A question of transformation

Jesus and St Peter, Annibale Caracci  (1560–1609), 1602; National Gallery, London

Fr Neil’s homily for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, 12 September 2021

Who do you say that I am?¹

Jesus’ question in our gospel elicits from Peter his great confession “You are the Christ.” It is this great confession that reveals the will of the Father for Peter. He was to become the rock upon which the Church would be built.

While Christ accepts the title and role of anointed Messiah of God, he quickly wishes to reveal and clarify the nature of his messianic mission. Almost exclusively the anointed messiah was viewed as the one who would bring liberation to God’s people. This was limited to the hope of ridding the land of pagan gentile rule and establishing a new glorious Davidic kingdom that all nations would eventually acknowledge and honour.

However, Christ does the extraordinary and unique thing of linking the Messianic role with the “suffering servant” passages from Isaiah, as in our first reading:

I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.²

Christ teaches his disciples that the Son of Man, the Messiah, must suffer and die. This made absolutely no sense to the disciples as ‘The Christ’ was known to be a triumphant, victorious figure, not a suffering one. Is it any surprise that Peter reacted in the manner he did? His whole worldview, hopes and expectations had just been turned upside down.

The confusion and misunderstanding of what Christ was teaching them would last until the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Christ’s revelation was that the way of triumph and the new Kingdom of God could only be accessed via giving up of one’s own life by embracing the cross.

And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”³

Christ the Messiah has come to liberate humanity from something far greater than some pagan occupying force which is but a symptom of the real enemy, sin and death. We are all born into the fallen world inherited from Adam and to remain captured by that world, which has already fallen under the judgement of God, is to stay alienated from God in spiritual death. It is the Cross and our dying with Christ that enables us to rise with him and be released from the fallen world. We are in him being born again as a citizen of heaven into our true liberation.

If we acknowledge our Lord to be the Christ, Son of the living God, then to follow him is only possible if we take up our cross, which is by its very nature the narrow and hard way. Answering the question of our Lord cannot remain mere novel philosophical and theological speculation but a life time of conversion and transformation. Our response cannot be a matter of words only.

This question of our Lord, “Who do you say that I am?” is the most fundamental and important question that we will ever answer. The answer we give will shape the rest of our lives whether we remain or move back into the fallen world or seek to claim our citizenship of heaven.

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.⁴

There was an old poster with a picture of a judge on it that asked the question: “If it was illegal to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Is going to Church, essential though it is, enough? There were many who went to church in the old Soviet bloc, and who go to church in China, who are not real Christian but informants for the State. We say the Creed each week but do we actually believe it?

The ongoing debate in the Epistle of James is the relationship between faith and works. James argues that a declared faith without any outward sign of transformation is meaningless nonsense.

But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.⁵

To believe is to revere, honour, trust and commit oneself to that which we confess. It is no surprise then that Christ asks this question of his disciples at this pivotal moment and outlines the consequences of those who positively seek to follow him. That very same question our Lord continues to ask of us: “Who do you say that I am?”

¹ Mark 8:29
² Isaiah 50:6
³ Mark 8:34–35
⁴ Matthew 7:13–14
⁵ James 2:18

There was no homily published on 5 September 2021 due to Fr Neil’s holiday.

Blessed are those who walk in the law of the Lord

Moses presenting the Ten Commandments, Raphael [Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino] (1483–1520), 1518–19; Pontifical Palace, Vatican

Fr Neil’s homily for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, 29 August 2021

There is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him…For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts..¹

After performing wondrous miracles to free his people from slavery in Egypt, God reveals himself in a act of covenant to Moses on Mount Sinai. God gives the law and precepts to Moses for the people of God in the Ten Commandments, and in doing so God gives to his people the most profound and extraordinary gift.

The law of God reveals a glimpse into at least three fundamental things. The first is nature of God’s holiness. God is one, there is no other. He is the first cause and origin of creation and the one to whom our acts of praise and thanksgiving are rightly to be directed. God is holy and reveals the nature of goodness and truth.

Secondly, the law of God shows us the desire and will of God for his people. We are to conform our life to that which God has revealed. The law of God, which is written into the very fabric of the created order, which we now refer to as natural law, leads either to the flourishing of life or its diminishing — depending on its conformity or not to the will of God. God’s desire is that we live and flourish.

