Sunday, 2 May 2010

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Monday, 26 April 2010

Synod of Brefi

The Synod of Brefi was a church council held at Llanddewi Brefi in Ceredigion, Wales around 545. The synod was apparently called in order to condemn the heretical teachings of Pelagius, although this is far from certain. It was an important milestone in the rise of Saint David. The story goes that Saint Paulinus persuaded Saint Dubricius, the senior Bishop there, to allow David, a minor abbot, to address the crowd. His words were so eloquent that Dubricius retired in David's favour. One of his first duties was to consecrate Saint Deiniol as Bishop of Bangor. It is also said that the synod was called while Saint Cadoc, Abbot of Llancarfan, was away in Brittany. In disgust, he refused to return for many years.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Saints, Sinners and Scribes in the Celtic World

The Celtic Studies Association of North America (CSANA) embraces all aspects of Celtic Studies and provides an academic and scholarly forum unavailable in any other discipline. The 2010 CSANA Annual Meeting convenes at the University of Notre Dame to discuss papers related to the conference theme: ‘Saints, Sinners and Scribes in the Celtic World.’ We invite proposals from faculty and graduate students in particular for individual 20 minute papers that address the conference theme or any aspect of the languages, literature, history, folklore, music, art and archaeology of ancient, medieval and modern Celtic cultures.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Life of St Columba

My Argument with the Pope: Jacob Neusner, Jerusalem Post, 29th may 2007.

In the Middle Ages rabbis were forced to engage with priests in disputations in the presence of kings and cardinals on which is the true religion, Judaism or Christianity. The outcome was predetermined. Christians won; they had the swords.

But in the post-WW II era, disputations gave way to the conviction that the two religions say the same thing and the differences between them are dismissed as trivial. Now a new kind of disputation has begun, in which the truth of the two religions is subject to debate. That marks a return to the old disputations, with their intense seriousness about religious truth and their willingness to ask tough questions and engage with the answers.

My book, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, was one such contemporary exercise of disputation, and now, in 2007, the pope in his new book Jesus of Nazareth in detail has met the challenge point-by-point. Just imagine my amazement when I heard that a Christian reply is fully exposed in Pope Benedict XVI's reply to A Rabbi Talks with Jesus in his Jesus of Nazareth Chapter Four, on the sermon on the Mount.

POPES INVOLVED in Judeo-Christian theological dialogue? In ancient and medieval times disputations concerning propositions of religious truth defined the purpose of dialogue between religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity. Judaism made its case vigorously, amassing rigorous arguments built upon the facts of Scripture common to both parties to the debate. Imaginary narratives, such as Judah Halevi's Kuzari, constructed a dialogue among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, a dialogue conducted by a king who sought the true religion for his kingdom. Judaism won the disputation before the king of the Khazars, at least in Judah Halevi's formulation. But Christianity no less aggressively sought debate-partners, confident of the outcome of the confrontation. Such debates attested to the common faith of both parties in the integrity of reason and in the facticity of shared Scriptures.

Disputation went out of style when religions lost their confidence in the power of reason to establish theological truth. Then, as in Lessing's Nathan the Wise, religions were made to affirm a truth in common, and the differences between religions were dismissed as trivial and unimportant. An American president was quoted as saying, "It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're a good man." Then disputations between religions lost their urgency. The heritage of the Enlightenment with its indifference to the truth-claims of religion fostered religious toleration and reciprocal respect in place of religious confrontation and claims to know God. Religions emerged as obstacles to the good order of society.

For the past two centuries Judeo-Christian dialogue served as the medium of a politics of social conciliation, not religious inquiry into the convictions of the other. Negotiation took the place of debate, and to lay claim upon truth in behalf of one's own religion violated the rules good conduct.

In A Rabbi Talks with Jesus I undertook to take seriously the claim of Jesus to fulfill the Torah and weigh that claim in the balance against the teachings of other rabbis - a colloquium of sages of the Torah. I explain in a very straightforward and unapologetic way why, if I had been in the Land of Israel in the first century and present at the Sermon on the Mount, I would not have joined the circle of Jesus's disciples. I would have dissented, I hope courteously, I am sure with solid reason and argument and fact.

If I heard what he said in the Sermon on the Mount, for good and substantive reasons I would not have become one of his disciples. That is difficult for people to imagine, since it is hard to think of words more deeply etched into our civilization and its deepest affirmations than the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and other pronouncements of Jesus. But, then, it also is hard to imagine hearing those words for the first time, as something surprising and demanding, not as mere clich s of culture. That is precisely what I propose to do in my conversation with Jesus: listen and argue. To hear religious teachings as if for the first time and to respond to them in surprise and wonder - that is the reward of religious disputation in our own day.

I WROTE the book to shed some light on why, while Christians believe in Jesus Christ and the good news of his rule in the kingdom of Heaven, Jews believe in the Torah of Moses and form on earth and in their own flesh God's kingdom of priests and the holy people. And that belief requires faithful Jews to enter a dissent from the teachings of Jesus, on the grounds that those teachings at important points contradict the Torah.

Where Jesus diverges from the revelation by God to Moses at Mount Sinai that is the Torah, he is wrong, and Moses is right. In setting forth the grounds to this unapologetic dissent, I mean to foster religious dialogue among believers, Christian and Jewish alike. For a long time, Jews have praised Jesus as a rabbi, a Jew like us really; but to Christian faith in Jesus Christ, that affirmation is monumentally irrelevant. And for their part, Christians have praised Judaism as the religion from which Jesus came, and to us, that is hardly a vivid compliment.

We have avoided meeting head-on the points of substantial difference between us, not only in response to the person and claims of Jesus, but especially, in addressing his teachings.

He claimed to reform and to improve, "You have heard it said... but I say...." We maintain, and I argued in my book, that the Torah was and is perfect and beyond improvement, and the Judaism built upon the Torah and the prophets and writings, the originally-oral parts of the Torah written down in the Mishna, Talmud, and Midrash - that Judaism was and remains God's will for humanity.

By that criterion I propose to set forth a Jewish dissent from some important teachings of Jesus. It is a gesture of respect for Christians and honor for their faith. For we can argue only if we take one another seriously. But we can enter into dialogue only if we honor both ourselves and the other. In my imaginary disputation I treat Jesus with respect, but I also mean to argue with him about things he says.

WHAT'S AT stake here? If I succeed in creating a vivid portrait of the dispute, Christians see the choices Jesus made and will find renewal for their faith in Jesus Christ - but also respect Judaism. I underscore the choices both Judaism and Christianity confront in the shared Scriptures. Christians will understand Christianity when they acknowledge the choices it has made, and so too Jews, Judaism.

I mean to explain to Christians why I believe in Judaism, and that ought to help Christians identify the critical convictions that bring them to church every Sunday. Jews will strengthen their commitment to the Torah of Moses - but also respect Christianity. I want Jews to understand why Judaism demands assent - "the All-Merciful seeks the heart," "the Torah was given only to purify the human heart." Both Jews and Christians should find in A Rabbi Talks with Jesus the reason to affirm, because each party will locate there the very points on which the difference between Judaism and Christianity rests.

