A Great Message for All Young People

On the Feast of the Annunciation this year 25th March, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation to young people and to the entire people of God. This was written in response to the Synod that met last October and is entitled Christ is Alive.  I wonder how many young people have read it or planning to read it. I would love the opportunity to explore this letter with a group of young people to hear their response to what has been written. Like most Apostolic exhortations it is not short!   I would like to give you a flavour of what he wrote to encourage you to read it yourself. 

Pope Francis says reflecting on Jesus as a young person can prove inspiring for all those young people who are developing and preparing to take up their mission in life. “This involves growing in a relationship with the Father, in awareness of being part of a family and a people , and a people, and in openness to being filled with the Holy Spirit and led to carry out the mission God gives them, their personal vocation. None of this should be overlooked in pastoral work with young people, lest we create projects that isolate young people from their family and the larger community, or turn them into a select few, protected from all contamination. Rather, we need projects that can strengthen them, accompany them and impel them to encounter others, to engage in generous service, in mission.”   We are reminded to be open to the signs of the times. The Pope recognises that many young people do not ask the Church for anything because they do no see her as significant for their lives. “A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum. How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people? Even if she possesses the truth of the Gospel, this does not mean that she has completely understood it; rather, she is called to keep growing in her grasp of that inexhaustible treasure.”  These are for me challenging words.  Chapter four is entitled “A great message for all young people.” In which three great truths are expressed. The first is that God loves you. “Never doubt this, whatever may happen in your life. At every moment you are definitely loved.”  The second great truth is that Christ out of love, sacrificed himself completely in order to save you.  “Young people, beloved of the Lord, how valuable must you be if you were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ! Dear young people, “you are priceless! You are not up for sale! Please, do not let yourselves be bought. Do not let yourselves be seduced.” The third truth inseparable from the second is Christ is alive! “Alive, he can be present in your life at every moment, to fill it with light and to take away all sorrow and solitude. Even if all others depart, he will remain, as he promised: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). He fills your life with his unseen presence; wherever you go, he will be waiting there for you. Because he did not only come in the past, but he comes to you today and every day, inviting you to set out towards ever new horizons.”  The Pope encourages young people to allow the Holy Spirit to open their hearts to receive this message. “Ask the Holy Spirit each day to help you experience anew the great message. Why not? You have nothing to lose, and he can change your life, fill it with light and lead it along a better path. He takes nothing away from you, but instead helps you to find all that you need, and in the best possible way.”

Mystagogia

I am sure that most of you are aware of the process by which an adult becomes a Catholic Christian in the church. It is known as Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The RCIA as it is known consists of various stages. Firstly there is an enquiry period at the end of which the person is formerly welcomed into a period known as the catechumenate which comprises of a systematic formation in the faith. At the beginning of Lent there is a Rite of Election when the person is called to the Sacraments of Initiation by the bishop. The time during Lent is known as a period of purification and enlightenment. It is a time fo prayer and reflection. At the Easter vigil the adult is baptised and confirmed and receives Communion for the first time. In our parish this Easter, Amir was baptised and Alex and Chris were received into full communion. Also at the vigil Darren and Angus completed their initiation when they received the sacrament of Confirmation with the other three. Now the final stage is called the period of mystagogia. Mystagogical Catechesis is the period of catechesis, from Easter to Pentecost, that instructs the neophytes, the new faithful, in the significances of the signs and symbols of the Sacraments and sacred liturgy, so as to increase their full, conscious, active participation in the life of the Christian community. “Mystagogia” is a strange word that is gradually returning to the Christian vocabulary. It means “going deeper into the mysteries”—that is, into the truths of the faith. Mystagogia describes the ancient custom of spending the first week of Easter with the newly baptised, helping them experience the depths of the truths they had accepted in their Baptism, Confirmation and first Eucharist. The Easter season is a time of “mystagogia” for everyone, not just for new Christians. The newly baptised, or neophytes, continue to meet with one another after Easter until Pentecost, gradually taking their place in the Church, to discuss and discover the living of a sacramental life; living out the Gospel and becoming involved in the parish. Topics often covered are evangelisation, stewardship and lay ministry. As it is for all Christians, it is a lifelong process of entering ever more deeply into the death and resurrection of the Lord. As a parish, this is an ideal time for us to reflect on what we have celebrated.
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves. How am I living a sacramental life? How do I see my place within the Church and the parish? Am I a missionary disciple? Am I a good steward of my gifts and talents? Do I use them for the building up of the community? What difference does the Eucharist make to my life? Am I open to the working of the Holy Spirit in my life?

