolved adequately. One such problem is the thought that religion is unnecessary, that it makes little difference to life, and life can get on just as well — and perhaps more efficiently — without it. There are the same problems confronting both the religious person and the person without religion, and all too often it seems that the person without religion deals with life more realistically. He makes greater headway. He competes with greater vigour, and grasps the nettle with greater resolution. He makes more money, he advances in his career more quickly, he has fewer concerns to perplex him, and he notices that the religious person seems to rely fruitlessly on prayer while he himself gets to his destination. All this may be a caricature of the weak-headed religious person as against the hard-headed man of the world, and we need not delay here to correct commonly held images. The point I am introducing is the suspicion by the pragmatic achiever that religion is in the last analysis unnecessary and, if anything, a dead weight. Its most characteristic activity is prayer, and what is the use of prayer in the pressing business of life? An earthquake hits Haiti and an entire city is engulfed in ruin and tragedy. The world mobilizes and the business of rebuilding begins. The important thing is action — and what has religion to do with this? Religion is peripheral to the business of life as exemplified in a tragedy such as this, and prayer is even more peripheral. What difference will prayer make to the situation? Nothing! — so it is deemed. A drought extends its claws across a vast swathe of land and for years the country suffers. Yes, communities go through the motion of prayers for rain, but what is the use of that? Ah! The rain comes. But that is a fluke — it would have come anyway. Prayer keeps up the spirits of people, but it makes little difference to the course of the world. For the canny and properly modern man and woman, prayer is just a private, soft-headed indulgence.

Now, of course, in the lives of particular individuals prayer can be all this, but on the other hand it is surprising to see the number of competent achievers who live lives of daily prayer by personal conviction. But setting aside such facts of the case, the principal motive for a strong life of prayer, and in particular the prayer of petition, is the word of Jesus Christ. Whatever we may tend to think, he, through whom all things were made, urges us to pray for what we need. It looks as if God depends to an extent on man’s prayers for his needs. That is to say, so insistent on the importance of prayer is our Lord, that it seems as if in the plan of God our prayers are an integral component of its fulfilment. How little do we understand of the foundations of visible reality! A tiny shift in a rock can lead to a massive landslide with appalling tragedies in its wake. Consider what might the prayers of a mother every day for the material and spiritual welfare of her family have done to prevent that possible tiny shift, which never happened. Again, an unseen Angel prompts a thought in a driver to slow at a certain point. A careering car driven by an intoxicated young man with several young passengers swerves precisely where the car would have been had it not suddenly slowed. The driver of the slowed car has had the habit of a daily prayer to his Guardian Angel that he will guard and guide him. What does our Lord say about prayer? He wants us to pray for what we need, and to pray with confidence in the love and power of God. All things are in the hands of God, and who are we, after the word of Christ, to disregard the power of prayer? “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7: 7-12). What could be plainer than this, and who could be so foolish as to disregard it? But disregard it we commonly do. We do not deny what our Lord promises here, but we tend to disregard it, and quietly to get on with life without it. We commonly think religion is a little bit useless, and especially its most distinctive activity — the prayer of petition.

Let us resolve to pray and pray for what we need — doing so in the presence of God. If in the presence of God we do not think we should be praying unceasingly for something, then that may be a sign that we do not think it is in accord with his will. But if in the presence of God we think it would be good to pray for something, or even that we should be praying for it, then let us pray for it constantly, and never lose heart at apparent delays. But of course, we pray knowing that God knows best. In his wisdom he may choose to answer our prayer in a different way from that requested. But if this is so, then it will have been the best possible answer to our prayer.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blessed Luke Belludi (1200-c. 1285)

In 1220, St. Anthony was preaching conversion to the inhabitants of Padua when a young nobleman, Luke Belludi, came up to him and humbly asked to receive the habit of the followers of St. Francis. Anthony liked the talented, well-educated Luke and personally recommended him to St. Francis, who then received him into the Franciscan Order. Luke, then only 20, was to be Anthony's companion in his travels and in his preaching, tending to him in his last days and taking Anthony's place upon his death. He was appointed guardian of the Friars Minor in the city of Padua. In 1239 the city fell into the hands of its enemies. Nobles were put to death, the mayor and council were banished, the great university of Padua gradually closed and the church dedicated to St. Anthony was left unfinished. Luke himself was expelled from the city but secretly returned. At night he and the new guardian would visit the tomb of St. Anthony in the unfinished shrine to pray for his help. One night a voice came from the tomb assuring them that the city would soon be delivered from its evil tyrant. After the fulfilment of the prophetic message, Luke was elected provincial minister and furthered the completion of the great basilica in honour of Anthony, his teacher. He founded many convents of the order and had, as Anthony, the gift of miracles. Upon his death he was laid to rest in the basilica that he had helped finish and has had a continual veneration up to the present time.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (11.29~32)

As the crowds increased, Jesus said, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here."

The heart of man
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

In our Gospel passage today our Lord makes a sombre observation. “This is a wicked generation,” he said. “It asks for a miraculous sign.” The context of this is provided earlier in the chapter, and it follows our Lord’s teaching to his disciples on prayer (Luke 11: 1-13). We read that “he had just cast out a devil which was dumb,” and there is a somewhat mixed response among the crowds. While “the multitudes were filled with amazement,” nevertheless “some of them said, It is through Beelzebub, the prince of devils, that he casts the devils out, while others, to put him to the test, would have him show a sign from heaven” (Luke 11: 14-16). So within this general amazement, there was a significant element who refused faith in our Lord, some attributing to him demonic association, others requiring of him further signs — this time from heaven. Our Lord could “read their thoughts” (11:17), and he proceeded to deal with these reactions, firstly with the question of the devils, and secondly with the request for heavenly signs. Our passage today (Luke 11: 29-32) is Christ’s comment on those who demanded more evidence than he chose to give. Inasmuch as our Lord speaks of “this generation” asking for “a sign” this would seem to have been a general tendency. That is to say, the tendency among the multitudes was to require more signs from heaven from our Lord, and we remember that as our Lord’s public ministry extended in time he withdrew more and more from working multitudes of miracles. We read that he increasingly required of those he healed that they not broadcast the fact, and he withdrew to places of retreat but despite this his miracles were noised abroad. It seems the miracles were not leading to faith, but simply to the demand for more miracles — signs from heaven. A supreme instance of this was Herod himself, who was delighted to meet our Lord at his Passion because he wanted to see a miracle worked. Our Lord’s response to this clamour for miracles was devastating: it was due to wickedness. He refused even to speak to Herod.

