Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
There is everything to gain by turning to the Gospel. As you prepare to begin Lent tomorrow, think as to how this time of prayer and fasting will help you achieve eternal life.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
Mark 10. 21
The material things of this world can stand between us and Christ, between us and eternal life. As you prepare for Lent this year consider how you may defeat the hold that the passing things of this world have over you and gain instead treasure that is eternal.
my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father,
Son, & Holy Spirit.
Our Gospel reading today might be termed the parable of the wise and
foolish builders. The wise man's house has its foundations upon rock
and is secure against all that might threaten it; the foolish upon
sand and is washed away. Our Lord tells us that it those who hear and
obey his words who are like the wise man; and those who do not are
like the fool. If you detect an ominous tone in this parable, you
would not be wrong. For in it Jesus is telling his followers that
those who are obedient to God will be rewarded; and that those who
are not will be punished.
we live in an age in which many people do not like to be reminded
that heaven is not the only option when it comes to the next life.
And such as they might decry this passage as being threatening, an
attempt at frightening them into being good out of a fear of divine
punishment. But I think it would be wrong to interpret our Lord's
words as a threat. He is Truth incarnate and therefore speaks only
the truth; and therefore when he tells us that there is one fate for
those who hear and obey and another for those who do not he is simply
laying out the facts. And he does so with the purpose of warning us
of the dangers that we face.
of course, being warned of dangers can worry people. I remember, for
example, when I was in the army that we were warned that some of the
areas in which we did training exercises was home to Black Widow
spiders. Now, black widows are, as I am sure all know, highly
poisonous. Their bite will not generally kill a healthy adult but it
will make them quite ill and is certainly no pleasant thing. So any
time we got the news that we would be training in a place where they
were commonly present not surprisingly made some of the troops quite
nervous. Some people, of course, are terrified of spiders, even
soldiers, which only made things worse.
you can well imagine that when we were in those parts of the training
grounds, living in tents, there was a good deal of careful checking
of boots in the morning before putting them on. Typically, we'd peer
into them, then bang them together vigorously, then turn them upside
down and shake them even more vigorously, and then, provided no
unwelcome guest had fallen out, shove our feet into them with great
force, on the theory that if one had managed to stay ensconced inside
our military issue shoe leather then the swift entrance of a foot
into the boot would crush any deadly spider before it had a chance to
bite our toes through our thick military issue socks. And, not
surprisingly, once the boots were safely on, a careful checking of
the tent corners followed. I remember on several occasions finding
that the night had indeed brought a dark arachnid among us; but the
problem was easily solved by the donning of my thick leather
gauntlets and gently but carefully escorting the uninvited guests
from the premises and back out into the woods.
a serious enough problem. But people were careful and I never heard
of anyone being bitten during my time there. However, imagine the
authorities had chosen not to warn us. People certainly would have
come to harm. Fingers and toes would have been painfully nibbled by
the unpleasant lady spiders. And the excuse that 'we didn't want to
worry people … or have them think we were trying to frighten them
into being careful' would have sounded pretty weak indeed.
fact is that warnings serve a purpose. And a little bit of concern
over what the consequences might be if we fail to heed those warnings
serves a purpose also. And just as the fear of being bitten by a
poisonous spider kept us on the lookout for their presence in the
army, so in life the warnings of Christ as to the consequences for
those who do not listen to his word and obey helps keep us on the
straight and narrow path.
as I draw to a close, I think it important to remind you why it is
that our Lord gives us these warnings. It is because he loves us.
Warnings, after all, are not given to inspire fear, but because we
either love those we warn or have a duty of care toward them. And
just as the warning about black widows did leave us all cowering with
fear, neither should Christ's frighten us. For our Saviour has not
only warned us, he has provided us with the means to be safe. He has
given us the rock on which to build so that no danger may ever
threaten us and we may come safely to the end of our lives to be with
him in heaven. This what he wants – and he wants it so badly that
he was willing to take flesh and suffer and die on the cross so that
we might indeed by saved. All we have to do in return is trust in him
and choose wisely. And I pray that you all will. Amen.
