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Concile_Vatican_II

Before we delve into the above named documents, I feel that it is best practice to take a brief look into the source, Vatican II and ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘why’ it was felt necessary to call an ecumenical council fewer than ninety years after the first Vatican Council.

Far from being a mere ‘stop gap’ Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, was elected to the papacy in October of 1958, at the age of 77 and much to everyone’s surprise, Pope John, less than three months into what was expected by many to be a ‘transitional’ and therefore uneventful papacy, shocked both the Curia and the entire Catholic world with his announcement of his intention to convoke ecumenical council. Thus, the Second Vatican Council was conceived, a Council whose goal, mission and purpose was, essentially, to recover and reconcile the spirit of the earliest Christian communities and the writings of the early Church Fathers with the expectations, situations and genuine needs of contemporary, post-industrial, twentieth-century man. This purpose and the mission of the Council was clearly in keeping with how the Church had always viewed itself, as “ever ancient, and ever new” (St. Augustine).1

Cardinal Maria Montini who would later become Pope Paul VI remarked to a friend upon hearing Pope John XXIII intention to call an ecumenical council,

“this holy old boy doesn’t realize what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up”

So what can we dissect from his comment? Was this the view shared by many of the other Cardinals from within the Curia and the Catholic world at large? I feel that Cardinal Montini’s comment though measured, reflected the general feeling at the time, as deep down there was the stark realization that course changing events were a foot and this ecumenical council was going to shake the status-quo to its very core, and as history would testify, it was Pope Paul VI who would see Vatican II through to its fruition and so complete the vision which was set down by his predecessor John XXIII and through its many defined changes Vatican II has helped reshape the thinking and redefine the face of the Church and Catholicism through its comprehensively revised Liturgy, by giving a stronger emphasis on ecumenism and a new approach to the Church in the modern world.

Lumen Gentium‘light of the nations’
Seen of in many ways as the crowning achievement of the second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium meaning ‘light of the nations’, might well be summed up as a document which is ‘from the church about the church, acknowledging it’s own self understanding – its sense of self, it’s nature and it’s purpose’.2  It was not until its third and final draft that final ratification was given by the assembled bishops by an outright vote of 2,151 to 5 (yet one part of me can’t help but wonder the reason why for the objecting 5 votes.  Was it to conservative and traditional in its defining of dogma, or was it a step too far in parts?)  And so upon its overwhelming endorsement, Pope Paul VI promulgated the dogmatic constitution on the 21st November 1964.

Laid out in eight chapters, it is very easy for the reader to draw a thread between each chapter and then pair them thematically:  Chapters one – The Mystery of the Church (1–8) and two – On The People of God (9–17) look at the church’s divine orgin and historcial existence.  Chapters three – On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church and In Particular on the Episcopate (18–29) and four -The Laity (30–38) defines the many different roles within the church.  Chapters five – The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church (39–42) and six – Religious (43–47) address holiness of both the clergy, the laity and the religious life, whilst chapters seven – The Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church and Its Union with the Church in Heaven (48–51) and eight – The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church 52–69), looks at the saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Therfore as the reader is left with a sense of ownership, they cannot and they should not accept what the Council says about ‘the people of God’ without also accepting its explanation of the ‘hierarchy’ and the ‘laity’. Similarly, they cannot conceive or understand the ‘Church’s mission to the world’ without reference to her ‘divine commission’ and her ‘mystical character as the body of Christ’.3

Many have written and commentated upon Lumen Gentium, rather than follow that model, I wish to highlight some key defining areas which I feel are just as relevant today, as when it was first promulgated.

The People of God
As Lumen Gentium redefined the Church as ‘the people of God’ the Councils definition showed how it pleased God to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness. (LG 9)

All men are called to belong to the new people of God. Wherefore this people, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and must exist in all ages, so that the decree of God’s will may be fulfilled… He it is who brings together the whole Church and each and every one of those who believe, and who is the well-spring of their unity in the teaching of the apostles and in fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers.(LG 13)

 

An ‘Ecumenical’ Gesture
Through Lumen Gentium we find the Council’s first ‘ecumenical’ gesture, acknowledging a bond with non-Catholic Christians. The Church had always implicitly acknowledged such a bond, by recognising the authenticity of non-Catholic baptism. While the Council confirmed that those outside the Church lack the unity which depends on communion with Christ’s Vicar, at the same time it says they are “united with Christ” through baptism. That is to say, they retain the indelible character imparted by baptism.4

 

The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter.  For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. (LG 15)

The Permanent Diaconate
For well over a millennium the roll of the permanent deacon had been consumed into a transitional roll, yet it is through Lumen Gentium we see how the Council Fathers recognised the need to reinstate and clearly define the ministry of the Deacon.

At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed “not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.” For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God… let deacons be mindful of the admonition of Blessed Polycarp: “Be merciful, diligent, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all.” …the diaconate can in the future be restored as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy… (LG 29)

The Laity

Over the last number of years the buzz phrase in many church circles has been that of ‘giving back to the laity’, yet this can not be seen as a new idea of thinking as its roots are firmly grounded in Lumen Gentium.  The Council without any hesitation turned its attention to the laity, namely those members of the People of God who belong neither to the clergy nor to the religious orders. The laity through their baptism are to participate in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly roles of Christ.

By divine institution Holy Church is ordered and governed with a wonderful diversity. “For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another”… (LG 32)  The laity are gathered together in the People of God and make up the Body of Christ under one head. Whoever they are they are called upon, as living members, to expend all their energy for the growth of the Church and its continuous sanctification, since this very energy is a gift of the Creator and a blessing of the Redeemer. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. (LG 33)

The Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church and the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Church has always recognised that the ‘she’ extends beyond the faithful here on earth and so includes the saints in heaven, who already inhabit the Kingdom of God. It is at the end of time, that all the faithful will be in the Triumphant Church, as the kingdom of God is made fully manifest in the renewed heaven and earth. The Church on earth, therefore, continually labours on her pilgrim journey towards her eventual union with the risen Christ.

The Church, to which we are all called in Christ Jesus, and in which we acquire sanctity through the grace of God, will attain its full perfection only in the glory of heaven, when there will come the time of the restoration of all things.  At that time the human race as well as the entire world, which is intimately related to man and attains to its end through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ. (LG 48)

As ‘we’ the pilgrim Church journey towards our redemption with the risen Christ, the theme of the Blessed Virgin returns ‘us’ the ‘Church’ to the mystical heights contemplated in the opening chapter of Lumen Gentium. The Church, being the Mystical Body of Christ, is fundamentally a mystery, and the Blessed Virgin again points us to this very same mystery of incarnation.5

The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer…
(LG 53)

Gaudium et SpesThe Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the
Modern World’

On its journey to fruition this document started its life as conversation between Pope John XXIII and Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Suenens of Belgium in March of 1962. And so this then unnamed document was conceived and through its development it would look at; consider and then address both the church in its inner life (ad intra) and the church in its relationship to the outside world (ad extra).6

Toothing-stones

Through it many rewrites and names (Schema 17 and Schema 13), the French sociologist and priest Pierre Haubtmann through the inspiration of the French Dominican Marie-Dominique Chenu who had been calling the church to read the ‘signs of the times’ and seek points of contact between Christianity and the modern world.  And so the ‘toothing-stones’ document was approved during the forth session of the council, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World was promulgated by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI On December 7, 1965. 7

 

Yet as I read the document in its entirety, I can’t help but think of a sculptor addressing a block of uncut marble.  For the sculptor to work with this beautiful material he needs tools, and for me Part I of Gaudium et Spes are the tools and through its carful use and understanding, ‘we’ the sculptors are able to define and form the most beautiful image of a serving church from within Part II.

Part I is methodically presented to the reader in four clear and concise chapters which address the principles of Christian anthropology: chapter one – The Dignity Of The Human Person (12–22),
 chapter two – The Community of Mankind (23–32),
chapter three – Man’s Activity Throughout The World (33–39) and chapter four The Role Of The Church In The Modern World (40–45).  Whilst; Part II containing five chapters addresses the pastoral nature of the church towards the human family.  Yet through the lenses of 2013 and beyond these very same topics and pastoral needs seem more relevant today; chapter one – Fostering The Nobility Of Marriage And The Family (47–52),
chapter two – The Proper Development Of Culture (53–62),
chapter three – Economic And Social Life (63–72),
chapter four – The Life Of The Political Community (73–76) and chapter five – The Fostering Of Peace And The Promotion Of A Community Of Nations (77–93).

As with my approach on Lumen Gentium, I wish to follow the same theme, highlighting a few key defining areas that I feel are just as, if not more relevant today, as when Gaudium et Spes was first promulgated.

The Dignity Of The Human Person
The opening comment states that beliver and non-beliver agree on man as the focus of creation ‘in the image of God’, ‘male and female He created them.’

According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.

