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The Eternal Truths and our life here on earth

St Joseph happy death“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” (1 Thess 5.2)

In his first letter to the people of Thessalonica, probably the earliest of the books of the New Testament to be written, less than twenty years after Christ’s ascension, St Paul talks about the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection. He makes it clear that the end is uncertain, so we must always be watchful.

The Day of the Lord for us individually may be the end of the world or, more likely, our own death. At this time of the year, we remember the Holy Souls. As also with funerals throughout the year, as well as praying for those who have died, we are given salutary reminders in the sacred Liturgy of the four last things, also called “the eternal truths”: death, judgement, hell and heaven. Very many of the saints left us powerful sermons and writings on these important truths.

Our culture shuns talk of death and eternal life. Yet since our life on earth is short and we face eternity, it is only sensible that we take time not only to ponder these things prayerfully, but also to order our lives prudently in the light of eternity. We were created by God to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him for ever in the next. A holy priest once said that many people live lives on this earth in the manner of a dog at a birthday party. The dog has no idea what is going on, but has a great time being hoovering up bits of food and birthday cake that have fallen on the floor, and generally enjoying the fun. Our life on earth is not simply to have fun, but to love God and make our way to heaven.

St Augustine said “God promises us His grace, he does not promise us tomorrow.” If we are in a state of grace, we do not need to fear death. St John Bosco did tremendous work in Turin for thousands of poor young people. When he was asked what was his principal aim in life, he said, “To remain in a state of grace.” This attitude is not simply “other-worldly,” since remaining in a state of grace requires avoiding sin which harms ourselves and others, and carrying out works of charity by which we make this world a better place. Hence St John Bosco’s enormous contribution to the good of society.

Awareness of our death is embedded in our faith and prayers but we can easily “tune out” references to death and eternity, perhaps finding only what we want to find.

At the Mass, when we say the Creed, we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead”; in the Canon, we pray to be delivered from eternal damnation and we ask to share in eternal life with the saints. After the Our Father, we await the blessed hope of the coming of Christ. Every day in the Hail Mary, we ask our Lady to pray for us sinners, “now and at the hour of our death.” Let us deepen our awareness of the eternal truths and think of them often, so that we live better lives here on earth, make the world a better place, while also preparing ourselves so that we do not presume to take our eternal destiny for granted, but genuinely seek and take those steps necessary in our lives so that we may enjoy God’s presence for eternity when the Day of the Lord comes for us.

Sermon preached by Fr Finigan at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate, 33rd Sunday of year A, 16 November 2014.

Mass and Induction Tuesday 11 November 7.30pm

Fr Paul Mason, the Episcopal Vicar for Kent, will come to St Austin’s to celebrate Mass and conduct the formal ceremony of the Induction of Fr Finigan as Parish Priest. As well as being a parish celebration, this is an occasion on which the local non-Catholic ministers will be invited as well as representatives from the civic authorities.

Cemetery Visit and Blessing of Graves

On Sunday 2 November at 2.30pm, Fr Finigan will lead prayers at St John’s Cemetery, Manston Road, Margate, at the Catholic section in the middle of the cemetery. He will then go round to bless individual graves at request.

A plenary indulgence may be obtained under the usual conditions by those who visit a cemetery from 1-8 November and pray for the faithful departed.

(Please note that the parish newsletter had the wrong time for this event. The prayers will start at 2.30pm.)

Participating in the Sacrifice of Christ

KingDavidTurn to the Lord and His strength; constantly seek His face.” (Introit)

Along with the psalmist, we turn to the Lord most especially in the Sacred Liturgy. It is the essential purpose of the public prayer of the Church that we should seek God’s face, His active and loving presence among us.

Pope Benedict XVI said that the priest at Mass “…is in a conversation with God because the texts of Holy Mass are not theatrical scripts or anything like them, but prayers, thanks to which, together with the assembly, I speak to God.” He was commenting on St Benedict’s famous advice to his monks when singing the psalms, “Let the mind be in accord with the voice.”

This helps us to understand that our participation in the Sacred Liturgy is primarily the interior action of prayer, and that our external activity must serve this purpose. In particular, both the priest and the people in offering the Holy Mass, must unite themselves with the ends for which Our Lord offered the sacrifice of Calvary which is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice. Christ on the Cross gave adoration and thanks to the Father, offered atonement and reparation for our sins, and pleaded for grace for all of us.

