Sunday, 30 May 2021

Trinity Sunday - God's love for man.


Who is God and does He care for us? The question that has been postulated by man throughout time and is asked ever more increasingly today; who is God? does He really love us? The great difference today is that many of those who ask the question, do so without expecting any answer, for they have already rejected the possibility of His existence. For modern man the concept of God is incongruous with the notion of suffering, hardship pain or trials of any sort: ‘If God exists, then why do we have war, injustice and civil unrest? Why is there so much pain?’
Yet this Trinity Sunday it is a perfect opportunity to briefly contemplate God and the love of God for man. For firstly, we do not worship a God as the muslims do, a god of anger, rage and death; a god who is outrightly not Tri-une. We adore the one God, three in one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We adore a God who has already become incarnate and died on the cross for us and we await His glorious second coming. We adore Him most perfectly by adhering to the commandments He gave us, by following the laws of the Church which He established and by worshipping Him in the rites and sacraments which She performs every day. There is only one Church which He has established and it is through Her that He most abundantly pours forth His life and love.
Secondly, though, we must examine the love for man which God has, as an answer to the many critics and disbelievers. In short, St. Alphonsus teaches that God has shown us the utmost love through our creation, redemption and sanctification. But since this is the feast of the Holy Trinity, we cannot leave the question so briefly answered and thus follow the saint’s exposition on the matter.

The love of God the Father.

We read in Sacred Scripture: “Yea I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee”. (Jer 31:3) Then again we find these words: “Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee” (Jer 1:5). God, in His infinite goodness and out of no necessity, has created us simply out of the boundlessness of His love. He has no need of our existence or of the love which we can render to Him, yet His nature of love wishes to enable us to share in the joy and sanctity of His divinity. The Bible teaches that God has loved us from eternity, knowing us individually and willing us into existence. He bestows upon us His likeness and imparts to us a vocation, completely unique and greater than all the riches of the earth. He has so ordered the natural world that we find ourselves surrounded by all manner of beauty and appointed over it to rule and govern. (Gen 1:28) 
Time and again, when we have fallen away from the practice of the worship of God, He has forgiven us and made the greatest act of love in sending His only Son to suffer and die. Moreover says St. Alphonsus, “See also the special love which God has shown you in bringing you into life in a Christian country, and in the bosom of the Catholic or true Church”. (1) Amongst all men created throughout the world, God has seen fit to impart to us the gift of faith, of knowing and loving Him. Those who reject Him cannot understand the gift which this is, since they reject the author of very goodness Himself. Yet those who know God are aware of the wonderful gift of faith which He bestows; a gift which makes the trials of life seem but nothing compared to the glories which will come as a result of this gift of faith. Through no merit of our own, we have been given the great gift of faith by God, and it is a gift which He calls us to use in order to know and love Him.

The love of God the Son.

Yet this gift has been so oft rejected and scorned, both by our forefathers and by ourselves in daily life. Rather than recognising the gift we have chosen instead to follow our own desires and whims, preferring sin and consequent death to the promises of life found through love of God. In spite of this, God’s love remains unchanged and undeterred. “Christ came, that man might know how much God loves him” and Christ died out of love for us.(2) Truly, greater love than this has no man, because Christ freely chose to suffer and die the most ignominious torments and death at the hands of sinful men, in order to free us from the yoke of the devil which we accepted in sin. He was not content with merely becoming like us in our frail human state, but chose to die that we might have life in Him. Thus St. Paul states that “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross”. (Phil 2:8) What greater proof of love can be given by one to another? But further, what greater proof of Divine love can be given, than by this selfless death of the most Innocent, the Son of God made man? “In this we have known the charity of God, because he hath laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16)
Again, how can we object that Christ does not love us when He established the Church, with Her sacraments and life of grace, in order that we might continually experience the life which He bought for us on the cross. He has given His own mother to us, that we might have the perfect helper and guide to come to know Him. He has given us His own body, in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, whereby we can receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of God Himself. Whilst the unbelievers cry out against the existence of God, we have the opportunity to receive the author of life and salvation in this Eucharistic manner each and every day! Christ takes delight in being so intimately united with each one of us and longs for us to approach the sacrificial altar and there receive Him. We have but to be in a state of grace, and there, kneeling at the altar rail, our Innocent Redeemer comes to us. When we are tempted to cry out in despair or anguish at God for the suffering which we are undergoing, we have only to look at the cross and the Eucharist; there lies proof of His immeasurable love for us.

