August 22, 2014

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HOMILY for the Queenship of Mary

preached at a 25th Wedding Anniversary Mass in St Aloysius’ Glasgow

Eze 37:1-14; Ps 106; Matt 22:34-40

"O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his love has no end" (Ps 106:1). How fitting this response is today as we gather to give thanks for twenty-five years of the Lord’s goodness made visible in the marriage of Mary and Michael – a union that participates even now in the one unending love of God. 

And this response of thanksgiving is equally fitting as we celebrate Our Lady’s Queenship, as we give thanks to God for the singular graces given to Our Lady so that she could be Mother of God. And now God crowns those graces which have borne such sweet fruit in Mary by making her Queen of Heaven. So the psalm response, to my mind, also most aptly echoes the words of Our Lady in her Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord… for he who is mighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:46, 49). And these are words are sung every evening by the Church, the Bride of Christ, to her divine Bridegroom because she is continually thankful, daily offering this Eucharistic sacrifice of thanks for the many great things God does for her and through her. 

Each of us, whenever we offer the Mass in union with Christ acting in the person of his Priest, will have our own reasons for giving God thanks. But this evening, we’re especially united with the O’Duffins in giving thanks for the graces that have sustained Mary and Michael’s marriage and caused it to bear, also, such sweet fruit.  

It is clear from the thought and effort that has gone into preparing for today’s Mass that the Eucharist is central to Mary and Michael’s lives – and what joy it is to celebrate the Mass with them here in this great Jesuit church, the spiritual home of the O’Duffins, and with us Dominicans, their spiritual confréres, present. Truly, the Eucharist is our sacrament of unity and charity! And the centrality of the Eucharist is thus vital to the vitality and joy of Mary and Michael’s marriage. For Christ himself is the cause of their loving union, and through the Eucharist Jesus draws all ever deeper into the loving embrace of the Holy Trinity: it is here that we are being schooled in unity and charity.

Christ famously sums up the Law as love of God and love of neighbour (cf Mt 22:37-39) as we hear in today’s Gospel. But, so familiar are we with this, that we often neglect the third party: we must also love ourselves (Mt 22:39). Indeed, I would say that this comes first. As St John says: “We love, because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).

Hence it is in the Mass that we encounter our God who loved us first; who showed the depth of his love by becoming flesh and dying for us; our God who loves us so much that he remains here for us and with us under the humble ordinary forms of bread and wine. So, here we encounter love and we are schooled in this fundamental fact: God loves me. Is this not the one thing that is so lacking in our world today? So many of our contemporaries, made with this God-shaped hole that longs for love, just don’t know that God is here - he is waiting for us. So many, needlessly then, feel unloved. So, let many be called here and drawn here and led here to the Eucharist so that they can be loved. I know that this church is a great centre for ‘Nightfever’ which is well-loved by the O’Duffins – a beautiful way for many to know the love of God present in the Eucharist. 

Knowing that God loves me, then, is fundamental. It makes the rest possible, and so, having the Eucharist central to Mary and Michael’s marriage is what makes these past twenty-five years (and, we pray many many more to come) possible! For when we encounter the God of Love here, and when we know we are loved, then we can begin to love God in return. We do this by offering to God the very best we have, exercising our intellects to seek him in Truth, engaging our wills to love him in Obedience, employing our talents and skills in his service. Something like this – a beautiful celebration of the sacred Liturgy – is the culminating expression of this offering of ourselves, our very best, to God. It truly is the “right and just” thing to do, to attend to the Liturgy with reverent and attentive devotion and with a care for its solemn beauty, if we want to love and thank God. 

Then from this attention to the Liturgy, from an actual participation in the Eucharistic action of Christ who pours himself out in love for Mankind, we learn what it means to love another. As Pope Benedict XVI said: “The eucharistic mystery thus gives rise to a service of charity towards neighbour” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 88). For Michael and Mary, their first neighbour is one another, and then, of course, their boys and family. But we know that their heart, as a couple, is also opened toward countless others: the boys of St Aloysius’ College, the teachers and pupils they meet, and so many friends as well as strangers and passers-by. And of course, we Dominican friars and other priests are also their ‘boys’! This expansive love is characteristic of a Eucharistic heart; they have been expanded by grace to make room, indeed a home, for others. 

