April 30, 2013

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HOMILY for the Feast of Pope St Pius V

Acts 14:19-28; Ps 144; John 14:27-31

“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.

March 14, 2013

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HOMILY for Thu in Week 4 of Lent

Exodus 32:7-14; Ps 105; John 5:31-47

Several things might have struck us about our new Holy Father last night. Firstly, he chose his papal name in honour of St Francis of Assisi, a universally popular saint who appeals to Christians and non-Christians alike. A saint renowned for his love of holy poverty, simplicity and austerity of life, humility and a zeal for re-building Christ’s Church. And the man who appeared on the balcony of St Peter’s seemed to have these qualities. He, the first Jesuit pope appeared in the simple white papal cassock – said to have been modelled on the white Dominican habit – bearing the name Francis. And he spoke simply, prayerfully, and then bowed in humility before the crowds to receive their – our – blessing before he, in turn, blessed us. Simplicity, humility, prayerfulness. Are these not qualities we associate with St Francis, which is why he is so loved? 

But, it seems to me, the reason why we are drawn to such qualities is because of who they point to ultimately: our God. These works, so to speak, bear witness to Jesus Christ, who in humility bowed down to earth and was born of the Virgin Mary; our God who shares our poverty, our sufferings, and our alienation; Emmanuel, God-with-us. As the works that Christ does bears witness to the truth, to who God truly is, so, the works that we do as Christians bears witness to Christ, testifies that God is love and mercy. Moses learns this by first having to be merciful and compassionate himself, pleading with God for clemency. It seems that only when we ourselves have learnt these ‘works’ of humility, mercy and love, which reflect God’s true glory, then we can understand who God is, and, as his witnesses, attract others to him. 

Hence, the work of rebuilding the Church, of restoring God’s glory to his Mystical Body, of witnessing to Christ and the saving truth of the Gospel does not belong to Pope Francis alone, or to saints like St Francis, but to each of us. And it begins with each of us learning, as Moses did, to be merciful and compassionate, interceding, praying, for others – much as Christ does, interceding at the right hand of the Father for us sinners. Simplicity, humility, prayerfulness are to be our virtues, too and Pope Francis led the way for us last night. 

For, surely, one reason why so many people do not believe in Christ is because I – we – are often such poor witnesses? So, in this Year of Faith, the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, has exhorted us all, as Christ’s Church, to undertake an “authentic conversion” to the person of Jesus Christ so that we can be better witnesses. We can have no better model of radical conversion to Christ than St Francis, who (as Pope Benedict XVI has said) “simply wanted, through the word of God and the presence of the Lord [in the Eucharist], to renew the People of God, to call them back to listening to the word and to literal obedience to Christ”. 

Now the Holy Spirit has raised up another Francis. May he renew God’s People in the same way. Perhaps we have one little indication of how Pope Francis will act. St Francis of Assisi famously tore his rich garments, and left them at the feet of his merchant father as a sign of worldly renunciation. So, too, Pope Francis, in his letter for the start of Lent this year, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has referred to the tearing of garments, or, more properly of our hearts. His words raise a challenge for us individually and as a Church: 

 

“Rend your heart, not the clothing of artificial penance without [an eternal] future.  

Rend your heart, not the clothing of technical fasting of compliance that [only serves to keep us] satisfied.  

Rend your heart, not the clothing of egotistical and superficial prayer that does not reach the inmost part of [your] life to allow it to be touched by God.  

Rend your heart, that we may say with the Psalmist: ’We have sinned.’  

Rend your hearts, open your hearts, because only with [such a] heart can we allow the entry of the merciful love of the Father, who loves us and heals us… Changing our way of living is both a sign and fruit of a torn heart, reconciled by a love that overwhelms us”.

Rend your hearts to experience, in serene and silent prayer, the gentle tenderness of God.

Rend your hearts to hear the echo of so many torn lives, so that indifference [to suffering] does not paralyze us… Rend your hearts to be able to love with the love with which we are beloved, to console with the consolation with which we are consoled, and to share what we have received”.  

 

February 28, 2013

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HOMILY for Thu in Week 2 of Lent

Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1; Luke 16:19-31

- preached in St Patrick’s church, Edinburgh.

“A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord for his hope”. This line from the prophet Jeremiah (17:7) is echoed in our psalm response, “Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord”. But both these translations cannot capture a pun that can be found in the Latin text: “Benedictus vir qui confidit in Domino”, Blessed, or Benedict is the man who trusts or confides in the Lord”. 

Today, as we come to the final hours of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, our dear holy father, perhaps we can keep these words of Scripture in mind, and hold them in our hearts in the weeks ahead. For, in what he does today, Pope Benedict shows himself to be a man who trusts firmly in the Lord, who knows that Christ is in charge of the Church and will protect and direct it. As the Pope said in his last General Audience yesterday: “At this time, I have within myself a great trust [in God], because I know – all of us know – that the Gospel’s word of truth is the strength of the Church: it is her life…” Thus, if we are rooted in the Gospel, planted firmly in Christ, the Word of God, we will draw divine strength and life. 

