Reflection

Branching off a little

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We all remember the hymn; ‘This is my body’, sung at mass mostly for the offertory or communion hymn. The verse that often sticks out in my mind is “Filled with my Spirit, how you will grow. You are my branches, I am the tree If you are faithful, others will know, you are alive in me”. And I also got thinking where is this in the bible? So I went and looked it up and found it in John chapter 15.

In the previous chapter the disciples are asking Jesus about the way to the Father. Jesus responds and comforts them in reminding them their mission and the promise of the decent of the Holy Spirit. So in the next chapter, Jesus tells the twelve the relationship between Himself and God the Father. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” (John 15:1). With the promise of the Holy Spirit’s decent unto the apostles and the references to God the Father we can see the early doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

In the next few lines Jesus then explains the doctrines of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. Yes Purgatory. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” (John 15:2-3) God will cut down those who do not bear fruit. I remind myself of how powerfully Pulp fiction made of the quote from Ezekiel 25:17 “I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I take vengeance on them.” That needs not much explanation that God will take those who have not produced any fruit to Hell. But in the next part Jesus explains purgatory. For every branch that doesn’t bear fruit, He prunes. In other translations it means that He cleans. Where else can God do this? In confession with a truly repentant soul but if that is not the case then the only other place can be Purgatory. We are not worthy to stand in the presence of God but due to Christ’s death and resurrection we are made worthy and it is up to us to merit our righteousness by our true repentance. Finally Jesus states how we get into heaven. It is because He has talked to us and we accepted His word. We are saved through faith … By Grace. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4) We must be with Jesus who sends us His grace and love so that we may be a witness to Him throughout the world.

It clearly states in this passage about Catholic doctrines on Purgatory and saved by Faith through Grace but it doesn’t stop there. Tradition is mentioned in this Bible chapter; “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11). It does clearly state that we must keep Jesus’s commandments. But the protestant would say, but all we have to follow is the ones in the Bible. But John points out later in his Gospel “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25). There is so much more to following Jesus just by what He taught in the Bible. The apostles we Primary witnesses to the Truth and have passed on the commands and teachings of Jesus throughout the ages to this present day. People say that the Church is outdated and we need to change. All we have to remember is this, Jesus taught us the ways to salvation and creating a relationship with God. We are just stewards on eternal mission of God’s saving plan. Pope Benedict put it perfectly in his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too”. Even though this is in terms of Liturgy it remains the same with traditions and with the teachings of Jesus.

The Dreaded Epistle

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On the 17th Sunday of ordinary time, we listened to a very famous passage in romans. This passage was Romans 8:28-30. Most lectionaries use the Revised Standard Version but I use the New RSV for my individual lectio. The passage is this.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.30 and those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This passage is key in the protestant reformation for the doctrine of Sola Fide. This is along with Romans 3:28, where Martin Luther added his own words to the German translation. This was changed from the God inspired passage so that it read that we are saved through Faith alone and not works of the law.

The one thing about the doctrine is that it sounds nice. Once saved, always saved! But of course it is not true. For salvation is a gift freely given to us, his children. If we are good when we were kids we were given treats and gifts so it will encourage good behaviour. And if we were bad then we would have them privileges taken away. That is the same with our salvation. The reason we have this is because of the inheritance we get through birth and that is God’s gift of Free Will. This free will is what causes us to sin and stumble. This makes God turn away from us. Through full repentance are made right standing with God again. This is called being in a state of Grace. For this is what God wants, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48)

So to have faith is awesome, but it is only the start. You must allow Jesus into your heart and life. That is not all you have to do. Jesus does great things and we’ve got to allow him to transform our lives with the advocate, the Holy Spirit. He does this through prayer and the sacraments. Each sacrament is God’s design to conform humanity to Himself. Baptism we are adopted into His eternal family. Confession cleanses us from sin and shows God our repentance. Communion creates the only physical connection between God and man in the Eucharist. Holy Orders and Matrimony consecrates lives to God’s will in the vocation He has prescribed for us. In Extreme Unction we are prepared for eternal life. Confirmation is a sacrament that Protestants would mostly agree with and that is where we confirm Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. From that day on the Holy Spirit remains with us and does God’s work through us.