“a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’
Reflection Christian marriage is more than a mere civil contract. Through it the couple witness to the world their faith in God through their adherence to his law.
'If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.'
Reflection Leading or provoking others to sin is gravely offensive to God, particularly when they are the young or vulnerable whom compassion dictates you should take especial care that they are not lead astray.
my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father,
Son, & Holy Spirit.
remember once while I was working in Revenue being approached by a
colleague, asking me to lend him a hand in getting a case settled
that had being going on for a few years. I told him that I would be
happy to, but would have to check with my line-supervisor first. He
was amenable to the idea, particularly as he also wanted to see the
case finalised, as it had been on our books far too long in his
he told me, 'I'll warn you now, you'll have to do most of the work on
this. That chap is like the lillies of the field.'
do you mean?' asked.
does not toil, neither does he spin,' came the reply. It is an
interesting twist, I think, on our Lord's words, which we hear in our gospel reading today, being used to describe someone who was
particularly shiftless and idle; words, as we all know, I am sure,
which were intended to make clear to us how great is God's wisdom and
generosity in how he meets all our needs. When I think of all the
amazing ways in which God provides for us, I find it difficult not to
think of the 40 years the people of Israel spent wandering in the
desert – during which time, we are told by sacred scripture,
neither their clothes nor their shoes wore out, their need for food
being met by manna from heaven and great flocks of quails, and whose
need for water was met by the rock that Moses struck and from which a
great torrent then poured out – a rock that, we are told by St Paul
in First Corinthians, followed them. God therefore provided them with
all they needed to survive during their time in the wilderness.
is a powerful scriptural reminder to us, I think, of what we should
know from looking at the world around us, how God provides with
everything we need in this world he has created for us to live in.
And because God has given us everything we need we must stop
worrying, Christ tells us. Stop worrying that we do not have enough –
or if we have enough for today perhaps we will not have enough for
tomorrow or the day after. Trust in God; we know he will provide
because he has already provided. Accept his gifts gratefully … and
start to concern yourself with things that are of greater importance
– the salvation of souls. Strive first for the kingdom of God and
his righteousness, Christ tells us. This means we must give spiritual
matters a higher place than material. Christ assures that matters
relating to bodily needs will be met by God – so we have therefore
no excuse when it comes to souls - your soul, the souls of your
family and those around you in the community in which you live, and
the souls of those in the world around us.
of course, just as God has provided us with the means to sustain our
bodies, so he provides us with the means to sustain our souls. And
because it is for us of greater worth to seek the kingdom of God than
it is to search out earthly treasure, therefore we must understand
that the spiritual gifts God provides for us are of a higher worth
than all the material wonders he provides us with. First he has given
us our reason, by dint of which, as St Paul tells us in Romans, all
people may come to know him – at least in the sense of knowing he
exists and having the knowledge of right and wrong written in or
hearts. More specifically, he has given us his word in Sacred
Scriptures – a treasury of revelation through which he has spoken
to men and women down through the ages and continues to speak to us
today. He has also revealed himself to us even more fully through his
Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who came into the world to suffer and die
for our sins so that all might be saved. That Son established a
Church to which he gave Sacraments – sacraments which are a channel
of grace for us, and a powerful way for us to strengthen our
spiritual lives. And just as he ensured the Israelites in the
wilderness had the food they needed to sustain during their
wanderings, so to does he give us the spiritual food and drink we
need to sustain our souls during our pilgrimage here on earth. And
not just any food, but the very body and blood of his Son Jesus
Christ – the second person of the Blessed Trinity – God himself!
For as Christ himself told us in Scriptures, his body is true food,
and his blood true drink … and those who eat and drink of it will
have eternal life … never, of course, forgetting St Paul's words
that we must do so worthily – not that we can ever be truly worthy
of so great a gift, but even then God's provides us with the means to
be as worthy as we may through his gifts of baptism, and confession
and absolution … showing that we are all, in a sense, like more
like my idle colleague in the civil service than we may realise …
for when it comes to what truly matters in life, we indeed neither
toil or spin, but God our Heavenly Father provides … and for such
great gifts I pray that we are now, and always be, truly grateful.
