Thoughts and Reflections

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Thursday 13th January - Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Mass on Sunday...
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2022

John 2:1-11

The Marriage Feast of Cana is the first of seven of what St John calls “signs”, rather than miracles. Using this title indicates that what is important about them is not so much the event itself, as the meaning to which it is pointing. Here the meaning is clear: something new, something different has arrived on the scene. In terms of symbols the old water jars used for ritual washings that were commonplace in Judaism (the Old Covenant) are now used for wine, a symbol of the Eucharist of the New Covenant. The enormous quantity of wine now available (about 150 gallons!), far more than would be required at such a wedding feast, is also a sign of the abundance associated with this New Covenant.

Isaiah 62:1-5

Written after the return of the Exiles from Babylon this extract comes from the final section of the Book of Isaiah. It is full of hope for the future after the turmoil that the people had suffered. Integrity is to be the hallmark of this new era. A major symbol of newness and of hope for the future is the image of the wedding feast, at which Israel is the bride all set to be united with her husband (the Lord), with a bright future ahead of them.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

Today we embark on a continuous reading of part of this most famous of St Paul’s pastorally-orientated letters written back to a community that he knew well. The extracts we will hear over the next four weeks centre on the gifts given by God’s Spirit. The enormous variety of gifts listed by the Apostle come from one, single source: the One Spirit. On hearing this emphasis on variety based on oneness, we are reminded of his concern about grave divisions that had surfaced in the community at Corinth. Paul goes to great lengths to demonstrate the importance of unity within the community – a community comprising of many, differently, gifted people.

Sunday 9th January. - The Feast of the Baptism 2022

It is hardly surprising that, on celebrating Jesus’ baptism, we are invited to reflect on the meaning and significance of our own baptism. This feast marks the threshold between Christmas and the beginning of our journey with Jesus through his Public Ministry as an adult. The fact that it also falls very early in a new calendar year is an added incentive for us to think through what WE are about in responding to our own call to ministry and discipleship – because, please be in no doubt, that the call for all us is real, and it is urgent.

Last autumn Pope Francis announced a Synod – a meeting ultimately of bishops, but in preparation for which he wants everyone in the church to feel involved and to have their say. The formal meeting of the Synod in Rome will not be until next year – 2023 – but we are all invited, at this stage of the process, to contribute our own observations.

The bottom-line, as it were, is that the Pope wants people to think through how we might live and act as a church in which everyone is an active participant. This is as opposed to a church where some people offer things and the rest simply receive them passively. By and large that offering by some (usually the clergy) and passive receiving by most (the laity), is the way the Church has operated for many, many generations, and it has to change… if the church is to survive into the future. The church is fundamentally the People of God, not one, rather small, section of it. All discipleship, all following in Jesus’ footsteps is rooted in baptism, not in ordination!

Apparently, the officials in Rome who are organising the Synod have been inundated with requests for information and help in dealing with this call to participate in these preparations from right across the world, except, that is from Europe and North America. The message seems to be a clear one: there is an eagerness for help with the proclamation of the gospel-message in the East and Global South but, but what, in the West?... Perhaps it is a lack of interest or else a kind of paralysis, born of bewilderment as to know what to do going forward. For so long the clergy have not only taken the lead, they/we have been the sole decision-makers about most aspects of church life. Lay people have tried to express their views, many have done this by simply walking away in frustration or disgust.

To try to reverse this trend the offer made in the process for this Synod is try to work through, and then act on, ways in which everyone’s viewpoint is respected, valued and truly heard. That does not mean that everything I want and ask for will be granted, but understanding that I – whoever ‘I’ am – has a voice that is listened to and valued, is simply putting into effect the way Jesus himself treated people in his own ministry.

As you leave Mass this morning there is a copy of the questions to which people are being asked to respond in preparation for the Synod. The questions are many, and many are not relevant to most of us. May I suggest, however, that everyone look at the final three sections at the bottom of the Page? Sections entitled ‘Authority and Participation’, ‘Discerning and Deciding’, and ‘Forming Ourselves in Synodality’, will be key for our communities long after this period of consultation comes to an end.

The Feast of the Epiphany 2022

Nothing is more important for St Matthew than the fact that, as he records the events of Jesus’ life for his Jewish Christian audience, Jesus is seen as the fulfilment of the prophecies about the coming Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures. Not only do we see this in the Gospel Reading for today, we also see it clearly from both the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm.

The Book of Psalms, originally the prayer book of the Jewish People, has been for centuries also the prayer book of Christians. As well as the Responsorial Psalm as Mass they are used in the daily Prayer of the Church – the Breviary. The variety of psalms is extensive - prayers of praise, lament, confession, and petition. Some of them are referred to as Kingship Psalms and were used in Temple liturgies honouring the kings of Israel and Judah. These are usually understood as ultimately referring to the Messianic King: Jesus himself.

As with our First Reading from Isaiah, so our Psalm looks to a time when all the kings of the earth will give honour and praise to the King of Israel who is the Messiah: The Redeemer of all people. To pay homage gifts are presented to him in the Psalm. Isaiah names two of the gifts as gold, due to a king and frankincense due to someone who is divine.

The gifts are completed, and St Matthew’s claim of prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, with the gift of myrrh. Its bitterness is taken as a sign of suffering and later, in St John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus’ body is anointed with myrrh at his burial by Joseph of Arimathea.

Jesus is truly the Messiah, the Redeemer of all people, human and divine, someone honoured at his birth by these exotic visitors, and someone who is destined also to suffer.

In a few verses of the Gospel, in this one feast, the fullness of our Christian Faith is expressed and celebrated.

An Epiphany Carol

Here is a link to an article about the carol, "We Three Kings" which some people may find interesting...

Memory at Christmas: an American carol and biblical images

INTERNATIONAL.LA-CROIX.COM

Memory at Christmas: an American carol and biblical images

Thursday 6th January - Some thoughts on the Readings for Mass on Sunday...
Reflections on the Readings for the Feast of the Baptism 2022

Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus brings us to the threshold of a few weeks of Ordinary Time before we begin our observance of Lent. Being ‘the Year of Luke’ our Gospel Reading comes from this Third Gospel. In between John’s announcement of the coming of someone greater and Jesus’ baptism (in verses missed out in the extract we read at Mass) John the Baptist is arrested. As for Jesus, we notice, as elsewhere particularly in this Gospel, that he is at prayer when he hears the voice from heaven. For St Luke Jesus is portrayed as a person seen regularly at prayer. It is only Jesus who hears the voice and it confirms what had already emerged in his consciousness: he is chosen and has a special task ahead of him. Over the coming weeks we will journey with him as that task unfolds.

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

As with our Gospel so with this First Reading, a new beginning is proclaimed. These are the opening words of what is usually called ‘the Second Isaiah’ (chs.40-55). Written during the Exile in Babylon they announce a fresh start, “..call to her (Jerusalem) that her time of service is at an end.” The joyful message is one of return to their homeland – a return made as easy as possible with paths made straight and mountains and valleys flattened to give easy passage. Their God is coming both with ‘power’ and with the gentleness of a shepherd holding the young and vulnerable lambs in his arms to protect them.

Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7

Immediately before the passage given as our Reading today, the writer outlines what is usually called ‘a household code’: a code of behaviour expected of all the members of the house. The opening verses of today’s extract give the reasons for this: God has revealed through his Son the true meaning of life and how it is meant to be lived. In the second paragraph the reference to, ‘the Spirit so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour,’ is thought to derive from a prayer actually used in services of baptism in those very early decades of the emerging church.

Wednesday 29th December - Here are some thoughts about the Readings for Mass on Sunday... and in the meantime... Happy New Year!
The 2nd Sunday of Christmas, 2nd January 2022

John 1:1-18

This Prologue of St John’s Gospel is also designated for “Mass During the Day” on Christmas Day itself. It is an extended, poetic meditation on the events of the Incarnation and their significance. As such it is a particularly appropriate choice for this final Sunday of Christmas. It acts as an invitation to continue the pondering and reflecting on the events of Jesus’ birth and early life, even as we prepare to move into our journey with him through his Public Ministry. Everything contained in that ministry is already evident in the events of that early life, or such is the claim made by this Prologue. Interweaving themes of light and life, of our being called to become children of God, and the graced nature of all life in and through “the Word made flesh”, are all further revealed in what Jesus will say and do, especially as John will recount them in the rest of his Gospel. With the festivities (largely) behind us, we are invited to pause today for a deeper meditation on the significance of what we have been celebrating in the last week or so.

Ecclesiasticus 24:1-2, 8-12

The key idea of our Gospel, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” is more literally as “pitching his tent among us”. In this Reading we see the connection when the author has the Creator say, “Pitch your tent in Jacob”. The “tent of meeting” was where Moses and the People of Israel gathered to meet their God. This extract is part of a poem in honour of Wisdom that brings to a close the first part of this book, which is part of the Old Testament that has come to us from its Greek translation. It does not feature in the Hebrew Scriptures, although its origins were clearly in that tradition.

Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18

Tom Wright, in his book “Paul: a Biography”, suggests that this Letter to the Ephesians is best understood as a kind of circular letter from Ephesus, rather than to the community there. This certainly circumvents the much-divided discussion among scholars of whether or not Paul himself wrote the letter. Accepting this premise, we find Paul here outlining his own theology of the centrality of everything being “in Christ”. In many ways this prayer can be seen as St Paul’s equivalent of the meditation poem of today’s Gospel. Like our Gospel it has a great deal to offer in terms of further meditation on the events of this Season of Christmas.

Christmas Day - Christmas Masses 2021

I suspect that many may people have reached this Feast Day feeling as though they have not been sufficiently prepared to celebrate this great feast. Many people are tired and weary these days.

Perhaps the last few weeks have been a frazzled time of rushing around getting things ready for celebrations that might, or might not, have been able to take place. Buying and wrapping presents; buying in the food and drink; preparing some of the food in advance; putting up the Christmas Tree and other decorations; and so on, with no time for much in the way of spiritual preparation.

Or, perhaps you are among the many deeply affected by what has been happening these twenty months or so. The anxieties of the lockdowns; the fear of catching Covid; either being ill yourself or else someone very close; maybe someone close to you has died during this time; perhaps you have worried about whether or not you still had a job; or else the job you have is on the front-line and that has caused untold anxieties and all kinds of stress. All of this has led to spending less time than you might have liked in prayer and reflection.

If any of the above apply to you, may I suggest that, in fact, you are in a really good place to appreciate the true meaning of what we celebrate. Now that might sound rather strange and yet I truly believe that it is the case.

People who have had the time and space to prepare for today can also appreciate what we are celebrating, but sometimes if we really feel alert and prepared, we can also feel rather self-satisfied and righteous. The thing is that throughout the Christmas Story the people who really appreciate these events are those living on the margins (like the shepherds in the Gospel), or those who are vulnerable in different ways (the poor and the lowly of our carols, for example).

Mary and Joseph were themselves tired and weary after a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, at the worst possible moment for Mary in her condition. The people chosen to see the Newborn baby were not the righteous priests of the Temple or the Pharisees from the synagogues, but shepherds, people who had a very dubious reputation and who were kept out of the towns and villages overnight.

It is those who tired and weary who are well aware of their fragility, their vulnerability, who are truly open to receive the real message of possibility, of hope and joy that Jesus’ birth brings with it. All the main characters have much to reflect on and, in fact, this exactly what we are told Mary does – today and in the other events we hear about in these various celebrations around Jesus’ birth and early life.

However tired and weary we may feel we are, in fact, in precisely the right place to receive the benefits and blessings of Jesus’ birth… if we are prepared to follow Mary’s lead and example.

Happy Christmas to you and your families!

Sunday 19th December - 4th Sunday of Advent 2021

Elizabeth is the first person to recognise the roots of Mary’s acceptance of God’s will for her, “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary’s “belief”, her “trust”, in God led her to accept God’s will and it is the basis of our hailing her as the model of all discipleship: “the first and best disciple,” as Pope Paul VI described her.

Notice that in accepting the words of Gabriel at the Annunciation Mary did not seek any confirmation or advice either from a priest at the Temple in Jerusalem, or even the local rabbi at her synagogue in Nazareth. There was no need for a member of the ‘clergy’ to be involved at all. This was between her and God.

The results of a survey into the level of trust people accord different professions was published a few weeks ago. On the plus side of trust were professions like doctors, nurses and teachers. At the bottom of the chart on the negative side were politicians in general. For some reason government ministers were less distrusted (though there was no separate category solely for the Prime Minister in the survey). Slightly less distrusted came people involved in advertising. Sadly, also very much in the negative column, were the clergy in general: distrusted by the general public, more than trusted. No doubt much of that distrust could be blamed on the whole abuse scandal.

Once trust is lost it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to regain it. Perhaps there is no more precious commodity for all of us than the trust others are willing to put in our words and promises. When people lie, or try to obfuscate matters with a tirade of empty words and promises, levels of trust vanish into thin air.

Of course, depending on how we understand God, trust in God can vanish just as easily. If we believe in some magical god who will, if we are good and pray hard enough, wave a magic wand and make all things right, only for that god to fail to deliver the goods, then faith in that god quickly evaporates. This is not, however, the God revealed in the Bible. The God who comes as one of us in the person of Jesus.

It is clear to us that Mary was a woman of prayer – she could not have had such a level of trusting faith were that not the case. The God she believed in was indeed one that kept promises, but not in some magical way that would shield her from the ups and downs of life. She would be joyful at the birth of her son for sure, but she would also experience the trauma of being a refugee, of losing her son for three days, as well as the suffering and death of her son.

The trustful faith of Mary is rooted in her prayer and her image of a God who will accompany her no matter what trials may come. Joy and happiness, alongside sadness and grief, in all of these ups and downs of life our God is there with us: a God who is love itself.

Thursday 15th December - Some thoughts on the Readings for Mass on Sunday...
Reflections for the 4th Sunday in Advent

Luke 1:39-44

At last, our Advent Readings focus on Jesus’ First Coming in Bethlehem. Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth brings together the two expectant mothers at the heart of these stories surrounding Jesus’ birth. Elizabeth’s first words form the second part of the Hail Mary and point to Mary’s belief, “that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary’s faith, her trust, in God’s promises are the foundation of her model discipleship for all of us. Elizabeth is the first person to recognise this in the Gospel narrative. All of us are called to the same faith and trust and are helped by Mary’s example and her prayers as we try to respond to the call of God in our own lives.

Micah 5:1-4

Writing around the time of the threat to the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in the C8th BC, Micah looks forward to better times. Bethlehem, the city where David was anointed as King of Israel, will once again defy its insignificant status. From here, “the least of the clans of Judah”, will emerge the one who will rule over the remnant who will return to their homeland. Although the Lord will abandon his people for a while this will not be forever. God’s promise is that the one to be born will bring security and peace “to the ends of the land”. In fact, “He himself will be peace”!

Hebrews 10:5-10

In this chapter of his letter to a community of converts from Judaism, the author points to the ineffectiveness of the sacrifices offered day after day by the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. For him, Christ’s coming into the world is already a replacement, “He is abolishing the first (Temple sacrifices) to replace it with the second (Christ).” This will be accomplished ultimately “by the offering of his body”, but notice that it is already being accomplished by the Incarnation (his coming into the world).

Sunday 12th December - 3rd Sunday of Advent 2021

I wasted a fair bit of time this morning looking up mistranslations on Google. Many are from menus, others are from public notices, and although quite hilarious, most are far too rude to quote here. For years, in tv shows, magazines and newspapers, people have been poking fun at translations. The problem is that if you look up the translation of a word in a dictionary you will find probably find several options, some of which fit one context but which are completely wrong in another.

Just like any translation work, rendering the Bible into different languages is a matter of great skill and no matter how well it is done improvements are always possible. Take, for example, one of St Paul’s instructions in that Reading, “Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is near.” There is something urgent about this call, “The Lord is near,” but the idea of being “tolerant” is a bit glib here. Perhaps it is because time is short that Paul is urging them to put up with things as they are, because they are not going to suffer for much longer. That is one of the meanings that we attach to the idea of being tolerant. Paul is, however, wanting more than passively putting up with things.

A more recent translation puts Paul’s command like this, “Let your good sense be evident to everyone.” Now we are getting closer to what he is looking for: using our “good sense”. Paul’s readers are being asked actively to discern what is the right way forward in their life. As we grow and develop hopefully our “good sense” develops with us. Of course, we get things wrong at times, that is part and parcel of being human, but with age, and experience, wisdom will, hopefully, follow. This is true in every aspect of our life, including our life of faith.

“What is the sensible, the right, thing to do in this situation?” is something we are faced with every day. Most often the issue is simple and routine, but sometimes it is more complicated. We need help and guidance to make the right choices. In their preparation for making their First Holy Communion one of the things that the parents and children are invited to look at is the making of good choices.

Preparing for Holy Communion is a particular milestone of faith development for young people and when it comes to celebrating Holy Communions it is an opportunity for us all to be reminded that this gift is food for our own journey through life: feeding and strengthening that “good sense” in all of us.

We talk about being fed and nourished both by the Word of God in our Readings at Mass, and by the gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Both are offered to help us develop that “good sense” which will help us build the kind of communities in which everyone is valued, respected and able to flourish – to become all that God wants us to become.

Thursday 9th December - Reflections for the 3rd Sunday in Advent 2021

Luke 3:10-18

Once again John the Baptist is the focus of our Gospel this weekend. Having been introduced to his ministry last Sunday, now we hear his own voice, preaching to the crowds. His message is as radical as Jesus’ will be. Respect for others, equity and fairness in dealing with others, are to be practised by all, and especially tax collectors and soldiers (who relied on intimidation and extortion to supplement their earnings).

In a situation where, “a feeling of expectancy had grown among the people,” John has to declare that he is not the Messiah (the Christ). “Someone” is going to follow him who could well be that person. Notice that that John is already sharing “the Good News” with the people who come to be baptised by him. We, too, are in a time of expectancy as Christmas edges ever closer, and we are called to repent and act in ways consonant with the message of the Gospel.

Zephaniah 3:14-18

Writing at the time of the final demise of Judah and Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in the sixth century, most of Zephaniah’s writings are gloomy in the extreme. He forecasts all manner of disaster to befall the people. However, as with all the prophets, this is not the end of the matter. Once punishment has been endured, God will redeem and free his Chosen People. This promise is given in the final verses of the writings of the Prophet, the very verses we are given in our Reading today. The hope expressed in these words is the same hope that we look forward to in this Advent Season.

Philippians 4:4-7

Following on from our Second Reading last Sunday, we are given a second extract from this upbeat Letter of Paul to the Philippians. Paul wants nothing other than the happiness of these people and points the way to achieve this: “tolerance”. In a more recent translation this is rendered as “good sense”, which is more wide-ranging in its scope. The people are to use their God-given good sense to act in accordance with God’s wishes and so be prepared because, “the Lord is very near.” The final sentences of this passage form a well-known prayer of blessing, “May the peace of Christ, which is so much greater than our understanding will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus.” It is that peace that we all seek in these dark days before Christmas.

Sunday 5th December - 2nd Sunday in Advent 2021

There have been a lot of complaints about mixed-messaging about socialising over the Christmas period. Both medical experts and politicians have been offering different advice, depending on who is talking. Many medics and some politicians are asking us to be cautious, other medics and many government politicians are much less cautious. In the middle of it all people – everyone from those organising Christmas dos to owners of hospitality venues, from families to groups of friends planning the next few weeks – no one quite knows whose advice to follow. The net result is confusion.

One element of confusion about the upcoming celebrations can, however, be cleared up very easily. It is done in our Readings, and especially in our Gospel today.

St Luke is quite adamant that Jesus’ ministry – heralded here by the preaching of John the Baptist – began in a very specific year: the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. What he is going on to report really happened. It is not a hoax. It is not a fairy tale. Now there are some people who actually deny that there was ever a person called “Jesus”. Rather like those rather strange people who in our own time deny the existence of the Covid virus – dismissing it as a global government conspiracy of some kind. No, St Luke is saying, these events were for real.

St Luke, and the other writers of the books of the New Testament, go one step further, however. Not only “were” these events for real at a certain time in history, they “are” for real for us today. What happens in the events recorded in our Christian Scriptures has changed everything in life, for everyone, for all ages, because God is still present and at work in our world today. That is the claim made by Christians and which we affirm in our Creed.

There is something warm, comforting and sentimental about many aspects of the religious and semi-religious events of the coming weeks. (When they can take place) carol services, nativity plays, outdoor carol singing in shopping precincts can all bring a smile to anyone’s face in these dark days of winter. That is all well and good, but St Luke invites us to go much further.

Many people stop at the warm and sentimental glow of the Christmas story but do not see any particular relevance of those events for their lives in the rest of the year. It is as if each year at this time a fairy tale with a happy ending is rolled out along with funny, warm and cosy Christmas films. It is entertainment, no more. That is definitely NOT what St Luke, or the other writers of the Christian Scriptures, are claiming.

In fact, these events are the opposite of a fairy tale. For sure they recount heart-warming events (by and large) but they are much more than this. What happens in these events changes the whole of history. We are being called in these events to realise that God is still at work in every aspect of our life and so are called to conversion, to repentance, to a change of mind and heart. In realising this we realise the true spirit and meaning of Christmas.

Thursday 2nd December - Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Mass on Sunday.

Reflections for the 2nd Sunday in Advent 2021

Luke 3:1-6

These verses form the opening of Luke’s account of Jesus’ Public Ministry (The first two chapters deal with events during his childhood years). As it opens the Ministry is placed firmly at a particular moment of history, “In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign…” We are reminded of another famous passage that begins the second chapter of this Gospel, “Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken.” Those are the opening words of the Gospel for Christmas Midnight Mass, announcing Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

In both cases St Luke is saying these events actually happened and they happened at this time. Not only did they happen at a certain time, however, the Gospel is all about how these events have significance for us even now. They are not just events that happened in a dim and distant past. We remember and celebrate them because of the permanent effect they have on human history for all time. First on the scene is John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus, exactly as the Prophet Isaiah suggested. We, too, are preparing for Jesus’ coming in these days of Advent.

Baruch 5:1-9

If you happen to have a Protestant edition of the Bible you will not find this book between its covers. From the time of the Reformation Protestant churches decided to hold only to those books of the Old Testament found in the Jewish Scriptures composed in Hebrew. The Catholic Church opted to also include books found in the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures, and the Prophet Baruch is one of these. Little, if anything is known about the author. There was someone called “Baruch” who was secretary to Jeremiah but theses writings clearly belong to a much later date, well after the Exile in Babylon.

Ever since the time of the Exile Jews were dispersed across the known world. Even today this is known as “The Diaspora” (the dispersed seed). Although exile was forced on them by invading armies, the prophet looks forward in hope to a time when all, and perhaps especially the people for whom he is writing, will be able to return in safety “under the glory of the Lord” to Jerusalem. The message of hope, of light, of mercy and integrity are very much in keeping with our theme of Advent hope.

Philippians 1:3-6, 8-11

The city of Philippi enjoyed many privileges in the Roman Empire. It was a place populated largely by Roman Army veterans who were exempt from certain taxes that others had to pay. It was an important colony about a hundred miles from Thessalonika. Unlike many of the towns and cities visited by St Paul it appears not to have had much, if any, of a Jewish population. Also, relatively uniquely in St Paul’s writings, he seems not to have had any major problems with them. This letter is one of thanks for the generosity towards others both spiritually and materially, and one of encouragement to persevere in their faith. Notice that the phrase “the Day of Christ”, repeated twice in this extract, refers once again to the “Second Coming” of Jesus at the end of time. At this stage of Advent we are still preparing for that coming, not yet his First Coming at Christmas.

Sunday 28th November - First Sunday in Advent 2021

I’m having trouble at times working out whether relatively recent events happened before the Pandemic or after it. Everyone has their own base dates for events in life. “That was before I was married.” “That was before we moved here.” “That was before our so-and-so was born.” “That was before I retired.” I suspect that the year when the Pandemic struck (2020) will become one of those watershed dates across the globe.

The main base date for many, but not all parts of the world, is that claimed to be the year of Jesus’ birth: B.C. and A.D. For the communities for whom our various books of the Bible were written, however, another date was more significant. The year of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection was the key date in the Early Church. St Luke wrote his Gospel over fifty years after those events which are key to the whole of his writings (The Acts of the Apostles as well as his Gospel). In fact, those events are at the centre of all human history for Luke.

At this point in the Gospel Luke recounts some words of Jesus, spoken just a day or so before he was put to death. They are spoken in the precincts of the Temple. They are about the end of time: his Second Coming. Jesus begins by talking about the destruction of the very Temple in which he is standing and indeed the destruction of the whole of Jerusalem, “Not one stone will be left standing on another.” When they hear these words, the people for whom Luke is writing know that this has already taken place. Jerusalem had already been razed to the ground in AD 70, fifteen or more years before the Gospel was written. All that was left of the Temple was what we know as the “Wailing Wall” where even today Jews gather to lament the destruction of their Temple.

Jesus tells his audience that the city would fall because the inhabitants have failed to keep to God’s ways. Now, in today’s Gospel, he goes on to warn people at a global level of the destruction to come if THEY fail to heed the call to repent, to change and to live according to God’s commandments. The whole passage is full of imperatives: “Stand erect, hold your heads high”, “Watch yourselves”, “Stay awake, praying at all times”. The aim of being prepared is to be able, “to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.”

For many, relatively calm years for most people, such warnings probably had little impact. This is no longer the case. All manner of things are happening around us: the Pandemic; extreme weather events; human beings just like ourselves are dying in frantic efforts to cross the Channel to what they imagine will be a better life for them. Upheaval is happening all around us. The invitation at the Beginning of Advent – the beginning of a new liturgical year – is always the same: making resolutions to repent, to change, to pray, to live life truly in accordance with God’s values shown us in the person of Jesus Christ. This is the direction of travel for anyone seeking true hope and contentment in life.

Thursday 25th November - Here are some reflections on the Readings for Mass on Sunday.

Reflections for the 1st Sunday in Advent 2021

Luke 21:25-28

We are reminded in this Gospel Reading that this first part of Advent looks towards Jesus’ Second Coming at the end of time. We also embark on Year C of the Lectionary in which most of our Gospel Readings will come from that of St Luke.

St Luke’s Gospel does not pretend to be an eye witness account of events as they happened. The author uses several sources for his narrative including St Mark’s Gospel, various of Jesus’ teachings that he has in common with St Matthew, as well as sources of his own. In today’s passage, that has similarities with what St Mark recounts in his Gospel, St Luke recounts Jesus’ words about the end of time. A few verses earlier he has talked about the destruction of Jerusalem (which had already happened by the time this Gospel was written) and now the narrative turns towards a wider destruction. Jerusalem, and its inhabitants, had not promoted the peace sought by God and had been overwhelmed by the Roman Armies as a result. Here the warning is for all people to be vigilant, living the values Jesus had proclaimed, so that whenever he does come, he will find people who are faithful in their witness to the Gospel and his message.

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Writing around the time of the Fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, Jeremiah’s message is notoriously gloomy – so much so that the authorities in the city tried to silence him for spreading defeatism. He was, however, only speaking the truth as is the calling of a true prophet. Now, however, moving towards the end of his writings, the mood begins to change and he looks forward in hope to a new beginning for the nation after the Exile in Babylon. This new beginning will be heralded by the arrival of a new descendant of David: a righteous king. We see this fulfilled in the coming of Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

This letter is the first written Christian document. It was written perhaps only 15 or so years after Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, and pre-dates all of the Gospels by some years (as do all of the letters known to have been written by St Paul). In a similar tone to the Gospel passage St Paul begins the letter by warning people to be prepared for Jesus’ coming at any time. To do this they should be attentive to their behaviour towards each other: acting out of love and following Paul’s own example in their manner of life.

Thursday 17th November - Reflections on the Readings for Christ the King 2021

John 18:33-37

I have never understood why the people who were charged with compiling these Readings for the Lectionary missed out the “punch-line” at the end of this exchange between Jesus and Pilate. In response to Jesus’ assertion that he came to bear witness to the truth Pilate’s response, “Truth, what is that?” is full of irony. Truth is not a ‘what’ it is a ‘who’ and truth is standing right in front of him, though he is unable or unwilling to see it.

This is an exchange full of drama. Jesus dares to respond to Pilate’s initial question with a question of his own. This would be considered insolence by the Governor. Then Pilate himself responds with utter contempt. “Am I a Jew? It is your own people who have handed you over to me.” Thus, he washes his hands (symbolically here, as opposed to physically, as reported in Matthew’s Gospel) of any responsibility for what is happening. Now Jesus has an opening to state very clearly the kind of kingship he is claiming: not an earthly one to challenge the Roman Empire, but a heavenly one based on very different values which are embodied in his life and witness. It is clear why this extract has been chosen for our Gospel Reading on this Feast of Christ the Universal King.

Daniel 7:13-14

Earlier in this chapter Daniel has seen a vision of the various kingdoms that have overwhelmed Judah over the centuries. Although the whole book is apparently set during the Exile in Babylon (C6th BCE) it was, in fact written around 160-170 BCE during the occupation and persecution of the Jews under the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes. Daniel’s vision consists of four beasts that represent the four kingdoms that had held sway over his homeland at different times: Babylonian, Median, Persian and, finally, Greek. Now he looks forward to a fifth Kingdom in which the God of the Jewish religion will hold sway and will not only save his Chosen People but “all peoples, nations and languages”.

Apocalypse 1:5-8

This passage comes from the opening verses of the final book of the Bible and continues the theme of the universal nature of the Kingdom (or Reign) of God. The author will go on to address his work to those suffering persecution for their faith but right from the outset he asserts the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ: the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of all things. Notice that even “those who pierced him” (his executioners) will see him come in triumph. All peoples will have the opportunity to repent and to “mourn” him.

Sunday 14th November - 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

One of the great blessings to our parish communities in the last twenty or so years has been the arrival into them of people from so many different parts of the world. They have enriched our parishes with their cultures, their gifts and talents, and with their life experiences. Prior to the arrival of so many new people, here in the North-East very little had changed in our parishes for quite some time. Life was what it was. It had its particular rhythms and we tended to be very comfortable with that. Perhaps we had also become not so much comfortable as complacent, content with things as they were. Now it began to be possible to see what was going on through different eyes.

When things are, by and large, very steady and have been for years, Readings such as those we have today are difficult to latch on to. The original audiences for the Gospel and the First Reading were suffering the traumas of persecution and displacement. Nothing was very certain or stable in their lives. In such a context the encouragement to remain faithful, to know that their difficulties will pass, did not resonate very much with our experience of life.

All suffering brings with it one or more of three things: isolation, meaninglessness and powerlessness. Leaving meaninglessness to one side, which comes more with the loss of a role in life, isolation and powerlessness have visited us all in plenty of late. Although not persecuted in any way like those communities addressed in those Readings, even the most comfortable of us have come to know something of how they impact on people.

The last 20 months or so have brought home to us the sheer fragility of life. The shock to the system of being told to stay at home, not to mix with others even close members of our own family, only allowed out to buy essentials from the food shops or to get some exercise in the immediate vicinity, has been profound. Although things have eased considerably there are still many uncertainties. For most of us there are less feelings of isolation, but certainly powerlessness is still very evident.

Perhaps now those Readings about the isolation and powerlessness of communities suffering persecution hold more meaning for us. The warnings of what is to happen come alongside assurance that, all appearances to the contrary, we are not alone, that God is present to accompany us whatever we may have to face, and God will never fail to adhere to the promise to remain with us no matter what.

When a little child falls and scrapes its knees a warm cuddle and some soothing words from a mother or a father can quickly calm things down. That approach won’t do when it comes to reassuring adults in more difficult circumstances. Soothing words can sound very hollow when we feel alone and powerless, especially when we aware that no one actually knows when things will get better. What does work, however, and is at work in our Readings today, is that sense of not being alone whatever may be going on. We are assured that at every stage of life, in every situation, God accompanies us no matter what!

Thursday 11th November - Here are a few thoughts on the Readings for Mass on Sunday.

Reflections for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 13:24-32

Apocalyptic writing is a feature of these final weeks at the end of the Church’s Liturgical Year (and indeed for the start of the new one!). We remember that this type of literature was written for people undergoing persecution for their faith – something which the Christian Community in Rome had been experiencing at first hand. It is written as an encouragement to those living in fear of their lives, to remain faithful, the suffering will pass, and all will work out. The Son of Man will come for a second time among us to bring judgement, and justice to the oppressed.

Although very reassuring for the original audience, two thousand years later, still with no Second Coming, the urgency of the call to remain faithful has worn thin, but a timely reminder to remain vigilant is always welcome. Perhaps the pandemic has been a wake-up call for many when we realise once again the fragility of human life.

Daniel 12:1-13

This book of Daniel was mostly written in the mid-Second Century B.C. during a time of great persecution at the hands of the current forces invading Judaea. The army of Antiochus Epiphanes threatened to destroy Jerusalem and the whole Jewish religion. For a while he did manage to have a pagan idol erected in the Temple (it was called “the Abomination of Desolation”), thus desecrating it, but ultimately, the invaders retreated and the Jewish faith prevailed. This is one of the earliest examples of apocalyptic literature promising relief and triumph for those who remain faithful during a time of persecution.

Hebrews 10:11-14, 18.

This is our final excerpt from this Letter to the Hebrews and, in a few short sentences, it brings to a climax the main argument of the author: the former, quite ineffective priesthood of the Temple in Jerusalem has come to an end and has been replaced by the “one single sacrifice” of Christ. Jesus’ death on the Cross has achieved what no human, earthly ritual could possibly have achieved: “all sins have been forgiven”. Our Eucharist is not a repetition of Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice on Calvary, it is a participation in that single act that brought redemption to all humankind.

Sunday 7th November - 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

If ever we were looking for a current example of the Pharisees (or “lawyers” as they are called in that Gospel passage), people who are intent on promoting their own interests and those of their cronies, we have had this handed to us on a plate by some members of the political class in this country in the last few days. Called to uphold the interests of fellow citizens they have only managed to further diminish the honest, hard work of many of their colleagues, just as those Pharisees did in the Gospel.

In many ways the Pharisees should have been natural allies of Jesus. Their movement had begun with the aim of making the Jewish Religion accessible to everyone, not just a small elite who could worship regularly at the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogues in which they reached out to people across the known world (not just in towns and villages in Judaea and Galilee but in Egypt and Greece, even in Rome) helped all and sundry who wanted to observe and to celebrate their religion to do just that on their own doorstep. There were many good, honest men among the Pharisees in Jesus’ time (some would even become followers of Christ after the Resurrection), but the movement as a whole had lost its way.

In that Gospel Jesus rails against their corruption and self-importance – the long robes, the lengthy prayers, all of which were for show as they “swallowed up the property of widows”, and in the process lined their own pockets. This could be characterised as “clericalism” or being “self-referential”, both of which terms Pope Francis has used to describe aspects of our church today.

There are a great number of good, honest people living and working at all levels in our church, but there are also those who are like the pharisees of Jesus’ time. The whole tragic crisis about abuse in the church is ultimately the result of the misuse of power, particularly over the most vulnerable in society. It all but destroys our credibility in sharing the true message of the Gospel with people outside the Church. Jesus gave authority to disciples to promote his message, not to desecrate it and turn it into self-satisfied, cosy members-only club.

Fortunately for us the full message of the Gospel always offer hope in the midst of even the most difficult of circumstances. Today that comes in the shape of a nameless widow whom Jesus points to in the second half of that Gospel passage. She could, quite possibly even be one of those widows who had been cheated by the Pharisees, but if she was, she was still able to rise above the abuse she had endured to come to worship her God, as a faithful Jew, at the Temple and to give everything she had towards its upkeep, so that she and others could continue to come to worship the God in whom she placed her trust.

It is her example of quiet sincerity, simplicity and commitment that we are offered today as our own way to true worship and evangelisation. The Gospel will be preached effectively only as long as people in the Church have at the forefront of their missionary efforts, the examples not of people like the Pharisees who had lost their way, but the positive models of faith-filled people we find across the gospels: people who promote not themselves but faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

Thursday 4th November

Here are some thoughts on the Readings for this coming Sunday.

Reflections for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Mark 12:38-44

After this extract we have only one more passage from St Mark’s Gospel to come in this Liturgical Year. Jesus is now in Jerusalem in the precincts of the Temple. He has had disputes with all the different factions representing the authorities of the Jewish Religion. He finishes with quite a flourish! Firstly, he attacks the vanity and self-importance of one of the key groups at the heart of that religion: the Scribes, or lawyers. It is little wonder that after such words they are out to get him. Their greed and self-centredness is in complete contrast to a widow who gives everything, literally her last penny. This is exactly what Jesus himself will do two days later on the Cross: giving up everything even life itself!

1 Kings 17:10-16

We have another act of total giving in this First Reading, where we have one of those incidents in the Bible where the main character tells the person with whom he is speaking, “Do not be afraid.” It is the most common commandment in the Bible, apparently appearing 365 times, a mention for very day of the year! Trusting in the promise of the Prophet Elijah a widow shares the last of her food, which was hardly enough even for just her son and herself for one last meal. The promise of the Prophet comes true, all three survive the drought and subsequent famine. Elijah truly is a messenger from God.

Hebrews 9:24-28

The author of this Letter to the Hebrews has been writing in this section about one of the best-known liturgies in the Jewish Calendar – the Day of Atonement. In Jesus’ time it was a day, celebrated each and every year, when the High Priest offered a special sacrifice for the sins of the whole people, including his own, in the Temple. In contrast to this annual offering of the blood of an animal, Jesus offered his own blood on the Cross in a once and for all act, for all humankind. Now, while he continues to mediate with his Father on our behalf, he will come once again at the end of time to announce the final judgement.

Sunday 31st October - Feast of All Saints 2021

As the Covid virus was raging across the world last year the race for an effective vaccine got underway. However, what was often portrayed in the media as a competition between different pharmaceutical companies to get their vaccine out first, and therefore make a great deal of money, a different race was going on as far as the scientists were concerned in the research labs: a race against the virus itself and its ongoing mutations. Two of the scientists behind the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca vaccine have made it very clear that what the world needed was several different vaccines against this deadly virus, not just the one they were helping to develop. For them this was not about win-lose for big pharmaceutical companies. They needed “Big Pharma” to produce and roll out the vaccines, but from their perspective this was not a competition in which there were winners and losers, rather it was about win-win for the whole human race, not just the rich, developed nations who would be able to afford all kinds of vaccines and medicines.

Those Beatitudes in our Gospel also signal a different way of looking at life as a whole. They are a re-calibration of human thinking based on competitiveness , with winners and losers. Jesus is saying in God’s kingdom, potentially, all are winners, especially the most vulnerable: the poor, the grieving, the gentle, the hungry, indeed all those who simply trust and get on with life.

A few years ago, a leading American politician was asked why, since he was so wealthy, he paid so little in taxes. His reply was that he was “smart”. In other words, ordinary tax payers were dummies. Later on, when invited to take a short journey, during a visit to France, to lay a wreath at the tomb of an unknown American soldier from the First World War he declined saying why should he pay his respects to a “loser”! So much for “the poor in spirit” and “those who mourn”. That is the exact opposite of what Jesus is offering in today’s Gospel where there are no dummies, no losers, only fellow human beings who, whatever their situation, are equally called to be part of the Kingdom of God.

We remember that “Gospel” is first and foremost “good news”, not a code of conduct (which it does in include). The good news that Jesus is offering in today’s Gospel is win-win for all people including and especially the poor, those who mourn, the gentle, those who go hungry, those who toil for the goal of peace, and so on. We have known people who have been examples to us of each of those beatitudes at some point in our life. In today’s feast we acknowledge, celebrate and give thanks for their life and example. On All Souls Day we pray for those being readied to join them as they are cleansed of anything and everything that holds them back from their final rest in God’s presence. We especially celebrate those inconspicuous, faithful disciples, unsung by the wider community, but who are part of Jesus’ offer of a win-win for all who embrace the Good News, even the most insignificant!

Thursday 28th October - Here on some thoughts on the Readings for this Sunday, the Feast of All Saints.

Reflections on the Readings for All Saints 2021

Mt. 5:1-12

Leaving aside the stories in the Infancy and Passion Narratives the Gospel of the Beatitudes is quite possibly the best-known passage in the whole of the Gospels. This has the potential disadvantage of the reader/listener switching off because they “know it already and have heard it thousands of times before”. If that is the case then we really need to stop and to be very careful in slowly reading it through, perhaps with a different translation from the one with which we are most familiar. For example, how does Nick King’s rendering of “Happy are” by “Congratulations”, sound to you?

In his Apostolic Letter on the Call to Holiness Today (Gaudete et Exsultate) refers to these Beatitudes as, “a Christian’s identity card” (§63) and entitles the whole subsection of chapter 3 dealing reflecting on the Beatitudes as “Going Against the Flow”. Perhaps those two ideas might help us listen to this Gospel in a slightly different way.

Apocalypse 7:2-4, 9-14

The final sentence of today’s extract helps us to put this strange scenario into perspective. Someone asks who are the huge multitude of people mentioned in the account of the vision. The reply comes back, “These are the people who have come through the great persecution and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.” The Book of the Apocalypse is addressed to a community suffering great persecution. People are in immediate danger of their lives because of their faith. The often weird and wonderful visions are offered as an encouragement to them to persevere, to keep the faith, because a huge reward awaits those who are faithful to the end, as witnessed in today’s extract.

1 John 3:1-3

The idea of thinking of/meditating on the love that “the Father has lavished on us” is full of great potential. This is offered as one of the Readings that could be chosen for a funeral, and for obvious reasons. On the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls we remember the ordinary folk whom we have known who have shown us great example of living the life of discipleship. Not many, if any, would have referred to their lives in quite that way. Most people just get on with they have to get on with, without calling it a “life of discipleship”, but that is what it is for all of us. So, on these feasts we give God thanks for the example others have been to us, ask for their prayers (on All Saints) as we continue our own journey, one day to be reunited with them, and to pray (on All Souls) for those who are undergoing their final preparations for eternal rest in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is all about the love that the Father has indeed lavished on us.

Sunday 29th August - 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

A few years ago my niece was teaching in a girls’ boarding school. One year, for the first time, six or seven girls from China came to board at the school. At the first assembly in the Hall the Chinese girls all came in wearing face masks. This caused quite some consternation. The immediate, and as it turned out completely wrong, take on this was that the girls were afraid of picking up germs from their new colleagues and were protecting themselves by wearing the masks. On the face of it looked like a slur on the hygiene of the school and the other girls and was interpreted as being insulting. After a conversation with the girls, however, the staff of the school realised that, far from meaning to be insulting, the girls were wearing face masks to protect their new colleagues from any germs they might be carrying from China! It was an act of courtesy on their part. Appearances can be very deceptive, as Jesus points out in our Gospel.

The list of evil deeds given by Jesus in that Gospel is clear enough: it is things that come out of us, from our hearts, our motives, that make us saints and sinners. What he is saying has implications beyond simply the dietary rules and regulations of Jewish kosher food. His problem with the Pharisees was their hypocrisy: everything was done purely for show. They looked as though they were the ultimate observers of the Law and demanded respect simply on that account. Jesus is looking for something else from his followers; something we might call “authenticity”. We could put it another way and say that Jesus was wanting the outside and the inside to match; to be the same.

The whole purpose of the Jewish Law was not meant to be nit-picking regulations on every matter under the Sun, such that the ever, observant self-appointed police of that Law could pounce on anything that they considered deviant behaviour. As we heard in our First Reading from Deuteronomy in the Jewish Scriptures the laws that they kept were to enhance life and would be seen by neighbouring nations as wise and prudent behaviour. At its heart the Law was based on the premise that life and everything in it is God’s gift to us. As such we are called always to be grateful for these gifts and to use them wisely and respectfully.

Every life, everything in life is gift from God and bears the imprint of God. Everything from respectful behaviour towards one another to care for the planet are all part of our Christian vocation to be faithful disciples… including wearing masks in indoor public places like this…

Thursday 26th August

Here are some thoughts about our Readings for Mass on Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Mk. 7:1-6, 14-15, 21-23

Having completed our Readings from John Chapter 6 this weekend we return to our journey with St Mark’s account of Jesus’ Public Ministry.

Shortly after feeding the five thousand Jesus confronts the Pharisees who, once again, are nit-picking about the behaviour of his disciples. Because St Mark needs to explain the Jewish customs it becomes clear that his original audience does not consist of converts from a Jewish background, who would have known the purity codes well-enough. Writing for a pagan audience Mark is at pains to point out that Jesus always emphasised internal motives above external actions. The Jewish codes about food, for example, were not simply about good hygiene in a hot climate. For the Jews everything in life, including food, was sacred, gift from God. The rituals around food were to make clear to all involved their gratitude for God’s bounty. Both in the case of food laws and property inheritance, however, the Pharisees twisted things in their own favour, and so made a nonsense of their original purpose. Genuine internal motives coming from the heart are what Jesus is interested in promoting.

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8

The Book of Deuteronomy (literally translated “Second Law”, i.e., looking at the Law of Moses from a second perspective alongside the other books of the Law – Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers) consists of four addresses given by Moses to the people about God’s Law and their obligations under that Law. Today’s extract comes from the end of the first of those addresses in which Moses exhorts the people to faithfulness in their observance of all God’s commandments. Such observance, he says, will demonstrate to pagans the wisdom and prudence of their laws: laws which lead to “life” in all its richness.

James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27

For the next five weeks our Second Readings are taken from this Letter of St James. The “James” of the title is usually taken to be the James who was head of the community in Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles. Describing himself in the opening sentence of the Letter as “the brother of the Lord”, he seems to have been an early disciple but not one of the two apostles named James, nor necessarily any blood relative of Jesus (kinship designations were much less defined in New Testament times than today). The evidence of the Letter shows someone who knows well both the Jewish tradition and is comfortable with the Gospel now being shared with Gentiles as well. As we can see from this first extract, his emphasis is on putting the Gospel into action: living the Gospel in deed as well as word.

Sunday 22nd August - 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Every day we make a huge number of decisions: what clothes to wear, whether to have jam or marmalade on the toast, which channel to tune into on the tv, and so on. Most of these are quite trivial and take little thought or energy. Other decisions, decisions that may affect our future lives, take more time and energy: for some of our younger folk at the moment this may be what A-levels to study, which university to apply for, or what job to apply for. Others again are even more significant and take much more consideration: is this person my lifelong partner, or not?

The more important the decision to be made, among other things, the more work will be required to maintain that decision into the future. Now that is fairly obvious when it comes to choosing what subjects to study, or what job to apply for, but it applies equally well to significant long-term relationships as well. Any relationship, if neglected for any length of time, or taken for granted, will almost inevitably fall apart or just simply die a slow death. Given that faith is a relationship – between God and ourselves – the same holds true here: neglect or taking things for granted will have dire consequences.

In two of our Readings this weekend important decisions are to be made. In the case of the People of Israel, in our First Reading, now that they are settled in the Promised Land, they have a choice of adopting worship of the local gods – as was common practice with nations at that time – or else to keep to their covenant with the One God, the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Joshua’s decision is unequivocal, and other clans follow his example, although future relations with that God will not be entirely smooth, as we know.

In the case of the Gospel, the disciples are faced with the decision of whether to continue following Jesus after all that he has just said. This is a crucial decision for them. The crowd has turned its back on Jesus. They had been happy enough to be fed for nothing and wanted more of the same, but once Jesus started talking about being the “Bread of Life” and how eating his flesh would give them life, that was a step too far. Indeed, we hear in that Gospel that it was a stretch too far even for some of the disciples.

As we hear Peter, speaking as spokesperson for the remaining disciples, chooses to continue to follow Jesus who has, “the message of eternal life”. The decision is a momentous one, but it is not the end of the affair. One of those who decides to stay with Jesus is Judas. Peter himself will deny he even knew Jesus after his arrest, and most of the others will flee at the first sign of danger.

Reconciliation, however, is always possible because this God – who gives his Son as the “Bread of Life” – never withdraws his promise of love and mercy, no matter what we may have done. Sadly, Judas will not believe this, but Peter will, as will many of the other disciples. It is their example that we give thanks for in our Liturgy today.

Thursday 19th August

Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Mass on Sunday.

Reflections for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

John 6: 60-69

This is the final section of chapter 6 of St John’s Gospel that began with the miracle of the loaves and the fish. Jesus has continued to try to explain his claim to be “the Bread of Life” with all its implications, but it is all too much for the crowd and even for some of his disciples. The crowd welcomed the free food, but not Jesus’ subsequent words. They were unable, or unwilling, to see beyond the immediate, the physical satisfaction they had experienced. Jesus talks about “spirit” and “life” and calls for belief/trust in his words, but even “many of his disciples” were not able to make this move. Only the Twelve, with Peter as their spokesperson, are ready and willing to proclaim their trust in Jesus’ words. Their decision to continue following him is welcome, but we remember that this group also contains Judas.

Joshua 24:1-2, 15-18

This extract is from the final chapter of the Book of Joshua. The People of Israel have entered “The Promised Land” and Joshua places before them a choice of whom to worship. At that time people usually worshipped local gods. Often, if people moved to another territory they would take on board the gods of that place. The People of Israel were the first, and only, people to believe in the one God. Joshua declares that he and his clan will continue to worship “the Lord” and the rest of the people reaffirm their commitment to that same “Lord”. That Lord was the one who brought them out of slavery in Egypt and sustained and protected them as they made their way through the wilderness. The idea of reaffirmation of choice is clearly connected to the theme of today’s Gospel.

Ephesians 5:21-32

There is no way to mitigate the underlying patriarchal tone of St Paul’s words about marriage in this, our final, extract from the Letter to the Ephesians. For all the different perspectives that belief in Christ brings to the understanding of redemption and salvation, at no point does Paul critique or comment unfavourably on the prevailing ideology about a woman being subordinate to her husband, nor does he question the culture of slave-ownership. The stress on the absolute call to love on the part of the husband, and the fact that it is paralleled by Christ’s love for his church hardly makes up for inequity of the fundamental understanding of marital relationships in that world. What we can affirm with St Paul is the fact that all – both men and women – are called equally to emulate Christ’s love for his church in their relationships with one another.

Sunday 15th August - The Feast of the Assumption 2021

No matter who we are, all of us will have to give an account of ourselves before God at the end of our life here on earth. Now, hopefully, all of us will have encountered in our lives at least one person who is transparently good: always kind and helpful towards others, not thinking of any cost to themselves, and so on. By the same token, unfortunately, we may have come across someone who is completely selfish, who tramples over other people to get what they want, never ever thinking of the needs of others. Now, given that we believe in a God who is just, as well as all-loving, the meetings of those two with their God will take rather different tones.

None of us is completely selfless and in tune with what God asks of us, but the basically good person will find it rather easier to meet God than the selfish one who will have to face up to all of their wrongdoing and own up to it. It may well be a rather uncomfortable process. (This is really what Christian thinking about Purgatory is all about: having to face up to the wrongs we have done in this life.)

I said, “none of us is completely selfless…”, but that is not strictly true. In Mary we have someone who always cooperated fully with whatever God asked of her. We remember her response to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Be it done unto me according to your word.” (“Whatever God wants of me, I will do.”) Given her complete acceptance of God’s will it seems perfectly clear that, at the end of her life here on earth, Mary’s meeting before her God would have been rather different from that of others.

This is what lies at the heart of today’s feast of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven. There is nothing for which she must repent or be forgiven. For that reason, for centuries many different groups in the Christian Church have held celebrations of Mary’s ‘Dormition’ (as it is called in the Eastern Church) Her going to sleep in God. Here in the West, in the Catholic Tradition the feast of the Assumption grew to be what it is today: a Universal Feast, something celebrated across the whole church.

Mary’s Assumption, her entrance into the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven is part of what St Paul writes about in our Second Reading when he talks about all people being brought to life in Christ, “Christ as the first-fruits and then… those who belong to him.” There is no one for whom this is truer than his mother, Mary.

This feast also underlines the themes in Mary’s Song of Praise – her Magnificat – in our Gospel. Far from God choosing a well-known woman of high birth, who lived in a world-renowned city, every human value is turned upside down by his choice of this “lowly handmaid”: an unknown woman of low birth, living in an obscure place that no one had ever heard of before now. The redemption won for us in Jesus is already at work in Mary, and it why she is the first and best model of discipleship, someone whose example we try to emulate and whose prayers we seek on our own journey through life to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Thursday 12th August

Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Mass on Sunday.

