Low Sunday Reflection

Today is known by many things…Low Sunday, the second Sunday in Eastertime, the last day in the Easter Octave, and, of course, Divine Mercy Sunday. There are some who are not fans of the feast of Divine Mercy, as they feel it has hijacked, somewhat, the greatest feast in the Church’s year, Easter. This is largely because the novena of the Divine Mercy starts on Good Friday and so overlaps with part of the Triduum and all of Easter week. Is it too much for us to dwell on two things at once? Not if they’re the same thing.

          After all, what is Easter about apart from mercy? Didn’t God send His Son to us out of mercy? Didn’t Jesus willingly go to the Cross and rise again for us out of mercy? Weren’t we saved through the greatest gift there is…mercy?

          I love our first reading. It’s a rare snapshot of life in the early Christian community and stresses its oneness, not only with each other, but also with Jesus. It would have been easy to say, “miracles and signs worked ‘BY’ the apostles…”, but no. The simple matter of factness of the word ‘THROUGH’ demonstrates how much the risen Master and his disciples were joined. They were looked up to by everyone, perhaps a que for a question to ask ourselves today; is our Christian community looked up to? If so, why, if not, why? But that’s a detour.

The important thing about this community was that they realised they were not closed, a click, a chosen few. Although they still had to grapple with the full extent of this, they understood that their community was open to everyone, ultimately, regardless of who they were. They were a Church, freely dispensing the mercy of God to others. And the reason for this can be found in our second reading from Peter.

The promise of inheritance is sure; it cannot be ‘spoilt or soiled and will never fade away’. Why? Because this isn’t some human promise, a promise that can be withdrawn at any time. No, this is a promise from God, whose ways are so far above our ways that we can hardly believe they’re true…but they are. This is why our hope is sure, not hoped for in the human sense, but promised by He who gave His life for us. And because of this sure hope, the early community was obliged, willingly, but nonetheless, obliged to offer this gift to all they met dispensing the mercy of God as freely as it is given.

We hear more about the inspiration behind the early Church in our Gospel reading. The disciples who denied, betrayed and abandoned Christ in His hour of need were here given the responsibility of building His Church. This is corporate mercy to which we could rightly shed a tear for the sheer beauty of; a friend forgiving his nearest their frailty, weakness, and fear, and instead of berating them, they were entrusted with the Church. The apostles had indeed tasted the Lord’s mercy, and this is undoubtedly what gave them the strength to take on the task in hand.

And then, there’s the question of Thomas. Make no mistake, Thomas was a noble man. Only three weeks ago, we heard that this same Thomas, forever labelled ‘doubting’ Thomas, was prepared to go back to Judaea to die with Christ. He might not have fully understood who Jesus was, but he was prepared to die for him. A lot of water has since flowed under the bridge and Thomas too had abandoned Christ at Calvary and now refused to believe that his friend had Risen. In fairness, who wouldn’t? Surely, most of us have had doubts at some point, being unable to comprehend that such a gift should be given to us, and many wrestle with aspects of faith. But the mercy of God touched Thomas.

The wonderful thing about this account is that mercy is gradually working its way down; from the gift of mercy to all of humanity, won for us without effort on our part and certainly not deserving it, to corporate mercy for His Church, despite weakness and failings, and finally to an act of mercy for an individual, an individual who perhaps shares many of our doubts and shortfalls today. In short, the gift of mercy touches us all, from the seemingly impossible feats of global forgiveness, through support and encouragement, despite the failings, for His Church, and to you and I as individuals.

And that’s where we come in. The early Church from Acts is not some distant, strange memory that we don’t understand…it’s OUR Church. The inheritance and hope talked of by Peter is not reserved for those of Peter’s day…it’s OUR inheritance and hope. Jesus didn’t die and rise again for the few…but for US. Mercy is universal, but it’s also for us as individuals.

We have accepted the gift of faith and all that comes with it. The gift of love, of compassion, of solidarity and, of course, the gift of mercy. As such, we are called to dispense mercy ourselves, not our mercy, but the mercy of Christ working through us. And sometimes, this can be in the very smallest of ways. Mercy is love in action. Mercy is healing. Mercy is a sign of Christ’s presence here on Earth.

So on this Easter Octave day, I wish you a very happy Easter and pray that we are all both recipients and dispensers of the mercy of God in our daily lives and that we receive the Grace that will allow us to do this with generosity in our heart and the praise of God on our tongues.

Deacon Anthony

Reflection for Easter

At this time for our world where the virus seems to be in control of our lives it is of immense importance, as Christians, to focus on the message to the women at the tomb.

