Sunday, December 20, 2015


At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation, when
Heaven and earth in little space
became one, as the English early Tudor hymn (ca 1420) puts it.

Yet, the Incarnation began nine months earlier, in a happening rich with significance for a Christian life.

Probably the truest, therefore the best, representation of that moment is the painting of the Annunciation by an artist of no great fame, Domenico Veneziano.

In a bare room, without a prie-dieu or a prayer-book, the angel and Mary face each other. That she is hortus conclusus, an enclosed garden, is implied by the wall around the garden, whose door is shut. The path from it has no footprint.
There is no dove descending in a ray of light. The angel genuflects even as his hand betokens a request. With crossed arms, Mary bows as though sheltering the One who is within. She has already spoken her “Behold the handmaid of the Lord”; already the Lord who sought her acquiescence has found in her his “little space”.

It is a moment of heart-stopping mystical wonder, beauty, and love. Love, humility and obedience, without which there is no Christian life. In Judaeo-Christian tradition, the brightest angel, whose mind was nearest to God’s, fell, “like lightning from Heaven,” as Jesus once said, because he would not bend the knee to any of humankind. They were, as he judged, inferior to angels. He would not do it from obedience, nor even for love, and humility was unknown to the one who became The Adversary.

If the room is bare of material things, it is brimful of love, humility (“let it be done to me,” says Mary, NOT “I accept”), and obedience: in Mary and the angel, and in the One who is unseen but present already in Mary’s womb.

That is what Christmas reminds us of, what it invites us to renew within ourselves. As the hymn concludes:
Leave we all this worldly mirth,
And follow we this joyful birth;


The maiden was at her prayers,
silent, removed
from garden path and barr
èd door.

No whisper of wing, no footprint on path,
Gabriel kneels before her,
wondrous greeting giving;
bringing the Word to her open heart.

In time she will bring forth
the Timeless One, incarnate.
But now in a quiet corner
she bows to her God within,
and the angel kneels to both.

©2012 by Ruth Heredia

Thursday, December 17, 2015


The Nativity took place once, for all time. If Christmas is a feast to celebrate the immeasurably great mystery of the Incarnation, then every day should be a day for Christ his Mass. For so gloriously generous a gift that no amount of thanksgiving suffices, Christmas every day is not too much by way of an attempt.

There came to the Infant the humblest and the highest. That the Magi brought gifts we are told; that the shepherds brought gifts we suppose. What gifts may I give, asks Christina Rossetti, and concludes, “give my heart.” Peter Cornelius had much the same idea:
Thou child of man, lo, to Bethlehem
the Kings are travelling, travel with them!
The star of mercy, the star of grace,
shall lead thy heart to its resting place.
Gold, incense, myrrh thou canst not bring;
offer thy heart to the infant King.
Ivor Atkins made of the poem a beautiful carol, which can be heard here:

Robert Herrick’s poem, edited for John Rutter’s exquisite setting, ( ) comes to the same conclusion:
We see him come, and know him ours,
Who, with his sunshine and his showers,
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.
The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we find a room
To welcome him. The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart.

(Don’t miss the third line in the verse above.)

Here is a slightly different point of view:
Child, born in a borrowed shelter,
laid in a borrowed crib,
Man, stowed away in a borrowed tomb,
Word, leaping down from royal throne
to be swaddled moveless, wordless,
on the breast of her you gave life to,
what gift may I lay in the straw beside
gold, myrrh and frankincense?

Set down the needless burdens, daughter.
Regret for past follies; harboured hurts
not merited; sorrow for that
which you could never mend.
Borrowing is for me: flesh like yours,
to hunger, grow weary, be wounded,
hung upon a tree. For you
here are gifts: my mother,
my body, my blood, my love
unending. Your acceptance,
daughter, is all I seek.

