Tuesday December 12th 2017

A WORD FROM YOUR PARISH PRIEST 10th December 2017

Some years ago, in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, shared some aspects of his meditations on the meaning of Advent with those who had gathered for the First Vespers of Advent. He spoke of Advent being a powerful liturgical season. For Benedict, Advent invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of each day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us.

The first aspect of Advent, Pope Benedict considered was ‘waiting.’

He asked the question: are the people of our time still waiting for a Saviour? If we look around ourselves honestly, at the world around us and people’s opinions and lives, we would be forgiven for thinking that many people today consider God as foreign to their own interests. Apparently, they do not need him. They live as though he did not exist and, worse still, as though God is an ‘obstacle’ which they need to remove in order to fulfill themselves. Pope Benedict even felt that some Christians allowed themselves be attracted by enticing dreams and distracted by misleading doctrines that suggest deceptive shortcuts to happiness.

We live in an age of easy answers, where ‘pop’ psychology tries to convince us that we make our own happiness and we are responsible for our decision to be happy. If someone hurts or annoys you, it is your fault: you have allowed yourself to be hurt.

Yet, despite its contradictions, worries and tragedies, and perhaps precisely because of them, humanity today seeks a path of renewal, of salvation, it seeks a Saviour and awaits, sometimes unconsciously, the coming of the Saviour who renews the world and our life, the coming of Christ, the one true Redeemer of humankind and of the whole of the human person. As someone once wrote, there is a ‘God-shaped’ hole inside each one of us and that hollowness, that emptiness drives us to fill the vacuum inside us. But only God can truly fill the vacuum. Some still try to fill it with whatever attracts their spiritual, intellectual or psychological appetites. But as only God can fill that hole, they keep looking. Advent is a time to reflect on the fact that nothing can satisfy the longing of the human heart except the one for whom the human heart was made and by whom the human heart was made.

A second aspect of Advent is that it is a time of ‘preparation.’ This season of Advent, this time leading up to the great feast of Christmas is a truly privileged opportunity to meditate on the meaning and value of our existence. On the one hand we can take the time to think about the drama of history in which people, injured by sin, are perennially in search of happiness and of a fulfilling sense of life and death. On the other hand, we are brought face to face with the merciful kindness of God who came to us to communicate to us directly the Truth that saves. God comes in love with hands outstretched to us in the person of a helpless child. God, in Jesus, demonstrates that love is a reaching out and in Christ, God is reaching out to us in a way that we cannot be frightened of him. We cannot mistake his meaning. We are invited to partake in God’s friendship and his life. As a child in a cradle reaches his or her hands out to the adults around the crib, asking to be picked up and loved, the Christ-child invites us to pick him up spiritually, to love him. And – in a strange reversal – in embracing the baby Jesus, we find that we are in reality the ones being embraced, embraced by God.

Therefore let us prepare ourselves for Christmas with humility and simplicity, making ourselves ready to receive as a gift the light, joy and peace that shine from this mystery.

A third aspect of Advent which attracted Pope Benedict was ‘sign.’ God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. In one Christmas Mass, Pope Benedict put it simply and beautifully – the Word of God became brief … a little child.

A fourth aspect of Advent which Pope Benedict reflected upon was ‘changing.’ So often we hear idealists proclaiming that we need to change structures in order to create a more just, peaceful society.

Jesus thought otherwise. God knows that only if people change will the world change. Changing structures does not change people’s hearts. It is in more loving exchanges, person to person, that the world truly changes. And in order to change, people need the light that comes from God, the light which so unexpected and yet is the only light for which we wait, the light of Christmas that bursts into our night of sin, selfishness and shame.

Fr Scott, CSsR

A WORD FROM YOUR PARISH PRIEST 3rd December 2017

Thinking our Way into Advent

 Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas. The secular world starts celebrating Christmas earlier and earlier. Christmas specials start appearing as early as September in some shops and Black Friday is seen as being the first of the Christmas sales.

For us, however, Advent is not just impatient waiting for Christmas to get here, in the same way as childhood isn’t wasted time until we become ‘real’ people as adults.

There are two distinct halves of Advent and two aspects to our spiritual approach to Advent. The first half of Advent, until the 16th December concentrates on the Final Coming of Christ at the end of time. Even our hymns look at the end of all things. We don’t start anticipating the first coming of Christ at Bethlehem. Then from the 17th December onwards, we start preparing our hearts to celebrate the coming of the Christ-child in Bethlehem. We hope that this year, at least, even though there was no room in the inn, there may be room in each of our hearts for Jesus to be born in them anew.

