See that which is to come

Mosaics in St John's Baptistery, Florence, 13–14th centuries. Photo by Jebulon via Wikimedia Commons

Fr Neil’s homily for Advent Sunday, 28 November 2021

Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.¹

Happy New Year! The new liturgical year begins today with the celebration of Advent. Our readings at Mass on Sundays will now follow Year C in our three year cycle and our weekday readings Cycle 2. In the Ordinariate Daily Office, we use Year II for Sunday readings from today.

Advent carries with it a reorientation of time and a deliberate tension between end of time fulfilment and promise, expectation and deliverance, between looking forward and looking back.

Jeremiah reminds his audience that God has promised that he would send a deliverer, who was from the root and stock of David, the great king. He speaks these words of consolation to God’s people at a time of their great desolation and exile. He is reminding them that they can look beyond the terror they are experiencing to the promised deliverance through God’s messiah.

We are able to look back and see that it was a thousand years from King David to the fulfilment of that promise in the birth of the Christ-child. Like all God’s promises that speak of a messiah and deliverer, we can bear witness to their fulfilment. God’s word can and is to be trusted.

It is in the celebration of these past glorious events of God’s saving work that we can stand today in the promise of the eventual renewal of all creation. Christ will come again to complete the promises of God to his people.

St Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, reminds them they are to prepare for that Day. They wait in the light of the promises of God, as children of the kingdom. That preparation is not in the first instance to dig bunkers, lock themselves away and to stop all normal activities. His advice on how to make ready for that Day is to grow in “love for one another and all men,” “So that he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all the saints.”²

This Advent is an opportunity to ask ourselves as individuals and as a community what changes might we need to make so that we can love one another and the Lord in a more real, a deeper, way?

It is in this transformation of our souls, united to the Sacred Heart of our Lord, to the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that enables us to know the merciful love of God. We cannot be unchanged by such an encounter. We must look back to our ancestors in the faith who have walked this path before us as examples of a life devoted to Christ.

On Sundays and solemnities we state our faith by reciting the Creed. For Advent there is particular resonance in the lines “and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man” And “and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” These lines enable us to look back and direct our gaze forward.

Our creeds are propositional statements of faith — this is what we believe. Intellectually and philosophically we can work through these statements and give our own assent. Vitally important though this is, it is only one form of knowing. Another form of knowing is experiential. It is immersive experience that opens the heart and soul and which encounters the Spirit of the living God. It is something outside of ourselves — yet is encountered within the heart.

It is no coincidence that the two areas of the Church in the West that are experiencing growth, especially with the young, are the old Latin Rite and the Charismatic Movement. These may seem diametrically opposed to each other, but what they share in common is that they both offer an experience of the ‘other’ that goes beyond the mere propositional. The Old Rite gives us the sense of the numinous, the heavenly realities that allow a glimpse of the glory that lies beyond ourselves. This invites us to enter. It has the language and characteristics of beauty and we abandon that sense of beauty in our liturgical life at our peril. The Charismatic Movement offers a deeply personal experience of Christ in the Spirit and supernatural gifts of the kingdom. Both need the propositional means of knowing, and the interplay between the two is a means of articulating what is experienced and providing boundaries beyond which we cannot go, guarding us against falling into error.

It is surely this double sense of knowing the Lord that allows us to heed the words of Christ and not to be “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, that that day come upon you suddenly”³.

To live and see beyond the troubles and trials of this present life requires a vision of the promise that is to come. It is in knowing the Lord and experiencing his presence, praying with the word of God in the beauty of our sacramental liturgy, and searching to engage with the teachings of the Church, that will enable us to stand in our present times with living faith. The Church at the moment may be ridiculed, rejected⁴, seen as irrelevant and even spoken of as being evil. Yet we can trust that God’s word is eternal and the present simply a passing moment, and we can look forward to the coming promise with heads held high in the knowledge that our redemption is drawing near.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

¹ Luke 21:28
² 1 Thessalonians 3:12–13
³ Luke 21:34
⁴ Cf Isaiah 53:3

Christ, King over all in heaven and earth and under the earth

Jesus Christ enthroned in Paradise, St Mark's Basilica, Venice. Photographer unknown

Fr Neil’s homily for Christ the King, 21 November 2021

“So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.”¹

Today, we celebrate Christ the King. The language of kingship here is a means of trying to portray an idea: the meaning of the authority and reign of Christ.