What makes me so certain of that outcome? Because I believe, when each side understands in the same way the issues that divide the two, and both with solid reason affirm their respective truths, then all may love and worship God in peace - knowing that it really is the one and the same God whom together they serve - in difference. So it is a religious book about religious difference: an argument about God.

WHEN MY publisher asked for suggestions of colleagues to be asked to recommend the book, I suggested Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Rabbi Sacks had long impressed me by his astute and well-crafted theological writings, the leading contemporary apologist for Judaism. I had admired Cardinal Ratzinger's writings on the historical Jesus and had written to him to say so. He replied and we exchanged offprints and books. His willingness to confront the issues of truth, not just the politics of doctrine, struck me as courageous and constructive.

But now His Holiness has taken a step further and has answered my critique in a creative exercise of exegesis and theology. In his Jesus of Nazareth the Judeo-Christian disputation enters a new age. We are able to meet one another in a forthright exercise of reason and criticism. The challenges of Sinai bring us together for the renewal of a 2,000 year old tradition of religious debate in the service of God's truth.

Someone once called me the most contentious person he had ever known. Now I have met my match. Pope Benedict XVI is another truth-seeker.

We are in for interesting times.

The writer is distinguished service professor of the history and theology of Judaism at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Sola: Part IV

What is ‘scripture’ in fact? By that question, I mean, what determines whether a text is canonical or not? There are many texts claiming to be authentic ‘gospels’ and yet only four are recognised as actually being inspired; as being ‘scripture’. Scripture itself does not tell us which books are scriptural, so where does this information come from?

A standard protestant answer is:‘Look and see what is being quoted in the scriptures themselves – scripture is self-attesting!’ What do the apostles quote? What does Christ quote? Well, as you can see from above, they quote more than just those texts which are generally regarded as ‘scriptural’. If you’d like a list of texts and scriptural references pointing to quotations taken from various apocryphal sources such as the book of Enoch, and The Assumption of Moses for instance, just ask and I’ll provide them, Pastor parcel. These books ARE quoted in scripture as authoritative, and yet there are books included in the Biblical canon which are never referred to in any other Biblical books – which would also, presumably then, fail the test of self-attestation in scripture? Sola scriptura is a doctrine in a real muddle, is it not? And you STILL have yet to provide a single, scriptural passage which explicitly states that scripture is the sole rule of faith. To be continued...

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Sola: Part III

There are many more examples of the positive nature of ‘sacred tradition’ as opposed to the ‘traditions of men’ presented in scripture, however, the following is probably the most notable as it demonstrates how Christ himself acknowledges the validity of sacred tradition: 'The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do; they do not practise what they preach' (Mt. 23:2-3; RSV). 'The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not' (KJV). Nowhere in scripture is ‘Moses’ seat’ referred to but here – Christ is referring to an extra-biblical, Jewish tradition relating to teaching authority in Israel.

When Christ ‘sits down’ on ‘the mountain’ to teach the Beatitudes to all present, He is adopting the normal posture for a rabbi to teach his ‘torah’ (with a small ‘t’). However, this act by Christ – the new Torah – is an obvious symbolic parallel with Moses’ giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai: The new Moses and the new Torah. When Christ sits down on the mountain to teach, he is sitting in the seat of Moses, quite literally. This is the gesture denoting His rightful place as the authentic teacher of Israel. As we see on Mt Tabor, when Christ is transfigured and speaks with Moses and Elijah, we are shown that Christ surpasses the Law and the Prophets: ‘listen to Him.’ But, this position of religious authority is a part of Sacred Tradition – not Sacred Scripture – which is here validated and acknowledged by God Himself. (See the Jerome Bible Commentary Vol.2, p.102; Rabbi Jacob Neusner, A Rabbi Talks With Jesus and The Way of Torah: An Introduction to Judaism, amongst others, for further details on the non-scriptural sacred Tradition of the teaching office of Israel and Christ).

Now, as for ‘philosophies’, the scripture passage you quote is obviously referring to any system of thought which is manufactured by man, as opposed to the law of God. This also can be proven by scripture NOT to be a universal condemnation of philosophy as such, but as a specific teaching against those man-made creeds which would seek to present themselves as somehow superior or as an alternative to the divine law, or generally contradict the sacred deposit of revelation in some way. In fact, not only are philosophies in general not condemned under this censure, but St Paul directly quotes at least three pagan philosopher/poets, calling one of them a prophet of his people! (Acts 17:28, 1 Cor 15:33, Ti 1:12) This, not only contradicts the blanket condemnation of philosophy you infer, it also challenges ‘sola scriptura’ per se, as Paul is quoting a lot more than just scripture! To be continued...

Friday, 16 April 2010

Sola: Part II

Pastor Parcel:

Scripture is sufficient, in that there is nothing else that man needs to know for salvation, faith and the knowledge of God but what is given in Scripture. Christ warns us of the fallible and sinful traditions of men and the vain philosophies of the world. Matt 15.6 and Col 2.8

I reply:

There are two sentences here which treat of different things:
1) Your claim of the all-encompassing sufficiency of scripture.
2) Your contrasting of scripture with ‘traditions of men’ etc.
Now, presumably, you have added the second sentence on man-made traditions in order to qualify the point made in your first sentence which is the subject of the question you are supposed to be answering. In effect, you are aiming to demonstrate that scripture gives us everything we need, and, therefore we have no need of any extra-scriptural paradosis to add to, or compliment the teachings found in scripture, and, indeed, further than that, anything man may add would be a negative tradition or born of a fallible philosophy which would be detrimental to the truth and integrity of the divine revelation. Let’s deal with these claims one at a time.

1) Ok, so you give a definition here of sufficiency, but I already understand the implications of sufficiency – what I’m asking for is demonstrable, scriptural support for it. Again, where is this stated in scripture itself?

2) Let’s begin with the scripture quotations you give to illustrate the fact that Christ warns against the ‘traditions of men’ etc. Firstly, you cite Matt 15.6: 'So, for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.' (RSV) 'Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.' (KJV) (I am quoting all scriptural passages both from the RSV - Revised Standard Version - and KJV - King James Version - just in case Pastor Parcel is one of those protestants who only recognise the validity of the KJV translation) To put this scriptural passage in context, Christ is here, in Matthew 15: 1-9, criticising the Pharisaic ‘Korban’ rule which was a dishonest ruse in which the money of the individual could be ‘dedicated’ to the Temple leaving that same individual, technically, without any money of their own and so exempt from providing financial support to their parents if they happen to be in any need. In spite of these funds being ‘Temple property’ the reality was that the individual still had access to this money and, therefore, it was no more than a get-out clause which violated the commandment to honour one’s father and mother. But does this mean that Christ was denigrating all tradition or just those concocted by men in order, as Christ says, to nullify the word of God? Is tradition always cast in a negative light and criticised in scripture, and for that matter, is ‘philosophy’ always cast negatively also? Let’s explore that, shall we? How about 2 Thessalonians 2:15: 'So then, brethren, stand firm and hold on to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter' (RSV). 'Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. (KJV). Or 2 Thessalonians 3:6: 'Now we Command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us' (RSV). 'Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us' (KJV). Just two examples from the letters to the Thessalonians alone – the first in which they are exhorted to guard and abide by both the oral and written traditions which had been imparted to them. The second in the form of a command which appeals, again, for adherence to the tradition transmitted to the faithful there. Are these negative or are they regarded as equally as binding upon the faithful as scripture? To be continued...

