Friday, June 28, 2019

Love beyond measure - the Sacred Heart

S. Bonaventure (Giovanni di Fidanza) was born in Tuscany, Italy, around 1217-1221.  He became known as "Bonaventure" when he was little and S. Francis of Assisi prayed for him to be healed of a grave illness. While he was praying, Francis received a divine revelation of the boy's future ministry and cried out "O buna ventura" ('O good fortune).

At 22 years of age (about 20 years after the death of Saint Francis), Giovanni joined the Franciscan order and was sent to Paris to continue his studies. This is where he became a close friend of St. Thomas Aquinas.

At 35 S. Bonaventure became Minister General of the Franciscans. He wrote a biography of S. Francis as well as many devotional and theological works, becoming known as the "Seraphic Doctor." He refused a good many honours but eventually became a Cardinal and Bishop of Albano.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Holy Men and Women from the Middle Ages and Beyond(2012) (page 53) writes: "... for Saint Bonaventure the ultimate destiny of man is to love God, to encounter him, and to be united in his and our love. For him, this is the most satisfactory definition of our happiness."

I share this wonderful passage from S. Bonaventure with you on this Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Largely a reflection on John 19 and Psalm 36, it is set for today's Office of Readings:

Take thought now, redeemed man, and consider how great and worthy is he who hangs on the cross for you. His death brings the dead to life, but at his passing heaven and earth are plunged into mourning and hard rocks are split asunder.

It was a divine decree that permitted one of the soldiers to open his sacred side with a lance. This was done so that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross, and so that the Scripture might be fulfilled:  They shall look on him whom they pierced.

The blood and water which poured out at that moment were the price of our salvation. Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace, while for those already living in Christ it became a spring of living water welling up to life everlasting.

Arise, then, beloved of Christ! Imitate the dove that nests in a hole in the cliff, keeping watch at the entrance like the sparrow that finds a home.  There like the turtledove hide your little ones, the fruit of your chaste love. Press your lips to the fountain, draw water from the wells of your Savior; for this is the spring flowing out of the middle of paradise, dividing into four rivers, inundating devout hearts, watering the whole earth and making it fertile.

Run with eager desire to this source of life and light, all you who are vowed to God’s service. Come, whoever you may be, and cry out to him with all the strength of your heart.  O indescribable beauty of the most high God and purest radiance of eternal light! Life that gives all life, light that is the source of every other light, preserving in everlasting splendor the myriad flames that have shone before the throne of your divinity from the dawn of time!

Eternal and inaccessible fountain, clear and sweet stream flowing from a hidden spring, unseen by mortal eye! None can fathom your depths nor survey your boundaries, none can measure your breadth, nothing can sully your purity. From you flows the river which gladdens the city of God and makes us cry out with joy and thanksgiving in hymns of praise to you, for we know by our own experience that with you is the source of life, and in your light we see light.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

"Because of this sacrament earth becomes heaven for you." (St John Chrysostom)

St John Chrysostom was born of Christian parents, about the year 344, in the city of Antioch. His mother, at the age of 20, was a praised for her holiness and faith. John studied rhetoric under Libanius, a pagan, the most famous orator of the age.

In 374, John began to lead the life of an anchorite (or hermit) in the mountains near Antioch, but in 386 the poor state of his health forced him to return to the city, where he was ordained a priest.

In 398, he was made Bishop of Constantinople and became one of the greatest teachers the Church has known. But because he did not hold back from denouncing the abuses of authority and wealth he witnessed both in the Church and in the Empire, he had enemies in high places, not least of all Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria (who repented of this before he died), and the empress Eudoxia. Several false accusations were brought against him in a pseudo-council, and he was sent into exile.

In the midst of his pain, suffering, and rejection, like the apostle, St Paul, whom he so greatly admired, he knew the peace and happiness of the Lord. It reassured him, too, that the Pope remained supportive of him and did what he could. But Chrysostom’s enemies were not satisfied with the sufferings they had already caused him; they exiled him still further away, to Pythius, at the extremity of the Empire. He died on his way there on September 14, 407. 