©2015 by Ruth Heredia

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


“The bonny Damask-rose is known as Patience:” (King Jesus hath a garden)

Although not numbered by the Catechism among the Seven Virtues, Patience is the virtue, the foundation, or the well-prepared field, for many of the other virtues.

Pati is a Latin verb meaning to suffer. Long-suffering is a word often used interchangeably with patience. Patience can be a prolonged suffering, borne largely in silence – if one does not count talking to God.

Jesus was patient. Yes, even when he cleansed his Father’s house of sellers and buyers. He only used a whip made of cord. Moses or Elijah might have chosen a more drastic method. But the truest example of Jesus’ patience began in Gethsemane and ended on Calvary. That was patience as the ultimate suffering, when everything is taken away. First he was stripped of his clothing, and with that of his dignity as a human being. Then he was stripped of his self-hood, what Kierkegaard calls his task*, which drew from him the terrible plaint, “my God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

Yet, just before Jesus himself gave up his spirit to the Father, came that amazing exultant cry, the cry of the victorious athlete; of the artist who casts down pen, brush, or chisel required no more: “Tetelestai,” “it is accomplished.” “A worm, and no man,” said Isaiah of the Suffering Servant. Yet a triumphant one.

Patience through pain and loss of self-hood can bring about transformation into another self. Wheat grains ground up are turned into bread. Grapes are crushed to make wine. Jesus died and rose again, and thereafter ascended to his throne from which, “when peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course” (Wisdom 18), he, the Word of God, had leaped. And as St Paul says
His state was divine,
yet he did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave,
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
(Phil. 2:6-8)

Is it strange to recall the Crucifixion just before we celebrate the Nativity? In T. S. Eliot's play, Murder in the Cathedral, Thomas Becket does not think so. Eliot gives him a Christmas sermon founded on historical record of the text on which Becket had preached. The sermon is a wonderful setting out of Eliot’s vision of sanctity; of what is the true meaning of peace as Christ gives it. E’n la sua voluntate
è nostra pace, in His will is our peace, as Dante expressed it.
“I wish only that you should ponder and meditate the deep meaning and mystery of our masses of Christmas Day. For whenever Mass is said, we re-enact the Passion and Death of Our Lord ; and on this Christmas Day we do this in celebration of His Birth. So that at the same moment we rejoice in His coming for the salvation of men, and offer again to God His Body and Blood in sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was in this same night that has just passed, that a multitude of the heavenly host appeared before the shepherds at Bethlehem, saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men'; at this same time of all the year that we celebrate at once the Birth of Our Lord and His Passion and Death upon the Cross. Beloved, as the World sees, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the World will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overborne by mourning, or mourning will be cast out by joy; so it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason. But think for a while on the meaning of this word 'peace.' Does it seem strange to you that the angels should have announced Peace, when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with War and the fear of War? Does it seem to you that the angelic voices were mistaken, and that the promise was a disappointment and a cheat?

“Reflect now, how Our Lord Himself spoke of Peace. He said to His disciples 'My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.' Did He mean peace as we think of it...? Those men His disciples knew no such things: they went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom. What then did He mean? If you ask that, remember then that He said also, 'Not as the world gives, give I unto you.' So then, He gave to His disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.

“Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord's Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of His first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and in the Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.

“Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world's is. A Christian martyrdom is no
accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man's will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. A martyrdom is always the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. It is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, and who no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of being a martyr. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, and are seen, not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.” (Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot)

While the Saviour of the world sighs, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me,” the repentant robber humbly understands, but still also as a relief, that it is not God who has abandoned him, but it is he who has abandoned God, and repenting, he says to the one crucified with him: Remember me when you come into your kingdom. It is a heavy human suffering to reach for God’s mercy in the anxiety of death and with belated repentance at the moment of despicable death, but yet the repentant robber finds relief when he compares his suffering with the superhuman suffering of being abandoned by God. To be abandoned by God, that indeed means to be without a task. It means to be deprived of the final task that every human being has, the task of patience, the task that has its ground in God’s not having abandoned the sufferer. Hence Christ’s suffering is superhuman and his patience superhuman, so that no human being can grasp either the one or the other. Although it is beneficial that we speak quite humanly of Christ’s suffering, if we speak of it merely as if he were the human being who has suffered the most, it is blasphemy, because although his suffering is human, it is also superhuman, and there is an eternal chasmic abyss between his suffering and the human being’s. ~ Soren Kierkegaard, 1847 Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, Hong p. 280