Thursday, 15 April 2010


Having, inexplicably, been receiving an evangelical protestant group's newsletter for some time, which constantly bangs on about 'sola scriptura' (scripture alone) every other line, I decided to ask the 'pastor' of this group if he could please demonstrate to me where exactly in the Bible sola scriptura was identified as the sole rule of faith? I am aware, of course, that nowhere is 'scripture alone' advocated in scripture itself, but I was interested to see exactly how this central tennet of protestant belief would be backed up.

Having received a reply. I shall post bits of it here and there, and make my way through the various points, contentions and, alleged, scriptural supports for this position, and deal with it, a small section at a time. I'll also post his replies to my objections, and refute those also. I shall refer to him, as 'Pastor Parcel' throughout.

Pastor Parcel:

Thank you for your enquiry: Firstly: Note what the Westminster Confession says: This is the Historic and Orthodox position of the True Church.The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

I reply:

Firstly, 'this is the historic and orthodox position of the true Church?' According to whom? Up until 1983 this same 'confession' referred to the Pope as: ...that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy... Did that cease to be true in 1983? And, where exactly is that in scripture? Also, the vast majority of protestant denominations (of which there are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands) do not adhere to the Westminster Confessional. I presume that they, like the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are in error, and do not qualify as occupying either historically consistent or orthodox positions? How odd that reformed denominations should occupy the historic and orthodox position of the 'true Church when they haven't even existed for 500yrs yet! Anyway, where is this 'confession' justified in and by scripture?

Pastor Parcel Continues:

Note: Please remember that only the Spirit of God can convince anyone of the Authority, Sufficiency and finality of Scripture.

I reply: Firstly, faith and reason are never contrary to one another, and man can reason his way to God, as has always been accepted and taught throughout the history of the Christian religion (as with others also). So, it is possible to reason our way to belief in God, but, according to Pastor Parcel, one needs to be moved by the Holy Spirit to believe in the 'authority, sufficiency and finality of scripture.' Even if this were true, is this the point or even relevant to the question? Whether the Bible 'is' the word of God or not is not the same thing at all as proving that this book, whether it be inspired or not, is self-attesting to its own sufficiency. In other words, one does not have to believe in the Bible's sacred status, or even in God Himself in order to ascertain whether the text claims self-sufficiency and to be the sole rule of faith: all one requires is the ability to read. If a certain individual writes a book claiming to have been kidnapped and probed by aliens I can ascertain, via a reading of that text, whether or not the individual makes claims as to the veracity of the events without my actually having to believe them to be true. If someone were to ask Pastor Parcel if the Quran made the claim that Mohammed was instructed by the Archangel Gabriel, he would be able to reply in the affirmative without the necessity of him believing the claim, would he not? Once again, does the Bible, either explicitly or implicitly, claim to be the sole rule of faith? To be continued...

Sunday, 7 March 2010

March 7th 2010: Third Sunday of Lent.
Dr Hahn's Bible Reflection:
Readings: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15. Psalm 103:1-4, 6-8. I Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12. Luke 13:1-9.
In the Church, we are made children of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - the God who makes known His name and His ways to Moses in today’s First Reading.Mindful of His covenant with Abraham (see Exodus 2:24), God came down to rescue His people from the slave-drivers of Egypt. Faithful to that same covenant (see Luke 1:54-55, 72-73), He sent Jesus to redeem all lives from destruction, as today’s Psalm tells us.Paul says in today’s Epistle that God’s saving deeds in the Exodus were written down for the Church, intended as a prelude and foreshadowing of our own Baptism by water, our liberation from sin, our feeding with spiritual food and drink.Yet the events of the Exodus were also given as a “warning” - that being children of Abraham is no guarantee that we will reach the promised land of our salvation.At any moment, Jesus warns in today’s Gospel, we could perish - not as God’s punishment for being “greater sinners” - but because, like the Israelites in the wilderness, we stumble into evil desires, fall into grumbling, forget all His benefits.Jesus calls us today to “repentance” - not a one-time change of heart, but an ongoing, daily transformation of our lives. We’re called to live the life we sing about in today’s Psalm - blessing His holy name, giving thanks for His kindness and mercy.The fig tree in His parable is a familiar Old Testament symbol for Israel (see Jeremiah 8:3; 24:1-10). As the fig tree is given one last season to produce fruit before it is cut down, so too Jesus is giving Israel one final opportunity to bear good fruits as evidence of its repentance (see Luke 3:8).Lent should be for us like the season of reprieve given to the fig tree, a grace period in which we let “the gardener,” Christ, cultivate our hearts, uprooting what chokes the divine life in us, strengthening us to bear fruits that will last into eternity.
Tuesday 2nd March: St Non.
St Non was the mother of St David. David was born to her, as one tradition has it, in a small house on the Pembrokeshire coast. This dwelling became a chapel, and the bay above which it stands became known as St Non's bay. The ruins of the chapel, and a holy well - St Non's well, of course -can be visited to this day:

St Non's Chapel.

St Non's Well.

In the early 1950's the Passionist Fathers came into possession of the land upon which the chapel and well stand. The Fathers erected a shrine of the Blessed Virgin nearby:

Just before the outbreak of WWII, a pious layman had a new chapel built, in the traditional, early-medieval, Welsh style, which was dedicated to Our Lady and St Non, nearby:

The whole shrine is now in the care of the Sisters of Mercy, under an agreement with the Passionist Fathers. 'St Non's Retreat Centre' can be found here .

Friday, 5 March 2010

Friday 5th March: First Friday.
Act of Consecration to the Sacred HeartO Sacred Heart of Jesus, to Thee I consecrate and offer up my person and my life, my actions, trials, and sufferings, that my entire being may henceforth only be employed in loving, honoring and glorifying Thee. This is my irrevocable will, to belong entirely to Thee, and to do all for Thy love, renouncing with my whole heart all that can displease Thee.I take Thee, O Sacred Heart, for the sole object of my love, the protection of my life, the pledge of my salvation, the remedy of my frailty and inconstancy, the reparation for all the defects of my life, and my secure refuge at the hour of my death. Be Thou, O Most Merciful Heart, my justification before God Thy Father, and screen me from His anger which I have so justly merited. I fear all from my own weakness and malice, but placing my entire confidence in Thee, O Heart of Love, I hope all from Thine infinite Goodness. Annihilate in me all that can displease or resist Thee. Imprint Thy pure love so deeply in my heart that I may never forget Thee or be separated from Thee.I beseech Thee, through Thine infinite Goodness, grant that my name be engraved upon Thy Heart, for in this I place all my happiness and all my glory, to live and to die as one of Thy devoted servants.Amen.St. Margaret Mary AlacoqueAt todays Exposition:Am I believing, truly, that the Host before me is the second person of the Trinity? If not, why not? Is it impossible to really comprehend? Merton wrote of St Anthony of the Desert: '...[He] was more of a person than they had ever seen, because his personality had vanished within itself to drink at the very sources of reality and life'. (Waters of Siloe) All the more was 'present' to be 'seen' through the vanishing of his personality.When I approach the Eucharist, I approach 'I AM'. When I approach the Eucharist, there is only doubt about the 'I'.More on the Eucharist next Friday.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Dydd Llun 1 Mawrth: Dydd Gwyl Dewi (Monday 1st of March: St David's Day)

Being the solemnity of our national patron, today I constructed the (long-planned) icon of St David for our home. His shrine will be situated in the hallway, near the entrance to our house. The frame is 3 inches thick, whilst the height and width are 17" and 12" respectively. Dewi is represented standing among the hills, valleys and mountains of Wales.

