June is, for Catholics, the month highlighting our devotion to the Sacred Heart. Last Friday and Saturday, following our recent Celebration of Our Lord’s loving Gift of Holy Communion (i.e. Corpus Christi), we had two more celebrations of Love, sorely needed to highlight the true meaning of Love in an age when what may be termed ‘love’ can be directly opposed to the Will of our Creator.
Friday was the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Seat and Symbol of His Burning Love for us. This Love moved Him to Die for us, in agony, on the Cross on Good Friday and had also moved Him, at the Last Supper, to institute the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Through Holy Orders and Father’s words and gestures, that once-for-all Sacrifice will be made present and offered in our churches until the end of time. Christ, of course, does not suffer any more; He just wishes us to join ourselves, in our own particular time and place, to His Sacrifice, and longs to give Himself to each of us in Communion. On Fridays, Father may offer a Votive (optional) Mass of the Sacred Heart.
Among the revelations Jesus made was what became known as the Great Promise, namely that those, who on the First Friday of nine months in a row, would receive Communion, would be granted all the Graces they needed to finally repent of their sins, and receive the Sacraments, bringing them safely to Heaven. Of course, as we must recognise, this promise does not guarantee that one will get to Heaven, come what may, any more than having a knowledge of road safety will, if it is not practised, keep us from injury or death. Rather it promises that all the spiritual assistance we need to overcome sin and move closer to God are ours for the asking. We are, of course, expected to make our best efforts to use these sources of help! Jesus asked for the establishment of this Feast, to make up for Man’s ingratitude.
It is significant that these visions occurred when they did because, at the time, a heresy, known as Jansenism, presented God not as Loving, Merciful and Forgiving but, rather, negatively as someone to be feared. Free Will, given to each and every one of us, was replaced by predestination to Heaven or to Hell, something totally at variance with the Church’s Teachings which make it very clear that, far from wishing to exclude us from Heaven, God will not cease to call us to Him until our last conscious moment when we are capable of willing to love Him and go to Heaven. Only our knowing and deliberate choice of evil can separate us from our Loving God. We cannot lose the opportunity to enter Heaven by accident!
In an age when the meaning of the word ‘love’ has been so distorted and debased, this Devotion is another priceless asset to us in our journey to Heaven.
Last week, we celebrated the Three Divine persons in the One God, i.e. the Most Holy Trinity. Today we celebrate the Sacrament to which all the other Sacraments point the way, Holy Communion itself. Each time we receive Communion, we take to ourselves that same Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity which Christ first gave to His Apostles at the Last Supper and which, as our Risen Lord, He longs, every day, to give to us. This is not to be regarded as a reward for being good, but to strengthen us in our resolve to be good Catholics.
One of the descriptions of the Mass is ‘...a public act of worship…’ Another public proof of our adherence to the Fullness of the Faith is how we ‘…love one another…’. Many of us will recall, from our own childhood, that a prominent part of the celebration of Corpus Christi was a public procession around the neighbourhood of our church. Father, accompanied by the Parish First Communicants, their Families and other Parishioners, carried the Blessed Sacrament in the Monstrance, taking Our Lord out to those of all Faiths and none. This very ‘high-profile’ demonstration of our love for and devotion to the Bread of Life is taking place, after a gap of many years, in our Parish today.
The Corpus Christi Procession at St. Michael's Convent in 1982*
Thanks to the present English translation of the text of the Mass, we can acknowledge, just before receiving Communion, our total unworthiness to have God come into our body and soul. We repeat the words of the Roman Centurion, declaring, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed.” We not only admit to our fallen human nature, but we proclaim our firm belief that Christ can, in His Goodness, providing that we are truly sorry, drive out the sins which distance (and, sometimes) completely separate us from Him.
It is because Jesus, God the Son, actually comes to each of us personally that the Church insists upon our being in the State of Grace, i.e. free from Mortal Sin, requiring us to confess any such sins of which we are aware before approaching the Altar. She requires us, also, under normal circumstances, to fast for one hour (water and medicines are the only exceptions) before receiving Communion. Hopefully, realising the importance of the Food of our Souls, this is no big deal. Decades ago, the fast lasted from Midnight on Saturday; it was then reduced to three hours by Pope Pius XII in 1957, then to the present one hour by Pope Paul VI in 1964.