Our Lady, by her generous Yes to the angel showed that her immaculate heart was just such a Eucharistic heart. For grace enabled her to not just become Mother of God, but your mother and my mother – Mother of the Church. Because of Our Lady whose immaculate heart beats as the heart of the Church, the Church is a home, a mother, a refuge for all. And this, too, is something our contemporaries long for: a Home in a world which has become such a wilderness. Many hearts have become weary, and life with its many worries and problems has become like the valley of death in which one lies like dry bones. 

But here in Christ’s Church where Mary’s heart beats in tandem with the Eucharistic and Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ – here, there is life; new and everlasting life. Here, in the Eucharist, there is rest. Here, there is refreshment and joy. Here, there is Love and the Spirit to raise all up. Hence, “the Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come’!” (Apoc 22:17)

So, as we come together today to celebrate these twenty-five years of love which the Spirit has raised up, we go again to the Source of Mary and Michael’s love. We come to Love himself, made present and tangible and visible for us in the Most Holy Eucharist. We come to Our Lord Jesus Christ to be loved. By his Mother’s intercession, may our hearts, like Our Lady’s, be filled with love so that we can bring many thirsty souls to Christ, and may we come at last to that eternal marriage feast in heaven where Our Lady reigns with him as Queen.

Therefore, let us “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his love has no end”.

August 21, 2014

HOMILY for Pope St Pius X

Eze 36:23-28; Ps 50; Matt 22:1-14

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On 20 August 1914 – 100 years ago – Pope Pius X died, and he would become the first pope to be canonized since the 16th-century Dominican Pope St Pius V. In his 11 year pontificate, St Pius X set out to “restore all things in Christ” – that was his motto. With his many years of pastoral experience in parishes and seminary, in diocesan offices and finally as bishop and cardinal, Pope Pius X saw the need to reform the Church. So, he initiated reforms in papal elections, seminary life, Eucharistic practice, sacred music, Biblical studies, the breviary, catechesis, the organization of the Roman Curia, and Canon Law. 

Now, the work of reforming the Church so that she can more faithfully carry out the mission given her by Christ is a graced work. For what is the task, indeed, the raison d’être of the Church? Pius X said in his first speech as pope in 1903: “The way to reach Christ is not hard to find: it is the Church… It was for this that Christ founded it, gaining it at the price of His blood, and made it the depositary of His doctrine and His laws, bestowing upon it at the same time an inexhaustible treasury of graces for the sanctification and salvation of men”. 

Consequently, one can see in the labours of Pope St Pius X, then, a certain fulfillment of Ezekiel’s promise. “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (Eze 36:25). So, through his Vicar on earth, Christ is at work, cleansing, reforming, renewing his Church so that she may lead souls to himself. And the reform of  spiritual practices, of Canon Law, and liturgical law, as it were, enables what Ezekiel says in verse 27: “I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances”.

St Pius X is often called the ‘Pope of the Eucharist’ because he lowered the age of first Holy Communion to 7 and he promoted frequent and daily Communion for those who were properly disposed, that is to say, “in a state of grace and approaches with a right intention”. Why did he encourage this practice? Because, like Pope Francis in our time, Pope Pius X said that the Eucharist is not a reward but a “remedy for human frailty… an antidote whereby we may be freed from daily faults and be preserved from mortal sins”. Through the worthy reception of Holy Communion, then, we can say with Ezekiel that God puts a new heart and a new spirit in us. Indeed, God takes out of our flesh the heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh (cf Eze 36:26) – the Eucharistic flesh of his own Son, taken from Christ’s Sacred Heart – thus conforming us to Christ and uniting us more closely to him. The human person himself, then, becomes restored in Christ. We can see why the frequent and even daily reception of the Eucharist was such a key part of Pope St Pius X’s vision of reform and restoration. 

But even as the soul is renewed, so must the mind be restored in Christ through a sound grasp of divine Truth, of revelation entrusted to the Church and contemplated in theology. Only with a good understanding of right doctrine can one reach Christ in and with his Church. Writing at the time of his death in 1914, The Tablet thus said that “The primary function of St Peter is to confirm his brethren [in the Faith]. It was in this, the highest and most essential of his duties — the defence of the Catholic faith — that Pius X stood before the Christian world as the vigilant and invincible guardian”.