Any kingship requires a kingdom and subjects of that kingdom. In his dialogue with Pilate, Christ states that his kingship is not of this world. There is a stark contrast between the manner and nature of the emperor’s rule and that of Christ’s. The nation of Israel had suffered from the moment of its existence from enemies and kingdoms that sought to subdue it. The Babylonian, Medes, Greek and Roman empires were some of the greatest of ancient history and the people of God suffered greatly under the weight of their tyranny.

It is no wonder that the promised figure of a liberating Messiah was longed for by many of the people. Indeed it may have contributed to Judas Iscariot’s betrayal when he realised that Christ was not to lead an army to glorious victory over the pagan Romans but instead was to establish a body of disciples liberated from spiritual oppression rather than a physical enemy.

The human imagination so often lacks the expansive vision hinted at in the word of God and made manifest in Christ. There was something far greater at stake and an immensely more powerful enemy than the mere Romans. Sin, death, Satan and his legions had held humanity under its power since the Fall. Death and eternal alienation was the lot of those held captive by this oppressive power.

Christ as Messiah was to deal with the root cause of man’s inhumanity to man, not just in a manifestation of its symptoms like pagan Roman rule.

Christ’s triumph over death in his resurrection established the kingdom of God that would reign in the realm of the spiritual, and would be made manifest in the created order through the Church and the the lives of the saints who inhabit it. This heavenly kingdom reaches across all eternity.

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925². These were turbulent times across the whole of Europe and beyond, seeing the devastation of the First World War, the revolutions in Russia which would establish the communist regime, the coming Depression and rise of fascism. As a whole there was an intellectual move away from centring societal thought on the divine and towards modernist, material human progress.

Christ was being moved from the centre to the margins and when one neglects the physician of our soul it doesn’t take long for corruption and fear to motivate people’s desires and actions. Without Christ as King people more readily look to saviours of another kind to solve their problems and thus open the door for oppression and tyranny. Authoritarianism in turn looks to identify a scapegoat, people upon whom the blame for the crisis might be laid.

Pope Pius XI asserted that the most effective defence against the destructive forces of the age is the recognition of the kingship of Christ; and, furthermore, a feast which is celebrated every year by everyone is a far better way of deploying that defence than any number of books written by learned people. First, we do; then we come to understand what it is that we are doing.

It is difficult not to draw some parallels with some of the events of recent years and the growing practice of self-censorship. Freedom of speech is under threat with a growing “cancel culture” and the stifling of the use of certain words and the highlighting of scientific facts. Alongside this there are very worrying trend with vaccine implementation policies. Fear is being used as a tool that means people are willing to give up cherished freedoms, and victimise certain groups of people who will be blamed for the pandemic.

A part of the kingship of Christ is that as King he will bear witness to, and be an embodiment of, the truth. The revelation of truth is dangerous and spiritually revolutionary. All too often the world apes Pilate’s cynical response, “what is truth?” yet only by engaging in the words of Christ are we able to set ourselves free from our self-constructed fantasy and be able to understand that ‘the truth will set us free’³ and that ‘perfect love drives out all fear’⁴, and release us from the perpetual cycle of fear, violence and self-destruction.

The reading from Daniel⁵ tells us that the Son of Man will come and all dominion, glory and power will be his. He will reign over a kingdom that is everlasting and universal where all peoples, nations and languages will serve him. Whether we choose to hear this truth or not won’t stop the inevitable reality of it. When Christ returns in his glory, revealing the extent of his kingdom, I want to be numbered as one of its citizens, hearing and serving the word of truth he speaks rather than blindly denying it.

¹ John 18:37
² Quas Primas
³ John 8:32
⁴ 1 John 4:18
⁵ Daniel 7:13–14

The editorial title comes from Philippians 2:9–11.

Ready at the last

A Vision of the Last Judgement, William Blake (1757–1827), 1808

Fr Neil’s homily for Remembrance Sunday (Trinity XXIV), 14 November 2021

Then he will send out his angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of earth to the ends of heaven.¹

Our readings, in anticipation of the beginning of Advent, describe in rather dramatic terms the signs that will mark the start of the end times.

