September 14, 2018
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 on Monday 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. P.D.
September 7, 2018
Tomorrow 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.
July 6, 2018
We are used to the countries of these islands having their patron saints – Andrew, David, George, and Patrick but the entire continent of Europe too has its patron whose feast we celebrate on Wednesday: Benedict. Born in Umbria around 480 Benedict died at the famous and still functioning monastery of Monte Casino in 547.
While still a young man Benedict had decided to flee what he considered the corrupt world in order to spend more time seeking God. His first attempt at setting up a community was not entirely successful because, like many young men, he was too intolerant of human frailty. But Benedict learnt from these mistakes and established a community and an order that flourish to this day.
The Rule of St Benedict is a masterpiece of common sense in which he shows himself a keen student of human psychology. Benedict’s rule is firm but gentle, shrewd but sensitive, and seeks to develop the individual as well as the community.
So great has been Benedict’s influence, especially over education, that he is counted as patron of Europe because he contributed so much of what is good in our common culture on this continent. May his prayers help us as we strive to build afresh a Christian culture that cherishes the individual and seeks their growth in a community of love. P.D.
July 2, 2018
There are undoubtedly many different versions of Christianity on offer in the world today – churches and sects abound. That’s why the feast days that occur around this time are so important. Yesterday we celebrated the feast of the early martyr and theologian, Irenaeus. He could trace his teaching back directly via St. Polycarp to St. John the Evangelist. Tomorrow we celebrate the feast day of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome – Christians who were put to death for their faith in the first century. And today we celebrate the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, both martyred in Rome in the 60s of the first century.
All these martyrs gave their lives because they knew Jesus as their risen Lord. They all knew too that the community that gathered to celebrate the Eucharist was the way in which that risen Lord was encountered. And they all knew that authentic teaching about Christ was found by following the teaching of the Apostles who had been personally present with Christ whilst he was upon earth.
Our communion with them and with their successors the bishops and Pope guarantee that among all the confusing versions of Christ’s teaching on offer what we believe is what he and his earliest followers taught – ‘the Catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles’.
June 14, 2018
On Saturday we celebrate the feast day of a great English saint. Richard of Chichester was born in Droitwich in the West Midlands in 1197 and died at Dover in 1253. But it is as the reforming bishop of Chichester that he is best known and loved. In the close a statue of him overlooks the Cathedral, and his shrine has been beautifully restored within the church itself.
Richard was a man of simple personal habits, great generosity, and clearly possessed the ‘common touch’. He was not adverse to rebuking his clergy and even the King when he thought it necessary, but he was gentle to the people in his charge and keen to lead them to heaven.
Richard was keen to instil a love of Christ in his people and his whole outlook can be summed up in the beautiful prayer he left us:
Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits you have given me, for all the pains and insults you have borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother, may I know You more clearly, love You more dearly, and follow You more nearly day by day. Amen.
Simple but profound, we would do well to meditate upon it.
June 8, 2018
This weekend we enter the ‘Ordinary Time’ of the Church’s year. Perhaps that’s a bit of a misnomer as nothing in our life in Christ is ‘ordinary’, in the sense of dull at least. It’s a time when we grow and develop as Christians. And the saints are our examples and guides during this period.
The saints, as we have said many times before, were ‘ordinary’ men and women who became extraordinary because they allowed Christ into their lives completely. They were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are called to be exactly like them. We can’t say that we cannot be because we are only ordinary so were they.
As we go through this period we will be looking at their lives and struggles so that we can see how we can imitate them, how we can learn from, and how we can become more like them.
But the saints are not just examples they are also advocates who pray for us and plead our cause. That is wonderful to know. We are not alone in our struggle to become better Christians we have this great crowd cheering us on to victory. The Communion of Saints is not some abstract doctrine but a wonderful reality at the centre of the Church.
June 1, 2018
This weekend we celebrate the wonderful feast of Corpus Christi. The phrase ‘Body of Christ’ has so many resonances and this feast brings them all together. There is the physical Body of Christ, crucified for us but now resurrected and glorified in Heaven. There is the Church which is the Body of Christ on earth. And, of course, there is the Eucharistic Body of Christ by which the Church is constituted and through which we are united to Christ in Heaven.
This feast calls us to remember especially the Eucharistic Body of Christ. We give thanks for the great gift of that Body given to us. In many parishes there is a Corpus Christi procession in which the Blessed Sacrament is carried through the streets. This is a wonderful way of celebrating our faith in the ‘real presence’ and a wonderful way in which we can give witness to those around us.
Down through the ages the Blessed Sacrament had sustained the saints in their troubles and difficulties. The Mass has been the rock of all that the Church does, says, and is.
This weekend we celebrate the fact that bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and that we too are transformed by our consumption of the same.