So well did St Pius X carry out his vocation that he was canonized in 1954, and he was said by The Tablet to have been a “singularly lovable personality” who was “a man of God in whom we beheld all the power and the charm of apostolic honesty and simplicity”. May he pray for us, that we may be restored and reformed in the image of Christ and thus come to the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb with our wedding garments, that is, our baptismal faith, unstained (cf Mt 22:11-12).

August 20, 2014

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HOMILY for St Bernard of Clairvaux

Eze 34:1-11; Ps 22; Matt 20:1-6

Today we give thanks to God for one of the most influential saints of the 12th-century. An austere and reform-minded monk who galvanized the Cistercian Order; an eloquent preacher who wrote extensively to pope and kings; a mystic whose spiritual writings and Marian theology radiate warmth and beauty and sweetness so that he is called the ‘Mellifluous Doctor’; a man called the ‘Last of the Fathers’ because he drew so deeply on the thought of the Fathers of the Church.  

And yet, one major event in his life seems to cast a shadow over him. St Bernard was also the great preacher of the Second Crusade, whose preaching tour undertaken for this cause throughout Europe gathered the largest international coalition of its time under kings and knights. But for many in our times the very idea of a crusade is anathema, and ultimately the Second Crusade failed. 

However, recent events in our own times can help us, I think, to appreciate what motivated St Bernard. It’s not greed or bloodlust or warmongering. It is, rather, a shepherd’s heart; a deep love for the Church and for God’s suffering people. In the first reading, Ezekiel says: “My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them” (Eze 34:6). And in the 12th century this was the case. In December 1144 Edessa had fallen to the Turkish forces led by one Zengi, ruler of Mosul and Aleppo, dubbed “tamer of the infidels and the polytheists”. The entire population of the district of Edessa was either massacred or sold into slavery. This greatly alarmed the Christian world; they feared the subsequent loss of the Holy Land and the fall of Jerusalem to the Turks, with the subsequent slaughter of still more Christians. 

History has a tendency to repeat itself. And so, once again today Christians are slaughtered by Islamists and the flock of God has scattered and fled to the mountains. Who will shepherd God’s people today? If we want to understand St Bernard’s stance, then we need to appreciate that sometimes a shepherd has to take strong, firm, and decisive action to protect his flock from the attack of the wild beasts, to stop them. 

Hence, as is widely reported, on Monday Pope Francis said: “In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor”. The Holy Father is not advocating war, as such, nor unilateral action on the part of one nation, but he knows that the evil being done in Iraq must be stopped. And if necessary, force will need to be used. As the Vatican ambassador to the UN has said: “Maybe military action is necessary at this moment.” More recently, our Dominican brother in Cairo, fr Jean-Jacques Pérennès, who has great love and respect for Islam and who has expended his life working for dialogue with Muslims, said this: “The respresentatives of the Church have evolved on this very question lately, and fatal blows must be administered to the Islamic State. The very idea of talking is not an option with people who impose either conversion to Islam, or exile, or death. And the Islam they preach is far from traditional Islam which the majority of Muslims denounced. One is not into war-mongering, but sometimes force is the only solution left”. At this desperate time, then, our shepherds are calling for action to stop the evils being done for “my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts” (Eze 34:8).

In the abbot St Bernard, then, we remember today a shepherd who stepped up and who “strove to bring order and concord” to Christ’s Church, as we say in the Offertory prayer. It’s always easier for us in retrospect to judge the actions of our forebears, and with hindsight we are now not in favour of the Crusades which was prone to the greed and sinfulness of individual crusaders. But the terrible actions of the Islamic State in these days bring to the fore the dilemma faced by Christians in the 12-century. Given that God’s flock was being devoured by “wild beasts” what is a shepherd to do? As Pope Francis has said: “It is licit to stop the unjust aggressor”. And in St Bernard’s time this meant preaching the crusade to protect the Church in the Holy Land. 