But what is man? About himself he has expressed, and continues to express, many divergent and even contradictory opinions… Endowed with light from God, she can offer solutions to them, so that man’s true situation can be portrayed and his defects explained, while at the same time his dignity and destiny are justly acknowledged.

For Sacred Scripture teaches that man was created “to the image of God,” is capable of knowing and loving his Creator… (GS 12)

With the dignity of the human being laid out in the document, the Council Fathers still felt the need to address atheism and when we place this concern in the context of the day we see that the threat of atheism was not just a theological issue, it was also a political issue as well.

The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God. From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God… Still, many of our contemporaries have never recognized this intimate and vital link with God, or have explicitly rejected it. Thus atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination… The word atheism is applied to phenomena which are quite distinct from one another. For while God is expressly denied by some, others believe that man can assert absolutely nothing about Him. Still others use such a method to scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem devoid of meaning. (GS 19)

 

As time has shown the Church through her preaching salvation, illuminated the conditions that befall man, yet she is still there to enhance human dignity, reinforcing the social structure and giving deeper meaning to man’s everyday task.

Through it defining rolls, the Council Fathers gave a grand yet humble quality and approach to the Church’s task in the world. Through her mission she keeps alive for non-religious men the deepest questions. Only ‘we’ the Church continue to maintain the dignity of man despite fluctuating fashions. The Gospel message on liberty and conscience emphasises that the divine order does not take away from the rightful autonomy of man, but brings it to completion.8

Fostering The Nobility Of Marriage And The Family
With the family being at the heart of the human and social order we see how contemporary difficulties made the Council Fathers highlight certain issues discussing the duty of procreation and family planning.  Yet a husband and wife minister to each other in a special way through the joining of their persons and activities, which demands full fidelity and argues for their indissoluble unity. The lasting fidelity reflects the fidelity of Christ to his ‘bride’ the Church.

Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents. The God Himself Who said, “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and “Who made man from the beginning male and female” (Matt. 19:4), wishing to share with man a certain special participation in His own creative work, blessed male and female, saying: “Increase and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior. Who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day. (GS 19)

And so with the realisation that ‘we are all the people of God’ engrained upon our hearts it is now our turn a generation on from Vatican II and with 50 years of hindsight to not only adopt but to also develop and set in stone Church teaching and the rich legacy of Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes for future generations to come.  For ‘we’ the Church should be there to help our fellow humans, believers or not, to find their vocation and to build a world that reflects the dignity and love of Christ and his people, uniting them through our serving in both word and deed.

…the Father wills that in all men we recognize Christ our brother and love Him effectively, in word and in deed. (GS 93)

References:

1,2,3,4      Web based source: Jayson M. Brunelle, M.Ed., CAGS

4,6,7         Edward P. Hannenberg – A Concise Guide to the Documents of Vatican II

5                Daniel J. Castellano

8             mostsacredheartruislip.co.uk

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social-justice

The following essay is an exploration looking at Church teaching and does it have the right and duty to advocate a social order in which the dignity of all are fostered, and so to protest when it is in any way threatened and the implications for Church – State relations. I have used the example of Fr Father Viateur Banyangandora who was deported by Zambian authorities for preaching about poverty and justice for the poor during a Mass.

Catholic News Service

Friday 3 August 2012

By Mwansa Pintu

Priest’s homily leads to deportation from Zambia

LUSAKA, Zambia ­– Zambian authorities deported a Rwandese Catholic priest after he was detained for two days and questioned for preaching about poverty and justice for the poor during a Mass.

Edgar Lungu, minister of home affairs, confirmed that Father Viateur Banyangandora, pastor of the parish in Lundazi, Zambia, was sent to his homeland August 1st. He declined to say why the priest, 40, was deported.

“Father Banyangandora’s conduct was found to be a danger to peace and good order in Zambia,” Lungu said.

Zambian church officials had no immediate comment on the deportation. Father Banyangandora was picked up at his residence by police at about 5pm, July 30th, and taken to Lusaka, the Zambian capital, for questioning, said Father Evan Sakala, the parish’s parochial vicar.

Father Sakala explained that police pointed to comments that Father Banyangandora made in which he castigated the government over its handling of an impasse between cotton growers and cotton ginners. Authorities, Father Sakala said, apparently considered the comments capable of inciting people to rise against the government.

The Zambian government and the Cotton Association of Zambia have been unable to reach an agreement on the price of cotton being paid to growers. The stalemate has led the association to halt the sale of cotton to the Cotton Ginners Association of Zambia, which offered a price more than 50 percent lower than its 2011 offer. The impasse has led some farmers to burn cotton stockpiles in protest.

“We were told that he was being taken to Lusaka for further questioning, but his mobile (phone) is switched off,” Father Sakala said.

Eastern Province police commissioner Grace Chipalila neither confirmed nor denied the arrest of the clergyman in Lundazi, a city of about 12,000 residents, 450 miles east of the capital.1

Are the Church right for doing wrong?

Pádraig Corkery in his opening paragraph of chapter one, ‘Why Social Teaching?’ in the Companion to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states very clearly that since the publication of Renrum Novarum in 1891 the Catholic Church has explicitly addressed issues of social justice. Yet, argues Corkery, in some quarters, it has been suggested that the Church should leave questions pertaining to justice, economic systems and human rights to politicians and governments and only concern itself with prayer and worship.2 This dichotomy is not only as old as the Church itself but also emerges from a consideration of the words and actions of Christ as seen in the Gospel writings. The press story mentioned at the start of this assignment presents a vivid and modern example of the issues at the heart of the matter. This assignment, therefore, will explore whether Fr Banyangandora was right for doing wrong, asking if he should have spoken up for the oppressed and paid the penalty, or whether it was better for him and the community that he confined his ministry only to their spiritual needs and so not to disturb the political ‘status quo’?

Fr Banyangandora’s accusers, the Zambian government, stated that they considered his preaching regarding poverty and justice capable of inciting the people to rise up against it. Yet for Fr Banyangandora to speak out against the oppression of the poor is not only a 21st century phenomena. In both the Old and the New Testaments we are able to pin point how a prophetic imagination was used to highlight such matters. Like those who have spoken long before Fr Banyangandora, the right of the Church is at the same time a duty, because she cannot forsake this responsibility without denying herself and her fidelity to Christ (71)3. Proverbs 8:4-9 and Isaiah 61:1 best sum up this prophetic voice, a voice that is not a lone voice in the wilderness but is rather that of a united Church speaking up for social justice for one and for all. Making its voice heard, challenging those who are willing to hear, those in government and in leadership are reminded;

To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding. Listen, for I have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge.

Proverbs 8:4-9

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…
Isaiah 61:1

As we step our way through Holy Scripture, particular in the Gospel of Luke 4:16-19

we witness the compassionate Jesus and what amounts to the inaugural opening of his public life. Speaking to those in the synagogue he drew from the writings of Isaiah 61, here we hear him outline, in a manner not dissimilar to a manifesto, priorities where he expected to concentrate his efforts in the days ahead. Through his revelation, Jesus was also drawing from an honoured prophetic tradition of those committed to social justice.


So to with Fr Banyangandora, he also had rich sources to draw from, principally scripture and the vows he made on the day of his priestly ordination and how he would resolve himself to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel, in season and out and explaining the Catholic faith as something alive and active.4 Empowered and sustained by these sources, Fr Banyangandora was able to draw from the self-understanding that the Church is quite clear that the creation of societies that serve and promote the dignity of the human person is ‘an essential part of the Christian message, it is not a marginal interest or activity, or one which is tacked on to the Church’s mission, rather it is at the very heart of the Church’s ministry of service’ (67)5.

Fr Banyangandora’s case highlights were the Church frequently finds herself today when it comes to ‘Church – State relations’ and when it comes to speaking out against and highlighting social justice. At her heart lies the increasingly strident insistence that there exists certain and indispensable essentials that are the entitlement of every person on earth simply by virtue of their shared humanity. The roots of human rights are to be found in the dignity that belongs to each human being (153)6 applying to every stage of life and to every political, social, economic and cultural situation (154)7.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, clearly states that basic human rights are not just limited to, food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education and adequate employment and that there is a inherent dignity coupled with the equal and inalienable rights of all of the human family through the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. In past decades, especially in countries like Ireland that would have been viewed as ‘traditionally Catholic’, the integration of State and Church, or perhaps more accurately the difference between both, was not as visible as it is today. In today’s increasingly secular world, fuelled in part by recent scandal and its management, the relationship between Church and State has been thrown into relief. This leads us to ask how the Church can find accommodation between the need to respect the legitimate civil agenda of government, whilst at the same time being sure of its place as it promotes a message of Christian values that relate to both personal and societal actions.

