Archives for Eastbourne Ordinariate Mission

Holy Week and Easter 2021

Ecce Homo, St Albert Chmielowski (1845–1916), 1879–1888; Albertine House, KrakowDue to the current requirement to restrict numbers in church, more than one celebration of the days of the Sacred Triduum is provided where that’s possible. All the details are together on their own page.

Click here to see how you can participate in the days of Holy Week.

The fulfilment of the Law

Fr Thomas’s homily at Mass on the Third Sunday in Lent (7 March)

Leaflet for Mass

Sermon on the Mount (detail), Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834–1890), 1877; Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød, Denmark“God spoke all these words, saying, I am the Lord your God.”

Last week we heard about the great moment when Christ’s divinity was shown to S. Peter, S. James, and S. John; but along with them on the holy mountain there were two other figures: Moses and Elijah. Two great figures from the Old Testament, and nobody could deny that they are both suitable as representatives of the history of the people of Israel — a history which reached its culmination in the coming of Christ. But among the great figures of that history, there are many others which we might think as suitable as well. Abraham, the Father of the great nation; Noah, whose righteousness lead to the preservation of humanity; David and Solomon, kings who held the nation together and established the worship of God in the Temple — but, no, it was to be Moses and Elijah because they were very deliberate choices.

For the people of Israel, Elijah was the great prophet; there were many others, but none was seen as reaching the stature of Elijah. In particular, as he was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire rather than die in the usual manner, he was to be the herald of the Messiah — the Jews knew that he would come and acclaim the Messiah and that this would help them to recognise that Messiah. This makes him an absolutely natural choice for the Transfiguration.

Moses stands at the head of the other great tradition of ancient Israel: the Law. The two pillars which were seen as upholding the faith were the Law and the Prophets. Elijah was the greatest of the prophets, and Moses was the great law-giver. The Law was seen as the foundation of the nation, looking through the Old Testament, several times we hear of the great care which was given to keeping it wherever possible. As he was taken into exile, Daniel worked hard to ensure that along with those closest to him, he could keep to the dietary requirements of the law by not eating unclean meat. When the Maccabees fought for the freedom of the nation, they carefully and prayerfully reflected on whether they could fight on the sabbath. When Ezra read the Law publicly to the people after the long exile in Babylon, they wept on hearing what they had lost in those years of separation. All of this law came to them through Moses — so it’s clear that Moses should be there with Christ.

But, surely this doesn’t really matter to us? Christianity has moved beyond the Law, hasn’t it? We’re no longer simply about following a complex set of rules, for fear that if we break one of them we’ll offend God who will smite us in retribution — so none of this should interest us, surely.

Clearly the Church considers that the law is important enough to include the account of how it was given in the readings we hear. Indeed, Christ himself said that not a single jot of the law is removed. But what Christ also did, was to show us the true meaning of the Law. The Law, as understood by Christ, as preached by the Church, is not simply about that complex set of rules — it is about leading us closer to God.

In many cases we have moved on from the minute regulations — we can relish black-pudding, and can serve meat in the same dish as dairy — but it is a mistake to think that the Law has been removed. It has not been removed, but it has been put into the right context.

We know that the law cannot save us, however hard we strive and fight to follow it, that isn’t going to be enough to get us into heaven. But this need not worry us, because we don’t need the law to save us — we have the fulfilment of the Law, Christ himself, who can save us.

Rather we can see in the Law, the way that God is guiding us to be closer to him; closer to those around us; and purer in our hearts. The ten commandments, which we heard in our reading, deal with how we should approach God and then how we should deal with our neighbours. These were summarised by Christ as loving God completely, and loving our neighbour as ourselves. If we look through the full set of ten, reading them with that summary in mind, we can see that sense of love pervading them all.

Loving God is incompatible with worshipping other supposed gods (whether other religions, or whether material gods such as money), it is also incompatible with taking his name in vain. Loving our neighbours is incompatible with stealing from them or bearing false witness against them. We need to capture that fullness which is present in the Law — the motivation underneath it, the way that it all springs from God’s love.

This does not mean that we leave the law behind, but rather that we seek to rise higher. The demands which it places on us are still there, and we still struggle with some of those demands. But we no longer try to follow it for fear of displeasing God, but out of love for him and out of love for our neighbours. If we do this, the Law’s real power for good is shown. With God’s grace in our hearts, the Law can help to purify our minds, can help us to grow in true love; can help us to grow closer to God.