So, when we consider this aspect of St Bernard’s life we should consider, truly, his motivations: his love for God’s people, his shepherd’s heart, his saintly “zeal for [God’s] house” and the good of God’s people. And on his feast day, let us ask his intercession for our leaders today, for the persecuted Church, and for the prudence to make just decisions in these difficult times. May the sweet Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace and Help of Christians, pray for us all.

August 19, 2014

HOMILY for the 20th Tue per annum (II)

Eze 28:1-10; Dt 32; Matt 19:23-30

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Scripture scholars like to debate what it means to speak of a camel passing through the eye of a needle; some even think that the needle was a gateway in the walls of Jerusalem. But surely the meaning of this image – a comical one, even – is rightly understood by Christ’s disciples. They are astonished because camels simply cannot pass through the eyes of needles. As Jesus says, “this is impossible” (Mt 19:26). For it is impossible for Man, by his own efforts, to be saved. 

Salvation cannot be bought or earned. If it were, then, according to our human logic those who are first will enter the kingdom first. 

But Christ points to the divine logic of love and mercy which is different. Salvation is a divine gift, and although all those who rely on God’s grace and co-operate with it will ultimately be saved, Christ expresses the gratuitousness of salvation and Man’s utter need of God’s grace with this saying: “Many that are first will be last, and the last first” (Mt 19:30). Clearly, a different logic, quite different from human calculations and ideas of mere fairness and justice is at play. For our being saved by Christ isn’t fair; salvation isn’t about justice because it is not naturally owed us. Rather, salvation shows us God’s mercy and goodness – it is sheer grace. Thus, the Preface in today’s Mass says: “When [Man] was justly condemned, in mercy [God] redeemed him through Christ our Lord”. 

Still, what is needed on our part as sinners is a recognition of our complete need of God, our need of his mercy and grace and forgiveness; our need to repent and turn to him. The reason why this is especially hard for a rich man is spelt out in the first reading from Ezekiel. There the prophet says that “your heart has become proud in your wealth” (Eze 28:5), and the rich man is thus prone to thinking: “I am a god” (Eze 28:2). He has, therefore, no need of a Saviour. How often, in our technological age which has seen more riches than ever before, have we heard people say that God is irrelevant? 

Moreover, the danger is that the rich, the clever, the gifted person thinks that he can master and manipulate most things, including, salvation. As such, salvation is no longer the gift of our Master but, rather, within Man’s mastery, something we can grasp and earn and acquire. This tendency can be seen when we think that we do things, like pray, or venerate the Eucharist, or go to Mass, for God’s sake. But of course we do these things for our sake because we are in such need of God and his grace. God has no need of us as such. 

The perennial temptation which is to invert things, as Ezekiel says, and for sinful Man to deny his need for grace, is what Jesus warns us against in today’s Gospel. Hence, in the Mass, we turn again to the Lord, and we say: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”. The Word spoken into our lives is Jesus Christ. He is our healer, our forgiveness, our God who saves. Thus, at his word, “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26) even for us camel-like sinners. 

 

 

August 17, 2014
Scenes from Eurojam 2014

A taste of life at the once-a-decade jamboree organized by the International Union of European Guides and Scouts which I attended with our Edinburgh-based rover clan from 3-10 August in Normandy, France. 

For more information about Eurojam, visit <http://www.eurojam.eu>, and to find out about the wonderful and grace-filled Scouting federation which organized it, visit this Vatican page about the Scouts & Guides of Europe. 

Pope Francis sent a message to the 14,000 scouts and guides who’d gathered in a forest near Lisieux for the event.  

July 31, 2014

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From today, 31 July, I shall be setting off on a journey that will take me to Normandy, to the vicinity of Lisieux for the once-a-decade international gathering of the Federation of Guides and Scouts of Europe. The event is called Eurojam, and has as its theme ‘Come and See’; an invitation to youth to come away and spend time with Christ and one another as scouts and guides.

I shall be travelling with our Edinburgh Clan, the Clan of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, assembled under its newly-minted banner (above). We hope to imbibe the camaraderie and spirit of ‘scoutisme’,to make vital contacts and to network, and to be recognized as members of the Federation of Scouts d’Europe. 

