The Redeeming Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

sacrifice massA sacrifice is a holy act, offered to the Father, by which we are drawn into the life of God. The sacrifices of the Old Testament never fully achieved this purpose. The prophets looked forward to a perfect sacrifice, offered from the rising of the sun to its setting, which would give true glory to God in reparation for our sins.

On the cross, Our Lord offered this perfect sacrifice. His perfect goodness both as God and man made it inevitable that sinful men would hate Him and seek to destroy Him. Many saints have followed in the footsteps of Christ in this respect. Our Lord chose freely to be the suffering servant of the Father because He loved us.

In offering His life on the Cross, Our Lord was the unique mediator between God and man: the perfect priest who could offer the acceptable sacrifice which indeed achieved our reconciliation with God. His prayer for our forgiveness was heard because it was the perfect prayer of God made man.

This one perfect sacrifice is made present at every Mass. The same priest, Jesus Christ, acting through the unworthy hands of the priest at the altar, makes present on that very altar the sacrifice of Himself as a pure, holy, and spotless victim offered to the majesty of the Father, and bringing us everlasting salvation.

At Mass, we are at Calvary, present at the one supreme sacrifice which achieved our eternal redemption. This is the greatest of all gifts that God could give us. The last weeks of Lent give us an opportunity to renew our faith in the mystery of our redemption and to come to the Cross with renewed devotion and love.

The rich benefits of devotions

Stations of the Cross, 3, Saint-Jean-Baptiste au Beguinage, Brussels

“Blessed are they who dwell in you house” (Communion antiphon Ps 83)

The Church may be thought of as an extra room in everybody’s house. It is not simply a place to meet on Sundays, but a dwelling place where we find a home by the altar of God. As well as daily Mass at various times, we have devotions to aid our faith and spur us on to charity.

Friday is a privileged day because it is the day on which Our Lord died for us. Good Friday is the greatest Friday of the year, but every Friday is a day on which to remember the passion of Christ, perhaps by the Prayer before the Crucifix, the Divine Mercy devotion, or meditation on the Passion.

In our everyday lives, Friday has an impact because as Catholics, we observe abstinence from meat. This simple and undemanding act of penance is a reminder to ourselves, and often an act of witness for others.

During Lent, we give a special place to the Stations of the Cross. In this devotion, we contemplate the sufferings of Our Lord so that we may have compassion for Him, and increase our love for Him. We recall the damage that our own sins do, their effect on ourselves and others, and the wounds that they inflict upon our Holy Redeemer. In this devotion we receive the grace to change our lives, to live for Christ and to deepen our faith.

True devotion can never be opposed to the life of charity. By engaging our mind and heart in pious exercises which draw us closer to Christ, we are opened to the grace which God desires to give us, and through repentance and new fervour, we become more generous in the service of others.

Christ teaches us to resist the evil one

05 Tentaciones de Cristo (Botticelli)

Our Lord suffered the external temptation of the devil who was trying to establish whether He was the Son of God. The devil tried to tempt Jesus to turn stones into bread because He was hungry, to jump off a high place and rely on the angels to support Him, and to worship the devil so as to get all the Kingdoms of the world.

Since Christ is indeed the living God made man, these temptations are laughable, but Satan did propose the fundamental temptations of luxury, pride and power and for our sake, Our Lord answers Him to show us how we also should respond to the devil’s evil prompting.

It is not true to say that “Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but He did not sin.” This implies that He might have done so. The translation of Hebrews 4.15 would be much closer to the meaning of the Greek text if we said with Ronald Knox that Jesus “has been through every trial, fashioned as we are, only sinless.”

The word “temptation” is ambiguous in English because our daily temptations come from the fact that we are weakened by original sin and our own past habits of sin causing us to be prone to particular vices, whereas scripture often uses the word to mean “test” or “trial” without any implication of prior sin or moral weakness.

Nevertheless, what St John calls “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 Jn 2.16) remain the basic strategy of the evil one make us lose our soul and our eternal life, whether through his own direct assault or by means of encouraging our disordered desires and attachments. So let us see how Christ responds to the devil.

When offered the blandishment of material pleasure through his miraculous power, Our Lord quotes the fifth book of the law saying that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Deut 8.3) It is Christ who gives rest to our souls: we do not find true peace, comfort or satisfaction except in Him.

