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.
On Friday, 29th June we celebrated the Solemnity of two great role models for Catholics, Saint Peter, the first Pope (succeeded by our current Pope, Francis) and Saint Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles (i.e. non-Jews). The Church declares this to be a Holy Day of Obligation; we were bound to go to Mass on that day as we are on all Sundays. The word ‘holiday’, (i.e. rest from work) is derived from this term. Centuries ago, Holy Days were the only days off, apart from Sundays, for the poor.
Peter and Paul came from relatively ordinary backgrounds. Peter, originally called Simon Bar Jonah (i.e. Son of Jonah), was a fisherman whom Jesus, in recognition of the Pope’s fundamental role of leading the Church and confirming us in the Faith, renamed Peter (Rock, in Latin, Petrus). Initially fearful of those who sought the Death of his Lord and Master and who might well treat His followers in the same way, Peter denied, on the eve of the Passion, even Knowing Jesus! However, on Pentecost Sunday, Confirmed by the Power of the Holy Spirit, Peter would counter a potentially hostile crowd’s mockery, converting three thousand with the Truth! We do not today, generally, risk our lives for correcting error and promoting God’s Laws. Are we prepared, though, to risk our ‘image’ for displaying Moral Courage?!
Paul, previously Saul, was a Pharisee, earning his living as a tent maker. He was firmly convinced that his mission was to stamp out the Christian Faith which was regarded by the Jews as a heresy. His spectacular and sudden conversion (sometimes called his ‘Damascene conversion’), whilst on the road to Damascus to arrest yet more Christians, led to his Baptism as Paul, the fearless Apostle to the Gentiles! We must continually seek his intercession that those who, even today, are convinced that it is their mission to kill ‘in God’s Name’, are brought to discover and accept God’s Truth and turn their zeal to spreading the Gospel of Love. Again, there is so much that our lovingly faithful practice of our Catholic Faith (‘Actions speaking louder that Words’) can do to convert the hearts of those who have been led astray!
Both these men, as they made converts and established new Christian communities, wrote follow-up letters (in Latin, 'epistola') to these young cells of the Church over the years, confirming and strengthening them in their Faith and resolving queries or disputes which arose. Saint Peter, charged by Christ with leading the fledgling Church, is credited with two Epistles, while Saint Paul’s writing, as with his missionary travelling, is far more extensive; extracts from his letters feature regularly at Mass. In Peter and Paul’s times, much was passed on by word of mouth as widespread literacy and printing were yet to come.
Peter and Paul died Martyrs’ deaths. Peter, like his lord and Master, was crucified; humility moved him to request that he be crucified upside down, as he felt unworthy to die in exactly the same manner as had Jesus.
Paul, as a Roman citizen, requested that he be taken to Rome for trial by the Emperor. In agreeing to this request his enemies unwittingly aided his Missionary endeavours. Throughout his lengthy journey to Rome, including being shipwrecked on the Mediterranean island of Malta, Paul seized every opportunity God gave him to evangelise. On reaching Rome, he continued to teach, further spreading the Gospel there, making converts, suffering two terms of imprisonment, and was eventually beheaded during the reign of Nero.
As we know, Rome’s central location as what we might, today, term a ‘communications hub’, was to lead to its establishment as the centre of the Catholic world, from where the Head of the Church still governs the now approximately 1.2 billion Catholics around the globe. Just contemplate the wonderful power for Evangelisation by the Church if each and every one of her members actually practises the Faith into which they are baptised! Another of our duties, in Love, is to pray that lapsed (non-practising) Catholics will heed God’s continual Call and return to the Fold! How much do we contribute, through example, to bringing back ‘the lost sheep’?
Both Peter and Paul returned that ‘Love unto death’ shown them by Jesus and, in the following centuries, many men and women, drawing courage from their example, would (and, indeed, still do!) lose their freedom and, indeed, their lives on this earth, rather than deny the Truth. Generally speaking, we are probably very unlikely to be asked to make this ultimate Profession of Faith. We may well, however, need to be prepared to face disbelief and even scorn for living as faithful Christians. Are we willing to make the sacrifice, probably not of our life, but of our reputation?
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!
As we know, Our Father has created each us to know, love and serve Him, and so fulfil His Plan that we live eternally with Him in Heaven. As we also know, Adam and Eve, through disobedience, lost for themselves and us, original Innocence and the joy of going straight to Heaven. As we proclaim in the Creed, in His Infinite Love, God sent His Son, who took on Human flesh and was born of Mary. Perfect man, through total and loving obedience to the Will of His Father, while living on Earth, He founded the Catholic Church and died on the Cross to atone for sins committed since the beginning of the world and for all that will be committed until the end of time. Having perfectly paid the ‘debt’, Our Lord Rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven, having promised that He would be with us, ‘until the end of time..’.
How was this promise carried out? The immediate answer is through the Church He established, passing His Godly Power and Authority to the Apostles, the first Pope, Bishops and Priests, commanding them to teach and make people holy, bringing Grace to us through the Mass and the Sacraments and ever proclaiming Truth and correcting error. The Bishops had the power to ordain men who would carry on this mission on His behalf until the end of time. Pope Francis, Archbishop Peter and Bishop Pat are part of an unbroken line reaching back to the Apostles at the Last Supper, back, therefore to God Himself. Every Priest has that link with the Saviour; he is ordained to be an alter Christus (another Christ) especially when, at Mass, with Christ’s Power, he re-enacts the once-for-all Sacrifice of Calvary and, in Confession when he absolves (forgives) us from our sins.
Since Holy Mother Church was founded, She has celebrated countless men and women who, through their example and, sometimes through sacrificing their lives, have given great lessons in living the Faith. We also celebrate the Angels, spirits created to serve God (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church 325ff). The following is a summary, given in the hope that it will provide a stimulus for research.
