|The themes of the Transfiguration and the Cross|
united in one single mosaic
San Apollinare, Ravenna
“For God so loved the world, the He gave His Only-Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).Whenever Pope Francis speaks, writes or does anything important, the secular press, and even much of the Catholic press, completely distort his message to the Church and the world by trying to fit it into a pattern of ideas that belong to secular politics; and, in doing so, lead to enormous misunderstanding. What Francis is attempting to do is something that has nothing whatsoever to do with being right wing or left wing, conservative, liberal or progressive. Such adjectives are totally irrelevant, totally useless in attempting to interpret Pope Francis. To understand him we must go back to the Gospel.
Jesus interpreted his presence among the Jews as a proclamation the Lord's Jubilee year, the year when all debts are cancelled, all offences forgiven. He described this situation in the following terms;
The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour. (Is 61, 1/Luke 4, 18 - 19)The Jews knew by their own deliverance from Egypt that God is against all types of slavery and entrapment and that his constant love (hesed) is ready to forgive all kinds of sin. At the same time, they knew of no society without slaves, accepted that there were circumstances where people needed to sell themselves into slavery or put themselves into debt, and that it is necessary to punish wrongdoing. They compromised: the maximum length of slavery for a fellow Jew was six years; and all Jewish slaves had to be freed, all debts forgiven, every fifty years. However, as a jubilee every fifty years was only binding if all twelve tribes lived in their allotted area of Israel, and this was ancien history by the first century AD, when Jesus declared a "year of the Lord's favour", it was news indeed.
This "year" was to be a permanent state for followers of Christ: they would live in mercy, observe the exigencies of mercy, so that they could permanently benefit from God's mercy themselves and should be the means by which God's mercy would be revealed to others.
Jesus came to establish God's kingdom on earth, where the will of God would be done on earth as in heaven. The more stable, radical, profound and all-embracing was the voluntary, loving obedience of the creature who welcomed God's kingdom , the more stable and profound would be God's rule. His weapon was the Incarnation, with the two wills, human and divine, acting in perfect synergy. Christ established his Kingdom for his Father, not by conquering, but by a life of obedience "unto death".
"…7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,All that is morally evil in the world is the fruit of a radical disobedience, a radical refusal to allow God in, a flight from and rebellion against the very kenotic Love by which creation exists. When carried to extremes, it is so far from the Source of Being, so close to non-existence, that it can rightly be called Darkness. As the light of Christ's obedience to his Father grows with his self-surrender, his self-sacrifice in love, so the darkness of disobedience is diminished and expelled because the Father is filling this obedience with his love. "He ascended into hell". As a Russian priest wrote:
He [Christ] went where man had gone in his madness, to that profundity and that distance. There is in fact no limit to human fallenness, either. And the Lord descends into Hades, to the very depths of human sin, and there is no terrible, vile, and heinous sin that man has done to which Christ has not reached, which Christ has not touched, which Christ has not taken upon Himself. There is no abomination that Christ has not experienced through His crucifixion and His descent into Hades.There are two scenes in the Gospels that belong together, two feasts in the Church's calendar that are a pair with forty days between them. The two scenes are the Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane; the two feast are the Transfiguration and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: each scene and each feast explains the other. Peter, James and John sleep in both scenes, in one out of wonder and in the other out of sadness. Yet it is the very desperate struggle of Christ, intent on being obedient unto death in the most extreme circumstances that is the vehicle of God's uncreated light so evident in the Transfiguration. The darkness of almost non-existence, brought about by radical disobedience to the Source of Light, is being dispersed by the light of Christ's obedience. By death on the Cross, Christ is conquering death. The obliteration of darkness and the spreading of light throughout the world is the principal theme of the Easter Vigil.
It is precisely because He experienced this, that He attained this, that He reached each one of us in our sin, in our fallenness, that He gives us the opportunity to attain to such heights to which no one had ascended, save the Son of Man. source: Pravmir
The purpose of a Christian Year of Jubilee, a "year of mercy", is to encourage people to start again, setting them free from all debts, restraints, punishments that impede a new start, just as long as they change direction (repent) and hand over their whole life to God in union with Christ. There is nothing right wing or left wing, conservative, liberal or progressive about any of this. Such adjectives are simply too trivial, banal and superficial to be of any use. It is simply basic Christianity, the meaning of the Resurrection, the basic Gospel for our time.
