Homily no. 54 – ‘Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes’

Gaudium et Spes

The readings of this penultimate Sunday of the year certainly are of the nature of proclaiming ‘The End of the World.’  It’s typical of the end of the Church year to hear such readings … Jesus speaks of “wars and revolutions, … earthquakes, plagues and famines” — calamities that indeed we seem to see around us without fail as we watch/read/listen to the news.  But, as Jesus also said, “The end is not so soon.”  We wait in faith and hope …  The Church has a concern for these things, the things the world suffers, but knows that all things can only find their solution in Christ. 

The final document of the Second Vatican Council that I want to speak about in this cycle on the ‘Year of Faith’ is the ambitious, ‘Pastoral’ Constitution ‘On the Faith in the Modern World’ which runs to some 99 pages.  It was a document discussed in the latter sessions of the Council, and only promulgated on the very last day of Vatican II, 7th December 1965.  It was an attempt by the Council to ‘reach out,’ as it were, to people of all nations and religions, and state how the Church sees mankind, human life, the world, and its destiny.  It was designed to express both principles and practical aspects of the Church’s approach to the problems of the world.  The opening words of the document are very beautiful:

The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.  Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.  For theirs is a community composed of men, of men who united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, press onwards towards the Kingdom of the Father, and are the bearers of a message of salvation intended for all men.  That is why Christians cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history. 

The Catholic Church sees her mission as to all the world, not just to her own people, because our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is the one and only Saviour of humanity.  Therefore, what we believe is a message that has to be translated into one for all the world to hear.  This is the purpose of this final document of Vatican II.

Vatican II reminds us that the dignity of man’s calling is a high one, made in the image of God, and also through the loving partnership of marriage between a man and a woman.  But man suffers divisions and struggles because of sin; he is drawn to do those things which he ought not to, and brings upon himself all sorts of misery.  Man’s death, too, is an enigma, from which he understandably recoils, but which finds its only solution in the victory of Christ over death.  But despite the challenges, the Church has much to offer to the world, to build up the whole human race in faith, solidarity, and hope.

The practical areas, in which the Council goes on to teach, are:

i.          Marriage and Family Life — the Council is sure that the foundation of a world built on better principles has to start with the unit of the family, based on the unselfish, giving, love of a man and woman in married union.

ii.        Development of Culture — by which the Council means the music, art, literature, science and other creative endeavours which are proper to mankind.  These can be fulfilled in a positively Christian light, when they are seen as expressions of man’s intelligence given Him by a loving God.

iii.       Economy and Social Life — the Council desired to express the dignity of human work,but the injustice of excessive economic differences, the yawning gap between rich and poor.  The goods of the earth are there for us all, not for the few.

iv.        Political Life — the Council encouraged participation of all people in the political process, so that Government can be representative of the people.  The Council encourages us to vote and to make use of the freedoms we have, to use our social responsibility and to make life better for all citizens, remembering also that the whole human race is one family,and this trumps patriotism.

v.         War and Peace — taking its lead from the great encyclical of Pope John, Pacem in Terris, the Council has strong words about the horror of war, and the urgent need to work unceasingly for peace between nations, and avoid the arms race and those constant tensions.  The Council encourages international co-operation of the sort embodied in the United Nations, to resolve conflicts speedily and without bloodshed.

This great document makes a final call to harmony in the Church, that it might be the seed of unity and peace amongst man: In virtue of its mission to enlighten the whole world with the message of the Gospel and gather together in one Spirit all men of every nation, race and culture, the Church shows itself as a sign of the spirit of brotherhood which renders possible sincere dialogue and strengthens it.  Vatican II ended, then on a note of great hope, that the Church continue its God-given mission to serve mankind, and bring all people to God, for peace and harmony.  Let’s never lose this vision of the Council, that as the Church we offer the world all the good that God wants it to receive from Him in Christ.

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Homily no. 53 – ‘Vatican II: Sacrosanctum Concilium’

Sac Conc[Its being Remembrance Sunday, and with our remembrance, too, before God, of our parish’s deceased loved ones this/last evening, the readings at Mass speak volumes.  They speak directly of Israel’s growing faith in the Resurrection (“relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by Him”) and then of Our Lord’s own teaching on the reality of the Resurrection.  We take comfort from this for those who have died marked with the sign of faith.]

