Sunday, 9 May 2021

Firth Sunday after Easter - Confidence in prayer


 On this fifth Sunday after Easter, the Church proposes a catechesis on prayer, both in the texts for the Mass and in the homilies given by Her saints. St. John’s Gospel today records the words of Christ, teaching His followers how to approach God the Father. “Amen, amen I say to you: if you ask the Father any thing in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto you have not asked any thing in my name. Ask, and you shall receive; that your joy may be full. These things I have spoken to you in proverbs. The hour cometh, when I will no more speak to you in proverbs, but will shew you plainly of the Father.”

    Prayer is often mocked by antagonists of the faith, seeking to deride faithful souls for the practice of praying to the Divine. Modernity advances in such a way that aids this attack on prayer, portraying prayer and faith as incompatible with a well formed intellect, with science, and even with common sense. On occasions when this attack is not overt, it is still present nonetheless, as individuals and nations plan for the future in a completely irreligious manner, forging ahead with immoral tests, attempts to prolong human life at all costs, and most recently crossing humans with animals in the laboratory. This is born from a lack of faith and resolute rejection of the efficacy of prayer. 

    Whilst the saints and scholars have written many beautiful and profound explanations on the efficacy, wonders and suitable manners of prayer, perhaps it is most timely to draw out one particular aspect from today’s Mass texts, namely the confidence required when praying. (Previously on Mater Dolorosa, different aspects relating to prayer, such as the issue of worthy prayer, as well as ‘unanswered prayer,’ and humility in prayer, have already been dealt with.)

    “If you ask the Father any thing in my name, he will give it you.” With these words, Christ instructs the Church to pray with confidence, having faith that one’s prayer will be granted. Such prayer is that which does not operate on a basis of doubt, nor is it a kind which, when answered, fills one with surprise. Rather, prayer, as explained by Christ here, is one which is full of hope, faith, and confidence in the providence of God. 

    This kind of prayer might appear completely contrary to the spirit of the world and many of its protagonists. Followers of the world are unable to comprehend this concept - namely, that one can pray to an unseen God, with confidence that one’s prayer will be answered. One great difficulty for those in the world, is the concept of suffering, and how one can reconcile this with the concept of confidence in prayer. ‘After all,’ they will say, ‘how can one pray with confidence? Surely, if there were a God to properly answer prayer then He would have removed the trials of life which we all endure?’

    Such an argument is perhaps the most commonly used when attacking any aspect of the Catholic faith. Modernity has programmed society into a complete hatred of any form of discomfort, so that the concept of a loving, good, omniscient, and omnipotent God seems contradictory to the presence of evil, suffering and sorrows. They do not recognise the value of suffering, and this fuels the scorn which they have when faithful souls fill the churches in order to pray.


What then, is the relation between prayer, confidence and faith? 

 

   1. Firstly, one can pray with confidence precisely because faithful souls believe in God who can neither deceive nor be deceived. His commands are not like those of the world; the Word of God Incarnate came down to earth to die for man, and to call men to pray to God with confidence. It is completely impossible that Christ can perform such an act of selfless love, and yet at the same time deliberately seek to mislead men. His life is one of love for God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and for mankind.

    This is the lesson which St. Alphonsus has for his readers in his sermon for today. “Is God like men, who promise, and do not afterwards fulfil their promise, either because in making it they intend to deceive, or because, after having made it, they change their intention? God is not as a man, that he should lie, nor as the son of man, that he should be changed. Hath he told, then, and will he not do? (Num 23:19) Our God cannot tell a lie; because he is truth itself: he is not liable to change; because all his arrangements are just and holy.” Even if nothing else can convince one to have faith in God, the pure act of selfless love by which Christ immolated Himself on the cross, is enough to prove to mankind that the love which He bears for us is not marked by infidelity or untruthfulness. 

    2. Secondly, we are called to pray with confidence. The words of today’s Gospel contain this truth, but the call to pray with confidence is not contained in these lines alone. Christ repeats it throughout the Gospels, and His Church, the Bride of Christ, has echoed this teaching throughout the ages. “All things whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come unto you.” (Mark 11:24) The very act of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, necessitates a response of prayer which is full of confidence, since how could one doubt that the veracity of His words and actions, when He has proven Himself by dying for man’s sins? “No one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded.” (Eccl 2:11) 

    Indeed, as St. Alphonsus reminds, so great is the confidence which we are called to have when praying, that Christ teaches His Church to pray to God using words of filial relation, as if lovingly and trustingly beseeching a parent for assistance. “When we pray for spiritual favours, let us have a secure confidence of receiving them, and we shall infallibly obtain them. Hence the Saviour has taught us to call God, in our petitions for his graces, by no other name than that of Father (Our Father), that we may have recourse to him with the confidence with which a child seeks assistance from an affectionate parent.”

