Follow Christ out of the world

The Call of St Matthew: Marinus van Reymerswaele (1490–1546), 1530; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Fr Neil’s homily on the Second Sunday after Trinity, 26 June 2022

For freedom Christ set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.¹

In the calling of Elisha², Elijah cast his mantle upon Elisha’s shoulders. That cloak is only taken up a second time after Elijah is swept up into heaven. The cloak, a bit like the chasuble the priest wears, marks and symbolises the office of prophet that an individual is called to. For Elisha his individuality is submitted to the office of prophet as the priest’s own personality is only at the service of the office of priesthood. Any respect or honour due is directed towards the office and not the individual who holds the office.

In baptism we are clothed with Christ or we put on Christ, symbolised by the white garment that is wrapped around the individual. We take on the mantle and life of Christ so that we might stand in a state of freedom from the consequence of the Fall. We bear the office of the citizens of heaven which carries a particular dignity, not for our own sakes, but because as Christians we are icons of Christ.

St Paul’s warning not to submit again to the yoke of slavery acknowledges how easy it is to find ourselves dancing to the tune of the world’s values, rather than the beautiful chant of heavenly joy. For example, through fear, ignorance or misguided good intentions, many Christians at work wear rainbow lanyards and badges. While we always need compassion, sensitivity and understanding we cannot endorse a societal morality that stands directly in opposition to the eternal revealed truth of God. To do so is to deny Christ and the means of grace that he has revealed which leads to freedom and everlasting life. Nor are we to be like the “sons of thunder”, James and John, who wish to call down fire to destroy the Samaritan village for not receiving Christ³; our Lord rightly rebukes them. The only fire that will come down from heaven is in the form of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who will ‘clothe us with power from on high’. It is the Spirit who animates us as the children of God with the gifts that we need to bear witness to the Good News of our salvation in Christ.

A Facebook post that I liked highlights the difference between the true compassion of Christ and a false representation of his empathy. It stated

Jesus didn’t eat with tax collectors and sinners [that’s you and me] because he wanted to appear inclusive, tolerant and accepting. He ate with them to call them to a changed and fruitful life, to die to self and live for Him. His call is transformation of life not affirmation of identity.

St Paul tells us that we need to guard ourselves unless we are to slip back into the slavery of sin and death. Sometimes it is all to easy — even without thinking — to find ourselves following the voice of the world at large. He reminds us that we need to walk in step with the Holy Spirit as He alone can reveal the way of eternal life.

Christ himself has told that that it is ‘the truth that will set you free’⁴ and that ‘perfect love drives out all fear’⁵. The way of discipleship isn’t the easy way and may well lead us into a position where we find ourselves in direct opposition to the world. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other.”

We can often find that we might indeed understand Christ’s words of warning to those who follow him: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”⁶ At times we can be so at odds with the world that we might feel like unwelcome aliens and strangers who have no place in society.

However, having set our hands to the plough we need to fix our eyes on Christ, steadfast in the Spirit, as he set his face towards Jerusalem. For He has called us to make His faith our own — to abide in confidence that He will not abandon us, that He will show us “the path to life,” leading us to the fullness of joy, the heavenly Jerusalem, in His presence forever.

¹ Galatians 5:1
² 1 Kings 19:16–21
³ Luke 9:54
⁴ John 8:32
⁵ 1 John 4:18
⁶ Luke 9:58

One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity

Fresco of the Holy Trinity, Giovanni Maria Conti della Camera (1614–1670), c.1660; Chiesa di Santa Croce, Parma

Fr Neil’s homily on Trinity Sunday, 12 June 2022

The spirit you received is not the spirit of a slave bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, Abba, Father!¹

If we have learnt nothing else over the Covid lockdown we have become only too aware of our need as human beings to be in social contact with others, especially our loved ones.