There will be chaos, darkness, trials and tribulations, especially for the elect. It would seem that evil, the devil and his legions will have their final rage before Christ returns in all his glory to install the new creation.

Judgement will be given, the saints taken up into glory and all the enemies of Christ ‘should be made a stool for his feet.’² Daniel refers to this as the place of ‘shame and everlasting contempt’³ for their rejection and active rebellion against the ways of God.

Our Lord’s teaching in the Gospel seems to hold together two tensions. He uses the example of the fig tree to remind us to keep our eyes open and be aware of the signs of the times so that we might be ready for the last days. However, he finishes by also stating that, ‘but of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’⁴

Certainly what we should take from this is the need to be mindful of spiritual and heavenly things and not be so caught up with the things of the world that we ignore the reality of the four last things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Christ longs in his love for all humanity that we should not blindly walk into our last days, having neglected the reality of what is to come. We would be like the foolish bridesmaids, failing to bring oil for our lamps.⁵

The drama of the Last Days seems current in every generation, even if we do not make the connection to heavenly realities. Many of our current generation exemplified in the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ and ‘Insulate Britain’ believe that in a few years the world will burn bringing mass extinction and suffering. In the same way, my generation lived with the Cold War and anxiety of the threat of a nuclear holocaust.

This Remembrance Sunday we are mindful of those who were caught up in two World Wars, and other conflicts since, which brought death and suffering on a scale never seen before. And perhaps if we were in the trenches or the Blitz, we might well believe that fire was engulfing the world and we were in the last days.

War is the final failure of civilisation. Complicated as it is for the individuals engaged in war, evil is revealed in acts of terror, initiated violence, the dehumanising of certain groups of people and seeing the death of others as the answer to a problem.

War is also a moral failure, because it demands in the light of an aggressor the defence of family and the virtues of freedom, autonomy and self-determination. This defence may require the taking of another person’s life and maybe the loss of one’s own to protect our loved ones and our way of life.

Therefore it is with sorrow and thanksgiving that we honour so many who had to pay the ultimate sacrifice to defend the freedoms of later generations.

The failure of war begins with the failure to reflect honestly upon ourselves. There is indeed a war raging in the spiritual realm as our readings indicate and — whether we like it our not — we are, due to the Fall, significantly involved. Our greatest enemy is ourselves if we cannot stand before God with all humility, and reflect honestly about who we are.

We are indeed beautifully and wonderfully made⁶ in the image and likeness of God⁷ but we are also flawed creatures. Sin active within us is a call to death — if left unchecked it leads to the destruction of ourselves and those around us. We will all have examples of this destructive behaviour in a number of people we know.

The greatest danger is when we refuse to acknowledge this inner struggle and fail to take responsibility for it. If we will not accept that our troubles are, in the main, internal to ourselves then we have to find reasons and causes outside of ourselves. It must be someone else’s fault. That is not to say that others haven’t contributed to our hurt and pain and in some cases significantly. However, healing and rising out of that place of damage can only come from a transformation of our own inner life.

If my only means of self-identity is that of “victim” then it is so easy to transfer our damage and acts of self-destruction on to others, “outside there somewhere”. It is why we get suicide bombers, as the killing of others will somehow make it alright. It is why ‘Insulate Britain’ will block the M25 demanding the government insulate all homes while failing to insulate their own.

It drives the push to moderate language just in case we accidentally offend a person, even if what is said is scientifically true. Indeed the Scottish government have removed ‘pregnant women’ from official communications⁸ because certain people might be offended. While having every sympathy for those struggling with their self identity, the last time I looked only biological women can get pregnant.

The failure to face before God the internal spiritual battle becomes the seedbed for the atrocities that have to be faced down in conflicts around the world. Obviously we need a supportive structure for society, but the transformation of the world begins not with changing other people but changing ourselves. I know what the worst version of myself can be like and the damage I could cause and I don’t like it. I want the best part of me to flourish so that those around me can flourish too.