Thirdly, the commandments and precepts of God speak to the very heart of the human condition. In the light of God’s revealed will we become aware of the depth to which we humans have fallen: our uninformed consciences are seen in the light of God to be corrupt. How hard we try to justify our own desires and manner of living, to wriggle around the truth of that which is revealed as good or evil, life or death. Our corrupt selves have far too often treated the law of God as either a means of punishing others by pointing the finger, or punishing ourselves being overwhelmed with our sense of wretchedness. We see no light or good, or we see the law as a problem to be overcome and from which to free ourselves. The worst deception is to pitch God’s mercy and love as being in opposition to his laws and precepts.

Yet as Moses says in our first reading,

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?²

The law tells us how we should behave towards God and our neighbour, how to identify good and evil, life and death, and is a holy gift of God to his people.

There is very little better preparation for confession that doing an self-examination using the Ten Commandments as they direct us towards God’s mercy. These precepts of God are as relevant today as they were when they were given four thousand years ago, because the human condition hasn’t changed.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom³:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.⁴

However, while the external code of the law reveals the nature of God and humanity’s alienation and fall from grace, it cannot heal the rift it has highlighted.

Our outward failure to follow God’s precepts is a symptom of a deeper problem that goes to the heart and soul of humanity and requires a much deeper transformation — nothing less than a dying to the fallen nature of humanity and a rebirth into a new creation.

We can all “fake it to make it” but that doesn’t solve the real issues. Think about it: we have more and more rules in work places and social situations designed to protect against sexism, but we see a greater sexual exploitation of people, especially women, than ever before. We are increasingly aware of disability discrimination, yet the Church is fighting laws on abortion of babies up to birth for any slight defect — or, indeed, any reason at all.

It is why or Lord in his Sermon on the Mount highlighted that “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”⁵

Praise God if you haven’t committed adultery or fornication! But if you have looked at another lustfully, then the seed for committing adultery is there in the midst of our heart and soul. It is why Jesus says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts..”⁶

The solution requires the renewing of our hearts and minds in Christ, in whose flesh the law of God became incarnate for our salvation and who showed the way to life through his death and resurrection. We need the external law to become an internal reality as James tells us:

Therefore … receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.⁷

Christ is that Word in whose life we are regenerated by baptism, becoming a member of his body, the Church. It is his life we also receive at the sacrifice of the mass, to conform our hearts and souls into his life. We receive this not by external laws but by internal transformation and self abandonment to God’s will. We are called to act by faith, trusting in the divine will that his love is greater than sin and death.

¹ Mark 7:15, 21
² Deuteronomy 4:7–8
³ Proverbs 9:10
⁴ Psalm 1:1–2
⁵ Matthew 5:27–28
⁶ Mark 7:21
⁷ James 1:21

The editorial title comes from Psalm 119:1.

Risen with Christ to eternal life

Consolator, Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890), date unknown; Brigham Young University Museum of Art

Fr Neil’s homily for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, 22 August 2021

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”¹

Moses, in establishing the covenant with God’s people, presents the law — the commandments of God — before them and states, “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God…, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you…are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare, that you shall perish.”²

We encounter Joshua in our first reading at the point when they have entered the promised land across the Jordan. As the People of Israel take possession of it, Joshua repeats the need to renew their covenant with God. They have a choice, however: to be faithful to God or to turn their backs on him and the Covenant. He says: “If you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”³

This choice is important because it will shape the future lives of the people of Israel. Their persistent failure to be faithful to the covenant is the disastrous history of God’s chosen nation. To serve God is life; to abandon him is spiritual death. God is the source of life — to reject God is like a man insisting that he does need air to breathe: the outcome is inevitable. Despite this, sin is so perverse that we far too often believe the lie and act as if we do not need God. To reject God is to perform a spiritual lobotomy on ourselves.

In the Gospel reading today we come to the end of a four-week reflection on the central teaching of Christ as the bread of life. The high point of Jesus’ teaching concludes with these words of his, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”⁴

Christ had attracted many followers who were enthralled at the miracles, healings and powerful words that challenged the religious leaders. The question that was on their lips was whether this person was the promised messiah destined to lead God’s people to freedom. The answer, of course, was Yes he was. However, he reveals in his core teaching the extraordinary manner in which God was to fulfil his promise spoken through the prophets.