Alan M. Dershowitz wrote in an issue of Free Inquiry in 2000:

That it’s all too common for people to argue that a strict separation of church and state, under which the government is not permitted to endorse and support religion, is actually a form of hostility towards religion. Not only is this completely false, the consequences of strict separation are exactly the opposite: when the state supports religion, it generally leads to more widespread hostility towards religion.8

Although this ‘separation of Church and State’ has been emerged in and been adopted by a number of countries throughout the world, there are varying degrees of separation depending on the legal structures and prevalent views toward the proper role between ‘Church – State relations’. Whilst in one country the policy may be to have a definite distinction in Church and State, in another there may be an ‘arm’s length distance’ relationship in which the two entities interact as independent but at the same time both acknowledging the existence of a relationship with the other.

Elected President of the United States of America in 1961 John F. Kennedy was perhaps one of the most famous Catholics who came to power in recent living memory. Reflection on his political life [if not his personal life] highlights the concept of ‘Church – State relations’, best seen through his desire and search for leadership where he came to the conclusion that he could separate and make a distinction between the ‘Church and State’ through his own separation of ‘a personal faith verses state’.

This distinction and separation was made by Kennedy, 12th September 1960 when he said:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote, where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.9

Yet as we travel full circle with Fr Banyangandora, his case highlights how, at times, ‘Church – State relations’ can be strained and tested often at great cost to the individual. Therefore, both the Church and the State need to realise that both should and have to go ‘hand in glove’. The mutual autonomy of the Church and the political community does not of necessity entail a separation that excludes cooperation. Both Church and State, although by different titles, are tasked to serve the personal and social vocation of the same human beings (425)10. One has to be there to keep the other in check, like the Church who recalls that she shares in mankind’s joys and hopes, in its anxieties and sadness. Accordingly she stands with every man and woman of every place and time (60)11 through the new relationships of independence between individuals and peoples, which are ‘de facto’ forms of solidarity, which have to be transformed into relationships tending towards genuine ethical-social solidarity, therefore it has two complimentary aspects: that of a social principal and that of a moral virtue (193)12. As with those in the Church, those of political authority must also guarantee an order and upright community life without usurping the free activity of individuals and groups but disciplining and orienting this freedom, by respecting and defending the independence of the individual and social subjects (394)13, Their responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs to the State, since the common good is the reason that the political authority exists (168)14 and to ensure the common good, the government of each country has the specific duty to harmonize the different sectoral interests with the requirement of justice (169)15.

In conclusion, I feel that Fr Banyangandora was right in carrying out his duty not only as a priest, but also as someone who follows the Gospel values. To reinforce the drive behind his motives and his actions, I wish to draw from two other sources outside of Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Firstly, the Letter of James which gives both ‘us’, i.e. the Church and the State, our ‘marching orders’, and perhaps it is possible to summarize James in just one single sentence, “Don’t just stand there; do something!” For James, all the devout piety in the world is not worth much if it is not backed up by action. I would also go as far as suggesting that the actions which James speaks of can also be viewed not only as the physical act, but also the spoken word, where the Church becomes the challenging voice aimed towards the State, highlighting how she addresses the poor and the oppressed.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
James 2:14-17

Secondly, Pope Benedict XVI’s speech in Westminster Hall on the 17th September 2010 highlighted something critical not only to his immediate audience of the British government, but also to those in power and leadership throughout the world, how vast resources to help the banking institutions were found during the financial crash, and yet those in leadership singularly fail to address and help the most precious of all, the world’s poorest peoples. Pope Benedict XVI’s address highlights how the Church has become the voice of the poor and the downtrodden, speaking out when others are not being heard.

…Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”. Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is “too big to fail”…16

Both of the sources highlighted should become a beacon to ALL who minister not only within the church but also those who serve as state leaders. All need to remember that it is their duty to strive towards attaining basic human rights for all. Whether they have heard James’ marching orders echoing down the centuries, or whether they have heard Pope Benedict XVI’s address or not, it should also fall

to us in the Church to ensure our voices are heard in the same way as Fr Banyangandora’s was when he stood up for the poor and oppressed. We might never feel the wrath of a disgruntled State or Government, we may not be deported or sent to prison for challenging social injustice against the poor, however in our defence of marginalised we must cast the light of Christ on economic and political structures that deepen injustice or which condemns others to a life of poverty. Our thoughtful and heartfelt response to all the above can be found and adopted into our own motto which is both short and simple:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31:8-9

References:

1 – Web based source: http://ncronline.org/news/global/priests-homily-leads-deportation-zambia

2 – Companion to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

3,5,6,7,10,11,12,13, 14,15 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

4 – The Rites of the Catholic Church as revised by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council

8 – Alan M. Dershowitz, Free Inquiry, 2000: (web based source)

9 – John F. Kennedy At The Greater Houston Ministerial Association, 12th September 1960 – Rice Hotel, Houston, Texas: (web based source)

16 – Extract taken from Pope Benedict XVI’s speech in Westminster Hall, 17th September 2001

cemy

“Death itself is anything but an event without hope. It is the door which opens wide on eternity and, for those who live in Christ, an experience of participation in the mystery of his Death and Resurrection.”
(Pope John Paul II, 1995)

With Pope John Paul’s quote in mind, we all as Christians need to view death not as the end but the beginning of a new life, and it is through the funeral rite, we the Church celebrate the paschal mystery: Christ’s passing and the Christian’s passing, from this world to the Father.

The purpose of the funeral rite is:

  1. To commend the dead to God;
  2. To support the Christian hope of the people;
  3. To give witness to faith in the future resurrection of the baptised with Christ.

Structure of the rite
The rite has three main divisions or ‘stations’ corresponding to the important moments between the death of a person and the burial of the remains.

First Station: In the home

Second Station: In the church

a)         Reception of the body at the church

b)         The funeral mass

c)          Final commendation

Third Station: Rite of Committal1

The following observation was made during a funeral on Monday 26th December 2011.  During the funeral rite I observed parts ‘a’ and ‘c’ from the Second Station: In the church and then finally the Third Station: Rite of Committal.

a)  Reception of the body at the church
The 26th was a cold, crisp December morning that had a brisk wind that nipped at the hands and the faces of those attending the funeral.  Despite this biting wind, the low December sun gave a ray of warmth.  It was during the tolling of the bell, it struck me, that the loss of a loved one is hard, but as part of the grieving process the mourning family will have to deal with the coldness of death, but it is upon them living through and believing in the paschal mystery where they will find the warmth and the giving of eternal life.

‘Priest X’ flanked on both side by two lay people, both dressed in a surplice and cassock greeted the coffin at the entrance of the church.  As the coffin was carried into the porch ‘Priest X’ sprinkled the coffin with holy water and recited the following words:

“In the waters of baptism

‘N’ died with Christ and rose with him in new life.

May he now share with him eternal glory”.2

On top of the coffin there was just one family wreath of white lilies. ‘Priest X’ accompanied by the assisting lay people, processed in front of the coffin leading the chief mourners in to the main body of the church.  The congregation all stood in respect of the deceased and the grieving family.  The coffin was carried to the front of the church where it was placed at the altar.  A pall was then draped over the end of the coffin along side the family wreath.  The Paschal Candle was the placed beside the remains and then lit.

‘Priest X’ and the assisting lay people all bowed, making the usual customary reverence ‘Priest X’ kissed the altar and incensed it.  Upon reaching the chair he made the sign of the cross and then greeted all the people and acknowledged the grieving family, he then recited the following:

“At Christmas time we are brought together as Christians through Christ.  Each sharing our lives with him and in turn we share in his life.

 In the face of death we gather again to celebrate in Christ’s risen life.  May ‘N’ now enjoy that eternal life with God.  We gather to pray for the happy repose of his soul and we ask God to be merciful and that he will forgive him his faults and failings, welcoming him home at the gate of heaven and all those who have gone before him.

 ‘Priest X’ then comforts the family explaining that as a faith community we are called to rally around them showing our support and prayers in the days and weeks ahead.

‘Priest X’ explains that as we begin Mass he would like to invite the family to bring up some personal items which represented and said something about the life of ‘N’, both in his family and in the wider community.  The family processed from the back of the church carrying the following emblems:  a football shirt, a racing magazine, gardening tools and a family photograph.  What struck me at this point was that none of the personal items said anything about his faith or his relationship with God.  Upon the gifts being placed upon the altar, ‘Priest X’ then continued with the funeral mass.

c)  Final commendation
Following a communion reflection and after a period of silence ‘Priest X’ then spoke the following words:

Lord God who’s son left us the sacrament of his body, food for the journey, mercifully grant that our brother ‘N’ may come to the eternal table of Christ, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen

 Trusting in God we have prayed together for ‘N’ and now we come to the last farewell.  There is sadness in parting; we take comfort and hope that one-day we shall see ‘N’ again in joy of the resurrection, its foundation disperses sorrow and the mercy of God will gather us together again in the joy of this statement.  Therefore let us restore one and other in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let us pray in silence for ‘N’.

