Cardinal Newman

This Sunday, 13th October, the first English saint of modern times, John Henry Newman, is to be canonised (declared a saint). Also canonized with him will be an Indian, Sister Marian Thresia, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family; an Italian, Sister Giuseppina Vannini; a Brazilian Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes, and Marguerite Bays, a Swiss consecrated virgin of the Third Order of St. Francis. Their canonizations will take place during the 2019 Special Synod of Bishops from the Pan-Amazonian region which is held at the Vatican at this time. The Prince of Wales will lead the UK delegation – because the Queen no longer travels abroad, he is the highest-ranking royal who could attend – along with HM Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy.  John Henry Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Originally an Anglican priest, he converted to Catholicism in 1845 and his writings are considered among some of the most important Church-writings in recent centuries. If you have access to YouTube, Bishop Robert Barron has posted a onehour film he made on John Henry Newman. This will give you a great insight in the man and why he is important for us today.  Bishop Barron  says at the beginning of his film that Newman was a massive and deeply influencial figure and some say he is the greatest Catholic theologian since Thomas Aquinas. Newman is considered one of the most important theological influences of the Second Vatican Council. His work represents the first and most notable attempt to place Catholic thought in dialogue with the enlightenment. You might be aware of his poem “The Dream of Gerontius” put to music by Sir Edward Elgar.  The words of the hymn “Praise to the holiest in the height” come from this poem. Among his published books were “The Idea of a University,” “Grammar of Assent,” and his autobiography “Apologia pro Vita Sua” (A defence of one’s own life.). I love this pray he wrote:

Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as You shine: so to shine as to be a light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from You. None of it will be mine. It will be You who shines through me upon others. O let me thus praise You, in the way which You love best, by shining on all those around me. Give light to them as well as to me; light them with me, through me. Teach me to show forth Your praise. Your truth. Your will. Make me preach You without preaching – not by words, but by my example and by the catching force, the sympathetic influence, of what I do – by my visible resemblance to Your saints, and the evident fullness of the love which my heart bears to You.

Our Missionary Commitment

This is a busy weekend for us at St Thomas of Canterbury.  Father Federico Gandolfi OFM is here and on Friday after celebrating evening Mass spoke about his work in South Sudan. At all Masses this weekend Fr Patrick is speaking about the work of the missionary order of Spiritians and he will be asking for our support through prayer and donation.  Our own Fr Sylvester is a member of this congregation which was formerly known as The Holy Ghost Fathers.  It’s 100 years since Pope Benedict XV’s encyclical “Maximum Illud” called on Catholics to bring the Good News to all peoples (Missio Ad Gentes). So to commemorate this anniversary, Pope Francis has declared October 2019 to be an Extraordinary Month of Mission (EMM). This special month of prayer and action calls us all to renew our missionary commitment. Because we’re all called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with all peoples. It is too easy for us to leave all missionary activity to people like Fr Frederick and Fr Patrick. Pope Francis reminds us to pray that “the Holy Spirit may engender a new missionary spring for all those baptised and sent by Christ’s Church.”   So what should you and I do to be part of this new missionary spring. What am I doing to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others?

Here is the prayer written for this month.

Heavenly Father, 

when your only begotten Son Jesus Christ rose from the dead,

he commissioned his followers

to “go and make disciples of all nations”

and you remind us that through our Baptism we are made sharers in the mission of the Church.

Empower us by the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be courageous and zealous

in bearing witness to the Gospel,

so that the mission entrusted to the Church, which is still very far from completion, may find new and. efficacious expressions that bring life and light to the world.

Help us make it possible for all peoples to experience the saving love

and mercy of Jesus Christ,

who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.

Global Healing & Our Harvest

Traditionally Harvest festival is held on the Sunday near or of the Harvest Moon. This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. The equinox this year is Monday 23rd September. Thank you to all those who have donated food as part of our display around the altar. This will be distributed to those in need. We are having fun things in the Hall after the 9:30am Mass this Sunday to celebrate harvest. This is our opportunity to give thanks to God for the blessing of the produce of the land that feeds and nourishes us. But also we need to reconsider the ways we use and care for the land. We know that we cannot use this earth for our wellbeing alone but need to care and look after what has been entrusted to us by God. As I write (Friday) there are climate change protests in major cities throughout the world. The demand is for immediate ambitious change . Pope Francis three years ago wrote a wonderful encyclical Letter “Laudato Si” on care for our common home. In it he says that climate change “ is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.” He says that “we are called to recognise the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”

Before the summer some of us watched and discussed the film “Global Healing” and we began to think about ways we are individuals, families and a parish can change our lifestyle to help the healing of the planet. I believe this needs to continue. There are many good ideas on the CAFOD ( the official aid agency for the Catholic Church in England and Wales) website Catholic international development charity | CAFOD;

Let us also pray a prayer written by Pope Francis:

O God of the poor,

help us to rescue the abandoned

and forgotten of this earth,

so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives,

that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty,

not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts

of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognise that we are profoundly united

with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.

