This weekend Jesus teaches us how to pray. We have the Our Father presented to us in Luke’s Gospel. This is the disciple’s prayer. There are two forms of this prayer in the gospels, the one in Matthew is longer. Luke starts with the word Father: not “Our Father who are in heaven.” Here Jesus uses the intimate word Abba. Jesus is inviting us to come to God as a parent without any inhibitions. Our attitude to prayer needs to one of dependence. This dependence is expressed in the loving relationship between and mother and child or a father and child.
May your name be held holy: St Peter Chrysologus in his reflection on these words writes “ We ask God tohallow his name, which by its own holiness saves and makes holy all creation… It is this name that gives salvation to a lost world. But we ask that this name of God should be hallowed in us through our actions. For God’s name is blessed when we live well, but it is blasphemed when we live wickedly.” Your kingdom come: The kingdom is the central issue of the ministry of Jesus. This is the reign of God is our world and in our hearts. The reign where there is justice and lasting peace. We are working for a world where there is a fair sharing of food and resources, where the weak and vulnerable are cared for and welcomed. Give us each day our daily bread: This is a childlike request for the normal needs of life. God is the one who cares for us. We are utterly dependent on the sustaining hand of God. God, who looks after the lilies of the field and cares for the birds of the air, will not neglect us. And forgive our sins as we forgive each one who is in debt to us: This is obligation for all of us. A challenge. Do we, can we sincerely pray his prayer? “For all our sins of the past, forgive us, Father. And may we so experience your forgiveness that we will want to pass on forgiveness to those who have offended us.” (Sylvester O’Flynn)
St Theresa of Avila was asked by a sister, what she should do about contemplative prayer and Theresa replied was: “Say the Our Father…and spend an hour on it.”
After the referendum, we in this country are experiencing a crisis in leadership. I am writing this early on Thursday morning when both the Labour party and Conservative party are looking for new leaders.
Yesterday , 29th June, we celebrated the feast of St Peter and St Paul. Two men who were the first leaders and apostles in the Church. What was good about their leadership? Can we learn anything from them that will help us today?
They were men of different backgrounds. Peter was a fisherman, from Bethsaida of Galilee, and Paul, a Roman patrician from Tarsus. Paul was a man of strong passions . He had a keen mind. John L. Mckenzie wrote about his keen mind “which composed the letters and which is always disciplined; Paul’s fiery personality does not obscure his thoughts. His qualities of leadership and organisation are evident in the account of his missionary journeys.” Peter had a very close relationship with Jesus as we can see throughout the gospel narrative. Peter loved Jesus and wept when he denied Him. He was an impetuous man who was chosen by Jesus to be the rock on which the Church was built. By the Sea of Galilee, after the Resurrection, Jesus called Peter to feed his lambs and sheep. The fisherman was called to be a shepherd. A shepherd is a symbol of care and nurture. His life is one of knowing his sheep and leading them to pasture. Paul was also a shepherd who had a loving and fatherly relationship with the many Christian communities he help found, writing to them, encouraging them, guiding them and not afraid to admonish them. What is common to both men is that their lives were centred in the care of others. In order to be good shepherds it was imperative that they developed a deep and close relationship with Christ. They also had to come to know and love the men and women whom they loved. This means a life of service. To be a servant leader is to put Christ and others first. “I live not I but Christ lives in me.” wrote St Paul. Ultimately their life of service as leaders meant that they were prepared to let go of their lives for the sake of others. Peter was executed in the reign of Nero between 64 and 67 on the Vatican Hill, in Rome. Paul was beheaded between 67 and 68. The place of his martyrdom is the site of the basilica of St Paul ‘outside the walls”
Many years ago (28) after the synod of bishops met to reflect on the role of the laity in the Church, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote, “the parish is not principally a structure, a territory, or a building, but rather, “the family of God, a fellowship affair with a unifying spirit,” “ a familial and welcoming home,” the “community of faithful”. Plainly and simply, the parish is founded on a theological reality, because it is a Eucharistic Community. This means that the parish is a community properly suited for celebrating the Eucharist, the living source for its upbuilding and the sacramental bond of its being in full communion with the whole Church.” Elsewhere the late Pope wrote, “one way of renewing parishes, especially urgent for parishes in large cities, might be to consider the parish as a community of communities and movements.”