The extent of the mental health crisis from the extended lockdowns is yet to be fully realised. To properly function as a human being requires us to be in relationship with others where we are able to share our stories, solve problems, laugh, cry and be held. Community and intimacy are essential.

In the first creation account of man, there is a deliberate use of the plural when God refers to himself.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.²

Man is not created alone, but “male and female he created them.” A community is already established for humanity to reflect the image of God our Creator.

In the second creation account³ we hear God stating; “It is not good that the man should be alone,” and then on the creation of the woman, Adam cries out in joy for he is now complete in communion with the woman: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” This joy is borne of that part of us which reflects the internal relationship of the Trinity in whose image we are made.

This internal relationship of the Trinity is clearly indicated in Christ’s emphasis on his relationship with God the Father.

However, although it was not unknown to refer to God as Father in the Old Testament, it was rare and unusual. Far more common is the formal term Lord for the sacred name of God. Christ, however, refers to the Father more times in the Sermon on the Mount that does whole of the Old Testament put together. That might not be surprising given that he is the Son of God, yet a central tenet of his teaching of the disciples is the manner in which they are encouraged to refer to God as Father. When the disciples ask Christ to teach them how to pray he begins by saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” This level of intimate language in relationship to God is a means of inducting the disciples into the heart of the Trinity.

The term ‘Abba, Father’ is used only twice in the New Testament, in our text at Romans 8:15, and Mark 14:36 while Jesus is in anguish in the garden of Gethsemane. ‘He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this chalice from me; yet not what I will, but what you will.”’ Despite a common misconception, Abba does not mean the childlike address ‘Daddy’ but is just the Aramaic word for Father.

The fact that it appears on Jesus’ lips in Mark’s Gospel tells us two things. First, in distress Christ reverts to Aramaic as he cries out to God the Father. The second is that the Gospel of Mark is Peter’s account for the benefit of the Christians in Rome, who by implication, are familiar with Aramaic as the language of Christ whom they imitate in prayer. Praying the words of Jesus aids the desire as disciples to follow in the way of Christ — to seek to live as he did allowing the Spirit of Christ to manifest itself in our behaviour.

Why does Paul use this same Aramaic word in this passage from Romans? Could it be that the church in Rome is also going through a time of great anguish and persecution? Paul reminds them that it is not fear that should dominate them as they have the spirit of Christ within them that allows them to cry out ‘Abba, Father.’ If then the spirit of Christ is in us then we are children of God and co-heirs with Christ.⁴ It reminds them that we are called to share in Christ suffering that we might be able to also share in his glory.

This inheritance is a call into the Kingdom of God as citizens of heaven. The Holy Spirit unites us to Christ and enables us to call God our Father, and miraculously to participate in the life of the Godhead. As Christ has ascended back into the glory of heaven at the right hand of the Father, so our sharing in his ‘Corpus Christi’ in the Eucharistic sacrifice assures us that where he has gone we shall, by his grace and mercy, follow.

The intimacy between Father, Son and Holy Spirit reveals a dynamic relationship of love into which we are called to participate and to which we are called to bear witness. We are healed, forgiven, never alone; we always belong and are forever loved, despite what this world might throw at us. Extraordinarily and wonderfully, in the Spirit we can call God our Father.

As we are transformed by the dynamic loving community of the Trinity so we are to draw others into such love by the unity and love we embody. In baptism we die with Christ to this fallen world, that we might rise with Christ into this divine family of love. This is how we gain eternal life.

Just as Christ, in loving obedience to the Father, reached out to the lost in his Incarnation and Passion, so we likewise, out of love, are sent by Christ to make disciples of all nations, baptising them into a rebirth from death to life in the divine dynamic love of the Godhead. One God, three Persons: Father Son and Holy Spirit.

