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?
Next Sunday, we shall celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Universal King who will, when earthly life ends, show us the eternity which that life has pointed us towards. If we have tried to, ‘...know, love and serve God...’, then Christ will be able to call us to, ‘...be happy with Him forever...’.
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6) delivers a timely warning of the foolishness of presuming that one can live as one pleases in this life and still count on attaining Heaven. We must, ‘Be Prepared!’ Scripture contains ample warnings to anyone who chooses a self-centred life at variance with God’s Wise and Just Laws, such as the man who rejoiced in his material wealth and prosperity only to be told, ‘...Fool! This night your Soul is required of you!’ (Luke 12:20). The story of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) warns of the danger to one’s soul of amassing personal wealth while failing to aid those who lack even basic necessities. Paul cautions us that death can come, ‘...like a thief in the night...’ i.e. when one may be unprepared for it.
We have recently remembered men and women killed in war. We, rightly, remember the members of our Armed Forces but, of course, many more souls found themselves before God's 'Judgement Seat': those civilians killed, for instance, in the Blitz or those who died in an instant at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We seem, regularly, to hear news of sudden and unexpected deaths in events such as terrorist attacks. We have recently commemorated the anniversary of the Croydon tram derailment. No-one can guarantee that they will have time to ‘put their affairs in order’. However this is not something to grow morbid about or to despair of. We are, simply, being warned to ‘...stay wide awake and be sober...’ i.e. always keep in mind that earthly life is but a preparation for Eternity, divesting oneself of the treasures of this world in order to amass ‘Treasure in Heaven’. We recently celebrated the Memorial of Saint Martin de Porres. Considered ‘inferior’ by those who counted themselves as ‘superior’ at the time, he was, in fact, richer than his detractors in what really counts with God, namely Grace and Charity. We can learn many lessons from this Holy man.
Saint Augustine underlined the vital role each of us is expected to play in our Salvation when he famously (at that time referring specifically to the Just War doctrine) exhorted peacemakers to ‘Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you!’ It is a sobering consideration that Peace, or the lack of it, comes from within ourselves. As the proverb states, ‘Charity begins at Home!’. Through the Church, Mass and Sacraments we are offered abundant help. Please God we will avail ourselves of this Treasure and, ‘Walk in the Light of the Lord’.
So how do we repay this debt? Certainly through offering Prayers, Masses and Sacrifices for the repose of their Souls; in the heat of battle many, possibly, would have died unprepared. Many may do so today. It is an act of Charity to pray daily that anyone now living apart from God will accept the Grace of Final Repentance, offered until they draw their final breath in this world.
There is yet another obligation placed on our shoulders. These men and women died in defence of Human Rights, fundamental to which is the Right to Life itself! It is, consequently, up to us, living in the 21st century, to oppose those who, as we well know, believe that they ‘know better than God’ and seek to impose ‘agendas’ which directly oppose the Laws of our Creator. Confusing Love with license, they can seriously mislead many. News of conflict is constantly on our TV screens; these conflicts do not necessarily involve force of arms and physical destruction. They may (depending on the issue) involve the killing of the Soul as much as the Body. There is a great and indeed ever present need to stand up for what is right.
Far more than words, the examples of lives lived maybe, at times, heroically in willing obedience to God’s Laws, can bring the unenlightened to see the Beauty and Wisdom of the Church’s Teachings. Today Catholics may well be required to be ‘counter-cultural’. If we were to live contrary to God’s Holy Will, that would set a bad example to others and would make a mockery of those who sacrificed their lives for us so that we might be able to exercise our Free Will unimpeded, to say nothing of mocking our Lord whose Passion, Death and Resurrection give meaning and purpose to our Prayers for the Faithful Departed.
It is truly good to condemn unjust aggression and to mourn and pray for those who strove against it on our behalf. As ever, if we are to be credible witnesses of the Truth, we must, ‘practise what we preach!’.
