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John Mary Vianney was the son of a peasant farmer, and a slow and unpromising candidate for the priesthood: he was eventually ordained on account of his devoutness rather than any achievement or promise.
In 1818 he was sent to be the parish priest of Ars-en-Dombes, an isolated village some distance from Lyon, and remained there for the rest of his life because his parishioners would not let him leave. He was a noted preacher, and a celebrated confessor: such was his fame, and his reputation for insight into his penitents’ souls and their futures, that he had to spend up to eighteen hours a day in the confessional, so great was the demand. The tens of thousands of people who came to visit this obscure parish priest turned Ars into a place of pilgrimage.
The French State recognised his eminence by awarding him the medal of the Légion d’Honneur in 1848, and he sold it and gave the money to the poor.
The noble task of man, to pray and to love
Consider, children, a Christian’s treasure is not on earth, it is in heaven. Well then, our thoughts should turn to where our treasure is.
Man has a noble task: that of prayer and love. To pray and to love, that is the happiness of man on earth.
Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When the heart is pure and united with God it is consoled and filled with sweetness; it is dazzled by a marvellous light. In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax moulded into one; they cannot any more be separated. It is a very wonderful thing, this union of God with his insignificant creature, a happiness passing all understanding.
We had deserved to be left incapable of praying; but God in his goodness has permitted us to speak to him. Our prayer is an incense that is delightful to God.
My children, your hearts are small, but prayer enlarges them and renders them capable of loving God. Prayer is a foretaste of heaven, an overflowing of heaven. It never leaves us without sweetness; it is like honey, it descends into the soul and sweetens everything. In a prayer well made, troubles vanish like snow under the rays of the sun.
Prayer makes time seem to pass quickly, and so pleasantly that one fails to notice how long it is. When I was parish priest of Bresse, once almost all my colleagues were ill, and as I made long journeys I used to pray to God, and, I assure you, the time did not seem long to me. There are those who lose themselves in prayer, like a fish in water, because they are absorbed in God. There is no division in their hearts. How I love those noble souls! Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Colette saw our Lord and spoke to him as we speak to one another.
As for ourselves, how often do we come to church without thinking what we are going to do or for what we are going to ask.
And yet, when we go to call upon someone, we have no difficulty in remembering why it was we came. Some appear as if they were about to say to God: ‘I am just going to say a couple of words, so I can get away quickly.’ I often think that when we come to adore our Lord we should get all we ask if we asked for it with a lively faith and a pure heart.
—from A Catechism on Prayer,
by St John Mary Vianney, Curé d’Ars
inThe Divine Office.
This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Saturday 4 August 2012.
Today is Belfast Pride‘s parade day. We are holding two events.
- A group of gay (and gay friendly) Christians will be supporting the parade. We will be gathering at St George’s Church on High Street from 10.30. More details… (Facebook event page). If you are on the parade, give us a wave as you go past!
- Our final 15 minutes with Christ is at 6pm in St George’s. More details… (Facebook event page).
For full details of Belfast Pride itself, check their website.
The small scripture passage in Matthew chapter 13 that is provoker of our thoughts and mediation this hour is a curious one. It is another example for me of the integrity of the gospel writers to include some of the flaws and complexities to Jesus’ reputation and ministry. What we find here is a an experience for Jesus, for his neighbours and family and his followers that cautions, hesitates and hinders his activities and words but also, I would suggest, enhances the incarnation and the gospel. In taking time to consider the interactions of divinity with dust in Christ as well as the people around him, we as followers and/or the curious can consider our own interactions as the incarnation and with the incarnation of Emmanuel- God with Us.