Salvation and freedom was to be brought about by a process of regeneration, a dying to the fallen world and rising to new life in God. This new life was not limited by the temporal, material world which must end, but is the divine, eternal life brought by God himself. Christ reveals this dynamic profound mystery in his teaching about himself being the true bread from heaven.

It was too much for many to get their heads around and: ‘Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him.’⁵

This way of thinking and speaking is of course divine as Christ the Word, who is God, reveals the Father’s will and the mystery of heavenly glory. Their lack of understanding shows the spiritual poverty of God’s people and the misunderstanding of the old covenant. Remember our Lord’s interaction with Nicodemus when he spoke about the need to be born again — ‘Nicodemus said to him, “How can this be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?”’⁶

The receiving of Christ’s body and blood as the means of union with God was so misunderstood that some of the disciples could not get beyond the image of Christ cutting up his own body. Indeed in the early days of Christianity the Church was often condemned as practising cannibalism. Yet Christ insists that unless we receive his body and blood as the new Passover lamb and atonement sacrifice we cannot be saved.

It is the receiving of Christ in the sacrament of the Mass that enables us to ‘abide in him and he in us.’⁷ This abiding is explored in greater detail in Paul who engages the image of marriage to speak of this divine union⁸. In marriage the two become one flesh united in an intimate union that allows life to flourish. This is extraordinary language to speak about our relationship with God in Christ. This is not just the restoration of Eden but being in Christ so that he can speak of us, his Church, as being his body. It is the uniting with Christ that allows Mary, the Queen of heaven, to be our spiritual Mother, interceding for us with utter motherly care. It is Christ within us that the Father sees and can do nothing but pour out his fatherly care, grace and mercy upon us.

We are confronted with the decision as to whether we are willing continue to follow Christ and receive him with our heart, mind and spirit that will lead either to eternal life or continual alienation. However, demanding though this decision is, one can understand the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”¹

Frankly, what alternative is there? And why would we want anything other than the gift and healing of new life in Christ? Yes, it demands much and may set us at odds with society at large but the rewards are literally everlasting heavenly glory.

¹ John 6:68
² Deuteronomy 30:15
³ Joshua 24:15
⁴ John 6:53 foll
⁵ John 6:60 foll
⁶ John 3:9
⁷ Cf John 6:56
⁸ Ephesians 5:21–32

The editorial title refers to a hymn by Revd George Wallace Briggs.

Our Lady, Mother and Queen

Coronation of the Virgin, Fra Angelico [Guido di Pietro] (c1395–1455), c.1432; Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Fr Neil’s homily for the Assumption of Our Lady, 15 August 2021

At your right hand stands the Queen in gold of Ophir.¹

The most sacred item in the history of Israel was the Ark of the Covenant. Since the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in 586BC it had been lost to the people of God.

The Revelation of John the Divine unveils some startling news. As he tells of the events in heavens he reveals that the Ark, that most sacred of vessels, bearing the presence of God, is a woman. She is also Queen of Heaven as the royal mother of the Son of David, the Messiah.

The position of the queen is not, as we might expect, the wife of the king. In Israel’s history the position of queen is reserved for the king’s mother. Throughout the books of the Kings and Chronicles this elevated position is marked when a new king is enthroned by also naming his mother. The only time this position seems to have been usurped is in the reign of Ahab, by his wife Jezebel — and that didn’t end well. The role of queen is not a mere decorative position. The queen not only has the ear of her son as intercessor but also carries great authority allowing her to act on the king’s behalf when needed. So if you want the king to hear your request who is the most reliable person to go through? His mother the queen.

