Sheep Among Wolves

In my former role as part of the team responsible for promoting religious education in the diocese I would  often meet with the staff of primary schools to help them formulate a mission statement for the school

If you search on the internet for an answer to the question  “What is a Misson Statement ? This is the sort of answer you get.  “ A mission statement is a short statement of why an organisation exists, what its overall goal is, identifying the goal of its operations: what kind of product or service it provides, its primary customers or market, and its geographical region of operation.”  In today’s Gospel reading Jesus sends the seventy two out.

They have a mission. Note that Jesus didn’t gather them together first for a meeting to thrash out a mission statement.  He sends them to go ahead of him to prepare for his visit. They go in pairs, taking nothing with them. They are instructed to salute no one on the road. They must be focusing and not allow themselves to be distracted. In the town they visit they accept the hospitality there and cure the sick and give the message that the Kingdom of God is close at hand (very near). Here we have a mission statement in action. Jesus didn’t promise that things would be easy. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”.  Despite this they returned rejoicing. As a parish we are empowered by Christ to continue his mission. We are called to prepare the way for the coming of Christ in the lives and hearts of all. In fact at the beginning of the our Parish Directory there is a statement of our vision as a parish which reads  “to build trusting relationships with each other across every age group and nationality so we can reverently share in joyous celebration of the Eucharist and share the Good News with all.”  How well do you think we are doing in making this vision a reality at St Thomas of Canterbury today?  This coming Tuesday I am on a study day for clergy, looking at the phenomenon of “Divine Revelation” a process of parish renewal intended to move parishes from maintenance to mission. This was instigated by Fr James Mallon, a Canadian priest who with a team of lay people transformed their parish of St Benedict’s in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Divine Renovation is one of the popular initiatives that encourage parishes to move from Maintenance to Mission.  If we want to be missionary it will mean that we will be called to leave the comfort of the familiarly and cosy to become more like sheep among wolves. 

Earthware Jars

Each Month the Pope suggests an intention for our prayer. In June, his suggestion was as follows: “That priests, through the modesty and humility of their lives, commit themselves actively to a solidarity with those who are most poor.”
Last Friday, the feast of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Cardinal Vincent Nichols invited all diocesan priests of England and Wales together, at Westminster Cathedral, to mark the end of a year of events commemorating the 450th Anniversary of the Foundation of the English College, Douai, and the post-Reformation Mission of the secular Clergy in our countries. It was a day of universal prayer for priests, to give thanks to God for the gift of their priestly vocation, to remember those who have ministered before us, and to ask God’s continued blessing on priestly ministry and fraternity in England and Wales.
As I begin my 45th year as an ordained priest it is good for me to reflect on the importance of the ministerial priesthood in the life of the church today. Apparently, the late Cardinal Basil Hume OSB, when he ordained priests, suggested that we don’t ask: “Is the man to be ordained strong enough to be a priest?” but we need to ask: “Is this man weak enough to be a priest?”  As I look back on my life as a priest, I have come to accept my own shortcomings, my own weakness and rely on the strength that comes from putting my total trust in God. I chose for my ordination card the words of St Paul, “We are only the earthenware jar that holds this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians: 4v7.) St Paul was acutely aware that he needed to be used by Christ as an instrument of love and power in sharing the good news.  Later on, in the same letter, Paul tells us about being given a thorn in the flesh to stop him from getting too proud. He asked God for it to leave him. God’s reply was: “My grace is enough for you: my power is at best in weakness” So as a result Paul reflected: “I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses…For it is when I am weak that I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).  A friend gave me a tee shirt for my birthday and printed on it was a picture of myself with the word “Superpriest”, because I used to say this ironically when I felt at times the expectations of people in the parish were that I should be able to be good at everything. There were also times when I also felt I was failure because I failed as an excellent preacher, administrator, listener, leader and all-round good egg.  To grow in maturity is for me to accept and understand that Christ has chosen me, not because I am perfect or better than anyone else, but he knows that if I submit to his grace and love I can become an instrument of his love. Super priest I’m not – I need all of you as part of our parish family to make God’s Word real in our lives and into the lives of those who we come into contact with each day. 
Here is a suggested prayer 
Holy Father, who by no merit of their own, chose priests for communion with the eternal priest of your Christ and for the ministry of your Church, grant that they may be ardent but gentle preachers of your Gospel and faithful servants of your mysteries. Amen

