Michæl McFarland Campbell

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Archive for the ‘Benedict XVI’ tag

Christ the King

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Some thoughts on the readings at the Eucharist for the Solemnity of Christ the Universal King: Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 5; Revelation 1:5-8; and St John 18:33-37

In the readings at Mass today, we hear one of best known phrases of the Bible. Our Lord Jesus Christ affirms that He is a king, but He also affirms that His kingdom does not “belong to this world”. This was important for Him to mention, because Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who was interrogating, was worried that Our Lord was trying to organise some king of political rebellion against the Roman Empire. Our Lord explains that he was not.

But, if Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a political king, what kind of king is He? If His kingdom is “not of this world”, what king of kingdom is it?

Pope Benedict XVI explained the answers to these questions in 2006:

[Jesus] did not come to rule over peoples and territories… but to set people free from the slavery of sin and to reconcile them with God.

Pope Benedict XVI. Angelus, 26 November 2006 https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_ang_20061126.html [accessed 2021-11-20]

Ever since original sin, our fallen world has been enslaved to selfishness and separated from God. Tempted by the Devil, our first parents believed the lie that they could achieve the fulfilment, meaning, and happiness they longed for apart from God. That lie led them to disobey God’s commands, to act as if they themselves were gods. That self-centred rebellion, instead of liberating the human race, poisoned it with suffering, death, and evil. By throwing off God’s rule, we made ourselves into followers of the very first rebel against God: the Devil.

Our Lord Jesus Christ came to save us, by bringing the Light of Truth back into our darkened, confused world. What is that truth, the truth that will set us free from sin? That God is love.

By accepting God’s love in our life, we accept the antidote to the poison and are reinstated as citizens of the Kingdom fo God, where Christ is the everlasting King.

As Pope Benedict said,

The way to reach this goal is long and admits of no short cuts: indeed, every person must freely accept the truth of God’s love. He is Love and Truth, and neither Love nor Truth are ever imposed: they come knocking at the door of the heart and the mind and where they can enter they bring peace and joy. This is how God reigns; this is his project of salvation, a “mystery” in the biblical sense of the word: a plan that is gradually revealed in history.

Angelus, 26 November 2006

Three steps to accepting the Truth

Accepting Christ’s kingdom is an interior freedom, a peace and strength of soul that only His grace can give us. If up to today, we have not experienced it as deeply as we should like, maybe that is because we have not fully accepted the truth that God is love. Fully accepting that truth, which Pontius Pilate refused to do, involves at least three things.

First, it means accepting it freshly every single day. Each day we remain free to decide how we will live. Therefore, each day we have to reaffirm our citizenship in God’s Kingdom, or else we will slowly drift away from Him.

Secondly, accepting the truth that God is Love means admitting that we need God. Trying to achieve perfect happiness by our own efforts, without God, will shut ourselves off from God’s love. The most direct way to admit that we need God, to allow His Love to be part of our lives, is to come regularly to the sacrament of reconciliation. There is simply no better way to acknowledge His Kingship over our lives, to acknowledge that the law of His Kingdom is mercy.

Thirdly, accepting the truth that God is Love means striving in our daily lives to love as God loves. St Paul summarised all the laws of Christ’s Kingdom as one: love your neighbour as yourself (Romans 13:9). When we refuse to forgive, to serve, to treat others as we would have them treat us, we distance ourselves from the God Who is Love, refusing to accept His friendship.

Today, as we celebrate Christ the Universal King, let us thank Him for binging us the Truth that will set us free. And, let us ask humbly for the grace to accept that Truth—that God is Love— every single day of our lives.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

November 21st, 2021 at 8:30 am

God wants friends not robots: He gives us the choice to stay or leave

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Some thoughts on the readings Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).

God wants friends, not robots

Why do so “many disciples,” as St John puts it, decide to stop following our Lord after His explanation of the Eucharist as the “living bread,” while at the same time the Twelve stay with Him?

This question touches one of the great mysteries of our existence: human freedom.

Somehow, in the depths of the human heart, God leaves us free to accept or to reject the gift of faith. No one can manufacture faith in God, it is a gift that always begins with God, comes from God: “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” But the choice to accept or to reject that gift, to follow Jesus or turn one’s back on Him, remains with each individual. “Do you also want to leave?” Jesus Christ is the Lord of life and history, but He refuses to impose His rule on hearts that want to stop accompanying Him, and return to their former way of life. God gives us the gift of life, but He leaves us free to adminster it as we wish, either in communion with Him, or not.