¹ Romans 8:15
² Genesis 1:26, 27
³ Genesis 2:4–25
⁴ Romans 8:17

Spirit of Unity

Pentecost (detail), Jean Restout the Younger (1692–1768), 1732; Musée du Louvre

Fr Neil’s homily at Pentecost, 5 June 2022

The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will bring to remembrance all that I have said to you.¹

The Jewish celebration of Pentecost marked the moment that they received the first Covenant. Moses brought the ten words of God down Mount Sinai on tablets of stone and established Israel as the covenant people of God.

Each year this Covenant was celebrated and remembered². This marking of the giving and receiving of the law of God was to remind God’s people that the law defined how they were to live out their lives in relationship to each other and God. It could also act as a self-examination to put right things that had gone wrong and re-commit oneself, community and nation to covenant with God.

The Pentecost that the Church celebrates in the coming of the Holy Spirit is intimately connected with the Law of the Lord. What Mary and the disciples experience marks the establishment of a New Covenant. The Holy Spirit who moved over the formless void at the beginning of Creation, and whom God breathed into Adam, marks nothing other than a Covenant of a new Creation.

It is through Mary and the Apostles that the Church is formed and is the means of entering into the first moments of the re-created heaven and earth. The new Covenant will transform the whole universe. As St Paul says Romans 8:19,21 “For the whole of creation waits with eager longing for the revelation of the children of God…because creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

The law and prophets are made flesh in the person of Christ revealing the nature of God and his will for humanity. He calls the disciples to follow him and carry on his ministry and witness to his truth to the ends of the earth. That would only be possible after he had ascended to the Father, when he sent a new Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with them until the end of time.

The manner of this new relationship with God marks the law of God — his revealed will — written not on tablets of stone but upon the hearts and souls of his disciples. The very presence of God the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church in great power, conforming those with an open heart to the likeness and will of Christ himself through the sacraments. As creation is renewed so those who are baptised in Christ’s death and resurrection are made regenerate though the Holy Spirit and become a new creation³. A living and personal encounter with Christ through his Church is made possible, and the sacraments are the assurance of such a divine encounter.

So the Church established by Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit is the holy institution of God — even though it it made up of sinful people like you and me. The Holy Spirit guides the Church of God, sometimes through choppy waters, and ensures that it continues to speak the Word of God faithfully in its magisterial teaching.

That revealed and authoritative faith is the only true basis of our unity as the People of God, a unity of belief expressed in those who seek to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. Worship and belief are two sides of the same coin. The manner of our worship will tell us a lot about what we actually believe. The gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord, are given for a purpose. With the law of God written on our hearts, through the Holy Spirit, we might be empowered to become fully formed in Christ, fulfilling our vocation as witness to the things of God and the salvific work of Christ as the means of our redemption.

What I pray therefore, especially in the liturgy of the mass, informs what I believe, which in turn affects the manner in which I live my life. There is a continuous interplay between these three areas of my discipleship. It is the Holy Spirit that writes the law of God upon our hearts, informing and transforming our conscience. As promised by Jesus: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will bring to remembrance all that I have said to you.”¹

It is in the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to know Christ personally and become a temple of the Holy Spirit of God while within the community of faith. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers the expression of our love and devotion of Christ in our life of prayer and opens up the rich treasures of the Church’s liturgy. The Church’s liturgy stops being boring and becomes a transformative encounter with the living God. It is the Holy Spirit that gifts us with the desire to be unashamed of owning the name Christian and fearlessly share with the world the reason for our faith in Christ.

It is the Holy Spirit who guides us out of living a life according to the flesh, which is spiritual death, and leads us in the paths of holiness and spiritual joy in the Lord.