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’
God the Father calls on us to listen to the Son. Implicit in that is not just to listen but to obey, for what is the point of listening to his commands if you do not do as he asks you to do? Remember this as you read the Gospels – you are called not only to listen to what you find there but to obey.
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'
The Christian life can not be treated as a temporary enthusiasm; nor can it be taken up in fits and starts, with the person being a saint one day and pagan the next. Christ calls on those who would follow him to deny themselves and take up their cross. And as Christ himself showed us, a cross is something that once it is taken up can only be put down at the end.
Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
We should be encouraged that Jesus laid his hands on this man more than once for it shows us that God does give up on us. And it is only when Christ has opened our eyes in the spiritual sense that we see all things clearly.
And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.’
Mark 8. 12
In the face of miracles the doubters asked for signs. Small wonder Jesus was troubled deeply by their attitude. It is the same for us. If there are not enough miracles for you in the Gospels, then nothing will convince you.
my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father,
Son, & Holy Spirit.
our gospel reading today, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount,
our Lord lays out his teaching on marriage. Today is also, as it
happens, the Sunday closest to St Valentine's Day. So I thought I
would take advantage of the coincidence to talk a little about St
Valentine – a man who was martyred in ancient Rome for his
dedication to Christian marriage.
could such a situation arise? Well the emperor of St Valentine's
time, Claudius II, had a serious problem – he was finding it
difficult to find men to fill the ranks of his armies. A large cause
of this was the fact that it was not only the law but an ancient
tradition that a recently married man was excused from military
service. This was a fairly usual custom in ancient times – we read,
for example, in the Old Testament, how a man who has just married
must not be sent out to war for a year in order for him to be able to
spend time with his new bride. But that new marriages were taking
place at such a rate that it was causing problems with finding enough
soldiers to keep the army strong enough to protect the empire
suggests that something fishy was going on. It seems to me not
unlikely that men must have been gaming the system in order to get
out of military service – whether because they were cowards or they
would have felt such a life inconvenient to their ambitions –
soldiers don't make much money, after all - it is hard to say. So we
can imagine that perhaps some men were entering into shame marriages
– paying girls to marry them with no intention that they should
live together as husband as wife. Worse, perhaps some who were
already married were divorcing their wives so they could marry anew
and avoid being called up. The ancient Romans were always very quick
to end one marriage and enter another, especially when they thought
there was some advantage in doing so.
banning marriages taking place was something that not even the
emperor could do. Marriage is part of the natural order of things.
But he could ban those who officiated at them from doing so. There
were a lot fewer of them than couples wishing to marry, making them
easier to control. For most couples wishing to marry for genuine
reasons this was not quite the disaster it seems. Ancient Rome had
several different types of arrangements which would have been
considered a marriage. The least formal type is what we would
probably refer to as cohabitation which was called 'usus' in Latin –
marriage by use. The couple simply lived together and after a time
were regarded by those around them as married. This had fallen out of
use by this time, but we can imagine, given no other choice, couples
in love choosing to resurrect the custom; and because of its informal
nature would not have attracted a free-pass from military service. No
doubt those who wished to could have married more formally later if
they wished to do so, once the emperor's ban had been lifted. And if
they did not wish to do so, the 'marriage' would have been ended just
as informally as it had begun.
Christians, of course, were not your average citizens. They had a
very particular idea of marriage – one that was very different to
the culture around them. They certainly weren't about to start living
with each other – doing what we in our modern age would refer to as
cohabitation. For them the emperor's ban amounted to an absolute ban
of course, unless they could find some priest who was willing to defy
the emperor’s unjust law. And St Valentine was just such a priest.