Since the"year of the Lord's favour" is now a permanent reality for Christians, when a pope calls a jubilee, it becomes an occasion for the Church to be more truly itself, to do more consciously in that year what it is bound to do all the time: it is a challenge to authenticity.
To help us, I am putting together N.T. Wright, who was Anglican Bishop of Durham and is recognised as perhaps the leading New Testament scholar of our time, Pope Benedict XVI who is, to say the least, one of the most prestigious Catholic theologians of our time, and Pope Francis. All three, in their separate ways, preach the same basic Gospel message that forms the theme of the Year of Mercy.
I put Popes Benedict and Francis together because I do not believe that their versions of Catholicism differ in substance. They even share a favourite theologian in Henri de Lubac! Both accept basic Catholic teaching and have a very intelligent and spiritually profound understanding of it. Both, like Pope John Paul II, realise that the modern world needs a new evangelisation. Where they differ is that one is a German academic theologian, while the other is a South American pastor whose theology has had to be re-learned on the streets of Buenos Aires. This may have led to a difference of opinion as to the likelihood of Catholic marriages being valid in a population that is largely unevangelised, and what to do about it. We shall be looking into that question at the end of this post.
For the present, watch and listen to the videos of N.T. Wright, especially the first and the last; read Pope Benedict's sermon on the resurrection of Christ; and then read carefully what the Year of Mercy means to Pope Francis, in his own words.
Remember what Pope Benedict says:
The Resurrection was like an explosion of light, an explosion of love which dissolved the hitherto indissoluble compenetration of "dying and becoming". It ushered in a new dimension of being, a new dimension of life in which, in a transformed way, matter too was integrated and through which a new world emerges.We already enter by faith and baptism into this new world and share in its very essence in holy communion. To allow us to live this new life, to make use of our new capabilities, to take up our new duties, to activate our new charisms as people in whom Christ lives, Christ unshackles us from our past and forgives our sins. To heighten awareness of this process and to bring people into it, both as evangelisers and as evangelised, is the purpose of the Year of Mercy.
Remember also what N.T. Wright says in his last video,"The living God can actually come into distraught, 'don't know how to cope' situations, and actually transform them, right now." This is because we have a job to do, to proclaim the message, "Repent and be released from your sins." This is not just a message about the past, nor is it only about the distant future This is not a message only for individuals, but for families, towns and peoples. It is about Christ's living presence here and now, addressing people here and now, calling us into the new dimension brought about and revealed in Christ's resurrection. Once people realise that they have been going the wrong way and change direction to do the will of God, God will take away all that has been holding them back and will transform their situation from within by Christ's presence. That is evangelisation.
The Atonement Debate
How God Became King
The Meaning of the Resurrection
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Holy Saturday, 15 April 2006
"You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here" (Mk 16:6). With these words, God’s messenger, robed in light, spoke to the women who were looking for the body of Jesus in the tomb. But the Evangelist says the same thing to us on this holy night: Jesus is not a character from the past. He lives, and he walks before us as one who is alive, he calls us to follow him, the living one, and in this way to discover for ourselves too the path of life.
"He has risen, he is not here." When Jesus spoke for the first time to the disciples about the Cross and the Resurrection, as they were coming down from the Mount of the Transfiguration, they questioned what "rising from the dead" meant (Mk 9:10). At Easter we rejoice because Christ did not remain in the tomb, his body did not see corruption; he belongs to the world of the living, not to the world of the dead; we rejoice because he is the Alpha and also the Omega, as we proclaim in the rite of the Paschal Candle; he lives not only yesterday, but today and for eternity (cf. Heb 13:8).
But somehow the Resurrection is situated so far beyond our horizon, so far outside all our experience that, returning to ourselves, we find ourselves continuing the argument of the disciples: Of what exactly does this "rising" consist? What does it mean for us, for the whole world and the whole of history? A German theologian once said ironically that the miracle of a corpse returning to life - if it really happened, which he did not actually believe - would be ultimately irrelevant precisely because it would not concern us. In fact, if it were simply that somebody was once brought back to life, and no more than that, in what way should this concern us? But the point is that Christ’s Resurrection is something more, something different. If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution, it is the greatest "mutation", absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order which does concern us, and concerns the whole of history.
