Archives for Eastbourne Ordinariate Mission

“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.

One Church, one Faith, one Lord

Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, Francisco Herrera the Elder (1576–1656), c.1650; Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid

Fr Neil’s homily for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, 25 July 2021

There is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.¹

What is it that you desire above all else? This is an important question that we need to ask honestly, deep within our own hearts. The answer we get will reveal what drives and motivates our actions and will. Desires we don’t scrutinise will often cause us and others great difficulties, trials and pain. It doesn’t take much to see where unexamined desires can lead. Sin and selfishness deceive and darken our understanding and twist logic so that we begin to believe that good is evil in an attempt at self-fulfilment. The acknowledgement of these inner desires will enable us to temper, moderate and redirect our actions to be less destructive of self and others.

In our Gospel reading we see the crowd’s reaction to the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish. Christ reveals in these signs that he is the new Elijah and Moses who multiplies the loaves and is the bread of heaven that will feed God’s people in a new exodus. The desire of those present to take Christ, by force, and make him king reveals a collective longing for freedom and the fulfilment of the prophetic promises.

Christ evades their attempt because he understands the heart of fallen humanity. He sees temptation to find a quick fix that often leads to long-term disaster in our attempts to fulfil our desires.

There will be a new exodus, but by a path that is altogether harder. This path to the fulfilment of our ultimate happiness requires a journey to both Golgotha and the tomb before we can enter into the fullness of being the children of God.

Both Mary and Joseph, along with many of the saints and martyrs, are a wonderful example of how surrendering our own attempts to self-fulfilment leads to becoming all that God wills for them. Certainly both Mary and Joseph had ideas of what the road to happiness was going to look like. However God’s intervention and their willingness to surrender those dreams to the purposes of God led them both to their place in the glory of heaven. Humanly speaking, this journey was by a more difficult path.

Of course we all have our own particular journey to follow in seeking the real purposes of God for our lives. Yet there are some general principles that help guide us in our walk with God. While we have our own particular journey we do not walk alone. The twelve baskets gathered from the multiplication of loaves hints at this pilgrim journey taken by the whole body of Christ. The twelve baskets symbolise the twelve apostles who are the new Israel after the twelve tribes of the old covenant.

Unity of the pilgrim people, then, is critical in our discovering of the will of God and our particular journey to happiness in him. If we believe that our fulfilment lies in a path that separates and alienates us from others and is a cause of division particularly in the body of Christ then we can be fairly certain that we are walking the wrong way. We might assess the actions and decisions of others, even priest and prelate, by whether it is marked by ‘forbearing one another in love eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’²

Saint Paul emphasises clearly that unity in the Spirit is expressed in the faith that acknowledges that there is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one faith, and one God and Father of us all. St Peter, speaking of Christ before the council of the Sanhedrin in Acts, also declares. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”³

Humility is the first characteristic needed in this journey of reconciliation in God. Saint John Chrysostom stated: “remember how you were saved … and you will not be excessively impressed with chains or privileges.. be humble towards everyone, whether enemy or friend, great or small. Meekness is the foundation of all virtue.”⁴ It is the virtues of humility, meekness and patience that will enable the body to maintain its unity and it is the very opposite of these virtues that has always pushed people into schism.

The young lad in the Gospel story is an image of innocent humility. He offers the little he has, five loaves and two fishes, despite the fact there are five thousand men to feed. To the older worldly wise disciples this act is an act of foolishness. “But what are they among so many?” asks Andrew⁵.

How easy it is for us to despise the little that we have, and think it’s not worth offering to the service of God. If the young boy had not made his offering would the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish taken place? The actions of the boy has led to this story being recorded in scripture and retold for 2000 years — all because of the humble innocent offering that he made. Only by offering the little time, gifts, and resources that we have will we be able to see the miracles of God.

Christ receiving and giving thanks for the gifts received from the young boy is the moment of transformation. The giving of ourselves into the hands of Christ in an act of Thanksgiving is the means of our transformation. Christ moves us from alienation to reconciliation, from despair to hope and from death to eternal life.

We celebrate this miracle at every mass as we take the ordinary things of bread and wine and place them in the hands of Christ, who — in an act of Thanksgiving — transforms them into his body, soul and divinity, for our salvation. In our receiving of these transformed gifts we are made into the children of God living in the one body, through faith, hope and love to the glory of the the one God and Father of us all.

¹ Ephesians 4:4–6
² Ephesians 4:2–3
³ Acts 4:12
Chrysostom, Homily IX on Ephesians
⁵ John 6:9

The editorial title is a refrain by Edward Plumptre (1821–1891)

Fear not, little flock

The Last Judgement, Stefan Lochner (c.1410–1451), c.1435; Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne

Fr Neil’s homily for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity, 18 July 2021

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!