Try to imagine how Jesus spoke the words,

Do you also want to leave?

St John 6:67

Try to picture His expression as He looked into the faces of His chosen Twelve. He cared deeply about them. He had handpicked them to be His closest companions. He had opened up His heart to them, and now, as other followers said “no thanks,” giving up on Him, He looked to the Twelve with a tinge of sadness, perhaps apprehension. Would they abandon Him too?

How near God draws to us in Jesus Christ! He humbles himself, makes Himself weak, almost powerless in the face of our freedom. He does not want mindless robots or heartless slaves: he wants friends, for ever.

Wisdom from the artists

Our Lady of Walsingham

Through the ages, this basic and fundamental fact of Christianity has come across exceptionally well in art. In every period of Church history, Jesus is most frequently protrayed in one of two ways.

First, as a little baby in the arms of His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. This isn’t just an artistic symbol: this really is how God came into the world, as a helpless little baby. But what a strange way to depict the all-powerful Creator of the universe! And yet, from the perspective of our Christian faith, it makes perfect sense. God does not want to intimidate us into following Him. He wants to win over our friendship. So He doesn’t show up amid fire and thunder. No, He smiles at us with the irresistable charm of a child.

In pre-Christian times, pagan temples were designed to give exactly the opposite impression. To get to the central place of worship, you had to make your way through a series of antechambers, each one darker and more foreboding than the one before. By the time you reach the actual altar, where a huge statue looked down at you out of the flickering shadows, you were breathless, tense, fearful, and thoroughly intimidated. Paganism had no concept of the true God, the God who wants friends, not robots.

The second way that Christian artists have most often depicted Christ is on the Cross. There, as He suffers and dies, we see not the weakness of a wimpy divinity (after all, we know He rises from the dead), but the unconquerable mercy of the God who wanted to prove beyond any doubt that His love for us truly is personal, determined, and forgiving. This is a God who really cares about us, and cares about how we respond to His invitations.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in a Christmas homily:

Every man and every woman needs to find a deep meaning for their existence. And for this, books are not enough, not even Sacred Scripture. The Child of Bethlehem reveals and communicates to us the true ‘face’ of the good and faithful God, who loves us and who does not abandon us even in death.

Respecting others as God respects us

A mature faith is, among other things, a conscious faith. Jesus does not want us to remain spiritaul infants for our whole life. Rather, He wants us to follow Him in freedom and in love, fully aware of what we are doing. When He allows trials and tests to come away, it gives us a chance to deepen that awareness, to exercise our freedom and our love. And when we exercise them, we strengthen them. God wants mature followers, not robots, zombies, or fanatics.

If God treats us with so much respect, we ought to treat others in a like manner.

During the Last Supper, Jesus commanded His Apostles to

love one another as I have loved you.

St John 15:12

Imitating Christ’s love involves being ready to sacrifice our own likes and comforts for the sake of others, as Jesus sacrificed His on the Cross for our sake.

But, it also means treating others with this deep sense of respect. When we lose our patience with the people we work with or live with, we end up failing to respect them as God has respected us. After all, when has the Lord lost his patience with us? When we try to manipulate people, tricking them, flattering them, or forcing them into giving us what we want, we end up violating their dignity as human beings. When has God forced us to do the right thing?

God knows that, in the end, only if our faith matures and deepens, if it becomes truly conscious, will we be able to weather the storms of life, and triumph over the temptations of life.

Today, as Christ comes to us once again in the Eucharist, proving His desire for our friendship and happiness, let us take His hand and promise to follow wherever He leads, knowing with absolute certaintly that He can never lead us astray.

Readings:

1 Kings 8: 22–30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6: 10-20; St John 6: 56-69.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

August 22nd, 2021 at 11:06 am

The gift of faith through the Eucharist

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Some reflections on the readings for the Eucharist for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): 1 Kings 19:4–8; Psalm 34:2-9; Ephesians 4:30–5:2; St John 5:41–51.

The Eucharist nourishes eternal life

Our Lord Jesus Christ packs three momentous lessons into this discoures on the Eucharist in today’s Gospel reading.

