To the right of the side-door is Saint Francis of Assisi, (‘il Poverello’ or ‘the Little Poor Man’), another Saint marked with the Stigmata, who renounced wealth and privilege for a simple life totally centred on and reliant upon God, thereby founding the Franciscan Order, in Italy. At the back of the church, to the left, is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a French Carmelite Nun, often called ‘The Little Flower’ (Although not a timid Soul!!). Through her ‘Little Way’ she shows us how every life, however ‘insignificant’ anyone may consider it, can be lived for and offered to God; not one of us, unless we choose, can fail to get to Heaven; each of us, as Saint Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, also taught, is called by God to be holy, doing what we can whenever and wherever God calls us to be. This Universal Call to Holiness was later, again, proclaimed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
Across the church, near to the Confessional, is Saint Anthony of Padua, a monk born in Portugal who died in Italy, often referred to as ‘the Wonder-worker’ and often prayed to when things go missing.
When you go to Confession you will see, in the Reconciliation Room, statues of Saint Anne with her little Daughter, Our Lady and The Infant Jesus of Prague (from the Czech Republic). Prior to the re-ordering of our church, this area was, as some may remember, the site of the Baptistery, hence the stained glass window, seen to one’s right as one enters the room, depicting the Baptism of the Lord by Saint John the Baptist, a very appropriate image when we consider that, through Confession, Grace first received in Baptism is increased or even restored. Why not research a Saint or a particular devotion to Our Lord or Our Lady originating in the Country in which you may have Roots! Our Parish is truly blessed through the many Races and Cultures which contribute to our thriving Community! “Catholic”, after all, means “Universal”, i.e. for all People / Races / Nations!
Before arriving at the Blessed-Sacrament Altar we may light a ‘candle’ at the Sacred Heart Shrine (a candle was first lit for us at our Baptism), a sign of the Light of Christ in our Souls); this statue, revealed by Our Lord to Saint Margaret-Mary Alacoque, shows His Heart pierced by the spear and Crowned with Thorns, recalling the intense Love for us which drove Him to Suffer and Die on the Cross. He asked Saint Margaret-Mary to spread devotion to His Heart, so saving the souls of many who had once doubted or even rejected his Love. At Christmas we see displayed here, for our veneration, the Nativity scene while, over the side-door opposite, the Three Kings journey towards Bethlehem for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, when Christ was revealed as Saviour of the World’s Peoples.
The pair of doors with a Cross and light above them next to the Sacred Heart Shrine are entrances to another small private room where, if there are several priests available, confessions may also be heard.
Near to the Blessed Sacrament Altar is Saint Patrick, Missionary to and Patron Saint of Ireland, ever listening for prayers for that Land where so many of us have our Roots. Also, spaced round the wall of the church you will see 12 candles and 12 crosses. These signify the Twelve Apostles who Jesus called to be the first Priests and Bishops of the Catholic Church. These crosses mark the places anointed by the Archbishop with Chrism (Holy oil) when he consecrated (specially dedicated or gave) our church to God’s Service. We, too, were anointed with this Holy Oil at our Baptism and, later, at our Confirmation. These candles will be lighted on certain occasions such as the Anniversary of the dedication (naming) of the Church by our Archbishop, at the Easter Vigil, representing the Risen Christ, and at Midnight and Christmas Day Masses, representing Christ, the Light of the World who helps us ‘see’ the way to Heaven. Looking away from the High-Altar, up towards the choir-gallery, we see the circular (rose) window, depicting Christ the King (part of this image is also on our Parish Website), Whose Feast brings to a close each Liturgical Year.
Close to the Font is the Paschal (Easter) Candle which represents the Risen Christ, the Beginning and End of all things, denoted by the Greek letters alpha (A) and omega (Ω), with five grains of incense standing for His Five Glorious Wounds in His Hands, Feet and Side, and from which our Baptismal Candle is lit as our Parents, with the support of our Godparents, promise to “…keep the Light of Christ burning…”, i.e. to bring us up, through word and example, as Practising Catholics. Just as it is lighted as we begin our Faith Journey, it will shine out on the day of our Requiem Mass, as our Brothers and Sisters in Christ pray that we are now sharing in His Resurrection in Heaven.
