Holiness is a call to all

This Sunday at the Mass in St Peter’s Square, the Pope Francis will be adding Archbishop Oscar Romero, the martyred bishop of San Salvador, to the list of saints. Pope Paul VI (Giovanni Battista Montini) will also be added. These two names are alongside two diocesan priests and two religious sisters: a German and a Spanish missionary in Bolivia.
Another person was added to the list, late in the day. He is an Italian man of 19 years, Nunzio Sulprizio, who was beatified in 1963. Nunzio is a little known apprentice blacksmith. Both his parents died while he was a child, and so his uncle took charge of him. Unfortunately, his uncle mistreated him in many ways, including forced labor in a blacksmith shop where on Nunzio’s shoulders enormous weights had to be carried over vast expanses. Nunzio eventually contracted gangrene and was sent to a hospital in Naples. He suffered immensely but found sustenance in the Eucharist. He eventually recovered, and then dedicated himself to be of service to other patients before cancer took his life just before his 20th birthday.  Daniele Palmer who reflects on his life in this weeks “Tablet”, points out he did nothing exceptional in the church, he did not found a community. His short life was full of pain and suffering. “He was a simple man, a young Catholic who became ill doing his job; whose hardships were met by prayers; whose faith was not an escape but an anchor that held him firm.”  This is fitting as the Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” is in full swing. It is giving us a clear message that holiness is not restricted to priests, sisters, bishops and popes.  Holiness is a call we all receive. I think that it is harder to grow in holiness as a priest, nun or bishop because there is more in your life to make you complacent. There is always the temptation to think, “I’m alright Jack.” Holiness is living the ordinary life extraordinarily well. We are only able to do this if we rely on God’s grace, his power. St Paul says that he makes his weakness his special boast so the power of Christ may stay over him.  “For when I am weak then I am strong.” We thank God for the witness to holiness of great men like Archbishop Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI but also the great witness of the ordinary folk, like Nunzio Sulprizio.

Unbinding Ourselves

I was visiting Oxford last week and went to the chapel of  New College. In the antechapel under the West window depicting a nativity scene based on a design by Sir Joshua Reynolds stand a large sculpture of Lazarus by Jacob Epstein that he carved in 1951. It stands about 12 feet high. It is said that Khrushchev, after a visit here, claimed that the memory of this haunting work kept him awake at night. Lazarus is still wrapped in the bands and his head is twisted halfway round so that his chin touches his shoulder. The wrists are bound tightly to the thighs. But the arms and elbows project away from the body. 

As I walk round this amazing piece of work I found myself uttering those words of Jesus, “Unbind him let him go” from the Gospel of John (11: 44).  Jesus had called his dead friend out of the tomb. He had set him free. We speak about the bond of marriage as in the first reading this weekend. God unites Man and Woman and in the gospel Jesus talks about God uniting two into one Body and this is life giving. But there is also much in our lives that bind us, constrict us, keep us in the dark tomb in a dead like state. We might be living our lives more dead than alive. There could be habits of sin that constrict us and make us prisoners. We need to hear the voice of Jesus calling us back to life.  He is the only one who can set us free. He calls us out into the sunlight and to live the new life of Easter given to us at our baptism. We are unable to free ourselves however much we try. It requires the healing grace and gentle voice of Jesus.  This will most certainly take place when we encounter Jesus is the sacrament of Reconciliation.
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Belonging to Christ or the Rubbish Dump

Do I belong to Christ or do I belong to the rubbish dump of life?

This is a question that Sylvester O’Flynn O.F.M. Cap.posed in his reflection on this Sunday’s gospel. Mark’s gospel gives us some challenging imagery of cutting off hands, feet, tearing out eyes should they cause us to sin.   Jesus is not advocating self mutilation in a literal sense. Sin does not reside in our hand or eye which might be its instrument. Sin is in the will. It is better to ask what these organs represent. Our hands are for welcoming and greeting, for serving and giving, healing and caressing, reconciling and uniting, praising the Lord  in work and prayer. Such hands belong to Christ. But hands can be cold and withdrawn: closed and off-putting, thieving and deluding: violent and hurtful: destructive and sinful. Such hands are already cut off from Christ. Feet are for going and mission: for standing firm in storm and trial: for bringing the good news. Such feet belong to Christ. But feet are also used for running away from responsibility: shifting with every passing wind or fad: marching with menace, terror or destruction. Such feet do not belong to Christ.