    3. Confidence and faith when praying is crucial. When praying, one is not asking a fallible individual for assistance. If he were to do this, then due to the nature of human imperfection, such a person could not be entirely surprised were his request to be unanswered, or done in an imperfect manner. But prayer is a conversation with God. More than this, Christ teaches souls to “ask the Father any thing in my name.” Hence, prayer is a conversation with an omnipotent, perfect God, and is performed through the intercession of the one Mediator, who died for our sins in an act of perfect love. Every prayer, made with a sincere and humble heart, is a response to this directive given by Christ, and will be answered according to the Divine Will.

    God desires only that which is good for the salvation of souls, and cannot lead anyone astray. As such, it is wrong to approach prayer without faith. If we lack faith in our prayer then we firstly insult God, who has promised that He hears and answers our prayers. If one prays whilst being full of doubt that He can indeed do so, then he also expresses a certain lack of belief in God and in His attributes. Such an action merits the words of God to satan, when Christ said “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”. (Matthew 4:7) 

    In fact, faith in our prayer is an essential element in it being effective as mentioned in the Gospel: “all things, whatsoever you ask when ye pray, believe that you shall receive; and they shall come unto you”. (Mark 11:24) Thus when one prays, if he does so worthily, he should not be surprised to find prayers answered.

    4. Confidence in prayer is for all, no matter the state of the soul. St. Alphonsus encourages his readers to be confident in their prayer, even if they know themselves to be a great sinner. He notes the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa: “the prayer of impetration relies not on merit but on God’s mercy, which extends even to the wicked, wherefore the prayers even of sinners are sometimes granted by God.” Hence, providing the prayer is humble, sincere, and well meaning, any soul should and must have confidence when praying. 

    “As often as we ask with confidence favours which are conducive to our eternal salvation, God hears our prayer. I have said, ‘favours conducive to our salvation’; for, if what we seek be injurious to the soul, God does not, and cannot hear us. For example: if a person asked help from God to be revenged of an enemy, or to accomplish what would be offensive to God, the Lord will not hear his prayers.”

    5. Confidence in prayer must be accompanied by human action. An important aspect in this matter which the saints note, is that faith in having one’s prayer answered is meaningless if one does not actively wish it to be answered. That is to say, that one must do one’s own part by removing oneself from areas of temptation, or removing obstacles which could render one’s prayer unworthy.

    “For example,” writes St. Alphonsus, “if you ask of God strength to preserve you from relapsing into a certain sin, but will not avoid the occasions of the sin, nor keep at a distance from the house, from the object, or the bad company, which led to your fall, God will not hear your prayer.” The old adage is born from such teaching of the Church - ‘pray like it all depends on God, but act like it all depends on you.’

    Hence, despite the many ways in which those around us might seek to belittle the efficacy, or worth of prayer, the Church repeats Her ageless instruction about the manner in which Her children are called to be confident in their prayer. Not to be put off by the mocking of the world, faithful souls are called to respond to the supreme act of love which Christ performed on Calvary, turning to God with the utmost confidence and faith, beseeching His aid in the name of the Redeemer, and trusting in His goodness and perfection. 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Fourth Sunday after Easter - St. Joseph leads to Mary and the Christ child.


The month of May, which is dedicated to Our Lady, began with the feast of St. Joseph the worker, a fitting way to commence the month devoted to the Mother of God, since none was more devoted to her than her gentle spouse. Traditionally the Church celebrated a feast of St. Joseph during Easter time, dedicating the third Sunday after Easter to be under his patronage. Whilst today is the fourth such Sunday after Easter, the below reflection drawn entirely from Dom Gueranger’s commentary on the traditional commemoration of the foster-father of Our Lord, is still particularly poignant and profound. 


“The Easter mysteries are superseded today by a special subject, which is offered for our consideration. The holy Church invites us to spend this Sunday in honouring the Spouse of Mary, the Foster-Father of the Son of God. And yet, as we offered him the yearly tribute of our devotion on the 19th of March, it is not, properly speaking, his Feast that we are to celebrate today. It is a solemn expression of gratitude offered to Joseph, the Protector of the Faithful, the refuge and support of all that invoke him with confidence. The innumerable favours he has bestowed upon the world entitle him to this additional homage. With a view to her children’s interests, the Church would, on this day, excite their confidence in this powerful and ever ready helper.