This year of Faith is the Holy Father’s gift for us to be nourished by the Word, and, as always, this great teaching-pope, offers us clear teaching in this time through his own example of faith. He lays down the ministry of St Peter not because of fear of scandal or adversity, but because of trust in God, confident in faith that the Lord will give us a new pope with greater human vigour for a vigourous globalized world. Recognizing one’s own physical and mental limitations, as our Holy Father has done, takes great humility and courage – qualities he has shown throughout his life. So, as he said yesterday: “loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult, trying choices, having ever before oneself the good of the Church and not one’s own”. 

So, “blessed is the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord for his hope”, and this means us, too. For, we are also called ‘blessed’ if we share in the faith, trust, and hope of Benedict. This means to have a Christ-centred outlook, so that our eyes are ever focused on the Blessed One, on Jesus, until at last we enjoy the blessed vision of heaven. As we journey onwards individually and as a pilgrim Church towards that one true goal, our Holy Father leaves us with these final words: “Dear friends! God guides His Church, maintains her always, and especially in difficult times. Let us never lose this vision of faith, which is the only true vision of the way of the Church and the world. In our heart, in the heart of each of you, let there be always the joyous certainty that the Lord is near, that He does not abandon us, that He is near to us and that He surrounds us with His love”.

Truly, “Benedictus vir qui confidit in Domino”!

February 22, 2013

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HOMILY for the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

1 Peter 5:1-4; Ps 23; Matthew 16:13-19

At the end of St Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord says to St Peter and the apostles: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt  28:18-20). 

In this we see two essential elements of the work of the apostles in building up the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, on earth. There is the sacramental activity, by which Christians are inserted into the life of the Trinity. And there is the teaching or magisterial activity, by which Christians are taught to live a life modeled on Christ’s. This is to say, we’re enabled to live a life of charity that makes explicit what it means to be baptized into the life of the Trinity, into God who is a communion of love. 

In order that these life-giving activities continue until Jesus Christ returns in glory, as he commands, so Christ promises to be with his Church, present and active in her teaching authority, called the Magisterium, and present and active in her sacramental life. So, in the authentic teaching of the Church, and in the sacraments, it is Jesus Christ who is acting, who is teaching, and who is sanctifying his people. For any authority that the Church has, and any grace and truth that she communicates comes, ultimately, from him, the Head of the Church. As the Catechism says: “Entirely dependent on Christ who gives mission and authority, ministers are truly ‘slaves of Christ’” (CCC 876). As such, leadership in the Church is exercised as a service to Christ, to his Church by keeping all in a bond of love and unity, and to the world who longs to hear the Gospel of truth.

Hence, the Catechism explains that “in order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility” (CCC 889). It is this gift of Christ’s sure and infallible authority to his Church, particularly to St Peter and his successors, that we celebrate in today’s feast. For the Magisterium, and especially the ministry of the pope, is a sign of Christ’s love for us, of his promise to be with his Church “to the close of the age” to keep us in a unity of faith with him, and to lead us and into all truth; the papacy is a sign of Christ’s pastoral care, and of his faithfulness.  So, the Catechism says that, through the Magisterium, we receive a “guarantee [of] the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error” (CCC 890). As such, dissent from the teaching authority of the Church is actually a sign of a lack of faith in Christ. For it says, in effect, that Christ has broken his promise to be with his Church for all time, that his gift of infallibility in matters of faith and morals has failed, or worse, that his teaching is being rejected.  

It’s sometimes objected that there have been very unworthy popes, and so, we can’t trust the papacy. But, as in the sacramental life – in our life of grace and our relationship with God – it is not our worthiness that takes centre-stage. Rather, the effectiveness of the sacraments themselves, and indeed, the existence of the Church (despite the sinners that make up her members), and so, also, the infallible teaching authority of the Church, all point to the faithfulness of Christ. They all speak of a God who is love, and who thus does not abandon us when we, his sinful servants, fail. Rather, Christ promises to remain with us, to be present and active in his Church so as to always teach, guide, and sanctify us. 

It is this promise made to St Peter and to each of his successors, to every pope, that we celebrate today. In just one week the Chair of Saint Peter will be vacant as Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate comes to an end. But the chair, the seat of authority, itself remains. Because the authority entrusted to the papacy is Christ’s own, and Christ, who is always faithful (cf 2 Tim 2:13), has promised to remain with his Church always, “to the close of the age”. 

November 12, 2012

HOMILY for 32nd Monday per annum (II)

Titus 1:1-9; Ps 23; Luke 17:1-6

Today’s feast is a reminder to us that the Catholic Church has, as Blessed John Paul II, put it, “two lungs”: the Western or Latin Church, to which many  – if not all – of us belong, and the Eastern or Oriental Church. And the Catholic Church is called to breath with both these lungs, although for many centuries the Church has been, or maybe still is, asphyxiated because of disunity and inequality between the Eastern and Western wings of the one holy Catholic Church. All too often, we think that our Western Catholic ways are the only way, or the superior way of being Christian. 