The fact that we hear such wonderful readings from Scripture is a direct result of the work of the Second Vatican Council.  We have been thinking over the past couple of weeks about the major ‘constitutions’ of the Vatican II — the greatest and most recent Council of all the bishops the Church to have gathered, which took place 50 years ago.  The first document that it agreed on, at the end of its 2nd session, December 1963, was the Constitution on the Liturgy, called Sacrosanctum Concilium.  It was a document that has had far-reaching and not always easy consequences, especially on the changes that occurred to the Mass.  Yet, the Council Fathers were sure that something needed to be done, to assist the people to take part consciously in the Mass, especially in those (missionary) areas of the Church where Latin was simply not a part of the heritage and never had been.  There was a desire for a simplification of the rites, and the removal of unnecessary repetitions.

Of course it is hard for those of us under, let’s say, 50, to have any recollection of the Mass as it was celebrated prior to Vatican II, unless we have specifically made a habit of attending celebrations of Mass in the Tridentine rite, which is perfectly permissible.  If you have never experienced Mass in the pre-Vatican-II rite, then you might be surprised at how different Mass was (in its externals) in the previous rite to the present rite.  The essence of the Mass remains unchanged, as it has done since the Last Supper: that Christ offers His Sacrifice in the Mass, just as He did on the Cross, allowing Himself to be present to us, and give the graces of His Death and Resurrection, and His very self as food for our soul in Holy Communion.

One of the Council’s decisions was to allow a greater freedom with regard to the use of the local language in the Mass, as opposed to the timeless, traditional language of Latin.  Our missal for the Latin rite is still Latin in its original, but translations are allowed, and most Masses are now celebrated in the local language.  The Council taught that Latin was to be preserved, alongside the use of the local language, and that the people retain a good use of Latin in Mass, but sadly this intention of the Council was not adhered to.

Another decision of the Council, as I mentioned, was to make far wider use of the Scripture at Mass.  Pre-Vatican II there was only 1% of the Old Testament and 17% of the New Testament read at Mass; now, adding together Sundays and Weekday Masses (over the 3yr/2yr cycles) there is 14% of the Old Testament and 72% of the New Testament read; a vast improvement.

The Council also desired that elements such as the Homily and the Bidding Prayers be restored to Mass; concelebration was permitted more widely and also permission for the laity to receive the Blood of Christ as well as the Body of Christ at Holy Communion.  After the Council, the revised Missal also restored elements such as the Offertory Procession and the Sign of Peace, whose usage had been lost.  And, again, after the Council there were to be more than one Eucharistic Prayer: not only what we now call Eucharistic Prayer no. 1, but three others, each adapted from ones in ancient use.

Certainly from the priest’s point of view the rites were simpler.  I have never learnt to say the Old Rite, as there has never been a request for me to do so, but of course if asked to, then I would.  But it is far more complicated a ceremony, at least as far as the priest is concerned.  But the main desire of the Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium was that the people could take greater part.  Not in the sense necessarily of “doing things” at Mass, but simply by being able to participate consciously in what was happening.  Too often before the Council the people were praying private devotions in parallel with the Mass offered by the priest.  Now, of course, this was done with great piety, respect, and reverence, and with immense recognition of the awesome mystery of Jesus’s Sacrifice in the Holy Mass.  But, nevertheless, the people were missing out on the grandeur of the prayers actually being offered.  Much criticism has been levelled at the changes effected subsequent to the Council on the Mass, perhaps a ‘loss’ of the wonder and awe.  But, to be honest, as society has moved at such speed in the past 50 years, I believe that had the Council not made its guidance for the changes to the Mass, we would have struggled even more than sometimes we do now, to keep people faithfully attending Mass each Sunday.  Let’s pray that the Spirit always open our hearts to the immense blessings that Jesus offers us in a worthy celebration of Mass, in dignity, prayer and humility before Him, truly present.

