Thursday, 24 March 2011

Annunciation of the Lord 25 March, 2011

Annunciation - Solemnity 2011

Community Chapter - Sermon by Fr. Mark

In the early sixties, on a visit to Nunraw, Dom Jean Leclercq remarked that monks make bad librarians. That was because, he said, their minds were attuned to seeing the connections that any subject had with many others. So, for example, a number of books by Newman may be classified variously under the title Scripture, Theology, Patrology, Pastoral, Spirituality, and so on, depending on how you care to think about it. It is good to be able see all the possible connections but that can give headaches to a professional librarian.

When we come to celebrate the major feasts and solemnities of the liturgy, it is helpful to try and see the connections and to avoid the ‘Classification’ instinct. Today’s Solemnity of the ‘Annunciation of the Lord’ is a case in point. Many of us have been used to think of today’s celebration as a feast of our Lady. It is of course! But it is also about our Lord.

The whole purpose of the Annunciation is to tell of the imminent coming of the Lord in the flesh. So the feast is of our Lady but it is much more about the Christ, about the One who was to come and save his people. Mary appears in the foreground of the play; Jesus, her son, waits in the wings. Jean Leclercq’s monk would want to go further and to include those of us who are watching the play and who want to see what it means for us.

The angel Gabriel and our Lady have the main speaking parts. We move closer to them to learn what they have to tell us about our Lord and Saviour. What each says to the other tells us much about the graciousness of God who is now fulfilling what has been only hinted at from the beginning of time. Mary’s response as the story of God’s message unfolds and her acceptance of her part in the process is also our learning process. We learn from her how to be open to God as he reveals himself to us.

Each of our vocations is a kind of parallel image of Mary’s at the moment the annunciation was made by the angel Gabriel. What she did then, because it was a heartfelt response and an acceptance of God into her life, has become a kind of template of what our lives should be. No one of course can have an identical life to any other person, but we can see how she left herself open to God’s word. We can learn how she quietly and undramatically followed that Word. She lived on earth before her son was born in the fullness of time. But it was she who followed after him as the first disciple. We who come later in time, after both mother and divine Son, can enter into that mystery, learn from it and renew our appreciation of what we have been given.

It is obvious from the story of the Annunciation that Mary had in her earlier years been well coached in the life of the Spirit. She would hardly have been so prompt in accepting this revelation and its consequences if she had not been. That inner sensitivity could only have helped her deal with the awkward position in which she found herself when she became pregnant of the Holy Spirit. Just imagine what interior anguish she must have felt about Joseph’s reactions to her condition. How was she going to tell him about her vision of the angel? Would he believe her? Would he happily go along with a situation he did not himself fully understand? Would he now feel unwanted as a father and a husband? All, or some, of these feelings must have passed through his mind. Both he and Mary were human like us. But they did not rush into major decisions when caught up in these uncertainties. Such precipitous actions can alter lives sometimes with long-lasting effects. So, these two important figures in Jesus’ life show us that, even in extraordinary events as these, we can learn to live quietly through what we cannot easily understand at first. In God’s hands, our problems will be resolved and our lives strengthened, given time.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