On 31st October, many people will have celebrated Halloween (Hallow e’en - from ‘Hallow’ - to make Holy). This somewhat secular occasion, nowadays with somewhat of an emphasis upon magic, was, long ago, a Christian event, namely the Eve of the Feast of All Saints. The Church has, through events such as the Night of Light, tried to restore this celebration to its Catholic roots; children have been encouraged to come to church dressed, perhaps, as the Saints after which they were named (Name-Saints) having, hopefully, with the help of their parents, done a little research on these illustrious forbears in the Faith. In the Light of Faith, they have looked towards the Light of Heaven.
On the first day of this month, we celebrated the Saints: those who have ‘…fought the good fight… finished the race… and… kept the faith’ (2 Tim.4:7). On the following day, we commemorated the Holy Souls in Purgatory, to whom the month of November is dedicated. We are all, living and dead, members of the Communion of Saints. Those in Heaven (the Church Triumphant) now intercede for us, (the Church Militant) and for the Holy Souls in Purgatory (the Church Suffering) who we can also help through our Masses, Prayers and Sacrifices. There is a very beautiful prayer, particularly appropriate for this month, which we can say for our Brothers and Sisters in Purgatory: the ‘De Profundis’ (‘Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord…’). This prayer may be found in the Prayer section of our Parish Website.
Perhaps November, with its emphasis upon those who have, ‘…gone before us…’ (i.e. the Holy Souls and the Saints), might provide a good starting point for research by parents and children into their Name-Saints. Our names do more than simply distinguish us one from another within our families. First names are traditionally called ‘Christian Names’ for a very good reason, in that they are primary evidence of our Christian heritage. This is a practice which has sadly lost its importance as secularisation has increased its grip on society. Indeed, when parents present their children for Baptism, they are reminded of the importance of giving them at least one such name. Which of our Christian forbears are we named after? When did they live, and where? What kind of lives did they lead? Can we identify with any of their faults and failings? How did they die? etc.
This list barely ‘scratches the surface’ of a treasure trove of Christian Witnesses from all over the world. Here, expectant parents, those preparing to become Catholics, and Confirmation candidates will discover truly wholesome and inspiring role models, to be looked up to, imitated and prayed to as we strive to join them in Heaven. In an age when highly unsuitable role models may often be presented to children through the Media, there is an urgent need for them to, in some cases, rediscover their Catholic identity and purpose in life. They can best do this with the loving help of their first teachers, their parents!
The end of yet another Liturgical year is fast approaching. Throughout each and every one of these years as our knowledge and love of God, hopefully, grows, we are also preparing for a more significant ‘destination’, namely the end of our Earthly life, and life’s continuance eternally with our Creator in Heaven. Today we review the requirements for a successful realisation of our Created destiny.
The Entrance Antiphon (cf Psalm 104:3-4), speaks of the true joy which is only to be found through seeking and following our Lord in the particular circumstances in which we live, aided by unlimited Graces, ours for the asking!
In the First Reading (Exodus 22:22-26) we are left in no doubt as to the way we must treat others, with love, compassion and justice; as we expect God to regard us, so are we bound to regard our fellow humans. We are left in no doubt that (as in the parable of The last Judgement) our charity or lack of it towards others will determine the ‘verdict’ of our Loving and Merciful Judge on ourselves.
Through the Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 17:2-4, 47, 51 response v2), we declare our love for our Father, recognising that He alone can equip us for our lifelong struggle against evil. Just as a healthy diet, good exercise and, on occasion, medical intervention are essential in maintaining or restoring the health and strength of our bodies, so God’s Grace cannot be dispensed with if our souls are to stand firm against Satan’s temptations which assail us from so many directions and can, should we give in to them, undermine our spiritual health, even leading to the death of our soul.
In the Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 1:5-10) Saint Paul cites his practical Christian example which first moved his converts to seek and welcome the Gift of Faith. This example, subsequently lived out in their own lives, will cause many more to see the beauty of God’s Truth; in other words we must ‘practice what we preach’ if we are to play our own part in bringing others to God.
In the Alleluia verse (cf Acts 16:14) we ask the Father for the Grace which, alone, can ‘…open our hearts…’ and so bring about our personal conversion to and persistence in following the Way opened up by the Son.