We can imagine him, day after day, meeting with young couples in the
cave and tunnels that made up the catacombs under the city of Rome,
and by the flickering light of little oil lamps officiating at the
ceremonies that would make them man and wife not only in the eyes of
men but in the sight of God. It was a terrible risk, of course; for
the emperor would not be pleased if he found out. More, Claudius II
hated Christians and a great persecution took place under his reign.
So a priest from one of the temple cults who defied his ban might
expect imprisonment and perhaps a beating as well. But a Christian
priest could expect that punishment only to be a prelude to death.
so it was with St Valentine. He was eventually arrested and thrown in
prison. When he was brought before the emperor it is hard to say what
angered him most – the priest's disobedience or that he was a
Christian. He had the holy man beaten with clubs; and then beheaded.
A cruel death to be sure. But we can be equally sure that St
Valentine thought it a small price to pay for doing his duty as a
priest to the couples he helped and to God. For the powers of this
earth may kill the body, but they can not touch the soul. And St
Valentine would have known that it was that he risked, his very soul,
if he failed in his duty as a priest of God.
Valentine died a martyr's death for the Christian ideal of marriage.
The kind of marriage that we hear our Lord speak of in our gospel
reading today and elsewhere in the gospels. It was the ideal of
marriage that the Church Christ founded sought to bring everywhere
the good news was preached, knowing it to be God's plan for how men
and women were to live. Many things in the world today threaten that
ideal – perhaps because it is as much a threat to the culture of
today as it was in the time of St Valentine. And yet he thought it
something worth dying for. We no less should think it something worth
fighting for. And so I end today with a prayer for marriage – that
people will come understand its beauty, how it is part of God's plan
for bringing men and women to be with him in heaven, and joyfully do
all they can to strengthen and promote the ideal of Christian
marriage in the society in which we live today and always. Amen.
His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?' He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’
Reflection When you feel that living up the demands of Christian life are impossible, especially our calling to make disciples of all people, remember these verses. It is not what you bring that matters, it is what the Lord does with them.
smiled brightly as she walked down the narrow cobbled streets of
Rome. Why would she not be smiling? She was young, the sun was
shining, and she was in love. And she was in love with not just
anyone, but Titus, the handsomest young man in the city. And he loved
her back! Yes, he did! She could hardly believe it. But it was true –
and she knew it was true because he had asked her to marry him. They
planned to marry in only a few days. She could hardly wait until the
time would come until she and Titus were at last man and wife. In
fact she was on her way to meet Titus now. He was waiting for her at
a small square near the forum. There was much planning to do for the
wedding, but today they planned to take just a little time for
themselves and walk, holding hands, down the banks of the mighty
Tiber, the river that ran through Rome, as all young lovers liked to
she nearly skipped her way through the streets. She hardly saw the
slaves in thread-bare tunics who rubbed shoulders with merchants in
rich robes along the way. She did frown a little when one merchant
whistled her as she passed. She did not think it right that men with
wives and children at home should be looking at pretty young women in
the streets. But her smile quickly returned – soon she would be
with her Titus!
when she came in sight of the square she almost ran, so eager was she
to see her beloved Titus. But then she slowed herself down to a
gentle walk. She didn't want to arrive all red-faced and sweaty! So
she strolled the last few yards to the square, then paused at the end
of the street which opened on to it, looking around to spot her fiancee.
square was filled with people – senators in their white togas,
hurrying to the senate to do the business of the state; shopkeepers,
setting out their wares outside their shops; men and women of all
sorts going about the business of life. She soon saw Titus sitting at
a small table outside a little shop which sold sweet pastries. He was
staring down at the table, ignoring the plate of delicious treats
that sat in front of him. She was surprised to see he did not look
happy. Fear gripped her heart. She was bursting with happiness at the
thought of seeing him. But Titus looked sad. Why did the thought of
seeing her not make him smile also? Did he no longer love her? Was he
planning to tell her that he no longer wished to marry her? Her heart
fell within her. She almost turned and ran away home. She could not
bear the thought that he might tell her that he wanted to cancel the
wedding. But she forced herself to have courage. Titus was the man
she loved. And she did not just love him because he was handsome. He
was also a good and honourable man – and a Christian just as she
was. She knew he did not love her just because of her beauty, but
because he knew her to be a good woman and a faithful follower of
Christ. He would never do such a terrible thing to her as to break
her heart only days from the wedding. So she gathered up her courage
and called out to him.