So as the multitude increased around him he told them that the demand for “signs” was due to moral fault. It was due to a wicked heart that refused faith when faith was clearly due. Our Lord pointed to examples from Scripture of faith in pagans, gentiles, who responded in faith to God’s gifts present in his representatives, who were far inferior to him. “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here” (Luke 11: 29-32). The Queen of the South was a gentile, a pagan, but she responded to the God-given wisdom of Solomon, and came from “the ends of the earth” to learn from it. She did not ask for further signs from heaven. The “men of Nineveh” were notoriously pagans, gentiles, but at the mere preaching of Jonah they repented in sackcloth and ashes and their great city was spared. They did not demand further signs from heaven, but recognized that the message of Jonah came from God. All of this was due to their good hearts. Their heart was such that they — the Queen of the south and the men of Nineveh — immediately received with faith the word of the one to whom they were listening. A good heart is enough to discern the heavenly origin of the teaching of Jesus Christ, for in him a greater than Solomon and Jonah is present. All this is to say that, as our Lord expresses it in one of his parables, the seed must fall in good soil if it is to produce the harvest of which it is capable. If the heart is wicked, signs from heaven will be of no use. In another of our Lord’s parables, Abraham says of the brothers of the rich man buried in Hell, that even if someone should rise from the dead, it would make no difference to them, because of the state of their hearts.

God is all-powerful. He can do anything, and he does do marvellous things even if they are often unseen. As our Lord says elsewhere, all things are possible for God. But God’s saving plan depends on our willingness to accept him and his will. It depends on the state of our hearts. We must be properly disposed for his word. Let us place our faith in Christ the Redeemer of man, entrusting our minds and hearts to the care of his grace, asking that he mould us in his likeness. Let us not place conditions on God, but accept his will knowing that in his will lies our salvation.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

St. Polycarp (d. 156)

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey), disciple of St. John the Apostle and friend of St. Ignatius of Antioch was a revered Christian leader during the first half of the second century. St. Ignatius, on his way to Rome to be martyred, visited Polycarp at Smyrna, and later at Troas wrote him a personal letter. The Asia Minor Churches recognized Polycarp’s leadership by choosing him as a representative to discuss with Pope Anicetus the date of the Easter celebration in Rome—a major controversy in the early Church. Only one of the many letters written by Polycarp has been preserved, the one he wrote to the Church of Philippi in Macedonia.

At 86, Polycarp was led into the crowded Smyrna stadium to be burned alive. The flames did not harm him and he was finally killed by a dagger. The centurion ordered the saint’s body burned. The “Acts” of Polycarp’s martyrdom are the earliest preserved, fully reliable account of a Christian martyr’s death. He died in 156. (

A reflection on the second reading: Success Isaiah (55.10~11)

Success: Success is man’s ideal in life. We all hope that our lives will be successful. In some cultures, failure is almost unbearable. But notions vary as to what success consists of. A man may "succeed" in his career, but in the process "fail" in some other way such as in family life. So what is success and what is the way to it? Hundreds of years before the coming of our Lord, through the prophet Isaiah God spoke of the “success” of his word: "As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do" (Isaiah 55: 10-11).

Whatever may be the apparent success of some things in human life and the failure of others, the success that God wants to see is the fulfilment of his word. True success occurs when his word achieves what it was sent to do. The Word of God came among us in person — in the person of Jesus Christ, and he succeeded in what he was sent to do. He was sent to save the world, and he did so by his obedience unto death, which involved apparent "failure." What then will success in life consist of? It will consist in uniting ourselves with the Person who is God's Word, Jesus Christ, the one who was successful beyond imagining. Our success in life will come from following in his footsteps, in hearing the word of God as he did and putting it into practice, whatever be the cost.

So let us indeed aim at success, but let us have a clear and correct idea of what God our Father has revealed to be true success and the way to attain it.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (6.7~15)

Jesus said to His disciples, "When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

The Lord’s Prayer
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Inasmuch as our passage today contains our Lord’s answer to His disciples’ request that he teach them how to pray, there is no substitute for it as the principal prayer of the Christian. It was occasioned by the disciples seeing our Lord himself at prayer, so it obviously reflects our Lord’s own prayer, and draws the disciple into it. The first thing that our Lord teaches about the prayer of the one who looks to him as the Teacher, is that it is simple and direct. It is very different from the prayer of “the pagans,” who “think they will be heard because of their many words.” That is to say, the further we are from a knowledge of the true God, the more cumbersome and indirect will our prayer be. God seems far off and so it seems difficult to make oneself heard by him. It is a common experience that people who are not especially close to each other are instinctively concerned if the conversation falls silent. Things seem awkward if this happens. Words must be kept up, whereas between those who are close — say between a mother and her son, or between loving spouses — words can be few, but the two are close. They wish to be with one another, they walk together, and little is said. Words are simple and direct. Our Lord reveals that God is our Father, our dear Father — Abba! — and we must speak to him as such. We must speak to him in a way very similar to the way of Jesus, and this immediately manifests a difference from other religions. The Koran never refers to God as our Father, whereas Jesus Christ is continually doing this, and he teaches his disciples to do the same — with this difference, that he addresses God as “my Father,” while teaching us to address him as “our Father.” On one occasion the Jews picked up stones to stone our Lord because he referred to God as his own father, thus making himself equal to God. So it is that we are to pray filled with an awareness of our filial relationship with God our heavenly Father. We speak to him simply, with words that are few but heartfelt and to the point. The words our Lord provides us with are sacred, iconic, and in every way a model for all prayer.

