The Dominican friar, Blessed Humbert of Romans O.P. once said "First the bow is bent in study, then the arrow is released in preaching..." These are the sermons of fr. Lawrence Lew O.P., a Friar Preacher (Dominican), interspersed with art and some of his photographs.
The Holy Spirit is called the parakletos, the One-Who-Is-Called-Alongside you and me. He stands beside us, as our friend, but also as our counsellor and advocate. The language being used here is deliberately legal, and one calls to mind a courtroom situation in which we stand accused. Often, many people think that God accuses us of our sins, or we might blame ourselves and feel downcast because of what we’ve done, or it may look like the Church is pointing fingers at people to condemn them as sinners. But this cannot be; it’s diabolical. Because, quite simply, the one who accuses us, the one who blames us, and points fingers at us, and wants us to stand condemned of sin is not God, and not his holy Church, but the Devil. The Devil is the diabolos, the one who hurls his accusations across at us. It is he who attacks you and me with recriminations, and so, causes fear and troubles us. But Jesus says: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27). Because against the prosecution of the Devil stands the parakletos, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name to defend us, to raise us up through his grace, to restore us to peace.
For the peace that Christ gave us, which he won for us through his death and resurrection, and which we have through baptism, had been disturbed through sin. We experience a kind of disintegration in ourselves when we listen to Christ’s words, hear his teaching and say we love him, but we do not keep his word; we do not love him enough. So, sin splits us apart, and that is what the diabolos, the one who throws things apart, always wants to do – divide, splinter, and disintegrate. Thus, we find that we might know something to be good and true, we want to behave as children of the light, redeemed by Christ, but we don’t. We use our human freedom to choose our older ways – those more familiar and comfortable sins that our wills are too weak to resist. St Paul describes the situation vividly: “ I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…” (Rom 7:15). And then, when we fail and fall, the Devil keeps us down, standing on our backs and telling us how rotten, how guilty, how hypocritical we are. It’s the kind of thing an unforgiving and judgmental Press metes out on public sinners, only far worse.
But in this darkness of sin and despair, as we’re being prosecuted and accused, we need to call out for our defence attorney; we just lack the ability to defend ourselves against so wily an Enemy. The Holy Spirit, we’re assured today, is the parakletos; we just need to call on him, and he will come alongside us as our defender. He comes to plead our case, to counsel and convince us. And what does he say?
“Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” (Jn 14:27), says the Lord in today’s Gospel. And some might say that the pope we remember today, an Italian Dominican friar, wasn’t a man of peace. After all, Pope Pius V is remembered in England for excommunicating Elizabeth I and releasing Catholic subjects of their allegiance to the queen (in 1570), and he is also credited with having rallied the forces of Christendom, the so-called Holy League, in a great naval battle at Lepanto in 1571 against the Muslim Turks who threatened to overrun Europe.
And yet, St Pius V wasn’t really a belligerent man. He had been a shepherd before he joined the Dominicans, and he remained at heart a conscientious, austere and diligent shepherd, eager to maintain the safety and the peace of his flock. Even when he was serving as grand inquisitor under the previous pope, Paul IV, as Eamon Duffy notes, “he had fallen foul of Paul IV for excessive leniency”. And during the battle of Lepanto he had remained in Rome and gathered the people of the city in prayer, saying the Rosary. The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on 7 October was instituted by Pope Pius V in thanksgiving for the victory at Lepanto, which he ascribed to Mary’s intercession.
For St Pius V’s primary concern wasn’t so much with the peace of the world – perhaps he felt this was not his duty. After all Christ had said: “Not as the world gives do I give [peace] to you” (Jn 14:27). Rather, Pius V’s concern and duty as pope, to whom Christ had entrusted his little flock, was to secure for God’s people the peace that only Jesus Christ could give; the peace that comes through a saving faith in him, through knowledge of the fullness of the Truth he taught, through a loving communion with Christ’s holy Church. So, as far as Pius V could see, Elizabeth I and the other Protestant leaders disrupted the peace and unity of the Church, and would prevent Catholics from practicing the fullness of the Christian faith in peace. This was even more certain with the Turkish forces who threatened the future of Christianity in Europe. Hence, St Pius bravely did what he felt he had to on these two fronts in order to secure peace for the Catholic faithful.
But even among his Catholic flock there was disturbance and turmoil brought about by moral laxity, poor theological formation, and corruption among the clergy. This seems to be a recurring theme in Church history, for the Church was once more in need of reform, and Pius V was elected in 1566 to implement the decrees of the reforming Council of Trent. In his six year pontificate, he radically reformed the Roman curia, reduced its costs, and disciplined wayward cardinals and clergy. Looking to the faith education of the laity and clergy, he published the Roman Catechism and promoted as a solid formation for seminarians the Summa Theologiae of St Thomas Aquinas. He also promoted the unity and renewal of the Liturgy, putting in place an edition of the Roman Missal that remained essentially unchanged until Vatican II. Finally, he upheld the unity of theology in both the Eastern and Western Church.
