Rejoicing in adversity

I MUST APOLOGISE for the lengthy break in transmission. The summer has been beset by various problems including family illness and a dying cat amongst other minor distractions but all are now resolved and I would hope to be producing posts more regularly.

A few weeks ago there was a story in the UK press concerning a young girl of Christian background who had been placed in foster care on two occasions with strict Muslim families. Needless to say the initial stories about being banned from eating her favourite meal because it contained pork or having her crucifix taken away turned out to be a bit over-hyped but by the time everyone had calmed down at least one Catholic site had been complaining about persecution.

My own opinion was that if you really want to see persecution try being a Catholic in Pakistan or a Copt in Egypt. Human error by a hard-pressed social worker in placing a child in need of care doesn’t quite match up.

A blogging priest joined in with his view on an unrelated issue, namely press reaction to a devout Catholic politician’s expressed views on abortion (he’s against it) and gay marriage (guess what; he’s against that as well!). Why, he wondered, was everyone so anti-Catholic? And he too talked about the road to persecution.

I had been mulling over these matters wondering whether a blog on the subject was worth considering when I realised that today’s gospel (Wednesday 23, year 1) and, not unnaturally Francis Fernandez’ daily meditation in his In Conversation with God series were on this very subject.

In Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount today, Jesus says

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil  because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.

(Matthew’s version (the better known one) usually translates “exclude” as “persecute” and that is the word we use more often. The difference is semantic only.)

So Jesus is calling on us to accept, indeed welcome, persecution. “Rejoice in that day,” He says, “because great is your reward in heaven.”

There is another incident, recorded in Acts ch 5:

And they agreed with him*, and when they had called for the apostles and flogged them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name.

* The ‘him’ referred to here is Gamaliel who had advised the Sanhedrin to let this business run its course. If from God they shouldn’t be suppressing it; if not it would die of its own accord.

It doesn’t take much to realise that Jesus asks us to accept persecution joyfully and the apostles respond positively, rejoicing that they have been allowed to suffer for the sake of the name of Jesus. And yet the whole tone of the response to the incidents  I have recorded is a denial of what our faith demands of us, namely that persecution for our faith is a privilege we should welcome.

I must declare my own position here. I doubt if I would welcome persecution any more than the next man! But that is beside the point. I ought to welcome it. Christ asks, even demands, that I welcome it. He demands of his followers that they “take up their cross daily” and the apostles and those who listened knew what that had to mean because, while crucifixions might not have been an everyday event in Judea, they certainly would not have been such a rarity that his listeners would not have understood the point he was making.

Sacrifice and suffering are necessary for our salvation. Christ by His death on the cross has redeemed us but God demands a bit of effort on our part. The least we can do is bear the small crosses of everyday life, like looking after a house while a family member is in hospital or even caring for a much-loved pet in its final days or simply putting up cheerfully with the aches and pains of advancing years.

God does not demand that we seek out persecution; martyrdom is not a privilege that is accorded to many of us; the mundane can be suffering enough sometimes. But our reaction to persecution or to the “slings and arrows” that the world cares to aim in our direction should not be to run away or to pen indignant blog posts or letters to  newspapers. If we cannot rejoice at the privilege of suffering for the Name of Jesus at least we should be prepared to face that possibility with equanimity.

God bless!

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“And they were filled …”

YOU ARE A delegate to an international conference being held in Beijing. You and a couple of dozen others have just been escorted from your hotel to the conference centre and are waiting outside. As well as yourself there are assorted Europeans, two or three from South America, a handful from assorted parts of Africa, an Indonesian, an Indian and a couple of Koreans.

Suddenly you are approached by a group of peasants from Xinjiang province extolling the virtues of a new way of life and exhorting you to change your ways in your own language.

Not surprisingly your instant reaction is to listen. After all you are hearing your own language which the brain will register as normal. After a second or two, or a bit longer for those who weren’t paying attention, you move on to “what the heck is going on here? These guys are Chinese peasants and here they are speaking perfect English (or Spanish, or Indonesian)?”

And inevitably there are a couple of cynics among you whose reaction is “bit early in the day, isn’t it?” but that is mainly to cover up their shock because an excess of firewater at 9 o’clock in the morning is not likely to make you suddenly fluent in a language you have probably never heard before. Quite the opposite, in fact.