Reflections for the Feast of the Assumption 2021

Since the 15th of August falls on a Sunday this year the Feast of the Assumption of Mary replaces the Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Luke 1:39-56

After the Angel Gabriel, Elizabeth is the first person to acknowledge Mary’s privileged status: “the mother of my Lord”. Her greeting forms the third and fourth lines of the Hail Mary. Whatever might be her privileged place Mary, the first and best disciple, immediately deflects the praise from herself to the God who has done these things. This is a model of true discipleship. The words that follow are in the form of a hymn (one of four in these early chapters of St Luke’s Gospel) which is used in the Evening Prayer (Vespers) of the Church. It has echoes of the words of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, which also speaks of God overturning the usual order in favour of the lowly and the dispossessed. In these words, along with her acceptance of the words of the Angel at the Annunciation, we see very clearly Mary’s consistent “yes” to the will of God in her life, and why at the end of that life she is taken up into the fullness of Redemption in the Kingdom of Heaven

Apocalypse 11:19, 12:1-6, 10.

The Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) is notoriously difficult to interpret precisely. Written for a community of Christians suffering severe persecution, this section is looking to the end of the empire of evil (the Roman Empire), which is to be replaced by God’s kingdom in which those who remain faithful during the persecution will be saved. The vision we are given in this Reading is of a woman giving birth – which is, as here, often linked with Mary giving birth to Jesus. The child is saved from terrible threats from the moment of his birth, and ultimate victory over evil is proclaimed in the final verse. Triumph of good over evil is assured.

1 Corinthians 15:20-26

This extract comes from the penultimate section of this First Letter to the Corinthians. St Paul has ranged over many issues facing the community and here he sums up everything in his insistence on Christ’s Resurrection from the dead; something that some members of the community were rejecting. Here he draws the contrast between Adam and Christ: the one bringing death, the other life. Christ, he points out, is “the first-fruits” of this Redemption. Others will follow in due course. Today we celebrate Mary’s entry into the fulness of the Kingdom of Heaven through the merits of her Son’s death and Resurrection: a fulness that we look forward to being part of ourselves in due course.

Wednesday 8th July

Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Mass on Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Mark 6:7-13

Having left Nazareth (cf. last Sunday’s Gospel) Jesus is now on a missionary tour of the area spreading the message of the Kingdom of God. In contrast with the other Gospels St Mark does not give us much in the way of details about what Jesus teaches. He concentrates much more on action. Here the latest action is to send his closest disciples out in pairs on their own mission of spreading the news of the Kingdom. Notice how the instructions about not being overloaded with excess baggage makes the enterprise lean and agile. As such the disciples will be able to respond very quickly to new challenges and situations. Whilst, of necessity, a body like the Church must have structures to maintain its work and mission, these instructions of Jesus are a reminder to us that “mission” always has priority over structure. At times – both in the past and currently – the structures can appear to be more important than the reason why they are there in the first place. The same can be true of ‘structures’ that we build in to our own lives, “Are they fit for purpose, or do we need to change some of our habits to respond to the needs of today?”

Amos 7:12-15

In the time of Amos prophets, rather like the priests, usually came from certain families. It was an inherited role which passed down through the generations. People would consult them on all manner of dilemmas in their lives. Unfortunately, because good news pays better than bad, the tendency of this caste was to gloss over any negative messages that should have been given – especially when people were living comfortable lives and were lax in their observance of the Covenant. In today’s extract one of the leading priests has challenged Amos who has been preaching uncomfortable truths, among other things about the exploitation of the poor by the rich. His complaint is that Amos does not belong to one of the families from which the prophets come. Indeed, he is a foreigner, he comes from the Southern Kingdom of Judah and has no right to be spreading such ideas in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos readily admits his lack of pedigree but insists that his call to prophesy comes directly from God. Amos is the first in a new kind of prophet whose vocation comes directly from God whose message will be heard.

Ephesians 1:3-14

Today we begin a series of seven extracts from one of St Paul’s most deeply reflective letters which is packed full of major insights into the heart of the Christian faith. Many scholars have questioned whether this letter was, in fact, written by Paul himself, but no one doubts the similarity of its theology with other, undisputed Pauline letters. Here, in our first extract from the beginning of the letter, St Paul gives us a long prayer of blessing, giving thanks to God for all that God the Father has done for us in Christ: anything and everything we have in the way of God’s grace comes in and through Christ. This is the very core of all of St Paul’s writings. In Christ we have true freedom.


Sunday 4th July. - 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Telling outright lies, or bending the truth almost beyond recognition, form another kind of pandemic from which we are all suffering in our world these days. From presidents to prime ministers, and others in positions of authority and influence, too many examples have been thrown up where claims have been proven to be false such that we are now sceptical of any claims they make. It is reminiscent of Aesop’s famous fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. Villagers became tired of the boy who kept warning them about a wolf on the prowl, when all he was looking for was a bit of fun, a bit of mischief, that when the wolf was actually on the prowl no one believed him, and disaster struck.

Truth ought to be a highly prized commodity in any society that wishes to function well, and the misuse of truth-claims is hugely damaging. This is true as much for the church as for society in general.

In St John’s Gospel Jesus famously says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. Throughout his whole ministry, in everything he does and says, he tries to impress on people the message of the Kingdom of God. “Follow me, in what I say and do,” he seems to be saying, “And you will find true life and hope.”

Today we find Jesus back in his hometown of Nazareth and facing a very sceptical congregation in the synagogue that he had attended throughout his childhood and early adulthood. I have some sympathy with their scepticism. However good an impression Jesus had made in his upbringing in the town, the inhabitants will already have heard of some of the things he had been doing and saying down in Capernaum, not too far away from their own town. “Where does he get all of this from? Surely this is the handyman, the jobbing builder, who lived here? We know his family and while they are good people, even so, how can we accept this?”

From our own perspective of knowing how Jesus’ story unfolds, and how his message has been preached, with varying degrees of effectiveness, for two thousand years, we are in a better position to accept, to trust, Jesus’ message. Of course, our trust is hampered when people of influence and authority in a church, fail to be true to Jesus’ message in what they do and say, but the call to trust, to faith is vital for the Gospel message to flourish.

St Mark tells us that Jesus was taken aback by the lack of faith of the people of his hometown, “and he could work no miracle there.” The whole edifice of the Christian Faith is based on the ability of people to place their trust in what Jesus said and did. Our faith is based, as we say, on the encounter between ourselves and the God made visible in Jesus Christ. It is based on the trustworthiness of that person and of our experience of that encounter. As Jesus says elsewhere in St John’s Gospel, “The truth will set you free.”: free from a pandemic of lies and falsehoods, free to live a life that is fulfilling, meaningful and filled with hope.

Thursday 1st July

Here are some thoughts about the Readings for Mass on Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Mark 6:1-6

Tom Wright, in his commentary Mark for Everyone (SPCK, London, 2001), starts this section by pointing out how embarrassing preaching for the first time in front of your family is for any preacher. If you are performing a musical instrument for the first time in public, they will have heard you practising… endlessly at home; if it is playing some sport, again, they will have taken you to innumerable coaching sessions over the years, but preaching is a different matter altogether. It is also a very intimate, personal thing. In today’s Gospel we find Jesus back in his hometown for the first time in his ministry. Now he stands up in front of them to proclaim a very different take on religion, very different from that of their local preachers. Sadly, their minds are closed. They are unwilling, unable, to see beyond the general handyman/jobbing builder who grew up with his family and worked among them. Faith, for all of us, depends on an openness to hearing and seeing new things, and then discerning if they are true, to be believed, and acted upon.

Ezekiel 2:2-5

Writing during the time of his exile in Babylon, like Jesus in our Gospel, Ezekiel is well known among the people to whom he is speaking. Those people, who were in the first wave of deportations from Jerusalem, included some very high ranking and influential people from both the royal family and the Temple priestly families. Clearly, Ezekiel was one such person himself. Here, at the beginning of his writings, he tells how the “spirit came into me”. His calling is directly from God who tells him to preach to the “defiant and obstinate people” around him in Exile. It matters not whether they are open to hearing this message, “this set of rebels will know there is a prophet among them.” The parallels with Jesus’ own preaching in Nazareth are clear.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

This is a final extract from this Second Letter to the Corinthians, and we have jumped a few chapters since last week’s extract and find ourselves almost at the end of the letter. The tone of these chapters is harsh, even sarcastic. It is as if St Paul has had enough of the troubles caused him by this community and he simply lets rip. Much of chapters 10-13 read like a diatribe against the obstinate people to whom he is writing. It consists of a great deal of boasting about his own achievements which, interestingly, are passed over in the extracts we are offered in the Lectionary! Instead, we have a final avowal of the centrality and power of God’s grace in all that he does and that final affirmation, “For it is when I am weak that I am strong.”

Sunday 27th June - 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have had to become familiar with various instructions about hand sanitising, mask wearing, social distancing and so on which, until now, had been unfamiliar to our way of life. Because of the climate in which we live, our access to refrigeration and modern medicines we have largely been oblivious to the kinds of rules and regulations regarding hygiene and food preparation that were necessary in biblical times. The fear of deadly infection is perfectly understandable in ancient times and hence many rules that on the surface had a religious underpinning in Judaism were, in fact, simply sensible rules about health in general. However, their consequences were devastating for those who became ill.

The woman suffering from the haemorrhage was unable to take part in any family, social or religious life because of her condition. Once Jairus’ daughter was pronounced dead those in contact with her body were themselves declared unclean and similarly unable to take part in communal life. To some extent we have all experienced a degree of isolation in these passed months, some indeed have had to isolate themselves completely, and will know something of what it feels like to be alone. Our isolation, of course, has been mitigated to an extent by modern technology, social media and so on. There was nothing of that kind available to people in Jesus’ time.

Imagine the plight of that woman. For twelve whole years she has been in isolation – twelve years! The family of the young girl who has died now begin to experience the emptiness that accompanies bereavement. For these people life is greatly diminished, and one of the consequences of Jesus’ actions is to restore them to fullness of life – to family, community and religion. Once again all concerned may become fully alive to everything and everyone around them.

It is this restoration of life – the ability to be fully alive – that lies at the heart of every aspect of Jesus’ life and work. At the very centre of St John’s Gospel Jesus is reported as saying, “I came that they may have life and have it to the full.” (10:10) Promoting life in all its forms, at all its various stages is fundamental to our Christian faith and practice. We are called to promote not only life but the quality of life that is the right of all people. It is why, as Christians, we feel both able and duty-bound to speak out on all manner of issues insofar as they impact on people’s lives: ecology, economics, medicine, education, the justice system and so on.

In helping to promote life and the quality of life for all we are simply following in the footsteps of the Master who always, always enhanced the life of those around him.

Thursday 24th June. - Some thoughts on the Readings for Sunday.

Reflections for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Mark 5:21-43

Chapter 5 of St Mark’s Gospel consists of three miracle stories. The first, the cure of the man possessed by multiple demons, takes place on pagan territory. Now, we are told, Jesus has “crossed over to the other side”. In other words, he has returned to his base in Capernaum where he is approached by one of the officials of the local synagogue. You will recall that Jesus has “form” in that synagogue. At the very beginning of his ministry, to the consternation of those present, he cured a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Notwithstanding any reservations Jairus may have had about Jesus, his concern for his daughter overrides them. In between the account of these events St Mark squeezes in another miracle story: the woman afflicted by a persistent haemorrhage. In both cases life is at stake at all levels: social, religious, and even physical life itself. Jesus’ cure of these women demonstrates the primary focus of his ministry: to bring and to promote life. The fact that both of these miracles involve women serves to emphasise that this message is for all people without exception.

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24

The verses given in our extract today are a summary of a long discussion in the first two chapters of the Book of Wisdom about life and death. We are rather more familiar with the words that follow on from this Reading, “The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God. No torment shall ever touch them.” This well-known Reading is often used at funeral services, offered for the comfort of the mourners, reassuring them that their loved one is not lost, rather they are in “the hands of God”. Once again, as with our Gospel Reading, the message is that God is One who promotes life, not death, and in God all things live.

2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15

Anyone doing a charity appeal could take a leaf out of St Paul’s book with his appeal to the people of Corinth to contribute to the collection for the poor, isolated Christian community in Jerusalem. His psychology is perfect! Firstly, he notes how well off they are and how in Jesus they have been even more richly blessed. Finally, he assures them that he is not asking them to become penniless themselves, “It is a question of balancing what happens to be your surplus against their present need.” For any individual or community discerning what is truly surplus from what is actually needed is an interesting challenge when it comes to any call for charitable giving.

Sunday 20th June - 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

The scene for Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Moment of Prayer, in March of last year, could hardly have been more dramatic. We had already seen some terrible scenes from hospitals and morgues in Italy and Spain, while in this country we had just entered our first, and strictest, lockdown, with no knowing where all of this was leading. St Peter’s Square itself was inundated by wind and rain as the Pope, cutting a very solitary figure, went to a lectern and delivered a reflection on the text of the Gospel we have just heard. It was a very sombre occasion.

At a prayer event like this you might imagine that foremost in the Pope’s mind would be prayer that God would save us from the pandemic, that God would get rid of it for us. It is true that, towards the end of what he has to say, Pope Francis did pray, “Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts,” but nowhere does he pray for a dramatic and miraculous end to the pandemic. In times of great anxiety, we do pray that God will rescue us from what is happening, that is only natural. Rather more important, however, is asking God to be with us, to be at our side when all of this is going on, and this is what the Pope prays for. This is what we need to be aware of life: God at our side in every moment.

In his meditation on that Gospel he points out just how storm-tossed we are feeling at this time: “afraid and lost”, as he says. A natural question for the believer is to ask where God is in all of this. The disciples plead with Jesus, who is asleep as the storm rages, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” This, Pope Francis says, is the most hurtful question someone could ask of a loved one: a parent, partner, or child, “Do you not care?” Of course, Jesus cares for them. He, more than any other, cares for all of us. The Pope continues, “Indeed, once they have called him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.” This is the key to this meditation.

That prayer of Pope Francis reminded me of a quotation I have used before from Hans Kung, the Swiss theologian who died earlier this year, “God’s love does not protect us from suffering. God’s love protects us in the midst of suffering.” This is precisely what the Pope is praying.

In his reflection on our current storm Pope Francis points out just how much of it has been caused by human self-centredness; how it exposes just how fragile and inadequate are many of the things we have been pursuing, at the expense of other people, even at the expense of limited resources on our planet. He goes on,

Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things and lured away by haste… We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you, “Wake up, Lord.”

This is a time of “choosing”, says the Pope, “… a time to choose what matters and what passes away… a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”

To “get our lives back on track” the Pope invites us to look at many “exemplary companions”, as he calls them, who are all around us and, who even though they too are afraid, are showing great courage and self-denial. Here he lists doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners, supermarket employees, providers of transport, and volunteers. We could add many others to that list, teachers, people working in food banks and with the homeless. These, he says, are people, “who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves… Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.”

This event took place towards the end of Lent last year and, inevitably the Pope looks to Jesus’ Death and Resurrection at the heart of what he has to say, and he invites his listeners to do the same. In our Easter Faith, in the midst of the storm going on around us we have an ‘anchor’ and a ‘rudder’ in the Cross, “Embracing the Lord,” he says, “in order to embrace hope; that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.” That is as true now as it was then. This is how we will weather the storm.


Thursday 17th June. Some thoughts on the Readings for Sunday coming.

Reflections on the Readings for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Remember that we are starting our reflections with the Gospel of the Day, in the light of which, the First Reading was chosen.

Mark 4:35-41

Many of us will remember the extraordinary scene of a wet and windswept piazza in front of St Peter’s Basilica in March of last year when Pope Francis delivered a special moment of prayer reflecting on the covid pandemic. His reflections were based on today’s Gospel which comes at the end of all the parables St Mark has been recounting. They are calls to trust, to faith, as indeed is this event of the Calming of the Storm.

https://www.vatican.va/.../papa-francesco_20200327_urbi...

The link above is to the Pope’s message on that evening and provides more than sufficient material for our reflections.

Job 38:1, 8-11

In these final chapters of the book of Job, after all Job’s discussions with his “comforters”, God gives an answer to his protests of innocence. Job has been persistent in denying any major wrongdoing on his part. Certainly, he denies ever having done anything so bad as to warrant the terrible things that had happened to him and to his family. Now God asserts who is in charge here and warns, “Come thus far and no further.” The message is that it is all very well for Job to question, to persist in his claims of innocence but, at the end of the day, he is called upon to stop and to put his ultimate trust and faith in the One who is in overall charge: God.

2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Without going into any details about how all of this comes about through Christ’s death, Paul is reminding that it was an event for all humankind. All have been raised to new life in Christ and, therefore, we have no grounds for judging others. Reconciliation is what we are called to practise with everyone.

Sunday 13th June - 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Walking around the Park at Paddy Freeman’s the other day a whole section of the path, right opposite the Freeman Hospital, has been ‘decorated’ with slogans, using beautifully formed letters, that are all too easy to read: “Covid Hoax”; “NHS doctors and nurses being gagged; not able to tell the truth”; “Don’t fall for the vaccine hoax”; and so on. It is utter rubbish, and almost sacrilegious outside any of our hospitals these days. People who think and write such garbage are probably so close-minded that even a day spent on a Covid ward would not convince them otherwise. Even a strong ‘reality check’ like that would seem to be beyond them.

The people to whom both Ezekiel was writing his oracles, and the ones for whom St Mark is writing his Gospel, were subject to severe reality checks. In Ezekiel’s case he is writing in exile hundreds of miles from his homeland and is surrounded by people suffering the same plight. St Mark is writing his Gospel for a community of Christians in Rome who were experiencing horrific persecution. Both sets of people knew what it was to suffer in different ways, indeed, to suffer with no apparent hope of any easing of their situation any time soon.

Realising what they are experiencing helps us understand better the power of the message of these Readings, because both call people to faith, to trust, in the midst of the dire circumstances in which they find themselves. For Ezekiel it is the image of the noblest of all the trees, the cedar. A shoot will be planted back in Israel, and it will flourish once more. “Trust in this,” he is saying. Every tree of the field (every other nation, in other words), he goes on, will have to remember who it is that allows trees to grow, or not to grow, as the case may be: “the Lord”.

St Mark reminds people of the mystery of how things grow without any intervention on our part. We, of course, understand much more about botany and science in general, and yet there is still that sense of miracle when we see new growth sprouting. Then, in the famous Parable of the Mustard Seed, the persecuted community who go in fear of their lives most days, are reassured that just like that tiny seed can grow into a great shrub that offers shelter to so many birds in its branches, so too their community, tiny and insignificant as it currently is, will one day flourish and welcome all kinds of new people into its shelter. “Trust, trust!” is the message.

On Monday an announcement is due to be made as to whether, or not, the final restrictions caused by the pandemic are to be lifted. They may not be for a couple of weeks more, it would seem. None of us, in this country at least, is being persecuted for our faith and, although for some not being able to travel to meet family in this, or indeed other, countries might feel like exile, but hope is on the horizon of things being eased before too long. For some people this may come too late for their jobs or businesses, and that is a real tragedy. For others, especially older people who have been unable to meet with family members for over a year now, the wait might seem intolerable, and the burden on mental health devastating, but our faith tells us, not in any magical way that things will be fine again once a magic spell is cast. No, our faith tells us that in the midst of all of this the Lord is with us, at our side, even within us, giving us the strength, the hope, to keep on, to trust, in the same way that the communities in our Readings were reassured in the midst of their plights.

Thursday 10th June - Here are some reflections on the Readings for Mass on Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When the current Lectionary was assembled the first thing that the compilers chose was the Gospel of the Day. Whereas during the high seasons of the year the other Readings were also chosen because of some (perceived) relationship with the Gospel Reading, in Ordinary Time a different criterion comes into operation: the First (Old Testament) Reading is seen as being linked in some way with that Gospel, but the Second Readings are chosen in a series of semi-continuous readings from one of the letters in the New Testament. As you will recall this year our Gospel Readings are mainly taken from St Mark’s account of Jesus’ public ministry.

In the light of this these reflections will begin with the Gospel Reading and only then move on to the other readings.

Mark 4:26-34

Chapter 4 of St Mark’s Gospel consists mainly of parables, indeed of parables concerning growth of one kind or another. Today we are given the final two parables in the chapter: of the seed growing by itself; and the mustard seed. In reflecting on these parables, it is helpful to bear in mind the original audience for whom Mark was writing. These were Christians in Rome who had been suffering persecution in the wake of the great fire that had destroyed a great swathe of the city. Traditionally this was ascribed to the orders of the Emperor Nero, who had a typically vanity-based, huge building project in mind, and who then blamed the small, rather secretive, community of Christians for this deed. As a result, he instigated a terrible revenge in which it is calculated that over two thousand Christians were put to death.

Seen in the light of this context the parables of growth can be understood as a reassurance that all will be right in the end. We do not know how seeds grow, but they do nonetheless because this is part of God’s plan; and even though a seed may be tiny (like the mustard seed), just like our beleaguered, suffering community, nonetheless a truly magnificent outcome is assured in which many more will come to the shelter offered by the Gospel. The basic message, then, is “Stay faithful! In spite of everything we see around us, all will be well!”

Ezekiel 17:22-24

Ezekiel is writing from exile in Babylon and reflecting on the events that had led to the Fall of Jerusalem. Using allegories likening different kings of Judah and events to various animals and plants, he ends his reflections in our extract with an affirmation of faith that whatever happens the Lord is in control, “I, the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.” As with our Gospel this is a reassurance to a beleaguered community, in this case exiled in a foreign land.

2 Corinthians 5:6-10

For obvious reasons this is offered as a reading for use at a funeral. Readings at a funeral service are, of course, for the comfort of the mourners, especially those who have lost someone close to them. We are reassured of the transformation that Jesus has brought about, opening up a new home for us “with the Lord”.

Sunday 6th June - Feast of Corpus Christi 2021

Notice how in that account of Jesus sitting down to the most solemn festive meal in the Jewish Calendar (the Passover), a meal in which he will give his companions the gift of the Eucharist, his own Body and Blood in a new ritual meal, he is surrounded by a motley crew of twelve ‘friends’. Only a few short hours later one of them, Judas, will betray him to the Jewish authorities. Another, Peter, who is looked upon as the leader of this group, will deny three times that he even knew Jesus, and who, along with nine others, will desert Jesus at his hour of greatest need. Only one, John, will be there with Jesus at the foot of the Cross. Even so they are all welcome at table with Jesus on this solemn occasion.

Given this paradigm example it might seem surprising that the church community that would emerge from that group, would spend time working out, eventually in the minutest detail, who may and who may not be welcomed at the table of the Eucharist; indeed welcome at the other sacraments as well. First the new community had to come to realise that not only Jews but Gentiles were also welcome. Later, however, they will begin to exclude others: public sinners, for example, which at the time included apostates (those who renounced their faith during a persecution); adulterers and murderers. This became ever more refined over the centuries, and so we still have many people who, according to their state in life are excluded from the sacraments, including, for example, technically, the divorced and remarried, and those who belong to another Christian Church not in Communion with Rome.

So, it came as a surprise to all, of consternation to some, and of anger and outrage to still others to learn that our twice-divorced Prime Minister and his fiancée were married last Friday in a Catholic Marriage Service at Westminster Cathedral. Now, clearly, this would not have taken place unless the authorities at the Cathedral were absolutely assured that this was all in accord with the laws of the Church. The image given in what happened is, however, that there would seem to be one law for the rich and powerful and another for the rest, or at least preferential treatment would seem to be given to a favoured few.

Now, whilst that may or may not actually be the case, this is clearly the impression of many people, especially those who have been excluded from sacraments in the past because of their marital status. Nearly every one of us will be familiar with people who, even though innocent parties in the break-up of a marriage, have been refused a blessing of a new union and the reception of Holy Communion. The distress caused to these people is incalculable. The Church has lost some excellent people because of its rigidity and coldness of heart towards those who were hurting and in need of healing, not the wagging finger and judgement.

Church law, its rules, and regulations regarding admittance to the sacraments, now looks ludicrous and unsupportable. Whilst everyone wishes the happy couple well, as we do with all newly-weds, there remains that image, rightly or wrongly, of preferential treatment for the select few and another for the rest of the world.

On the day when we celebrate the gift of the Eucharist, we are reminded in our Gospel that Jesus sat at table, at the first Eucharist, with a traitor, a liar and fair-weather friends, but he welcomed them all. We, too, are sinners who fail regularly to live up to the high standards of discipleship, but who are nonetheless welcome at this celebration. Who, then, are we to create barriers to those who genuinely yearn to be fed by this great Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood?

Thursday 3rd June - Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Sunday: the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Reflections on the Readings for The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Exodus 24:3-8

On a day when we commemorate the institution of the New Covenant in Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, symbolised in the gift of the Eucharist, this Reading takes us back to the Old Covenant and the moment in which the People of Israel dedicate themselves to following the laws and decrees that Moses has just finished reading out to them. That earlier covenant is sealed in the blood of animals offered in sacrifice… the new one is sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ. A holocaust is a complete gift to God, with nothing held back for the use of the one offering the sacrifice. This is in contrast with sacrifices in which only part of whatever is sacrificed is offered to God in thanksgiving, while most is kept for the use of those who give thanks for the food they receive.

Hebrews 9:11-15

A key theme for the author of this Letter is that Jesus’ death on the Cross has brought to a completion (an end) all the old sacrifices that used to be offered in the Temple in Jerusalem. No longer is animal blood the source of forgiveness (on the Day of Atonement to which this Reading is referring), now it is “his own blood” that has “won an eternal redemption for us”. The Day of Atonement had to be celebrated each year, but this is now surpassed with the one, single sacrifice of Jesus. This “new covenant” fulfils everything that the old one failed to do because of the infidelity of the people, because the new does not depend on the worthiness of those who offer sacrifice, it depends solely on Christ who is “the perfect sacrifice”.

Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

This extract is part of the full Passion Narrative that was read as the main Gospel on Palm Sunday. In the time schedule of the first three Gospels, Jesus gathers with his disciples to celebrate the Passover Meal on the night of his arrest. The Passover commemorates the liberation of the People of Israel from slavery in Egypt and is the most important feast in the Jewish Calendar.

As the meal begins Jesus is at table with the Twelve Apostles. Only one of them will be with him the following day when he is dying on the Cross. One will betray him to the authorities, another, Peter, the “leader” of the Twelve, will deny that he even knew Jesus and he will join the other nine who all desert their Lord at the hour of his greatest need. Jesus is about to offer himself as the new lamb of sacrifice liberating all people from their slavery to sin, and he gives his disciples a new commemorative meal in the Eucharist which he establishes, even though most of them will shortly abandon him.

Sunday 30th May. Trinity Sunday 2021

That Gospel Reading is the final section of St Matthew’s Gospel and is often called, “The Great Commission”: the commission for all disciples, of all time, to go out and to proclaim to the world the message of the Risen Christ.

On Thursday last week we celebrated the feast of St Augustine of Canterbury who was famously sent to bring to evangelise Britain by Pope Gregory I at the beginning of the Seventh Century. In fact, of course, there had been a flourishing church here during Roman Times. There are many archaeological treasures bearing Christian symbols that have been unearthed from that time. Only last year there was an important find at Vindolanda – the Roman Fort along Hadrian’s Wall. Pieces of a large communion plate (a ‘paten’ as we usually call it) were found bearing etchings of crosses, of the Chi-Rho sign, of fish, of fishing boats, and so on have been put on display. They date from the fifth Century, 200 hundred years before St Augustine stepped on these shores in Kent.

When the Roman Armies left Britain, the country became vulnerable to invasion from the pagan tribes of Angles and Saxons from modern-day Holland and Germany. These successfully pushed the native, Christian, Celtic Britons further and further West, finally into North Wales. It was here that the last remnants of the church that had arisen during Roman Times was forced into an enclave.

St Bede tells us that on his arrival in Kent Augustine twice sent messengers to the remnant of bishops among the Britons to join forces with him in his mission to evangelise the pagan Angles and Saxons. Both times they declined the offer. “We are fine as we are, thank you very much.” St Bede writes that this was their ultimate downfall: they did nothing to share their faith with the people around them. As a result all that is left of that church are archaeological remains, like broken communion plates, nothing else.

The lesson here is clear: unless a church is missionary, unless it is prepared to share the Christian faith with all around, it ends up becoming an archaeological curiosity, nothing more!

On hearing this I suspect that many people react by thinking, “How could I be a missionary like Augustine, or Aidan, or like the members of missionary orders like the Mill Hill Fathers?” Others perhaps are thinking, “Does this mean I am supposed to stand on street corners or outside shopping malls shouting the odds about the Gospel and handing out leaflets?” Well, no I don’t think that this is what being missionary means for most of us. For most of us being missionary will be more about being open and forthcoming about our faith to others.

For too long the Christian Faith has been pushed into the most private realms of people’s lives. It has become something confined to coming to Mass at a weekend on a reasonably regular basis, and there is an end to it. Being prepared, when asked, to talk about our faith; about why it is that we come to church; about why it is that we believe that there really is hope in life; that it has meaning and purpose beyond just buying and possessing things; these are all possibilities for being missionary right here in NE12!

In these days we are hearing of an increase in mental health problems for many people, as a result of what has happened over the passed year. Suicide rates have risen alarmingly in recent months. Despair in the midst of life, or the overwhelming feeling that it is all pointless, is potentially another pandemic in the offing.

As Christians we believe that life has a meaning, a purpose, a goal, and not one that is only to be found at the end of life. Hope is here and it is now. Jesus promises those disciples, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the ages,” and that is precisely what makes sharing our faith possible and so, so necessary that people without hope and direction in life may find peace and contentment.

Thursday 27th May

Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Sunday...

Readings for Trinity Sunday 2021

Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40

“Deuteronomy” literally means “Second Law”. It is the final book of the Torah (Jewish Law) and re-presents the core of that law to people around the time of the Exile in Babylon and on their return to Jerusalem. The basic message is a very simple one: faithfulness to God’s law brings with it life and prosperity; faithlessness brings with it death and destitution. As it is presented in the Book there are four ‘sermons’ given by Moses about various aspects of the Law. The extract we have today comes from the final section of the first of those sermons. It consists in a series of rhetorical questions about their belief in the one God who brought them out of the land of Egypt. In return for keeping the commandments of their God life and prosperity will be theirs. Would that life were so simple and straightforward! It is left to other Books of the Old Testament (e.g. Job and Tobit) to grapple with the problem of why it is that evil falls on good and bad alike.

Romans 8:14-17

The extract given us for Mass today comes from the final section of the first half of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Paul has been outlining his understanding of Justification and Redemption which is offered not by adherence to the Law of Moses but by faith in the person of Jesus Christ and in all that he has done for us. The “Spirit of Christ” lives in the believer empowering them to live life as Jesus means us to live. In one modern commentary the author refers to this section from which our Readings comes today as, “The future of believers is now” . We already live the promises made in Christ by living in the Spirit in whom we are not slaves but sons and daughters of the Father, sharers both of Jesus’ suffering and his glory. This counters the accusation against the Christian Faith that its promises are only for life after death.

Matthew 28:16-20

These final verses of St Matthew’s Gospel are often referred to as “The Great Commission”. This is the only time in the Gospels that the trinitarian formula of “Father, Son, and Spirit”, used in baptism, is found. Matthew knows of a much wider group of “disciples” than “The Eleven” he refers to here. Earlier in the chapter (vs. 9-10) a group of women disciples are commissioned by the Risen Jesus to tell the others that he is risen and that he will meet them in Galilee. Now the Eleven meet him on “the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them.” One of the features of this Gospel is the portrayal of Jesus as the New Moses, who received the original Law on the mountain. Now Jesus gives them a new law, a new commission, to go out, to teach and to baptise not only among the Jewish people, but “all nations”. The embryonic new community and its mission is established, and the Risen Lord promises to be with “to the end of time”.


Thursday 20th May

Here are some reflections on the Readings for Pentecost Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for Pentecost 2021

Acts 2:1-11

Every year the account of the First Pentecost is always the First Reading at Mass. As the Book of Acts opens, we are told that in the upper room along with the apostles were, “the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (some relatives of Jesus and other male disciples).” (1:14) So it is that when we hear, “they were all together”, when the Spirit came upon them, we realise that the coming of the Holy Spirit was not simply on the Twelve, rather it was on all the disciples: male and female alike. Traditionally, in artistic depictions, only Mary and the Apostles have been shown.

Jerusalem was an important place of pilgrimage for all Jews, especially at the time of the major feasts during the year. The most important, and popular, was the Feast of the Passover. Fifty days later, however, another important feast was celebrated. It coincided with thanksgiving offered for the first grain harvest, but in religious terms it marked the occasion when Moses was given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Such an important feast attracted huge numbers of pilgrims to the city and so it is not surprising to hear of people from so many different places mentioned as hearing the preaching of the apostles that day.

Among many thoughts we might take from this for our reflection this weekend, two might be: the gift of the Spirit is for all the disciples of Jesus, not just the apostles; a key element of their witness that day is that people from many different places, who spoke many different languages could understand the message they delivered. The same Spirit is given today to all of Jesus’ disciples, not just a select few, and that Spirit is given to us to spread the message of Jesus in ways that people of our own time can come to understand.

Galatians 5:16-25

As well as the ‘Gifts of the Holy Spirit’ (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), the Church has also traditionally listed nine ‘Fruits of the Holy Spirit’, as given in this Reading: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the signs that the Spirit is at work in individuals and communities. We often hear about the need for “discernment” in determining what we should be doing in our church communities today. Very famously Martin Luther complained about some over-enthusiastic reformers who claimed they were acting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “These people seem to have swallowed the Holy Spirit… feathers and all!” Testing to see whether something may, or may not, be Spirit-led is done by finding evidence of those fruits of that Spirit at work. If such things as joy and love are absent, then we are entitled to doubt whether something is, in fact, led by the Spirit.

John 15:26-27, 16:12-15

Describing the Holy Spirit as the “Advocate” (or “Paraclete” in some translations) offers us the image of a law court in which someone, a gifted professional in this case, is on our side, arguing our case when we would otherwise be totally lost for words. With that Advocate on our side, we are enabled to give witness ourselves, witness to Jesus’ message. This is Jesus’ promise in the first part of our Gospel passage. In the second part we are told that, “When the Spirit comes, he will lead you to the complete truth.” This is a reminder to us that rather than having all the answers to life’s questions from the beginning, we are on a journey, a journey led by the Spirit whom we believe will lead us to our fulfilment.

Sunday May 16th - 7th Sunday of Easter 2021

When Jesus prays to his Father in our Gospel about not taking his disciples (us!) out of the world but rather to protect them, by consecrating them in the truth, there is an underlying assumption here that what he has given to those disciples is something to be shared with others. Indeed, the whole thrust of our Readings during Easter has been about a message to be shared, a mission, and not simply a time of wallowing in our privatised good fortune that we, as individuals, are redeemed and offered eternal life. This is “Good News” to be shared with everyone.

About thirty years ago I was invited by a priest friend for a meal on a Saturday evening at his presbytery. With him that weekend, giving the annual mission appeal on behalf of his congregation, was a young Kenyan priest. We compared notes over the course of the meal about what was happening in the church in our two countries. The Kenyan priest was quite taken aback when my friend talked about the recent introduction of Ministers of the Eucharist into our parishes. There was some opposition to this from some clergy and some lay people as well. He could not understand what all the fuss was about. When my friend told him that he had seven or eight Eucharistic ministers and was to build on that number in the coming months, he told us that he hadn’t a clue how many such ministers there were in his parish – hundreds of them. Now his parish consisted of a main church where he lived with another priest and then they had responsibility for about twenty other mission stations across the district. Some of these places were only visited three or four times a year by a priest.

Now, whereas he could not tell us how many Eucharistic ministers they had, he knew exactly how many catechists were working in the parish and mission stations: 25 of them. Each of these men – and it was men only at that time in this African context – had had training and were paid for their work. The salary was not a big one by any means, but it was a recognition of just how important was their role, and how much it was valued. These catechists were key to the running of the mission parish. These were the people who prepared candidates for Baptism, Confirmation, First Communion and who led prayer services every Sunday when a priest was not there to say Mass. Every month these catechists would come together for an overnight stay at the main mission house, where they would talk about their work, share their problems and insights with the priests, receive further training and have a meal and some well-earned social time together.

In this last week Pope Francis has announced the creation of a new official ministry across the church: the Catechist. I say “new” but the document promulgating this initiative has the title, “Ministerium Antiquum” (The Ancient Ministry). The Pope notes how the references to ‘teachers’, in St Paul’s letters in particular, mean ‘catechist’ rather than our more commonly understood role of the teacher in a school classroom. This ministry, open of course to both men and women, will be tailored to the needs of different areas.

Our needs are rather different from the African context. Here in Britain we have people working as pastoral leaders/catechists in a number of parishes, and thousands of volunteer catechists in almost every parish. What exactly our bishops will make of this development we will have to wait and see. However, this is potentially one of the most exciting developments in the Church in decades and adds a crucial element to our task of being missionary disciples: people ready, willing, AND ABLE to share the Good News of the Risen Lord with others.

There are, of course, wider questions about whether people other than celibate males may be admitted to the priesthood, but they are for another day. Perhaps the words of another Francis – Francis of Assisi – may be relevant here. He is reported as saying to his brothers, “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Thursday 13th May - Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Mass on Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for the 7th Sunday of Easter 2021

Acts of the Apostles 1:15-17, 20-26

As you can see from the reference to today’s reading we have returned to the opening chapter of the book of Acts. It is set, as we are today, in the days between the Ascension and Pentecost. A key feature of St Luke’s Gospel is the idea that the emerging church is the New Israel. Just as the original Israel had at its roots the Twelve Tribes, so this new community will have as its foundation twelve apostles and so a replacement needs to be found for Judas. A fundamental criterion for this substitute is, “someone who has been with us the whole time that the Lord Jesus was travelling around with us…” It is clear from this statement that, from the beginning, the group of disciples who travelled around with Jesus was more than simply the Twelve Apostles.

1 John 4:11-16

You may remember that in the extracts both from this Letter, and from John’s Gospel that we have been listening to recently, the key words that are repeated, and repeated over and over again, are “love” and “live” (or “remain” or “abide” in other translations). Apparently between our two Readings from this Letter of last week and this in only eleven verses the word “love” occurs TWENTY-SEVEN TIMES! Fundamental to all of this is the fact that this love is not initiated by humans, the first move is always made by God. We are invited to respond to the love we have experienced, a love that is “living” in us always.

John 17: 11-19.

The words in our Gospel today are the bulk of what is often called “The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus” in the final section of his discourse at the Last Supper. Commending the disciples to the Father’s care he asks Him not to remove them from the world, “… but to protect them from the evil one.” Hans Kung once wrote something that very much resonates with this, “God does not protect us from suffering. God protects us in the midst of suffering.” The unfolding story of the Early Church in the Acts, and beyond, bears witness to this. There are all kinds of suffering to be endured by people in the Church, but we can and will prevail remembering God’s promise to us.

Jesus asks his Father to, “Consecrate them in the truth.” The word “consecrate” in Greek has as its root “hagios” (holy) and means “make/become holy”. Earlier in this discourse at the Last Supper Jesus had proclaimed himself, “The way, the TRUTH, and the life.” The next day he bears witness to the “truth” in front of Pontius Pilate who retorts, “Truth, what is that?” “Truth” is standing there in front of him, but he is unable to recognise Jesus in this way. Our call is to be “consecrated” in Jesus, “the Truth”, and our way into this is through the means available to us today: through Word and Sacrament.

Sunday 9th May. 6th Sunday of Easter 2021

Even if you are not familiar with the term “word cloud” you will surely have come across one or two before now – on adverts, presentations, graphics on tv reports and so on. Basically it is an illustration of the word count of a written text (a chapter of a book, or a paper). The more often a word is used the bigger and bolder the print when it is depicted on the graphic. By the same token words used infrequently appear very small and in faded lettering.

Here is the word cloud of John 15 (the chapter from which our Gospel Reading comes). You notice how the words “fruit” and “abide” (the graphic is based on a different translation. In our translation it would be the word “dwells” of “lives”) are the biggest and boldest, with “Father”, “bear” and “love” being the next most used words. In fact, if you combine the words “abide” with “abides”, and “love” with “loves”, they would be by far the most frequently used words.

For a long time, it has been known that the more a word is used, the more it is drip-fed into a talk or conversation, the more it sinks into the mind of the one who hears it. The other morning, listening to the radio while having breakfast, the managing director of Odeon Cinemas was being interviewed about the reopening of the cinemas later in the month. Whatever she was asked in her response, in almost every sentence she kept using the word “experience” about going to the cinema, or the pictures as we used to call it. The message was, “This is an experience that you need to have, that you will enjoy, that is essential to your life.” Managers of shopping malls and big stores also bang on about the “shopping experience”, and it is all an attempt to get inside the mind of the listener that this is something in which we must engage.

Advertisers have been using these techniques for years in trying to sell their products. Today we find St John, both in his Letter and in reporting Jesus’ words in his Gospel, doing the same thing, “Love…love…love…love…”, “Abide… abide… abide”. The message is clear: God’s love abides/dwells/lives in us; God has made God’s home in us. That is the positive message that the Christian Scriptures want to get across to Jesus’ followers, and anyone who might be interested in following.

For some unknown reason, perhaps it was about control of people’s lives from a central authority, at various times this positive message was ignored in favour of a drumbeat of fear, “Woe betide you if you do not…, or keep away from…” For a while that kind of message will grip people with the fear it instils. Just look at some of the fear messages of ultra nationalist politicians in many parts of the world today. The Christian message, however, clearly demonstrated in our Readings today, and indeed across the Easter Season is not one that can sustain being based on fear.

If we are to succeed in attracting others to the message of the Gospel, and its healing powers, only a message centred on Jesus and his message of love coming to dwell in us will have any lasting effect.

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Thursday 6th May

Here are some thoughts about the Readings for this coming Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for the 6th Sunday of Easter 2021

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48

Although there are now only two more weeks left of the Easter Season we are still, on Sundays at least, in the earlier stages of the development of the Early Community and its understanding of the mission to which it has been entrusted. In today’s extract we have the first hint, in the mission of St Peter, that the message of the Risen Lord is not confined to the Jewish People alone. Here Peter realises, from their reaction to his presence, a devout pagan centurion and his family have clearly already received something of the gift of the Holy Spirit and are to be fully baptised and welcomed into the community. Over the next few chapters of Acts the tussle over the entry of pagans into the community, and on what terms, will be the focus of much agonised debate. We have here the earliest example of how a fundamental issue affecting the whole community arose and was resolved by the whole group of believers.

1 Jn. 4:7-10

Have you counted the number of references to “love” in these four short verses? The word is used no fewer than NINE times! In almost every case we find it used not as a noun or an adjective – a thing, something static, or a description of a thing – but as a verb – an action. God has acted in love for us, and we are invited/commanded to act in a similar way towards God and one another. In between this use of the verb “to love” we find the word “life”. In both his Gospel and his letters life is about love and no real distinction is made between “life” and “eternal life”. They are both part of a continuum in which the believer is already living.

Jn. 15:9-17

Once again there are NINE instances of the use of the verb “to love” in just nine verses in this Gospel passage. They are, in fact, the verses which follow last Sunday’s extract in which Jesus tells his disciples that he is the vine and that they are the branches. He talks about “remaining” – i.e. “dwelling”, “living” – in them. As in our Second Reading so here the word “love” is in its verbal form, rather than as a noun or an adjective. “Love” is about doing. It is about responding to what Jesus has done for us. Remember that he is speaking these words shortly before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and the unfolding events of his trial and Crucifixion. Responding in this way the disciple is no longer a servant but a “friend”, a friend that is called to flourish in his/her relationship with God.

Sunday 2nd May - 5th Sunday of Easter 2021

I suspect that a number of us are looking forward to 9pm on Sunday to watch the final episode of “Line of Duty”, and to find out who is the “Fourth Man”. Interviews with cast members and speculations in all branches of the Media have been extremely well managed. For once nobody seems to have leaked the outcome in advance. This is unusual today for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is how many series are now issued as boxsets, where people are able to binge watch series from beginning to end… in one marathon go, much to the detriment of sleep and work the next day!

Keeping people waiting and guessing, as opposed to bombarding them with everything, is actually much a more natural approach. In recent years instant gratification, instant answers, have been demanded more and more. Patience wears very thin these days and, sadly, in some areas of life when instant responses are not offered boorish and even violent behaviour can sometimes follow.

If you prefer a more natural image on this just look at the Cherry Blossom tree in the garden, and the ones further along the road. It looked as though they were on the point of blossoming for Easter, then for the following Sunday and so on. Now, five weeks down the line and after the coldest April on record, with days of early morning frosts, finally the spectacular blossom is out! We might have wanted it to come earlier, but nature held back. Patience is needed.

Patience is something alluded to in our Readings this weekend. Although at times the missionary efforts in the Early Church appear to be both spectacular and rapid, though they are indeed spectacular, at times, the Acts of the Apostles covers a period of thirty years – which we cover during Easter in a matter of a few weeks. The Apostles - especially St Paul – were intrepid and bold in their work – but travel between places was by foot or sail, and the preaching itself usually spanned several weeks. Results were usually anything but instantaneous.

In the image of the vine, given by Jesus in our Gospel, we know that there is a cycle of seasons for this, and any plant: flowering, fruiting, harvesting and pruning. This cannot be squeezed into a couple of weeks. It is an annual cycle, and it is gradual depending on so many different conditions and circumstances.

Two lessons can be drawn from the vine and the missionary efforts of the Early Church. The first is: in order for any mission to succeed it must be rooted in and centred on the person of Christ, “The Vine”. In and through Christ we are connected organically not only to him but also to each other. Nothing will succeed unless it is rooted in prayer and reflection – both communal and individual.

The second is that we need to have a great deal of patience and perseverance. Spreading the Gospel message is not going to be achieved instantaneously, however much we would like it to be. Mission is a long-term task – lifelong! Even longer than waiting to find out who is the “Fourth Man”!

Thursday 29th April

Here are some reflections on the Readings for this coming Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for 5th Sunday of Easter 2021

Acts 9:26-31

The Acts of the Apostles covers about 30 years of the story of the early Christian Community after the Ascension and, at times, there are big gaps in what is recounted. So, for example by Paul’s own reckoning (cf. Gal. 1) the visit to Jerusalem recounted in today’s Reading was about three years after his conversion experience on the Road to Damascus. We hear that the community then sent him from Jerusalem, via Caeserea, to his home city of Tarsus, where he remained for at least ten more years before his next appearance only two chapters later in the Book of Acts. This condensed account can leave us with the impression that the missionary effort of the early community was spectacularly successful in a matter of days or weeks. Whilst there is no doubt about the courage and boldness of their preaching, like Paul in today’s account, it was in fact a long slog to take the Good News to so many places. We can take encouragement for this as we engage in the slow process of our own missionary efforts today.

1 Jn. 3:18-24

The call to active love of others is clear from the opening words of today’s extract from this First Letter of St John, from which our Second Readings are derived during this Year B of the Cycle of Readings. Although the translation used in our Lectionary refers to our “conscience” being the arbiter of our active love, the actual Greek word used here is “kardia” (heart). This is the translation used in the current New Revised Jerusalem Bible (NRJB). The whole passage leads up to a climax in the final verses where, once again, the idea of God “indwelling” in every true disciple is given. This “indwelling” will become in later writings, outside the New Testament, the basis of what we understand by the word “grace”.

Jn. 15:1-8

The theme of “indwelling” continues in this Gospel passage. Here the word “remain”, or sometimes “abide”, has this same meaning. Rather like the image of the Body of Christ this image of the vine – known from the Old Testament as an image of Israel – expresses our organic connection with Jesus himself. As with any vine the aim is to “bear much fruit”, which is a beautiful image, except when we remember just how savage the pruning process is for the vine. Anyone who has passed through areas where vines are grown will know the abundant greenery and fruit associated with the time leading up to the harvest, but the same vines after the harvest are pruned back almost to the ground in readiness for the next growing season.

Sunday 25th April - 4th Sunday of Easter 2021

Although they are not historical accounts of events, the stories contained in the first eleven chapters of our Bible are full of important insights into the ways in which we human persons operate. Of all those stories the final one – the story of the Tower of Babel – is probably the least well known. It centres around human arrogance: the arrogance of people who think that they can take over from God, do without God, become gods themselves. The idea is that they will build a huge tower rising up to the heavens so that they can get into those heavens (where God dwelt, in their understanding of the world) and take over the running of everything to their own benefit. As the story goes their efforts are thwarted when God imposes different languages on them so that they are no longer able to understand each other, and so the grand project collapses.

Human ingenuity – which is God-given, of course – is capable of tremendous achievements. This last year we have witnessed some incredible advances in the discovery and production of vaccines against the Corona Virus, as well as new treatments for malaria, psoriasis and so on. These are all examples, as are all the best of human achievements, of people working together: research scientists, financiers, governments and so on. When put to proper use – for the common good of all people across the globe – they are of enormous benefit to everyone. When, however, self-centredness and power-grabs become the norm, as in the story of that failed tower, disarray, disparity and destruction ensue.

Creation suggests unity – “we are all in this together”. This holds true for everything: plants and animals as well as human beings. We use the word “ecology” to name this unity. God’s creation was intended to be a harmonious unity, but the arrogance and selfishness of the human element – an element that can achieve so much, when properly directed – led to division and exploitation: exploitation both of one another and of the other elements of creation.

When Jesus is talking about being the Good Shepherd in today’s Gospel, a shepherd of one single flock, he is talking, among other things, of a restoration of how things were meant to be from the beginning of Creation. We refer to Easter being the beginning of a “New Creation”. This time, with the Risen Christ as the Good Shepherd of a single flock, the original purpose of unity and inclusion, as opposed to factionalism and exclusion, are to be the aim and the norm.

Usually we think in terms of the Good Shepherd referring to the flock that is the Church, and by inference of bishops and priests being shepherds/pastors of the flock, and that is all well and good. However, our understanding of the scope and meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection should be much wider to include the whole of creation. Jesus, the Good Shepherd is the model not only of leadership in the church but also a model for us all in the care we are called to have for each other and indeed for the whole of creation: God’s gift not only to us, the current generation, but also to future ones as well.

Thursday 22nd April pm -  Here are some reflections on the Readings for Mass on Sunday.
Reflections on the Readings for the 4th Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:8-12

The transformation from a cowered group, hiding in the Upper Room behind locked doors, for fear of what the Jewish authorities might do to them is now a thing of the past. In today’s extract from the Acts of the Apostles we find Peter giving witness to his faith in the risen Lord in front of the Jewish Council (the Sanhedrin) itself. He is even sufficiently emboldened to refer to “Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the one you had crucified”! This is quite some journey from those days of fear and trembling for their own safety after the Crucifixion. It is clear that one of the gifts of the Spirit given them, on that Day of Pentecost, is courage to witness to the one, “the only one by which we can be saved.” We have been given the gift of that same Spirit and are called to witness to Jesus, risen from the dead, in our own time and place.

1 John 3:1-2

In just two verses of this letter we have enough material for a lifetime of reflection! We are God’s children on whom so much love has been, is being, “lavished”. The writer is saying that if we have been lavished in such a way already, we can be assured that even more is to come our way: nothing less than seeing him “as he really is”! The possibilities are limitless. In such a context it is difficult to understand why Christians look so dour and gloomy at times! As one commentator put it, “These people are redeemed, are they? They don’t particularly look it!”

Jn 10:11-18

This Sunday is often referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. In each of the three years of our cycle of Readings the Gospel Reading always comes from this tenth chapter of St John’s Gospel and his discourse on being the figure of the Good Shepherd. In the precincts of the Temple Jesus had just cured a man born blind. Since he done this on the Sabbath it is enough for the Jewish authorities to challenge him. Jesus turns the tables on them and calls them the ones who are actually blind to the workings of God. This is quite some challenge to the very people who considered themselves the arbiters of all things to do with God on behalf of the Jewish people! In talking about a flock of which he is shepherd, appointed by no less a person than his Father, he is telling them quite plainly that they – these very (in their own eyes, at least) religious people – are outside, not part of the flock at all! This is a warning to all potentially self-righteous people who claim to be Christian while at the same time designating that others do not belong to the flock. That is not our decision to make.


Sunday 18th April - 3rd Sunday of Easter 2021

I suspect that for most, if not all, of us this last week has proven to be marked by a certain elation brought about by our newfound freedoms: getting a haircut, meeting some family and friends outdoors for the first time in months, going out for some fresh air accompanied by more than one other person and even being able to stop for a coffee or a drink, out of doors. Small things that we took for granted until twelve months ago have suddenly loomed much larger in our lives.