You might like to read the stories of Saint Tarcisius and Little Li, two children who gave their lives as Martyrs for love of the Holy Eucharist. They will inspire you and your children! Why not see how many more Saints of the Eucharist you can discover! If ever one goes unwillingly to Mass and Communion, one will do well to recall that in various parts of the world, our Brothers and Sisters are still risking their lives for this Privilege. Our Procession today will be a clear sign of our gratitude for the freedom we enjoy to practise our Faith in this country, and a sign of Solidarity with our persecuted Brothers and Sisters. Have a Holy and Happy Solemnity!
*The picture within the article above depicts the Corpus Christi Procession at St. Michael's Convent in 1982.
This annual event brought together clergy and parishioners from St. Bartholomew's Norbury, English Martyrs Streatham, St. Michael's Pollards Hill and St. Matthew's West Norwood - the convent, at the top of Streatham Common, was originally a mansion called Park Hill. Built in 1829 it was the home of Henry Tate from c.1880. It became a nursing home run by nuns of the the Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God in 1923. The nuns left the building in 1996 when the property was put onto the market. It was sold in 2002 and the site was developed as Henry Tate Mews. The Grade II* listed building (including the chapel) was sympathetically converted into apartments.
Blessed John Henry Newman wrote some beautiful Hymns and Prayers, one of which begins, “Firmly I believe, and truly, God is Three and God is One….”, very appropriate to herald today’s Celebration of the Three Persons in One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Turn to number 962 in our hymn book.) Read more of Newman’s writings here.
If you are looking to better understand this Truth, for your own knowledge or to explain it to others, then one of the clearest explanations of the Three-in-Oneness of God is to be found in Frank Sheed’s book, Theology for Beginners, chapter 5, The Three Persons. This can be further simplified in order to explain it to our children; they also have a right to the Truth, and we have a duty to do our best to teach them. It is vital to remember, though, that to simplify does not mean to water down or to omit truth.
For those who would postpone such teaching until children are ‘old enough’ (and who of us will ever be ‘old enough’ to fully understand this particular Doctrine?!), they would do well to heed the words of a renowned educational psychologist, Jerome Bruner, who said that “…anything can be taught to any one, at any age, as long as it is properly thought out first…”. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (whose Mother died when Thérèse was four years old) once asked her mother (Saint Zélie Martin) about our capacity for God and was shown two very different sized containers, each filled to the brim with water; as Zélie explained to her daughter, just as each vessel was completely filled, God fills us with His Grace according to our created capacity and our openness to it. Any preparation required to teach our precious young people will be very beneficial to teachers as well as their pupils.
Take heart in that if you find yourself pondering and puzzling over this Doctrine, so did the great Theologians! Only God can fully understand Himself! For a more detailed exposition of the subject we have, of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Section 2, the Profession of the Christian Faith) intended by the Teaching Authority (or Magisterium) of the Church as the ‘yardstick’ against which all publications claiming to be Catholic, including your children’s R.E. materials, must be assessed.
In this day and age, this Doctrine may be a stumbling block to be overcome in a journey of Faith. It takes Prayer and perseverance to break down barriers; we cannot allow our human limitations to be transferred to God. We have to make a ‘leap of faith’ over the barrier! Our loving Belief in and Witness to this fundamental and deep Truth will effectively help to overcome any doubts and objections which can be raised. Our lives must be permeated by this belief which we express, among other ways, in making the Sign of the Cross and in reciting the Creed every Sunday and Solemnity.
Last week, on Ascension Thursday, 10th May, the fortieth day of Eastertide, in the Entrance Antiphon (Acts 1:11), we pronounced the words of the Angel to the Apostles who, following their beloved Master’s departure from their sight into Heaven, remained for a while gazing (surely sadly and longingly) into the empty sky. The Angel assures them that, one day, Jesus will return when He comes, of course, to Judge us all at the end of time.
This year, as the Solemnity fell on the exact day, i.e. Thursday, that day was, of course, a Holy Day of Obligation, binding on the Faithful, as are all Sundays, giving us the very clear message that the Eucharist has an indispensable and central role in our lives.
The First Reading (Acts 1:1-11) narrated that familiar scene in which Our Lord took leave, so to speak, of His Apostles.