Over the rear door is Saint Joseph, the ‘Spouse most Chaste’ of Our Blessed Mother and Foster-Father of our Redeemer and in the opposite corner, Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr, Patron Saint of our Parish. In this Chapel are three stained glass windows: they depict the Gospel, spread by Saint Bartholomew, Our Lord, the Sacrificial Lamb and St. Joseph, Jesus' Foster-Father, represented by woodworking tools.
In the larger part of the church, to the right of the High-Altar, is Our Lady’s Altar, reminding us that, by her ‘Yes’ to the Archangel Gabriel, Mary made possible God’s Plan for our Salvation by conceiving and carrying in her Womb the Child who was to grow to adulthood, found the Church, offer His Life for us 33 years later and come to us personally every time we receive Holy Communion.
In the wall of the Lady Chapel, above the benches, are more Stained glass windows: The three main windows depict the Nativity of Our Lord. Above them are images of Mary, our Mother’s Queenship, a Crown and a letter M. Saint Pope John Paul II incorporated the M into his coat of arms, together with the motto, “Totus Tuus”, (“All Yours!”)
Votive lights and flowers, nearby, are signs for others of our love for and devotion to our Mother, into whose Protection Jesus placed us as He suffered and died on the Cross. To the left and right of Our Lady’s Shrine are pictures, marking special devotions to Mary; Our Lady of perpetual Succour (Help), an icon (or holy picture) from the Eastern Church and, from Poland, Our Lady of Częstochowa, sometimes known as the Black Madonna.
Moving clockwise round the church we next see Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, generally known as Padre (Father) Pio, an Italian Capuchin Priest who bore on his body the Wounds (Stigmata) of Christ’s Passion and, during many hours spent hearing Confessions, reconciled countless souls to God; we do well to pray for his intercession for Priests hearing Confessions and for ourselves, in need of God's Mercy and seeking it through this wonderful Sacrament.
In the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the Sanctuary lamp and Tabernacle veil (cover) remind us that Jesus is really here in church among us, waiting for our loving greeting. The two small windows immediately to the left of this Altar show the Lamb of Sacrifice and a pelican, a bird which will feed its young on its own blood if their survival is in question; both of these are reminders that Christ, the Lamb of God, Shed His Blood for us.
The Mosaic framing the Tabernacle represents the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, which prefigured how, at every Mass, Christ who, that day, fed thousands in a hungry crowd with earthly food would, one day, feed our souls with Himself in Holy Communion, the Food of Life which will help us be made stronger and avoid doing bad things on our way to Heaven. In this mosaic are also the Paschal Lamb, some grapes and a Chalice, recalling the Sacrificial Death of Christ once-for-all on Calvary.
In the Chapel’s main side window, above the benches, we see portrayed the Last Supper, at which Jesus gave His Apostles, our first Priests, their First Holy Communion and to whom he gave His Power to change bread and Wine into his Living Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity to give to us at Mass. In the round window above this scene is an image of the letters X and P, from the beginning of the Name of Christ in Greek (‘Chi’ and ‘Rho’), a language in which the Faith was first preached. The same image is to be found on the Altar Rail in front of the votive candle stand, and on the Blessed Sacrament Altar itself, reminding us that, as well as being Priest and Victim, Christ is the Altar of Sacrifice. On Maundy (Holy) Thursday, after the Commemoration of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, the High (main) Altar is stripped bare, looking towards the bleakness of Calvary following Christ’s Death on Good Friday and, until midnight, the Blessed Sacrament reposes in the Tabernacle for our Adoration, as Christ’s Body rested in the Tomb.
Above the High Altar is the Crucifix (i.e. the Cross with the figure of Christ on it), because, on the Altar, at every Mass, the once-for-all Sacrifice of the Cross is, through the hands and words of the Priest, made present for our participation. If we are privileged to have one of our Priests come and offer Mass for us in our home, he will place a Crucifix on whatever serves as an Altar of Sacrifice. It also reminds us that we pray in the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. On the reverse of this particular Crucifix is depicted Christ Rising from the Dead and reaching for His Crown.
Lower down on the wall, progressing round our church, beginning near the entrance to the Sacristy (where Father and the Altar Servers get ready before Mass) and ending near the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, we have 14 Stations of the Cross (also called the Way of the Cross), pictures which trace the Journey of Love made by Jesus from His trial in the Roman Governor’s court to His Burial in the Tomb. These Stations are a link with the actual way of the Cross, still walked by Pilgrims in Jerusalem, making it possible for us to be ‘in spirit’ on that holy ground which we may not necessarily ever be able to visit in person.