I shall be chaplain to one of the camps, encompassing 180 scouts, but we expect 11-12,000 scouts in total. Mass will be celebrated every morning in Latin, with plenty of chance for confession, adoration, fevorinos and a Pilgrimage to Lisieux.

The video below gives you (and me!) an idea of what to expect. Please pray for us all. 


July 29, 2014

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HOMILY for the Feast of St Martha

Jer 14:17-22; Ps 78; Jn 11:19-27

Today’s first reading is taken from the continuous readings of Jeremiah that we have been following during the week. And it is most fitting at this time. The lamentation of God’s people could well be found on the lips of the countless Christians who are currently being persecuted and ruthlessly murdered all over the world. “Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,

and let them not cease… If I go out into the field, behold, those slain by the sword!… We looked for peace, but no good came; for a time of healing, but behold, terror” (Jer 13:17–19). So, the prophet gives voice to the suffering of the Christians of Iraq, of Nigeria, of Syria, the Central African Republic, Pakistan, China, and many other places. 

At the same time, the prophet also lends his voice to the suffering of peoples throughout the world who endure disease, famine, sickness. He says: “If I enter the city, behold, the diseases of famine!… Why hast thou smitten us so that there is no healing for us?” (Jer 13:18f). Death and illness: this is the lot of humanity labouring under the sin of Adam; thus is our mortality. Hence Jeremiah says: “We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against thee”. 

So in the Gospel we see that St Martha and her family have shared in this, the common fate of sinful Man. Her brother has fallen ill and died, and Martha and Mary are grief-stricken. However, Martha knows that God has the cure to Mankind’s mortal condition; Christ is the cure for death. 

Thus she goes to him, and she says with faith: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27); she believes that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, that he will put an end to sickness and death. And so, St Martha speaks for us Christians, for every Christian who suffers and grieves, for the Christian martyrs and those who are persecuted, for the sick and for you and me. She says: “Yes, Lord, I believe”. 

I believe, you believe, that Jesus will raise us from the dead, so that even “though [we] die, yet shall [we] live” because “whoever lives and believes in [Christ] shall never die” (Jn 11:25). So, today’s Gospel and this feast invites us to renew our faith in Christ, the Resurrection and the Life. Whatever ails us, however we may lament and grieve, we’re invited to share the faith of St Martha, and to trust in Christ, “he who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27). He comes to suffer alongside us. He comes to die with us, and to raise us to new life. He comes to give us a share in his final victory over sin, death, and evil. He is with us now, and feeds us with himself, the Living Bread. He promises: “Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51).  

So, with St Martha and all the saints and martyrs with whom we are united in one holy communion, we cry out: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Apoc 22:20). 

 

July 28, 2014

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HOMILY for 17th Mon per annum (II)

Jer 13:1-11; Dt 32:18-21; Matt 13:31-35

Today hidden things are being revealed through parables. The prophet Jeremiah enacts a parable which shows us the hidden corruption of sin, while Christ tells a parable which speaks of the hidden transformative activity of grace. And both is at work in the human person. 

So, in the First Reading the waistcloth stands for God’s people, and so, it represents you and me, who are called into a very intimate union with God through baptism. Just as in the baptismal liturgy a white garment is used as a symbol of one’s Christian dignity, so here a white linen loincloth is that symbol. But that cloth is hidden in a cleft of the rock, where the waters of the Euphrates river run over it. The Euphrates represents Babylon, a symbol of foreign power, idolatry, and sin. And so, hidden and unseen, sin, which is foreign to God, corrupts the human person, weakens our moral character. 

This corruption does not come from the actual commissions of sins, as such, but something more subtle, and thus, hidden. It refers, I think, to an attachment to sin. St Francis de Sales explains: “weak and lukewarm penitents… would be very happy if they could sin without being damned; they speak of sin as something regretfully lost, and of sinners as though theirs were the happier lot”. This attachment to sin, St Francis de Sales says, “not only places you in danger of relapsing but is a constant source of weakness and discouragement, preventing you from doing good readily, diligently and frequently”. 