Finally, in the Gospel (Matthew 22:34-40), our Lord, not in the least ‘caught out’ by the wiles of the Pharisees, again underlines the essential foundation of a holy life. Wholehearted love of God and Neighbour alone demonstrate our adherence to the Truth we proclaim and underpin our obedience to the rest of the Commandments.
In the following week we will look ahead to the happy fulfilment of a faithful life spent in love of God and Neighbour, namely Eternal Joy with God in Heaven. On Wednesday we will celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, a Holy Day of Obligation. On that day we will contemplate those who have ‘...fought the Good Fight...’, ‘...kept the Faith...’ and now ‘…from their labours rest…’ We will rejoice in their Joy and ask for their help in our continued journey on Earth.
Although the following day, All Souls’ Day, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, is not a Holy Day of Obligation, Mass on that day should surely, unless impossible, be a priority for us, as a profound expression of our love of Neighbour. Countless ancestors have already died and count on our assistance, to say nothing of people who have died with no one to pray for their souls. A Priest (who, generally, may say two Masses a day) may say three Masses for the Dead on this day. As we are told in Machabees 12:46, “It is a Holy and Wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins”. In Charity we must strive to help those who, whether we know them or not, have died and are now in Purgatory, undergoing that final Purification from sin, necessary if they are to enjoy Eternal Happiness. The Holy Souls are certainly on the way to Heaven but can no longer help themselves get there. As a beautiful hymn puts it, they are ‘…in prison for the debt unpaid of sins committed here…’ Our Loving Duty, emphasised by the dedication of the entire month of November to the Holy Souls, is to help them on their way. One day, please God, it will be our turn to look for this help!
If one is able it is good to make a week's retreat, conducted by Priests and Religious, distancing oneself from everyday distractions and spending more time contemplating the things of God, through daily Mass, talks, prayer and Spiritual-reading. For those of us with limited time it can be possible to go on retreats, lasting only a day or two. There are numerous monasteries and retreat houses to which one may go. For some ideas see this wonderful Web site.
Such options may well not necessarily be open to many of us. However, that does not prevent us from reaching out to tap the sources of Grace which God wills to give us. Mass and Holy Communion, the foundation of Catholic life, are widely available in our Parish on Sunday and offered twice daily during the week. In addition to this treasure, on weekdays and Saturdays, groups meet to pray Morning Prayer of the Church and the Holy Rosary. Maybe, at least once a week, time could be made for an extra Mass or, if time is really limited, to 'pay a visit' to meditate while the church is open.
A church can be a quiet and contemplative oasis in a noisy environment; many busy people, where churches are open all day, will pop in and, perhaps, just for a few minutes, pour out their hearts before Our Lord in the Tabernacle; they 'recharge their spiritual batteries' and can go on to face the rest of their day. For many of us, however, our 'retreat' times are those precious minutes before and after Sunday or Holy Day Mass. May we make the most of these opportunities!
"Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar - and to God what belongs to God."
In the Entrance Antiphon, we acknowledge the enormity of our sins and God’s unlimited Forgiveness to those of us who repent. We then, in the First Reading (Isaiah 25:6-10), look with Faith and Hope towards the infinite happiness of Heaven which will be ours if we have striven, in this life, to stay close to our Father. All trials and evils, including death, which result from the Fall into Original Sin, (and which sometimes appear to monopolise the daily news) will be no more!
This theme of joyful hope continues in the Responsorial Psalm, (Psalm 22) in which, through the refrain to the verses (which we often sing as “The Lord’s my Shepherd”) we proclaim our belief that, “In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for ever and ever”.
In the Second Reading, Saint Paul (Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20), while thanking those who have selflessly supported him in various ways in his mission, underlines that all he has achieved (and will achieve) has been possible only because of the strength given him by God; every good that we do is a positive response to God’s Grace just as an evil deed involves a refusal of this Life of the Soul. Through the Alleluia Verse we echo this Truth, proclaiming Christ, the Word made flesh, to be the Source of the “...power to become children of God”.