After these short prayers ‘Priest X’ sprinkles and incenses the coffin.  Prayers of intersession were said, invoking the angles to take ‘N’s soul to God the most high.  Upon the final prayers being finished the bell tolled, ‘Priest X’ invited the family, friends and the wider community to take ‘N’s remains to his final resting place.  ‘Priest X’ then leads the funeral procession to the place of committal.

 Rite of Committal
‘Priest X’ makes the sign of the cross and recites the following at the graveside:

“Our brother ‘N’ has gone to his rest in the peace of Christ.  May the Lord now welcome him to the table of God’s children in heaven.  With faith and hope in eternal life, let us assist him with our prayers.

Let us pray to the Lord also for ourselves.  May we who mourn be reunited one day with our brother; together may we meet Christ Jesus when he who is our life appears in glory.

A scripture verse is read at this point.

Lord Jesus Christ,
by your own three days in the tomb,
you hallowed the graves of all who believe in you
and so made the grave a sign of hope
that promises resurrection
even as it claims our mortal bodies.

Grant that our brother may sleep here in peace
until you awaken him to glory,
for you are the resurrection and the life.
Then he will see you face to face
and in your light will see light
and know the splendour of God,
for you live and reign for ever and ever.

Amen.3

Upon finishing these prayers ‘Priest X’ sprinkles holy water over the coffin, the coffin was then lowered into its resting place.  ‘Priest X’ then recited the words of committal, then he scatted some earth on to the coffin as a reminder from where ‘N’ came from and to where ‘N’ would return in the hope that on the Lord would embrace ‘N’ in peace and on the last day he would be raised in glory.  ‘Priest X’ continued with prayers of intercession, then all the mourners were invited to pray The Lords Prayer.

‘Priest X’ followed the rite laid out in the Order of Christian Funerals, with the concluding prayers and a decade of the Rosary. ‘Priest X’ ends the rite by making a sign of the cross.  As a conclusion to this observation I wish to end by remembering ‘N’ and all those who have gone before us.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Amen.

 

Material source:

1          Seán Swayne: The Sacraments, A Pastoral Directory
Veritas Publications Dublin 1976

2, 3      Veritas Dublin: Order of Christian Funerals, Approved for use in the Dioceses of Ireland

book

Johnson, Luke Timothy.  Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church, The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians
(Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2011) Pp198

 

The term ‘Revelation’ is defined in the Catholic Encyclopaedia ‘as the communication of truth by God to a rational creature...’ and so armed with this definition my quest was to embark on a journey with LT Johnson and his book entitled Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church, The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians.  With Johnson as my travel companion I at once accepted his book title as the means by which he intended to explore, reveal, address and then challenge me the reader.

Johnson very cleverly constructs for the reader his proposals, his thoughts and upmost his challenges for the contemporary Christian Church.  This he achieves by structuring the book into a preface, an introduction and eight chapters with a scripture index.  As with many good books Johnson in a very direct style lays out within the preface his ‘thesis’, through his exploration and his well-paced style Johnson hopes to stimulate, encourage and reignite what for many is a lost treasure, a prophetic vision for today.

It is in his preface Johnson explains that the book first made it’s appearance, as a series of presentations to the clergy, scriptural students and through its development he makes no apologies for his intended target audience, those reading from within a faith community.  Yet I would stress a word of warning for those reading from this general faith community, a sound reading of Mathew, Mark coupled with a basic knowledge of the Prophets and of course Luke-Acts would be a help as throughout the book Johnson draws many parallel lines from other sources and references in order to explore and expand his argument.

Those who may be familiar with Johnson’s work might well notice a family resemblance to a book entitled Scripture and Discernment: Decision making in the Church (Abingdon, 1996).  This could be viewed as the foundation on which Johnson built Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church, The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians.

Johnson’s main core and foundation for all other arguments is that in his opinion it was wrong for the New Testament cannon to have both books of Luke separated, and this is definitely Johnson’s bugbear and he strongly discourages any reader of Holy Scripture from reading both books in isolation and he states, “canonical arrangement does not determine how canonical compositions are to be read.” (3)  He goes on and further explains that, “we are not obliged to read Hebrews as a letter written by Paul simply because many early Christians so regarded it and some ancient manuscripts place it among Paul’s letters.  Nor does the canonical placement of James or Revelations demand that we read them as either later or lesser than Paul.  The accidents of canonical arrangement do not constrain interpretation.” (3)

Johnson shows and highlights that whether Luke’s first readers heard his words as prophetic or that the present-day readers view these crafted pieces of text as a nostalgic look into the past, there is still one constant and that is “God’s word — that, in short, they are prophetic for every age of the church.” (5)  And so Johnson begs and offers the first of many reflections and challenges for all Christian communities and its members: “faith communities have little experience of or commitment to “reading and engaging” canonical witness as church.  The dominant forms of reading among Christians are individualistic: the New Testament is read for what it says to “me” rather than to “us”.” (7)

The substantive message of the book takes place in 5 chapters covering areas and defining ideas and thoughts, so after reading Johnson’s work the reader could not say that they did not understand or grasp what a ‘prophetic spirit’ and ‘word’ was, nor that it was impossible to incorporate a ‘prophetic embodiment’ with ‘enactment’, and last but least, how after all the above have been address and teased out the ‘prophetic witness’ that came into play in the time of Luke-Acts readers is still the same in todays contemporary world.  It is through these subject areas Johnson explores, defines and builds the literary and the prophetic shape of Luke-Acts by drawing upon the character and revealing how “the biblical portrait provided Luke a rich set of antecedents for speaking of human led, driven and inspired by the Holy Spirit as they represented God’s vision to other humans.” (52) Through the same sprit filled prophets, Johnson show us the thread from which Luke drew upon, Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah and Zechariah to name just a few, and still they all pointed towards the ultimate prophet, Jesus.  Johnson waves this picture beautifully through his words, revealing that Luke-Acts portrait of the prophetic Jesus is still a live, challenging the contemporary Christian Church, “it is not simply a matter of recognizing Jesus as a prophet — calling him “Lord” (6:46) — but is a matter of truly hearing and acting on the word of God that the prophet speaks.  It means adopting a new measure for evaluating all relationships, and a new behaviour with respect above all to power and possessions.” (85)

Chapters six through to eight is where Johnson turns the thumb screws on the reader and also the contemporary Church Community, by using Luke-Acts as his model and through citing both Old and New Testament sources he challenges and begs many questions which are tough, but, if they are answered honestly they can only be come insightful to what needs to be changed, starting from the inside looking out.  For each of the remaining chapters, Johnson first describes the prophetic element as it appears in Luke, then Acts, and then he offers, ‘Challenges for the Church Today.’ Therefore the book in its latter stages ends up becoming a kind of commentary with suggested applications and as the reader becomes more enlightened they are then challenged to their very core.  Johnson encourages the reader to lay open their own understanding of the contemporary church community they belong to and the challenges that lie ahead.

As my reading marathon and emotions came towards it conclusion, I finally found the hidden treasures I was looking for, and through Johnson’s own insightful look and portrayal of Luke-Acts, he (Johnson) had finally become my challenger, I could no longer drift through life using the saying “Ignorance is bliss.” Below are just some of Johnson insights and challenges, which I found of great interest both as a member of a faith community and as a someone who will be entering ministry in five months time.

Prayer:
“The form of prophetic embodiment to which the church has been most faithful through the centuries has undoubtedly been prayer… virtually every act of Christian worship has included the prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples, so that, from the time of the apostles to the present, believers have prayed that God’s kingdom be realized (Luke 11:2).” (124)

Servant Leadership:

“The church’s failures to embody the prophetic ideals of poverty and itinerancy are connected to its failure to exercise servant leadership in the manner taught and exemplified by Jesus and the apostles.” (128)

Proclaiming Resurrection:

“The church today should examine itself with respect to the integrity of its proclamation of the resurrection…  The church needs to consider the slow collapse of creedal commitment among its members, and even in its leaders…  a reconstruction of Jesus’s ministry by historical means cannot replace the Gospels, which are written from the beginning to end in light of the resurrection — that is, in light of the faith shared by the church of the evangelists, and the church today…” (183)

Embodying Witness:

“The church “speaks truth to power” in in the world first, not by making speeches, but by living in a manner that is consistent with the prophetic world.  Indeed, if the church’s own power arrangements simply mimic those of the world, it offers no challenge to the world, no good news.” (184)

Witness to the Church:

“Achieving a genuine prophetic embodiment is made even more difficult by the long history of Christianity’s enmeshment in culture and the multiple ways in which leadership and membership alike only weakly embody the prophetic word.” (185)

Like a fine red wine, when opened it should be aloud time to breath and mature, and so to with this book, it is evidentially clear that Johnson has over a period of time reflected and pondered upon his thoughts and his own challenges, and dare I say it his own Prophetic words speak loud and clear, not only to the individual community member but to ALL church leaders as well.  His closing sentence in the book is the final gauntlet that he throws down to ALL who believe and follow Jesus Christ and minister within his Church. “…prophets within the church do not bear the responsibility for making ecclesiastical machinery run in accord with tradition, they are uniquely positioned to allow the challenge of God’s work outside the boundaries of the church to be heard within the community of faith, offering it also the chance to repent.” (186)

rome

 

The phrase Counter-Reformation suggests an out and out fight against Protestantism, what it was in fact was a culmination of events that saw the Catholic Church begin to reassert its self after the revolt of Martin Luther thirty years before.  Modern thinking would suggest that it was Luther’s ‘Ninety-five Theses’ which set all the dominos falling and that he and others like him were the cause of the Counter-Reformation.  This is not the case and if we were to change or swap one word in this phrase we would begin to see things in a different light, and that word would be Counter to Catholic, therefore the Catholic-Reformation takes on a whole new meaning.