We know this story inside-out and probably back-to-front as well. We should do because we hear it every Pentecost Sunday. And we are probably so used to it that we fail completely to grasp just how devastating it must have been to those who experienced it, both the speakers and the listeners.

Remember that on the morning of Our Lord’s Resurrection the apostles had gathered in a room where “the doors were closed … for fear of the Jews”. Some traditions have it that this was the same room in which they had three days before celebrated Passover. In any event it was somewhere, owned by a sympathiser maybe, where they felt safe. It was to this room (probably) that they returned after Our Lord’s Ascension to await the coming of the Advocate, Paraclete, Holy Spirit in whatever form this being manifested itself.

They would be nervous yet again, as they had been after Jesus’ death and again after his Ascension. Even if He hadn’t made it clear they would almost certainly have realised that this second departure was final — at least in the form in which they had known Him. And they had been left with the awesome task of taking His teaching to the whole world and having the power to forgive sins or not to forgive them. (One wonders which is the heavier burden; to forgive someone or to harden your heart and say you are unable to forgive.)

But they still trusted in Jesus and so they waited, as He had asked them to, until the day which in Jewish tradition was the day for offering the first fruits.

“And they were filled with the Holy Spirit”. And the Church has never looked back!

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Ascension Day

THE APOSTLES got short shrift from the angel that appeared to them after Our Lord’s Ascension.

“What are you lot doing hanging around here gawping at the sky? He’ll be back eventually, just the way you’ve seen him go today. Meanwhile don’t you have work to do?”

The Bible didn’t phrase it quite like that, of course, but that just about sums up the gist of it.

We celebrate Ascension as one further event in the process of our redemption — “If I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you,” Our Lord says. Though why that had to be the case I leave to the theologians to explain. Enough for us that God decided it should be so. As was His decision that it was to be up to mankind to run his Church and so play a major part within human limitations in the salvation of the race.

Redeemed we certainly are; saved not necessarily so much! We are required to put a certain amount of effort into earning our place in heaven. After all, God Himself in the form of His Son took human form and subjected Himself to death to make expiation for the disobedience of Adam. Greater love has no man, certainly not God made Man, than to lay down His life for a race of beings that has let Him down once and shown every inclination to do so again given the chance.

So, “meet me half way” is God’s message. “At least try!”

But that does require Our Lord not be ever there, micro-managing our lives. But also, at the same time, He has promised to be with His Church “even to the end of the world”. So He removes His physical presence and replaces it with the spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we are getting a little way towards understanding the meaning behind the Ascension and Pentecost.

The apostles of course were bereft. Seeing the Master suffer and die the ignominious death of the cross and experiencing the shock and joy of the Resurrection they are now witnesses to his disappearing in a cloud and they know, because St John tells us in his gospel how Jesus prepared them for this moment and for what was to come, this is for keeps!

They know about “the Advocate” but they don’t know the details and for the moment they are rudderless, without guidance, without their leader, with a herculean task to perform, with no experience outside of how to catch fish or how to collect taxes, a prey to total despair, hiding away from the Jewish religious authorities, with no idea which way to turn.

Until one morning …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Easter Reading

I’VE BEEN quiet for the last few weeks, quietly celebrating the joy of Easter and hoping that my readers have been doing the same. But time for some fresh thoughts.

The focus in the readings at Mass is on the early days of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles and in Our Lord’s teachings as recounted by John in his Gospel. I love both these books and could read and re-read them from now until the day that God calls me, I hope, to spend eternity with Him. Perhaps I shall!

There are some very human twists in Acts in amongst the miracles. I love the story in Monday’s reading when Peter was being told off for consorting with pagans — “so you have been visiting the uncircumsised and eating with them, have you?” (Sub-text: “how dare you, you naughty man!”). And Peter spins this long yarn about animals being lowered in a sheet and being told in his vision not to dare to call unclean what God has declared clean.

Did Peter actually have this vision or is he just using the age-old (even then!) trick of allegory to make a point. He wouldn’t have been the first missionary to do that and for sure he wasn’t the last! Anyway, who cares? Is it important whether this happened in reality or was  just the way Peter chose to make his point? Not in my book.