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Homily no. 52 – ‘Vatican II: Lumen Gentium’

LumenGentiumWe began last week our quick survey of the major documents of the Second Vatican Council, in recognition of the fact that this ‘Year of Faith’ is also a 50th-anniversary celebration of the Council, which is the greatest Council of the Church ever to be held: over 2000 bishops attended each of the 4 autumn sessions from 1962–1965.  I’m not considering the documents in the order they were published, because, as we saw last time, it was the most fundamental one — the one on Divine Revelation — that actually gave rise to the greatest debate and longest preparation.  I’m considering them in the order which seems most logical.  So, today, we look at the document, the ‘Constitution’ on the Church, known by its first (Latin) words, Lumen Gentium (“the light of the nations”).  Here are the opening words of the document:

“Christ is the Light of nations.  Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church. Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires now to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission.”

The Church begins, then, by describing herself as “the” sacrament: the sign and instrument of God’s union with mankind, and mankind’s unity as a race.  The Church, then, is an essential part of God’s plan; in fact, in a sense, it is His plan: the Church is the new ‘people of God,’ the incarnation of His intention to draw all people to Himself for salvation.  So, those who believe in Christ cannot say, “Jesus, yes; Church, no” — it doesn’t work like that: you can’t have one without the other.  The Church is the very body that transmits the faith from age to age, to bring to the Lord new disciples.  Just as God established the people of Israel through the 12 sons of Jacob, so Our Lord Jesus established the new ‘people of God’ through the 12 apostles.  Jesus had every intention of founding a people, the Church.  It was not an accident, or a by-product.  The Church is willed by God to bring His light and life to the waiting world.  The ‘Mystery of the Church’ is this ‘People of God’ which is also the ‘Body of Christ’ in the world, and a ‘Pilgrim People’ en route to the destiny God intends and prepares for us in heaven.

The Council tussled with how best to describe the Catholic Church’s exact relationship to Christ’s people: in the end, she stated that, “the Church subsists in the Catholic Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him.”  What that means is that, whilst there can be valid elements of Christianity outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church, yet the fullness of truth can only be found inside her.  This is why, when non-Catholic Christians convert to the Catholic faith and are confirmed, they are described as being “received into full communion with the Catholic Church.”

The Council spends a long time in the document examining how the hierarchy of the Church is to function — the Pope, and the Bishops in symphony, exercising the teaching authority of Christ and so shepherding the faithful.  And this is important, as we need our guides, and the mainstays of our faith.  We need the ‘Rock’ that is Peter’s faith, so that we are anchored, assured that we are not drifting from the teaching of Christ.  But more significant, in a sense, is the wonderful chapter (4) on the laity, the lay faithful, i.e. you!  There are 5000 bishops in the world, and 400,000 priests … but there are 1.2bn Catholics!  Most of the Church’s work has to be done by you! — most of the praying, most of the evangelizing, most of the charity and action!  The apostolate of the laity is precisely to take the faith into the world: to homes, to the workplace, to the everyday relationships and friendships of daily life.  This cannot be done by the bishops and priests! — it is meant to be carried out by the lay faithful, living out their Baptism and devotion to Christ.

Another chapter of Lumen Gentium reinforces this idea, dedicated to the theme, “The Universal Call to Holiness”: each and every member of the Church, without exception, is called by God to a life of faith and charity.  For it is by holiness of life, a firm unwavering commitment to Gospel Values, to the commandments, and also a humility and gentleness of soul, that the Church is built up, and more members attracted to her life.

The final chapter (ch. 8) of Lumen Gentium is a beautiful meditation on Our Blessed Lady.  Her inclusion in the document on the Church expresses the fact that she is the model Christian, the model disciple, a perfect example of what it means to follow Christ.  In fact, she is the ‘Mother of the Church,’ the one who from the beginning exercised a unique rôle in the life of the Church, as intended by Jesus who, from the Cross, gave her to us: “Behold, your Mother.”  By her prayers and example, we know that, where she has gone, assumed into heaven, we as the Church she loves can also follow.  With her, we are the beloved of God’s plan to save humanity and bring it to holy happiness.