Firstly, He points out the mystery of faith, that no one can believe in Him, “unless he is drawn by the Father.” Faith in Jesus Christ supplies us with life’s only dependable fuel and yet, faith in Christ is God’s gift. No one can conjure it up on their own, in a chemistry lab. When we look at the bread, no scientific test can prove that Jesus Christ is truly present there, body and blood, soul and divinity. Yet, we know that He is: we have been given the gift of faith.

Secondly, this fatih in Christ leads to eternal life. Later in the Gospel, Jesus tells us that eternal ife consists in knowing “the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [God has] sent” (St John 17:3). In Biblical language, “knowing” implies deep interpersonal intimacy, the kind of relationship for which we all yearn. That we can have a relationship with God Himself, who is more lovable, more beautiful than any other person can be, is the Good News of Jesus Christ. God has not kept his distance from us sinner; he wants us to know Him and share His life.

Thirdly, Jesus himself is the “bread” of this eternal ife, its source and sustenance. Without bread, without food, physical life perishes. Without Jesus, without his “flesh for the life of the world” in the Eucharist, our life of intimate communion with God will perish. It is that simple — and it is that crucial.

Eleven times in this passage, Jesus speaks of Himself as the bread of life; He is really hoping that we will get the message.

The gift of faith gives us access to eternal life, and the Eucharist makes that life grow within us.

Living on the Eucharist

We accept and believe this on faith, but it is not a blind faith. God supports our faith in many ways. He knows that the culture of this world is constantly trying to erode our faith. So, in His wisdom and according to His providence, He sends us miracles, sometimes dramatic miracles, to give our tired faith a turbo boost.

The history of the Church is full of Eucharistic miracles. Recorded miracles include hosts that have survived fires, hosts that started to bleed during Mass, hosts that lost their appearance of bread and transformed into flesh…

But some of the most remarkable signs that God has given us regarding the Eucharist has to do with Holy Communion. Through the centuries, there have been many saints, both men and women, who have lived for entire periods of their lives simply on the Eucharist.

Among these are St Catherine of Siena and Blessed Alexandrina da Costa, from Portugal. But one of the most amazing cases was St Nicholas of Flue, who living in Switzerland during the 1400s, lived as a hermit and for 19 years during that time, he ate or drank absolutely nothing except daily Communion. Even when he tried to eat normal food, he simply coud not keep it down.

Our Lord Himself explained to Blessed Alexandrina why He gives this grace to His some of His saints:

You are living by the Eucharist alone, because I want to prove to the world the powre of the Eucharist and the power of my life in souls.

Christ is the fullness of life and meaning that we all hunger for, and the Eucharist is Christ’s real presence. This is what our faith teaches us.

As Pope Benedict XVI put it:

In the sacrament of the altar, the Lord meets us, men and women created in God’s image and likeness, and becomes our companion along the way. In this sacrament, the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger and freedom. Since only the truth can make us free, Christ becomes for us the food of truth.

Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, #2.

Activating our faith

Faith is connected to the Eucharist because it reveals Christ’s presence to us, but it is also connected in another way. Physical food nourishes our bodies simply by the act of eating. Our digestive processes take over as soon as we swallow our food. We do not have to think about it; our attidtude does not help or hinder it.

It is not so with the spiritual food of the Eucharist. If we receive the Eucharist out of routine, in a distracted frame of mind, we will not receive all the graces that God wants to give us. But if, on the other hand, we receive the Eucharist with the right dispositions, God’s grace will have more room to act, strengthening our souls and making our spirits grow.

Faith, a lively profound, and solid faith, is part of this right disposition. As we pray before the Eucharist, or as we come foreward to receive Holy Communion, we should activate our faith, consciously stir it up. We should focus our attention as completely as possible on Jesus Christ, the living bread who has come down from heaven to be our spiritual food. Immediately after receiving Holy Communion, we should enter into a conversation with Him in our hearts. This is why the Church invites us to have some time of silence after Communion, so that we can activate our faith and spiritualy digest the living bread.

If this is hard, there is no need to be afraid. Remember, it is the Father who draws us to His Son; it is God who gives us the gift of faith. So, if we need a boost of faith, al we have to do is ask for it, saying, humbly and confidently,

Lord, increase my faith, so that your grace can bear more fruit in my life.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

August 8th, 2021 at 7:56 pm

Learn like Scrooge and St Thomas Becket

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Some thoughts based on the Readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15; Psalm 78:3–4, 23–25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20–24; St John 6:24–35.