Both for those of us who live alone and those who live in family households the last few months have been challenging – more so than the first lockdown last spring. The truth is that we need both the company of others, and time to ourselves.

We are given both types of experience in the accounts of what happened after Jesus’ Resurrection: appearances to individuals (Mary Magdalene) and to groups (as in today’s Gospel); as well as witnessing the Empty Tomb in groups (the women who came before dawn on the morning of the Resurrection), and John telling us that he came to faith, to believe in what Jesus had said and done, as he sat looking at the abandoned grave cloths. Our own experience of faith also needs to have both dimensions to it: personal and communal.

During this last year the communal element has been very difficult to maintain, except in virtual ways. We still have only limited places in our churches – something underlined by the funeral even of a national figure like the Duke of Edinburgh. Using telephones and the Internet we have been able, like never before, to engage with people of faith in faraway places… but only virtually, and ultimately that is a very poor substitute for actual, person to person, gatherings, as we are experiencing again in our social lives, at least.

The personal dimension of faith has, at the same time, become much more prominent in our lives. The inability to meet together has either boosted our time alone in prayer and reflection or, in some cases I suspect, killed off what little was there in the first place. Only time will tell, as further restrictions are eased, as to who and how many will return to communal celebrations like our weekend Masses.

In our Gospel Jesus is both present to the disciples and shows how he is also present in the Scriptures that he explains to them. When Jesus talks about, “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms,” he is referring to what we usually call ‘The Old Testament’. Now, along with that part of the Scriptures, we also have what we call ‘The New Testament’. Here, as in our Gospel and other Readings today, we have more of that same message that Jesus explains in person to the disciples in today’s Gospel extract.

As we begin a new chapter in our journey through life – a journey both of life in general and of faith in particular – we will need to incorporate what have been learning about ourselves in this last year, and how we might live life better into the future. At the same time, we need to remember and to look out for those who have been scarred by what has happened and those who might find coming out of lockdown challenging in itself. We have much to do for each other in the time ahead.

Sunday 11th April - 2nd Sunday of Easter 2021

In the week in which we make a special celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, we have also marked the deaths of a number of Jesus’ followers. On Tuesday the famous Swiss Catholic priest and theologian Hans Kung died. On Friday it was announced that Prince Philip had died, and on the same day my mother’s younger sister, Aunty Stella died. Three faithful believers, in their very different ways, in the Resurrection to which they have now been called.

Hearing of the death of someone always brings memories flooding back: of items on the news on tv or in the newspapers in the case of Prince Philip; of reading a number of his books and following the various controversies in which he was involved many years ago, in the case of Dr Kung; and, of course, much more personal memories of my aunt.

The first generation of disciples kept the memory of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection alive in their preaching, in the first instance, and finally in their various writings: St John, and his community, in his Gospel and his letters; St Luke in his Gospel and the Acts of The Apostles. Readings from these works give substance and grounding to our own celebrations of Easter today.

Prince Philip is remembered extensively in newspapers and on the tv in this country and will be on a national day of mourning. Dr Kung has been remembered in obituaries and articles in newspapers across the world in many languages, including some fulsome praise from his own bishop and other bishops as well. Stella Smith will have no published obituary marking her death but no less than the other two, her contribution of witness to faith in her Risen Lord is every bit their equal.

I actually know nothing of Prince Philip’s personal beliefs or prayer life, but he was certainly devoted both to his wife and to his adopted country. In the case of Dr Kung his Christian Faith was clear in his writings about faith in God and in his ministry as a priest for over 60 years. In the case of Stella Smith, it was her regular Mass-going and prayers, her love of family and friends, as well as her dedicated work over many years with children in care. Each of them, in their own way, made a unique contribution to the unfolding story of Jesus’ Resurrection today.

That story of Jesus’ Resurrection includes the call to his disciples to work for and to live peace and reconciliation, as we hear in our Gospel. By recounting the stories in his Gospel St John is calling us, he writes, to belief, to trust in the Risen Lord. In the First Reading we hear how the earliest Christian Community tried to live out that message, and in our Second Reading, we are reminded of what the core of that message is all about: love.

Prince Philip gave his example especially in his public life. Professor Kung did so in the realm of the Academy and in his priestly ministry. Stella Smith did so amongst family, parish and local community. Three very different lives. Three very different examples of witness to the faith and its core values. All three no doubt had their faults and failings. In the cases of Prince Philip and Dr Kung some of them, at least, were in the public domain. We all have our faults and failings. However, these three are still examples to all of us as we continue our own witness to our Risen Lord in whatever context that calling is expressed.

Thursday 8th April. - Here are some thoughts about the Readings for Mass on Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Easter 2021

Acts 4:32-35

Every so often, as the story of the early preaching of the Gospel message unfolds in the Acts of the Apostles, in between recounting events involving the main apostles, St Luke gives us an insight into the community of believers. In this extract it is portrayed as the true Israel, living in harmony and sharing their worldly goods in such a way that no one went without. Faithful adherence to God’s covenant with Moses were meant to be such things as harmony between members of the community and looking out for the needs of others. At times in the Old Testament we see the People – often in the person of their king – failing to live up to these ideals. Now a new community is seen, replacing the old, and being faithful to its ideals as the message of the Resurrection is preached.

1 John 5:1-6

On these Sundays of Easter each year our Second Readings comes from one of the later books in the New Testament. This year we are offered extracts from the First Letter of St John. The letters attributed to St John were written at the end of the First Century – amongst some of the latest writings in the New Testament, and almost certainly not written by St John himself but rather one of the community of disciples which he had formed. This First Letter is not so much a letter as an extended homily urging people to remember Jesus’ teaching, especially about the commandment of love. The readers are invited to be faithful witnesses, truly God’s children, by observing the commandments given by Jesus.

Jn. 20:19-31

Today’s Gospel is the same for all three-year cycle of Sunday Readings. The story of “Doubting Thomas” has many rich elements to it: Spirit, sin and forgiveness, doubt and faith. It also includes what appears to be the original ending of this Gospel, outlining its purpose as being written, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” Belief leads to life – a constant theme of this Gospel.

To take just one of the various elements of this passage… We recall that the Hebrew word for spirit – ‘ruah’ – can also mean ‘breath’. In the opening verses of the Book of Genesis we are told that the spirit/breath of God hovered over the waters at the beginning of Creation. Here God’s spirit/breath hovers over the apostles as a new creation is about to begin, a new Israel. This is the first appearance of Jesus to the Apostles in St John’s Gospel and it marks a new departure, a new community being formed and given the mission to share the message of the Risen Christ.


Sunday 4th April - Easter Sunday 2021

In his recent book “Let Us Dream” Pope Francis talks about the stresses and strains on life caused by the pandemic: especially in terms of mental health. For some this mental deterioration has come about because of extra stresses at work, or in the home, but it is a particular concern for people who have been isolated for so many months. The effects on mental health can be seen both psychologically and spiritually. The Pope writes, “… abandoned to itself, the isolated conscience can end up believing many strange fantasies without need of proof.” To thrive – both mentally and spiritually - we need to be rooted in truth, in reality, and in community of some kind.

Even before the pandemic caused by the Covid virus the world had already been suffering from a pandemic of lies – usually passed off as attempts to counter “fake news” that was actually true! Once people in positions of authority resort to telling lies, to making things up for their own benefit, and ignoring the realities around them, people are at a loss to where to turn to for the truth about anything. Who can be trusted to tell us the truth?

Throughout these celebrations – and shedding light on everything that we reflect on – is our Paschal Candle – placed beside the Lectern and shedding its light on what is read from there. It is decorated with a Cross on which are marked the five wounds of Jesus’ body: the nails in his hands and feet and the lance thrust into his side. We also etch on the Candle the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – Alpha and Omega – and the year in which we are celebrating these events. So here we have a core symbol of our faith rooted in reality, both past and present.

Our faith is rooted in today in 2021 – the actual world that we live in with all the blessings and curses of today. Our faith is also rooted in the past – in Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. It is a faith that covers everything in existence, from beginning to end: Alpha and Omega. It is a light in the darkness of every time and place because it symbolises Jesus risen from the Dead – going beyond the sufferings and limitations of this life.

This Candle is THE symbol of Easter Truth: that as Christian believers we see everything through the lens of Jesus’ Resurrection – something that offers hope for all people, especially in the midst of pandemic and the isolation that this has brought about for so many.

(For the Easter Vigil Service)

The Readings at our service this evening cover everything from the Creation itself to Jesus’ Resurrection. It is in the light of that Resurrection that we understand life: that Creation is good; that our God wants us to be free (just as he freed the People of Israel at the Exodus); that in Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection freedom for all from sin and death are now possibilities, overcoming the isolation and depression of life for many at this time.

(For Easter Sunday)

The “Beloved Disciple” (John), as we heard in that Gospel, came to believe in the Resurrection on seeing the Empty Tomb. St Peter recounts to Cornelius that the Apostles had seen Jesus after he had risen for the dead. It was AFTER experiencing Jesus risen from the dead that, finally, things began to fall into place in their understanding of what Jesus had said and done during his ministry. Even now there is much to learn, as indeed with this incident in the Acts of the Apostles, where Peter comes to realise that the message of the Risen Lord is for all people – like the pagan Cornelius and his family - and not just for the Jewish people.

(Conclusion for Both)

As life goes on and new experiences come our way, we are continuing to learn about how our faith sheds light on life today. As symbolised by our Paschal Candle, our faith is rooted both in the reality of events of the past – Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – and in the reality of today – 2021 – with all its challenges. By being firmly rooted in both realities and bringing our imaginations to reflect on these things, it is possible to move beyond isolation and its detrimental effects on mental and spiritual health, and come to KNOW, in the fullest sense of that word, the light of the Risen Christ giving hope and possibility to all.

Thursday 25th March pm - Here are some reflections on the Readings for Palm Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for Palm Sunday 2021

The Gospel of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem – Mk. 11:1-10

In the previous chapter of his Gospel St Mark has Jesus tell his disciples that he has come “not to be served but to serve” (10:45). The implication is clear that they should do the same. Now, as Jesus enters into Jerusalem, he is seen to be living this out (as he will in all of the events of this week). In ancient times warriors went to battle on horses, but here Jesus enters into the city on a colt (a donkey). This is a sign both of humility and of coming in peace. The crowds are shouting their welcome whereas, only a few days later, they will be baying for his blood. Already we have a great deal of material on which to reflect.

First Reading – Is. 50:4-7

Although the word “servant” does not appear in this passage it is usually taken to be the second of four “servant songs” which are read in liturgies throughout the coming week, culminating with the fourth on Good Friday where, clearly, the Servant is one who suffers grievously. Here, in this passage, he suffers humiliation but is aware of the Lord’s support throughout his trials and tribulations.

Second Reading – Phil. 2:6-11

This “Philippian Hymn”, as it is often called, is a hymn/poem reflecting on Christ’s life and especially his death – which is the climax of the first part of the hymn. It emphasises Jesus’ humility in “emptying himself” of divine privilege, even going as far as to suffer the most humiliating of deaths – Crucifixion. In the key paradox to all of Christ’s meaning for us, however, that humiliation in death leads to “exaltation”. Paradox lies at the heart of much of what St Paul writes about in his thoughts on salvation and freedom. Here in this short passage, we are given the foundation for the whole of his theology of redemption.

The Passion According to St Mark – Mk.22:14-23:56

This year, given the ongoing restrictions owing to the Covid-19 Pandemic, we are instructed to proclaim only the short version of St Mark’s Passion, and without the participation of the voices of the Congregation. So it is that our Gospel Reading today begins, not with the Last Supper, but with Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Much has already happened and, perhaps, this is an opportunity for us, especially this year, to read the whole of the Passion Narrative for ourselves during the coming week.

To take just one item for reflection, however, we might point to the reaction of the crowd during the trial. The complete reversal of their attitude towards Jesus, from the adulation of Palm Sunday to this Gospel, is brought out very starkly indeed in this shorter version of the Passion. Only 5 or 10 minutes ago in our Liturgy this same crowd was delirious with praise, whereas now it is baying for blood. Such a shift in attitude of people is used in many a novel and tv drama. Crowds and fame are fickle, which is something that Jesus knew well and throughout his ministry keeps avoiding. Fame and popularity are often superficial, whereas faith and trust in a person goes much deeper!

Thursday 18th March pm

Here are some reflections on the Mass Readings for the coming Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for the 5th Sunday in Lent

Jer. 31:31-34

This is one of the most easily remembered references to a quotation from the Old Testament (31:31) and is, in fact, referred to by a number of New Testament writers in relation both to the Eucharist and to the Redemption brought about by Jesus. Although taken by these authors to refer to the new covenant founded on Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, it refers in the first instance to a new covenant that will be brought about at the end of the Exile in Babylon. The return of the Exiles was seen as a second Exodus and ranks alongside that seminal event in the annals of the Jewish People. The people had fallen foul of the original covenant between God and Moses on Mount Sinai (two weeks ago our First Reading was the giving of the Ten Commandments, the foundation stone of that Covenant). Both kingdoms (of Israel and Judah) had been destroyed, but now there is a promise of something new with a law imprinted on the hearts of the people, rather than on tablets of stone.

Heb. 5:7-9

Two themes are key to understanding the Letter to the Hebrews: Jesus’ thoroughgoing solidarity with humankind (“one like us in all things but sin”) and his being the fulfilment of all that the former covenant (the Old Testament) had looked forward to in a Messiah. In today’s extract we see both themes illustrated: Jesus is completely one with us in his suffering; he is also the pre-eminent person praying the Psalms of lament from the Old Testament (“offering up prayer, aloud and in silent tears”). The Readings at this stage in Lent are now turning very clearly to the climax of our preparations which will begin with Palm Sunday just one week from now.

Jn. 12:20-30

This event comes immediately after St John’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – an event portrayed in all four Gospels. For John, however, this is Jesus’ third trip to Jerusalem during his public ministry and he has already cleansed the Temple of the moneychangers in this Gospel (we heard that story in our Gospel for the 3rd Sunday two weeks ago). Now we find Jesus meeting some Greek-speaking Jews from Bethsaida – quite possibly friends of Andrew and Philip, themselves natives of the town - who approach Jesus on their behalf. In many ways the context is irrelevant to the two central themes of what Jesus has to say: the grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying in order to produce a great harvest; and his being “lifted up from the earth”. The tension is mounting and the drama is unfolding as we approach the climax of Lent.

Sunday 14th March - 4th Sunday in Lent 2021

Sadly, at the moment family occasions are very much restricted to funerals and even then a maximum of thirty people are able to attend. This last week some of my family came together for my Auntie Cath’s funeral. It was a very fitting Requiem Mass for a much-loved woman, and it was the first time in years that I met cousins and their wives who live quite some distance away. We all came to the conclusion that we had indeed aged since last we met: receding hairlines, the lack of haircuts and hair-dyeing (and I make no distinction between genders here), because of the lockdown restrictions, all emphasised the ageing. In circumstances like this it is even more difficult than usual to get our heads around St Paul’s statement in that Second Reading that, “We are God’s work of art”! “Work of art”? Perhaps more Andy Warhol than Gainsborough!

Nonetheless, we are indeed, in our own ways, God’s unique work of art. This, please note, does not mean that we were only truly God’s work of art in the now long-lost days of innocence of childhood. We were then, and we are now. Nor is it the case that to be God’s work of art we have to be spend hours over grooming and dressing, as if for a very special occasion. We ARE God’s work of art now, just as we are. We were before and we will be into whatever the future holds for us. In every “NOW” we are God’s work of art and always, always loved.

This powerful message is very clear in our Readings today, Readings which emphasise the dire situations of the Temple priests in our First Reading, of Paul’s communities in our Second, and of humankind in general in our Gospel. In spite of this, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son.” It is not that the priests, or the people to whom Paul was writing, or anyone before Jesus’s coming, or indeed after it, has earned or deserved this love by anything they may have said or done, it was out of pure, undeserved and infinite love that God came to us and redeemed us in this way.

This leaves us with two problems. The first is how we can possibly believe in such an undeserved gift. How can it be the case that someone should love us/me that much? The second is how to respond to such love. The second is perhaps more readily answered by St Paul and St John: we are to live in the light “so that it may be plainly seen that what (we) do is done in God,”; and we are “to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live.” Our response of love towards others comes from first having received God’s love, the love that enables us to do the same.

The first problem of being able to believe that even as we are now, we are loved, and “God’s work of art” is at the same time easier to take on board and more difficult. Easier, because all we have to do is to stop our futile worrying, our busy-ness, our need to fill every moment of our life simply to avoid the dreaded feeling of emptiness, and come to live in the moment; more difficult because all we have to do is to stop our futile worrying, our busy-ness, our need to fill every moment of life simply to avoid the dreaded feeling of emptiness, and come to live in the moment. Learning some stillness and time of quiet in our prayer will go a long way to understanding just a little bit more of God’s love for me.

Saturday 13th March

Here is the link to the fourth set of meditations on the Stations of the Cross. This set is based on the traditional Stations of St Alphonsus Ligouri.  Link Here

Jesus' Way of the Cross 4 - The Stations of the Cross of St Alphonsus Ligouri

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Jesus' Way of the Cross 4 - The Stations of the Cross of St Alphonsus Ligouri

Once more using the artwork


Sunday 7th March pm

Here is a link to a third set of reflections on the Stations of the Cross that you might like to pray at some stage during the coming week.  

LINK HERE

Stations of the Cross 3 - Everyone's Way of the Cross

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Stations of the Cross 3 - Everyone's Way of the Cross

Reflections on the fourteen Stations of the Cross by Clarence Enzler.


Sunday 7th March - 3rd Sunday in Lent 2021

I am sure that we are all well aware that our four Gospels were all written many years after the events that they recount. None is more explicit about this fact than St John, as we hear in our Gospel today. As he ends his account of Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple, he notes that, “when Jesus rose from the dead his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.” It was only with the benefit of hindsight, having experienced Jesus risen from the dead, that his disciples were able to understand the significance of his words and actions. Events are one thing, their significance is another that takes time to digest.

St John places his account of Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple right at the beginning of his account of Jesus’ Public Ministry, and it acts as a kind of summary of all that he will be about in the coming events that John will record. The leaders of the Jewish faith had let things slide so much that the economy of the Temple was rather more important to them than focusing on what that same Temple was supposed to be about. These authorities had come to a relatively cosy relationship with their Roman occupiers and were able to continue with their elitist running of the heart of the Jewish religion without too much interference. This, however, was not what was supposed to be the case, and Jesus’ actions in today’s Gospel were a challenge to them about this.

Jesus goes on to talk about how a new temple is to be built, one centred on his own body. With images like that it is no wonder that even his disciples failed to understand what he was talking about at the time. That new temple, the new religion, was brought about by Jesus’ death and Resurrection, which is why these events form the centre of our faith even two thousand years later.

The authorities of the Jewish faith had lost sight of what it is they were supposed to be about. What happened to them happens to all institutions consisting of human beings from time to time. Every organisation loses its way from time to time – to both large and small degrees. Reform is a constant need for any human organisation, however divinely guided it might claim to be. We human beings change over time, as do the circumstances of life. New threats to our freedom, new advances in technology, new diseases wreaking havoc among us, new vaccines that help prevent those same diseases, all have an impact on how we see life and how we organise ourselves to live this life.

Our faith is centred not on any physical temple building, but on Jesus’ Body: his words and his actions. Lent is a time for re-evaluating how it is we, as individuals, are following Jesus’ ways rather than simply having a cosy relationship with the Christian faith, such that we get on with doing whatever we want without being too troubled by the demands of the Gospel. At the same time as we are doing this as individuals, parishes and indeed the whole Church – will need to review their priorities and ways of acting in the light of the challenges posed by this last year of pandemic. We have had to change and adapt our lives – including our faith lives – and we will need to evaluate all of this as we face the challenges of a very changed set of circumstances in the world in the time ahead.

Thursday 4th March

Here are some reflections on the Readings for Mass this coming Sunday.

Reflections on the Readings for the 3rd Sunday in Lent 2021

Exodus 20:1-17

Nicholas King sj, in his translation of the Old Testament, entitles today’s extract from the Book of Exodus, “The Awe-Inspiring Experience of the Ten Words”. These Commandments, or literally, “Ten Words”, are unlike any of the other compilations of Mosaic Law in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). This is the basis of all the other specific laws worked out as the People of Israel later became settled in the Promised Land. These Laws are all applicable to several contexts. As Nick King writes,

It is important not to get obsessed with their apparent negativity. What is at stake here is the loving relationship that God is offering, and the moral landmark that God offers as a basis for living out that relationship.

(The Old Testament – A new, cutting-edge translation of the Septuagint, vol. 1, Kevin Mayhew, Suffolk, 2010, p.125, footnote to verse 1)

In later versions of these Laws, they are prefaced with solemn declarations, rather like other formal decrees of covenants between rulers and their subjects in the Ancient Near East. This is Israel’s fundamental covenant with God.

1 Cor. 1:22-25

This extract from the opening chapter of this first letter to the Christians in Corinth goes right to the heart both of the Christian message and Paul’s fundamental preaching of it. Counter-intuitive to all conventional religion and reason, the “crucified Christ” is the key to salvation. It may be an obstacle or seem like madness, but to the eyes of faith Paul’s assertion rings true, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom”. Here we have a reminder, once again, of what lies at the goal of our Lenten disciplines: the celebration of the central acts of the Christian faith in Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. These matters are beyond the powers of ordinary reasoning. They lie in the realm of faith: trust in God’s promises.

Jn. 2:13-25

Apart from the Gospel of the Passion on Palm Sunday, today and for the rest of Lent, and for much of Easter, our Gospel Readings come from St John’s reflections on Jesus’ ministry which, more than any other Gospel, can be seen to be later reflections in the light of the Risen Christ. This is made explicit in today’s extract, “When Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.”

Where the other Gospels only refer to one journey of the adult Jesus to Jerusalem during his final week before the Crucifixion, St John’s recounts three such visits. We have no means of knowing which is the correct version but what is clear is that this Cleansing of the Temple comes right at the beginning of John’s account of the ministry and only right at the end in the other Gospels, and so it takes on a different significance. In this Gospel it acts as a kind of manifesto of Jesus’ whole ministry: the Jewish religion had gone hopelessly astray; the money raised by the Temple had become more important than the observance of the Covenant that it was supposed to support. Jesus has come to bring about a radically different approach to relationships with God, no less than through his own body: the new Temple. This is quite some claim and we can understand why it was that it was only after the Resurrection that the disciples came to understand fully what Jesus said and did.

Sunday 28th February pm - Some people are experiencing difficulty logging on to the latest recording of the Stations of the Cross. Here is another link to the YouTube section...

Stations of the Cross 2 - The Cross of Evangelisation

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Stations of the Cross 2 - The Cross of Evangelisation

In this set of reflections we hear the story of conversion of one of the so


Sunday 28th February - 2nd Sunday in Lent 2021

One of the great local amenities around here is the Rising Sun Country Park. Those of us of a certain age remember it as a working coal mine – a very big one, at that – but its conversion into a park with multiple bridleways and walking paths, nature reserve, ponds, bird sanctuary, farm and so on, belie what used to be there in times past. One section, however, is very reminiscent of its past. On one of the pathways, you realise that the path itself is made out of rubble from the old pit-head buildings and as you rise to the top of a slope you are, in fact, walking up an old slagheap (pit heap). Now beautifully grassed over, from atop there is a commanding view. On a clear day to the North, you can see the Simonside Hills and into the Scottish Borders. To the East, there is the Coast and even a sliver of the North Sea can be detected. To the South, not only can you see over the to the South Bank of the Tyne, there in the distance is Penshaw Monument, on the South Bank of the Wear. Finally, to the West, you can see over beyond Newcastle up the Tyne Valley and into the Durham Hills.

A hill-top or a mountain top is a good place from which to get your bearings, and this is what is happening in today’s Gospel story of the Transfiguration. Those who have tried reading long chunks of St Mark’s Gospel in a single sitting will realise the frenetic pace that Jesus has kept up since he first began his Public Ministry in the synagogue at Capernaum. St Mark tells us that Jesus did this, and then he did that, and then he went on to the next thing, then the next and so on. There is hardly a moment for Jesus and his companions to draw breath, but now he does have that opportunity with his three closest followers.

At the top of the mountain Peter, James and John are treated to quite a spectacle. There is Jesus in conversation with the two great representatives of the Old Testament – Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets. Then the cloud comes down – clouds are often a veil in the Old Testament, covering the presence of God who cannot be seen face to face. From the cloud they hear a voice repeating what the Father had said to Jesus at his Baptism in the River Jordan, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him.” No wonder Peter is not sure what to say, but already they are receiving some kind of perspective on what Jesus has been telling them and demonstrating to them in his preaching and healing ministry. Only sometime after the Resurrection will things become crystal clear. For now, boosted by this visionary experience, they are able to continue on the journey, with Jesus, his eyes now set firmly on the road ahead to Jerusalem and to all that awaits him there.

Part of what the season and disciplines of Lent is about is for us to gain perspective on what we are doing – how it is that we are engaged in following Jesus. This is true for us as individuals but, perhaps more than ever this year, it is a call on our faith communities to be gaining some perspective on what we are about collectively, as a church, as a community of ambassadors for Christ (as St Paul puts it).

Going forward, as we begin to see some chinks of light at the end of the dark tunnel of this past year, we will need to learn some important lessons about how we are to share the Gospel with others in the time ahead; what is important and helpful from the past to carry forward into the future, and what is equally important to ditch as unnecessary and counter-productive to this mission. It would be a real pity if we were to miss out on this opportunity – this time of grace – for ourselves both as individuals and as a community.

Friday 26th February -As an aid to preparations here are some reflections on the Readings for this Sunday's Mass.

Reflections on the Readings for the 2nd Sunday in Lent 2021

First Reading: Gen. 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18

Fr Nicholas King calls this story “the most chilling in the whole Bible”, and with good reason. You will notice from the references that we are just given excerpts from a much longer, drawn out account. This merely underlines its “chilling” nature, slowly building to a potentially dreadful climax.

After the double calling, “Abraham, Abraham,” we hear, for the first time in the Scriptures, the response, “Here I am.” Whenever we come across this response it is an indication of total surrender to God’s will on the part of the person speaking… and what “total surrender” is being asked of Abraham here! God’s promise to him of being a Father of many nations” is in jeopardy. Already he has banished his son, Ishmael, born to the slave Hagar, and now his son with Sarah, born in his old age is to be sacrificed. A parallel with the innocent suffering of Jesus has always been seen in the Story of the Sacrifice of Isaac. At the end Isaac is saved and the promise of having many descendants is once again renewed, as reward for his obedience. Jesus’ obedience leads, of course, to the redemption of all humankind, not just the tribal descendants of one man.

Second Reading: Rom. 8:31-34.

The first half of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans is reaching its climax in these verses. Paul has been writing about sin, forgiveness, justification and redemption for all people, not just the People of Israel, with whom God made the First Covenant. For Paul God’s selfless act of being willing to sacrifice his Son is a clear indication of his claim, “With God on our side who can be against us?” There is nothing that can ultimately negate this new Covenant.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-10

The “inner circle” of disciples, Peter, James and John, are set apart from the others, as they were when Jesus cured Jairus’ daughter, and as they will be in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Jesus’ arrest. They were amongst the first disciples that Jesus called to follow him, and they have been with him throughout the frenetic pace of his preaching ministry in Galilee.

A mountain is a good place from which to gain perspective of what lies around you. Going apart from the others, up a mountain, offers these three a certain perspective on what has been happening in the time they have been with Jesus. There he is with the main representatives of the Old Covenant – Moses, of the Law, and Elijah, of the Prophets – and the voice from heaven repeating the words used at Jesus’ Baptism, “This is my son, the Beloved.” At the Baptism the words were addressed only to Jesus himself, “You are my son, the Beloved,” now they are addressed to the three disciples, with the additional command, “Listen to him.” Peter is not sure what to say. It will take time for them to digest what they have experienced and to share it with the others.

Sunday 21st February - Stations of the Cross

Each week I will post a pre-recorded version of the Stations of the Cross on Sunday afternoon. These may be used at any time that is convenient to your own daily schedule. You can also pause the Stations at any time to reflect further on a particular Station.

The images used each week will be of the Stations painted by Fr Sieger Koder, the late German priest and religious artist. This week the Stations are reflections on his art-work. In future weeks we will use other, more familiar, versions of the prayers to accompany this devotional practice.

The link below is to a YouTube posting. Simply click on the link, or paste it into whichever search engine (Google, Safari or Chrome) you use.

https://youtu.be/V_DVNILtNI8


Sunday 21st February - 1st Sunday in Lent 2021

I think that I have mentioned to parishioners before that Father David Milburn was my Spiritual Director during my final year in the seminary at Ushaw. He was a very wise, patient, understanding and challenging Director – exactly the right kind of person for the role. As we were approaching Lent, he asked me what I proposed to take up as a discipline for Lent. I blithely announced that I was going to give up smoking (something that it took me a further 15 or 20 years to achieve). Fr Milburn stared into the distance. There was a long pause and then he said, “Hm, yes, Paul Grant (a former president of the College who feared and disliked in equal measure by staff and students alike) used to do that every year.” There was a further pause and then he added, “… and everyone else suffered!”

Whilst giving up a filthy habit like smoking was a good thing in itself, the fact that it produced such bad temper that everyone around suffered the consequences, rendered it counter-productive. Lent is fundamentally about enhancing life and good choices in life. Decades ago Lent came with a grimness, a definite lack of fun and frivolity. Now, while there is no doubt that we are preparing in this Season for the grim reality of Jesus’ suffering and death, through that same suffering and death comes hope and new life. Lent is ultimately about enhancing true, productive life, and being rid of things that pull us towards bad decisions and which are destructive of ourselves and of others.

Where the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke both recount three particular temptations that Satan places before Jesus after his forty day fast, St Mark simply tells us in today’s Gospel that Jesus was tempted by Satan. This leaves room for our imagination to engage with this event in such a way that we are invited to discern what particular temptations we encounter each day. This may be an addiction to something but could just as easily be some addictive behaviour: always bad-mouthing a particular person when their name crops up in conversation; or, at other times we may not actually say anything to anyone but deep within us we are judgemental of others. Whatever it may be, it will be holding us back from being the kind of person we are called to be as a disciple of Christ.

Lent is about enhancing life. The hope of new life is promised in the Covenant between God and Noah in our First Reading, with its symbol of the rainbow. New life is also promised in Jesus’ death and resurrection to the people suffering persecution in our Second Reading.

Still at the beginning of this time or preparation, if we have not already done so, we have the opportunity to take up some discipline that will bring us closer to doing what it is that Christ is asking of us in our discipleship today.


Sunday 7th February - 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

It’s hardly surprising that Job is feeling overwhelmed in our First Reading. There he is, at the beginning of the story, one of the most prosperous people in the land, enjoying all the trappings of a comfortable, carefree life for himself and his family. Then, in the space of a few days he loses everything – wealth, family and finally his health. He ends up sitting on an ash heap using a piece of broken pottery to scrape the oozing sores on his body. No wonder he has had enough and wants to die.

Without going to such extremes, we can all feel overwhelmed by what is going on in our lives at times. Watching the news each evening, we are hearing about how staff in hospitals and care homes are being overwhelmed trying to cope with what is going on around them at the moment with the pandemic. I heard much the same earlier in the week from a hospital chaplain who is completely exhausted by her work going round the wards every day. Other people, of course, are feeling overwhelmed for other reasons trying to cope with what is happening – feeling completely isolated or worried about jobs and paying the bills.

Listening to that Gospel Reading I am surprised that Jesus wasn’t overwhelmed by what was going on around him – and perhaps he was at times. There he is, just out of the synagogue, trying to get a meal and some peace and quiet, when firstly Peter’s mother-in-law and then a whole host of people come crowding round the door needing his attention. Eventually it seems that he manages to snatch some sleep, but then gets up very early for some time alone in prayer, before heading off on to preach his message all over Galilee. There is just no end to this task, and when any of us sees no end to what needs to be done, or no end to what is happening around us, feelings of being overwhelmed are apt to come visiting us.

That time alone in prayer seems to be key in Jesus’ coping strategy. On several occasions in the Gospels, we hear of him trying, at least, to get away from the crowds and even away from his disciples, at times. He needs this to re-charge his batteries, to put things into perspective. In doing this he is then able to move on.

Just yesterday I was reading an article in this week’s Tablet (a weekly Catholic Magazine/Paper) by Fr James Martin, an American Jesuit priest who has written a number of very readable books on various aspects of our faith. The article is called “Nine Reasons to Pray” and is adapted from a new book published next week: “Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone”. Most of the reasons he offers are rooted in the fact that we are not isolated, individual units. He writes,

Prayer is not… a solitary act… When we pray we are, consciously or unconsciously, expressing a connection to our brothers and sisters who also pray – even if they are not physically with us… Whenever we pray, we are united with believers across the world who are lifting their minds and hearts to God. We are also united with those who have gone before us, who continue their prayers before God. This is one part of what Catholics mean by the “Communion of Saints”.

Praying connects us with God and with each other. Jesus’ prayer connected him with his Father, and it prevented him from being overwhelmed by everything going on around him. It can and will do the same for ourselves, especially in these difficult times.

Sunday 31st January

Thank you to Una Humble for pointing us in the direction of an excellent website which offers many resources for prayer and meditation, run by the English Jesuits:

www.pathwaystogod.org

Herewith the text of my homily.

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

Jesus is recognised in that Gospel passage as someone who speaks “with authority”. In other words, there is something deeply authentic about what he says and how he says it. His words and his actions are of one piece. This is why he makes a “deep impression” on the congregation in the synagogue. I feel sure that we have all experienced both authentic and inauthentic voices in our own lives.

During much of this last year we have had regular, and at times even daily, briefings broadcast on the situation with regard to the pandemic from politicians and experts. After they had been going on for a few weeks an analysis showed that,usually, the experts were thought to be more authentic than the politicians and so what they had to say carried more weight among the general population.

One of the stars of those early days was the Deputy Director of PHE, Jonathan Van-Tam. He always spoke calmly, clearly and used examples that people could understand. For quite a while, however, he was banished from these briefings. When a certain political adviser decided to check out his eyesight by driving to Barnard Castle during the initial lockdown, it seems that the politicians demanded that any expert asked about this incident would toe the party line of it not being a flagrant breach of the rules. Van-Tam refused. He was not the only one, but he refused to agree not to condemn what had happened if asked, and so he was silenced for quite some time. He was “authentic”, and the public knew this and silencing him has merely enhanced his authority when he speaks about what is going on and what needs to be done.

Unless they have been brainwashed by propaganda, and lies upon lies, to the point when it is impossible to gauge reality, people can and do have a sense of when someone is authentic. The people in the synagogue recognised this in Jesus. We are able recognise this with regard to both secular and religious leaders. Other people will also be able to recognise whether we speak with authority, or not, by our actions. During this awful time the hope we offer, as Christians, is of the example we give of doing what is best for everyone at this time: staying at home as much as possible, as well as trying to make sure that those around us are doing okay.

In the interview with Sister Gabriel – of the Poor Clares of Arundel - on Good Morning, one of the interviewers was moved to tears by her simple words of encouragement, telling people who are struggling that they were not alone, that they (the Poor Clare Community) were walking the same journey with them. She had spoken with authority, with authenticity, and that is all it takes at times to let people know that they are not alone and it can be of crucial support in these times.

Sunday 24th January - 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2021

The difference between measured time and our experience of time is endlessly fascinating to me. We are able to measure time from nano seconds to light-years. Precision in timing is important for recording athletic feats and critical for timing various chemical processes. On the other hand, our experience of time is very different: a boring homily can seem interminably long and yet last only 5 or 6 minutes; watching an engaging film that lasts for two hours can seem to be over in a matter of minutes. Days in the house during lockdown can seem very long indeed, and yet it seems like only yesterday when knew of no restrictions on our movements, on our socialising and so on.

Shortness of actual time is a key factor in all three of our Readings today. The people of Nineveh are given forty days in which to repent. St Paul writes about how, “Our time is growing short.” And Jesus proclaims in his very first public statement, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is close at hand.” There is an urgency in responding to what all three have to say to their original audience… and indeed, an urgency in responding to them on our behalf as well (which is the reason why they are chosen for our Liturgy today).

Before the pandemic life seemed, for most of us, to be moving along at its own regular pace, with little urgency about things. That experience will, of course, be very different for someone who was awaiting the results of tests, or treatment, but for the majority urgency was not on the horizon, and certainly not on the horizon of our faith and discipleship.

The Covid Virus has suddenly brought to our attention the fragility of our routines, and the dangers that lurk in some of the simplest things that we took for granted: shopping in a supermarket, travelling on a bus or a train, and so on. In terms of our faith, the closing of churches, anti-Covid measures when they are open, live streaming, have suddenly challenged the way in which we celebrate our faith.

Throughout the Catholic Church today we celebrate “Word of God Sunday. It offers us an opportunity to renew our commitment NOW, urgently, regularly to read about and to reflect on, the faith we find expressed there. Time spent with the Bible is never wasted and can often be one of those occasions when time seems to fly by. Why not try it? After this Mass, sometime today, take that Gospel and read it again, slowly, imagining that you are present when Jesus says and does those things. What is he telling you today through those words?

Saturday 23rd January - Mass will be live streamed at 9.30 tomorrow morning.

Unfortunately, everyone had problems logging on to the Requiem Mass for Fr Milburn yesterday afternoon. It seems as though the live streaming only began part way through the Mass at the Gospel.

Below your will find a copy of the homily I preached at that Mass. Given the context it is, of course, much longer than one of my regular homilies.

Homily for the Requiem Mass for David Milburn

Just over forty-two years ago David Milburn did me the great courtesy of preaching at my First Mass. It is a great honour for me to reciprocate on the occasion of David’s “Final Mass” as we speed him on his way to the Heavenly Liturgy with our prayers.

What strikes me immediately about his choice of Readings is their Christ-centred nature, obviously of the account of the Crucifixion, but in particular that of the Reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, of which more later. Suffice it to say at this point that Christ-centredness was the hallmark of David’s life and example.

It will come as no particular surprise to those who knew David that, as well as choosing the hymns and Readings for this occasion, he left some “helpful notes” for whoever was to preach this homily. Just for a moment I would like to reflect on that word “helpful”. It characterised every aspect of David’s life: to be of help to others, to be of service, to be a servant. Whether as a member of a family, as a pastor in a parish, leading the music in the liturgy, teaching history, or simply as a friend to others, David was always of help and at the service of those in need.

In his notes David tells us of the fact that he was the younger, by a full six minutes, of twins. His twin, Joan, apparently never let him forget the fact. He told me once that he was such a sickly-looking new-born that his mother was told not to expect him to live too long. He defied such predictions by a mere 94 years! Living in Heaton he attended the then recently built St Teresa’s primary school. Very much taken by the example of this parish priest, Fr Lawrence Campbell, from an early age he felt called to the priesthood. As an aside here, he informs us that Fr Campbell had taught French at Ushaw. He tells of the expression on Fr Campbell’s face in photographs of him taken at Ushaw. He writes, “Until I joined the staff at Ushaw myself I could never understand why he looked so doleful.”

What will come as a surprise to most people is to learn that David failed both the 11-plus scholarship and the grammar school entrance exams. Fr Campbell had tried to persuade his parents to send him to Ushaw aged 10 but now at aged 12 he went to the College that was to be the centre of much of the rest of his life in many different ways, and which he loved deeply. Given the space and opportunity at the College David flourished as a scholar. He emerged out of what he called the “dream world” he had inhabited at primary school.

Although, like most seminarians, he imagined his future life as a priest to be working in a parish, shortly before his ordination he was told (seminarians were not asked to do things in those days!) that he was going to study Church History in Louvain, one day to return to teach in the Senior House. Once again David flourished in the atmosphere of post-War Louvain, where a number of the professors would become key figures ten years later at the Second Vatican Council. However, he had just finished the final exams that paved the way for him to present a future doctoral dissertation when he received a letter from the President of Ushaw telling him to return immediately to begin teaching history in the Junior House, due to the illness of Hugh Lavery.

Ever obedient, David returned to Ushaw and took up a heavy teaching load of classes in the Junior House. In due course he managed to complete his doctoral dissertation for Louvain and successfully defended it and was awarded the degree “Docteur en Sciences Historique”. Although part of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, History is a science subject at Louvain – a human science rather than a physical science, but nonetheless a science. Trained in the meticulous, forensic historical method for which Louvain is famous, David was to combine those skills with an elegant prose style in his writing, which also came across in his homilies and lectures.

David’s dissertation was, of course, his History of Ushaw College, which he duly prepared for publication in 1964. The acknowledgements at the beginning of the book are interesting. He gives formal thanks to members of the governing body – the Bishops of Liverpool, Leeds and Hexham – for their permission to access their diocesan archives. In this diocese it was a certain Hugh Lindsay who helped in this research. They had been students together in the sixth form at Ushaw and, in his “helpful notes”, David refers to his friend’s attempts to bolster David’s confidence in front of other people. It was something that plagued him, he writes, throughout his life in all relationships. It was an affliction from which Hugh Lindsay appeared never to have suffered.

The one Louvain Professor to whom he offers thanks is Roger Aubert, the celebrated doyen of Nineteenth Century Church Historians. David had initially arrived in Louvain shortly after Aubert had published his Magisterial Dissertation (a kind of second doctorate) on the subject of “The Problem of the Act of Faith”. This seminal work paved the way, along with the writings of a fellow Belgian, Edward Schillebeeckx, for an understanding of faith with which we are now familiar from the writings of both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis: “The Encounter of Faith”. That encounter of faith with Christ shone throughout David’s ministry.

David’s acknowledgement of the help of colleagues at Ushaw reads like a who’s who of the College in those days. It is interesting to note that one person is referred to by his role but not by name. I refer, of course, to the President of the College at the time, Paul Grant. In his notes David writes, ”… (the) benefit I received at Ushaw was the company of so many forward-thinking staff. Not only did it enrich my life, but it also brought about a revolution of attitudes within the College.” The regime under Paul Grant was anything but “forward-thinking” and the “revolution” to which David refers was, effectively, a coup des professors in 1967, as a result of which Paul Grant was ousted by the Bishops.

In his place the governors appointed the then Prefect of Studies in the Senior House, Philip Loftus. Pip Loftus told the Vice President, Lawrence Hollis, that he was too identified with the ancien regime and would also have to go. Hollis had been responsible for Church Music. So, he approached David as someone both very interested and skilled in music, to be his Vice President. The following is what David himself told me a few years ago. David was looking forward to the freedom to get on with his longed-for research and he declined the offer. Loftus said he would give it a week before receiving David’s definitive answer. David was determined not to accede to the request but, a week later, Pip Loftus began the meeting by saying, “If you won’t accept the post I will have to give it to…..” Here he mentioned the name of another Hexham priest, not on the Staff. David’s immediate response was to say, “I’ll do it.” This put paid to another opportunity for him to engage in research.

As ever David was unstinting in the time and energy he gave to the whole gamut of his responsibilities, and the College was not the limit of those responsibilities. David’s musical abilities were also called upon for diocesan occasions here at the Cathedral and, for another great love of his life, the Lourdes Pilgrimage where he led the music for many years.

In late 1978 David left Ushaw and was finally able to engage in the parish-based pastoral work, to which he thought he was destined as a student, at Newhouse and Esh Winning. Once again, his humanity, his sense of service to others, shone out. He re-ordered the lovely church in the village, as only David could, both tastefully in line with its architecture, and in a way that facilitated beautifully the reformed liturgy of the Council. At the same time, again typical of the man, he gave very little thought to his own comfort in a damp and draughty presbytery.

I could, of course, go on and on about his work his various “retirements” from which he would came back at the drop of a hat when needed in Forest Hall, Longhorsley and Longbenton. I could and perhaps should have mentioned his research work on the archives at Ushaw, his work with the Catholic Historical Society, his friendships, his love and care for members of his family, his hobbies as an intrepid walker, climber and photographer, but I have already overstepped the mark both in what David would have wanted in this liturgy and by want Pope Francis refers to as “an imbalance in the Liturgy” if the preacher goes on for too long, as I have already.

To try to redress that balance I return finally to the Readings chosen by David for this Mass. David’s choice of St Luke’s account of Jesus’ death on the Cross relates to his thoughts about his own death and subsequent judgment. In the notes, written in 2008 by the way, he writes of his hope of “awaking to glory” as was Jesus’ promise to the Repentant Thief. With regard to our First Reading from Colossians he urges,

"Concentrate on the essential message. The translator has used words which remind us of winning football matches, “Let us give thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his Beloved Son, through whom we have received redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

This is no isolated text. Paul comes back to it again and again. He goes beyond hope to certainty. By virtue of our baptism, God has passed us fit to play alongside the saints. He has already transferred us into Jesus’ kingdom; he has already forgiven our sins. May we learn long before death overtakes us to put away fear, and look forward to the wonders that wait us with the certainty expressed by this great apostle."

In getting to know David even more in the last few years when we were living so close to each other, I am of the firm belief that he had indeed reached that point of certainty. In his case it was a certainty that was richly deserved.

Eternal rest, Grant unto him, O Lord…

Sean E. Hall

January 2021

Sunday 17th January 2nd Sunday of Ordinary time 2021

That invitation of Jesus to the two disciples, “Come and see,” might seem rather ironic, even cruel, at this time of another lockdown when we are unable to go and see anything very much. No opportunity for grandchildren to show off their latest achievements in drawing or making things to their doting grandparents, even worse no opportunity for a young couple proudly to introduce their new-born baby to their own parents and friends. However good the internet connection may be, and the live chats via Zoom or whatever, nothing is a true substitute for the real thing.

We can say the same about our “virtual” Masses. However helpful they may be, they are no substitute for our regular Sunday gatherings to pray and to celebrate physically together, but it is what we have for now, and we are very grateful for it. There are, of course, other ways in which we might respond to Jesus’ invitation, “Come and see.” I would like to propose two such possibilities.

Neither will come as any great surprise because they are time-honoured means of getting to know Jesus better. The first, and most obvious, is to sit down with the Gospel on a regular basis and simply to read what happens there.

The second means may not be so obvious and yet it is a very ancient one in our Christian tradition. I refer to contemplation, or as it is sometimes referred to “Christian Meditation”. Our faith teaches us that, from the moment of our baptism, God comes to make a home in us – “in us”. We do not need to go off to far off places to find God (I am not for one second decrying the idea of pilgrimage, which helps many people to connect with God). God is already here WITHIN us, present to us. The ‘trick’, as it were, is simply for us to be present to that God, and it comes about through silence, deep silence.

In contemplation/meditation we try to let go of all thoughts, to empty our minds so that we can become aware of God’s presence within. I will always remember a workshop that I took part in where we looked at this kind of prayer. One of the other participants was profoundly deaf. She wore two hearing aids but relied almost entirely on lip-reading to understand what people were saying to her. When told about this prayer of silence she thought, “This is a doddle for me. All I have to do is to switch off my hearing aids and that’s it.” What she said next really hit home, “When I switched them off the noise got louder!” Whatever the status of our own hearing the loudest distractions to silent prayer will always come from within, thoughts, feelings, things I should be doing, what I thought about so and so and what he/she said yesterday. They will all come crowding in seeking attention. All we have to do is to let go, pay them no attention, give them no energy and let them go.

Sitting for 10-20 minutes in complete silence, eyes closed, feet firmly on the ground, back straight, repeating a word or short phrase as a mantra – “Abba”, “Maranatha”, or simply “Jesus”. Now, although this bears some similarities to ‘mindfulness’ and to some Buddhist meditation patterns, it is truly and fundamentally a Christian practise. It allows us, even and perhaps especially when we are locked down to answer that invitation of Jesus today in our Gospel, “Come and see.”

Try Googling "WCCM"

The World Community for Christian Meditation

Sunday 10th January pm

Below you will find two links to two short (12-13 minutes) presentations about St Mark’s Gospel. This will be our Gospel for weekdays as of Monday 11th January until the beginning of Lent, and on Sundays from 24th January until halfway through Lent, then again when we return to Ordinary Time later in the year.

This First Presentation offers an overview of the Gospel: how it came to be written, who wrote it, etc.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjFLl16ftkU

This Second Presentation offers some insights into some of the main features of St Mark’s Gospel which people will recognise in the coming weeks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSNkCNOqA8M&t=4s

The Gospel of St Mark Part 2

YOUTUBE.COM

The Gospel of St Mark Part 2

The second part of a presentation introducing St Mark's Gospel to par


Sunday 10th January The Baptism of the Lord 2021

“The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim him with their mouths and deny him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.” K.Rahner

Karl Rahner was one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the previous century. Much of his theological work is quite impenetrable, even to many specialists, but when giving talks to non-specialists his message was always limpid clear… as in this quotation. Proclaiming belief without living it is the fundamental counter-witness, not just to Christianity but to any religion that seeks to promote justice, peace and harmony between peoples. It turns people away.

Within our own church the crisis over abuse is what comes readily to mind as the number one cause of people turning their backs on faith. This last week in the United States we heard people claiming that they were doing God’s work and that God was on their side, who then went about fomenting violent insurrection. Advocating and perpetrating violence in the name of Jesus Christ is another key factor in promoting atheism today, because it is unequivocally the opposite of Jesus’ words of teaching and his actions.

As Christians we profess our belief not only in what Jesus did and said, but we are also called upon to imitate the manner in which he delivered his message, and to try to uphold this in how we try to live our lives.

Today we celebrate Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, the beginning of his public ministry. In typically terse fashion, giving us precious few details, St Mark’s account of this event simply tells us THAT he was baptised and what Jesus, and no one else, saw at the time.

Celebrating this feast of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry early in January each year is both a reminder of, and an opportunity to, renew the vows of our own baptism. Amongst today’s Readings at Mass, it is to the Second, from one of St John’s letters, to which we turn to flesh out what this baptism calling involves, “… (T)his is what loving God is – keeping his commandments; and these are not difficult…” They are not “difficult” because Jesus himself, in his manner both of living and dying, has given us the example we are to follow in what St John goes on to call “the victory over the world- our faith”.

In these last few days, for obvious reasons, I have been thinking over the particular example of lived faith given by Fr David Milburn. Like all of us, and he would have been the first to acknowledge this, David had his faults and shortcomings but his faith and especially the manner in which he lived that faith, both in his ministry as a priest and in his everyday life simply as a human person, had a quality about it that attracted people to the same faith.

If the poor example of Christians is the primary cause of atheism in the world today, the lived example of a properly Christian faith will be a powerful counter witness and will promote Jesus’ message. We have the opportunity to renew our commitment to that faith today, as we come now to renew our baptismal vows.

Saturday 9th January

Just a reminder that, with our churches being closed for the time being, Mass will be live streamed tomorrow at 9.30am.

In the meantime here is the homily I preached on the Feast of the Epiphany...

The Epiphany 2021

From the very beginning of his Gospel, and all the way through it, St Matthew is clear that the message of salvation which begins with Jesus’ birth is for all who will accept him. No one group, race or tribe has a monopoly on this Messiah. The Genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel, that great long list of unpronounceable names of Jesus’ ancestors, includes the great, the good, the sinner and the unknown of Jewish history, as well as one or two ‘foreigners’, in the shape of some of the women who are listed. The Visit of the Magi emphasises the universality of Jesus’ message, and one other thing besides…

Although the message of salvation is for all people without exception, not everyone accepts it, even in the Gospel itself. Time and time again we find the very people who ought to accept the Messiah actually rejecting him or his invitation to them to follow: especially the scribes and the Pharisees. This Visit of the Magi is a case in point. The people who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah, the Jews, are represented in this story as people who reject Jesus. Herod, who called himself “the King of the Jews”, not only rejects this Messiah but actively seeks to have him killed. The same will happen thirty-some years later when Jesus is on trial before Pontius Pilate.

The people who do accept Jesus are ones that have travelled hundreds of miles from far off places to pay homage to the one they recognise as a king. In contrast Herod and the authorities from the Temple, who live only 5 or 6 miles away, neither come to visit nor will they accept this child as their king and saviour.

As we celebrate the final act of the Christmas Story the same offer is made to us: accept or reject this person and his message. Our presence at this celebration, either in the flesh or virtually, suggests that we do accept this message. Our task, in God’s grace, is to show this by the way we live our lives.

Wednesday 6th January pm.

After Mass this evening at St Aidan's our two churches will be closed until the current restrictions are lifted.