O Almighty God, Who in Thine infinite goodness has sent Thine only-begotten Son into this world to open once more the gates of heaven, and to teach us how to know, love and serve Thee, have mercy on Thy people Who dwell in Wales. Grant to them the precious gift of faith, and unite them in the one true Church founded by Thy Divine Son; that, acknowledging her authority and obeying her voice, they may serve Thee, love Thee, and worship Thee as Thou desirest in this world, and obtain for themselves everlasting happiness in the world to come. Through the same Christ our Lord.
Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for Wales.
Saint David, pray for Wales.
Saint Winefride, pray for Wales.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Sunday 28th February: Second Sunday of Lent.
Readings: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27:1,7-9, 13-14; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28-36.Dr Hahn's Bible Reflection:
In today’s Gospel, we go up to the mountain with Peter, John and James. There we see Jesus “transfigured,” speaking with Moses and Elijah about His “exodus.” The Greek word “exodus” means “departure.” But the word is chosen deliberately here to stir our remembrance of the Israelites’ flight from Egypt. By His death and resurrection, Jesus will lead a new Exodus - liberating not only Israel but every race and people; not from bondage to Pharaoh, but from slavery to sin and death. He will lead all mankind, not to the territory promised to Abraham in today’s First Reading, but to the heavenly commonwealth that Paul describes in today’s Epistle. Moses, the giver of God’s law, and the great prophet Elijah, were the only Old Testament figures to hear the voice and see the glory of God atop a mountain (see Exodus 24:15-18; 1 Kings 19:8-18).
Today’s scene closely resembles God’s revelation to Moses, who also brought along three companions and whose face also shone brilliantly (see Exodus 24:1; 34:29). But when the divine cloud departs in today’s Gospel, Moses and Elijah are gone. Only Jesus remains. He has revealed the glory of the Trinity - the voice of the Father, the glorified Son, and the Spirit in the shining cloud.
Jesus fulfills all that Moses and the prophets had come to teach and show us about God (see Luke 24:27). He is the “chosen One” promised by Isaiah (see Isaiah 42:1; Luke 23:35), the “prophet like me” that Moses had promised (see Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37). Far and above that, He is the Son of God (see Psalm 2:7; Luke 3:21-23). “Listen to Him,” the Voice tells us from the cloud. If, like Abraham, we put our faith in His words, one day we too will be delivered into “the land of the living” that we sing of in today’s Psalm. We will share in His resurrection, as Paul promises, our lowly bodies glorified like His.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Saturday 27th February.
Attended Fr Wilthsire's Tridentine Mass this morning. The Mass was offered for the intentions of the older of the two servers, as it was the 62nd anniversary of his reception into the Church. He specifically asked us to pray for his next 62 years as a Catholic.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Friday 26th February.
Friday notes on Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.How does one cling to the reality and not the appearance of the Eucharist? If we were to say that material substance, being matter, is no different, on a purely concrete, physical level, whether that 'matter' be flesh or bread, would that be accurate?That seeing the incarnate Jesus in flesh 2,000 years ago, and seeing Him now, in the Host, is, essentially, no different as both are God incarnate? Is it not the identifiable concentration of God in a physical space - space and time?Christ is 'begotten, not made', but material substance is created, not creator.De Lubac observed that the Church makes the Eucharist, and the Eucharist makes the Church. The Eucharist and Church 'make' each other. The Eucharist is Christ, substantially, begotten, not made. It is the species that is made, while the substance is begotten.More on the Eucharist next week.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Tuesdat 23rd February: St Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr.

Click on the image of St Polycarp for a video homily.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Monday 22nd February: The Chair of St Peter.
The Letter of Clement to James: Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter (Letter of Clement to James 2 [A.D. 221]).Cyprian of Carthage: The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven . . . ’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. . . . If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church? (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering" (Letters 43[40]:5 [A.D. 253]). "There [John 6:68–69] speaks Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, teaching in the name of the Church and showing that even if a stubborn and proud multitude withdraws because it does not wish to obey, yet the Church does not withdraw from Christ. The people joined to the priest and the flock clinging to their shepherd are the Church. You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priests of God, believing that they are secretly [i.e., invisibly] in communion with certain individuals. For the Church, which is one and Catholic, is not split nor divided, but it is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere one to another. (ibid., 66[69]:8).Firmilian: But what is his error . . . who does not remain on the foundation of the one Church which was founded upon the rock by Christ [Matt. 16:18], can be learned from this, which Christ said to Peter alone: ‘Whatever things you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:19] (collected in Cyprian’s Letters 74[75]:16 [A.D. 253]).Ephraim the Syrian: [Jesus said:] ‘Simon, my follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which my teaching flows; you are the chief of my disciples’ (Homilies 4:1 [A.D. 351]).Optatus: You cannot deny that you are aware that in the city of Rome the episcopal chair was given first to Peter; the chair in which Peter sat, the same who was head—that is why he is also called Cephas [‘Rock’]—of all the apostles; the one chair in which unity is maintained by all (The Schism of the Donatists 2:2 [A.D. 367]).Ambrose of Milan: It is to Peter that he says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ [Matt. 16:18]. Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church is, no death is there, but life eternal (Commentary on Twelve Psalms of David 40:30 [A.D. 389]).Pope Damasus I: Likewise it is decreed . . . that it ought to be announced that . . . the holy Roman Church has not been placed at the forefront [of the churches] by the conciliar decisions of other churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. . . . ’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it (Decree of Damasus 3 [A.D. 382]).Jerome: I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but your blessedness [Pope Damasus I], that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails (Letters 15:2 [A.D. 396]).Augustine: If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them [the bishops of Rome] from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.’ Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement...(Letters 53:1:2 [A.D. 412]).Council of Ephesus: Philip, the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See [Rome], said: ‘There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors’ (Acts of the Council, session 3 [A.D. 431]).Sechnall of Ireland: Steadfast in the fear of God, and in faith immovable, upon [Patrick] as upon Peter the [Irish] church is built; and he has been allotted his apostleship by God; against him the gates of hell prevail not (Hymn in Praise of St. Patrick 3 [A.D. 444]).Pope Leo I: Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . has placed the principal charge on the blessed Peter, chief of all the apostles. . . . He wished him who had been received into partnership in his undivided unity to be named what he himself was, when he said: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ [Matt. 16:18], that the building of the eternal temple might rest on Peter’s solid rock, strengthening his Church so surely that neither could human rashness assail it nor the gates of hell prevail against it (Letters 10:1 [A.D. 445]).Almighty God, You have raised Your Servant, Pope Benedict XVI, to the Chair of the Fisherman: in Your mercy direct him according to Your clemency into the way of everlasting salvation; that he may desire by Your grace those things that are agreeable to You, and perform them with all his strength. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Posted by G. Family

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Sunday 21st February: First Sunday of Lent.