Our parish of St Thomas of Canterbury, Burgate, Canterbury is definitely a community of communities. There is the 6pm Saturday night community, and the various Sunday Masses communities. We also have those who come to the Syro-Malabar Mass once a month,and are part of the Syro-Malabar community. There are those who come to the Polish Mass once a month and there are those who come to the Filipino Mass when it is celebrated. We also have the community who worship every Sunday at the Franciscan International Study Centre. I know these are not exclusive and people move in and out of these communities . This year we have the opportunity to gather as one community celebrating one Eucharist, the living source of our upbuilding and unity. We are having this one Mass in the Dane John Gardens at 10:30am on Sunday 3rd July. We will be the Catholic community in Canterbury united in prayer with all those of other churches who share one faith in Christ. May we be truly a missionary community holding in prayer all those who struggle with faith and are searching, the sick and housebound, the poor and lonely. After Mass we will share and eat our picnic lunch together and there will be games for the children. Bring a friend with you. It is the start of a special week for us, because on Thursday 7th we have once again have been given permission to celebrate Mass in the Cathedral on the Feast of the Translation of the body of St Thomas a Becket at 8pm. I would like to thank all those who have given their time and talents to help organise the open air Mass co ordinated by Fr Valentine. Pray for fine weather but bring an umbrella just in case!
In one of my parishes many years ago we had refurbished the nursery class room in the school. The staff of the Nursery were uneasy about putting a crucifix on the wall because the image of a man nailed to a cross might disturb the young children. A compromise was reached by the governors and a colourful Latin American cross was hung in the class room instead. Today in the Scriptures we are confronted with the reality of the cross. "They will look on the one whom they have pierced," we hear in the first reading. Jesus says to his followers in our Gospel reading "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it.’ So there you have it. It isn’t going to be easy living as a follower of Jesus who is the Christ. To follow Jesus is to follow a path of love and following a path of love will always involve suffering. If we try to live the way God wants us to live then we will be going against the grain. God is calling us to live a life of love. I would define love as willing the good of the others. This goes against our inclination to protect ourselves. We want to look after number one. So giving ourselves away in love always hurts. The Way of the Cross is a way of love and people will be challenged by this love. People don’t like to have their selfish way of life challenged by the Gospel way of love. They will often want to bring the person down to their level. Lord I want to follow you. Give me the courage and grace to walk this way of love with you
Pope Francis gave an extended interview to Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica (the Italian Jesuit journal) soon after he was elected Pope. Fr Antonio asked the Pope "Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” This is how he reported Pope Francis reply. "The pope stares at me in silence. I ask him if this is a question that I am allowed to ask…. He nods that it is, and he tells me: “I do not know what might be the most fitting description…. I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” And he repeats: “I am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto,Miserando atque Eligendo [By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me.”
If I was asked to describe myself, I don’t think I would be likely to reply "I am a sinner"
Today we are encouraged to be positive about our self-image. To say I am a sinner might be seen as being too negative about ourselves. If we talk of being a sinner it could be suggested we are too preoccupied with sin.
Yet surely we need to be honest and truthful about who we are and what we need. If we acknowledge our need for healing and wholeness then we are more ready to accept the mercy that Christ can bring. Perhaps many of us don’t see ourselves as sinners at all. Certainly we are not saints but who is?
In this weekend’s gospel, Jesus says of the woman who dried the tears that washed his feet, "the one who is forgiven much, loves much."
So the question for us is: Are we able to recognize our own sins and humbly turn to the Lord in search of reconciliation with him, with others and ourselves? Do we really accept God the Father as the source of mercy revealed in Christ? Lord, give me the grace to see in what ways I am a sinner so that may I experience your love and mercy.
This last week twenty five of us spent a week in Hosanna House, in the village of Bartres three miles from Lourdes. This house is fully equipped with facilitates for those who have disability and is run by HCPT Pilgrimage trust. While hereeach morning we woke up to a wonderful view of the Pyrenees. We were able to visit the Grotto every day where Mary appeared to Bernadette eighteen times. We took part in the daily torchlight and afternoon processions.