The context of these words, from the prophet Jeremiah¹, is the unfaithful priests of the Temple prior to the Exile. The accusations levelled at them is their disobedience to the precepts and commandments of the Lord their God. They had not followed the commandments and had taught the people the same way, ‘scattering the flock’. As a consequence they had abandoned the ways of God and walked the way of destruction and judgement.

Scripture tells us that those who are priests and teachers of the faith will be judged more harshly than those who are not². This harsher judgement is due to the influence of the life and teaching of the priest, which can either direct God’s people towards heaven or lead them to hell fire. The words of Jeremiah make for sober reading especially when God speaks of the unfaithful priests saying, “Behold, I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.”³

Dante, in his Inferno, gives us an elaborate image of what that judgement might be. He discovers a priest in the eighth circle of Hell who is guilty of having defrauded his parishioners and led them astray. The priest is covered head to foot in excrement, the fruits of his lies, and is constantly whipped by a demon to keep moving through the effluent. The eighth circle of Hell is second to last, showing how despicable and vile the priest’s actions have been.

Every priest must constantly, in fear and trembling before God, reflect on the decisions he makes and that which he teaches. He does so in order that he might be faithful to the ministry to which he has been called and to the Magisterium of the Church — for he handles the things of the God for the people of God.

When we stop reflecting on and seeking to be faithful to that which we have received and has been handed on by our forebears, then is the moment of greatest danger for the deacon, priest or prelate. Trying to engage the world by uncoupling ourselves from the faith, practices and wisdom of our Fathers, requires an alternative authoritative voice which inevitably is found in the spirit of the age. This worldly wisdom operates on the underlying assumption that the thought and practice of the historical Church is primitive, patriarchal and unenlightened. This “wisdom” tells us that the past is not the deposit of faith that reveals the divine eternal will of God, but a ball and chain from which we need to free ourselves.

The Magisterium isn’t static: as St John Henry Newman articulated, there is a rightful development of doctrine. However, that development must remain faithful to the teaching received and be in continuity with it. This rightful development is an exploration of the unfolding consequences of the particular belief. If any proposed development of doctrine or reform of liturgical practice is not firmly rooted in the faith received then it will inevitably run the way of innovation and be a rupture from the past. If we believe in the divinely-revealed eternal will of the Father, then that which was held holy by the Church in previous years cannot be seen as being unholy now.

The removal of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith from having an influence in the liturgical concerns of the Church is very worrying and threatens lex orandi, lex credendi, literally, “the law of prayer [is] the law of belief.”

The real danger of a priest or bishop not being grounded in the faith of our fathers is that it creates the worst form of clericalism. This modern clericalism tends to locate its authority and meaning in the self — the individual priest or bishop. The priest fails to be at the service of the Church and its liturgy because he believes that he knows better. He teaches and celebrates mass in a manner that corrects the “obvious errors” of this “outdated institution”. Any praise or respect shown feeds the ego rather than rightly being deferred to the office he holds. The priest becomes the entertainer in his attempt to feed the ego. Any criticism becomes personal rather than a rejection of Christ in whose person the priest or bishop is meant to stand.

If criticism is mistakenly seen as personal then how much greater is the danger that a response to criticism is not forgiveness and compassion but vengeance and spite? The people of God who hold the faith will find themselves being seen as a problem — or tolerated and patronised at best — and their Catholic devotions ridiculed as old-fashioned. The orthodox who insist that we need to listen to the voice of Tradition and the Magisterium will be marginalised or provoked into schism.

In practice those who reject the traditions and teachings of the fathers end up loathing the very institution that fed and nurtured them. Is it any wonder that God has such harsh words to say to the unfaithful priest?

How tempting it is for us to fall into despair fed by the understandable anger that we and others feel. Yet Jeremiah has the words of God’s promise that he will raise up a faithful priest and will shepherd his flock himself. While these words find their greatest fulfilment in Christ, the good Shepherd, they still carry a promise for us at this time of trial. God will not abandon his people and will raise up faithful shepherds to tend his flock. What is now will not remain.

Christ also tells his disciples to “Come away by yourself to a lonely place, and rest a while.”⁴ We need to hear these words to draw away from the clamour, noise and chaos so that we might rest a while in the presence of our Lord. It is here before our Lord that, in prayer, we can begin to reorientate ourselves, to put into perspective the damaging things done, and yet find our hope in that all things are held in God’s hands. Satan may have his hour but God will have the day.