There is a further point. It is that the Lord’s Prayer, given to us in our passage today (Matthew 6: 7-15), must be considered as an implicit summary of our Lord’s teaching and therefore of the Gospel itself. The Prayer came from the heart of our Lord, and so it must express his teaching. This teaching, therefore, ought be used to interpret the Prayer itself. For instance, when we ask God our Father that he give us our daily bread, what “bread” would our Lord have had most in mind? He would have meant the “bread” that provides our daily physical sustenance, but most of all the heavenly Bread which gives life to the world and by means of which we live forever. That is the Bread which has come down from heaven, as he teaches in the Gospel of St John. That Bread is himself, and more specifically, his flesh, given for the life of the world. Our “daily bread,” is above all the Eucharist. As Tertullian writes, the Lord’s Prayer is the “summary of the whole Gospel,” and we ought strive to understand it, and invest it with, the content of the Gospel. It ought also express our daily fidelity to the Gospel, asking the grace to live according to the Gospel. In this respect, there is a most notable element in the teaching of Jesus Christ which is particularly hard to accept and understand by those who do not give their allegiance to him. I refer to the teaching of Jesus about forgiveness. We are to forgive unceasingly — not seven times but seventy times seven (Matt 18: 21-22) — and it is to be from the heart. “So my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from the heart,” our Lord warns at the end of his parable (Matt 18: 35). So it is that at the end of telling his disciples what to pray for and how to pray it (i.e., with simplicity), our Lord emphasises especially the promise to forgive that the Prayer includes. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” He immediately adds his warning: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt 6: 7-15).

Let us love the Lord’s Prayer. Paradoxically, there is a certain danger in knowing it well (as we should) and in having a great familiarity with it (as we should). The danger is expressed in the old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt” — which is simply to say that we can become casual about the Lord’s Prayer. St Thomas Aquinas referred to it as “the perfect prayer” and the Church’s liturgical tradition has always used its text — in fact, the text of Matthew in our passage today, rather than the briefer one provided by Luke. Let us cherish this prayer and endow it with the meaning of the entire Gospel, learning to pray it more and more perfectly till the very last, when we leave this life with it on our lips.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Chair of Peter

Like the committee chair, this feast refers to the occupant. It commemorates Christ’s choosing Peter to sit in his place as the servant-authority of the whole Church (see June 29). After the “lost weekend” of pain, doubt and self-torment, Peter hears the Good News. Angels at the tomb say to Mary Magdalene, “The Lord has risen! Go, tell his disciples and Peter.” John relates that when he and Peter ran to the tomb, the younger outraced the older, then waited for him. Peter entered, saw the wrappings on the ground, the headpiece rolled up in a place by itself. John saw and believed. But he adds a reminder: “..They did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). They went home. There the slowly exploding, impossible idea became reality. Jesus appeared to them as they waited fearfully behind locked doors. “Peace be with you,” he said (John 20:21b), and they rejoiced. The Pentecost event completed Peter’s experience of the risen Christ. “...They were all filled with the holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4a) and began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them. Only then can Peter fulfill the task Jesus had given him: “... Once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). He at once becomes the spokesman for the Twelve about their experience of the Holy Spirit—before the civil authorities who wished to quash their preaching, before the council of Jerusalem, for the community in the problem of Ananias and Sapphira. He is the first to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. The healing power of Jesus in him is well attested: the raising of Tabitha from the dead, the cure of the crippled beggar. People carry the sick into the streets so that when Peter passed his shadow might fall on them.

At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus says to Peter, “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). What Jesus said indicated the sort of death by which Peter was to glorify God. On Vatican Hill, in Rome, during the reign of Nero, Peter did glorify his Lord with a martyr’s death, probably in the company of many Christians. Second-century Christians built a small memorial over his burial spot. In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine built a basilica, which was replaced in the 16th century.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (16.13~19)

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" He asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

The Chair of Peter
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

I have often been impressed with the simplicity of the Christian message as expressed in Christian leaflets left in letterboxes of suburban homes. The short leaflets are generally made of glossy paper, with attractive diagrams and colouring, and are expressed in simple, pithy language. The principal doctrines of the Christian religion are expressed in terms of a compelling system. There is sin and its consequences, and this dire situation is answered by the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the gift of his Holy Spirit. Then there is the call to conversion and a new life, setting the Christian on the way to Heaven. The strength of the message is the call to the individual to turn to Jesus Christ as Saviour and to resolve to follow him and his written word in one’s personal life, and of course to do this in some form of fellowship. The leaflets I am thinking of are obviously productions of Evangelical Christians and their dedication and strategy are laudable. There is, though, an assumption in their message which may not be immediately obvious. In urging the reader (or hearer) to turn to Jesus and to accept him as Lord, it is intimated that being a Christian is simply an affair between Jesus and the Christian. That is to say, in the plan of God the Christian religion is nothing other than this living interpersonal relationship between Jesus and me. More specifically, provided I convert and follow Jesus and his word as I read it in the inspired Scriptures, I may take “the Church” to be largely a product of individual preference and circumstances. While the Church is important for fellowship and ongoing spiritual guidance, there is nothing divinely-intended about its structure and formal mission. What matters is my acceptance of Jesus as Lord and my fidelity to his word in the Scriptures as I sincerely judge it to be. Jesus my — and our — Saviour is what matters, and if need be “the Church” may fall by the wayside. Such is the common assumption of many Christians, but an open-minded perusal of the Gospel shows that this does not represent the full Christian message, but a mere part of it.

In our Gospel today our Lord turns to his disciples and asks what men say of him. Various answers were given and we can easily imagine the various answers that would have to be given were the same question be put by Christ to his disciples today. But then our Lord asks his own disciples what they think of him. As we read, “But what about you? he asked. Who do you say I am? Simon Peter answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We may say that the reply of Simon Peter to Christ’s question is the very same as that given in the succinct and effective Christian leaflets that I mentioned earlier. Jesus Christ is the Messiah who saves — and specifically, he saves the world from its sin. He is the Christ, and he is the Son of the Living God. This is the essential belief of any Christian. Were a person to call himself a Christian who does not believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah who has taken away the sin of the world, and that he is the Son of the Living God, then that person would be using the word “Christian” falsely. But this is not all there is to the Christian message, for our Lord does not rest content with praising Simon Peter highly for his answer and assuring him that his faith has come from God. He does not merely say, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” No, for he immediately goes on to reveal what is also a necessary part of his redemptive plan, and what will be the divinely appointed channel for bringing the blessings of the Kingdom of God to men. He tells Simon in the presence of the Apostles that “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16: 13-19). The Church is Christ’s own deliberate creation. It is founded on Simon who has a title, the Rock. Simon will hold the keys to the Kingdom of heaven, and the authority to bind and loose, and his decisions will be ratified in heaven. So, the Church founded on Simon matters.