glanced up. Seeing her, at once the sadness left his face. A smile
lit it up. Agnes' heart lifted. Whatever was troubling Titus' soul,
it was was not that he no longer loved her. She ran to him. He stood
up. When he reached her, he took her into his arms and embraced her.
Titus,' she cried. 'I was so worried when I saw you looking so sad. I
thought something must be wrong, something terrible.' She felt him
stiffen in his arms. Gently he let her go. As he looked down at her,
she saw that once more great sadness was written on his face.
has,' he said. Agnes' heart sank again. She knew it must be something
awful indeed for Titus to look so wretched, so grief-stricken. His
face seemed like that of a man who had lost his dearest friend or if
some close and much loved relative had died.
my darling,' he said. She sat, trembling. She could not imagine what
could be wrong. But she knew it must be serious. Not a death, for if
that was the case he would be at home, helping arrange the funeral,
and he would have sent her word that they could not meet that day.
But what could it be? Titus took a deep breath.
can not be married my love,' he said. Agnes froze and then she burst
Titus,' she said. 'I feared it was that when I first saw you sitting
here looking so sad. But why? Why don't you love me any more?' She
began to sob. Titus took her hands.
believe such a thing!' he said. 'I do love you – I love you more
than life itself! I would die for you. Please don't cry – I can't
bear to see it.'
why Titus?' asked Agnes through her tears. 'Why can we not marry? You
love me, I love you. We are engaged and all is arranged for the
wedding. Why do you say it can not now happen?'
glanced around to see who else was sitting near. Christians had to be
careful what they said. They were often persecuted in the empire. It
was worse at some times than at others. Often they were left in peace
for many years. But the current emperor, a war loving madman called
Claudius, hated Christians and had started up the persecutions again.
They were liable to be arrested for their belief in Christ at any
time – and not just arrested, but tortured and killed. So Titus
could not afford to let any stranger hear a careless word in case he
informed on them for hope of a reward from the cruel emperor. There
were two old men sitting nearby at separate tables. Agnes knew that
Titus would have to be careful in what he said, and not let slip any
hint that they were Christians.
is the emperor,' he said. 'He has only this morning made a new
decree. Until he says otherwise, no weddings are allowed to take
gasped in horror.
why?' she said. 'Why would he do so awful a thing?'
all these wars he wants to fight,' he said. 'Wars need soldiers.'
shook her head.
don't understand. The army is full of married men. Why stop all the
shook his head sadly.
men who are just married are excused from military service. And there
are many cowards out there, men who are afraid to fight to protect
their country from danger. So they marry just so they can save their
skins. Some have paid girls to marry them – fake weddings. And even
worse, some are divorcing their wives, leaving them and their
children, and entering into these fake marriages to get out of being
in the army!'
gasped in horror. She could well understand why a man might not want
to join the army. But to do such a terrible thing as leave his wife
for such a reason and marry someone else! It was worse than being a
coward – surely it was a sin, she thought! But, of course, Romans
didn't think that way. They thought it fine to end a marriage for any
reason. When someone once said to the great Julius Caesar that his
wife Calpurnia had had an affair he divorced even though he knew she
was innocent, saying 'Caesar's wife should be above suspicion.' His
reputation mattered more to him than his wife. Why wouldn't men in a
society that thought like that think it reasonable to divorce a woman
so that they might avoid the army?
so the emperor has decreed that no marriages at all should take
place,' she said sadly. Titus nodded, looking sadder than ever. Agnes
could not bear to see him so upset. She wanted to tell him not to
worry, that God would find a way to make things right, that they
should trust in him. But she did not dare say a word in case someone
would overhear, someone who would tell others, those who would hurt
them, that they were Christians. Just then two soldiers strolled by,
their breastplates gleaming, their sharp swords sheathed at their
sides. Men in the service of the emperor who would receive a rich
reward for handing in a couple of Christians. So instead she did the
only thing she could - she reached her hand out to him. Gently she
traced a small cross on the back of his hand with her forefinger.