Hopefully in the coming weeks between Easter and Pentecost we will be able to reflect on these areas of our lives as a member of the body of Christ, the Church.

Resurrexit Sixut Dixit, Alleluia

I am sure that I have shared this before but one of the most enduring memories of my primary school days was when our parish priest, Fr Joe, talking to our class about the resurrection, said “If the resurrection of Jesus did not happen then would take off my roman collar and throw it away.” With that he took off his collar. We are sat there open mouthed. Father Joe was recalling St Paul’s words “How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. … But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The resurrection was a real physical event. Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings. “The confidence of Christians is the resurrection of the dead; believing this we live.” (Tertullian) As we celebrate this great feast, this life changing event, we need to ask ourselves: How does the resurrection of Jesus change the way we see things today? How does it affect the way I live my life? What difference does it make?
Bishop Robert Barron in his podcast sermon for Easter Sunday reminds us of three things. The first thing is that the fact of the resurrection shows us that that this world, as we know it, is not all that there is. For some people this world is the final framework of their lives and death is the most frightening feature. For many, everything that comes into being will eventually fade away. The psalmist says of us that our span of life is seventy years or eighty for those who are strong. Even our world and the universe will eventually fade away. But the resurrection of Christ proclaims that death does not have the final word. We don’t have to live as though death had the final word. In the light of the resurrection we see our time as a time of something in gestation. We are not meant to live here ultimately. Our life here is a preparation for life everlasting. The second thing to remember is that the resurrection of Jesus declares that the cross, which for the Romans was the ultimate symbol of torture and death, was not victorious. For tyrants, violence was the way that they get their way. The cross was the means the Romans used to subjugate and control. The risen Christ is the inspiration of rebellion and is the taunt of tyrants. Christ has been victorious over tyranny. Jesus had taken the worst that the world could possible have thrown at him and he returned alive and triumphant. The third thing to remember is that Jesus died and rose to bring everyone to new life. Salvation is open to all. Christ endured great suffering to be one with the whole of humanity.
The resurrection shows that Christ can gather back to the Father everyone he has embraced through his suffering and death. Jesus went all the way down in his suffering to reach all those who wandered from God. What a great feast! What great hope!
We will spend the next fifty days celebrating the resurrection. Father Sylvester, Deacon David and his wife Bridget and myself wish you a happy and joyous Easter. Thank you to all who have helped in making Holy Week prayerful and uplifting.
Resurrexit Sixut Dixit, Alleluia

The Greatest Breakthrough for Humanity

We all know what has dominated our news programmes and papers in the past months.  I won’t say the B word. Yet on Thursday a piece of news was announced simultaneously in Brussels,  Washington, Santiago, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo and Lyngby in Denmark that overshadowed this bleak news. “Decades in the making”, as one newspaper said. Scientists revealed the first direct visual image of a black hole – located five hundred million trillion kilometres from Earth and 6.5 billion times as heavy as the Sun. Carlos Moedas, the European research commissioner said something about this piece of news that struck me. “This a a huge breakthrough for humanity. The history of science will be spilt into the time before the image and the time after the image.”

This Sunday, we begin the week when we celebrate and recall the greatest breakthrough for humanity, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, who is the Christ. This was the one event that changed our world forever and changed us for ever. Until recently we spilt time before and after this event, i.e. BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) to emphasise the overwhelming importance of this event for the human race.

Today, known as Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, with the crowd, we welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, waving our palms; but the mood soon changes to a proclamation of the passion and death of Jesus. “For, though innocent, Jesus suffered willingly for sinners and accepted unjust condemnation to save the guilty. His death has washed away our sins, and his Resurrection has purchased our justification.” There are five days left of Lent including today. If we have not managed to keep Lent well or perhaps not at all then the good news is we have time enough to do some fasting, time enough to give to the poor and needy and time enough to reflect prayerfully on the passion of Jesus. So it is not too late. On Thursday evening we begin our Triduum. As one writer put it “On Thursday night we walk out of Lent into these three holiest days. We walk into them singing, “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.”” It is a gifted time for us when we prepare to celebrate the joy of the Resurrection. Please pray for those who are to be received into full communion in the Church, Alex and Chris and for those who are to complete their initiation by being confirmed. This will take place next Saturday at the “Easter Vigil in the Holy Night” which begins at 8:30pm with the blessing of the fire. On Easter Sunday we will all renew our baptismal promises. Please pray for Amir and Lily will be baptised at 12:15.