The first interaction the gospel writer reports is the locals amazement at Jesus’ teaching, knowledge and most likely his confidence. They are in no way ignoring or dismissive of his wisdom and powers. However in the second interaction they are very quick to strip back Jesus’ reputation to what they know- ‘this is who we say he is’ ‘this is who he is’ – a putting him in his place, a clipping of his wings, a containing of his power, potential and person. The third interaction is where these people ‘take offense’ – I like to imagine other words like ‘disgruntled’ ‘noses out of joint’ where he is not fulfilling the roles assigned or expected of him and undermining the family and community expectation of honour. Lastly we note Jesus’ response both in his statement that ‘a prophet is not without honour except in his own town or home’ and in the gospel writers observation that Jesus did not do many miracles here because of people’s ‘lack of faith’ – I understand the phrase ‘lack of faith’ here to describe an attitude and lack of receptivity and warmth to Christ’s words and actions.
What we are identifying here is the complexity of people in both the humanity of Christ and the humanity of the family and neighbours that Jesus grew up with. Despite Jesus’ radical teachings, actions and miracles he is unable to move these people to see a different side to him or a different revelation of him. Despite their amazement these people are unable to move past their original knowledge and understanding of who Jesus was and therefore is what an example of the ways that we can try to limit the potential of the incarnation in Christ and within us!
As this week of Pride activities closes may our minds, hearts, souls and bodies turn over the events, words and moments that have occurred this week. Where have we been challenged to look at things differently, remove old assumptions and knowledge and replace it with new revelations and amazements? Those people whom we had decided held certain views or would say certain things or in a certain way – have they surprised us? Can we make space for God revealing himself in them? As we are called to treat them as our neighbours have we learnt from them and nurtured them or should we consider the more we could have done? As we come to faith from an affirming perspective regarding sexuality and gender and liberation are there restrictions and limit we place on our theology, our worship and our divine encounters? What more can we do to recover the incarnation and allow Christ to work without being offended or harbouring a poor attitude to God’s movement.
Let us focus on the moments where we have experienced the incarnation in ourselves, in each other and in God – let us consider our bodies as bearers of divine image with all the complexity of human interaction as we walk tomorrow to show Pride as created beings seeking liberation and flourishment for all people.
This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Friday 3 August 2012.
My grandmother came from Glasgow. She moved, with her husband and children, to Belfast in the late 1930s. During World War Two, she was in Glasgow to visit her family. There was a barrage balloon, and during her visit my grandmother decided she wanted to see it. She went to the site of the balloon and couldnʼt find it anywhere. Eventually she asked a passer by where it was. He looked at her, somewhat confused, and said: “Youʼre staring right at it.”
The barrage balloon was enormous, and my grandmother was expecting something much smaller. It was so big she couldnʼt see it, until it was pointed out to her.
If you are looking for evidence that the Bible supports gay people, evidence that you can follow Christ and have a same-sex partner, then you can have a similar experience. You look for something small, maybe a brief aside in one of the shorter letters, or a reference to a gay couple somewhere in the Old Testament. In reality, there is a great big affirming barrage balloon floating in the middle of the New Testament. It is so big, so huge, so affirming that you can easily miss it. That affirmation comes from Paulʼs letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, verse 28.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female.
Looking at the first paring, what does “Neither Jew nor Gentile” mean? At first sight you might think that Paul was arguing that Christians should be racially and culturally homogenous, yet elsewhere, in 1st Corinthians chapter 7, Paul says “Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised.” He goes on to say “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping Godʼs commands is what counts. Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you.” If Paul was really arguing for cultural and racial homogeneity in Galatians, he wouldnʼt have said that in 1st Corinthians.
In the early church, including the church at Galatia, there was a division along the Jewish/Gentile lines. That was wrong, and Paul said that it should not be: neither Jew nor Gentile, you are all one in Christ. Yes, people were of different cultural and racial backgrounds, but those differences should not be divisions.
Lets consider a practical example. Suppose two couples approached a church to get married. In the first couple, both people are from the same cultural and racial background. No church would object to their relationship on those grounds. The second couple is mixed race. Would it be right for the church to object to their relationship? No, because as soon as you do that you go against what Galatians says. You say that in Christ there is Jew and there is Gentile, and we are not all one in Christ.
