Last Tuesday, we celebrated a very encouraging role model for those whose faith may sometimes waver, namely Saint Thomas the Apostle, famously known as ‘Doubting Thomas’, whose story clearly demonstrates the power of God’s Grace in overcoming the weaknesses of human nature. Thomas was not with his fellow Apostles when the Risen Jesus first appeared to them. On being told of this momentous visit, he flatly refused to believe unless he could both see and touch Our Lord’s Wounds. Jesus duly granted his request, causing the shamefaced Apostle to cry out, “My Lord and My God!’ Thomas was gently chided by Our Lord for requiring physical proof of His Resurrection. Jesus praises those such as ourselves who, nowadays must, through the Teachings of the Church, believe in His Triumph of Life over death without having seen Him in His Human nature.
On Friday of the same week, we celebrated an Italian Martyr, Saint Maria Goretti, a vital role model in these times when Chastity, Virginity and Marriage are consistently denounced and mocked. When just 11 years old, she refused the advances of a young man, Alessandro, who then attempted to rape her. In resisting him, she was fatally stabbed, living long enough to forgive him for his crime. Maria defended, with her life, Virginity before Marriage. Her actions also point us to acknowledge the Sanctity of the sexual act which is reserved to Man and Wife in Marriage, in stark contradiction to what we might see and hear in the media! We need to pray earnestly for God’s Grace that we might truly love one another and resist the declining Moral climate of the present age, whatever criticisms may be levelled at us!
Alessandro, through Maria’s intercession, repented and was converted, making his peace with God and with Maria’s mother, who gave him the good news that Maria had, indeed, forgiven him. He became a Capuchin Lay Brother and, later, was privileged to be present at Maria’s canonisation in 1950.
The power of Grace over evil is limitless; Grace which is there if we should just ask for it. Morals and self - control are often not presented as 'relevant' to the modern age and, indeed, may well present challenges to our fallen nature. The modern concept of ‘freedom of choice’ does not necessarily acknowledge the rights of our Creator and our duty to inform our conscience in Truth, that we may make the correct decisions. It is crucial that, in all one’s life choices, one looks beyond the ‘here and now’ to the end of one’s earthly life and to one’s Judgement, asking oneself, ‘Am I returning Love for Love or is self-love taking me away from true Love?’
As we prayed today’s Entrance Antiphon (Ps. 47:10-11), we recalled God’s Love for us and, necessarily, His Justice. Unlike a certain revered naval hero, God cannot, in justice, ‘turn a blind eye’ to deliberate transgressions. In His Love for us, however, should we fall into sin, Christ left us the Sacrament of Penance. Through this wonderful Sacrament He restores to our Soul the Graces we have discarded and offers us His Help to pick ourselves up and continue our journey safely on to Heaven.
Being a Catholic in today’s world can present many a challenge. Take a look at the Ten Commandments then see, in the news and, sadly, in what often passes for the entertainment media, how so many of God’s Laws are openly flouted. One may well be regarded as very ‘uncool’ among one’s peers, for instance, perhaps even among some fellow-Christians, should one manifestly live according to the Moral Teachings of the Church. Should a person have the moral strength to promote these laws and point out how they are so often ‘watered down’ or simply disregarded, they may, paradoxically, be labelled ‘unchristian’. Our First Communicants, the Church of the Future, will, next Sunday, look towards the vital role which they, too, are called to play as they ‘Go Forth’. Let us pray for them and their Parents, that they will not falter in their God-given Mission!
Today, though a Sunday, the Church ‘sets aside’ Ordinary Time and focuses our attention on a man who, most certainly, would not have many fans today, rather probably many enemies! During his own lifetime, his preaching of the unchangeable Truth landed him in prison and eventually cost him his life! Saint John the Baptist, whose nativity (or birth) we celebrate today, was truly, as should we all be, ‘a Sign of Contradiction’. Today’s readings emphasise the qualities required of a practising Catholic. John is ‘introduced’, so to speak, in the Entrance Antiphon (John 1: 6-7; Luke 1:17), ‘…He came to testify to the Light, to prepare a people fit…’ for Christ’s Coming. In the First Reading, we hear the familiar prophecy of John’s Mission by the Prophet Isaiah (49:1-6): the Baptist, chosen as the Last of the Prophets, is to preach incisively, cutting through evil like, ‘…a sharp sword…’ penetrating to the Truth like ‘…a sharpened arrow…’. His task is to form God’s Chosen People, equipping them for the mission (in which we are, today, through Baptism, called to join) to be ‘…the light of the nations…’ spreading the Truth world wide.
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 138: 1-3, 13-15 response v 14)) is a beautiful hymn of praise to our Creator who, ever lovingly watchful, knows us better than we know ourselves, offering us His Grace if we will accept and cooperate with it.
The Second Reading (Acts 13:22-26) highlights Jesus’ descent from King David, ‘… a man after my (God’s) own heart…’ and John the Baptist, his humble herald, who was only too aware of his ‘littleness’ before the Lord whose Coming he was announcing. How often is one guilty of the sin of pride in refusing to accept ‘…the way of the Lord…’?
The Alleluia Verse (cf Lk. 1:76) quotes John’s father Zechariah’s words (as we may pray them in the Prayer, the Benedictus) again echoing the Old Testament Prophecy of John’s coming Mission.
During the month of June, we are meditating particularly upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Source of His Love for us, which calls for our wholehearted Love in return. During July, we will be invited to meditate especially upon His Precious Blood which, in Love, He shed to the very last drop for us on the Cross, so undoing the devastating consequence of Original Sin which had closed to us the Road to Heaven. How appropriate that during June our young First Communicants have been and are to be wrapped in His Loving Embrace as they receive His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity into themselves, body and soul, for the very first time!
This Sunday our second group will, for the very first time, invite the Author of Love to come and dwell in them. They will be followed by the third group on Saturday next. As the month of the Precious Blood of Jesus begins, on Sunday, 1st July, all our new First Communicants will, together, prepare to ‘Go Forth’, living and growing as vital and active members of the Church, sustained by the Bread of Life Himself!
Not so long ago, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reminded us that we are all called to Evangelise, i.e. to spread, through word and deed, the Liberating Truth of the Gospel far and wide and also, indeed, not so far away, within our own Family Circles and among our Friends. If our Precious Children are to grow into their role as Evangelisers, they must be able to count on the supportive example and help of their Parents, their First teachers in the Faith. Read Pope Francis’ words on this subject here. The crucial role of Practising Catholic Parents in their Children’s growth in and practice of the Faith cannot be overstated!
Each and every one of us needs to strive to grow in love of this wonderful Sacrament, receiving Our Lord as often as possible. From this Sacrament will our youngsters, the Church of the Future, draw encouragement as they, Apostles all, face an increasingly (it would seem) Godless world!
Please God their loving responses to this awesome Gift will include a firm determination to receive Our Lord as often as they can, certainly on Sundays and Holy Days and also, as they grow older and more able to make such choices, encouraged by their Parents’ example, at weekday Mass during school holidays. If God Incarnate sacrificed His Life for His creatures, the occasional ‘extra’ Mass is not too much to ask of them!
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.
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."
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church