Inside the main porch of the church, in windows on either side of the main doors are scenes from the life of our Patron, St. Bartholomew. Above the notice board near the side door is a small round window, bearing the Latin inscription, “In Memoriam” (remembering). This window remembers babies and young children who have died, with those children being represented by a small purple butterfly. Twice a year, at Croydon University Hospital, a special service is held in the chapel there for all those who died so early in their lives.
A stone tablet, engraved with the names of former Parish Priests, is positioned near to the Repository, a room in which we may buy items which can help us to learn more about our Faith. A separate frame contains a record of all former curates or assistant priests. These remind us to pray for the souls of the Priests who have cared for the souls of members of our Parish since 1908 and, indeed, of our Christian duty to pray for the Souls of all who have died. One day, please God, people will pray for our souls, too. We thank God for their lives, given in serving our Parish, and ask Him that they may now be with Him in Heaven, rewarded for their faithful service. Of course we must never forget to pray for Priests living and serving here and around the world. Satan knows full well that he will be defeated through their priestly power and does not, for an instant, cease to try and undermine their Ministry. In the porch there is also a list of all those men who serve us in Southwark Archdiocese, each allotted a day of the week. The notice also reminds us of all those who have died following the completion of their work in the vineyard of vocations.
Our first action, on entering the main body of the church must, surely, be to greet Our Blessed Lord, Whose House we are invited into. Our Children will learn from the adults they see round them. While it is the Parents' privilege and duty to bring up their children in the Faith, we all need to consider just what an effect our own example can have on young (and even on not so young) minds.
Before entering our bench for Mass we (if we are able) genuflect towards the Tabernacle, situated on the Blessed Sacrament Altar where Jesus is waiting for our greeting, wishing to pour His Grace into our Souls, calling us to open our hearts and love Him. Those unable to genuflect may well bow. While these outward gestures are, of course, very important it is His Grace in our Souls, our Love for and Faith in Him which truly pleases God. As well as reminding us of our reason for coming to church, we can also teach others through example. Who knows whether someone, not a Catholic perhaps, seeing our demeanour, will themselves be drawn to know more of the Church to which we accord such love and respect.
We and our Children are fortunate to be highly literate and able to access vast sources of knowledge but, centuries ago, without the ability to read Bibles and Missals (if they actually had one) and before liturgical calendars existed how did people know what was being celebrated / commemorated at Masses during the year? The answer lay in the colour of the Priest's vestments: Green, colour of new life, worn most of the year, recalled the life of Grace making souls 'grow' just as sunlight causes new shoots to appear; White recalled the Grace and Purity of God and the Angels and Saints, Purity to which all are called; Red denoted the Blood shed by Christ and by Martyrs. It also called to mind the Power of the Holy Spirit, the Fire of Pentecost and the Kingship of Christ; Purple, especially during Lent and Advent, pointed to the need for Penance (Father wears a Purple stole when hearing Confessions). Purple can be replaced, (on the 3rd Sunday of Advent and the 4th Sunday of Lent) by Rose, symbolic of future rejoicing; Black, now largely replaced by Purple, stood for mourning and to remind us of the solemn duty to pray for the dead who, unless perfect, will have sinned in this life and are counting on our help to reach Heaven. We are helping them get to Heaven by our Masses, Prayers and Sacrifices. Black was, once, generally worn for Requiem Masses - an exception to this was a Requiem for a baby who had, of course, died before reaching the age of reason and could not have chosen to offend God - for them Father wore White. Through colour everyone, literate or not, could recall Father’s teaching and follow the Liturgical Year.
The Sacred dignity of the Sanctuary, and the Mass offered there, is further emphasised by the garments worn by the Altar Servers, which are either an alb together with a red cord, or a cassock (black most of the year, changing to red for Easter, Pentecost and Christmas) and white cotta (surplice). Most of our Altar Servers are Members of the Guild of St Stephen, and wear a Guild Medal.