In Psalm 45 we hear that “at your right hand stands the Queen in gold of Ophir.”¹ In the court of King Solomon, we glimpse Israel’s traditional arrangement: Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, takes her place at the king’s right hand. “So Bathsheba went to King Solomon… And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a throne brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right. Then she said, ‘I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.’ And the king said to her, ‘Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.'”²

John’s revelation shows us that at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen once again stands at the right hand of the Son of David in the New Jerusalem, in its heavenly glory. This is the fulfilment of what was implicit at the Annunciation when Gabriel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”³

All the promises of God uttered through the prophetic traditions are draw together in the words, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, ‘God with us’).”⁴

God has established the promised kingdom in a manner that was beyond human imagining. St Paul clearly speaks of the undoing of the fall of Adam that brought death, as we know it, into the world. Christ and his resurrection is the new Adam who rectifies the mistake of the old. ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’⁵ Each in their proper order — and Our Lady’s enthronement as Queen of Heaven completes the vision of the Kingdom of God in its eternal glory.

To honour Mary as our spiritual Mother and Queen of the Messianic King fulfils the fourth commandment⁶, the will of God, and also honours her Son who is King. To not give her due honour is to disrespect and tarnish the honour given to her Son, the King.

To understand the role of Mary as Queen of Heaven allows a greater knowledge to make our requests through her intercessions for us to Christ. We glimpse this modelling of King and the Queen Mother’s intercession at the wedding at Cana of Galilee⁷. Our Lady makes a request of Christ, her son, who interestingly responds, “My time has not yet come,” meaning “I haven’t yet come into my kingdom,” yet her confidence that he will act is revealed in her saying to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” The surest way to obtain the graces of God is through the intercession of Our Lady.

The Assumption of Our Lady also speaks profoundly about the nature and importance of the body. Mary carried within her womb the Son of God and is the true bodily tabernacle, and so what has borne the divine is not allowed to see corruption. It is also Mary who gave flesh to the Son of Man. Our embodied flesh is so important that God himself becomes incarnate flesh for our salvation.

The great heresy of today is seen at its clearest in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Those working in AI see the body as a rather flawed vehicle for the true self — it is as if the body doesn’t really matter. This thinking has led many to posit that one day we will be able to upload our consciousness to a computer and gain the goal of eternal life without the intervention of the “God myth”. It is why we have seen an upsurge in those who believe the true self is not connected to the body, and that the body may even hinder a true expression of the self.

These bodies of ours, failing as they do as the years go by, are critical to our understanding of self and are the arena in which we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, in joy and wonder. What I do with my body is profoundly important. Mary’s fiat, “Let it be,”⁸ is the offering of her entire self to the will and actions of God. Surely there is nothing more physical and bodily than bearing a baby in the womb and giving birth to a child; or suffering torture and being nailed to a cross? Right at the heart of our salvation is the critical intense interaction of the physical human body in birth, healing, eating, touching, torture, death, resurrection ascension and today’s celebration of Our Lady’s bodily Assumption.

This physicality is so central that in the sacrament of the mass, Christ makes himself present body, soul and divinity for our salvation.

The fact that the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven and crowned with the twelve stars of glory⁹ marks the beginning and perfect image of the Church’s hope of glory and promised coming to perfection. It is a sign of sure hope and comfort to us that one day we, the pilgrim people of God, will also find a place in heavenly glory. What we can be certain of is that the Virgin Mother is there interceding for our salvation and reception of the many graces of God for our sanctification and his glory.

¹ Psalm 45:9
² I Kings 2:19 foll
³ Luke 1:35
⁴ Isaiah 7:14
⁵ I Corinthians 15:22
⁶ “Honour thy father and thy mother”; CCC2196; Exodus 20:12
⁷ John 2
⁸ Luke 1:38
⁹ cf Revelation 12:1

Anyone who has heard and learnt from the Father comes to Me

Fr Neil’s homily for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, 8 August 2021

Picture via pxhere.comThey shall be taught by God…anyone who has heard and learnt from the Father comes to Me.¹

The genuine, heartfelt search for God will not lead to a plurality of destinations but to the singular divine truth that is Christ. Christ is the clearest revelation of God, his divine will, the nature of creation and the true state of humanity.

Yet how am I to hear and learn from God? Far too often we have a simplified understanding of learning. We often think that learning is just about imparting information. The teacher gives the student information and the student remembers that information and thus has learnt it. But this is only one of at least three forms of knowing. If our knowledge of something lies only in the propositional stage of description then it remains only in the realms of intellectual ideas. Knowledge that remains ideas alone are open to debate, acceptance and rejection. How often have you come across a person who as a real twisted view of God or who thinks the idea of God is too extraordinary to accept?