What he then told them was indeed a miracle because we can detect the hand of God in the conversion of this unknown pagan and Peter’s understanding or revelation or vision — however he experienced it — that the grace that God had bestowed on this man and his household was exactly the same as the grace that had descended on the apostles at Pentecost and we can only speculate, but can imagine, the extra confidence that this sudden revelation gave to Peter’s life and his teaching.

And those who had sniffily objected to what Peter had done? What could they say except, “oh well, that’s all right then!”

Do make time this Eastertide to read Acts. You’ll like it.

God bless!

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Some Thoughts for Today

THE RELATIONSHIP between Jesus and Mary of Magdala has been the subject of speculation (most of it scurrilous) for centuries.

As Christians, let alone Catholics, we can be sure that nothing untoward took place between them though the temptation may have been there, certainly for her, possibly also for Him since, as Saint Paul tells us, “He was like us in every way but did not sin.”

(The idea that Jesus was subject to temptation like the rest of us ought to be a great comfort. Temptation itself is not a sin, though putting oneself in the way of it might be, and to know that our Saviour was tempted as we are ought to give us the courage to say, “you resisted, Lord; give me that strength!”)

Certainly their relationship appears to have been intense even though we are unsure from reading the gospels exactly who she was. The only firm information we have about her comes from Luke (ch 8) when he refers to her as she “… from whom He cast out seven devils”. The surprising thing is that there is no mention of that particular act of exorcism anywhere else. While it cannot quite compete with the 2,000 demons that were packed off to the Gadarene swine, you would have thought it would have been worth a mention.

At various times she has been seen as the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, as the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and even as the adulterous woman whom the Pharisees used to try to entrap Jesus into a “no win” situation on the matter of stoning.

There is no reason to assume she was or was not the adulteress who, moved by Jesus’ forgiveness, anointed his feet out of love and gratitude. If she were then she was truly a “prodigal daughter” who found her way back to her father’s house and dedicated the rest of her life to serving the man who had saved her. We can speculate to our hearts’ content. There is comfort for us and a lesson to be learned in almost any interpretation of the story of Mary of Magdala and our Blessed Lord.

What we do know is that she was the first person recorded as having seen Jesus after His Resurrection. I say “recorded” because when she first went to the tomb the stone had already been rolled away and she ran post-haste to find Peter. It was after they returned and found the tomb empty that Mary met Jesus, initially mistaking Him for the gardener.

Any good TV detective will immediately latch on to the fact that there are several minutes unaccounted for here! So where was Jesus during that time and what was He up to? The only reason I pose this question is because in all the early morning comings and goings the one person none of the evangelists mention — not Luke (who we know was close to her), not John (who not 48 hours ago had promised to take care of her) — is His Mother! And I like to think that, important as Mary Magdalen was, there was another Mary whom He considered to be more important and that His first instinct would have been to see her and to reassure that her sufferings (and His) were now finally at an end and that their purpose (because the Church has always considered Our Blessed Lady to be Co-Redeemer) has now been fufilled.

There is one more mystery associated with the Resurrection. “That same day …” Luke tells us, Jesus chose to meet two un-named followers on the road to Emmaus. Whether they were putting as many miles as possible between them and Jerusalem for fear of reprisals or whether they were just heading home because without Jesus there was no point in trying to carry on, the evangelist doesn’t say. They had heard of events that morning but did not know what to make of them and evidently feared the worst.

Nor is there any explanation why He should have chosen this day of all days to give a very personal lesson to two of his followers. Again we can only speculate. Perhaps He was telling us that He may well turn up in the most unlikely places and at the most unlikely times. That He is prepared to go out of his way to be with us, especially perhaps when things are looking bleak, when we have lost our way, and that if we only listen to what He has to say we will find our way back.

Give it some thought. Because nothing that Jesus did was done without reason.

Happy Easter!

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The Temple v Jesus of Nazareth – 3

Int          You told us yesterday that you were no longer concerned in investigating Jesus bar Joseph  and his followers but that you were instructed to monitor the situation. Can you explain what it is you were being commanded to do?

Off         The day after the incident I described yesterday I was instructed by one of the High Priest’s messengers to attend a hearing the following morning. At that hearing, the High Priest (Caiaphas) was present as well as the former High Priest Annas, my commanding officer, and two other people whose names I don’t know but whom I recognised as members of the High Priest’s personal bodyguard.