All these works, which St Pius V laboured over until his death in 1572 were aimed at restoring unity and peace to Christ’s Church so that all within her Body might experience the unity and peace that Christ gave to his disciples. For Christ’s peace is found through the unity of faith, in the one saving Truth that Christ entrusted to his Church, and also in the consolation of her Liturgy and sacraments, for in these we encounter Jesus Christ who is our peace.
So, today, we give thanks to God for Pope St Pius V who shepherded Christ’s flock with such diligence and personal holiness of life, and we ask him to pray for the Church that she may be ever more united in the peace of Christ.
“No man is an island”, it’s said. And how true that is. This was so evident as we recalled last night the centuries of benefactors, collaborators and friends who have worked and prayed together with us friars to bring us to this day, to the building of this chapel with this Altar, now duly dedicated, at its heart. In a sense, this chapel reminds us of the debt of gratitude that we owe to those who have gone before us, to those who make up our community today, and above all, to God.
But one thing I increasingly realize, especially living in community, is that because none of us is an island, nobody is self-sufficient and in-dependent of another. We need one another, and we rely on one another to work, build, and celebrate together. And this is to be expected because as human persons we are essentially relational, born into a family community, and then, gradually joining other communities and networks. It is from these communities, from our relationship with others and our dependence on them that we find meaning, and also find ourselves. So, we are each indebted to the other, closely knitted in community by bonds of mutual need and trust, by bonds of love.
In every Mass we pray after the Our Father for “peace and unity” to be granted to God’s holy Church, and today we celebrate a saint and martyr whose life was devoted to safeguarding the unity and peace of the Church. In this way, he was true to his name, Irenaeus, which means ‘peace’.
Born around 135-40 in Smyrna, which is now called Izmir in Turkey, Irenaeus was mentored by bishop Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle St John. By 177 he had moved to Lyons in Gaul, where he is one of the priests ministering to the Greek-speaking Christian community there. That community sent him to Rome to take a letter to the pope, and while he was in Rome, the church in Lyons was attacked by Marcus Aurelius. 48 were martyred including the bishop. So, when Irenaeus returned to Lyons he was appointed bishop, and he taught the Faith, and defended it against the Gnosticism – a dualist heresy that set a good spiritual God against a negative Principle that produced all matter, that was thus, evil, in the world. The Gnostics believed that Jesus was sent to liberate Man from matter, setting his spirit free, but this superior and secret knowledge (gnosis) was only given to some Christians called the spirituals. This heresy was prevalent throughout the 2nd century and it divided the Church. These dualistic ideas probably sound familiar since versions of it crop up repeatedly, and St Dominic and his Order arose to respond to the 13th-century version of it called Catharism. So, St Irenaeus arose in the 2nd century to counteract Gnosticism, and he laboured until his death around 202-3 during another wave of persecution by the Emperor Septimus Severus.
Given the violence and persecution in Irenaeus’ lifetime and his own martyrdom, evidently, the peace that he is credited with bringing to the Church is not temporal peace. Rather, it is a peace that comes from being built upon the rock that is our one true Faith in Jesus Christ. As bishop and teacher of this Faith, then, St Irenaeus defended the people of God from the violence and divisiveness of heretical ideas, and united the Church in Lyons to the wider Church of his mentor St Polycarp: the Church of St John and the apostles, who, unlike the Gnostics, openly taught the common faith and knowledge of salvation that comes from Jesus Christ. So, in an unbroken line, the Apostolic Fathers taught with Christ’s authority, and their successors continue to do so today.
As St Irenaeus wrote in his book, Against Heresies, “The Church, though dispersed throughout the world… having received [this faith from the Apostles]… as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world” (1, 10, 1-2).
It is this unity and peace, coming from an adherence to the one Faith in the one Lord that we pray for in the Mass. For it is this unity and peace that is signified when we receive the one Bread and the one Cup that makes us “one body, one spirit in Christ”.
HOMILY for the Memorial of St Philip Neri – preached at the Charismatic Day of Renewal in Edinburgh (26 May 2012)
I’m sure we’ve all prayed for God to give us his Holy Spirit. Today’s saint, Philip Neri, did this many times but on the eve of Pentecost in 1544 something unique happened, and today’s Collect alludes to it. While he was praying in the catacombs near Rome, St Philip was suddenly filled with great joy, and had a vision of the Holy Spirit, who appeared to him as a ball of fire. This fire entered into his mouth, and descended to his heart, causing it to expand to twice its normal size, and breaking two of his ribs in the process! St Philip said that this filled his whole body with such joy and consolation that he finally had to throw himself on the ground and cry out, “No more, Lord! No more!” From that day onwards, St Philip often felt the fire of the Spirit warming his heart, so much so that he often had his cassock unbuttoned at the chest, and his heart used to beat violently and loudly when he prayed or preached!