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


This is the translation of a Dutch carol, made by the Rev. George R. Woodward. A lovely image of Heaven!

1. King Jesus hath a garden, full of divers flowers,
Where I go culling posies gay, all times and hours.
There naught is heard but Paradise bird,
Harp, dulcimer, lute,
With cymbal, trump and tymbal,
And the tender, soothing flute.

2. The Lily, white in blossom there, is Chastity:
The Violet, with sweet perfume, Humanity. Refrain

3. The bonny Damask-rose is known as Patience:
The blithe and thrifty Marygold, Obedience. Refrain

4. The Crown Imperial bloometh too in yonder place,
'Tis Charity, of stock divine, the flower of grace. Refrain

5. Yet, 'mid the brave, the bravest prize of all may claim
The Star of Bethlem - Jesus-bless'd be his Name! Refrain

6. Ah! Jesu Lord, my heal and weal, my bliss complete,
Make thou my heart thy garden-plot, fair, trim and neat. Refrain

Hear it sung beautifully 
("the tender, soothing flute" sounds sweetly soothing!) during the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols 2007 in the chapel of King's College, Cambridge:

Monday, December 14, 2015


Lord, why may I never find
One single soul to whom my mind
I may lay bare, and know it must be
Perceived with perfect clarity?

Do you not speak to me, child dear,
And have you said aught I did not hear?
Leave other minds, and turn to me;
I never fail to hear or see.

I know, Lord, that from nothing I was made,
And to nothing shall my body come
When in the earth I’m laid;
Yet my soul to thee shall home.

All I have is by thee given;
If thou shouldst ask it of me again,
All shall from me be riven,
Thou shalt not ask in vain.

For, Lord, I do bethink me well
Of thy sacrifice which saved me from hell.
If I must today be plunged in sorrow,
My soul shall rise to thee tomorrow.

©2015 by Ruth Heredia

Sunday, December 13, 2015



‘Twixt night and day
A star shone bright,
When leapt God’s Word
Unto us to be the Light.

‘Twixt ox and ass
On a bed of hay,
The Pearl of great price
Sleeping lay.

Among the beasts why didst thou stay,
That might in silken bed have slept?
A silken robed man sought me to slay,
Alas, and many mothers wept.
A man of my own did me betray;
How many were they their promise kept?

My heart, my treasure,
I would I might know
That love without measure
Which I to thee owe.

May I that strive ‘twixt soul and beast,
Find through the Way my singleness;
That when I come to thee, Orient Star,
My soul be clad in robes for thy feast.

©2015 by Ruth Heredia


Today, Gaudete Sunday, a day when Christians are urged to rejoice, it is fitting to recall the carol, TOMORROW SHALL BE MY DANCING DAY.

Anonymous and very old, this unusual carol tells the story of the Saviour’s life in his own voice, using the image of a dance. There has always been a link between religion and dance, but the imagery here is mystical. The words “to see the legend of my play” may indicate that this was a danced song preceding the performance of a Mystery Cycle.

God Unknowable, God Transcendent, chose – for love – to become also God Immanent, Emmanuel (God is with us) visibly for a space, and then mystically in the Blessed Sacrament, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Who is Jesus’ “true love”? It might be the individual soul, or equally aptly the community (ecclesia) of souls.

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man's nature
To call my true love to my dance.

In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Between an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance.

Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard I from above,
To call my true love to my dance.