So there is waiting, anticipation. But that anticipation is tinged with awareness of our unreadiness. Much as we look forward to the coming of Christ at the end of time, most of us, if we’re honest, know that we’d rather have a little time to tidy our hearts and our lives to make them ready for Christ’s inspection! And certainly, a few dusty corners may need a bit of sweeping if Christ is to be born in our hearts anew this Christmas.

That is why Advent is a quiet anticipation, hence purple vestments rather than joyful colours just yet. It is an acknowledgement of the truth of our human nature. We trust and hope in God’s love but we do not presume upon that love.

The purple of Advent is, strictly speaking, a different purple to Lent: in Advent we use a bluey-purple, in Lent a reddish-purple — blue for birth and red to remember the passion.

So perhaps it is a good time to begin to reflect on the quality of our response to Christ.

This past week, on the 30th November, we celebrated the feast of the Apostle, St Andrew, and perhaps reflecting on his life gives us a way to assess our Christian journey. The first thing that jumps out at you, in the few references to Andrew in the Gospels, is ‘immediately.’ St Mark uses ‘immediately’ or ‘and immediately’ forty times in his Gospel. Indeed, Mark’s Gospel is the ‘airport’ Gospel … even more gripping than anything Dan Brown could pen.

But in Matthew, of all writers, we have Andrew and Peter, James and John, leaving their boats, their nets, and their families immediately and following Jesus.

And we ask ourselves, how complete is our following of Christ, how focussed are we?

Then in John’s Gospel, Andrew and his companion, disciples of John the Baptist, hear John say, ‘Behold, the lamb of God,’ and they immediately follow after Jesus.

This leads to something interesting. More than once, I have heard people explaining this passage by saying that, when Jesus asks Andrew and his friend, ‘What are you looking for?’, they answer, ‘Rabbi, where do you stay?’ because they are embarrassed; they don’t know why they are tagging along behind Jesus. They don’t know what to say so they blurt out the first thing which comes into their heads.

This is far too facile. There are no unnecessary words in John’s Gospel. Often in John’s Gospel, when people ask Jesus a question, his answer seems to have nothing to do with the question. However, if we stay with the text, we realise that he is answering either their deeper question or the question they should have asked.

And here it is the same. The ‘key’ is the word, ‘stay.’ Sometimes our translations have abide, remain or stay. But in the original Greek of John’s Gospel, it is always the same word. It is one of John’s motifs, like light and darkness. For example, ‘If you remain (abide, stay) in me and I remain in you … ’ Start looking and you will find it all over John’s Gospel.

The next line opens it up further: ‘ … and they remained (same word) with him the rest of that day.’ Andrew and his companion did remain with Jesus the ‘rest of that day’, the ‘day’ that was their lives. They followed Jesus from then on.

And in the other places we meet Andrew in the Gospels, he is always bringing more people to Jesus … his brother [Jn 1:40-42], the little boy with the fives loaves and two fish [Jn 6:8], some Greeks [Jn 12:20-22]. He spreads his joy at hearing and finding Jesus to others.

We are looking forward to Christ’s coming at the end of time, to his coming as a child in Bethlehem. The Medieval theologians taught, the Second Coming of Christ was actually in the Spirit at Pentecost so that Christ is still present among us until the end of time within our hearts. He abides in us truly.

He stayed with Andrew: ‘If anyone loves me … my Father and I will come to them and make our home [abode] in them.’ This is the indwelling presence of God through the Holy Spirit in our hearts. And then, like Andrew, our lives will be attractive enough to draw others to Christ.

How like Andrew are we? Do we lead others to Christ? Do we put Christ first?

Fr Scott, CSsR

A WORD FROM YOUR PARISH PRIEST 26th November 2017

In our second reading at Mass today, St Paul sees in his mind’s eye Jesus Christ handing over the kingdom to God the Father at the end of time. The kingdom is not something to be piously hoped for as a future gift, something that drops out of nowhere when the end of the world comes.

No. The kingdom is something we Christians have been working for, moment by moment, since the day of Pentecost nearly two thousand years ago. We are bringing the kingdom about in our world right now. True, the full extent of the kingdom is indeed to be hoped for, but somehow the kingdom is also in our midst, in the process of becoming.

For me, the perfect image of the kingdom, and indeed the salvation won for us by God in his Son, Jesus Christ, is clothing, specifically children’s school clothes. My mother would always buy my school uniform too big because I was the only boy out of three children. There was no big brother to get hand-me-downs from or to pass outgrown clothes on to. I had to try to grow into those two-sizes-too-big clothes!