Preferential Option for the Poor

A group of us were discussing this Sunday’s gospel where Jesus told the story of Dives and Lazarus. Someone in the group said that it is the responsibility of rich people in this world like Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, to give more of their money to the poor and the needy. It is easy for us to think that these words spoken by Jesus to the Pharisees apply to people rich people like Bill Gates. He is about the third richest person in the world and owns about $107 billion. In fact his foundation gives much money to charity. But this story of Jesus is not just addressed to the Pharisees but it is addressed to each one of us today? Am I the rich man who feasts magnificently everyday or am I the poor man who who fills himself from the scraps that fall from the rich mans table? If we look at our lifestyle today there’s is no doubt that we in the West are comfortable and we are well aware that there are many many of our brothers and sisters who are in the greatest need. One of the major developments in Catholic social teaching in the 20th century has been the “ preferential option for the poor.” The option for the poor is simply the idea that, as reflected in canon law, “The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor.” It indicates an obligation, on our part who call ourselves Christian, first and foremost to care for the poor and vulnerable. The preferential option is part of the social teaching of the Church. Because God created all that is good, all men have a share in the earth’s bounty. This “principle of the universal destination of goods,” says the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, “requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern.” The preferential option for the poor is a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity,” says Pope John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical Solicitudo Rei Socialis. “It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning the ownership and use of goods.” The doctrine has its roots in Christ’s life and teaching itself. “Christ the Savior showed compassion…, identifying himself with the ‘least’ among men. ‘It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones,’” the Compendium says, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2443). The Question I need to ask myself today is “Is the poor my priority?” “Are we a church for the poor?” “Are we a parish that makes the poor a priority?” Who is a sitting on the doorstep of my life that I am ignoring? This week let us show preferential option for the poor by doing something on Harvest Fast Day this Friday 4th October and by coming to meet Fr Freddie on Friday evening after 7:30pm Mass which he will be celebrating. 

Letting God Find Us

In all three of the stories in Luke’s Gospel today we have something or someone who is lost. The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son often known as the prodigal son. The shepherd searches for the lost sheep and the woman searches for the lost coin and the father searches the horizon waiting for the son to return. What Jesus is telling us when he tells these stories that God is searching for us. Many talk about the spiritual life as our quest for God, our search for God. The spiritual life is sometimes described as finding God in our lives. I think that it is the other way round. God is searching for us. What we need to do is to allow ourselves to be found by God. God is passionate about us. St Catherine of Siena has a phrase that expresses this. She says that God is “mad in love” with us. Here are some of her words. “O eternal Father! O fiery abyss of charity! O eternal beauty, O eternal wisdom, O eternal goodness, O eternal mercy! O hope and refuge of sinners! O immeasurable generosity! O eternal, infinite Good! O mad lover! And you have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you could not live without her, in spite of the fact that you are Life itself, and everything has life from you and nothing can have life without you. Why then are you so mad?  Because you have fallen in love with what you have made!”

So often people imagine God as a distant figure, sitting in judgement on us, waiting for us to do the right thing. In the first reading this weekend from Exodus God says to Moses about the people of Israel who have apostatised: “ Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them;” After Moses pleads God relents. This suggests this is God’s perception of his creation. Bishop Robert Barron in his reflection on this gospel says that the three stories suggest there are three ways of being found. The coin represents people who are spiritually dead. They don’t know they are lost. They are so far from God, so alienated from their real purpose. They have wandered in the land of unlikeness. They are closed in themselves. There is hope because God diligently  searches and finds those who don’t now they are lost. The sheep are those who know they are in trouble. They realise that they are spiritually compromised. God finds them too and carries them home on his shoulders. Finally, in the story of the prodigal son, the son has gone into conscious rebellion of his Father, and there are those who consciously rebel against God and realise they are lost and are seeking a way back.

What is common to all three stories is that there is rejoicing in being found. We need as a parish and a church to rejoice in those who return. Perhaps we need to open are heart and let God find us.