St Joseph Solemnity - Mark

Homily at Mass for St Joseph, 19 March 2011

St Joseph is renowned as a man of honour. In the bible that means he had firm beliefs and that he strove to do what was right in God’s eyes. It means also that he wanted to be just and yet to act with fairness and love. He had a great respect for Mary’s character and yet couldn’t understand how she had become pregnant.
The problem for us is to understand Joseph’s predicament and to interpret properly what scripture says about him and all the incidents we find in the early chapters of Mathew and Luke. Even modern biographers, when they have plenty of source material at their disposal, can find it difficult at times to explain clearly every aspect of their subject’s life.
Some think that Joseph was left in the dark about Mary’s condition; others that, Joseph knew either intuitively or from Mary’s own lips how she had conceived a child, even before the angel’s message in a dream. There are many gaps in the infancy narratives. Scripture Scholars and theologians have tried to piece together the various strands of Jesus’ infancy with greater or lesser success. I suppose we all tend to look at the story of this unique family with the critical historical eye of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. But that was not the way chapters one and two of Matthew and Luke were written. They were put together to show us the story of Jesus’ birth and of Mary’s and Joseph’s place in that life. And the two gospels look at the birth of Jesus from different angles. In varying degrees each one points out Jesus’ ancestry and reveal how he was the one through whom God’s love and the story of mankind’s future would unfold. Historical accuracy was not of particular importance to the early Church writers when it came to the things of God, but the theological implications most certainly were.
So we find many gaps in the infancy narratives. But what comes in between the gaps are the bits which are important for our understanding of God’s designs for our future.
Whatever Joseph knew about Mary’s condition, his initial reaction was to protect her from any innuendo and especially from severe retribution from the religious extremists who would have punished her according to the strict letter of the law. We might think Joseph’s plan of action would not have saved his betrothed. But his instinct was of the highest level and the true measure of the man.
Something unique happened when Gabriel announced that Mary would conceive without human intervention and give birth to the ‘Son of God’ who would save the human race for the glorious future that lay in store for them. He was the one who would show us human nature as it was meant to be. The experience of human love at its deepest level finds its meaning in this fusion of the human and divine. In Jesus, in God, human love and divine love meet and intertwine. That, at heart, is what true love and human life is about. In the child conceived in Mary, God reveals himself and puts his stamp on our lives. What to an outsider may appear to be natural love at its best is, in fact, the sign of God’s immersion in our human life.
We know from our study of theology that in the real world in which we live there is no such thing as a purely natural life. From the beginning of time God destined us to live in a higher dimension. And Jesus is the reason why that is so. Through him we are destined to be raised up to a life with God. If Joseph had any inkling of this as he reflected on the mysterious things that were happening to this young woman that he loved, perhaps it’s no wonder he wanted to put her away. He knew somehow that she wouldn’t have betrayed him, but he must have been very afraid of the implications this would have for him.
No one is born a saint. Joseph may have been afraid and feeling very insecure in the hole he found himself in. This is an understandably natural human reaction. But, when the angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream during the night, his attitude changed. It was Joseph’s response which made all the difference and made him worthy to be the father of Mary’s son. In spite of his feelings, Joseph accepted God’s call. That is where sainthood begins.
Joseph is a fitting father on earth of this amazing child. His example of obedience and faithfulness to God’s beckoning, even in the strangest of situations, is one that we can and ought to follow.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Ash Wednesday Daffodils

Journey to Easter

Introduction Ash Wednesday and Lent, 2011
‘Come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.’ So the Lord, through the prophet Joel, welcomes us to the season of Lent.
It is the repentant heart not the torn garments that the Lord seeks from us. It is the inner spirit not so much the exterior appearance that our Lord wants from us, as we heard in the gospel reading.

Lent can be such a positive time in our liturgical year. It’s not that we really are far from God but that we sometimes let the trials of life and our occasional sins and faults get between God and ourselves. We learn only slowly that we have to give control of our lives to God. We do need to keep moving ahead. But we also need to be alert to the prompting of God on the way. We may imagine that we know the road but there are certain twists and turns that we may not be aware of in our particular path home to God.

It helps to do with less at this season. It makes sense to travel light. If we do anything extra we should choose the things which will assist the others travelling with us. They may be too weak to carry what they need and so be grateful for whatever help we can give them. It can help if we set out with a set purpose and a positive plan, though it may be hard to stick to it.

The more we give of ourselves during Lent, the more likely will we reach the end of the journey with fewer mishaps on the way.
We are that wasteful son whom the Father will receive with open arms for he is all tenderness and compassion. The other Son whose life, death and resurrection we prepare to celebrate at Easter will have the Father waiting for him as well. He is the first born, our elder brother. But unlike the elder son in the parable of the Prodigal, Christ will be as delighted at our return as his Father is for us. That is the very reason he undertook his own journey back from the dead.

Christ’s journey and ours are really only one. But his is a pioneering one needed to show us the way for us back to God. Our journey hopefully is one of self-discovery, in which we find our true selves with all their warts and wrinkles. In finding them we realise that we can still go home and find the Father waiting to welcome us.