I was instructed to disband my cohort and to inform them that they were not to discuss any matters relating to the man Jesus. I was seconded to Annas’ personal staff and told to report to him directly the following morning.

I met with the members of my squad and re-assigned them to duties as far from Jerusalem as I could justify and made certain other provisions regarding my own personal safety. It was not unheard of for Temple guards and policemen to “disappear” in circumstances similar to what I have described here.

I reported to Annas who told me that the matter of Jesus was no longer the concern of the Temple police, that it had been decided that his followers would pose no threat in his absence, and that he would be arrested within a few days. I was to observe but nothing else.

Int          What did you understand from this sudden change of tactic?

Off         It was clear that the Sanhedrin had inside information and most likely that they were protecting an informer who would arrange for Jesus to be in an agreed place at an agreed time. What would happen to him then was evidently not going to be something that the Temple police could be involved in.

In the end it was one of his own followers who led them to him at Passover. There was one place where he frequently went to pray in the evening and that was where they were led to. It says a lot about how the people felt about him and about the authorities that they had to use a bunch of thugs to more or less kidnap him at dead of night.

After that it was a question of hawking him around from Caiaphas to Annas to Pilate to Herod and back to Pilate again to find someone prepared to condemn him to death. Needless to say no-one wanted anything to do with him but Annas played Pilate like a lute. “Do as I ask or I’ll tell Caesar what a useless prefect you really are” sort of thing.

Annas was desperate not to be the one to be seen making the decision. He kept harping on about blasphemy and how Jesus deserved to die but how they weren’t allowed to kill him. Which Pilate saw for the trick it was. They were happy enough to stone adulterers but they wanted this death to be seen to be at the hands of Rome and they wanted crucifixion as a deterrent to others.

Pilate tried his hardest but Caiaphas’ thugs were everywhere in the crowd  yelling “crucify him”. The only person there who was calm was Jesus. Pilate had had him whipped and his soldiers had added a few touches of their own. The Sanhedrin had accused him of claiming to be King of the Jews though I never heard him say that so the soldiers had put a robe on him and made a crown of thorns and put it on his head. He was a mess but he just stood there totally calm.

Eventually Pilate just said, “Do what you like” which is hardly a judicial sentence but was enough. He went so far as to oversee the execution because he had to or lose control — and his job the minute Rome found out — so the actual sentence was carried out properly by a centurion and four, or maybe five, soldiers. Whether it was a proper sentence is not for me to judge but I would say it is at least open to challenge.

Int          Would you agree with the argument that has been put by some in the Temple, which is the reason for this Inquiry, that this execution was in reality a quasi-judicial murder instigated by the High Priest’s father-in-law Annas, to protect what had become a corrupt establishment and that Jesus’ teaching was closer to scriptural tradition and his condemnation of the Pharisees justified?

Off         You are asking the wrong person. All I would say is that I never heard Jesus teach anything that ran counter to the scriptures. Eventually his followers came to believe that he was son of God and, as such, probably the Messiah but those I spoke to were adamant that this realisation came to them on account of the miracles he performed and the good actions he carried out, not because he had told them so.

Int          Do you believe that the Temple authorities were responsible for killing the Messiah?

Off         [Pause]  I think it’s quite possible. But I think it was ordained from the beginning. At the end he called  down forgiveness on those who had condemned him. If, as he said to Pilate, his kingdom was “not of this world” it is possible that some form of high-profile ritual death was essential to some great plan. One thing is sure; I don’t think we have heard the last of this business.

Int          Thank you.

 

© 2017 The Conservative Catholic
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The Temple v Jesus of Nazareth – 2

Int        You said in your replies yesterday that the activities of Jesus bar Joseph and his followers had  — if I may put it this way — “crossed a line” as far as the Sanhedrin was concerned and that simply keeping the Procurator happy was no longer all this was about. Can you explain?

Off         Jesus began taking aim at the Pharisees themselves or at least that was the way they saw it. He started calling them hypocrites, whited sepulchres, more concerned with outward show and their own status than with the teachings of scripture. And there were several cases where they tried to set traps for him.

Int        Can you give us examples of that, please?