The warnings about how contagious is this current strain of the Covid Virus are quite clear, and the personnel and facilities of the NHS need to be protected as much as possible.

In the circumstances it would be unjust to ask anyone to risk their health as stewards, and equally unjust for us to be the potential cause of others being infected, however innocently that might happen.

From Sunday morning and until further notice the schedule of live streamed Masses will be:

Sunday 9.30am

Tuesday 10.00am

Wednesday 10.00am

Thursday 10.00am

Friday 10.00am

Other postings and events will be advertised on this Facebook Page as and when they become available.

Please stay safe.... and at home, everyone!

God Bless,

Sean Hall

Sunday 3rd January - 2nd Sunday of Christmas 2021

For over two weeks now our Gospel Readings at Mass have been narratives, stories of the events leading up to and surrounding Jesus’ birth. We have heard about Mary and Joseph, of course, but also Elizabeth, Zechariah and John the Baptist. We have heard about shepherds, about Simeon and Anna and, in a few days’ time, we will hear of the Visit of the Magi. Of course, even these stories are reflections of people recalling events that took place many years earlier, but today we truly move away from story to deep reflection. We do this with the aid of the two “heavy-weights” of the New Testament, St John and St Paul.

St Paul, who is writing much earlier than St John, is quite possibly languishing in jail during one of his many imprisonments for preaching about Jesus. He has time on his hands and begins this Letter to the Ephesians with deeply reflective prayers of blessing and thanksgiving: blessing for God’s plan of salvation for all humankind, an eternal plan always in place from the very beginning; and thanksgiving that the people to whom he is writing are included in this plan. He is also praying that they grow deeper in the appreciation of what these events mean, “May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see… what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit.” Those “saints” are the people to whom he is writing, and we are the “saints” of today, who listen to these same words: called to follow that same pattern of deepening our appreciation of all that God does for us in Jesus.

St John’s words at the opening of his Gospel read like a meditative poem on the same themes that Paul writes about, only John uses the idea of “the Word” to refer to Jesus. This Word was both with God and was God from the start: Jesus, “True God”. That Word became flesh: Jesus, “True Human Person”. In reflecting round and round and round about the interplay between Word, light and life St John makes the simple, but startling, comment that we also used as our response to the Psalm today, “The Word was made flesh, he lived among us.”

The main point St John is making, however, is that “his own people did not accept him. But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.” We are offered the same opportunity: to reject or to accept this presence among us. At the beginning of a New Year amongst other resolutions we might make, is this one about accepting both the presence and the consequent challenges it makes of us in all that we do.

Friday 1st January 2021 pm

Happy New Year Everyone, and apologies for the technical problems with the live streaming of Mass this morning. Who knew that to be a priest these days you also need to be a sound engineer! It appears that I had not pushed the microphone jack into the socket on the iPad fully this morning, hence the terrible interference.

Hopefully such glitches will be avoided with the live streaming of the Masses this weekend. In the meantime here is a copy of what I said in my homily but which you probably did not hear!

Feast of Mary, the Mother of God

New Year’s Day 2021

After the end of the second lockdown I was catching up on baptisms that had been deferred for months. One of them was for the baby of a couple who are not originally from this country. The father has only been in the area for about 18 months and they don’t know many people at all around here. There were only six adults plus the baby present at the Baptism. A couple of weeks later I received a phone call from the mother. They had some documents for the baby that needed to be witnessed by a British National, “Was I prepared to be that witness?” Of course, I was, and we arranged for them to come and have the papers witnessed in the hall here, suitably masked and distanced.

At the appointed hour I saw the car come into the car park, so I went to open the side door into the hall. I stood for what felt like 5 minutes, but was probably only 2, while in the howling gale and driving rain, they manoeuvred the cot-seat out of the back of a small 3-door car, making sure that the baby was well wrapped up to be protected from the elements, retrieving the bag with all the baby stuff in it, and finally the brief case with the papers in it. It was like watching a major operation. In fact, any time they leave the house now it will be like preparing for a major expedition – to climb Everest, or to trek across Antarctica. Once that third body arrives into this world nothing, absolutely nothing, remains the same for that couple. Everything changes, forever. Those of you who are parents and grandparents know this well enough. The rest of us just look at what happens with bemusement and great admiration.

Catering for a baby is, of course, hugely more complicated nowadays than it would have been for Mary and Joseph, but the basic dynamic was the same: a third, very tiny and vulnerable body has arrived in their midst and nothing will ever be the same again for them. We are given precious few details of what happened in Jesus’ upbringing. We hear today of his circumcision. We know he was presented in the Temple some weeks later; that the family had to flee as refugees to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath; that when they returned, they went to live in Nazareth; that at the age of twelve (reaching adult status according to Jewish Law) Jesus was lost in the Temple for three days; and that is it.

The scarcity of details leaves room for our imaginations to take over, as is true in much of the Gospel accounts even of Jesus’ public ministry. We are invited to use our imagination but not to create some weird fantasy world not rooted in the reality of Jesus’ own day. As with the difference between transporting a baby around today as back then, so our imaginations must be rooted in that fundamental experience of parenthood, motherhood in Mary’s case, such a core human experience does not alter over time. Those of you who are familiar with such experience have much to tell the rest of us and having that experience will allow you to understand much more deeply Mary’s discipleship in her motherhood.

The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem changed everything for Mary and Joseph. It changes everything for us. Nothing is ever quite the same again. Light and hope have entered the world and they can never be snuffed out, no matter what obstacles and challenges face us. Mary accepted the challenges of motherhood and in her example, she offers us the model of how we are to accept the challenge of following her son in our own lives in this New Year.

Sunday 27th December Christmas Sunday 2020 (Readings for the Mass at Dawn)

“When the kindness and love of God our saviour for humankind were revealed, it was not because of any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us.”

That idea of absolute gratuitous action on God’s part is extraordinarily difficult for us to take on board. We are cultured into a transactional system where good behaviour is rewarded and bad behaviour is punished. We call things ‘gifts’ or ‘presents’ but from a very young age we are groomed into a reward and punishment system. A question that Santa always asks any child brought to him for a present is, “Have you been a good girl/good boy?” Now there is nothing wrong with this. Good behaviour is necessary for a well-functioning community of any kind from a family unit to a classroom, to a place of work to a whole society. That said our faith tells us that this is not enough for a community to truly flourish centred on love: marriage and family life suggest examples of places where love is called to flourish beyond the merely transactional. More is needed for this than a simple balance sheet mentality.

For the first time in my life I have read Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in the last few days. I have watched various screen versions and bits of musicals based on the tale, but I had never read it until the last few days. Scrooge, whose name quickly became synonymous with miserliness and a thoroughly miserable outlook on life, is visited by three people before he reluctantly has to close down his business for a day off:– Christmas Day. To his nephew who wants to invite Scrooge to celebrate with his family comes the famous riposte, “Bah, humbug!” To the two gentlemen who come seeking a contribution to help provide some food for poor, struggling families, Scrooge’s responses are truly shocking, “Are there not prisons for these people? Are the workhouses not functioning?” When told that people would rather die than go to these places he really lets rip,

“If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides – excuse me – I don’t know that.”

When told that he might know it he responds,

“It’s not my business. It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s.”

The Book of Genesis records a much simpler response by Cain, when God asks him the whereabouts of his brother Abel, who he has just killed, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Actually, of course, he is his brother’s keeper. As human persons we are to have regard for one another, to care for one another, to share some of God’s love and compassion that we have received – the utterly unearned gift that enables us to be truly loving and compassionate in return.

Just as we have been shocked by the money-grubbing response of some businesses who have secured some very lucrative and often unfulfilled contracts during this pandemic, more often than that we have been inspired by the extraordinary generosity of some other firms and of many, many ordinary folk turning to help others in their various needs at this time. The shockingly bad example of some leaves a bad taste, but the goodness of so many people is what truly inspires and helps human flourishing.

Goodness, gratuitousness, compassion and love are what God knew would assist his creation to move towards those same qualities in everything we do. The unearned gift of the baby born in Bethlehem is the first in a series of such gifts given us during the lifetime of this child.

Christmas Day 2020

For all of us I suspect that this will be among the strangest Christmases we have ever experienced. Parishioners from our oldest generation will remember war-time Christmases in this country, or those in the years following when food and other goods were rationed. Those of us who have come from other countries to this one will have their own memories of how Christmas is spent in those places. Some parishioners will know Christmases spent in real poverty in times past, and perhaps not a very distant past either. Some may even have spent Christmases in dangerous situations.

This year the secular celebration of Christmas is very curtailed, and we have been unable to hold traditional religious events like carol services, Nativity Plays, Christingles, the Blessing of the Christmas Tree and so on. The deeper celebration of Christmas, however, need not be curtailed at all. In fact, it may even be easier to achieve in many ways this year, given how many fewer distractions we face. In this we can take the lead from the character, next to Jesus himself, who is most central to these events: Mary.

There is sometimes a temptation to restrict Mary’s role to her saying, “Yes”, to the angel at the Annunciation. “Be it done unto me according to your word,” and that is that. However, that was only the beginning of a life-long relationship with her son. Those of you who experience motherhood first-hand are the only ones truly qualified to understand this. Mary experienced the nine months gestation of her pregnancy, the trauma of giving birth, the subsequent joy, the early months and years of intimate care and nurture of a baby.

As time went on, she would also experience the on-going nurturing responsibilities of any mother of a growing child, gradually having to allow her child more and more freedom and responsibility with all the anxiety that brings with it. Added to this she also experienced the trauma of fleeing her country to seek asylum, safety, in another country for a time. Traditionally Joseph is thought to have died when Jesus was only young and so would come the experience of being a single mother. Worst of all, of course, she had to endure the suffering and death of her child.

Mary’s experience of discipleship, like that of her motherhood was lifelong, and it kept changing as different circumstances and challenges came her way. Her initial, “Yes”, at the Annunciation was simply the first in a series of “yeses”. Today we share in Marys’ joy. That will remain with us in the days ahead, as we savour the events we are celebrating, allowing their light and hope to brighten both our own lives at this time, and our own ability, along with Mary, of saying “Yes” to God’s calling in the ever-changing circumstances of our own lives.

Sunday 20th December - 4th Sunday in Advent 2020

The link between all three Readings today is faith: faith that is trust in God and God’s promises. David and Mary are each called to trust in a promise made by God, and the Christian community in Rome, to whom St Paul is writing, is called on to bring others to what he calls “the obedience of faith”. Faith is the gift given to us by God that enables us to trust, but we need to be clear about where our trust is called to lie. It is always in the God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. By extension, we are able trust anyone who truly embodies the will and actions of Christ. Trust is extremely precious because it is so easily lost and very, very difficult to regain once it is lost, just ask the government about that with regard to the pandemic.

Our church has suffered a catastrophic loss in trust over the whole abuse scandal. As if the abuse carried out by priests and others in positions of authority in the church and church-related institutions, was not already bad enough, the way that victims were then treated by church authorities has only compounded matters. On many occasions Michael Marr, the late former parish priest here at St Mary’s, and I would recall when we were students together in Ushaw College, a spiritual talk given by the parish priest of my home parish, Fr John Loftus. At one point in his talk he said, “At some stage gentlemen in your ministry you will have to decide whether you are a Christ Man or a Church Man.” Neither of us knew quite what he meant at that time, but it became clear as we both came into ordained ministry.

In the Church, the mandate of all clergy is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and only the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not the Gospel of the Church. There is no such thing. However, tragically, some clerics have been prone to uphold the image of the institution of the church rather than of the Person whose Good News makes the church possible. “Image” rather than “substance” came first, with some dire consequences, as is plain for all to see.

In Mary’s example of trust we see a true model for our own faith. What the Angel Gabriel tells her is momentous. She is not naïve, and her call to faith is not naïve, naturally she asks for some clarification, “How can this come about?” Once the matter is clarified, she accepts the Angel’s words and puts her faith in the God who lies behind the words of that Angel. That trust in God will prevail in all kinds of trials and tribulations over the coming years, as we shall see as the Gospel story unfolds over the next days and weeks.

Mary’s question for clarification is important. We are not called upon to place our trust in something ridiculous or idiotic. Just this last week we have heard of a number of instances of real idiocy dressed up as faith, (sadly the kind of idiocy that gives religion a bad name). A lawyer contesting the result of the recent Presidential Election in the U.S. is continuing with her fight because, as she said, “I know Jesus is behind me on this. I will succeed because I am doing God’s will.” Another person has said that they will refuse to receive any Covid vaccine because, “I believe in Jesus, and Jesus will protect me.” The fact that Jesus is protecting her through the incredible world-wide effort to find vaccines, seems not to have impinged on her consciousness. The God hailed by those two people is not the God brought to birth by Mary’s saying yes to God’s will. That God is someone truly worthy of trust and we rejoice once again at his advent among us, truly light in the darkness of these days.

Sunday 13th December - 3rd Sunday of Advent 2020

For some reason where John the Baptist says here in St John’s Gospel, “I baptise you with water,” he is setting up a contrast between his ritual and that of Jesus but does not carry it through. St John stops short of reporting the Baptist’s next words, found in the other Gospels, “He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit,” and yet it is this Spirit that is the link between all three of our Readings today. Isaiah talks of “the spirit of the Lord” that has been given him, and St Paul warns the Thessalonians, “Never try to suppress the spirit.” This spirit, and its coming on us and among us, is a key part of what we are celebrating at this time of year.

We begin the traditional Angelus Prayer, “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit.” This effect of this spirit – Holy Spirit, spirit of the Lord, she has a number of names – is given, according to Isaiah, to enable him “to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken.” Along with this news are signs of new life: fresh things growing, seeds springing up and so on. All of this comes to us by what St John mentions in his Gospel as “light”: “the light of the world”, as Jesus is called.

In these dark, dark days before Christmas, and in the darkness of these last several months we crave for light – not the light of a false dawn – but true light. We long for the happiness that St Paul talks about in that Second Reading, “Be happy at all times,” but not the sort of superficial happiness that brings a faint, wan smile to the face and then just as quickly disappears. We seek true, deep down and solid happiness, the sort that accompanies the good news described by Isaiah.

Jesus’ message, beginning with his birth in Bethlehem, is that light and happiness can truly be experienced in this world by following the way he will describe later at the beginning of his Public Ministry in the Beatitudes. In the Spirit we are able here and now to live in that light that we crave so much, and our Advent preparations are about letting go of all those things in our life that want to stay in the darkness. Sometimes such things can appear to offer light and happiness, but they are superficial. By allowing the ‘light of the world’ to shine in our lives we will experience already, here and now, something of that deep down, solid happiness that gives us true hope.

Sunday 6th December - 2nd Sunday in Advent 2020 

Today's Homily...

“Waiting” is a theme of this moment: the moment that we are living through in this pandemic, and the moment which is our Season of Advent. There is much in common between both “moments”.

Just this week light has been seen at the end of the dark tunnel through which all humanity has been travelling in these last long months. An effective vaccine has been discovered, approved and about to be launched that offers hope. It promises to be one of many due to come on stream in the coming months. Of course, some of our self-obsessed politicians cannot stop themselves from claiming this as a great victory for this country. Yes, a vaccine developed in Germany, by scientists of Turkish origin, funded by German and American money and which is manufactured in Belgium is ours – but only in the sense that it is an achievement of collective, international, humanitarian endeavour, and not one belonging solely to some small island off the coast of mainland Europe. It is most certainly not the achievement of a few self-obsessed and self-serving politicians. Hope, true hope, has to be seen in its broadest context, as something for all of humanity without exception, including and especially the poorest of the world.

This is what the Jewish People were called to understand by the Prophet Isaiah in our First Reading, and it is a theme lying behind the call to wait both patiently and with an active sense of repentance for our sinfulness in our other Readings. Whilst it is true that the Jewish People are told that their time of punishment is coming to an end – an end to an Exile caused in the first instance by their own stubborn refusal to be faithful to their Covenant with God – they are also told that, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it”. This “glory of the Lord”, as they will hear some verses later, is made manifest not in some mighty Jewish figure, rather it comes about through God using a pagan, a foreigner: Cyrus the King of Persia. A key element of the teaching of this Isaiah is for the People to realise that their God is the God of all peoples, and who cares for all peoples, not just them.

We are waiting, patiently and actively, for the coming among us of the Saviour born in Bethlehem, once again. This is a Saviour not of one nation but of all nations. Just as the endeavours of scientists, researchers, human guinea pigs, financiers, manufacturers, distributors, doctors, nurses, the list is almost endless, is a celebration of what humankind collectively can achieve, when working together towards a much-needed common goal for all people on our planet. It is not the property of one nation. Just as the Saviour we prepare to greet at Christmas is not the property of one nation.

Our patient waiting for the Saviour is one characterised by a true resolve to change our sinful ways, with God’s help. Our patient waiting for the end of the pandemic is characterised by keeping to the rules about how to stay safe and keep others safe, while we wait for that chink of light given by this first vaccine to grow. Both “moments” of the pandemic and the Season have much in common.

Friday 4th December pm

We resume our usual Mass schedule this weekend. Remember that you need to book in if you are intending to come to any of them. They will all be live streamed, technology permitting! In the meantime here are some reflections on the Readings for Sunday.

Reflections of the Readings for the 2nd Sunday in Advent

Is. 40:1-5, 9-11, 2 Pet. 3:8-14 & Mk. 1:1-8

Known as “the Book of Consolation”, from the opening words of today’s First Reading, this second part of the Book of Isaiah was written about 150 years after the earlier chapters. Written at a time when the Jewish People are held captive in exile in Babylon, the author sees hope on the horizon in the shape of a new dominant world power – Persia. Soon the people will be able to return to their homeland. The journey back will be made as easy as possible: mountains laid low and valleys filled in. This is their God coming to their rescue. Notice that he comes both “with power, his arm subduing all things in him,” and, “Like a shepherd feeding his flock.” This God is both strong and tender at the same time.

The author of our Second Reading is calling for both patience and action on the part of the people to whom he is writing. People were obviously murmuring about the apparent delay of the Second Coming and they are told to be patient. At the same time, however, they are called to be active in “living holy and saintly lives while you wait”. Our waiting in Advent is not passive. We are called to wait patiently but to live everyday as true, faithful disciples.

These are the opening words of St Mark’s Gospel. There is no gentle introduction to Jesus with information about his birth and early life. We are launched straight into “the Good News about Jesus, the Son of God”. Echoing the words of Isaiah from our First Reading about preparing the way for the Lord, John the Baptist is seen as the herald who announces the coming of the Messiah. Once this is said, St Mark is ready to introduce Jesus himself.

Sunday 29th November pm

During the first two weeks of Advent the First Readings at Mass come from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Here are some thoughts on his writings...

Advent and the Prophet Isaiah

Prophecy in the Ancient World

Who among us has not fantasised about knowing in advance the winning numbers in the National Lottery, or the winner of the Grand National? Even if you have not had those particular fantasies, I am sure that there have been occasions when you have desperately wanted to know what was going to happen in the future. This has been a wish for humans since the dawn of time and it has often been mixed in with religion.

In pre-scientific times astronomy and astrology were much the same thing. The Magi who came to visit the Infant King in Bethlehem were representatives of this urge to know the future that in ancient religions also involved soothsaying and divination. Prophets were to be found in all religions, including Judaism. Prophecy was a profession and practitioners could be found attached to any major shrine where people came to worship. The problem was, of course, that in divining the future people always preferred to hear good news rather than bad, and were more likely to pay better for it, as well… So, prophecy of this kind could easily become debased into letting people hear what they wanted to hear.

Prophecy in Judaism

In Judaism, however, another kind of prophet emerged. Rather than being a person who predicted the future, this kind of prophet became a teacher of right conduct in relation to the Covenant. It is this understanding of prophecy that we use in the church today when we talk of the threefold gifts of baptism, of our participation in Christ – Priest, Prophet and King. Prophecy here is about teaching. John Henry Newman published a series of lectures on “The Prophetical Office of the Church” (i.e. The Teaching Office). In this sense prophets are not so much ‘fore-tellers’ as ‘forth-tellers’: telling forth God’s message.

There are many examples of people fulfilling a prophetical role in the Old Testament – Moses and Elijah, for example – but with the likes of Amos, Hosea and Isaiah something new came about: what would ultimately become a whole section of the Bible devoted to the writings of various prophets. These are all people who offer teaching about God and the Covenant without fear or favour.

Isaiah is without doubt the best known of these prophets. His writings are the most quoted in the New Testament and they are used most frequently in the Liturgy of the Church. For the first two weeks of Advent our First Readings come from the Book of Isaiah and his writings are featured on many other occasions in our Liturgy.

The Writings of Isaiah

Because the writings in the Book of Isaiah cover a period of over 150 years it is clear that more than one author is involved in this single book. A later editor has compiled the book, but it is still one coherent whole and can be read as such. However, to understand what is written in the various sections it is very helpful to know that Chapters 1-39 were written in the mid 8th Century BCE, Chapters 40-55 in the 6th Century towards the end of the Exile in Babylon, and chapters 56-66 sometime after the Exiles had returned to their native land.

In the first section of the writings the Prophet is concerned that the people had turned away from their observance of the Covenant. A key part of that observance was supposed to be fair and just treatment of others, but too often, according to the Prophet, people simply paid lip-service to their religious observance. They kept the sabbath and the various feast days but could hardly wait for these to be over so that they could get back to cheating their customers and neighbours. The prophets thus became a rich source for teaching on social justice issues in both Judaism and Christianity.

Another deviation from observing the Covenant came about when they began to rely not on their God but on alliances with other nations and their gods to stand up against the dominant power at that time – the Assyrians. In poetry, prose and from personal examples from his own life, Isaiah points out the error of going in such a direction. Only Yahweh, the One God of the Covenant was capable of saving the nation. The wrongful ways of the people would lead to dreadful consequences, as became all too clear in later events. Isaiah is not all doom and gloom, however, because ultimately this same God will triumph and offer hope to his people.

Later, in the Sixth Century, the nation did collapse in face of the next dominant power in the region: Babylon. Jerusalem was captured, the Temple razed to the ground and the People taken off into Exile. Thus, when the Second Isaiah came to write his section of the book, he continues the theme of the power of the One God in that another foreign ruler, Cyrus of the now dominant Persian Empire, who will become an instrument of Israel’s God - the only, universal God – in allowing the People to return to their native land. This part of Isaiah is also known, therefore, as the “Book of Consolation”, taking its name from the opening words of Chapter 40.

As we read various passages from Isaiah in the first part of Advent try to notice his emphasis on these two themes in particular: there is only one supreme God and no other; the Covenant with that God demands that we treat others justly.

Sunday 29th November
1st Sunday in Advent 2020

Towards the end of the first lockdown the government came up with a new slogan, a mnemonic to help us adjust ourselves to the “new normal”. Part of that slogan changed the message from “Stay Home” to “Stay Alert”. Some people criticised this change as being a kop out on the part of the government. What did “Stay Alert” mean in practice? Surely this was just letting them off the hook if anything were to go wrong, “We told you to stay alert! If something has gone wrong, it is all your own fault!”

Whatever the merits of the new slogan, the idea of taking on personal responsibility for our actions is an important one for all adults. Sadly, I am sure that we can all point to examples of the childish responses of people who refuse to accept any responsibility for the actions, both inside and outside of governments! Taking personal responsibility for our actions is one of the signs of being a mature adult and it is something that the command at the end of today’s Gospel, “Stay awake!” points towards as we begin a new year of our own journey of faith in our Liturgy.

As we are aware Advent is a season of waiting. Although most people are focused solely on the coming of Christmas, in this first part of the Church’s season of Advent the focus is on waiting for the Second Coming and our preparedness to meet the Lord. The command to, “Stay awake,” is a key part of that preparedness.

Our First Reading comes from the final part of the writings of Isaiah. By the time this part of the Book of Isaiah came to be written, the Jewish people had suffered the humiliation of the destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent Exile in Babylon. Now, they had returned to their native land, but it was a mere shadow of its former glory, and the effort to restore things around was grim and seemingly unending. People were tempted to abandon the harsh lessons learned about what happens when they abandoned their Covenant with God. They were beginning to forget that the previous sinfulness had resulted in death, destruction and exile. In today’s passage the Prophet is calling them back to faithfulness as they await the coming of better times.

Our own waiting at this time includes an end to the current lockdown but then life under what is called “Tier 3” and its restrictions. Each of us has a responsibility both for our own lives and the well-being of those around us. A key part of “staying awake” at this time is to be aware of those responsibilities. It is also a call to reflect on anything in our behaviour and attitudes in general that we may need to change in the light of our own call to be faithful to our Covenant with God through Baptism.

Saturday 28th November

I am taking a break from posting reflections on the Readings for all Masses for a while. However, I will be posting other reflections from time to time and will continue to live stream Masses as we move into Tier 3 restrictions.

For the moment, here are links to a huge range of Advent Resources offered by our diocese....

INTRODUCTION

Advent is when the Church re-sets the calendar of our remembering and celebrating the saving work of Christ. This Advent is more challenging due to the pandemic. A set of resources have been created by Clergy and Laity from across the Diocese and are offered as a life-buoy, remedy and prayer book for the days ahead. It is hoped that you may be able to print these resources out for those who do not have access to the internet.These resources will include (click on links to view to each section):Daily video prayer reflections compiled by the Youth Ministry Team and entitled ‘Wait-A-Minute, it's Advent’.Weekly Advent packs include daily reflections on the readings alongside themed quotes from the Bible and Saints and an element of creativity for people stuck indoors. They will run through Advent and the Christmas Octave. Weekly Advent videos entitled, ‘Advent in a Pandemic!’ These four short Advent reflections by David Wells are written with this year of disruption and fatigue in mind.Coming soon… Additional Advent resources that signposts people to the many rich resources that are available online for Advent this year. Advent Prayer Groups offering you access to a sharing site that includes resources available online such as poetry, prayers and liturgies and also contains some training documents and safeguarding documents for leading prayer groups via zoom.Diocesan Church Music Association (DCMA) are offering an introductory online tutorial on ‘Creating Home–based Music for Advent and Christmas’ being held on Tuesday 1 December. They have also produced a compilation of suggestions for suitable music for the Sundays of Advent.

WEEKLY ADVENT PACKS

Week 1 - Advent reflections (pdf).Week 2 - Advent reflections (pdf).

WEEKLY ADVENT REFLECTIONS FROM DAVID WELLS

Weekly Advent videos entitled, ‘Advent in a Pandemic!’ These four short Advent reflections by David Wells are written with this year of disruption and fatigue in mind.All the videos are available for playback from the day and can be found through our YouTube playlist.

ADVENT CALENDAR – VIDEO REFLECTIONS:

In association with the Youth Ministry Team we are sharing daily advent video reflections. The 'Wait-A-Minute, it's Advent' reflections will hopefully help us prepare for this coming season! Videos will be published daily at 7.00am. All the videos are available for playback from the day and can be found through our YouTube playlist.

Advent Reflections

In association with the Youth Ministry Team we are sharing daily advent video reflections. The 'Wait-A-Minute, its Advent' reflections will hopefully help us...

Friday 27th November pm

The following is an article from the New York Times. It is a piece written by Pope Francis and is part of a book that is soon to be published. In this piece he talks about his own experience of severe lung disease and how he empathises with those suffering from Covid-19. It might seem at first to be rather long but it is well worth persevering to the end!

Pope Francis: A Crisis Reveals What Is in Our Hearts

To come out of this pandemic better than we went in, we must let ourselves be touched by others’ pain.

By Pope Francis

Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church and the bishop of Rome.

• Nov. 26, 2020

n this past year of change, my mind and heart have overflowed with people. People I think of and pray for, and sometimes cry with, people with names and faces, people who died without saying goodbye to those they loved, families in difficulty, even going hungry, because there’s no work.

Sometimes, when you think globally, you can be paralyzed: There are so many places of apparently ceaseless conflict; there’s so much suffering and need. I find it helps to focus on concrete situations: You see faces looking for life and love in the reality of each person, of each people. You see hope written in the story of every nation, glorious because it’s a story of daily struggle, of lives broken in self-sacrifice. So rather than overwhelm you, it invites you to ponder and to respond with hope.

These are moments in life that can be ripe for change and conversion. Each of us has had our own “stoppage,” or if we haven’t yet, we will someday: illness, the failure of a marriage or a business, some great disappointment or betrayal. As in the Covid-19 lockdown, those moments generate a tension, a crisis that reveals what is in our hearts.

In every personal “Covid,” so to speak, in every “stoppage,” what is revealed is what needs to change: our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected.

When I got really sick at the age of 21, I had my first experience of limit, of pain and loneliness. It changed the way I saw life. For months, I didn’t know who I was or whether I would live or die. The doctors had no idea whether I’d make it either. I remember hugging my mother and saying, “Just tell me if I’m going to die.” I was in the second year of training for the priesthood in the diocesan seminary of Buenos Aires.

I remember the date: Aug. 13, 1957. I got taken to a hospital by a prefect who realized mine was not the kind of flu you treat with aspirin. Straightaway they took a liter and a half of water out of my lungs, and I remained there fighting for my life. The following November they operated to take out the upper right lobe of one of the lungs. I have some sense of how people with Covid-19 feel as they struggle to breathe on a ventilator.

I remember especially two nurses from this time. One was the senior ward matron, a Dominican sister who had been a teacher in Athens before being sent to Buenos Aires. I learned later that following the first examination by the doctor, after he left she told the nurses to double the dose of medication he had prescribed — basically penicillin and streptomycin — because she knew from experience I was dying. Sister Cornelia Caraglio saved my life. Because of her regular contact with sick people, she understood better than the doctor what they needed, and she had the courage to act on her knowledge.

Another nurse, Micaela, did the same when I was in intense pain, secretly prescribing me extra doses of painkillers outside my due times. Cornelia and Micaela are in heaven now, but I’ll always owe them so much. They fought for me to the end, until my eventual recovery. They taught me what it is to use science but also to know when to go beyond it to meet particular needs. And the serious illness I lived through taught me to depend on the goodness and wisdom of others.

This theme of helping others has stayed with me these past months. In lockdown I’ve often gone in prayer to those who sought all means to save the lives of others. So many of the nurses, doctors and caregivers paid that price of love, together with priests, and religious and ordinary people whose vocations were service. We return their love by grieving for them and honoring them.

Whether or not they were conscious of it, their choice testified to a belief: that it is better to live a shorter life serving others than a longer one resisting that call. That’s why, in many countries, people stood at their windows or on their doorsteps to applaud them in gratitude and awe. They are the saints next door, who have awakened something important in our hearts, making credible once more what we desire to instill by our preaching.

They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference. They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves, not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service.

With some exceptions, governments have made great efforts to put the well-being of their people first, acting decisively to protect health and to save lives. The exceptions have been some governments that shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths, with inevitable, grievous consequences. But most governments acted responsibly, imposing strict measures to contain the outbreak.

Yet some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions — as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom! Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.

It is all too easy for some to take an idea — in this case, for example, personal freedom — and turn it into an ideology, creating a prism through which they judge everything.

The coronavirus crisis may seem special because it affects most of humankind. But it is special only in how visible it is. There are a thousand other crises that are just as dire, but are just far enough from some of us that we can act as if they don’t exist. Think, for example, of the wars scattered across different parts of the world; of the production and trade in weapons; of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing poverty, hunger and lack of opportunity; of climate change. These tragedies may seem distant from us, as part of the daily news that, sadly, fails to move us to change our agendas and priorities. But like the Covid-19 crisis, they affect the whole of humanity.

Look at us now: We put on face masks to protect ourselves and others from a virus we can’t see. But what about all those other unseen viruses we need to protect ourselves from? How will we deal with the hidden pandemics of this world, the pandemics of hunger and violence and climate change?

If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain. There’s a line in Friedrich Hölderlin’s “Hyperion” that speaks to me, about how the danger that threatens in a crisis is never total; there’s always a way out: “Where the danger is, also grows the saving power.” That’s the genius in the human story: There’s always a way to escape destruction. Where humankind has to act is precisely there, in the threat itself; that’s where the door opens.

This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.

God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labor. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. We need to slow down, take stock and design better ways of living together on this earth.

The pandemic has exposed the paradox that while we are more connected, we are also more divided. Feverish consumerism breaks the bonds of belonging. It causes us to focus on our self-preservation and makes us anxious. Our fears are exacerbated and exploited by a certain kind of populist politics that seeks power over society. It is hard to build a culture of encounter, in which we meet as people with a shared dignity, within a throwaway culture that regards the well-being of the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled and the unborn as peripheral to our own well-being.

To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.

Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic Church and the bishop of Rome. This essay has been adapted from his new book “Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future,” written with Austen Ivereigh.


Saturday 21st November pm

Here are some thoughts on the Readings for tomorrow's Mass.

Sunday, Feast of Christ the King – Ez. 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Cor. 15:20-26, 28; & Mt. 25:31-46

The Shepherd-King is an image that has come down through generations in the Scriptures and in the hymns of the Christian Church. As the Prophet Ezekiel looks forward to the return of the Exiles from Babylon the old, corrupt kingship in Israel is to be replaced by a different kind of leader: a shepherd. Already the people of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah had been scattered to the four winds. This dispersal – called “The Diaspora” – is to be reversed by this Shepherd who is to gather the scattered sheep, to rescue them, and to bring them back to their homeland. This is, of course, something we see fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ as shepherd and king. Notice also the final verse of the Reading which paves the way for the parable in our Gospel.

Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians focuses on the Resurrection as the foundational promise of resurrection for all. “All men (and women) will be brought to life in Christ.” The imagery continues in this passage as the Risen Christ is portrayed as the one who will hand over the kingdom to his Father, “so that God may be all in all”.

Six of the seven “Corporal Works of Mercy” (feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; clothing the naked; welcoming the stranger; visiting the sick; visiting those in prison; (burying the dead)) are the platform for this scene of the final Judgement in our Parable today. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Letter on the Call to Holiness Today, calls this, “The Great Criterion”, and quotes one of his predecessors, John Paul II, as saying that this parable is not just a call to action, it is a “Christology”: it gives us a real insight into who this person Jesus really is. He is the one who embodies in his ministry these works of mercy to “the least of my brothers and sisters” and who expects the same from all who claim to follow him.

Sunday 22nd November

Feast of Christ the King 2020

In that list of criteria for judgement – feeding, quenching thirst, welcoming, clothing, visiting the sick and the prisoner – we are given six of what came, traditionally, to be called “the Corporal Works of Mercy”. The seventh is, of course, “to bury the dead”. Pope Francis refers to this parable as the “Great Criterion” when he writes about the call to holiness in the world today. Certainly, as he writes, everything is underpinned by prayer, but holiness is clearly seen here as reaching out to any and all who are in need, “In so far as you did this to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” The point is to see Christ in the other, and not just the other in terms of friends and family, or people of the same race, social class and colour as myself, but seeing Christ in ALL people, friend and foe alike, “Welcoming the stranger”!

When he is writing about this parable Pope Francis refers to one of his predecessors – John Paul II – who pointed out that this parable is not just a command to be put into action, it is a piece of Christology. In other words, it tells us something important about who Jesus is in himself: Jesus is the one who looks out for and addresses the needs of all people, not just a chosen few of his followers. Before demanding this behaviour of his followers Jesus lived these works of mercy in all that he said and did. He does not ask of us anything that he has not already done himself.

Today is the final Sunday of the Church’s Year. Next week we embark once more on the Season of Advent and so begin a new chapter in our reflections on Jesus’ life and mission and our own call to discipleship. We end this year with this feast that reminds us that ultimately there is only one Lord to whom we owe complete obedience. We are also given in this Gospel Jesus’ final words of instruction to his disciples before the Last Supper, when he will show just how fully he himself will embody mercy to all, without exception.

When it was first promulgated this feast was conceived as an antidote to secular political regimes that claim to be absolute, the be all and end all of life. Firstly, this was found in Communism and then in Fascism. Today we see manifestations of the same claim to absolute power over life in many other guises across the world. Whatever other claims regimes may have, none may lay claim to be Christian or Godly in any way, if they do not try to embody in their actions this same set of criteria listed by Jesus in this parable.

We are given in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats a set of criteria by which we can evaluate our own lives as well as evaluate the programmes of political groups that seek our support. It is not the State or any person connected with the State who is ultimately the be all and end all of life, Christ, and only Christ, is King in all things.

Saturday 21st November pm

Here are some thoughts on the Readings for tomorrow's Mass.

Sunday, Feast of Christ the King – Ez. 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Cor. 15:20-26, 28; & Mt. 25:31-46

The Shepherd-King is an image that has come down through generations in the Scriptures and in the hymns of the Christian Church. As the Prophet Ezekiel looks forward to the return of the Exiles from Babylon the old, corrupt kingship in Israel is to be replaced by a different kind of leader: a shepherd. Already the people of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah had been scattered to the four winds. This dispersal – called “The Diaspora” – is to be reversed by this Shepherd who is to gather the scattered sheep, to rescue them, and to bring them back to their homeland. This is, of course, something we see fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ as shepherd and king. Notice also the final verse of the Reading which paves the way for the parable in our Gospel.

Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians focuses on the Resurrection as the foundational promise of resurrection for all. “All men (and women) will be brought to life in Christ.” The imagery continues in this passage as the Risen Christ is portrayed as the one who will hand over the kingdom to his Father, “so that God may be all in all”.

Six of the seven “Corporal Works of Mercy” (feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; clothing the naked; welcoming the stranger; visiting the sick; visiting those in prison; (burying the dead)) are the platform for this scene of the final Judgement in our Parable today. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Letter on the Call to Holiness Today, calls this, “The Great Criterion”, and quotes one of his predecessors, John Paul II, as saying that this parable is not just a call to action, it is a “Christology”: it gives us a real insight into who this person Jesus really is. He is the one who embodies in his ministry these works of mercy to “the least of my brothers and sisters” and who expects the same from all who claim to follow him.

Sunday 15th November pm

Here are some reflections on the Readings for the coming week.

Monday 33rd Week – Rev. 1:1-4, 2:1-5 & Lk. 18:35-43

In his introduction to the “Revelation of St John” in the NRJB Henry Wansbrough osb writes, “The purpose of Revelation it to reassure Christians under persecution that Christ will gloriously triumph over the evil pressures of Roman imperial rule, and especially of the idolatrous Roman imperial cult,” (called “The Whore of Babylon” in the text). It is most unlikely that this was written by John the Evangelist, even though it bears his name. The Book opens with “letters” to the seven great churches of Asia Minor, to whom it is addressed. The call is for repentance and a return to righteous behaviour.

Jesus is on the final stage of his journey to Jerusalem and now reaches Jericho where he meets a blind man begging at the side of the road. Notice how Jesus pushes the people, who were trying to silence the blind man’s pleas, to one side. Jesus always responds to the needs of those who seek his help. The man, although physically blind, recognises him as a “Son of David”, one of the key requisites of the Messiah. Here is the Messiah who is on his way to his own city, Jerusalem!

Tuesday 33rd Week – (17th November, Feast of St Hilda of Whitby) Rev. 3:1-6 & Lk. 19:1-10

From the outset of the Book of Revelation we find some very colourful and graphic imagery. Notice the dirty robes of the people of Sardis and the threat made to the people of Laodicea – “I will spit you out of my mouth.” This a rather mild translation of what is threatened to those who are lukewarm in their response to the Gospel! Clearly these letters to the churches are urgent calls to action, beginning with repentance.

The story of Zacchaeus is both famous and unique to St Luke’s Gospel. Along with Samaritans, prostitutes and other tax collectors, here a “senior” tax collector responds to Jesus’ invitation, unlike those who would have been expected to do so. Repentance brings about spectacular results, in spite of the “complaints” of a crowd who would have hated Zacchaeus, and with some justification! Salvation is possible for all people, for all who respond to Jesus’ words.

Wednesday 33rd Week – Rev. 4:1-11 & Lk. 19: 11-28

Chapter 4 of the Book of Revelation marks the beginning of the account of the revelations, after the letters to the seven churches. The first vision, and a theme that runs throughout, is a picture of the liturgy in heaven. There is only one “Person” in charge here and it is not the Roman Emperor or any of his local representatives who are persecuting these Christians! Notice the reference to the four animals grouped around the throne of God. These will be taken as symbols of the four evangelists in Christian iconography: Mark, the lion; Matthew, the “animal with the human face” (an angel) : Luke, the ox/bull; and John, the flying eagle.

Continuing the account of Jesus’ visit to Jericho now, that Zacchaeus has repented St Luke recounts the “Parable of the Pounds” – his equivalent of Matthew’s “Parable of the Talents”, which was our Gospel on Sunday. The message is a blunt one to those supposedly faithful Jews in the crowd who refuse to respond to Jesus’ words. Their stubborn lack of response is in complete contrast to that of the “senior tax collector”, Zacchaeus!

Thursday 33rd Week – Rev. 5:1-10 & Lk.19:41-44

Continuing his depiction of the liturgy of heaven the author of the Book of Revelation now the author goes on to describe how the righteous of every nation on earth are to be gathered before the throne of God. Everyone one of them is described as “prophets and priests”. We recall that all the baptised participate in Christ who is “priest, prophet and king”.

At last Jesus reaches the outskirts of Jerusalem: his destination and his destiny! His lament over the city had already come to fruition by the time St Luke wrote his Gospel. The city had been surrounded by the Roman Army and razed to the ground.

Friday 33rd Week – Rev. 10:8-11 & Lk. 19:45-48

Once again, we hear of the righteous ones, those who have remained faithful throughout the persecution, are to be called before the throne of God and receive the reward of their faithfulness.

In today’s Gospel Jesus lays down a gauntlet in front of the Jewish authorities by driving out the sellers in the Temple precincts. We are told that the chief priests and leading citizens were set on destroying Jesus, but that the “people” hung on his every word. This is a prelude to various groups of officials coming up to Jesus to challenge him with their questions.

Saturday 33rd Week – (21st November, Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady) Zech. 2:14-17 & Mt. 12:46-50

Zechariah’s writings date from the time after the people had returned from Exile in Babylon and were in the process of re-establishing themselves in Jerusalem and beginning to re-build the Temple. Once again Jerusalem will be the Lord’s “very own”. It is a time for rejoicing, as is our feast today, celebrating Mary’s birth and the promise of the child she will ultimately bear.

Our Gospel today hints very strongly at Mary’s absolute dedication to the will of God. There may be people who are Jesus’ blood relatives but discipleship is on a different, higher, plane and Mary is the one above all others who “does the will of my Father in heaven”: the model of all discipleship.

Sunday 15th November

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The other evening I happened upon a film clip on the tv of how some of the money raised by the Children in Need campaign is used. Set at the water’s edge we met children of various abilities and special needs going surfing. Something that many people, if indeed not most people, would think completely out of the bounds of possibility for these children was made possible and boy were they enjoying themselves! The children were interviewed about their experience and I was struck in particular by one young girl who said that doing something like this was important to her because she did not want to be defined by her disability, by what it seemed she could not possibly do. She is always trying to push at the boundaries to broaden her possibilities. It was a really inspirational film clip.

It was this that came to mind when I was mulling over today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Talents. Too often the life of the disciple has been defined by the threat of the Last Judgement: a kind of ultimate exam which we must pass in order to get into heaven. Fail and the only destination is Hell! Setting parameters like that only leads to fear, fear of getting it wrong. This is what paralysed the third servant who buried his master’s talent. A key part of the message of the parable is that fear like that is definitely not what is expected of the disciple, rather working with whatever we have been given in terms of talents is both gift and task. We are gifted/graced/talented by God in various different ways and to different degrees, but whatever those gifts may be, they are to be used, and God even helps us in the use of them. This is what church people down through the generations have called “grace”, which is nothing other than God’s presence and help in everything we do or are called to do. God always goes ahead to help us.

We need to re-frame our understanding of the call to discipleship in the light of this graced life that we have been given. That young girl was wheelchair bound, paralysed and yet always pushing the boundaries to see what more was possible, rather than be defined by what she was not apparently able to do. Whoever we are, whatever our personal talents – which may be extensive, or which may seem none existent at times, especially perhaps in the later stages of life, we all have something to develop in our call to discipleship.

Saturday 14th November

Here are some thoughts about the Readings for tomorrow's Mass.

Sunday 33rd Week – Prov. 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 1 Thess. 5:1-6 & Mt. 25:14-30

Although looking distinctly patriarchal (not to say patronising), our First Reading from the final chapter of the Book of Proverbs actually provides a balance against some very negative sayings about women in the earlier part of the Book. The more modern, and more accurate, NRJB translation refers to “the truly capable woman” and it is the beginning of an acrostic poem where each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet is used at the start of a new verse praising her various gifts. The connection with our Gospel is about using whatever gifts one has been given by God, albeit a very one-sided example… but then so is the Gospel!

We recall that this First Letter to the Thessalonians is probably our first written Christian document and comes from a time when the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time was expected at any moment: coming like “a thief in the night”, without any warning. So it is that the disciple is to “stay wide awake and sober” as she goes about her life, always with an eye to what might be just around the corner.

The Parable of the Talents is the second of the three parables in this chapter. Last week we heard the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridal Attendants and next week we will hear the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. They form the final part of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples before the Last Supper. Although we automatically think of a talent being a gift or an inherent skill, in Roman times a talent was a sum of money equivalent to 20 years wages for a labourer! It was an enormous amount of money. We may balk at the idea of the unequal distribution of the talents by the “Master” (God), and may be taken aback with the brutal treatment of the man who failed to use his talent, nonetheless the central message is clear: use whatever talents/gifts you have been given, because an account of how you used them will be demanded of you at some stage in the future.

Sunday 8th November pm

Here are some reflections on the Readings for Masses during the coming week.

Monday 32nd Week – (9th Nov. the Dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran) Ez. 47:1-2, 8-9, 12, 1 Cor. 3:9-11, 16-17 & Jn. 2:13-23

St John Lateran is the Cathedral Church of Rome, the Pope’s Cathedral. The feast celebrates our communion across the world with others in the Catholic Church through our mutual communion with the See of Rome.

The vision of Ezekiel in our First Reading, written during the Exile in Babylon, is of a restored Temple in Jerusalem from which life flows in abundance. For us, clearly, the source of the life of the Church is through Christ, in today’s feast seen channelled through the Church of Rome.

Lest we think primarily of the Church, especially on the feast of the dedication of a church-building, as a physical entity we are reminded here by St Paul that it is people who make up the Body of Christ. The foundation for this ‘building’ is Christ himself.

Once again, the theme of the Gospel centres on the Risen Christ as the new temple, the replacement for the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem which had been destroyed long before St John’s Gospel had been written.

Tuesday 32nd Week – (10th Nov. Feast of St Leo the Great) Tit. 2:1-8, 11-14 & Lk. 17:7-10

Many, but by no means all, scholars take this Letter to Titus have been written after St Paul’s death by one of his close disciples, writing in his name and expressing some of his key ideas. Whoever wrote it we have, in this extract, a code of behaviour for a household (the household of the church?). Key to this is, “to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions.” As ever, with St Paul, it is “in Christ” that we are saved and set free from all wickedness.

Once again, we have some stark words of Jesus reported by St Luke. “We are merely servants; we have done no more than our duty.” In St Luke’s Gospel the disciple is given much, but much is also demanded in return. Here it is expressed as simply getting on with our call to service with no expectation of a special reward!

Wednesday 32nd Week – (11th November, St Martin of Tours) Tit. 3:1-7 & Lk. 17:11-19

When we recall that Christians were being persecuted in various parts of the Roman Empire the opening words of today’s Reading are startling, “be obedient to the officials and representatives of the government”! the call is to “do good at every opportunity”. Titus, and we the disciples of today, are reminded that God’s kindness and compassion come from God’s own generosity, not as a result of anything we “might have done ourselves”.

Once again in St Luke’s Gospel, it is a Samaritan – a foreigner - who is the hero of the hour. The other nine lepers, presumably all Jews, go off without offering the thanks due for their recovery. It is the least likely person – to the eyes and ears of Jesus’ original audience – who comes back to give thanks and to be told by Jesus, “Your faith has saved you.” There is no mention of the faith of the people who above all considered themselves to be the faithful ones!

Thursday 32nd Week – (12th November – St Josaphat) Philemon 7-20 & Lk. 17:20-25

Today we have an extract from the shortest of Paul’s letters – only a page or so in length! We are not sure whether Onesimus was a runaway slave, or someone at odds with his master. Either way we note that St Paul does not question the system of slavery itself. In fact, to our shame and consternation, it will take many centuries before slavery will be deemed anathema by the Church. The only, very slightly, redeeming feature of writing in the New Testament about slaves is that they were always to be well-treated. Paul’s entreaty to Philemon is precisely about the fair treatment of this slave.

The storm clouds are gathering as Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem. The material in the second part of today’s Gospel (as well as tomorrow’s Gospel Reading) are ideas we also find in the both Matthew and Mark, but this opening passage is unique to St Luke. The Pharisees, persistent opponents of Jesus, offer an opening question about the coming of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ response is as clear as it is blunt, “the kingdom of God is among you.” There is no need for the disciple to engage in some extraordinary expedition to find this kingdom, it is right here, right now!

Friday 32nd Week – 2 Jn. 4-9 & Lk. 17:26-37

Before we embark on the final two weeks of the Church’s Year, and Readings from the last book of the New Testament (the Apocalypse), we are offered little extracts from the shortest books of the New Testament, not given us elsewhere in our Lectionary. The Second Letter of St John is truly a letter – a single page one at that! The “lady” referred to in this passage is almost certainly a church community (‘church’ in Greek is a feminine noun). The call is a very familiar one in all of the writings attributed to St John, “Live the life of love”. There is nothing complicated about the Christian life it can all be expressed in this singly commandment.

We have some graphic imagery in our Gospel today in material that we also find in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. The Second Coming is not far away, so the message is always to be on your guard. Don’t slip back into old care-free ways. The final warning is particularly graphic, “Where the body is, there too will the vultures gather!” In other words, “You have been warned!”

Saturday 32nd Week – 3 Jn. 5-8 & Lk. 18:1-8

While commending the recipients of this letter for the welcome they gave to fellow Christians who were not previously known to them, this extract from the shortest of the books of the New Testament is a brief preamble to a warning about a would-be leader (“Diotrophes”) among them who did not offer this hospitality. John expects welcoming behaviour from all true believers.

The Parable of the Unjust Judge is another of those unique to St Luke’s Gospel. Clearly the message is about persistence in prayer, but it is also about the urgency of such prayer. In keeping with the theme of this part of his Gospel, St Luke is pointing to the need always to be at the business of discipleship and never to rest on our laurels.

Sunday 8th November.

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2020

November is always a special month for remembering the Dead – “those gone before us marked with the sign of faith,” as our Liturgy puts it. Last week we observed All Saints and All Souls, and traditionally one of the main prayer intentions for the whole month is for “the Holy Souls”. In addition, in this and some other countries, the 11th November is marked as Armistice Day, the day on which we commemorate the end of the First World War and on which we remember all of those who died in conflict since then. This Sunday, since it is the closest to 11th November, is a day of special commemoration. Given that we are now 75 years away from the Second World War there are, inevitably, fewer and fewer people whose lives were directly affected by those original conflicts but, of course, very sadly, there have been other conflicts and lost lives in warfare since then. As if that is not already sufficient there are, of course, people for whom this is also the anniversary month for one of their own loved ones.

Given this scenario our Second Reading at Mass today is especially timely. Difficult though it is for us to imagine at this distance, the earliest followers of Jesus were expecting his Second Coming, when everything would be brought to a close, at any moment. In Thessalonica the Christian community seems to have been concerned about some of their loved ones who had died before this expected quick end to things. What was to happen to them, since they were not going to be around for that great event? This is the situation St Paul is addressing in this, his first letter to that community, and the first written Christian document that has come down to us.

With its words about grieving, it is quite understandably a Reading that is often chosen for funeral services today. It offers great comfort to those who are feeling bereft. We do, however, need to be careful how we read St Paul’s words. In typical English “stiff upper-lip” fashion some people read this as an instruction not to mourn the loss of a loved one. It is interpreted as a call for stoicism in the face of loss, but that is not what St Paul is actually saying.

It is not that people should not grieve about losing their loved ones, but rather that they should not, “grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope.” Of course we grieve when a loved one dies. Something of ourselves dies with them and we feel such a loss desperately, at times. This is only natural. The key to our grieving, however, is that it happens in the context of our Christian hope. Hope is that virtue given to us that tells us that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, God’s will for our salvation and that of our loved ones, will prevail, and is even now prevailing.

