Saturday, June 28, 2008

St Peter & St Paul

This weekend with this feast begins the Year of St Paul. Pope Benedict has designated the next year as a time of reflection on and thanksgiving for the life and teaching of this saint.

In some ways, perhaps he is neglected. On this feast day we often concentrate more on St Peter. We probably know more about St Francis or St Teresa or St Bernadette than we do about Paul.

And yet his story is amazing. He was well educated in the scriptures, a respected young teacher and zealous rabbi. As a young man he was fiercly opposed to the Christan church. He was chiefly responsible for the execution of St Stephen, and then set off for Damascus to persecute Christians there.

And on the way something extraordinary happened. He was blinded, Christ spoke to him, and he was completely transformed. His story is told in the Acts if the Apostles. He preached the Gospel, travelled widely, and founded many churches. He wrote many letters of deep theology, profound
teaching, both poetic and practical. And finally he was imprisoned, taken to Rome nc finally executed there. Most of the books in the New Testament were written by him and much of the teaching of the Church was first formalised bg him. After Christ himself, he could be rightly described a founder of the Christian faith.

We have much to learn from him this coming year.

St Paul, pray for us.

Friday, June 20, 2008

12th Sunday of the Year

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul

One tv series I really enjoy is 24. It is exciting, cliffhanging and thrilling. At times there are spectacular effects and some great technology. It is also, of course quite unrealistic, as in 24 hours, the hero Jack Bauer, travels great distances, saves the world several times, thwarts many villains, in 24 hours, over 24 episodes. And though I enjoy it, it also worries me, because for Jack the end really does justify the means, and murder, deceit and torture are all in frequent use.

It worries me that the programme portrays violence in such an approving way. But it also troubles me to think not could I use such violence, but could I bear it? Good people, saints and prisoners of conscience, have endured emotional and physical torture in an attempt to break them down. They have suffered pain and great distress in holding to what they believe to be true and protecting others from the tyrant and the torturer.

And Christ, who knew he was going to suffer, says to those who he knows will bear his suffering, “Do not be afraid”. What the torturer is really tryingt to do is not break the body - but destroy the soul. The pain of the body need not touch the soul. The strength of spirit can overcome and sustain us through physical trials.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones” we used to chant as children, “but words will never hurt me.” Of course words do hurt us, and perhaps they hurt us even more than the physical pain, because the words damage our dignity, our self-esteem, our loves, our loyalties and our beliefs.

The real enemy is not the torturer, but the tempter. Not the one who inflicts pain, but the one who entices us with pleasure. Not the one who shows his hatred, but the one who seems to reassure and befriend and lead us away from what we know to be true and good.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

11th Sunday of the Year.

The harvest is rich but the labourers are few.

When we hear these words from today's Gospel we are likely to
concentrate on the second part of the sentence.

We bemoan the shortage of priests. We pray for an increase of
vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. The Church puts a
lot of resources and effort into encouraging and fostering and
supporting vocations. And this is all very good.

But we have less confidence about the first part of this sentence: the
harvest is rich. Not only do we not give it much thought, we probably
wonder whether it is true. There seems to be less and less interest in
the practice of the faith. The church, Christian viewpoints and ideas
are pushed to the edge of society. Even those who call themselves
Catholics do not seem to feel it important to come to mass or live
according to the teachings of the Church. Not much to harvest here.

But look again. People have never been more interested in the
supernatural, in strange firms of spirituality, in horoscopes and
fortune telling, in weird and wonderful beliefs and ideas. And people
still ask the most basic questions - what is the meaning of life? Why
do people suffer? What happens when we die? Why is there evil in the
world? However intelligent or ingenious human beings may be, these
questions do not go away.

There is a rich harvest. And we have the answer. We have a true, not
fanciful spirituality. We have a historical, not a fantastical faith.
We have solid evidence for what we believe. Real answers to the
questions of life. A challenging and fulfilling moral code, based on
love and happiness, and a real hope for life beyond this life.

The harvest is rich. Really rich.

And we have the tools for the harvest.

And each one of us is a labourer in the field.

Fr Peter Weatherby

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners

One of the problems with discussion in modern society - so people say - is that no one has time for developed and reasoned argument. It is all shouting and slogans and what they call “sound bites”, snippets of phrases which are supposed to convince. Life is more complicated than that, we protest, and complicated issues cannot be simply dealt with in simple catchy phrases.

And indeed this is true. People prefer to rant than to reason. We want to win the argument, rather than explore the issues. It is much for fun to speak out than it is to listen. Even the word ‘argument’ for most people means not a reasoned discussion, but a shouting match.

Yet on the other hand, the short phrases, the mottos and slogans do often speak of something much deeper and well founded in reason and truth. Like the tip of an iceberg, or the grin of the Cheshire Cat, the promise far more than their few words.

And Jesus was the Master of the sound-bite. “He who has ears, let him hear” he said. “It is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle …” he said. “The strain the gnat and swallow the camel,” he said. “Leave the dead to bury the dead”, “Turn the other cheek”, “Take the plank out of your own eye …”, “You are the salt of the earth” … we could go on and one.

And in today’s Gospel there are three more:
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I came not to call the virtuous, but sinners.

Three sayings, one message. A few words, yet a profound teaching. And it is a pointed one.
Christ came to call sinners. Not the virtuous - they already have their reward, as he said on another occasion. If we are sure of our own righteousness, our own goodness, then we have no need of Christ. If we are convinced that we have done nothing wrong, that it is always someone else’s fault, that we have no need to go to confession, then faith in Him is entirely unnecessary. If were unable to recognise any need for forgiveness, then we have nothing to be saved from, and nothing to be saved for.
This is the most true atheism - not a lack of understanding, or an inability to be convinced of God’s existence - but a self-assurance, indeed arrogance, that we have no need of God’s love.