Into the desert I was led,
Where I fasted without substance;
The Devil bade me make stones my bread,
To have me break my true love's dance.

The Jews on me they made great suit,
And with me made great variance,
Because they loved darkness rather than light,
To call my true love to my dance.

For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance:
Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold!
The same is he shall lead the dance.

Before Pilate the Jews me brought,
Where Barabbas had deliverance;
They scourged me and set me at nought,
Judged me to die to lead the dance.

Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance.

Then down to hell I took my way
For my true love's deliverance,
And rose again on the third day,
Up to my true love and the dance.

Then up to heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
May come unto the general dance.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


“What a dour religion you preach, however eloquently. Is a Christian to have no fun? Must a Christian always walk in dark valleys?”

One look at the beaming faces of St John XXIII, St John Paul II, and Pope Francis should answer the charge of dourness. They are evidently having a great deal of ‘fun’ – presumably modern shorthand for enjoyment – in being Christian. The question is what is meant by ‘fun’?

Before turning to Scripture let’s look at some Christians having fun. There is the legend of the Jongleur de Notre Dame. Driven by poverty and hunger, he asks to be enrolled as a monk. All the other monks have some service to offer to God but the jongleur-turned-monk knows only his own skills. Having nothing else to offer to Our Lady, he performs his routine before her, juggling and tumbling, thinking no one is around. Someone does see him and reports to the Prior, who is scandalised. But the statue of the Virgin seems to come to life. She smiles at the jongleur and stretches out her arms in blessing. Only a legend, but the Benedictines did have a lot of ‘fun’ in their various monastic activities, and even cloistered orders have hours allotted to recreation.

How many saints there have been, some unexpected names among them, filled with the mirth that is the product of godliness:
Philip Neri, Bonaventure, Dominic Savio, Paul of the Cross, Théophane Vénard, Clare of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola are only a few. Francis of Assisi was famous for the joy he manifested and proclaimed. Joan the Maid from Domremy had the simple sense of fun of a country girl, an innocent but intelligent, courageous child of God. Once, while Teresa of Ávila was travelling to a convent, she was knocked off her donkey, fell into the mud, and injured her leg. “Why did you let this happen to me, Lord?” she asked, and heard the response: “That is how I treat my friends.” In keeping with her playful relationship with God, this Doctor of the Church replied, “No wonder you have so few of them.” She was known to be witty, and lively. Florence Nightingale, a devout Christian, could be funny in a letter about the horrifying conditions in which she worked in the Crimea. About the multitude of rats she wrote: “if they had but unity of purpose, [they could] carry off the four miles of beds on their backs, and march with them into the War Office, Horse Guards, S.W.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins the Jesuit priest, and George Herbert, the Anglican pastor, wrote joyful and beautiful poems expressing their faith. G. K. Chesterton, the Catholic convert, and C. S. Lewis, who returned from unbelief to the Anglican fold, wrote with great humour. All these clearly had ‘fun’ being Christian. As did J. R. R. Tolkien, a hobbit himself, as he once wrote to a fan: “
I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.” He was a Catholic convert fervent in his practice of his faith.

J. S. Bach was a notably Christian composer, who wrote the monumental Mass in B minor and the St Matthew Passion, besides other works for the glory and worship of God. He also wrote the bubbly Coffee Cantata in praise of drinking coffee! Handel, who was by no means a model Christian, but a sincere one, wrote Messiah, one of the pinnacles of composition in Western Classical Music. Who has heard the joy-filled choruses from it without being moved to a like joy? Gabriel Fauré was irreligious, although he earned his bread mainly as a church organist. On the Requiem, which is one of his best-known works, he made the irreverent remark that he wrote it mainly to please himself, investing it with “everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion.” God, who frequently chooses most unworthy instruments to work his will, had the last laugh. Fauré’s Requiem is in consonance with the spirit in which the Church now conducts a service of requiem, after the Second Vatican Council.