The name Counter suggests that the Catholic movement came after the Protestant; whereas in truth the reform originally began in the Catholic Church, and Luther was a Catholic Reformer before he became a Protestant. By becoming a Protestant Reformer, he did indeed hinder the progress of the Catholic reformation, but he did not stop it.1  As stated the Catholic-Reformation was already a pressing question in the Church, long before Luther’s arguments arose.  What Luther can be held accountable for is that he spurred on a more urgent response and realigning of the Church and her fundamental thinking and teachings.  Luther’s courageous call for the revision of Church action and the accountability of the papal household was only part of a bigger picture, yet the Church was reforming itself, although at a very slow pace.

In the forty years or so prior to the Lutheran revolt, popular spiritual works printed in the vernacular, together with new orders such as the Oratory of Divine Love, founded at Genoa in 1497ce, showed that there was a spiritual interest and an awakening was happening in Western society. As in other parts of Europe, Spain was wakening up to reformation in the1480’s.  Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros, a Franciscan provincial in the Castille radically transformed the Spanish Church. He is widely regarded as having laid the foundations for the predominant role of the Spanish church during the Golden Age of the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries.  Most of Cisneros’s reforming measures were put in place after he became archbishop of Toledo in 1495.  His reforming measures included promoting and encouraging learning along with the revival of religious vocations.2

 

The Reforming Orders

As the Catholic-Reformation was taking hold and spreading from country to country there was also the revival of monasticism.  It was through the reforming orders that the movement found its was most effective, both the older orders and those created especially to rejuvenate the Church became aware of the religious and social needs of their day.  It was through this awareness that they decided to grasp the nettle of responsibility with a revived courage and devotion.3

During the period of change at times it was easier to found a new order than to reconstruct or reform the old, partly because reforms even within a religious community are more likely to divide than to bind.  Those Orders who found the reforming transition period changeling ended up becoming stronger because by the experience, and so in turn they grew from strength to strength.  The most successful attempt at reforming and then reconstructing an old order was that of an Italian Franciscan caled Matteo da Bascio who sough to revive the primitive simplicity of St Francis of Assisi and to observe the letter of the testament of St Francis.  The Capuchins as they became known; due to their four-pointed brown hoods, were recognized by the Pope Clement VII in 1528, and it was then they began to minister in the rural areas of Italy dealing with social and welfare concerns. The order rapidly spread through Europe.  Other successful reformed and new orders of the Counter-Reformation were  –  the Discalced Carmelites, the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Theatines (1524ce), Somaschi (1532ce), Barnabites (1533ce) and the Dominicans.3

 Like other older Orders who were struggling with the task of reform or be left behind, the Dominican Order were no different.  Reform meant change and the acceptance of meeting the new needs and circumstances of the common people of the time.  Many of its members had strong Protestant leanings but it was not until Paul III conducted visitations during the 1540s did its heretical preachers see the error of their ways.

Among the many shining lights during the darkest times of the Reformation emerged a newly founded order who became highly successful in spreading Catholic reforms and this order was the Ursulines, founded in 1535ce by Angela Merici.  They devoted themselves to the education of girls of all classes. It was not until 1572ce when they adopted the three monastic vows that it was finally constituted as an order.

Through history there have been many people who managed to leave an indelible mark and one such mark left, was that made after the repentance of a Spanish noble injured in war.  His repentance seen the formation of the most versatile order in the church’s history, and later it was to become the central means by which the papal authority would establish itself.  Ignatius Loyola, after an epic pilgrimage of penance to the Holy Land (1523ce-1528ce) began training for the priesthood at the Sorbonne where he organised a holy company of like-minded souls, took the vows of poverty and chastity and bound themselves to go to the Holy Land to carry out missionary work after the competition of their studies.  Unable to travel to the Holy Lands they placed themselves completely at the disposal of the Pope Paul III, who accepted; sixteen years later.  Upon Ignatius death in 1556ce his followers numbered a thousand and they and become a global phenomenon, spreading the faith from the Indies to the Americas and all this with total obedience to the Holy See.

The Reform of the Papacy and the Council of Trent

Even the most traditional of the reformers looked to a General Council to reform the Church, from its leadership down, after the German revolt many felt that peace and harmony needed to be restored to what seem like a wounded and divided church.  The foundations had to be turned on its head.  The pyramid of leadership and serving needed to start for one single point and work out and upwards, the Pope had to be seen as the key foundation stone serving his Bishops, who in turn would serve their clerics and in turn the entire ordained members of the church had to remember that they were there to serve all the people of God.  The difficulty of reform lay in one question, when a General Council was free, who might attend it, and what might be its agenda.  Papal divines held that the Pope alone had the canonical right to summon a General Council.  Protestant divines could accept, or did not expect, fair dealing at a Council summoned and arranged by their principal opponent.

The growing voices of concern of the moderates, especially in Germany wanted a remedy to a future Council.  They might not want Luther, but they wanted reform.  The Germans wanted a free Christian Council in German lands, and by ‘free’ they wanted it to be independent of the papacy.  The Emperor Charles V wished for a Council to meet in Germany as he seen this as away of uniting the German populist.4   Yet Pope Paul III and his advisors viewed this call with the eye of suspicion and fear, for the Council of Basle lectured the Popes and the Council of Constance had deposed popes and elected new popes.  The fear was that a General Council outside of their control would conduct a revaluation in which Catholicism would transform and the See of Rome swept aside.

It was during 1536ce Pope Paul III appointed a nine-man commission, headed by the noted reformer, Cardinal Contarini along with like minded prelates such as Garaffa and Pole.  By early 1537ce they had issued a report called Advice…Concerning the Reform of the Church.  Its contents were a forceful condemnation of the current moral standing of the Church.  The preface to the Advice stated that all the abuses in the papacy stemmed from the secularization of a spiritual office; that the popes, like other rulers, had permitted flatters to convince them that their power was absolute, especially in the granting of benefices.5  The papacy had sold itself out to money and power.  In very simple terms, the papacy had sold off the keys handed on by Christ to St Peter.  However, while being confidential, the report was leaked and it reached the reformers in Germany, where it was attacked and lambasted as another failed attempt to reform.

Despite the opposition of a number of cardinals, Contarini encouraged Paul III to take steps towards correcting some of the abuses, especially those concerning the governance of the Church.  By following some of the suggestions incorporated in the Advice, Paul III was able to correct a number of the most glaring abuses in the Curia, such as the promiscuous granting of dispensations for monetary considerations.  Although a lot of change still had to happen, his bold actions laid the foundation and the pathway to reforming the entire Church at a General Council.

Having gained strength by initiating reform of the papacy, Paul III summoned the much-needed General Church council; and so the venue was chosen, Trent, in Austrian Tirol.  This setting was perfect as it technically met the requirements of Charles V; he wanted a council to be held in Germany.  On the other hand it lay on the Italian side of the Alps, here it would be safe from outside interference.  The three sessions of 1545-1547ce, 1551-1552ce and 1562-1563ce, laid the foundations of the modern papacy and clarified Catholic teaching, chiefly the importance of tradition and scripture.  With these agreements, the seven sacraments, transubstantion and the sacrificial nature of the mass, all were affirmed and laid out for all the church to understand their meaning and relevance.

The span of the Council of Trent saw the reign of five Popes; Paul III, Julius III, Marcellus II (though very brief), Paul IV and Pius IV.  For the council to last as long as it did and for it to go through many ebbs and flows was only to be expected.  Perhaps an understanding of the low ebb and feeling of the church at the time, are summed up in the sad words of Pope Paul IV to Father Laynez, as he lay dying in August 1559, “From the time of St. Peter there has not been a pontificate so unfortunate as mine. How I regret the past! Pray for me.” 6

Despite the Council of Trent not succeeding in restoring the unity of Christendom, it through its three sessions no longer left any doubt the position of the Church with respect to all doctrinal matters.  The Council of Trent could not have taken the Church through its reforms without the leadership of the popes who were dedicated to the ideals of the council and in complete command of the resources of the Church, abandoning the strong secular interests of their Renaissance predecessors, most of them made the revival of Catholicism their primary concern.