The kingdom burst into human history with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It is several sizes too big for us, but our Christian vocation is to help the world ‘grow into’ the kingdom it is meant to be.

And, in the same way, our redemption, and that of every human being yet to be born, was completed on the cross, in Christ’s resurrection, in the day of Pentecost nearly two thousand years ago. Our redemption is claimed for us in our baptisms, but we spend the rest of our earthly life ‘growing into’ that redemption. We do this by every decision for love, for Christ we take.

Our Gospel today shows us how we are to be part of this continual bringing about of the fuller coming of God’s kingdom in our world. The kingdom comes whenever justice is done for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed. To behave in this way is to imitate the Shepherd-King himself who is presented in our Gospels as one who eases alienation, who feeds, gives rest, heals and makes strong. Among his final words was a promise to the thief being crucified at his side, that he would be enfolded by the eternal love of God, in paradise.

The best way to honour Christ our King is to work for the unfolding and promoting of his kingdom.

In working for the relief of deprived, oppressed or marginalised people, we are serving Christ in person, because he fully identified with people in need, right up to his final moment in this life. Thanks to the situation in South Africa, more and more people are improving their security. All around us we see gated communities. Ordinary people’s homes have become as secure as fortresses and castles. As a child, I remember Catholic churches being open all day. My mother even remembered when the Cathedral in Johannesburg was open all night! We can no longer do this and Holy Redeemer is now one of the only Catholic churches in Cape Town where you can walk in and pray at any time, thanks to having security.

So it is a reality of our lives. However, we defeat the kingdom if we allow that need for security to prevent us from reaching out to those in need. For the sake of the kingdom, we cannot allow ourselves to merely ‘keep myself to myself’ with the excuse ‘I do nobody any harm.’

Not doing anything wrong is not enough. We have to positively do good in whatever way we can, even when we are limited in what is possible for us. To be deaf to the cries of my neighbour in need is to be deaf to Christ. To be blind to the anguish of the dying is to be blind to Christ. To recognise Jesus Christ as our Shepherd-king involves being carers or shepherds in some way ourselves; for the work of the Kingdom goes on until he comes again.

Perhaps it would be helpful to see that what Christ is talking about is bigger than just feeding the physically hungry, giving drink to the physically thirsty, clothing the physically naked, &c.

A person can be hungry for a smile, and we give them a sour look; a word of encouragement or comfort and we merely criticise. We can be thirsty for appreciation and all we receive is nagging and complaint. A person can be thirsty for friendship and we ignore them. You can be spiritually naked, lacking a sense of self-worth and others can refuse to cover you. Someone can be stripped of self-confidence and all we give them is more and more disapproval. A person can be naked through losing their good name, and we refuse to speak up for them.

We can be sick with doubt and worry and no one ever notices. You can be wounded by failure and disappointment and nobody cares. People are prisoners of their nerves and fears and we shun them. A person can be imprisoned by their guilt and we refuse to forgive.

We can be homeless through want of affection, sympathy, understanding and still be treated as though we were a block of wood. A person can be homeless through lack of love and acceptance and we can lock them out of our hearts.

The kingdom is built by us, block by block, day by day.

Fr Scott, CSsR

A WORD FROM YOUR PARISH PRIEST 19th November 2017

Continued from last week – Published in The Tablet (an international Catholic publication)

GRASSROOTS  THEOLOGY – SEAN WALES

 One difficulty we encountered was one-off appearances at some meetings of people with one agenda.  One parishioner only came to one of the meetings and focused solely on natural family planning. Talk of mitigating circumstances sat uneasily with them, though most of us could cite instances where circumstances influenced our moral behaviour.

When we came to the core issue in chapter 8, the possibility of admission of the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion, we were well prepared for Pope Francis’ logic of pastoral ministry. Our own experience confirmed the view that “general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations” (n.304). Parents with young adult children whose attendance at Mass is as best spasmodic could give plenty of examples of that principle.

The idea that one could be caught – or trapped – in a situation that is objectively imperfect and yet still pray and experience God’s grace resonated with many people’s experience. The famous footnote (351) on the help of the sacraments raised a question of interpretation: was such help limited to Reconciliation and Eucharist?  What about the other sacraments such as Matrimony?