When God gave the Law to Israel, it wasn’t just a stop-gap measure until Christ would come along; it was part of the unfolding of his plan of salvation. The Law points forward to Christ, and he fulfils it. We know that it cannot save us — only God can do that — but we receive it as part of his gift to us. A gift which if we use it properly, seeking to grow in unity with God through it, can build us up, can transform us step-by-step to be that person who loves God with all of his heart and mind, and therefore also loves his neighbour as himself.

Let us give thanks to God for that gift of the Law; repenting of the times we have ignored it and strayed from his guidance; and asking for his strength to grow closer to his image.

Foreshadowing the Sacrifice

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Second Sunday in Lent (28 February)

Leaflet for Mass

Two anonymous engravings combined by Scott LaPierre“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

The emphasis in the lectionary readings are about the identity of the two sons that feature.

In Genesis we have that difficult story of God’s testing of Abraham, whose name means ‘father of a multitude’. To our modern ears we struggle with God being presented as asking Abraham, as a test, to sacrifice his only son. Isaac is the very son that God had given Abraham and Sarah in their old age, through whom God would bless the whole earth. So what on earth is going on here?

At a simple level, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac is indeed God testing Abraham to see how much he would trust and obey — no matter how difficult the request was. We are not privy to the mind of Abraham but one might call to mind the words of Job 1:21 “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In reference to this very episode, the writer to the Hebrews speaks of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises. “He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence he did receive him [Isaac] back and this was a symbol.” We also have to remember our understanding of the individual would not be recognised or understood in ancient cultures. Isaac was a part Abraham’s self-identity, and a part of Abraham would die with Isaac.

However, nowhere else in the Old Testament is God depicted as asking for human sacrifice from his people. To grasp something of the deeper importance of this event we need to look at it in light of the events of Holy Week, especially Good Friday. There are extraordinary parallels with the passion of our Lord. Firstly it’s the sacrifice of an only-begotten Son. At the baptism as well as here in the Transfiguration of our Lord, God the Father identifies Christ has his Beloved Son. However close we might be to a loved one, a spouse or a child, it can only ever reveal a small insight into the intimate nature of the union between God the Father and God the Son. Christ hints at this closeness when saying: ‘All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ And ‘I and the Father are one.’ Therefore the Father and the Spirit are present at the cross, not distant spectators.

The ram that Abraham discovers is caught in the thickets by its horns and our Lord is dressed with a crown of thorns by the Roman soldiers who taunted and abused him. Isaac carries the wood upon which he is to be sacrificed and Christ bears his own cross along the way to Golgotha. Abraham lays Isaac bound upon the wood and Christ is laid upon the cross bound and nailed. The appearance of the ram sacrificed by Abraham echoes our Lord’s celebration of the Last Supper in which he reveals himself to be the true Passover lamb.

Mountains in the scriptures are the places of divine encounter and revelation. Abraham offers Isaac on Mount Moriah. Moses encounters God in the burning bush and receives the Ten Commandments upon a mountain. Elijah glimpses the glory of God and hears the still small voice of God, after the earthquake, wind and fire, upon a mountain. Christ as the new Moses delivers his sermon on the mount and here on the mountain of the Transfiguration reveals a glimpse of his divine glory as Son of the Father.

It is after his transfiguration that Christ starts speaking of his death to his disciples and sets his face to go to Jerusalem. Mount Moriah is only mentioned twice in the scriptures. Here in the Abraham and Isaac incident and then by king Solomon, who follows his Father David’s instructions and builds the Temple of the Lord on Mount Moriah. Jerusalem and the Temple are built upon the same mountain that Abraham was to offer Isaac to God in sacrifice. It is to the same mountain that Christ sets his face and will be offered himself upon the cross for the salvation of the world.

The angel of God stays Abraham’s hand, and the story points forward to Christ’s sacrifice through whom the promise to bless all the nations will find its ultimate fulfilment. It is here that we understand God reveals through this story of Abraham and Isaac, “no, not your sacrifice, but mine.”

It is in the light of this self-giving of the Godhead that St Paul is so confident to say: “What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” And that nothing in heaven or earth will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We know who Christ is: “This is my Son the Beloved,” and we know that the Godhead is intimately engaged in the suffering of the cross that has overcome the world, the flesh and the devil, to bless all the nations of the earth. Therefore, we can trust the Father’s command to ‘listen to him,’ which is to follow his teachings and entrust ourselves to his graces, in faith, because they are our life, health and salvation.

He has overcome the world and will walk with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death, so that we might sit at the banquet with his saints in glory.

A holy Lent

Fr Thomas’s homily at Mass on the First Sunday in Lent (Quadragesima Sunday) (21 February)

Leaflet for Mass

Jésus assisté par les anges, James Tissot (1836–1902), 1886–1894; Brooklyn Museum, New York“And the angels ministered to him.”