‘Why art thou so heavy, O my soul? and why art thou so disquieted within me?
O put thy trust in God, for I will yet give him thanks, which is the help of my countenance, and my God.’⁵

¹ Jeremiah 23:1
² James 3:1
³ Jeremiah 23:2
⁴ Mark 6:31
⁵ Psalm 43:5–6

The editorial title is from Luke 12:32

Chosen for a purpose

Isaiah receiving the burning coals

Fr Neil’s homily for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity, 11 July 2021

…He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Let that statement from Paul sink in. Everything that we are, our place in the universe, utterly miniscule as it is, was and is known by God before the beginning of creation. God has called us into existence, and calls us into his redemptive work of salvation through Christ, his Son our Lord.

Before our minds begin to get entangled with the issues of predestination, it is important to note that God knows that we will exist, who we are, and what we will be. Yet still from all eternity has called us into life in Christ. Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and holds the past, present and future in an ever-present moment. The fact that God has called us from all eternity and knows all that is, has been and will be doesn’t impinge on our expression of self-will. God will never stop calling even if we decide to continually reject the invitation.

In the quiet life of being a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees, the call of God breaks through, as our first reading describes¹. Amos is not trained in oratory nor has he graduated from a school of prophets. He is no professional who earns his keep from uttering the oracles of God. Yet he is invited by God to speak his message in the sanctuary of Bethel. He does so not for honour, riches or out of his own pride; but simply and humbly because God has called him to do it. Amos’ rewards are certainly not earthly as he is rejected and treated with contempt by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel.

The role of the messenger of God is often, in worldly terms, a call to failure. True — some do hear and receive the word of God — but many reject it, despise it and persecute those who utter God’s word. Most of the Old Testament prophets were rejected, persecuted and martyred. John the Baptist was beheaded, our Lord was crucified and all but one of the apostles were martyred — and even John was exiled at the end of his life to the island of Patmos.

Things haven’t changed in the present modern life of the Church in the world. Aid to the Church in Need, which seeks to help persecuted Christians around the world, is busier now than it has ever been. Christians in The Middle East, in Africa, in Asia and the Far East, in South America, are under attack and many are imprisoned. Even in our Western democracies, underpinned by Christian values as they are, the voice of the Church is slowly being silenced.

Most of us are not great in the eyes of the world, yet God has called us in Christ into the world to bear witness to his voice. How can we respond to that call when faced with the certainty that much of what we say, and the values we live by, will be rejected if not ridiculed? How tempting it is to not tell people of our faith, and to view it as purely a private matter! Are we silent on issues that impinge upon our faith? We know that holding to the teachings of the Church will almost certainly mean opposition from friends, family members and colleagues. There is even pressure within the Church for priests and deacons to be silent on “difficult moral issues”.

What is it that will enable us like the prophets, saints and martyrs to continue to proclaim and to live the life of faith despite the difficulties, trials and persecutions we might face?

Firstly: even though we are deemed as nothing extraordinary, we are yet chosen by God and are held for all eternity in the heart of his love. He has chosen us to be those through whom the wonder of his love in word and deed might be revealed to the world. This calling is not something we do in our own power, but is the work of God in us and through us.

Second is the bigger picture of God’s heavenly glory and the salvation won for us in Christ. St Paul speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit being a seal and guarantee of our inheritance², which is the receiving in Christ of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. How easy it is when we are facing difficulties and trials to fail to see beyond them! Unless we are able to cast the present on to the canvas of the eternal will of God and his triumph over sin and death, then we will become prisoners of the present and remain victims alone. Our mode of operation will be despair and grumbling and groaning alone about our life, not seeing anything beyond. How often do we find ourselves moaning about issues in the Church, in the world, at work, within our families and generally with our lot in life without any recourse to the joy and hope of our faith in Christ?

The extraordinary witness of so many of the saints and martyrs is that they were able joyfully to sing the praises of God in Christ and ask forgiveness for their persecutors as they went to their deaths. They could only give this miraculous response if they had truly understood their final destiny in Christ and treasured it in their hearts beyond all other cares, joys and hopes this world could afford.

Let us encourage one another to hold Christ before us and the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight, revealing the mystery of his will to unite all things in him: things in heaven and things on Earth.³

¹ Amos 7:12–15
² cf Ephesians 1:13–14
³ cf Ephesians 1:9–10

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!

La Messe de fondation de l’Ordre des Trinitaires, Juan Carreño de Miranda (1614–1685), 1666, Madrid; The Louvre, Paris. Photo by Jean Louis Mazieres

Fr Neil’s homily for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, 4 July 2021

He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief.

In our Gospel reading we see Christ standing in the same tradition as the prophets before him. He is not only rejected here, but will eventually be abandoned by most of his disciples and be hung upon a tree.