What about the second pairing: neither slave nor free? Once again, you might think that Paul is arguing for homogeneity here, but he isnʼt. Early Christians did come from different social backgrounds, but those social backgrounds were not to be a source of division and judgement within the church. In the words of James chapter 2, verses 1 to 4:
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor person in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special atention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, “Hereʼs a good seat for you,” but say to the one who is poor, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Consider this practical example. Once again, two couples approach a church. In the first couple, both people are from the same social background. No church would object to their relationship on those grounds. The second couple is different. One party comes from a comfortably-off background, grew up in a house with six bathrooms, and so on. The other party has lived all their life in a council house. Could any church object to their relationship? No, because as soon as you do that you go against what Galatians says. You say that in Christ there is slave and there is free, and we are not all one in Christ.
And so we come to the final pairing: neither male nor female. Suppose an opposite sex couple approaches the church to get married. Would anyone object on those grounds? Of course not. It happens all the time. But could the church – could a Christian – object to a same-sex couple? If you object to a same-sex couple, surely you are saying that there is male and there is female, and we are not all one in Christ?
To judge a relationship on racial or cultural grounds is racism, and that is forbidden by Galatians. To judge a relationship on the grounds of class or social background is snobbery, and that is forbidden by Galatians.
And to judge a relationship because it is a same-sex relationship is also forbidden by Galatians.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Those words are the great barrage balloon of affirmation, the great barrage balloon of defence. The race, class and gender of someoneʼs partner do not determine how a Christian should feel about their relationship.
This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Thursday 2 August 2012.
The fifth of our 15 minutes with Christ services is at 6 pm today, at St George’s Church, High Street, Belfast.
Venerable Fulton J. Sheen touched the lives of millions worldwide with his warmth, wisdom and humour. A master communicator, he had the great gift of preaching and teaching the Gospel in a way easy to understand. He is mostly remembered for having been one of the first great television evangelists. However, he also wrote many books on the spiritual life as well. His thoughts on prayer continue to be as relevant today for all Christians not just the Catholic priests to whom he was writing when he wrote his The Priest Is Not His Own1. We should remember that all Christians are members of the Royal Priesthood: in that sense Venerable Fulton J. Sheen addresses us as well today in his Aids to the Breviary2
Read the office of the day in the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, a practice for which a plenary indulgence is granted. Furthermore, since the breviary is the Body of Christ praying, it is read with more faith when closely united with the Head, Who “lives on still to make intercession on our behalf’ (Heb 7.25).
Advert to the fact that most of the psalms confront us with two figures: one is the Sufferer; the other is the King. It helps us to interpret the suffering psalms as the Church, and the kingly psalms as Christ. That long Psalm 118 [RSV 119] would thus become the Church pleading its love for Christ, the New Law. And when we come across “cursing psalms’, it may be well to remind ourselves that, of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst and that the Judge takes sin seriously
Often appeal to the Holy Spirit during the recitation. As a mother first prays for her child even before he can know what she is doing, then teaches him to pray so that later she may pray with him, so does the Spirit pray in the breviary first in us and then through us.
Go on praying in the power of the Holy Spirit; to maintain yourselves in the love of God, and wait for the mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ, with eternal life for your goal. Jude 20–21.
Offer certain hours of the office for specific intentions. How seldom is a priest not asked to pray for someone: a boy taking an examination, a mother before childbirth, a father going on a trip, or a young couple about to be married? The breviary, the Church’s prayer, gathers up all these intentions of the parish, the diocese, the nation and the world. It helps to offer a particular psalm for a predetermined person.
The breviary can never be properly read while the priest is listening to the radio or watching television or has one ear and half his mind concentrated on a baseball game. Magna abusio est habere os in brevario, cor in foro, oculus in televisifico.
No need for Me to prove thee a guilty man, thy words prove it, thine own lips arraign thee. Job 15.6
This people does Me honor with its lips, but its heart is far from Me. Matthew 15.8
Moments of mental soaring may occasionally accompany the recital of the breviary, but in general the vision of the Mount of the Transfiguration is followed by the descent to the plain. Moments of exaltation are few and far between. We must be content to go on like pilgrims, usually on foot, sometimes with broken boots.
