Sunday, 11 April 2021

Low Sunday - ‘know the place of the nails and be not faithless, but believing.’

On this Low Sunday, the octave of Easter day, the Church presents the Gospel account of St. Thomas, the passage which has led to his styling as ‘doubting Thomas.’ 

“But he said to them: Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

There are many similarities between St. Thomas, and the state of world today, particularly in light of the chaos caused by the globalist response to COVID-19. 

One week after Easter day, Catholics around the world find themselves struggling for Easter joy, since persecution is coming from all sides. Whether it be in the form of confusing, anti-Catholic or globalist style pronouncements from Pope Francis, or another directive from an increasingly tyrannical government curtailing freedoms, particularly that of worship, the faith is clearly under attack. 

Confusion and chaos reign, disorder is allowed to grow unchecked, whilst the rights of countries, individuals and the Church are directly scorned and rejected. There can be no doubt as to this reality, nor as to where it is leading. 

Perhaps then, it is not hard at all to emulate the doubting Thomas, instead of St. Thomas, that is to say, perhaps it is easier to copy his lack of faith as portrayed in today’s Gospel, rather than his great faith which sustained him through martyrdom. 

In the face of so much persecution, hardship, evil and freedom accorded to the devil in today’s society, a reaction of doubt as to the veracity of the resurrection might even seem more logical and understandable. 

Has Christ really defeated sin, one might ask? Is the Church true to Her calling, as the bride of Christ, or has She become instead the bride of the world? What use is faithful opposition to the forces of evil, when they seem so powerful, so all encompassing and so inevitable?

But, this is not the way of the cross on which Christ died for us only days ago. Allowing oneself to harbour such doubts, leads instead to the ‘way of the couch’ and this cannot lead to salvation. The devil loves this ‘way of the couch’, though, and he fosters doubt wherever he can. 

He is well aware of the supreme, and utterly astonishing victory which Christ has won over sin and death. Completely unable to do anything to challenge this Divine victory (which is his defeat), the devil attempts to make Christ’s followers doubt the effectiveness of the cross. Satan seeks to cloud the light which Christ shines into the world: he tempts souls to ask questions such as those posed above, trying to make the way of the cross seem too arduous, or unrewarding. 

He paints a false image of the forces of evil, attempting to make his demons appear all powerful, when in reality they are powerless and only permitted to act in accordance with the will of God. 

Faithful souls today are called to remember the truth of the cross, for while satanic forces rejoice at the cruel death inflicted on the Son of God, that very same death seals the eternal damnation and condemnation of the demonic forces. Christ’s death brought life and confounded the devil.

Hence, not only this Easter, but throughout the entire year, we are called to remember the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, knowing that sacrifice has led to life, and that our salvation is found through that sacrifice. This must give us hope and joy, even when the world and the devil seek to undermine this and make all seem lost. 

The victory has already been won - satan has been defeated and we have nothing to fear!

Christ, the eternal high priest, the Lamb of God and the innocent victim, allows us to experience toil, hardship, persecution and sorrow, in order to purify us so that we might more fittingly approach Him in heavenly glory. He calls us to follow Him, and unlike the devil, Christ is Truth, who cannot deceive. He is the Word Incarnate, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Hope is found only by following Christ and clinging to the cross, and the more the devil attempts to make the cross seem arduous, the more faithful souls are called to hold onto its beams ever more closely. 

Just as Christ called St. Thomas to put his finger into His side and believe, He calls us on this day to come and join Him on the wood of the cross, to receive Him in the holy sacrifice of the Mass daily, and to give witness to His truth through our daily actions. 

“Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.”

But even though we do not have the awful honour of beholding Christ face to face, as did the apostles, we are given the privilege of receiving His body, blood, soul and divinity in Holy Communion. He has given us Himself in this sacrament, the unbloody sacrifice of the cross, so that we might be more able to conform ourselves to Him, and strengthen our faith so as to join Him on that same cross. 

Hence, whilst the world and the devil seek to create an anti-Catholic, atheist world, actively seeking ways to insult and scorn God, we are called to have hope and faith. We are called to imitate the twelve, to go out and witness to the Truth in our lives, being ready to lose earthly life itself, if God so wills. 

Persecution is not an occurrence merely of the past, nor limited to far off countries across the world. It is advancing ever more swiftly into the Western world, in a manner many could not have envisaged but a decade ago. The devil will make it seem terrifying: he will seek to weaken our resolve and attachment to Christ, so that when we are called upon to lay down our lives, we might crack and turn our back on Him. 

