November 10, 2017
There are only two Popes who have been given the epithet, ‘the Great’, one of whom we celebrate today.
Leo was born in Rome towards the end of the fourth century. He became Bishop of Rome in 440AD. It was a time of considerable crisis in both Church and state. Heretics were still disputing the true nature of Christ. Leo’s famous ‘Tome’ (an official letter) was acclaimed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 as the epitome of orthodox doctrine that Christ was both fully human and fully divine.
In the secular sphere the once mighty Roman Empire had all but collapsed. The barbarians in the shape of the Huns and Vandals were threatening to massacre the citizens of Rome. Leo managed to arbitrate and secure peace.
We have many of Leo’s letters. They are crystal clear explanations of the Church’s teaching about the mystery of the incarnation, the nature of the sacraments, and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
Leo was energetic and vigorous: a man of intelligence and also a man of action. He died on 10th November 461AD.
November 6, 2017
St. Charles Borromeo is one of the greatest of the Counter-Reformation saints. Charles was born in northern Italy and, through family patronage, became Archbishop of the great city of Milan when he was just 26. But despite his age this was no sinecure and he was zealous in putting into effect the teachings of the Council of Trent.
He set up ‘Sunday Schools’ to combat the ignorance of the people, and opened seminaries to combat the ignorance of the clergy. He insisted on the decent and proper celebration of the Mass and the sacraments. He was fearless in denouncing the loose living of the rich and powerful.
All this earned Charles much love from his people but much opposition from his enemies who were annoyed to be challenged and confronted. One priest even tried to assassinate him!
The Church is always in need of reform. Pope Benedict challenged us to think again about the way in which we celebrate the Mass. Pope Francis challenges us to think again about the way in which we treat the poor.
October 30, 2017
This week we celebrate the Christian understanding of death, dying and the dead. It has little to do with the commercial nonsense of Halloween bats, witches, and ghosts.
On Wednesday we celebrate the great feast of All Saints. We remember all those faithful Christians who have gone before us and are now in the presence of God. We know only a tiny fraction by name – and we celebrate those in these pages week by week – but we know that there many, many others whose faithfulness to Christ has gained them access to heaven. And the wonderful thing is that they are praying for us to join them there.
On Thursday we celebrate the beautiful feast of All Souls. We remember those faithful Christians in Purgatory who are still waiting to enter Heaven, but whose salvation is assured. Many of them will be friends and relatives of ours who have gone before us. They are praying for us too, but we are also called to pray for them to be cleansed completely from their sins.
There is nothing ‘spooky’ about all this. The dead are not to be feared but to be loved. We are part of a great communion of believers that transcends time and space. It is a community that is based on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
October 23, 2017
There are very many hill top towns and villages dotted around the picturesque mountainous region of Italy known as the Abruzzo. Many were, sadly, devastated in the earthquake in 2009. One of them was the little town of Capestrano. The great shrine of the saint we celebrate next Monday is there.
St John of Capestrano was born there in 1386. As a young man he had a very promising career as a lawyer ahead of him. But it wasn’t sufficient and John eventually became a Franciscan friar. Doubtless using the oratorical skills he had picked up in this training for the law. John became a renowned preacher not just in his native Italy but across much of Europe. He died in1456 worn out by the preaching of the gospel.
Let us thank God for the men and women in every age who cast aside their own careers to put their talents at the service of the gospel and let us pray for lawyers, on this the feast of their patron saint.
October 16, 2017
Next Wednesday we celebrate the feast day of the evangelist, St. Luke. His gospel contains some of the best known, and certainly some of the best loved, of all the stories in the New Testament. It is Luke’s narrative that we think of at Christmas time, it is Luke’s narrative that we think of when we consider the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, it is Luke’s narrative that gives the text for the Magnificat and the basis of the Hail Mary.
Luke shows a Jesus who is compassionate and has a particular love for the poor and outcast. Luke also probes and proves the real humanity of Jesus – he weeps at the death of his friend Lazarus. Luke too insists of the vital and irreplaceable role that the women who surround Jesus play.
As Christian educators we should never neglect the power of story. Young children love and remember stories and older children can plumb their depths. Luke is the story teller par excellence. On his feast day let us thank him for giving us so much that we love in terms of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. And also let us ask for his prayers so that we can bring the faith to life as he did.