It is in this difficult but honest assessment of self, that cries out to God for mercy, where lies our best preparation for either the Last Days or our own last days. It is by our humility before God and his unmerited grace that we shall hope to be numbered among the elect who are gathered by his angels to the glory of heaven.¹

¹ Mark 13:27
² Hebrews 10:13; cf Psalm 110:1
³ Daniel 12:2
⁴ Mark 13:32
⁵ Matthew 25:1–13
⁶ Cf Psalm 139:14
⁷ Genesis 1:26
@scotgov tweet

Rich in faith

The Widow's Mite, engraved after a painting by W.Artaud, published in <i>The Pictorial History of the Bible,</i> 1834

Fr Neil’s homily for Trinity XXIII, 7 November 2021

Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.¹

Every time we come together to celebrate the mass we bear witness to the one eternal sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of fallen humanity. His total, triumphant self-giving for the sins of the world has burst open the gate of Sheol for all who have longed for salvation.

Christ’s sacrifice is eternal, not repeated, for — having made the perfect offering of himself — sin and death are defeated and the way to healing and wholeness is made available to all.

This path to eternal life requires of us trust, faith and obedience. These virtues are illustrated well by the two widows in our Old Testament and Gospel readings. Indeed, it is often the women who lead the way. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the perfect model of what it is to be a Christian and she embodies the future destiny of the Church.

I wonder how anonymous these two widows were to the vast majority of people? But they weren’t to Elijah or Christ. Christ points out the widow’s mite given to the temple offering and the true act of faith. Her trust in God was total as she gave all that she had, believing that God’s generosity would come back to her in great blessing even though she didn’t know where or how. How easy it is for us to give a bit from the abundance we have, be it self, time or resources — but who of us trust enough to put it all at God’s disposal?

This month we are remembering the dead and are reminded of our own mortality. We are made aware that the physical, material world on which we often build so much security will be stripped from us. It will be no use to us in death. Death is a great leveller and reveals what we have built our hope and trust upon. In that simple offering the widow of the Gospel revealed that her hope was placed upon God alone. If the world had taken the time to notice her, it might have judged her actions as foolish. Yet what the world did not see, nor would have understood, God sees and honours. The widow is forever remembered because of her abundant act of self-giving in faith and thanksgiving to God: the God who has emptied himself and given everything.

The widow in the great famine of Elijah’s time had nothing but a final meal for herself and her son before facing death. She would have had every right to turn down the prophet’s request that she use her last meal to feed him. It has to be remembered that this widow wasn’t even a Jew but upon hearing the word of God spoken by the prophet and the promise that death would not be the final outcome, she puts the last resources she has a God’s disposal. This act of faithful obedience leads to an abundance of blessings for her and her son.

Faithful obedience is often a stumbling-block for many of us. To often we have related the call to obedience with the mindset of fearful, slavish obedience. The result is often resentment and rebellion. We can find ourselves viewing the teachings of the Church, especially its moral theology, as being a set of arbitrary rules put together by out-of-touch, crusty old men in the corridors of the Vatican. Sadly this is illustrated by the discovery that 56% of lay Catholics in America² and 61% in Britain³ think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

We desperately need to recover the understanding that the word of God, and its teaching kept safe in the Church, always seeks to point us to the way that leads to life. On a safari, guides are given to lead the visitors via secure paths to enable them to see the wonder of the wildlife in a manner that keeps them safe. If a tourist decides to ignore the guides’ advice and wanders from the safe pathway, he is in danger of being eaten or maimed by the wild animals he has come to see. We might indeed believe him to be foolish. There are guides in the Church who seek to call the faithful who have wandered from the path of life in Christ: how extraordinary it is that they are so often accused of being compassionless, rigid, and legalistic. What is the more loving thing to do, to call the lost back to life or just shrug our shoulders and let people wander off without any warning at all?

In an act of faith and obedience, both widows had to give up and let go of what little they had in this life to be able to receive the blessings of God’s eternal graces. We are called to do the same, but this act of self-surrender isn’t easy. Throughout our walk of discipleship with Christ there will be times that require our need for healing of old wounds, for letting go of false securities and facing some difficult challenges that demand changes in our lifestyle.

