January 19, 2018
Next Wednesday we celebrate the feast day of one of the most attractive saints in the calendar. During a period when the Christians of Europe were tearing each other apart over the controversies of the Reformation St. Francis de Sales stood as a beacon of charity, tact, and courtesy.
He was born in Annecy in France in 1567. His father was not too pleased when the young Francis decided to become a priest but he eventually agreed. In 1602 he became the Bishop of Geneva, the city at the heart of the radical reformation under Calvin. He realised that he needed to preach with love as well as fervour, and his sermons are free from the usual point scoring and polemic of the period.
He also realised that holiness, as the Second Vatican Council was to teach four centuries later, was for every Christian. His little book, An Introduction to the Devout Life, showed how ordinary men and women could become saints in their everyday lives.
We live in an age which can be very dismissive, even rude, about religion and faith. We should take Francis as our example. He insisted on the truth of the gospel and the Church’s tradition, but he did so with charm and tact. May he pray for us.
January 12, 2018
On Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. It is important that we listen to the readings and prayers of the Liturgy as they tell us what this feast means. If we start from some pre-conceived idea that baptism is all to do with ‘washing away of original sin’ then we run the real risk of ending up in error and heresy. Jesus is sinless, he has no sins to wash away.
Rather the feast is speaking to us about who this man Jesus really is. He is revealed as the Beloved Son of the Father, full of the Holy Spirit. Moreover his disciples are told to listen to him – here is the voice of God speaking in our world.
The Baptism is traditionally seen as part of a trilogy with the Epiphany and the Marriage at Cena. All three ‘manifest’ the true nature of Jesus. All show him as the Son of God, full of the Father’s power. All show him as being sent into this world for our salvation.
This Sunday is a wonderful chance for us to think about our own baptisms. Unlike Jesus we did need cleansing from original sin but our baptism also made us the child of God, filled with the Spirit, and commissioned to bring good news to the world.
December 9, 2017
Today we celebrate the wonderful feast of the Immaculate Conception. We believe that, through the grace of God, Mary was kept free from the taint of original sin from the first moment of her conception. Although she was conceived in the normal way, Jesus alone being the subject of the virgin birth, Mary was not corrupted by the tendency to sin from which every other human being suffers. All this was achieved through the power of God, and in many ways can be seen as the dawn of the reality of salvation in our human history.
Mary’s whole life is a living out of this initial singular grace. She is the one who responds completely to the Holy Spirit when he announces that she is to be the Mother of God. She is the one who whole heartedly hears the message her Son preaches. She is the one who is completely united to him in his suffering and death on the cross. In her Assumption Mary shows what glory awaits all the saints.
And that is why Mary is so important. She is the first of Christians and the best of Christians. She shows us what we are called to be and also helps to be that new creation.
May Mary Immaculate, conceived without sin, pray for us today and always. P.D.
December 4, 2017
The celebration of ‘Xmas’is well underway: the shops are urging us to spend our reduced real incomes, celebrities pontificate about their ‘perfect day’, and the office party season is about to kick off. In many ‘Xmas’ is a fitting name for all this as by using the anonymous ‘X’ it does not remotely claim to be anything about Christ. It would be difficult to see how it could.
For the Christian, Christmas is still some way off. In fact, this Sunday marks the start of the season of preparation for that feast. Advent is a time when try to make some space to think again about two intertwined ‘comings’: the second coming of Christ at the end of time and his first coming among us as a tiny babe. Both are linked and both shed light on the other. On this first Sunday of Advent we think not so much of the babe but of the man who is both Lord and Saviour coming triumphantly at the end of time to judge all peoples. That reflection gives the context for the celebration of Christ’s birth. The child who is born is none other than the eternal Son of God who has come into our world to save us.
The shops and the celebs and the parties are just distractions. Take part in it all if you want, but try to make some time each day in the next month to remember what really matters. P.D.
November 24, 2017
The Church’s year comes to its glorious climax this weekend as we celebrate the beautiful feast of Christ the King. So much of the Liturgy focusses on past events, though it is always at pains to stress what these mean for us today and how they are life-chaining events. But this feast focusses on the future. At the end of time Jesus will come again and judge all peoples. He will then establish the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
When we look around the world today we see so many states that are run for a tiny handful of the privileged. We see countries in which there is little or no justice or peace. We realise that cruelty and hardship still abound. The feast of Christ the King tells us that this will not last for ever.
When Christ comes again his kingdom will be one of justice, love and peace. It will be a place where all are truly equal and all truly loved.
November 20, 2017
Music is one of the greatest joys in life. Whatever your taste there must be very few people who are not moved or uplifted by some tune or other. It would be a very sad world without music.
Our religious celebrations are no exception. Music lifts our prayers to new heights. In fact, St. Augustine says that ‘the one who sings prays twice’. So it is good that the celebration of Mass and the sacraments is accompanied by singing.
On Wednesday we celebrate the feast day of the Patron Saint of music, St. Cecilia. We know little concrete about her beyond the fact that she seems to have been a martyr in the early Church at Rome. But for centuries she has been depicted with musical instruments and celebrated as the musicians’ patron.
Music in church provides a very important function. It should augment the words and music of the Mass. On occasions it should joyful, on some occasions sober, and at Easter and Christmastide it should be exuberant.
Let us St Cecilia for her prayers so that our musical offerings will always be suitable and appropriate, of the best quality we can bring, and help raise our hearts and minds to God.
November 10, 2017
There are only two Popes who have been given the epithet, ‘the Great’, one of whom we celebrate today.
Leo was born in Rome towards the end of the fourth century. He became Bishop of Rome in 440AD. It was a time of considerable crisis in both Church and state. Heretics were still disputing the true nature of Christ. Leo’s famous ‘Tome’ (an official letter) was acclaimed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 as the epitome of orthodox doctrine that Christ was both fully human and fully divine.
In the secular sphere the once mighty Roman Empire had all but collapsed. The barbarians in the shape of the Huns and Vandals were threatening to massacre the citizens of Rome. Leo managed to arbitrate and secure peace.
We have many of Leo’s letters. They are crystal clear explanations of the Church’s teaching about the mystery of the incarnation, the nature of the sacraments, and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
Leo was energetic and vigorous: a man of intelligence and also a man of action. He died on 10th November 461AD.