    Devotion to St. Joseph was reserved for these latter times. Though based on the Gospel, it was not to be developed in the early ages of the Church. It is not that the Faithful were, in any way, checked from showing honour to him who had been called to take so important a part in the mystery of the Incarnation; but Divine Providence had its hidden reasons for retarding the Liturgical homage to be paid, each year, to the Spouse of Mary. 

    The goodness of God and our Redeemer’s fidelity to his promises have ever kept pace with the necessities of the world; so that, in every age, appropriate and special aid has been given to the world for its maintaining the supernatural life. An uninterrupted succession of seasonable grace has been the result of this merciful dispensation, and each generation has had given to it a special motive for confidence in its Redeemer.

    Now, devotion to Mary could never go on increasing as it has done, without bringing with it a fervent devotion to St. Joseph. We cannot separate Mary and Joseph, were it only for their having such a close connection with the mystery of the Incarnation: Mary, as being the Mother of the Son of God; and Joseph, as being guardian of the Virgin’s spotless honour, and Foster-Father of the Divine Babe. A special veneration for St. Joseph was the result of increased devotion to Mary. Nor is this reverence for Mary’s Spouse to be considered only as a just homage paid to his admirable prerogatives: it is, moreover, a fresh and exhaustless source of help to the world, for Joseph has been made our Protector by the Son of God himself. 

    Hearken to the inspired words of the Church’s Liturgy: ‘Thou, O Joseph! art the delight of the Blessed, the sure hope of our life, and the pillar of the world!’ (Hymn for the Lauds of the Feast of the Patronage of St. Joseph)  Extraordinary as is this power, need we be surprised at its being given to a man like Joseph, whose connections with the Son of God on earth were so far above those of all other men? Jesus deigned to be subject to Joseph here below; now that He is in heaven, He would glorify the creature, to whom He consigned the guardianship of His own childhood and His Mother’s honour. He has given him a power, which is above our calculations. 

    Hence it is, that the Church invites us, on this day, to have recourse, with unreserved confidence, to this all-powerful Protector. The world we live in is filled with miseries which would make stronger hearts than ours quake with fear: but, let us invoke St. Joseph with faith, and we shall be protected. In all our necessities, whether of soul or body — in all the trials and anxieties we may have to go through — let us have recourse to St. Joseph, and we shall not be disappointed. The king of Egypt said to his people, when they were suffering from famine: go to Joseph! (Genesis 41:55) the King of Heaven says the same to us: the faithful guardian of Mary has greater influence with God, than Jacob’s son had with Pharaoh.

    As usual, God revealed this new spiritual aid to a privileged soul, that she might be the instrument of its propagation. It was thus that were instituted several Feasts, such as those of Corpus Christi, and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the 16th century, St. Teresa, (whose writings were to have a world-wide circulation,) was instructed by heaven as to the efficacy of devotion to St. Joseph: she has spoken of it in the Life, (written by herself,) of Teresa of Jesus. When we remember, that it was by the Carmelite Order, (brought into the Western Church, in the 13th century,) that this devotion was established among us, we cannot be surprised that God should have chosen St. Teresa, who was the Reformer of that Order, to propagate the same devotion in this part of the world. 

    The holy solitaries of Mount Carmel — devoted as they had been, for so many centuries, to the love of Mary — were not slow in feeling the connection that exists between the honour paid to the Mother of God and that which is due to her virginal Spouse. The more we understand St. Joseph’s office, the clearer will be our knowledge of the divine mystery of the Incarnation. As when the Son of God assumed our human nature, he would have a Mother; so also, would he give to this Mother a protector. Jesus, Mary and Joseph — these are the three whom the ineffable mystery is continually bringing before our minds.

    The words of St. Teresa are as follows: “I took for my patron and lord the glorious St. Joseph, and recommended myself earnestly to him. I saw clearly ... that he rendered me greater services than I knew how to ask for. I cannot call to mind that I have ever asked him at any time for anything which he has not granted; and I am filled with amazement when I consider the great favours which God hath given me through this blessed Saint; the dangers from which he hath delivered me, both of body and soul. To other Saints, our Lord seems to have given grace to succour men in some special necessity; but to this glorious Saint, I know by experience, to help us in all: and our Lord would have us understand that, as he was himself subject to him upon earth — for St. Joseph having the title of father, and being his guardian, could command him — so now in heaven he performs all his petitions. I have asked others to recommend themselves to St. Joseph, and they too know this by experience; and there are many who are now of late devout to him, having had experience of this truth.” (The Life of St Teresa)