This dying to self is the way of the Cross, and helps illuminate the call to take up our own cross daily and follow Christ. It is, however difficult at times, the way to life in the Easter joy of the Resurrection. Indeed it gives us a profound gift when we physically die, and all material things are stripped from us, that reveals a faith and hope in God which is the desire and longing of our hearts⁴. It is this gift, his rod and staff, that leads us even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death⁵, that provides a secure way of navigating death into communion with the saints in heavenly glory.

¹ Hebrews 9:28
² Pew Research
³ NatCen Social Research
⁴ Cf Psalm 84:2
⁵ Cf Psalm 23

The cloud of witnesses

Adoration of the Trinity (Landauer Altarpiece), Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), 1511; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Fr Neil’s homily for All Saints Sunday, 31 October 2021

I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”¹

The Church’s calendar is littered with celebrations reminding us of the saints. The saints are diverse, spread across two thousand years of history, coming from all four corners of the earth. They are young, old, male, female, married, single, priests, nuns, monks, kings, queens and even popes. The gifts they brought to the Church are as varied as there are different people. Some lived long lives, some short, and some were martyred. There are universal celebrations, national and local saints marking our Church year. These of course are the saints known to the Church, and All Saints is a bit of a mopping-up exercise recognising the saints that are known to God alone. But why does the Church insist on remembering these people who have died?

There is a great danger of seeing the saints only as a window to look back into the past with rose-tinted spectacles at the more glorious days of the Church, marked by the great saints of old. The saints who inhabited the life of the Church are indeed our ancestors from whom we have inherited the faith: but their presence isn’t just an historic one to provide an example of how to live a holy life.

The importance of the saints is that they are a reminder to us of our hope, and a promise of the resurrection that is to come. In Matthew’s Gospel, when Christ was questioned over the resurrection, he states:

As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.²

The saints, then, are not dead relics but active members of the Church glorified; members of the one body of Christ into which we were baptised. They are fellow citizens of heaven with us. It is why we take ‘Christian’ names at baptism and saints’ names at confirmation: to remind us that we are not alone, but part of one Church. That Church reaches back through time, and forward into glory.

So the saints aid us not only by their example of a holy life, their teaching, and preaching; but they are actively praying for us, the Church militant, as we seek to walk the way of faith, hope and love in devotion to Christ, our Lord and God. The Blessed Virgin Mary, our spiritual mother, is the example par excellence as the gift of her rosary, Immaculate Heart and her many apparitions seek to aid us on the often difficult journey to follow more faithfully the way to her Son.

The saints should expand our vision to see beyond our own particular moment with its many difficulties and trials. They provide a vast glorious canvas that draws our eyes to eternity, without which we might be overwhelmed by the present challenges that face us as individuals, and the Church today.

By the grace of God, most of us when we die, if we remain faithful, will spend time being purified in Purgatory. Only then will we enter the glorious company of the saints. What marks the saints out is not that they are a special breed set apart from the rest of us, but that they loved the things of God deeply, truly and passionately, and desired them more than anything else. St Paul articulates this well in his letter to the Philippians:

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ.³

What distinguishes us from the saints is not some magical ingredient, because the raw material for a saint is in each one of us. The true difference is that we might not desire and love enough. Maybe at times we are too often happy to settle for second-, third-, fourth- or even twentieth-best, for things that cannot truly fulfil our deepest needs and the heart’s desire which is found in God alone.

It might be that we haven’t fully accepted that we are the apple of God’s eye⁴. The saints are a mark of what he longs to give us, and the Cross reveals the depth of his love for us, but can he love me? Perhaps, at times, we are unable to trust his promises, and we seek to fill the aching void within us with anything for fear that there will be nothing.

When ever we fear our own loss let us hear God’s promise revealed in the saints and spoken through his word. St John writes in his first epistle,

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.⁵

The recognition of our existence that we crave may or may not be seen by this present age; but God tells us who we really are. It is the saints — led by Mary — who continue to pray for us that we might be open to see and believe the way to eternal life that is in Christ, revealed by his word, lived by the saints, proclaimed in the magisterium of the Church and celebrated in the sacraments that enable us, by God’s grace, to embody our fullness as children of God.

¹ Revelation 7:9–10
² Matthew 22:31–32
³ Philippians 3:8
⁴ Cf Psalm 17:8
⁵ 1 John 3:1–2

The editorial title comes from Hebrews 12:1.