The discussion, that began with the disciples, would therefore include the following questions: What happened there? What does it mean for us, for the whole world and for me personally? Above all: what happened? Jesus is no longer in the tomb. He is in a totally new life. But how could this happen? What forces were in operation? The crucial point is that this man Jesus was not alone, he was not an "I" closed in upon itself. He was one single reality with the living God, so closely united with him as to form one person with him. He found himself, so to speak, in an embrace with him who is life itself, an embrace not just on the emotional level, but one which included and permeated his being. His own life was not just his own, it was an existential communion with God, a "being taken up" into God, and hence it could not in reality be taken away from him. Out of love, he could allow himself to be killed, but precisely by doing so he broke the definitiveness of death, because in him the definitiveness of life was present. He was one single reality with indestructible life, in such a way that it burst forth anew through death. Let us express the same thing once again from another angle. His death was an act of love. At the Last Supper he anticipated death and transformed it into self-giving. His existential communion with God was concretely an existential communion with God’s love, and this love is the real power against death, it is stronger than death. The Resurrection was like an explosion of light, an explosion of love which dissolved the hitherto indissoluble compenetration of "dying and becoming". It ushered in a new dimension of being, a new dimension of life in which, in a transformed way, matter too was integrated and through which a new world emerges.
It is clear that this event is not just some miracle from the past, the occurrence of which could be ultimately a matter of indifference to us. It is a qualitative leap in the history of "evolution" and of life in general towards a new future life, towards a new world which, starting from Christ, already continuously permeates this world of ours, transforms it and draws it to itself. But how does this happen? How can this event effectively reach me and draw my life upwards towards itself? The answer, perhaps surprising at first but totally real, is: this event comes to me through faith and Baptism. For this reason Baptism is part of the Easter Vigil, as we see clearly in our celebration today, when the sacraments of Christian initiation will be conferred on a group of adults from various countries. Baptism means precisely this, that we are not dealing with an event in the past, but that a qualitative leap in world history comes to me, seizing hold of me in order to draw me on.
Baptism is something quite different from an act of ecclesial socialization, from a slightly old-fashioned and complicated rite for receiving people into the Church. It is also more than a simple washing, more than a kind of purification and beautification of the soul. It is truly death and resurrection, rebirth, transformation to a new life.
How can we understand this? I think that what happens in Baptism can be more easily explained for us if we consider the final part of the short spiritual autobiography that Saint Paul gave us in his Letter to the Galatians. Its concluding words contain the heart of this biography: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20). I live, but I am no longer I. The "I", the essential identity of man - of this man, Paul - has been changed. He still exists, and he no longer exists. He has passed through a "not" and he now finds himself continually in this "not": I, but no longer I.
With these words, Paul is not describing some mystical experience which could perhaps have been granted him, and could be of interest to us from a historical point of view, if at all. No, this phrase is an expression of what happened at Baptism. My "I" is taken away from me and is incorporated into a new and greater subject. This means that my "I" is back again, but now transformed, broken up, opened through incorporation into the other, in whom it acquires its new breadth of existence. Paul explains the same thing to us once again from another angle when, in Chapter Three of the Letter to the Galatians, he speaks of the "promise", saying that it was given to an individual - to one person: to Christ. He alone carries within himself the whole "promise". But what then happens with us? Paul answers: You have become one in Christ (cf. Gal 3:28). Not just one thing, but one, one only, one single new subject. This liberation of our "I" from its isolation, this finding oneself in a new subject means finding oneself within the vastness of God and being drawn into a life which has now moved out of the context of "dying and becoming". The great explosion of the Resurrection has seized us in Baptism so as to draw us on. Thus we are associated with a new dimension of life into which, amid the tribulations of our day, we are already in some way introduced. To live one’s own life as a continual entry into this open space: this is the meaning of being baptized, of being Christian. This is the joy of the Easter Vigil. The Resurrection is not a thing of the past, the Resurrection has reached us and seized us. We grasp hold of it, we grasp hold of the risen Lord, and we know that he holds us firmly even when our hands grow weak. We grasp hold of his hand, and thus we also hold on to one another’s hands, and we become one single subject, not just one thing. I, but no longer I: this is the formula of Christian life rooted in Baptism, the formula of the Resurrection within time. I, but no longer I: if we live in this way, we transform the world. It is a formula contrary to all ideologies of violence, it is a programme opposed to corruption and to the desire for power and possession.
