Ash Wednesday and Lent 2016

February 5, 2016

It seems difficult to believe but next Wednesday is actually the start of Lent. Easter is very early this year so our penance starts earlier than usual too.

Ash Wednesday tells us the truth about our human condition: ‘Dust you are and unto dust you shall return’. No wealth, no fame, no healthy diet will save us from this inevitable fate. The modern world finds this very difficult to accept and beguiles us with promises we know are false. We need to face up to reality and the imposition of ashes makes us do just that.

But this is not the only truth about our human condition. The Liturgy also tells us to ‘Repent and believe the Good News’. And what good news it is – we are called to share in the eternal, divine life of God. Jesus, the Son of God, comes to make that life available to us. Throughout Lent we will ponder what that means. At the end, during the Triduum, we will live it out.

Lent is a journey to Easter. Whatever penance we undertake should enable us to celebrate Easter more fully. We are called to fasting, prayer and almsgiving to prepare us for the great feast of the resurrection. We might be dust but we are not only dust. We are dust that will be transformed and transfigured.

The Purification – February 2nd

January 29, 2016

Next Tuesday we celebrate the lovely feast of the Purification, or as our ancestors in these islands called it, Candlemas. You can read the account of Jesus being brought to the Temple 40 days after his birth in St. Luke’s gospel. The characters we find there are very important ones. Obviously there is the baby Jesus and his mother, and step-father Joseph. They are devout Jews who are observing what the law commands. But we also meet Anna and Simeon. They realise that in this child the hopes that they and their ancestors have been cherishing are now come to fruition.

Simeon praises God in words now familiar to us in the Nunc Dimittis which is sung at compline, and at Evensong in the Anglican church. He speaks of Jesus as a ‘light to lighten the gentiles’. This baby is the means through which God will extend salvation to the ends of the earth.

The Liturgy picks up this theme of light. We process with lighted candles and often all the candles that will be used during the year are blessed at this Mass. This lovely feast, celebrated on a dark and miserable February evening, reminds us of Christmas. But it also points us towards the Easter Vigil.

Conversion of St Paul

January 25, 2016

Next Monday we celebrate the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. This event was so momentous in the history of the Church that it is commemorated like no other. The story of Paul’s conversion can be found in the Acts of the Apostles, but Paul himself refers to it in several of his letters.

As we know Paul, or as he was originally known, Saul, was one of the chief opponents of the ‘new religion’ that proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah. As we also know he became one of its chief proponents and advocates. His influence was felt throughout the early church and he has shaped our understanding of the Christian faith to this day. His letters are full of sound teaching and practical advice for the earliest believers as they strove to deepen their understanding of Jesus, his message, and the role of the Church.

Paul was full of zeal and his determination to preach the gospel took him across much of the Roman world. He eventually died a martyr’s death in Rome and his body is still venerated there in the basilica that carries his name.

Paul shows us how God can turn things around, how God has plans for us beyond our wildest imaginings. Let us for his prayers to that we too may experience an ever deeper conversion.

“Ordinary” Time

January 18, 2016

We have now entered what is rather prosaically known as ‘Ordinary Time’. The vestments are green, and the systematic reading of the Scriptures has begun. The next big change will be when Lent comes upon us in just over a month’s time.

But although this is ordinary time it is still full of extraordinary people: the saints. Over the next few weeks and months we will be looking at their lives and seeing what they can teach us. Saints are given to us to follow and imitate. But they are far from being just dead heroes. The wonderful thing is that they are alive in Christ and pray for us. Just think of that the saints are praying for us, because they want us to share in their joy. It is a tremendously encouraging thought.

Saints are not standard or of a type. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some were rich and powerful, others poor and insignificant in the sight of the world. Some were geniuses, others were illiterate. Some were a great age when they died, others were mere children. They are not confined to one country, or one race, or one way of life.

The Second Vatican Council called us all to be saints. As we examine their lives we can see that call is not impossible. With their prayers we too can come to the joy of heaven.

St Gertrude the Great – 16th November

November 13, 2015

Few saints are called ‘the Great’. Probably the best known are both Popes, Leo and Gregory. But the saint we celebrate on Monday also rejoices in the title – and is a woman. St. Gertrude the Great was born in 1256, in Eisleben, Saxony. She was educated at the local monastery school from about the age of 4. In 1266 she joined the monastic community. Her education was broad. She was very familiar with the Bible and the writings of the Fathers of the Church. She was fluent in Latin.

From the age of 25 onwards she experienced a series of visions that made her even more determined to be steeped in the scriptures and in the study of theology. Her own writing are a testament to her conviction that she was called to be the Bride of Christ. She died near her home town around 1302.

Gertrude is an important saint and one who deserves to be better known. She gives the lie to modern day critics who argue that women were oppressed and ignorant until the dawn of the twentieth century. She also gives the lie to the Protestant reformers who asserted that the Bible was kept hidden from people until they translated it. She shows us the best combination of faith and intellect, and also that the spiritual life can be deep and loving. May she pray for us.

Ss Simon & Jude – 28 October

October 23, 2015

On Wednesday we celebrate the feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude. We know little about them – the scriptures tell us that Simon had once been one of the ‘Zealots’ (a sect within Judaism), and that Jude is not to be confused with Judas Iscariot. Legend holds that they suffered a martyr’s death in Persia, but we have no reliable evidence for this.

The one thing that is certain though is that they were part of ‘the Twelve’. We find their names in each list of the Apostles, albeit with some variation in reference. And this is what we can recall today: we ‘hold and teach the Catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles’.

We live in an age in which people think that in religion, as with almost anything else, they can do their own thing. This D-I-Y approach is not the Christian understanding. We don’t make up a faith to suit our needs and desires. We receive the faith of the Church which teaches what God has revealed about himself. But as well as receiving we’re also called to give. The Catholic ‘tradition’ is the process of handing on the faith from one generation to another. May the holy Apostles Simon and Jude help us with their prayers as to engage in that task.

St Teresa of Avila – 15th October

October 9, 2015

Next Thursday we celebrate the feast of St Theresa of Avila, one of the most compelling and intelligent women in the liturgical calendar. She was born in 1515 and died in 1582. So she lived through the Protestant Reformation, one of the most turbulent times in the Church’s history.

The Church too was undergoing a period of reform and Teresa was one of the leading lights in that. The Carmelite monastery she joined as a young woman was lax and far removed from its original ideal. Supported by other like minded friends Teresa established a new convent which was far more rigorous and austere.

Along with St John of the Cross and others she wrote cogently and passionately about the spiritual life. She was quite clear that prayer had to be focussed on Christ. She was also insistent that the key measure of spiritual growth was not the number of mystical experiences one had (though she had quite a number) but the growth in love that was manifest to all. As she said: ‘ Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul’.

May St Theresa of Avila pray for us and for the Church that we may experience something of her zeal, fervour, but above all love.