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?
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."
On the night of last Monday, 22nd May 2017, many innocent people, including several young ones, were victims of a brutal attack by a terrorist who would, doubtlessly, had he not died in the suicide attack, have claimed to have carried out these murders ‘in the name of God’! The children of Fátima, two of whom have been recently declared Saints, were warned by Our Lady that evils perpetrated around the world were going to lead to war. Indeed, the First and Second World Wars followed in the ensuing decades, being sure signs of what happens when God is denied and free will is abused. God calls us to live holy lives and, thereby, attain Heaven, but the end of our earthly life’s journey depends on our choice:– to do God’s Will or fundamentally, and knowingly, to oppose Him in grave sin.
Frequently, in the news, we hear of outrages committed against fellow humans and, quite rightly, we unite, even with those with whom we might have been at odds, to aid the victims and condemn the murders. We need to pray that these terrible acts may serve as alarm calls to wake up a world which, although claiming to be ‘advanced’ and ‘civilised’ and frequently and loudly proclaiming human rights, is very selective in the application of those rights. Through wars and terrorist outrages it is being driven home just how deeply the human race is affected by Original Sin. Because of one’s fallen nature, it can, as has been consistently demonstrated, be very difficult not to espouse the ‘causes’ of those who either deny God altogether or, certainly, deny His absolute right to decree how we live our lives. Through God’s grace, lovingly and freely accepted, however challenged we may feel in doing so, we can turn the tide of evil.
So, what do we do? We start at the very roots, in our families, where new life and formation for life begins; ensure that our families are, indeed, seed beds of truth and love. We must strenuously oppose what is often described as the Culture of Death. Sadly, although very rightly expressing our disgust and horror at the carnage perpetrated against human beings around the world, many can overlook the daily denial of life to the most vulnerable humans, the unborn and, increasingly, the denial of the right to life, at the other end of the scale, to the old and terminally ill. These lives are being placed in jeopardy, partly because contraception and abortion have denied God His prerogative to create, through the love of husband and wife, new generations of children who would have grown, generated new demands for goods and services, reached adulthood and, in time, have further contributed to the economy, maybe become carers and perhaps married and had their own children. One risks unpopularity and mockery for opposing the culture of death.
If we buy a household appliance, we might read the manual, then decide to follow only those instructions we happen to agree with, while ignoring others, assuming that we know better than the maker. Then, when it breaks down, and we expect the manufacturer to replace or repair it, we should not be surprised to find our request refused, since we committed a breach of contract by knowingly failing to use the appliance ‘in accordance with the maker’s instructions’. Applying this scenario to life, we wish to get to Heaven, but we place our eternal happiness in jeopardy if we subscribe to what has been called ‘cafeteria Catholicism’, in which one selectively and knowingly obeys or rejects God’s laws, presuming that God will, in the end, ‘overlook’ our errors, or that we will, anyway, repent before we die. If we are to be ‘salt and Light’ in this world, all of us need to start by taking a long hard look at our own lives.
On Good Friday, we recalled Our Lord’s being nailed to the Cross, hanging there for three hours then being laid, dead, in Mary’s arms; He was buried in the Tomb, in the eyes of many, gone for good! As we are hearing at the moment in the Gospels, in particular, Christ definitively proved that He is, indeed, God; He Rose from the dead, having atoned to the Father for the sin of Adam and Eve. As we recite, weekly, in the Creed, He soon confirmed the precarious Faith of the Apostles by sending the Holy Spirit; gone was the fear of reprisals for proclaiming the Truth. We are already hearing, not only of the bold proclamations of the Truth, but of the resistance to that truth, in the forms of beatings, imprisonment and death. Did the Church curl up and die? Not a bit of it! Energised by the Grace of God and by His Presence in Holy Communion, the Church has gone from strength to strength as, indeed, Christ promised it would. He promised, before ascending into Heaven, that He would be with us, “...until the end of time…”. Saint Paul, another of the fruits of the conquest of Good over evil, recalls us to this fact: If we live, faithfully, God’s Way, nothing can keep us from attaining Heaven.
Our Brothers and Sisters, in certain places in the world, are still suffering attacks, privation and death for living out the Faith which, in the ‘free’ world, so many treat so casually. Please God we will not fail our young people, the precious Church of the future. May they grow up in families where the Faith is an integral and growing part of life; may it never be allowed to come to be regarded like so many of the fashions and interests which they may well discard as they grow older.
Actions, as the Apostles demonstrated, speak louder than words. Enriched by regular reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, may our lives, ever more, be the examples which stimulate the growth of the Church!