The propositional form of knowledge is essential but cannot stand alone. For example, there are many people who live in landlocked countries and who have never visited the sea. You might try to describe to a person who has never seen the sea what an ocean is like. It could be vast, wet, deep, tidal, cold, inviting, fun, and yet also dangerous for those who do not respect it. You have given the person an idea of what the sea is like — but it remains only an intellectual idea in their head. Others might say to them, “No the ocean is not like that,” describing something different.

What you want to do is invite that person to come and view the sea. Propositional knowledge becomes observational knowledge. When they look at the sea for the first time they will compare your description to what they observe and see how well it matches up. They almost certainly will understand the limitations of your description of the reality that they observe. This observational knowledge changes their perception and understanding, but it is still inadequate.

It’s difficult to be on the coast, especially in summer, and not want to jump into the water! This is what we might call immersive knowledge. Only by this engagement with the sea are they able to experience what you have tried to describe, when saying the ocean is inviting, fun, cold, wet and the need for a little healthy fear. All three forms of knowledge are essential and enable us to be changed by the learning experience.

These three ways of knowing have a dynamic interplay with each other that enables us to discover a clearer image of what we thought the ocean was and to be changed in ourselves because of the engaged relationship with the sea.

These three ways of knowing are critical if we are to hear and be taught by the Father who leads to Christ as ‘the Bread of Life.’ There has been a recognition that for too long we have taught catechesis seekers, First Holy Communion and confirmation candidates in a manner that sees faith as information to impart, forgetting the observational and immersive ways of learning.

This propositional approach alone has given ideas to people, especially the young, that are competing with the thinking of wider society that is often in opposition, overwhelming, louder, persistent, popular and which justifies some of our more base desires. We have often left the teaching of the faith to our Catholic schools and children’s liturgists forgetting the observational and immersive knowledge of the faith lived out at home as well as at church.

Descriptions of the God in whom we believe are vitally important as they provide the language and boundaries by which we can explore a relationship with God — they are our doctrine. But this doctrine, these propositions, are not enough on their own. When Christ was asked which was the greatest commandment he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”² True knowledge of God requires the engagement of our entire being, heart, soul and mind.

Evangelisation, giving a reason for the faith you have, necessarily has a great deal of propositional knowledge about it. But our children and those who are truly seeking will also want to see whether our words match up with our actions: how we act towards one another, within our families, at work, in leisure; do we pray; are we reading the scriptures; how do we act around the celebration of the mass? This exposes others to the observational knowledge of our claims and is a critical part of the journey of knowing whether or not we do have a relationship with Christ.

The immersive knowledge is to be open to the power and presence of God the Holy Spirit. It means our engaging in prayer is not just a matter of reciting set words as if they were magical formulas but a communing with God in which words may not be used at all. It is the reading of scripture not just as a historic document but in a spiritual manner in which our heart and the heart of Christ speak to one another³. It is to believe — meaning to hold dear, esteem, trust and love — Christ who is by his grace and mercy made present in the sacrament of the mass. It is to believe that this is food for the journey, the bread of life that is life itself which aids us on our pilgrimage to him who is our heart’s desire. It is to ascend the mountain of God and enter into his holy presence.

“Anyone who has heard and learnt from the Father comes to Me.”

¹ John 6:45
² Luke 10:27
³ Cf “Heart speaks unto heart”, the motto of Cardinal St John Henry Newman

“You believe in God; believe also in me”

Les Disciples d'Emmaus, Abraham Bloemaert (1566–1651), 1622;  Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

Fr Neil’s homily for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity, 1 August 2021

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.¹

This is the incredible answer Christ gives to the question, “What must we do, to be doing the work of God?” The answer is most peculiar: it is not the first thing that might spring to mind when thinking of the works of God that we ought to be doing. One might think of feeding the poor, looking after the foreigner, the widow, the orphan, caring for the homeless, the aged, the unborn or even to evangelise the world, yet the answer was none of these.

It is not that any of these activities around the social gospel or the missionary activities of the Church are unimportant, because elsewhere in the gospels we find Christ extolling the necessary virtues of these activities for his disciples.