One of the important symbols of Lourdes is water. We are encouraged to bathe and drink the water from the spring that was uncovered by Bernadette at the back of the grotto after following the directions from Our Lady. This is by no means my favourite activity but is a great ways of praying for healing and renewal. It is also agood reminder of our baptism where we are given the gift of eternal life and become part of God’s family. Living together as group we have experienced what it means to a community, to be in communion with each other and to live as a church. Toward the end of the week we took part in the the stations of the cross following the journey of Jesus to his death and through his death to resurrection.The whole week has been a pilgrimage, journey to a holy place and time when we have come apart from our normal everyday cares and concerns to listen to God and open our hearts to the prompting of his Spirit.
In this year of Mercy, a Door of Mercy has been erected by St Michael’s gatewhich is at one end of the Domain. Here the words of Pope Francis are inscribed, “Anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and Instils hope”.
I am writing this on our last full day here and the petitions given by parishioners have already been placed in the Grotto. I hold all the needs and hopes of the parishioners of St Thomas in my prayers as I visit the Grotto for the last time asking that we may all know Gods overwhelming mercy and love for us all.
On Monday last week I joined with many others to celebrate the coming of the Hungarian relic of St Thomas a Becket to England. The mass, in Westminster Cathedral, was celebrated by Cardinal Peter Erdo, Primate of Hungary. There was a small altar in the front of the sanctuary on which was placed our own relic of St Thomas alongside eight other relics including the Hungarian relic. Seeing so many relics of this great saint together in one place made me wonder how many other relics of St Thomas there were throughout Europe. This last week has been a good opportunity to focus on Thomas Becket; a complex character who willingly gave his life for the truth and to protect the independence of the Church. Lord Alton of Liverpool, in an article in the Westminster Cathedral Magazine, calls him “ A martyr for religious freedom”.
Today we celebrate the feast of the most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, known as Corpus Christi. The gospel today from St Luke, tells how Jesus challenges his disciples to feed the 5,000 rather than send them away hungry. The crowd had followed Jesus and he spoke to them about the kingdom of God. They had been fed and strengthened spiritually. Now the challenge was to continue to nourish them. This is the raison d’etre of the Church. We gather and are fed by Christ’s living word and his very own body. The vocation of the Church would have been compromised if Henry II had got his way. Henry VIII succeeded where Henry II had failed. I believe that the teaching of the Church, and especially its under- standing of the Eucharist, was compromised because of Henry VIII actions.
It was good to see several Anglican bishops at the Mass on Mon- day including the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres. What unit- ed the Anglican and Catholic Church on this occasion was our love and devotion to St Thomas Becket who is a saint that is “ a symbol of the freedom of the Church, and the freedom of conscience.” I appreciate the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral allowing us to celebrate this great saint whom we share in common and especially allowing us to celebrate Catholic Mass within the Cathe- dral this Sunday. Please think about going along to share this special occasion.
Liturgically, we are now in Ordinary Time, having just completed the Easter season with our celebration of Pentecost Sunday. We call it Ordinary Time because it refers to the period of the Catholic Church’s liturgical year that falls outside of the major seasons (Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter). Because of the connotations of the term “ordinary” in English, many people think Ordinary Time refers to the parts of the Church year that are unimportant. Ordinary Time is called ‘ordinary’ simply because the weeks are numbered. The Latin word ordinalis, which refers to numbers in a series, stems from the Latin word ordo, from which we get the English ‘order’ or ‘series’ thus, Ordinary Time is in fact the ordered life of the Church. For Catholics, Ordinary Time is the part of the year in which Christ, the Lamb of God, walks among us and transforms our lives. Thus why there’s nothing “ordinary” about Ordinary Time.
For our children and young people who have just celebrated First Communion and Confirmation now is the time when their lives are transformed by their growing intimacy with Jesus. Perhaps now is a good time when we can ask ourselves am I open to change? Am I growing closer to Jesus in these days of Ordinary time. What could I do to effect a change in my life? One thing that I can do is to slow down; to allow more silence in my day. This provides the right conditions to listen and be open to God. It is so easy to fill every moment of our day with sound. Some of us might wake up to an alarm clock that switches on the radio. We listen to the news or music. Often people leave the television on as background noise.