It was after his death that he was called Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek for “golden-mouthed.” 

The following passage is from St John Chrysostom’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 10. It speaks not just of the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and our need to be prepared for Holy Communion, but also of the merging of earth and heaven together when we gather at the altar.
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(The illustration above, so sumptuously expressing the joining of earth and heaven in the Eucharist, is the work of Thomas Noyes-Lewis, 1863-1946, a famous Anglo-Catholic artist and illustrator of children's books, who was for many years a parishioner of All Saints' Benhilton.)
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The wise men paid homage to Christ’s body even when it was lying in a manger. Foreigners who did not worship the true God left their homes and their native land, set out on a long journey, and on reaching its end, worshiped in great fear and trembling.

Let us, the citizens of heaven, at least imitate these foreigners.

They only saw Christ in a manger, they saw nothing of what you now see, and yet they approached him with profound awe and reverence. You see him, not in a manger but on an altar, not carried by a woman but offered by a priest; and you see the Spirit bountifully poured out upon the offerings of bread and wine.

Unlike the wise men, you do not merely see Christ’s body: you know his power as well, and whole divine plan for our salvation. Having been carefully instructed, you are ignorant of none of the marvels he has performed.

Let us then awaken in ourselves a feeling of awe and let us show a far greater reverence than did those foreigners, for we shall bring down fire upon our heads if we approach this sacrament casually, without thinking of what we do.

By saying this I do not mean that we should not approach it, but simply that we should not do so thoughtlessly. Just as coming to it in a casual way is perilous, so failing to share in this sacramental meal is hunger and death.

This food strengthens us; it emboldens us to speak freely to our God: it is our hope our salvation our light and our life. If we go to the next world fortified by this sacrifice, we shall enter its sacred portals with perfect confidence, as though protected all over by armor of gold.

But why do I speak of the next world? Because of this sacrament earth becomes heaven for you. Throw open the gates of heaven—or rather, not of heaven but of the heaven of heavens—look through and you will see the proof of what I say.

What is heaven’s most precious possession? I will show you it here on earth.

I do not show you angels or archangels, heaven or the heaven of heavens, but I show you the very Lord of all these. Do you not see how you gaze, here on earth, upon what is most precious of all?

You not only gaze on it, but touch it as well. You not only touch it, but even eat it, and take it away with you to your homes.

It is essential therefore when you wish to receive this sacrament to cleanse your soul from sin and to prepare your mind.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Monsignor Ronald Knox preaching on Corpus Christi 1939

A Corpus Christi sermon preached by Monsignor Ronald Knox in 1939, and published in The Tablet on 10th June that year:

“It is said to me daily, Where is thy God ? “ (Ps. xxxxi. 4.)

“Shew me, 0 thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou Rest in the mid day.” (Cant. i. 6).

“They said to him, Where dwellest thou ? He saith to them, Come and see. They came and saw where he abode, and they stayed with him that day. Now it was about the tenth hour.” (Jno. i. 39).

If it may be said with reverence, what a bad story-teller is St. John! His gospel is a series of fragments - infinitely precious fragments, but fragments nevertheless - preserved from the hoarded memories of a very old man, who follows his own train of thought, as old men will, not stopping to consider what details it is that his hearers want to know. Nobody, you might say, would have been a worse journalist. He just recalls for us those unforgettable hours when he and St. Andrew paid an afternoon call on Our Blessed Lord in His own lodging-place, and put the sun to rest as they sat talking with Him. On that memory his mind reposes, and he tells us no more - what manner of habitation it was, whether Our Lord was staying with friends, or with His Mother, or quite alone, what His habits of life were, all the things we want to know. He lodged with Zacchaeus, he lodged with Martha and Mary; otherwise the gospels, I think, give us no picture of the entertainment earth gave to him, who had not where to lay his head. For once, we think we are to hear more, and we go away disappointed.