The one thing that the Catholic Church teaches that other protestant churches don’t is that once baptised you are immediately adopted into God’s family. So we are all children of God. This is very different in some churches of other denominations and can be held by very immature Christians. I’ve heard some protestant preachers be very anti-Catholic. One time I was at a praise and worship meeting being held by the Christian Union of Aberystwyth. The guy was speaking on who is our neighbour. He then went on to say that we should not associate ourselves with Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they preach the wrong gospel. I knew he was on about gospel values and doctrine, but still I was a bit astounded by his remark. So afterwards I went up to him and explained that I am Catholic and I was made quite uneasy by his talk. He didn’t apologise, so I then asked him if he could show me in his bible what it says in John 1:1. You know in the beginning was the word… and I then showed him mine and they read exactly the same. I then said look at any verse in the bible and it is almost similar because of wording. He understood what I meant because of different translations. I then went and asked him what he thought the message of John 1:1 was. He explained and I replied with exactly the same answer to his astonishment. I then explained to him that if you go and ask everyone in this room what they think one passage means there will be loads of different explanations, whereas if you come to the Catholic Church, anywhere in the world, you will get the same response all the time. It is not only given by what the current pope says but what Jesus taught the first pope when he established the Church.

Back to the epistle, to explain the passage one must learn what some of the words mean. Specially Justified and Glorified. Justified or justification is explained as ‘the most excellent work of God’s love. It is the merciful and freely given act of God which takes away our sins and makes us just and holy in our whole being.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church Compendium 422). To be justified was once explained to me like this. When we sin, God turns his back on us. Jesus, out of his divine mercy, says to the Father to look at His hands and feet and side. I’ve paid the debt for his sin, even though he has no means to pay back. Through this plea, God forgives our sins and we become justified. ‘Justification is the beginning of the free response of man that is faith in Christ and of cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church Compendium 422). Glorified means that you are numbered among the communion of Saints. For there is much rejoicing about each one of us when we turn to God in repentance. Jesus tells this numerous times in Luke’s Gospel. (Luke 15:7, 10, 32) An example of glorification can be found in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9. This is the transfiguration. This was originally called the feast of the glorification of Jesus. Here it shows Jesus change into his triumphant glorious self and also shows God’s glory. In the gospel Moses and Elijah appear next to Jesus, representing the law and prophets. This shows us that through Jesus comes the fullness of the laws of God and fulfils all prophecy. That is what Jesus does in us when we are glorified; Jesus helps us fulfil prophecy of God’s predestined plan for us and also helps us keep the works of God’s law.

The main message of this epistle is that we are all called to holiness. To quote St. Catherine of Sienna, ‘If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze.’ If we allow Jesus into our lives to glorify us, for us to follow in Jesus’ example. For us to ask God for his graces so that we can all merit the gift of salvation. This is not done on our own but on what God wills us to do.

 

Apologetic in Analogies

APOLOGETICS

We are all story tellers. We all explain theories and ideas in different ways as well. The Bible is a story itself in that it tells the tales of; the people of Israel, the travels of Paul, the acts of the apostles and most importantly the teachings of Jesus and the words of God. But its the way we tell these stories that get a reaction. Its like someone tells you a story about a man who’s wife who is murdered and then loses his only son on his first day at school and tries to find him anyway way he can. He is aided with a psychotic woman and finally find him in the end. Now if I were to tell you that, that was the basic plot to “Finding Nemo”, most people would agree that it wouldn’t be suitable to show kids. There is a famous phrase which I have recently learnt; “A text without a context is a pretext!” People should not think badly or prejudge what it is the text is saying without knowing what context it has for the reader. A classic case of this in the Bible is in James 2: 18-24. Here he is talking about how works affect salvation.The works he is talking about is what the gentiles must do to follow Christ. For the gentiles they were not circumcised and knew very little about Jewish customs. But the way we know what people were back then was by their works and keeping to traditions. This is where the term “an observant Jew” comes from. For when people say that it is Faith Alone that saves, this verse does not say anything otherwise, but it states that through faith you have to perform works.

One of the misunderstanding about Catholicism is that around Confession. When we sin, it is like getting our clothes dirty. The more we sin, the more dirtier we become. Jesus comes and washes us, makes us clean. It doesn’t finish there, for we are still wet and can catch a cold or worse. The way we dry is by the spiritual tumble dryer, saying our penance. We are clean then and dry. Though we can get dirty, if we only just ask we can be washed and dried for free, again and again and again. He never tires of this we just tire of asking. We can receive this free gift in confession and in the Holy Mass. The priest is in “Persona Christi” which means that he is acting on behalf of Jesus, asking him for intercession and absolution.