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Homily no. 51 – ‘Vatican II: Dei Verbum’

Dei VerbumAs you know, the ‘Year of Faith’ has had two major anniversaries to celebrate: one is the 20th anniversary of the Catechism’s publication in 1992; and the other, a greater anniversary, is the 50 years since the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  The ‘Year of Faith’ was inaugurated on the 11th October last year, 50 years to the day since the opening of the Council in 1962.  The Council of all the bishops of the world, over 2000, took place in Rome, at the Vatican, over the next 4 autumns, 1962 to 1965, and is the greatest Council of the Church ever to have taken place in her long history.  St Peter’s basilica was transformed into a huge council chamber, as it were, so that all the bishops could take their seats for the proceedings.  Over the course of the four sessions, the Council debated as to how to present the traditional, apostolic, Catholic faith in a new and fresh way, so that the world might see more plainly how the Church is the carrier of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Pope John’s words at the opening of the Council summed up his intentions for the Council, stressing that the time-honoured teachings of the Church were immutable (unchangeable), but the way in which they are presented was another thing.  He was looking for a freshness of approach that invited those outside the Church to see her treasures of faith.

The Council went on to agree 16 documents after its 4 sessions of work, and 4 of those are referred to as ‘Constitutions’ — the major documents of its teaching.  Not one document was finalized in the 1st Session, which is a measure of how much debate and disagreement the 1st Session engendered.  Those bishops who thought that the Council would all be wrapped up in a matter of weeks could not have been more mistaken!  In fact, the most fundamental document of the Council, the one on Divine Revelation, was the one that was argued over the longest … Initially presented to the Council Fathers in mid-November 1962, it was not finished until the 4th Session, and promulgated by Pope Paul VI in November 1965.

It’s in fact quite a short document, just 16pp. in a typical printing.  It deals with the fact of God having chosen, out of love, to reveal His very presence, His own self, to human creation, and how that communication of God Himself is transmitted down to us in each successive generation.  It spells out the fact that God’s revelation has been a gradual thing, the one, continuous plan of His loving, wise, Mind, so that Mankind should come to know Him.  The Council said this: “By divine revelation, God wished to manifest and communicate both Himself and the eternal decrees of His will concerning the salvation of mankind.  He wished, in other words, ‘to share with us divine benefits which entirely surpass the powers of the human mind to understand’.”

An important distinction is between the written and unwritten parts of Revelation.  The written part is Scripture, the Bible, recorded by writers of the Old Testament and by Apostles and their contemporaries in the New Testament.  The unwritten part of Revelation is normally by the word, ‘Tradition,’ i.e. the living witness and testimony of the Church down the ages: not all things were recorded in a systematic way in Scripture, nor were they meant to be.  The Church has lived its Christian life from the beginning, from Jesus’s own time, even though not a word of the NT was recorded until maybe 20 years after Jesus’s Ascension.  Her Tradition is her community life, her living faith, her constant liturgy … This, in union with the Scripture which records beautifully the faith of Israel, and the fullness of faith in Christ, and guided by the Teaching Authority of Pope and Bishops, forms a single witness to what God wishes Man to know of Himself.

The Document spends its latter chapters encouraging the Church to deepen its reading, and therefore its knowledge and understanding, of Sacred Scripture, so that as Catholics we can know better all the Christ did and said.  One fruit of this would eventually be the incorporation into Mass of a far greater variety of Scripture texts at Sunday and weekday Mass.

It’s important to appreciate that most of what we know of God we could never have known without His telling us: we hear the Word of God, His Revelation, from Himself, so that we can know Him, and know therefore how to live as He intended, our hearts set on life with Him in heaven for ever.  This is the beautiful message of Dei Verbum, the document on Divine Revelation.  It’s widely acknowledged that thanks to its long gestation, its multiple rewrites, the document is a wonderful piece of writing, and very inspiring.  God wants us to know Him: “It pleased God, in His goodness and wisdom, to reveal Himself and make known the mystery of His will.  His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature” (n. 2).  This is the core of our faith: God calls us to happiness in His life.