    It is now more than a century ago, that the Carmelites sought and obtained the approbation of the Holy See for an Office in honour of the Patronage of St. Joseph. A great number of Dioceses obtained permission to use it. A Sunday was selected for the celebration of this new Feast, in order that the Faithful might be, in a way, compelled to keep it; for the Feast of St. Joseph in March is not a day of obligation for the universal Church, and, as it always falls during Lent, it cannot be kept on a Sunday, since the Sundays of Lent exclude a Feast of that rite. That the new Feast might not be attended with the same risk of being unnoticed, it was put upon a Sunday, — the third Sunday after Easter, that thus the consolations of such a solemnity might be blended with the Paschal joys. 

    The new Feast went on gradually spreading from one diocese to another; till at last, there was unexpectedly issued an Apostolic Decree, dated September the 10th, 1847, which ordered it to be kept throughout Christendom. The Church was on the eve of severe trials; and her glorious Pontiff, Pius IX, by a sacred instinct, was prompted to draw down on the Flock entrusted to him the powerful protection of St. Joseph, who, assuredly, has never had greater miseries and dangers to avert from the world, than those which threaten the present age.

    Let us then, henceforth, have confidence in the Patronage of St. Joseph. He is the Father of the Faithful, and it is God’s will, that he, more than any other Saint, should have power to apply to us the blessings of the mystery of the Incarnation — the great mystery whereof he, after Mary, was the chief earthly minister.”

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Third Sunday after Easter - life is short, and death is near!


Earthly life is short: death is near, and thus our use of time is of the utmost importance!

    These words are not perhaps the most calming or sweetest that one could hear, in this happy season of Easter. Spring flowers are coming into bloom, new life is all around, and the hardships of Lent have most likely been forgotten and been replaced by Easter over indulgence. So it is little wonder that one might naturally find the opening line of this blog an affront in such a time. Yet such is the theme which St. Alphonsus Ligouri proposes for this Sunday.

    It is of course, drawn from St. John’s Gospel from today’s Mass, and these words of Christ in particular: “A little while, and now you shall not see me; and again a little while, and you shall see me: because I go to the Father.”

    The proper use of time is a concept which rarely taught in the modern world, if at all. Modernity is an age of indulgence: whatever one desires, one instantly seeks, so much so that desire is filled by near instant gratification. In fact, one might say that there is a studious avoidance of the proper use of time in such a society. 

    But in order to levy such a claim, one must first outline what a good use of time would be. Fortunately, this has already been done by countless saints and theologians and is contained in the very first pages of every good catechism. To draw on the answer contained in the Baltimore Catechism, man has been made in the image and likeness of God, to know, love and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in the next. 

    This answer leads to an uncomfortable truth of life, namely that every moment of each day is a vital time in which one either grows in virtue, or in vice.

    As the great ascetical and spiritual writers teach, to grow in virtue necessitates suffering, an amount of self-sacrifice, and a complete abandonment to the will of God. It requires prayer, in which one approaches God, fully resigned to accept His will in a certain situation, regardless of one’s own personal preference. This is often a terrifying thing.

    But if it is hard for Catholics, then how much harder is it for those in the world, who have already abandoned themselves to a life of selfishness, governed by their own desires, and without any concept of self-control or self-sacrifice? When moments of grace are given, it is all too common and all too easy for those who favour the world, to simply close their hearts to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and continue using time in a manner contrary to how they are called to use it.


“There is nothing shorter than time, but there is nothing more valuable. There is nothing shorter than time; because the past is no more, the future is uncertain, and the present is but a moment. This is what Jesus Christ meant when he said: ‘A little while, and now you shall not see me.’ 

We may say the same of our life, which, according to St. James is but a vapour, which is soon scattered for ever. ‘For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while.’ (James iv. 14.) But the time of this life is as precious as it is short; for, in every moment, if we spend it well, we can acquire treasures of merits for heaven; but, if we employ time badly, we may in each moment commit sin, and merit hell. I mean this day to show you how precious is every moment of the time which God gives us, not to lose it, and much less to commit sin, but to perform good works and to save our souls.” 


With these words, St. Alphonsus begins his homily for this Sunday.             Time is taken for granted in modernity. As society trains itself to ignore the promptings of grace, advancing in ever deeper self-indulgence, and thus wasting time, it is tempting for faithful souls to be drawn into copying such a practice. The world is so busy, with so many tasks and duties demanding our attention. Prayer is often, perhaps normally, left until the last minute of the day, and then … not done. 

