Liturgy and Life. Inseperable After All.

Below is the translation of the catechesis of Pope Francis during his weekly Audience of Wednesday 10 February 2021.

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In the preceding catechesis we saw how Christian prayer is “anchored” in the Liturgy. Today, we will shed light on how the Liturgy always enters daily life: on the streets, in offices, on public transportation… And there it continues the dialogue with God: the person who prays is like someone in love who always bears the beloved in his or her heart wherever they go.

Essentially, everything becomes a part of this dialogue with God: every joy becomes a reason for praise, every trial is an opportunity to ask for help. Prayer is always alive in our lives, like embers, even when the mouth does not speak, but the heart speaks. Every thought, even the apparently “profane” ones, can be permeated by prayer. There is even a prayerful aspect in the human intelligence; it is, in fact, a window peering into the mystery: it illuminates the few steps in front of us and then opens up to the entire reality, this reality that precedes it and surpasses it. This mystery does not have a disquieting or anxious face. No, knowledge of Christ makes us confident that whatever our eyes and the eyes of our minds cannot see, rather than nothing being there, there is someone who is waiting for us, there is infinite grace. And thus, Christian prayer instills an invincible hope in the human heart: whatever experience we touch on our journey, God’s love can turn it into good.

Regarding this, the Catechism reads: “We learn to pray at certain moments by hearing the Word of the Lord and sharing in his Paschal Mystery, but his Spirit is offered us at all times, in the events of each day, to make prayer spring up from us. […] Time is in the Father’s hands; it is in the present that we encounter him, not yesterday or tomorrow, but today” (n. 2659). Today I meet God, today is always the day of the encounter.

There exists no other wonderful day than the day we are living. Those who live always thinking about the future, in the future: “But it will be better…”, but do not take each day as it comes: these are people who live in their fantasy, they do not know how to deal with concrete reality. And today is real, today is concrete. And prayer is to be done today. Jesus comes to meet us today, the day we are living. And it is prayer that transforms this day into grace, or better, it transforms us: it appeases anger, sustains love, multiplies joy, instills the strength to forgive. Sometimes it will seem that it is no longer we who are living, but that grace lives and works in us through prayer. It is grace that awaits, but always this, don’t forget: take today as it comes. And let’s think about when an angry thought comes to you, of unhappiness, that moves you toward bitterness, stop yourself. And let’s say to the Lord: “Where are you? And where am I going?” And the Lord is there, the Lord will give you the right word, the advice to go ahead without that bitter, negative taste. For prayer is always, using a profane word, is positive. Always. It will carry you ahead. Each day that begins is accompanied by courage if it is welcomed in prayer. Thus, the problems we face no longer seem to be obstacles to our happiness, but appeals from God, opportunities to meet Him. And when a person is accompanied by the Lord, he or she feels more courageous, freer, and even happier.

Let us pray always, then, for everyone, even for our enemies. Jesus counseled us to do this: “Pray for your enemies”. Let us pray for our dear ones, even those we do not know. Let us pray even for our enemies, as I said, as the Scriptures often invite us to do. Prayer inclines us toward a superabundant love. Let us pray above all for people who are sad, for those who weep in solitude and despair that there still might be someone who loves them. Pray works miracles; and the poor then understand, by God’s grace that, even in their precarious situation, the prayer of a Christian makes Christ’s compassion present. He, in fact, looked with great tenderness on the weary and lost crowd who were like sheep without a shepherd (cf Mk 6:34). The Lord is – let’s not forget – the Lord of compassion, of nearness, of tenderness: three words never to be forgotten regarding the Lord. Because this is the Lord’s style: compassion, nearness, tenderness.

Prayer helps us love others, despite their mistakes and sins. The person is always more important than their actions, and Jesus did not judge the world, but He saved it. What a horrible life is that of the person who always judges others, who is always condemning, judging… This is a horrible, unhappy life, when Jesus came to save us. Open your heart, pardon, give others the benefit of the doubt, understand, be close to others, be compassionate, be tender, like Jesus. We need to love each and every person, remembering in prayer that we are all sinners and at the same time loved individually by God. Loving the world in this way, loving it with tenderness, we will discover that each day and everything bears within it a fragment of God’s mystery.

Again, the Catechism reads: “Prayer in the events of each day and each moment is one of the secrets of the Kingdom revealed to ‘little children,’ to the servants of Christ, to the poor of the beatitudes. It is right and good to pray so that the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace may influence the march of history, but it is just as important to bring the help of prayer into humble, everyday situations; all forms of prayer can be the leaven to which the Lord compares the kingdom” (n. 2660).