Christ marvels at the unbelief of those who have known him from his earliest years. It seems that they could not see what was in front of them.

I am reminded of the dwarves in the stable at the end of C.S. Lewis’ book The Last Battle. They are so sceptical of what is before their eyes that they imprison themselves in an inescapable delusion. Despite the light, joy, goodness and beauty around them they only see darkness, sorrow and dross.

Although Christ stood before the crowd as the ‘one who speaks the words of eternal life’¹, and shows all the expected marks of God’s Messiah, they could not accept him. You get the feeling that they are thinking, “Who do you think you are? You’ve come from nowhere special and now you are speaking and teaching as one with authority.” Perhaps they still have the image of the boy who was the son of Mary and Joseph, whose wider family is well known.

The people’s scepticism meant they could put no faith in the Christ who stood before them. They would continue to cry out to God for a messiah to come and save them while rejecting the very answer to their prayer that was right in their midst. It is a bit like the man lost at sea who cried out to God to save him. A fishing boat comes by and offers to help but he refuses saying, “no thanks, God will save me.” Then a yacht comes along offering help, and again he refuses, confident God will answer his prayer. Then a helicopter comes by offering to pull him out of the sea but again he refuses the help. The man drowns and when he sees God he indignantly asks, “Why didn’t you answer my prayer and save me?” God replies, “Well I sent you a fishing boat, a yacht and a helicopter. What more did you want?!”

There is a great deal of talk about faith in the Gospels. Last week’s reading is a case in point, where Christ says “do not fear, only believe.”² Their lack of faith, their disbelief, meant that Christ would do no mighty works or miracles among them.

It is important to make the distinction that the faith required is less about a particular miracle and much more to do with having faith in the one who is able to perform such miracles. Aslan, in Lewis’ novel produces miracles for the dwarves but they refuse to acknowledge that they are no longer in the stable, but in the new Narnia. Aslan explains “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in, that they cannot be taken out.” In other words our faith that encounters the miraculous and divine is contingent on placing that faith in who Christ is and what he had done in bringing about the salvation of the world. All the miracles in the world will not convince those trapped in their own scepticism.

If we do not trust and believe the creeds and seek to make them our own, we will diminish our capacity to encounter the Divine and experience the miraculous. The lack of faith leads to a loss of the divine and is sadly reflective in so much liturgical practice. If we lose the belief in the reality of Christ being made present — body, soul and divinity — in the mass, then why bother with adoration? And what’s the point of the sacrament of confession, anointing, marriage, confirmation and even baptism, bar being cultural rites of passage? The ordained deacon and priest are reduced to the function of a sort of spiritual social worker.

If we have lost the faith that Christ is our Saviour, then the sacraments are not the means of divine grace: they are reduced to words of comfort for some or the means of self-flagellation for the mentally disturbed. The loss of the divine means the Church’s liturgy is reduced to a mere social construct for the benefit of the community, rather than encountering the living God and offering him fitting praise and worship.

If our first conscious or subconscious questions are: “Did I enjoy mass; was it entertaining; and what did I get out of it?” rather than recognising “I’ve come to offer thanksgiving to God, to receive his merciful graces, to bear witness to the power of Christ’s death and resurrection and to glimpse the transcendent glory of God”, then we are on slippery ground.

The real danger is that the focus becomes Self alone. This enlarges our problems rather than reduces them because we aim to transform society around us, to suit our needs and after our own image rather than seek the conforming of our lives to a life of holiness to the honour and glory of God.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that our faith is to be in Christ — his passion, resurrection, ascension and divinity. Only then will our eyes be open to see and encounter the miraculous which opens up the possibility to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit for our healing, conversion and salvation as children of God and citizens of heaven.

¹ John 6:68
² Mark 5:36

The editorial title is from Mark 9:24.

“You shall not die, but live”

Raising of Jairus Daughter, Ilia Efimovich Repin (1844–1930), 1871; The State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg

Fr Neil’s homily for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 27 June 2021

‘For God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity.’

It is usually said that “one doesn’t speak about religion or politics in polite company.” We could add a third subject that most people get very uncomfortable with — death.

We sometimes treat death as if it’s a embarrassing old aunt stuck in the corner of the room. Most of the time we pretend that they are not there and yet like most embarrassing relatives they will occasionally and rudely let everyone know of their presence.

Death is inescapable however much we try to ignore it. Death is woven into the whole created order. Our finite mortality shapes our lived experience. It’s true that young men can often think they are invincible. This can come about especially if they haven’t properly transitioned from boyhood to manhood and been confronted with their own mortality.