The Church is Christ’s creation, as is the Chair of Simon Peter. Just as the Church Christ founded continues through history as his body, so does the Chair of St Peter continue through history. That Chair holds the keys, and with by keys are the doors to the Kingdom unlocked for men. That Chair, occupied by the successors of St Peter, has authority from heaven to bind and to loose, and its decisions carry divine sanctions. Christ will be with that Chair till the end when he comes, and the gates of Hell will never prevail against it. Let us love and revere this Chair, this office that bears witness to the teaching and person of Christ. By means of it we live in the truth.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Prayers this Sunday: When he calls to Me, I will answer; I will rescue him and give him honour. Long life and contentment will be his.

Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of your Son's death and resurrection, and teach us to reflect it in our lives. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

St. Peter Damian (1007-1072)
Maybe because he was orphaned and had been treated shabbily by one of his brothers, Peter Damian was very good to the poor. It was the ordinary thing for him to have a poor person or two with him at table and he liked to minister personally to their needs. Peter escaped poverty and the neglect of his own brother when his other brother, who was archpriest of Ravenna, took him under his wing. His brother sent him to good schools and Peter became a professor. Already in those days Peter was very strict with himself. He wore a hair shirt under his clothes, fasted rigorously and spent many hours in prayer. Soon, he decided to leave his teaching and give himself completely to prayer with the Benedictines of the reform of St. Romuald at Fonte Avellana. They lived two monks to a hermitage. Peter was so eager to pray and slept so little that he soon suffered from severe insomnia. He found he had to use some prudence in taking care of himself. When he was not praying, he studied the Bible. The abbot commanded that when he died Peter should succeed him. Abbot Peter founded five other hermitages. He encouraged his brothers in a life of prayer and solitude and wanted nothing more for himself. The Holy See periodically called on him, however, to be a peacemaker or troubleshooter, between two abbeys in dispute or a cleric or government official in some disagreement with Rome. Finally, Pope Stephen IX made Peter the cardinal-bishop of Ostia. He worked hard to wipe out simony (the buying of church offices), and encouraged his priests to observe celibacy and urged even the diocesan clergy to live together and maintain scheduled prayer and religious observance. He wished to restore primitive discipline among religious and priests, warning against needless travel, violations of poverty and too comfortable living. He even wrote to the bishop of Besancon, complaining that the canons there sat down when they were singing the psalms in the Divine Office. He wrote many letters. Some 170 are extant. We also have 53 of his sermons and seven lives, or biographies, that he wrote. He preferred examples and stories rather than theory in his writings. The liturgical offices he wrote are evidence of his talent as a stylist in Latin. He asked often to be allowed to retire as cardinal-bishop of Ostia, and finally Alexander II consented. Peter was happy to become once again just a monk, but he was still called to serve as a papal legate. When returning from such an assignment in Ravenna, he was overcome by a fever. With the monks gathered around him saying the Divine Office, he died on February 22, 1072. In 1828 he was declared a Doctor of the Church.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (4.1~13)

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them He was hungry. The devil said to Him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'" The devil led Him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Him, "I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.' The devil led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time.

(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

On this first Sunday of Lent there is placed before us a remarkable Gospel scene. The all-holy God had become man and, immersed in our human condition, was being tempted to swerve from his divinely-appointed path. The temptation did not arise from disordered interior impulses as it usually does with us, but directly from satan. The Redeemer of man, though himself sinless, shared sinful man’s lot of being tempted! As we think of the vast ocean of human history, we also think of the vast sea of human temptation, of which any number of examples could be given. I once read of a girl of six who saw her family fall apart. After the divorce her father was gone. She lived with her mother in a poor flat where she could hear the rats eating their way in through the floorboards. In school she worked hard and did poorly. Because her parents were divorced, she felt like an outcast. ‘If there is a God,’ she said, ‘then why am I so different, why don’t I have a family?’ She was tempted against faith. On top of this, she developed a serious stomach illness, and had no money for doctors. Then, without any conscious faith, she got a prayer card and started a novena to St Therese of the Child Jesus. On the ninth day she was cured, and then she knew from personal experience that there was a God who cared. She grew up and now she is known to millions of viewers as the nun Mother Angelica, who has written numerous small books, and who most notably began the famous EWTN TV network to teach others about the God who loves and cares for us. Due to strokes and bad health she retired in 2001 to the seclusion of her monastery, but the programmes of her network are watched all over the world. The network continues to expand. Time Magazine once described Mother Angelica as "arguably the most influential Roman Catholic woman in America." The point here is that she too shared in the common lot of being tempted. Due to her experience of suffering and evil she was tempted not to believe in God. By the power of grace she overcame the temptation and went on to a magnificent service of Christ and his Church.

Our Lord allowed Himself to be tempted, as we read in the Gospel (Luke 4:1-13). We could tend to think of our Lord as being like us in all things except in being tempted. No. He was like to us in all things except in having sinned. Never having been touched by original or personal sin — impossible for God the Son — his temptations could never have arisen from any inner disorder as is the case with us. However, as man he allowed himself to be tempted by Satan. Presumably Satan expended all his dark talent, all his long experience at lies and seduction, all his most subtle devices to trip Christ up, aiming perhaps at our Lord’s high and loving zeal for mankind. He perhaps could see that he had no chance of leading Christ into self-seeking. Perhaps his strategy was to insinuate more effective methods of commanding the allegiance of the world for his purposes. “Make it easy for them, all these people you dream of benefiting. If you do not, they will not follow you. In any case, do not overdo it. Your task need not crush you. Create food by miracles on these very stones. Perform displays and spectacles and in everything be magnificent. Especially, acknowledge me and I promise to give you the world.” Satan was tempting the Son of God to follow a path which was not that of his heavenly Father. These temptations would recur again and again, and they would come not only from Satan, but even from his dearest friends. When Peter tried to persuade our Lord to avoid the cross and death, our Lord called him Satan. Our Lord resisted absolutely the temptation to take any easy way, and also any temptation to give us, his disciples, the easy way. Precisely because he was tempted — perhaps mightily in view of the mighty task and sufferings ahead of him — he shows us the way. St Augustine writes that by being tempted, Christ shows us how to triumph over temptation. Lent is the holy season when we go into the desert with Jesus, praying, doing penance and uncovering the deceits into which we have fallen. Temptations are deceits: by giving in to the temptation we gradually convince ourselves that what we want is not wrong but right. Satan makes himself like an angel of light.