This hope of ours is not based on all kinds of variables that are utterly beyond our control, such as our hope that an effective vaccine against Covid-19 will be found soon: that may or may not be the case. No, our Christian hope is based on the certain knowledge that Jesus died and rose again to offer all humankind salvation. That much is beyond doubt. The gift of hope allows us, invites us, to live in that hope now, even in the light of grieving for those who have died. God’s will, will be done and that will is for the safety and salvation of ourselves and all of our loved ones.

Saturday 7th November

Mass will be live streamed tomorrow morning at 9.30. In the meantime here are some reflections on the Readings that might help in preparing for the celebration.

Sunday 32nd Week – (Remembrance Sunday) Wis. 6:12-16, 1 Thess. 4:13-18 & Mt. 25:1-13

The Book of Wisdom is the youngest book in our Old Testament, written possibly only about fifty years before Jesus’ birth. Written in Greek for the large Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt, the writer displays both a profound knowledge of the rest of the Old Testament and some key Greek philosophical ideas. This extract comes from the early section of the book which is addressed to kings and rulers. If they seek wisdom, according to the writer, they will rule securely and well. In both Greek (‘sophia’) and Hebrew (‘hokmah’) wisdom is a feminine noun and is taken by many as the feminine aspect of God who is, of course, above and beyond gender, but who is most often referred to by exclusively masculine nouns.

Our Second Reading is often chosen, for obvious reasons, for funeral liturgies. Its words offer true hope to those who grieve the loss of a loved one. As a section of (probably) the first written words of the Christian era it was written at a time when the Second Coming was expected at any moment. Hence the anxiety about the fate of those who died before Christ’s Coming. The point is not that people of faith should not grieve, of course we grieve the loss of a loved one. It is, rather, that we should not grieve, “like the other people who have no hope.” To the contrary, we do have hope rooted in the certainty of Jesus’ triumph over suffering and death.

In these final three Sundays of the Church’s Year we are given the three parables (in Mt. 25) that form Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples before the Last Supper. Here in the first clearly the message is about preparedness for the unexpected Second Coming. It is something that is referred to in earlier chapters but, uniquely here in Matthew’s Gospel, it is the subject of a strange parable about the Wise and Foolish bridesmaids. The disciple is always to be ready for the unexpected return of the Master!

Monday 2nd November

Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Masses during the coming week.

Monday 2nd November – The Feast of All Souls – Phil 2:1-4 & Lk. 14:12-14

(Celebrants may choose to use a selection of Readings from those offered for Funeral Masses but here we have chosen to stay with the Readings for the Monday of Week 31 in Ordinary Time.)

The main theme of this part of St Paul’s letter is of mutuality and solidarity. We are all “in Christ” and are called to have “a common purpose and a common mind”. We express that especially today in our prayers for our loved ones, and indeed all, who have died. In the Communion of Saints they are still part of us, and we of them, and we in solidarity with them especially, but not exclusively, on this day.

Although Jesus is, once again, embarrassing the host who has invited him to dinner, we can reflect on this feast day those whom Jesus suggests should be invited to a party. We remember in what Jesus says that everyone and especially the poor are invited to the Lord’s table, to the Kingdom of Heaven, and we pray in particular for those who no-one to pray for them.

Tuesday 31st Week – Phil 2:5-11 & Lk. 14:15-24

This is a very famous passage from the Letter to the Philippians. Because of its structure scholars usually take it to be a hymn or a poem that was used regularly in worship when the community gathered in prayer; well-known already to the community and probably not written by Paul himself. It has been used by the Church in liturgy through the centuries, especially in Holy Week, for obvious reasons. Its message is a full-blooded confirmation of the contrariness at the heart of our Christian Faith: we believe in an all-powerful God who chooses to be powerless by becoming human and dying, as all people must. As if dying were not enough in itself, Jesus dies the most ignominious of deaths on the Cross, and yet it is all to God’s glory!

This parable of the Great Banquet is St Luke’s version of the Parable of the Wedding Feast in St Matthew’s Gospel, which featured recently as our Sunday Gospel. There is no destruction of the city inhabited by those who refuse the invitation in this version of the story, but the widening structure of the invitations – not only the town, but the poorest part of the town, and then out to the highways and byways – reminds us of Jesus’ command to the Apostles after the Resurrection to preach the gospel not only in Jerusalem, but also in Samaria and “to the ends of the earth”.

Wednesday 31st Week – (4th November, Feast of St Charles Borromeo) Phil. 2:12-18 & Lk. 14:25-33

We remember that St Paul is writing this letter from a prison cell and he does not know what his ultimate fate will be, possibly even the death penalty! Here he urges the people to continue to live their lives as they have been. Notice that he tells them to “work for your salvation”, but just in case anyone thinks that this is somehow earning “Brownie Points” with God, he goes on, “It is God, for his own loving purpose, who puts both the will and the action into you.” We cooperate with God’s grace, we do not “earn” it!

Once again, we are given one of those uncompromising passages from St Luke’s Gospel. Jesus’ call to discipleship comes with great generosity, but then much is demanded, “None of you can be my disciples unless he gives up all his possessions.” St Charles Borromeo came from a very wealthy and well-connected family. He was made a cardinal when he was only 22 years old, and not yet ordained! He could easily have become a typically corrupt, Renaissance cleric who would accrue a vast fortune from his privileged situation. In fact, however, as Bishop of the huge diocese of Milan, he showed himself to be a person deeply committed to the reform of the Church called for by the Council of Trent, and a model for others in pastoral ministry in the Church.

Thursday 31st Week - Phil. 3:3-8 & Lk. 15:1-10.

There is a sudden change in tone at this point in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Someone has really angered him and, in a verse not given us in our Lectionary, perhaps for the sake of propriety, he calls them “self-mutilators”. He warns his audience of these people who would demand that they be circumcised in order to be “proper” followers of Christ, whereas, “we have our own glory from Christ Jesus without having to rely on a physical operation.” He boasts of his own impeccable credentials as an observant Jew – even a Pharisee. Now none of that matters because of “the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Once again, we find the Pharisees moaning about Jesus welcoming “tax collectors and sinners” into his company. In response Jesus offers three famous parables about forgiveness. Here we are given the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin but the most famous – the Prodigal Son is given us as a Gospel Reading during Lent. Notice that the actions of the shepherd – leaving 99 sheep to fend for themselves in the dangerous wilderness and then carrying a four-legged animal perfectly capable of walking itself – are ridiculous, but this is an image of the lengths to which God goes to reconcile even tax collectors and sinners!

Friday 31st Week – Phil. 3:17-4:1 & Lk. 16:1-8

This passage is a rather garbled set of warnings about behaviour contrary to the Gospel. In the notes which accompany his own translation of the New Testament, Nick King sj suggests that perhaps St Paul is dictating too quickly for his secretary to keep up. He is certainly effusive about this community, “you are my joy and my crown”, and he is keen to make sure that they remain so by being faithful to the Gospel message.

Sometimes called “the Parable of the Crafty Steward”, this is another rather subversive story given by Jesus. To our eyes the “crafty” steward is dishonest and deserves to be punished for his deception but here he is praised for being “astute”. Quite possibly what he is doing is no more than cancelling the commission due to himself in these transactions – a common practice at this time, where a steward acted as an intermediary. Whatever else is happening he is certainly making sure that he has friends who will come to his aid when he loses his job. Jesus does not hold money in high regard, as we shall see in tomorrow’s Gospel!

Saturday 31st Week – (7th November, Feast of St Wilibrord) Phil. 4:10-19 & Lk. 16:9-15

We have a final extract from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians today and, once again, he is in effusive praise for their kindness towards him – with another rather boastful section about himself! After all his trials he feels that he can survive anything, “There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength.” As ever what is crucial for St Paul is to remain “in Christ”.

Today’s Gospel follows on directly from the parable of the crafty steward that we were given yesterday. It becomes perfectly clear how little value money and wealth have in Jesus’ eyes. Money is a means of necessary transaction in this life “to win friends”, but it should never be the be all and end all. It is never to become ‘master’ of our lives because there can be only one “Master”!

Sunday 1st November Mass of Confirmation.

Confirmations – All Saints, 2020

The pathway through adolescence – literally meaning of course “growing into adulthood” – is ever smooth and peaceful, without trauma or incident. Parents and teenagers always see eye to eye in complete agreement with each other on what to wear, when they can go out and come in, when they study and when they can surf the Internet. It is a time of great tranquillity for all… Except, of course ,that it is not!

A number of years ago a friend of mine, whose own children were teenagers and young adults at the time, likened the business of parenting at this stage in life to those black and white, silent movie images of the early attempts at powered flight. One airplane is catapulted off the edge of a cliff over water, in the vain hope that it will take off and fly over the waters. In fact, of course, it simply flops straight into the drink! Another airplane with about 6 or 8 wings coupled together with struts moves about 3 feet and then collapses in on itself in a crumpled heap. A third bounces up and down, up and down, presumably an early attempt at vertical take-off, only for the propeller to drop off! And so it goes on.

Everyone, at this stage of life, indeed as we realise more and more as we go through life, at every stage of life, needs help. We cannot do this business of living all by ourselves. Part of that support comes from role models and mentors: something that we celebrate especially on these Feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Here we are remembering men and women, friends and family, now dead, to whom we owe so much on our journey of faith.

They, too, of course, needed their own help and support during life, and for all of us that ultimately derives from the God who gives us those supports. The primary way in which these supports are offered comes in the phrase “Word and Sacraments”. “Word” as in the Scripture Readings at Mass, where today we are reminded of the core calling of all Christians to live those Beatitudes, but also aware from our other Reading this morning that God’s love is “lavished upon us”. Whatever we may need, God supplies, although sometimes it takes time to discern precisely what exactly that help may be.

In terms of sacraments, these are all directed towards that fact that we need help at every stage of life. From the moment of Baptism, our incorporation into Christ’s Body, the Church, that help is always available to us. On a regular basis we are offered Jesus’ Body and Blood to nourish and feed us; Reconciliation to heal us; Anointing of the Sick to support us in illness; Marriage and the Sacrament of Orders to sustain us in our life choices; and Confirmation, especially when celebrated with adolescents, to help us grow through this process of becoming the kind of adult Christians God calls all of us to be.

Sunday 1st November

Here is my homily from Mass last night. Another homily, from Mass this morning will be posted later.

All Saints’ 2020

Each year as we come to the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, which celebrate the doctrine of “the Communion of Saints” that we refer to each Sunday in part of our Creed, they become more and more meaningful. I am sure that this is a function of age. It is bound to be the case that as we grow older more and more of the people – family and friends – who have been such mentors and supports on our own journey through life, have died or, as we say in the Liturgy, they “have gone before us marked with the sign of faith”. People to pray for, and people to thank God for, many of whom now pray for us.

Like our own selves they were probably not great at everything they did or said, but at certain points and in certain ways they became those mentors, those supports that we all need during life. They have perhaps embodied one or other of those Beatitudes and have shown us great example by doing so. They have been an encouragement to us in challenging times, a comfort during sad times. Perhaps they have shown great courage in the face of opposition and set-back.

Whatever it may be, these people are examples of what St John referred to in our Second Reading as, “the love that the Father has lavished on us”. “Lavished on us”. That is a very generous, expansive word. It is not mean or parsimonious. Something that is ‘lavish’ is not likely to run out or to be found lacking in any way. It suggests far more than we actually need to survive on. This is the love that the Father has “lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children, and that is what we are.” We are part of God’s family, aka “The Communion of Saints”. The connection with each other run deep and they run long – a long way into the past.

On these feasts we have the opportunity to reflect, with gratitude to God, for all those who “have gone before us marked with the sign of faith”, that faith which we try to embody in everything we do and say, so that those Beatitudes truly become, as Pope Francis says, “The identity card of All Christians.”

31st October pm

Here are some thoughts about the Readings for Masses tomorrow - the Feast of All Saints.

On the 1st and 2nd of November we celebrate “the Communion of Saints”, a phrase that we recite in our Creed at Mass each Sunday. We, the Church on earth (“The Church Militant”, in traditional terminology) give praise and thanks to God on All Saints’ Day for the unsung heroes of our faith (“The Church Triumphant”) who have no fixed saints’ day in our Calendar but who are both examples of faith-filled lives and people who now pray for us, as we continue on our journey to be reunited with them. On All Souls’ Day we pray for those who have died and who are now in the process of letting go of everything that keeps them from being fully at rest and at peace in Heaven (“The Souls in Purgatory”, “The Church Suffering”). We pray in solidarity with them, assured that there is only one conclusion to the process they are undergoing: final rest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sunday 1st November – the Feast of All Saints – Rev. 7:2-4, 9-14, I Jn. 3:1-3 & Mt. 5:1-12

Written for Christians during the first of the persecutions that Christians would face in different parts of the Roman Empire at different times for the first three centuries of the Early Church, the strange visions in the Book of Revelation offer reassurance and hope for those living in fear. There is a promise of a glorious outcome for those who remain faithful in the face of this danger. In fact, the number of those who will triumph in this way will be “a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language”.

Although there is a hint of opposition from the “world”, the main focus of this Second Reading is our union with God in and through love. This is what will prevail into an unknown future, but one filled with the promise of further, unsurpassable love.

In his letter, “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World“ (Gaudete et Exsultate), Pope Francis writes, “The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card.” (§63). Each of them is a way of welcoming God into our lives and they begin and end with “the Kingdom of Heaven”: the ultimate goal of our journey of faith. They are so well known that there may be a temptation to gloss over them, but perhaps, in today’s Feast, we have an opportunity to spend a bit more time with them: thanking God for those who have been examples to us of one or another of them, and reflecting on which of them I have been neglecting of late.

26th October pm

Once again, apologies for the late posting of these reflections. At this rate I will be getting my P45!

Monday 30th Week – (26th October, Feast of Ss. Chad and Cedd) Eph.4:32-5:8 & Lk.13:10-17

Having outlined his theology of salvation and redemption in the early part of his letter, St Paul now turns to some practical thoughts on how those who profess to be followers of Christ should live, especially how they should treat each other. Living in these ways will be a reminder to them, “You were in darkness once, but now you are in the light of the Lord; be like children of the light.”

This cure of a crippled woman on the Sabbath is unique to St Luke’s Gospel. There are other occasions when Jesus is challenged about healing on a Sabbath (usually by a synagogue official or by one of the Pharisees). The details of her infirmity are given in great detail. In contrast to the nit-picking of the official the woman shows great example by glorifying God. Once again, the person who is expected to be in tune with the ways of God is shown to be completely out of tune!

Tuesday 30th Week – Eph. 5:21-33 & Lk. 13:18-21

St Paul is often accused of being a misogynist: he appears to subordinate women/wives to men/husbands. There is some truth in this but notice in today’s extract about husbands and wives the opening sentence that is meant to act as the lens through which everything else is to be interpreted, “Give way to one another in obedience to Christ.” This is, in fact, a complete reversal of Roman Law operating at that time. The teaching that follows on marriage is based not on law but on love and is parallel to the relationship between Christ and the Church, which also has its roots in love, not law.

The two parables of the mustard seed and the yeast are familiar to us from the other Synoptic Gospels, but whereas Matthew and Mark group them together with other similar parables, St Luke distributes these parables in different parts of Jesus’ teaching ministry, perhaps as a reminder of a theme that may now have been lost in other matters as he has been going about his ministry. We remember that they are stories of contrast between very unpromising beginnings and huge outcomes: offered as a confidence boost for people who feel as though they are a very tiny group in an overwhelmingly hostile environment.

Wednesday 30th Week – (28th Oct. Ss. Simon & Jude) Eph.2:19-22 & Lk. 6:12-19 – Readings for the Feast

Thinking of the two apostles whose feast we keep today the extract from the Letter to the Ephesians (which we heard only last week!) reminds us of the fact that the Church – “God’s household” – has apostolic foundations with Jesus as the cornerstone. Such an image sounds very static but as St Paul goes on to note we “are being built into a house where God lives, in the spirit.” We are, in other words, ‘work in progress’ with the witness and prayers of the apostles supporting us.

We find Jesus in private prayer for a whole night before announcing his choice of the twelve of his disciples to be the foundations of a new Israel. Immediately after being chosen the Twelve accompany Jesus to a place where he is ready to heal and to teach: two of the most important functions that these newly chosen ones will inherit in due course.

Thursday 30th Week – Eph. 6:10-20 & Lk. 13:31-35

This final extract from the Letter to the Ephesians offers us the classic imagery of military armour to protect us against any onslaught associated with ‘the devil’, ‘darkness’ and ‘the spiritual army of evil in the heavens’. Notice that the armour is protective. There are no offensive or potentially deadly weapons in the hands of the disciple who is eager to spread ‘the gospel of peace’: buckler, breastplate, shoes and shield are all that is on offer, but we are assured that they are sufficient. As with recent Gospel extracts the call is to be vigilant, “Pray all the time.”

Although warned by the Pharisees, Jesus has but one objective in mind, “…for today and tomorrow and the next day I must go out, since it would not be right for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem.” This is Jesus’ starkest warning yet of the inevitable end of the journey to which he is now committed. His followers could be in doubt about what is now facing them as they continue on the road up to Jerusalem.

Friday 30th Week – (30th Oct. Feast of the Martyrs of Douai College) Phil. 1:1-11 & Lk. 14:1-6

The opening of St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is very instructive for all kinds of reasons. Firstly, notice how he addresses them as “saints”, not even “saints in the making” as in other letters. Secondly, he addresses the letter to their “presiding elders (i.e. ‘bishops’) and deacons”. Now, whilst the words do not have the same technical meanings that we give them today, it is clear that already a more permanent structure is beginning to emerge in the communities, structures that are meant to help the spread of the Gospel message. Since St Paul is so clearly happy at what he has heard about them, how they have organised themselves seems to have been effective.

Nick King labels today’s Gospel “The fifth disastrous dinner party”! Once again, we find Jesus at dinner on a Sabbath at the house of “a leading Pharisee” and not behaving as an honoured guest might be expected to behave. In fact, he is quite provocative at the table with his question about healing on the Sabbath. Clearly the people inviting Jesus to dine have not heard of other meals when he has acted in much the same provocative manner!

Saturday 30th Week – Phil. 1:18-26 & Lk.14:1, 7-11.

When we recall that St Paul is writing from a prison cell and when his very life is in danger, this extract is particularly up-beat. For him the only thing that ultimately matters is Christ, “I want to be gone and be with Christ.” However, if it is God’s will (as he believes it is!), he is equally happy to stay alive and to continue his missionary work.

Having already challenged his Pharisee hosts by healing on the Sabbath right in front of them, there is now no holding Jesus back in his confrontational mode. Without any attempt at lessening the impact of some embarrassing observations, he offers a parable directed at those who would presume to have a right to sit at a place of honour. Not only is the anti-hero of the parable to be embarrassed so, by implication, will his fellow guests be!

25th October

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

I suspect that the image of the God of the Old Testament will be a fairly fearsome one in the minds of many people. After all, this is a God who brings down fire and brimstone on a sinful city, who brings the walls of the water of the Red Sea crashing down on Pharaoh’s army, and who regularly helps Israel to rout the armies of their opponents. It takes centuries for the people of Israel to realise that the God they worship is God of all peoples and a God who loves and cares for all peoples. Prior to this realisation their image of God is very partisan one.

There, are of course, good grounds for being in awe and fear of this God: a God who is capable of punishing wrongdoers very severely indeed. But… there is another side to this God revealed in the Old Testament, as we can see from today’s First Reading.

Moses has been on Mount Sinai and has received the Ten Commandments and, in the chapters of the Book of Exodus that follow, we are given a whole list of concrete situations outlining precisely how these Ten Commandments are to be applied. The punishment for wrongdoing is severe: often the death penalty. Having said that there are some remarkable passages that give a very different perspective on how the human person is to respond to these commandments, as we can see in today’s extract.

Immediately before this piece the people are told that those offering sacrifice to idols and false gods are to face punishment by death, but now they are told how they are to treat “the stranger”. Presumably this refers to an ordinary, decently behaved, non-Jewish person who lives among them. Key to how they are to behave towards others is to remember, “You lived as strangers in the land of Egypt.” In other words, “How would you like to have been treated in a similar situation?” They are told that they must not “molest” or “oppress” the stranger or to be harsh with the widow and the orphan. Should they choose not to follow this command, “My anger will flare and I shall kill you with the sword…” The correct attitude towards the stranger, the poor and the destitute is of mercy and compassion.

What we have here is the emergence of what will be called “The Golden Rule”: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is the most basic, the least thing, that is expected of us. The commandment quoted by Jesus in our Gospel, “You must love your neighbour as yourself,” goes much further. Jesus’ next words are particularly interesting, “On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets also.” “The Law and the Prophets” are what we call the Old Testament. At its heart, then, the Old Testament is actually about love, not revenge or oppression of others.

Our society, like any other, has the need and the right to be protected from terrorists, violent criminals and so on. Having said that the vast majority of people seeking refuge or asylum in this country are simply ordinary people seeking a better future for themselves and their children. All of them are husbands, wives, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers. They are all human persons, just like ourselves, and as Christians we are called on not simply to apply the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – Jesus’ command in that Gospel goes further still: we are to love them “as yourself”.

Pope Francis has recently published an important Encyclical (official) letter called “Fratelli Tutti”. The title comes from some writings of St Francis of Assisi, for whom he is named. It translates as “Brothers and sisters all”. In this letter he points out how narrow-minded nationalism, manifest across the world at this time, has led in many countries to some desperate situations for “the stranger” referred to in our First Reading.

Anyone can and should be proud of their country, when that country acts in humane and compassionate ways towards all people, not just “our tribe”. By the same token, a country failing to show compassion and basic humanity towards others is rightly criticised. The double commandment of Jesus in our Gospel is a call to treat everyone with love and respect, without exceptions.

Saturday 24th October
Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Mass tomorrow.

Sunday 30th Week – Ex. 26:20-26, 1 Thess. 1:5-10 & Mt. 22:34-40

The verses in today’s extract from the Book of Exodus are from a section that begins with Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. It fleshes out, as it were, what these commandments call for in concrete situations. Although preceded by some very harsh punishments for ‘sorcerers’, people who offer sacrifice to other gods and others who engage in deviant behaviour, the words given here are remarkably welcoming to the foreigner, the stranger, the refugee, the asylum seeker. Key to this is the call to remember, “that you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt”. As opposed to those who are clearly guilty of the kind of deviancy of those mentioned to be punished, the ordinary refugee is quite simply a father, mother, sister or brother just like the people listening to these words, just like you and I, for that matter, as we react to people seeking refuge in our own country…

St Paul praises the example given by the former pagans of Thessalonica to the people of the area. Their behaviour has been such that many people have become aware of it and commented on it. They had definitively renounced the gods they previously worshiped and have fully embraced the message of the Gospel. They have become “servants of the real, living God.”

Today we are offered the final question posed to Jesus in the precincts of the Temple. It is the climax of his confrontations with various groups of officials of the Jewish religion and it goes to the core of the Jewish faith – and now the Jewish-Christian faith: the supreme commandments of love of God and of neighbour. Jesus puts side by side two passages from the Old Testament – the opening of the “Shema” prayer in Deuteronomy that a Jew would recite between 3 and 5 times every day, and the call to love one’s neighbour from Leviticus. A few verses later we are told that “no one dared ask him any further questions.” (22:45) There are no more questions to be asked once this pivotal double-commandment is given.

19th October

With apologies for the late posting... herewith the reflections for this week's Readings!

Monday 29th Week – Eph. 2:1-10 & Lk. 12:13-21

Having completed his opening meditation on the role of Christ in Creation and Salvation in chapter 1, Paul now moves on to list what God, in Christ, has done for the readers of his letter. Two things are paramount: God’s love and mercy. This has brought about our salvation in spite of our sinfulness and brought us from death to life. Now we are called to live a new life, “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he meant us to live it.”

This powerful Parable of the Rich Fool is a reminder of the need to be constantly alert as disciples, not slipping back into complacency. Thinking that he has earned enough ‘points’ in the sight of God and has plenty of time ahead of him to make up anything lacking in his life before God, the rich fool has it all wrong. God works in different ways altogether and we never know when it is that we will be called to account for our action, or lack of it.

Tuesday 29th Week – Eph. 2:12-22 & Lk. 12:35-38

There are some extremely long sentences in this passage that need to be read slowly in order to get the full impact of what Paul is saying. In essence he is building on thoughts about unity between Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ – a theme that he has discussed many times, including in this letter. They, we, are already part of the body of Christ and are called into ever greater of what we are then called on to do, “you too, in him, are being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit.”

Our Gospel today continues the theme from yesterday of the need to be alert in our discipleship. No one knows the hour when the Master will return so we need to be ready for that hour, whenever it may come.

Wednesday 29th Week – Eph. 3:2-12 & Lk. 12:39-48

St Paul speaks of his mission of sharing the good news with others in today’s extract from the Letter to the Ephesians. He is to introduce others to “the mystery of Christ”, something that he has experienced for himself, “I have been made the servant of that gospel by a gift of grace from God who gave it to me by his power…” This message is for the whole world – “the Sovereignties and Powers” – because it is a comprehensive plan of salvation for all that God had in mind from eternity.

St Luke has gathered into a single discourse some material that we also find in St Matthew’s Gospel, but with additions of his own. It is a powerful, even startling warning about the need to be always about the business of being a disciple who does the Father’s will. We find St Peter in this extract perplexed at what Jesus is saying. Perhaps he is thinking that Jesus’ followers do not need to hear this message, they are already travelling with him, but Jesus makes it perfectly clear that what he has to say is for everyone, without exception.

Thursday 29th Week – (Feast of St John Paul II) Eph. 3:14-21 & Lk. 12:49-53

Having set out his thoughts on the salvation of the world and how each one of us is called into new life in Christ’s body, St Paul now launches into a prayer which expresses in a few, rather long, sentences, all that he has been saying up to now. What God has done and is doing in Christ is far beyond our imagining and is based on power way beyond anything we might imagine.

Jesus makes it clear in today’s extract from St Luke’s Gospel that his words and actions will cause division between peoples, even division within family groupings and yet this must happen. He describes what he must do as a “baptism” and this is a stark reminder that our own baptism is a call to follow in his footsteps, not only on the cosiness of our family setting in which most of us were baptised, but in giving witness in other, not so cosy, circumstances as well.

Friday 29th Week – Eph. 4:1-6 & Lk. 12:54-59

St Paul now turns his attention to what the disciple must do in response to the salvation of which we have become part. Above all is the call to unity – a constant theme across his letters – and to do all we can to promote that unity. The two are inseparable and charity, selflessness, gentleness and patience are all means by which this goal of unity will be achieved.

We have the final extract from this long discourse where Jesus warns the disciples always to be alert, to be found faithful at every turn. Here we are encouraged to “read the signs of the times”. “Reading the signs of the times by the light of faith”, was the clarion call of the bishops at the Second Vatican Council as they attempted to transmit the message of the Gospel once more in language that people of the time would understand. That same call is made to us in our time, taking a lead from the example of those bishops.

Saturday – Eph. 4:7-16 & Lk.13:1-9

“…(T)he saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ.” St Paul offers various lists of ministries in the church in different letters, but the message is a consistent one, as we can see from this quotation from today’s extract: unity. The aim of that unity is to become more and more like Christ with each fulfilling his/her own calling, “So the body grows until it has built itself up, in love.”

Repentance is, of course, a theme that we find in each of the Gospels, but it has a very special place here with St Luke. Following his discourse on the need to be constantly alert in our discipleship, he follows this up by emphasising, from examples of incidents that were presumably known about by Luke’s audience, the imperative to repent immediately. The Jesus portrayed by St Luke in his Gospel may well be full of compassion but he also demands a full and immediate response from those who have received these gifts.

18th October

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

As I said earlier those words of St Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians in our Second Reading are the very first written words in Christianity, written before any of our Gospels. In the space of just five verses we have all the main words, the vocabulary, for the central themes in Christian thought down through the ages. There is mention of “God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”, as well as the “Holy Spirit”. There is mention of “the Good News”, of “grace and peace” of prayers and thanksgiving and three key gifts from God to the followers of Jesus: faith, hope and love. All of that, given in the space of just five verses.

I particularly liked Dom Henry Wansbrough’s definition of grace in this week’s edition of the Wednesday Word, “’Grace’ is God’s affectionate and powerful smile, drawing us into God’s loving protection, and empowering us to live and work for him.” God always makes the first move, drawing us to himself and empowering us. This “empowerment” is to do with those gifts, the “theological virtues” as they are officially called, of faith, hope and love.

We are probably more familiar with faith, hope and love as described by St Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians in what is usually called “the Hymn to Love” – a favourite Reading for couples at their wedding services. Remember how it ends, “In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.”

Notice how in today’s Reading the three are each connected with words about doing,” your faith in action, worked for love, and persevered through hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” ‘Action’, ‘work’, and ‘perseverance’ all suggest getting on with things. They are not words that we associate with sitting around in passive admiration all day long. For sure, they are occasions of giving thanks to God for such great gifts, but they are to be used, not just stared at. They form the core of our response to God’s invitation to believe in his Son and to follow in his footsteps. That simple core has never been more important than it is today.

We are in what is being called “the Second Wave” of this pandemic, and people are fed up, tired and, in many cases, scared. As well as the physical threat of this disease, we are becoming more and more aware of the threat to the mental health of many, many people as restrictions on contact with others, and of going out and about are being re-introduced, and with even perhaps further restrictions to come just around the corner. Never has it been more important than now to reflect on these three gifts we have been given, not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others as well.

It is vitally important for us to remember, as Dom Henry puts it, that in God’s grace we experience, “God’s affectionate and powerful smile, drawing us into God’s loving protection, and empowering us to live and work for him.” In the first place we need to pause and to remember this at least once a day, every day, and better still more often than that. At that point we can give God thanks for being with us in everything that is going on. Finally, in action, work and perseverance those God-given gifts are made available to us for our own good, and to enable us to share this Good News with others. Physical and psychological/spiritual wellbeing go together. With regard to our spiritual wellbeing, awareness of God’s gifts of faith, hope and love are a start: a start to using them for my own benefit and for the benefit of those around me.

17th October

Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Tomorrow's Mass.

Sunday 29th Week – Is. 45:1, 4-6; 1 Thess. 1:1-5 & Mt.22:15-21

For the third week in a row our First Reading comes from the Prophet Isaiah, but now from the second part of the Book, written many years after the earliest section, when the People can look forward to a return to their homeland after the Exile in Babylon. What is perhaps most remarkable about this passage is that a pagan king, Cyrus of Persia, is called the “Messiah”. He is God’s “anointed” who is an instrument to do God’s will of freeing people from their slavery. The God of Israel is unsurpassed, “apart from me all is nothing”.

The words of our Second Reading today are the first written words, that we know of, in our New Testament. This letter pre-dates our written Gospels and is the first one that Paul wrote to a community that he himself helped to establish. Notice that his greeting of grace and peace is one of those offered in our Liturgy as a greeting at the beginning of Mass. This is also the first occasion when the three ‘theological virtues’ – faith, hope and love – are grouped together, “faith in action, worked for love, and persevered through hope”.

Having seen off the chief priests and the scribes, Jesus now turns his attention to a group of people with whom he has already crossed swords many times in his ministry: the Pharisees. These were the people who held sway in the synagogues of the towns and villages away from Jerusalem. It is, in fact, this group who will survive the destruction of Jerusalem that had already taken place by the time St Matthew wrote his Gospel. Their ways and their teachings would have been very familiar to Matthew’s original audience. Here they are in cahoots with unlikely bedfellows – the Herodians, Jewish supporters of Roman rule. A trap is set for Jesus in their question, but he side-steps it very deftly, except that…. Everything ultimately belongs to God as all Jews knew!

Sunday 11th October pm

Here are some reflections for the Readings of the coming week.

Monday 28th Week – (12th October, Feast of St Wilfrid) Gal. 4:22-24, 26-27, 31, 5:1 & Lk. 11.29-32

The comparison between Hagar and Sarah is a very pointed one. Although Hagar was a slave-girl it is now the children of Sarah, living in Jerusalem, who are in slavery, but since we belong to the “Heavenly Jerusalem” we are free, “When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Now, well on the road to Jerusalem Jesus St Luke gives us Jesus’ warnings as they are found in the other Synoptic Gospels. Jonah preached and the people of Nineveh repented. The queen of Sheba travelled all the way with her entourage to see Solomon in his glory, but neither comes even close to what the Son of Man is. The crowds may be getting “even bigger” but there is little sign of them listening to Jesus.

Tuesday 28th Week – Gal. 5:1-6 & Lk. 11:37-41

In this penultimate extract from the Letter to the Galatians there is no holding back for Paul, “When Christ freed us, he meant to remain us to remain free.” Going back to observance of the Law of Moses, signified by circumcision will be a completely retrograde step. What matters, says St Paul, is faith, but notice that it is a faith “that makes its power felt through love.” Faith leads to action, to living according to the demands of the Gospel, as we shall see clearly in tomorrow’s final extract.

In Fr Nick King’s translation of the New Testament he often gives quirky titles to each of the extracts. This extract is entitled, “The Fourth ‘Disastrous Dinner Party’”. It seems that at every meal described by St Luke Jesus goes out of his way to upset his host and/or his fellow guests. In this instance the poor Pharisee who has graciously invited him to dine at his house as a ‘fool’ and ‘filled with extortion and wickedness’! This is hardly the behaviour expected of a guest, but Jesus does not hold back from making a point when the host is quietly judging him by outward appearances.

Wednesday 28th Week – Gal. 5:18-25 & Lk. 11:42-46

In this final extract from the Letter to the Galatians St Paul outlines that certain behaviours may be expected of those living with the Spirit, rather than under the Law. After listing examples of the kind of self-indulgence to be expected by those enslaved to sin, he goes on to list what we usually refer to as “the Fruits of the Spirit” – all of which lead both to inner peace and harmony, as well as harmony within the community.

Jesus is still at the dinner table of the poor Pharisee who had invited him, and who by now he must have been regretting giving the invitation in the first place. Jesus does not hold back from further criticism which echoes the words recorded by St Matthew in his Gospel. They are only interested in minutiae and laying burdens on people, not helping them to live good and righteous lives.

Thursday 28th Week – (15th Oct. – Feast of St Teresa of Avila) Eph. 1:1-10 & Lk. 11:47-54

Unlike St Paul’s other letters this one makes no mention in the opening verses of for whom it was written. This has led many scholars to think that it was written by one of Paul’s disciples after his death. Others, however, including Tom Wright and Henry Wansbrough, take it to be a circular letter sent from his prison cell in Ephesus to some of the local churches, giving them a summary of his teaching… and what a summary! The first three chapters are like one, long hymn of praise for all of God’s work with creation and in the church. this first extract is used each week as a canticle at Vespers, the Evening Prayer of the Church, on Mondays and sets out the centrality of Christ in creation before and after his redeeming death on the Cross.

Jesus continues his attacks on the Pharisees in today’s Gospel. Instead of assisting others in their spiritual journey, they have been obstacles in their path and not even bothered to use their knowledge for themselves on their own journey. No wonder they are furious and are constantly “setting traps to catch him in something he might say.”

Friday 28th Week – Eph. 1:11-14 & Lk. 12:1-7

Today’s extract from the Letter to the Ephesians turns from attention to creation to the destiny of believers within God’s grand plan of salvation in Christ. Once this was only for the Jewish People, “Now you too, in him, have heard…. The good news of salvation.” Having believed they are people “stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit.” This is a distillation of Paul’s theology of salvation and redemption in the form of a prayer/poem rather than the more formal discursive way he elaborates on these matters in other letters.

The Jesus of St Luke’s Gospel always offers a better deal than how he is portrayed by St Matthew. In the latter sparrows are two for a penny, here in St Luke you get five for two pence! Jesus continues his warnings about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees but tells his disciples not to be afraid: to the God who cares for them, “you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows”!

Saturday 28th Week – (17th Oct. the Feast of St Ignatius of Antioch) Eph. 1:15-23 & Lk. 12:8-12

In thanking his readers for their generosity towards those in need (almost certainly the beleaguered community in Jerusalem, for whom a collection had been made in the other churches), he tells them that they are always in his prayers. He illustrates this point by moving into an extended prayer in the following verses that culminates in his assertion that the Risen Christ is the king of creation and the head of the church, which is his body.

The promise of the Holy Spirit to assist the disciples in their task of witness and mission is emphasised in today’s extract from St Luke’s Gospel. It is this second part of the teaching made by Jesus about this that began in yesterday’s Gospel. The disciple who dares to “declare himself” for the Son of Man is assured of the necessary support in his witness, in whatever context it is to be given, even in courtrooms and synagogues!

Sunday 11th October

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

Suppose for a moment that if, instead of the king in that parable, we thought about a good life-long friend of ours who invites us to his son’s or daughter’s wedding. The wedding is of someone we have known for years and the parents are our dearest friends. However we might feel about going to “dos”, and some of us are none too keen, this is important, it is a very special occasion for this friend and his family, so I feel a certain obligation to say, “Yes”.

Now, if on the day of the wedding itself I was poorly, perhaps infectious with the flu, or something like that, I would not dream of attending the wedding, no matter how much I might actually want to be there, or feel that I ought to be there to support and to celebrate with my friend and his family. The last thing I want to do is to spoil things by passing on this awful bug from which I am suffering. It would be just awful to ruin everything for others by doing that. We would not dream of doing something like that in a million years! By the same token our good friend would be horrified to think, if I had recently been poorly and was still fairly fragile and vulnerable that I would put my own health in jeopardy by going to the wedding. He would be rightly annoyed at me for doing this.

One of the traditional images for the Mass, the Eucharist, rooted in the Scriptures and the living Tradition of the Church, is that of a wedding feast. It is an image we find in Isaiah, in our First Reading, in the writings of St Paul and in the Book of Revelation. Now, when I think of the invitation I have received to take part in this wedding feast, do I think of it coming from a vengeful king who is ready to destroy the city that the refusers were living in, or does it come from a life-long friend who wants me to celebrate with him and his family?

In our Gospel it is very definitely that king who, by the way had already allowed their city to be destroyed. By the time St Matthew came to write his Gospel. Jerusalem had been raised to the ground, the Temple torn down and the Jewish people not allowed within a 50 mile radius of their holy city.

The parable, however, is directed not at an invitation to dear friends, rather it is to people who had already shown themselves opposed to everything the king stood for. The chief priests and the scribes had been running things to suit themselves and the ambitions of their families. They had not been helping people observe the Jewish laws and rituals properly, and this is the third in a tirade of parables that Jesus had directed at them. We, however, are not like that.

It makes no sense at all for us to think of the God who invites us to Mass each week as like that King. For us, as people who are trying to live decent lives as followers of Jesus, the invitation is like one coming from a life-long friend to the wedding of his son or daughter. Because of our mutual friendship, our love of each other, we feel a certain obligation on us to attend, an obligation based on love and friendship, not fear.

For people of a certain age Sunday Obligation under pain of mortal sin and eternal damnation was hammered home to them in their younger days. It always seems strange to me that much nastier things like gossip and verbal character assassination were never on the same level, and yet they cause so much more harm in a community. Currently, and for the foreseeable future there is no “Sunday Obligation” to attend Mass in person. In fact, for many people it would be extremely foolish to be at Mass, and especially if it might endanger my health or the health of other people. If and when such an obligation is reimposed, please God we will see coming not out of fear of the vengeful king in that parable, but a reminder that a dear friend invites us to the wedding feast of his son.

Sunday 4th October pm

Here are some reflections on the Readings for the coming week.

Monday 27th Week – Gal. 1:6-12 & Lk. 10:25-37

For the next ten days our First Readings, on weekdays, are mostly taken from St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. As we can see from the opening section given in today’s extract, Paul is angry. His anger is brought about by the fact that, after he had moved on elsewhere in his missionary work, some Christians of Jewish origin, possibly from Jerusalem itself, had appeared on the scene and had begun to insist, contrary to what Paul had taught, on circumcision as a pre-requisite for being a follower of Christ. Here he insists that the message he preached is the true Gospel, “It is something I learnt only through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” We will see the argument unfold over the next few days.

Along with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, this Parable of the Good Samaritan is probably the best known of the teaching passages in Luke’s Gospel that only he recounts. The most shocking aspect of the story, for those who heard it originally, is the fact that the hero is one of the despised Samaritan people. These were a group who claimed to be true descendants of the tribes from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which was destroyed by the Assyrians in the C8th BCE. The claim was utterly rejected by the Jewish authorities and because of their persistence in claiming Jewish roots, they were the most despised of the neighbouring peoples. Yet, it is a despised Samaritan that responds to the needs of the of the man who had been beaten up and robbed. The people who should have known better – a priest and a Levite – “passed by on the other side”. The message is a clear one…

Tuesday 26th Week – Gal. 1:13-24 & Lk. 10:38-42

Today’s extract from the Letter to the Galatians is one of the most important sources for piecing together Paul’s life and ministry. It was three years after his conversion experience before he went back to Jerusalem to meet Cephas (Peter) and the community that he had persecuted so ruthlessly. Even then he only spends fifteen days with them before returning to his native Cilicia for over a decade before he begins his great missionary endeavours!

We have another famous extract today that is unique to Luke’s Gospel: the story of Martha and Mary. For all our fellow feeling with Martha, angered at those who sit and apparently do nothing to help, when so much needs to be done, we are reminded here of the primary duty of a host: to listen to the guest. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet illustrates the importance of really listening as the word of God is spoken to us.

Wednesday 27th Week – (7th October – Our Lady of the Rosary) Acts 1:12-14 & Lk. 11:1-4

In the First Reading for today’s feast we find Mary, with the Twelve and other disciples, in prayer after Jesus’ Ascension. Their prayer is a preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and an example of the primary importance of prayer in the life of the disciple.

We have kept to the Gospel designated for the Ordinary day of the year because of its timely nature. Here, at the request of the disciples, Jesus teaches them the Our Father, albeit rendered here in St Luke’s version rather than that of Matthew with which we are much more familiar. The first prayer in each decade of the Rosary is the Our Father, the model of all prayer since it includes many of the basic elements of all prayer: praise, contrition, and petition.

Thursday 27th Week – Gal. 3:1-5 & Lk. 11:5-13

Paul’s anger spills over in today’s extract which sound quite insulting to the people to whom he is writing. Pulling no punches, he calls them “fools” for going back on the central message that he had preached: the Crucifixion of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, which had rendered the old Jewish Law obsolete. Now, however, it seems that they have slipped back into old habits.

The prayer of petition takes centre stage in our Gospel extract today. This is a continuation of Jesus’ teaching on prayer which began, in yesterday’ Gospel, with him teaching his disciples the Our Father. Here he goes on to go more deeply into the business of petitionary prayer: prayer to a God who is always alert and who always looks out for our best interests.

Friday 27th Week – (9th October Feast of St John Henry Newman) Gal. 3:7-14 & Lk. 11:15-26

John Henry Newman never turned down a challenge to preach the Gospel even in the most unpromising of circumstances and, on the face of it, today’s Readings do not lend themselves very easily to the celebration of someone like St John Henry, and yet…

St Paul tackles the greatest problem for preaching the message of Jesus to a Jewish audience. At the heart of the Law of Moses (Dt. 21:23) is the statement, “Cursed is he who hangs upon a tree.” In the light of this, how could Jesus be the Messiah? How could his teaching replace that of the Law of Moses? Paul insists that the Gospel he preached to them is true and relies on the same faith, the same trust, shown by their father, Abraham. It is this and not the Law of Moses that is the true message of salvation for all people.

Jesus’ warnings about the Devil are uncompromising in this section of St Luke’s Gospel. People need to be on their guard at all times, lest the unclean spirits re-enter the space from which they were banished when anyone accepts the Gospel. Only those who work with and alongside Jesus will be safe in their life of discipleship.

Saturday 27th Week – (10th October, St Paulinus of York) Gal. 3:22-29 & Lk. 11:27-28

St Paul is outlining here a signal part of his teaching: faith in God, not observance of the Law, is what brings about justification. We will hear more about this in the coming week but here we find him talking about how in baptism, “You have all clothed yourself in Christ.” (one of the post baptismal rites still today is the clothing in a white garment using these words to address the one baptised.) Now, after baptism old distinctions between genders, races or social status are no more, “But all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” This oneness, this unity, in Christ is a perennial theme in Paul’s writings.

A very short Gospel with a very crisp message. The woman in the crowd praises Jesus’ mother, Mary but he responds, “Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Of course Jesus’ mother is precisely the one who heard God’s word and kept it in every aspect of her life!

Sunday 4th October.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

We are in the middle of a tirade consisting of three parables given by Jesus and directed at the chief priests and the scribes: the very people who are in charge of the Temple and its precincts wherein Jesus is standing. Last week Jesus compared them to a son who vowed to do his father’s bidding, but then did not carry out his promise. Next week Jesus will compare them to people invited by a king to his son’s wedding but who refused the invitation. Today they are compared to unscrupulous tenants of a vineyard refusing to hand over the produce to the representatives of the owner including, finally, the owner’s son. The owner being God and his son being Jesus himself, this is precisely what they will do three days after hearing these parables.

Whether they, or we for that matter, are to be compared with sons and daughters, tenants, or invitees to a wedding feast, one thing is crystal clear: we are not in ultimate control of life, God is. For people in authority, like the chief priests and the scribes, they are entrusted with something that is not ultimately their own. All authority comes first, last and always from God, and those with some form of delegated authority will, at some stage have to give an account of themselves before God. The question to be asked at that time will go something like this, “You were entrusted with authority over ….(fill in the blank), how did you use it? Did you promote life and the common good of all people, or were you selfish, only interested in fulfilling your own needs and the needs of those closest to you?”

Now obviously such a question will be asked of presidents and prime ministers, MPs, councillors, heads of businesses and so on and so on. The list is a long one. It also includes, however, parents, grandparents, sons, and daughters of aging parents, teachers, parish priests, and bishops. The list goes on and on. Each and every one of us, at some stage in life, and perhaps for a long period of our life, are given responsibility for others in our care, but they are not ours. We own no-one and, in the end no thing, either. All of us will be asked how we used the gifts we have been given to enhance not only our own lives, but those around us. We will be challenged on how we used the resources of the earth not just for MY benefit, but for the benefit also of future generations. We are tenants of the vineyard all around us and it is not ours.

This is quite some tall, daunting order, especially for those who wield great authority. This is why from the very earliest days of Christianity people have been urged to offer prayers for those in authority in both secular and church governance. From those earliest times prayers have been said even for regimes hostile to the Christian community. The prayers are fundamentally about how those in authority are called upon to work for the good of all and for the promotion of justice and peace. We are given an insight into this in our Second Reading today when St Paul urges us to pray for anything we need, but that need has a very specific aim: namely, to obtain “that peace of Christ, which is so much greater than we can understand.”

That peace is the source of all contentment, peacefulness within us and among us, that those chief priests and scribes were so far from enjoying, but which Jesus offers in his death and resurrection to all who listen to his word and act on it.

Saturday 3rd October pm

Here are some thoughts on the Readings for Mass this Sunday.

Sunday 27th Week – Is. 5:1-7, Phil. 4:6-9 & Mt. 21:33-43

The vineyard is a common feature of many stories in the Bible and, especially in the Old Testament, they rarely have a good ending. Today’s passage is in the form of a parable told in poetic form. It begins like a love poem but ends as a lament. Isaiah asserts here that God made Israel out of love and offered her all manner of advantages, but these were eschewed by the people and the consequences will be dire. In this early part of his writings the Prophet is warning about the devastation to come: the Fall of Jerusalem and Exile in Babylon.

The Letter to the Philippians is one of Paul’s shortest and we have only one more extract to come after this one. In this extract the message is simple and straightforward: true peace and joy come through prayer, prayer centred on Christ and following his ways, “Then the God of peace will be with you.”

The Gospel is another example of a story of a vineyard with an unhappy ending, at least an unhappy one for those who were supposed to look after it and tend it! Jesus is speaking to the same chief priests and scribes that, in last week’s Gospel, he had compared to a son who had said “yes” to his Father and then not bothered to carry out his wishes. Here the point is driven home very harshly indeed. Not only have these people failed to do the Father’s will they have actually engaged in abusing and murdering the people sent by the Father to collect his produce: even murdering the son, which of course is precisely what they will be doing a few days later on Good Friday!

Monday 28th September

Here are the reflections on the Readings for Masses for this week.

Monday 26th Week – Job 1:6-22 & Lk. 9:51-56

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” This is a perennial question in all generations for those who believe in a loving God. For this week our First Readings come from the most famous book of the Old Testament to ponder this question: the Book of Job. Nicholas King sj, in his translation of the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) says this,

What does the Book of Job teach us? First, that it is permissible to argue with God (a lesson we can profitably learn from our Jewish ancestors); and, second, that God’s loving wisdom is mysterious beyond anything we can possibly imagine.

(The Old Testament, vol.3 The Wisdom Literature, Kevin Mayhew, 2008, p.1)

Today the scene is set for the rest of the book as we hear Satan (one of the ‘Sons of God’, no less!) arguing that Job is only righteous because of his good fortune. Once Job loses this, and his health, he is to be questioned by three friends – the so-called “Job’s Comforters” – who each insist that he must have done something wrong for these calamities to have been visited upon him.

Two lessons are offered to us today in our Gospel: Firstly, the call to ‘childlikeness’, and secondly the call to accept anyone ministering in Jesus’ name. They are parallels to the same teachings we find in the other Synoptic Gospels and are a timely reminder to people called to be ‘missionary disciples’ today not to get above ourselves and to welcome all others who accompany us on this missionary journey.

Tuesday 26th Week – (29th September The Feast of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael) Dan 7:9-10, 13-14 & Jn. 1:47-51

Both our Readings today are, quite naturally given our feast, passages that refer to the working of angels. Angels, as the name suggests, are primarily “messengers” of God. They act as intermediaries between God and humankind. In our Gospel we hear that these angels are always at this work and will also be at work when it comes to the final judgement. They are offered to us as further examples of God’s loving concern for us: a God who always wishes to communicate with us on our journey of faith by whatever means available.

Wednesday 26th Week – (30th September, Feast of St Jerome) Job 9:1-16 & Lk. 9:57-62

St Jerome (C4th-5th) compiled the ‘Vulgate’ (Latin) version of the Bible which became the official text used by the church in the West for centuries. It was a translation of the best available manuscripts of the biblical texts at the time. He also wrote a number of commentaries on various texts of the Bible and is a Doctor of the Church.

Today’s extract from Job is part of his third speech in answer to his “friends”. In the face of an almighty God, he wonders, can he really dare to ask the questions he is raising? Job is both God-fearing, in the best sense of the term, and someone who is willing to ask the awkward questions that others will not.

Because of yesterday’s feast we missed the extract from St Luke’s Gospel set for the Tuesday of the 26th Week in which we are told that Jesus, “resolutely turned his face towards Jerusalem”. The whole of this Gospel (together with the Acts of the Apostles) is centred on the events surrounding Jesus’ Death and Resurrection in Jerusalem. The pace is hotting up! Today’s Gospel is a direct parallel to words we find in St Matthew’s Gospel – part of what is often referred to as the ‘Q-Source’ of teaching material common to both Gospels. The call to discipleship is an uncompromising one, especially since they are now on the road to Jerusalem.

Thursday 26th Week – (1st October - Feast of St Therese of Lisieux) Job 19:21-27 & Lk. 10:1-12

On our whistle-stop journey through the Book of Job we are already about halfway through the actual text of interplay between Job and his friends. Most famously translated into English as, “I know that my Redeemer liveth…”, as used in Handel’s Messiah. Today’s extract is a further affirmation on Job’s part of the majesty of God – the God who will ultimately be his vindication.

This mission of the seventy-two disciples is unique to Luke’s Gospel. All three Synoptics refer to a mission of the Twelve Apostles. The symbolism of the Twelve is, of course, a new set of twelve tribes of Israel. In ancient times it was thought that there were seventy-two nations of the world, so the symbolism here is of outreach to the whole world, not just Israel. There are many parallels between the two missions as outlined by St Luke. We remember that today’s saint – St Therese – had a particular regard for the missionary work of the church.

Friday 26th Week – (2nd October – Feast of the Guardian Angels) Job 38:1, 12-21; 40:3-5 & Mt. 18:1-5, 10. Also Harvest Family Fast Day

In todays’ extract from the Book of Job – coming near the end of the Book - God gives a first answer to Job’s pleadings and questioning, while Job bows in humility before God and acknowledges his temerity in even questioning God’s ways. The extracts given us in our Liturgy have glossed over Job’s more pointed questions and the awkward barbs of his three friends.