But we must remember, Christ has won the victory! The devil has no power over us, and though times awful and terrifying may indeed appear, they are permitted, indeed allotted to us, by God, so that we may imitate Him on the cross. We have been placed in these very times, not in days of the past, nor in days of the future, be they easier or harder.

This Easter, we are called not to bewail the state of the world, but to fight back, to proclaim with renewed zeal our commitment to Christ, to the Catholic faith in its timeless teaching, and to the Church in all Her tradition. We are called to truly follow Christ and prepare ourselves to suffer and die in the upcoming persecution, scorning the temptations of the devil and instead answering the call of the cross. 

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. Whatever the world will throw at faithful souls, let such souls be not afraid, for any suffering endured is short lived in comparison to an eternity with God. 

“Put in thy hand, and know the place of the nails, alleluia; and be not faithless, but believing, alleluia, alleluia.”

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Easter Sunday - the joy and triumph of the crucified Christ!

(Some readers may recognise the below text as a blog post originally posted last Easter. The busy events of the recent Triduum have left little time to compose a fresh offering for Easter Sunday, but the texts of St. Alphonsus Ligouri which are dealt with below, still contain as many riches and occasions for meditation, as they did twelve months ago. Blessed Easter!)

‘This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it’. So reads the translation of the gradual for Easter Sunday, sung before the great sequence, Victimae Paschali laudes. The past several weeks of Lent, the recent weeks of Passiontide and the past few days of the Triduum, have all come to their conclusion. All traces of mourning and penance are gone, the purple vestments are replaced by the resplendent gold and the altar is adorned with flowers. The organ sounds its’ magnificent pipes and the chants of the liturgy repeat the word Alleluia, which has not been heard since before Septuagesima. 

We know the reason for such rejoicing, for it is Easter, the day on which Christ rose from the dead, having conquered sin and death. His Incarnation, public life and salvific death, were all ultimately pointing to His triumphant resurrection. Had there been no resurrection, such events would have been meaningless. Therefore it is indeed a day for rejoicing! Haec est dies.
Yet, before moving too swiftly away from Holy Week, we must take care to remember the beautiful truths of the faith which we have been presented with in the last few days. Holy Mother Church has celebrated beautiful liturgies focussed upon the passion and death of Christ, the truths of which should remain with us even during Easter. The practice of penance is difficult, whilst feasting and rejoicing comes far more naturally, and without care, we can easily find ourselves happily enjoying the season of Easter without the proper remembrance of Lent, or indeed even knowing why we are rejoicing. Perhaps, if we have found our chosen penances particularly arduous this Lent, Easter will be seen as the great release when we finally permit ourselves that which we had been denying ourselves for so long. In secular culture we find great emphasis on the large scale consumption of all manner of delectables, and if we are not careful our well intentioned Easter spirit, rapidly becomes identical to the secular. There is indeed something greater to celebrate than the abundance of chocolates in our cupboards, yet it is not easy 
How then, can we ‘make a good Easter’? How is it that we properly celebrate Christ’s triumph, whilst truly remembering what exactly He triumphed over? How does Holy Week provide the constant food for our soul throughout Easter?

Easter understood through the Cross.

St. Alphonsus Liguori provides three meditations for the first three days of Easter towards the end of his work, The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. The work itself is perhaps one of the most sublime meditations upon the passion of Our Lord, and makes for excellent spiritual reading, not just during the Lenten season, but through the entire year. In his first meditation for Easter Sunday he provides us with an answer regarding the proper celebration of the season. 

Oh, happy are we if we suffer with patience on earth the troubles of this present life! Distress of circumstances, fears, bodily infirmities, persecutions, and crosses of every kind will one day all come to an end; and if we be saved they will all become for us subjects of joy and glory in paradise: Your sorrow (says the Saviour, to encourage us) shall be turned into joy. {John 16:20} So great are the delights of paradise, that they can neither be explained nor understood by us mortals: Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it enters into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for those who love Him. {1 Cor 2:9}. Beauties like the beauties of paradise, eye hath never seen; harmonies like unto the harmonies of paradise, earth hath never heard; for hath ever human heart gained the comprehension of the joys which God hath prepared for those that love him.