Confirmation – Winning the Hearts of Our Young People

Our purpose in life is to be holy. To be fully the person that God created us to be. We need to understand what this means in our life and in our time. The Second Vatican Council helped us to recognise anew this call to holiness is for everyone. “All the faithful, whatever their condition or state,  are all called by the Lord each  in his or her own way to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect.” This is a call of one who loves us first  and who wants us to come to know and experience this love he has for us. We can express this love as a friendship. “I do not call you servants any longer but friend”,says Jesus.  Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation to Young People which he wrote in March this year says “ Jesus wants to be a friend to every young person. This discernment is the basis of all else” When Jesus, risen from the dead, encountered Peter by the lakeside, his great question was.” Simon Son of John do you love me?” He was asking Peter, Do you love me as a friend?  God is offering us an invitation to be part of a love story.

This invitation to holiness, to friendship and love is especially relevant for our young people.

As a parish community we have a responsibility to support and help the parents of young people in their duty to guide their sons and daughters to discover what God wants of them. What are the implications of God calling us to be holy, to share in the friendship of Jesus.

Preparing for Confirmation is the ideal time for deepening friendship with Christ and opening our hearts to him.I am inviting  our young people who have not received the fullness of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation with the encouragement of their parents to sign up for our Confirmation preparation programme. This will be their opportunity to grow in their understanding that they are chosen by God. This year we are using a Confirmation Programme called “ CHOSEN” . The goal of the programme is to offer the young person a powerful, life-changing experience as he or she prepares to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is our hope that “CHOSEN” will not only offer them a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Catholic Faith, but will also win over their hearts at this critical time in their life. The programme has been carefully designed to address and answer our young peoples fundamental questions about life, and to challenge them to embrace a life of faith.

It is important that the young people sign up as soon as possible because we would like to begin the sessions on Sunday 6th October. The meeting for parents will be on 30th September at 8pm in the St Thomas Hall.  Fill out a form that you can obtain in the Narthex. 

“Jesus is walking in our midst, as he did in Galilee. He walks through our streets, and he quietly stops and looks into our eyes. His call is attractive and intriguing.” (Pope Francis “ Christus Vivit” no: 277)

The Grace of True Humility

My rector at the junior seminary started his talk on humility by telling us of a priest who is speaking about humility to a group of nuns and recommended a book. “This is the greatest book I have ever read on the subject. It is an excellent, lucid and scholarly exposition, and I wrote it.” Was he boasting, blowing his own trumpet, or just being honest?

St Benedict in his rule wrote about the twelve steps of  humility, like twelve steps on a ladder. Its length and position in the rule is arguably the heart of Benedict’s Presentation of the way to God. An initial reading of Chapter Seven of the rule might not be easy for us to appreciate who are living in the 21st century. It is stark and demanding. It might seem to a modern reader as an expression of a spirituality that is no longer acceptable. The Australian Cistercian monk of Tarrawarra Abbey, Michael Casey, has indeed written a book on St Benedict’s teaching on humility, entitled “Truthful Living”. In this book he provides a bridge between an ancient text and the present day.

Jesus isn’t asking us to humiliate ourselves when he tells the story in the Gospel for this Sunday. He isn’t asking us to think less of ourselves than other people. Nor does it mean undervaluing our talents. There is nothing more off-putting than someone constantly professing: “I am not good at anything. I am not important.” We need to remember that the word “humility” come from “humus” which as every gardener knows is the very stuff of the earth. To be humble means to have your feet firmly on the ground. We need to have an honest acceptance of the seeds of talent given to each one of us by God. 

“Humility is never arrogant because it recognising that what talents we have are gifts from God. “What do you have that you have not received? And if you have not received why do you glory as if you had not received it? (1 Cor 4:7) Rather than hiding talents, humility sees the duty to nurture them so as to reflect back the glory of the giver.” (Sylvester O’Flynn). Jesus is our model of humility. “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart” In recent days in the readings at daily Mass we have been hearing how Jesus was condemning the Pharisees as hypocrites. The word means a play actor, pretender, dissembler. Humility means setting aside the mask. It is a kind of nakedness that allows us to be seen without the bulwark of social conventions “We present ourselves to others transparently, in all our imperfection and vulnerability. We depend on their good will for acceptance and love, not on the success of our efforts at self promotion.” (Michael Casey).

Lord help me to be at home with myself. Help me to be myself. Give me the grace of true humility.

The Narrow Door

Are we all going to heaven?  We read in this Sunday’s first reading, “God is coming to gather the nations of every language. God created us to be with him to come to know his love. Our destiny is to be with him forever.”  We believe that with the death and resurrection of Jesus, humankind has been saved and through baptism we have been given the gift of everlasting life. Thus we all have the possibility of salvation and the church is the means of salvation. As John Paul II taught in his letter, Redemptoris missio, “it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for salvation.” We need to hold together the two truths. Together there is the hope of salvation for all, while renouncing the claim to know that all will be saved. The distinction between hope and knowledge is crucial. Human beings do not know the outcome of God’s judgment. We should leave judgment to God, trusting in his love.