Another markedly faulty instrument is the director and actor Mel Gibson. Yet he surely was inspired when he wrote and made The Passion of the Christ. In it, Gibson has a passage between Jesus and his mother which is far from being untrue to the spirit of the Evangel in the New Testament. Certainly it added to the poignancy of the rest – and was so intended – but it is not the less true for all that. True to the spirit of Jesus, true to the Holy Spirit of God. A moment of ‘fun’ as Jesus journeys through a dark valley.

God the Creator seems to delight in the comic. He created ducks.

Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – (Holy) Wisdom in the Old Testament – the writings collected in the books of Psalms and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, 2 Samuel, and Exodus all contain references to joy; to eating and drinking; to singing and dancing; to shouting and laughing. Does St Paul appear a kill-joy? He wrote this: “
Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Cor. 5-8)

And so to Jesus himself. ‘Glutton’ and ‘drunkard’ they called him, who saw him at a meal with sinners. But was he encouraging the sinners to carry on sinning? Was he condoning their sin? Evidently not. Zacchaeus the tax-collector utterly reformed his life. Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to a meal at which a woman once notorious as a sinner washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with costly ointment. She had been forgiven many sins. From her actions Jesus drew a lesson for the Pharisee which he may, or may not, have learned.

Jesus worked his first miracle at a wedding feast. He turned water into the finest wine anyone had tasted. Nothing dour about that. No dark valleys. After he called back the daughter of Jairus from death, Jesus said, “Give her something to eat.” He was evidently concerned with feeding people; and with food and drink. Also with feasting and celebration. Many parables speak of feasts and weddings. Dark valleys?

Jesus also manifested a sense of humour, as when Philip brought Nathaniel to him. Philip possibly roused his friend from a nap under a fig tree. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” grumbled Nathaniel, but he went along. Jesus said, at sight of the two advancing, “Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” We need some explanation here, which his disciples did not. Israel was the name given to Jacob. And Jacob was known by all Jews to be one of the Patriarchs, but known also as a trickster. He tricked his father, and his father-in-law. Jesus could have said “son of Abraham” instead, but – surely smiling on account Nathaniel’s grumble about Nazareth – he said “Israelite”, and proceeded to confound the now wide-awake Nathaniel by talking of his having been under a fig tree. If, as might be the case, Nathaniel is the same as Bartholomew, this guileless Israelite went on to lay down his life for his faith. That was a dark valley. But beyond it was boundless joy; joy everlasting. It’s true that Michelangelo didn’t give that impression in his Last Judgement, but then old Buonarroti was himself a dour man, young and old, and painted his face looking miserable on the flayed skin of the saint...

Since the time draws near to celebrate with anthem, carol, and hymn; with bells and light; with food and drink, the birth of Jesus our Saviour, let us turn to a hardworking, poor, shepherd filled with joy because
While by my sheep I watched at night,
Glad tidings brought an angel bright:
How great my joy...
(Trad. German carol dated to the 1600s).

And to the simple shepherd bringing humble offerings to the new-born Child:
Lo, merry He is!
Lo, He laughs, my Sweeting!
Ah, a very fair meeting!
I have held to my telling:
Have a bob of cherries.
(Wakefield OR Towneley Plays in a version by John Russell Brown (1983): Second Shepherds’ Play).


Friday, December 11, 2015


“Hypocrite!” Not a pleasant epithet. Jesus addressed it to those who, obstinately, and with hatred, opposed him. For what reason did he use that word to them? Because, he said, quoting Isaiah:
This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless.

What will Jesus say to those who go to Sunday Mass with filth in their minds, which they spread to fellow Christians immediately after leaving the church, (even making a comment indicative of their awareness that others might still be at Mass), and these recipients express their enjoyment? What will Jesus say to those who, marinating in lewdness through the first week of Advent, post obscene or cruel and dirty stuff on social media even on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his mother?

