Thursday, 19 April 2018

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Rejoice and be glad... 4

This continues and concludes my series on the Pope's recent Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, on the call to holiness in today's world. You can read my previous posts here here, and here.

After  I completed my previous post, it struck me how the reflection on the face of Christ in the final quotation highlights something which is very important both to Pope Francis and to our own bishop. Pope Francis' proclamation of the Jubilee of Mercy was entitled 'Misericordiae Vultus', the face of mercy. Bishop Patrick's episcopal motto is 'Quaerite Christi Vultum', Seek the face of Christ.

The final chapter of Gaudete et Exsultate deals with another subject to which the Holy Father constantly returns in his teaching. It is entitled Spiritual Combat, Vigilance and Discernment. The Pope makes the reality of spiritual evil clear and explicit:
We are not dealing merely with a battle against the world and a worldly mentality that would deceive us and leave us dull and mediocre, lacking in enthusiasm and joy. Nor can this battle be reduced to the struggle against our human weaknesses and proclivities (be they laziness, lust, envy, jealousy or any others). It is also a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil. Jesus himself celebrates our victories. He rejoiced when his disciples made progress in preaching the Gospel and overcoming the opposition of the evil one: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk 10:18).
We will not admit the existence of the devil if we insist on regarding life by empirical standards alone, without a supernatural understanding. It is precisely the conviction that this malign power is present in our midst that enables us to understand how evil can at times have so much destructive force..... He is present in the very first pages of the Scriptures, which end with God’s victory over the devil......
Our response to evil necessitates combat and vigilance. We need to be both alert and trustful. We must avoid what the Pope calls "Spiritual Corruption" which "is worse than the fall of a sinner, for it is a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness."

Combating evil requires above all, discernment. The Pope's thorough treatment of this subject surely reflects his formation as a Jesuit and his experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius:
How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift which we must implore. If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment.
I find the final paragraph on discernment both challenging and encouraging:
When, in God’s presence, we examine our life’s journey, no areas can be off limits. In all aspects of life we can continue to grow and offer something greater to God, even in those areas we find most difficult. We need, though, to ask the Holy Spirit to liberate us and to expel the fear that makes us ban him from certain parts of our lives. God asks everything of us, yet he also gives everything to us. He does not want to enter our lives to cripple or diminish them, but to bring them to fulfilment. Discernment, then, is not a solipsistic self-analysis or a form of egotistical introspection, but an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind in order to approach the mystery of God, who helps us to carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of our brothers and sisters.
The Pope's call to holiness in today's world ends:
 I would like these reflections to be crowned by Mary, because she lived the Beatitudes of Jesus as none other. She is that woman who rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by the sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. She does not let us remain fallen and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us. Our converse with her consoles, frees and sanctifies us. Mary our Mother does not need a flood of words. She does not need us to tell her what is happening in our lives. All we need do is whisper, time and time again: “Hail Mary…”
It is my hope that these pages will prove helpful by enabling the whole Church to devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort. In this way, we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us.
I hope these four reflections have given you some insight into this document and might encourage you to read the whole thing here. However, if you would prefer a very brief peep into the Pope's thought, here is a series of three tweets from Cardinal Nichols:



Sunday, 15 April 2018

Centenary Walk - Bank Holiday Monday - May 7th



Mass at St Charles: 9.30am; depart 10.15am; arrive OLOL by 3pm.
The route shown is approximately 7.5 miles. Conditions may require minor changes.
Mud-tolerant, strong footwear should be worn. Most of the route is on firm paths, some on pavements, but some sections may be muddy.
There are loos at both Churches, the Furnace and the Cycle Centre. Refreshments may be bought at the Furnace and the Cycle Centre, but they might be busy on a Bank Holiday. It would be sensible to bring some food, and water is essential. Please also bring a Rosary
Young people are most welcome, but to ensure safety, anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult, who will take full responsibility for them during and after the walk. 
Please sign the sheet at the back of Church so we have some idea of numbers.

Rejoice and be glad... 3

Last week Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, Rejoice and be glad, on the call to holiness in today's world. You can read my previous posts about this here and here.