Pope Francis’ had said that married couples would be more concerned with chapters 4 (on “Love in Marriage”) and 5 (“Love Made Fruitful”); but, because of the attention the media gave to chapter 8 (“Accompanying, Discerning and Intergrating Weakness”), that chapter proved to be the highlight of the group’s whole experience. Our dubia were simpler and more down to earth than other highly publicized doubts. We were more concerned about the reception of the exhortation by individual priests.  Pope Francis had famously said that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but we wondered if all our local priests would be of one mind about interpreting the exhortation.  The Pope insisted that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect; but we asked if fellow parishioners would continue to look askance when certain people received Holy Communion.

What our theological circle has shown to me is that there is a genuine hunger among many parishioners to go deeper into our Catholic tradition. Furthermore, even a small attempt to address that hunger reveals a graced response and a surprising enthusiasm for a Vatican document. Our group is now engaged in a lively series of meetings on the theme of Faith and Reason. Our theological circle is drawing in even larger numbers, which suggests that the need for shared study and reflection is widespread.

TO DO

CONSIDER having a theological circle in your parish to discuss Scripture and important papal documents.

MAKE SURE each member has access to a text to be studied in preparation for the meetings – and time to prepare.

TOWARDS the end of a series/theme steer the group toward what differences the reflections might lead to in the parish.

A WORD FROM YOUR PARISH PRIEST 12th November 2017

As you know, for some years now we have had a “theological circle” in the parish.   Recently we worked

our way through Pope Francis’ Exhortation, The Joy of Love.  I wrote up an account of how our Theological Circle works and of our reflections on The Joy of Love.  The Tablet, an international Catholic publication published my account and I am pleased to share this with the parish.   Because of its length, it will run for 2 weeks.

PARISH  PRACTICE – Published in  the Tablet – 4 November 2017

GRASSROOTS  THEOLOGY – SEAN WALES

THE PARISH is not an outdated institution.  In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (n.28), Pope Francis says that “because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of pastor and community”.

Pope Francis was still a largely unknown Jesuit archbishop in Argentina when a group of us in the Redemptorist parish in Bergvliet, Cape Town, decided to form a study group to explore aspects of our faith together.  The idea was to provide a space for those parishioners who wished to deepen their knowledge – faith seeking understanding, if you like. By the time Francis had become Pope, we were used to the rhythm of circulating a text on which to reflect for our monthly meetings. Members of the circle decided that his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) would be an ideal challenge as most members of the circle shared the vocation to marriage and family life.

From the very beginning, we were jolted into a new awareness of our role as responsible Catholics.  Instead of waiting for Rome to answer all our questions, we read in n.3: “…not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. “This gave the group an insight into the fact that the day-to-day experience of living the vocation of marriage and family life is a source of theology, contributing to the Church’s overall vision of “the joy of love”. We decided to study Amoris Laetitia one chapter a month.

A common response by people to the Pope’s humble description of his exhortation as “an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice” (n.4) was that they’d never read this kind of thing in a Vatican document before. As time went on, several members of the group drew our attention to the fact that the “new language” used in the document was intended to have an effect on our own language, too.

As one member put it “No more living-in-sin talk about people who in fact are more likely to be living in grace despite their situation”. Another person spoke of her hurt at remarks about her relationships after her divorce.  She said that parish gossip is much worse than skewed theology. The three pillars of Pope Francis’ exhortation emerged clearly: accompaniment, discernment and integration. It was striking how the group quickly applied these principles to other morally challenging situations. For example, they said they surely apply to those with a homosexual orientation. Because we were dealing with what is primarily a pastoral exhortation, it was encouraging to witness this mindset of mercy pervading many different areas of moral and pastoral life. The tone of mercy pervading the exhortation became the tone of the group.

The treatment of conscience provoked lively interest as it is everyone’s doorway to moral decisions. Schooled in a more formal, colder and more legalistic Church, many of us found it hard to welcome personal discernment in moral matters. Careful distinctions between the objective and subjective realms pale in comparison to Pope Francis’ very practical examples of how to examine one’s conscience in the context of being divorced and remarried.

The six questions he poses in n.300 found immediate traction with those already hurt by broken relationships. It was interesting that everyone in the group had someone in their family circle affected by marriage problems. Any reflection on personal conscience always runs into the difficulty that while conscience is sovereign, it can also be mistaken. And lurking around the question of conscience is the issue of relativism. One participant observed that, in moral terms, it used to be all or nothing; now it’s “all and the best we can manage”.

 TO DO

CONSIDER having a theological circle in your parish to discuss Scripture and important papal documents.

MAKE SURE each member has access to a text to be studied in preparation for the meetings – and time to prepare.

TOWARDS the end of a series/theme steer the group towards what differences the reflections might lead to in the parish.

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