July 23, 2014

HOMILY for St Bridget of Sweden

Gal 2:19-20; Ps 33; Jn 15:1-8

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Today’s saint was the only woman to have founded a religious Order, that is a family of consecrated life with both men and women. The Bridgittines were established in Vadstena in 1346 which became the heart of Swedish Catholicism. She was a mystic and received revelations of Christ’s Passion known as the ‘Fifteen Prayers of St Bridget’. She was consulted by theologians and kings, and like St Catherine of Siena, wrote to the popes in Avignon to try and persuade them to return the Papacy to Rome. She travelled the breadth of Europe, going on pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, Jerusalem, and finally to Rome where she died in 1373 at the age of 70.

For these reasons, St Bridget is a worthy Patron of Europe; one of six. But most of this St Bridget did in her years of widowhood from 1344, what Pope Benedict XVI has called the “second period” of her life. Today I wish to just draw attention, instead, to the first period of her life, which is no less saintly, no less worthy of emulation by Christians today.

St Bridget had been happily married for 28 years to Ulf Gudmarsson, a governor of an important district of the Kingdom of Sweden. So, she lived a courtly life, and she had been born into the Swedish royal clan. With the wealth and influence at her disposal she built a hospital, engaged in charitable works for the good of the poor, and was invited by the Swedish king to go to court and introduce his French queen to Swedish culture. We often see this pattern of holiness for courtly women of this time. St Margaret of Scotland, St Elizabeth of Hungary and other such royal saints follow the same pattern. What they teach us today is that money and power are not obstacles to holiness. Rather, they can be a means to sanctity if we use what we have for the good of others, for God’s work. I am reminded of Mrs Charlotte Jefferson-Tytus, for example, who in her widowhood was encouraged by fr Bede Jarrett OP to become benefactress to the Order. Together with him she was the foundress of Blackfriars Oxford, and even of this Edinburgh priory. 

However, charity begins at home. Hence, St Bridget’s goodness also had a positive effect on her husband and children. Through her influence, Ulf began to take his faith more seriously and with her he became a Franciscan tertiary. They went on pilgrimage to Compostela, and towards the end of his life, he retired to a Cistercian monastery, having agreed with Bridget to live as ‘brother and sister’. In the context of its time, this is seen as a deepening of one’s desire for God, and so St Bridget offers us an example of a Christian wife, who thus helps her husband to grow in holiness. In this way she loves God and her first neighbour, her spouse, and she shows us how the vocation of marriage is a path of sanctification.

St Bridget was also a mother. With Ulf, she had four boys and four girls. One of her daughters, Catherine (Karin) would travel with her to Rome and is also a canonized saint, and this can be seen as a mark of how effective a teacher she was, how positive the influence of this saintly woman. From St Bridget, then, we learn how beautiful and important the work of a mother and a wife is; how vital mothers are for handing on the Faith, for their civilizing effect, and making a domestic Church, a home. We are grateful!

But all this can make St Bridget’s life seem quite charmed and fortunate. However the lady who founded the Order of the Most Holy Saviour, with a special devotion to the Lord in his Passion, and who first received a vision of the Crucified Lord when she was just 7 was no stranger to suffering. At the age of 12 her mother died, so she had to be given into the care of an aunt. Her four sons died young, two of them while on Crusade. And when her husband died, when she was just 41, she grieved deeply for the one whom she said she’d loved “like my own body”. So many wives endure widowhood, and so many mothers know the pain of losing a child. St Bridget, then, shares their experience and sorrow. How did she cope? By abiding in Christ’s love. As we hear in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20). Thus, as the Gospel says, we are filled with Christ’s joy, with faith in the Resurrection which St Bridget knew would follow on after she’d suffered the Cross with Christ. 

March 18, 2014

HOMILY for Tues in Week 2 of Lent

Isa 1:10. 16-20; Ps 49; Matt 23:1-12

I can never listen to this Gospel without squirming in my seat because it is possible for a priest,  with his vestments and a friar, with his distinctive and striking habit, to keep company with the vainglorious scribes and Pharisees. Moreover, as Dominican preachers and teachers, it is all too easy for us to fail to practice what we preach! So, today’s Gospel always has a chastening effect for me, and it calls me to integrity of life, to a more authentic conversion to Christ and a purifying of my motives – and I am grateful for this, especially during Lent. 

