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.
May 18, 2018
The glorious seven week celebration of Easter finally draws to a close this weekend. But it ends not with a whimper but a bang – the Big Bang of the Holy Spirit in the great feast of Pentecost. The Church does not descend into torpor but rather is invigorated to carry out the mission given to her by Christ himself: to proclaim the gospel and make disciples of all the nations.
The Holy Spirit is given constantly to the church. The outpouring of the Spirit is not a one off event. And we too, especially through the sacrament of confirmation, have received the same Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism.
From its very start the Church has grown in leaps and bounds, often in the face of dire opposition. When her enemies have been crowing over Her defeat God has found new ways to renew Her. And it is always through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The saints who we celebrate week by week were the chosen vessels of the Holy Spirit. In a myriad of different ways they have made the gospel alive for the people of their day.
We are called to follow those saints and do the same. And the same Spirit has been given to us for that task.
May 11, 2018
The choice of the twelve apostles was no arbitrary decision on the part of Jesus. He wanted to choose twelve men with whom he would share his ministry and preaching. We find lists of the twelve in the gospels, and they are shown as intimately associated with Him. When Judas betrayed Jesus that group was devastated. But it is interesting to note that one of the first actions of the early church after the resurrection was to make the group complete again. In the opening chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we read about the process whereby that choice was made.
The man chosen was called Matthias and we celebrate his feast day on Monday. He was suitable because he fulfilled the criteria set by St Peter – he had accompanied Jesus from his baptism until the Ascension. And the task he was given is absolutely clear: he is to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus.
Down through the centuries that has remained the key task of all the followers of Jesus. Although the Apostles hold a unique place in the history of the Church their role is continued by the bishops. And although the Apostles saw the risen Lord themselves we are called to be witnesses to the resurrection too. The new life of Jesus should be visible in our lives. Let’s ask Matthias to pray that it will be.