November 9, 2018
Men of all sorts of types, abilities, and weaknesses have occupied the throne of Peter during the church’s almost two thousand year history. But only two have ever been known as ‘the Great’. One we celebrate tomorrow.
Leo was elected Pope in 440. It was a time of total upheaval in the western world as the old certainties provided by the Roman Empire collapsed with it. Plague and pestilence were common, and barbarian invaders showed no mercy to the peoples they conquered.
Leo showed himself again and again a man of great courage. He met Attila the Hun and persuaded him not to destroy the city of Rome. He insisted on the pre-eminence of the bishop of Rome as the successor of St.Peter. He proclaimed clearly and unequivocally the mystery of the incarnation. He was resolute, determined, and possessed of great charisma. When he died in 461 the church and society were safer than before.
We too live in turbulent times – though not so turbulent as those of Leo. He is an example to us. He did not shrink from asserting what he knew to be true, and to insist on the claims of justice and the need for peace.
May Pope St Leo the Great pray for us.
November 5, 2018
Today we keep the movingly beautiful Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, All Souls Day. The tone is far more sombre than yesterday’s celebration – in place of the white vestments the priest wears purple, or even better black at the altar. Often unbleached candles are used in place of the standard ones. We are called to reflect on the reality of death.
But that reflection, while sobering, is not morbid and certainly not without hope. In fact we celebrate the Mass in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.
We know that our prayers can help the souls in purgatory to gain the forgiveness they have always wanted. It’s a day when we remember those of our family and friends who have gone before us. It’s a day when we acknowledge our own mortality. It’s a day when we remind ourselves of the communion of saints in which all the baptised share.
Praying for the dead is a very important part of our Catholic faith. We do not think ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Far from it. We realise that the dead are still very much part of the Church. We should ensure that our children know and use the basic prayers for the dead.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.
November 5, 2018
Who knows where all the nonsense about ‘Halloween’ comes from. It’s obviously a money making ruse by supermarkets and others. It’s also peculiar in that it trivialises one of the great taboos of our age: death.
It’s all a far cry from the feast we keep on Thursday – All Saints, and the commemoration we make a week today – All Souls.
The great feast is a celebration of the reality of the resurrection. We remember all those holy men and women who across the centuries and across the continents have lived their lives so closely with Christ that they now enjoy his life for ever. And the wonderful is – we are called to join them.
And the even more wonderful thing is that through the ‘communion of saints’ we enjoy their friendship, help, and prayers in this life now.
As Christians we don’t believe in spooks and ghouls and witches. We believe in one who is risen from the dead. One who shares that risen life with us here and now in the sacraments. One who saves us from death.
Let’s share this with the children in our care. Let’s teach them to know and love the saints. Let’s encourage them to pray to the saints. And let us all remember that we are on our earthly journey to meet them in heaven.
October 19, 2018
We can tend to think of saints as coming from long ago, from centuries long past. Nothing could be further from the truth. In each and every age the church has produced men and women outstanding in holiness. Our own time is not an exception. The Pope recently canonised Archbishop Oscar Romero who was gunned down while saying Mass in El Salvador in1980, and on the same day Pope Paul VI who died in 1978
On Tuesday we celebrate one of Pope Paul’s successors, John Paul II. Those who can remember his election in 1978 will recall the stunned shock of not only seeing the first non-Italian Pope for centuries appear on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, but also that the Cardinals had had the courage to elect someone from the Communist block. #
From the start John Paul II was convinced that God this unlikely choice was the will of God, and he set about a series of visits to the Catholics of the world to confirm them in their faith. A warm hearted, charismatic and energetic man, John Paul II connected with people of all ages, colours and creeds.
We have similarly been chosen by God for the tasks he entrusts to us. We may not stride across the world stage but we have a task to do that only we can. May St. John Paul II pray for us and for his successor that the love of Jesus Christ may become ever better known in the our doubting, disturbed and needy 21stcentury.
October 1, 2018
Tomorrow we celebrate the great feast day of St Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael – the holy Archangels. It is wonderful to think that these, and all the other angels, are there to help and protect us throughout our lives. The Bible tells us about them. Raphael we find in the Book of Tobit, and is associated with healing. Gabriel, of course, is the angel of the Annunciation. Michael we find depicted in both Old and New Testaments as the great defender of God’s people and the leader of the heavenly army. Michael casts out Satan from Heaven.
Veneration for the holy angels is found in the Old Testament. And down through the ages many churches and chapels have been dedicated to them. We should seek their protection and ask for their prayers. At the end of the old Mass the prayer to St. Michael was often recited. It would be good for us to use it in our devotions once more:
Holy Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do you, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
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.