The human person – men and women, all of us, – the human person is like a breath, like a blade of grass (cf Ps 144:4; 103:15). The philosopher Pascal once wrote: “There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapour, a drop of water is enough to kill him.” We are fragile beings, but we know how to pray: this is our greatest dignity and it is also our strength. Have courage. Pray in every moment, in every situation so the Lord might be near to us. And when a prayer is said according to the heart of Jesus, it obtains miracles.

Christianity Without Liturgy? The Answer is No.

Below is the translation of the catechesis of Pope Francis during his weekly Audience of Wednesday 3 February 2021. For those with any interest in liturgy, it is well worth reading:

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In the history of the Church, there has often been a temptation to practise an intimist Christianity, which does not recognise the spiritual importance of public liturgical rites. Often, this tendency claimed the supposed greater purity of a religiousness that did not depend on external ceremonies, which were considered a useless or harmful burden. At the centre of the criticism was not a particular ritual form, or a particular way of celebrating, but rather the liturgy itself, the liturgical form of praying.

Indeed, in the Church one can find certain forms of spirituality that have failed to adequately integrate the liturgical moment. Many of the faithful, although they participate assiduously in the liturgy, especially Sunday Mass, have instead drawn nourishment for their faith and spiritual life from other sources, of a devotional type.

Much has been achieved in recent decades. The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Second Vatican Council represents a pivotal point in this long journey. It comprehensively and organically reaffirms the importance of the divine liturgy for the life of Christians, who find therein that objective mediation required by the fact that Jesus Christ is not an idea or a sentiment, but a living Person, and His Mystery a historical event. The prayer of Christians passes through tangible mediations: Sacred Scripture, the Sacraments, liturgical rites, the community. In Christian life, the corporeal and material sphere may not be dispensed with, because in Jesus Christ it became the way of salvation. We might say that we must pray with the body too: the body enters into prayer.

Therefore, there is no Christian spirituality that is not rooted in the celebration of the holy mysteries. The Catechism writes: “The mission of Christ and of the Holy Spirit proclaims, makes present, and communicates the mystery of salvation, which is continued in the heart that prays” (2655). The liturgy, in itself, is not only spontaneous prayer, but something more and more original: it is an act that founds the whole Christian experience and, therefore, also prayer. It is event, it is happening, it is presence, it is encounter. It is an encounter with Christ. Christ makes himself present in the Holy Spirit through the sacramental signs: hence the need for us Christians to participate in the divine mysteries. A Christianity without a liturgy, I dare say, is perhaps a Christianity without Christ. Without Christ in full. Even in the sparest rite, such as that which some Christians have celebrated and continue to celebrate in places of incarceration, or in the seclusion of a house during times of persecution, Christ is truly present and gives Himself to His faithful.

The liturgy, precisely because of its objective dimension, demands to be celebrated with fervour, so that the grace poured out in the rite is not dispersed but instead reaches the experience of all. The Catechism explains it very well; it says: “Prayer internalises and assimilates the liturgy during and after its celebration” (ibid.). Many Christian prayers do not originate from the liturgy, but all of them, if they are Christian, presuppose the liturgy, that is, the sacramental mediation of Jesus Christ. Every time we celebrate a Baptism, or consecrate the bread and wine in the Eucharist, or anoint the body of a sick person with Holy Oil, Christ is here! It is He who acts and is present just as He was when He healed the weak limbs of a sick person, or when at the Last Supper He delivered His testament for the salvation of the world.

The prayer of the Christian makes the sacramental presence of Jesus his or her own. What is external to us becomes part of us: the liturgy expresses this even in the very natural gesture of eating. The Mass cannot simply be “listened to”: it is also an expression incorrect, “I’m going to listen to Mass”. Mass cannot merely be listened to, as if we were merely spectators of something that slips away without our involvement. The Mass is always celebrated, and not only by the priest who presides over it, but by all Christians who experience it. And the centre is Christ! All of us, in the diversity of gifts and ministries, join in His action, because He, Christ, is the Protagonist of the liturgy.

When the first Christians began to worship, they did so by actualizing Jesus’ deeds and words, with the light and power of the Holy Spirit, so that their lives, reached by that grace, would become a spiritual sacrifice offered to God. This approach was a true “revolution”. Saint Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (12:1). Life is called to become worship to God, but this cannot happen without prayer, especially liturgical prayer. May this thought help us all when we go to Mass: I go to pray in the community, I go to pray with Christ who is present. When we go to the celebration of a Baptism, for example, it is Christ who is there, present, who baptizes. “But Father, this is an idea, a figure of speech”: no, it is not a figure of speech. Christ is present, and in the liturgy you pray with Christ who is beside you.