There are, at least, a couple of misunderstandings of what Lent is all about. For some, it’s some sort of endurance test — that we’re supposed to turn into super-stoics for forty days to prove that we’re properly up for it. For others, it’s an annual health-check — a time to try and draw back on our bad habits; to lose a few unneeded pounds, or to give up smoking or drinking too much. As so often, there is some element of truth to these misunderstandings, but more fundamentally they miss the point.

Yes, Lent is supposed to be difficult, when Christ went into the wilderness it was certainly challenging for him and we should expect the same to be true for us. We do need to have endurance, we will face temptations to step away from our disciplines; and yes, it should end up building our self-control and that’s a very useful effect…but it’s not the whole issue, and certainly not the main point. Similarly, seeing fasting as a form of diet or as a way to remove our bad habits — if we do this, then yes we will see some benefits to our health…but we should really be working against our bad habits all year round, we should be trying to get rid of them because they’re bad, not because it’s Lent. But these share the same problem — they miss out God. This is the sort of Lent which could be recommended by anybody, regardless of Faith.

If we turn to today’s Gospel, and consider what Christ did — because this is the model for our own Lent. The wilderness which He went into, which we seek to go into, whilst it is a place which lacks our usual comforts — it isn’t a place which entirely devoid of life. It was for Him, and is for us, a place where God is. We can see that God is the utterly central point about Lent, and if we do not hold fast to this, then we will rapidly go astray.

Christ didn’t go into the wilderness because he needed to diet, nor because he wanted to build up his self-control — he went because he wanted to deepen the relationship with His Father before the beginning of his public ministry. He was about to go around Galilee preaching the coming kingdom of God, bringing the wholeness and healing of his presence to the sick and outcast, journeying finally to Jerusalem where he would offer true wholeness to the whole world through his death and resurrection. In short, he was about to go on the mission which the Father had given to him — so spending time with the Father was essential.

Those angels who ministered to him in the wilderness show to us that God was not absent, this was not a time of escape from God — after all we cannot escape from God. But rather it was a time of dependence on God and on God alone. By putting aside the other sources of support and comfort Christ shows us that there is no comfort which we need other than God.

Lenten discipline is not just about denying ourselves enjoyable things, it’s about opening ourselves to God. The things which we give up — even when they are things which are good in themselves — can come between us and God; and so by putting them aside for a short time we are trying to remove any barriers, anything which mean that we are less attentive to God’s voice, to God’s grace in our lives. It is to allow ourselves to be ministered to by the angels, just as Christ was.

Lent is not just a time for fasting, it’s a time to deepen our relationship with God. A time to be more intense in our prayers, to be more focused on God and what he is giving to us. The wilderness was a place without material comfort, and that lack of material comfort is precisely so that it can be a place of spiritual comfort. A place where God’s support, where the ministrations of his angels, can be ever more clear. A place where we can know, as our Tract todays puts it, that those angels have charge over us to keep us in all our ways.

This is the model of Lent which we should embrace. Putting things aside — yes. But knowing more clearly why we put them aside — putting them aside because we want to grow closer to God. Putting them aside because we know that we can find more support in God and in his grace — that as his angels minister to us, we will have more than we need to live our lives well.

And as we put those things aside, we need to make sure that we allow God in to fill the space left. If we don’t, if we could well end up even worse than before. If we don’t make this all about God, then we will simply feel the loss of the things we have given up and there won’t be anything to fill the gap in our lives, and we can easily try to fill it with all manner of distracting things. If we don’t allow God in, then the very best that Lent can be is some sort of diet — some sort of sæcular self-improvement…a path which will lead us nowhere good.

But if we do allow God in — if we do focus more clearly on him — then as we put things aside, challenging though it still will be, we will find that there is more there — because God is more than anything material. We will find that our whole beings are changed — our minds are raised up, the transitory material goods which give us comfort are seen for what they are — weak and temporary. At the same time, the spiritual goods, are seen for what they are — powerful and eternal.

So let us open ourselves to God — let us imitate Christ in seeking closeness with God. Let us take all of the opportunities which Lent offers — let us have a stronger focus on prayer, let us celebrate the Sacraments with deeper devotion (not least Confession), let us meditate on God’s holy word. If we imitate Christ in his fasting, then God will give us the same response — we will have trials and temptations, yes, I’m not about to pretend that this is easy, but through it all we will have God’s presence with us, we will have his support, and we too will have the angels ministering to us.