One thing I would encourage you to do is to try a little silence as part of your prayer. We can prepare ourselves for prayer by finding a quiet place to sit in a comfortable chair with a straight back. Notice what is around you. Be aware of your feelings, notice every part of your body and tell each part to relax. Next notice your breath and breathe in and out slowly and regularly. Once you have slowed down and are enjoying the present moment, you might like to say the words “Come Lord Jesus Come”. You can say them silently to yourself. You say this as you breath in and out. This is being in the present moment, being present to God who is always present to us. Try this for ten minutes at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day. This is just one way to pray and certainly not the only way to pray. What is important is that prayer is a regular part of every day of our lives when we open ourselves to God who is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
In every Catholic child’s life their first communion day is a day to remember. I can still recall exactly where I knelt in my church of St Bedes on the day of my first communion. I also have some sweet black and white photos of a group of us from the local estate posing in the local park after the Mass and breakfast. For this celebration the child is the centre of attention, and is often the recipient of religious gifts and other presents. After months of catechesis they receive Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine for the first time. They have reached a new stage in their journey of faith and are now able to participate in a fuller way in the one event that defines them, nurtures them and forms them. The Eucharist, also known as the Mass, is what Jesus has left us He has asked us to celebrate this liturgy in memory of him. The Church teaches that it is the source and summit of the Christian life.
Congratulations to all our children who are receiving Jesus in Holy Communion for the first time. Thank you to parents and catechists who have accompanied them on their journey. As a parish we have a responsibility to celebrate the Eucharist each week as well as we can. If we sing half heartedly, listen inattentively, respond without meaning in what we say then perhaps it is an indication we do not value this wonderful gift. It can become familiar and routine. These are some words written by Pope Benedict XVI in his document on he Eucharist.
“At the beginning of the fourth century, Christian worship was still forbidden by the imperial authorities. Some Christians in North Africa, who felt bound to celebrate the Lord’s Day, defied the prohibition. They were martyred after declaring that it was not possible for them to live without the Eucharist, the food of the Lord: sine dominico non possumus. May these martyrs of Abitinae, in union with all those saints and beati who made the Eucharist the centre of their lives, intercede for us and teach us to be faithful to our encounter with the risen Christ. We too cannot live without partaking of the sacrament of our salvation; we too desire to be iuxta dominicam viventes, to reflect in our lives what we celebrate on the Lord’s Day. That day is the day of our definitive deliverance. Is it surprising, then, that we should wish to live every day in that newness of life which Christ has brought us in the mystery of the Eucharist?”
We are very blessed in this Parish to have several relics of St Thomas Becket in the martyrs chapel of our church and at the end of next month, another relic of St Thomas a Becket that is kept in Esztergom, Hungary’s old capital, will be coming to the UK. and will be in Canterbury for the weekend of 28th and 29th May. What is St Thomas’ connection with Hungary? While studying in Paris, Thomas became friends with Lukas Banfi who later became Archbishop of Esztergom. After Thomas’ martyrdom, Archbishop Lukas founded a church and provostship on the hill named after St Thomas a Becket and dedicated it to the memory of the martyr. It is widely recognised that Margaret of France, Queen of England and later of Hungary, who had know Thomas Becket in the court of her husband, Henry II, was instrumental in bringing his relics to Hungary.
On Monday 23rd May at 5.30pm there will be a Mass at Westminster Cathedral and veneration of the relic. We have been asked to bring our own relic to be part of the veneration. The Hungarian relic will then be processed to Westminster Abbey. On Friday 27th it will be at Rochester Cathedral for evensong. On Saturday 28th the relic will arrive at St Michael’s Church, Harbledown around 3pm. From there will be a procession with the relic into the city and to the Cathedral where there will be a welcome service around 4pm. On Sunday 29th there will be Mass in the crypt of the Cathedral, celebrated by Fr Valentine Erhahon with Bishop Laszlo Kiss-Rigorous, Bishop of Szaged in attendance.
We don’t say that relics have any magical power but they are a material tangible connection with the Saint. In the fourth century the great biblical scholar, Jerome, declared, “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore God.” Relics remind us of the holiness of a saint and his cooperation in God’s work. At the same time, relics inspire us to ask for the prayers of that saint and to beg the grace of God to live the same kind of faith-filled life.
I will be in Lourdes that weekend with a group from the parish so, sadly, I won’t be able to attend. I do encourage as many as can to meet at St Michaels on the Saturday and walk in with the relic or join the procession at Westgate. We are also looking for about 6 volunteers to help steward the processions