"I live and you will live also", says Jesus in Saint John’s Gospel (14:19) to his disciples, that is, to us. We will live through our existential communion with him, through being taken up into him who is life itself. Eternal life, blessed immortality, we have not by ourselves or in ourselves, but through a relation - through existential communion with him who is Truth and Love and is therefore eternal: God himself. Simple indestructibility of the soul by itself could not give meaning to eternal life, it could not make it a true life. Life comes to us from being loved by him who is Life; it comes to us from living-with and loving-with him. I, but no longer I: this is the way of the Cross, the way that "crosses over" a life simply closed in on the I, thereby opening up the road towards true and lasting joy.
Thus we can sing full of joy, together with the Church, in the words of the Exsultet: "Sing, choirs of angels . . . rejoice, O earth!" The Resurrection is a cosmic event, which includes heaven and earth and links them together. In the words of the Exsultet once again, we can proclaim: "Christ . . . who came back from the dead and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever". Amen!
© Copyright 2006 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS ACCORDING TO WHICH AN INDULGENCE IS GRANTED TO THE FAITHFUL ON THE OCCASION OF THE EXTRAORDINARY JUBILEE OF MERCY
To My Venerable Brother
Archbishop Rino Fisichella
President of the Pontifical Council
for the Promotion of the New Evangelization
With the approach of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy I would like to focus on several points which I believe require attention to enable the celebration of the Holy Year to be for all believers a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God. It is indeed my wish that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective.
My thought first of all goes to all the faithful who, whether in individual Dioceses or as pilgrims to Rome, will experience the grace of the Jubilee. I wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely the sin committed. To experience and obtain the Indulgence, the faithful are called to make a brief pilgrimage to the Holy Door, open in every Cathedral or in the churches designated by the Diocesan Bishop, and in the four Papal Basilicas in Rome, as a sign of the deep desire for true conversion. Likewise, I dispose that the Indulgence may be obtained in the Shrines in which the Door of Mercy is open and in the churches which traditionally are identified as Jubilee Churches. It is important that this moment be linked, first and foremost, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy. It will be necessary to accompany these celebrations with the profession of faith and with prayer for me and for the intentions that I bear in my heart for the good of the Church and of the entire world.
Additionally, I am thinking of those for whom, for various reasons, it will be impossible to enter the Holy Door, particularly the sick and people who are elderly and alone, often confined to the home. For them it will be of great help to live their sickness and suffering as an experience of closeness to the Lord who in the mystery of his Passion, death and Resurrection indicates the royal road which gives meaning to pain and loneliness. Living with faith and joyful hope this moment of trial, receiving communion or attending Holy Mass and community prayer, even through the various means of communication, will be for them the means of obtaining the Jubilee Indulgence. My thoughts also turn to those incarcerated, whose freedom is limited. The Jubilee Year has always constituted an opportunity for great amnesty, which is intended to include the many people who, despite deserving punishment, have become conscious of the injustice they worked and sincerely wish to re-enter society and make their honest contribution to it. May they all be touched in a tangible way by the mercy of the Father who wants to be close to those who have the greatest need of his forgiveness. They may obtain the Indulgence in the chapels of the prisons. May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom.
I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us. Each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence. Hence the commitment to live by mercy so as to obtain the grace of complete and exhaustive forgiveness by the power of the love of the Father who excludes no one. The Jubilee Indulgence is thus full, the fruit of the very event which is to be celebrated and experienced with faith, hope and charity.
Furthermore, the Jubilee Indulgence can also be obtained for the deceased. We are bound to them by the witness of faith and charity that they have left us. Thus, as we remember them in the Eucharistic celebration, thus we can, in the great mystery of the Communion of Saints, pray for them, that the merciful Face of the Father free them of every remnant of fault and strongly embrace them in the unending beatitude.
One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.
A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime, motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins.
Trusting in the intercession of the Mother of Mercy, I entrust the preparations for this Extraordinary Jubilee Year to her protection.
From the Vatican, 1 September 2015
© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
This letter is neither left wing nor right wing, liberal or conservative. Some blog writers who are obsessed with their own sick view on whatever Pope Francis does, have exclaimed that this letter tells women that they can have abortions whenever they like. Clearly, they have not read the letter.
