March 15, 2018
Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of St Patrick. One of the things that we should remember about him is that he is first and foremost a missionary bishop – he went out to preach the gospel to those who had not heard it.
We all know the story about his capture and slavery, but is it not truly remarkable that he went back to those places? He had come to love his captors so much that he wanted to share the gospel with them to make them free.
Patrick was a man of immense faith but also immense courage. Again we know the stories of him challenging the High King of Ireland over the lighting of the Easter fire and the like. His faith was something that empowered him.
In our own day we don’t have to go far to encounter those who have never heard the gospel message. They are all around us. We need something of Patrick’s courage, something of his faith, but above all something of his love so that we too can go out and proclaim the gospel in all its fullness.
May St. Patrick, one the greatest missionary saints the church here has produced pray for us to follow his example. P.D.
March 2, 2018
Perhaps it comes as something as a shock to realise that north Africa was once a thriving outpost of Christianity. Apart from the Coptic Christians in Egypt little now remains of those communities. But what does remain is vitally important. On Wednesday we celebrate once such legacy: the feast day of Saints Perpetua and Felicity. Unlike some of the early martyrs we know quite a bit about these two woman and their deaths.
They died in the year 202. The Emperor had just forbidden conversion to the ‘new’ religion of Christianity. Perpertua and Felicity were catechumens when the decree came but still proceeded to baptism. They did nothing to hide their new allegiance and died in the arena at Carthage.
These two martyrs tell us so much about our faith. They remind us of the centrality of Christ and of the absolute demands of his gospel, which are above even those of the state. But they also remind us of the catechumenate which slowly we’re rediscovering: the state of preparing for baptism. Up and down the country we now have catechumens who are preparing for baptism at Easter. Although they will not be called on to die for Christ like Perpetua and Felicity they can revive our belief and love of God by their own manifest enthusiasm and faith.
As we journey to Easter let us these two saints to pray for us and also for those who, like them, long for baptism and eucharist. P.D.
February 23, 2018
‘Tradition’ has become something of a dirty word in certain quarters. This is a great shame as properly understood it means the process whereby what is valuable is handed on to the next generation. For the Church, tradition is not the dead faith of the living but rather the living faith of the dead. We have received our faith from those who have gone before us.
All the saints have played a vital part in this process but some of those from the earliest days of the Church deserve a special mention. One such is the saint we celebrate today. Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna in modern day Turkey. He was martyred there as a very old man of 86 in the year 155. He had been taught the faith by St. John the Evangelist. And in his turn he taught St Irenaeus, whose feast we celebrate in June, and who wrote the first systematic exposition of Christian doctrine. Reading the writings of these ‘Fathers’ of the Church and others we see clearly already well developed doctrine about the Eucharist, the sacraments and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
We are called now not to make up a new faith and new understanding but rather to hand on faithfully what we ourselves have received: the faith that can be traced back to the Apostles and Christ himself. P.D.
February 16, 2018
It has become fashionable to decry the idea of sin. We are told that it means little to the men and women of the twenty first century. A quick look at the news should show that the effects of sin are still all too present: angry zealots, greedy bankers, lustful opportunists, and so many more. We can see the deep disharmony that sin brings all too often. The truth is not that ‘sin’ means so little but rather that people don’t want to admit that they are responsible for their actions.
The Church tells us otherwise. It tells us the truth. We are fallen human beings. We do what we know we shouldn’t. It’s almost as if we can’t help ourselves. In one sense we can’t. That’s why the gospel on Sunday is so important.
There we see ‘one who is like us in all things but sin’ triumphing over the temptations that are placed in his way. They are real temptations, Jesus is not play acting. But unlike us on so many occasions Jesus is able to see through the quick fix, the easy lie, the misplaced confidence.
The wonderful thing is that he wants to share his victory with us. By works of fasting , prayer and almsgiving we are able to see correctly and choose the good. P.D.
February 12, 2018
Next Wednesday we begin our celebration of Lent. While the world will be celebrating the rather spurious St Valentine’s Day we will be told of our fate loud and clear in both word and action: ‘Dust you are unto dust you shall return’ will be the stark message as our heads are sprinkled with ashes. No purely human organisation or individual ever tells us this obvious truth in cold, clear terms. The Church alone has courage to do so.
But the Church is able to proclaim this seemingly hopeless message because, on the contrary, She knows our true destination and calling. We begin Lent as a journey to Easter. We put on ashes to follow Christ to his death – and resurrection. We may go down into the dust but we shall rise again from it.
Our Lenten observance is a time for us to refocus on what really matters. We undertake fasting, prayer and almsgiving, not because we want to punish ourselves but because we want to be liberated from the things that bind us. We give things up to take on a fuller understanding of what it is to be human.
We begin our journey with the stark truth but we undertake it because we know the glory to which we are called. P.D.
February 5, 2018
Tomorrow we celebrate the lovely feast of The Presentation of the Lord. The feast marks 40 days since the celebration of Christmas. It recalls the time when Christ was brought to the Temple by Our Lady and St. Joseph. The holy old woman Anna realises the presence of the Saviour while the holy old man Simeon cannot contain his joy and proclaims that this child is the Light of the World.
Picking up on this latter insight during the Liturgy candles are blessed as a sign of the light that overcomes the darkness. With the evenings still dark and cold these speak of the warmth that will soon be arriving but also, more importantly of the kindling of the Easter Fire and Easter Candle which speaks of Christ’s glorious resurrection.
Our worship is not just words, it utilises action and material things as well. Look around on this feast and see how your fellow worshippers faces are irradiated by the candle light. We are called to be reflections of the Light of Christ in our world today. It is a world that has many dark places but into those Christians plunge to bring the good news: this child is the Light of the World. P.D.
January 29, 2018
It’s still cold, wet, and dark and Christmas now seems a long, long time ago. But the feast we celebrate on Friday is an echo of the joy and elation we felt at Christmastide. The feast has several names. It is known and the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, or the Purification of the Virgin, but perhaps its best title is its ancient name – Candlemas.
We remember the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth. It is described to us in the gospel reading. But that same reading also speaks of Jesus as ‘the light to enlighten the gentiles’. And it is that theme the feast picks up in earnest.
At the start of Mass candles are blessed (often all those that will be used over the year) and carried in procession to honour him who is the Light of the Nations. It is a lovely echo of the lights and celebration of Christmas.
The candles are signs of what we are called to be. It is amazing how much light just one candle can give in a darkened room. Similarly it is amazing how much warmth one Christian action can spread in a world that so badly needs that.
We shine with the light that is Christ.