First, word of thanks for all the prayers offered for God’s protection on our recent parish pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Although there was a lot of tension in Jerusalem, at no time were we in any real danger. We carried our fellow parishioners with us in spirit.
Each pilgrim has personal memories. One moment which was memorable for me was our visit to pray at the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu. “Gallicantu” is the Latin for “cockcrow” and this site is a vivid reminder of Peter’s personal crisis, disowning the Lord three times before cockcrow. The incident is marked by a stunning sculpture of Peter warming himself by the fire and his gestures evoking the denial.
Underneath the church there is a deep pit cut out of the rock and the local tradition is that this was the place where Jesus was held as a prisoner after he was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane and before he was tried and condemned. On the afternoon we visited, the place was very crowded and we had to wait our turn as a group to climb down the steps into the pit. Because we were a small group there was plenty of room for us to appreciate the meaning of the word “pit”. When there, we followed the early Christian custom of praying psalm 88, believed to have been prayed by Jesus in that very place.
Psalm 88 is a very bleak prayer of one on the brink of the grave, a prayer is which the prisoner cries out in distress. It is prayer than plumbs the depth of suffering : “Friend and neighbour you have taken away, my one companion is darkness”.
After a few moments of silence, we began to climb back up out of the pit. Just then Br Richard started singing the prayer of the good thief (in the Taize chant): “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”. As we mounted the steps, those waiting above started to join in and by the time we reached the top, everyone was singing the biblical words with great delicacy and beauty. A moment to remember and pray over indeed.
Incidentally, access to and from this whole area (where Caiaphas’ palace stood) was by steps down to the Kidron valley, steps which are still in place today, steps used by Jesus himself.
Fr Sean Wales, C.Ss.R.
The whole idea of a “Chosen People” was that God would be their only King. But the history of the Jews was such that, time and again, they begged God to give them a king -like all the nations around them.
As it happened, the monarchy among the Chosen People was a mixed blessing. There were some good kings: David, Jehoshapat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. But, starting with Solomon, most were at best ambiguous and at worst downright disasters. So bad were they that there was no move to restore the kingship after the Exile, when the monarchy came to an end (in 587 B.C.)
The prophets longed for a very different king of kings: one who would give the people of God joy, victory, peace and justice. The desire for justice grew into an expectation of an earthly paradise. With Ezekiel emerged a conscious longing, not for a new kind of king, but for a Moses-like figure to restore the Kingship of God, the supreme and only King of the Jews.
It is clear from the Gospel accounts that Jesus had no political ambitions; he carefully avoided being cast in the role of a “Pretender” to any earthly crown. In rejecting secular notions of kingship for himself, he pointed to his real royalty as Son of the Most High and he spent his active years putting in place the possibility of the Kingdom of God.
Hence there is great poignancy in the inscription nailed to the Cross of Christ: INRI “Iesus NAZARENUS REX IUDEORUM (JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS).
We, his followers, become subjects of the Kingdom of God when God snatches us from the power of darkness to transfer us to the kingdom of his Son, in whom we have redemption (cf Col 1:13).
Although the feast of Christ the King was only established in the early years of the twentieth century, the reality of his kingship and the presence of the Kingdom of God is part of the DNA of Christianity from the beginning.
We need “eschatological glasses”, that is a perspective on the Last Times to get a clear focus on the Kingship of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Fr Sean Wales, C.Ss.R.
You will look in vain for the word Purgatory in the bible. But there are plenty of instances of the words purge, purged, purgeth and purging! These all have the same root which relates to purification, cleansing, emptying.
One of the most helpful definitions of purgatory comes in a A New Catechism of Christian Doctrine’ (by Herbert McCabe O.P.):
Q. What do we call the detachment from things of this world that remains for us in death?
A. The final detachment from the things of this world that happens to us when we die in Christ is called purgatory.
Even if the word purgatory is not to be found in the bible, the notion of a final stage or state of cleansing or purgation underlies the action of Judas Maccabees in offering sacrifice for those who had died in their sins, for if he were not expecting that those who had falled would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead (2 Maccabees 12;44).
Jesus himself talked about forgiveness in this age or in the age to come (Mt 21:32).
Its obvious that many of us die with unfinished business, sometimes unprepared to be in the presence of the Holy God. Surely the very process of dying is itself a purification, indeed the most radical purification of all: we are set free from everything. We leave all this in the hands of God and pray peaceably for those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith.
Our November Book of the Dead and our Mortuary List throughout the year are among the ways we help those who have died; and they too in their turn can pray for us and help us. this is an attractive aspect of the Communion of Saints: each asks for each what each most wants to find.
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them; may they rest in peace.
Fr Sean Wales, C.Ss.R.
It may seem strange to have a liturgical celebration of a building. But todays feast is not alone: we have a feast of the Dedication of St Peters in Rome; we have a feast for the dedication of our own Cathedral in the Archdiocese.
As you might expect, such feasts are highly symbolic. The Lateran basilica in Rome is called the mother and head of all the churches in the city and the world. It was given this title because it was the first great basilica to be built after the Emperor Constantine granted freedom of religion within the Roman Empire in 313 A.D.
The word basilica [a Greek word] was used for an imposing building which functioned as a law court and/or commercial centre. When the early Christians were free to congregate openly for divine worship they modelled their first churches on these grand regal structures.
The subject of todays feast had been the ancient palace of the Laterani family. The Christians remodelled it, built a beautiful baptistry and a dwelling for the Bishop of Rome, successor to St Peter.
For centuries the Popes lived in the Lateran and the church was the cathedral of the diocese of Rome. Indeed, the Basilica of St John Lateran is still the cathedral of Rome.
For Catholics of the Latin Rite (so-called Roman Catholics ) todays feast expresses our link to the Bishop of Rome and our love for the church of Rome, presiding in charity over the whole Catholic Community.
Of course, while church buildings have a physical importance, the deeper significance of todays feast lies in the “living stones”, the house of God, that we are. Just as we cherish our own local church building, so we are called to cherish every living stone, every single member of our faith community.
For Redemptorists, today has an extra significance as it was on this day that St Alphonsus, our founder, began our Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, 282 years ago.
Fr Sean Wales, C.Ss.R.
Such are the logistics involved in preparing the bulletin that I have to write this column on Wednesday; a great deal of energy and attention is on the International Food Fair on Friday so I am going to express my thanks for something which (at this moment) hadnt happened yet!
But that’s not a problem as I have seen how much work and effort has gone into the Food Fair. I have on my desk a list of people with pivotal roles in preparing the Food Fair -there are over thirty people highly involved in doing the organizing and they all involve lots of other people so that the whole thing is a real parish effort.
Therefore I want to say a very sincere word of thanks to all the stall holders and their helpers, to all the parish groups, to the generous suppliers and to everyone who in any way contributed to our food Fair 2014.
An event like the Food Fair 2014 is good for the parish at many levels. It is obviously good for our capital projects as it generates much needed money to continue with the Garden of Remembrance, the provision of storage in the Hall and other expenses which continually surprise us.
It is also good for the ethos of the parish; the shared undertaking, the communal effort and the spirit of co-operation, these are qualities which mark a healthy parish community.
The Food Fair is also good for the spiritual life of the parish being as it is a project of service to the whole parish.
So, my thanks to God for this years Food Fair is without qualification; I pray that all the effort and long hours of preparation will have brought us closer to God and to one another.
Thanks again to everyone, not only those who prepared the Fair but to all who came to participate on the night.
Fr Sean Wales, C.Ss.R.