Passiontide

As you enter church this weekend you will see the statues and crucifixes are covered in purple. This time is traditionally known as Passiontide. I want this weekend to encourage you to think about what you are going to do for the three most important days of the year. They are: the day Jesus died, the day he laid in the tomb and the day he rose from the dead. We call these days the Triduum. The word comes from the Latin words for Three Days. These three days are Friday,  Saturday and Sunday but we start counting them from Thursday night. Each day begins the night before as the most important liturgical feasts do. The liturgist, Fr Paul Turner writes, “Although we call this time three days, in spirit it is really only one event. What we start on Holy Thursday we finish on Easter Sunday: one long glorious day.” Ideally it would be good if you were able to celebrate this unique time by setting aside ordinary activities and giving these days your fullest attention.

How do we celebrate Holy Thursday? At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper we commemorate the meal Jesus had with his disciples when he took bread and wine, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my Body, This is my Blood.” He washed the feet of his disciples. Jesus then went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, where he was arrested and his disciples fled. What can you do to  prepare for this day? Here are some suggestions. Have a special supper saying farewell to Lent and a welcome to the Triduum. Be willing to have your feet washed at the Mass. (I am always looking for 12 volunteers). Bring money for the special collection for the poor taken during this Mass. This year it will go for the work of Fr Freddy Loro in Sudan. Plan to give some time to watch before the Blessed Sacrament before midnight in the Hall. Remember that Jesus asked his disciples to watch with him one hour.

On Good Friday we take time to reflect on the death of Jesus.  We fast and abstain from meat on this day in response to the loving sacrifice of Jesus. This Good Friday you could also abstain from other things as well such as your electronic devises and forms of entertainment. “You may want to do something positive. Make this a day when you show your love to others, just as Jesus spared nothing to show his love for us.” (Turner). You could join in the morning prayer at the Church, take  part in the ecumenical walk of witness through the streets of Canterbury in the morning and come to the Solemn afternoon liturgy. In the evening, in the church there will be a meditation on the last seven words of Christ.

Holy Saturday is a day of rest. Jesus lay in the tomb this day.  The Church invites us to fast and abstain this day, just as we did on Friday, but the purpose of today’s fast is to join in prayer with those who are preparing for baptism or being received into full communion with the Church. You could again come to morning prayer or plan you one peaceful quiet day.

The Easter Vigil is the most important liturgy of the year. It immerses us in the mystery of death and resurrection, It proclaims  the resurrection anew, it brings  new life to the baptised, it reinvigorates us as we recommit ourselves to Christ.  This is a Vigil not to be missed. The Easter Sunday Mass is, in a way, an extra celebration for those who cannot attend the Vigil. On Easter Day we conclude the Triduum. How will you celebrate  this day? Many people wear their best clothes on Easter Day. How and with whom will you feast this day?

The Prodigal Son

I am the eldest of three children in my family. Looking back at our childhood in Clapham I was the bossy one and the one that was expected to show a good example.  I was dutiful.  Just ask my brother and sister. I was always trying to please my Mum and Dad.  My brother and sister got into a lot of scrapes and I went off to a junior seminary to train to be a priest. 

Whenever I hear the Gospel parable of the prodigal son that is read this weekend, I identify with the elder son who all his life did the right thing.  I seem to understand his indignation with his father, who welcomed with open arms the brother who had squandered half the family inheritance.  You can imagine him saying “How could you kill the calf that we had been fattening. How could you restore this son of yours to the centre of the family. Look how he insulted you by demanding the half of the property that would normally only come to him after you had died.  He is only coming back because he was at rock bottom.  There was nowhere else he can go.  You will regret it because he will take advantage of you again. I don’t believe he is genuinely sorry.”

Those listening to this parable of Jesus were scribes, pharisees, publicans and sinners. The attitude of the elder son was the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees. They thought they were doing well and pleasing God and thus they were on his good side because they kept the law and were faithful. They looked down on the publicans and sinners because they were not faithful to the law. These were the younger son in the parable. What was challenging to both groups was the unconditional love and overwhelming mercy shown by the father. The younger son was certainly not expecting the reaction that he got from the father.  He had a careful rehearsed script that he didn’t get to say.  The elder son thought it was totally unfair and misjudged. He wanted no part of the celebration. 

