September 18, 2017
One of the criticisms that has been levelled at the Church over the centuries is that her members do not practice what they preach. Unfortunately, there has often been a certain amount of truth in the claim. At the time of the reformation especially the need for actions and words to be closely allied was very acute – and not all Catholics were exemplary by any means.
The saint we celebrate on Wednesday was ordained at the absurdly early age of 20 and for a while simply wanted a life of ease and pleasure. However, through the influence of the Counter-Reformation saints he became one of the greatest saints that France has ever produced.
Vincent de Paul was born in Gascony in 1580 and died in Paris in 1660. After his own acceptance of the gospel message in earnest he brought thousands of others to the same reality. He founded religious congregations that put the practical love of the poor above all else. In his dealings with Protestants he insisted that they were brothers in Christ. Wherever Vincent perceived need he saw an opportunity to serve Christ.
September 18, 2017
On Thursday we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew the evangelist. It is to Matthew that we owe the story of the wise men coming to the infant Christ and the desire of Herod to destroy him. But it is also Matthew’s gospel that is most concerned to show us that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament. Matthew quoted the OT more than the other evangelists and is keen to use phrases such as ‘this was to fulfil the scriptures’.
All in all Matthew emphasises the Jewishness of Jesus and in so doing reminds us of his birth into a particular time and place. This is an important reminder to us of the nature of our faith. We do not believe in an ideology or a philosophical system, a god who is remote from us or a deity who is manifested in various ways. We believe in God who has been made fully known in the man Jesus Christ, the man who is also the second person of the divine trinity. We believe in an incarnate God who walked and talked and lived among us. Matthew reminds us of the human roots of this God. We should relish learning about the Old Testament and about Judaism because in learning more about them we learn more about Jesus.
September 18, 2017
Today we celebrate the lovely feast day of the Nativity of Our Lady. We recall Mary’s birth to her humble and pious parents Saints Joachim and Anne. But as well as celebrating her birth we are bringing into focus all the things that formed Our Lady as a young child.
As good and pious Jews Joachim and Anne would have wanted Mary to have knowledge of the scriptures. One of the loveliest depictions of St Anne is her teaching the infant Mary to read. It’s often depicted in paintings and in statues in our churches. Mary in her turn would have taught the infant Jesus, the Word incarnate, how to read.
As educators we are called to open up children’s minds. One of the most wonderful experiences a teacher has is when a child starts to read, either at a young age or perhaps sometimes after a great struggle later on. There is something clearly of God in that enlightenment. Reading opens up the world to us, imagine how lost we would be without that ability.
As we begin a new academic year let’s pause and begin it with Mary, Mother of the Word of God. On this, the feast of her nativity, let us ask her prayers that we may be the best of educators.
June 6, 2016
On Saturday we celebrate the feast of St. Barnabas. He is called an ‘Apostle’ though he was not one of the original twelve chosen by Christ himself. He is described in the Acts of the Apostles as ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’. He vouched for the trustworthiness of the recently converted Paul. And with Paul he was sent off on the first missionary journey that the infant church undertook. Part of that journey encompassed Cyprus and the church there claims its descent from him. He is reckoned to have suffered a martyr’s death at Salamis, a port on the island of Cyprus.
Barnabas teaches us a great deal. He shows how the early church was keen to call others into what we now call ‘holy orders’, so that the Apostolic preaching and teaching could be continued. He also shows us that the early church realised that it has a divine calling to spread the word. Finally, he shows us that following Christ can be costly to the point of giving up one’s life.
Let us ask Barnabas for his prayers for ourselves so that we too may be missionaries in our world today. And let us also ask his prayers for the people of Cyprus.
May 5, 2016
On Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Ascension (transferred from Thursday). It is vital that we realise the imagery used in this feast is not about departure but rather about presence. Jesus, as the gospel recalls, passes from the Apostles’ sight but he is still intimately with them in everything they do and say. And that presence continues in the church today. It is Christ who preaches and heals and reconciles. At his Ascension he doesn’t say ‘Over to you’ but rather ‘I am with you always.’
Pope St Leo the Great, who was Bishop of Rome in the fifth century, put it succinctly when he said: ‘After the Ascension the visible presence of our Redeemer passed over into sacraments’. Christ is still present in the world today, continuing His saving mission, but that presence is seen through sign and symbol which don’t just point to Him but making Him effectively present.
The other aspect of this feast that we must not neglect is what it tells us about ourselves. By his Ascension Jesus has taken our humanity into the Godhead. Everything that makes us truly human is therefore redeemed and saved and loved. The feast promises us that we shall share in His divinity because He has shared in our humanity.
April 15, 2016
The Archbishop of Canterbury was recently in the news, as revelations were made about his paternity. His response was very measured and kind, but also showed his deep Christian convictions. Next Thursday we celebrate the feast of St. Anslem, who a thousand years ago occupied the same See.
Anselm too had his troubles, but like Archbishop Welby, his trust in Christ was made manifest. He was born around the year 1033. He became a monk at the famous abbey of Bec in Normandy, becoming Abbot in 1078. He wrote a number of theological and philosophical works about faith and reason. In 1093 he became Archbishop of Canterbury.
Because he was keen to defend the honour and independence of the Church he did not endear himself to the kings he had to deal with, and several times he was forced into exile.
What comes across in Anselm’s writings are a razor sharp mind wrapped in sensitivity and kindness. He was much loved by his monks and the ordinary people. He was keen, for instance, to abolish slavery which still existed in England at that time.
Let us pray to St. Anslem for those same gifts: absolute commitment to the truth, courage to stand up for it, but also the love to put it into practice.