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 91:1-2,10-15; Romans 10:8-13 Luke 4:1-13.

Friday, 19 February 2010

First Friday of Lent: 19th February.

Up at 06:00am to say Lauds and morning devotions. The snow has begun again today.
Today I began Adomnan's De Locis Sanctis (The Holy Places), a record of a sixth century, Gaulish Bishop's pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and journey through parts of the Holy land, and various places on his voyage. Adomnan claims to have recorded these travel memoirs from conversations held with the aforementioned Bishop, Arculf, when he was shipwrecked on Iona on his return journey to his native Gaul (Adomnan was abbot of Iona, of course). Whether Arculf existed, and these conversations actually took place, or whether Adomnan was employing the construct 'Arculf' as a literary device in order to engage in a form of geographically-centred scriptural exegesis, I do not know, as yet, but I shall inform you of my thoughts and findings as my investigation progresses.

I spent an hour with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in the afternoon at Exposition. What a thing it is to contemplate the Eucharist: Christ is more real than any perceived reality - the Host is truly the REAL presence, in a world which we must attempt to regard almost in terms of absence.
How do I negotiate the physical qualities of the Host? It's appearance, taste, colour etc? It appears identical post-consecration to pre-consecration, however, before consecration it was, and now it IS. The only object I will ever see that is totally real, in any sense, is the Eucharist, therefore, it must, by absolute necessity be THAT around which my entire life must revolve.
More about the Eucharist next Friday.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Thursday 18th February 2010

At the beginning of Lent 2009, Pope Benedict XVI chose to concentrate on the practice of fasting as the theme of his message to the faithful. Beginning with the Holy Father's message, and ending in a brief selection of scriptural, patristic and catechetical observations, I will address the penitential acts of self-denial and abstinence.


"He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry" (Mt 4,1-2)

Dear Brothers and Sisters! At the beginning of Lent, which constitutes an itinerary of more intense spiritual training, the Liturgy sets before us again three penitential practices that are very dear to the biblical and Christian tradition – prayer, almsgiving, fasting – to prepare us to better celebrate Easter and thus experience God’s power that, as we shall hear in the Paschal Vigil, “dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride” (Paschal Præconium). For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to focus my reflections especially on the value and meaning of fasting. Indeed, Lent recalls the forty days of our Lord’s fasting in the desert, which He undertook before entering into His public ministry. We read in the Gospel: “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry” (Mt 4,1-2). Like Moses, who fasted before receiving the tablets of the Law (cf. Ex 34,28) and Elijah’s fast before meeting the Lord on Mount Horeb (cf. 1 Kings 19,8), Jesus, too, through prayer and fasting, prepared Himself for the mission that lay before Him, marked at the start by a serious battle with the tempter.We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting. In the very first pages of Sacred Scripture, the Lord commands man to abstain from partaking of the prohibited fruit: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gn 2, 16-17). Commenting on the divine injunction, Saint Basil observes that “fasting was ordained in Paradise,” and “the first commandment in this sense was delivered to Adam.” He thus concludes: “ ‘You shall not eat’ is a law of fasting and abstinence” (cf. Sermo de jejunio: PG 31, 163, 98). Since all of us are weighed down by sin and its consequences, fasting is proposed to us as an instrument to restore friendship with God. Such was the case with Ezra, who, in preparation for the journey from exile back to the Promised Land, calls upon the assembled people to fast so that “we might humble ourselves before our God” (8,21). The Almighty heard their prayer and assured them of His favor and protection. In the same way, the people of Nineveh, responding to Jonah’s call to repentance, proclaimed a fast, as a sign of their sincerity, saying: “Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?” (3,9). In this instance, too, God saw their works and spared them.In the New Testament, Jesus brings to light the profound motive for fasting, condemning the attitude of the Pharisees, who scrupulously observed the prescriptions of the law, but whose hearts were far from God. True fasting, as the divine Master repeats elsewhere, is rather to do the will of the Heavenly Father, who “sees in secret, and will reward you” (Mt 6,18). He Himself sets the example, answering Satan, at the end of the forty days spent in the desert that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4,4). The true fast is thus directed to eating the “true food,” which is to do the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4,34). If, therefore, Adam disobeyed the Lord’s command “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” the believer, through fasting, intends to submit himself humbly to God, trusting in His goodness and mercy.The practice of fasting is very present in the first Christian community (cf. Acts 13,3; 14,22; 27,21; 2 Cor 6,5). The Church Fathers, too, speak of the force of fasting to bridle sin, especially the lusts of the “old Adam,” and open in the heart of the believer a path to God. Moreover, fasting is a practice that is encountered frequently and recommended by the saints of every age. Saint Peter Chrysologus writes: “Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself” (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320. 322).In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God. In the Apostolic Constitution Pænitemini of 1966, the Servant of God Paul VI saw the need to present fasting within the call of every Christian to “no longer live for himself, but for Him who loves him and gave himself for him … he will also have to live for his brethren“ (cf. Ch. I). Lent could be a propitious time to present again the norms contained in the Apostolic Constitution, so that the authentic and perennial significance of this long held practice may be rediscovered, and thus assist us to mortify our egoism and open our heart to love of God and neighbor, the first and greatest Commandment of the new Law and compendium of the entire Gospel (cf. Mt 22, 34-40).The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord. Saint Augustine, who knew all too well his own negative impulses, defining them as “twisted and tangled knottiness” (Confessions, II, 10.18), writes: “I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness” (Sermo 400, 3, 3: PL 40, 708). Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.At the same time, fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. In his First Letter, Saint John admonishes: “If anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet shuts up his bowels of compassion from him – how does the love of God abide in him?” (3,17). Voluntary fasting enables us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends low and goes to the help of his suffering brother (cf. Encyclical Deus caritas est, 15). By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger. It is precisely to keep alive this welcoming and attentive attitude towards our brothers and sisters that I encourage the parishes and every other community to intensify in Lent the custom of private and communal fasts, joined to the reading of the Word of God, prayer and almsgiving. From the beginning, this has been the hallmark of the Christian community, in which special collections were taken up (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27), the faithful being invited to give to the poor what had been set aside from their fast (Didascalia Ap., V, 20,18). This practice needs to be rediscovered and encouraged again in our day, especially during the liturgical season of Lent.From what I have said thus far, it seems abundantly clear that fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person. Quite opportunely, an ancient hymn of the Lenten liturgy exhorts: “Utamur ergo parcius, / verbis cibis et potibus, / somno, iocis et arctius / perstemus in custodia – Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses.”Dear brothers and sisters, it is good to see how the ultimate goal of fasting is to help each one of us, as the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote, to make the complete gift of self to God (cf. Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 21). May every family and Christian community use well this time of Lent, therefore, in order to cast aside all that distracts the spirit and grow in whatever nourishes the soul, moving it to love of God and neighbor. I am thinking especially of a greater commitment to prayer, lectio divina, recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and active participation in the Eucharist, especially the Holy Sunday Mass. With this interior disposition, let us enter the penitential spirit of Lent. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Causa nostrae laetitiae, accompany and support us in the effort to free our heart from slavery to sin, making it evermore a “living tabernacle of God.” With these wishes, while assuring every believer and ecclesial community of my prayer for a fruitful Lenten journey, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.