Saint Josemaria underlined the fact as did the Fathers of Vatican II, later, that we are all called to Holiness; from the most to the least prominent in the Human Race, all are created by God who Wills that, however long, short or ‘unnoticed’ their life is, they do their best to respond to the Grace of God.
The Little Flower, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, is another prime example; the sanctity of her life and the profundity of her writing on the ‘Little Way’ reinforce the breadth and the depth of the Call to Holiness. Saint Martin dePorres’ life is also well worth reading; illegitimate, of mixed-race and, so, at that time, looked down on, his life of Charity would certainly put many of us to shame in our attitudes to those whom the world (and we?) consider ‘beneath us’; Saint Gianna Molla, an Italian paediatrician, denied herself cancer treatment and, subsequently, died in order that her unborn Daughter could live; the Venerable Matt Talbot, an obscure working-man, conquered alcoholism. The list goes on and on.
If the great multitude of Witnesses to God seems a bit daunting and you are seeking inspiration for yourself and your Children, maybe the Saints named above might provide an ‘entry’ to an inspiring gallery of role-models. If not then how about researching your name-Saints; is there a particular Saint named as Patron of the Country in which you or your ancestors have roots? Those in various professions can usually find a Saint who worked in the same line. There are countless examples of Saints who, quietly, got on with being Husbands, Wives and Parents, the often ‘unsung heroes’ without whom other Saints would not have later come to exist.
Finally, don’t omit to read the lives of Saintly Priests, such as Saint John Mary Vianney or our own Saint Pope John Paul II; our Pope and Priests are in the ‘front-line’ of the battle against Satan. They, as well as we, need the assistance of the Saints.
The image depicts St. Josemaria Escrivá, Founder of Opus Dei (canonised in 2002)
Whether we, personally, feel the need to pray or not (although we all need to prepare ourselves for, as the Fathers of Vatican II, spoke of, “…full, conscious and active participation…” in the Mass) charity surely demands that we consider those who do wish to speak with God, those who need this weekly oasis in which to rest in God's Embrace, the calm in the eye of the storm of life!
Our lovely new banners will, hopefully, remind us of Our Saviour in the Tabernacle, waiting lovingly and patiently like the Father of the Prodigal Son, calling us to his Divine Embrace. He is ours for the asking!
"Help, Lord, the Souls that Thou hast made, the Souls to thee so dear! In prison for the debt unpaid of sins committed here".These words, throughout the year and particularly in November, recall us to our duty of performing the Spiritual Work of Mercy of Praying for the Souls of the Faithful Departed; these include family, friends, acquaintances and also those who we have never known. Almost daily, the news media remind us of many for whom death comes suddenly and unexpectedly. As we pray for these souls we must also pray for ourselves; may we be prepared in order that death does not take us by surprise. Prayer for the dead goes back to Old Testament times. It is, for us, a recognition that our Christian Family extends far beyond the confines of our Parish. As members of the Communion of Saints, we have Brothers and Sisters without number. Some are already enjoying the Eternal Bliss of Heaven while we are sustained by God's Grace, on Earth. However, for those who have died, as will most of us, with some sins not atoned for, the chances to respond lovingly to God have ceased; those who have died in the State of Grace are waiting in the state the Church calls Purgatory where, before they can 'feel at home' in God's Presence, they must be cleaned (purged) of all that, from this life, remains between them and God. God knows that, until all traces of sin are removed, a soul will be unable to enjoy His Presence. These souls are, of course, assured of Heaven but can no longer do anything to help themselves get there; as with any loving family fitter members care for the sick and helpless; Saints in Heaven pray; we on Earth assist Souls in Purgatory through our Masses, Prayers and other sacrifices.
To emphasise our hope of Heaven we will, on Tuesday, celebrate All Saints in Heaven. On Wednesday we will recall All Souls who look to us (maybe some have nobody specifically praying for them) to help them into Heaven.
The imperfect state in which we die is further highlighted by the Priest's purple vestments (black may still be an option) when saying a Requiem Mass; the general exception, of course, is white, worn at a Mass for a baby or very young child who, of course, died before they were able to understand sin and, so, offend God. The sombre colours are an essential reminder that, however good our fellow human-beings may have seemed to us, they are, with their fallen nature, far from perfect and, therefore, in need of all the help they can get. We owe it, in love, to those who have died (and this is NOT judging them) to beg God's forgiveness as He sees they need it. One day we will be in that state! Please God this loving service will be performed for us!
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church