On this first Sunday of Lent, the example of Jesus provides us with an agenda for Lent. We must unmask temptations, be alert to them, resist them, and avoid them. They can lead to sin. Satan is smiling behind them. We must be very canny about temptations to sin, and never give any quarter to them, no matter how minor. It is an ambition that ought be growing during life and for this we must have the example of Jesus, and the gift of his grace won for us by his obedient sufferings. His example is given to us in the Gospels, and his grace is given to us in the Church’s Sacraments. During Lent let us enter wholeheartedly into this all-important program of life.

A second reflection concerning the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke

"Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted by the devil for forty days." (Luke 4:1-13)

Christ’s work
(Reflection by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

In the inspired memory of the Old Testament, the liberation of God’s people from their slavery in Egypt was the mightiest of God’s works. As the first reading puts it, “The Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, our toil and oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 26:4-10). This pointed to what was to come, but which would be on a far grander scale. It would be a liberating act again, but of far greater significance for sinful man. The liberation would be from the slavery to sin. Both were mighty works, but the later work, the work of Christ, would have several special characteristics. One would be its cost to God. The Old Testament accounts of God liberating his enslaved people do not give the impression that it cost God greatly. Rather, they reveal directly his great compassion and overwhelming power. He was the greatest of saviours, his power showing itself in his mercy. But with Christ, what is directly revealed is God’s readiness to suffer indescribably and in this way to atone for the sins of man. God’s power is shown in a love that suffers personally. God’s mighty power was manifest in the extent of the sacrifice he himself made and what it cost him. In the Old Testament God’s mighty work was liberating his people from physical slavery. In the New, God’s mighty work was to suffer and to atone for the sin of mankind. It was to take away the sin of the world — it was the greatest work ever done in history.

But there is another aspect of this work which cost God so much. It was his contest with satan, which makes its first appearance right at the start of our Lord’s public ministry, as reported in the Gospel of today. In the former liberation from slavery, the Pharaoh was the oppressor and opponent of God’s plans. In the redemptive work of Christ, satan was the oppressor and the opponent, and satan makes his appearance in a way and at a scale he never did in the Old Testament. The Gospel of today places before us the two antagonists. satan tempted Christ repeatedly to swerve from the will of the Father, and each time he was repelled (Luke 4:1-13). Christ would be obedient unto death. Just as Pharaoh loaded the children of Israel with burdens and indignities, so satan poured burdens and indignities on Christ, the redeeming representative of man. And Christ accepted the burden for it was the burden of the sin of the world. Let us show in our lives the readiness to suffer with Christ for our own sins and the sins of others. Let us be ready to follow Christ in the work of atonement. Let us also manifest in our lives a vigorous fight against sin and satan, overcoming him by our daily obedience to God.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blessed Jacinta (1910-1920) and Francisco Marto (1908-1919)

Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three children, Portuguese shepherds from Aljustrel, received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria, near Fatima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. At that time, Europe was involved in an extremely bloody war. Portugal itself was in political turmoil, having overthrown its monarchy in 1910; the government disbanded religious organizations soon after. At the first appearance, Mary asked the children to return to that spot on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months. She also asked them to learn to read and write and to pray the rosary “to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” They were to pray for sinners and for the conversion of Russia, which had recently overthrown Czar Nicholas II and was soon to fall under communism. Up to 90,000 people gathered for Mary’s final apparition on October 13, 1917. Less than two years later, Francisco died of influenza in his family home. He was buried in the parish cemetery and then re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1952. Jacinta died of influenza in Lisbon, offering her suffering for the conversion of sinners, peace in the world and the Holy Father. She was re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1951. Their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, became a Carmelite nun and was still living when Jacinta and Francisco were beatified in 2000. Sister Lucia died five years later. The shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is visited by up to 20 million people a year.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (5.27-32)

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow Me," Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed Him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Sense of sin
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Our Gospel scene today is one of simple beauty. We read in the Gospel of St John (2:24-25) that our Lord did not need anyone to tell him what was in a man. He could read their hearts. In our text today we read that Jesus “went out” of the house where he had been teaching, and where he had cured the paralytic and forgiven his sins. He saw a tax collector at his workplace and simply said to him “Follow me.” We are not told that our Lord had had prior contact with him — as he had, for instance, with Simon and Andrew, and James and John, soon after his baptism by John. Our Lord uttered two words of call and Levi “got up, left everything and followed him.” It was a remarkable response, just as it was a remarkable call. We could ask why our Lord chose to call such a person as Levi — whom most identify with the author of the first Gospel — when he, Levi, had such an odious profession. It is the mystery of divine vocations and the same question could be asked of countless others in the course of history. They received a call from Christ to follow him closely when there was little to recommend them. But let us consider Levi and ask, what was it in him that helps to account for the alacrity of his response? One of our Lord’s parables may give us a clue because in that parable the most admirable character is a tax collector. The parable presents us with two people — the one who was religious by very profession, and the one who by virtue of his profession was an obvious sinner. It is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, each praying in the Temple. At the end of the story, the Tax Collector goes home right with God, while the Pharisee does not. The reason why the Tax Collector is in union with God is because his prayer is a humble profession of personal sinfulness, together with a heartfelt prayer for pardon. The Pharisee has no consciousness of sin. He is simply conscious of the good things he believes he is doing. He is not like the despised Tax Collector whom he sees well behind him and hidden away from obvious view in the Temple.