I think we can all recognize this attachment to sin; repeated confessions where there is no firm purpose of amendment because we don’t really hate our sins. Rather, we are still hidden in the cleft of the rock, where the waters of the Euphrates run over us and slowly render us weak, discouraged and ultimately “spoiled” (Jer 13:7). Hence, we need to be removed from all attachment to our sins, and this is only possible if we see its disasterous effects, and why particular sinful acts are so harmful. Jeremiah’s actions, then, are meant to show us the effects of sin, rendering one “good for nothing” (Jer 13:7).

On the contrary, that which renders us good is God’s grace. As we said in our Collect, without God, “nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy”. So, we stand in absolute need of him, utterly dependent on his grace to accomplish any good. As such, God brings us to an awareness of our sins in order to spoil our pride (cf Jer 13:9), and so, to turn us back to him in humility so that we learn to cling to him, and to co-operate with his grace. 

For God’s grace is not completely absent, even in the heart of sinners. His grace goes before us to move us to repentance, so that, having been forgiven, we can become holy, sanctified by grace. This grace at work in us, moving us to repentance and then to holiness, is also hidden and unseen, like leaven hidden in the flour (cf Mt 13:33). But whereas our hidden attachment to sin corrupts, the grace hidden in us, if we co-operate with it, transforms us for the good. Like yeast in the dough grace causes us to rise up to a new life with Christ who is the Bread of Life. This truth is being enacted now in the Eucharist for we receive here God’s grace, and we pray that we will be so open to the workings of God’s grace that, as we say in the Offertory Prayer, the Eucharist will “sanctify our present way of life and lead us to eternal gladness”. 

July 27, 2014

HOMILY for 17th Sun per annum (A)

1 Kg 3:5. 7-12; Ps 118; Rom 8:28-30; Matt 13:44-52

God marvels that Solomon, although he was “but a little child” (1 Kgs 3:7), did not ask for riches, or the other kinds of things that young men are wont to ask for. But I was a rather typical youth! For when I was a child my annual birthday wish until I stopped believing in birthday wishes was that I would become the richest man in the history of the world. It was a childish wish, but perhaps the kind that is still common today, and not just among the young. 

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But as St Paul says: “in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom 8:28), and so, God granted my juvenile prayer in the best way possible, that is, according to his wisdom, to bring about my greatest good. So, at the age of 16, I received baptism as a Catholic Christian. And then at the age of 28 I became a Dominican. On the day of my Solemn Profession in 2009, I recalled my childhood wish and I realized it had come true. Because, given who I am, there is no greater joy than loving and serving God in the consecrated life; no greater treasure than the Gospel of salvation – treasure both ever new and old (cf Mt 13:52) – which I am privileged to bring out and share with others through preaching; no riches better than the grace given to me at baptism and which makes every Christian a child of God, “conformed in the image of his Son” (Rom 8:28). All this sounds rather pious, but it isn’t thereby less true. When my parents and friends ask me if I am happy, I can honestly say I can’t think of anything I’d rather do, and I thank God for the grace of a Dominican vocation. And my friends often remark on how rare a joy it is in this life to have a ‘job’ you enjoy, which I evidently do. So, I am grateful for the joy I have found in having been consecrated to Jesus Christ as a Christian, a Dominican brother, and a priest. 

A few months before I entered the Order, people tried to warn me of the many sacrifices I’d have to make, and what a deprivation religious life was. In some sense this is true. There are things we give up, and many people focus on these, especially the giving up of the goods of marriage and family life, material wealth, and self-determination. Initially, I’d focussed on these losses too. And then, I saw the riches I’d gained. 

Hence in these parables of the treasure and the pearl the focus isn’t on what the treasure-hunter or the merchant had to sacrifice. What is emphasized is the worth of the Kingdom, that is, the supreme good that comes from knowing and loving Jesus Christ. Once we recognize the riches that Jesus brings we would give up all we owned – everything – to possess him. Or rather we do not possess Christ – it is he who embraces and possesses us with his love but first we have to let go of all the other things we cling on to so that we can hold to him. The key phrase in the Gospel which motivates this letting go of all else is this: “in his joy” (Mt 13:44). For without joy, the man would not have been motivated to sell all for the field and its treasure. So, too, without joy it’s hard to be a Christian, or a poor, chaste and obedient religious, a celibate priest. Without joy, the Christian life becomes drudgery, an obligation, and not worth living or, indeed, dying for. 