When asked to display a ludicrous pride in His own power, Our Lord retorted by quoting the law again “you must not put the Lord God to the test.” (Deut 6.16) We hope in God for grace and for future glory, confident in His promises, His mercy and His power, but we must not presume to test Him out as though we could sin wantonly and always expect Him to give us the grace of repentance.

Every sin is a form of self-worship. We place ourselves before God, either by ignoring Him, failing to use the means of salvation He gives us, or even by directly refusing His grace. When the devil excels Himself in folly by asking Christ our God to worship Him, our Lord dismisses Him with a final quotation from the law for our instruction: “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone.” (Deut 6.13)

We come here today to do exactly that, to worship the Lord and Him alone. Turning to the Father in adoration, let us renew our total allegiance to Him in the supreme act of worship, the perfect sacrifice, and ask Him humbly for the grace to learn from Christ who is meek and humble of heart, and to find rest for our souls in Him.

Sermon preached by Fr Finigan at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate on 22 February 2015.

Lord of the Universe, of history, and of our lives

Christ Pantokrator, Cathedral of Cefalù, Sicily

The universe, seen through our knowledge of science, is a magnificent creation and tells us of the awe-inspiring wisdom of God. As persons, body and soul, made to the image of God, we need the living God to feed us with Himself. The Old Testament is the story of God preparing His people for the One who is to come.

Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of all these things. As the Eternal Word made flesh, He “comes into His own” as the fulfilment of all creation. He offers Himself to us as the Bread of Life by giving us His own flesh and blood in Holy Communion. Through His redeeming sacrifice, He repairs the damage done by sin.

St Paul spoke of Christ as our Lord and God, echoing the act of faith of St Thomas. He praised Christ as the Lord of the universe, saying that “all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1.17-18) Our Lord is the “master-key” to the meaning of the universe, to the meaning of human history and to the meaning of our own lives.

Therefore we must give Christ His rightful place in our own lives by recognising Him as Our Lord, not giving Him a secondary place alongside other concerns, but offering to Him all our thoughts, words, and deeds of each day, and being generous in our prayer and our worship of Him.

It is true that Our Lord humbles Himself to be close to us and invites us to friendship with Him. We should never lose sight of how great a gift this is from the Most High God. In humble confidence we bow down before Him to adore and praise Him.

The Word of God Alive and Active

Rom, Vatikan, Basilika St. Peter, Die Taube des Heiligen Geistes (Cathedra Petri, Bernini)

For the human person, religion is not a compartment of life, a hobby, or a sideline from secular concerns. God made us in His image and likeness and in every age He provides food for the soul with supreme authority as our creator, redeemer and sanctifier.

The Bible is not therefore simply a holy book to be put alongside other “Great Books” of human culture. It is the record of the dealings of God with men, especially through those whom He chose to inspire with His word. The Old Testament is shot through with a messianic hope, looking forward to the fulfilment of the People of God in the Church founded by Christ who is with us to the end of time.

The Christian reads the Old Testament in the light of Christ. As an ancient saying has it, “The new is hidden in the old, and the old is made clear in the new.” The great scholar Origen spoke of Christ leaping from every page of the sacred text. When we listen devoutly to the word of God, we open ourselves to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but always in submission to the authority of God who makes His meaning known concretely in the living teaching of Christ in the Church.

It is of course good for us to read the scriptures as part of our devotions, but we must not forget that the scriptures form the major part of the Liturgy that we celebrate in the Mass, the divine office and the sacraments. We read the scriptures with reverence as part of our worship, giving glory to the Father through Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. The word of God is not a dead letter but something alive and active, bringing us face to face with the living God. (Heb 4.12)

Original sin and the redeeming work of Christ

V&A - Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens (1515)
Raphael (1515) St Paul Preaching in Athens. Victoria & Albert Museum
People try to explain the “self” in various ways, to explore the human condition. The Turner Contemporary has a new exhibition of self-portraits, starting with Van Dyck, and is encouraging reflection on our perception of the self.

A distressing but obvious fact is not only that we sin, but that we find it easy to do so, and hard to be saintly. We might rightly ask with some exasperation why this should be so. The Christian doctrine of original sin helps us to understand ourselves as sinful and fallen, and therefore also how to live life to the fullest.