There are other examples of this sense of personal sin. In this same Gospel of St Luke the Pharisees and the lawyers are contrasted with the tax collectors who accepted the baptism of John (7:29). In our Gospel today (Luke 5: 27-32), Levi's tax collector friends flocked to be part of the banquet Levi put on for our Lord. He and they loved our Lord. His was not the only case. We remember how a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, responded to our Lord's friendship. Our Lord invited himself to Zacchaeus' house for dinner, and Zacchaeus responded magnificently, welcoming our Lord warmly, giving half his goods to the poor, and repaying fourfold those he had unjustly cheated (Luke 19: 8). It seems that Luke in compiling his Gospel was interested in the response of the tax collectors, well known sinners, to the all-holy Jesus. No one was excluded from friendship with our Lord. Luke’s account of the call of Levi may be regarded as a paradigm of Christ’s attitude to sinners and of the chance that they have to repent and give themselves totally to the person and mission of Jesus. Is there a key to understanding the immediacy of the response of Levi and many regarded as sinners? At least one key was their consciousness of sin and their desire for pardon. Christ with his holiness and his compassion was the manifest answer to their need. They knew they had a tremendous need for redemption, for holiness, and therefore for Jesus. They were conscious of personal sin, and Jesus exuded holiness. Their response was immediate when the invitation came. This sense of need was lacking in many of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Let us notice too that John the Baptist, the one who pointed Jesus out as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, had himself a profound sense of sin. In the one recorded conversation we have between Jesus and John, John shows his sense of personal sin. It is I who ought be baptized by you, he said to Jesus when Jesus presented himself for baptism. I am not fit to undo his sandal straps, John said in referring to the coming Messiah.

Let us learn from Levi and his immediate and total response to the call of Jesus. If this is to happen we must cultivate a deep sense of our own sinfulness and need of the friendship and grace of Jesus Christ. Lent is the time for acknowledging sin, seeking God’s pardon, and hearing the call of Christ to be his friend and share in his mission. Let us be like Levi who “got up, left everything and followed him.”

A second reflection concerning the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke

Levi got up, left everything and followed Him. (Luke 5.27~32)

Levi’s response
(Reflection by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

The great and ever pressing issue of each day is the call of God to each of us that we be striving for authentic holiness. We are called to be saints, hidden, known as such only to God, but saints nevertheless. The saint is one who loves God with all his heart; who expresses this love in the generous fulfilment of daily duties; and who is prepared to struggle to bring this about — with the grace of God. Why is it that we make so little progress? All too often it is because the pattern of our life does not reflect what Levi did when our Lord said to him, “Follow me.” Levi left everything and got up and followed him. That disposition to leave all was what our Lord wanted. With that readiness to respond to his call immediately our Lord could lead Levi on to sanctity and to a total following in his footsteps. By contrast consider the rich young man. He came to our Lord and asked what he had to do to gain eternal life. Our Lord invited him to leave all and to follow him. But he went away sad.

During this Lent let us resolve to leave behind what is preventing us from a total following of the Master each day. In this lies the grandeur or ordinary life. Let what we see in Levi’s response to our Lord’s call be the pattern of our lives.

Friday, February 19, 2010

St. Conrad of Piacenza (1290-1350)

Born of a noble family in northern Italy, Conrad as a young man married Euphrosyne, daughter of a nobleman. One day while hunting he ordered attendants to set fire to some brush in order to flush out the game. The fire spread to nearby fields and to a large forest. Conrad fled. An innocent peasant was imprisoned, tortured to confess and condemned to death. Conrad confessed his guilt, saved the man’s life and paid for the damaged property. Soon after this event, Conrad and his wife agreed to separate: she to a Poor Clare monastery and he to a group of hermits following the Third Order Rule. His reputation for holiness, however, spread quickly. Since his many visitors destroyed his solitude, Conrad went to a more remote spot in Sicily where he lived 36 years as a hermit, praying for himself and for the rest of the world. Prayer and penance were his answer to the temptations that beset him. Conrad died kneeling before a crucifix. He was canonized in 1625.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (9.14-15)

Then John's disciples came and asked Him, "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast."

(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

It is interesting that for all the praise accorded by our Lord to John the Baptist, and for all the profound and unequivocal deference shown to our Lord by John, hardly any conversation between them is recorded in the Gospels. The one notable conversation that is recorded is brief and unambiguous: John is in confusion at the sudden prospect of baptizing Jesus. He himself is the sinner, he says to Jesus, and it is he who ought be baptized — with Jesus doing the baptizing. But Jesus insists that it go ahead. What a magnificent disciple John would have made — but it was not the plan of God. The paradigm was more that of the prophetic mantle passing from Elijah to Elisha. Jesus the Messiah receives the prophetic mantle from John, the Elijah who was to come. A further thing is to be noted. Later in the Gospel, John appears confused and uncertain about the ministry of Jesus as it begins to unfold. From prison he sends his disciples to Jesus with a formal enquiry: was he, after all, the one who was to come? In our Gospel passage today (Matthew 9: 14-15), it is the disciples of John who are puzzled, and it concerns the lack of vigour in fasting they see among our Lord’s disciples. They could not understand this glaring omission, and they presented their perplexity to our Lord himself. In his response, our Lord makes two points. Firstly, while he, the Bridegroom, is with his disciples how could they do anything but live and rejoice in his friendship? Secondly, when he is gone, they certainly will fast. The first thing, then, is that he himself, being the Bridegroom, is the all-important feature of religion among his disciples. Expressing it differently, the heart, soul and centre of Christianity is the very person of Jesus, for he is the Bridegroom. In fact, these are the very terms in which the religion of the Old Testament is described by the prophets: God is the Husband and Bridegroom of his people, and therefore their failures in religion are failures in nuptial fidelity. Our Lord himself occupies this place in the new dispensation, for he is the Bridegroom of the new covenant that is coming.

Christ is telling the disciples of John that the all-important thing for his disciples at this point is to attain a profound realization of his own person and an understanding that eternal life consists in knowing him. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. As he would say in his prayer during the Last Supper, “This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent” (John 17: 3). But the time would soon come when he would be taken away from them. Then they will indeed be expected to “fast,” which is to say to live lives of genuine self-denial. While gone from them visibly, he would then be with them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Then they would have the God-given grace and capacity to follow him generously and in all the elements of a fervent religion. "Then they will fast." Our Lord never disputed with the disciples of John nor with the Pharisees that they should fast. He unmasked the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in their fasting: they fasted, but did so in order to win the acclaim of men. But he assumed that all would pray, that all would fast, and that all would give alms. When you fast, he said, do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do. They have had their reward. In fact, we see our Lord teaching his disciples repeatedly that he himself must follow the path of suffering unto death. It was absolutely essential to his mission precisely as the Bridegroom that he lay down his life for all. To be a disciple of the Bridegroom entails renouncing oneself, taking up one's cross daily, and following in his footsteps. By our baptism and confirmation and we have been given the Holy Spirit to enable us to pursue this redemptive path generously and daily. Thus it is that throughout Christian history the heroes of Christian life have been profoundly penitential. In their various ways and in accord with their varied vocations, they have suffered and died in union with their crucified Master. The icon of the Christian is the crucifix, with the figure of Jesus hanging battered and dead thereon. He has gone from us visibly, and now we must follow in his footsteps. That is to say, we must “fast.”