Titus understood what she was trying to tell him. He smiled and
nodded. They must trust in God.
old man at the next table began to laugh.
up, young ones,' he cackled. 'No need to look so glum! So the emperor
has banned weddings? So what. Just go and live with one another!
That's what all the other young men being called into the army will
do. In a few months – maybe a few years – the emperor will change
the law – or a new emperor will come along and he'll change it.
Then you can marry – if you still want to, that is! And if you
don't, well, you'll be spared the expense and trouble of a divorce!'
and Titus looked at each other and shook their heads sadly. What he
spoke of was an old form of marriage called 'usus' – a couple came to
live together without ever entering into any kind of a formal
marriage. Over time they were looked upon by all as being married.
And just as easily as the couple had entered into it, the could end
it and move on to someone else. But Agnes and Titus would never marry
in that way.
cackling, the old man got up and walked slowly away. Listening to his
laughter grow quieted as he moved away, Agnes and Titus looked at
each other sadly. What could they say? There was nothing they could
that's it then?' said Agnes.
afraid so,' said Titus. 'But don't worry, my love. As that horrible
old man said, eventually the law must change. I love you enough to
wait no longer how long it takes.'
I love you enough to wait too,' cried Agnes. 'But Titus, how hard it
will be! And it is so unfair! No one, not even an emperor, should be
able to tell a man and a woman who love each that they can not
indeed,' said a voice from nearby. 'That is something that is only in
the power of God.'
and Titus both jumped. They had forgotten there was anyone else near.
Agnes looked over at the man – and then she gasped again. She knew
who it was. Earlier he had had his back turned to them so she had not
been able to see his face. But now she could see the long white beard
and smiling eyes of someone she knew well – Father Valentine, a
priest of the Christian Church in Rome. He traced a little cross on
his forehead with his thumb, the signum or sign of the cross that
told other Christians that the person making it was a Christian also.
It was a kind of secret sign. Agnes and Titus took a quick look
around to make sure no one was watching. Then they made the sign
continued the priest. 'No man should try to prevent a man and a woman
who are free to marry from doing so. This law of the emperor's is
wrong – no law that goes against the law of God can ever be right.'
agree, Father,' said Titus. 'But there is nothing we can do. How can
we marry when the emperor forbids it? Even if it is wrong, he will
punish anyone who disobeys him!'
old priest smiled and shook his head.
should have read the decree more carefully, my young friend. The
emperor did not ban couples from marrying. That is something that not
even he has the power to do – or would be foolish enough to
attempt. No, he banned all those who would officiate at weddings from
doing so. The priests of the various temples, the city officials who
have the authority to perform weddings. People like that he, as the
emperor has the power to control. But the couples themselves are
still free to marry – if they can find someone willing to defy the
great smile broke out on Agnes' face. She could still marry her
beloved Titus. But just as quickly the smile left it again. She shook
difference does it make?' she said. 'We are free to marry – but who
will marry us, knowing the emperor will punish him for doing so?'
will,' said the priest, smiling. Agnes gasped. But Titus shook his
Father,' he said. 'We could not ask such a thing of you. The
consequences would be too great. If a priest from one of the temples
defied his ban, the emperor would put them in prison, maybe have them
beaten. But you, a Christian priest? He would have you killed –
after he had tortured you first!'
have no doubt he would,' said the priest still smiling. 'But what of
it? The emperor can only kill my body. But he can not hurt my soul.
And that is what would be in danger if I failed to carry out my duty
to you as a priest of God's Church by refusing to marry you!'
