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
January 25, 2019
Today 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.
November 16, 2018
Music is one of the greatest joys in life. Whatever your taste there must be very few people who are not moved or uplifted by some tune or other. It would be a very sad world without music.
Our religious celebrations are no exception. Music lifts our prayers to new heights. In fact, St. Augustine says that ‘the one who sings prays twice’. So it is good that the celebration of Mass and the sacraments is accompanied by singing.
On Thursday we celebrate the feast day of the Patron Saint of music, St. Cecilia. We know little concrete about her beyond the fact that she seems to have been a martyr in the early Church at Rome. But for centuries she has been depicted with musical instruments and celebrated as the musicians’ patron.
Music in church provides a very important function. It should augment the words and music of the Mass. On occasions it should joyful, on some occasions sober, and at Easter and Christmastide it should be exuberant.
Let us St Cecilia for her prayers so that our musical offerings will always be suitable and appropriate, of the best quality we can bring, and help raise our hearts and minds to God.
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.