       Yet if such souls had an ever present concept of the value of time, then perhaps this apathy would not flourish in the manner in which it so clearly has. If the words of St. Alphonsus were more widely shared, then souls might begin each day wondering if it would be their last on earth, and thus acting accordingly. 

    How many, myself included, would be at peace and happy that all was well in the spiritual life and with regards one’s duties to God and the Church, if one learned that he was to day this day? Personally at least, such a thought is not an easy one, and yet Christ calls us to live each day in this manner, not taking time for granted, but living in such accord with the Divine will, that death should not find one unprepared, or in a state which renders a soul unfit to approach the celestial banquet. 

    Time is of the essence: why, and how, is it so easy to waste it, despite having the knowledge of the faith, despite having the testimony of the saints and martyrs, and despite having the words of Christ Himself - “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt 16:24)

    This call to the cross is our call, for each man on earth, in every age. It is a personal beckoning from the Redeemer, to join Him on the cross, and to use the time on this earth in a fashion that will direct us to union with God in this life and in the next. 

    Anything which distracts, blinds, or deviates one from this union with God, is thus a poor use of time, and at its worst, something which points to hell. These are strong words indeed, but the reality of the cross is no cosy, fluffy, or pain-free one, but rather a road marked by sacrifice, self-abnegation, and commitment. There is no halfway house in the royal road of the cross: no room for mediocrity or laziness. To follow Christ, as He calls us to, requires that which the world studiously avoids - it requires using one’s time not for selfish purposes, but for the things of God, and in a spirit of complete sacrifice.

    Truly, this is a terrifying prospect, and due to the sinful nature of man, it is not surprising that this thought appears so awful. But lest one becomes too concerned with the nature of using time well, to the point of becoming unable to actually do so, it is well to turn to the Blessed Virgin, who is always the constant guide of the Church. 

    Her life was marked by this spirit of which St. Alphonsus speaks, as at the very moment of the Annunciation, she was able to answer readily to the call of God, abandoning her own desires, and entirely committing herself to the performance of the will of God. Whilst the Divine Will is often clouded by confusion for faithful souls, Mary knew what was required of her, and even though this was in fact far more terrifying (since she knew the great suffering she must endure) she still accepted her call to the cross instantly.

    Let the Blessed Virgin thus be the guide in these times, so that the Church might once more be filled with souls who are ready to respond instantly to the call of God, in whatever manner that may be. Whether young or old, whether called to be priests, religious, married, martyrs or not, the call always consists of two essential aspects - the cross, and willingness to use one’s time in a life of self-sacrifice for God.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Good Shepherd Sunday - faithful shepherds point only to the cross.


 “Ego sum pastor bonus.” With these words, this Sunday has become rightly known as Good Shepherd Sunday, and many images have been produced through the ages, of Christ as the shepherd amongst His flock, carrying them to safety and guarding them from danger. 

The Church has as her guardian, the faithful Shepherd, who will never let the gates of hell prevail against her, nor allow evil to triumph. He has secured this by working the act of salvation, dying on the cross to save man from the clutches of sin and death, and defeating the devil for eternity.

In response to this act of perfect love, we are called to be like the sheep who recognise their shepherd and come running to Him. Just as a shepherd protects his sheep with his staff, Christ protects His children with the wood of the cross. The Catholic Church provides the sanctuary for faithful souls, just as the gates of the sheepfold keep out the prowling wolves, hungry to devour the sheep. 

But as with every flock, there is an important rule to be kept if one is to ‘benefit,’ so to speak. A sheep cannot be protected if it strays from the herd, leaving the watchful eye of the shepherd and the safety of the farm, and wandering instead into the wilderness, where wild animals might attack and devour it. If the animal is to remain alive, he must adhere to his shepherd.

So it is with faithful souls and their relation to Christ. One must stay close to Christ and His Church, through the faithful practice of the spiritual life, cultivating the virtues, and seeking to grow in perfection in imitation of the shepherd. Life is found within the Catholic Church, by careful adherence to Her timeless teaching and Her Tradition, but if one deliberately strays from the Church, or the path of virtue, he opens himself to the attacks of the world and the devil. 

In the corruption of truths so often worked by modernity, Good Shepherd Sunday can perhaps be viewed as a day of softness, with images of a sweet, smiling Christ surrounded by sheep, devoid of a reminder of the agonies and torments which He suffered for our salvation. As modernity and liberalism dominate the Church today, seeking to corrupt Her teaching and Tradition, such advocates of error seem to take great pleasure in pushing the idea of a ‘soft’ Christ, and a ‘soft’ Church, and increasingly avoid mention of suffering, of the cross, or of truth. 