Father,' cried Agnes, 'thank you! But we cannot. It is too much to
ask of you. The risk is too great. Would it not be just as wrong of
us to put your life in danger as it is for the emperor to try and
stop us from marrying?'
old priest shook his head.
at all,' he said. 'God calls men and women to marriage. If you truly
feel called by him to marry each other, promising to be with each
other as husband and wife as long as you both shall live, then it
would be wrong of you not to marry! For then you would be refusing to
answer God's call. Wicked men have no right to make evil laws; and
good people not only do no wrong in refusing to obey
such laws, they do wrong if they keep them! For if they do that, they
allow evil to flourish in the world!'
and Titus looked at each other. Agnes hardly dared hope that they
might still be married after all.
she said, 'do you truly love me? Do you truly believe that God is
calling you to be my husband?' Titus smiled.
darling,' he said. 'I do love you. And I do believe that God is
calling me to marry you – just as I know that you love me and that
God is calling you to be my wife!' He turned to the old priest.
he said, 'I hardly know what the say to you.'
old man put his right hand on Titus's hand, and the other on Agnes'.
say nothing,' he said. 'We have better things to do than talk anyway
– we have a wedding to arrange!'
so some days later, by the flickering light of some small oil lamps
in the caves and tunnels of the catacombs deep underground in the
city, the young couple gathered with their family and the old priest
to pledge their love and commitment to each other. The smile on
Father Valentine's face as they kissed each other for the first time
as man and wife was hardly less than that on those of the happy
pair. Father Valentine went on to help many other young couples who
were in the same situation as they. And the emperor, of course, found
out eventually. He had the old priest arrested and brought before
him. His anger at him was enormous. And, as Titus had warned him, the
wicked emperor first had him beaten and then killed. But the old
priest went smiling to his death. He thought it a small price to pay
for helping young couples and doing God's will in the world.
and Agnes heard about the terrible thing the emperor had done not
long after. It was several months later. Already Agnes was expecting
their first child.
Father Valentine,' she said, placing her hand on her tummy. 'We owe
him so much. Without him we would not be married. Without him we
would not have … ' she rubbed her tummy gently. But Titus shook his
is Saint Valentine now,' he said. 'He died for the faith; he died for
doing God's will. He is a saint in heaven now and forever. So there
is no need to feel sorry for him ever again. Rather, it is those who
killed him we should feel sorry for. The emperor and the wicked men
who do his bidding. They have killed a holy man. And one day they
will face judgement for it.'
will indeed,' said Agnes sadly. 'Titus, we must pray for them that
they will feel sorry for what they have done and come to know God.'
course, my love,' he said, smiling. 'You are truly a good woman.'
shook her head, also smiling.
Titus?' she said.
think this child is going to be a boy?'
Agnes?' her husband said in delight. 'How do you know?'
a feeling,' she said, still smiling. 'And if I am right, I already
have a name picked out.
do?' he said. 'What is it? Do you wish to name him after my father?
Or perhaps yours?' But Agnes shook her head.
Titus,' she said. 'I think we should call him Valentine.' And smiling
and nodding her husband took her in his arms.
They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’
Reflection People were quick to wonder at the miracles, but far slower to heed his call to repentance. So we must not be surprised when many today are all too willing to enlist the Church's aid in all kinds of social programmes, even as they mock, undermine, or condemn Church teaching. That doesn't mean we should not still help.
But she answered him, ‘Sir,even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.'
Mark 7. 28
Reflection There is no one who is unworthy of God's love or of hearing his word. Do your best to ensure all know that they are beloved of the Lord and do not neglect to help them know that love by sharing his good news with them.
my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father,
Son, & Holy Spirit.
our gospel reading today Jesus tells his followers that they are the
salt of the earth and the light of the world. These are very powerful
metaphors – so powerful that Christ is bestowing great honour upon
those of us who are his followers … so great that it would be
difficult to exaggerate the importance of the honour implied by those
words – or the grave duty that accompanies them. But I think it
might be necessary to explain just why the images of salt and light
constitute such potent metaphors. Nearly 2000 years separate from the
age in which our Lord spoke these words … and the differences
between out technological age and then may make it difficult indeed
to appreciate the impact these words would have had on their original
may, for example, in this age of electricity, forget what life was
like for most of human history once the sun set and darkness reigned
over the land. There was no flick of a switch to make the inside of a
house as bright as day then, none of the street lights that make our
towns and cities shine with a brightness that can be seen from space.