And yet St. John himself had felt just that curiosity, long before. What a natural instinct it is, when we meet somebody casually whose personality impresses itself on us, dominates us, to want to see more of him, and to want to see him in his own setting, against his own background, where he lives! The pictures on the walls, the books that lie on the shelves, the very knick-knacks on the mantelpiece will have something, surely, to tell us about him; they will make a frame for his personality, and we shall feel that we know him better. So it is with the bride in the Canticles; “ Shew me, 0 thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou Rest in the mid day”—in those voluptuous airs of King Solomon’s harem, he is out of place, he does not fit into the picture; let her see him among his flocks in the still, midday countryside, and she will know him as he is. So it was with St. John and St. Andrew; they know Our Lord only as a passer-by in the crowded ways; they follow as if to track him down to His lodging, and He divines their purpose, and invites them to pass the rest of the day there. 

What kind of picture are we to form of it ? 

Possible, no doubt, that when Nicodemus came to see Our Lord by night he found Him in some rich dwelling where a devout host made everything comfortable for him. But I think we are all inclined to imagine the scene of that sacred hospitality as a more makeshift affair; a deserted house, perhaps, with the windows half boarded up; a straw mattress in a corner and not much else in the way of furniture; or just a cave in the cliffs, beyond Jordan. And this is the Prince who has come to suffer for His people; this is the palace which suffices for His earthly needs! That was the kind of picture, I imagine, that conjured itself up in the memory of the old apostle, and he did not tell us about it; why should he ? After all, it is what we should expect.

At the same time, I think St. John will have read in that old question of his, “Master, where dwellest thou ? “the echo of a much older question which has been tormenting humanity since man’s eyes were first troubled with a human soul. King David complains of those enemies who mocked at his misfortune by asking him, “Where is thy God ? “ And we, because the age in which we live is impatient of old formulas, because the set of its mind is against the supernatural, share, often enough, that confusion and hesitation of his. “Where is your God ? “they ask us. “Men of science have swept the heavens with their telescopes, and they have not found Him. They have peered with their microscopes into the very heart of being, and they have brought us no word of Him. Does He dwell in infinite space ? But we are not sure, any longer, that space itself is infinite. Where is He, that we may worship Him ? Where is He, that we may reproach Him for all the unhappiness that He suffers to mar His creation ?”

These questions of theirs, though it be only at the back of our minds, disconcert us; we know that they are foolish, based on a wrong apprehension of what it is that spirit means, and how it is related to matter. But for all that, the imagination, tied down as it is to the world of space and of sense, will not be satisfied by the answers which commend themselves to the reason. We demand that, somehow, we should be allowed to locate the presence of God as concentrated and focussed in one particular spot. “Master,” we cry, “where dwellest Thou ?“

We know, of course, that He is everywhere, that He cannot be confined in space, but still we ask for evidences of, His presence, and would trace the influence of it, if we might, here rather than here. When a storm of wind howls about our ears with unaccustomed fury, we catch an echo, as it were, of His omnipotence; when a sunset paints the sky with unwonted richness of colour, it seems like a mirror, however imperfect, of His uncreated beauty. But the illusion only lasts for a moment; when we think about it, we realize that this is a trick of the fancy; we are isolating an experience and making something divine of it; God is not in fact any nearer to us - how could He be nearer to us ? - in the storm than in calm, in the cool of evening than under the brazen sky of noon. God is everywhere, but He is not here or there, that we should find Him here or there more than anywhere else.

Has He done nothing, then, to make it easier for us to find Him ? Why yes, surely; in the mystery of His Incarnation, so full of His condescension, this is perhaps the greatest condescension of all - that He who is without limit should be limited, as Incarnate, to one position in space. When Moses drew near to the burning bush, when Elias heard from his cave a whisper of the Divine voice, God manifested His presence in a special way, but that was all. When Our Lady bent over the crib at Bethlehem, God was there. It was not necessary for her to say “Show me, 0 thou whom my, soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou liest in the mid day”; He lay in her arms, He fed at her breast. It was no use for the scornful unbeliever to challenge St. John or St. Andrew with the old question, “Where is thy God ?“ - those first apostles could say, and did say, “Come and see.” For thirty-three years of human history it was possible to say, “There is God! Look, where He feeds, with publicans and sinners! Look, where He lies, asleep in the forepart of a ship which the waves threaten with destruction!“

