Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Widow of Naim

This was no ordinary tragedy. These were days, after all, well before any type of National Pension Scheme. Naim may have been at the heighth of it’s economic history but it still remained well off the main roads of Galilee sheltered under the hilly watch of Mount Moreh where Gideon had once amassed his army. Widows, in the ancient Middle East, trod a very precarious path through no fault of their own. Bereft of a husband their legal standing was awkward- totally dependent on any children or their nearest male relative. Take a son out of the picture and their whole ability to exist, beyond begging, came into question. It was a dire situation that the poor widow had not even begun to fathom as she prepared to bury her son probably on the very day of his death. We don’t know much more than that. We do know that the situation was very, very serious. The prospects were not good.

The theological point of today’s Gospel is Our Lord’s power over death. It is at the centre of our faith, indeed a motivation for us, that one day we will come to benefit in His power over death - that we too may be ‘raised from the dead’. We think of that in terms of going to Heaven- for the widow of Naim even that was not the certain outcome of her son’s death. There was no comfort from any notion of an eventual joyful reunion- that was a novel idea that hadn’t quite filtered into rural 1st century Judaism. Death was death and all that could possibly remain was some sort of shadowy memory of the one who had died. Literally the grave was the grave and once you were in one, that was that. So the widow had lost her husband, her son, her livelihood, her prospects and, what was the worst, any hope of her own continued existence in the memories of her descendants.

Our Lord’s actions on that day were truly radical in the sense that they got to the radix, the root of the problem. No pious words of comfort but direct action that would rectify the situation and put things back to where they should have been. It was the achievement of one who could only have been God. Jesus’s raising of this widow’s son was essentially yet another sign, a proof if you like, of God coming to be with his people. That was nearly 2000 years ago. Today he does the same. At this altar God will come to us again raising us to the possibility of eternal life. Giving us salvation in that most precious gift of his own body and blood in the Blessed Sacrament. Our only response can be like the people of Naim- one of Godly fear- not of terror but of awe in what God can do and what he continues to do.

"God has been with us," was the cry

Of that assembled company;

Each heart was filled with love and fear,

And all confessed the Godhead near.

The widow's tears, her sadness gone,

She felt not upon earth alone.

With fervent praver and humble mind.

To every will of God's resigned.

Reuben Percy, ‘Theta’ in
The Mirror of literature, amusement The Mirror of literature, amusement, and instruction,
Volume 34, p. 373 (1839)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Serving two masters

I'm getting this one in before it becomes illegal for me to do so! My server this morning asked me if I was packing my bags ready for a jail sentence.  He then gave me a potted version of the latest outrage from the British state. The Gospel for tomorrow is really quite apposite. It's almost as if what we need to here at this very moment comes bouncing off the page. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and His justice.  Note, please, it's the justice of God not some confection of man that we have to seek.
It's a source of considerable frustration when something appears in the media which is obviously just plain wrong. Many thanks, by the way, to all those who sent me links this week to a multitude of web sites (and other media) where something masquerading under the patronage of the Catholic Church is just plainly not that. I don't dwell on these sites by the way. I'd rather not help spike their web counters. Phrases like 'I get the full support of my wonderful parish pastor' tend to get the skin creeping particularly when it involves flagrant disobedience, not to some bit of minutiae, but rather to something that is rather essential. In the case of the laity they are entitled to their opinion. As far as some of the clergy go it's quite reasonable to think that they don't remember, or worse still don't care, about who is actually paying their accomodation and three square meals.
In the United Kingdom we are going to be watching with interest what the Church's response to a new piece of legislation is. As far as I can make it out this is what's happening. A political conference today will announce the beginning of the legislation process to permit single sex couple to be married under the same laws governing other marriages in this country. I suspect the battle against this one is already lost and, short of the Royal Assent being withheld, it will pass into law in the next year. The bigger problem is that several politicians are already mooting that the new laws should be used in conjunction with existing anti discrimination legislation thus making it compulsory for all licenced celebrants to be available to witness such 'marriages'. It's unlikely that this would be applied without exceptions for faith groups.
It's quite possible that the Church could follow the pattern elsewhere of marrying couples after civil registration however the problem won't stop there. There are an associated group of laws targetting 'incitement to hatred' and it seems that, at least technically, it will become illegal to publically speak against single sex 'marriage'. To say that it is sinful would be inciting discrimination or hatred. This has already been used against some civil celebrants refusing to 'do' civil unions. There's also been a botched attempt at prosecuting an evangelical preacher. So now we wait, in hope, for a response from the Church. For the time being I'll operate on the Gospel principal of serving God rather than mammon (Matthew 6) and hope that it might catch on.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Young dinosaurs

Some carefully planted press releases have struck gold this week in places where good news is desperately needed. The message managed to get through that seminary numbers are up. This is encouraging and, anecdotally, the quality is good.

To my surprise I've discovered that dinosaurs have not entirely died out indeed they seem to be breeding, admittedly at a rather slower rate than in years past but nevertheless in enough numbers to get me worried. Well one is too many in my book. You see I thought the younger clergy were a fairly sound bunch. I'd always made an allowance for diocesan seminarians as most of them have to lie their way through if they want any hope of ordination. But I've just met one of the new 'statistics', the product of a largely secular Irish institution, who's a real flash back. Amongst particular gems are his undying devotion to The Tablet (with a real concern that it is becoming conservative) and a fine sensitivity to exclusive language and the benefits of Celtic 'spirituality'. I really wonder how such a throw back could have been reared in these more enlightened days. The sad thing is that I suspect fear has probably played a great part in it.

It could be me a quarter of a century ago. It wasn't the clergy that saved me by the way. Rather, it was a group of orthodox faithful who took me in hand and gently wrought a miracle.  Pray for these men as they start their studies in the coming weeks. Pray for their faithfulness and pray for the continuing conversion of all us clergy.