February 22, 2019
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Chair of Peter, which stresses the importance of the Bishopric of Rome in maintaining the unity of the Church. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St Peter.
Tomorrow we celebrate another feast which is very important to our self-understanding as Catholics – the feast of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp. He was martyred in Smyrna in modern Turkey around the year 155AD. He was 86 when he was asked to renounce his Christian faith, and the Bishop of the area. On his refusal he was burnt to death. His feast day has been kept ever since.
Polycarp is important for all sorts of reasons. One the chief being an exemplification of the process whereby we can be confident that we believe in the ‘Catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles’. Polycarp himself had been taught in his youth by St John the Evangelist. In his turn he influenced St. Irenaeus of Lyon who wrote some of the first systematic theology of the Church about matters such as the Eucharist and the importance of the See of Rome.
Ask Catholics we accord a special place to tradition which is not the dead faith of the living but rather the living faith of the dead. We believe nearly 2,000 years later what Polycarp believed and what he himself had received from the Lord’s Beloved Disciple.
February 7, 2019
Across the world one can find images depicting the events that we celebrate next Monday. Our Lady of Lourdes has proved to be the most popular of all the apparitions of the Mother of God. The tale is well known of the simple girl Bernadette who saw a lady who declared herself to be ‘the Immaculate Conception’, and who, after much personal pain and suffering, convinced the Church that she had indeed had this vision.
The shrine is still packed now over 160 years after the vision took place. It has a special place in Catholic consciousness. This is undoubtedly something to do with the simplicity of the message and the hope that the place embodies.
We are living in a society that increasingly wants to marginalise the sick, the imperfect, and the disabled. We are being sold the lie that we can live without pain and suffering and sickness. But we know that this is not the case.
We do not say that pain and suffering are good things. They are signs rather of our fallen humanity. But we don’t try to pretend they are not there. Rather, Lourdes, and the other shrines, show us a Christian response.
May Our Lady of Lourdes pray for us. P.D.
February 5, 2019
Tomorrow we celebrate the lovely feast of the Presentation of the Lord, or to give it its more traditional – and evocative name – Candlemas. We recall the occasion when Jesus was presented in the Temple 40 days after his birth. The song of old Simeon, which speaks of this child as ‘a light to lighten the gentiles’ is taken up in the liturgy as we bless and light candles. On a dark and damp day at the start of February we are taken back to Christmas with its lights and forward to the Easter Vigil and the lighting of the Paschal Candle. These echoes will help us through the rigours of Lent.
This is the day also when we make our final visits to the Christmas crib. The child adored by the shepherds and wise men is now brought to the Temple to be presented to God. We hear little more of him, apart from him amongst the teachers of the law at the age of 12, until he is a fully grown man preaching the coming of the Kingdom of God. Again the feast links us to his birth and to his death and resurrection.
Our world can seem a very dark place. We need to be confident because the Light of Christ has come into it. And that Light will never be extinguished. PD