The letter deals with two kinds of people who could have been all too easily left out. The gift of mercy is for absolutely everyone who asks for it. Women and others involved in abortion normally must seek absolution only from priests designated by the bishop, thus underlining the gravity of the sin. So that all who repent can receive absolution, all priests may absolve this sin, thus underlining the mercy of God.
Another group of people could also make things difficult for people to receive mercy are the schismatic priests of the Society of Pope Pius X. As they and their bishops are out of communion with Rome, their bishops cannot give the priests jurisdiction to absolve. This is a consequence of being in open rebellion against papal authority. In this letter, the pope grants to these priests the faculty that their bishops cannot give them to hear confessions , so that ALL may receive mercy.
It must be understood that any change of emphasis or of rules that is sought by Pope Francis does not involve a change in the basic teaching of the Church. The Church will still teach after the Synod that Christian marriage, for example, is for life. It is not the doctrine of marriage that the Pope wants to change - he has repeated the traditional teaching many times - but the rules governing marriage. He wants rules that make possible the New Evangelisation. Here are a few of the changes that are being discussed:
- A large part of the Christian population is unevangelised. This means that there are many Catholics simply do not have the spiritual stamina to observe Jesus' teaching on marriage "till death do us part." While being legally Catholics, they take their standards from the contemporary world, not from the Gospel; and statistics show that their marriages are no more stable than those of their non-Christian neighbours. All the evidence points to the probability that, in matter of marriage, that their baptism is inert. The Canon Law does not take that into account. It can be argued that unevangelised Christians are incapable of having a valid Christian marriage because this assumes an intimacy with God that they do not have, and a view of marriage that they only, at the very best, pay lip-service to.
- It could be argued that lukewarm Catholics are often more formed by facebook and television, by secular culture rather than by what the have learned of their faith, and that this has so distorted their values that they too often probably enter invalid marriages.
- All this becomes important when these people are in the process of being brought into a new relationship with God through the New Evangelisation. This new outreach by the Church to lapsed Christian does call for a revision of present Canon Law that presumes that a Christian marriage is valid when a large number of them very probably aren't.
- There is a third situation: that of people who have conducted a valid marriage, but that marriage has broken up, and both partners have new families. They have committed adultery; but the new family has children, and the new couple have returned to the faith and have become practising Catholics, sending their kids to Catholic schools, attending Mass, and doing everything short of breaking up the new family. One thing that we all agree is that the second union is not a sacramental marriage because only the first one was that. Pope Francis is in total agreement, as is Cardinal Kasper. They are not going to change the basic teaching of the Church. The differences lie in what to do with a member of a family who has committed adultery by "marrying" someone else and now has another family. There are three possible attitudes to the new family: a) it is simply an adultrous union, the first marriage being ontologically in existence, even if the couple have completely separated. It is against the will of God, the couple is in mortal sin and, of course cannot go to communion. b) it began life as an adulterous union; but once its members began to live a Christian life, to support one another in the faith, and to be a means of grace for the children, it became something else, a Christian community, even though something less than a sacramental family. Comparison has been made with a Protestant ecclesial community which lacks the structure of a sacramental local church, but has become a means of grace to its members because of the mercy of God and the action of the Holy Spirit. Like an ecclesial community that can function imperfectly as a church for its members, it shares some of the functions of a sacramentally united family, but is cannot symbolise the unity of Christ with his Church because it lacks the "once and for always" quality.
- When a second union is functioning in this way, can the couple go to communion? "No," says Pope Benedict, "Because the existence of this family unit is contrary to the plan of God and the teaching of the Church. But they must consider themselves as real members of the Church, and practise as far as they can, making do with 'spiritual communion' at the Eucharist, instead of sacramental communion." "Yes," says Cardinal Kasper, "Because they are not excommunicated; nor are they to be considered in mortal sin, because no one in unrepented mortal sin can make even a spiritual communion because his supernatural life is dead (which is what 'mortal sin' means). Once it is admitted that they can make a spiritual communion, there is no reason for keeping them away from sacramental communion. Besides, the pastoral good that comes from parents and children communicating together , and the spiritual good to them that allows them to give a wholehearted response to the New Evangelisation outweighs any good that comes from keeping the old rules.