But there is a bigger, more truly Catholic picture of the whole Church, and what unites East and West is the papacy. As the Second Vatican Council said: “These individual Churches, whether of the East or the West, although they differ somewhat among themselves… in liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and spiritual heritage, are, nevertheless, each as much as the others, entrusted to the pastoral government of the Roman Pontiff, the divinely appointed successor of St Peter in primacy over the universal Church” (Orientalium Ecclesiarium, 3). And it is for this unity with the Pope that today’s saint, Josaphat died in 1623.

Born in what is now Lithuania, St Josaphat had Orthodox parents but he later became a Catholic. What is meant by this - becoming a Catholic - is accepting the shepherding authority of the Pope. Because Christ entrusted the role of holding all Christians in a unity of Faith to St Peter and his successors, and Jesus’ desire is that we remain united to him through the ministry of the Pope. Hence, to be Catholic; to seek the unity that Christ desires for his Church; to have full communion in the One Faith means to be of one mind and heart with the Pope. This, at least is what St Josaphat’s life and death was about. 

As Archbishop of Polotsk, he was mindful of the duties of a bishop, as we heard in our first reading. He was a prayerful, ascetic, and reforming bishop; fervent in preaching, and in works of mercy with the needy of his diocese. But these words of St Paul must have been especially striking to him: “[the bishop must] hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it”. And the “sure word” that St Josaphat taught with his life and death is that the visible unity of Christians with the Pope is vital; it is what Christ desires for our good, and for our salvation. And as a shepherd, a good bishop, he strove to bring about this unity even at the cost of his life. For he believed that to do anything less would be to cause scandal, to do the one thing Jesus condemns in today’s Gospel, which is to lead others into the temptation to sin: the grave sin of disunity   

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November 9, 2012

HOMILY for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Eze 47:1-2. 8-9. 12; Ps 45; John 2:13-22

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral church of Rome. The church was built by the Emperor Constantine, completed in 324, and is in an area of Rome near the Colosseum called the Lateran, hence it is commonly called the Lateran Basilica. Because the cathedra, the teaching seat of the bishop of Rome, the pope, is kept inside the basilica, it is regarded as the “Mother and Head of all the churches in the City and in the World”. So, we celebrate today’s feast as a sign of our unity with the Holy Father, and our love for him. We pray that he might exercise his infallible teaching office with courage and compassion so as to draw all people to Christ, who alone is the way, the truth and the life. 

The official name of the Lateran basilica is the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran. In this name we note the spiritual significance of today’s feast and of any church building. For the church building is a symbol of Christ our Saviour into whom we are incorporated through baptism, and who is made known to us through the evangelists. For through the living water which flows from the side of the Temple, that is, from Christ’s pierced side on the Cross, we are washed of our sins, healed and saved by grace, and raised to a new life with Christ, as members of his Body, the Church. So, the Catechism says that “churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ” (CCC 1180). 

Hence, in recalling the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, and thus, of all churches, we recall that each one of us, as Christians, were dedicated to God at our baptism; we became living temples of his Holy Spirit, and became spiritual stones that make up Christ’s holy Church. Every time we enter a church building, and bless ourselves with holy water, we remind ourselves of this: through baptism, we are incorporated into Christ’s Body, and have communion with him. All of us have received this grace through and in the Church, for we are never saved apart from Christ’s holy Church. As St Cyprian said in the 3rd century: “You cannot have God as your Father if you do not have the Church as your Mother”. So, in celebrating today’s feast, we also give God thanks for the gift of Holy Mother Church, that through her sacraments and her preaching of the Gospel, all people may come to a knowledge and love of the Most Holy Saviour. 

But perhaps in thinking of the Church, we see also her institutional shortcomings and the sins of her leaders, and we wonder if Christ will cleanse the temple of his Church. These words from the 6th-century saint Caesarius of Arles, which are read at Matins, should give us pause for thought: “Whenever we come to church, we must prepare our hearts to be as beautiful as we expect this church to be. Do you wish to find this basilica immaculately clean? Then do not soil your soul with the filth of sins. Do you wish this basilica to be full of light? God too wishes that your soul be not in darkness, but that the light of good works shine in us” so that the world may see our charity and give glory to our Father in heaven.  

May 25, 2012

HOMILY for Fri 7 of Easter

Acts 25:13-21; Ps 102; John 21:15-19

It’s often said that Jesus asks St Peter three times if he loves him in order to allow him to overturn his triple denial of Christ. And Peter, because he loves the Lord, is thus entrusted with the care of Christ’s beloved flock, the Church. But there is so much more to this passage. For in fact, Peter is being invited on a journey, to follow Christ so that he will learn to love as much as Jesus does to the point of dying for his flock. 

The Greek text of this Gospel makes this more evident, I think. Because the first two times, Jesus asks: “agapas me”. Agape in the New Testament is an unconditional pure love, the kind of unselfish sacrificial love that God has for us, the kind of love that goes to the Cross for the sake of sinners, and forgives those who deny and betray him. And Peter, in his three replies says: “philo se”. This is not quite the same pure love that Jesus has and that he asks of Peter, but the love of friendship. Now, friendship is the “most fully human of all loves”, a beautiful and precious love indeed, but it isn’t quite the supernatural divine kind of love that agape, charity, is. But it seems, this is all that Peter can give at the moment, his very best and fullest human love.

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