Do I recognise in myself a constant unwillingness to embark on any form of self-denial? Well, let me start in little ways. I shall start by bearing patiently the difficulties and circumstances inherent in my daily work and life, and offer it all to God in union with Jesus. I shall start with a determined effort to do something about the fault that is particularly persistent in my life. I shall also start with a few voluntary mortifications, such as doing without some luxury. The virtue of self-denial will then grow, and Lent, the time of grace, will bring the blessing of an advance in holiness. Jesus is the centre of religion, and he has shown me the way: it is the way to Calvary.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blessed John of Fiesole (Fra Angelico) (c. 1400-1455)

The patron of Christian artists was born around 1400 in a village overlooking Florence. He took up painting as a young boy and studied under the watchful eye of a local painting master. He joined the Dominicans at about age 20, taking the name Fra Giovanni. He eventually came to be known as Fra Angelico, perhaps a tribute to his own angelic qualities or maybe the devotional tone of his works. He continued to study painting and perfect his own techniques, which included broad-brush strokes, vivid colors and generous, lifelike figures. Michelangelo once said of Fra Angelico: “One has to believe that this good monk has visited paradise and been allowed to choose his models there.” Whatever his subject matter, Fra Angelico sought to generate feelings of religious devotion in response to his paintings. Among his most famous works are the Annunciation and Descent from the Cross as well as frescoes in the monastery of San Marco in Florence. He also served in leadership positions within the Dominican Order. At one point Pope Eugenius approached him about serving as archbishop of Florence. Fra Angelico declined, preferring a simpler life. He died in 1455.

Reflection on the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 30.15~20)

"Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom."

The basic issues
(Reflection by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

It is possible for a person to be carried along in life by circumstances, opportunities and disappointments, while failing to recognize the fundamental issues in life and to make the appropriate choices. The real issue is, what kind of person shall he be and what path shall he choose to be his? The reading from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy places before the fundamental issues and the basic choices we have to make if our life is to have lasting value. "See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin on you today, if you love the Lord your God and follow his ways, if you keep his commandments, his laws, his customs, you will live and increase... But if your heart strays, if you refuse to listen, .... I tell you today, you will most certainly perish" (Deuteronomy 30: 15-20).

The most radical issue is the choice between obeying God and refusing to do so. As the first reading explains this is, in effect, the choice between life and death. It is the bedrock issue, for the choice has far reaching consequences for this life, and eternal consequences for the next. Our ultimate future depends not on circumstances, but on our own choosing. It depends on the exercise of personal freedom, and not on good or bad luck. During Lent, as from today, let us endeavour to see the fundamental issues in their stark reality. We have a clear-cut choice: to set out to love God by obeying him, or we can refuse to do so. Lent is the favourable time of God's grace to make the right choice and to live it out with our whole heart.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (9.22~25)

And Jesus said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be put to death and on the third day be raised to life." Then He said to them all: "If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?"

(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

In a very technological age there is a question that would not occur to lots of people as they contemplate the world. It is this: why is there anything at all? For many people such a question simply does not arise. The world is a fact of life and there is nothing more to be said except to investigate it, understand its laws, and then to use it. But it is obvious that just as individual things need not exist because, after all, they come to be and pass away, so too the total ensemble of things — the world — need not exist. So why is there anything, then? Putting it starkly, why is there not nothing, nothing at all? Such a question prompts the thought of the existence of the Creator. Well now, if we shift our gaze from the world to the suffering and evil that is in the world, it is obvious that these sufferings and evils present a massive problem to man. Again, a similar question arises, why is there all this suffering and evil? This ought lead to a great interest in the answer provided by Revelation, that it was due not to the Creator but to the Fall of man at the beginning. This, of course, does not solve the problem because the obvious question is that if God were all-loving and almighty, then could he not have “fixed it all up” immediately — or done something else to free the world from all its suffering? There is not the space to pursue this here because, to begin with, if we grant a loving Creator, we could not fully understand why he permits such great sufferings. But then, our best chance of gaining some light on things is not to pursue a mere philosophical consideration of the matter but to consider things in the light of the person of Jesus Christ. After all, the claim is that this man was God and he suffered enormously. He did not “deserve” to suffer at all. Why was it permitted that this extraordinary Man suffer so greatly? If we look on the world as present in microcosm, as it were, in the person of Jesus Christ — then Jesus Christ throws light on the suffering in the world generally. He is the light of the world. There are two sides to the answer. Jesus Christ suffered manifestly because of sin inflicted on him from without, and it was because of his suffering that the world was redeemed from its sin.

So suffering is indeed a dark, unfortunate and terrible fact. Its origins lie in sin and not in the will of the Creator. As we contemplate the figure of the sinless Jesus Christ on the Cross, this is the first thing that bears upon us. Suffering and evil comes from sin, and this sin is terrible. Its manifestation is the passion and death of the all-holy Christ. That having been said, in a more important sense, the passion and death of Jesus Christ — symbolic, we might say, of the sufferings of mankind — are shimmering with light and joy. It was precisely through his sufferings, borne in a spirit of absolute and loving obedience to his heavenly Father, that the world was redeemed. Has there ever been any other theory proposed to take away the sin of the world? As far as I am aware, no such theory exists. The only comprehensive proposal for mankind’s radical and complete redemption from sin is the Christian one, and this pivots around the sufferings of Jesus Christ. By his passion and death — so extraordinary, so undeserved — he took away the sin of the world, and then set in motion the means to bring this Blessing to all of creation. The one who believes will be saved, he said, and the one who wilfully refuses will be condemned. It is a mighty answer involving an incalculable cost, and yet one that is astonishingly simple for each individual. But it pivots around the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. Why is such suffering permitted in the world? Look at Jesus Christ and ask why it was permitted that he suffer so much. He suffered so much in order to achieve so much. His sufferings brought an eternal Blessing to man. So, suffering — that suffering that flows from obedience to the will of God — is now not fundamentally a Curse, but fundamentally a path to blessings. If we suffer in union with Jesus we shall rise and reign in union with him. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9: 22-25).

