The fifth commandment that God gave to Moses is “Thou shalt not kill.” The Lord commands that we do not kill the innocent, and by extension, that we do not hurt our neighbour by our words or actions. Sadly, we live in a culture which allows for the killing of many innocent people. Since 1967, our Government’s statistics report that over eight million children have been killed before birth.
We are currently facing increasing calls for the legalisation of assisted suicide. In opposing this, we do not condemn efforts to relieve pain, to make people comfortable, to desist from extraordinary or burdensome treatment, but we do not accept that it is ever right to give someone a drug or treatment with the deliverate purpose of ending their life. The difference is easy to understand. If we are giving end of life care to relieve someone’s pain or make them comfortable, the success criterion is “Are they comfortable and free from pain?” If we are acting to end someone’s life, the success criterion is “Have they died yet?”
It is a responsibility for those who are able, to engage in public debate on these questions, but all of us can contribute to the good of society and upholding the sanctity of human life by speaking out within our own families and among our friends.
Unfortunately, many Catholics are confused on these issues. Pressure from the spirit of the age has led many to compromise on their faith, to excuse, encourage, condone or otherwise co-operate in the taking of human life before birth. As we see an ever more extreme undermining of the family and of human life, it is a good time to think again, to turn back to the Lord and His truth, to ask his forgiveness, and to know that such forgiveness is given generously.
By way of understanding the contribution of a reverence for the sanctity of life to the good of society, it is helpful to consider those who have been heroic in this regard. Let us take the example of St Theresa of Calcutta, canonised last year by Pope Francis.
St Theresa of Calcutta is known primarily for her care for the poor, and for her lifelong insistence that it is the love with which we care for others that matters. She said:
“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
“Jesus said love one another. He didn’t say love the whole world.”
“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
St Theresa was subject to virulent criticism both during her life and after her death because her love for the poor extended to those who are unborn. When she received the Nobel Peace Prize, she shocked polite sensibilities by speaking up for the right to life of the unborn. That was not supposed to be in the script. In fact, two of her most trenchant critics were invited to give evidence at her canonisation process so that all the objections could be heard.
Let us pray to St Theresa of Calcutta for all mothers in difficulty, for those suffering in their conscience for having made bad decisions in the past, and for those who helped them in these decisions. Let us turn to our merciful and loving Saviour for the strength to be apostles of life.
Medieval England pioneered devotion to St Anne, which grew from the roots of love for Our Lady which was such a notable part of life in Saxon England. The influence of the East may also have been a factor through St Theodore of Tarsus, the seventh century Archbishop of Canterbury who enriched England with Eastern theology and experience.
St Anne shows that models for saintly Christian women have been varied in the Church for many centuries. We do indeed have the glory of the virgin martyrs, young saints and heroines, and we rightly celebrate them, but we also have among the “great cloud of witnesses” those who were married, like St Anne. Bearing a child in later life and recognised as a grandmother figure for all of us, St Anne also reminds us of the Church’s respect for the wisdom and experience of old age.
We pray to her especially for the family today, for the recognition among young and old Catholics, of the value of Christian marriage and the sanctity of human life. Her care of Our Blessed Lady also encourages us in our Marian devotion.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the ten commandments as a structural summary of our life in Christ. The first commandment is “I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.” and the second is “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”
Our first duty is to recognise and know the one true God. Our spiritual life is not based on a myth, but on the living God who created the universe, and who loves us. As Christians, we especially value science because it teaches us something of the magnificence of God’s creation.
The second commandment teaches us to show reverence for God. He did indeed humble Himself to come close to us, being born in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, but He remains almighty, eternal, and infinite in every perfection.
We show our love and reverence in the worship that we give, and our devout attitude in prayer. In our daily lives, reverence is also marked by a holy fear which is a powerful motive against offending our loving Father.
The prophet Elisha rewarded the Shunamite woman’s hospitality by praying for the birth of the son she hoped for. Our Lord refers to those who welcome a prophet and promises reward to those who welcome the saints and disciples.
He also taught us that when we show charity to others, we are doing that for Him. A model for this can be found in the mystery of the Visitation of Our Lady to St Elizabeth. The hospitality that St Elizabeth showed was not only an act of charity to Our Lady but in very truth the welcoming of Christ into her home.
Even though he was only an embryo of a few days, Our Lord was recognised by St Elizabeth and by the child in her own womb, St John the Baptist. Both were rewarded by the grace of the Holy Spirit who worked in their lives and sanctified their souls. There were among the first to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.
We must learn to recognise Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and use the grace that we receive to minister to Him in others by our active works of charity.
Our Lord said “I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10.10) When being tempted by the devil, he quoted the verse “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4.4) Jesus Christ is Himself the Word made flesh and we are made to live on Him. As St Paul said to the Athenians at the Areopagus “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17.28)
The manner in which we would live in and through Christ was given to us by Christ Himself in the Blessed Eucharist. He taught the people: “As the living Father sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eats me, the same also shall live by me.” (Jn 6.58) This was the plan of God from the beginning, that He would give us Himself to be the food and life of our souls.
