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Saint John Paul on the Goods of Marriage, Family and Life

John_Paul_II_1980What I offer, then, is an invitation: an invitation addressed especially to you, dearly beloved husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. It is an invitation to all the particular Churches to remain united in the teaching of the apostolic truth. It is addressed to my Brothers in the Episcopate, and to priests, religious families and consecrated persons, to movements and associations of the lay faithful; to our brothers and sisters united by common faith in Jesus Christ, even while not yet sharing the full communion willed by the Saviour; to all who by sharing in the faith of Abraham belong, like us, to the great community of believers in the one God; to those who are the heirs of other spiritual and religious traditions; and to all men and women of good will.

May Christ, who is the same “yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8), be with us as we bow the knee before the Father, from whom all fatherhood and motherhood and every human family is named (cf. Eph 3:14-15). In the words of the prayer to the Father which Christ himself taught us, may he once again offer testimony of that love with which he loved us “to the end”! (Jn 13:1).

I speak with the power of his truth to all people of our day, so that they will come to appreciate the grandeur of the goods of marriage, family and life; so that they will come to appreciate the great danger which follows when these realities are not respected, or when the supreme values which lie at the foundation of the family and of human dignity are disregarded.

St John Paul. Letter to Families 1994

Jesus Christ: God Himself made Flesh

Murillo AnnunciationAt the moment Our Lady gave consent to the will of God proclaimed to her by the Angel Gabriel, God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity became man: “The Word became flesh.” This was the greatest moment in the history of the created universe. Our Lord was truly God and became truly man; therefore Our Lady conceived Him as a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by means of the marriage act.

Our Lady was prepared for this vocation by God who preserved her, uniquely, from the stain of original sin. She remained sinless throughout her life and remained a virgin, cared for in marriage by St Joseph. Our Lord did not have siblings.

In our devotions, prayers and conversation, we must never forget that Jesus Christ is truly God. He came down to earth, born as a man like us in all things except sin. It is an error to think of Our Lord being “tempted” in the way that we are by spiritual weakness or past habits of sin. His suffering was increased by the perfect holiness of His humanity because He was acutely conscious of the damage done by sin to those whom He loves.

Sometimes people excuse laxity or compromise with Christian morality by saying “What would Jesus do?” This often means “What would I do if I were Jesus?” We are made to the image and likeness of God in Christ, but we prefer to re-make God into our own image and likeness, to make ourselves more comfortable with re-writing the Gospel. When we listen to the voice of the Saints, we encounter Christ in action, challenging us to be follow Him with full hearts and minds as Our loving and merciful Lord.

Praying for the Coming of Christ

Icon second comingOh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down.” (Is 64.1)

During Advent we plead for the Lord to come and visit us. This might seem strange: He has already visited us by His incarnation, being born at Bethlehem, teaching and working miracles, suffering and dying for us, rising again, and ascending in glory.
We also look forward to His second coming at the end of time, praying with the first Christians “Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus!” It is instructive for us to ponder the eagerness of the disciples for the Lord to come in glory. They wanted Him to come, they were eager for the end of the world and for the final glory of the kingdom to come.

We on the other hand think of the end of the world as something frightening, not something to be looked forward to. We are tempted to be complacent, as though our life in this world were final, as though this life were all that there is, and and as though we could just carry on and ignore our judgement and our final end.

When we pray the sacred Liturgy of the Church, we should not understand the texts that ask the Lord to come here and now as referring only to the past or the future. The sacred Liturgy is not just a theoretical exercise, still less a mere social occasion or an interlude to make us feel virtuous. It is, on the contrary, the actio Dei, the action of God Himself in our midst, challenging us here and now to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

In the sacred Liturgy which feeds into our Christian life, we ask the Lord to be born in our hearts anew each day. The sacred Liturgy, the solemn ceremonial prayer of the Church, begs for the grace of God to be given to us in the sacraments, so that Christ may really live in our hearts.

The grace of God is freely given to us, and of itself makes us holy, but God respects our human nature which He has created, and asks us to respond using our free will. We co-operate with the grace of God by prayer, penance and works of charity.

During Advent, we must examine our lives in the light of Christ and make those changes with are necessary. We can sum these up as prayer, penance and charity.
We try to pray with greater faithfulness and sincerity. We might need to look at our daily prayers, the way that we prepare for Mass and give thanksgiving afterwards, whether we have been to confession recently. We need to deny ourselves so as to take up the cross and follow Christ, perhaps looking at any bad habits that we have and addressing them during the preparation for Christmas so that we can celebrate the feast with pure hearts.

And we need to serve others through works of charity, knowing that whenever we do so, we are serving Christ.

Let us now offer our lives in union with Christ as we offer the Holy Sacrifice.

Sermon preached by Fr Finigan at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate, 1st Sunday of Advent, 30 November 2014.

Jesus Christ, our merciful judge

Michelangelo, Giudizio Universale 02

Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, is our Lord. He is the Word, or eternal wisdom of God, made flesh for our salvation. His creation is full of wonder as we discover through the hard intellectual work of the natural sciences. His love is everlasting and faithful: He is the Lord of history and of our own lives.

Our Lord explains the final judgement in simple but powerful terms by speaking of the sheep and the goats and how they are separated according to the works of mercy that they have carried out. He describes judgement not of intentions, or feelings, but of what we have actually done in practice to love others.

Certainly Our Lord is a merciful judge. He wills that everyone should be saved, and came down to earth and laid down His life to take away our sins and open the gates of heaven to us. We must humbly acknowledge that Our Lord is infinitely more merciful than we are, and that there will be many saved and in heaven now, whom we would probably have condemned.

At the last judgement, we will see the truth in all clarity. The greatest saint will see how little he is in comparison with the infinite love of Christ, and the greatest sinner will lament his petty and mean-spirited rejection of the glory that Christ held out to him.

As we consider the majesty of Christ the King and the final judgement which we shall face, we are moved to change our lives to reflect this awesome prospect. As we are to be judged by Christ and hope to spend eternity in the blissful worship of Him with all the saints, we should, here and now, order our lives in preparation.

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.