The breviary is, however, not only a yoke and a burden; it is also a duty—a duty of love. The two aspects seem almost contradictory, but the test of love is self-sacrifice, not emotion. Besides, the duty itself is a good. When we lose faith, we lose a sense of duty. How this duty is performed will depend upon the level of behavior. If a priest is egotistic, the breviary will be said out of duty alone; if he is conscious that it is the prayer of the Church, the duty will have love in it; if he is a priest victim, love will fan duty into an ardor that feels no obligation. Jacob had to toil seven years for Rachel, yet “they seemed to him only a few days, because of the greatness of his love” (Gen. 29.20).
This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Wednesday 1 August 2012.
- Sheen, Fulton J., 1963, The Priest Is Not His Own, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2005. ISBN 1-58617-044-9.
- Op. cit., pp. 146–147.
It’s always nice to get an explanation, especially when something is confusing. The Parables of Jesus are usually presented at face value with the responsibility for making sense of them resting with the hearer. In Matthew 13 it’s the only example we have of anyone asking for an explanation, and here Jesus obliges.
The explanation given reads like an ancient play – a Middle Eastern melodrama. The scene is set – the world is the stage, and on this stage are the righteous, the evil doers, devils and angels, and the burning of all the causes of sin and those who perpetuate them. Sounds great! Except………….it’s supposed to happen at the end of the age.
What about now!?
What about all the suffering that people are enduring now? And what about those who are inflicting that suffering on others? People can be so cruel, even unintentionally so.
Maybe the best we can say is that stuff will be dealt with…eventuality….at the final curtain….but until then we have to live with the reality, believing that it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
A recent report about homophobia in Northern Ireland doesn’t make very positive reading. During this Pride week homophobia, or at best distrust and suspicion, will be to the fore in many people’s minds as they watch the news reports of the events here. The reality for LGBT people in Northern Ireland is unfortunately a grim reality, and there’s no getting round that. So what should the response be from people of Faith?
I’d hope that for many Christian people they would make a ‘Jesus approach’ rather than have a ‘Church reaction’. Jesus was very good at meeting people, and accepting them, way before he asked them anything about their background – and certainly I don’t ever remember him asking people about their sex lives! ‘Zacheus…..come down from that tree, let me go with you to your house for something to eat, and while we’re there you can walk me through your bedroom gymnastics.’ I don’t think that was quite his style.
I love Gandhi, because for me Gandhi embodies the Spirit of Christ – he’s a modern reflection of Jesus in a loin cloth. In a speech to the Suppressed Classes Conference in 1921 he said,
I do want to attain Moksha (salvation, merging with God). I do not want to be reborn. But if I have to be reborn, I should be born an Untouchable so that I may share their sorrows, sufferings and the affronts levelled at them in order that I may endeavour to free myself and them from that miserable condition.
While we have faith that God will sort things out eventually, we still have a responsibility to do whatever we can to end the injustices and prejudices that pervade our society, and, sadly, infect our churches. And that will take time. But more than that, it will take courage. Courage from the LGBT community to restrain from the easy, aggressive retaliation that seems such a natural, justified response – and that’s not easy to do because it requires a level of graciousness beyond that which is expected from the average person. But I suppose it’s Grace that takes us beyond average. It also needs courage from the Churches – courage to stand up for, and stand with, LGBT people, no matter what the consequences. And believe me, there will be consequences. No-one likes change, especially those for whom issues are ‘settled’ and roles precisely defined. The opinion of the majority is more often than not a source of comfort, but as Irene Peters has said,
Anyone who thinks there is safety in numbers obviously hasn’t looked at the stock market pages recently.
And so the scene is set. The house lights go down and the stage lights come up. The actors are ready and standing on their marks. The drama is about to commence. Can we remember our lines!? Are we ready to each play our part to the utmost of our abilities!? And may God give each of us the Grace, that where we are wrong, may we be willing to change, and where we are right, may we be easy to live with.
This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Tuesday 31 July 2012.