Christians work for a life, not just for a living.

Last Sunday we read that Jesus peformed the multiplication of the loaves, and heard that all the people who witnessed the amazing miracled wanted to make Jesus king.

Making Jesus king was the same thing as asking Him to lead them in a revolution against the Roman Empire. The Israelites at that period did not have their own kingdom. They were an occupied territory, ruled by a Roman delegate, who gave them only very limited powers of self-determination. The massive crowd of would-be revolutionaries was so convinced that Jesus was the perfect revolutionary leader that they followed Him across the Sea of Galilee, after He snuck away in the middle of the night. They finally caught up with Him, gathered around Him, and acclaimed hime once more. He is surrounded by this huge, adoring crowd of people willing to follow Him if only He will agree to be their king, to bring them political freedom and prosperity.

But, Jesus did not come to earth in order to spark a political revolution. No. He had a much bigger agenda, and so do His followers. He tries to explain this to them. He says:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,

St John 6:27

True Christians, in other words, understand that real fulfilment comes from more than just making a living; it comes from making a life.

Many of Our Lord’s most famous sayings taught the same lesson:

Blessed are the poor in spirit

St Matthew 5:4

seek first the Kingdom of God

St Matthew 6:33

What does a man gain if he wins the whole world but loses his soul?

St Matthew 16:26

Our life on earth is preparation for something greater: our citizenship is in heaven, and here on earth, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “We have no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14).

Scrooge and St Thomas Becket

Scrooge learned this lesson in the nick of time. We all remember Ebenezer Scrooge, the famous protagonist of Charles Dickens’s masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. Scrooge had a very clear goal in life: making money. As the richest man in the city, he achieved that goal. He made a very good living, but he had a miserable life. The human heart is made for greater things than wealth, prosperity, and pleasure. It is made to love God and love one’s neighbour, and that is where true, everlasting happiness comes from. As soon as Scrooge started to put his wealth at the service of Christian love, he remembered how to smile.

Scrooge is a fictional character, but the history of the Church boasts of a few saints who truly made that same discovery.

One of them is St Thomas Becket. He lived in England in the twelfth century. He was best friends with Henry II of England. Both of them were selfish, self-indulgent, and power hungry. They drank together, they debauched together, and they plotted together. Then King Henry got the ida of appointing his friend Thomas Becket to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry thought that haaving his best friend occupy the highest Church posititon in the land would give him a chance to control the Church and squeeze money out of it.

But, when Thomas Becket was ordained, God’s grace touched his heart, and he began to see the folly of living just for earthly goals. He sold his considerable property and gave the money to the poor, he stopped his loose living, and he dedicated himself to serving Christ and the Church with all his energy and talent. The King was not pleased, and ended up having his former best friend murdered during Mass in the Cathedral.

Thomas Becket traded in temporary earthly glory for a martyr’s eternal crown — you can be sure that he has no regrets.

Getting a handle on entertainment

It is certainly no sin to desire and to work for happiness here on earth, as long as we have the right expectations.

Jesus is very clear in telling us that the complete fulfilment and permanent satisfaction that our hearts long for will never be found here on earth.

All the pains and pleasures of this world, all the accomplishments and achievements that look good on a university application, or on a CV — these are passing things.

We were made for greater things, for eternal life with God in heaven.

All people desire to leave a lasting mark. But what endures? Money does not. Even buildings do not, nor books. After a certain time, longer or shorter, all these thing disappear. The only thing that lasts for ever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity.

Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, shortly before his election as Pope Benedict XVI

It is a healthy thing for us to ask ourselves where we are looking for our true happiness: from the satisfactions of this world, or from our everlasting friendship with Jesus Christ?

One thermometer for this aspect of our spiritual lives is our use of entertainment.

People banking on perfect happiness in this passwing world often give top priority to entertainment. They tend to live from the weekend, to live for the holidays. They tend to spend all their free time indulging in their favourite hobby. They tend to become easily upset if something prevents them from watching the game, or seeing their favourite television programme.

But, people who are truly working for “food that endures” are more balanced in their use of entertainment. They more easily recognise that the purpose of entertainment is to help us to relax, and re-create, restoring our energies so that we can keep on striving to fulfil our life mission. They do not live for the weekends, they use the weekends to help them live life more fully.