Do not be afraid; Peace be with you; and ‘before them into Galilee’.

Do not be afraid.

We, as followers of the Risen Christ, have an essential message to live and, when we are able to again, to share. Although at the moment, where we are having to stay isolated and separate from loved ones, friends and our normal life it can be so easy to lose heart and to become despondent it is central to our faith that this virus does not have the last word. Even to those who have died, alone and without family near, the message is ‘Do not be afraid’. This Feast tells us that the last time you spoke with your loved one is not the last time, the last time you hugged or embraced your loved one, that is not the last time. Sorrow, Sadness, Grief – they are inevitable and understandable words here, but they are not the last words.

The Lord’s earthly life is bracketed, topped and tailed with the words ‘Fear not’. The Angels at the Annunciation, the Angels at the Resurrection. They are the punctuation, you could say, of the story of Jesus. They are the divinely sent words that wrap around His life, the embrace of God.

Peace be with you.

This is not a peace that the world gives, we know. It’s more, so much more. It’s a realization that no matter what happens, War, Disease, Famine, Isolation. Stress, Insecurity, the Peace of God is still there. Those words are powerful and we cannot pretend they do not unnerve and terrify and it would be ridiculous to claim that they do not but they are not the words upon which God wants us to build our life. They are shaky, unnerving and undermining words. If we build our vision of the world on these then all will fall but we are being offered something impregnable and lasting. Those other things may well happen and they may well frighten and sadden but we do not need to allow them to be the basis for our lives. His peace is gentle, His peace is all encompassing, His peace is also the rock upon which are futures can be secure.

‘He goes before you into Galilee’

Galilee is a big place, where in Galilee ? Perhaps Galilee can be seen as representative of something. For the Apostles it would have been the scene of some of Jesus’ greatest triumphs although also it was the scene of some of his biggest struggles. (After all they did try to throw him off a cliff in Capernaum). It was where they were most themselves.

Perhaps He goes before them into Galilee to the place where they will face reality – not run away or skulk in an attic but in Galilee they can recapture and reinvigorate the people they had been. The Lord does this time and again in His ministry, giving people time to recapture the humanity they are in danger of losing. He is awaiting them where He has always been.

He does not demand they change, He asks only that they allow Him to change them. He does not demand shame and self hate which serves no purpose, He asks only that they face up to who they are and who they could become. It’s in this ‘facing’ that He is able to encounter them and help them to grow.

It is always fascinating to me that Jesus, after the Resurrection is never recognized until He does something they remember. He is the New Life, transformed and resurrected but He is still their Jesus. Resurrection does not destroy what was, it enhances and transforms it.

Galilee, in which the Lord waits, is who I am. He waits in my reality, He does not ask of me the impossible. He only asks me to meet Him as myself, not the person I would like to be, not the person I pretend to be.

Resurrected Life is our future but the journey, we’re on it now. Alleluia, He is Risen.

Reflection for Good Friday

Normally, I do not preach on Good Friday. I allow the readings and the moment to speak for themselves but today I thought I would share something on the website which you can take or leave.

Hebrews hits the nail on the head – ‘it is not as if we had a high priest incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us, but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though He is without sin’.

This takes us back to the First Sunday in Lent where we encountered the Lord struggling with temptations to live His ministry in a way that could be in opposition to His Father’s will. In Gethsemane – “let this pass me by but not my will but thine be done”. And in Nikos Kazanztakis’ “The Last Temptation of Christ”, the writer has Christ being tempted on the Cross. There is no evidence whatsoever in the Scriptures for this moment but as the first two are real and genuine it does not seem ridiculous that this third moment might also have happened.

As I have said so often, the temptations were real, they were not some tick box exercise which, when completed, the Lord could put on the  ‘iwastemptedandcamethrough’  t-shirt. If we ignore the fact that the Lord would have continued to be tempted then we belittle and cheapen His humanity, we also cheapen His triumph. It seems to make perfect sense to me that the Lord would have continued to struggle with temptations and difficulties, doubts and worries. It is this that makes the Hebrews quote so central to who we are and who God is for us.

It is when I am tired, lonely, angry, feel misjudged or misunderstood that I am most drawn to throwing out bitter words, cruel jibes, saying things that I don’t mean. My loss of control if I bite my tongue or cheek is ridiculous and that is a momentary spasm of pain. Christ underwent agony and not just physical. Where were His family or friends, His Father, His hopes?  Yet in all that He only speaks words of consolation, healing forgiveness, intercession, welcome.

He understood all our temptations but gives in to none of them.  When all He might have wanted was for an end to people pulling and demanding of Him, even on the Cross they still come, and He prays ‘Today, you will be with me in Paradise!’