But, just as those with religious authority are warned not to draw attention to themselves but to God, so there is also a challenge for the rest of God’s people to heed God’s teaching. Jesus explicitly says in today’s Gospel that we are to “practice and observe whatever” is taught by those who “sit on Moses’ seat” (cf Mt 23:1-2) because their teaching comes, ultimately, from God who is the one Teacher. God alone is Rabbi and Christ alone is Master, but his teaching comes to us not in abstraction but is given to us concretely through certain people to whom a teaching office is entrusted. In the Church this teaching office is known by its Latin name, Magisterium. Hence, today’s Gospel has a chastening effect on us all, challenging all Catholics to heed the teaching of Christ that is given by the Magisterium. For as Pope Francis said in Lumen Fidei: “the magisterium ensures our contact with the primordial source and thus provides the certainty of attaining to the word of Christ in all its integrity” (§36).

Yet, a couple of months ago The Tablet said in its Editorial that “the willingness of ordinary Catholics to heed the teachings of the Magisterium has been gravely compromised by various scandals”. But why should the sinfulness of men affect the truth of Christ’s teaching in the Magisterium? Surely, it’s precisely because Christ’s teachings are true and binding that people can be said to sin and fail, and some of those sinners, scandalously, happen to be clergy too. Now, none of this excuses them, but neither does the scandal they cause excuse the rest of us from following Christ’s teachings and heeding the Magisterium. Thus Jesus says today: “practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach” – and the implication is that they do indeed preach God’s truth and teachings – “but [they] do not practice” (Mt 23:3).

Moreover, while it is true that sinful clergy and hypocritical Christians have long been the largest stumbling block for faith, it is also true that the Church’s authority to teach infallibly in matters of faith and morals is not due to man’s worthiness or the fidelity and integrity of the clergy. Rather, the fact that the Church has a teaching authority and that the sacraments objectively confer grace is fundamentally due to God’s faithfulness to Man. For it is because humankind needs God’s grace and truth; because we need to know Christ’s Word and to be saved by it that he promises to teach us through his Church’s Magisterium. And all of us – clergy and laity – are thus united in discipleship as students of the one Teacher, as servants of Christ our Master; all called to be humble hearers and do-ers of his Word. 

Hence, today’s Lenten Gospel calls one and all to a more authentic conversion to Christ. Is he truly our Teacher? If so, let us humble ourselves (cf Mt 23:12) and heed his Church’s infallible Magisterium. But if we prefer to listen instead to other teachers in matters of faith and morals; other authorities like academic theologians, journalists, scientists, the Media, or, our own fallible consciences, then let us recall what Jesus also said. Concerning those to whom he had given his authority, that is, those who exercised his Magisterium, Christ says: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me” (Lk 10:16).

February 20, 2014

HOMILY for 6th Thu per annum (II) 

James 2:1-9; Ps 33; Mark 8:27-33

Today’s readings challenge us to see things from God’s perspective, from the perspective of Love. For the human way is to judge purely by appearances, to be impressed by status, wealth, and power. This is the worldly perspective that James point out, and it follows a conventional Jewish idea that the righteous are blessed with riches and power, and that poverty was a curse on the sinful. But Jesus overturns this. 

So, in the Gospel, there is a comparison between how men – the world – understands Jesus, and how his disciples are to understand him. The world sees Jesus like just one of the prophets, a fairly conventional perspective, I suppose. But Peter speaks rightly when he says that Jesus is not just any prophet but the Messiah. However, the conventional Jewish idea of the Messiah was that he would topple empires, fight for Israel’s liberation from Rome, and restore power to the Jewish nation. And it’s clear from Peter’s reaction that although he knew Jesus was the Christ, he was unwilling to let go of this conventional vision of the Christ. It comes from a worldly perspective that is allied with power, violence, and riches. 

And it is this perspective that Jesus rebukes and overturns. Because the divine perspective is one of Love, so that the Messiah comes in humility to serve, to teach, and, above all, to suffer. That is the way of Love, and it leads to the Cross. And it is this perspective that we – Christ’s disciples, the Church to whom James’ letter is addressed today – are to learn. And so it is that we’re ultimately judged by Love. Not by our riches or lack, which do not matter much to God, but by whether or not we have learnt to love as Christ loves, to see the world and other persons from God’s perspective of Love. If we do love, we will be led to the Cross, where we are united to Christ in suffering, but we can take heart because we will also have the promise of rising to a new and divine life.