“I will: be clean”

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on Quinquagesima Sunday (14 February)

Leaflet for Mass

Jesus heals the leper, unknown mosaic“If you will, you can make me clean.”

These are the words of the leper who sought out the Lord and knelt before him and begged him to heal him.

Leprosy was a very serious matter for the Jewish community. The biblical term leprosy seems to refer to various skin diseases and not only to Hansen’s disease. If you want to know how seriously they took leprosy then read Leviticus 14 which goes into lumps bumps, hairs and pus that the priest had to identify to either announce someone healed or to be a leper.

If the priest announced you a leper then you lost everything. You couldn’t join in the temple worship and you were excluded from the community as a whole. You lived alone, isolated and having to call out, “Unclean” if anyone came near.

The most serious form of leprosy was a slow death sentence, as your flesh slowly died as you lived. We have deep within our cultural psychology the image of the ragged person with a bell, crying out “Unclean”. It has almost certainly fuelled our culture obsession with stories, films and tv series about zombies — the “walking dead”.

Today we see a twisted version of cultural exclusion being applied to any one group of people that society deems unacceptable. In our present time we see this in the socially-acceptable attitude that despises, confronts and attacks those who cannot wear masks and a growing acceptable attack on those of a Christian faith, especially Catholics.

Biblically the leper was a outward visible symbol of an inward spiritual reality which marked the difference between that which was clean and unclean, sacred and profane, the blessed and the cursed. The people of God were called to be holy, meaning set apart. Their relationship with God was to reveal the nature of God’s holiness and the corruption that the Fall had had upon the created world. Nothing that was corrupt, tainted by sin and death could enter into the presence of God without being destroyed. They were to be a light and revelation to the nations.

Therefore, written through their rituals about food and washing, their moral code and cultic practices around ritual worship emphasised the difference between the sacred and the profane, the clean and the unclean.

Anything that was unclean had to be ritually cleansed or expelled so that the people of God could not be contaminated — they were to keep themselves “holy unto the Lord”. This is why the Lord God was so strong in demanding that they do not associate or take on the practices of the nations around about them.

Those healed of leprosy would not automatically be allowed back; their healing had to be authenticated by the priest and only then were they restored to the community. This is the reason for Christ’s direction to the man he healed to go and show himself to the priest and make the offerings prescribed.

Those witnessing these events would have automatically called to mind the healing of Naaman by Elisha. When Naaman is sent by the king of Syria to the king of Israel to heal him, the king of Israel tears his clothes and cries, “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?” The prophet of God, Elisha saves the day, revealing the power of God that heals and converts Naaman.

It would undoubtedly have been the reason why so many sought out Christ: because these action were like to prophets of old; God is once again revealing himself to his people.

This healing of the leper reveals Christ as Messiah but also continues to hint at his divinity — only God could heal the deadliest form of leprosy and restore the individual.

The reality behind these outwards signs is real and powerful, and yet so often missed. The great danger of focussing upon the external signs alone is that they become corrupted and a means to denigrate, belittle and abuse groups of people we dislike for one reason or another. Abortion, euthanasia and policies which place those who are disabled or with learning difficulties under ‘Do not resuscitate’ orders without consent are a symptom of this.

The Church is not immune to this, and it can run the real danger of a Catholicism that is tribal and cultural alone. We can participate in the external practices that are viewed as “belonging” (such as baptism, first holy communion, confirmation, weddings and funerals) without any practice of the faith revealed in attendance at mass. It’s the assumption of forgiveness without the need for true confession, living morally corrupt lives without any fear of judgement.

Christ understood this danger, and although he was a good Jew, he spoke clearly about the inner reality when, later in the Gospel, he states: “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, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”

We have to take seriously the true distinctions between that which is holy and unholy, the sacred and the profane, the clean and the unclean, otherwise we will never perceive the majestic holiness of God our maker and creator — and the devastating nature of the Fall with its consequences of sin, death and alienation from God.

The leper was clear about where he stood and knew that there was only one who could save him. His actions are informative. He knows his need of God, seeks out Christ and comes falling on his knees begging for mercy and healing. He has abandoned himself to God’s will. By so doing he has revealed to him the will of God, ‘whose property is always to have mercy’. Christ touches him and he is once again restored as a child of God.

Without acceptance of the nature of sin and the devastating effects it can have on our lives and relationship with God, why would we look for the Lord?

The sacraments are the place where we can seek out Christ, beg his mercy and receive his touch of healing and restoration in the body of Christ. It is in the cry of our heart to the Lord, “If you will, you can make me clean,” that we are enabled to hear the wonderful word of Christ; “I will, be clean.”

