Reading the newspapers, even (perhaps especially) some of the Catholic ones, we could easily end up thinking that the Catholic religion is all about issues. Can women be priests? Should the Church give Her blessing to the use of artificial birth control? Should the divorced and remarried be allowed to receive Holy Communion?
These are all matters of importance. If the Church is to be faithful to Her identity as the pillar and foundation of Truth, (1 Tim 3.15) then Her teaching must always be continuous and consistent with principles that She has upheld and taught since the age of the Apostles. However, these particular questions have already been settled long ago. In that sense they are non-issues and a woeful diversion of energy. If we allow the orchestrated controversies that are being fabricated around them to become the main focus of our engagement with the Faith, then how shallow and how impoverished our spiritual lives must become. It will mean that we have allowed the media, and those whitewashed sepulchres who use the media to peddle their own agenda of confusion and division, to set the narrative for our lives as disciples. What ineffective and useless disciples we shall then become, and how sad for us that we shall never experience that Christian joy and the serenity of heart which Our Lord promises to us when He says “Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you” (Jn 14.27) – a promise repeated at every Mass, between the Consecration and Holy Communion.
In the Gospels we see how the disciples were thrown into turmoil by the crucifixion. Shattered by the terrible events of Good Friday, they were fearful and confused. Even when Our Risen Lord appeared in their midst, they thought that they must be seeing a ghost. But when He showed them His hands and His feet, and the truth of what had really happened began to sink in, then their joy was so overwhelming that they were dumfounded. After eating a piece of fish before their eyes, He then explained to them how – if only they had been listening at the time – He had already told them while He was with them that He must be put to death before rising from the dead.
The disciples had been so taken up by events that they had not really listened to the word of God even when the Word Himself had lived with them and taught them. But their experience of the Resurrection would change all of this. From then on the Apostles would be anchored in their Risen Lord, and the serenity, courage and joy this gave to them meant that, having been huddled together behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, they would now go boldly into the lion’s den itself to proclaim in the Temple, of all places, the good news that Christ was risen. Neither the furies of the Synagogue nor the steel and might of the Roman Empire would daunt them.
We, like the Apostles, have the benefit of experiencing the Resurrection. We have experienced it first hand in Baptism, when we were raised from spiritual death and made temples of the Holy Ghost. We experience it in the Sacrament of Penance which lifts us from our sins and restores us to the life of grace. Above all, we experience it in Holy Communion, where we encounter Our Risen Lord and He feeds us with His living Body.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we read about St Peter going into the thick of the lion’s den, and preaching the Resurrection to the Jews in the Temple. He does not hesitate to accuse them: “It was you who accused the Holy One, the Just One, you who demanded the reprieve of a murderer while you killed the Prince of Life.” But Peter concedes: “You did not know what you were really doing.” (Acts 3.13-17) In other words, the Jews who had called for the release of Barabbas and the death of the Saviour had been the victims of a fake news campaign, whipped up by leaders and their spin-doctors whose motivation was anything but spiritual. Those priests could probably have recited the verses of the Scriptures by rote, but their politicking and worldliness had made the word of God a dead letter to them. Rather than penetrating into their hearts and souls and transforming them, the Scriptures had become a tool to be wielded in the service of human power and status. No doubt the people had listened to the reading of the Scriptures in their synagogues just as we listen to them at Mass. But their interest in them had remained superficial, and so they were easily hoodwinked and manipulated into committing the most terrible crime.
Where do we look for truth? In our own time, a culture of political spin and prevarication has created a severe crisis of credibility in public life, to such an extent that this age in which we are living has been called the post truth era. We are overwhelmed with conflicting information from all directions, but where, and to whom, should we go for the truth? If we are looking for the truth that brings us serenity of heart, then the best place to look is probably not in the newspapers, or on the internet or television. We shall most certainly find it in abundance in the Gospel. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were despondent. They had seen the one whom they had thought would be the Saviour of Israel denounced as a rebel by the same fickle crowd that only days before had welcomed Him as a hero. But when Our Lord joined them on the road and began to open the meaning of the Scriptures to them, then their hearts began to burn within them. They knew that this was no fake news. It was the real thing. Their lives were transformed by it.
We must ask Our Lord to open the Scriptures to us. We need to put down our newspapers and turn away from our television and computer screens. We need to place ourselves in His presence and to sit down and read in a reflective and prayerful way the life-giving words of Holy Scripture. A good place to start, to keep the power and joy of Easter ever fresh in our hearts, is in the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, and the Acts of the Apostles. No fake news there. Just the pure life-giving and liberating words of Divine Truth. The more we allow this Truth to penetrate our hearts, the freer we shall become from the tyranny of spin and emotionalism which spawn so much turmoil in our society and can create a frenetic atmosphere within the Church.
Having experienced the Resurrection in Baptism, may we always be anchored, like the Apostles, in Our Risen Lord. We must not allow the controversies and acrimonious debates that fly around us to be a distraction from the business of getting to know Him better, and giving Him room to speak in our hearts, and cultivating the quietness that will enable us to listen to Him. The Blessed Virgin, who “kept these things and pondered them in Her heart” (Lk 2.19) and Who remained united with Her Son during His Passion while others fled, is our model of the contemplative reading of the Scriptures. Our holy father St Philip, whose apostolate coincided with a period of violent upheavals within Christendom, is our model of Christian joy throughout adversity.
Let us pray for peace in the world, and peace in the Church. Let us ask Our Lady and St Philip, during this their month of May, to gain for us ever greater peace of heart, so that we might be more effective disciples.
Fr Julian Large