If we believe that the Church is a means of salvation then we need to heed the warning of Jesus. We should not presume that being  baptised and being part of God’s family, the Church, means you are saved. You have the hope and means of salvation. Jesus says we need to enter by the narrow door. Belonging to the family through baptism is not enough. “ Lord, open to us” but he will answer, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will find yourself saying, “We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets” but he will reply, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men!” Salvation comes when we accept Jesus and start to follow him. This is the narrow door, the only door to life and it is a demanding entrance. At times, it may be painful, like the discipline mentioned in Hebrews, “but later it yields the peaceful fruit  of righteousness” (12:11). We also need to bear in mind what the Church says in the  Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium 16. “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation. We will be amazed who we will meet in heaven.

To love, live and speak the truth

Many of us worry about what other people think of us. We want to be liked. We want to be accepted and part of the group. I don’t think anyone likes to be an outsider. Thus we might find ourselves self-censoring what we say to others so as not to offend or alienate them. If this is true of many of us, then I think it is not a good idea to volunteer to be God’s prophet. God often asks the prophet to share things with people that they don’t want to hear. We see this clearly in the reading from the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is one of my favourite prophets from the Old Testament. As one commentator pointed out, “He is called a prophet of doom. He lived at the most tragic period of Israel’s history during which Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the people were carried off into exile.  He answered God’s call to be a prophet but he did this most reluctantly.” He tried to escape his mission as prophet by pretending to God that he was a stutterer, but God told him to quit pretending and get on with the job. People didn’t want to hear God’s message of repentance and the destruction that would follow if they didn’t respond to the call for repentance. Jeremiah told the people what God wanted them to do. The message was not palatable and so the king was petitioned to have Jeremiah  put to death because “he is unquestionably disheartening the remaining solders in the city and all the people too, by talking like this. The fellow does not have the welfare of this people at heart so much as its ruin.” He was seized, dropped into a cistern and left to die. “There was no water in the well, only mud, into which Jeremiah sank.” If he had only told people what they wanted to hear then he would have been fine and everyone’s best friend. He was rescued by an Ethiopian eunuch. Jeremiah was faithful to God as a prophet, speaking to his people the words that God wanted them to hear. Like Jeremiah, am I faithful to the Lord? Do I live by his word? Am I prepared to follow his way? If we take the gospel message seriously and try to live it boldly, we may be shunned, we may find ourselves on the outside and those we consider friends or family might avoid us. We are challenged to live and speak the truth. This can be costly “The world around us does not share many of our basic values: the meaning of human existence, the worth of human life, the purpose of human sexuality, the dignity of the poor, our need for the church and the sacraments. Speaking up on such matters, even speaking carefully and gently can quickly make us unpopular.” Lord help me to love the truth and give me the courage to speak the truth and live the truth.

The Assumption of Our Lady

This coming Thursday, 15th August, the feast of the Assumption in England is a Holy day of Obligation. It was only in 1950 that Pope Pius XII infallibly proclaimed the truth of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He wrote in his apostolic constitution “the Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, when the course of her early life was ended, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.” Even though it was only infallibly proclaimed then it has been the teaching of the Church from earliest times. The term “assumption” is a biblical metaphor expressing the final destiny of the faithful. Mary is the perfect reflection of Christ, the template of all Christians. Her assumption is a sign of hope for the world, a guarantee that God will realise his saving plan for humankind. As Mary is now, we are to be. As we celebrate this feast we remember our ultimate destiny to be with God. Father Fio Mascarenhas S.J. in his book on Mary writes that Mary’s Assumption is not a personal reward. “It is a pledge of the fulfilment of the promises of God for all of humanity – for she is the model of the people of God, and where she is now, all the elect must hope to be one day!”

The Assumption of Mary has been a subject of Christian art for centuries and its feast day was made a public holiday in England by King Alfred the Great in the 9th century. St John of Damascus describes the origin of this belief in these words: “St Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon [AD 451], made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St Thomas who arrived late, was found empty; wherefrom the apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.”

The Eastern Orthodox  churches celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on August 15, the same day that the Catholic Church and some Protestant churches celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary. When I think of this feast I recall the beautiful Domitian Church in Jerusalem run by the German Benedictines. A focus point is an image of Mary asleep awaiting the assumption and the church is full of wonderful mosaics depicting the life of Mary.

In celebrating this feast this year can we pray for all those who are contemplating their own death. Some people can no longer face the pain and suffering of their illness. They want to hasten their end. I commend them to our loving Mother with the word we say in the Hail Mary “pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”