Today’s Gospel is proper to this Feast of The Guardian Angels and centres on the message of God’s care for the least little one, affirming that their angels “are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven”. We are invited, in this Feast, to renew our wonder at the many different ways in which God’s love is made manifest to us. No one is too small or too insignificant to be of value in the sight of God. Perhaps this is something on which to reflect in a special way on Family Fast Day when we think of the work of CAFOD with so many people who are forgotten across the world as they go hungry every day.

Saturday 26th Week – Job 42:1-3, 5-6, 12-17 & Lk. 10:17-24

This ‘happy ending’ to the Book of Job is often thought to be a later addition to an original where matters were left unresolved about Job’s plight. It is certainly a neat ending after all his tribulations and is a firm re-statement of the faithfulness of God who will always ultimately reward the righteous person who does good deeds.

The seventy-two return full of excitement at what they have achieved on their missionary journey. Once again, as on yesterday’s feast, Jesus underlines the call to be childlike in our acceptance of God’s presence in our lives. Notice that St Luke mentions that both the disciples and Jesus himself are “filled with joy” at the events they have witnessed. An essential element of the Gospel message is joy at the presence of God in everything in life.


Sunday 27th September

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

Imagine the scene in our Gospel, if you will. The day before this event Jesus had entered in triumph into Jerusalem. Riding into the city on the back of a donkey the crowds had hailed him, strewn branches in his pathway and had cried out, “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus had gone straight to the Temple, thrown out the people who were buying and selling there, turning over the tables of the money changers. Children in the Temple precincts had begun chanting, “Hosanna” as well. When challenged by the chief priests and the scribes about all of this Jesus had simply replied, “Have you never read: By the mouths of children, babes in arms you have made sure of praise?” Then he simply left the city and spent the night in Bethany.

Now, the next day, Monday of “Holy Week”, he returns to the Temple precincts to teach. He is challenged about his authority to do this by the very people who were in charge of everything to do with the Temple, the same chief priest and scribes who had challenged him the day before. Jesus’ response is blistering.

That parable of the two sons could not be more pointed. Clearly, he is accusing the chief priests and their friends of being like the second son who had initially said, “Yes”, to his father but then not bothered to carry out his father’s wishes. The son who did his father’s bidding, after an initial refusal, is likened by Jesus to the most despised two groups of people in the catalogue of the despised kept by the ‘righteous’ ones of the Jewish religion: tax collectors and prostitutes.

It is difficult, if not impossible to imagine a greater insult directed at the very people who controlled everything to do with the Temple and its life. The tone is now set firm for all Jesus’ interactions with the various representatives of the Jewish faith who will now come forward to challenge him… and he is equally forthright and uncompromising with them.

This is not “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, anything but that. He is assertive, stands his ground in the truth of what he says, but he is never aggressive when challenged. Those same chief priests and elders will show their true colours in a few days’ time when they have Jesus arrested, tried and sentenced to death by their partner in crime, Pontius Pilate.

Telling the truth to power has always been the mark of a true prophet. It takes a great deal of courage, as displayed by Jesus throughout these days of Holy Week. The true prophet is unwavering in her/his insistence on the message, but equally insistent that it does not come with intimidation of the other person, with the threat of violence. In the years to come after Jesus’ example many martyrs, witnesses to the faith, will follow Jesus’ path of courage in speaking the truth to power, but without resorting to violence – unlike, for example, the waging of a crusade, or the persecution of another group that did not belong which sadly, is also part of our heritage as Christians.

True witness – the kind of witness given by Jesus himself always speaks the truth with courage, even defiance, but never in a threatening way. This is how we are called to judge our own actions and those of people who claim to be acting on behalf of our faith. We are called to be people who say both “Yes” and then follow that up by our actions.

26th September pm

Here are some thoughts about our Readings for Masses this weekend

Sunday 26th Week – Ez. 18:25-28, Phil. 2:1-11 & Mt. 21:28-32

Writing in the context of Judah’s abandonment of the Covenant with God – their faithlessness - the Prophet Ezekiel insists in this passage that people can change. Repentance is possible and on repenting the former sinner will find new life, “He shall certainly live; he shall not die.” In contrast to us our God is always faithful to promises made.

The theme of the paramountcy of love comes to the fore in this extract from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. It is through love that true happiness will come about. This leads him into what is often referred to as “The Philippian Hymn”. It is a poetic passage, quite possibly something that was known already by the people. It is used frequently in the liturgies of Holy Week, and for obvious reasons. There is a very beautiful plainchant version of this hymn – “Christus Factus Est” – which is worth looking up on YouTube and listening to.

We are now in the final few chapters of St Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Ministry. This is the Monday of Holy Week, as we call it, and Jesus is in the precincts of the Temple: the domain of “the chief priests and the elders of the people” whom he is addressing here. The accusation he makes is extremely provocative, and he will continue in this mode over the next few weeks, as we will hear in our Gospels. The response of the Jewish authorities a few days later – with Jesus’ arrest – is hardly surprising after these attacks, however accurate they may have been!

22nd September pm

Yesterday many of us will have received an email from Fr Richard Rohr ofm. Although targeted at an American audience much of what he has to say is relevant for us over here as well - especially since we are going to be in this for a further six months!

I hope it helps...

Some simple but urgent guidance to get us through these next months.

I awoke on Saturday, September 19, with three sources in my mind for guidance: Etty Hillesum (1914 – 1943), the young Jewish woman who suffered much more injustice in the concentration camp than we are suffering now; Psalm 62, which must have been written in a time of a major oppression of the Jewish people; and the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats (1965 – 1939), who wrote his “Second Coming” during the horrors of the World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic.

These three sources form the core of my invitation. Read each one slowly as your first practice. Let us begin with Etty:

There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.—Etty Hillesum, Westerbork transit camp

Note her second-person usage, talking to “You, God” quite directly and personally. There is a Presence with her, even as she is surrounded by so much suffering.

Then, the perennial classic wisdom of the Psalms:

In God alone is my soul at rest.

God is the source of my hope.

In God I find shelter, my rock, and my safety.

Men are but a puff of wind,

Men who think themselves important are a delusion.

Put them on a scale,

They are gone in a puff of wind.—Psalm 62:5–9

What could it mean to find rest like this in a world such as ours? Every day more and more people are facing the catastrophe of extreme weather. The neurotic news cycle is increasingly driven by a single narcissistic leader whose words and deeds incite hatred, sow discord, and amplify the daily chaos. The pandemic that seems to be returning in waves continues to wreak suffering and disorder with no end in sight, and there is no guarantee of the future in an economy designed to protect the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and those subsisting at the margins of society.

It’s no wonder the mental and emotional health among a large portion of the American population is in tangible decline! We have wholesale abandoned any sense of truth, objectivity, science or religion in civil conversation; we now recognize we are living with the catastrophic results of several centuries of what philosophers call nihilism or post-modernism (nothing means anything, there are no universal patterns).

We are without doubt in an apocalyptic time (the Latin word apocalypsis refers to an urgent unveiling of an ultimate state of affairs). Yeats’ oft-quoted poem “The Second Coming” then feels like a direct prophecy. See if you do not agree:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Somehow our occupation and vocation as believers in this sad time must be to first restore the Divine Center by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves. If contemplation means anything, it means that we can “safeguard that little piece of You, God,” as Etty Hillesum describes it. What other power do we have now? All else is tearing us apart, inside and out, no matter who wins the election or who is on the Supreme Court. We cannot abide in such a place for any length of time or it will become our prison.

God cannot abide with us in a place of fear.

God cannot abide with us in a place of ill will or hatred.

God cannot abide with us inside a nonstop volley of claim and counterclaim.

God cannot abide with us in an endless flow of online punditry and analysis.

God cannot speak inside of so much angry noise and conscious deceit.

God cannot be found when all sides are so far from “the Falconer.”

God cannot be born except in a womb of Love.

So offer God that womb.

Stand as a sentry at the door of your senses for these coming months, so “the blood-dimmed tide” cannot make its way into your soul.

If you allow it for too long, it will become who you are, and you will no longer have natural access to the “really deep well” that Etty Hillesum returned to so often and that held so much vitality and freedom for her.

If you will allow, I recommend for your spiritual practice for the next four months that you impose a moratorium on exactly how much news you are subject to—hopefully not more than an hour a day of television, social media, internet news, magazine and newspaper commentary, and/or political discussions. It will only tear you apart and pull you into the dualistic world of opinion and counter-opinion, not Divine Truth, which is always found in a bigger place.

Instead, I suggest that you use this time for some form of public service, volunteerism, mystical reading from the masters, prayer—or, preferably, all of the above.

You have much to gain now and nothing to lose. Nothing at all.

And the world—with you as a stable center—has nothing to lose.

And everything to gain.

Richard Rohr, September 19, 2020

22nd September pm

For some reason my reflections on the Readings for this week have not been posted, as far as I can tell. So, herewith...

Tuesday 26th Week – Proverbs 21:1-6, 10-13 & Lk. 8:19-21

The Book of Proverbs, from which our First Readings are taken today and tomorrow, is a collection of wise sayings collected over a long period of time and probably used for instructional purposes with young people. Many years ago my lecturer in Wisdom Literature at university suggested that they may have been sayings that young men (and it would only have been men in those days) would learn by writing out as they prepared to be part of the “civil service” needed to help the smooth running the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. They always remind me of stitching samplers done by pious women (and this time it would have been only women!) in evangelical households in the Nineteenth Century. The sayings offer sound advice for good living in society.

Our Gospel today is very short, very simple and a piece of wonderful irony! When Jesus is told about his mother and brothers, he notes that his true mother and brothers are, “those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Of course, Mary his mother is our paradigm of someone who heard and kept God’s word in everything she did: “the first and best disciple”.

Wednesday 25th Week – (23rd September – St Pius of Pietrelcina) Prov. 30:5-9 & Lk. 9:1-6

The author of this part of the Book of Proverbs is praying here for freedom from the tyranny of gossip and to have sufficient in life to live on, but not to excess, the better to keep God’s commandments. Recently Pope Francis has talked about the harm gossip does within the church. Perhaps it something for us to reflect on when we hear this Reading.

Although today’s Gospel extract is about the Twelve going out on a mission, and the saint of the day, Padre Pio, by contrast stayed in the same Friary from the day he entered the Franciscan Order, the frugal nature of what the apostles are to take with them on their journey is very apt. The poverty and simplicity of someone like Padre Pio, and the enormous impact he had on so many people, in spite of staying in the same place all his adult life, shows how such example can be truly “missionary”. Most of us will live very simple lives in a small, not very important location and yet we, too, could have a great impact on others.

Thursday 25th Week – (24th September – Our Lady of Walsingham) Eccles. 1:2-11 & Lk. 8:19-21

Keeping to the First Reading for Ordinary Time on this feast, we have here the opening sentences of an intriguing book of the Hebrew Scriptures which tries to tackle the fundamental unfairness of life. In a rather simplistic view of life the good were supposed to prosper and the bad to suffer. On this feast we celebrate a woman, in Our Lady, who was thoroughly good in everything she did, and yet she suffered greatly in her life: most especially having to witness the death of her son on the Cross. The basic unfairness of life brought about a crisis of faith in Israel, as it does at times for many believers in different generations.

I have chosen to repeat our Gospel from Tuesday because of its connection with Mary as our greatest example of discipleship. Above all others she is the one who heard God’s word and kept it, without fail in everything she did. On this special English feast of Our Lady it is good to be reminded of her example as we ask for her prayers on our journey of faith.

Friday 25th Week – Eccles. 3:1-11 & Lk. 9:18-22

Although on the face of it a rather gloomy poem, these lines from Ecclesiastes underline the fundamental mystery of life. To a large extent our attempts to understand the world around us are both futile and arrogant. We cannot fully comprehend reality in its full manifestation, and yet, as thinking beings we nonetheless have to engage in this activity, but with true humility, bowing before the ultimate majesty of God.

In today’s Gospel we are given St Luke’s account of Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. This is a much shorter account of this event that the one given us by St Matthew. Here we note another reference by St Luke to Jesus praying alone – something that was clearly a regular practice for him. The prediction of his Passion and Death is common to all three Synoptic Gospels as Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for what is to come.

Saturday 25th Week – Eccles. 11:9-12:8 & Lk. 9:43-45

In the chapters between our first two extracts from this Book of Ecclesiastes and this final one from the end of the book the author has tried to engage with the mysteries of life. Now, as he draws his reflections to a close, he repeats the ultimate futility of all such an exercise as he confirms that God is the almighty One who alone will judge all peoples, at the end of the day.

Continuing the theme of the ultimate mystery of God, once again we find the disciples at a loss to understand what Jesus is saying about his fate at the hands of the authorities. Although unable to understand it seems that, for some reason, they were also afraid to ask what all of this meant. Perhaps we might reflect on why they were so “afraid” to ask. Were they afraid, perhaps, of the answer and its implications for them, or was it something else?

Sunday 20th September
25th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2020

There is a very wrong, and ultimately a very wicked, interpretation of the Gospel message that goes under the title, “The Prosperity Gospel”. It is found in some very Evangelical, Pentecostal churches in this country and elsewhere in the world today. According to this warped way of thinking those who keep God’s Word are righteous and good things will always follow - health, wealth and happiness are givens. By the same token those to whom bad things happen must have done something terribly wrong, because that is why they are suffering poverty, disease or unhappiness. That is, of course, rubbish and it is a scandalous misinterpretation of Jesus’ message, in fact a completely misinterpretation of the whole Bible message.

Wicked people do prosper, and totally innocent good people suffer all kinds of hardships, as we well know. For mainstream Christians the most obvious way to point out how misguided is this message is to look at the example of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Above all people she did whatever God asked of her and yet still she suffered one of the most terrible things to visit any parent: the death of their child.

Bad things happen to people for all kinds of reasons, some of which are the result of wilful actions by another person (Jesus’ death on the Cross), some of which simply because that is the way life is (suffering from a disease, perhaps). What we need, and what we are given in our orthodox Christian faith, is a means of understanding God’s place in all of this. It is what is illustrated in today’s Gospel, that strange Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard.

In the extremely unjust way society operated in Jesus’ time casual labourers were at the bottom of the pile. Slaves might expect decent treatment from those who owned them and, for all the absolute wrongfulness of slavery, many slaves did have decent enough owners who treated them well and who had regular food for themselves and their families. This was not the case for the itinerant daily labourer who was even worse off than the slave. Each day and everyday, in a way perhaps reminiscent of our own “Gig Economy”, if they did not work on any particular day, they received no money and could put no food on the family table that night. The family would go hungry any day that a labourer could not earn the denarius which was needed to buy food. It was a simple, and brutal as that.

Now, when we come to look at that parable we can see that Jesus is presenting the owner of the vineyard, clearly representing God here, as someone who does not want people to go hungry, to starve. Here is a landowner, a God, who looks out for, and who fulfils, people’s needs not what they necessarily deserve.

The parable, like many other parts of Jesus’ teaching is something that we are invited to trust in Jesus’ words. We hear the Lord say to Isaiah in our First Reading, “… my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways…” In spite of what we initially might believe is injustice in that parable, we are asked to trust in a God who wants nothing other than to give us what we need on our journey to the Kingdom of heaven. God gives us what we need, not what we necessarily deserve, and there is a great sense of relief in that fact.

Saturday 19th September pm

Here are some reflections on the Readings for Mass this weekend.

Sunday 25th Week – Is. 55:6-9; Phil. 1:20-24, 27; & Mt. 20:1-16

Today’s extract from Isaiah is the final section of what is usually referred to as “the Second Isaiah”. This section of the book (chs.40-55) was written towards the end of the Exile in Babylon and is full of hope of an imminent return to Jerusalem. Here the Prophet urges people to be wise and to be open to the ways of God: ways that do not always coincide with how humans would act, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways…”

Paul writes this letter to the Philippians from a prison cell and yet it is perhaps the happiest one that he wrote. Philippi was a city founded for Roman Army veterans many decades earlier. The area had been given to them in grateful thanks for their service. It was also on a major trading route and so was also populated by merchants of various kinds. From his prison cell Paul can take a step back and reflect on his life. In the face of a potential death sentence he is in a dilemma about which would be better – to live or to die. He concludes by noting that, whatever comes our way in life, we should always live lives worthy of the Gospel.

We are coming to the final stages of St Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ministry (he enters Jerusalem at the beginning of the next chapter). Many of his thoughts, his teachings now turn towards the end time, and it is with this in mind that we need to approach this Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. On first hearing it our sense of fairness is deeply offended. Of course, those who worked the longest hours in all the heat deserve to be paid more, that is only natural justice! However, and remember this is written for people who think that “the end is nigh”, Jesus is thinking of the needs of everyone, not what they deserve. Every labourer needed a denarius each day to place food on the table that night for his family. He would need to the same the next and the next and so on. The image of God presented in this parable, therefore, is of Someone who looks out for our needs, not our deserts… thank God!

Sunday 13th September pm

Here are the reflections on the Readings for the coming week.

Monday 24th Week – (14th September – Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross) Num. 21:4-9, Phil. 2:6-11 & Jn. 3:13-17

Our first Reading gives us the famous story of the famous story of Moses and the fiery serpents who poison the people who had been complaining about the poor variety of food provided for them by God. Almost like the working of a modern vaccine, a symbol of the fiery serpent that brings death, now in Moses’ hands, brings life. In today’s feast we see this event as prefiguring Jesus’ own being raised up on a standard (the Cross) for our salvation. Jesus even refers to it in today’s Gospel!

Again, this passage from the Letter to the Philippians is very well known. It is used in the liturgies of Holy Week. Given its construction it is thought that this was, in fact, an early hymn or poem about Jesus’ death and resurrection that was known and used in communities before St Paul quotes here. Jesus will be triumphant in his death, being raised by his Father.

For many years at sporting events, mainly in the United States, someone used to walk around with a placard which read, “John 3:16”. Whoever it was tried, and often succeeded, in being caught on camera for the whole world to see! The reference is to part of today’s Gospel, “God loved the world so much that gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” Today’s Feast is rooted in God’s love for us witnesses by the death of his Son on the Cross.

Tuesday 24th Week – (15th September Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows) 1 Cor. 12:12-14, 27-31 & Jn. 19:25-27.

Although the Gospel is proper for this feast the option is to use the ordinary first reading of the day.

The image of the church community being the body of Christ, in our First Reading is central to our faith. All of us, from Mary the first disciple, onwards, are incorporated into this body and all have a role to play. These roles vary from person to person, but they are all rooted in Jesus’ body sacrificed on the Cross.

The Gospel today is brief and to the point. As he is dying in agony on the Cross Jesus gives his mother to the “Beloved Disciple” and he to her. One of the titles with which we honour Mary is that of “Mother of the Church”. The origins of that title are found here as she stands at the foot of the Cross, that was the focus of yesterday’ feast. She is here enduring the worst of all human pains: the loss by a parent of a child.

Wednesday 24th Week – (16th Sept. Ss Cornelius and Cyprian) 1 Cor. 12:31-13:13 & Lk. 7:31-35

This is perhaps the most famous passage from the writings of St Paul and a popular standard chosen for wedding services. I am not sure how well couples who choose this reading listen and reflect very carefully on the demands laid out here. The gifts God gives us are immense but then so is the call to respond with equal generosity in our relations with others. It is a reminder to us of the three ‘theological’ (God-given) virtues/graces: faith, hope and love.

Today’s gospel is part of a passage about John the Baptist. St Luke wants to make it perfectly clear that Jesus is rather more important than John who, though recognised by many as a prophet, was still ignored or ridiculed. The fact that Jesus is greater than this is an urgent call now to listen and to act on what he has to say.

Thursday 24th Week – 1 Cor.15:1-11 & Lk. 7:36-50

When St Paul refers in this passage to “the gospel I preached to you,” he is referring to the central message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. There are, of course, other aspects to the gospel message but this is key, and he sets down his knowledge of the appearances made by the Risen Christ to various people after his Resurrection. Nothing is more important than accepting and believing that these things, Paul’s preaching, and their believing, are all part of the workings of “the grace of God”.

Today’s Gospel lends itself to an imaginative exercise in contemplation: trying to imagine yourself present as this dinner at Simon’s house unfolds. Perhaps you might imagine yourself as Simon, or the woman, or even Jesus himself, or perhaps you are simply one of the other guests around the table. How does it feel when this woman comes in and begins to wash and anoint Jesus’ feet? Such a meditation can be very enlightening for us. In any case the main message is made very clear: the woman does not earn forgiveness by her actions; the forgiveness she has already received is evidenced by what she does. All that we do is a response to the love God shows us. We could never, and have no need ever, to try to earn God’s love!

Friday 24th Week – 1 Cor. 15:12-20 & Lk. 8:1-3

Our First Reading is a continuation of the passage we were given yesterday and is one of St Paul’s strongest confessions of faith in Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead. Without this belief the whole Gospel message falls apart, “If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people. We are, however, the most fortunate of all people, precisely because Jesus has died and is risen!

Rather like our First Reading today’s Gospel follows on directly from yesterday’s account of events that took place at a meal in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Quite possibly it is because Mary Magdalene is the first person named here that she has been, erroneously, presumed to be the ‘woman who was a sinner’. In fact, this list of disciples is an entirely new and unconnected passage. What it does illustrate, however, is the important role played by women disciples who are rarely mentioned, much less named, in our Gospels.

Saturday 24th Week – 1 Cor. 15:35-37, 42-49 & Lk. 8:4-15

Today’s First Reading is our final extract from this First Letter to the Corinthians, although there are other extracts which we are not given to read in our Liturgy. We have here a continuation, an underlining if you will, of Paul’s central message about the Resurrection. There is nothing more certain for him than the fact that because of Jesus’ own resurrection we too can look forward to our own. This is the ‘hope’ that he writes about consistently in his letters to all the churches that he has founded.

It is only a few weeks since we were given St Matthew’s version of this Parable of the Sower. The long interpretation of the story given by Jesus is possibly a later addition to the fundamental message of this, and other, parables of growth: the contrast between apparently meagre beginnings and spectacular outcomes. The story is a reassurance to people who are struggling with their discipleship that, although things might not look too promising at the moment, there will be an abundant harvest.

Saturday 12th September

Some thoughts on the Readings for Sunday Masses: 5.30pm and 11.00a. St Mary's & 9.15am St Aidan's.

Sunday 24th Week – Sir. 27:30-28:7, Rom. 14:7-9 & Mt. 18:21-35

Our First Reading was written by the grandson of Jesus… Jesus ben Sira, that is, who lived 200 years before Jesus of Nazareth! The writer, who had moved from Jerusalem to the large Jewish community in Alexandria in Egypt, translates into Greek the original Hebrew text (now largely lost) of his grandfather’s sayings. They are practical sayings on a wide range of subjects. This whole section of the book has the title “How to be Happy”. In the case of the extract given us today the focus is on sin and forgiveness and offers much the same message as today’s Gospel.

Today’s Second Reading is offered among the various Readings available for funerals. In the context of this Letter to the Romans St Paul is addressing how example is given to others by our behaviour (hence the reason for offering this for funerals when thinking about the example of the deceased person). The final sentence, however, goes to the heart of how this connects directly with our faith: Jesus’ death and resurrection which is for all people living and dead.

Many of Jesus’ parables rely on massive contrasts in the story to press home their message. Thus, a tiny seed becomes a huge shrub and a miniscule amount of yeast leavens a much larger amount of flour. Here the contrast is between such a huge debt owed by the servant to his master that it would have been impossible to pay back in several lifetimes, and a pitifully small debt owed to him by a fellow servant. The story illustrates the opening sentences where Jesus answers Peter’s question about forgiveness, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.” In other words, there are no limits to forgiveness, firstly from God to us, and so from us to others.

Sunday 6th September pm

Please find here below the reflections for the Readings for the coming week.

Next Posting will be live streamed Mass on Tuesday at 10am.

Monday 23rd Week – 1 Cor. 5:1-8 & Lk. 6:6-11.

St Paul comes to the nub of his problems with the community in Corinth: a case of incest. This is so scandalous that he is almost speechless that such a thing could be taking place in a community of the followers of Jesus. His condemnation is swift and absolute. Getting rid of the “old yeast”, of previous behaviours and attitudes, is a must if the community is to celebrate Christ’s sacrifice worthily.

It becomes clear from today’s Gospel that Jesus’ problems with the Pharisees began almost immediately he embarked on his public ministry. The key sentence here refers to the fact that they “were watching him to see if he would cure a man on the sabbath, hoping to find something to use against him.” It speaks of an appalling mind-set that is unwilling, or unable, to see the good and only looks for the negative. Jesus’ own way is quite the opposite.

Tuesday 23rd Week – (8th September- Feast of the Birthday of Our Lady) Rom. 8:28-30 & Mt. 1:1-16 & 18-23

Choice is a key theme of both our Readings on this feast day. Mary is chosen to be the mother of Jesus and from the very beginning she is a model of the fact that, “God cooperates with all those who love him, with all those that he has called according to his purpose.” On 8th December we celebrate the Immaculate Conception, our belief that by God’s singular providence Mary was free from sin from the beginning. Today, nine months later, we welcome her birth.

Some celebrants will choose to render the whole of this Gospel Reading, some will choose the shorter version that gives only the closing verses. The tongue-twister that is the Genealogy of Jesus refers to some remarkable women amongst the list of Jesus’ male ancestors. “Here is everyone” might be a suitable title for this passage: Patriarchs, Kings, unknowns, saints and sinners (with the women mentioned being good exemplars of this). Whichever version is chosen the unique circumstances of Jesus’ birth are made clear. She is to give birth to a son who is to be called “God-is-with-us”.

Wednesday 23rd Week – 1 Cor. 7:25-31 & Lk. 6:20-26

St Paul’s words about celibacy need to be read in context. Remember he has uncovered a horrendous case of incest within the community and has been writing about other aspects of sexual relations in the preceding verses. As is also clear from the second paragraph of this Reading, there was a strong expectation still around that “our time is growing short”. In other words, Jesus’ coming at the end of time was imminent, although no-one knew the precise date when this would happen. In the light of all of this he suggests that people should remain as they are, in their relationships, but not to engage in new ones if that is possible.

Where St Matthew has a “Sermon on the Mount”, here St Luke begins his “Sermon on the Plain”, and whereas Matthew has eight beatitudes, Luke has four beatitudes and four woes! Some scholars think that St Luke was writing for a rather affluent community, hence his reference to “the poor” rather than “the poor in spirit”, as well as his woe directed towards “you who are rich”. In any case, whatever, their origins they are to be read as an invitation to look into our own lives, our own way of responding to Jesus’ call to discipleship.

Thursday 23rd Week – 1 Cor. 8:1-7, 11-13 & Lk. 6:27-38

In the context of giving example to others Paul champions love over knowledge. In the market meat which had been laid at a pagan altar as part of a sacrifice was cheaper, and therefore more affordable for poorer people. Remember the setting here is Southern Greece with its hot temperatures and no refrigeration, and imagine the state of the old meat being sold there! Although there are really no other gods to whom sacrifice could truly be offered, and many members of the community were well aware of this, some “weaker” members were not so clued in and could be scandalised by the “wise” ones, as if they were condoning pagan sacrifices. Paul’s option in these circumstances is to go vegetarian!

The high demands of the Gospel are laid out in blunt terms by Jesus in this part of his “Sermon on the Plain”. The disciple is to go further than any pagan in responding with love to all who cross their path. St Luke offers a more nuanced command at this point than St Matthew in his version. Where Matthew has Jesus say to people, “Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect,” here St Luke renders the saying as, “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” The Father’s perfection lies in his compassion!

Friday 23rd Week - 1 Cor. 9:16-19, 22-27 & Lk. 6:29-42

St Paul is still talking about the freedom of the Gospel in the context of showing example to others (as in yesterday’s extract). There is a difference between freedom and licence, and he is willing to curb his own freedom in order to reach others with the message of that Gospel. In talking to people in Corinth he uses the metaphor of a games meeting with which they would have been very familiar in that part of the world. It was very much part of their culture. St Paul is giving us a very early example of “inculturation”: the preaching of the Gospel in terms that the recipients of the message could understand.

The sayings in today’s Gospel are a simple and strong reminder that the Gospel message is given to us as a mirror in which to judge our own lives, rather than the lives of others!

Saturday 23rd Week – 1 Cor. 10:14-22 & Lk. 6:43-49

St Paul continues the theme of the rejection of idolatry but now adds a further dimension: the unity of the body of Christ. Pagan worship of idols is to be shunned at all costs because it is inimical to the worship of the God revealed in Christ Jesus. In Christian worship the one loaf that is used in the Eucharist is a symbol of the unity of all in the one body of Christ.

Today our Gospel is the concluding section of this “Sermon on the Plain” and it ends in much the same way as Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount”. The inner quality of someone’ goodness is the only way to produce good fruit. It is from the heart that goodness, or badness flow. Goodness to put into practice what Jesus has been saying, such is the foundation of rock that ensures the survival of any structure, including true discipleship.

Saturday 5th September
Hello Everyone! Back doing some postings again!

Mass at 5.30 this afternoon is FULLY BOOKED. Tomorrow we have Masses at 9.15am at St Aidan's Benton, and at 11.00am at St Mary's, Forest Hall.

In the meantime, here are some reflections on the Readings for Mass this Sunday.

Sunday 23rd Week – Ez. 33:7-9, Rom. 13:8-10 & Mt. 18:15-20

It is made clear to Ezekiel in our First Reading that the role of the prophet is to be a sentry: someone on duty on the city walls to warn the populace that an invader is on his way. It is a role that brings great responsibility with it. A sentry who sees an invader approaching and fails to warn others is derelict in his duty and will be punished for it. However, if the warning is given and people do not respond, then he has fulfilled his duties and is not responsible for any consequences. The call to prophetic witness belongs not just in the past, in Old Testament times. It is still present today as a call to all who profess to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

Today’s short extract from the Letter to the Romans comes after a passage in which St Paul calls on the people to obey the civil authorities, whose authority come from God. This is an astonishing statement, given that the authorities in question are the officials of the Roman Empire! At this point in the development of the early church people were feeling their way in regard to attitudes to secular law. Paul is writing to people in Rome many years before the Emperor Nero’s persecution of the community. In today’s Reading Paul is laying some ground rules for the good functioning of any society – religious or secular. Paramount in both is having a reasonable basis for mutual relationships between people.

Chapter 18 of St Matthew’s Gospel is a fourth discourse (address) given by Jesus to a group of people. In this case it is to the disciples and it is concerned with relationships within the future community of the church. The word “ekklesia”, from which we derive words like “ecclesiastical” and can be translated as “church”, is given here as “community”. Jesus has just given them the parable of the Lost Sheep in which the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine on the hillside to search for the one that was lost. Fundamental to all of this is Jesus’ promise that, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I shall be there with them.” “Emmanuel” – “God-with-us”, a key idea in Matthew’s Gospel from beginning to end – is always present to help and guide those open to that presence.

Sunday 30th August. pm
After the 8pm "Good Night" posting today I am going to have a complete rest from Facebook for a few days. I am going to "detox" by going "cold turkey"!

Here are the reflections for the Readings for the coming week in one go. After tonight the next posting will be on Saturday afternoon.

Monday 22nd Week – (31st August H&N St Aidan and the Bishops of Lindisfarne) 1 Cor. 2:1-5 & Lk. 4:16-30

The role of a missionary is quite “simply to tell you what God had guaranteed”, all of which is based on Jesus, “the crucified Christ”. This is at the heart of St Paul’s message to each and every community he evangelises. It is the heart of any authentic Christian message. Missionaries of the past have shared that central message with people of their own time, and we are now called to do the same in our own.

Today we begin our journey through St Luke’s account of Jesus’ public ministry, and we will remain with this Gospel until Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. So, it is that we find ourselves with Jesus right back at the beginning of his ministry in his hometown of Nazareth. In response to the closed minds he encounters in the synagogue, where he had worshipped for many years with his family, he does not hold back, pointing out that the Jewish people had a track record of rejecting true prophets only to lose the benefits of the message to foreigners. It is little wonder that he is hustled out of the town for such provocation, which is a sign of things to come!

Tuesday 22nd Week – 1 Cor. 2:10-16 & Lk. 4:31-37

“We teach spiritual things spiritually,” is Paul’s basic stance to the people who are riven apart by factionalism in the community. He has named the various factions that had arisen and points out that only in Christ is the true basis of faith to be found and this can only be accessed by the Spirit. It is this Spirit that will reveal to us the “mind of the Lord” according to which we become capable of judging the value of everything around us. This is the grounding that we all need to accept to get beyond factionalism of every kind in order to see what faith can hold out for us.

Having left behind his own town of Nazareth, Jesus comes down the shore of the Sea of Galilee and makes his “base camp” at Capernaum, a busy place where two of the main trading routes of the Middle East cross at the Northern end of the Lake. Unlike Nazareth his teaching in the synagogue, “made a deep impression on them.” The people were open and able to recognise someone speaking with authority. Now the work of the ministry can really get underway.

Wednesday 22nd Week – 1 Cor. 3:1-9 & Lk. 4:38-44

Once again St Paul reminds people of the futility of their factionalism and how he had been forced to treat them like “infants in Christ”. They were simply not ready for any grown up teaching. Now, however, they must realise that it is God, and only God, who makes things grow. Others, like himself and Apollos have their roles to play – planting and watering the seeds but in the end, “You are God’s farm, God’s building.” This is reminiscent of the so-called “Romero Prayer” that we met a few weeks ago. A prayer written by a Northern American Bishop but later attributed to St Oscar about how only God is the master-builder no one else. We all have some part to play, but it is all God’s work.

You will notice that it is only in tomorrow’s Gospel that Jesus formally invites Simon (i.e. Simon Peter) to become a disciple but today we find him already eating at the house of his mother-in-law. As in all the Gospels this account of the public ministry begins with an almost breathless account of healing miracles, followed by teaching, followed by more healing miracles, so much so that Jesus seeks out a “lonely place” to recharge his batteries, ready to continue his ministry, something that is also important in the life of any disciple!

Thursday 22st Week – (3rd September – Feast of St Gregory the Great) 1 Cor. 3:18-23 & Lk. 5:1-11.

Today and tomorrow we find St Paul summarising the points he has made thus far in this letter. Human wisdom is no wisdom when pitted against the wisdom of God. As a result of this the people must realise the complete futility in championing Paul over Apollos or Cephas. Ultimately, “you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.”

Only now, after hearing Jesus preach, does he call the first disciples to follow him, and in some extraordinary circumstances. In a scene reminiscent of his appearance to the Apostles at the Sea of Galilee in St John’s Gospel (Jn. 21) a miraculous catch of fish is involved. Simon, now called Simon Peter, feels completely unworthy to follow someone like Jesus. Nonetheless, he and his companions are ready to “leave everything” (as St Luke points out) to follow. Jesus’ command, “Put out into deep water,” was used many years ago by Pope John Paul II in a letter calling for a missionary effort in the Church, something Pope Francis has been re-emphasising during his pontificate.

Friday 22nd Week – (4th September – The Translation of St Cuthbert) 1 Cor. 4:1-5 & Lk. 5:33-39

Today’s feast commemorates the events surrounding the removal of St Cuthbert’s body by monks from Lindisfarne during the Viking invasions. Ultimately, he was laid to rest on the site of what is now Durham Cathedral. The opening words of our First Reading today are very apt, “People must think of us as Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God.” St Cuthbert is a true exemplar of this in his life as a monk, a bishop, and as a hermit. At the end of St Paul’s eulogy for those who live up to this he notes, “Then will be the time for each one to have whatever praise he deserves, from God.” The fact that we honour Cuthbert of Lindisfarne as a saint and a patron is evidence of what he received from God after his life’s work.

The altercation between Jesus and the Pharisees in today’s Gospel is recounted in the other Synoptic Gospels as well. Jesus is going further than simply interpreting the Jewish Law in a different way. What he is doing will demand a wholly different approach – a new cloak and new wine. Perhaps those who prefer the old wine, referred to in the final sentence, are those who are unwilling, like the Pharisees, to even try to see things in a different way.

Saturday 22nd Week – 1 Cor. 4:6-15 & Lk. 6:1-5

St Paul resorts to sarcasm in warning the people of Corinth about their “boasting” – the New Revised Jerusalem Bible gives a more exact translation of this word when it refers to being “puffed up”. In contrast to their own behaviour Paul refers to himself as a “fool for the sake of Christ”! Continuing his tirade, he points out how his own example is completely at odds with their way of thinking. He lays this out so bluntly, he says, “to bring you, my dearest children, to your senses.” He is certainly pulling no punches in challenging their waywardness, as we shall see next week.

Continuing his confrontations with the rigidity of the Pharisees who seem obsessed with the minutiae of the Law, once again Jesus points to the fact that, in him, something new is happening. The fact that he quotes back to them an incident from their own Scriptures (from the “Early Prophets” in the Jewish Testament – the Books of Samuel) only rubs salt into the wound he is creating.

Sunday 30th August.
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

There is a saying that, “A week is a long time in politics,” and the same is true for our Gospel Readings over this last week. Last Sunday Peter was the hero of the hour with his confession of faith in Jesus as “the Christ”. Now, only five or six verses later, he becomes the villain of the moment. From being called “a rock”, he is now called “an obstacle”. He confessed his faith in Jesus but now he wants to direct Jesus’ life and mission and that is completely contradictory to the faith that he had just confessed.

Peter, as we are aware, has ‘form’ in matters of wavering between hero and villain. His most spectacular turnaround comes at the time of Jesus’ trial. At supper on the previous evening he had sworn that even if everyone else deserted Jesus he would not. A few hours later he denies that he even knew him.

Peter, however, is not just Peter, he is all of us. Every single one of us is capable of swift turnarounds in our lives. One moment we can be great examples to others by what we say and do, and at the next, people whose example should be avoided. In our Second Reading today St Paul calls on us to model our behaviour by what he calls our “new mind”. By this he means what he has been writing about throughout his letter to the Romans: centring our lives on the example of Jesus.

In an earlier chapter of this letter St Paul had written about an inner struggle with which he was dealing. He talks about how in his flesh, “… it is open to me to want to do good, the power to do it is not; for the good I want to do, I do not do; the evil thing which I do not want – that is what I accomplish.” Once again in saying this Paul is not just Paul, he is everyone of us! This is a situation in which we all find ourselves from time to time. “Why did I do that? Have I not learned my lesson yet?”

The thing is that by ourselves we are too weak and powerless to overcome this tendency inside to go after false things – things that are initially attractive but actually completely unable to satisfy us. Earlier in the week I was listening to a recording of a talk given over 40 years ago by one of the great teachers and preachers in our diocese – Fr Hugh Lavery. In a talk about the sacraments at one point he says, “We are not sinners because we commit sins. We commit sin because we are sinners.” This is the heart of the matter.

By ourselves we are powerless against evil and are surrounded by people who, though equally sincere in their wish to do good, are also powerless. We need help – the help that can only come from the God revealed in Jesus who comes to us in his Word in the Scriptures and in his Body and Blood, and in many other ways besides.

Although moving between heroes and villains in our own lives, deep down we know where we will find the strength to be the kind of follower of Jesus who will attract others to the same faith and hope in life that we profess.

Saturday 29th August. pm
Here are some reflections on the Readings for Mass tonight and tomorrow.

Sunday 20th Week – Jer. 20:7-9, Rom. 12:1-2 & Mt. 16:21-27

Jeremiah is in the depths of despair in our First Reading. He has a very harsh and gloomy message to give to the people of Jerusalem and as a result is mocked and derided by them, “everybody’s butt,” as he puts it. He longs to stop delivering the Lord’s message and so be freed from the ridicule. However, “a fire burning in my heart” – the presence of the Lord himself – is enough to help him continue his mission or, in the imagery of today’s Gospel, to help him carry his particular cross.

St Paul launches into the final part of his Letter to the Romans in the passage we are given today. He has already set out his stall in regard to justification and salvation and his thoughts on the redemption of his fellow Jews, and now he sets out some practical advice as to how he expects people to live in response to the message they have accepted. They are to offer their lives as “a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God”, and to “change their behaviour” and to live according to God’s will.

Today’s Gospel follows on directly from last week’s extract. Having been the hero of the hour in confessing his faith in Jesus as the Christ Peter now becomes the villain, trying to protect Jesus from what is to come. Jesus’ rebuke is brutal, “Get behind me, Satan!” Now Peter is an “obstacle” in the path that Jesus must take, and he must change his way of thinking if he is to continue to be a disciple. Taking up his own cross is the only way to act. In the case of Jeremiah in our First Reading this was to continue to deliver an unpopular message in spite of the ridicule he received in return. St Paul calls for a similar change of behaviour in our Second Reading. Each of us has our own cross to bear, and insofar as we bear that cross, we can be assured of “finding” our life.

Saturday 29th August.
Saturday 21st Week – (29th August Feast of the Death of John the Baptist) 1 Cor. 1:26-31 & Mk. 6:17-29.

St Paul makes it crystal clear to the people of Corinth that they have nothing of their own to boast about before God. He reminds them that, “God chose what is foolish by human reckoning… God chose what is weak by human reckoning.” They, and we, are those very same people, foolish and weak, chosen by God and by God’s grace made members of Christ’s Body. This is the basis on which all discipleship is to be understood.

The Gospel today is proper to the feast and recounts the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist. John has spoken the truth to power and is suffering the consequences in prison. However, a toxic mixture of vengeance (sought by Herodias) and of a weak ruler (Herod) who refuses to admit to weakness and wrongdoing brings about his execution. The combination of “speaking the truth to power” in our world today vengeful leaders who dare not admit to being weak or wrong, is just as dangerous to those who dare to speak out. John the Baptist’s prophetic example is as relevant today as ever.

Friday 28th August.
Friday 21st Week – (Feast of St Augustine) 1 Cor. 1:17-25 & Mt. 25:1-13

Having honoured the mother, today we honour the son, St Augustine – the most prolific writer amongst the Latin Fathers of the Church. His influence on other theologians since then is incalculable. His body of work includes reams of letters and sermons, as well as more formal works of theology and his personal testament about his conversion: the “Confessions”.

Having offered praise to God in the opening section of this letter St Paul sets out the groundwork for what will be some fierce criticism of the way the community in Corinth is behaving. As always, for Paul, everything he says is centred firmly on Jesus’ death on the Cross which has no logic in pagan terms – back into which the people were beginning to slide – but makes total sense to the true believer, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Thursday 27th August.
Thursday 21st Week – (Feast of St Monica) 1 Cor. 1:1-9 & Mt. 24:42-51

St Monica prayed long and hard for the conversion of her son, St Augustine. Ultimately her persistence in prayer succeeds and she witnesses his conversion shortly before her own death.

Paul begins one of his most famous letters with the usual greeting praising the work and graces of God in the people he is addressing. They, and we, need to bear these blessings in mind as we move on in the days to come when Paul’s words will be a ringing condemnation of the failure of these same people to respond to the graces God has given them in Christ.

The warning in today’s Gospel to “stay awake”, comes almost at the end of Jesus public ministry. Jesus’ own “hour” is about to come, that of the disciples will be in the future, but at an unexpected moment. So, they must stay alert and be like faithful servants always on the alert to respond to their Master’s wishes.

Wednesday 26th August. pm

After the risk assessment this morning at St Aidan's, Benton, and discussing things with the volunteers who have offered to help with stewarding and cleaning, we have decided to try to open the church for Mass on SUNDAY 6th SEPTEMBER.

There are simply too many things to put in place before that date, and it would not be safe to open any earlier.

We are arranging for an email address through which the bookings for St Aidan's are to be made each week. As soon as this is set up we will inform people via the website and this Facebook page. People who do not have access to the Internet will have to make their booking via a friend who does.

The capacity for the church is 40 with everyone wearing face masks. On arrival at the church you will need to be checked against the register of those who have booked. Anyone arriving without a booked place will have to wait to see if there is any spare place available by the beginning of Mass.

Masses will be live streamed and available to any members of St Aidan's Parish who are members of this Facebook page.

More information about the opening will be published in the course of the next few days.

Wednesday 26t August.
Wednesday 21st Week – 2 Thess. 3:6-10, 16-18 & Mt. 23:27-32

This final extract from this letter of St Paul contains practical advice about what to do with people who are sitting around idle, waiting for the Second Coming and expecting everyone else to look after them. His advice is blunt: no work, no food!

Today we have the final section of Jesus’ tirade against the scribes and Pharisees, and what a climax! Here we have a final provocation, “Finish off the work your fathers began!” They will certainly do that two or three days later when Jesus is arrested and handed over to the Roman authorities to be put to death.

Tuesday 25th August.
Tuesday 21st Week – 2 Thess. 2:1-3, 14-17 & Mt. 23:23-26

Clearly an ongoing concern of people in Thessalonia was the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time. This was the main topic in Paul’s first letter to these people, and their concern continues. According to the Acts of the Apostles (17:2) Paul had only preached in the synagogue there for three sabbaths before moving on. For all their sincerity in converting to Christ they would still have had a great deal to learn about him and the faith in general. It is hardly surprising that they need further reassurance and the kind of encouragement offered in passages like this one.

We find Jesus in the middle of a devastating tirade against the scribes and Pharisees in this chapter. Remember Jesus is now in Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week, as we call it. After comments like these it is little wonder that the same scribes and Pharisees are gunning for him! Jesus’ main point is their hypocrisy: saying one thing and acting in another. It acts as a warning to all disciples, including those of today, not to go down the same route!

Monday 24th August.
Monday 21st Week – (24th August Feast of St Bartholomew) 2 Thess. 1:1-5, 11-12 & Jn. 1:45-51

For the next three days our First Readings come from 2 Thessalonians. Scholars find this letter very difficult to date and most doubt that it was written by St Paul himself. It is certainly in keeping with Paul’s way of thinking about salvation and the Second Coming. After the usual greeting to the recipients of the letter the writer launches into a lengthy piece praising the response of the people to God’s grace. In fact, this whole section is one continuous sentence in the original Greek: 10 verses with no punctuation, and therefore very difficult to translate!

Our Gospel is proper to the Feast of St Bartholomew, called “Nathanael” in St John’s Gospel. He shows an interesting cynicism about Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Presumably it was considered something of a ‘hick’ town, a nothing sort of place, at that time. Jesus, the Messiah and Saviour comes from the most unlikely of places and chooses the most unlikely people to be his close companions. We do well to remember this in regard to ourselves!


Sunday 23rd August.
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

The film “Sully”, starring Tom Hanks, tells the true story of a remarkable emergency landing made by an American Airlines pilot – Chesley Sullenberger (Sully) – on his final working day at the airline. Coming into land at La Guardia Airport in New York the plane flew into a huge flock of birds and suffered catastrophic failure to both its engines. With no power and losing height rapidly Sully had to make an emergency landing. He could not make it to La Guardia and with the area being so densely populated, with many high-rise buildings, even airports nearer were not feasible options, so he decided to land the aircraft on the Hudson River that flows between Manhattan and New Jersey.

Miraculously he managed to land the aircraft on the river in one piece. It stayed intact and afloat long enough to get all 155 of the passengers and crew off safely on to the ferries and other vessels that quickly came to their rescue. No one was badly hurt at all. Sully was hailed as a hero. However, a Board of Inquiry had to be called to investigate the accident. All the computer simulations showed that Sully could have reached two other airports safely. The only problem was, as Sully himself pointed out to the Inquiry, that the pilots who flew the simulators knew what was going to happen in advance, he did not. I won’t spoil the story by giving the ending, but since it is a Tom Hanks’ film you can probably guess it (it is certainly worth watching).

The point is that there is a world of difference between theory and practice. It is that difference that confronts the disciples in our Gospel today.

At first Jesus asks them a theoretical question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Notice that it is both theoretical and impersonal. They respond in kind with theoretical answers. Then, however, Jesus asks a question in the most personal way possible, “Who do you say I am?” Now their answer has to be of a very different kind.

Ever the impetuous one, Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He gets it right in both names that he gives Jesus – “Christ”/Messiah and “Son of God”! Almost in the next breath, but not given in our Reading today, he falls from grace by trying to shield Jesus from his destiny in Jerusalem to be told, “Get behind me, Satan!” Nonetheless here his profession of faith receives the response, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.” He is to be leader of the band of disciples and is now called “Rock”/Peter/Cephas, as opposed to his earlier name Simon/Simeon.

The rock, however, is not so much the person of Peter as the faith that he has professed: his faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. It is this rock that we are all called to build on: to make a profession of faith in which we acknowledge that it is in Christ, and only in Christ, that our lives have value, meaning, purpose and hope. Nothing else ultimately will satisfy our deepest longings. Nothing else will ultimately satisfy the deepest longings of any human person, so we profess to believe.

The practicalities of our faith have all been brought into sharp focus over these last few months, and instead of being perhaps, at times, theoretical now it has become all too real. Our churches have been closed for months and are only now reopening slowly, and necessarily tentatively. Many people have become used to “attending” Mass virtually and, for good reason, still are today. Different ways of praying have been promoted: some familiar like the Rosary or the Prayer of the Church, others not so well known by people in the past like Lectio Divina and silent meditation.

During this time of lockdown some people, we do not know how many, will not have been to church and we will not see them here again. For all of us our pattern of prayer and reflection, and our attendance at Mass have all changed, and may never go back to what they were before. This may be no bad thing at all. Indeed, it could be of great benefit to us and to the church as a whole, so long as it is a change based on rock: the rock that is our faith and trust in “Christ, Son of the living God,” because that is the only basis on which our faith will develop and flourish or, as St Paul puts it in our Second Reading, “All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen.”

Saturday 21st August pm.
Here are some reflections on the Readings for Mass this weekend....

Sunday 21st Week – Is. 22:19-23, Rom. 11:33-36 & Mt. 16:13-20

The name “Shebna” is not a Jewish one whereas “Eliakim” most certainly is. This passage seems to be about the royal household repenting of waywardness with regard to the Covenant, and a return to more observant ways. The link with our Gospel today is clearly the symbolic action of placing the “key of the House of David” on the shoulder of Eliakim as a sign of his new office.

Once again with today’s passage from the Letter to the Romans we reach a conclusion to a section of Paul’s message, and once again the conclusion is in the form of a doxology. He has been reflecting on the situation of his fellow Jewish people in the light of the salvation won in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Here he bows to the ultimate mystery of God’s ways. We may reflect on these mysteries, indeed we are called on to do so, but we will never fully fathom them out.

This is one of the most famous passages from St Matthew’s Gospel. Not only does Peter confess Jesus as the Messiah (“the Christ”), but also as “Son of God”. Jesus responds by saying that on the rock of the faith that Peter has just confessed he will build his “church”. “Church” here is not so much about a building, rather it is about a new community. Remember that at the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had compared the wise person with someone who built his house on rock, rather than sand (6:24-27). Notice, also, the twofold questioning of Jesus: firstly, asking for a general comment about what other people are saying of him; secondly, asking the personal question that demands an act of faith on the part of the disciples.

Saturday 22nd August.
Saturday 20th Week – (22nd August The Feast of the Queenship of Mary) Ez. 43:1-7 & Lk. 1:26-38

This is the final extract from the Books of the Prophets in our weekday Readings, and a very fitting one for this feast day of Mary. After all the tribulations Ezekiel had forecast and witnessed, hope of renewal is on the horizon: the glory of the Lord is to return to the Temple. The Exiles will return, but ultimately as Christians we see the fulfilment of this renewal in the life, death and resurrection of Mary’s Son, Jesus.

The Gospel account of the Annunciation is foundational for our devotion to Mary and her discipleship. It is here that makes her fundamental act of faith, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your word.” Today’s Feast marks the culmination of that discipleship being brought into a place of honour in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Friday 21st August.
Friday 20th Week – (H&N Feast of the Dedication of St Mary’s Cathedral) Ez. 37:1-4 & Mt. 22:34-40

(The Readings of the Day offer sufficient scope to reflect on what a feast such as the dedication of a cathedral may signify.)

People may remember the old Negro Spiritual “Dem bones, Dem Dry bones” or, “Hear the Word of the Lord”. Its origins, as the spiritual mentions in the lyrics, lie here in the writings of Ezekiel. The devasted Jewish People, exiled far from their homeland, to all intents and purposes they are dead to the world, are to be raised again, “I shall put my spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil.” As a negro spiritual it offered the promise of freedom and new life for the slaves.

The question about the greatest of the commandments is the final exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. After this there is nothing further to discuss with them. Everything comes down to the double commandment of love of God and neighbour. The die is now cast and in two days’ time Jesus will be arrested!