Friday, 29th September. Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels: Michael (Revelation 12:7), credited with leading the Angels obedient to God against the rebellion of Satan. Those who came to be known as fallen angels, in refusing to serve God, literally sent themselves to that eternal separation from the Creator we call Hell. Pope Leo XIII composed the prayer seeking his intercession (‘Holy Michael Archangel….’). Very sorely needed today, you can find the full text in the prayer section of our Parish Website. Gabriel (Luke 26ff) brought Mary the news of her Vocation to be Mother of our Redeemer. Raphael appears in the Old Testament book of Tobit.
Saturday, 30th September: Saint Jerome a Doctor (particularly, a teacher of Theology or Doctrine) of the Church who, most notably, translated the Bible, a lot of it originally written in Greek and, perhaps Hebrew, into Latin, still the language of the Universal Church.
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!
The recent Feast of Saint Thomas, the Apostle, famously known as ‘Doubting Thomas’, is another clear illustration of the power of God’s Grace in overcoming the weaknesses of human nature. He is a Saint in whom many of us might find a kindred spirit. Thomas was not with the other Apostles when Jesus first appeared to them following His Resurrection. When they told him, with great excitement, “We have seen the Lord!”, he flatly refused to believe unless he could both see for himself and touch the Wounds of the Crucifixion. Having been granted this privilege and having acknowledged Jesus as his Risen Lord and God, he was gently chided by Our Lord for requiring concrete proof of the Resurrection. Referring to the countless generations (including ourselves) who, thereafter, would have no choice but to have faith in the Teachings of the Church on this Miracle of Life over death, Christ praises those who believe without having seen Him in His Human nature.
On 29th June we celebrated the Solemnity of Saint Peter, the first Pope (his role presently shouldered by Pope Francis) and Saint Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Should this date fall on a day other than Saturday or Monday, the Church declares it to be a Holy Day of Obligation; we are bound to go to Mass as we are on Sundays. The secular word ‘holiday’, (i.e. rest from work) is derived from this word. Centuries ago, Holy Days were the only days off, apart from Sundays, for the poor.
Both these men, in working to spread the Faith, wrote follow-up letters (in latin, 'epistola') to various members of the growing Church over the years, confirming and strengthening them in their Faith and resolving queries or disputes which arose. Saint Peter is credited with two Epistles, while Saint Paul’s output, as with his missionary travelling, is far more extensive, with extracts from his letters featuring regularly during the Mass. In those times, much was passed on by word of mouth as widespread literacy and the advent of printing were yet to come.
Both Peter and Paul were to die Martyrs’ deaths. Peter was crucified; humility moved him to request that he be crucified upside-down, as he felt unworthy to die in exactly the same manner as his Lord and God. Paul, claiming the privileges of Roman citizenship, requested that he be taken to Rome for trial.
Throughout his subsequent travels, he continued to seize every opportunity to evangelise, including the time he was shipwrecked on Malta. He finally reached Rome, where he continued to teach, suffering two terms of imprisonment, until he was beheaded under Nero.
Both men returned that ‘Love unto death’ shown them by Jesus and, in the following centuries, many other men and women, drawing courage from their example, would (and, indeed, still do!) relinquish their freedom and their lives on this earth, rather than deny the Truth that comes from God. Generally speaking, we are probably very unlikely to be asked to make this ultimate Profession of Faith. We may well, however, need to be prepared to face disbelief and even scorn, for living as faithful Christians. Are we willing to make the sacrifice, not necessarily of our life, but of our reputation?
On the Friday following the Second Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Seat and Symbol of His Burning Love for us; Love which moved Him to Die for us, in agony, on the Cross on Good Friday and also moved Him, at the Last Supper, to institute the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in which, through Holy Orders and Father’s words and gestures, that once-for-all Sacrifice will be made present in our churches and offered 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.
These children showed very clearly what it is to truly love God and offered sacrifices in atonement for those who, sadly, had deserted Him. They were, in spite of their tender years, persecuted for their faith, even being put in prison and threatened with death if they did not reveal certain secrets told to them by Mary; to read of these secrets, see www.catholicexchange.com/three-secrets-fatima-revealed, among many other websites. Through their steadfast love for, and trust in God and His Mother, who told them that they would, indeed, go to Heaven, they refused to be coerced into revealing anything. God would do this in His own Good Time. As a result of this courage they are, among other things, Patrons of people made fun of for showing their piety, i.e. loving reverence, towards the Faith. Today, as we know, around the world, there are many literally still giving their lives for their faith. However, even if one is not called upon to die (and most of us will probably not), one must be prepared, these days, to encounter anything from misunderstanding to concerted opposition for publicly upholding the teachings of the Church, particularly in the area of Morality; some of our Brothers and Sisters round the world have been known to risk their livelihoods because they have ‘dared’ to stand firmly with God. Saints Francisco and Jacinta are to be heartily recommended as Patrons for adults and children alike! God grant us Courage to live Holy lives! Mother Mary, protect us! Saints Francisco and Jacinta, pray for us!
If you cannot, physically, visit Fátima, you can, via the internet, join in with the Pilgrims; there is a live feed from the Capelinha (Chapel of the Apparitions) www.fatima.pt/en/pages/online-transmissions. Mass, is often offered there, in languages from around the world; The Rosary is said at 6:30pm every day except Sunday, when it is at 4pm. Very often, particularly on the 13th of the Month, the ‘major’ liturgies are televised; see them online or via satellite on EWTN. It is heartening, too, in an increasingly Godless age, to see often extensive coverage of these liturgies on the Portuguese National Channel, RTP1, also available via internet and satellite. Mind you, Our Lady did tell the children that the Faith would always be kept in Portugal
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church