The Uninvited Wedding Guest, an oil on panel painting dating from 1631 by the Flemish painter
Vincent Malo (c.1595-1649) which is currently on display in the Brukenthal National Museum in Romania
Finally, in the Gospel, (Matthew 22:1-14) Our Lord makes it very clear that Salvation, first offered to (and through) His Chosen People is, of course, offered to all; The Magi at the Nativity stood for all the Gentile (non-Jewish) races, also called to be saved and live the Life of Grace. As the Parable of the Wedding Feast makes abundantly clear, those who will, one day, be told, “Come, Blessed of my Father…” into everlasting Joy, will be those who truly wished (and made the effort) to get to Heaven.
We may, sadly often, through sin, damage or lose the Wedding Garment of God’s Grace, but as long as earthly life remains we may, through repentance and the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), ‘repair’ or ‘restore’ this Garment. Unlike those in the Parable who refused the initial invitation through material preoccupations or through wilfully failing to ‘come up to the mark’, may we ever set God as our priority in life!
Our prayer might well be, in the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, whose memorial we have recently celebrated, “Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom...”. How can we err if we keep the ‘eyes’ of our Soul fixed on the light which can never fail!?
In the Entrance Antiphon (from Daniel 3:31) today we acknowledge God’s Rightful Justice in condemning sin, while also expressing our faith that, should we repent, there is no limit to His Loving Forgiveness.
Ezekiel (18:25-28), warns the Israelites that, having chosen what is manifestly against God’s Will, it is illogical and unjust to blame God for the consequences arising from their sins, actions through which they have chosen to leave the safe road of loving obedience. How often do we hear someone (maybe ourselves) ask, “Why did God do this (make this happen) to me?” when the question should be, “Why did I let go of God’s protecting Hand to do what He has told me is wrong?” As we know well, God has given each one of us a spiritual Soul, Intelligence, Reason and Free will; in His Love he will not force us to ‘do as we are told’; to attain Heaven (or not to) is our choice! We suffer, in this world, because of the wrongful choices made by ourselves and others.
We will reach Heaven by heading determinedly God’s Way, however challenging; by God’s Grace we will recover from falls into sin along the way, ‘picking ourselves up’ and continuing the journey! In the Responsorial Psalm (Ps.24) we cry out, ‘Remember your Mercy, Lord’ but honesty compels us to acknowledge that God, in His Infinite Goodness, is constantly showing us the way we must go. It is we who are the forgetful ones, not God. We can stay on the safe path or, thinking, with the worldly-wise, that we ‘know better’, head into mortal danger!
Saint Paul (Phil 2: 1-11) urges us to go forward, in union with our Saviour, and with each other. We are not to consider ourselves superior in any way to others; We are not ‘in competition’ with our Brothers and Sisters, who we should consider before ourselves, neither may we presume to judge them. We must look honestly at our own shortcomings. Judgement is to be left to God Who, alone knows us ‘...through and through...’. Paul holds before us the supreme example, Jesus, the most reliable rôle model we have. To reach our Heavenly Home, we must model our lives on Christ’s. His earthly Life, lived in loving and humble submission to the Father and leading to His Passion, Death and Resurrection, is our guarantee that we will, having done our best in life, one day, be greeted in Heaven by Him Who re-opened the way closed by Adam and Eve.
In the Alleluia Verse we, again, affirm the vital necessity of backing up our declarations of love for God by living as He has wisely decreed. If we strive to go steadfastly towards God, we cannot fail to meet Him in Heaven!
In the Gospel (Mt. 21:28-32), Jesus, in the parable of the two sons, makes it very clear that ‘actions speak louder than words’. However much of an outward ‘show’ one may make of being a Christian, in the end it is the effort made which will tell. As the Saints have demonstrated, Peter and Paul among them, while one cannot guarantee that one will live a consistently perfect life it is those who, having the humility to recognise, repent of and correct their faults, however much they may, in consequence, be ‘looked down upon’ by others, who will ‘…endure to the end…’ and ‘…be saved..’.