The fourth chapter. Signs of holiness in today's world, continues from the reflections on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and the Last Judgement (Matthew 25).
Within the framework of holiness offered by the Beatitudes and Matthew 25:31-46, I would like to mention a few signs or spiritual attitudes that, in my opinion, are necessary if we are to understand the way of life to which the Lord calls us. I will not pause to explain the means of sanctification already known to us: the various methods of prayer, the inestimable sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, the offering of personal sacrifices, different forms of devotion, spiritual direction, and many others as well. Here I will speak only of certain aspects of the call to holiness that I hope will prove especially meaningful.
The titles of the sections in this chapter give a clue to what the Pope is exploring here:
  • Perseverance, patience and meekness.
  • Joy and a sense of humour.
  • Boldness and passion.
  • In community
  • In constant prayer
I wish I had time to explore each of these in some detail. However, let me conclude my reflections on this chapter with beautiful words from the final section of this chapter: they seem to encapsulate the link between prayer and holiness in our daily lives to which Pope Francis is calling us:
Trust-filled prayer is a response of a heart open to encountering God face to face, where all is peaceful and the quiet voice of the Lord can be heard in the midst of silence.
In that silence, we can discern, in the light of the Spirit, the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us. Otherwise, any decisions we make may only be window-dressing that, rather than exalting the Gospel in our lives, will mask or submerge it. For each disciple, it is essential to spend time with the Master, to listen to his words, and to learn from him always. Unless we listen, all our words will be nothing but useless chatter.
We need to remember that “contemplation of the face of Jesus, died and risen, restores our humanity, even when it has been broken by the troubles of this life or marred by sin. We must not domesticate the power of the face of Christ”. So let me ask you: Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. How will you then be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and witness? If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mercy.
To be continued...

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Rejoice and be glad... 2

This continues from my post of 10 April on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, Rejoice and be glad.

Chapter 3 is entitled "In the Light of the Master". The first two paragraphs give the key to understanding this chapter.
There can be any number of theories about what constitutes holiness, with various explanations and distinctions. Such reflection may be useful, but nothing is more enlightening than turning to Jesus’ words and seeing his way of teaching the truth. Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23). The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. So if anyone asks: “What must one do to be a good Christian?”, the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives.
The word “happy” or “blessed” thus becomes a synonym for “holy”. It expresses the fact that those faithful to God and his word, by their self-giving, gain true happiness.
Before reflecting on each of the Beatitudes in turn, Pope Francis makes this telling observation:
Although Jesus’ words may strike us as poetic, they clearly run counter to the way things are usually done in our world. Even if we find Jesus’ message attractive, the world pushes us towards another way of living. The Beatitudes are in no way trite or undemanding, quite the opposite. We can only practise them if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power and frees us from our weakness, our selfishness, our complacency and our pride.
Let us listen once more to Jesus, with all the love and respect that the Master deserves. Let us allow his words to unsettle us, to challenge us and to demand a real change in the way we live. Otherwise, holiness will remain no more than an empty word. We turn now to the individual Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew (cf. Mt 5:3-12).
As a sort of conclusion to his reflection on the Beatitudes the Pope tells us:
 In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (vv. 31-46), Jesus expands on the Beatitude that calls the merciful blessed. If we seek the holiness pleasing to God’s eyes, this text offers us one clear criterion on which we will be judged. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (vv. 35-36).
The Pope goes on to warn against the danger of separating these Gospel demands from our personal relationship with the Lord. Saints such St Francis, St Vincent de Paul and St Teresa of Calcutta show us that our loving relationship with the Lord is inseparable from  our passionate commitment to our love of neighbour.

The Holy Father continues, warning of another error:
The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativise it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.
The end of the chapter is straightforward and a challenge to put our faith into practice:
 The powerful witness of the saints is revealed in their lives, shaped by the Beatitudes and the criterion of the final judgement. Jesus’ words are few and straightforward, yet practical and valid for everyone, for Christianity is meant above all to be put into practice. It can also be an object of study and reflection, but only to help us better live the Gospel in our daily lives. I recommend rereading these great biblical texts frequently, referring back to them, praying with them, trying to embody them. They will benefit us; they will make us genuinely happy.
To be continued...

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Newsletter for 14/15 April - Easter 3(B)





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Blessed are the peacemakers

I know that many of us are concerned about the situation in Syria and the possible response of countries, including our own, to that situation. As a priest, I always try to avoid taking sides in what may be seen as political debates. However, as a priest, I also have a duty to help people to inform their consciences by making available the teaching of the Church on moral issues.
The Catholic Church has always been pro-life. Everyone knows our stance on abortion and euthanasia. War is destructive of  human life, so our default position must always be to favour peaceful resolution of international disputes. Having said that, there is a longstanding Catholic teaching that accepts that resort to arms may be permissible in certain restricted circumstances. This is often referred to as the "doctrine of the just war". For military action to be morally justified certain criteria must be fulfilled.
We all need to inform our consciences in this area. I suggest that we take a prayerful look at the relevant section from the Catechism of the Catholic Church below. You can find it on the Vatican website with links to references here.
As the events of this week have led me to revisit this area of Catholic moral teaching, I am particularly conscious of these points:

  • Every one of the criteria (as listed in paragraph 2309) must be fulfilled for a war to be justified.
  • To wage war if any of the criteria is lacking would be a sin against the fifth commandment, the same commandment which forbids, murder, abortion and euthanasia.
2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.
2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. 
However, "as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defence, once all peace efforts have failed."
2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defence by military force require rigorous consideration. the gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: 
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; 
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; 
- there must be serious prospects of success; 
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. the power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. 
The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
2310 Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defence. 
Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honourably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.
2311 Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way.
2312 The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. "The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties."
2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. 
Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.
2314 "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation." A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons - to commit such crimes.
2315 The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations; it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation.
2316 The production and the sale of arms affect the common good of nations and of the international community. Hence public authorities have the right and duty to regulate them. The short-term pursuit of private or collective interests cannot legitimate undertakings that promote violence and conflict among nations and compromise the international juridical order.
2317 Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war:
Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until Christ comes again; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and these words will be fulfilled: "they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Rejoice and be glad...