Yet as we get older our bodies, as they begin to break down, constantly remind us of the finite nature of our lives. As a footballer, like all athletes, by the time you’ve reached your mid-30s you are in the twilight of your career — your body is in decline. The cruelty of it is that inside, in our spirit and soul, almost however old our bodies are, we still feel young.

When exposed to death — even if it is expected and natural at the end of a person’s life — we will almost certainly experience a sense of shock, disbelief and even a sense of outrage. We also know that over-exposure to death, particularly unnatural death, can make a person vulnerable to long-term mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and despair.

The Covid pandemic has divided and traumatised this and other nations through the fear and reality of death. The lived experience of some, and government policies, have brought the threat of suffering and death into everything we do. Death is no longer sitting in the corner being ignored but is screaming in our faces. Everyone and everything could be a death-bringer. The fear of such death is leading to a serious loss of our civil liberties in general and an apartheid system where those who are not vaccinated will lose their jobs and have their freedom of movement severely restricted. This is not medically-driven but a punishment for being a non-compliant citizen.

Such fear reveals that deep within ourselves we know that death as we experience it now was never meant to be. Perhaps we get a glimpse of what was meant to be in the biblical stories of Enoch, (“Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”¹) and Elijah, (“behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”²) There also the Assumption of Our Lady and the bodily incorruptible saints, all hinting at something other than death as we know it.

We find death shocking; yet in an act of complete self-contradiction we have seen and accepted the development of a culture of death, motivated by the loss of the sacred and spiritual. Decisions are made on the notion of the greatest good for the greatest number. Death is turned into a act of mercy that alleviates the suffering of the elderly, disabled, and those suffering severe mental distress. The campaign to legalise euthanasia and abortion up to birth is founded on such thinking. In Holland and Belgium where this is now legal, both children with complex needs and the elderly have been euthanised, some against their will on the say-so of the courts or relatives. In this country we are aware of a number of high-profile cases where courts have overruled parents and insisted that their small child with complex needs must die as the humane option.

The time that we as human beings are most vulnerable to unnatural death, is not in a pandemic, traffic accident, terrorist attack or serving in the armed forces but when we are in the womb. Since the Abortion Act in the 1960’s there have been more than nine million abortions in this country alone — that is nothing short of a Holocaust and the loss of the Holy Innocents.

While I am aware that there can often be complex individual situations, I am wanting to highlight the general attitude that sits easy with these deaths because they are somehow deemed acceptable, necessary and even merciful.

Let’s remind ourselves what else our first reading says: “through the devil’s envy death entered the world.”³ No unnatural death can be viewed as merciful or morally acceptable, despite the intellectual gymnastics done by some to justify such a position.

In this lost world of sin and death, to whom can we turn? The gospel shows two examples that it is only Our Lord who can bring us any joy, meaning and hope. The woman with the ongoing haemorrhage is aware that death is active within her body and she has lost everything in search for a answer. It is in desperation that she breaks all social barriers and reaches out to touch just the hem of Christ’s clothing. It’s an act of faith that she tells herself that he alone can do what no-one else can: heal and save her. The synagogue ruler breaks ranks with those religious authorities who view Christ with fear and suspicion. The illness and imminent death of his daughter enable a clarity of vision that sees God’s mercy at work in the person of Christ, and he seeks him out to plead for his help. Our Lord’s words, “do not be afraid, only believe”⁴ are instructive not only for the father but for all in the light of death. The woman is healed and the daughter is raised, revealing that Christ has power over even death.

Salvation history reveals God’s purpose that our human dignity should be restored to immortality, in union with Christ and reconciliation to the Father. This is at the heart of the gospel and it is this purpose to which we are called to trust our lives, too. Paul states clearly the healing of the fallen world was brought about by Christ who “became poor for our sake, to make you rich.”⁵ This poverty meant emptying himself of glory, entering the world of sin that he might embrace death, our enemy.

Rising from the dead Christ took death captive and made it obedient to the purposes of God. Death for those in Christ meant no longer the long dark night of the abyss but a gateway into eternal glory. In baptism we died with Christ that we might rise with him into the heavenly kingdom. When we celebrate the mass we participate in the power of Christ’s death, resurrection and divine life as we receive him in the sacrament. And so although we rightly grieve, sorrow and shed tears at the death of loved ones, we do not grieve as those who have not hope.

For as St Paul says⁶:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality,
    then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

¹ Genesis 5:24
² 2 Kings 2:11
³ Wisdom 2:24
⁴ Mark 5:36
⁵ cf 2 Corinthians 8:9
⁶ 1 Corinthians 15:54–55

The editorial title is taken from Psalm 118:17.