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

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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.

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

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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.