As Jesus renews His commitment to us in the Eucharist, let us ask Him to help us to renew our commitment to Him, so that while we continue working for a living this coming week, we do not lose sight of what it is really all about.

Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

August 1st, 2021 at 4:16 pm

Religious freedom is important

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All religions are not the same

It is common in today’s world to run into people who believe that all religions are basically the same. In fact, it is even becoming common to run into Anglicans or Catholics who have adopted this viewpoint. It is considered the tolerant, open-minded point of view. But in reality, it is just the opposite: it is the most close-minded and intolerant viewpoint someone could have in regards to religion. 

Human nature is the same wherever we find human beings. Human nature always has the same basic needs and problems—biological, emotional, and spiritual. Every religion tries to address those basic needs—for happiness and meaning, for example. Every religion tries to solve those basic problems—sin and forgiveness, and life after death, for example. In other words, all religions have to deal with the same basic human condition. This is why some people try to claim that all religions are the same. 

The interesting thing is that different religions actually deal with those basic problems and needs in different ways. Atheistic religions say there is no god at all. Pantheistic religions say that everything in the universe is part of god and identical to god. Polytheistic religions say that the divine realms is full of numerous, competing gods. Monotheistic religions, like Christianity, believe in one, all-powerful, eternal God. 

The differences don’t stop there. Inside each of those groups are different variations. Each variation presents its own view about the nature of God, the nature of salvation and happiness, and how salvation can be found. This is why it is a sign of close-mindedness or laziness to simply say that all religions are the same: it is a refusal to show any respect at all to what religious people really believe.

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Christianity comes to ancient England

In the history of Christian missionary activity, there are many great examples of what true open-mindedness really is. When St Francis of Assisi set out to evangelise the Muslims, he did not use violence and accusations, or threats and tricks. He listened sincerely and explained patiently. His dream of converting them all did not come true, but one of the Muslim leaders he befriended became a Christian on his deathbed. 

When Christian missionaries first came to the pagan kingdoms of ancient England, Edwin, the King of the Angles, met with his royal counsellors to discuss how the missionaries should be received. One of the King’s wise advisors gave the following speech:

“The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift of a sparrow through the [banquet] room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad. The sparrow, I say, flying in, at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm. But after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”


St Bede the Venerable, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, (Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum), Penguin Classics 1990, first published 731. 

All religions are not the same. If they were, our Lord Jesus Christ would never have come to earth to teach us the truth. But He did come, and His answers to life’s biggest questions are the greatest treasure we possess. 

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Christianity defends religious freedom

It is because we, as Christians, recognise that all religions do not offer the same explanations and solutions to the human condition that we, as Christians, are so firmly committed to religious freedom. 

The Church teaches that religious freedom, the freedom to believe, worship, and live in accordance with one’s religious beliefs, is a basic human right. This is because a relations with God is one of the most basic human needs and duties—it is as basic for the human mind and soul as food and water are for the human body. Christians defend this right not because we think all religions are equally true, but because we recognise that every human heart must be free to search for God without being forced. 

If all religions were the same, then religious freedom would have no meaning. Religion itself, in fact, would have no meaning. It would be nothing more than a personal hobby, with no real truth or relevance for society. This is exactly what many lawmakers (and even some Scouters) say at the moment. They want to take religion out of social life (or out of Scouting) and keep it behind closed doors. But that policy backfires: it turns atheism into the required public religion—violating the human right to religious liberty. 

Of course, freedom of religion is not limitless. It is not the only human right. No one has a right to use religion as an excuse for injustice. 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

As Benedict XVI said in a meeting with leaders from different religions:

“In the face of a world torn apart by conflicts, where violence in God’s Name is at times justified, it is important to reaffirm that religions can never become vehicles of hatred; it is never possible, invoking God’s Name, to succeed in justifying evil and violence.”


Greeting of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Meeting of the Heads of the Delegations taking part in the International Encounter for Peace, 21 October 2007, Archdiocesan Seminary at Capodimonte, Naples. http://www.vatican.va/ [accessed 2020-06-06]

All religions are not the same. They give different answers to life’s biggest questions. Today, as we profess our faith in the one, true God, the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, let us thank God for showing us the true answer to all those questions: Our Lord Jesus Christ. And let us renew our commitment to live as true Christians, so that those around us who are still looking for answers, will find Jesus Christ in us. 

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Written by Michæl McFarland Campbell

June 7th, 2020 at 10:00 am