I don’t suppose many of us will have had this kind of charismatic experience, but for St Philip it was not the mystical experience that mattered but rather the effect of his Pentecost moment. And this should be true for us too. From that day onwards, St Philip was constantly aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence in his life, and he remained open to God’s Spirit and co-operative with his grace. He became a “vessel of the Holy Spirit” as Blessed John Henry Newman called him, so that he was transformed by God’s love, and bore the sweet fruit of the Spirit that drew others to Christ: the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” as St Paul names them. And so, he became a most attractive saint, cheerful and full of joy, drawing many to Christ even today.
Like us, St Philip lived at a time that was said to be “captivated by beauty, freed from all control, and suspicious of any restraint…” but the effect of his Pentecost experience made him a “Second Apostle of Rome” because he and his congregation of the Oratory initiated a new evangelization for a city that had become lukewarm in its Christian faith. Quite simply, people were drawn to the radical freedom he showed, the freedom and joy of a child of God, who was liberated by the Spirit from the bondage of sin to be truly free to love, to enjoy the good, and to serve Christ in others. St Philip’s example has much to teach us today if we also desire a new evangelization in our time, if we also want to be filled with the Spirit of Pentecost and sent out as apostles into our families, communities, and cities.
So, how did St Philip remain open to the Spirit’s grace? He had a reverent love of the Mass and of Christ in the Eucharist, he valued frequent Confession, especially in order to advance in purity of heart, and he prayed that every day might be another Pentecost. As he said himself: “The Holy Spirit is the master of prayer and causes us to abide in continual peace and cheerfulness, which is a foretaste of Paradise. We ought to pray God fervently to increase in us every day the light and heat of his goodness”. So, let us pray in this Mass with St Philip and all the saints: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love”.
St Augustine calls these past Octave days of Easter “days of pardon and mercy”. For when the risen Lord appears to his disciples gathered as a group for the first time, he immediately offers them his forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation. And this is summed up in the phrase, “Peace be with you”. For peace is the first gift of Easter. Not peace in the sense of the absence of military conflict, as such, but something of greater cosmic significance. The peace the risen Christ speaks of is primarily the reconciliation between sinful humanity and God; it is God’s loving mercy and his forgiveness.
And this reconciliation brought about by Christ’s death and resurrection, by his obedience and loving self-offering, effects a new creation. Like the first (old) creation, God accomplishes the new through his Word and the Holy Spirit. So, on that Easter evening, “the first day of the week”, the incarnate Word speaks the new creation into being, breathing forth the Holy Spirit, and the whole universe is renewed through being reconciled to God. Indeed, God’s Spirit of Love, is, as St Augustine says, “its very self the forgiveness of sins”. So, when Christ gives the Spirit to his disciples, and thus, pours his love into their hearts, he is forgiving them their sins, giving them his peace, and hence, bringing about his new creation – a creation in which God’s own love and peace is given to humanity, and dwells in their hearts; a creation in which we are offered God’s mercy and friendship. This is what we mean by the life of grace, which is initiated in every Christian by the sacrament of baptism.
The chief priests and Pharisees are afraid. They’re afraid of drawing the unfavourable attention of the Roman forces. They’re afraid of losing everything they hold dear: the Temple and their nation. So, St Augustine said, “there is no cause for fear save the loss of what we love, when we possess it, or the failure to obtain what we hope for”. But, if we pay attention to St Augustine, we notice that we can only lose something we already possess; it is the loss of that something which we love, that induces fear.
But did the Jewish authorities actually possess the Temple? Was there really a Jewish nation? Or, were these not already lost to the power of Rome? Ezekiel says that the sons of Israel had been scattered, and the people were divided and defiled by idolatrous practices. So, in fact, the Temple was already lost; defiled and in need of purification, as Jesus’ prophetic act of cleansing the Temple at the beginning of St John’s Gospel indicated. And the nation, too, was already lost; dispersed in many nations, and subject to foreign powers. Thus the chief priests and Pharisees had nothing to fear from this perspective, because, in fact, they had nothing to lose.
Father Leon Dehon, founder of the Priestly Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Congregatio Sacerdotorum a Sacro Corde Iesu) also known as the Dehonians, celebrating Holy Mass. According to former privilege granted to the missionaries in China,