Off         We arrested a woman for committing adultery and were told to take her to the Temple forecourt where Jesus was preaching. They asked him what her punishment should be. Moses said she should be stoned. What did he say? He didn’t answer directly, just said, “any of you who has never sinned can throw the first stone” and then started tracing lines in the dust. I couldn’t see from where I was but others said he had been writing names. Anyway the half-dozen Pharisees who had posed the question got up and left, one by one. Draw your own conclusions.

On another occasion they asked him if it was lawful to pay Imperial taxes. He simply asked them to show him the coin and tell him whose head was on it. They said it was Caesar’s and he said, “well, pay Caesar what is his due.” And then he added “and while you are it, remember to pay God what is his!” That didn’t go down well. Anyway, what was evident was that whatever his plans they didn’t involve overthrowing the Roman Empire.

Int        What was the affair at the Feast of Tabernacles that other witnesses have said was the final straw?

Off         By this time we were under instructions to keep Jesus and his group under constant surveillance but we lost him because while most of them came up to Jerusalem for the Feast he went off somewhere on his own and gave us the slip. Next thing we heard he was in the Temple itself, teaching the crowds. He was very impressive. Everything he said was sound doctrine based on the scriptures and he was demonstrating just how the prophecies pointed towards the coming of the Messiah.

The thing was that what he was saying was quite clear and understandable. All the time I followed him he had been talking in parables, especially when the authorities were around. Not today. But he said one thing that I knew would come back to haunt him.

Somebody asked where he got all this knowledge from if he had never been taught. “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me,” he said. “Anyone who resolves to do God’s bidding will know whether the teaching is God’s or my own.” It really wasn’t difficult to work out what he was saying and quite a few around were saying things like “Is this the Messiah?” “He certainly teaches with authority which is more than the priests do half the time.” “Is this why he hasn’t been arrested? Because they know he’s the Messiah?”

The answer to the last question, of course, is “no; he hasn’t been arrested because the Scribes and the Pharisees are at each others throats as usual and haven’t given me any orders!”

On the last day of the Festival they finally decided. Too late as usual. Annas finally made up his mind because Caiaphas was still dithering. “Pick him up,” he said to me. “Just don’t rough him up. We don’t want to start a riot.”

By the time I got down to where he was talking I would have needed a squad five times the size and I was beginning to realise that I couldn’t necessarily count even on my own guys. The crowd were about two-to-one that he was the Messiah and the remaining one thought he was probably Isaiah or Elijah come back as his forerunners as some texts suggested.

We beat a tactical retreat and reported to the Sanhedrin. Somebody mentioned the Messiah and Annas nearly had a seizure. “The man’s from ***** Galilee. Some tinpot village or other. Nazareth? We know where the Messiah is coming from. All the scriptures tell us: family of David. Bethlehem. Got it?”

And then some bright guy, possibly Nicodemus, piped up “I don’t know about his family but he was born in Bethlehem.” And you can imagine what reaction that caused. I’m sorry to say that all the squad had great trouble keeping their faces straight. I know it was a serious business but it’s not often we get to see the boss’s nose quite so seriously out of joint.

Anyway that was the end of our involvement officially but three of us were asked to keep a watching brief on developments.

Int        Thankyou. We have other witnesses to see but if you could make yourself available again tomorrow your information on what transpired in the build-up to the following Passover feast would be most helpful to this inquiry.

 

© 2017 The Conservative Catholic
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The Temple v Jesus of Nazareth —1

INTERVIEW  WITH OFFICER [REDACTED] IN RELATION TO THE APPREHENSION AND SUBSEQUENT EXECUTION OF JESUS BAR JOSEPH OF NAZARETH

My name is [redacted] and at the material time I held the post of [redacted] in the [redacted] cohort of the Temple Police, in command of 20 men. My superior officer at the material time was [redacted] but in reality during the period specified I reported directly to the Temple authorities.

For normal operational purposes the cohort would normally be divided into four squads of five men each but this was flexible depending on circumstances.

I was initially given instructions to observe the behaviour of Jesus bar Joseph and his followers after a complaint to the High Priest that he and some of his associates were preaching sedition. Relations with Rome had been improving after the deposing of Archalaeus and there was an understanding between the High Priest and the Prefect that Rome would not interfere in local religious affairs so long as there was no overt opposition to Imperial rule.