In the Entrance Antiphon today we are reminded that the Lord is ‘…Saviour of all people…’ who, unlike even the best intentioned earthly friend, will be ‘…always there…’ and, very significantly, is unlimited in His ability to help us through life. We are expected, of course, to actively seek and use these opportunities to attain Salvation!
Isaiah (55:6-9), very wisely, urges us to seize every opportunity offered us by our Creator while we live on Earth, and ‘Seek the Lord while He is still to be found’. Until we draw our final breath we can, should we sin, repent and be assured of God’s Forgiveness; not that we should gamble our eternity on living apart from God and ‘getting in at the last moment’. God, who is so superior to His creatures, nevertheless leaves the final choice with us! As the Responsorial Psalm (From Ps. 144), recalls to mind, God ‘…is close to all who call Him….” How aware are we of our constant need to examine our conscience and make sure that we are not living in ways that take us further away from God?
Saint Paul (Phil. 1:20-24, 27), while looking with longing towards his entry into Heaven, acknowledges that, while he lives on earth, he has a vital role (as does each one of us) to play in the Salvation of Mankind. Paul’s ‘rule of thumb’ for the here and now, which will stand us in good stead when we die, is to keep from anything in our everyday life which will set us off in an opposing direction to God. Our Saviour, knowing our weaknesses, has left us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through which we can, as long as life lasts, keep close to or even return to God. God, who clearly sees our exact knowledge of good and evil and our intentions, cannot lose any soul which, in all honesty, has striven to be faithful to Him.
Previously we have recalled our duty to correct error. Today we look at a basic condition for being, ourselves, forgiven by God, which is that we forgive, ‘…those who trespass against us’. Straight away, not mincing his words, the writer of Ecclesiasticus condemns emotions which so often set up barriers to our forgiving those who hurt or offend us: “Resentment and anger…foul things…found with the sinner.” Whilst we must certainly ‘hate the sin’ we know that we must ‘love the sinner’. If we set ourselves up to judge and condemn any person, we become, in a way, like them. We are presented with the undeniable logic that we cannot reasonably expect God to approve plans to ‘get our own back’ for wrongs done to us, or to be able to show us Compassion if we deny this to our Neighbour. The extract finishes with what is (or should be) a chilling reminder that, as we deal with offences from our fellow humans, so will the same, in justice, be meted out to us at our Judgement!
The Responsorial Psalm highlights the attributes of our Creator, “…compassion…love…slow to anger…rich in mercy”, which, in spite of our fallen nature can, should we wish, sustain us in the ups and downs of life.
Saint Paul, writing to the Romans, simply reminds us that both here on earth and in the hereafter, we are all God’s creatures and, however much we may think that we live in ‘our own little bubble’, each life lived has an effect on others. How often do we think of this? Do we attract others to God, or do we undermine their search for the Truth? Do those around us, seeking meaning and purpose in life, perceive that we look, as the Alleluia verse proclaims, to God Who, alone, can bring us to Eternal Happiness?
In the Gospel our Lord, very emphatically, removes any limits to forgiveness. In a dramatic Parable, He delivers a stern warning that, just as the servant who refused to forgive a comparatively ‘trivial’ debt owed by a fellow servant was, as a result, severely punished for his own much greater debt to his Master, so our own forgiveness (or not) will determine the Judgement we receive at the end of our life.
We need to recognise, of course, that Jesus is not saying that we shall not be wronged, perhaps deeply, during the course of our life. We may well be unable to forget grave wrongs done to us or our loved ones. We must, however (and we have some profoundly moving examples following recent terrorist murders) strive to forgive, whatever effort this may cost, those who have set out to hurt us. We may well recall, also, how the Mother of Saint Maria Goretti forgave Alessandro, who had attempted to rape and had then killed her daughter, Maria (who also had forgiven him on her deathbed). Also the example of Saint Pope John Paul II who, following his life-saving treatment in hospital, visited Mehmet Ali Ağca, his would-be murderer, in prison, publicly forgiving this man who had shot him with the intention of killing him. How many examples might we, personally, recall of, perhaps, very ‘costly’ forgiveness?
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church