Last week, on Ash Wednesday, we began Lent (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Lencten’, i.e. ‘Spring’), a six week period of preparation for Easter, a time probably generally associated with 'giving things up'. Self-denial can certainly focus our minds more sharply on our Saviour's Sacrifice and help us become more detached from material things. Hopefully it will not be, simply, a yearly 'detox', foregoing such pleasures as alcohol or rich foods before eagerly taking them up again at Easter. Lenten self-denial obviously really needs to become a year-round discipline to be lastingly beneficial, whether spiritually and/or physically.
Probably more of a challenge is the 'positive side of the coin', i.e. doing extra. This must certainly include making great efforts with our spiritual lives and may well involve money saved through material self-denial. Hopefully, money saved from giving up certain foods and drinks will go to Charity. Also there are practical acts of Charity one can take on, such as giving time to visiting the sick and housebound.
Bearing in mind that we need God's Grace to do anything truly good will, hopefully, prompt us to try to get to Mass (in addition to obligatory Sunday Mass) at least once during the week, maybe at St. Bart’s at 7.30am on our way to work or school. At Mass, we have the privilege of accompanying Christ in His once-for-all Sacrifice of His Life to His Father on Calvary. We receive Him in Holy Communion, an act which strengthens souls in the State of Grace so that they may persevere in faithfulness to God. If Mass in our Parish Church is not possible, do check Mass times at churches nearer to school or workplace; Some Catholic schools may already offer students the possibility of daily Mass. In addition to morning Masses, some churches may well offer lunchtime or evening Mass.
As many churches in towns and cities are open all day, one has, if it is really impossible to get to Mass, at least the chance to pop in and make the Way of the Cross. Remember that, at St. Bart's, we have the opportunity to make this devotion together on Sundays (4pm) and Fridays (7.30pm) in Lent. The fourteen Stations (or Way) of the Cross, put before our mind's eye several events in Christ's Passion, from His condemnation by Pilate to His burial. This devotion, which can, of course, be practised every day of the year, is available in a variety of formats. Very young children will benefit from being taken and shown the beautifully carved and painted images in church, with very simple explanations from Parents or older Siblings or, maybe, they can be asked to tell the story in their own words. Some of us may well have a favourite version of the Stations we like to use. Even the sick and housebound can make the Stations; nobody need feel excluded! There are Apps for our Smartphones, not to mention a wealth of on-line versions, many of which have film footage with sound or subtitles.
A beautiful, simple and soul-searching version is that by Saint Alphonsus Liguori, published by CTS. Those who can use smartphones, mp3 players and computers may listen to or download this from here.
Another, more contemporary meditation, by Fr. Hugh Thwaites, S.J. is available here. Many versions are available; it all depends on what we hope to gain, spiritually, from this great devotion. EWTN Catholic TV is certainly well worth looking at. How we meditate on the Passion is, of course, up to us. If we really don't have time to come and make the Stations in church (on our own, if we prefer) or to spend a short while making them at home, why not try, at least daily, during Lent, to say the beautiful Act of Contrition which is often included as part of the Way of the Cross: "I love Thee, Jesus, my love above all things! I repent with my whole heart of having offended Thee! Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always and then do with me what thou wilt!”. This wording can easily be explained to and adapted for our younger parishioners.
Whatever we elect to do let us do it with love, as part of our life-long journey, “...knowing, loving and serving God...” here on earth, so as to bring us to be “...happy forever with Him in Heaven.” (which many of us will have learned through the ‘Penny’ Catechism (Q&A.2), still published (though, unfortunately, no longer 1 penny!) and available from the CTS, even in E-Book format these days! It is an excellent summary of our Faith and will ‘stretch’ both adults and children alike! For those still wishing to ‘grow in Faith’ this Constant Teaching of the Church is more fully explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Chs. 1-3.
We often remark at how quickly time passes. On 8th January the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marked the end of the Christmas season and, already, on Ash Wednesday, 14th February we will begin the Penitential season of Lent. And not so long after Easter, we shall be looking towards Advent 2018! Our Blessed Lord was very precise in His use of language. Looking beyond our comparatively brief lifespan on earth, towards Eternity, He underlined the urgent need for constant preparation, speaking of the unexpectedness of our coming before God’s Judgement Seat, death coming, perhaps, “...like a thief in the night…(1 Thess. 5.2)…you know not the day nor the hour…(Mt. 25:13)…tonight thy soul is required of thee…(Lk. 12:20)”.