Int(erviewer)    When did the surveillance begin?

Off(icer)              We had received reports about a man called John who was becoming known as ‘the baptiser’. He had been making certain statements that implied he was a precursor for the Messiah. There were also stories circulating that this man Jesus had been baptised by John and that there had been some sort of apparition or voice from the heavens. Some had used the phrase ‘Son of God’ in connection with these events.

Int          Was there not also an incident in the Temple itself?

Off         Yes.  A few days before a Passover festival we were called to a disturbance in which a man had taken a whip to the merchants in the Temple forecourt. It was the custom for these licensed traders to sell the animals necessary for the sacrifices and they were permitted to set up their stalls in the Temple forecourt. As you know these animals must be paid for in the proper currency and there are also always a number of moneychangers present for that reason.

The man, who was identified to us as Jesus bar Joseph, had taken exception to this practice and had started ranting about the Temple being “his father’s house” and “a house of prayer”. When he was challenged he said something about being able to rebuild the Temple in three days. He wasn’t making a great deal of sense.

Int          He wasn’t the first person to disagree with the practice of selling goods inside the Temple precincts, was he?  Nor the first to argue strongly against the presence of moneychangers and their extortionate exchange rates. There is no authority in the scriptures for this, is there?

Off         I’m not qualified to comment. It has been the custom and is authorised by the Sanhedrin. Since they are the ones who pay may wages I simply do what I am told. They don’t pay me for my opinions.

Int          Quite. What happened next?

Off         The Sanhedrin sent someone to talk to him on the quiet. He reported back that the man appeared to be a bit of a mystic with talk about being “born again”. Apparently he also said that if this Pharisee was the teacher he claimed to be he would know all these things because they were clearly written in scripture. After that we scaled things down a bit. He was a bit of a firebrand and some of his sayings were a bit obscure but he was evidently sincere and he was getting a reputation as a healer and a man of God.

As long as he was no threat to the established order or to the Romans we saw no reason to interfere.

Int          So what changed?

Off         There was a fairly high-profile event where he cured a man who had been ill for all his adult life. It was a festival; it took place at the Bethesda Pool; and worst of all (from the Pharisees’ point of view) it was the Sabbath.. If you want the full details you will need to speak to my deputy [redacted]

Int          We shall be doing so. Please continue

Off         Apparently Jesus simply took him by the hand and said “get up and walk”. And the man picked up his sleeping mat and headed off. Of course one of the Pharisees stopped him and asked him what had happened and who had cured him and why he was wandering around carrying a mat on the Sabbath. They must have found out later who had worked the miracle because they challenged Jesus about labouring on the Sabbath.

Int          If I might interrupt you there. The Pharisees concern with Jesus’ behaviour was that he had cured someone on the Sabbath. Is that correct?

Off         They defined it as work. Though I was present on another occasion when he pointed out that they wouldn’t hesitate to pull their own animals out of a pit if they fell into one, Sabbath or no Sabbath.

But that was only part of it. He made it clear that saw himself as above the law. “My father and I are still working” he said and there could be no doubt he was referring to God as his father in a very particular way.

That was when I was ordered to set up a separate squad reporting directly to Caiaphas the High Priest and for us to concentrate solely on Jesus.

Int          It is clear that something in what this Jesus was saying has touched a nerve with the Pharisees. You say that the general consensus had been that provided there was no reason for Procurator Pilate to be concerned prophets and mystics would be tolerated even if occasionally they were a bit disruptive. But it seems that in this case the Sanhedrin had decided that that tolerance couldn’t be permitted. Is that a fair summation?

Off         [Pause] Yes. I think that is probably correct.

Int          Thank you. We’ll leave it there for today and resume tomorrow morning.

 

© 2017 The Conservative Catholic
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Annunciation — 2

I WANTED to continue the theme of the Annunciation because the words of Gabriel give us an insight into the mind of God and the meaning of eternity and infinity.

Let us clear up one misunderstanding first. There are those (and always will be) who take Gabriel’s message as recorded by Luke as simply a piece of story telling, a sort of parable or myth, or in current fashionable parlance “fake news”.