In the time of Christ there was only the glow of the fire and the
flickering light from tiny lamps burning olive oil to bring
illumination into the darkness of the night. Many here will be old
enough to remember the days of the oil shortages back in the 1970s, a
time when it was common to turn off the power for long periods every
evening due to lack of fuel to power the generators that feed the
national grid. I remember doing my homework by candlelight on the
long winter nights as a result, my mother preparing the tea on a
small gas stove we used for camping in the kitchen while the rest of
us gathered round the open fire in the living room which was now the
only source of heat … and only a few candles burning at that, as
the sudden increased demand for them had made them hard enough to
come by. It gives one a whole new appreciation for how important
light is. And a better understanding, I think, of what great
significance it was for Christ to tell his followers that they were
the light of the world.
is much the same with salt. We think of it as being something cheap
that we can pop down to the local shop for whenever we need it. It is
so plentiful that we are generally told by various experts to use
less. Indeed, there is usually so much of it already in the processed
foods we eat that we could probably manage quite well if we never
bought another container of salt again in our lives. It is all too
easy for us to forget that we need a certain amount of it in our diet
if we are to live.
it was not so in the ancient world. Salt was hard to come by and
valuable as a result. So necessary was it that it wasn't uncommon for
soldiers to receive part of their pay in salt rather than cash – it
is where we get the expression that someone is worth their salt if
they do their work well and are therefore worth their pay. And where
did salt come from? Often from the salt mines, places so terrible to
work in that only slaves and condemned criminals were sent there. Or
it could be taken laboriously from the sea, by flooding a piece of
land, and then letting the heat of the sun evaporate the water away
leaving the salt behind – a slow process indeed. And salt, of
course, as well as being needed to sustain life, adds flavour to food
and would have been one of the main way of preserving food back in
that era. Indeed, we still use it for that purpose today – even
though refrigeration and the use of canning makes it less common.
advances in technology may serve to soften the impact of the great
compliment Jesus is paying to his followers here – and the
importance of the task he is assigning them. For he is not only
comparing them to these things that are so necessary for human life –
he is using them to stress how imperative it is for them to bring
light and life into the world by living the Christian life openly and
boldly in the world, in a way that gives glory to our Father in
I draw to a close, it is important to remind all here of our Lord's
words concerning those who claim to be his followers but fail to
follow through on being the salt of the earth or the light of the
world. They are useless lights, lights that are hidden under a bushel
basket, a basket so tightly woven that not even a chink of light
could escape; and they are salt that has lost its savour, good for
nothing, fit only to be thrown out and trampled under foot. I don't
know about you, but it doesn't seem to me that those images convey
the idea that our Lord will be best pleased with anyone fitting that
description when they stand before him at the final judgement.
the stakes are high. But is there anything that this world offers
that should tempt us away from giving glory to God by being the light
of the world, the salt of the earth? A giving of glory that ends in
everlasting glory for those who give it. I think not – indeed, I
pray that all here will give such glory to the God who made them and
sent his Son to die on the cross for their salvation this day and
As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and Jesus had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Mark 6. 34
Reflection Compassion takes many forms. When we think of people's needs, our thoughts often begin and end with the material things of this world. But Christ saw deeper. True compassion does not neglect spiritual needs; indeed, it places them first.
'I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep '
John 10. 14,15
True intimacy is to be found in relationship with Christ; to be known by him is to be truly known. And it is a relationship that cannot disappoint, because it is one that Christ was willing to die to sustain.