Eyes are windows of the soul: they let in God’s heavenly light and fill us with wonder, goodness and praise: windows that shine out with the love of God which is in the heart, through attentiveness caring and sharing. But these same eyes may be smudged and darkened. Those who do evil hate the light and avoid it less their actions should be exposed. Eyes can be darkly fascinated by lust and violence. Dark shifty eyes express hatred, prejudice and coldness.

Thus our hands, feet and eyes are made for God’s service. They are consecrated in baptism to be members of Christ’s body on earth today. But if we live contrary to Christ’s way, then we do not belong to him. We deserve the rubbish dump.  That is the meaning of what is translated as hell.

The word in the Greek text of Mark is Gehenna.  This was a steep ravine on the Western and Southern sides of Jerusalem. In Old Testament times  the valley was the setting for idolatrous worship (Jeremiah 7:31) and child sacrifice to the pagan God Moloch. It now served as a rubbish dump. A rubbish dump is never without a fire and the maggots and bacteria are ever busily decomposing all matter there. When Jesus spoke of Gehenna as a place of everlasting punishment, he was using imagery familiar to his listeners. As the commentator Fr Sylvester O’Flynn says”Preachers and artists down the centuries have exaggerated the image of fire beyond all proposition and context. Here it means the rubbish dump of wasted life and talent. Belonging to Christ or to the rubbish dump? Where does my life, every part of it, stand?

What is True Greatness?

Attitudes have changed since the time of Christ to children.  In first century Palestine society a child would symbolise not so much innocence, as a lack of social status and legal rights. In other words, a child was seen as a non person, totally dependant on others for nurture and protection. You were not expected to gain anything socially or materially from showing kindness to a child. So when Jesus took the child and embraced him he was correcting and instructing his disciples who were arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus, by putting the child in the middle of these men, was saying that this child, who is a social nonentity, is worthy of respect and care. Jesus is clearly saying that even the most apparently insignificant people are important because they too carry the name of Jesus and belong to him.

Jesus is challenging us today by showing us what true greatness is. He is calling us to humble service of others. We need to find Him and the Father in the most insignificant people. What the world sees as the important and significant people we need to listen to and take note of are not necessarily worthy of our attention and time.

This is not for me an easy lesson to hear. Jesus has a message that says;”triumph comes through suffering and humility”  Jesus talks about his coming passion and death but the disciples are not listening.  It is not what they want to hear.  This was the powerful message given to us by the life and work of Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  She said: “The dying, the cripple, the mental, the unwanted, the unloved – they are Jesus in disguise.” She also said: “Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.”  Forget about being famous for fifteen minutes. Forgot about try to win the admiration and adulation of others. This is what Mother Teresa suggests should be our way of life. “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can only live your life radiating that love.”

Future session on Filioque (date will be announced later)

Future session will be on Filioque,

Venue: St Thomas of Canterbury Hall

Time:  TBD

Date: TBD

Filioque is a term used to refer to the addition to the original Nicene Creed by the Latin churches that describes the Holy Spirit as proceeding from both the Father and the Son, (and not from the Father only as in the original Nicene Creed. This led to some discussion between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches; thus, the issue is called “Filioque controversy”

Future Session will discuss the articles from Cumunio “   Clarifying the filioque: The Catholic-Orthodox dialogue

Suggested further reading:

  1. Filioque clause – New World Encyclopedia
  2.  What is the filioque clause_ – Catholic Straight Answers
  5. Filioque – OrthodoxWiki
  6. Filioque from Wikipedia


I hope to invite some of our Orthodox brothers, to take part in the discussion.  This is an open invitation to all other denominations and those interested to discuss theological issues.