The love of God the Holy Spirit.
But God was not content with leaving us His very self in the Eucharist species and in the Church; He could not abandon His flock, a flock for which He paid such a high price. Thus the third person of the Trinity came to us “that he may dwell in our souls, and that he may keep them always inflamed with holy love”.(3) This great advent of the Holy Spirit has been celebrated most recently in the great feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. Through the Holy Spirit, we are bound together in the spirit of charity and consequently bound to God. The union of love, of charity, is a union which the world cannot imitate. Modern society cannot even comprehend the concept of such an intimate union of love, whereby man is united to God by a bond sustained and supported by God Himself. Death and destruction are the promises of the world and earthly life and satisfaction fade into insignificance when the light of the Holy Spirit calls us to the practice of charity and to reciprocate the love of God. “The chains of the world are chains of death, but the bonds of the Holy Ghost are bonds of eternal life, because they bind us to God, who is our true and only life” (4).
The Holy Spirit guides and supports the Church, ensuring that all Her faithful members are sanctified and nourished by the life of grace. He imparts to us His gifts and fruits in order that we might fruitfully live the life of faith imparted to us by God the Father and so exemplified by His Son.

Called to the union of the Trinity.

We are thus called to the union of the Trinity. The Fourth Lateran Council expresses this relation thus: “Without beginning, always, and without end, the Father begets, the Son is born, and the Holy Spirit proceeds”.(5) Through the Father we have life and faith, through the Son we have redemption and salvation, and through the Holy Spirit we have the gift of sanctification and grace. Into this union of infinite and perfect love the Trinity calls each of us, in order that we might share in the goodness of this love. To be able to do so, is the most perfect action which we can perform, for there is no greater act than to love and contemplate God as He calls us to do. We do not love God the Father without loving God the Son and Holy Spirit, for God is perfect unity. In His Trinity He is unity and in this bond of love is found the source of life, salvation and grace. There can be no better sign of God’s existence than the call to share in this most beautiful love - a call to share in the divine love.
Hence to answer the critics and unbelievers, denying that God loves us or that He even exists, we have the answer found in the Trinity. In this most complex truth of the faith, we have the source and answer of faith, of life and of perfection. Life cannot be full of joys and contentment unless we respond to the love proffered by the Holy Trinity. We cannot expect to experience trials or sufferings and respond properly to them, if we reject all that the Trinity offers to us. This love of the Trinity for man, for each one of us, is the call to the most perfect happiness and contentment. It is a call to a share in divine life, and nothing can be greater than that.

  1. St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Sermons for all the Sundays in the Year, Trinity Sunday.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Fourth Lateran Council, Denzinger §800.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Pentecost Sunday - Mary's role as Mother of the Church

“But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.” On the feast of Pentecost, the third Person of the Holy Trinity descends from Heaven upon the apostles and Our Lady, taking the form of rushing wind and tongues of fire. His advent upon those gathered in the upper room sparks the missionary efforts of the Church, as the apostles depart from their solitude and take to the streets, preaching, instructing and converting. This presence of God the Holy Ghost was promised by Christ before His Ascension, and is the manifestation of the love of God for His Church. 

    As Dom Gueranger writes for the feast: “That mysterious storm, that fire, those tongues, that sacred enthusiasm of the Disciples—have told us so much of God’s plans upon this our world! We could not but say within ourselves: ‘Has God loved the world so much as this?’ When our Redeemer was living with us on this earth, he said to one of his disciples: God hath so loved the world, as to give it his Only Begotten Son. The mystery achieved today forces us to complete these words and say: ‘The Father and the Son have so loved the world, as to give it their own Divine Spirit!’”

    This age of the Church is one guided by the Holy Spirit, in which the Church awaits the second coming of Her Founder, and the drawing up of faithful souls into heaven for union with God. It is particularly interesting to note the relation between Mary and the Holy Spirit on this feast day, to see the importance of the guidance of the Holy Spirit and devotion to Mary. 

    The Holy Ghost gives birth to the Church on this feast of Pentecost, and the apostles begin the new era of the Church’s life after Christ’s Ascension into heaven. But while Mary is part of the Church, and its most pre-eminent member, she is also a type of the Church. Christ entrusted us to her at the cross, in the words “Son, behold your Mother.” The Church is not apart from Mary, nor would it be right for Mary to be absent at Pentecost. As the Church blossoms and grows, Mary’s role is renewed. 

    So much so, that Dom Gueranger writes that the Church is not only born from the advent of the Third Person, but from Mary also. “Here is a new mission opened for Mary. The Church is born; she is born of Mary. Mary has given birth to the Spouse of her Son; new duties fall upon the Mother of the Church. Jesus has ascended into heaven, leaving Mary upon the earth, that she may nurse the infant-Church.”

    Once more the Holy Ghost comes upon Mary and fills her with the graces need for the mission bestowed to her by God. At the Annunciation He did likewise, following her humble acceptance of the will of God, so that following this humble fiat, Life Himself was given to the world: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee.” 

    From this celestial cooperation between Mary and the Holy Spirit, Christ came unto the world, suffered and died for sins, and resurrected on the third day. Now once more, Mary and the Holy Ghost are joined in this loving act of cooperation with the Divine Will, as she now gives birth to the Church and devotes herself to being both Mother and member of the Church. 