In conclusion

Long before Martin Luther’s revolt, the Church was already in its reforming stage. Although slow in its timescale, Luther did however bring about an awakening to areas, which if left unattended would have left the church floundering in a far worse state than it was in.  It was by the end of the sixteenth century, long after Luther’s death we see the authority of the papacy become firmly established once again and what was more important, it had corrected the worse abuses within Catholicism and through its reforming it call for a personal holiness, from both the citizens of the Church and State alike.  As in a long line of dominos falling over, the Renaissance period became the time frame were we witnessed the clash between the Bible and the modern Church.  Half chose the modern Church as the key to understanding the Bible, while the other half chose the Bible to be the judge of the modern Church.

The introduction of Sacrosanctum Concilium promulgated by Pope Paul VI
in 1963, 400 years post Council of Trent, for me, sums up the continuing awareness which was started and set by the Counter-Reformation, we see that reform is the constant contact not only with time, but also with the people and their needs in the Church.  Reform imparted then is as relevant today, as it was during the period we call the Counter-Reformation.

This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church…7

 

Material source:

1, 6        John Hungerford Pollen: The Counter-Reformation (Amazon Kindle)

2            Alister McGrath: Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, The Protestant Revolution, a history from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first Society for promoting Christian Knowledge 2007

3, 5        Harold J. Grimm: The Reformation Era 1500-1650 (Second Edition).  Macmillian Publishing Co., Inc New York  1973

4            Owen Chadwick: The Pelican History of the Church (Volume 3), The Reformation.  Penguine Books Ltd. 1964

7            http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents
/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html

Here-I-am

Homily based upon – 1 Isaiah 6:1-8

I was once advised that a homily should be built around 4-6 key words or phrases and 1 Isaiah 6:1-8 has these all in abundance.  My toughest decision was which key word or phrase to pick and what would be relevant for us in the 21st century.  It might well be argued that this text as like many others has served and shaped us down through the ages.  It has given us a formula and a root map that has helped past generations to shape worship; praise, confession, forgiveness and response.

As we pick and thread our way through this reading we begin to realise that this is ‘The call vision of Isaiah’.  The Hebrew prophets received their message in the heavenly council and here we are able to witness and imagine Isaiah’s vision in the temple and what it must have been like to stand in the presence of the majesty and the glory of God.  The text itself is breath taking, especially when viewed against its backdrop, the very place where heaven and earth meet.  What a feeling of awe Isaiah must have had, despite his wretched state he was still able to see God seated as king, who’s cloak filled the entire temple, expressing the overflow of holiness and the power of God over this holy place and the city of Jerusalem.

Within the first few lines we get one of the most powerful images imaginable of praise, six-winged seraphs crying out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts”, this should seem very familiar to us, for we too proclaim this very line every time we come together to celebrate the Eucharist, echoing the cry’s of those heavenly hosts.  As a faith community gathering together we are all acknowledging, that heaven and earth are both filled with Gods glory.

Saint Augustine was quoted to have said:

“In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You.”

In the presence of God’s perfection, we cannot help but realize that it is through our sins we too become hidden from God.  When Isaiah was in the presence of God he recognised his own unworthiness and the unworthiness of his fellow Israelites. His lips, let alone his limbs, had long displayed his corruption. Isaiah’s confession and realization of his human weakness is plain for us to see when he says, “What a wretched state I am in! I am lost…”  Not only is Isaiah referring to himself in this confession but his fellow Israelites as well.  It is through God’s grace Isaiah is forgiven and his sins are ‘taken away’ and ‘atoned for’.  We here today, like Isaiah have the very same opportunity to have our sins taken away through the sacrament of confession.  As we acknowledge our sinfulness, we to are given the opportunity to sit in Gods glorious presence and it’s while we are there we find Gods grace experiencing the conquest of sin.

Brennan Manning in his book the ‘Ragamuffin Gospel’ sets out clearly Gods grace and forgiveness.  He explains that God is comfortable with all sinners who show compassion, but that he cannot and will not have a relationship with pretenders in the spirit.  I heard recently of a Church in North Belfast who closes its doors 2 minutes before the church service begins.  God does close his heart to us, so why so we close the Church doors to others.  Manning paints a lovely picture in his book, which I would like to share with you.

A sinner was forbidden entry to the church.  He took his woes to God,

“They won’t let me in, Lord, because I am a sinner”.

 “What are you complaining about?” said God.  “They won’t let me in either”.

 Funny as this may seem, this is what sin can do to us, we are the ones who put up the no entry signs in our hearts, we are the ones who lock the doors through our own sins from Cod’s holy presence.

In life forgiveness is a two way street.  We seek forgiveness from God through the Sacrament of Penance.  I love it, when I hear the Church use the term ‘Sacrament of Reconciliation’, for me this is the stark reminder that we not only need to be reconciled with God but we also need to seek reconciliation with those who hurt us, and with those we have hurt.

A few years ago I had the great previalage of hearing a talk by Richard Moore, a native of  Derry City.  His uncle, Gerard McKinney, was shot and killed in January 1972 during Bloody Sunday and in just four short weeks after Bloody Sunday, tragedy would strike again at the heart of the Moore family.  It was upon his his way home from school Richard was shot in the face and blinded by a stray rubber bullet fired by a British Soldier on 4th May 1972, he was just 10 years old.  Despite Richard loosing one eye and being blinded in the other, his resilience and his determination helped him to over come all the odds and many years later, Richard met and befriended the British solider who shot him and in his book “Can I give him my eyes”?  we are able to witness the heroic story of one mans life, his charity work and his sense of forgiveness.  For me personally, what we have in Richard’s life story is reconciliation and forgiveness in abundance.   

 As we pray the Our Father later on in todays mass, may we pause together and refelct upon the line concerning forgiveness.

 … forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.

Todays reading paints three wonderful pictures for me, firstly the revealing of God’s Heavenly Kingdom and secondly God showing his unending forgiveness and grace towards Isaiah and in turn to all of humankind, but, for me the last of the three painted pictures is by far my favourite.  What and why? I hear you ask, well let me explain, it is Isaiah’s response to God’s call,

 “Whom shall I send?”

God’s call is the ‘what’, and it is those who answer this call every day of their life, from the care worker to the teacher, to the mission worker who goes out on to the street to help the homeless and the sick, from the farmer to the shop assistiant, from grandparents, aunts and uncles to the young parents, all who live and bring the good news of Christ to bare in those they meet every day.  We all here today through our baptism and the anointing with the oil of ‘Holy Chrism’ share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly roll of Christ.

The ‘why’ is even clearer, like that of Isaiah, Jeremiah and all of the prohets, our call is decided in our very own creation.  We can and we are able to resist, but we will never become whole untill we answer God’s call. like Isaiah we too must place all our trust in God’s call, as we answer,

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if You lead me.

ananias

Homily based upon – Acts 9:1-31

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are 285 million people visually impaired worldwide: 39 million of which are blind and 246 million suffer from low vision. Of the 285 million suffers, 90% of the visually impaired live in developing countries where cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness in both middle and low-income countries.

Recently a friend of mine had to visit an eye consultant and before the consultation he admitted that the greatest fear for him was the thought of loosing his God given gift of sight, or at best depending upon the diagnoses he might need to change his life style, which could mean changing his current job and leaving his part time studies.  Thankfully Derek received good news and his condition is treatable and hopefully within a number of months his condition will be at a manageable level and in time he should be free from treatment.  Reflecting upon Derek’s medical condition, I asked myself the question, have I gone through my life taking my eyes and my sight for granted?  To grow up in a world where we are able to see and enjoy all of God’s wonderful creation is something to behold and cherish.  I know for certain after speaking to Derek and despite his current condition he views each day through a fresh set of eyes.  Yet can we say the same?  We say we can see, yet some of us claim not to have seen the hurt or destruction that others are living through in our parish, our town, our country or for that matter, our world.  How many times have we thought or used the term ‘out of sight, out of mind?’

Upon sharing my thoughts with a very close friend on Acts 9, it struck me how over familiar I was with the passage.  Upon hearing the name Damascus I automatically thought of Saul and his conversion, others I spoke to, would use Saul’s later adopted name of Paul, but the out come was still the same, both names are so intertwined with each other they become inseparable.  After all, both names refer to the same person.  For me the phrase ‘poacher turned game keeper’, explains and summarises the passage. Saul; the persecutor of the followers of ‘the way’ (Christians) through his encounter with the risen Christ becomes Paul; apostle to the Gentiles.

