Sunday, 29 June 2014

Blessed are the Peacemakers: Where were we on Armed Forces Day?

In preparing the ground for the Beatitudes of the Peacemakers, it is fitting to reflect on Armed Forces Day. Where were we yesterday - at a service, at a cenotaph and march past, offering a Mass, at home giving those who lost their lives, and still are today, a few minutes of reflection and prayer, coupled with praying that God will continue to grant us the gift of peace? Or were we deliberately ignoring it all, treating the day as a glorification of war or, even worse, too complacent to give it a passing thought.

It seems possible, because of their dedication, loyalty and diligence, Christians, in particular Catholics, suffer more casualties in proportion to others. Often we read of this being the case. Why then don't our churches give more than a passing nod, if anything, to Armed Forces Day, Battle of Britain Sunday and Remembrance Sunday? All too often these days are not reflected in the bidding prayers or in a Mass being said for the souls, those suffering, and for peace. Do we believe that peace is just there for the taking, costs nothing and is not a gift requested and granted by God?

Since World War I there has only been one year, 1968, during which there were no British armed forces casualties and since VE day there has been only SIX minutes of peace in the whole world! Why all those deaths and suffering in WW1, WW2, Korea and since then to this very day? We have lost the peace when we cease to honour those who gave up all for it and to pray for peace.

We have had relative peace in our land as our armed forces have manned the bridgeheads overseas, keeping most of the nasty aspects of modern conflict from these shores. However, we are not totally protected from the effects of such wars, as the impact is carried in the bodies of our armed forces and in their minds. Many choose to ignore their plight with quite a few imprisoned by an ungrateful or ignorant nation. How long will our peace last? Will our complacency continue to be such that we drift into a situation in which war returns by default to once more bloody our land? God is a God of peace and without acknowledging this and the debt we owe Him, His gifts of peace may just dry up.

Europe and the Middle East are a tinderbox to day which could be ignited by a mere spark. Those who lived and defended us through the Cold War remember well the daily alerts, any one of which could have signalled devastation. This threat has never gone away: we just choose to ignore it.

For those who lived through the devastation of the London Blitz, Coventry, Liverpool, Plymouth to mention just a few, saw and felt the cruel nature of war.

On VE day the joy at the dawn of peace knew no bounds, and at that time most were determined to remember the costs, and to continue to defend such hard-won freedom and peace no matter the future costs.

Yet since then there has been endless war or conflict in the world whilst a true, not relative, lasting peace remains beyond our grasp.


Where will we now be on Battle of Britain Sunday, when a few gave up their young lives for our peace and even fewer guard our skies today, and Remembrance Sunday which remembers the Fallen over the years: will we remember them?

Will our churches be filled with us praying for the souls of the Fallen and to the God of peace for continued peace in our time or will our churches be deafeningly silent, neglecting these important dates in our diary, leaving us to wait for this possible end?


Sunday, 22 June 2014

Pope Francis and the Beatitudes


Pope Francis: The Beatitudes are a Program for Holiness

During his homily at Monday morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, the Pope focused on the Beatitudes; on the day following the historic meeting for peace in the Vatican, he called for the courage of meekness to defeat hatred.

Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day which focusses on the Beatitudes, Pope Francis described them as a "program", the "identity card of a Christian". If you ask yourself how to become a good Christian, this is where you can find Jesus’s answer, an answer – he said - that points to an attitude that is currently very much against the tide: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Wealth – Francis pointed out – offers no guarantee, in fact – he continued – when the heart is rich and self-satisfied, it has no place for the Word of God: "Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted".

The world tells us that happiness, joy and entertainment are the best things in life. And it looks the other way when there are problems of disease or pain in the family. The world does not want to suffer, it prefers to ignore painful situations, to cover them up. Only the person who sees things as they are, and whose heart mourns, will be happy and will be comforted. Thanks to the consolation of Jesus, not to that of the world. Blessed are the meek in this world which is filled with wars, arguments, hatred. And Jesus says: no war, no hatred. Peace and meekness."

Pope Francis continued saying "if you are meek in life, people will think you are not clever". Let them think that – he said – "but you are meek because with this meekness you will inherit the Earth". "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness". It is so easy – the Pope observed – to become part of the corrupt and referred to "that daily approach of ‘do ut des’. Everything is business". How much injustice does that approach cause – he noted – and how many people suffer because of injustice. And Jesus says: "Blessed are they who fight against injustice. Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy". The merciful – the Pope said – "those who forgive and understand the mistakes of others". Jesus – he pointed out – does not say "blessed are they who seek revenge".

"Blessed are they who forgive, who are merciful. Because we are all part of an army of people who have been forgiven! We have all been forgiven. That is why blessed is he who undertakes this path of forgiveness. Blessed are the pure of heart, they who have a simple, pure heart without dirt, a heart that knows how to love with purity. Blessed are peace-makers. But it is so common amongst us to be war-makers or perpetrators of misunderstandings! When I hear something from one person, and I go and say it to someone else in a second, enlarged, edition… the world of gossip. People who gossip, who do not make peace, are enemies of peace. They are not blessed".