He thinks to bring Mary and John to support each other even as He might have hoped His disciples would have been there to support Him. As He is hated and belittled and humiliated – still He prays- ‘Forgive them’ and even in the agony of losing sight of God He still cries ‘Into Your hands, I commend my spirit.’

Even in the darkness and fear and isolation, even then, He never loses His trust in the God He can no longer see. In our struggle, in our isolation, maybe in our loss of the sense of God’s presence, In our lack of closeness to family and friends, of physical touch and love….if there is one who can fully understand and appreciate that struggle it is Him. When we cry ‘I thirst’…..well, let’s be open to receive what He can provide.

A SIMPLE AGAPE MEAL

Father Mark has written a simple Agape service which you might like to use in your own home. The Agape dates back to the early church and these communal meals are reflected in scripture, for example in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34 where St Paul explains how the meal should proceed.

During this time, when we are sadly not able to attend the Easter Triduum, you might like instead to engage with this, as away of praying together at home.

A reflection for Holy Thursday

Two things always make me think on Holy Thursday. Why He did what He did and why like that.

There is that phrase, ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ or ‘if you don’t walk the walk, you shouldn’t talk the talk’. All the way through Christ’s ministry two central messages, Forgiveness is open to all, the invitation is made to all.  Nobody is outside it; we can fail to respond, we can ignore the offer but it doesn’t get taken back.

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus cures the leper (Mk.1:40-45) and asks him to tell nobody about it but to go and show himself to the priest. Perhaps understandably, the leper ignores him and begins telling everyone about it, after all he is now made clean and able to rejoin living with his family and friends whereas before he had to stay outside where nobody lived. However, as a result of this disobedience ,‘Jesus could no longer openly enter a town but’, and here is the wow moment, ‘ had to stay outside where nobody lived’.  Here we have a central part of the Lord’s mission. Firstly, even after disobeying, the leper still remained cured, it was not withdrawn. Secondly, Jesus took on, because of the other’s disobedience, the punishment that previously the other had suffered…..does this sound familiar.

It is, of course, a wonderful echo of what we look towards tomorrow. Christ taking on the punishment due to us because we had failed to love but He restores this by loving all the more. He tells us, throughout His ministry, of the centrality of the selfless love of the Father. In this act of love, He shows it far better than any words could ever have communicated. At the meal, he points to this too. He washes the disciples’ feet, He shares with them his own self. However, notice something really important – every person present in that room has their feet washed, every person in that room receives His very self. The Apostles too thick and too scared to either understand or to stay faithful, Peter, the loud mouthed buffoon, who in an astounding act of arrogance declares how he will never desert or deny and then does just that and Judas, who, at that moment, was probably working out when he could best slip away. All of these, He serves; all of these he loves; all of these, are the ones for whom He dies.

And why in that way ? The meal and the feet washing.

Well, food is that very basic necessity. (I know wine isn’t a necessity ….although these last few weeks one might argue the toss…..) but we all eat, we all gather, we all share and Christ therefore placed at the very centre and normal running of our lives this remembrance of Him. Every candle can point to Christ, the light of the world, if we are alive to that. Perhaps every meal should point to Christ, the food of life.

And the washing – As I mentioned on Monday – Christ had experienced this action and had seen in it an amazing expression of His service. A woman who was a sinner (Lk.7:36 ff) had, in an act of love, knelt and washed and dried His feet. Her action, genuine and heartfelt, was taken up, transformed and made central to His commission to us. Her action, a failure, a sinner, an outcast, was welcomed, blessed, transformed and laid upon us. The God we worship takes whatever we have to offer, no matter how imperfect, confused or muddled and makes of it something which may inspire, challenge and enable in equal measure.

Take this bread and eat, take this cup and drink; take this bowl and serve.

Sacred Triduum

We are just entering into the most important days in the Church’s Year in which we celebrate the three days which are the climax of the Lord’s Ministry culminating in His sharing His last meal with His friends and commissioning them to continue His ministry of service and healing, His Passion and sacrificial Death for all the world, including those who condemned Him and His glorious triumph through His Rising to New Life.

There are many ways in which people will be marking these days and as families and individuals you will no doubt have your own means of prayer and reflection. Nevertheless the beautiful triptych of the Liturgy will be celebrated in Our Lady and St Patrick’s and you would be more than welcome to join with Fr Mark and other parishioners as we pray this lovely service together.