Fasting in Holy Scripture, the Catechism, and the Fathers:

References to the value and power of fasting as penance, and a means of supplication in intensifying prayer in the books of the Old Testament are many, but can be summed up by a single passage from the book of Tobit:

Prayer is good with fasting and alms more than to lay up treasures of gold. (12:8)

Can a disciple of Christ refrain from fasting?

Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. (Mark 2:18-20)

Quite simply, then, no: the days have come. Christ even gives instruction on ‘how’ to fast:

…when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matt 6:16)

Note that Christ says ‘when’, not ‘if’ – fasting is not an optional extra, anymore than prayer is, and the two are always linked. Christ Himself fasted, of course:

And he fasted forty days and nights. (Matt 4:2)

The act of fasting is bound up in the mystery of power as weakness; in the losing of 'self' to find SELF. It is, literally, a case of the 'I' decreasing (physical, material appetites), for 'Him' to increase (spiritual conformity and co-operation). This is manifested in Scripture also, in various ways, and highlighted by Christ's fasting as a preparation for combat with Satan. We also see this in an incident involving the attempted casting out of a demon by His disciples:

And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" And he said to them, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:28-29)

We also witness the nascent Church prefacing important decisions and actions via the uniting of prayer with fasting:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2-3)

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed. (Acts 14:23)

And so, for us as Catholics, as the Catechism tells us: The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church's penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).CCC1438

However, just as James tells us that faith without works is to no avail (James 2:26) so, like all works, fasting without the proper intent is no more than a physical diet, or an ostentatious show for self-aggrandisement: fasting is a means, not an end.

Fasting and penance are an exterior expression of an interior process - again, the Catechism has much to say on this: The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.CCC1434
A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting "in order to be seen by men").CCC1755
The New Law practices the acts of religion: almsgiving, prayer and fasting, directing them to the "Father who sees in secret," in contrast with the desire to "be seen by men." CCC1969
Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.CCC1430

The Church Fathers also have a gread deal to say about fasting, in fact, Tertullian dedicates an entire work to the subject, but I shall give the final words on this subject to St John Chrysostom, as he expresses the nature of fasting - which is not merely a matter of dietary regulation - so well:

When the fast makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons, and as harvesters sharpen our sickles, and as sailors order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires, and as travelers set out on the journey towards heaven. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven, rugged and narrow as it is. Lay hold of it, and journey on... I speak not of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely abstinence from meats, but from sins as well. For the nature of a fast is such that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it unless it is done according to a suitable law. So that when we have gone through the labour of fasting we do not lose the crown of fasting, we must understand how and in what manner it is necessary to conduct the business since the Pharisee also fasted, but afterward went away empty and destitute of the fruit of fasting. The Publican did not fast, and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted in order that you may learn that fasting is unprofitable unless all other duties accompany it.Fasting is a medicine. But like all medicines, though it be very profitable to the person who knows how to use it, it frequently becomes useless (and even harmful) in the hands of him who is unskillful in its use. For the honour of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices, since he who limits his fasting only to abstinence from meats is one who especially disparages fasting... Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see an enemy, be reconciled with him. If you see a friend gaining honour, do not be jealous of him. And let not only the mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all members of your bodies. For as the harvester in the fields comes to the end of his labours little by little, so we too if we make this rule for ourselves and in any manner come to the correct practice of these three precepts during the present Fast and commit them to the safe custody of good habit, we shall proceed with greater ease to the summit of spiritual wisdom. And we shall reap the harvest of a favourable hope in this life, and in the life to come we shall stand before Christ with great confidence and enjoy those unspeakable blessings of which, God grant, we may all be found worthy through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom be glory to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit unto ages of ages. Amen! (Homilies on the Statutes)

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Ash Wednesday: 17th february 2010

Up at 05:30am to make the trip from South Wales to Bristol Cathedral for the Imposition of Ashes and Mass at 07:30am. Ashes were distributed, and Mass celebrated by Bishop Declan Lang.
After praying the Rosary, post-Mass, in the Cathedral, a quick trip was taken to Bristol University library to pick up copies of De Locis Sanctis by Adomnan of Iona, and Geography in early Judaism and Christianity by James Scott.
Once home, we started on our Lenten reading: Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Scott Hahn. I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about this book as we progress through it.
Now, to Lent:
We are told in the Gospels that Christ is baptised by John (a mystery in itself, but one I will have to return to) and 'Then' was led into the desert to be tempted. The waters of baptism led directly to the desert of temptation as the first act of the Holy Spirit, after the descent at the Jordan. The Baptist must play a major role in how we understand the unfolding of the Gospel and the way in which we should approach our own 40 days in the desert of Lent.
We know that John preached in the wilderness, lived on locusts and wild honey, and: wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather girdle around his waist (Matt 3:1-6). The terms 'wilderness' and 'desert', are, obviously English words which are used, fairly interchangeably, to translate the Hebrew word 'horbah', which, as the Jewish Encyclopedia notes: '... are inadequate and misleading. "Ḥorbah" implies violent destruction; and it is more exactly rendered by "waste places" or "desolation" :

Psalm 102:7 I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am become as an owl of the waste places.

Jeremiah 44:2 Thus saith HaShem of hosts, the God of Israel: Ye have seen all the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, and upon all the cities of Judah; and, behold, this day they are a desolation, and no man dwelleth therein.

The 'otherness' of the uninhabited wastes are defined starkly in Scripture - these are not just 'open spaces', as un-dynamic notions such as these could not be expressed in the Hebrew tongue, or mind - they can only be expressed in terms of the cataclysmic act(s) of becoming desolate; as 'being' horrific:

Deuteronomy 32:10 He found him in a desert land, in a place of horror and of vast wilderness

Jeremiah 51:43 Her cities have become a horror, a land of drought and of desert, a land in which no one dwells, and which no son of man passes.

The 'desert', 'wilderness' or waste-places are to be regarded in the same sense as that species of true 'nothingness' that God calls the world into existence from, and that sin is the tending back toward. It is more than just a physical wasteland: it is synonomous with the abode of evil - the place where the Jackal dwells, wild beasts, the serpent - it is a type of cosmic battleground: the domain of the ancient enemy: the utter lack and opposite of 'creation' expressed dynamically as annihilation:

Matthew 4: 1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit to be tempted of the Devil.