"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness". How many people – Pope Francis said – have been persecuted, "and continue to be persecuted simply for having fought for justice". And recalling the Beatitudes, the Pope pointed out that they represent "a program for life offered to us by Jesus": "So simple and yet so difficult". And he said: "if we are searching for more, Jesus gives us other indications" as written in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 25: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was ill and you cared for me, I was in prison and you visited me". With these two things – the Beatitudes and Matthew 25 – "one can live a holy, Christian life".

"Few words, simple words, but practical for all. Because Christianity is a practical religion: it is not just to be imagined, it is to be practiced. If you have some time at home today, take the Gospel, Matthew’s Gospel, chapter five. At the beginning there are the Beatitudes; in chapter 25 the rest. And it will do you good to read them once, twice, three times. Read this programme for holiness. May the Lord give us the grace to understand his message.


From the Internet, Monday, June 09, 2014


Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God- Part II

In Part I, the essentials underpinning achievement of being clean of heart were outlined; here we discover a model to follow in becoming clean of heart.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the way forward: He provides us with the model so necessary for us to compare ourselves with and to use.
Fr Coleridge highlights the following attributes of Jesus which we should use as a guide in cleansing our hearts:
No attachments in the slightest to temporal things, however innocent in themselves and good in their own kind.
Enduring detachment from all earthly pleasures: food, sleep, dress, friendships, conversations, beautiful sights and sounds, daily news, amusements and curiosities.
Freedom from the desire for human respect, being the cause of many sins of omission, through trying to avoid displeasure or unpopularity or in attempt to please others we offend God. Relatives, friends, social contacts and work colleagues are the most dangerous tempters.
Freedom from useless thoughts, including superfluous cares so that nothing disturbs or removes the simplicity and quietness of our hearts and minds. We too often allow the goings on around us to disturb our peace and serenity. We feel instead the need to act rather than to leave the matter to God.
Full of sweetness and kindness and free from any bitterness whatsoever. We retreat rather than provoke others into sinning. For all the malignant hostility, harping criticisms, envy, cowardice, unappreciativeness, baseness and brutality of those around us there should be no bitterness within us.
Absolute freedom from impatience, self-will, even the slightest feeling of discord with or deviation from the will of God. Absolute obedience which we in so many ways fail, including obeying fully the laws and rubrics of the Church.
Having got this far in our deliberations we should now review our attitude to sinners, especially ourselves and insist that charity must prevail in handling all sinners. Fr McKenzie will shock many of us when he correctly writes: " There is a world of difference between Christian charity towards the sinner (including ourselves) and sentimental sympathizing with them ...

One cannot love the sinner until one has learned to hate the sinner"; the two are intimately intertwined. We cannot achieve purity of hearty until we find sinfulness, like leprosy, loathsome and will not spare ourselves until we have cleansed ourselves. We cannot provide a cure for the sinners about us by encouraging them to add to their sores and wounds. We have to find ways of lovingly helping them by bathing and soothing their wounds and through love binding them up, helping them to avoid new or more extensive infection. However, ignoring the disease or attempting remove it by renaming it as if no longer existed neither helps the sinner and worse of all will infect others into sin.
In assessing the Pope Francis statement on reaching out to others, remember Christ's warnings to take nothing with us, to greet nobody on the road and that we will be as lambs among wolves: "More than fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us 'Give them something to eat' (Mk 6:37)"
Those who have struggled up the first five rungs of the Beatitudes will be highly other-oriented, but will need to exercise prudent discernment of whom to help, and it cannot be the wolves who would devour them. They cannot do this alone but must be guided by the Holy Spirit in whom to approach, what has to be said and how and what other appropriate actions might be taken without offending God. 
One criterion to use is that those crying out must at the very least be hungry for Jesus and not aggressive defenders of their status quo or never willing to be moved in their unbelief, but only too pleased to bring us into their ways. The most aggressive wolves to be wary of are apostasising catholics or those outside the Catholic Church not in union with the Holy See, especially relatives who will invite us into situations compromising our faith, and aggressive atheists. We need to be continually guided by the Holy Spirit in helping those in real need. Remember you can always be secure outside the structures and rules, if you remain armed with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Confession, Eucharist, prayer, contemplation and promptings of the Holy Spirit; then indeed go forth fearing no one.
Finally after working your way through the Beatitudes thus far, do any of us feel in our current stage of progress that on dying here and now we deserve to be in heaven? Surely we need purgation of all those stains and the weeding out of all that detracts from the garden of our soul so that it is fitting for God to reside within?
We shall next look at "Blessed are the Peacemakers", and before we approach this we can even now conclude why there are so few peacemakers in the World today; those so called peacemakers are highly unworthy of the name, nor do they have the necessary attributes for this work, because most, if not all, of them have not even started on the first rung of the Beatitudes and are wholly ignorant of what is required to be a successful peacemaker.
Blest are the pure in heart,
For they shall see our God;
The secret of the Lord is theirs,
Their soul is Christ's abode.
The Lord who left the heavens,
Our life and peace to bring,
To dwell in lowliness with men,
Their pattern and their King:
Still to the lowly soul
He does himself impart,
And for his dwelling and his throne
Chooses the pure in heart.
Lord, we thy presence seek;
May ours this blessing be;
Give us a pure and lowly heart,
A temple fit for thee.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God- Part I