Yes, for thirty-three years, but afterwards ? We can make our pilgrimage to the Holy Places, pass by the roads which were once trodden by Divine feet, mount the hill on which Our Lord suffered, worship, perhaps, at His very tomb. But it is all a story of yesterday; what use is it (we complain) that God should draw near to us in space, if He does not also draw near to us in time ? It is not enough that our God should make himself present to us; why does not my God make himself present to me ?
As we know, God has foreseen that complaint of ours, and has condescended to make provision for it. 

Everything else about the Blessed Sacrament may be obscure to us; we do not see Our Lord as He is, we cannot fathom the mystery of that change which is effected in the consecrated elements, we have no clue to the manner in which Holy Communion imparts its virtue to our souls. But one thing we can say, without bewilderment or ambiguity - God is here. Like those two disciples when they heard St. John the Baptist acclaim the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world, we, taught by the Church that all salvation is to be found in Christ, are eager to know more of Him, to see Him in the most representative light possible, to catch a glimpse of Him in the setting, in the surroundings which most truly manifest His character. “Master” we ask Him, “where dwellest Thou ? “ And He points to the tabernacle with the invitation, “Come and see.”

Let us look at Jesus Christ in His home, in the tabernacle, and see how those surroundings fit Him, illustrate His dealings with us. First, He dwells in a very public place. The lodging in which the two disciples found Our Lord was in the wilderness, I suppose;beyond Jordan; but it was a place of coming and going, for all Jewry went forth to John, we are told, to be baptized by him. Our Lord was near the centre of things, then; and so He is today; in the heart of the greatest city in the world, you can find Him without difficulty. So great is His desire to be of use to us that He throws Himself in our way, makes Himself cheap by familiarity. He is not afraid of irreverence, so long as He can be there when we want Him. When they ask us where our God is, we do not have to map out the route of some far pilgrimage in foreign parts; He is close by, at the end of the next street. 0 Thou whom my, soul lovethwe should do ill not to love Him, when He makes Himself so accessible as that.

Yet He lives there very quietly, a Prince in incognito. He walked beyond Jordan for all the world to see; but it was the tenth hour when He invited the two disciples to follow Him; it was an evening interview; and it was under cover of night that He talked to Nicodemus. Easy to find out where Our Lord dwells; but if we would converse with Him, be intimate with Him, it must be in the obscurity of faith—the veil of the sacramental species hides Him from our sight. He demands something of us after all; we must make a venture of faith in order to find Him. So accessible to all, and yet such depths of intimacy for those who will take the trouble to cultivate His friendship!

And when He makes the tabernacle His home He dwells among us very humbly, in great simplicity. St. John tells us nothing, as we were complaining just now, about the hospitality he and St. Andrew enjoyed that evening. But everything we know about Our Lord’s life and Our Lord’s attitude makes us feel certain that it was only a mean lodging to which He brought them; I picture Him as stooping low, and warning them to stoop in their turn, as they entered the door of it. So in the tabernacle He lives a life of utter humility. Oh, we try to make the best of it with gold and marble and precious silk; but He has chosen simple things, common things, to be the hiding-place of His majesty. And as He has stooped, so we must stoop if we are to keep our appointment with Him in His chosen meeting-place. We must come to Him in abject consciousness of our own unworthiness. For, see, there is something more He wants to tell us about the lodging He has chosen on earth.

Master, where dwellest Thou? Come and see, He answers - and bids us look into ourselves, into our own souls. It is there that He has chosen His lodging’: there, amid all those tainted ambitions and unholy desires, there, in the heart of our warped nature, He dwells in us, and what we are! 0 Thou whom my soul loveth, show me where Thou dwellest - heaven knows we need a guide to assure us of it, before we would dare to guess that He is content to dwell here.