    “The Holy Ghost now infuses into Mary the plenitude of the grace needful for her maternal mission. From this day forward, she acts as Mother of the infant Church: and when, at length, the Church no longer needs her visible presence, this Mother quits the earth for heaven, where she is crowned Queen; but there too, she exercises her glorious title and office of Mother of men.”

    On Calvary, Mary was given to the Church as Mother while acting as Co-Redemptrix. The words Christ spoke, were uttered from the cross while she stood at its foot, offering herself with Him. Having participated in the act of redemption in this manner, she now becomes the Mediatrix of graces. She who once gave Life to the world, now once more is the channel through which the life of grace is continually given. Her Divine Motherhood necessitated her co-redemptive act, which in turn necessitates her Motherhood of the Church.

    The love of God for man lead to the Incarnation, and the sending of the Son. The reciprocal love of the Father and the Son for each other, as well as that of the Son for mankind for whom He had paid the price of salvation, led to the sending of the Holy Ghost, to guide and sustain the Church. But in addition to this, the reciprocal love of the Son and the mother did not end at the cross, but continues in perpetuity, leading to Mary’s complete devotion of self to the Church, just as Christ sacrificed Himself entirely.

    With this in mind, availing of the many graces offered by the Holy Ghost must go in tandem with devotion to the Mother of the Church, for how can one turn to one but not the other? The Catholic Church firmly teaches and proclaims devotion to Mary, and rightly so, for the Mother of God is the foremost member of the Church, and intimately united in its birth and life. 

    Yet Mary remains ever true to her Biblical form, quietly sustaining the Church with her prayers from a hidden spot. While the apostles leave the upper chamber to convert the peoples, inspired with the Holy Ghost, Mary remains behind, but not out of fear. Her mission is not to preach, but to nurture. Just as she was quietly acting with Christ, so she now quietly acts with and for the Church, assuming not the honours for herself, but always pointing towards God. 

    “She has received the tongue of fire; and although her voice is not to make itself heard in public preaching, yet will she speak to the Apostles, directing and consoling them in their labors. She will speak, too, to the Faithful, but with a force, sweetness, and persuasiveness, becoming one whom God has made the most exalted of his creatures.”

    With the advent of the Holy Ghost, and fortified by the graces which He imparts through the Mediatrix of graces, the Church is thus able to face the challenges which She must overcome in every age. Her members are given the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. To faithful souls are also given the fruits of the Holy Ghost: charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, contingency, and chastity. 

    These gifts and fruits are all found in Mary, who practices them to perfection. “Oh! how lovely, and yet how dignified, is this infancy of our dear Church, cherished as she is, fed, and strengthened by Mary!”

Sunday, 16 May 2021

Sunday after Ascension - those who persecute you will consider their actions a good service.


“These things have I spoken to you, that you may not be scandalized. They will put you out of the synagogues: yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth a service to God. And these things will they do to you; because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things I have told you, that when the hour shall come, you may remember that I told you of them.”

The time between Christ’s ascension into Heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is one of expectancy. The paschal candle has been dimmed and Christ has departed this world in order to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church. Having spent Lent dwelling on the passion of Christ, and Easter dwelling on the glorious triumph of His resurrection, the days before Pentecost are an apt way to prepare for the advent of the Holy Spirit, by revisiting the gifts and fruits which He bestows. 

The seven gifts are of course wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. As Dom Gueranger notes, in this Gospel today, Christ is describing the effect which the Holy Spirit will have upon our souls. “He told them that the Paraclete would give testimony of him, that is, would instruct them upon his Divinity, and teach them to be faithful to him, even so as to lay down their lives for him. A few moments before his Ascension, Jesus again spoke to them concerning the Paraclete, and called him the Power from on high. (Luke 24:49) Severe trials were awaiting these Apostles; they would have to resist unto blood. (Hebrews 12:4) Who would be their support? For, of themselves, they were but weak men. The Holy Ghost, who was to abide with them. By him they would conquer, and the Gospel would be preached to all nations.”

The Church is sustained just as the apostles were, and Her members are likewise given the graces necessary to overcome the trials which they face in daily life. Indeed, today’s Gospel text from St. John pertains especially to the trials which Catholics must be prepared to face, as Christ Himself warns: “yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth a service to God.” In these words, He describes the persecution of the Church which will come at the hands of godless men, men who “have not known the Father, nor me.” This concept of persecution should not take anyone by surprise. After all, the early centuries of the Church were marked by the blood of Her martyrs, and throughout history there have been lengthy periods in which Her members have endured persecution and death for the Faith. 