The Beatitudes represent a very steep ladder through life, each step taking us higher and higher towards our goal: Heaven and the Beatific Vision. The preceding steps lead us on to those that follow. 
From the very first rung we will obtain glimpses of the rewards to come, including seeing and feeling the guiding hand of God in our lives and we shall also obtain opposition at each of the rungs, even persecution. Sadly this will be often from fellow Christians who will either envy us or hate us for showing them up: a thorn in their sides. At this point we shall have reached the point at which our souls are completely God-oriented. How did we get here?
The first three rungs of the Beatitudes discipline our souls, leading to interior perfection. We of necessity had to purge our souls of earthly things, dross and stains. In addition our hunger for a world of God's Justice moves us from being self- to other-oriented. A person who has reached this stage could never be angry with another or ever contemplate suicide: the very thought would be abhorrently self-seeking. 
Clean of heart means cleansing the whole interior persona: soul, memory, reason, intellect, and will. We will by now be seeking intimate union with God and thereby perceive God or His presence in some form or other when granted the graces so necessary for this. However, we must always have the purest of intentions to firmly adhere to God's demands for justice and mercy. In other words we need to achieve moral uprightness and upright informed consciences, nothing less will do!
We will face many dangers living, especially in this increasingly godless and disobedient world, whatever our situation, which will either distort or distract us from the necessary purity of intentions and, by subsuming us, we face loss of recollection and peace, neglect of prayer thereby neglecting our interior life and thereby we end up mere charitable workers.
In the background should be the cleansing of our sins with their legacies of wounds and weaknesses which encourages future falling back into sin. The guilt of these can be removed by Confession and the stains on our souls by acts of Justice and Mercy. Once we achieve real progress we can avoid falling back by prayer and the diligent practice of Virtue. It is said that in matters of Faith we can only go forward or backwards and never stay still; it is true in the case of the Beatitudes - we can struggle on ever upwards or fall back and give up. A good illustration of this dilemma facing us is the familiar game "snakes and ladders" in which we appear to be making rapid progress until we fall on a snake or into the devil's trap and slide rapidly down. We have to get up and struggle on upwards or slide down even further. Many of us never get beyond the first rung, and like the rich man, shrug our shoulders and give up: God forbid that He ever permits us to do this.
So as Fr Coleridge points out, "the soul is to be made into a beautiful garden in which God is to take His pleasure and set up residence. This garden must be free of poisonous weeds and deadly growths representing mortal sin. Above and beyond these, there must be nothing in it which can offend God's eyes: nothing out of order, wild, hideous, deformed, stunted or half-withered. That is it must be free from all venial sins and their consequences which are displeasing to God and altogether unfit for the soul in which He delights".
Let us remind ourselves of the lesser sins, some of which although not mortal for want of full advertence or deliberation but still constitute grievous offences; others are less serious being on matters which don't sufficiently warrant God's wrath, while a third type are the effects of inattention, surprise or weaknesses of natures and therefore are neither deliberate like the second type or grievous like the first. So what is the medicine for such deformation of our sous which has not been rendered dead by mortal sin but is sick requiring urgent treatment?
The first type, not fully mortal sin, requires Confession, and the occasions or situations that gave rise to them avoided. The stain has to be scrubbed out by genuine acts of Justice and Mercy.
The second, venial, type such as vanity, inaccuracy of speech, unhealthy thoughts, and so on, must be cleansed by meditation and consideration so that we become conscious of our spiritual defilement and deformity. We fall into such states because we lack the graces and ability to see the consequences of our actions.
The third, carelessly venial, type concerns mainly distractions, surprises and natural weaknesses which can be overcome by prayer, practices of virtue and entering into a closer union with God and His wishes.
As you can imagine all this demands continual vigilance, discipline and obedience through self-examination. Nevertheless we all have faults which we never see until they are pointed out to us by others: insensitivity, slothfulness, irritability, impatience, laziness, impetuousness, coldness or aloofness, self-asserting, arrogance, or shyness to name but a few. All these habits or tendencies appear within our daily actions and can be habitual. Because we are blind to these faults we fail to progress towards removing them until we trip over them or somebody kindly points them out to us. We need humility to accept them and to be cured of them. In Part II we shall examine a model so necessary to help us move forward.


"The Preaching of the Beatitudes", Henry James Coleridge SJ, Burns & Oates, London 1876

"The Two Edged Sword, an interpretation of the Old Testament", John L McKenzie SJ, Geoffrey Chapman, London 1959