This is why our prayer at this time should be: “Come holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful; and kindle in them the fire of thy love! Alleluia.”⁴

¹ John 14:25–26
² The festival of Shavuot falls seven weeks after Passover
³ cf the Prayer of Thanksgiving after Baptism
⁴ Gospel Alleluia, Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost Novena: Day 9: The Fruits of the Spirit

Bordeaux silk French chasuble by Sacra Domus Aurea

Saturday the Vigil of Pentecost: 4 June

Thou, on those who evermore
Thee confess and Thee adore,
in Thy sevenfold gift, descend;
Give them comfort when they die;
Give them life with Thee on high;
Give them joys which never end. Amen.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit

The gifts of the Holy Spirit perfect the supernatural virtues by enabling us to practice them with greater docility to divine inspiration. As we grow in the knowledge and love of God under the direction of the Holy Spirit, our service becomes more sincere and generous, the practice of virtue more perfect. Such acts of virtue leave the heart filled with joy and consolation and are known as Fruits of the Holy Spirit. These Fruits in turn render the practice of virtue more attractive and become a powerful incentive for still greater efforts in the service of God, to serve Whom is to reign.

Prayer

Come, O Divine Spirit,
fill my heart with Thy heavenly fruits,
Thy charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, faith, mildness, and temperance,
that I may never weary in the service of God,
but by continued faithful submission to Thy inspiration
may merit to be united eternally with Thee
in the love of the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father,
who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom,
and the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace;
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now
and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Then the Gloria is said seven times

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

Act of Consecration

On my knees before the great multitude of heavenly witnesses, I offer myself, soul and body to Thee, Eternal Spirit of God. I adore the brightness of Thy purity, the unerring keenness of Thy justice, and the might of Thy love. Thou art the Strength and Light of my soul. In Thee I live and move and am. I desire never to grieve Thee by unfaithfulness to grace and I pray with all my heart to be kept from the smallest sin against Thee. Mercifully guard my every thought and grant that I may always watch for Thy light, and listen to Thy voice, and follow Thy gracious inspirations. I cling to Thee and give myself to Thee and ask Thee, by Thy compassion to watch over me in my weakness. Holding the pierced Feet of Jesus and looking at His Five Wounds, and trusting in His Precious Blood and adoring His opened Side and stricken Heart, I implore Thee, Adorable Spirit, Helper of my infirmity, to keep me in Thy grace that I may never sin against Thee. Give me grace, O Holy Spirit, Spirit of the Father and the Son to say to Thee always and everywhere, “Speak Lord for Thy servant heareth.” Amen.

Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

O Lord Jesus Christ Who, before ascending into heaven didst promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish Thy work in the souls of Thine Apostles and Disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me that He may perfect in my soul, the work of Thy grace and Thy love. Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal, the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of Thy divine truth, the Spirit of Counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven, the Spirit of Fortitude that I may bear my cross with Thee and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation, the Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints, the Spirit of Piety that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable, and the Spirit of Fear that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him. Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of Thy true disciples and animate me in all things with Thy Spirit. Amen.

Pentecost Novena: Day 8: The Gift of Wisdom

Chasuble from Maris Stella Vestments

Friday of the seventh week of Easter: 3 June

Bend the stubborn heart and will,
melt the frozen warm the chill.
Guide the steps that go astray!

The Gift of Wisdom

Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all the other virtues, Wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is written “all good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands.” It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree. Wisdom enlightens the mind to discern and relish things divine, in the appreciation of which earthly joys lose their savour, whilst the Cross of Christ yields a divine sweetness according to the words of the Saviour: “Take up thy cross and follow me, for my yoke is sweet and my burden light.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Wisdom,
and reveal to my soul the mysteries of heavenly things,
their exceeding greatness, power and beauty.
Teach me to love them
above and beyond all the passing joys and satisfactions of earth.
Help me to attain them and possess them for ever.
Amen.