The Liturgy of Ash Wednesday recalls sobering facts. As we are marked on our foreheads with a Cross of ash (prepared by burning last year’s palms) the priest or other person applying the ashes may say either, “Repent and believe in the Gospel…” (Mk. 1:15) or the more sobering, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19). The second formula may cause one to feel ‘uncomfortable’ but is, obviously, so very necessary in this world which, sadly, often lauds wealth, celebrity and power as criteria for a fulfilled life, whilst ignoring their power to distance or even separate us from God. A loving earthly parent will, although positively encouraging their children to be careful crossing the road, also point out the unpleasant, even fatal consequences of carelessness in doing so. Similarly God, out of Love for us, wishes us to recall that much of what is regarded as ‘gain’ in this world has the power to deny us eternal happiness. Unlike the world, which can be very unforgiving, Christ, knowing our fallen nature, gives us through His Church this period of the year dedicated especially to deeper examination of conscience and to trying to see ourselves as God sees us. Of course, this 40 day period should, quite definitely, not be our sole spiritual ‘MOT’ for the year.
The Good Shepherd ever calls us to Himself. Whatever our sins, He will welcome us back if we repent and return. He has given us the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) as the normal means of making this return from Mortal and what are deemed ‘lesser’ sins. Through this wonderful Sacrament, available daily, if needed, in addition to the scheduled times, a Soul, dead in sin, may be restored to the Life of Grace. We must, however not fall into the error of thinking that Confession is reserved solely for Grave sin. Even one who has faithfully persevered in God’s Grace throughout life has need of the strengthening Grace of this Sacrament to maintain their Godward orientation.
It may take great courage and humility to go to Confession, overcoming Human Respect (i.e. ‘What will people think of me when they see me go into the Reconciliation Room?’). Sadly we can ‘transfer’ our own sometimes unforgiving nature to Christ. Yet the Scriptures are full of accounts of Jesus forgiving people, for example the woman taken in adultery and the penitent thief on Calvary. His many visible healings point towards His ability, as God Incarnate, to heal our invisible spiritual ills, i.e. sins. We never hear Him turn penitents away. Of course, to be forgiven, sorrow and determination not to sin again must go together. How often do we hear Christ saying, “Go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11)?
Why not, especially if it does not come easily, resolve to make a good Lenten Confession, as the first of many regular Confessions in the coming year, rather like having one’s car regularly serviced, rather than waiting for a major, more costly or dangerous defect to occur. The priest can answer any questions, however ‘silly’ we might regard them; nothing will shock him; as an Alter Christus, he is only too glad to continue Christ’s work of Reconciliation. Look out for details of our Lenten day of Penitence.
There is plenty of faithful Catholic literature on the subject. One publication, “Confession, A little Book for the Reluctant” by Monsignor Louis Gaston de Ségur, published by TAN, answers many of the fears that many, sadly, have of this Sacrament. Booklets about Reconciliation are available from our Repository. If you try this link you will find a wealth of helpful materials published by the CTS. Please God, the following line from Saint Alphonsus’ Stations of the Cross, will be our motive for repentance: “It is thy love, more than the fear of Hell, which causes me to weep for my sins.” (from the 8th Station: The Women of Jerusalem Mourn for Our Lord).
The entire building is a teaching aid, so let’s start outside: The building itself, bricks and mortar, is a reminder to us that we are members of the Church making up that which is also called Christ’s Mystical Body on Earth. As the mortar holds the bricks together, so we Catholics are linked, very closely, by our common Baptism, God’s Grace and our Faith in the One True God. When anybody receives Communion, they receive the very same Christ as each of their brothers and sisters Worldwide. Have we considered just how close we are to one another in Christ? The term Mystical Body of Christ, of course, refers to a living organisation with each and every member of the Universal (or Catholic) Church, described by Saint Paul as 'living stones'.
The shape of the building, pointing Heavenwards, reminds us of its purpose – to help us raise our minds and hearts in Prayer to God. If we could fly over the church, we would see that it is built in the shape of a cross. There are many striking churches and cathedrals in Britain and around the world which very clearly have been designed to move us to contemplate our Creator, to raise our minds and hearts to God. The spires of the great Gothic cathedrals are a vivid sign of this. Back at Saint Bart’s we see, at the apex of the roof, a Cross, reminding us of Christ's Sacrifice, daily re-enacted on the Altar within. How prayerfully do we mark ourselves with this sacred symbol?