Thursday 20th August.
Thursday 20th Week – (Feast of St Bernard of Clairvaux) Ez. 36:23-28 & Mt. 22:1-14

The promise of Israel rising once more is the theme of the penultimate section of the writings of Ezekiel, from which comes today’s extract. A cleansing with water and a gift of a new heart and a new spirit will be the hallmarks of a renewed people who will, in future, be faithful to the Covenant, “You will be my people and I will be your God.”

Jesus has now entered into Jerusalem and we are in the final stages of St Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Public Ministry. In today’s Gospel he makes a very pointed attack on the Chief Priests and other leaders of the people. They are the ones who have turned down the invitation to the Wedding Feast, an invitation that is now offered to others, people whom the elite of the Jewish Establishment despise. The invitation is offered to all and sundry, however, the invitation is also a call to change, to change from evil ways, and to be “correctly dressed” for the feast.

Wednesday 19th August.
Wednesday 20th Week – (H&N St Oswin, King of Northumbria) Ez. 34:1-11 & Mt. 20:1-16

Today’s passage from Ezekiel is a devastating indictment of the kings of Israel and Judah, many of whom had utterly failed to be faithful to the Covenant. Jerusalem now lies in ruins and this oracle makes clear whose fault it is. The people will one day be restored to their city, but kingship is gone for ever. Some of the kings had likened themselves to shepherds of the people but from now on, “I am going to look after the flock myself and keep all of it in view.” Jesus will, in due course, refer to himself as the “Good Shepherd”.

Today’s Gospel is one that troubles many people because of its apparent injustice! “Of course, those who have toiled all day in the heat should receive more than those who only worked for one hour as things were cooling down,” so goes our logic. God’s logic, however, works in a different way. God is keen to address the needs of everyone rather than dwell on what they might think they deserve. Every labourer was basically on a “Zero Hours Contract” and had to earn one denarius every single day to put food on the table for his family. No denarius, no food that day, it was as brutal as that! The picture we are presented with here is of a God who cares for all, whatever their needs may be.

Tuesday 18th August.
Tuesday 20th Week – Ez. 28:1-10 & Mt. 19:23-30

Today’s extract from Ezekiel is part of a whole series of oracles against the various small nations that surrounded Israel and Judah. All of these smaller nations will be overwhelmed by a greater power - ultimately the Babylonian Empire – but these oracles make it clear that there is only one God who is supreme over all nations and their destinies: the God of Israel.

The “man of great wealth” from our Gospel yesterday has just left in sadness at what Jesus had asked of him. Jesus makes an observation that riches can impede one’s progress into the Kingdom of Heaven. The “eye of a needle” is thought to have been a very narrow gate into the city of Jerusalem that no beast of burden could pass though if laden with goods (goods which may contain concealed weapons to use against the city). The disciple must be similarly unburdened. Peter, in a moment of particular self-interest, asks about what Jesus’ disciples may expect having given up everything to follow him. Jesus’ answer is truly Good News.

Monday 17th August.
Monday 20th Week – Ez. 24:15-24 & Mt. 19:16-22

In today’s extract from the writings of Ezekiel we are reaching the climax of his prophecies about the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem and this is symbolised by the loss of his own wife! A similarly heart wrenching event is to be felt by the whole people by the destruction of the Temple, “I am about to profane my sanctuary… the passion of your souls.” Nothing worse could be imagined for the people, particularly those already in exile in Babylon because they will never return and find things as they were before. However, they are not to lament, rather, “You will learn that I am the Lord.” If ever there was such a thing as “tough love” this is it!

Jesus’ words to the man in today’s Gospel will cause consternation to the disciples, as we will hear tomorrow. The demands of discipleship seem extraordinarily high. What Jesus is actually saying to the man who believes that he is fulfilling all the demands of the commandments is that these are not matters about external behaviour, rather they are about internal conversion, about having the Kingdom of Heaven front and centre of all our response to God’s will.

Sunday 16th August.
Feast of the Assumption 2020

Our Lady is known by many different names and titles: St Mary, the old English name and used in the title for our own parish “St Mary of the Rosary”; the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Blessed Mother; and so on. Some of us will remember from years ago the “Litany of Loreto” which was recited on many occasions and in which she was given what sounded like rather bizarre titles: “Mystic Rose”, “Star of the Sea”, and so on. She is also connected by title to various places across the world: Our Lady of Lourdes, of Walsingham, and so on. Two titles, however, stand out above all others. The first and most important title, and the one from which all the others ultimately derive, is “Mother of God”; the second is a title used officially for the first time at the Second Vatican Council in 1964 – “Mother of the Church”.

Clearly, fundamental to these main titles is the notion of motherhood. Rather than dream up all sorts of honorific titles, many obscure and some even fanciful to 21st Century ears, motherhood has all it takes to build good, solid foundations for our devotion to Mary today. Above all else it is rooted in relationship. It is about a loving human encounter of the deepest kind: a human experience that helps us to appreciate the loving encounter with Christ.

Mary’s encounter with God is acknowledged by Elizabeth in our Gospel. Elizabeth is the first to recognise that before her stands, “the mother of my Lord”. Mary had said “Yes” to the invitation of the angel at the Annunciation and she is, indeed, to become the mother of the Lord/the Saviour/the Son of God/the Messiah. I cannot believe for one moment that that encounter with Gabriel was her first with God. We believe that throughout her life she always did what was the will of God and would have encountered that God every day in her prayer life. The encounter of the Annunciation was simply a continuation, albeit on another level, of the connection she already had with God through prayer. She must already have had a deep relationship in prayer to be able to recognise what was being asked of her.

She is to be “mother” and what that motherhood means is expressed in her song of praise in that Gospel: the Magnificat, as we call it. It is part of God’s loving purpose that all values based on domination and exploitation of others are to be overturned. The “lowly” and the ”hungry” are the ones who find mercy from the God who seeks them out. Mary’s mission in all of this is to bear and to nurture the one who will bring all of these things about by his life, death and resurrection. It will begin, through God’s grace with the nurturing and example of “the Mother of God” in Nazareth, and it continues today by that same person now named, “Mother of the Church”.

In this Feast of the Assumption we celebrate the culmination of Mary’s example of discipleship when she follows her Son into the fullness of the kingdom of heaven. We also acknowledge and give thanks for her continuing example and prayer for us as “Mother of the Church”.

Saturday 15th August pm.
Reflections on the Reading for tomorrow's Mass.
Sunday – Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (transferred from Saturday 15th) – Rev. 11:19; 12:1-6, 10; 1 Cor. 15:20-26 & Lk. 1:39-56

The Book of Revelation is full of very strange imagery. Written for a community of Christians persecuted for their faith, this passage is about the struggle between the People of God (represented by the Woman) and the pagan Roman Empire (the apparently all-powerful dragon). This passage ends with a hymn of triumph. The woman gives birth to a son who is taken straight to heaven away from the grasp of the dragon. At another level, Mary, as Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church is also seen in the symbolism of this passage. Her Son triumphs over the dragon, as will those who remain faithful in spite of the threat of persecution. Mary is herself a symbol of triumph over the pagan dragon.

Mary’s redemption and assumption into heaven are the result of her Son’s Death and Resurrection. She is the first, after her Son, to be received fully into the Kingdom of Heaven, not because of her own merits. What she did at all stages of her life was to cooperate fully with God’s grace and will. It is only through her Son that all men and women may be saved, and who will be taken in their turn into the same Kingdom.

Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, illustrates her own concern for those in need: the need of an older cousin expecting her first child; and, in her Song of Thanksgiving (the Magnificat), her deep faith in the power of God working in her life and in the life of all who trust and believe in God’s promises. Today’s feast is the ultimate triumph of God’s grace working to our redemption in the life of the “first and best” disciple.

Friday 14th August.
Friday 19th Week – (Feast of St Maximilian Kolbe) Ez. 16:1-15, 60, 63 &Mt. 19:3-12

This long passage opens with a parable about a baby girl (Israel) being born and abandoned at birth but rescued by the Lord. In the following verses, which we are not given to read in the Lectionary, the promiscuous behaviour of this same girl, now grown up, is described in graphic, explicit detail. The passage ends with the Lord offering the People a new covenant, but they are never to forget the depths of infidelity to which they descended.

Books have been written about this passage about divorce in our Gospel today. Among other things Jesus is pointing out that just because something is “allowed” by law does not, of itself, make it a good thing to do. There is a difference between crime and sin, though many people seem not to realise this: thinking that if something is legal it must be virtuous as well. Divorce is a tragedy. It is a failure of something that began with great promise and hope but now lies in ruins. Divorce may be necessary at times, to protect a person’s wellbeing for example, but it always marks a failure. Promoting good marriage preparation and supporting married couples is an important part of the mission of the Church to uphold stable relationships.

Wednesday 12th August.
Wednesday 19th Week – Ez. 9:1-7; 10:18-22 & Mt. 18:15-20

Today we find that Ezekiel is given a vision of the judgment that is to befall the Temple in Jerusalem. Those who had been unfaithful to the Covenant and to true worship are to be punished without mercy, but those who had denounced these wayward practices are to be saved.

At both the beginning and end of his Gospel Matthew talks about the “God-with-us” (Emmanuel) here we find that this presence – “where two or three are gathered in my name” – is the basis for the authority of the community. “Community” in the Greek here is “ekklesia”, which we also translate as “church”. It is the same authority that was given to St Peter in Mt. 16:19. These are the only two occasions in the Gospels where the word “ekklesia” is used. Above all, that authority is about strenuous efforts to reconcile those who have strayed.

Tuesday 11th August.
Tuesday 19th Week – (11th August, Feast of St Clare of Assisi) Ez. 2:8 – 3:4 & Mt. 18:1-5, 10, 12-14.

In a very vivid way Ezekiel receives his prophetic calling by, literally, having to swallow God’s words, so that he may speak those same words to his fellow Exiles. Whilst the scroll he consumes is “as sweet as honey”, the words spoken to the People will be anything but sweet!

Chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel is the fourth of his discourses (collections of Jesus’ teaching). In this case relations within the community of disciples is the central theme of the teaching. It begins with the basic question of who is the greatest in the Kingdom. Perhaps the disciples were hoping that he would point to themselves, or perhaps even just one of them, but instead he places a “little child” – someone of no economic or legal worth at that time – as the greatest. Becoming childlike is going to be the key to opening up the mysteries of the Kingdom and welcoming children and the lost are to be the characteristics of the community.

Monday 10th August.
Monday 19th Week – (Feast of St Laurence, Deacon and Martyr) Ez. 1:2-5, 24-28 & Mt.17:22-27

Our First Readings for the next two weeks come from the Prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest and seems to have been one of those exiled to Babylon in the first of the Deportations (597 BCE). From that Exile he witnesses the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem and a persistent theme in his writings is to ask, “Where, in all of this, is God?” In today’s passage the Prophet receives his vocation through a vision. Included in that vision, but not given us in the extract in the Lectionary are four figures – human being, calf, lion and eagle – these are also mentioned in the Book of Revelation (4:7) and will come to be used as symbols of the four Evangelists!

Two incidents are cobbled together in our Gospel passage today. Jesus makes a further prediction of his forthcoming troubles in Jerusalem. Currently he is in the relative safety of Galilee. This is neither the time nor the place to make a great fuss over something that was irritating to many Jews who lived far from Jerusalem: paying the annual tax for the upkeep of the Temple. The time will, however, come for that stand, in Jerusalem itself, but for now he will comply in an almost contemptuous way! This incident is only given us by St Matthew, and it shows Jesus’ disdain for some of the intricate formalities of the Jewish religion.

Sunday 9th August.
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

There are many times in life when things are going along so apparently smoothly that it is very difficult for us to imagine being in the midst of that storm on the Sea of Galilee. Clearly, this is not the case at the moment!

Being tossed about by the effects of this pandemic make it only too easy for us to imagine ourselves being buffeted about by the winds and the sea. Whether it is about concern for our own health and that of our family members, the restrictions of the lockdown, the consequences of the easing of that same lockdown, job security and a host of other issues, we are in the midst of what may be referred to as a “perfect storm”. Quite what the outcome is going to be for ourselves, our various communities, including our parishes and churches, nobody really knows.

In the last few days, according to St Matthew’s Gospel account, the disciples had been with Jesus as he attended to needs of the crowd firstly by healing their sick and then by feeding them with the five loaves and two fish. Jesus tells them to go on ahead of him while he sends the crowd away – to have some alone time for himself in prayer, after all that had been going on. Late in the night, in the middle of a storm, the disciples see him coming towards them and Peter, forever impetuous, decides he can reach Jesus by stepping out of the boat and walking towards him across the water… only he can’t. “Lord save me!” is his cry and, as Jesus rebukes him for his lack of faith, they climb together back into the boat, and all becomes calm once more. No wonder the disciples are now able to say, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” At least, they are able to make that confession of faith then, but it is a faith that fluctuates all over the place depending on the circumstances.

Throughout the Gospels we find times when the disciples are full of faith and trust in their Master but equally, we find them doubting at times, and even running away from him when danger comes their way. The story of their discipleship is one that includes the highs and lows of everyone’s life.

Elijah, in our First Reading, had also been having something of a stormy time. The Lord had asked him to go and tell King Ahab and his wife Jezebel that what they were doing was evil. It was against God’s law. That would have been enough to receive a death sentence from a very violent and vindictive regime. So, quite understandably, Elijah tries to make his escape going in the opposite direction but to no avail. God’s will must be done. He journeys to Mount Horeb to meet his God and finds God not in the extraordinary and powerful events of nature, rather it is in the gentle breeze. Now he is able to continue his journey and do what God asks of him.

Jesus promises to be with his disciples in all kinds of weather – especially in times of danger. To be able to sense that presence, however, we need to create a quiet place in our lives – ‘a still centre’, as it is sometimes called. In that stillness, in spite of the storm that rages around us, we will find the God who always responds to our needs, and have the confidence to go forward on our particular journey of living and announcing the Kingdom of Heaven – the Good News to others.

Saturday 8th August pm.
Here are the reflections on the Readings for Mass tonight and tomorrow morning.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 1Kgs. 19:9, 11-13, Romans 9:1-5 & Mt. 14:22-33

Fearing for his life, Elijah had been trying to escape from the dangerous task that God had given him: to denounce the wickedness of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. In journeying to Mount Horeb he is taking up once again his prophetic calling. Symbolically, he has journeyed for 40 days and 40 nights to get to the mountain and now he meets with his God. This God does not, however, come to him in the spectacular – a devastating tornado, or an earthquake, nor in a devastating fire. Instead God reveals the Godself in the “gentle breeze”. Perhaps this might be an opportunity for us to reflect on the noise and busy-ness of our lives and look towards creating space to be aware of the “gentle breeze” in us and among us.

In the preceding chapters of his Letter to the Romans St Paul had set out his understanding of salvation. In these next three chapters (9-11) he reflects on Israel’s place in this overall plan. He will do this by reflecting on the Hebrew Scriptures, but he begins in today’s extract with a prayer in the form of a lament for his people.

Believing that we are being tossed about in a storm and everything we hold dear is under threat is not too difficult to imagine at the moment. The Christian Faith has been challenged and under attack for many years, but in the midst of the pandemic the challenges have become very real indeed. Where is God in the midst of all or this? What is going to happen to our churches as we try to come to terms with reopening them but with ominous signs that this situation is far from over? The Story of Jesus coming the rescue of the disciples in their battered boat, walking on the water, is a reminder to us that God always looks out for the well-being of the disciples, including those of today: the Church. Whilst we do not know the outcome of the challenges facing us, we do know that the Lord is with us every step of the way, offering to calm the storm.

Saturday 8th August.
Saturday Week 18 – (8th August, Feast of St Dominic) Habakkuk 1:12 – 2:4 & Mt. 17:14-20

Our one-off Reading from the Prophet Habakkuk was probably written at about the same time as the writings of Nahum. Set in the context of the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel the Prophet refers to the misplaced worship of the people – worshipping the nets that caught the fish rather than the One who provided the fish in the first instance. The true believer, however, like “the upright man will live by his faithfulness”.

Today’s Gospel passage comes immediately after Jesus and the inner circle of disciples (Peter, James and John) have come down the mountain after the Transfiguration. The disciples had failed to rid the son of the man who approaches Jesus of his demons. Jesus complains at their lack of faith. Even a tiny amount of real trust and faith – as tiny as the mustard seed that grew into a huge bush, as we have heard recently in one of the parables – can accomplish incredible feats. Like our First Reading the call to faithfulness and trust is clear.

Friday 7th August.
Friday Week 18 – Nahum 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7 & Mt. 16:24-28

Nothing is known either of Nahum or the town he says he comes from – Elkosh. This short book is a poem, probably written about the same time some of Jeremiah’s earlier writings (and hence its place in this sequence of Readings in the Lectionary from the Prophets). At first it might seem to be gloating over the imminent destruction of the pagan empire of the Assyrians who had overrun the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It is rather a further tract emphasising the ultimate power of the God of Israel and Judah. This is the God who reigns supreme over history. Pagan rulers have their moments, but it is the Jewish God who is in charge of history.

Our Gospel passage is set in Caesarea Philippi, Peter has made his confession of faith and then, when Jesus announces that her was to suffer and die, he had taken the Master to one side to try to dissuade him from such a path, only to be called “Satan”! Now Jesus turns to the address the whole band of disciples to tell them that they, like him, will have their own crosses to bear, should they choose to do so. If they do follow in the footsteps of their Lord, then reward in the Kingdom of Heaven will be theirs.

Thursday 6th August.
Thursday Week 18 (6th August The Feast of the Transfiguration) – Jer. 31:31-34 & Mt. 17:1-9

Although other First and Second Readings are designated for this feast, we keep to the very special ordinary Reading for today because it is the climax (in fact it is the final extract we hear from the writings of Jeremiah) of the Book and sets out what our Feast celebrates: the promise of a new covenant. As Christians we see in Jesus the fulfilment of this passage and the Transfiguration is a further confirmation of that covenant in Jesus.

As is often the case St Matthew ‘softens’ the account given by St Mark of this same incident. There is no reference to the three disciples being “frightened”. Here we have a straightforward account of the events in which they received confirmation of Jesus being God’s Son: conversant with, but separate from, the two great symbols of the Old Covenant Moses and Elijah. This was an experience they were told to keep secret from the other disciples until the Resurrection, but it must have been a boost to their confidence in Jesus, especially as he now begins his journey from the relative safety of Galilee up to what awaits him in Jerusalem!

Wednesday 5th August.
Wednesday Week 18 – Jer. 31:1-7 & Mt. 15:21-28.

Our final two extracts from the writings of Jeremiah – today and tomorrow – come from the chapter that will announce a new covenant between God and God’s people to replace the one that both Israel and Judah had failed to keep. Both North and South will return to a new and joyful beginning promoted by a God who is always faithful. In fact, of course, the North will not return. It is only the former inhabitants of Judah who will return to their beloved homeland. They are referred to as “the remnant of Israel”.

Jesus is now in pagan territory and it is a pagan woman who comes to him to plead on behalf of her daughter. Although apparently reluctant to accede to her wishes eventually he does and comments on her “great faith”. Once again, we are offered a real example of faith from a most unlikely source – unlikely to the minds of observant Jews at the time. Here we find promoted as an example to others not an observant, male Pharisee, far from it. Here we have a pagan female! For both the original audience of Jesus, and that of St Matthew, this would have been a shocking turnaround from expected norms!

Tuesday 4th August.
Tuesday Week 18 (4th August - Feast of St John Vianney) – Jer. 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22 & Mt.15: 1-2, 10-14.

We move into the final section of the writings of the Prophet Jeremiah today with the opening section of what is often called “The Book of Consolation”. Having been the bearer of some terrible news for the people now the Prophet points to the fact that God’s anger is not for ever. There is hope for the future for both Israel and Judah. Although they have experienced the pit of despair, healing and hope are on offer.

As on Monday so today, because we are in Year A for our Sunday Gospels, today we are offered an alternative extract for today’s Gospel Reading. Once again, we find Jesus sparring with the Pharisees, this time over his own disciples’ lack of observance of the old customs. Jesus responds in combative form, so combative in fact the disciples seem to be concerned at the reaction his words have provoked. In the NRJB translation their question is put in this way, “Do you know that the Pharisees were scandalised when they heard what you said?” Far from apologising for his words, Jesus reinforces them when refers to them as the blind leading the blind! Jesus’ attacks on his opponents are getting stronger!

Monday 3rd August.
Monday 18th Week (3rd August St Oswald, King of Northumbria) – Jer. 28: 1-17 & Mt. 14:22-36

Our First Reading is a long passage from the Prophet Jeremiah. The message, however, is clear thanks to how swiftly (2 months) things come about. One of the official prophets of the Temple – Hananiah – predicts that the power of Babylon will wane, and the people will be safe. Far from this being the case Jeremiah, a true prophet, predicts that instead of the wooden yoke that Hananiah had smashed to symbolise the end of the reign of Babylon, God will replace it with one of iron. Not only that but, thanks to preaching apostasy, Hananiah will die… and he does two months later. Only the words of a true prophet are to be believed!

Because we heard the Miracle of the Loaves and Fish in our Gospel yesterday, today we are given an alternative: Jesus Walking on the Water. Once again, we find the disciples tossed and turned in a boat during a storm. This time they are terrified at seeing Jesus approaching them across the lake. Jesus’ words echo those we find in many parts of the Bible, “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid!” We are invited in these turbulent and uncertain times to hear these same words spoken to us.

Sunday 2nd August.
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I’m sure everyone will remember the scenes in supermarkets just before the lockdown was imposed. Tinned goods were flying off the shelves, as were packets of pasta, and toilet rolls just disappeared into thin air! After the panic buying there were pictures from across the country of empty shelves everywhere. Rumours began to spread, “Oh, such-and-such a store has tins of tomatoes.” “That store had self-raising flour this morning.” And so it went on. Fear of insufficient food to go around was enough to turn some people into rapacious, and at times violent, hoarders. Who would have thought at the New Year toilet rolls would become the most sought after item of spring 2020?

In fact, of course, there never really were any major shortages. There was always enough food to go around, if only people would stop, think, and be reasonable. Once people began to realise this, the scenes at the supermarkets calmed down again.

If something is in short-supply and it is thought to be vital for my needs, suddenly it becomes valuable. Create a market for something, declare it to be in short supply, and fear will drive people to all kinds of behaviour to get their hands on it.

There is a sense in which this is what happened in Christianity with something that was treated almost like any other commodity: Grace. Grace is, in fact, simply a word to denote God’s loving presence in us. The market was created by saying this was absolutely necessary for salvation. Eternal damnation awaited all those who did not possess this thing called “grace”. Not only that but this ‘grace’ was scarce, difficult to obtain. Once people buy into that fear of missing out on something vital you immediately create a market and an atmosphere akin to panic buying. For centuries this is how many of the different branches of the Church presented religion.

Now, admittedly this is something of a caricature, but as with all caricatures, if accurate, it bears some relationship to the truth. In such a system once the fear element is taken away – whether deliberately or accidentally, when it is shown up to be an empty threat – then it all collapses.

However, it is clear from our Gospels, and in the main thrust of the whole of the Scriptures, that God’s love, God’s grace, is actually available in an abundance beyond our imagining. Far from being scarce it is, in fact, superabundant! Instead of hoarding the precious little we have, for fear of not having enough for ourselves, let alone others, we can reach out to others to share with them what is truly Good News about God’s presence in life, in all aspects of life.

Among other things, that miracle of the Loaves and the Fish is about God’s freely available abundance. In spite of what seems to be impossibly small for such a huge crowd – five loaves and two fish - there is more than enough to go around for everyone, so much more that baskets of leftovers can be collected. This is the true picture of God’s availability to us. So there is no need to build a system based on fear of scarcity, rather the call is to build something so attractive that others will want to know what it is that we have that makes life so full of hope and satisfaction. We have Good News to share. News that will bring people hope in a time of despair, light in a time of darkness, reassurance in a time of uncertainty.

Saturday 1st August pm
Here are some reflections on the Readings for Mass this Sunday. Remember Mass is live streamed now at 5.30pm tonight and at 11.00am tomorrow.
Sunday Week 18 – Is. 55:1-3, Rom. 8:35, 37-39 & Mt. 14:13-21

Our First Reading is well known and often used in various Liturgies. It is one of the most hopeful and welcome passages from the writings of Isaiah. This is the final chapter of that part of the Book of Isaiah which is thought to have been written towards the end of the Exile in Babylon. This ‘Second Isaiah’ offers hopes of abundance of everything needed to sustain and promote life - water, food, money – and all of it for free! He also tells us that the Lord is offering “an everlasting covenant”, rooted in the promises made to David, but a completely new start for the returning exiles.

This is the final extract from Chapter 8 of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans and it concludes this whole section devoted to Salvation. He finishes it with a great oratorical flourish in which he states his firm belief in the absolute goodness, faithfulness and power of God’s love shown us in the actions and words of Jesus Christ. It is a deep call to faith, faith that he has said is the only basis for justification and hope for our own salvation.

Having finished his teaching session using the parables, Jesus has gone back to Nazareth, has preached and been rejected in the synagogue in his hometown and, as we hear at the start of today’s extract, has heard the news of the death of his cousin John the Baptist. Now he tries to get away from the crowd for some peace and quiet, but to no avail. The crowd follows him, and he responds, as always, to their needs. Now, having healed so many, they have need quite simply of food. Apart from the Resurrection, this is the miracle most attested to in our Gospels. Among other things – to do with parallels to the actions of our Eucharist – this story is also about abundance in spite of apparent scarcity. In this it bears some relationship with the parables that promised great things in spite of poor opening prospects. Once again, the message is of the abundance given by God and, as with that passage from Isaiah in our First Reading, it is given freely. All God’s gifts in Christ are given freely, even though they cost the life of his Son on the Cross!

Saturday 1st August.
Saturday 1st August – Feast of St Alphonsus Ligouri – Jer. 26:11-16, 24 & Mt. 14:1-12

Jeremiah’s life is in danger because of his persistence in preaching his gloomy and unwelcome message. The call is for him to be executed but, in the verses that are not part of today’s Reading (vss. 17-23) some of the royal household and of the leading people argue against the Temple priests and prophets. They point out that other prophets including Micah, from whose writings we heard last week, had similarly strong messages but were not executed. So, the priests relent, and Jeremiah is set free. Echoes of the spilling of innocent blood are to be found in St Matthew’s account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate but in his case, of course, he is not set free.

The pathetic weakness of Herod is brought to the fore in the account of the death of John the Baptist. Ever keen to curry favour those who propped up his regime with their wealth and personal power, and so weak that he would not dare to admit to having been either rash or just plain wrong, he goes against his better instincts – insofar as he had them – and follows through with the execution of John. In modern parlance he “doubles down” on his stupidity, leading to a tragedy. It is tempting to draw parallels with some people in power today, but the point of reflecting on these Gospel stories is to use them as a mirror to look into our own lives: “In what ways have I shown weakness in not admitting being wrong?”

Friday 31st July.
Friday 31st August – Feast of St Ignatius Loyola – Jer. 26:1-9 & Mt. 13:54-58

One person facing up to a menacing crowd is a powerful image. The Establishment of the Kingdom of Judah – religious and civic - stir up the crowd against Jeremiah. He is speaking ‘the truth to power’ right at the heart of the Jewish religion in the precincts of the Temple. This is never an easy thing to do. It is so much easier to go with the flow, to say pleasing, honeyed words to lull the people into a false sense of security, but the Prophet remains true to his calling, however, uncomfortable this might be for him. St Ignatius Loyola, in his own way, spoke the truth to power and suffered ridicule and opposition from the Establishment as a consequence. The fact that he prevailed and that his order – the Society of Jesus – flourished under his example is proof enough of the truth of his message.

Ignatius Loyola was Basque by birth, but his ministry took him to Catalonia, Paris, Rome, and elsewhere. He, like Jesus in our Gospel, faced incomprehension and opposition to his ideas, and not just at home. If the words of a prophet are difficult and unwelcome, pointing to a need for radical change in an otherwise comfortable life, one of the most effective ways to try to neutralise his or her message is to try to pigeon-hole them, “Oh, she’s from that family, is she? Well, you can’t believe anything coming from that sort!” Truth will, however, ultimately prevail, as we see in Jesus’ own ministry. He rejects no one, it is others that, sadly for themselves, reject him.

Thursday 30th July.
Thursday 1th Week – Jer. 18:1-6, & Mt. 13:47-53

The famous image of the Potter able to fashion something different from the malleable clay in his hands was a popular image for meditation a few years ago. A series of slides, or a video of a potter shaping a pot at his wheel, were (and still are) sources of reflection on our relationship with God at many different levels. As used originally by Jeremiah, it is a clear warning to the people that they are like clay in God’s hands and that, if God was not satisfied with the current model a new one can always be fashioned out of the same piece.

We are offered a repeat of (part) of last Sunday’s Gospel today. The final parable is like that of the Wheat and the Darnel: The Final Judgement will be the time to sort out the good from the bad. The final sentences, however, offer a picture perhaps of the Evangelist himself, bringing forth old things from the storeroom of the Jewish Scriptures, alongside the new perspectives offered by Jesus. Continuing a theme that we looked at on Sunday, we might at the role and possibilities of things old and new as we prepare for whatever our “new normal” is going to look like in the wake of the current pandemic.

Wednesday July 29th
Wednesday 29th July – the Feast of St Martha – Jer. 15:10, 16-21 & Jn. 11:19-27 (or Lk. 10:38-42)

Jeremiah is in the depths of despair, not so much about the plight of the people but about his own plight having to give such a dreadful and unwelcome message. Though he will continue to face opposition the Lord assures the Prophet in the latter part of today’s First Reading that, if he remains loyal to the Lord, he will prevail. This is one of the lowest points of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry. All the people want to hear is happy news. His calling, however, is to tell it how it is, without pulling any punches, and he is clearly suffering because of his calling. Nonetheless, he will persevere in spite of the opposition and dangers he faces.

Either of the choices of Gospels for this feast give a flavour of the personality of St Martha – a ‘get up and do’ sort of person. This is true whether she is tending to Jesus’ need of food and refreshment (rather than sitting at his feet, as Mary was doing), or in rushing out of the house to complain to Jesus that he was too late to save her brother Lazarus. Her response to Jesus’ question in the extract form St John’s Gospel, however, shows that she is clearly a person of trusting faith in Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who has to come into this world.” She is presented to us as a model of both trust and service.

Tuesday July 28th
Tuesday 17th Week – Jer. 14:17-22 & Mt. 13:36-43

Today’s passage from the Prophet Jeremiah is part of a great lament in a time of drought. The message is clear that the people have gone woefully astray and even their (tame) prophets are offering hopeless lies that all will be well, when clearly that will not be the case. Their ultimate recognition of God and their repentance are all rather too late. We are reaching the lowest, gloomiest part of his message to the people of Judah on the brink of defeat and exile.

Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel began with the Parable of the Sower, after two further parables (yesterday’s Gospel) Jesus goes into a house with his disciples and offers a blow by blow explanation of the various stages of the first parable. Many people think that this explanation was added later but, whatever the truth of the matter, the point of the story Is not for us to point the finger at others. This is not about us saying, “Oh, clearly that person/that group of people are like the seed that fell among thorns.” The purpose of the Gospel is to be a mirror for us to look into our own lives and not judge those of others!

Monday July 27th
Monday 17th Week – Jer. 13:1-11 & Mt. 13:31-35

There are a number of vivid images used by the Prophet Jeremiah to describe the plight of the Kingdom of Judah, but few as graphic as the one in today’s Reading. For “loincloth” read “Y-fronts” or “boxer shorts”. Soaking them in river water and stuffing them into a cleft in some nearby rocks for a couple of weeks and they will be “rotten… good for nothing”. This is the image that he paints of Judah at this time. The people have strayed so far from the Covenant that they are beyond redemption, in their current state.

For most of this week our Gospel Readings come from Matthew 13, the same chapter that our Gospels have been from in recent weeks. Today’s two parables stress the idea of unpromising beginnings but wonderful outcomes. They are given as confidence-boosting stories for a beleaguered audience who looked around at their own unpromising situation. Jesus is saying, through the parables, “Don’t worry, everything will work out even if this seems unlikely, just like the tiny mustard seed, and the tiny amount of yeast mixed with a huge amount of flour.”

Sunday July 26th
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

For some months now we have been adjusting our lives to a very different situation thanks to this pandemic. Even as we return to saying public Masses in our churches once more, things are not as they were before, and may never be what they were again. During the time of lockdown, and now our re-emergence from it, we have been going back to old things and having to discover new ones as well. The basic hygiene of regular handwashing we were taught as children has been re-emphasised. Some older drugs and combinations of drugs have been helping treat people who have the virus. But then there have been new things to discover as well. The use of face masks is an obvious example for most of us in the West, as is anti-viral hand sanitiser. New drugs are being developed to help treat those suffering from the virus and an enormous world-wide effort is in progress trying to find an effective vaccine.

Similar things have been happening in our spiritual lives also. Some have been re-learning devotion to the Rosary during the lockdown. Although ancient practices, meditation in itself, using a simple mantra, and meditation on the Readings used at Mass, for some these have been new discoveries during this same period. As a parish and as a church we have been looking to new ways of communicating with each other via Facebook, YouTube, Zoom, Websites, and so on. In all of this we are in a similar situation to that in which St Matthew found himself as he came to compile his Gospel.

In today’s extract he likens what he does to a householder bringing out of his storeroom “things both old and new”. Jesus was, himself, rooted in the old, Jewish religion, in the Law and the Prophets and in the Psalms, but he also offered in his teaching and example something radically new. Matthew was well aware of this and constantly tells his readers that what Jesus did was “in fulfilment of what the prophet wrote”, and then he quotes a few lines from Isaiah or Jeremiah.

Throughout any life – the life of any individual or family, the life of any institution like a church – we are constantly having to review the way we do things. Some things work for a while and then don’t. Other things that we dropped in the past we find might be useful once more, but there are also new things that we need to learn to cope with the new reality that faces us.

In the weeks and months ahead, while reassured by Jesus’ promises in those parables about the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven will come in all its glory, in spite of all the set-backs we encounter, as a church, a parish, as individual believers, we are all called to test the old and search for the appropriate new, that will help us in our task of doing our tiny bit of building that same Kingdom. As well as confidence in Jesus’ promises in those parables we also remember what St Paul has been telling us in our Second Readings recently: God’s Spirit is with us always. It is up to us to be open to the promptings of that same Spirit, because in that Spirit incredible things become possible.

Saturday July 25th pm

Here are some reflections on the Readings for Mass tomorrow. Remember we will be live streaming both the Vigil Mass at 5.30pm and the Mass at 11.00am.

26th July - 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 1 Kgs. 3:5, 7-12; Romans 8:28-30 & Mt. 13:44-52

When two women presented themselves before Solomon both claiming to be the mother of the same child (1 Kgs. 3:16-27), the King decided (rather gruesomely) that the only fair way to sort this out was to have the child split in two by a sword, so that each could half. Immediately the real mother of the child came forward and pleaded with him not to kill the child but to give it to the other woman. Solomon knew that this had to be the real mother of the child and so he granted her full custody. This is perhaps the most famous of the events that has led to the proverbial “Wisdom of Solomon”. His wish for the gift of wisdom, rather than money or power, brought with it untold blessings and riches for Israel throughout his reign.

We have one more Reading from this 8th Chapter of the Letter to the Romans next week, but in today’s extract St Paul is already drawing his reflections on life in the Holy Spirit to a close. God’s whole purpose in sending his son, Jesus, was to bring salvation to all. The gift of the Spirit in baptism leads his chosen ones to become “true images of his Son”. The image of moulding into an image is one we come across in other parts of the Bible, e.g. Jer. 18.

St Matthew presents us with three more parables as he brings this collection of the sayings of Jesus to a close. Two of them stress the priceless nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, the other (the Dragnet Cast in the Sea) is similar to that of the Wheat and the Darnel. The final image, possibly of Matthew himself, is of someone presenting old and new from “their storeroom”. Some time-honoured lessons from the past are offered, along with new perspectives offered by Jesus. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic we have been presented with time-honoured remedies – regular hand-washing – and new (to us) – social distancing and face masks. As churches begin to reopen, we are challenged to think through what from the storeroom of the past we can bring forward, and what new things we will need to present to be effective missionaries of the Kingdom of Heaven going into the future.

Saturday July 25th
Saturday – Feast of St James, Apostle and Brother of St John – Jer. 7:1-11 & Mt. 13:24-30 (or Mt. 20:20-28 as the Proper for the Feast)

Both here (and later in Ch.26) Jeremiah rails against the corruption of the Temple. These are powerful uncompromising words which, when repeated in Ch.26 will lead to his being almost lynched by the mob! No-one likes to hear harsh words spoken against them about their faithlessness, yet the Prophet is quite brutal in what he has to say about the emptiness of their religious observance. It is another of his, ultimately futile, wake-up calls to the people to repent and to change their ways.

This parable of the Wheat and the Darnel, which we heard in our Gospel on Sunday, is a reminder to us all that it is God who declares the ultimate harvest, in God’s good time. We are sowers and workers in the fields. Only at God’s command does harvest begin.

Friday July 24th
Friday – 16th Week of Ordinary Time – (In Hexham and Newcastle, The Martyrs of the Diocese) – Jer. 3:14-17 & Mt. 13:18-23

The “disloyal children” referred to by the Prophet are the two related kingdoms of Israel and Judah, both led badly by corrupt and wayward kings and suffering the consequences of this. Now the Lord looks forward to a time when “shepherds after my own heart” will lead the people into what may be the first reference to a new covenant with the people that we will meet much later in the writings of Jeremiah in two weeks’ time. Even in the midst of devastation there is always hope because of God’s absolute faithfulness.

Today we hear the explanation of the Parable of the Sower. It is usually taken by scholars to be a later addition to Jesus’ words made by someone remembering Jesus’ original words and now applying them to the current situation of a very varying response to discipleship, along the lines of the various places in which the seed fell. All around them (and indeed all around us) they would have witnessed all manner of responses to the call to discipleship: everything from complete rejection, through to initial enthusiasm then rejection, to the potential of a huge harvest for faithfulness. Rather than be tempted, however, to try to point out the shortcomings of others, as always, the Gospel is given us as a mirror to look into our own lives, and not to judge the lives of others!


Thursday July 23rd
Thursday 23rd July – St Bridget, Patron of Europe –­ Jer. 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13 & Mt. 13:10-17

The devastation faced by the people of the Kingdom of Judah at the time Jeremiah was writing was completely unparalleled in their history This accounts for the miserable tone of much of his writings in the early part of this book. People have been unfaithful – the bridal imagery is used in many places in his writings – God remained faithful but to no avail. In this oracle the Lord points to two crimes committed by them: abandoning God; then trying to rely solely on their own capabilities (described here as “leaky cisterns”). Whilst in no way saying that the Covid-19 pandemic is a punishment from God for the unfaithfulness of humankind today (because it is most definitely NO SUCH THING), it is still opportune for us – especially as we celebrate one of the great patron saints of Europe – to reflect on our own waywardness in following God’s ways and to reflect, with the help of St Bridget’s example and prayers, of how we might be more faithful, both as individuals and in society, going into the future.

We have a ‘middle section’ offered as our Gospel today: yesterday (had it not been the Gospel for our Feast) we would have heard the Parable of the Sower. Tomorrow we will hear Jesus’ explanation given to the disciples in private. In this “middle section”, where the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks to the crowd in parables, Jesus’ answer is quite startling, “For anyone who has will be given more… but from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” This seems quite unfair to us, but the point Jesus is making is about the need to be open, to listen to God’s word and not be, as the general crowd is towards him, closed off, listening with deaf ears.

Wednesday July 22nd pm
Reopening St Mary’s

The church has a maximum capacity of 50 people. Therefore, you will need to register your place for the Saturday Vigil or Sunday Morning Mass each week. It will not be necessary to book for weekday Masses (at 10am on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, though a register of attendees will be kept). The register of those attending will be kept for Tracking and Tracing purposes for three weeks and then destroyed, all in accordance with Data Protection laws.

If coming by car please use the main car park only. The gates to the car park on the Presbytery side of the house will be closed.

As normal please arrive in good time for Mass – but no earlier than 25 minutes beforehand. You will need to queue so that you can be registered and shown to where you will be sitting by a steward.

Queuing will take place from the main doors around by the Presbytery side of the church at 2 metre distancing. This will allow for safe access to the car park on the other side of the church.

You must wear a face mask or adequate face covering.

You will be registered at the door of the church. There are hand sanitisers that must be used on entry, and you will then be taken to your place by a steward. Families will be able to sit together, otherwise the places are marked out at 2-metre distances between persons.

The toilets will NOT be available, though in emergencies the disabled toilet may be accessed.

For the time being candles will not be available for lighting near the Holy Family statues. There will be no singing, but hopefully we will have quiet music being played at various times, e.g. on arrival and at the end of Mass.

Holy Communion will be distributed at the very end of Mass. You will be directed when it is the turn of your pew to come forward to receive. Please DO NOT try to jump the queue. There will be sufficient hosts for everyone present. If Communion is usually brought to you at your seat, please remain there until everyone else has received. Fr Hall will then come to you.

Communion will be distributed only with the Host and only in the hand. At that point, as you come forward, please remove your face covering. The priest will not say to you, “The Body of Christ” so there is no response to be made. Having received Communion please proceed via the designated route out into the hall where you will find hand sanitisers and where a steward will hand you a copy of the Newsletter as you leave. There will also be a collection basket there for your offerings as you leave.

Please leave directly out of the doors into the car park and do not block the route out for others behind you. Conversations will have to take place – at a safe distance – in the Car Park.

Your cooperation will keep everyone safe and allow the church to remain open.

Wednesday July 22nd
Wednesday 22nd July, St Mary Magdalene – Jer. 1:1, 4-10 & Jn. 20: 11-18

The opening lines of the writings of the Prophet Jeremiah are familiar to us from one of our contemporary hymns. Feelings of unworthiness are natural in any call to discipleship, including our own. As we celebrate the Feast of St Mary Magdalene, who is almost certainly wrongly understood to have been the woman “sinner” who anointed Jesus’ feet during the dinner at the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk. 7:36-50), she is nonetheless certainly someone restored to her family and friends thanks to Jesus’ intervention in exorcising her demons (Lk. 8:2). She, too, like Jeremiah must have felt unworthy of Jesus’ call to discipleship.

In our Gospel Mary becomes the first disciple to meet the Risen Lord. In ancient times she was given the title “Apostola Apostolorum” – the “Apostle of the Apostles”. It is she who is given this singular privilege and yet she is largely written out of later history once the male disciples take centre stage!

Tuesday July 21st
Tuesday 16th Week of Ordinary Time – Mic. 7:14-15, 18-20 & Mt. 12:46-50

The passage in today’s First Reading comes from the final verses of Micah’s writings. Notice the image of sheep and shepherd, important in both Testaments, and the ultimate plea for God’s mercy. A fundamental idea of all of the prophets – the supremacy of the God of Israel – is at the heart of his message, “What god can compare with you: taking away fault, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger for ever but delighting in showing mercy?” There is no other God to compare to their God!

This short passage contains a very powerful message, especially for people who, quite rightly, venerate Our Lady and the saints, “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.” As Jesus says these words his Mother and other relatives are standing outside the door, but the call to discipleship in the present moment takes precedence over blood ties, as we hear elsewhere in the Gospels. Mary is, of course, the first and best disciple and the model for all of us.

Monday July 20th
Monday 16th Week – Micah 6:1-4, 6-8 & Mt. 12:38-42

There are some familiar lines in today’s extract from the Prophet Micah, who wrote about the same time as Isaiah. We use the lines, “My people what have I done to you? How have I been a burden to you? Answer me,” as we come forward in the lLturgy of Good Friday to kiss the Cross. All of the lines in today’s Reading are spoken by God and the theme is a familiar one expressed succinctly in some words used in a popular modern hymn, “This is what the Lord asks of you, only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.” As always love and justice are paramount. Our actions are to be consistent with our prayer and observance of liturgy.

To be offered the example of pagans such as the people of Nineveh or the Queen of Sheba would have been grossly insulting to the scribes and the Pharisees. These people considered themselves as true examples of faithfulness to the Jewish Law. To be told that pagans were more open to God’s word would have been provocative, in the extreme. This is just one example of such confrontation, in particular with the Pharisees, that we come across in St Matthew’s Gospel. After the destruction of the Temple in CE67, this was the only group of leaders of the Jewish faith to survive. It is they who are the leaders of Judaism when this Gospel was written, so it is a very topical subject for Matthew’s original audience.

Sunday July 19th
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

A number of years ago a prayer began to be used at conferences and meetings that bore the title, “The Prayer of Oscar Romero”. In fact, when St Oscar’s biographer came to look through his archived material, he could find no trace of the prayer at all. After some enquiries it transpired that, although the prayer shared many of Romero’s values and ideals, it was in fact written by an American bishop, Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan, for a Mass said in honour of deceased clergy. It begins like this (I will share the whole prayer on the Facebook page, later),

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

It is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction

of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying

That the Kingdom always lies beyond us…

The Kingdom, about which the parables in our Gospel are given by Jesus to illustrate some aspect of what it is about, is always much more than we can imagine, and IT IS GOD’S KINGDOM NOT OURS!

After a few more lines the prayer continues,

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference

Between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

Sometimes people can become very possessive of their own “little kingdoms”. Clergy are especially prone to this, “My diocese”, “My parish”, and so on. It can happen, however, that people in various ministries in a parish can become equally possessive of their little kingdoms: the sacristy, altar serving, handing out the hymn books, taking up the collection, doing the readings at THIS Mass or THAT one, and so on. Taking a step back, as suggested in the opening of the prayer, and remembering that none of us is Master, only Christ holds that honour, helps us puts matters in perspective.

The prayer continues,

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water the seeds already planted,

Knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide the yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation

In realising that.

I hope that the connections with at least part of the message of today’s parables is becoming clear. We may do the planting of the seed, or at least tending it. We may put the yeast in with the flour – but it is God who provides both the seed and the yeast, not us. God is the one who gives the seed the very capability of growing and it is God – in our opening parable – who will decide when the harvest is to take place, not us.

Notice that the prayer talks about a “sense of liberation” in realising this. Indeed, this is how the prayer ends,

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation

in realising that. This enables us to do something,

and to do it very well.

If we can get rid of that possessiveness the need to be in control, if we realise that it is God who provides the mustard seed, the yeast, and only God will decide when it is time to harvest, then we become truly free to do what we are actually called do, and as the “Romero Prayer” puts it, “This enables us to do something and to do it very well.”

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

It is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction

of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying

That the Kingdom always lies beyond us…

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No programme accomplishes the church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

It may be incomplete,

But it is a beginning, a step along the way,

An opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest…

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference

Between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water the seeds already planted,

Knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide the yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation

in realising that. This enables us to do something,

and to do it very well.

Saturday July 18th pm
Reflections on the Reading for tomorrow's Mass.
Sunday 16th Week in Ordinary Time – Wisdom 12:13, 16-19, Rom. 8:26-27 & Mt. 13:24-43

Although claiming to have been written by King Solomon the Book of Wisdom is, in fact, a much later work. It was almost certainly written in the major Jewish cultural centre of Alexandria in Egypt only 50 to 100 years before Jesus was born. It is the first book of the Old Testament to reflect deeply on individual salvation. The lines, “The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God. No torment shall ever touch them,” are frequently used at funerals. In this passage the author is addressing God, a God who is both all-powerful and yet merciful, “disposing of such strength, you are mild in judgement.” After confessing sinfulness, the penitent may expect forgiveness from this loving God.

St Paul’s words point to the simplicity of prayer and by implication, at least, to the prayer of silence. Jesus had taught his disciples “not to babble as the pagans do” and teaches them the Our Father. Here Paul reinforces that message in this chapter about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the follower of Christ. God always makes the first move, including in our own prayer. God is there before us and we are invited by God into ‘communion’ and ‘fellowship’ in our praying.

Whereas two of the three parables offered in our Gospel today (some churches may only use the shorter version of the Gospel which only renders the first parable) focus on improbably small beginnings and incredibly huge outcomes, the Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel takes a different tack. The contrast between beginning and end is central to most of the parables to do with growth and they are offered as hope and encouragement to communities that feel overwhelmed by the task of building the Kingdom. The Wheat and the Darnel point to the fact that, whatever our role in the Church may be, at the end of the day we are sowers and tenders of the crop, not harvesters, whatever some clergy may think! The harvest is God’s and God will order the harvest in God’s good time, not ours!

Saturday July 18th
Saturday 15th Week – Micah 2:1-5 & Mt. 12:14-21

The Prophet Micah is a near contemporary of Isaiah but, unlike Isaiah’s aristocratic background in Jerusalem, he comes from a rural, farming community and he rails against the sinfulness and excesses of the city, and of the soon to be overthrown Northern Kingdom of Israel. People of wealth were buying up the land of the poor farmers for a pittance, but their injustices will not go unpunished. Micah’s words are very much in line with those of his prophetic predecessors: acting justly is paramount.

A key feature of St Matthew’s Gospel is the many references he makes to the Hebrew Scriptures. He is always keen to point out that what Jesus is doing is in fulfilment of what the ancient prophets wrote about. In today’s passage he quotes, at length, from the first of the so-called “Servant Songs” from the writings of the Second Isaiah. These were offered as signs of hope of return for the Exiles in Babylon. We are given them (all four of them) as readings during Holy Week. Today, in this first of the Songs, we hear not just of the victorious outcome of the work of the servant, but also of the manner in which this will be achieved: not with an overwhelming force but in a way that, “will not break the crushed reed, nor put out the smouldering wick”. We, too, are called to go about our discipleship in the same manner.

Friday July 17th
Friday 15th Week – Is. 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8 & Mt. 12:1-8

Our First Reading is a strange compilation of verses from towards the end of the writings of the First Isaiah. The Prophet predicts the death of King Hezekiah. The King repents in a prayer that is somewhat longer than the two sentences we are given today. The Lord then tells Isaiah that Hezekiah will not die just yet and offers a ‘heavenly miracle’ as a sign. What we are not given, however, is the sense of the inevitability of the fall of Judah at some stage in the future.

Confrontation with the Pharisees is never too far away in Matthew’s Gospel. They represent the “old religion” that is now superseded by the new brought about in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Jesus’ riposte to the charge that the disciples are breaking the Jewish Law is to respond with examples to the contrary in the same Law, and among the writings of the prophets. His quote from Hosea about God wanting “mercy, not sacrifice” is particularly pointed. The Pharisees believed that they, above all others, were the upholders of the Law

Thursday July 16th pm

In preparation for the reopening of St Mary's Church I would like to invite all volunteers for cleaning or stewarding duties to a training session ON EITHER Saturday at 4pm OR Sunday at 4pm.

Please let me know either via this page or by email if you are able to attend, and which session that will be.

Many thanks,

Fr Hall

Thursday July 16th
Thursday 15th Week – Is. 26:7-9, 12, 16-19 & Mt. 11:28-30

By this stage in his writings, Isaiah is offering signs of hope for the future for a repentant people. A few verses before today’s extract there is a passage often chosen for funerals, offering comfort to the bereaved, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will prepare a banquet for all peoples.” Notice that the hope is “for all peoples” and not just the Jewish people. This is a new departure in the Hebrew Scriptures: salvation is for all not just for the Chosen People. The passage we are given today is a traditional prayer for forgiveness in the face of suffering, much like those we find among the Psalms, and ending with the words of hope, “Your dead will come to life”.

The image of the yoke in today’s Gospel comes from the yoke used to bind two oxen together, the better to be able to pull a plough through the soil. The yoke made sure that they were in lockstep with one another. The offer is that, being yoked to Jesus and his message, we will find it easier to make our way through life’s journey in lockstep with him.

Wednesday July 15th

The cleaning materials have arrived this afternoon. I will check them over with a few parishioners later on today.

Thank you for the volunteers who have come forward. I will post in the next day or two two possible times for people to come here to be trained as stewards .

In answer to a couple of questions from yesterday:

I will be continuing live streaming for the foreseeable future. Once Weekend Masses resume, however, we will revert to the "normal" Mass times: 5.30pm Vigil and 11.am Sunday Morning.

With regard to booking... I have not made any firm decision as yet (much in line with the shenanigans of our Government, I suppose!). A booking system is being set up on the website but quite what the demand for places will be is anyone's guess. I am checking with other priests as to what demand they have seen at their churches - I am aware that at some demand has been very low!

