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Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is about Holy Saturday, about what Christ did through his Cross in the hiddeness of the tomb.

After my mothers death I bought this 17/18th cent Russian icon of it

Christ crashes through the world of the created order, tramples down the gates of Hell grasps hold of the hands of our first parents and leads them and the just in a great Conga into heaven which his crucifixion has accomplished. In the icon you can see Moses with the tablets of the law, above him John the Baptist and other prophets on the other side behind Adam and Eve and other prophets are the holy kings David and Solomon.

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Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Friday, April 10, 2020

A homily for Good Friday

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"and there they stripped him of his clothes"

At the Solemn Liturgy today I was struck by your absence, and yet of the mysterious presence of the whole Church. 

Today. we who are not poor during this time of pandemic have suddenly discovered how poor we really are, and how fragile we and our world are.

We have been stripped of so much which a month ago we felt could never be taken away; liberty, friends, community, some of us live with death or sickness a little too close for comfort 
especially those in the healthcare services but also others who have to work at this time so we can eat. and if necessary travel. 

Still we are in a far, far better place many people; refugees and migrants are an obvious example. 
But we have been stripped of something so very important to us, the sacraments and the Sacred Liturgy and the consolation of our brothers and sisters in the faith.

We are in similar position to those saints who left everything to become solitaries in the desert or the forests far from other human beings. 
The word 'monachus', from which we get 'monk', means 'one alone'. For us Catholics the desert and the experience of the solitary hermit is important.
In the Eastern Rites the newly baptized receive the monastic tonsure, a reminder that all the baptized share in the contemplative life.
Monastic life is important, the priest who is ordained to offer Mass alone everyday of his life and to pray alone, has always been regarded as the highest form of Christian living.

Now, for us even the sacraments are taken away, how blessed we priests are not only to offer them but to receive them not only for ourselves but on your behalf and yet for all Christians the only thing that matters,
the most important thing in the Universe the very centre of all being is Cross of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

I pray the when we come out of this experience we will have learnt to be alone and naked before the Crucified who died alone and naked for us.

For by His Cross and by his Cross alone are we saved.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Cardinal Biffi on the Antichrist


",,,,  the Antichrist presents himself as a pacifist, ecologist and ecumenist. He ... seeks the consensus of all the Christian confessions, conceding something to each one."
"The crowds follow him, except for tiny groups of Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. Chased by the Antichrist, they tell him, 'You have given us everything except for the one thing that interests us, Jesus Christ,'"

"Today, in fact, we run the risk of having a Christianity that puts Jesus with his cross and resurrection into parentheses,"
"There also are relative values such as solidarity, love for peace and respect for nature. If these are given an absolute value or uprooted from or placed in opposition to the proclamation of the fact of salvation, then they become the basis for idolatry and are obstacles on the path to salvation."

Friday, March 08, 2019

Prayer and Reality

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"It is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick"

Jesus is supposed to be our Saviour but most of us think we are just fine and we don't need Salvation or a Saviour, in fact the idea of Salvation especially for modern Western Christians is incomprehensible nonsense. We think of ourselves as capable of saving ourselves, or friends, the Church, the World, it is the ultimate blasphemy.

For Orthodox the foremost prayer is Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy, in the West it is the Church's addition to the Angelic Salutation, the Hail Mary, "Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death"

Acknowledging our need for mercy because of our sinfulness is fundamental prayer, expressed so well the Western posture for prayer: kneeling before God.

Prayer demands humility and self knowledge. The traditional Lenten disciplines of almsgiving and fasting strips away our pride and leaves kneeling before our Saviour and Lord.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Fasting and Reality

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Let's be realistic about fasting, it makes you tetchy, even murderous!

Jesus was "driven" into desert to face hunger and temptation not for an intimate prayerful experience. if anything fasting makes the mental effort of prayer much more difficult.

I asked a wise old monk why Recreation was reduced to just half an hour during Lent in his monastery, "There are nice pious reasons about giving more time for prayer but the reality is it stops us from losing our temper and tearing out one another's throats". He said history is littered with monks who murdered their abbots during Lent.

Fasting sifts the soul leaving the chaff clearly visible, it shows what is really in the soul when pretending is no more.

We might like to pose like some beautifully dressed, bejeweled and masked Venetian lady during Carnivale but as soon as Ash Wednesday and the penance begins shows herself pockmarked and wrinkled stripped of pretense.
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Fasting helps to reveal our true selves, to discover the beam in our own eye, it reveals the blindness that so often makes a good confession and open honest prayer impossible. . 

Almsgiving and Reality

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Almsgiving means giving to the poor, its easy nowadays, we do it by clicking on a screen.
In the past it meant going out to the find the poor or letting them into our comfort zone, it meant being disturbed by them, seeing, smelling their poverty for ourselves and even risking our safety in our encounter with them.

Giving alms to the sick could well risk catching their sickness or coming home with fleas or worse. Almsgiving is about solidarity with the poor but also education of the rich.
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There is an element of reminding us of the fleeting nature of our existence and the turn of the wheel of fortune. I met a wealthy businessman from Mosul, ISIS came, he fled and ended up with nothing in a refugee camp in Jordan, "not even my dignity", and now lives with his family in tiny room as an impoverished exile in Brighton. We might think that our wealth protects but it is an illusion but war, economic collapse, even illness can change everything. Poverty can reveal the gracious prince as a vicious beggar, sickness can reveal the sweet and benign old man as a self obsessed God cursing beast.

Remember Chrysostom: If we give from our excess we are doing nothing but returning what we have grabbed for ourselves, almsgiving is about giving from your necessities.

The late Father John Edwards SJ used to say: you can tell where your heart is and what is important to you by looking at yout bank statement.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Ultimate Reality

A thought I might blog for Lent.


Cardinal John Henry Newman said: "Conscience  is the first of the Vicars of Christ." 
"This means that Catholics have a duty to tell the truth, to recognize it even when it hurts" Joseph Ratzinger Jesus Christ Crucified is the ultimate reality.

We run away from this reality.

It is lies that seem to be basis of the present scandals in the Church; lies that men like McCarrick live, lies that covered up for abusers or "defended" the Church but left her exposed to villification.

Lies are the basis of politicking, and we have far too much of that it the Church.

For a Pastor to be caught lying destroys trust not only in him but in the Church and ultimately in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Salvation. A lying pastor is a destroyer faith.

Lent is time for us to turn from falsehoods to reality; taking off the carnival masks and embracing the Cross of Jesus, lies are a way of fleeing the Cross and refusal to take hold of reality.



The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...