 

November 24, 2013

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HOMILY for Christ the King (C)

2 Sam 5:1-3; Ps 121; Col 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43

Promises, promises… Jesus promises one of the criminals beside him that he will be with him in Paradise. But why should he believe this? Another promise was made at the start of St Luke’s Gospel which we’ve been reading this whole liturgical year. In chapter one, Gabriel had said to a young maiden: “[T]he Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32f). And what had become of this promise? Here, in the penultimate chapter, the maiden looks at her son reigning not from a throne but from two rough-hewn logs. Promises, promises… Are these just empty promises?

This prospect haunts us, I think, especially in the face of tragedy such as we’ve seen recently in the Philippines. As Joseph Ratzinger once said: “[T]he believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief, which he must experience as a continual temptation…” So, confronted with suffering, violence, and death, we’re taken to the foot of the Cross. And, in the desolation we hear Jesus’ promise. But we also hear the mockery of those who say: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Lk 23:39). 

So, to countless many, this is what the Gospel looks like: a condemned man, deluded by pain and hunger and dehydration, promises ‘paradise’ to a thief. He hangs from a Roman torture instrument, barely able to rein in his breath, let alone reign over a royal house; and his kingdom, it seems, has not even begun. Indeed, his life is about to be annihilated. Empty promises, then, coming to an empty end. One of the earliest depictions of the crucifixion of Christ, a bit of Roman griffito, thus shows a donkey-headed man crucified, with a man kneeling before him. In Greek, there is scrawled: ‘Alexamenos worships [his] God’. The earliest surviving image of the Crucified One is thus a mockery, a taunt, a challenge to faith. And yet in the next room, someone had scrawled a riposte in Latin: ‘Alexamenos is faithful’.  

Hence Ratzinger notes: “So [too] for the unbeliever faith remains a temptation and a threat to his apparently permanently closed world. In short, there is no escape from the dilemma of being a [human person]”. For our humanity confronts us with the fragility of life, with suffering and pain, with temptation and threats, and with the uncertainty of faith and unbelief. The questions remain: Can we build our life on promises, on Christ’s Word? Is he, the One hanging and dying on the Cross who is suffering with us, our king? Do we go with Alexamenos the slave and the good thief? Or are we swayed by the mockery of the soldiers and the rulers?

Today’s feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Universal King presents us, perhaps unexpectedly, with such questions. Because today’s Gospel challenges us to see the Crucified One as a king, and it is on the Cross, in his Passion, that he is reigning and being king. The Virgin Mother, standing at the foot of the Cross, experienced the fulfillment of a promise made to her: that “a sword will pierce through [her] own soul also” (Lk 2:35). And so, she recognized, too, that the angel’s promise that her Son would reign for ever was also being accomplished. Promises, promises… But not empty ones for Our Lady because they were being fulfilled in her sight.

Hence we must ask what kingly act was Jesus doing in his crucifixion and death?

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August 11, 2013

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HOMILY for 19th Sun per annum (C)

Wis 18:6-9; Ps 32; Heb 11:1-2. 8-19; Lk 12:32-48

Every journey begins with a destination. When we book a ticket, we need to input our destination. Then, when we get to the airport or station, we look for our check-in desk, or departure gate or platform based on that destination. And on Friday night, when I boarded the Easyjet plane from Stansted, the steward asked to see my boarding pass but he didn’t want to check my name against my passport – he wanted to check I was on the right plane bound for Edinburgh because, he said, many passengers boarded the wrong plane headed for the wrong destination! So, every journey, it seems, requires a destination and the would be traveller needs to know what that is.

If so, then Abraham wasn’t a very good traveller. After all, Hebrews says that “he went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Heb 11:8b). But Abraham wasn’t a self-determining traveller like us, who goes to a website and chooses from a list of destinations. Abraham was a pilgrim. And this means that he is called out by Another, he entrusts himself to the wisdom of Another, and he knows that he will be cared for by Another.

We’re just returned from our Province’s Year of Faith Pilgrimage to Lourdes, and to be a pilgrim is to become like Abraham, trusting in Another. Many of our pilgrims had never been to Lourdes, and they didn’t really know what to expect, or what would happen. But they trusted that the Dominicans – that Fr Dermot – who had invited them to go on the Pilgrimage did. One of the questions people asked me most frequently was “How often have you come to Lourdes?” In part, I think this question was to reassure oneself that someone who knew better was leading the way!