Over the main door is an image, in mosaic, of our Patron, Saint Bartholomew, shown holding the knife with which he was flayed (skinned) alive. St Bartholomew is the patron saint of butchers, leather workers and tanners. Over the side doors are mosaics of his Martyr’s Crown and Palm of Victory, recalling the fact that, whatever the challenges, a wonderful Eternity waits in Heaven for those who do their best to follow God’s Laws while on Earth.
On entering the church porch we need to consider where we are and why we have come to church, sometimes referred to as a Sacred Space. Who is our first priority? We make the Sign of the Cross with Holy Water. This is a reminder of our Baptism, '...in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...' when Original Sin was washed away, we became a child of God and our Soul was flooded with Sanctifying Grace. We do this for ourselves and for any of our Children who are too small to do this for themselves; in this way we are teaching them a holy and beautiful custom. There are Holy Water stoups (bowls) at each entrance to the church. At the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses we are invited to renew for ourselves the Promises made on our behalf at our own Baptism. At times during the Liturgical Year, Father will process round the church and bless us with Holy Water. On the day that a man and woman take their solemn vows to remain lovingly faithful for the rest of their lives, Wedding Rings are blessed with Holy Water. When a person dies, their coffin is sprinkled with Holy Water, recalling that, “In Baptism s/he died (to sin) in Christ…” and asking that they may now share in His Risen Life in Heaven.
Just as a church building is an inanimate object without its parishioners, so Faith, a Gift of God, is not merely something we ‘do’ on Sundays and Holy Days. Faith is not just a set of facts to be learned from the Catechism or in lessons, but it is something which must be accepted and practised, i.e. ‘taken on board’ and have a definite effect on our day-to-day life if it is to live and grow in us and spread to those among whom we live. Faith, in a ‘compartment’ of the mind that means little or nothing to one is rather like a plant which, once in the soil, is then neglected and, in time, attacked by frost, insects and the sun, will either be stunted in growth or even shrivel and die, whereas plants which are watered, fertilised, pruned and carefully nurtured flourish, producing flowers, fruit, seeds and further growth round the garden. Cuttings can spread this bounty far and wide. Who knows how many ‘seeds of Faith’ God will plant and how many ‘cuttings’ He will transplant through our efforts?
In very early times the Christian message was, of course, spread by word of mouth and, of course, through example! Throughout the ages, until literacy became more widespread and before written and printed matter were more readily available and understandable, other ways were essential to teach and recall the Truths of the Faith. The Rosary, for example, was originally developed from the prayers of the Psalter (book of psalms), having 150 beads corresponding to the 150 psalms; in this way even the uneducated could, through prayers, counted on their beads, join in the Prayer of the Church, truly a demonstration of one’s equality before God which transcends all buildings and borders, and which does not depend on one’s academic qualifications!
A building - yet so much more!!
Following the Inaugural Mass for each year’s First Holy Communicants, they are given what one might call a ‘guided tour’ of the church, taking a closer and more detailed look around the building to which Parents and Guardians have lovingly and faithfully brought them to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation and, hopefully, when possible, also to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and weekday Masses in holiday time. Please God, over time, they (and we) will develop a greater understanding of, Love for, and familiarity with a place which is infinitely more than the materials of which it is constructed. The more we know and love Our Lord, the more effective we will be as Apostles, able to ‘…Go and Teach…’ How many, perhaps of no faith even, living and working with us, might be stimulated to find out about this great Love of our life?! Will they notice, ‘…how these Christians love one another’? If they happen to accompany us to a Catholic Church one day, will our demeanour while there demonstrate the depth of our Faith, the ‘Pearl beyond Price’?
In addition to this mini journey round the church building, children and parents will continue to ‘journey’ together towards that Great Day when the children receive Our Blessed Lord for the very first time; hopefully, the first of many Loving Holy Communions!