The Sacred Scriptures tell of our first parents eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is the primordial sin, rebellion against God purely in order to grasp for an illusory power of knowledge of evil as opposed to good. This was the first time in the history of the universe that God’s will was flouted, and its consequences were disastrous.

Original sin fractured our relationship with God, the relationship between our body and soul, and our relationships with each other. This damage was overcome by Our Lord’s redeeming sacrifice on the Cross, but the merits of that sacrifice must be applied in our own lives.

Original sin has wounded human nature so that we are affected by disordered desire or “concupiscence” which remains a part of our experience. The material things that God created are good in themselves, but we tend to use them addictively, excessively or in various ways that harm ourselves and others.

When we understand the wound of original sin, we know ourselves better; more importantly we understand how to overcome this weakness. Our Lord teaches us to deny ourselves: not because we are inherently evil, but because we need to engage in the spiritual battle. Even the pagan stoic philosophers such as Seneca or Marcus Aurelius knew that the blessed life was to be found in self-denial so that we could subject ourselves to the good, true and beautiful. St Paul proposed to the Athenian philosophers a deeper answer to their searching when he said that the one they were looking for, the good, the true and the beautiful, was a personal God who is close to us: “in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17.28)

This spiritual journey would be hopeless were it not for the grace of God won for us through the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He gives us genuine hope for the blessed life, and a peace that the world cannot give. When we pray, we should constantly ask Our Lord for the grace to fight and gain victory in the spiritual battle so that we can love the one in whom we live and move and have our being, knowing that this love is truly what we were made for. Therefore in the Gloria of the Mass, let us say or sing sincerely,

“You take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.”

Sermon preached by Fr Finigan at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate and St Anne, Cliftonville on 1 February 2015.

Our Father (Rimsky-Korsakov)

We are doing well with singing the English texts of the Mass at 9.30am Mass. From the beginning of Lent, I would like to introduce the sung Our Father and I propose using the Rimsky-Korsakov setting which is a simple and beautiful chant which works well in English and is used regularly at major celebrations in our Archdiocese. The YouTube video above is of the Our Father broadcast live from St George’s RC Cathedral, Southwark on 24 December 2011. (Director of Music: Nick Gale, Organist: Norman Harper, The St George’s Cathedral Choir and the St George’s Cathedral Girls Choir.)

There are copies of the setting available at the back of the Church and here is a link where you can download a copy of this music if you wish.

Our certain knowledge of the existence of God

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All the earth shall bow down before you, O God.” (Introit. Ps 65.4) Christian teachers of science often remark how their pupil are surprised that they can accept both science and the Christian faith. In fact, the scientific order of the magnificent universe that we inhabit is itself a powerful argument for the existence of God.

The Church, following St Paul (Rom 1.20), teaches that we can know the existence of God with certainty by the natural light of human reason from the things that He has made. This important doctrine of the knowability of God was defined at the first Vatican Council and repeated word for word at the second Vatican Council.

It is true that a demonstration of the knowability of God may not be sufficient to bring someone to faith, and people often come to God through personal experience or through the good example of others. Even so, it is not irrelevant to talk about how God can be known with certainty from science because many people think that faith is irrational or contrary to science. This popular and widely publicised view has certainly undermined the path to faith for many, especially the young. They can be ridiculed for their faith by those who say it is a fairy tale.

That is why it is especially important in our own time that we are able to show that our faith is not contrary to human reason and scientific knowledge. The laws and constants that scientists have discovered by hard intellectual work, were operating long before any human people existed. To suggest that they just happened to be there is not rational but a retreat from reason. The existence of a supreme “Mind” who created the universe in all its wonder is far more reasonable. We speak of this “Mind”, this person who created, when we talk of the Logos or Word of God who became flesh.

Our faith takes us further, of course than the rational conviction that there must be a supreme being. From what God has revealed to us, we know that He who created all things is personal, and actually loves us. He invites us to friendship with Him and to the glory of eternal life when we shall see Him face to face. In this life, when we study or even hear about scientific discovery or the amazing universe that we live in, it gives us one more cause to wonder and praise God.

Sermon preached by Fr Finigan at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate, 2nd Sunday of the Year. 18 January 2015.