And as the pilgrims went along, or (in the case of those in wheelchairs) were pushed along, they were taken from one event to another. First a talk from the Provincial, then a visit to the Grotto, then an official photograph, followed by lunch (again, the 3 or 4-course menu was predetermined). And then, a visit to the Baths, a Rosary with meditations from youth and fellow pilgrims, an International Mass in French, and so on with a different programme of events each day. But this programme was only gradually made clear to us, a few hours at a time. And sometimes, maybe, there was confusion and frustration when we felt we’d lost sight of what was coming next.

But always, in fact, all was being catered for, every event planned and scheduled, and every thing graciously unfolded in good time. Thus, the happy pilgrim had to just have faith.

Abraham is called our “father in faith” because he set out on a journey, a pilgrimage. Called out in faith, not knowing where he was headed, as such, he went out nevertheless because he trusted the One who led him forth. Abraham had complete faith in God because of who God is. God is Truth, and so he will not deceive us and can be trusted. And God is Life. So, he is our destination, the One to whom all living beings tend.

But Abraham’s faith began a pilgrimage that is not yet completely ended.

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March 21, 2013

HOMILY for Thu in Week 5 of Lent

Genesis 17:3-9; Psalm 104; John 8:51-59

Three things happen to Abraham in today’s First Reading. Firstly, God chooses him, and makes a covenant with him. We might say that God gives Abraham his word. But, the tendency is to think of a covenant as just a contract. After all, when we make a contract we give someone our word, we promise to fulfill a certain obligation in return for a certain remuneration. But contracts usually (and ought to) exchange just property, goods, and services, not people. Rather, what God exchanges with Abraham is a covenant. It is something personal and relational. A covenant is an exchange of love between people. And this covenant that God made with Abraham and his people is extended to all humanity through the gift of baptism. In baptism, God gives us his Word, Jesus Christ and pours his Spirit of love into our hearts. Through baptism, we become one with Christ and share in his Sonship; a family bond, a covenant and exchange of love is created between God our Father and each of us. 

Two other things that happen to Abraham in today’s reading points towards baptism. Abraham is given a new name by God. The gift of a name is a sign of a new state of life or vocation. Abram had been called by God to be the father of his people, and because he had entered into a covenant with God, he was given a new name, a family name, you might say, to indicate this. So, too, when we are baptised (or sometimes, at Confirmation), we receive a new name as a sign of our new birth and calling as God’s children. Our Christian name is a mark of our covenant with God. 

Thirdly, Abraham is given a royal dignity and the promise of land, a kingdom. So, too, at our baptism we were anointed just as the kings of Israel were anointed; indeed, just as Christ, the Anointed One was anointed. This is a reminder that because we share in Christ’s kingship through our baptismal covenant with God, we are meant to reign with Christ in heaven, to “inherit the kingdom prepared for [us] from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34). 

Hence, Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “If any one keeps my word, he will never see death” (Jn 8:51). For any one who is baptised into Christ, the living Word, and remains in the Word; any one who keeps Christ’s sanctifying grace in his soul, will never see death but will have eternal life. This grace, which can be lost through mortal sin – deadly sin – is restored to us through the gift of the sacrament of reconciliation. In confession, there is once more this covenantal exchange between us and God’s living Word. He speaks his re-creating Word of mercy and healing, his Spirit of love restores us to grace, renewing our covenant with God. And God’s Word is given to us again, coming to dwell in our soul, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Heaven is restored to our souls. But even if we had not broken our covenant with God through mortal sin, we are still being strengthened with God’s grace in this sacrament, healed by his love from the wounds that every little sin inflicts on us, and we’re being embraced by Christ. 

So, tonight, I invite you again to come to the Reconciliation Service, beginning at 8pm, to sunbathe in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar, and to renew our covenant with God. As Pope Francis reminds us: “Never tire of asking forgiveness, because [God] never tires of forgiving us”. 

January 19, 2013

HOMILY for 1st Sat per annum  (I)

Heb 4:12-16; Ps 18; Mark 2:13-17

It is sometimes said that Christianity is a “religion of the book”, that our faith is founded on the Bible, which is the word of God. But this isn’t entirely accurate. The Word of God, properly speaking, is not a book but a person, the Risen One who is thus “living and active” (Heb 4:12). So, Christianity is about following the person of Christ; our faith is founded on Jesus, the eternal Word incarnate. As St Bernard said: “Christianity is the “religion of the word of God”, not of “a written and mute word, but of the incarnate and living Word”.