This reality exists still today in countries such as China and North Korea, far removed from the Western mindset, which cannot conceive of hardships relating to the Faith. Many in the Church subscribe to a mindset of denial, seemingly incapable of contemplating the thought that they might have to suffer in some manner for the Catholic faith. ‘Is not that something confined to history, or far off lands,’ they muse. 

But in reality, persecution should never be a surprise. Elsewhere in the Gospels Christ warns of this very fact: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) As society moves further away from God and the practice of virtue, widespread antagonism towards the Catholic faith can swiftly change to outright discrimination or persecution. Indeed, Christ states that some will kill Catholics, and even believe that they are doing a just action. That is to say, that the number of faithful Catholics might be so small, and they are so outnumbered by those who subscribe to the values of the world, that the children of the world see Catholics as the evildoers. 

This image, described by Christ, is a true foreshadowing of the times when anti-Christs are spread throughout the world, when truth is turned on its head, when evil is considered a human right, and virtue considered an injustice, or persecution. In times when this occurs, Catholics would be foolish to not expect some persecution from others.

But pausing for a moment on this image described above, one easily notes the similarities to the world today. Homosexuality, same-sex ‘marriage,’ gender ideology and abortion, all sins which cry out to Heaven for vengeance, are considered a human right. Children in primary schools are being robbed of their innocence through immoral education, and even urged to ‘transition’ to the opposite sex. Anyone who seeks to oppose this demonic attack is vilified as a hate filled radical, a denier of human rights, and even a Nazi. Is this not a time where truth is turned on its head?

Even more than this, we live in an era when the Pope, he who should be the rock of truth, no longer can be trusted to teach doctrine and spread the faith. Instead, he tells Catholics not to seek to convert others, promotes and host abortion champions at the Vatican, and spreads confusion and heresy instead of truth and doctrine. Is not this once again, a sign of a time when truth is turned on its head?

When even the Vatican and the Pope avail of pro-abortion terminology, promote abortion champions, same-sex civil unions, and communion for the divorced and ‘re-marrried’, what leeway will the world give to faithful Catholics who refuse to follow the Pope in these errors, and choose instead to remain faithful?

When those called to defend the truth, abandon it and align themselves with the servants of the world, can one expect their support when one is ostracised and persecuted for refusing to deny the faith in a similar manner? 

Christ warned that “He that is not with me, is against me: and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth.” (Matt 12:30) It would seem that those who choose to remain true to the Catholic faith, have indeed already been abandoned by false shepherds, who choose instead to scatter and go against God.

Is this not a time, therefore, in which truth is turned on its head? Is this not a time in which one can and should expect to face persecution for the truth? The world today is indeed a place where, just as Christ described, adherents to the Truth will be persecuted, killed, and those who “killeth you, will think that he doth a service to God.”

Yes indeed, this time is a time of persecution, in whatever form that eventuality takes. However, Christ is not some kind of doomsday prophet, who merely warns of evil but gives no reassurance. His very departure from this earth at the Ascension, means that the Holy Spirit is sent to earth nourish and sustain His followers. The third Person of the Holy Trinity brings His gifts and fruits, so that faithful souls are not without the Divine life and nourishment. Dom Gueranger notes this also, writing that the advent of the Holy Spirit is for one purpose only, namely, to guide the Church through the constant battle against the demonic forces. “Now, this Spirit of the Father and Son is about to descend upon us; and what is the object of his visit, but that of arming us for the combat, and strengthening us against the attacks of our enemies?”

Christ has won the victory of the cross, defeating the forces of sin and evil, so that no matter the infernal raging of the devils, they cannot secure a lasting victory. Indeed, at the close of the chapter of St. John’s gospel, from which today’s Gospel is drawn, the Redeemer reminds us of this fact: “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“Amen, amen I say to you, that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” (John 16:20)

This time in which truth is so widely rejected, Truth Incarnate blasphemed and scorned, and the faith spurned by those who should proclaim it, is thus not a time for fear. Fear is for those who are unaware of the outcome, who rely only upon themselves and their strengths. Yet the Catholic Church knows that the victory has been won by Her Bride, Christ Himself, and Her members do not rely on their feeble strengths, but upon the grace of God, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Ghost, and the redemptive passion and death of Christ. 

Thus in the preparation for Pentecost, the Church provides a time to contemplate what the advent of the Holy Spirit means. His graces are given so that faithful souls might engage in the spiritual battle and remain resolute in the persecution which they will face. The day of Pentecost itself is not merely a commemorative feast, but a spiritual reality. Let this Pentecost thus be one in which faithful souls pray confidently for the graces they need to endure the inevitable persecutions in this godless age.

As Dom Gueranger writes: “If we be endued with the Power from on high, we shall have nothing to fear. Let us, therefore, ardently desire to receive him; let us prepare him a worthy reception; let us use every endeavor to make him abide with us; and we shall gain the victory, as did the Apostles.”

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.”

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost: Imitate St Paul to effect the reign of Christ the King

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