How do I react to this revelation of who God is?  Do I really believe in a totally merciful God who is willing to forgive me anything or do I spend my days trying to please God who will only love me if I am good and toe the line? Those of us who are “elder sons” should be secure in the truth that all we do is seen by God; for God to love “younger sons” does not mean God loves “older sons” less. God’s love is ever bountiful and infinite – there is no limit on how much love is available to all of us. 

Catholic Guilt

I don’t react too well when people talk about “Catholic Guilt” This phrase is often used by  those  who are not long active in their faith or who feel antagonistic towards Catholicism.  I think that this phrase means the Catholics can feel excessively guilty which can sometimes lead to scrupulosity.

During this time of Lent and in the Gospel today Jesus is asking us to recognise our need to repentance and healing.  In other words we need to ask ourselves: “Am I guilty of living a life that is not in conformity with the call of Jesus to love God and love others? In the opening prayer this weekend we say: “ O God, author of every mercy and all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving have shown us a remedy for sin, look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy.”  It is good and healthy to be honest with ourselves and with God who sees our heart, and admit that we need healing and his mercy.  Our children celebrated Reconciliation for the first time last Saturday. In preparing them for this celebration of the sacrament we were not trying to make them feel guilty. We were helping them to realise that articulating their lack of love, their sin, they could experience healing and forgiveness.  Happily they were able in their own words to articulate why they were coming with a sense of sorrow.  “Bless me father for I have sinned…”. Someone was telling me recently that when they were being prepared for first confession many years ago, they had to have 10 sins ready to tell the priest.  I thank God that those days have gone.  For those who are preparing for Baptism this Easter will take part in the Scrutinies. These are rites for self searching and repentance.  According the ritual, they are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective or sinful in the elect (those preparing for baptism). “They are meant to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good.

They are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ.”  When the first Scrutiny is celebrated, the gospel from Year A (John 4:5-42) is read, the wonderful and powerful encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Here was a woman not only coming to the well for water but also thirsting for living water. Jesus didn’t tell her off but this loving encounter challenged her and in opening her heart she was transformed and she led others to meet Jesus.  This could be our prayer today: Lord Jesus, you are the fountain for which we thirst, you are the Master whom we seek. In your presence we dare not claim to be without sin, for you alone are the Holy One of God. We open our hearts to you in faith, we confess our faults and lay bare our hidden wounds. In your love free us from our infirmities, heal our sickness, quench our thirst and give us peace. 


A Listening Heart

As children we would often stay with our aunt and uncle in Malvern and love to climb the Malvern hills. The highest point is the Worcestershire Beacon which is 425 meters above sea level. From there you have wonderful views over Herefordshire and Worcestershire. But this was just a hill. Being up there I always had a great feeling of being away from it all and seeing things from a different perspective. In today’s gospel we read that Jesus, with his disciples, went up a mountain to pray. When we go to the Holy Land in November the guide will take us to Mount Tabor. The guide book says “This is a perfect breast-shaped mountain that inspires awe and wonder as it rises majestic and beautiful from the plain of Yizreel to a height of 600 meters.” Traditionally this is the place where Jesus was transfigured. In scripture, mountains are places were God is encountered. Elijah encountered God on Mount Horeb and Moses encountered God on Mount Sinai.  God revealed himself to them. Peter James and John saw Jesus transfigured.  They had an encounter with Jesus in his glory. “The aspect of his face changed and his clothing became brilliant like lightning ….They saw his glory”. When the cloud covered them with shadow a voice came from the cloud saying ”This is my Son, the Chosen one, listen to him.” This Lent there are no mountains or high places in Canterbury to climb to encounter God.   Let us try to come away and leave behind the noise and busyness of our everyday existence so that we have some time to pray.  Those words that Peter James and John heard “Listen to him”, can be for us an invitation to pray. Let us try to create pockets of silence during these weeks of Lent to listen to Jesus. Every devout Jew is required to listen in order to be penetrated by God’s will: “ Hear O Israel (Deut 6:4)” This is the first words of the Sherma, the prayer each Jew recited morning, afternoon and evening.  Listening is the most fundamental attitude required of Israel.  It is a command also given to each of us.  To listen is not just an invitation to lend an attentive ear but it also means we are asked to open our heart to God. We are invited to open our heart to Jesus.

Here are some words of St Augustine to encourage us. “Return to your heart! Come back! To where? To the Lord! It is quick! Return immediately to your heart! Exiled from your own self you wander outside. You fail to know yourself, you who want to know the source of your existence. Come back! Return to the heart!…See there what you can learn about God, for the image of God is there. In your interior person dwells Christ. In your interior person you are renewed after God’s image.” 