On Monday this week a new apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis was published. It is called Gaudete et Exsultate - Rejoice and be glad. It's subject is 'The call to holiness in today's world.' You can read the full document here.

The Pope starts by setting out what he does and doesn't intend to do:
What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification. My modest goal is to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us “to be holy and blameless before him in love”.
The first chapter is entitled 'The call to holiness.' It draws our attention to the encouragement and company of the saints, both those who have been canonised and the holy people whom the Pope describes as "the Saints next door". The universal call to holiness is stressed: the Lord's call is for all of us. Our mission on earth is a 'path of holiness' and is found in activity for the building of God's kingdom and in 'moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God.' The chapter ends with the assurance that answering the call to holiness will make us 'more alive, more human.'
Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. For in the words of León Bloy, when all is said and done, “the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint”.
The second chapter focuses on what the Holy Father calls 'Two subtle enemies of holiness.' This may be the most difficult section for us to grasp. The first enemy is described as 'contemporary Gnosticism'. Quoting his previous apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis says:
Gnosticism presumes “a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings”.
The next paragraph develops the theme and quotes from one of the Pope's sermons at Mass:
Thanks be to God, throughout the history of the Church it has always been clear that a person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity. “Gnostics” do not understand this, because they judge others based on their ability to understand the complexity of certain doctrines. They think of the intellect as separate from the flesh, and thus become incapable of touching Christ’s suffering flesh in others, locked up as they are in an encyclopaedia of abstractions. In the end, by disembodying the mystery, they prefer “a God without Christ, a Christ without the Church, a Church without her people”.
The section warning against Gnosticism ends with wisdom from one of the great intellects of Christian history:
Saint Bonaventure, on the other hand, pointed out that true Christian wisdom can never be separated from mercy towards our neighbour: “The greatest possible wisdom is to share fruitfully what we have to give… Even as mercy is the companion of wisdom, avarice is its enemy”. “There are activities that, united to contemplation, do not prevent the latter, but rather facilitate it, such as works of mercy and devotion”.
Pelagian is a heresy against which the great  St Augustine fought in the early fifth century. The British monk, Pelagius, played down the necessity of God's grace, and taught that we can lead a good and holy life by our own efforts. Pope Francis says this error is common in our own days. Quoting words of St Thérèse of Lisieux, he contrasts this with the attitude of the saints, :
The saints avoided putting trust in their own works: “In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you empty-handed, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justices have stains in your sight”.
I find this paragraph particularly helpful in this sometimes difficult chapter:
 Only on the basis of God’s gift, freely accepted and humbly received, can we cooperate by our own efforts in our progressive transformation. We must first belong to God, offering ourselves to him who was there first, and entrusting to him our abilities, our efforts, our struggle against evil and our creativity, so that his free gift may grow and develop within us: “I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). For that matter, the Church has always taught that charity alone makes growth in the life of grace possible, for “if I do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).

To be continued....

Monday, 9 April 2018

Thoughts on the Divine Mercy

In his homily for the Feast of the Divine Mercy, Deacon Andrew quoted these words from St Faustina's diary:
Ask my faithful servant (a priest) that, on this day, he tell the whole world of my great mercy; that whoever approaches the Fountain of Life on this day will be granted complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to my mercy.

Deacon Andrew ended his homily with these words:
I read a lovely reflection this week that said the message of mercy ( the message of this Divine Mercy feast) is really very simple - it's as easy as ABC.
A- Ask for his mercy
B- Be merciful to others
C- Completely trust in Jesus
When we do that, we will truly have that peace that can only come from God - that peace which we all long for.

From the Foodbank


Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

It has been another wonderful Holy Week. The Triduum Liturgies have been reverently celebrated thanks to the dedication of so many people. There have been good attendances all week. Our beautiful Church looks more beautiful than ever at  Easter during our centenary year.
We must remember that the ceremonies of Holy Week are not a performance. Rather they are a celebration of the truths at the very heart of our faith. Thank you all for your participation.

That Christ is truly risen
from the dead we know.
Victorious King, Thy mercy show!
Sequence for Easter Day