Baptism and the Sanctity of Life

Joachim Patinir - Baptism of Christ - WGA17089

At His own Baptism, Our Lord sanctified the waters of Baptism for all of us. When we are baptised, it is for our own sake. When our Lord was baptised, it was not for Himself, but for us.

When we are baptised, we are given sanctifying grace and we are made Christians, children of God and members of the Church. We also share in the ministry of Christ to the world in preaching the Gospel to all nations.

One of Saint John Paul’s most important encyclical letters was Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life.”) In it, he explained that our preaching on the sanctity of human life is an integral part of the message of Christ for the world, a message especially and urgently needed today. He called on us to celebrate this Gospel of Life because “[it] means to celebrate the God of life, the God who gives life.” (EV 84) In other words, it is not bad news but a message of hope and goodness for all.

Of course we are faced in our own time, in our own country with serious problems concerning human life and its destruction. The saintly Pope made clear that abortion and euthanasia are crimes that no human law can legitimise and that we have a grave duty to oppose anti-life laws by conscientious objection. (EV 73)

Pro-life campaigning and debate in the public square is primarily an apostolate particularly of the laity, though priests also have a responsibility to promote the Gospel of Life though their preaching and witness.

It is important to know that Saint John Paul spoke with particular warmth and compassion to mothers who have had an abortion, inviting them to reconciliation and encouraging them to be eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life and “promoters of a new way of looking at human life”. (EV 99) The Gospel of Life is not in any way “anti-women” but a fundamental affirmation of all human life.

For all of us, Saint John Paul reflected on the call of our Baptism which makes us members of a holy people. He said:

‘We have been ransomed by the “Author of life” at the price of his precious blood. Through the waters of Baptism we have been made a part of him, as branches which draw nourishment and fruitfulness from the one tree. Interiorly renewed by the grace of the Spirit, “who is the Lord and giver of life”, we have become a people for life and we are called to act accordingly.’ (EV 79)

As we now prepare to offer the holy sacrifice by which Our Lord took away the sins of the world, let us ask Him in our hearts how each of us can best promote the Gospel of Life in our culture today.

Falling down, they adored Him

Memling Adoration des Mages Prado01558

In Christian tradition, the gifts of the Magi have a spiritual meaning. In the mid third century, the scholar Origen explained that the gold was for a king, the frankincense for one who is God, and the myrrh for one who is to die. The popular carol We Three Kings retains this tradition, reflecting on the person of Christ.

The gifts of the Magi help us to understand who Christ is. Born of the Virgin Mary, He is truly man. He grew in a human family with a mother and foster father. Although free from sin, He knew joy and sorrow: the happiness of family and friends and the sorrow of betrayal and misunderstanding.

He knew feasting and fasting: He enjoyed food and wine at the wedding feast of Cana and on the occasions when he ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners, and he fasted for forty days in the desert and at other times on his travels.

He experienced the love of others: we think especially of the loyal friendship of St John the beloved disciple and the care of Martha and Mary at Bethany. He experienced the hatred of others, especially the superficially smart critics who tried to trip him up with what might nowadays be called passive-aggressive enquiries. Finally He suffered physical, psychological and spiritual torture, and died in agony for us on the Cross.

At the same time, in the unity of one person, He remained and will remain for ever truly God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity. He, God made man, is, and was when he walked in Galilee, almighty, all-knowing, infinitely loving, supreme in every perfection. By being united to His body through Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, we are united to His divinity. St Peter even dares to say that we are “co-sharers of the divine nature.”

The actions of the Magi teach us how we should respond to Christ. They gave up everything and risked their lives to find Him. Today there are Christians who risk their lives to follow our Lord, as in the moving story of the elderly people of Karamless who were left behind by the young who fled the advance of ISIS. When threatened with execution if they did not convert to Islam, they said “we prefer to be killed rather than convert.”

Then, when the Magi came into His presence, “falling down, they adored Him.” (Matt 2.11) Their physical act of kneeling (or prostrating) indicated their recognition of the holiness of the child before them.

With our Christian and Catholic faith, we know with certainty that the baby Jesus is truly God and is our Saviour. Our adoration of Christ, symbolised by our physical attitude in prayer, must come from the heart as an act of loving faith in the one who alone can claim our total loyalty and allegiance.

Sermon preached by Fr Finigan at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate, and St Anne, Cliftonville. Feast of the Epiphany, 4 January 2015.