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Homily no. 50 – ‘Our Father (V)’ (CCC 2846–2865)

Jesus tempted in the desert

Jesus tempted in the desert (Photo credit: jaci XIII)

So, a whole year on since we began our journey through the Catechism, we come to its final pages!  Our last reflection is on the closing words of the Our Father, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Amen.”  Why do we say to God, “do not lead us into temptation”?  Doesn’t that sound a bit odd? — would God “lead us” into temptation?  As St James says, “God cannot be tempted by evil and Himself tempts no-one.”  What we mean in the Our Father, in fact, is “do not let us enter into temptation” and/or “do not let us yield to temptation.”  Easier said than done!  We are surrounded by temptations, in fact, and have to be very strong in faith and in prayer to avoid and resist them.  Prayer is a strong weapon in the fight against evil … In fact, it is essential.  When our prayer is weak, and when we are short of grace, we find it far harder to resist temptation to do things that are wrong.  So, this week’s reflection is tied in closely to last week’s: “forgive us our trespasses.”  We need the strength of God’s grace in Confession in order to avoid further falls … I don’t know about you, but I certainly feel stronger in not doing wrong when I have been to Confession recently, but feel weaker and more likely to fall into sin again when it’s a while since I went to Confession.  This is a spiritual reality, and should encourage us each to be fervent in getting to Confession quite often.  The best way of living out and praying “lead us not into temptation” is to confess our sins.  In our prayer we should reflect in honesty before God about the last time we had our sins forgiven, not sweeping them under the carpet, but openly and humbly confessing them, so that with hearts clean and pleasing to God we may also be armed more strongly against our evil inclinations.  It is a battle, out there, to avoid temptation, and avoid giving in to the temptations.  Much of our culture promotes ‘giving in’ to temptations, whether that is temptation for greed, or for power, or for pleasure … Society suggests we should get what we can, when we can, and as much of it as we can.  The Lord asks us to sacrifice, to give up, to resist, to suffer, for what instead is good and lasting, the things of the spirit.  Only by being people of prayer can we find that this makes sense of our human life.  Think of Jesus, at the outset of His ministry, in the desert: He overcomes the devil by His 40days of prayer; and in the Garden of Gethsemane at the end: again, He is praying, praying hard and long … Only with this weapon of devoted prayer does He overcome the temptations of the devil for Him to give up in the face of His passion.

We hear today, very clearly in the Gospel of Jesus’s direct teaching: “to pray continually and never lose heart.”  To “lose heart,” to despair, is the very opposite of the Gospel message: if we are dispirited by our sins, and our failures to resist temptation, we need only to appeal to Christ, to draw closer to Him, to pray in our heart more deeply and more continually.  Jesus wants us to overcome, He wants us to win the victory, and not to fall away, and He is there for us, not distant, but ready and waiting to assist us.  As the Catechism says, “In this petition to our heavenly Father, Christ unites us to His battle and His agony.  He urges us to vigilance of the heart in communion with His own.”  He is near, let us not turn our backs on Him, because when we do we will fall away, and grow colder in love and faith, and be less and less able to resist those temptations.

We must never be kidded into believing that the devil is make believe, or not real … His power is limited, he is but a fallen angel, but nevertheless he can wreak havoc if we let Him.  We pray “deliver us from the evil one,” as Christ will always be our strong protection against evil.  We only put our souls at risk if we deliberately dabble with what we know is deeply wrong — staying close to Christ in the Church, with a praying and humble heart, affords us the protection of His grace always.

Our final word, “Amen,” is a Hebrew word that we have retained (like ‘Alleluia,’ ‘Hosanna’).  ‘Amen’ is related to the words for consent, agreement, commitment, affirmation, truth: the last word of the whole bible is ‘Amen’ and the last consideration of the Catechism is ‘Amen.’  Amen! — ‘So be it!’ … ‘Yes, I believe’ … At the conclusion of the Our Father, and indeed all our prayer, we utter this simple expression of faith and trust.  We believe, we trust in our Father, and we consent to all He teaches us in His Church, through His Only Son, Jesus.  Amen, Amen … Yes, Lord, I believe, help me when I am weak, also, to believe, to hope, to trust and to pray, and so to love.  Amen.

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Homily no. 49 – ‘Our Father (IV)’ (CCC 2838–2845)

Depiction of the Parable of the Unmerciful Ser...