Our response when we participate in the sacrifice of the Mass, should be to adore God the Father from our heart, to thank Him for His blessings, to offer Him our sincere contrition for our sins, and to beg Him for His grace. It is good to prepare for Mass in our morning prayers, to come a little early to put ourselves in the presence of God before Mass, and to give thanksgiving afterwards.

The Lordship of Jesus Christ

sophia icon“I am the Lord and there is no other.” (Is 45.6)

As Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out in his book “Truth and Tolerance,” the episode of the burning bush was a radical departure from the other world faiths in that God identified Himself as “I AM”, affirming that He exists and is not just the preference of a culture or the figment of our imagination.

God is the creator of the universe which He holds in being by His power. He is our maker and Lord, having given us a spiritual soul so that we may love Him both here and in eternity. Our religion is not therefore a matter of taste or preference. Sometimes, people treat faith as if it were a worthy hobby, like doing a run for cancer research or walking the neighbour’s dog. For the Christian who believes the Gospel and the Creed, it is an absolute duty. It should of course be more than that, a service given out of love, but it is not a matter of pleasing ourselves.

“Jesus Christ is Lord.” For St Paul and the early Christians, that was a title given to the living God Himself. Therefore Christ is the One who rightly speaks with authority. He is the source of our being, our welfare, our holiness, and ultimately of our eternal happiness.

By giving instructions in the matter of taxation, Our Lord shows that His authority is not limited to “spiritual matters” as though His authority were restricted to an optional corner of human life. The social kingship of Christ means that we should live in all our relationships according to His will for our own good and the good of society.

In practice, the Lordship of Christ means that we should place Him before all else in our lives. When we use it of Christ, “Lord” is not an honorific title, but the recognition that His name is above all other names and that we should bend the knee at the name of Jesus. (Phil 2.9-10) His being Lord does not call for a share of our spare time, but for our total commitment and adoration.

In the Sacred Liturgy of the Church, we do what we can to offer due worship, in accord with the commands of Christ and the law of His Church. It is not about us and our preferences, but about the solemn worship of God in spirit and in truth.

We bow humbly before our Lord and God, knowing that He is merciful and rewards our imperfect efforts.

Sermon given by Fr Finigan on 19 October 2014, the 29th Sunday of the year, at Margate.

October, the Month of the Holy Rosary

our-lady-of-the-rosaryThis Tuesday, 7 October is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and the month of October is traditionally dedicated to the Holy Rosary. It is a good time to renew our use of this prayer or to begin using it if you are unfamiliar with it.

In the Rosary, we repeat the familiar prayers of the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be. (Here is a link to a simple guide if you do not know how to use the Rosary.) The point of the Rosary is not to engage in a mechanical repetition of prayers but to use these familiar words as a backdrop to meditation on the mysteries of Our Lord’s life, death and resurrection.

The word “meditation” might seem a bit esoteric, but it simply means to ponder something prayerfully. When we do so, we open ourselves to the Father who may grant us to know Him more deeply than can be expressed in human thoughts or words. To start off, we can simply imagine the scene of, for example, the visitation, the scourging at the pillar, or the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to take just three examples, and talk to Our Lord in our own words.

The Rosary is suited to people of all conditions of life, those who have little faith, and great saints, those who are gifted academically, and those who are not. When Mary was greeted by St Elizabeth, she replied with the prayer of the Magnificat “My soul glorifies the Lord…” In that prayer, she said that the Lord puts down the proud of heart and raises the humble. This happens in the Rosary where God does not take account of our position, abilities or reputation, but deals with us according to our heart.

St John Paul took as his motto Totus tuus, “All yours”, giving himself into the hands of our Blessed Mother, our Advocate and the one who channels all God’s graces for us. He said that the Rosary was his favourite prayer and was even seen saying it when attending Mass in the later stages of his life when he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He gave us the best explanation of the Rosary when he said that in this prayer we contemplate with Mary the face of Christ. (See his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae.) Many other Popes have commended its use, and a whole litany of saints have praised its effectiveness as a means to grow in grace.

This powerful prayer may be said alone: some people say it on the bus or train on the way to work, or have a CD in the car to join in with while driving. It is also a great prayer to be said together with a group of people. It is particularly suited to prayer together as a family. The great apostle of the Rosary, Fr Peyton, was speaking of the Rosary when he coined the famous phrase “The family that prays together stays together.” During October let us renew our love for Our Lady and our use of her beautiful chaplet, and let us contemplate together with Mary the face of Christ.

Sermon given by Fr Finigan on 5 October 2014, the 27th Sunday of the year, at Margate and Cliftonville.