It is with these lines that the great saint seeks to guide us as we move on from the meditation of the passion, to the meditation of the resurrection. Our sorrow has indeed been turned into joy with the advent of the triumphant Saviour. But note well here the important aspects of these few lines - joy must come from sorrow and if we have not aligned ourselves with the sorrow of Christ, then our joy will be less than it should. Easter is not a time for suddenly abandoning our pious practices and good works, turning instead to selfish self-indulgence and the pursuit of all that is joyful and enjoyable.
Lent has been a time for purging ourselves and truly learning to love Our Lord even more, by the use of frequent reading and meditation on His passion and the practice of certain penances. In fact, how can we fail to be moved to a greater love of Him, when we read all that He has suffered for us. The saints and mystics have provided us with many harrowing homilies and writings, depicting in great detail the sufferings Christ endured for our sake and our salvation. Indeed, Ligouri provides us with this beautiful line in a meditation for Maundy Thursday, spoken to us as if from Christ on the Cross: “O men, O men, love me, for I have done all; there is nothing more that I can do in order to gain your love”. Christ has died and risen for us; we are unworthy sharers in the eternal life which He has bought for us with a great price.
Hence it is with this in mind that St. Alphonsus’s words quoted above counsel us to suffer well all the troubles of this present life, for it is by this that our sorrow shall be turned into joy. We are well acquainted with the necessary hardships we must undergo in order to excel at some sport or skill, and so how can we expect to live Easter well or even to pursue salvation, without necessary sufferings and trials? Our quotation from St. Alphonsus above does not refer to an immediate cessation of any sorrow or distress now that we have entered into this great Easter-tide. The saint does not write, ‘Rejoice o happy men, now that our Saviour has risen from the dead, we can put off the life of the cross and give ourselves to great feasting with reckless abandon’. Rather, he depicts the wondrous beatitude that awaits us with the blessed in Heaven if we keep to the practice of the life of the cross. The saint does not promise or even counsel that there should be an abandoning of the cross now that it is Easter. If anything, the very opposite is true! 
After having spent many hundreds of pages presenting to us the awful torments endured by Christ, St. Alphonsus now mentions that our sorrow will be turned into joy, but first we must have sorrow before we can have such joy. The Easter joy is utterly empty and worthless if it is not based upon the abject sorrow and misery of beholding our Saviour upon the cross. There is no building which can have a roof, without having walls and foundations: no athlete who can win the championship without spending years in training: no doctor who can save lives without arduous training in the medical sciences. So also, there is no Easter joy without the Lenten sorrow. 
If we reject this Lenten sorrow as soon as Easter Sunday morning arrives, then we have instantly lost the meaning of this joy. In many artistic depictions of the resurrected Christ, we see Him holding the cross, showing His victory over it. These images can be very helpful in reminding of the subject of our meditation during this period, namely that we understand the resurrection only through learning to love and understand the cross. In the Credo at Mass, we have the line: 

Crucifíxus étiam pro nobis: sub Póntio Piláto passus, et sepúltus est. Et resurréxit tértia die, secúndum Scriptúras / He was crucified also for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures.

Our faith is centred upon Christ crucified and resurrected, and we cannot separate one from the other. Hence this is the manner in which we must enter into the Easter season - full of a holy joy of the glorious resurrection of Christ, yet never allowing our minds to be drawn away from the contemplation of the cross. We cannot forget the heavy price which Christ paid upon the cross.

In sum then, how can we dwell upon the resurrection and properly celebrate the Easter period? The answer is found in the events of Good Friday. Christ conquered sin and death by His death upon the cross and so we must turn to the cross in order to properly understand and celebrate Easter. Our joy comes from the cross, from whence life and salvation flow. The collect of the Mass on Holy Saturday night recalls this when it reads: “O God, who dost illuminate this most holy night by the glory of the Lord's Resurrection, preserve in the new children of Thy family the spirit of adoption which Thou hast given; that renewed in body and mind, they may render to Thee a pure service”. We forget the bloody scene of Calvary at our peril.
This is truly a time for rejoicing at the wondrous triumph which Christ has wrought over the devil, recalling the Divine glory and power which He demonstrates in His resurrection. Yet it is also a time to take to heart the meditations of the past few weeks, and to make the spirit of the cross an even more essential part of our lives. As St. Paul writes, we preach Christ crucified, and so we must never abandon the scene of Calvary in our hearts.

Low Sunday - ‘know the place of the nails and be not faithless, but believing.’

On this Low Sunday, the octave of Easter day, the Church presents the Gospel account of St. Thomas, the passage which has led to his styling...