The best psalm to remember in this case is 46. It states that God is our refuge, a place to go when worried or afraid. Do not be afraid when things seem to go wrong, for God is with us. Have faith in God. Nothing shall harm us. If God is with us what can stand against us. numerous times in the bible it shows times of when God is with people and Jesus says he will be with us forever. If you look at train tracks, they are parallel. Think of it that on one track is sorrow, and the other is joy. You look into the horizon and they connect and join together. They don’t actually meet in reality but for what we see they join up. This is what happens as we go through life, we can be on either track. But in the end we can see them both join and become one. This is what Jesus promises in that everything good and sad will all reach its destination. Just remember the poem Footprints.  “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

That story shows how we are all give what we need and want. God gives it to us on a platter it is up to us to reach out and grab it.  We all feel lost sometimes but if we turn to God he provides the answers.

There was a man who felt as though he had no luck in the world. He felt as if everything was against him. For example he is in line to get the last ticket for the cinema, he would miss out. It was all mundane things that he felt didn’t go his way. One day he got really fed up with this, so he thought, “I’m going to go to the end of the earth to talk to God about this.” So off he set on his travels. He was walking through a woods and he came across this really skinny looking wolf. He had not much energy and was tired of not eating anything but vegetation. The man stopped and asked the wolf how he was. The wolf replied, “I am tired of no one coming through the woods, all the animals have left and all I have to eat is leaves and mushrooms.” The man then said to the wolf, “Well I am on my way to speak to God about how much bad luck I am having perhaps I could ask him about your situation.”. The wolf was pleased with this news and let him carry on. Next he came to a little house just outside the woods. in this house was a very beautiful woman who was left the house by her father when he died. But the house is so far away from anywhere she hardly sees anyone. The man stopped at the house for a breather and got talking with the woman and explained his story. She the said, ” I wonder if you could ask God if there was any way I could be less lonely.”. The man agreed and carried on with his quest. He next came across a withered old looking tree. The man stopped for shade and began talking with the tree. The tree was thirsty and could not produce any leaves to survive. It asked the man whether he could ask God why is he in this state. The man again agreed and went on his way. Finally he reached the edge of the world. He saw God on a cloud not so far away. He called upon Him and started to ask him all the things he wanted to know. God said to the man, “look you have all the luck in the world, but you are not grabbing what is right in your face. Next time you are presented with a good thing take it.” Having all the information he needed he started walking back cheerfully thinking to himself about how lucky he is. He firstly came across the tree and he said “Hey Tree I have all the luck in the world I just don’t take my chances.”. The tree said, “that’s great but what about me?” the man explained that there was an old treasure chest right underneath the tree blocking its roots from reaching the nutrients. The chest is full of Gold and jewels. The tree then asked the man to dig up this chest so that it could survive and the man take the gold. But the man said, “No, I’ve got no time for that, I need to go home and find my luck.”. So he left the tree and walked on home. Next he came across the woman. He said, “I have all the luck in the world I just don’t take them even if they are right in front of my nose.” The woman asked for her answer, the man said, “All you need to do is to ask the next man who comes past to marry you. You’ll find your company and live happily.” The woman then said to the man. ” Well then, Will you marry me?”. The man said, “sorry but no. I’ve got to go find my good luck.” He then came across the wolf, who was almost at his end, and said “Hey wolf, I have all the Good luck I need.”. Then the wolf then asked, “What did God say about me?”. The man replied, “He said that the next man you see, you are to eat him. For you don’t get to eat often this will sustain you.” So then without hesitation, the wolf Gobbled up the man.

Happy are those who have not seen but yet believe. There was a man who had studied for all his adult life. He ha studied psychology, theology and drama. He was trying out an experiment with people. He would carry a small bird in his hand, only showing its beak. He would ask whether they thought the bird was alive or dead. If they said the bird was dead then he’d open his hand and show it was alive. If they said alive then he’ squeeze his hand and kill the bird then reveal it. He had asked everyone he knew. Then finally he asked a priest the question. The priest responded “that is not the question you should be asking, for you have the control here. It can be alive in your heart if you believe it. We must always ask ourselves in our hearts, do we believe that Christ is risen.