False concepts of ‘fraternity’ are proposed as the way to supposedly bring all peoples to the knowledge of the true faith, whilst the very process of this fraternal action involves watering down the faith, and undermining the Church’s teaching. The proponents of this ideology can be rightly described as false shepherds. They have been called to lead the people of God, safeguarding the flock of the Lord, but in actuality they are opening wide the gates and leading the flock into pastures full of danger. 

These false shepherds do not seek the Truth, salvation, or even adherence to Christ, but instead they desire the softness and comfort of life, that which is depicted in the pleasant images of Christ which they favour to the point of an almost studious avoidance of the cross.

Regrettably, with so many of these individuals present and influential in the Church, is it really surprising that Catholics across the world are devoid of the spirit of fervour and radicality, which marked them out in more faithful times? For decades, Catholics have been told not to worry about the more troublesome or difficult aspects of the faith, since God is a soft, kind, loving God, and ‘He will understand. Don’t worry.’ 

With these words, portrayed as acts of kindness towards Catholics beset by the trials of life, false shepherds have done nothing less than rejected Christ, scorned Him on the cross, and abandoned His flock. They have received the shepherd’s crosier, accepted the mission to guard and promote the faith, and yet swiftly broken their staff, spat upon the cross, and abandoned their charge. 

The true extent of this damage to the Church is perhaps only being seen in very recent times. The unprecedented church closures across the world, supposedly in the name of health, were led initially by bishops, who volunteered to cut off their flock from the divine life of the Church, and prevent their access to the sacraments. Encouraged by this free gesture of subservience, governments are now acting with a free hand to close churches in the name of health. In previous eras of persecution, bishops and priests endured torture and death, rather than do what todays clerics have so freely, even eagerly, done. 

Influenced by the long history of the diluting of the Catholic faith, large numbers of people have seen no issue with being separated from the sacraments, or barred from the Church. They have been led into the spirit of the world by their false shepherds, trained not to think, and so are largely unaffected by the deprivation of their baptismal right. 

These current days are truly the result of a long process of an attack upon the Church and upon Christ Himself. It is a process greatly accelerated in recent decades, but one which has its origins in the decadence in the Church and the accompanying Protestant revolution many generations ago.

For centuries, the enemies of God have attacked His flock, whether it be through bloody persecution, egregious laws which greatly infringe upon the lives of Catholics, or through infiltrating the Church Herself. 

Now, at long last, these enemies are rejoicing, for they believe they have won, (though of course this is a false belief.) Their goal is almost complete - unlike in previous times, no persecution was necessary for the churches to close, as bishops did that themselves; no persecution was necessary for the faith to be undermined, since councils, episcopal documents, papal teachings and the current pontiff especially, have already done that themselves; no persecution was needed for Catholics to thus disregard their faith, because encouraged by the witness of false shepherds, they have abandoned reason, faith and God, for the promise of earthly safety. 


The suffering of the faithful; the danger of false shepherds today.


And yet, even though no persecution was necessary for all this to be accomplished, one must not be naive. Such a persecution is indeed coming.

The devil and his agents are consumed with hatred for God and His Church, and though many in the Church have abandoned the faith, the small, faithful few who remain, are enough to engender a response from the satanic forces. Satan will not rest until all the world is in his service. Soon it will be the case that faithful Catholics will once more be barred from normal life, cut off from their own family and friends, left penniless, hungry, beaten, tortured and killed.

These events will be the wild death-throws of the devil, aware that he has already suffered defeat, and seeking to destroy as many souls as possible before Christ appears once more in glory. 

In these moments of persecution, which are already happening in a bloody manner in certain countries such as China and North Korea, we must bear in our minds the image of the Good Shepherd. We must have recourse to this Man of sorrows, who was scourged, beaten, spat upon, insulted, stripped, and crucified - all for our sake. 

Christ calls us to follow Him, and as faithful sheep we must do just that, even though this call is ultimately one to the cross. In gazing upon the crucifix, the true image of the Good Shepherd, we see the reality of the depth of love which God has for man. We see the terrible sufferings which He endured for each soul, and we hear the call which He ceaselessly issues: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” (Matt 16:24)

The false shepherds and the devil will seek to dissuade us from answering that call. They will find all manner of ways to justify evil; to promote crimes against the divine and natural law (such as abortion and homosexuality). They will seek to ensnare all people in the promotion of these crimes, since the devil’s goal is to have as many souls as possible joining him in offending God by the rejection of Truth and goodness. 