Depiction of the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Photograph of stained glass window at Scots’ Church, Melbourne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re nearing the end, now, of our year-long journey through the Catechism!  And we are focussing on the need for prayer — the ‘fuel’ of our faith — and how the Our Father should be the pattern for all our prayer.  When we learn of the Our Father in the Gospel of Matthew, in middle of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (ch. 6), we hear Jesus say: ‘… And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.  And do not put us to the test, but save us from the evil one.’  Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either (Mt 6:12–15).  It is interesting that the one phrase which Jesus reiterates is the one about forgiveness: if we are to expect God to forgive us, then we must be forgiving also of one another.

St Augustine is also well known for repeating again and again, in his homilies and writings, this phrase of Our Lord’s: forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  He too considers it an essential element of our Christian life, and our prayer life: our sorrow for sins, and our willingness also to forgive hurts.  He is insistent in his preaching that we cannot begin to live the Christian life if we are unforgiving people, or if we are people who do not seek God’s forgiveness.  It is part of being a humble son or daughter of God that we accept our weakness and sinfulness before Him, and that we do something about it; turning to Him again and again for His forgiveness … coupled with our own willingness to forgive those who offend us.

We can connect with these words that Jesus taught us also other moments of His divine teaching.  Think of St Peter who asks Our Lord, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” — Jesus answers this with a categorical: “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy times seven!”  (Mt 18: 21–22).  Surely Our Lord indicates here that we are to forgive again and again.  Not implying that we should be a doormat, or suffering repeated abuse as such, but being prepared to be forgiving, people defined by a heart that is full of mercy.  Jesus follows up that encouragement to St Peter with that parable that you will no doubt recall, the one of ‘the unforgiving servant’ (Mt 18: 23–34).  A king forgives his servant a debt that was an unimaginably large sum, let’s say, millions of pounds; but that same servant goes out and is unwilling to let a fellow servant off a paltry sum, just a few pounds, let’s say.  The king is outraged … “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me.  Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?”  These words should strike home to us very forcefully: are we not bound, then, to have pity on our fellow man, just as God has pity on us?  Forgive us our trespasses, O Lord, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

I think we would all admit that forgiveness can be hard — both hard to seek forgiveness, to be humble enough to admit our faults, own up to them, confess them; and also hard (sometimes) to be forgiving, accepting another’s sorrow, granting freely that you forgive them, not holding on to a grudge, truly and fully putting their offence behind you.  These things are hard … yet are a centre-piece of the true faith.  Think of Our Lord Jesus, in His agony on the cross: He summoned the strength of love and mercy to utter those words that pierced the pride and envy that the devil has led us to adopt … He broke the devil’s hold, by saying, “Father, forgive them … they know not what they do.”  Jesus forgave those who crucified Him … He will forgive us, too, our sins, but will expect us also to be forgiving as He is.  Let us seek forgiveness, and grant forgiveness, in equal measure.  Forgive the little sins committed against you, so that you can without hypocrisy seek God’s forgiveness for the greater sins that we (and we as a race) commit.  Come to Confession, more often, seek the Lord’s Sacramental (guaranteed) forgivenesss; and do not hold on to grudges, however deeply you have been hurt … Let the Lord’s tender embrace, the love of His own wounded heart, help melt your heart so that you can truly forgive from the heart.

To my mind, then, summing up the lessons learnt from the Our Father so far: the three pillars of our prayer are these: (i) to give thanks and praise; (ii) to ask for what we need; and (iii) to be sorry for our sins.  These can easily form the basis for simple night prayers: something to give thanks for; something to ask for; something to say sorry for.  That simple model can be adapted to any and every circumstance, can’t it?  Old or young, seasoned person of prayer or novice in prayer: we can offer to God, following the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer, our praise, our petition, our sorrow … but not forgetting the demand that through our prayer we must seek to imitate God’s own merciful heart.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy themselves. Forgive us, Lord, our many and grievous trespasses, as we also, with a loving heart, dedicate ourselves, with Your divine assistance, to forgiving those who trespass against us.