Corpus Christi – The Gift of the Eucharist

This weekend we are celebrating the Solemnity of Corpus et Sanguis Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ). This feast gives us the opportunity to recall the greatest gift of the Eucharist given to the Church by Jesus at the Last Supper. It stands at the centre of the Church’s life. Pope John Paul, in his encyclical letter of 2003 “Ecclesia et Eucharistia”, sought to rekindle the sense of amazement that should always fill us when we gather for Mass. Why should we be so amazed and filled with a sense of joyful wonder? Because the Risen Christ is with us as he promised. “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church“.  We believe that the Eucharist, the Mass, contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth, that is Christ himself, our Passover and our living bread. Receiving Jesus in Holy Communion unites us with Christ – with Christ in his death and resurrection and with Christ as Omega and End of history, the final goal of our life on earth. But it also at the end of Mass, the deacon or priest says “Go and announce the gospel of the Lord”. Like the apostles at the Last Supper, if we wish to be close to the Lord we must answer the command of Christ to wash the feet of others in humble service as signs of hope, signs of resurrection, to the world. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: “the Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and blood of Christ given up for us, we recognise Christ in the poorest, his brother and sisters.” Receiving Christ’s presence in Holy Communion should flow into social action, into active love for the poor and oppressed, the sick and the sad. “Those who recognise and worship Christ in the breaking of bread must recognise and serve him also in the broken lives of those around them” (Bishop Michael Evans). 

This weekend at all Masses the Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion have the opportunity to renew their commitment of service for another year. This takes place after the Lamb of God.

We receive the whole of Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity under the form of bread alone, or under the form of wine alone. The fullness of the grace of his presence is available to us under one kind or another.  However: “the meaning of communion is signified as clearly as possible when it is given under both kinds, and Catholics are encouraged to desire Communion under both kinds in which the meaning of the Eucharistic banquet is more fully signified.” Having Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion makes it possible for us at St Thomas of Canterbury. Thank you for your ministry of service.

Confirmation – Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Welcome

This Sunday we are very pleased to welcome Archbishop Peter Smith who will be confirming our twenty young people at 11am Mass.

It was only last Monday that it was announced that Pope Francis has appointed, Bishop John Wilson as his successor. Bishop John will be installed as the new Archbishop of Southwark on the feast of St James, 25th July at our Cathedral of St George. This is a great opportunity for us all to thank Archbishop Peter for his 9 years of selfless and unstinting service to our diocese as the chief shepherd. It is great to have him with us for this celebration of confirmation. 

When I see our young people coming forward to be anointed by the Archbishop my heartfelt prayer will be that the Spirit they receive today will lead them to experience something of joy of God that is expressed in the reading from Proverbs in Mass today. May they realise that their existence delights God. May they come to know God not as a abstract philosophical principle but as a family of intimate relationships, creating, playing and drawing delight. As one writer asked: “Does playfulness feature in your concept of God?”  What about that saying from Julian of Norwich “God is my maker, my unhindered and my lover”? 

Please do pray for them today and as they go forward as fully initiated members of Christ’s Church. 

They are:

Travis Tasker, Kamlotachi Diugwu,

Hermione Espenilla, Geoffrey Giron,

Thomas Long-Castro, Leandro Ramos,

Vincent Dawson, Nwomiko Diugwu,

Katie Pereira, Kiona Henly,

Alice Summers, Brannagh Robinson,

Jadon Pereira, Alwinbenito Sathiendra,

David Seunarine, Olivia Yeung,

Guiseppe Morelli, Manuschaqueen Sathiendra,

Zea Vital, Henrique Zanlorenze


God our Father complete the work you have begun and keep the gifts of the Holy Spirit alive in the hearts of these young people. Make them ready to live his Gospel and eager to do his will. May they never be ashamed to proclaim to all the world Christ crucified, living and reigning for ever and ever.