It should then be no shock to any of us that many bible translations use the following titles to explain the passage I wish to explore:

–    Saul meets Jesus (New Living Translation)

–    Saul’s conversion (Christian Community Bible)

–    Saul encounters Jesus (Nick King Translation)

 So now, I hope that you will see my starting point, the passage is so heavily weighted towards Saul’s encounter with Jesus and his conversion it is like we have skipped to the last page of the book to find out ‘who did it’ and ‘what the plot was’.  So instead of jumping to the last page, I wish to ask you one very simple question, can you tell me who the other person is in the passage and how they left their indelible mark upon Saul?

In the passage this character is seen as the supporting roll, and Saul is the lead.  Paul’s renewed life journey and his zealous belief in the resurrected Christ are well documented, but for me the supporting character is the unsung hero.  Despite this character only appearing for a very short period of time, they too had a great mission to carry out in the name of Christ.  It is though their response and trust in God which can help us in our daily life and it is he who shows us, by placing all our trust and faith in God’s call, we too can make an ever lasting difference to an another persons life, no matter how small our encounter may be.  In all my years as a boy and man, I can honestly say that every time I have heard this passage read I have missed the unsung hero’s name, or for that matter, I never really paid attention to the great mission he under took and how Saul’s life would gain confirmation after his encounter with this unsung hero; Ananias.

It is in verse 10 we have our first encounter with Ananias, a disciple and a follower of The Way.  Yet by this stage Saul has already encountered Christ on his journey to Damascus. Falling to the ground Saul heard a voice calling out to him “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Only Saul heard the voice and seen the light, yet his travelling companions stood speechless, they heard the sound but they could see no one.  Many in our modern world have drawn parallel lines to the modern apparitions: at Fatima, Lourdes and reputed apparitions of Medjugorje where only the visionaries can see and hear the apparition even when others are present.  Saul’s reply I have found odd for many years “who are you Lord?”  I was given the answer quite recently to this and it was, that ‘Lord’ could also mean ‘sir’.  Now for me Saul’s question and response made sense.  The voice replying, answered Saul’s question very plainly.

“I am Jesus whom you persecute.  Now get up and go into the city; there you will be told what you are to do”.

As with Saul, God called out “Ananias” and upon hearing his name called, Ananias recognised that it was God calling and his immediate response was “Here I am, Lord”.  His response like many others in faith, was that of obedience, submission and then finally, acceptance.  God instructed Ananias to go to Straight Street where he would find a man called Saul and that his visit would be expected as God had also granted a vision to Saul of Ananias, who would come to lay hands upon him.

Saul’s reputation was growing fast and after all it was he who asked the High Priest for letters allowing him to travel to the synagogues of Damascus, authorising him to arrest and bring any man or woman belonging to the Way to Jerusalem.  So you can see how we can forgive Ananias his initial response as not disobedience to God, but a genuine fear of what might happen to him if he were to accept God’s calling.  How many times in your life have you used the phrase, “I would love to have been a fly on the wall?”  If the same encounter and conversation were to happen between God and Ananias today, I believe this is how it would have gone.

God              –        “Ananias”

Ananias              “Yes Lord”

 God            –        “Ananias, I want you to go to a street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus called Saul.  He is praying and I have shown you to him in a vision, so he knows that a man called Ananias is coming to lay his hands upon him, so that he might receive his sight”.

Ananias              “But Lord, are you mad?  Are you kidding me, are you really sure?  Is this not the same Saul who is trying to wipe us out?  Many of your followers have left the city. Others have gone into hiding.  Even the dog’s in the street have heard of Saul’s reputation, it precedes him”.

God              –        “Ananias, trust me for I will take care of you.  Go and as for Saul, I will show him that he is a chosen vessel of mine, which is to bear my name before Gentiles, kings, and all the children of the world”.

Ananias              “But Lord, Saul is a Christian persecutor, this we all know, but Saul, the Christ follower, no way”.

God              –        “Ananias, Go for I myself will show him how much he will suffer for the sake of my name”.

Does any of this conversation seem familiar to you?  Has God quietly spoke to you in your heart this week, asking you to befriend or for you to hold out the hand of genuine friendship to a person who may have hurt you in the past?

We all know that Ananias followed God’s call, placing his hands on Saul saying;

“Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”.

What beautiful and comforting words these must have been to Saul.  These very words can also ring true to us today.  Upon hearing those words, which person will you let loose on the world this week?  Will it be Saul, the persecutor of all the good that goes on around you, or will it be Paul, the one who’s renewed belief in the risen Christ spoke out for what was right and just.  Or will it be the unsung hero, Ananias, who gave all his fear over to God, obeying his call by stepping out into the unknown?

As we approach this coming week may we all take comfort in the prayer by Thomas Merton.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
Nor do I really know myself.
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always
Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death
I will not fear for you are ever with me.
And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.

There is no doubt that Paul touched the world, but let us not forget that God also used Ananias to touch Paul.  So as you journey through life with all its ups and downs, I ask you, who will you reach out to in God’s name?

road_to_a_new_life

Homily based upon – Romans 12:1-12

Due to our busy lives, many find it easier to digest information if has been condensed into chewable bites. The smaller number of characters used the better, you can use 420 characters in a Facebook post, a 160 characters for a text and 140 characters are the limit for a tweet. On average it takes at least lasts 9 seconds for someone to read a Tweet or Facebook post.  Some may argue that we have become lazy and due to our lifestyles we get bored very easy.

So as we read through Romans 12:1-12, there is no way 140-160 characters will summarise or explain what Paul is asking us to digest.  You as either the reader or the listener will have some filling in to do on your own.  Paul requires you to take a step back and look at what he is saying, some background and self-awareness is required.  As Paul writes to the Romans he is giving them his understanding of how and what it is to live as a disciple of God.  Through chapter 12, Paul challenges not only the church in Roman but he also lays down the gauntlet to the lay faithful of the 21st century.  Both are drawn in to an understanding of ones self and of what it is to live with Christ in your heart.

As we start off in verse one, Paul explains that as Christians we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, bodies that are holy and pleasing to God. So what does that actually mean to us today?  We are to keep in mind that our bodies are Gods and we must not use them for things that are sinful.  We are to use our bodies for things that will bring glory to God’s kingdom, God wants pure and holy sacrifices and if we say that we are Christians, then God expects us to act like Christians, to act like Christ to the best of our abilities, both in our hearts and in our minds.

As the spirit of Christ grew within the Church of Rome, Pauls asked them to form and shape their culture, rather than reflect it, and so too with us today, as we live within a more aggressive secular society, we as followers of Christ need to shape it in to a more loving and forgiving society, rather than reflect the self-centred post recession society which has engulfed us and we find ourselves living in today.

As I was writing this homily, my Facebook messenger popped up with a newsfeed, as nosiness got a grip of me, I decided to open up my account to find out that a local band had just launched their official music video an hour earlier.  Why am I telling you this I can hear you say?  Well apart from the song having a brilliant catchy melody, it was the title that struck me first, ‘Making Money’.  The entire song and video is centred around a young man who dreampt of nothing else other than making money and so in turn he could have the fast cars, the Champagne, the gambling and then finally the women of his dreams.  It is the opening lyrics, which made me sit up and reflect upon.

Is it me? Or are we all broken, I can dream of cars and fast boats…
Skies at night-time on seas of gold and country mansions when I grow old”. 

 It is said that music reflects and mirrors the society of its time.  I just wonder what St Paul would make of the sentiments in these lyrics, and I ask you, has history and experience taught us nothing.

Following on from this, I have just 3 short questions, which I would like to ask you.  They may challenge you as to whether you have conformed to this world or have you allowed yourself to be transformed by God, as it says in verse 2.

  1. Do you spend more time every day in front of the TV, or on the phone rather than spending time in prayer and talking to God?
  2. Do you spend more time every day serving yourself rather than serving others?
  3. Do you spend more of your money on unneeded selfish items rather than supporting Christ’s work in His church?

By verse 4 Paul tells us that as individuals and followers in Christ we all make up the ‘one body’ of the church, each having his or her own roll to play.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells out very clearly that all who believe and respond to Gods word are intimately united with him.

 “One Body”
Believers who respond to God’s word and become members of Christ’s Body, become intimately united with him: “In that body the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe, and who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his Passion and glorification. (n.790)

And so for the next few moments I would like to play a quiz with you. If I were to say,
Ellen Gould White, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, William Franklin Graham,
St Francis of Assisi and St Clare of Assisi, Albert Gubay, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, St Vincent De Paul or Frédéric Ozanam, could you tell me what links all these ‘ordinary people, who in turn became extraordinary people’?

Let me explain in just a few words, who and what spiritual gift these people showed:

Prophesy… Ellen Gould White, born on November 26, 1827 in to unexceptional beginnings. Ellen’s ultimate influence on modern Christian thought and practice is staggeringly profound.  Thought by some to be a prophet, and others too controversial, one thing is certain — Ellen’s love for God led her around the world, changeling people to reach a deeper understanding of the Bible, drawing them closer to the Saviour, while enriching their spiritual and physical well-being.