The Messiah who brings freedom

FrThomas’s homily at Mass on Sexagesima Sunday (7 February)

Leaflet for Mass

Jesus casting out demons, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794–1872), Die Bibel in Bildern, Leipzig 1860“He would not permit the demons to speak because they knew him.”

This is a rather surprising point — Christ is going round preaching about the coming kingdom of God, and yet when he meets with those who know who he is, he stops them from speaking, from saying who he truly is. If Christ were trying to live like a hermit, if he were avoiding any sort of publicity this would make perfect sense — but on the contrary, he goes into synagogues to preach to the whole community, and when they bring people to him who need healing he readily gives them his blessing and restores them to wholeness causing crowds to gather. As he does this, it’s not in the least bit surprising that the next morning when Simon Peter comes and finds him he said “every one is searching for you.”

So he can hardly be said to be avoiding publicity — but yet, but yet there is something which he is keeping quiet. He is not claiming to be the Messiah — he is the Messiah, and he never denies it, but for the moment he doesn’t say anything about it. When he meets with those demons who know full-well that he is the Messiah, he forbids them from letting anybody know.

It seems that he doesn’t want people to know who he is — which surely would go against the whole purpose of his preaching mission.

Of course, it does actually make perfect sense…Christ is fulfilling God’s mission, so every last details has been planned out for endless ages. The point is that he wants the people to come to know what he actually is and what that means, not merely to have a title attached to him.

Had those demons let slip that he was the Messiah — had people come to know it, then whenever he arrived to preach the Gospel he would have to deal with the various bundles of ideas, traditions, and random thoughts which people had about the Messiah. No longer would his preaching be simply about the coming of the kingdom of God — it would have to start by putting them right on what the Messiah was.

The Jews of the time saw the Messiah principally as a political leader — as somebody who would restore the nation, would give the Kingdom of Israel its freedom again. They knew well the story of the Exodus from Egypt — they had been slaves, held under the power of a foreign king, and God through a powerful intervention brought them out and gave them their own land, where they could govern themselves (under his guidance) and be free to worship him. When they retold that story each year, looking at their life under the Roman Empire, the moral was immediately apparent: the Messiah would repeat what Moses did, would remove the control which the Empire had over them, and give them their kingdom again. After all this is what had happened when they returned from exile in Babylon — they were free to live in their land and worship God properly — it is what had happened after the Maccabean Revolt, when the oppressive Seleucid Empire had been removed from Israel.

The moral of the Exodus seemed so clear, but like so many other things which seem clear and obvious it was also wrong because it has things the wrong way round. It’s not that the liberation which the Messiah would bring was modelled on the Exodus — rather it’s that the Exodus was modelled on the liberation which the Messiah would bring. The Messiah’s liberation was far deeper than the freedom which Moses brought.

The freedom which Moses gave to the people of Israel was simply the freedom from having a foreign ruler oppress them — the freedom which the Messiah brought was far more powerful. He gave a freedom which meant that those who were being oppressed by various illnesses and demons were set free from those — and even more powerfully, those who were oppressed by sin, were set free from those sins.

If people saw Our Lord arriving and their first thought was of the Messiah, then while they would have the right title for him, they would have the wrong idea of what he was doing. But if he taught them, using powerful words of preaching, and showing them the freedom he was offering by setting them free from illnesses, then they could come to see the reality which he was promising. They could come to use the word ‘Messiah’ in due course, but only once they had fully understood what it really meant.

While this was true of those whom Christ encountered while walking on earth, it is also true of us as well. We can easily miss the point of what Christ is saying to us, we can get caught up in the ideas which we find most comforting, in the thoughts we have inherited. But we need to be able to take a step back, and look at what Christ is really saying to us and to the whole world.

Christ was not merely the Messiah for the people of Israel, he is the Messiah, and he is the Messiah for the whole world. He comes to us with the same message as he came to those towns and villages throughout Galilee. He preaches the same freedom to us.

We are all, in various ways, caught up by the bonds of sins — our sins, those of our communities, and those of others — and Christ comes to us, as he came to so many people two thousand years ago, offering freedom. Offering to set us free from the sins which weigh us down, offering us the true and deep freedom which belongs to the children of God.

Let us, then, take the time to reflect on how we hear the message of Christ. Whether we place too many of our own filters in front of the message so that we miss out on the heart of that message. Let us also reflect on where in our lives we need to have that freedom which he brings — which bonds he can break for us, and then ask for him to come into our lives in order to give us that freedom, to break all of those bonds of slavery to sin.