Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Paradox of Our Time

We have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider motorways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less, we buy more but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses but smaller families, more conveniences but less time; we have degrees and qualifications but less sense, more knowledge but less judgement; more experts but more problems; more medicine but less wellness.

We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom and hate more often. We have learned how to make a living but not a life; we have added years to life but not life to years. We have been all the way to the moon and back but have trouble crossing the road to meet a new neighbour. We have conquered outer space and cleaned up the air but polluted the soul; we have split the atom but not our prejudice.

We have higher incomes but lower morals; we have become long on quantity but short on quality. These are times of taller people and short character; steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the times of world peace but are places of terror, ill-treatment and domestic warfare; more leisure but less fun; more kinds of food but less nutrition.

These are the days of two incomes but more divorce; of fancier houses but broken homes. It is a time when much is on show in shop windows and nothing in the stockroom; a time when technology can bring a letter to you by email, and a time when we can choose to either make a difference or just bin it or delete.

This is the time to increase our Bible readings, but its contents are ignored and we make our own rules.

(Taken from a student at Columbria High School, Colorado, USA, scene of the mass shooting of students by a classmate)

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Altar Boy - A Reflection

Various items concerning the LMS Local Representative's job were passed on to us and amongst them was a small notebook in which our predecessor, Christine Ackers (RIP) had made a collection of writings that had obviously moved or inspired her. It wasn't clear what she intended to do with them, but we felt they deserved a wider audience so will share them with readers of this blog over time.

The Altar Boy

We had a rapid advance across Northern France from the Normandy beachhead. (Historians say it was the fastest opposed advance in the history of modern warfare.) Now, our 105-millimeter howitzer battalion was bivouacked in an abandoned castle on the outskirts of a small Belgian town. The exact locations of occupied and unoccupied territory were not well known, and due to an error in map reading, we learned at daybreak that we were close to a German infantry unit. Watching our battalion attempting to act as infantry was laughable, but we had no choice. Using our pieces at close range with time bursts, we caused the enemy to retreat.

Later that morning, I ventured away from the Castle and observed the local townspeople walking to the centre of the village to the sound of church bells. I realized it was Sunday and people were on their way to a Catholic Mass. I followed them.

Inside the church, when the priest appeared from the Sacristy, I saw that he was without an altar boy. I was only nineteen years old, not too far away from own altar boy days Philadelphia. So almost by rote, I went onto the Sanctuary, knelt down next to the priest and, still in my uniform, started to perform the normal functions of an acolyte in Latin. The priest and I went through the whole Mass as if we had done it together many times before, through Epistle, Gospel, Consecration, and Final Blessing.

As prescribed, I preceded the priest into the Sacristy and, as is the custom, stood apart from him with my hands in the prayer position while he divested. He removed the Chasuble, then the Cincture. When his arms lifted the Alb, I saw that he was wearing a German uniform. My heart stopped: the priest was a German officer!

The man was a German chaplain and though he had realized immediately that he had an American sergeant as an altar boy, during the entire twenty minutes of the Mass he had given no outward sign of recognition.

My German was rather rudimentary and the only thing I could put together was "Gut Morgen, Vater" (Good Morning, Father). Evidently his English was non-existent, for somewhat flustered, he only smiled at me, Then we shook hands and I left.

I walked back to the castle strangely exhilarated. Two strangers, enemies at war, had met by chance and for twenty minutes, without any direct communication, had found complete unanimity in an age-old ritual of Christian worship.

The memory of this incident has remained with me for over fifty years. It still brings the same elation, for I know first-hand that, even in war, our common humanity, under the same God, can triumph over hatred and division.

Richard H Kiley

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Sermon on the Plain

Recently we were fortunate to visit the Mount on which Jesus instructed the apostles and disciples on the Beatitudes. The little church is set in lovely gardens overlooking the Sea of Galilee and the whole embraces you with an atmosphere of great peace. We could have just stayed there the whole day, quietly comtemplating the meaning of the Beatitudes. As we looked down onto the plain which gently stretches out to the Sea of Galilee, somewhere down there Jesus later instructed the Apostles, followers and a multitude in matters which have become known as the Sermon on the Plain (Luke Vi 17 - 38).


The conditions under which Jesus taught had changed as it was now becoming increasingly dangerous to be associated with him. Present at the Sermon on the Plain were the Apostles who had only recently been elected as such, a crowd of disciples or professed believers and followers, and finally a very great multitude of people from Judea and Jerusalem, and the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon, including many self-interested, sceptics and those influenced by the calumnies against and opposition to Our Lord. We may see many parallels between this latter group and those who attend churches today, influenced by the World: cafeteria christians. So Jesus was addressing a very different audience from His Apostles and followers when on the Mount. Moreover, this sermon was divided into two parts: in the first He was instructing the Apostles on how to approach an audience un-receptive to divine truths and in the second He addressed Himself to the multitude.

The Sermon on the Mount and that on the Plain are to a degree identical; however the latter sermon was modified from that on the Mount: with poor rather than poor in spirit, those who weep rather than those who mourn over sins, hunger for food rather hunger and thirst for justice, while the blessings on the meek, merciful, clean of heart and peacemakers are omitted. Taking a modern secular view, the latter blessings are not truly understood today.

Also Jesus added to each blessing, woes:

Blessed are the poor for yours is the kingdom of God; woe to you that are rich, for you have your consolation. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be filled; woe to you that are filled, for you shall hunger. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh; woe to you that now laugh, for you shall mourn and weep. Blessed shall you be when men hate you, and when they shall separate you, and shall reproach you and cast out your name as evil (increasingly happening today) for the Son of Man's sake.

In this first part Jesus seems to be saying to His followers, don't waste your time trying to educate those who are not true followers with the divine truths contained in the Sermon of the Mount; rather concentrate on this modified set which will be easier to explain and to understand. Or please do not cast pearls of divine truths among a promiscuous audience.

Then Jesus addresses the crowd:

Turning to the multitude, Jesus echoes the Sermon on the Mount in the precepts of charity: love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you and pray for them, turn the other cheek and give your other cloak; all these form part of the general principle, accepted by all, that we are to do to others as we would have them do to us. The precepts of mercy follow by Jesus emphasising the mercifulness and all forgivingness of God and therefore we are not to judge others and accordingly we won't be judged. Finally, he warned about following false prophets who will be known by their fruits (our world is full of false prophets of doom, secular and religious, and other threats from nature or government itself, especially against those who live their faith in the public square: know them by their fruits and treat with them accordingly).

If you want to be a true follower of Jesus head for the Mount.

If anyone wishes to be His follower, then a much higher state of perfection is demanded. While addressing a wide variety of people, Jesus keeps back or hides the more exquisite and lofty truths by which perfection can only be achieved. So perhaps priests today should refresh their minds about what divine truths they should really preach from the pulpit, recognising that within their audience there will be but a very few, if any at all, interested in reaching the high states of perfection demanded by Jesus of His true followers, especially today: for example, giving up everything to follow Him, totally pro-life in thoughts and deeds, avoiding any contact with sin especially through the eyes which are the windows into the soul (eg. television), being meek in all situations, mourning or even weeping over your sins and the sins of the world and in the church and so on.

(Reference: The Public Life of our Lord, V, The Training of the Apostles Part (II),

H J Coleridge SJ, Burns and Oates, 1882)