Reviews: The Book of Longings

The Book of LongingsThe Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On recommendation from a friend with superb literary tastes I read The Book of Longings, and I am so glad I did. It is a remarkable narrative with just the hint of the possibility of it being all too historically accurate.

The book sets out the story of Ana, the wife of Jesus of Nazareth, outlining the way in which women were treated at the time. We hear, from the mouth of Ana, a gifted and talented writer, poet and person of intellect, how for most people she was simply something to be married off for financial gain (by her father), treated as an object of sexual desire (by the ruler, Herod Antipas), or controlled and regulated (by the male members of her husband’s family). It is a story of resistance and triumph, even in the face of personal tragedy, of a woman seeking to live a life that is decided by herself and her gifts rather than societal expectations.

Although the story features the person of Jesus and others with whom we are familiar from the Scriptures, this is very much Ana’s story, a story of her longings for something other than what others of her sex could come to expect of ‘their lot’. It is thoroughly enjoyable, thoroughly believable, and thoroughly plausible in terms of the greater narrative.

Yet I found that despite the greater intrigue of the story of Jesus of Nazareth, this book was mostly about Ana, and her life and her struggles, to be a voice that would resonate for the times yet to come. Her experiences as Ana seeks this longed-for life is moving, and the turmoil experienced by Ana across her life is readily accessible from the pages of her story.

Thoroughly enjoyable, and thoroughly recommended.

View all my reviews

Homilies: Australia Day 2021

My homily for Australia Day 2021 as preached during the 9.30 am Mass from Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hamilton.

This day, this 26th day of January, is a day with many meanings. For various peoples, it will mean one thing over another.

For some people, if you believe things I’ve been reading in the press of late, this is simply the last public holiday of summer, a last hurrah if you like, before returning to the normality of what it is that we do on a regular basis, day by day.

For others, it’s a propitious day on which they join their lot to ours on this anniversary of the concept of Australian citizenship, which only came about in 1949. And so there will be many a citizenship ceremony celebrated this day, as is right and proper. For them, it’s a day of special celebration.

For others, it is a day of celebration, when we look at all those things that Australia has done and celebrate those.

For others, it’s a day of lament. A day when they look back, with sorrow, at things that have gone on in the past, stretching back to 1788, when 11 ships sailed into what would become known as Sydney Harbour, and all those things that have flown from that singular event.

For others, it’s an occasion for jingoistic nationalism, where they quite literally wrap themselves in the flag, and then go out and beat people over the head if they dare to disagree with whatever they happen to be promoting this year. It is a sad thing when we see that, but it is part of what we see on this day.

There are others for whom this day is an excuse to engage in a culture war to make sure that only their view of Australia is promoted. And anything that smacks of opposition to that is denounced as woke or PC.

All of these things take place on this day. And some of them are even valid.

But for those of us who profess the Christian faith, this day is about none of those, and about yet all of that. Because for us, this is a day I would like to suggest, as it is for any national day that features in our liturgical calendar, a day when we look forward to the future, to the unfinished project that is the Commonwealth of Australia.

We know this concept well. The kingdom of God is something that we are called to proclaim and contribute to bringing about, and yet we know it will never be finished in our lifetime. It will only reach completion in the second coming of Christ at some point of God’s choosing.

We, as Christians who live in this Commonwealth of Australia, then have a role to play. Because of how we approach the coming of the kingdom, we’re also called to do the same thing for the coming and fulfilment of this wonderful experiment called the Commonwealth of Australia.

To say that there is more yet to be done, that it is not yet completed, that there are things we should look back on with sorrow and lament and say we can do better. And then commit ourselves to making things better.

It’s not a simple day where we say “Yay, I’m Australian”, but a day when we say “yes, I am Australian, there are things to celebrate, there are things to lament, and there are things yet undone”.

And my task is to remind people of that, that there is yet more to be done. And ultimately, it is a project that will not reach completion in my lifetime.

It can be a challenge to do that when faced with some of the commentaries you see in various media circles as if the Commonwealth of Australia is and for all time has been determined.

As Christians, we know that is simply not the case. If we believe what we proclaim, if we believe what we come here each and every Sunday to proclaim, then there is yet more to be done. And we have a role to play in it.

To look back at what was but also to look forward to what yet might be and play our part in bringing that to fruition. Only then, can we truly say we are celebrating Australia Day because it is yet unfinished. And it’s a task that has been entrusted to all Australians to bring to completion

And so, my dear friends on this Australia Day, we look forward to the project being completed at some point in time and for us playing our part in making it real, a little bit more during our lifetime, thanks to the contribution that we as Christians make in this nation. So let’s be about that task and celebrate all that is yet to come.