Mark 1:12-13 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts

As with the Hebrew conception of horbah - the wilderness - the Hebrew term for 'ashes' expresses a similar idea of annihilation/negative void. The usual translation of the Hebrew for ashes - efer - occurs often in expressions of mourning, and in other connections is a symbol of insignificance or nothingness in persons or words:

Genesis 18:27 And Abraham answered and said: 'Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, who am but dust and ashes.

Isaiah 44:20 He striveth after ashes, a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say: 'Is there not a lie in my right hand?'

Job 13:12 Your memorials shall be like unto ashes, your eminences to eminences of clay.
Records testify to the use of ashes as a sign of grief in Talmudic times. In the Mishnah (Ta'an. ii. 1) it is recorded that during the fast-days proclaimed in consequence of drought, the Ark of the Covenant, as well as the people participating in the procession, were sprinkled with ashes, and on such occasions as public fasts, ashes were strewn upon the holy Ark set up in a public place, and upon the heads of the people. That part of the forehead where the phylacteries were placed was selected (Ta'an. 16a). The reason given for covering oneself with ashes is either that it should serve as an expression of self-humiliation, as if to say, "We are before thee as ashes" as in Genesis 27 above, or as in Job 42:6: Wherefore I abhor my words, and repent, seeing I am dust and ashes.

Ashes, as a symbol of mourning, were (are) also sprinkled upon the bridegroom during the wedding ceremony, interestingly enough, in order to remind him, at the height of his felicity, of the destruction of Jerusalem. This custom is still observed among some of the orthodox. This reminder of Jerusalem's destruction should be related to the quote from Jeremiah 44:2 above, and connected to the horror that these ashes upon the head of the groom are to convey in the midst of his joy.

At this time, then, we should be mindful that John the Baptist called out the people of Jerusalem and all about Judea into the wilderness, where he himself was to be found, and that they: were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matt 3:6)
That John was he of whom the Prophet said 'Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; a voice of one crying in the wilderness; make His paths straight.' (Mark 1:2-3)
That John was he who acknowledged that: 'He must increase, but I must decrease' (John 3:30)
As the Catechism states: By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. CCC540.

We are marked with the ashes of humility and repentance (in precisely that place, on the forehead, where the phylacteries would be placed); we confess our sins; we go out into the wilderness and desert of self-denial in order to combat temptation, and defeat the powers of desolation that would have us turn from God into an abode of wickedness and desolation. We walk before God as signs and, thus, messengers, in our secular wasteland, making His paths straight. To do this, 'I' must decrease, whilst He increases. Not as I will, but as thou wilt (Matt 26:39)

I'll leave the last word to Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI:
Ash Wednesday 2010.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Church’s Lenten journey towards Easter. Lent reminds us, as Saint Paul exhorts, “not to accept the grace of God in vain” (cf. 2 Cor 6:1), but to recognize that today the Lord calls us to penance and spiritual renewal. This call to conversion is expressed in the two formulae used in the rite of the imposition of ashes. The first formula – “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” – echoes Jesus’s words at the beginning of his public ministry (cf. Mk 1:15). It reminds us that conversion is meant to be a deep and lasting abandonment of our sinful ways in order to enter into a living relationship with Christ, who alone offers true freedom, happiness and fulfilment. The second, older formula – “Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return” – recalls the poverty and death which are the legacy of Adam’s sin, while pointing us to the resurrection, the new life and the freedom brought by Christ, the Second Adam. This Lent, through the practice of prayer and penance, and an ever more fruitful reception of the Church’s sacraments, may we make our way to Easter with hearts purified and renewed by the grace of this special season.

Tomorrow, I will address 'fasting' and Lent.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Chapter 1.

1. The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.
2 . Abraham began Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren.
3-6. And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; and Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; and Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David the king.
6-8. David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; and Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; and Asa begat Josaphat.

8-11. And Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; and Ozias begat Joatham; and
Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; and Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; and Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon.

12-15. And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; and Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; and Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; and Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob.
16. And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

17. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.
18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
20. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21. And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins.
22. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23. Behold, a Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His Name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25. And knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born Son: and he called his name, Jesus.

Jerome, Cont. Helvid. c. 5: Helvidius is at much superfluous trouble to make this word "know" refer to carnal knowledge rather than to acquaintance, as though any had ever denied that; or as if the follies to which he replies had ever occurred to any person of common understanding. He then goes on to say, that the adverb, 'until,' denotes a fixed time when that should take place, which had not taken place before; so that here from the words, "He knew her not until she had brought forth her first-born Son," it is clear, he says, that after that he did know her. And in proof of this he heaps together many instances from Scripture.
To all this we answer, that the word 'until' is to be understood in two senses in Scripture. And concerning the expression, "knew her not," he has himself shewn, that it must be referred to carnal knowledge, none doubting that it is often used of acquaintance, as in that, "The child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem, and His parents knew not of it." [Luke 2:43]
In like manner, 'until' often denotes in Scripture, as he has shewn, a fixed period, but often also an infinite time, as in that, "Even to your old age I am He." [Isa 46:4] Will God then cease to be when they are grown old? Also the Saviour in the Gospel, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of this world." [Matt 28:20] Will He then leave His disciples at the end of the world? Again, the Apostle says, "He must reign till He has put His enemies under His feet." [1 Cor 15:25]
Be it understood then, that which if it had not been written might have been [p. 58] doubted, is expressly declared to us; other things are left to our own understanding.
[ed. note: In other words, "till," need not imply a termination at a certain point of time, but may be giving us information up to a point from which onwards there is already no doubt. Supposing an Evangelist thought the very notion shocking that Joseph should have considered the Blessed Virgin as his wife after he was a witness of her bearing God the Son, he would only say that the vision had its effect upon him up to that time when it was no longer necessary. Just as if, in speaking of a man like Augustine, one said, that, in consequence of some awful occurrence, he was in the habit of saying prayers till the time of his conversion, no one would suppose that he left them off on being converted.]
So here the Evangelist informs us, in that wherein there might have been room for error, that she was not known by her husband until the birth of her Son, that we might thence infer that much less was she known afterwards.

Jerome: From the words, "her first-born Son," some most erroneously suspect that Mary had other sons, saying that first-born can only be said of one that has brethren. But this is the manner of Scripture, to call the first-born not only one who is followed by brethren, but the first-birth of the mother.

Chapter 2.

1 When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. 2 Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him. 3 And king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. 5 But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the prophet:

6 And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel. 7 Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them; 8 And sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come to adore him. 9 Who having heard the king, went their way; and behold the star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was. 10 And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him; and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country. 13 And after they were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him. 14 Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt: and he was there until the death of Herod: 15 That it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called my son.

16 Then Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: 18 A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. 19 But when Herod was dead, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph in Egypt, 20 Saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel. For they are dead that sought the life of the child.

21 Who arose, and took the child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But hearing that Archelaus reigned in Judea in the room of Herod his father, he was afraid to go thither: and being warned in sleep retired into the quarters of Galilee. 23 And coming he dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was said by prophets: That he shall be called a Nazarene.