Surrender, do not succumb

Ecce Homo, St Albert Chmielowski (1845–1916), 1879–1888; Albertine House, Krakow

Fr Neil’s homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, 17 October 2021

For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.¹

Generally in life, we understand that those who have a shared experience are more able to understand what others are going through. Hence those who have experienced the loss of a loved one understand better the landscape of bereavement. It is why there are support groups made of those with similar experience. The Parkinson’s Society, You Raise Me Up charity and cancer survivors groups are just some examples of such needed support.

The writer to the Hebrews is arguing that Christ the eternal High Priest was able to intercede for us because he shared in our humanity. He knows the temptations we face, the struggle that is ours each day, but does so without sin.

The word ‘tempted’ is a translation of the Greek word² that carries a more nuanced meaning than that which is usually understood. That meaning sees temptation in terms of trial or test. Much ink has been spilt on the translation of the Lord’s Prayer especially the line ‘lead us not into temptation.’ It would seem blatantly obvious that God does not maliciously set traps for us. The sense of the original might be ‘save us from the trial/test, but deliver us from evil.’

Indeed it might throw greater light on the words of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”³

This obviously carries more of an emphasis on the test or trial implying martyrdom, be that an actual death or a more spiritual one. However, this does not exclude — and indeed is related to — the trials and testing which we face every day to avoid sin.

Christ is the eternal High Priest even though he isn’t a son of Levi but because he is the Son of God. He is high priest even though he didn’t enter the Holy of Holies of the earthy Temple but because he entered the eternal heavenly temple. He is eternal high priest by offering his own body and blood for the atonement for sins for all humanity, not the blood of bulls and goats offered by the earthy high priest⁴.

The earthly high priest offers the sacrifices for the people and himself because he knows that he and they have, at times, failed the trial set before them and refused the chalice of self-sacrifice and martyrdom. Christ’s triumph is that he faced the same trials and yet did not turn back or refuse the path set before him, and was thus able to offer once for all the perfect sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world.

The temptation to sin, then, is understood as the refusal of the will of our Heavenly Father, who sets before us what we experience as the steep and rugged pathway; but it is a pathway that leads to life.

If we think about this for a moment then we can ask, Is there is any environment that nurtures life — causing it to flourish and grow — that doesn’t require the trial of self-sacrifice? Marriage, birth, education, friendship, jobs, care of the sick, the disabled and the dying, healthy communities and nation: all these things have to be marked by a sort of martyrdom if they are to work well.

I’d like to say that this is a self-evident truth and that pretty well any parent would understand the sacrifices that are made for the benefit of their children and loved ones. However, I am not so sure any more that this universal truth is as well known as it once was. The diminishing use of the terms of the trial of self-sacrifice and martyrdom has seen a growing refusal to accept this as necessary for a healthy life. The idea of sacrifice hasn’t disappeared but those who should make that sacrifice has. More and more it is no longer self-sacrifice and the need for internal transformation, as the problem is relocated from the internal spiritual and emotional self to its being predominantly a problem located in others — ‘them’. “They” are the unborn child, the disabled, the elderly, those with ‘unacceptable views’ which make others feel uncomfortable. These are now sacrificed so that the individual’s life might be happy, free and unencumbered of the responsibility of others. The consequences of this are the end of the Faith, our families and wider society as it crumbles into chaos.

This self-deceptive blindness is present in the request from the disciples John and James, to sit at the right and left side of Christ in his kingdom. They do not understand that Christ is referring to the “chalice” of his death upon the cross, and are motivated by selfish ambition. That ambition set the disciples at each other as they competed for the positions of power.

Christ insists to his disciples that self-surrender and not the thirst for power is the only way to life in the Kingdom:

Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.⁵

Christ is the way, the truth and the life⁶. He has faced death and triumphed over it so we might not fear the call to follow him through the way of the cross and dying to self. Only then do we see his wondrous work as High Priest and perceive the gift of life he offers us in the sacrifice of the mass, which is eternal life.

¹ Hebrews 4:15
² πεπειρασμενον (pepeirasmenon), “one having been tried”
³ Matthew 26:39
⁴ Cf Leviticus 16:14
⁵ Mark 10:45
⁶ John 14:6