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Homily no. 48 – ‘Our Father (III)’ (CCC 2828–2837)

Panem Supersubstantialem

Panem Supersubstantialem (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

Some weeks in this series on the Catechism of the Catholic Church I have tried to cover 50, or sometimes even 80, articles of the 2,865 in the whole work … This week we are considering a mere 10!  We are studying the Our Father, so as to think about our own prayer life and prayer style.  Today’s phrase to think about is the 1st of the petitions that ‘ask for something’: Give us this day our daily bread.

Having given God the honour due to Him in the earlier parts of the Our Father — having committed ourselves to honouring His Name, building up His Kingdom, and doing His Will, we now place ourselves humbly before our Maker and ask for what we need for life.  Give us this day our daily bread.  A few things are immediately apparent, aren’t they?  Firstly that we are asking for the basics, and not for riches or a lavish lifestyle.  We are asking for what we really need, what we need to keep us alive and provide for our family.  It echoes some beautiful words in the Old Testament, in the wise Book of Proverbs: Give me neither poverty nor riches, grant me only my share of bread to eat, for fear that surrounded by plenty, I should fall away and say, “The Lord?  Who is the Lord?” Or else, in destitution, take to stealing and profane the name of my God. (Prov 30:8–9) 

Asking God in the Our Father for “our daily bread” also manifests a total trust that God will care for us.  In fact, in the Gospel of Matthew, in his introduction to teaching them the Our Father, Jesus specifically says: In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. (Mt 6:7)  It is not the quantity of words in prayer that expresses our trust and desire to be cared for by our heavenly Father, is it?  It’s the faith with which it is expressed, and this can be said in those few little words, addressed with love to our Father: give us this day our daily bread, please.  God indeed knows our needs, but He desires that we express this need in our turning to Him.  Not that He wishes to withhold His gifts … but how pleased He is, how delighted when His children turn to Him and recognise His presence, and His goodness.  ‘Give us, today, Lord, what we need for today, as tomorrow will have enough cares of its own.’  We should take each day as it comes, calling on the Lord to give us strength for the day; and trusting Him as a child would its parent. 

The word “daily” may not strike us as at all a strange word in the Our Father, but in fact that word translated as “daily” in our version is a unique word (a hapax legomenon) in the New Testament, and its meaning is debated.  Apart from “that which we need to live,” the word probably also points to a spiritual meaning.  Let’s not forget Jesus other words, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  When we ask for our daily bread, we need more than just bread for our bodies; we need food for our souls too.  So, it would be a natural extension to our understanding of this line of the Our Father to see it as pointing also to the ‘Bread of Life,’ that’s to say, Jesus in the Eucharist.  The Church offers the Eucharist indeed each and every day to nourish us and feed us with the sacrifice and presence of Our Lord Jesus Himself.  When we pray for “our daily bread” we pray also for the opportunity and the grace to value also the Mass and never neglect the ‘Bread from Heaven’ which is Our Blessed Lord’s body & blood in Holy Communion.  We need that just as much as, and in fact, more than, our daily material bread.

Finally, this petition in the Our Father also should remind us of the command of Our Lord to “feed the hungry … clothe the naked …”  As a parish we have begun supporting the local FoodBank, partly financially, and partly with parishioners’ volunteering their time and effort — feeding the hungry of our own locality, and this is important.  Pope Francis has kept on our agenda this demand of the Gospel to care for the poor, and his visit to Assisi on Friday reminded us of this very forcefully as he ate his lunch with the poor homeless people and refugees in a Caritas centre in Assisi run by the friars.  We, today, have another chance to feed the hungry and assist the poor as we make our collection after Friday’s CaFOD Harvest fast day.  CaFOD asks you, “Who will you invite to your table this Harvest Fast Day?” — who will you invite to share your daily bread?  1 in 8, is the statistic for the world: 1 in 8 will go to sleep hungry every night.  If we are going to ask God Himself for “our daily bread,” then we must also be prepared to help Him distribute that bread around the people of the world.  Please give generously after Mass to CaFOD, and remember the hungry as you pray the Our Father before Communion.  If we are to receive the Eucharist in true faith, receiving that gift of true life from God, then we must also be prepared to share our daily bread with the hungry, and give them the bread for life.

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