When we receive Holy Communion with the right dispositions, we are being nourished in the way that God chose to provide for us. This is what gives us “life more abundant” according to the desire and love of Christ for us.
The bishops have transferred the feast of Corpus Christi to the nearest Sunday (18 June this year.)
However, there will also be a sung Latin Mass (older form) for the traditional feast of Corpus Christi this Thursday 15 June at 7.30pm at St Austin and St Gregory for those who wish to come. (It is not a holyday of obligation.)
Mass will be followed by an indoor procession of the Blessed Sacrament concluding with Benediction.
The prayer of the sacred Liturgy usually has the form of pleading to the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. This follows the pattern of our creation and redemption, and of the work of God in the Church. Praying in union with the Church is the best way to appreciate the profound mystery of the most Blessed Trinity.
At Holy Mass, the elements of bread and wine are offered to the Father and accepted by Him. This acceptance of the Father is what brings about the change of the bread and wine so that they become the body and blood of Christ. We may also invoke the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
In our devout participation in the Liturgy, we offer ourselves in union with the offering of Jesus Christ who gave Himself on the Cross.
United with Christ, we adore the Father reverently, recall the many gifts for which we must give Him thanks, repent of our sins and plead for His forgiveness, and then call to mind the various needs that we have, especially of His grace, to serve Him better in our lives.
The Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force. He speaks, leads, warns, decrees, teaches, chooses, calls and sends. He is given to the disciple to consecrate him as a prophet of the new era in Jesus Christ and to enable him to give witness to Christ as the particular circumstances and the will of God require.
John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Zachary and Simeon were all filled with the Spirit to give witness to the one who had come, Jesus the Messiah. In their different ways, they announced that the Saviour was here. The apostles, Stephen, Philip, Paul, Cornelius, and Barnabas, received the same grace of the Holy Spirit to carry out the same task of announcing Christ, though in different ways. The Holy Spirit filled our Lord with joy, descended upon Him and anointed Him in His humanity at the beginning of his public ministry.
We receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit at our Confirmation. It is a gift for which we should renew our thanks and devotion every year on the feast of Pentecost, resolving to be true to the vocation that we are given to be missionary disciples of Christ.
The great feast of the Ascension is part of the cycle of Easter. Our Lord, crucified to redeem us, and risen in glory, now ascends to heaven to take His place at the right hand of the Father. In the sacrifice of the Cross, He is our supreme High Priest. In His throne of glory in heaven, that supreme high priesthood is eternal: He is indeed, as King David put it, “a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
In the worship of the Old Testament, which was still in place during the earthly life of Jesus, the High Priest went into the holy of holies to offer sacrifice, an animal killed for the worship of God and other gifts given over as a symbol of our offering ourselves to God.
Our Lord put an end to all of these sacrifices by offering Himself at the Last Supper and being sacrificed on the cross. In this sacrifice, He is also the priest, but he does not go through the curtain to enter the holy of holies in the temple. That is only symbol of the true holy place. At the time of His crucifixion in fact, the veil was torn apart, showing the end of those old sacrifices.
Our Lord now enters heaven itself, so that that he may appear in the presence of God for us, as St Paul explains in the letter to the Hebrews. (Heb 9.24) There, as St John tells us in the book of Revelation, the angels and the priests, the martyrs and other saints, cry out with triumphant joy, acclaiming the holiness of the lamb of God, and bowing in adoration to offer joyful worship to Him for all eternity. (Rev 5.11-14)
As St Paul explains again, the eternal and heavenly priesthood of Our Lord means that He is for ever able to save those who come to Him since He always lives to plead for us in intercession. (Heb 7.25) This is the ground of our hope, our trust in Jesus Christ. He is our eternal High Priest, always pleading for us before the Father. When we come before Him as sinners, we know that we have our advocate, our mediator, Jesus Christ. He receives our sorrow and our prayer and presents it to the Father, perfected in His own eternal prayer.
St Paul goes on to explain that when we celebrate the sacred Liturgy, we do something much greater than even Moses on Mount Sinai when there was the fire, and whirlwind and darkness and storm. We come to something greater than that. He says:
But you are come to mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the company of many thousands of angels, And to the church of the firstborn, who are written in the heavens, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new testament, and to the sprinkling of blood which speaketh better than that of Abel. (Heb 12.22-24)
St Paul is speaking here of the worship of the Holy Mass, the tremendous mystery in which Christ is offered and received. We have this available to us because Our Lord ascended to heaven. That is why this great feast is one of rejoicing. There could be no greater benefit than what Our Lord brings us here. That is why, like the apostles, we do not stand gazing into the sky, wondering what will be next. We come to share here and now in the worship of heaven in spirit and in truth. Come, let us adore Christ the Lord.