If we want to understand man and the meaning of what makes up his life, especially his sufferings, then look to Jesus Christ. He is not only the revelation of God, but the true revelation of man. He stated repeatedly to his disciples that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer in order to enter into his glory. Somehow we must get it into our heads and into our hearts that the path to glory is through obedient suffering. The Cross of Christ is both dark and bright. It reveals the basic source of suffering, but it also reveals what can now be its fundamental consequence. Let us place our hand in the hand of Jesus Christ and walk with him along the path he chose for us.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Lord, you are merciful to all, and hate nothing you have created. You overlook the sins of men to bring them repentance. You are the Lord of all. (Wisdom 11: 24-25.27)

Lord, protect us in our struggle against evil. As we begin the discipline of Lent, make this season holy by our self-denial.

Seven Founders of the Order of Servites (13th century)

Can you imagine seven prominent men of Boston or Denver banding together, leaving their homes and professions, and going into solitude for a life directly given to God? That is what happened in the cultured and prosperous city of Florence in the middle of the thirteenth century. The city was torn with political strife as well as the heresy of the Cathari, who believed that physical reality was inherently evil. Morals were low and religion seemed meaningless. In 1240 seven noblemen of Florence mutually decided to withdraw from the city to a solitary place for prayer and direct service of God. Their initial difficulty was providing for their dependents, since two were still married and two were widowers. Their aim was to lead a life of penance and prayer, but they soon found themselves disturbed by constant visitors from Florence. They next withdrew to the deserted slopes of Monte Senario. In 1244, under the direction of St. Peter of Verona, O.P., this small group adopted a religious habit similar to the Dominican habit, choosing to live under the Rule of St. Augustine and adopting the name of the Servants of Mary. The new Order took a form more like that of the mendicant friars than that of the older monastic Orders.
Members of the community came to the United States from Austria in 1852 and settled in New York and later in Philadelphia. The two American provinces developed from the foundation made by Father Austin Morini in 1870 in Wisconsin. Community members combined monastic life and active ministry. In the monastery, they led a life of prayer, work and silence while in the active apostolate they engaged in parochial work, teaching, preaching and other ministerial activities.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (6.1-6. 16-18)

Jesus said, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Call to Holiness
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Religious myth is defined in different ways. In general a ‘religious myth’ is a religious story (of, say, the origins) and the ‘story’ could well be historically true. More commonly it is a story which in some respects is historically and scientifically true, while in others it is, we might say, allegorical. For long periods of history and in various societies, religious myths were the fruit of the religious mind and imagination, and had little or nothing in them of hard fact. The concern driving and creating the myth was not for scientific fact and strict history but for meaning and significance. Most of the myths of the Australian Aboriginal Dreaming, for instance, are of this latter order. One of the markers differentiating an age or stage of this latter kind of religious myth from one in which the concern is for objective fact, is the discovery and insistence on physical laws. The course of events is seen to be dependent not primarily on the intervention and action of the various gods or higher spirits (say, the god of the sea or of war) but on physical laws. These laws are objective, they are capable of being investigated, and they determine the course of the world. A disastrous tidal wave is not due to the irritation of the god Neptune, but to laws of crustal movements and wave propagation in the sea. The fact of objective physical laws is a cornerstone of Western culture. I mention the rise of the appreciation of physical laws as an introduction to another kind of law which, though objective, is often not appreciated in modern culture - and even rejected. I refer to the natural moral law. What supports the modern insistence on physical law and historical fact is that it is empirically verifiable. The modern assumption is that it is only what is empirically verifiable that is factual. But what is empirically verifiable about “goodness”? It is empirically verifiable if “goodness” is reduced to the “useful.” If the law stating that you must be good and not evil is a statement of what will be advantageous for your happiness, then this law is deemed verifiable and therefore acceptable.

This is one reason — though not the only one — why the notion of a natural moral law is viewed with suspicion. But of course the evidence for the natural moral law is everywhere. Whether or not there is legislation to support it, all know that you must not murder. You must not lie or steal. The whole world regards Hitler and Stalin with moral disdain. These two ogres, and others besides, should not have done what they did. The natural moral law is objective and absolute, though not physical. Nor does it ultimately consist in personal advantage. It is absolute, whether or not it is of advantage. The fundamental natural law is that man must do what is good and avoid what is evil. If a man does this he will be good himself — and this he must strive to be. It is a natural law — not a natural physical law, but a natural law of the moral order. While in his heart man senses that his happiness depends on his being good, this law commanding goodness cannot be reduced to a judgment of what ultimately will serve his happiness. Further, within this natural moral law that the mind and heart of man promulgates, there is a summons. It is the summons to be as good as possible and to avoid evil as much as possible. Man is naturally called — commanded, we might say — to be good and holy. Indeed, this is the fundamental law that man is aware of, even more so than the physical laws that govern his life and his world. He is commanded from his depths to be good, and he desires from his depths to be good. He has a natural aspiration to holiness and this natural law is confirmed by God himself who in his revelation commands holiness. Be holy, he said, for I am holy — and this is done by observing his commandments. But how is this to be done, because man observes within himself yet another law fighting against the natural moral law commanding goodness? It is a law of self-seeking that drags him along into sin, and which prompts him to reject, deny and be suspicious of the higher law within him that summons him to be good by doing what is good.

At the start of Lent, the Church reminds us that Christ has made holiness possible for us, and that “now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2). Lent is a time of special grace and opportunity, and we must seize the chance. It is the chance to grow in what we most need, in what we most want, and in what is most required of us: goodness. God is active in our lives leading us to sanctity, but we must do our part. The Church identifies three areas of struggle and effort: prayer, penance, and practical charity, and our Lord comments on each in our Gospel passage today (Matthew 6: 1-6.16-18). The danger will be that we will not get down to it, but leave it all for another day. Thus life will pass and our yearnings will come to nothing.