Such false shepherds, who by their nature are in the Church, will be even amongst the so-styled ‘conservatives.’ They will try to prevent faithful souls from dwelling on the martyrs of old, and instead will use equivocation to justify the rejection of Catholic morality. They will promote and teach about that which is ‘just acceptable’ for a Catholic to do, in order to avoid hardship, but avoid teaching about that which one ought to do.

These false shepherds will even become complicit in promoting evils, such as abortion, as they convince Catholics that there are some circumstances - such as potential hardship or personal gain or personal health - when tearing apart a tiny baby, extracting his tissue whilst still alive, and then using it, are acceptable. They might justify this in the same way they paint a false image of God, namely by avoiding the gruesome reality. 

What these false shepherds are doing, is rejecting Catholic teaching through the ages, rejecting the words of Scripture, rejecting the torturous reality of the cross, and rejecting Christ Himself.

So on this Good Shepherd Sunday, faithful souls are called to dwell on the Saviour, the crucified Redeemer who is covered in blood and His flesh torn. This Good Shepherd leads us to life and to salvation, and one must thus follow Him closely, even - nay always - unto the cross, since it is through the cross that He brings life.

False shepherds cannot understand the cross, they flee from it, allowing themselves to be governed by fear, instead of by faith. Faithful souls are called instead to run to the cross, accepting the sorrows and trials which God grants to them for their salvation, knowing that it is only through the cross that Life and Truth are found.

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.

Friday, 2 April 2021

Good Friday - the cross that defeats the hatred of the world


 “The amiable Redeemer approaches the end of life. My soul, behold those eyes grow dim; that beautiful countenance becomes pale; that heart palpitates feebly; that sacred body is abandoned to death.” So writes St. Alphonsus Ligouri in his treatise The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. 

    The many weeks of Septuagesima and Lent culminate in this day, wherein God Incarnate lays down His life for sinful man. The crowds who welcomed Him into the city so loudly on Palm Sunday, now issue an even louder call for His death. He has not conformed to their desires and expectations, and so they have turned against Him. Ligouri notes that the Jews were deluded about the coming of Christ, expecting earthly and temporal blessings instead of spiritual and eternal ones, and thus rejected Him. “The world-minded, who love the riches, the honours and the pleasures of earth, refuse to have Jesus Christ for their king; because as far as this earth is concerned, Jesus was but a king of poverty, shame, and sufferings.” 

    His words of truth, conversion and sacrifice, did not change the hearts of those who ignored truth, rejected conversion, and called only for His sacrificial death. In the minds of people such as these, both then and now, God has been defeated by death, and they have proven to the world that they are their own gods - or so they think. “His blood be upon us,” they cried and continue to cry.

    The crucifixion demonstrates the true nature of those devoted to the world: they are concerned only with that which will satisfy their lower, earthly desires, they will ignore all that is true, good and beautiful in order to attain it. 

    Most of all, such souls reject the notion of sacrifice. Christ presented a dilemma to these souls, as they were faced with all that they chose to reject, and asked to accept Him instead of themselves. They chose: the result, was the bloody passion and death of the Redeemer. 

    Thus the crucifixion shows where attachment to the world leads - it leads ultimately to a rejection, and deliberate partaking in the murder of Truth Incarnate. “The wages of sin is death,” writes St. Paul, and the rejection of Christ leads ultimately to death. The Jews rejected Christ, and called for His blood to be upon them; in like manner these in the world who reject Him today can hope for no better reward than their predecessors. “He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth.” (Matt 12:30)

    In fact, the world by necessity, hates the cross and all that is associated with it. The world must do so, because if it were to cease its constant attacks on Christ and His salvific act of sacrifice, then those in the world might be allowed the chance to dwell on the truth of that awful sacrifice, which in turn might move them to a conversion of heart. This of course, is directly against the devil’s wishes, and so he spurs on his agents to wage a relentless war against the cross and all who seek to answer the call of Christ.

    Just as Christ was tortured and killed, so should His followers expect to be. Scorn and derision directed towards the friends of the cross, are the most common tools used by the world. Yet such is the hatred for faithful souls, that the children of the world - those agents of the devil - will have no qualms at enforcing bloody persecutions on any who do not conform to their rejection of Truth. The Church has been sustained by the blood of Her martyrs throughout the centuries, and in the wake of the anti-Catholic global agenda which is being ruthlessly pursued, such scenes are likely to occur again. 

    As the agents of the world levy increasingly prohibitive sanctions on those who do not conform to the anti-life agenda, particularly against those who will reject the abortion-tainted injections of our time, they will seek to make the cross a thing of horror. These servants of satan will do everything in their power to weaken the resolve of faithful souls, so that the call of Christ for men to pick up their cross and follow Him, will go largely unanswered.  

