September 27, 2011
Any lingering feelings that we may have about saints being rather soft characters, timid, weak and unworldly are surely dispelled by the feast we keep on 30th September. St Jerome was born in what is now modern Croatia around the year 340 and died in Bethlehem in 420 AD. He translated almost the whole of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, from the original Hebrew and Greek into Latin. His ‘Vulgate’ Bible is still prized by scholars today, and he is regarded as one of the most intellectually able men whohas ever lived.
What comes across in Jerome is an ardent desire to serve God and his Church. He put his intellect at the service of the gospel and sought to refute the errors of his day. He was also keen to teach the truth and to help people read the scriptures correctly. We have many of his writings to that effect.
But his intellect was both his strength and his weakness. As with many clever people he did not suffer fools gladly and his letters and writings can sometimes become quite venomous against his opponents. He was aware of this failing in charity and undertook long penances to try to curb his spleen. Despite these failings he is ranked among the saints because of his awareness of his need for God’s grace. May he pray for all who are engaged in education today.
September 23, 2011
Next Monday we celebrate the feast day of two of the saints mentioned in the Roman Canon – the first Eucharistic prayer. Although we know little about Cosmas and Damian beyond the probability that they were martyred in Syria during one of the persecutions of the Church, they remain popular because of their association with medicine. For centuries they have been invoked as the patron saint of physicians and many medical societies witness to this fact.
They show us the true approach to suffering, pain and healing. We do not believe – unlike some sects – that somehow medicine is unnecessary. We don’t think that it’s really a question of ‘mind over matter’. Rather we realise that both physical and spiritual have to be taken into account when dealing with suffering. The human person is not just a machine, we have a spiritual dimension as well. That’s why we pray for and with the sick. That’s why we anoint the sick with oil. Not as a substitute for medicine but as a help to it. Both the priest and the physician have a role to play in bringing us to health.
May Cosmas and Damian pray for all those who work to relieve pain and suffering.
September 16, 2011
Some of the old chestnuts thrown up against the Church include the allegation that we didn’t want people to read the Bible for themselves, that we are anti-science, and that we are more loyal to the Pope than to our own country. The life, work, and writings of the saint we celebrate tomorrow give the lie to all those claims.
St Robert Bellarmine was born in 1542 and died in 1621. He was a very able scholar and very subtle thinker, and perhaps it was not a surprise that as a young man he joined the newly founded Jesuit order. As a Professor at the University of Louvain he encouraged the study of the Bible in its original languages. Later in Rome he became a firm friend of Galileo and defended him against unfair attacks. His work on the relationship between Church and state curbed the excesses of those who wanted to make the latter completely subservient to the former. Robert was no ivory tower theologian either, he produced catechisms and spiritual commentaries meant to increase knowledge and devotion.
Robert is a good example to all teachers. He was keen to find out what his opponents thought but also to explain what the Church actually teaches. We need more like Robert today, men and women who can calmly and charitably correct false impressions of the Faith and put it forward in an attractive way.
September 12, 2011
The new ‘New Mass’ was introduced into our parish last Sunday. Because it is so similar in places to the old ‘New Mass’ we got caught out in some of the responses. The changes are quite interesting and some of them – the response to the invitation to communion for instance – echo the words of the Scriptures. The translation is quite clunky, far more accurate than the last one but less flowing. I dare say we’ll get used to it all in time.
The change that really struck me though was the use of ‘I’ instead of ‘We’ at the start and throughout the Creed. It set me thinking. Although the previous ‘we’ could be seen as communal the new (or is it old?) ‘I’ might be the sort of antidote we need to our present rampant individualism in society.
We are so used to the monstrous egos of celebrities that perhaps this is one ‘I’ that is needed. It forces us to make a public confession of what we believe. We can’t hide in the crowd, we have to stand up and be counted. It’s not this group that believes these things but me. I have to say ‘I believe’. And that is what our society needs at present, a statement from individuals about their beliefs and values. The buck stops here with me. What do I think? I believe in ….
September 1, 2011
There are three birthdays commemorated in the Church’s Calendar: that of Christ at Christmas, St John the Baptist’s in August, and that of Our Lady which we celebrate on Wednesday. We often find these three depicted in paintings and icons because all three are central to the mystery of the incarnation. We do not believe in a God who is distant from this world, who is above earthly cares and concerns. We are not called to be disembodied beings – that role is for the angels. Our humanity is not an obstacle to our holiness but rather its precondition and possibility.
Because in Christ God has taken on our human nature, our human nature is for ever linked to the divine. Feasts like the one we celebrate on Thursday call us back to the profound truth of the incarnation. Mary was born like one of us, though without sin, and had to grow in her knowledge and understanding. Paintings often show the child Mary learning to read at the knee of St Anne her mother.
As we begin a new term we can reflect on the high, God given vocation that is teaching. Mary had to be taught and so did Jesus. Both in their turn taught those around them. Our quest for knowledge is one of the things that makes us truly human, and as such it also leads to God who is the source of all wisdom.