March 12, 2019
For centuries the Church has combined the gospel we heard last Sunday about Christ’s temptations with the one we hear this weekend about his Transfiguration. We might have expected on the Second Sunday of Lent some more admonition about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving but instead we are told the wonderful story of the vision of Christ transformed. The juxta positioning of these two gospels is no accident. They remind us that we undertake penance with the hope of transformation. We are tempted but in Christ we can overcome. Although we need to fast we do so in the hope of future glory.
As ever what happens to Jesus is what can happen to his faithful followers. We are tempted – but we can resist and repel the Devil’s advances. We are called already to glory and we too are acknowledged as the children of God. Lent is not a time for gritting our teeth and getting on with things. It is rather a time when we open ourselves up to the transforming power of God. We fast to create a space in our lives for that. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving make us less self-centred and more God centred.
We were told on Ash Wednesday that we are dust – we are told this Sunday that we are God’s children.
March 8, 2019
Lent is upon us. On Wednesday we heard again those two great warnings with which we begin this season: ‘Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’ and ‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel’. These are words which conflict so starkly with our modern society’s obsession with fame, wealth and youth. But as well as warnings they also contain the seeds of hope. We are dust, fashioned by God himself, but we shall rise again from the dust. By being faithful to the gospel we shall come to eternal life and everlasting happiness. The cross is traced in ashes on our foreheads, but that same cross was traced on our foreheads with holy oil at our baptism. We are marked men and women – we are marked with the cross that saves us.
The readings of this Sunday and next, which have been heard by Christians beginning their Lenten journey for over a millennia, tell us more. In Jesus we are tempted – but in him we also overcome. The devil is not too powerful for us because the man Jesus has triumphed. As we journey through Lent we realise that we are on the road to the cross and the resurrection. It is our story that is unfolding. P.D.
March 8, 2019
Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. There are three main disciplines in Lent – as the gospel of the day very clearly indicates. Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. All three should be part of our Lenten devotions – we need to take things on as well as give things up.
As we prepare for the start of the season this weekend perhaps we should pause and reflect: from what exactly do I need to fast? How should I deepen my prayer life? How will I give alms? Before we get into a regular routine we need to ask ourselves if we’ve outgrown what we’ve done in previous years or if some other penance is now more appropriate in our lives.
The gospel is also insistent that we do not parade our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. How absurd it would be if we took a boastful pride in those things. Rather they are between us and our heavenly Father.
The message we will hear on Wednesday is stark and uncompromising: ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. No politician, no philosopher, no celebrity would dare tell that amount of truth! Yet we can cope with because we know that this journey will lead to Easter. P.D.
February 22, 2019
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Chair of Peter, which stresses the importance of the Bishopric of Rome in maintaining the unity of the Church. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St Peter.
Tomorrow we celebrate another feast which is very important to our self-understanding as Catholics – the feast of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp. He was martyred in Smyrna in modern Turkey around the year 155AD. He was 86 when he was asked to renounce his Christian faith, and the Bishop of the area. On his refusal he was burnt to death. His feast day has been kept ever since.
Polycarp is important for all sorts of reasons. One the chief being an exemplification of the process whereby we can be confident that we believe in the ‘Catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles’. Polycarp himself had been taught in his youth by St John the Evangelist. In his turn he influenced St. Irenaeus of Lyon who wrote some of the first systematic theology of the Church about matters such as the Eucharist and the importance of the See of Rome.
Ask Catholics we accord a special place to tradition which is not the dead faith of the living but rather the living faith of the dead. We believe nearly 2,000 years later what Polycarp believed and what he himself had received from the Lord’s Beloved Disciple.
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.