The very beginning of Hebrews speaks of this incarnation of the Word: “in these last days [God] has spoken to us by a Son” (1:2). The letter then picks this theme up again, speaking of the “good news” spoken to God’s people of Israel and also to us [cf 4:2], but “the Word which they [the people of Israel] heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith” (4:2b). So, we are exhorted to do differently: to believe in the Word, in Jesus Christ, to obey him, and, so, to enter into God’s rest (cf 4:3, 11). 

But Hebrews also says that this Word of God judges us, searches us, and knows us intimately; we are “laid bare” before him. This would be frightening were it not that Jesus, because he is just and because he knows us so well, also knows what we long for, what humanity needs. Ultimately, what the restless human heart desires is to rest in God. What the sick need is a doctor; sinners need a Saviour. Hence we’re exhorted to believe in Christ who is the Saviour and Physician given to us by God. We’re exhorted to obey him and take the medicine prescribed, namely, to enter into communion with him, to enter and rest in him, in his “living and active” Body, the Church. For is it not here, through the Church and her sacraments, that we “may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16)? 

Recently, I’ve been to watch Les Misérables the movie a second time, and I would recommend it to you. Some words sung by the saintly Bishop seem to sum up the message of God’s Word, and of his holy Church, whose duty is to continue Christ’s mission of healing and mercy so that we can enter into God’s eternal rest. He says: “There is wine here to revive you, there is bread to make you strong, there’s a bed to rest ‘til morning – rest from pain and rest from wrong”.


August 26, 2012

HOMILY for 21st Sunday per annum (B)

Jos 24:1-2a. 15-17. 18b; Ps 33; Eph 5:21-32; John 6:60-69

For the last four Sundays we’ve been reading St John chapter six, and today we’ve come to the final part. It’s worth re-capping what’s happened so far. First, Christ feeds five thousand, a sign that Christ desires to feed God’s people both physically and spiritually. Both are necessary because Christ has come “that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). But St John doesn’t dwell on this miracle – it’s more of an introduction to catch our attention, leading to the bulk of the chapter, which is about being fed by Christ with the “food that endures to eternal life” (Jn 6:27). The people then ask for a “sign” that they may “see and believe” that Christ is from God. They ask him: “What work do you perform?” The lengthy discourse that follows answers their demand, and the sign that Jesus gives is the miracle of the Eucharist, a sign and work that only divine power can effect. The fact that Christ dares to teach this, without ever taking the opportunities to lessen the impact of his teaching, is the evidence he offers to those who want proof that he comes from God. As C.S. Lewis has said, Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or God.

Last week we heard how Jesus’ teaching caused scandal; it is forbidden in Jewish Law to drink any kind of blood. Surely Jesus is speaking metaphorically, symbolically? But Jesus insists that “my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed”. He doesn’t back down but uses even more graphic language: we’re to chew and gnaw on his flesh! And that is where we ended last Sunday, with these words ringing in the synagogue at Capernaum. 

This week’s Gospel plunges straight into the drama as the disciples make plain that they find it difficult to cope with this teaching. The Lord is given a final chance to relent, to change his words, to refine what he’s said. But he doesn’t. 

Rather, he just repeats what he’d said earlier: “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father”. In other words, God alone can and will give the faith that is required to accept and believe him. And “the flesh is of no avail”, meaning that the natural sciences cannot explain the Eucharist, nor can our everyday human experiences help us. 

Hence, the Eucharist is the mystery of faith par excellence. Until 1969, the words “mysterium fidei”, the ‘mystery of faith’ were said right after the Consecration of the Precious Blood to refer to what had just happened in the Mass, as bread and wine become, at Christ’s Word and by the instrumentality of his priest, Christ’s own Body and Blood. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was the mystery, the great sign and work of God that elicited a response of faith, of complete trust in the Word and teaching of Christ. So, Pope Paul VI reiterated in 1968 on behalf of the whole Church: “We believe that the mysterious presence of the Lord, under what continues to appear to our senses as before, is a true, real and substantial presence”. And we Catholics have continually affirmed this hard teaching, even at the cost of division among us Christians, and even if we don’t fully understand how it happens. Why? Because of who first insisted on this teaching: Jesus Christ, whom we believe to be God, and whom we know to be the Truth. So, we trust his Word. As St Thomas Aquinas said: “The presence of Christ’s true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority”.