Give me a listening heart this Lent

Franciscan Missionary Sisters – thank you and goodbye

Two years ago the Franciscan International Study Center closed its doors and was sold. We still have a Franciscan presence in Canterbury. They are the Franciscan Missionary sisters of Littlehampton at Monte Bre, Blean and the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph in Somner Close.


Sadly, by the end of this month, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of St Joseph will have left the parish after their presence here of twenty-seven years when Sister Margaret arrived to study at the Franciscan International Study Centre (FISC). From there she moved to St Bonaventure’s University in Upstate New York to study for her Masters in Franciscan Studies returning to teach at FISC where she remained until its closure. During that time, she served as Director of Franciscan Studies and Sabbaticals and the Spiritual Direction Course in which a number of our parishioners took part. Margaret also served as Vice Principal.


She was later joined by Sister Frances Slater who was one of the founding members of the Solitude Group and who was known to many of our parishioners. Other Sisters joined the community including Sisters Nuala, Killian and Christine and a Noviciate was established in King Street in the former friary of the Capuchin Friars.


In 2007 Sister Anne Bross from the USA came to have a Sabbatical at the Centre and stayed on to join the Community. Anne worked for a time at L’Arche and in the Library at FISC and as a Chaplain at Kent and Canterbury Hospital. Here in the Parish she was a Welcomer at the 9.30 Mass. Latterly, she has also been a volunteer at Age UK.


Many of their Sisters from various countries and cultures came to study at the Centre – from Kenya, Ecuador, Peru, Uganda, Holland and Ireland.


In this parish, over the years, we have been blessed with the presence of religious women and men. Pope Francis said, “Every consecrated person is a gift for the People of God on a journey. There is much need of their presence, that strengthens and renews the commitment to spread the gospel, to Christian education, to charity for the most needy, to contemplative prayer; the commitment to a human and spiritual formation of young people, of families; the commitment to justice and peace in the human family.” It is important we pray for all those in religious life and for anyone who is considering whether God is calling them to this was of life. “Those in religious life are leaven for the growth of a more just and fraternal society, a prophecy of sharing with the little and the poor. With such understanding and experience, the consecrated life appears to us just as it really is: a gift of God!”


I would like to thank Sister Margaret and Sister Anne for their devoted service in our parish. We are going to miss them and their presence amongst us. We wish them God’s blessing as they both move to the North to take up their new appointments.

Lent

Since the beginning of the year I have been writing short reflections on the Mass (the Eucharist) which is for us the source and summit of our Christian life. This Sunday is the last before we enter the season of Lent. Lent is a six week period in preparation of the greatest feast of the year, Easter. At all masses this weekend we will be reading the Archbishop’s letter. Pope Francis has also given us a Lenten message.(c.f. www.vatican.va ). In his letter, Archbishop Peter has given us the image of Holman Hunt’s famous picture, “Jesus the Light of the World”.  He wants us to think of Lent as the time when we open the door of our heart to Christ who waits patiently knocking at the door of our heart. The season of Lent gives us the opportunity of  allowing Christ’s light unto our hearts. Pope Francis centres his message around St Paul’s words; “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Rom 8:19)” Pope Francis says that this eager longing, when we all enter into the travail, is what conversion entails. “All creation is called, with us, to go forth from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21).” Lent is a sacramental sign of this conversion. It invites us to embody the paschal mystery more deeply and concretely in our personal, family and social lives, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Regarding Almsgiving, as a parish, I would like to suggest that we adopt the work of Father Federico, a Franciscan, who studied here in Canterbury and is now working with children and their families in South Sudan. Details of his work can be seen on the Lenten Noticeboard. We can do this through prayer and donations. Two Lenten talks have been arranged. The first, on Tuesday  26th March, is about Pope Francis’ letter on the call to holiness in today’s world, led by Chris Chapman. The second is the following Tuesday, 2nd April, entitled “Global Healing” which is a film based event that will inform, challenge and equip us to engage with Pope Francis vital call to “Care for our Common Home.” (Laudate Si). Whatever we decide to do in this season of Lent, under the banner of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving, the aim is to become people able to celebrate Easter, to renew our baptismal promises and to join with those who are to be baptised and received into the Church. We are people of Easter Joy, rejoicing in the redemption of all creation.

Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch.(life death and resurrection). Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.” (Pope Francis)