St David – 1st March

February 27, 2011

Next Tuesday the people of Wales celebrate St. David’s day. David is unique among the patron saints of the British Isles in that he was actually born and raised in the country of which he is patron. For centuries pilgrims have travelled to the place of his birth in St. Nons, and to the place of his tomb – the beautiful little city that bares his name in Pembrokeshire. Hundreds of churches are dedicated to him, not just in Wales but throughout the British Isles, testifying to his holiness and fame.

There are many legends that surround David but we know that he was a man renowned for his holiness and that he became a bishop at a time when the Church was under threat from both without and within. The famous phrase attributed to David that every Welsh Catholic knows deserves to be better broadcast: ‘Be joyful! Keep the faith! In many ways these two injunctions are good counsel to us today. We can sometimes feel as if we want to give up – David tells us to keep the faith. Enduring the cynicism of the world can drag us down – David tells us to be joyful. He linked these two things together because they both need each other. The faith gives us the reasons to be joyful.

St Polycarp – 23rd February

February 18, 2011

With so many different sects claiming that they know the secret of the Bible how can we be sure that we are right in our interpretation? This question vexed early Christians as much as us and has reappeared in several forms in every age. We can be sure that we are on certain ground because we are able to trace our pedigree back to the Apostles themselves who heard and saw and touched Christ himself. The saint we celebrate on Wednesday is an important part of that pedigree.

St Polycarp was born around the year 69AD and martyred in his old age around the year 155. We still have some of his writings which are trenchant defences of the truth about the divinity of Jesus. Polycarp makes much play of accepting and believing what the apostles taught. He in his turn passed on the faith to St. Irenaeus whose writings show us a great deal that is recognisable as the Catholic faith, including the Eucharist and devotion to Mary. Both saints were at pains to emphasise that what they wrote was not their own thoughts but rather what they had received. This handing on process is often described as ‘tradition’ from the Latin to hand on.

We are fortunate because we too have had the faith handed on to us. We are called to hand it on to others. This is the real meaning of tradition. As someone once said: ‘it’s the live faith of the dead, not the dead faith of the living’.

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes – 11 February

February 14, 2011

Again and again in both the Old and New Testaments we see God choosing the most unlikely people to accomplish his work.

That phenomenon has continued throughout the history of the Church. Today we celebrate just one such totally unexpected event – the appearing of Our Lady in the grotto at Lourdes.

Because Lourdes is now world famous it is important for us to recall that this little village was regarded as the back end of beyond. It was considered a sleepy, tranquil, dull little backwater in one of the remotest parts of France. Bernadette too would have been few people’s choice to bring the message of the gospel to the sophisticated, clever, decadent France of the mid nineteenth century. And yet that was how God worked, and how so many people from all classes and countries and continents have come to appreciate His continuing love for them shown in that wonderful shrine.

In our celebrity obsessed age it is good for us to remember that God chooses the weak and makes them strong, the His choices are quite surprising, and that sometimes he chooses ordinary people like us to do his extraordinary will.

St Paul Miki and Companions

February 5, 2011

We can sometimes think that the Church’s martyrs all date from the earliest days of its existence. This would be a mistake. In every age Christians have been called to make the supreme act of ‘witness’ (which is what martyr means) for the Faith. During the sixteenth century two islands saw many Catholics killed because of their fidelity to the Church. One island was, of course, our own dear Britain. The other was on the other side of the world – Japan.

On Sunday we celebrate the feast of St. Paul Miki and his companions. Paul was brought up in a rich Japanese family around 1562. He was educated by the newly arrived Jesuits, and joined them when he was old enough. He was a marvellous preacher and gained many converts to the Church. The ruling elite in Japan were very suspicious of the Christian missionaries and a persecution began. On 5th February 1597 Paul was crucified in Nagasaki along with other Jesuits. From the cross, following the example of Jesus, he forgave his murderers and prayed for them.

In our world which is obsessed with often worthless celebrities and self-seeking wannabees, the saints stand out as real heros and heroines. We should share their stories with our young people so that they can see what true love, true courage, and true status really are.