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August 25, 2012

HOMILY for the 20th Sat (II)

Eze 43:1-7; Ps 84; Mt 23:1-12

Muslims famously face Mecca when they pray. But what direction do you and I, we Christians, face when we pray? This probably seems a strange question to ask, but it was of great importance to the early Christians. Because worship is not dis-embodied and purely spiritual – we are not angels, after all – but, as human beings, worship and prayer is also bodily, occupying time and space, marked by postures and direction. And so, these cosmological questions mattered: when we prayed, where we prayed, and which direction. If we asked the early Christians, the Fathers of the Church, in what direction they prayed, they would have said that they were orientated, that is, literally ‘east-ed’. Hence Tertullian, writing in 197, stated that Christians pray “in the direction of the rising sun”. 

Why? Origen, writing in the early 3rd century, explains that praying towards the rising sun is “an act which symbolizes the soul looking towards where the true light rises”, and, in common with many Fathers of the Church, he believed that this tradition came from Christ and his apostles. In the Liturgy, this meant that the whole assembly turned, if necessary, so that together with the priest, they faced the east. St Augustine, writing over a century after Origen, explained, “We do this not because God is there, as if He had moved away from the other directions on earth… but rather to help us remember to turn our mind towards a higher order, that is, to God”. For posture and direction in prayer, indeed, prayer itself, is for our benefit, not God’s. So, the early Christians orientated themselves in prayer as a symbol and a reminder to themselves that their whole person – body and soul, heart and mind – had to be orientated towards God. 

The idea that God comes from the east, from the direction of the rising sun, of the light has rather primal origins in sun worship. However, such religious instincts do point toward a profound truth that is fully expressed in the Scriptures. So, we read in Ezekiel’s vision in today’s First Reading: “The glory of the God of Israel came from the east… the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east”. And in the New Testament, Christ becomes identified as the “sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2) who, in the words of Zechariah, “visits us like the dawn from on high” (Lk 1:78). So, we turn towards the east, towards the light of truth, and ultimately, towards Christ, “the light of the world” who will return in glory. As St John Damascene said, Christ ascended towards the east “and He will return just as [the apostles] saw Him ascend into heaven… [thus] waiting for Him, we adore him facing east”. 

Hence, in the Liturgy, facing east was about waiting for the Lord to return, which, in a sacramental sense, he did in each Eucharist. Even when the practice of actually facing compass east faded away, the Christian liturgical assembly continued altogether to face an image of the Jesus, the “rising sun”; the Crucified One who heralds the dawn of the resurrection. Thus, the altar end of a church is always called the east end, whether or not it is geographically in the east, and we faced the cross in our prayer, orientated together to face the Lord. And this was an important ecumenical position we shared with the eastern Christians, the Orthodox. 

This bodily orientation, to my mind, is still important today and it should not be overlooked. But even when St Augustine wrote, he recognized that turning one’s body and facing east was easy enough. Of much more concern to him, and this is no less true today, is the turning of one’s heart to God, of conversion to the Lord. As he put it: “You turn your body around from one cardinal point to another; turn your heart around from one love to another”. Whichever way we face, our prayer and worship must clearly move us towards this re-orientation of our lives so that when we’re asked which direction we face in prayer, we can say we face Christ, “the true light that enlightens every person” (Jn 1:9).

June 27, 2012

HOMILY for Wed 12th Week OT (II)

2 Kings 22:8-13,23:1-3; Ps 118; Matt 7:15-20

Figs and grapes are cultivated plants. They require the care and attention of a gardener. For untended, the ground ‘naturally’ produces only thorns and thistles. Sheep require the care and attention of a shepherd. For left to their own devices, they ‘naturally’ stray off the narrow path and on to wide plains where they can be scattered and the weak are picked off by wolves. 

With these images, Christ comes to the final section of the Sermon on the Mount. Its wisdom teaches us that we need to submit ourselves to God’s tender care and attention if we’re to be fruitful. For he, the divine Gardener desires to cultivate our heart so that we produce sweet and attractive fruit. As St Paul said: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. But without his grace, our fallen human nature produces only the thorns of sin and the thistles of pride. So, we also need to listen to the voice of the divine Shepherd who calls us on the path that leads through the “narrow gate”. We might recall from yesterday’s Gospel, that this path is “hard”, but it leads to life. 

How do we listen to Christ’s voice, and when are our hearts tended and cultivated?

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