January 30, 2012
Some of our opponents try to portray Catholics as blinkered, unthinking, rather stupid individuals. We are sometimes told ‘You don’t believe all that rubbish do you?’ by those who are prepared to accept as gospel anything they see on the television. The saint we celebrate ton 28th is a powerful refutation of such views. St. Thomas Aquinas lived during one of the most turbulent times in the history of ideas. The universities of the thirteenth century were awash with all sorts of radical ideas stemming from the rediscovery of the works of Aristotle. It seemed as if everything was called into question.
Aquinas was a Dominican friar and he and his fellows were concerned to reconcile the new learning with the faith. They did so by denying neither. In his words, ‘all truth, no matter wheresoever found, is of God’. Aquinas was keen to show what we could prove and what we had to accept on faith, but also to show what the faith meant at its deepest level. He wasn’t prepared to trot out the same old answers but looked afresh at the questions that were being asked.
We too live in exciting times in a world that has many new ideas and ideologies swirling about. We must avoid making the faith subservient to these new ideas, but we must also look for the truth present in them. May St Thomas pray for us that we may have the wisdom to do just that.
January 24, 2012
‘You win more flies with a spoonful or honey than a barrelful of vinegar’ was one of the favourite sayings of the saint we celebrate on Tuesday. St Francis de Sales was born near Annecy in south western France in 1567. Despite some opposition from his father he was ordained a priest in 1593. The opening years of his ministry were hard and sometimes dangerous. Many of his fellow countrymen in that region of France had become convinced Calvinistic Protestants. Because of his love he was able to win many of them back to the Church. In 1602 he became Bishop of Geneva – the very heartland of the Calvinistic faith. By 1622 he died, worn out but so highly loved and respected that even his opponents believed him to be a saint.
Francis’ reflections on the spiritual life were put down in his book The Introduction to the Devout Life. This book pointed out that holiness was not just for monks or nuns but for all the faithful. The book was also full of practical common sense and wisdom, reflecting the life of Francis himself.
We live in an age where it has become fashionable to attack religion in general and Christianity in particular. Writers and artists sometimes like to show off their ‘radical’ credential by denigrating what we hold dear. In our replies we should imitate Francis who did not descend to his opponents’ rudeness and swagger. Rather we must love them and so gently convince them of their errors. May St Francis de Sales pray for us.
January 16, 2012
Those engaged with some of the universities or the law might have wondered why this term which has just begun is known as ‘Hilary term’. The reason is because of the saint’s day which fell on the 13th and marks the start of those terms. Hilary was born in Poitiers in central France in 315. He was brought up a pagan but was a cultured and clever man who through reading and thought became convinced of the Christian message. So thorough was his conversion that in his mid-30s he was chosen to be the bishop of his native city.
As well as being a very caring bishop Hilary was also engaged in the great controversy of his time. The Arian heretics denied that Jesus was fully God and had tremendous influence at court. Hilary along with other great saints, such as Athanasius, fought against them to defend the teaching of the Church that Jesus is both fully man and fully God. For part of his life Hilary was exiled to the East so effective was his teaching and preaching. He put the time to good use and read up on what the Greek Christian thinkers were arguing. When he came back to the West he put that thought into action.
Hilary represents all that a Christian should be. He was kind and considerate but also uncompromising about the truths of the faith. As we begin our work again we should ask for his prayers that we may be the same.
January 9, 2012
On Sunday we celebrated the wonderful feast of the Epiphany (transferred from Friday). An ‘epiphany’ is a showing, a revealing, an enlightening. Sunday’s feast shows us two vital aspects of our faith: the presence of the Son of God is revealed; and the God’s desire to save all peoples is made clear. The ‘wise men’ are Gentiles, the first non-Jews to encounter the infant Jesus. They represent all the peoples of the world and the fact that the child is shown to them means that God wants everyone of whatever race or colour to access the salvation the child will bring. The child is hailed with ‘sacred gifts of mystic meaning’ – this child is king, sacrifice and God. On the cross all those things will come to their climax.
For most people the celebration of ‘Xmas’ is now well and truly a thing of the past. Perhaps they have some happy memories of it, and for some the credit card bill will be a more unhappy reminder of the season. For Christians however the feast of Christmas draws to its close on Sunday with the feast of the Epiphany, and the conclusion is anything but a damp squib. Try to do something to mark the end of the feast this weekend, celebrate it in Church and at home.