    Such dark souls will try to do to friends of the cross, what they did to Christ - persecute, torture and kill.

    And yet, even despite this terrible outlook, there is hope. Hope springs eternal from the cross, because it is that very tree which is the path to salvation. The world will seek to make it heavy, painful and arduous, yet this is precisely the suffering which Christ endured, and to which He calls all. Indeed, St. Louis-Marie de Montfort writes thus about carrying the cross: “But if, on the contrary, you suffer in the right way, the cross will become a yoke that is easy and light, since Christ Himself will carry it with you. It will give you wings, as it were, to lift you to heaven; it will become your ship’s mast, bringing you smoothly and easily to the harbour of salvation. Carry your cross patiently, and it will be a light in your spiritual darkness, for the one who has never suffered trials is ignorant.”

    Contrary to the wishes and plans of the world, the cross can never be a symbol of ignominy or meaningless suffering, since our Captain has made it the means of life! We are thus called to blossom and grow with the truth of God and the abundance of grace found in the spiritual life. Faithful friends of the cross study the science of the Divine, the pursuit of worldly death and spiritual abundance. In the cross they find the source of this life, and when accepting the cross, they find Divine life itself. 

    The crucifix is that which shames and offends the world, but “is the abridgement of all that a Christian ought to believe [and] practise”. 

    On this Good Friday then, whilst the world seeks to prohibit worship, let us spend time before the crucifix, gazing in love and sorrow at the wounds inflicted upon our precious Saviour, counting the number of lacerations He bears and the thorns in His crown. Let us reflect upon the nails which fasten Him to the wood of the cross and recall the agony which He endured whilst hanging there. Then let us remember that He did so for us and for our salvation, in order that we might be freed from servitude to sin and join Him in heavenly felicity. The almighty and perfect God freely endured such torments and agonies, in order that we, unworthy as we are, might have a share in His Divine life. 

    This brief gaze at the cross is more profitable than any trumpet call or proudly flying flag on the battlefield, more delightful than any of the empty delectations which the world can offer. It should serve to remind us of our end and the means by which we are to attain it. 

The many wounds upon the body of Our Lord stand as a constant memory of the heavy price which He paid in order that we might be like unto Him. Then, moved by such love, we must heed His call, and hasten to ascend Mt. Calvary in order to take His place upon the cross. We could not have received any greater proof of God’s love and so we must return such love to Him in the same way. 

    Let us welcome the cross, sing for joy when we see it, and cry out to He who cannot love more perfectly - ‘O sweetest Jesus, who so wondrously died for me upon the cross; take me unto Thyself; allow me to draw near to the cross and fix myself there in your stead, so that I might, through faithful imitation of Thee, attain to the intimacy of Thy most Sacred Heart. On this cross Thou gavest Thy life for me: now may I give mine for Thee. Mary, my dearest Mother, hold me, so that I might not waver in my resolve, but eagerly die for love of Him.’


    Thus writes St. Alphonsus in his meditation for Good Friday: 

“O my dear Redeemer, well do I recognise in these Thy wounds, and in Thy lacerated body, as it were through so many lattices, the tender affection with Thou dost retain for me. Since then, in order to pardon me, Thou hast not pardoned Thyself, oh look upon me now with the same love wherewith Thou didst one day look upon me from the cross, whilst Thou were dying for me.

Look upon me and enlighten me, and draw my whole heart to Thyself, that so, from this day forth, I may love none else but Thee. Let me not ever be unmindful of Thy death. Thou didst promise that, when raised up upon the cross, Thou wouldst draw all our hearts to Thee. Behold this heart of mine, which, made tender by Thy death, and enamoured of Thee, desires to offer no further resistance to Thy calls. Oh, do Thou draw it to Thyself and make it all Thine own.

Thou has died for me, and I desire to die for Thee; and if I continue to live, I will live for Thee alone. O pains of Jesus, O ignominies of Jesus, O death of Jesus, O love of Jesus: fix yourselves within my heart, and let the remembrance of you abide there always, to be continually smiting me and inflaming me with love. I love Thee, O infinite goodness; I love Thee, O infinite love. Thou are and shalt ever be, my one and only love. O Mary, Mother of love, do thou obtain me love.”

 

Firth Sunday after Easter - Confidence in prayer

  On this fifth Sunday after Easter, the Church proposes a catechesis on prayer, both in the texts for the Mass and in the homilies given by...