Why Serve at the Altar of God?

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I have been an Altar Server for 14 years. I started soon after I received my first Holy Communion and I am still severing today. I have grown up in the understanding and reverence for serving the Holy Mass. I serve in two Parishes at present, serve in two Cathedrals occasionally and I have also had the honour of serving in Lourdes. I am able to serve the Novus Ordo Missal as well as serving in the Extraordinary form. I was also Master of Ceremonies in my local Parish which has enforced my love for serving our Lord at the Altar.
The best feeling I believe is when the server is kneeling at the foot of the Altar during the Eucharistic Prayer, swaying the thurible with the beautiful fragrance fill the majestic church. When the priest elevates the blessed sacrament and the sacrifice on Calvary is made present, I am filled with awe. Blessing the sacrament with the incense and saying the words, My Lord and My God, I feel unworthy to be where I am in the church. But I shouldn’t. I am extremely privileged to be here, kneeling before the Lamb of God, worshipping and praising our Lord God.
To be an Altar Server is an experience that I am privilege to be a part of. The role of the Server is to assists the priest and congregation in saying the prayer of the Holy Mass. They should be unnoticeable and always in prayer. They should not be moving around and should do everything with reverence and care. When processing the book of the gospel, whilst being an Acolyte, this must be done prayerfully and reverently, this is due to the fact we are leading the word of God to a place it will be preached and the good news shared. At the offertory, where the prayers of the people are brought to the sanctuary in the form of the gifts of bread and wine, to be placed upon the Altar, the server must hold the gifts with the utmost respect.
Why be an Altar Server? First of all, you’re close to consecrated host, the most holiest thing in existence. Secondly, you are always praying. Thirdly you will have St. Stephen as an example and he will pray for you. Fourthly, you will be loved by everyone, you get tea and biscuits after mass and people recognize you either in the church or out in the town or daily lives. Finally, you are being a witness to Christ. You are doing what He asked us to do, to serve one another.
Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you during in the Holy Mass. Through your sacred presence, my heart is filled with joy and peace, may your spirit always guide me, so I may grow in your love. By the grace of the Heavenly Father, and in your Holy name Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

The Benedictus

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Whilst praying the Divine Office, the morning prayer always includes the Benedictus. This is the prayer that Zechariah proclaimed in Luke 1:68-79. It goes as follows;
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
  for he has come to his people and brought about their redemption.
He has raised up the sign of salvation
  in the house of his servant David,
as he promised through the mouth of the holy ones,
  his prophets through the ages:
to rescue us from our enemies
  and all who hate us,
to take pity on our fathers,
  to remember his holy covenant
and the oath he swore to Abraham our father,
  that he would give himself to us,
that we could serve him without fear
 – freed from the hands of our enemies –
in uprightness and holiness before him,
  for all of our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High:
  for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare his path,
to let his people know their salvation,
  so that their sins may be forgiven.
Through the bottomless mercy of our God,
  one born on high will visit us
to give light to those who walk in darkness,
  who live in the shadow of death;
 and guide us in the way of peace.
When I started praying the Lauds, I couldn’t wait to get to this prayer. The reason I love it is because it shows for God’s plan and that it came to fruition. This makes me think about the work I will do in the day, that it’s God’s plan and everything is according to His will. It is a Canticle of praise and one which I hold dear.
The first part of this great prayer, is one of thanksgiving. In today’s world, we thank God that He sent His one and only Son to die for us so we can turn back to Him. It shows that we are thankful that God has promise us eternal life through Jesus Christ. The second part is one of saying, now go out into the world and be a witness to the truth. Do not worry on what you have to say for the Holy Spirit will guide you along. We will receive these graces in abundance, if we continuously pray and ask for them.
As I said, I always love saying the Benedictus, for when I make the sign of the cross when saying the first line, I feel the Holy Spirit come down on me and remains with me throughout the day. To end the canticle in the morning prayer, we follow it with the doxology, for that is why we pray. For the glory is to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, forever and Ever. Amen!
I encourage everyone who reads this to say this prayer when waking up, to be fresh for the new day which God has made. From this people can start to ease into the divine office, or just more meaningful prayer life.
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