In our church, there are many visual aids to help us all (Adults as well as Children) to learn and understand more of the Truths which help bring us closer to God. Indeed the building itself is there to teach us! In fact, in the days before education was widely available and people were not able to read and write as can we, many aspects of the Faith were taught through and recalled by the symbolism all around us in church. These visual aids form a valuable resource in our vital and ongoing responsibility for personal formation in our own Faith and in forming our precious children (future Catholic adults, parents, priests, religious) in the Faith. Children learn much from what they see and hear us do (or not do). Their response to God’s Call (Vocation) may well be determined by the foundations we have laid in their early years. In addition to this, they will understand, appreciate and so make more use of the aids to Sanctity which, as news media clearly demonstrate daily, is actively opposed. Of course, however hard we try, in the end it is down to the children’s use of their free will but we can be certain that, as the Scriptures remind us God will repay our efforts in ways beyond our understanding.
Over the next few weeks we will be ‘thinking’ our way round our Parish Church, stopping along the way to consider the significance of what we see and how this can ‘point us’ in the right direction, helping to make clearer what we, please God, already know from our own upbringing in the Faith.
On the First Sunday of Advent 2017 AD ('Anno Domini' i.e. 'The Year of Our Lord') we began our Liturgical New Year. As 2017 drew to a close, we remembered the Holy Innocents, massacred by Herod in his quest to destroy Jesus, also renewing our prayers for the innocent Unborn still being slaughtered through Abortion. We honoured the Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the perfect model for all families. At midnight, as 2018 began, we were privileged to be invited to begin this new Anno Domini with Our Lord at Mass, receiving Him in Holy Communion. Later that day we celebrated Mary, the Holy Mother of God, through whose loving, ‘…Be it done unto me…’, Christ could come into the world, enabling mankind to make a new beginning on the road to Heaven, previously closed by Original Sin. Last Sunday we celebrated the Epiphany (or manifestation) of Our Lord. Three Kings (or Magi) representing the Gentile, or non-Jewish peoples, knelt down to adore the King of kings lying in the manger, offering gifts signifying His Kingship, His Divinity and His Saving Death.
New Year is a traditional time to make Resolutions which, hopefully, will improve our lives, either correcting faults or, perhaps, increasing the good efforts we are already making to correspond with God’s Grace. As part of this renewal process we were recently offered what perhaps, for some of us, served as a wake-up call, i.e. ‘How long is it since I went to Confession, admitted that I was in the wrong and asked to be reconciled with God?’. To this end we were offered a whole day during which we had the privilege and joy of Adoring Our Saviour, exposed in the Monstrance on the Altar and, through His Priests, of receiving the sure knowledge that, having repented of and confessed our sins, we are forgiven. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, like the Father of the Prodigal Son, Our Lord picks us up, telling us, through Father, ‘…your sins are forgiven you…Go and sin no more…’.
What form, for Catholics, might New-Year resolutions take if they are to rise above ‘run-of-the-mill’ ones (good as these may well be) and make a difference not only to our bodily but, more importantly, to our Spiritual Life? Regular Confession must surely be a priority on many lists! Are there opportunities to help not only ourselves and our Families but also others, of Faith or unbelieving, who, knowing that we are Catholics, look to us, consciously or not, for a lead?
Honouring the Holy Family highlights the fundamental Truth that our Families, core units of Society, living according to God’s Law, can and must be a force for change; resolutions provide many opportunities for the ongoing Religious formation of Parents and Children. In times when Marriage and the Family are under attack, our Witness is more crucial than ever!
A good starting point for decision-making is Prayer in the Home; do we encourage our Children to say morning and night Prayers and Grace before and after meals? If we are eating in a public venue will any of our fellow-diners be aware of our Faith as we say Grace Before Meals together? Do children have the best example of all, their Parents’ own prayers? How often do we pray as a Family, maybe saying the Rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy each day? Do we discuss our wonderful Faith? One is never too young or too old to go ‘exploring’. Are resolutions needed here? How often do we take our children to Mass? Of course there are Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation but how often, hectic as life can be, have we considered going as a Family to Adoration and Mass on Saturday mornings during the year and also on weekdays during school holidays in addition to the days on which we are obliged to attend? Many of our children have the privilege of being Altar Servers and would, therefore, be given more opportunities to exercise this Ministry through serving at weekday Masses. How often do we and our Children go to Confession? Is it, for us, an indispensable part of our Catholic life? When out and about could we pay a visit to Our Lord in the Tabernacle when we happen to pass by a Catholic Church, just spending even a few minutes before the Blessed Sacrament? Practice will achieve far more than words! Could a spiritual 'extra' be the subject for a resolution?
What will you resolve to do this year?
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church