When such self-described Christians come face to face with Jesus at their journey’s end – if, indeed, they have the brazenness to look him in the face - what will Jesus say to them?

Are hypocrite Christians truly believers? It seems inconceivable that someone could believe in God – Omnipresent God – and use foul words, think foul thoughts, broadcast foulness.
He that planted the ear, shall he not hear?
he that formed the eye, shall he not see?
he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know? (Ps.94:9,10)

There is no such thing as innocent smutty talk, nor harmless double entendres, and porn is not popcorn. Indulging a taste for anything that degrades the mind degrades the soul. That is bad enough: “you must kill everything in you that belongs only to earthly life... evil desires... all this is the sort of behaviour that makes God angry. ... now you, of all people, must give all these things up: ... dirty talk” (Col. 3:5-8). What shall be said to those who spread degrading matter? Is the mother of Jesus a pagan deity to be propitiated with a patter of words and with lighted candles when one is in need of intercession? Shall there never be a thought given to who she is, to how she lived, to how she bears witness?

Ah well, when God is so disrespected; mocked by the sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist while in a state of serious sin, why should Our Lady be taken for a role model?

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap, Preacher of the Pontifical Household, in his first sermon for the Advent season this year (Pope Francis in the congregation), said: “Whatever Christ himself was not able to experience ‘in the flesh’ – since his earthly existence, like everyone else’s, was limited to certain experiences – is now lived and ‘experienced’ by the Risen One ‘in the Spirit’ thanks to the spousal communion at Mass.”

“If my eyes have become Christ’s eyes and my mouth has become Christ’s mouth, what a reason not to allow my gaze to indulge in lustful images. One can only shudder at the thought of the terrible damage that is done to the body of Christ that is the Church,” the papal preacher said, about this sort of self-declared Christian.

It is easy to live like a ‘good’ pagan: don’t kill; don’t steal; don’t lie (much); don’t cheat (much); give spare cash and unwanted things to the poor; sympathise with friends in distress; take them some food. All this is fine. But what is Christian about such a life if there is no honest attempt to commune with God? To do that requires a clean mind and a clean heart: “Happy the pure of heart; they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8)

Last year, on the feast of St. Stephen, Pope Francis said at the Angelus: “To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current, able to pay in person. While not all of us are called, as St. Stephen was, to shed their own blood, every Christian is nonetheless required in every circumstance to lead a life coherent with the faith he or she professes. Christian integrity is a grace that we must ask of the Lord. To be coherent, to live as Christians rather than merely saying, 'I am Christian' while living like a pagan.

True Christians do not think they are saints. They know they are sinners. But after each fall they get up and climb on, following the blood-stained trail left by the Saviour. They focus on God, not on themselves, preening before cameras. Certainly they do not spout second-hand pieties out of one side of the mouth while obscene jokes come out the other side. They are not hypocrites.

Passages to reflect on:
Matthew 6:22-23
The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be all darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkness, what darkness that will be!

Matthew 15:18-20
The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and it is these that make a man unclean. For from the heart come evil thoughts...

I Corinthians 11: 27-28
anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be behaving unworthily towards the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone is to recollect himself before eating this bread and drinking this cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the Body is eating and drinking his own condemnation.

I Corinthians 6:19-20
Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God. You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for. That is why you should use your body for the glory of God.


The two ways

Happy the man
who never follows the advice of the wicked,
or loiters on the way that sinners take,
or sits about with scoffers,
but finds his pleasure in the Law of Yahweh,
and murmurs his law day and night.

He is like a tree that is planted
by water streams,
yielding its fruit in season,
its leaves never fading;
success attends all he does.
It is nothing like this with the wicked, nothing like this!

No, these are like chaff blown away by the wind.
The wicked will not stand firm when Judgement comes,
nor sinners when the virtuous assemble.
For Yahweh takes care of the way the virtuous go,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.