The fact that Christ gives this unexpected answer to the question should make us sit up and listen. Christ does not waste words and all that he says is significant. If however we miss what he has to say here, we might unintentionally go astray and also mislead others.

What Christ is saying is that the work of God begins not with activity, but with belief in the one whom God has sent. Christ is clearly saying that belief in him is fundamental above anything else. Christ begins by telling his listeners not to confine their desires to earthly things alone because it will never satisfy their deepest needs. Our Lord rather tells them to ‘work for the food that endures to eternal life.’²

These events took place directly after his feeding of the five thousand, and Christ is clearly linking and alluding to the manna that the people of God received in the Exodus wanderings, seen as bread from heaven. Christ goes on to tell them that he is the new Moses, the prophet who was to come and that it is he who gives the true bread from heaven. He said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”³

Eusebius reflects; ‘He (Christ) would be born nowhere else but in the place at Bethlehem…Bethlehem is translated “House of Bread”, bearing our Saviour the true Word of God, and nourisher of spiritual souls, which he himself shows saying, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’⁴

Therefore in response to the implied question about what ‘work of God’ they can do to merit the true manna from heaven, Christ tells them that eternal life which quenches our inner hunger and thirst is not earned. We cannot say “look at what I’ve done, I deserve my reward now.” This heavenly food is supernatural, and unattainable by human actions alone. It is a gift that comes from God and is unmerited grace. Here, the gospel and St Paul align when he asserts “by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.”⁵ We should also note the inseparable link between faith in Christ and the celebration of the sacrament of the mass. Belief in Christ is to receive him as the ‘bread of life’. Nowhere is that made more real than in mass.

Therefore what we believe informs our actions.⁶ Think of Saint Paul — when he was Saul — and how he thought that he was doing the work of God in punishing those who were the followers of the Way, the first Christians. He was dramatically confronted with Christ on the Damascus Road. That encounter revealed that rather than doing the work of God, he was fighting against God’s will. Paul found himself in this situation because he had not believed that Christ was the one who came down from heaven and was the fulfilment and enfleshing of all the law and the prophets. Christ is the Word that was with God and was God. He is the Word that became flesh and dwelt amongst us. He is the same Word that is proclaimed in the scriptures and is received body, soul and divinity in the sacrament of the mass.

This is what we are to believe: that Christ is the bread of life. This belief reveals itself in how we act around the celebration of the mass and provide us with the framework for knowing how to love our neighbour and our enemy. Without this belief we might, with all sincerity, fall into the false compassion that is so prevalent at the moment, for example seeing abortion and euthanasia as the right and loving thing to do. If we do not believe that there is a person in the womb then it is likely to reveal that we do not believe the life of Christ is present in the sacrament.

Without this belief we have nothing with which to critically examine the preconceived assumptions we have received from our wider society. How widely within the Church is it seen as being normal and natural for people to live together before they marry? Yet the Church teaches that this is fornication, a deadly sin. That is to say nothing about the wide spread use of artificial contraception within Catholic marriages. This is not to condemn anyone but to highlight that a proper belief in Christ calls everything to conversion and conformity to the divine will God.

As St Paul says, ‘the truth is in Jesus. Put off the old man…be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man’.⁷

We have to get beyond the infantile view that sees the divine will as a set of arbitrary rules imposed by a disapproving killjoy Victorian father-figure. The precepts of God are manifested in Christ and always call us to life, revealing the love of the Father for his lost children. Like any loving parent, God warns us of the ways that lead to our and others’ hurt.

If we are honest, our families are littered with the trauma and consequences of the actions of those who have not allowed their lives to be conformed to life in Christ. Clear acts of selfishness or hiding behind loveless rules to manipulate and control have broken families and affected them across a number of generations. Only Christ can free us from this tyranny of sin and death. Our first step to freedom and salvation as the children of God is to understand that, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”¹

¹ John 6:29
² John 6:27
³ John 6:35
Eusebius Pamphilii Demonstratio Evangelica VII.2
⁵ Ephesians 2:8–9
⁶ “Lex credendi, lex vivendi”
⁷ Ephesians 4:22–24

The editorial title is from John 14:1.