In the Second Reading (Ephesians 1:17-23) Saint Paul prayed (as must we!) for the necessary Graces to aid us in understanding and living by the Teachings of Our Lord who, alone, can give us Eternal Happiness. We must recognise that those who consider themselves ‘worldly-wise’ among us will, at times, not accept Jesus as ‘…the ruler of everything…’, as is evidenced by the continual challenges to Catholic Moral Teaching around the world. We may be challenged, sometimes shunned, because we practise and profess the ‘unpalatable’! In the Gospel (Mark 16:15-20) we heard the Apostles (now ourselves!) being told to, ‘…Go out into the whole world, proclaim the Good News to all creation…’. We are assured that we, and those we evangelise (and who embrace the Faith) ‘…will be saved…’.
In France and Germany, among other countries, the importance of this day was emphasised by its being a Public Holiday, echoing the deep Catholic Faith of former times. In the days when England proudly proclaimed herself the Dowry of Mary, Holy days were, very often, the only days off in addition to Sunday, especially, probably, for the Poor. From this extra day of rest, of course, comes our word, holiday. Hopefully the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord was a joyful day in our Families, encouraging not only us and our children but, also, through us, those of other faiths (or none) that we may encounter, to see beyond the limits of this world.
For us, this last week in the Church’s Year is not unlike New Year’s Eve. Next Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new lectionary cycle Year B, the Year of Mark. Throughout each Liturgical year we re-live, through scriptural ‘snapshots’, the long and arduous history of Salvation, recalling how, in spite of the sin of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, God did not renege on His side of things. Through first the Old Testament, then the New Testament, we hear how the Father promised His errant creatures a way back on the road to Heaven. He chose and called Abram (later Abraham, our Father in Faith) whose descendants, the Jews, were to keep alive, over centuries, the message of Salvation, worshipping and obeying only Him, the One True God. Through His Son Jesus, ‘…born of the Virgin Mary, He shared our human nature in all things but sin…’ (Eucharistic Prayer 4) the Father set mankind back ‘on course’. He provided them with the fullness of Truth through the Catholic (Universal) Church, the Priesthood, Mass and Sacraments, pointing clearly to Eternal Life.
The Responsorial Psalm (22: 1-3, 5-6) the ever familiar, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, which is commonly referred to as the 23rd psalm, again highlights the blessings of staying close to Christ Who will never abandon us, guiding, protecting and nourishing us, providing for us throughout our Earthly Life until we pass on to Eternity! The words, ‘…there is nothing I shall want…’ provide a good basis for an examination of conscience in an age when, certainly among the wealthy nations, ‘want’ and ‘lifestyle’ seem to be regularly confused with ‘need’!
Saint Paul, (1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28), recalls Christ’s Resurrection, through which we were definitively given back the chance of Life after death with God in Heaven. He shows how, just as Adam and Eve lost the way to Heaven for us, so, in taking flesh as a Human Being, living in Perfection, Dying and Rising from the dead, Christ put Mankind 'back on track'. By faithfully co-operating with Grace in the here and now we shall come to share, one day, in Christ’s Eternal Victory over evil.
Lest we grow complacent, due to the, sometimes, one-sided image presented of God’s Love, forgetting that Love is a two-way process, the Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46) gives us a salutary warning that, for each and every one of us, life will come to an end; Christ will judge us and, if we are to live with Him in Eternal Happiness, we must have, during our lives, done what we can to exercise the virtue of Charity towards our fellow Human beings, many of whom do not have the spiritual and material advantages that we so often take for granted. It is made abundantly clear that, if we expect to receive a welcome in Heaven, we must, here and now, have extended help either directly or indirectly, to those around us who lack the spiritual and material necessities of life. How well are we preparing for Eternity? How ready are we?!
'From sudden and unprovided death, Good Lord, Deliver us!'
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!?
The Responsorial Psalm highlights our innate obstinacy, or hardness of heart, which can blind us to the gravity of an action; our fallen nature inclines more readily, as we know, to sin than to goodness which often involves self-denial. It is, sometimes, frighteningly easy to justify what we know in our heart to be wrong.
Saint Paul makes it very clear that God insists on the Commandments and our obedience to them out of Love. That is not, of course, what is so often portrayed by the media as love, which is often directly opposed to this Virtue! Promoting Love as God intends can make one very unpopular indeed, even among one's fellow Christians!
Through the Alleluia verse we beg that Truth will underpin all that we do in life.
Jesus, in the Gospel, echoes Ezekiel's call for the correction of sinfulness among those around us. He also confirms that, in binding us to certain ways of conduct or, indeed in absolving us of any, the Pope and Bishops act with His Authority.