Maundy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. 730pm

Good Friday. A Liturgy of the Passion. 3pm

Holy Saturday. The Easter Vigil. 8pm

Easter Sunday. Easter Mass. 10am

Please note, if you are hoping to join for the Vigil then it would be great if you could read the Vigil of Readings before hand. See below.

Gn.1:1-2:2; Gn.22:1-18; Ex.14:15-15:1; Is.54:5-14;Is.55:1-11; Bar.3:9-15, 32-4:4 Ez. 36:16-28

14 MOST BEAUTIFUL CATHOLIC CATHEDRALS

This short YouTube video suggested for the website by Sarah Barreto, features 14 of the most beautiful Catholic cathedrals and churches in the world. If we can all be as inspired as those who created these most beautiful places of worship.

A possible candidate suggest for ‘number 15’ on the list, is the large 14th-century cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary situated in the town of Orvieto in Umbria, central Italy. This cathedral has a most spectacularly beautiful gilded facade, contains a wonderful fresco cycle by Luca Signorelli, and is location in the heart of what is just a small cliff-top Italian town.

Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-7. Psalm 21. Philippians 2:6-11. Matthew 26:14-27:66

As you might expect, all of our readings today are powerful. There are several homilies worth in each one, but I’d like to continue with my theme this Lent of the human story, both ours and that of Jesus.

Because our Gospel reading, the Passion of Christ, is a catalogue of human failure. It all starts well; the disciples must have been excited and looking forward to spending the Passover feast with their friend and master. The room was booked, the preparations in place and the meal started.

I would imagine that the conversation was that of most celebratory gatherings, small talk, with the occasional more profound conversation, simply enjoying each other’s company. But then, Jesus speaks these words;

“I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me”.

Talk about a conversation killer. There must have been a stunned silence, perhaps just time to vaguely recall something that Jesus had told them several times on their travels…something about ‘the Son of Man is going to be put to death’? How do you respond to a statement like that? Well, the disciples responded with the first and perhaps keenest of human failures…’Not I Lord, surely’.

We’re told that to a man, this was their response. Peter, who was to deny Jesus not once, but three times. Judas, who did the deed. And the others, all except John, were nowhere to be seen at Calvary. This must have cut Christ’s humanity to the core. These were not sworn enemies of Jesus, but his friends. Friends who Jesus had taught to call God their ‘Father’ and himself a brother. And yet, friends who could so easily betray, deny, and abandon him as well as any adversary.

A little later, with the kiss of Judas, the failure continues; spat on, beaten and ridiculed. The crowd bought by the chief priests and elders to shout for Barabbas, condemnation by a man who thought that the simple act of washing hands would exonerate all guilt, scourging, mocking and finally, execution.

Jesus was subjected to the very worst that humankind has to offer. Surely his words from the cross “My God, My God, why have you deserted me?’ must, in part, have been a cry from the very heart of Jesus’ humanity. Fully human, he must have been tempted beyond belief to ask his Father for the twelve legions of Angels that he talked of at Gethsemane. But he didn’t. Instead he fulfilled his mission; he died for us. And in so doing, he gave us a gift. A gift that we didn’t earn, and we didn’t deserve.

What does all of this mean for us today. It’s tempting to go down the route of personal examination. How often have WE betrayed, denied and abandoned Christ? How often have WE unjustly condemned, coerced, and mocked? How often have WE symbolically washed our hands of our responsibilities? Although this is worth thinking on now and then, we must remember that there is more to come. The story hasn’t finished with the death of Christ; in fact, it’s only just begun. It’s a story of hope, of reconciliation, of enlightenment, of joy. If we dwell on personal examination at the expense of the ongoing story, then perhaps we’re missing the point; perhaps instead of accepting the gift of the Resurrection with gratitude and love, we’re trying to earn it and convince ourselves that we deserve it.

The fact is, that even in his agony, Christ still died for us with all that that entails. He subjected himself to the very worst of humanity in order to free us; to offer us a better way. Although, with human thought, it might be difficult to understand why Jesus did this for us when he was so barbarically ill-used, nonetheless, he did.

The wonder of this is, that even had the Resurrection not followed, the Passion would still give us a hope that we have no right to expect. Because Christs willingness to die for us proves beyond doubt that when we are feeling unloved, we are loved. When we are feeling unlovable, we are loved. When we struggle to love others, they are loved. When society rejects those that it feels cannot be loved, they too are loved.

When we doubt God’s unconditional love for us, especially when we think that we’ve failed him, then think of the Passion, failed by all and yet Jesus still died for us out of nothing else but love.

So as Christian disciples called to imitate Christ, our job is not to wonder why, but to love.

With my love and prayers for you all, may God bless you. Deacon Anthony