When people have rung me to ask when the church is opening and have asked whether or not they will need to book, I have told them that this may be necessary. Where people do not have access to the Internet, it will be necessary for them to get in touch with a friend to book on their behalf. One to two parishes have used a telephone booking system at VERY SPECIFIC TIMES - e.g. a 2 hour slot on a Friday lunchtime - but that happens in parishes where there is a paid secretary who works designated hours. If anyone has any thoughts on the subject, please let me know!

Again, thanks to all who have volunteered their help!

Wednesday July 15th
Wednesday 15th Week – Feast of St Bonaventure - Is. 10:5-7, 13-16 & Mt. 11:25-27

The oracle in today’s First Reading is directed against anyone who claims sovereignty over others. The “Lord of hosts” insists that God is in ultimate control of events, not some temporary, upstart rulers such as those of the Assyrians. They were instruments of God’s work punishing a godless nation (The Northern Kingdom of Israel). The imagery is vivid, “Does the axe claim more credit than the man who wields it?” The warning is clear to the people of the now beleaguered Southern Kingdom: the same “Lord of hosts” will punish them for their own faithlessness.

It is only ten days since we heard today’s Gospel Reading (and tomorrow’s) as our Sunday Gospel. We hear Jesus referring to his “Father, Lord of heaven and of earth”. This is a title used more frequently by St John in his Gospel than in the Synoptics and underlines Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God. This message is for those who are open to hearing new ways of thinking and being – children – but it is closed off to those who feel they have some sort of superior knowledge that has no need of such trifles. It is a reminder of our call to “childlikeness”.

Tuesday July 14th pm
The reopening of St Marys' Church

I hope to be able to reopen St Mary's Church for Masses on the weekend of the 25th/26th July.

Below you will see photos of the new layout of the church that has been approved by the Diocese for these times. Stickers will be placed on those seats that are available for use (3 per bench for the longer pews, 2 for the shorter ones, though members of the same household may sit together). The new capacity of the church is 50 persons for Mass. Other measures will also be in place:-

Entry will only be possible via the main doors.

You will need to queue at safe distances outside the church until you are called forward by a steward.

Having registered your details (for Tracking and Tracings purposes) you will sanitise your hands with the sanitiser provided, and enter church wearing face covering (which will NOT be provided).

You will then be shown to your seat by a steward.

The Ladies and Gents toilets will not be available for use, but the Disabled toilet will for emergencies. Directions signs to and from the toilet will be in place.

There will be no singing during Mass, so no hymn books or Mass sheets will be distributed.

At Communion, which will probably take place after the Dismissal from Mass, you will be directed by a steward when it is the turn of your bench to come forward.

At this stage you will need to remove your face covering, thought the priest will be wearing one himself at this time. Communion will be received only in the hand, and only with the host.

Having received Holy Communion you are asked to leave the church via the doors into the hall, not to loiter in the hall, or at the doorways so as not to impede others.

Wow!, Quite some list, isn't it?

In order to do this we will need the services of at least 4 stewards at each Mass. There is no restriction on age for this, though clearly you will need to in good health and not displaying any of the symptoms of the virus.

We will also need to have some volunteers to clean teh church after Masses. This will mainly consist in wiping surfaces that have been touched with anti-viral solution (it, plus disposable gloves and aprons, will be provided).

Soooo...

We need some volunteers please for both these ministries (and they really are 'ministries' in the current circumstances). We are "equal opportunity" employers here, so applicants of either gender are welcome!

Many thanks, God Bless!

Fr Hall

Tuesday July 14th
Tuesday 15th Week – Is. 7:1-9 &Mt. 11:20-24

At the time Isaiah was writing the Kingdom of Judah was under almost constant attack by various of its neighbours. The Prophet is clear, however, that the current threats from Aram (the Assyrians) will not come to pass, although it will be the end of Ephraim – the name Isaiah uses for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The ultimate threat to Judah will come later. The final sentence delivers God’s blunt warning, “If you don’t stand by me, you will not stand at all!” The message is clear, even if the People will not be prepared to listen and to repent.

Lack of faith, of trust is the core of Jesus’ message in our Gospel today. For a Jewish audience Jesus’ words would have been startling, not to say offensive! Pagans in Tyre and Sidon, and, even worse, the citizens of that den of iniquity from the time of Abraham, Sodom, would respond more readily to what Jesus was saying and doing than the supposed “Chosen People”. We have here the beginning of a series of reproaches to people who presumed their superiority over others.

From Fr Hall....

Monday July 13th
Monday 15th Week – Is. 1:10-17 & Mt. 10:34-11:1

Continuing the theme of acting justly, that we saw in the last two weeks with our Readings from Amos and Hosea, Isaiah denounces the hollow rituals of people who pay lip-service to the observance of various feasts but who cheat and oppress their fellow men and women. We can also see a continuity of very blunt language used by the prophets to try to hammer home their message. Imagine, for a moment, if you were one of the leaders among the people – a priest at the Temple or part of the royal household – what would it have felt like to be referred to, not as a leader among God’s Chosen People, but rather as a citizen of Sodom or Gomorrah?

This is the final section of Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve about their mission. Unlike the other Synoptic Gospels, however, we do not hear about what happened as they went about their mission. As the final sentence makes clear, Matthew is focused on Jesus’ mission now, and on that of the Twelve in the future. They are to be in doubt of the “cost of discipleship”. There will be rewards, for sure, but also deep divisions in and among families, as was no doubt the case for the community for whom Matthew is writing his Gospel. Many of those converts from the Jewish faith will have experienced terrible arguments and fallings-out with close family members when they chose to become followers of Christ. By the time Matthew was writing his gospel, very sadly, the two groups had mutually excommunicated each other. The roots of the dreadful history of antisemitism were planted very early in the history of the Church.

Sunday July 12th
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

As you wander around the garden, a country park, or through some woodland at this time of year you quickly come to realise the abundance – not to say ‘superabundance’ - of nature. I feel sure that as children we will all have picked up a dandelion going to seed and blew the seeds all over the place. Of course, the wind does that anyway. Acorns and sycamore seeds will drop from their respective trees in due course, but very few will grow into trees in their own right. Just as it is only a very small proportion of those dandelion seeds that will settle into the ground and produce flowers next year. God seems almost profligate in this excess. It is very strange, then, that so often in Christian thinking the emphasis has been on the scarcity of God’s grace in life. Even though from that superabundance of possibility only a very small proportion will succeed in bearing fruit what does bear fruit will produce some spectacular results… and that is the main point of our parable in today’s Gospel.

All the parables to do with growing things begin with something impossibly small, or unlikely to succeed, but succeed it does, and sometimes spectacularly so. Jesus uses the parables to illustrate what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. It has small, rather unpromising looks about it, at times, but there is no doubt that it will succeed in growing and bearing fruit in abundance.

Words of encouragement like these were important for the early Christian communities for whom our Gospels were written. Here, in St Matthew’s Gospel, he is writing for a community of people marginalised by their former co-religionists, Jewish people and increasingly misunderstood by their fellow, formerly pagan, Christians.

The same thing is happening in our First Reading from the later writings of the Prophet Isaiah. Imagine, if you will, that you are a proud Jewish person living in Judah when the country is overrun by the Babylonian army. The capital, Jerusalem is captured, the Temple is destroyed and you, along with many others, are now taken off into exile hundreds of miles away from your homeland – what you have called up to now “The Promised Land”. Naturally you will be thinking, “How could God do such a thing? How come God had not kept the promises of the Covenant?” and even perhaps, “Is the God we have worshipped up to now truly God, or should we worship the gods of the Babylonians who have succeeded so well in defeating us?”

This Second Isaiah, as we call him, is probably writing in Babylon among those Exiles, promising the people of a return to their homeland once more. One of the things he has to do is to renew confidence in God’s promises. So, we hear in that Reading that just as rain inevitably succeeds in watering the ground before evaporating back into the atmosphere, so God’s promise, God’s word, will also succeed in achieving its purpose.

As this pandemic and various measures of the lockdown still in place drag on, there are times when we might well be wondering if it is ever going to come to an end. When we see the selfish, idiotic behaviour of some people; the greedy, rapacious actions of some companies; or people in positions of responsibility in government choosing which rules theywill follow, and at the same time feathering the nests of their friends and donors, we might well wonder if acting responsibly, with respect for others, with kindness and with care for their needs is worthwhile, if it has achieved anything at all.

Discouragement, a feeling of “Why should we bother?”, in the face of contrary example is always a danger, but there is also great encouragement when we do witness responsible, positive behaviour: in individual acts of kindness; in the actions of some companies with regard to the welfare of their workers; and even in the actions of some people in government, at times. We just do not know what the outcome of good example, of sowing seeds, on our behalf will achieve. What we do know is that these are the right things to do and we are assured in our Readings today that they will ultimately bear fruit in abundance: the fruit of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Saturday July 11th pm

Sunday 15th Week – Is. 55:10-11; Rom. 8:18-23 & Mt. 13:1-23

The greatest catastrophe to come upon the people of Israel in Ancient Times was the Exile in Babylon. How could their God let this happen to them, that they be forced away from the Promised Land and have the great Temple of Solomon razed to the ground? The Second Isaiah, who wrote our First Reading, offers hope and consolation of return to the land. Such was the shattering blow of Exile, however, that all confidence has evaporated, and so the Prophet has to keep on insisting that God’s promise of return will be fulfilled. Just as surely as rain and snow water the earth, so will God’s word bear fruit.

The Letter to the Romans is one of the most mature reflections on the core of the Gospel message in the New Testament. Today’s passage in our Second Reading is an extraordinarily rich source for meditation on different aspects of that message, but perhaps we might home in on one theme: creation. Due to its sinfulness humankind lost its sense of harmony with the rest of the created world, but all of it is part of God’s work. Now that creation has been renewed in Christ’ Death and Resurrection, mutual freedom leading to a renewed harmony is once again possible. The call to care for our common home – in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, for example – is something about which we are called to take action in that renewed freedom. True freedom is not about having many choices set before us, but rather it is the ability (the freedom from coercion) to do the right thing.

Chapter 13 of St Matthew’s Gospel is his third discourse which gather together elements of Jesus’ teaching. In this case it is a collection of parables, many of which are about growth. He is writing his Gospel for a small, rather beleaguered community who had been marginalised by both fellow, former pagan, Christians and by their former co-religionists, the Jews. As we saw in our First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah, one of Matthew’s aims is to confirm his community in their faith. This is at the core of many of these parables about seeds and plants: the beginning might seem very precarious – seed is scattered into the most unpromising of places – but the ultimate outcome of a harvest beyond imagining is never in doubt! This will also be true of those who remain faithful to the Gospel, even when the situation around does not seem very hopeful.

Saturday July 11th

I will post a reflection on the Readings for tomorrow's Mass later today.

Saturday Week 14 – Feast of St Benedict, Patron of Europe, Father of Western Monasticism - Is. 6:1-8 & Mt. 10:24-33.

Today we are introduced to the Prophet Isaiah, from whose writings our First Readings will come throughout next week. His are the best-known prophetic writings among Christians. In our Lectionary they dominate the early part of Advent and recur time and time again across the year in all seasons. In the following week we will hear from that part of his writings that come before the Fall of Jerusalem and the Exile in Babylon. A man from the upper echelons of society in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, today we are told of Isaiah’s calling while at prayer in the Temple itself. The words of part of the conversation with the seraph are familiar to us from one of our modern hymns, “’Whom shall I send?’... ‘Here I am, send me.’”

The most frequently cited commandment in the Bible is not about worshipping God, nor is it about behaving well. It is, in fact, “Do not be afraid!” Fear paralyses. It stifles all initiative and hope for the future. In some ways it is the opposite of love, which frees up people to be and do the best they can. In today’s Gospel, the final extract of Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve about their forthcoming mission, he tells them not to be paralysed by fear of something that ultimately cannot harm them. The Father loves them and will always look out for them, even if they are being persecuted (as indeed the people for whom Matthew wrote his Gospel were!).

Friday July 10th
Friday Week 14 – Hos. 14:2-10 & Mt. 10:16-23

This is our final extract from the writings of Hosea. The call to the People is a simple one: repent, come back to the Lord who is always faithful and who will always welcome back the sinner, “I will heal their disloyalty, I will love them with all my heart.” This passage is full of images of beauty: lilies in bloom; the beauty of the olive tree; the fragrance of Lebanon; corn that flourishes; and good wine that is renowned everywhere. The final word of God is always of hope and of life for the repentant sinner.

Jesus’ words of warning about being delivered into the hands of hostile authorities, even by friends and relations, given in today’s Gospel are linked in the other two Synoptic Gospels with preaching the message of the Kingdom after Jesus’ death. Here, in Matthew’s Gospel, they are presented in connection even with this first, trial mission. Jesus pulls no punches in outlining precisely what the missionary disciple may well have to face in their task.

Thursday July 9th
Thursday Week 14 – Hos. 11:1-4, 8-9 & Mt. 10:7-15

Our First Reading is a great lament on the part of God for Israel, “When Israel was a child I love him, and I called my son out of Egypt.” Nonetheless for all the love and care shown them they turned their backs and worshipped other gods. In spite of this God vows not to destroy them because God Is not faithless like the People, “I am the Holy One in your midst and have no wish to destroy.” As with Amos, ultimately a remnant of the people will be saved.

Jesus continues his instructions to the Twelve about their mission in our Gospel today. It is to be characterised by the simplicity of the message to be delivered and the lack of anything to weigh the missionaries down. They are to be prepared to move nimbly from one town or village to the next. The image here is rather different from the two-thousand-year old church of today. Perhaps, we might reflect, in the light of our experience of the current lockdown about our ability as a church to be ‘nimble’ in preaching the Kingdom of Heaven in the time ahead.

Wednesday July 8th
Wednesday Week 14 – Hos. 10:1-3, 7-8, 12 & Mt. 10:1-7.

The image of the vine is one found in several places in the Bible – perhaps the most notable for Christians is Jesus’ use of the image at the account of the Last Supper in St John’s Gospel, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Here, in our First Reading, Hosea refers to Israel as the vine, but one that has led people away from God. The more prosperous the People became, the less observant they were of God’s Law. Now, however, “the Lord is going to break their altars down.” What they need to do is not empty religious observance rather they should nurture things like “integrity” and “kindness”, which are the marks of true religion.

Jesus sends the Twelve out on their mission to preach the message of the Kingdom of Heaven which, he notes, “is close at hand”. The names in the list of the Twelve Apostles are familiar to us from the other Synoptics Gospels but Matthew pulls no punches about himself. Whereas Mark and Luke simply refer to “Matthew” as one of the Twelve, Matthew himself readily admits that he is, “Matthew the tax collector”, an admission that shows great humility on his part.

Tuesday July 7th
Tuesday Week 14 – Hos.8:4-7, 11-13 & Mt. 9:32-38

“They sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind,” is the threat that hangs over the People for their disregard of the commandments. They were worshipping idols made by human hands and the Prophet tells them that God takes no pleasure in their empty liturgies. Worst of all comes the ultimate threat, “They will have to go back to Egypt.” Nothing worse could be imagined for the people than a return to slavery.

The final paragraph of this Gospel Reading is often used as a prelude to prayer for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. In fact, in the Gospel itself it is a prelude to Jesus’ sending out of the Twelve Apostles on their mission of announcing the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. The earlier paragraphs make it clear that this mission is “Good News” and that it is about healing and hope for a down-trodden people. It is this same message that we, the modern-day disciples of Jesus, are also called both to embody in our lives and to share with others.

Monday July 6th
Monday Week 14 – Hos. 2:16-18, 20-22 & Mt. 9:18-26

Hosea is another of the prophets working in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, railing against the infidelity of the people towards the Covenant. It is not clear whether the Prophet is using the experience of the infidelity of the wife of his own marriage as a symbol of Israel’s infidelity to God in their marriage covenant, or a relationship he had with a prostitute, but the message is clear: the People have been unfaithful but their God will not abandon them but will “betroth you to myself for ever, betroth you with integrity and justice.” As with Amos, so with Hosea, faithfulness to the Covenant is not so much about right worship as it is about right behaviour towards others.

Once again St Matthew’s account of two miracles, also recounted by St Mark, is shorn of some of the details of the earlier account, but the main message remains. The “little girl” is of no value in the social system of the time, and the woman with the haemorrhage was unclean and was supposed not to contaminate others but to isolate herself. Jesus comes to the poorest and the outcast and restores them, not just to health, but to their community.

Sunday July 5th
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

Although no great fan of pomp and ceremony myself I freely admit that Brits do it well, especially on State occasions. The great gilded carriages; the well-groomed horses, to say nothing of the attendants; the Royals themselves in splendid outfits, the males always in military garb of precisely the correct dress uniform of the particular branch of the services they are representing that day; the tiaras and gowns worn by the women; the colourful procession all executed with precision down to the last second; it is all rather splendid.

The epic films of the 1950’s and ‘60’s, which depicted events from the Egypt of the Pharaohs, or the Roman Empire at its zenith – The Exodus, Antony and Cleopatra, The Robe, Spartacus, Ben Hur, and so on - were the imaginative depictions by the producers and directors of what scenes from Biblical times might have looked like. Modern films, when it comes to imperial splendour, try to do the same – the Star Wars films, the Hunger Games series, and so on. This is how pomp and circumstance should be!

Then we have the King of Israel, depicted by the Prophet Zechariah, entering his capital city, Jerusalem… on the back of a donkey! What a come down! And that is precisely the point the Prophet is making. Both the kingdoms of Israel in the North and more recently the Southern Kingdom of Judah had been destroyed, utterly humiliated. After the splendour of the courts of David and, especially, of Solomon, the decadence of the succession of kings, who paid only the barest lip-service to Israel’s covenant with God, finally came to an abject end when the splendours of various palaces and especially of Solomon’s Temple had been razed to the ground.

Those who returned from exile in Babylon arrived back to a very different country. They faced the challenge of rebuilding their lives, their livelihoods, the Temple itself, the apparatus of the State, and so on.

Emerging from the lockdown, that we have been experiencing it over these last few months, is nowhere near the same as the task that those people faced, but the uncertainty, the worry about what lies ahead, in spite of all the advantages that we have in our technologies, the systems that are in place (like the NHS, for example), that worry and concern is still palpable. Perhaps the call for ourselves is also about simplicity, getting the basics right about how people are called to live in our common home – a home which we will inevitably be passing on to the children of today and the generations yet to be born – this is surely our priority. It brings to mind the slogan of a CAFOD campaign of a few years ago with its call to, “Live simply so that others may simply live!”

Our own King did enter into Jerusalem very simply, on the back of a donkey, and, for all the adulation he received from the crowds on that occasion, five days later these same people handed him over to be crucified. From the word “Go”, the story of Jesus is about simplicity: born in a stable, becoming a refugee, being brought up in an obscure village, earning his keep by being a jobbing-builder. His message was also one of simplicity – “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

In our Gospel today Jesus talks about how his message is offered to “mere children”. It is, however, children who are more receptive to learning new things, new ways of being and living. Adults can have a very jaded outlook on life – “Seen it all before”, “So what’s new or different about that?” Jesus is always praising CHILDLIKENESS (as opposed to childishness).

In that Gospel Jesus promises to give his followers a “yoke that is easy” and a burden that is “light”. In his own life simplicity was key: simple commands to follow, “love of God and love of neighbour”. His command to us is just as simple, as is borne out by the parable of the Last judgement at the end of St Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Public Ministry: the sheep who are to be admitted to the kingdom have done simple, almost forgettable tasks of feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked and so on – simple, uncomplicated tasks.

It is in that simplicity that we will find the kind of peace and rest that Jesus is talking about in that Gospel: simple gestures to others of our continuing concern for their health and welfare; simple ways of prayer and worship of the God who accompanies us in all of this. In that simplicity, please God, we will find not only peace and rest but other gifts that accompany them: joy, contentment and fulfilment.

Saturday July 4th pm
Here are some thoughts about tomorrow's Mass Readings.
Sunday – Zechariah 9:9-10, Rom. 8:9,11-13& Mt. 11:25-30

You may remember the account of Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: riding on a donkey. In his Gospel St Matthew points to this as being the fulfilment of the words in today’s First Reading. Zechariah is one of the so-called Post-Exilic Prophets: one who wrote after the return of the Exiles from their captivity in Babylon. After all the pomp and glory of the kings of Israel and Judah this was a time marked by a call to simplicity and humility. The People had been humiliated by their exile and, on their return, there is a sense of the need to learn from the excesses of the past and not to go back to such indulgence that clouded the primary call of faithfulness to the Covenant. Perhaps this might be something for us to reflect on today, as we begin to come out of the lockdown imposed by the pandemic. What can we let go of from before? What do we need to keep or restore?

Our Second Reading – today and for the next two Sundays – comes from chapter 8 of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. This brings the first half of the letter to a conclusion with a reflection on life in the Holy Spirit. All that he has said about justification, about the Law, about faith in God, all of this calls for a new kind of life: one lived under the Holy Spirit who, “has made his home in you”. Living in this way will lead to “life”, failing to do so will lead to “death”. The choice is a stark, but an obvious, one.

Although Jesus talks about his “Father” a great deal in St John’s Gospel, it very rare indeed for this to happen in the Synoptics. At this stage in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is going around Galilee explaining to both the crowds who follow him and to the disciples about the “Kingdom of Heaven”. At this point he talks about how all of this is an invitation to a less burdensome way of life. The heavy “yoke” under which people of that area suffered was a hugely unjust system of peasant farming and labourers under “zero hours contracts” – and that is apart from those who lived under the yoke of slavery! For sure Jesus is talking about a kind of inner peace, but one that includes living in a just society where, like Jesus and the Father themselves, people look out for and care for others.

Saturday July 4th
Saturday Week 13 – Amos 9:9-13 & Mt. 9:14-17

Today we are offered the final words of Amos at the end of his book. They are words ultimately of hope and redemption. Although he has harsh things to say to the people of the Northern Kingdom, and there will be no of avoiding the consequences of their actions up to now, there is a promise of better things to come… after all of the misery. This will be a signature call of all the prophets: God does not abandon the people and is always faithful to the Covenant.

From the beginning of his Gospel St Matthew portrays Jesus as the Messiah: ‘Emmanuel’ – ‘God-with-us’. Something radically new has appeared on the scene that sweeps the old ways to one side. This is what Jesus is saying in answer to the question about why his disciples do not fast, whereas those of John the Baptist and the Pharisees do. The two short parables bout the un-shrunken cloth and the new wineskins emphasise the point. The two, the old and the new, do not fit together. The old is not, however, deemed to be bad, indeed St Matthew adds the need for ‘both’ to be preserved. As Christians we ultimately read the Old Testament in the light of the supreme revelation of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and continue in that way to learn from it.

p.s. I will post reflections on the Readings for tomorrow's Mass this pm.

Friday July 3rd - Feast of St Thomas the Apostle.
A Happy Feast Day to all St Thomas Christians from Kerala in our communities!
Friday Week 13 – Feast of St Thomas the Apostle - Amos 8;4-6, 9-12 & Mt. 9:9-13

(I have kept to the Readings of the Feria because they can both speak to the feast day of an apostle.)

The message of the entire Bible – Old and New Testaments alike – is about worshipping God and doing justice, both go together. Amos rails against injustice being perpetrated at the same time as lip-service is being paid to feast days and worship. The two cannot be separated because God demands both. This is the message we are all called upon to live and to preach with our lives and today we celebrate the example of one of the apostles: Thomas who, by tradition, took the Gospel to India.

The Call of Matthew and Jesus dining with “a number of tax collectors and sinners” reminds us of the fact that the Gospel message is not directed to an elite who feel they have no need of God’s healing and mercy, rather it is to sinners. Included in that list of sinners is Thomas himself, who doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead until he was given proof. Having repented he is once again able to take his place among the disciples and to become part of the mission to preach the message of the Resurrection.

1st July 2020 -Prayers Please

Please remember Fr Michael Hickey who died suddenly earlier today. Michael had been Parish Priest at St Aidan's, Benton and St Teresa's, Heaton.
Thursday July 2nd
Thursday Week 13 – Amos: 10-17 & Mt. 9:1-8

Amaziah, one of the official prophets of the Northern Kingdom, denounces Amos for his gloomy talk and tells him to return to the Southern Kingdom (of Judah) from whence he came. Amos responds by admitting freely that he is not one of the “brotherhoods of prophets”, but that he was called by God from his work as a shepherd and farmer in the South to preach God’s message to the people and he will desist from doing this. In fact, he “doubles-down”, as the saying goes, and predicts destruction and exile for the Kingdom of Israel.

The Cure of the Paralytic is recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. In all of them Jesus talks to the man, who has been lowered down from the roof by his friends, about forgiveness of sins. Notice that when Jesus responds to the man’s need of physical healing, we are told that he saw “their faith”: the faith of the men who had carried him to the house and lowered him down from the roof. We might reflect here on the times when we, ourselves, have been carried at times by the faith of family and friends and to give thanks for them.

Wednesday July 1st
Wednesday Week 13 – Amos 5:14-15, 21-24 & Mt. 8:28-34

We are offered only extracts from Amos’ writings in our Readings but to get the full flavour of his message it would be a useful exercise to read the whole (not particularly long) text, to gain a better understanding of just how comprehensive is the prophet’s condemnation of the injustice he finds around him. Unjust practices are linked in this Reading, as elsewhere in the Prophets, to the emptiness of their liturgies. God’s words reported by Amos, “I hate and despise your feasts,” are especially strong. Liturgy and justice must go hand in hand in all true religion.

St Matthew often shortens and adapts his version of stories that appear first in St Mark’s Gospel. Today the account of “the Gadarene Swine” is both much shorter than Mark’s very vivid account and now involves two men not one. The reaction of the locals is, perhaps, what we might reflect on, “They implored him to leave the neighbourhood!” Sometimes, rather than being attracted to Jesus by what he does, people are scared by him. How do I react to what Jesus does in this incident?

Tuesday June 30th
Tuesday Week 13 – Amos 3:1-8, 4:11-12 & Mt. 8:23-27

Having listed the many crimes for which the people (of the Northern Kingdom of Israel) are guilty, Amos now goes on to emphasise the inevitably of God’s retribution for all they have done. In a series of seven questions, all of which are rhetorical and call for the answer, “No!”, the prophet gives them the ultimate warning, about which they should be truly worried, “Israel, prepare to meet your God!”

Today we have St Matthew’s account of the Calming of the Storm. As always, in comparison to St Mark’s earlier account, he portrays the disciples in rather better light. Whereas St Mark has them ask Jesus, “Do you not care?”, in this account they simply ask, “Save us, Lord, we are going down!” Jesus’ response is the same, a rebuke for their lack of faith, and the result also the same: astonishment and wonder.

Monday June 29th
Monday Week 13 – Amos 2:6-10, 13-16 & Mt. 8:18-22

Today, and for the next several weeks, our First Readings come from what in our Christian Bible we call “The Prophets”, and more specifically those who wrote before the Fall of Jerusalem that was recounted at the end of last week’s Readings. However, in the Jewish Bible these are called “The Latter Prophets” (the “Former Prophets” being the books we call “Historical”). They are offered to us during these weeks in chronological order, not the order in which they appear in our Bible (which is by length of the text).

Elijah, the hero of many of the stories we heard in the last three weeks, has been dead about one hundred years. Prophets belonged to a recognised ministry within the Jewish faith. This ministry was usually passed down through families. Although called to proclaim the truth of God’s message, good news always paid better than bad, so there was a tendency to ignore the wrongdoings, especially of those in power, and simply to go with the flow. In Amos, however, a new kind of prophet comes on the scene. Later in the week we will hear Amos recount how he was given his commission to preach his message, for today we can see that it is a fiery one. Amos does not hold back in condemning the injustices perpetrated by the rich over the poor. This will be a signature theme of all the prophets who come after him.

The urgency of the need to respond to the call to discipleship is given sharp focus in today’s Gospel. Jesus has just cured several people – including the Centurion’s servant and Peter’s mother-in-law. There are great crowds gathering around him, so he decides he should go across to the other side of the lake. One potential disciple is warned that following Jesus will be no easy ride, another, already a disciple, is told that he cannot now turn back, even for the apparently very compassionate reason of doing the duty owed to his dead father of burying him. Discipleship is a matter calling for single-minded focus.

Sunday June 28th - Feast of Ss. Peter & Paul
Ss. Peter & Paul 2020

Down through the ages God has chosen some less than obvious ‘heroes’ to promote the message God wanted to deliver to humankind. The list is almost endless. It includes people like Jacob, who deceived his father Isaac into making him his heir; Joseph, apart from his younger brother Benjamin, the least likely of Jacob’s twelve sons to be the ultimate saviour of the family; Moses, a leader certainly, but also a murderer; David, the youngest of his family and also an adulterer. The list includes prophets plucked from obscurity to deliver a timely message to the whole nation of Israel. To be fair there are also leading figures of proven ability that are also chosen and, perhaps, here is the main lesson for us: God can and does choose all kinds of people to promote what Jesus calls, “the message of the Kingdom of God”.

In the New Testament itself we find Mary, an unknown young woman living in an obscure little town on the fringes of Galilee who, in spite of this, will become the mother of the Messiah. Then, in Jesus’ own choice of disciples we find some fairly dodgy characters, but also one or two from some leading families – especially among the women disciples who are named by St Luke in his Gospel.

Jesus’ choice of a leader among the disciples, Peter, looks to be a very chancy one. As a fisherman Peter was used to taking risks, setting out into the unknown, going by instinct as to where he might find the fish to catch in order to sell and to put food on the table. He had his own business, the boat shared with his brother Andrew. He is prepared to leave his nets behind and to follow Jesus. These are very positive qualities but then there is his temper and his impetuosity. In the course of his discipleship we find him veering between hero and villain in almost the same breath.

In today’s Gospel Peter acts as the spokesperson for the others in professing his faith in Jesus – clearly a quality of leadership – but in the very next breath (not offered today in the Gospel extract), when Jesus announces that he is to suffer at the hands of the authorities and to be put to death, Peter pulls him to one side and tells Jesus, “This must not happen to you, Lord!” Later on, he follows Jesus after his arrest, while most of the others run away, but then he goes on to deny he ever knew Jesus, let alone that he was one of his followers. Nonetheless, finally we find him in the Acts of the Apostles leading the missionary effort in and around Jerusalem, in spite of being arrested and imprisoned.

The choice of a fanatical persecutor of the early community, like Paul, also seems an unlikely choice to become the leading figure of bringing the message of the kingdom to people in Asia Minor and Europe. Yet this same man became equally zealous as a follower of Christ, and of the call to mission, as he was as a Pharisee who persecuted Christ’s followers. Having himself travelled from his home city of Tarsus in Asia Minor to Jerusalem to become a Pharisee, sitting at the feet of one of the most learned men of the time – Gamaliel – he had already shown both sufficient commitment to a path of life to have embarked on a long and dangerous journey, and a gifted intellect. There was potential beyond his leadership of those who persecuted the early community, but that community found it hard to recognise that fact, at first. God does not see as we see. God looks not at appearances but at the heart.

Just look at some of the people we choose as patron saints. They include some great figures, each one with many gifts to offer, but each and every one of them was flawed in some way or another. First appearances can be deceptive. God does not see as we see. We look at appearances, God looks at the heart. What might look a very dodgy choice may turn out, in the end, to be inspired after all. After all, God has chosen us – every single one of us – to be disciples, and they do not come any dodgier than you and me!

Please remember in your prayers Alba Cardozo, Larry’s mother, who died in India earlier today.

Saturday June 27th pm
Reflection on the Readings for tomorrow's Mass.
Sunday 28th June – Ss. Peter & Paul Acts 12:1-11; 2 Tim. 4:6-8, 17-18 & Mt. 16:13-19

In England and Wales this feast is kept as a Holyday of Obligation and since the due date (29th June) falls on a Monday this year, it is transferred to the Sunday and replaces the Readings for Sunday Week 13.

The Reading from Acts (written by St Luke) is part of a longer story of the ultimate demise of King Herod. You may reme...mber that St Luke records an interview between Herod and Jesus in his account of the Passion during the previous Passover celebrations. We hear that James the brother of John is put to death, at Herod’s orders, and that Peter is now arrested, to be tried after the Passover celebrations are over, presumably to meet the same fate. An angel intervenes, however, and Peter escapes. This is not yet the time for his martyrdom, for now the message of Jesus must continue to be taken to other places outside Jerusalem. It is, however, time for the death of King Herod which this chapter goes on to record, but which is not part of today’s extract.

2 Timothy was almost certainly written by a disciple of St Paul after his death. The passage is a testament in honour of Paul’s great achievements in being faithful to the mission for which he was commissioned. Now he faces his own death but is quite certain that the Lord who was with him throughout that missionary work will, “bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom”.

This is perhaps the most famous of the so-called Petrine texts in the Gospels (the others being Jesus’ call to strengthen his brethren in St Luke’s account of the Last Supper (22:31) and the commission to “Feed my sheep” after the Resurrection (Jn.21:15-17). Clearly Peter is given a leading role among the Twelve, having authority over something called “the church”, which is mentioned for the first time in the Gospels. Some writers over the centuries have interpreted the “Rock” on which this church is to be built as Peter himself, while others, including St Bede, interpret this rock as his profession of faith rather than his person. Whichever interpretation one accepts, it is clear that Peter is first among equals in regard to the apostles.

Saturday June 27th
Saturday Week 12 – Lamentations 2:2, 10-14, 18-19 & Mt. 8:5-17

The Book of Lamentations is placed in our Bible immediately after the Book of Jeremiah. It is a series of five poems lamenting the fall of Jerusalem, which we heard about in yesterday’s reading from the final chapter of 2 Kings. This first poem is remarkable because it is one of the few places in the Bible where the female voice is heard. What has happened is beyond comprehension and the writer, a...lthough admitting the sinfulness of the people, nonetheless berates God for this turn of events.

Since the introduction of the “New Translation” of the Roman Missal we recognise immediately the response in today’s Gospel of the centurion to Jesus’ proposed visit to his house, “Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured.” We make that plea our own just before receiving Holy Communion (when not in lockdown, of course!). Jesus continues his ministry of healing – a signature element of the message he is preaching by both word and action. Typical of Matthew, he points out how Jesus’ actions are a fulfilment of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, and his message is clear: Jesus is the fulfilment of all that the Jewish People were looking for in a Messiah.

Friday June 26th pm

I am sure that people will have heard that churches are to be able to be open for public worship from 4th July. The operative phrase is "to be able to open". That means that all kinds of measures will have to be in place before they CAN ACTUALLY open.

Hand-sanitizers, correct cleaning equipment, a one-way system with signage for entry and exit routes, benches and areas closed off to enable social distancing, and so on, will all need to be in place first.

In this diocese we are to be given the necessary equipment and training for this in phases of openings. Neither of our local churches is yet designated for reopening, but it may not be too far away.

When it does happen and public liturgy may once again be celebrated everything will be rather different than before.

Clearly if distancing has to be imposed capacity will be significantly lower. Therefore...

The Sunday Mass Obligation will not be re-imposed.

People who are able to attend Mass on weekdays will be encouraged to do this in order to allow those who work during the week to attend at the weekend.

Some people will still not be able to attend Mass because they are sheltering because of underlying conditions. As a result we have been asked to continue the live streaming of Masses even after the churches reopen.

There will be no communal singing (singing is a particularly virulent method of spreading a virus across a wide area).

There will be no Sign of Peace, Communion may only be received on the hand.

There is no fixed ruling on this, as yet, but face masks may have to worn by members of the congregation.

Obviously we will not be able to reinstate coffee after Mass for the foreseeable future.

As soon as I hear any firm news about opening ether, or both of our churches I will let people know.

Friday June 26th
Friday Week 12 – 2Kgs. 25:1-12 & Mt. 8:1-4

Our First Reading comes from the final chapter of the second Book of Kings. The sorry tale of the Fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple of Solomon recount a sad, but inevitable, end to the Kingdom of Judah. The kings and their people had, by and large, failed to follow the commandments of the Law of Moses – their Covenant with God – and so, in the eyes of this slant on human behaviour, evil is punished, just as goodness is rewarded. This is, of course, a very simplistic way of looking at life, and it will be challenged in some of the later literature of the Old Testament (e.g. the Book of Job). For now, however, in a second deportation, the remainder of the leading people in Jerusalem are removed into exile and the country is humiliated.

From teaching to healing today, in our Gospel Reading, as Jesus comes down from the mountain where he had delivered his sermon. There are a few details to note here that may form the basis of further reflection. Firstly, Jesus always wants to heal, “Of course I want to! Be cured!”. Secondly, notice that Jesus “stretched out his hand and touched him”. Touching a leper made Jesus himself unclean according to the Law of Moses but healing trumps rules and laws every time. Finally, that instruction to the leper, “Mind you do not tell anyone,” is ludicrous since many people, not least the man’s relatives and friends will know what has happened and it will be a hot topic of conversation in the whole area. This is an example of Jesus being very careful about how and to whom he reveals himself. His Messiahship is very different from that which many people were expecting at that time and Jesus needs to make his own message clear without this distraction.

Thursday June 25th
Thursday Week 12 - 2 Kgs. 24:8-17 & Mt. 7:21-29

These books of Samuel and Kings are often referred to as “Deuteronomic History”: those kings who followed the (Deuteronomic) Law, prospered; those who did not landed the whole country in trouble. Trouble is the order of the day in today’s extract which comes towards the end of these writings. Babylon is now the dominant power in the region and Judah becomes a puppet state with many of its key citizens taken off into Exile. We are told that “only the poorest was left behind”. These were people who were incapable of organising any kind of revolt and were no threat to Babylonian rule, but worse was yet to come, as we will hear…”

This final extract from the Sermon on the Mount gives us the contrasting images of the houses built on sand and on rock. The implication is perfectly obvious so, in current parlance, the choice facing us is a “no-brainer”. Jesus’ words, we are told, “made a deep impression on the people. He is seen to be different because he speaks with an authority clearly beyond that of their own scribes (local interpreters of the Law).

Wednesday 24th June - The Birthday of John the Baptist.
Is. 49:1-6, Acts 13:22-26 & Lk. 1:57-66, 80.

This extract from Isaiah is from what is known as the Second of the Servant Songs. We usually find these interpreted in Christian thinking as though Jesus is this servant. Here, possibly because of the reference to, “the Lord called me before I was born, from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name,” it is applied to John the Baptist. Whatever the reason for the choice of this extract, like the message that John will ultimately preach, it is about salvation coming to Israel.

The extract for the Acts of the Apostles comes from St Paul’s address to the people in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, during his First Missionary Journey. He is pointing out to his Jewish audience that the Messiah, a true descendant of King David, came in Jesus whose coming was heralded by John the Baptist.

John’s father, Zechariah, had been struck dumb when he asked for proof of the Angel’s message that Elizabeth was to bear him a son. Once that son is born his first words are to give his son the name chosen by God for him, and from now on his able to speak in praise of God once more. The passage speaks of people “treasuring” and “wondering” about this event, as St Luke describes the reaction to other events in the unfolding story of Jesus’ birth and early years. This same invitation to treasure and to wonder is given to us today.

Tuesday June 23rd
Tuesday Week 12 – 2 Kgs. 19:9-11, 14-21, 31-36 & Mt. 7:6, 12-14

The Northern Kingdom of Israel has been overwhelmed by the Assyrian Empire which, in turn, a hundred or so years later was itself overwhelmed by the Babylonians. In our First Reading, this Assyrians threaten the southern Kingdom of Judah, but it does not fall, at least at this time and to this particular invader. In this final week of readings from this part of the Old Testament the ground is being prepared for readings over the coming weeks from the “Later Prophets”, as the Hebrew Bible calls them. In our Christian Bible we know them as the “Written Prophets” and one of them is mentioned by name in today’s Reading: the best known of them, Isaiah.

Our Gospel comes from the final section of the Sermon on the Mount and it contains a rather startling comment, “So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; this is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.” The “Law and the Prophets” is what we call the Old Testament and Jesus seems to be saying that the whole thrust of these writings is about our behaviour towards others. Notice that nothing is said here about worship of God at all! It might be an interesting exercise to spend a few moments reflecting on this thought.

Monday June 22nd pm

I received an email from the Bishop this morning. It seems that St Mary's, and a few other churches I had heard were gong to be part of get next wave of church openings, is not now on the list!

Many, many thanks to those who have volunteered to help. Your day will come....

Monday June 22nd Feast of Ss. John Fisher and Thomas More.
Monday Week 12 – 22nd June (Feast of Ss. John Fisher and Thomas More) 1 Pet. 4:12-19 & Mt. 10:34-39

On the feast day of these martyr saints in our First Reading we are given a passage from a letter written to people who were constantly facing the prospect of persecution. They are words of encouragement to the recipients to remain faithful and to trust that they will be safe in God’s hands. They are tough words for a tough prospect faced by that original community, by Ss. John Fisher and Thomas More, and by people in different parts of our world today who face persecution because of their faith.

Taken from the final section of Jesus’ discourse addressed to the apostles before sending them out on their mission, our Gospel warns of the potential “Cost of Discipleship”. Whatever the cost might be, however, they are to remain faithful, as John Fisher and Thomas More did, and are promised that in losing their life they will find it.

Sunday June 20th
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020

One of the distinguishing features of the human person that marks us out from other creatures is our ability to ask questions about ourselves and our environment. “Why are things like this?” “Why is there suffering in the world?” And so on. The human race has been asking questions like this more or less since the beginning of time, or at least since the beginning of writing on stone and papyrus. Early civilizations came up with some strange ideas, at least they seem strange to us as we look back from the perspective of modern science. The stories in our Bible, for example, especially the early chapters of the Book of Genesis belong to this category. Even so, some profound truths about the human condition can still be found amongst these texts, as long as we don’t try to read them as historical or scientific textbooks.

For all St Paul knew those stories in Genesis were literally true. The same is true for St Augustine, a few centuries later. Both of them were deeply troubled by their own propensity to sin. No matter how hard they tried, they kept slipping back into old, well-established habits in their lives. By themselves and of their own power they knew, in the depths of their being, that they could not win in the struggle with evil inclinations in their lives. The solution to their problems lay with one person and his actions: Jesus Christ. In Christ they saw the hope of redemption, a path that lead away from their sinfulness. What was true for them was true also for the whole human race.

St Paul talks about that redemption in today’s Second Reading. St Augustine will also latch on to Paul’s words a few centuries later. As far as both of them knew Adam was a real historical figure. Although the following chapters in the Book of Genesis give figurative answers to questions about the origins of other forms of evil - enmity between siblings in the story of Cain and Abel; rivalry and the inability of humans to cooperate with one another because of language differences, in the story of the Tower of Babel, for example – both Paul and Augustine latch solely on to the story of the man and the woman in the Garden in Chapter 3.

St Paul writes, “Sin entered the world through one man, and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned.” Taken literally here we have the origins of death and, for St Augustine, of all sinfulness in the world: what he chose to call “Original Sin”. St Paul’s purpose in writing as he does is not, primarily, so much to talk about how sin came into the world, as it is to set up a contrast between two figures: Adam and Christ.

The point he is making is centred on the overwhelming generosity of God who, in Christ, has overcome for all time evil and sin and death, and has brought goodness, grace and life into the world. It is not by any means a struggle between two equally matched enemies – Adam and Christ. No, “the gift itself considerably outweighed the fall.” There is no doubt, whatsoever, but that good has triumphed, even though personally the struggle continues for all of us.

When we look around at what has been happening these last few weeks, we can see some amazing, profound, and yet very simple, acts of goodness and kindness shown by so many people to others: to vulnerable neighbours, to the homeless and other outcasts from society. We have also seen some egregious acts of selfishness and evil where some people have been seen to exploit the situation for their own gain at the expense of the dignity and even the health and well-being of others. In that Reading from St Paul today we are assured that there is no doubt as to the ultimate outcome in the struggle against evil. On the Cross and in the Resurrection, good triumphs every time.

In people like ourselves, in the way we try to embody our faith in all we do and say – for all the failings we make along the way – we are the ones who are called to name evil when we see it, and to promote all those examples of respect love and genuine goodness that we witness. As the lockdown begins to ease our call is to name and shame self-serving wrongdoing when we see it and to promote and honour all the good that we have been witnessing. In this way we help to make real the message of St Paul about the ultimate triumph of Christ. As a further encouragement to doing this we have the reassurance of Jesus’ words in our Gospel today speaking about how his Father looks out for us, “… there is no need to be afraid, you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.”

June 20th pm
Reflections on the Readings for Mass tomorrow.
Sunday Week 12 – Jer. 20:10-13; Rom. 5:12-15 & Mt. 10:26-33

As we return to Sunday Readings from “Ordinary Time” it is useful to remind ourselves that when the different readings were chosen for the Lectionary, the Gospel passage was the first one to be assigned. The First Reading, from the Old Testament, was chosen because it was thought, by the compilers at least, that its content and message had some resonance with the Gospel. By contrast, the Second Readings, usually from one of St Paul’s letters, are part of a series of continuous readings from part of one of his letters and may have no particular link to the message of the Gospel. In Week 12 we find ourselves in the middle of a series of extracts from Paul’s letter to the Romans which began a few weeks ago and will continue for a few weeks more.

Jeremiah is well known for moaning about his lot. He had good reason to feel this way because he was subjected to persistent persecution from the authorities in Jerusalem who complained that he was demoralising the people with his message. That message, however, came from above. He was speaking the truth to power, in the tradition of a true prophet. This passage is part of a longer piece which begins with Jeremiah complaining to God about his situation, “You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced.” (v.7) We hear the final part of his complaint but followed immediately by his profession of faith that the Lord is at side and the Lord’s message will prevail.

This is a very famous passage from St Paul’s letter to the Romans. St Augustine uses the opening verses as part of the foundation for his doctrine of ‘Original Sin’ – a term that he invented to help explain our need of Christ’s Redemption. Across the centuries so much ink has been spilt over this one passage that a few lines could never hope to encompass its full, controversial, message. One thing that can be asserted without controversy, however, is that whatever way we might interpret the roles of Adam and Christ, St Paul is not setting up a contest between equals. He tells us that “the gift itself considerably outweighed the fall”. There is no doubt about the outcome of the contest. Jesus Christ, and his message, have already prevailed.

The Gospel passage is part of the second sermon/discourse that Matthew gives us in his Gospel (the first being the Sermon on the Mount). In this discourse Jesus is giving instructions to the apostles before setting them off on their trial mission. He has warned them that they will face not only opposition but outright persecution (as the community for whom Matthew wrote his Gospel were doing at that time) but now, in today’s extract, his rallying call is a familiar one in the Scriptures, “Do not be afraid.” The Father is with them at every step of the mission on which they are about to embark, just as he is with us in our mission today.

Saturday June 20th
Saturday - The Immaculate Heart of Mary – Is. 61:9-11 & Lk. 2:41-51 (Lectionary vol. 3 p.1043)

Our First Reading for the Feast comes from the final part of the Book of Isaiah, thought to have been written shortly after the return of the Exiles from Babylon to the Promised Land. It is full of joy and hope for the future for those returning Exiles. The great symbol of hope for the future is that of a fruitful marriage. Now, in contrast to the way in which the People lived prior to the Exile, “integrity and praise” will be the hallmarks of their response to their Covenant with God. In the New Testament Mary will be the first and best example of this integrity and praise.

(Today’s ‘Psalm’ comes from 1 Samuel and is Hannah’s Song of Praise about the birth of her son, Samuel. Mary’s Song of Praise, “The Magnificat” is modelled on it.)

The story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple is, of course, the fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. At twelve years old Jesus is on the threshold of adulthood, according to the Jewish Law, and we see him beginning to engage in adult matters. However, he is also a child about whom his parents have real concern and anxiety when he goes missing. Jesus’ words to his parents, when at last they find him in the Temple, might seem to us rather cheeky (or “bold” as the Irish would put it), and quite understandably they are taken aback. Nonetheless, he returns with them to Nazareth and “lived under their authority”. The key point for us in today’s feast is the final sentence in which we are told that “Mary stored up all these things in her heart”. As the “first and best disciple” (as Pope Paul VI called her) Mary’s response to what happens is also to be ours.

Later today I will post some reflections on the Readings for tomorrow's Mass.

Friday June 19th - Feast of the Sacred Heart
Friday – Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – Dt.7:6-11, 1 Jn. 4:7-16 & Mt. 11:25-30

Our First Reading comes from the early section of the Book of Deuteronomy. Before presenting the code of law itself, Moses recounts all that God has done for the People and how they are called to respond to this. In this passage we hear that, “the Lord set his heart on you”. All that God is based on God’s love for the People, and the response to that love must be love shown in obedience to the commandments.

The word “love”, or its verbal form, occur 16 times in this short Reading. The word “life”, and its verbal form, occur 7 times, often linked with love. These two words are repeated time and time again in the writings of St John – his Gospel and his letters. They are often intertwined: life leads to love and love leads to life. They are inseparable, and always it is God who makes the first move and who loves us. Everything else is our response to the love we have been given by God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

This being Year A our Gospel Reading comes from St Matthew and the obvious link to today’s feast is Jesus’ claim to be “gentle and humble in heart”. It is clear from this Reading that it is not through academic study or worldly wisdom that we come to know and understand the God revealed in Jesus, both have their place, rather it is an openness to God, a realisation that we are not self-sufficient beings, neither individually nor collectively, that will lead us to that “gentle” heart that offers rest for our souls.

18th June pm
Two things....

A reminder that tomorrow the Diocese is hosting a Day of the Word - reflections on the Word of God. Various events are taking place and all can be found on our diocesan website.

I though people might be interested in this link to a cartoon character from the U.S.

Description Cartoon reflections on living through the pandemic • Free to download and share with your people • Share on social media or by email Narrow edition works well for mobile phones and other devices • Two-column edition prints on 8.5" x 11" paper The Flock has always been about “a h...

PASTORAL.CENTER

New Normal? (eResource): Re-emerging from the Pandemic with the Flock

Description Cartoon reflections on living through the pandemic • Free to download and share with your people • Share on social media or by email Narrow edition works well for mobile phones and other devices • Two-column edition prints on 8.5" x 11" paper The Flock has always been about “a h...


Thursday June 18th
Thursday Week 11 – Ecclesiasticus 48:1-14 & Mt. 6:7-15

Our First Reading is a paean of praise for all that Elijah has done, as recounted in our recent readings. Ecclesiasticus – also known as “Sirach” or “The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira”. Written in the Second Century BCE, it is a typical example of Wisdom Literature in that it is a series of instructions from an older man to his pupil. Unlike the Book of Proverbs, however, the teaching is not done through series of two or three-line “pearls of wisdom”, rather the author uses events and stories from the past to teach his pupil the lessons they embody. Here we have his summary of the life and work of Elijah, whose influence continued after his death.

In between Jesus’ words about prayer and fasting, and giving further insight into what he means by prayer, Jesus outlines how his followers should pray. They are not to go babbling away and heaping words upon words – rather their prayer is to be simple and straightforward. He teaches them the model of all Christian Prayer - the Our Father – and highlights the call to forgive as we are forgiven.

 Wednesday June 17th
Wednesday Week 11 – 2 Kgs. 2:1,6-14 & Mt. 6:1-6,16-18

The story of Elijah’s death is full of symbolism. Just as Moses parted the Red Sea for the People of Israel to cross, so now Elijah parts the waters of the River Jordan so that he and his successor Elisha may cross to the other side. When he dies, he is not buried but taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Clearly, this is no ordinary person. This is someone who is exceptional and will be regarded as such by the Jewish People. He is a second Moses. Now Elisha is to take centre-stage as his successor.

For the sake of continuity, our Gospel Reading today misses out some verses (they are tomorrow’s Gospel) and keeps together Jesus’ commands about good works, prayer and fasting (given in that order in this Gospel). It is the Gospel designated, for obvious reasons, for Ash Wednesday as we begin our Lenten observances. The fact that it is now given in Ordinary Time is a reminder to us that these three disciplines may be highlighted during Lent, but they are, in fact, everyday disciplines to be observed throughout the year.

Tuesday June 16th
Tuesday Week 11 – 1 Kgs. 21:17-29 & Mt. 5:43-48

In this second part of the story of Naboth’s Vineyard Elijah confronts Ahab about his complicity in bringing about of Naboth’s death and the acquisition of his land. Apparently, Ahab was well known for his “double-dealing”, egged on by Jezebel. Threatened with punishment for his evil deeds, he repe