We are fairly sure from the differences between his Gospel and the others that he was a confidant of Our Lady; he includes details that could only have come from that source. So we either believe that Gabriel’s words as she remembers them are as Luke recounts them or Mary or Luke were making it all up. What we need to remember is that is not belief in the Annunciation that makes us Christians but our belief as Christians that lead us to believe in  the details of the Annunciation.

So what are those details, exactly?

 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and his reign have no end.

And again:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

I’m sure none of my readers need a lesson in the mechanics of conception. Where God is involved as the male partner things are likely to be done slightly differently. It is worth noting that, unless I am very much mistaken, parthenogenetic offspring in humans would in all instances be female. Since Jesus was demonstrably male it is certain that His Father provided, by miraculous means the necessary seed.

I have dwelt on this aspect for a minute or two because it is vital to what comes next. Since the conception was “normal” even if the process was miraculous Jesus is not only demonstrably male, he is also demonstrably human, carrying his mother’s genes and DNA. But since his father was God, he is also demonstrably God since God is eternal, infinite, indivisible. You cannot be half God and half man like a centaur is half man and half horse.

God could (in theory) have chosen any method he liked to effect mankind’s redemption; He could simply have pardoned the entire human race on the grounds that what Adam did is not his offspring’s fault (except that in the terms of the original deal the guilt persists, hence original sin — too deep for us today!); He chose not to do that but to make it possible for mankind to regain his favour by some supreme act of sacrifice. But how?

God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3.16)

The sacrifice, the atonement, had to come from mankind. But mankind is flawed and anyway how can the created atone for its sins to the Creator? Only a man who is also God Himself has the stature to provide the sacrifice needed to atone for humanity’s disobedience to and abandonment of its Creator. And the Creator willed that this should happen because He loved mankind so much that he allowed His Son to be born into the human race and offer His own life to reconcile mankind to God.

And that is the miracle of the Annunciation, that a young girl faced with the most awesome responsibility any human being has ever faced, said simply:

Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

And in so doing freed the entire human race from the bondage of sin.

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Annunciation — 1

LIKE TOTAL eclipses or comets, this weekend provides us with the sort of rare event that it is worth a blog post all of its own.

With Easter Sunday falling on April 16 (the next time will be in 11 years and the last time was almost 30 years ago) this weekend sees the Feast of the Annunciation and mid-Lent or Laetare Sunday fall on successive days, a slightly bigger than usual ray of sunshine in the solemn business of the penitential season.

Whatever you have given up for Lent , chocolates or wine (!), have one this weekend. But just one!

We have noted before that, while the Church needs to compress Our Lord’s life on earth into one year, all the events to do with His birth play out in real time so, in the words of the first intercession at Lauds today, “[t]oday we celebrate the beginning of our salvation.” with the birth of John the Baptist to follow in three months time and Jesus’ own nativity six months after that.

I am always impressed with the way in which Luke makes important announcements in his Gospel and generally his translators have kept faith with him.

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.

Clear, concise, nothing missing! And the message too brooks no possible misunderstanding and we are perhaps left wondering at what point in all this did Mary know what was happening.

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have won God’s favour. You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.

Remember that Mary is the only person completely free of the stain of original sin. Did she feel any different because of this? Was she less inclined to sin, or even disinclined to sin, because of this? Do the words “you have won God’s favour” suddenly make everything clear? Does she say to herself “I know it!” as a sudden realisation that she is different strikes her? Perhaps, but the next words remove any doubt and lead maybe to a feeling of unease, which is finally confirmed with

The Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and his reign will have no end.

Wait a minute! He is talking about the Messiah. There can be no doubt in the mind of any Jew exactly what that last sentence means; the angel is describing the Messiah. He is telling me I am to be the mother of the Messiah.

It speaks volumes that this girl — how old? 16? not much older or she would already be married not merely “betrothed” — has the presence of mind simply to ask for more details.

How can this be, since I am a virgin?

And Gabriel explains, adding:

And so the child will be holy and will be called the Son of God.

Because that is exactly what He will be and the implications of that I shall be writing about in my next post.

Meanwhile let us enjoy this short break in our Lenten journey and check that we are keeping to out penitential plans. And for those in the UK where mid-Lent Sunday is Mothers Day or Mothering Sunday, let us remember all the mothers in our family, our own mother but also any aunts, cousins, daughters, and let us ask the greatest Mother of them all for her help, support, and encouragement.

God bless!

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