Lord, grant us courage!
Today, in the Entrance Antiphon, we call on our Merciful God Who, in His Goodness and great Love, is ever ready to forgive our sins, should we repent and put us, spiritually, ‘back on our feet’. The Responsorial Psalm speaks first of our great longing for God’s Grace which, alone, can give Life to our souls. A soul fallen from Grace may be compared to drought-stricken land, lifeless without water but in which plants will spring into growth when rain falls and irrigates it. Through the words of the psalm we proclaim our belief that it is only by constantly drawing on the Strength that comes from God, that only by looking to Him, whose ‘…love is better than life’, will we attain the Eternal Life He has created us to live! We recognise that true happiness lies in ever drawing on the Source of Life and Help, staying close to our Father who, unlike the fallible promoters of solely material success, will never let go of us and can and will actually give all He promises!
In the First Reading we are reminded that fidelity to God’s Call does not promise Heaven on Earth as we hear the Prophet, Jonah’s lament over the humiliation he is facing from those who resist his preaching of the Truth. If one really sets one’s sights on living God’s Way, then one may well experience a ‘bumpy ride’ or even, as are many of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ in various parts of the world, be called to lay down one’s life. In the Second Reading Saint Paul underlines the Sacrificial aspect of being ‘in the world but not of it’; our priority must, of necessity, be that of loving and pleasing God, however ‘uncool’ such a way of life may appear to those for whom the world and material success are the be all and end all of life! Through our example of fidelity to God may we draw lost souls back on track!
In the Alleluia verse we call for help to be able see beyond the here and now, with its ups and downs, to the true goal of Eternal Life, often obscured by materialism.
Finally, in the Gospel we see, from the words of Our Lord, that there is no cosy alternative to self-denial in this life. As Jesus, very bluntly, reminds a well-meaning Peter, who had expressed horror at the thought of His coming Passion and Death, eternal unhappiness is the only destination of a life lived, knowingly and intentionally, apart from God. However self-sufficient our life in this world may appear, it will very definitely come to an end and we will be rewarded, “…each one according to his behaviour…”. Our eternity is, very clearly, in our hands (we have Free-Will) but, if we are to be eternally happy with God, we are personally charged with working at it! We are crew, not passengers!
On Friday we will celebrate the Birthday of Our Blessed Lady who set us a striking example of Faith, Hope and Love in embracing God’s Way over Man’s! Sinless from conception, therefore unflawed by a fallen nature, Mary was dedicated to God as an infant by her Parents, Joachim and Anne. Her whole life, untainted by personal sin, was a preparation for her mission. As a young woman she took up the challenging assignment offered her by the Father through the Archangel Gabriel and, in her Womb, ‘the Word was made Flesh and Dwelt among us!’. Mary, our Mother, is ever watchful over us.
‘…Dark night has come down on this…world…
and the tempest-tossed Church, all her eyes are on thee….’
May we never cease to implore Mary’s protection throughout our life’s journey towards Eternal Bliss with her Divine Son!
Infallibility, per se, covers the formal definition of a Doctrine, which we must believe, by the Pope, in his Office of Supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the Faithful. This gift is extended to the College (or Body) of Bishops who, perhaps in an Ecumenical Council, in union with the Pope, propose, as coming from God, a Doctrine for our belief. For a more detailed explanation of Infallibility, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 890-892. See also the Vatican Council document, Lumen Gentium, 25.
How does this freedom from error in the Teaching of Catholic Dogma work? We know, for example, how certain changes have been made to the outward way (i.e. the language and actions) that Mass has been offered. The essence of the Mass, however, is unchanged. Acting in the person of Our Lord, who commanded, “Do this in memory of Me”, Father, our priest, still re-enacts the once-and-for-all Saving Sacrifice of Calvary for our participation; he changes bread and Wine into Jesus Himself, offers Him for us all to the Heavenly Father, Who Himself offers Jesus to us in Holy Communion.
During the coming week we will recall two other great defenders of the Truth: Monday, Convert and Theologian, Saint Augustine of Hippo; Tuesday, Saint John the Baptist, beheaded for publicly defending God’s Laws regarding Marriage. Then, on Wednesday, comes the memorial of Saints Margaret Mary Clitherow, Anne Line and Margaret Ward, three of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, all of whom were put to death for hiding, sheltering and protecting Catholic Priests. May their Prayers strengthen all who are called to be our Shepherds!
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church