Our Father,
who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom,
and the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace;
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now
and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Then the Gloria is said seven times

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

Act of Consecration

On my knees before the great multitude of heavenly witnesses, I offer myself, soul and body to Thee, Eternal Spirit of God. I adore the brightness of Thy purity, the unerring keenness of Thy justice, and the might of Thy love. Thou art the Strength and Light of my soul. In Thee I live and move and am. I desire never to grieve Thee by unfaithfulness to grace and I pray with all my heart to be kept from the smallest sin against Thee. Mercifully guard my every thought and grant that I may always watch for Thy light, and listen to Thy voice, and follow Thy gracious inspirations. I cling to Thee and give myself to Thee and ask Thee, by Thy compassion to watch over me in my weakness. Holding the pierced Feet of Jesus and looking at His Five Wounds, and trusting in His Precious Blood and adoring His opened Side and stricken Heart, I implore Thee, Adorable Spirit, Helper of my infirmity, to keep me in Thy grace that I may never sin against Thee. Give me grace, O Holy Spirit, Spirit of the Father and the Son to say to Thee always and everywhere, “Speak Lord for Thy servant heareth.” Amen.

Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

O Lord Jesus Christ Who, before ascending into heaven didst promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish Thy work in the souls of Thine Apostles and Disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me that He may perfect in my soul, the work of Thy grace and Thy love. Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal, the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of Thy divine truth, the Spirit of Counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven, the Spirit of Fortitude that I may bear my cross with Thee and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation, the Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints, the Spirit of Piety that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable, and the Spirit of Fear that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him. Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of Thy true disciples and animate me in all things with Thy Spirit. Amen.

Pentecost Novena: Day 7: The Gift of Counsel

Chasuble by G F Bodley, from St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge

Thursday of the seventh week of Easter: 2 June

Heal our wounds—our strength renews;
On our dryness pour Thy dew,
Wash the stains of guilt away.

The Gift of Counsel

The gift of Counsel endows the soul with supernatural prudence, enabling it to judge promptly and rightly what must done, especially in difficult circumstances. Counsel applies the principles furnished by Knowledge and Understanding to the innumerable concrete cases that confront us in the course of our daily duty as parents, teachers, public servants, and Christian citizens. Counsel is supernatural common sense, a priceless treasure in the quest of salvation. “Above all these things, pray to the Most High, that He may direct thy way in truth.”

Prayer

Come, O Spirit of Counsel,
help and guide me in all my ways,
that I may always do Thy holy will.
Incline my heart to that which is good;
turn it away from all that is evil,
and direct me by the straight path of Thy commandments
to that goal of eternal life for which I long. Amen.

Our Father,
who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom,
and the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace;
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now
and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Then the Gloria is said seven times

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

Act of Consecration

On my knees before the great multitude of heavenly witnesses, I offer myself, soul and body to Thee, Eternal Spirit of God. I adore the brightness of Thy purity, the unerring keenness of Thy justice, and the might of Thy love. Thou art the Strength and Light of my soul. In Thee I live and move and am. I desire never to grieve Thee by unfaithfulness to grace and I pray with all my heart to be kept from the smallest sin against Thee. Mercifully guard my every thought and grant that I may always watch for Thy light, and listen to Thy voice, and follow Thy gracious inspirations. I cling to Thee and give myself to Thee and ask Thee, by Thy compassion to watch over me in my weakness. Holding the pierced Feet of Jesus and looking at His Five Wounds, and trusting in His Precious Blood and adoring His opened Side and stricken Heart, I implore Thee, Adorable Spirit, Helper of my infirmity, to keep me in Thy grace that I may never sin against Thee. Give me grace, O Holy Spirit, Spirit of the Father and the Son to say to Thee always and everywhere, “Speak Lord for Thy servant heareth.” Amen.

Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

O Lord Jesus Christ Who, before ascending into heaven didst promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish Thy work in the souls of Thine Apostles and Disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me that He may perfect in my soul, the work of Thy grace and Thy love. Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal, the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of Thy divine truth, the Spirit of Counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven, the Spirit of Fortitude that I may bear my cross with Thee and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation, the Spirit of Knowledge that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints, the Spirit of Piety that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable, and the Spirit of Fear that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him. Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of Thy true disciples and animate me in all things with Thy Spirit. Amen.