If by chance thou e’er shalt doubt 
Where to turn in search of Me, 
Seek not all the world about; 
Only this can find Me out— 
Thou must seek Myself in thee.
In the mansion of thy mind 
Is My dwelling-place; and more 
There I wander, unconfined, 
Knocking loud if e’er I find 
In thy thought a closed door.

A door closed, to Him? Not here, Lord, not in these hearts; come, take possession of them, and make them more worthy to be Thy home.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

St Barnabas - Son of Encouragement

Today is the feast day of St Barnabas, a Jew of the tribe of Levi, born on Cyprus. Barnabas was, according to Clement of Alexandria and the early historian Eusebius, one of the seventy sent out by Jesus to preach the gospel and heal the sick (Luke 10:1). His original name was Joseph or Joses. But because of the kind of person he was, he became known in the Church community as “ Barnabas” which means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36)

He is described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,” (Acts 11:24) meaning that not only was he was good in the sense of being understanding and kind, but he knew the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in his life, and he was full of faith (which I take to mean not just in the sense of believing the right things, but in trusting God’s promises in difficult situations). 

Barnabas started out as a man of means. But he was among those who sold their property, placing the proceeds at the feet of the apostles for the support of the needy (Acts 4:36-37)

We next see Barnabas when Saul of Tarsus has become a Christian. On account of Saul’s reputation as a key persecutor, the Church in Jerusalem had trouble trusting him when he arrived back there three years after his conversion (see Acts 9:26). Barnabas, however, gave Saul the benefit of the doubt. He had the faith to believe that God could turn someone’s life around. So he encouraged Saul and got close to him. He introduced him to the apostles, defending him and urging them to accept him (Acts 9:27)

Some time later when news reached Jerusalem that Greeks who lived at Antioch were being converted to Christ (Acts 11:20), the apostles sent Barnabas to see what was happening and care for the work there. When Barnabas saw the sincerity of those who had became believers, he began nurturing them into a real community of faith, and expanded the ministry, (Acts 11:23). Feeling that he needed help in this task, he went without delay to the city of Tarsus to find Saul and brought him back to Antioch (Acts 11:25). Barnabas and Saul were a very successful team. They spent a year there during which time the Church went from strength to strength . . . they “taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians” (Acts 11:26)

Around this time it became clear that a famine was on the way that would make life hard for the Christians of Judea. So the Church at at Antioch took up a special collection and gave it to Barnabas and Saul to take to Jerusalem. (Acts 11:29-30). When Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch (Acts 12:25) they had with them John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (see Colossians 4:10), in whose mother’s house we know Jerusalem Christians would gather for prayer (Acts 12:12)

Eventually, the Church at Antioch sent out Barnabas and Saul on a missionary journey. John Mark went with them. They travelled to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. While at Cyprus, Saul began to be called Paul, and Barnabas allowed him to take over the leadership role. (Acts 13:9). They continued their journey to Salamis, to Paphos, and then to Perga. It was here that John Mark left them to go home to Jerusalem, while Paul and Barnabas completed their journey. 

When a second missionary journey was planned, Barnabas agreed to go with Paul (Acts 15:36) and suggested taking John Mark with them. But Paul refused on account of John Mark’s failure to fulfil his commitment on the first journey. A big argument ensued that resulted in a parting of ways. Barnabas, ever the encourager, took John Mark with him to Cyprus. It seems that whatever the problem was, Barnabas was able to restore him, for Paul himself, some years later, writes to Timothy, "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11)

Acts doesn’t talk about Barnabas again after the big argument. But he is mentioned several times in Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:1,9,13; Colossians 4:10)

According to ancient tradition Barnabas was stoned to death in 61 AD at Cyprus, and as he was dying he held onto a copy of the Gospel of St Matthew that he had copied by hand. 

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O God, who decreed that Saint Barnabas, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, should be set apart to convert the nations, grant that the Gospel of Christ, which he strenuously preached, may be faithfully proclaimed by word and by deed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.