Chapter 3:

1 And in those days cometh John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judea. 2 And saying: Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3 For this is he that was spoken of by Isaias the prophet, saying: A voice of one crying in the desert, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. 4 And the same John had his garment of camels' hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins: and his meat was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the country about Jordan:

2 "Do penance"... Paenitentiam agite. Which word, according to the use of the scriptures and the holy fathers, does not only signify repentance and amendment of life, but also punishing past sins by fasting, and such like penitential exercises.

6 And were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them: Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance. 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father. For I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.

7 "Pharisees and Sadducees"... These were two sects among the Jews: of which the former were for the most part notorious hypocrites; the latter, a kind of freethinkers in matters of religion.

11 I indeed baptize you in the water unto penance, but he that shall come after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire. 12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. 13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan, unto John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John stayed him, saying: I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me? 15 And Jesus answering, said to him: Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfill all justice. Then he suffered him.

16 And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. 17 And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Pseudo-Chrys.: As a skilful physician from the colour of the skin infers the sick man's disease, so John understood the evil thoughts of the Pharisees who came to him. They thought perhaps, We go, and confess our sins; he imposes no burden on us, we will be baptized, and get indulgence for sin. Fools! if ye have eaten of impurity, must ye not needs take physic? So after confession and baptism, a man needs much diligence to heal the wound of sin; therefore he says, "Generation of vipers."

Chrys.: But that you may learn how great a good is fasting, and what a mighty shield against the Devil, and that after baptism you ought to give attention to fasting and not to lusts, therefore Christ fasted, not Himself needing it, but teaching us by His example.

Chapter 4.

1 Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry.
3. And when the Tempter came to Him, he said, "If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread."
4. But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.' "

Ambrose, Ambros. in Luc., c. 4. 3: He begins with that which had once been the means of his victory, the palate; "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves." What means such a beginning as this, but that he knew that the Son of God was to come, yet believed not that He was come on account of His fleshly [p. 122] infirmity. His speech is in part that of an enquirer, in part that of a tempter; he professes to believe Him God, he strives to deceive Him as man.

Leo, Serm. 39, 3: hence he opposed the adversary rather by testimonies out of the Law, than by miraculous powers; thus at the same time giving more honour to man, and more disgrace to the adversary, when the enemy of the human race thus seemed to be overcome by man rather than by God.
Greg.: So the Lord when tempted by the Devil answered only with precepts of Holy Writ, and He who could have drowned His tempter in the abyss, displayed not the might of His power; giving us an example, that when we suffer any thing at the hands of evil men, we should be stirred up to learning rather than to revenge.

5. Then the Devil taketh Him up into the holy city, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the temple,
6. And saith unto Him, "If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down; for it is written, 'He shall give His Angels charge concerning Thee:' and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone."
7. Jesus said unto Him, "It is written again, 'Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.' "

Remig.: The "pinnacle" is the seat of the doctors; for the temple had not a pointed roof like our houses, but was flat on the top after the manner of the country of Palestine, and in the temple were three stories. It should be known that "the pinnacle" was on the floor, and in each story was one pinnacle. Whether then he placed Him on the pinnacle in the first story, or that in the second, or the third, he placed Him whence a fall was possible.

Gloss, ap. Anselm: He set Him on a pinnacle of the temple when he would tempt Him through ambition, because in this seat of the doctors he had before taken many through the same temptation, and therefore thought that when set in the same seat, He might in like manner be puffed up with vain pride.

Ambrose: But as Satan transfigures himself into an Angel of light, and spreads a snare for the
faithful, even from the divine Scriptures, so now he uses its texts, not to instruct [p. 125] but to deceive.

Jerome: This verse we read in the ninetieth Psalm, [Ps 91:11] but that is a prophecy not of Christ, but of some holy man, so the Devil interprets Scripture amiss.

Jerome: The false Scripture darts of the Devil He brands with the true shield of Scripture.

Jerome: It should be noted, that the required texts are taken from the book of Deuteronomy only, that He might shew the sacraments of the second Law.

8. Again, the Devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
9. And saith unto Him, "All these things will I give Thee, if Thee wilt fall down and worship me."
10. Then saith Jesus unto him, "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, 'Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.' "
11. Then the Devil leaveth Him, and, behold Angels came and ministered unto Him.

Origen, in Luc., Hom. 30: We are not to suppose that when he shewed him the kingdoms of the world, he presented before Him the kingdom of Persia, for instance, or India; but he shewed his own kingdom, how he reigns in the world, that is, how some are governed by fornication, some by avarice.

Gloss. non occ.: See the Devil's pride as of old. In the beginning he sought to make himself equal
with God, now he seeks to usurp the honours due to God, saying, "If thou wilt fall down and
worship me." Who then worships the Devil must first fall down.

Gloss. ap. Anselm: Though Luke's order seems the more historical; Matthew relates the temptations as they were done to Adam.

17. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, "Repent: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Jerome: Mystically interpreted, Christ begins to preach as soon as John was delivered to prison,
because when the Law ceased, the Gospel commenced.

18. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
19. And He saith unto them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."
20. And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him.
21. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.
22. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him.

Remig.: "Saw," that is, not so much with the bodily eye, as spiritually viewing their hearts.

Aug., Serm. 197, 2: He chose not kings, senators, philosophers, or orators, but he chose common, poor, and untaught fishermen.

Aug., Tract. in Joann. 8, 7: Had one learned been chosen, he might have attributed the choice to the merit of his learning. But our Lord Jesus Christ, willing to bow the necks of the proud, sought not to gain fishermen by orators, but gained an Emperor by a fisherman. Great was Cyprian the pleader, but Peter the fisherman was before him.

Pseudo-Chrys.: The operations of their secular craft were a prophecy of their future dignity. As he who casts his net into the water knows not what fishes he shall take, so the teacher casts the net of the divine word upon the people, not knowing who among them will come to God. Those whom God shall stir abide in his doctrine.

Gloss. interlin.: "Follow me," not so much with your feet as in your hearts and your life.

Gloss. ap. Anselm: These last disciples were an example to such as leave their property for the
love of Christ; now follows an example of others who postponed earthly affection to God.
Observe how He calls them two and two, and He afterwards sent them two and two to preach.

23. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.
24. And His fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and He healed them.
25. And there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Because they being weak could not come to their physician, He as a zealous
Physician went about to visit those who had any grievous sickness. The Lord went round the
several regions, and after His example the pastors of each region ought to go round to study the
several dispositions of their people, that for the remedy of each disease some medicine may be
found in the Church.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, He taught natural righteousness, those things which natural reason teaches,
as chastity, humility, and the like, which all men of themselves see to be goods. Such things are
necessary to be taught not so much for the sake of making them known as for stirring the heart.
For beneath the prevalence of carnal delights the knowledge of natural righteousness sleeps

Aug., City of God, book 21, ch. 6: Daemons are enticed to take up their abode in many creatures,
(created not by themselves but God,) by delights adapted to their various natures; not that they
are animals, drawn by meats; but spirits attracted by signs which agree with each one's taste.