At this time, this truth becomes ever more apparent. For ours is a time when more Christians are being persecuted and killed for their Faith in Christ than ever before. While I had willingly dispossessed myself of goods, last weekend the Christians of Mosul were forcibly stripped of all they had, and many have lost their lives. They made the ultimate sacrifice. And what motivates someone to offer their lives in Christian martyrdom if not the joy that comes from having been possessed by Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life? 

Thus Pope Francis has said, “those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). This joy comes from being held in God’s love, through a daily personal encounter with Jesus Christ who is our treasure and our pearl of great price. For him, we would joyfully give up all without counting the cost.  

The example of the martyrs inspires all Christians to seek this radical joy, and so, too, does the authentic witness of a consecrated life. For as Pope Francis said: “This is the beauty of consecration: it is joy!” Hence the Holy Father followed his letter on the Joy of the Gospel by calling for a Year for Consecrated Life from October 2014. So, today’s Gospel invites all peoples to find anew the joy of loving and serving Christ, but, in particular, perhaps he is calling some of you to the consecrated life, and so to especially enact through your vocation stories the Gospel parables we hear today. Is God calling you, too, to riches beyond your childhood wishes?

If you would like to find out more about the Dominican religious vocation, please visit our website, or email: vocations.director@english.op.org

July 26, 2014

HOMILY for Ss Joachim & Anne

Jer 7:1-11; Ps 83; Matt 13:24-30

It’s sometimes said that children should be left to decide about their religion when they grow up; anything else, it is polemically said, is tantamount to child abuse. Such nonsense, not least because it utterly fails to grasp what faith is. For such people, religion comes across as a bunch of abstract principles and faith is something private. Today’s feast challenges this.

Faith, as we Christians know it, is relational. As such, faith is rooted in personal relationships; in the histories and stories that people tell especially within families and societies; and it is expressed in social culture, in our human ways of relating and doing things together. Religion, properly understood, then, is the expression of one’s faith, particularly faith in God, who is thus to be worshipped and adored and thanked. But religion, then, is not something one picks up later in life, like a commodity or basket of private practices. Rather, it is directly related to one’s faith, to who God is revealed to be; it is founded on a living relationship with him.

And today’s feast recalls that this relationship with God, especially our incarnate and personal God, is rooted in personal and incarnational ways: in the family, in a community. For today we honour St Anne and St Joachim, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grandparents of our Lord Jesus Christ, and hence, our grandparents too. In honouring them, we also remember and are grateful to all who have handed on the Faith to us: our families, teachers, priests, nuns, religious brothers, and fellow parishioners and friends – the wider family. As Pope Francis has said: “Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion… Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers. It is against this ecclesial backdrop that faith opens the individual Christian towards all others” (Lumen Fidei, 22). In the community, then, we learn that faith is relational and incarnational; that the Word became flesh in a human family, culture, and social network. And, so, faith culminates in love.  

Cut off from this relational context, children don’t just decide on a religion when they grow up. Rather, they often don’t decide at all. How can they, when they have no existing relationship with God? When they don’t know Christ? People who have come to know Christ later in life are largely drawn by the friendships they have with other Catholics, which is why we each need to introduce Christ, our greatest and truest Friend, to our friends. But this assumes, of course, that we indeed know and love him.  I’ll never forget a best friend of mine who became a Christian several years after she left university, but I’d known her for years, and never really mentioned my faith to her. She asked me: “Was I not enough of a friend to you for you to introduce me to Christ?” 

The wisdom of the Catholic Church, then, coming from centuries of lived experience is to baptise children, as I did this morning. We wash children in the sacred waters of baptism not to brainwash them, as some ignorant people think, but to introduce them into a living relationship with Jesus Christ who is the fountain of life; who is the Truth and the Source of human happiness. We do so within the embrace of two families: the natural family from which the child is born, and the supernatural family of the Church into which the child is re-born. Held within the Church and together with one’s grandparents, parents and relatives, our relationship with God – the life of grace – grows and we journey together to our heavenly motherland. We journey as a communion of saints into that holy communion of Love that is God: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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