- It must be remembered that the situation that would allow people in second, non-sacramental families to go to communion demands the context of a whole-hearted conversion to Christ where, from the moment of this conversion, they strive to live by the values of the kingdom.
- Cardinal Burke and company are confusing Law with the Gospel. Or, perhaps, they believe the best way to defend the Church against secular society is to build a wall and hide behind it, enabling them to carry on as they have always done, oblivious to the plight of all on the other side of the wall.
- Canon Law is based on the teaching of the Church, but is not identical with it. Laws made by the Church to back up Christian civil society can become an obstacle to evangelisation when, after the collapse of Christendom, we wish to hold out a helping hand to the victims who have been wounded by a secular society without God.
- The picture of the Catholic Church used as a paradigm in Vatican I, of a perfect society united by the universal jurisdiction of the pope, is true, but can only give a limited insight by itself into the nature of the Church; and there is no room in it to recognise the ecclesial reality of the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches nor the more limited but no less real reality of the ecclesial communities of the Reformation. We need the eucharistic ecclesiology of Vatican II and seeing the Christian llife as essentially communion to do justice to the wider picture. For exactly the same reason, to deal with marriage as a holy but basically legal contract, and to deal with the whole subject in terms of Canon Law,and in degrees of legal certainty rather than in terms of communion of persons, is incapable of appreciating the wider picture. Thus, to say that "They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist” is not accurate because a legalistic approach simply cannot cope with an adulterous union becoming, through conversion, a non-sacramental but real instance of living in communion with Christ, any more than the paradigm of the Church as a perfect society can do justice to churches separated from Rome by schism.
SEPTEMBER 25th FEAST OF
ST MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS
ABBOT PAUL'S HOMILY
St Michael and All Angels 2015
“I tell you solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.”
The first Christian monks believed that this word of Jesus to Nathanael was as much the basis of their vocation as the texts from the Acts of the Apostles describing the life of the first Christian community in Jerusalem. So together with the terms Apostolic Life and Coenobitic Life, the early monks and nuns used the term Angelic Life to describe the wonderful way to which the Lord had called them the live. So the Belmont Community, that has the privilege of living under the protection of St Michael and All Angels, is a community not just of apostles and coenobites: we are angels, for that is what God has called us to be like, a choir of angels. And the longer you live in the community and get to know the brethren, the more you come to realise how true that is.
Why were the desert fathers so struck by the similarity of a monk’s life to that of an angel? To begin with, the Bible constantly tells us that the angels stand in God’s presence night and day singing his praises, worshipping his majesty, sharing in his glory, enjoying his presence, seeing his face. That is what a monk seeks to do, through the grace and mercy of God. We are aware of God’s presence not only when we gather together in church to celebrate the liturgy, but also in the refectory, the calefactory, the cloister, our cells, the parishes and other places where we work, in fact, wherever we happen to be. The desire to practise continuous prayer leads us to seek God and find him in all the circumstances of our lives, whatever we are doing, and in all people.
The Scriptures also tell us that the angels are God’s messengers and servants. Has it ever struck you that only an angel can evangelise? So our vocation, such a tremendous gift of God, calls us to proclaim the truth and the beauty of God’s word, the wisdom and the righteousness of his will, his extraordinary and gracious love for creation and for each one of his creatures. At the same time, we are called to serve the monastic community, our brethren, with charity and humility and without murmuring, as St Benedict repeatedly reminds us in the Holy Rule. And there is a wider call to service in the Church and in the world. Just think what Christian monks and nuns have contributed to mankind, to civilization, in so many areas of life.
In our abbey church, we are all aware of the many angels who surround us and accompany us in our prayer: they are just everywhere. Yet, the angels we see depicted in art are only a reminder of the countless angels we cannot see with our eyes but are truly present when we join in their song of adoration: Holy, Holy, Holy. They speak powerfully to us of what and who we are called to be in the mystery of God’s love and the intentions of his Divine heart. May today’s feast and this celebration help us remember that we must become as the angels, light as a feather on the breath of God in the singing of his praises, prophetic messengers and obedient servants of the Lord in preaching his word, nothing without Him but everything with Him.
On behalf of the monastic community, I wish you all a very happy feast day and to the brethren, who celebrate the anniversary of a profession or an ordination, every prayer and blessing. May the angels lead us all into paradise today and for ever. Amen.