Serving… Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, born 26 August.  More commonly known as Mother Teresa, she founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, in 1950.  For over 45 years, she ministered to the poor, sick, the orphaned, and the dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity’s expansion throughout India and then in to other countries. Following her death, she was beatified by Pope John Paul II and given the title “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta”.

Teacher… Born William Franklin Graham, Jr. on November 7, 1918.  Billy Graham has been spiritual adviser to several United States Presidents and during his life’s ministry he has preached the Gospel in person to more than 3.2 million people worldwide, throughout his ministry he has witnessed many come to a renewed faith during the hymn, “Just As I Am“.

Encouragement… More than 800 years later both St Francis of Assisi and St Clare of Assisi still remain pillars of encouragement of how to live and act in Christ’s name.  Francis and Clare dedicated themselves to a life of holiness and poverty, working and praying tirelessly for God’s kingdom.  St Francis left the world, which I would best describe as the most beautiful prayer of surrender and willingness to love and how to serve in God’s name:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

 Giving… Albert Gubay, born 9 April 1928, a billionaire founder of a British supermarket chain, donated his fortune to charity to fulfil a “pact with God.”  Albert Gubay, a penniless candy seller in Wales after World War II, said he made a vow with God at the time to hand over half his fortune to the Catholic Church if he ever became rich.  His business empire is valued at £480million

Yet as I reflected on Albert’s amazing story of generosity, I felt that for many of us, a fortune of £480million was something too hard to imagine in our lives, then it hit me, ‘The Widow’s Offering’ or as many would know it ‘The Widow’s Mite’, which is found in both Luke 21:1-4 and Mark 12:41-44.  For me the passage sums up what is to give all that you have for the good of others in Gods name.

1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

 So in these trying and hard financial times, may we too reflect the generosity of The Widow’s Offering’, helping others less fortunate than ourselves.

Leadership… Born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, 25 November 1881, was elected Pope on 28 October 1958, taking the name Pope John XXIII. He called the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) fewer than ninety years after the First Vatican Council (Vatican I and IIs predecessor, the Council of Trent, was held in the 16th century).  Unfortunately, Pope John XXIII did not live to see the Second Vatican Council through to its completion. Cardinal Giovanni Montini, who later became Pope Paul VI, remarked to a friend that “this holy old boy doesn’t realise what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up”.   From the Second Vatican Council came changes that reshaped the face of Catholicism: a comprehensively revised liturgy, a stronger emphasis on ecumenism, and a new approach to the world.  He was beatified on 3 September 2000.

Kindness… St Vincent De Paul, born 24 April 1581 in France, to a family of peasant farmers.  Vincent founded the society of missionary priests commonly known as the Vincentians and in 1633; with the assistance of Louise de Marillac he founded the Daughters of Charity.

St Vincent De Paul was renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity and he is known as the ‘Great Apostle of Charity’.

Continuing in the footsteps St Vincent, it was Frédéric Ozanman, a 20 years old a French lawyer, author, and professor who founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1833.  Frédéric’s spiritual gift of kindness had him serve the impoverished people living in the slums of Paris, France. In 1997 he was beatified by Pope John Paul II and given the title ‘Blessed Frédéric Ozanam’.

For me personally the people I have just mentioned are only a handful of examples of believers in Christ who have shown and then used their spiritual gifts that Paul sets out in the last few verses of his letter to the Romans.  It just goes to show us, that when these spiritual gifts are use for the glory of God’s Kingdom they turn ‘ordinary people in to extraordinary people’.  Perhaps many of you would argue that you don’t possess a spiritual gift, and that the names, which I have just mentioned, are ‘Holy People’, but by verse 6, Paul spelt out for us.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.

So I urge you, to understand and realize that inside of you, there is an ‘extraordinary person’ just waiting to get out.

 

love

Wedding Homily based upon – John 15:12-16

Dear friends, as we gather here today to witness the uniting in marriage of ‘N’ and ‘N’ we all by our presence here acknowledge that their love for each other has taken them on to the next step of their relationship.  As you will come and stand before the altar of God, friends and family, you will not only be making your marriage vows to each other but also to God.  Accepting the other in to a relationship that is both holy and sacred.  I know that today is a very special day for you both, as family, friends and neighbours have joined with us, some even travelling long distances so they too may share in your public display of your love for each other.

May I be so bold and ask if you both will indulge me for just one short moment? Let me bring you back to John’s Gospel and these words, This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you!”  Jesus is at the Last Supper, preparing to depart from his disciples. Though he will be absent physically, his presence will remain, particularly in the expressions of selfless loving that imitate his actions, and so like the disciples, you to are being challenged by Jesus to enter willingly into this sacrificial love for each other; as you both will become a mirror of the selfless way that Christ loved not only his disciples but all throughout the world and those of us who are gathered here today. This is why marriage is a sacrament and both of you are participating in an action of Jesus Christ.

As tomorrow comes and your start your new life together as both husband and wife, moving into your new home, putting away the clothes which helped make today very special.  This when you journey and new life will begin, may you both embrace the thought of laying down one’s life for each other.  This is a tough and changeling thought, yet it reinforces the fact that your love will endure even until death. This very same love for each other which you have shown here today will mature with you both and if it is cared for and well tended it will also take you through the trials and the troubles which life may throw at you.  Like the love that Jesus showed over two thousand years ago, this too has never gone away.  It was the same then, it is the same now and it will be forever more.  Even in the darkness of times, God’s love for you both is everlasting, and like the sun in the sky that will rise tomorrow morning it will always be there for you and it is this very same love which you can draw from in times of need.

The poem by M.S. Lowndes is my gift to you both, and may it give you a deep well to draw from in years to come…

True Love

Love can always conquer; whatever discord brings and love can also cover

a multitude of things.

 

Don’t you under estimate what love can ever do. For love is God eternal

and His love can renew.

 

Please don’t give up on love, when it seems that all is lost. For there is always hope if we’re prepared to pay the cost.

 

For love is always worth it no matter how much the price. For love will be much stronger when we trust in Jesus Christ.

 

So let God have full reign, let Him live within your heart, then you will know true love, for this He will impart.

water gives life

Funeral Homily based upon – John 2:1-12

Through death and the sorrow it brings, life can seem some what absurd and meaningless.  Yet hard as is seems and feels,  it is through our Christian faith and belief that we understand that life here on earth is naturally followed by death, but there is hope and belief that a new life awaits all of us through the resurrected Jesus Christ.  Waiting for us all we hope and pray is that new life in heaven; therefore our life here on earth short as it may be, need not seem absurd or meaningless.

It is in John’s gospel we can enjoy and also share in the first of the signs given by Jesus at Cana in Galilee.  In the story we see through a mothers eyes her true faith in her son as she encourages the servers to do whatever Jesus commands of them, and as we are aware Jesus transforms water into wine.  Yet in 3 very short years we would see Jesus transform wine into blood in the upper room on Holy Thursday night and on Good Friday Jesus’ blood, a sign of his life, flows upon those standing beneath his cross and the water which flowed signifies the Spirit living within him, poured out upon the world they represent.  Death, which is far from ending Jesus’ life, becomes the moment he shares his life with all who believe in him and his resurrection.

 This is the one who came by water and blood-Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. (1 John 5:6) 

 Through this physical separation of blood and water we are bound to Christ, like those that were present on that very day, it is through his dying we leave behind our old self, and through our baptism we will join ‘N’ and Jesus in his resurrection, becoming new persons in Christ.

As we pray for our deceased, it is only natural to wonder where exactly they are now. It is interesting to understand that as man’s knowledge increases every day and still we know next to nothing about the next life.  Yet as travellers on our pilgrim journey we live in the hope and knowledge that our final destiny will be with God.  Therefore like the deceased who have gone before us, we have to keep our sights not only fixed on the appearance of this life, but on the fact that we were created by God, and that we cannot be truly happy unless we live as God wishes us to live.  Our destiny is an eternal life and as we journey through life, everything else should fade into insignificance when we look on life from this perspective, we are pilgrims waiting to meet the Lord.

Though we are mourning the loss of ‘N’ and we grieve his/her passing we believe that he/she has gone to God, and that he/she is now in a happier and a better place sharing in Jesus’ resurrection by living his/her new life.  As St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians tells us

We know that when the tent that we live in on earth is folded up, there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home not made by human hands, in the heavens. (2 Cor 5:1)

 Like the sunflower that keeps following the sun all day long, God is not just at the end of our life, waiting for us there; God is the true light who is with us at every moment of our lives.  Moreover in the final moments of our own lives, may we all see and witness God’s love and everlasting light!

May we for a short moment remember ‘N’ and all those who have gone before us,

May ‘N’ soul and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Amen.