Pentecost – The Birthday of the Church

Next Sunday, Trinity Sunday at 11am the Archbishop Peter Smith will confirm our young people.

He will stretch his hands over them and call down the Holy Spirit upon them. He will anoint them with the oil of Chrism and say,“Be sealed with the Holy Spirit.” They have all  received the Holy Spirit in Baptism but now there will be a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them.  They are given the fullness of the Holy Spirit so that they are able to lIve a life of faith in everyday life. The Spirit enables them to fearlessly live the Christian life. They have been called to be missionary disciples. In the gospel today (Pentecost  Sunday), we read how the apostles and Mary were empowered with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit transformed their lives so they fearlessly went throughout the world, to communicate the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection with words and healings.

If we have been baptised and confirmed then we have all received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Yet we are not necessarily vibrant, confident, enthusiastic, fearless and eager as a church to share the Gospel. The Second Vatican Council, which began in 1962 in the Catholic Church, began with a prayer for a “New Pentecost.” It was written by Pope John XXIII. As the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost so it continues to be poured out on, in and through the Church, for the sake of her mission in the world. Pentecost was and is the birthday of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church and the source of her power for mission. Today, on this wonderful feast, I suggest that as a parish we say this prayer.

We stand before you, Holy Spirit, conscious of our sinfulness, but aware that we gather in your name.

Come to us, remain with us, and enlighten our hearts. 

Give us light and strength to know your will, to make it our own, and to live it in our lives.

Guide us by your wisdom, support us by your power, for you are God, sharing the glory of Father and Son.

You desire justice for all: enable us to uphold the rights of others; do not allow us to be misled by ignorance or corrupted by fear or favour.

Unite us to yourself in the bond of love and keep us faithful to all that is true.

As we gather in your name may we temper justice with love, so that all our decisions may be pleasing to you, and earn the reward promised to good and faithful servants.

You live and reign with the Father and the Son, One God, forever and ever. Amen

Pilgrimage

Before coming to Canterbury I had planned to walk three hundred kilometres on the way of St James from Burgos to Compostela in Spain, part of the Camino (the way of St James) from France. In my preparation I realised that I was not fit enough and postponed the pilgrimage. It is still my fond wish to walk the Camino. I know that there are members of our parish who have walked this many times. In the time I have been here at Canterbury I have met people setting off to walk to Rome – a mere 1,900 kilometres. You might have seen on television a group of celebrities walking  part of the route and meeting the Pope at their journey’s end. Going on pilgrimage is a part of the spiritual life not only in Christianity but in other faiths as well. Many of us have been on pilgrimage to the well known Christian sites of Lourdes, France, The Holy Land, Rome. We don’t walk but fly or go by train. What is the attraction of pilgrimage? It is going to a place of religious significance. We give ourselves the opportunity to distance ourselves from our hectic life to go apart. Going on pilgrimage can be a time to face ourselves, our faith and our relationships. The key to getting the most of a pilgrimage is to place ourselves totally in the hands of a compassionate, listening and caring God. Pope Francis spoke these words at the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. “The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination.” 

This past week, the L’Arche community, has been walking from Dover to Canterbury. Between the 12th and 15th June there is a Canterbury Pilgrims Festival celebrating pilgrimage and providing some walks. (c.f. The website www.pilgrimstorome.org.uk for more detail.) Some of us are going to Lourdes in October on pilgrimage. There are still places available. Forty of us are going to the Holy Land in November. (Sadly it is fully booked). I realise that some are unable to goes to Lourdes or the Holy Land because it can be too expensive or the time is not right. Shrines in this country are Aylesford, Faversham, Ramsgate and the great shrine at Walsingham in Norfolk. As a parish we need to welcome the many pilgrims that come to Canterbury. I have asked the Archbishop if he could designate  our church a shrine of St Thomas of Canterbury that can be a place of prayer and quiet rest for pilgrims. “The shrine is also the tent of meeting in reconciliation. There, in fact, the pilgrim’s conscience is moved; there he confesses his sins, there he is forgiven and forgives; there he becomes a new creature through the sacrament of reconciliation; there he experience divine mercy and grace.” (Pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee)


Pentecost

In two weeks’ time, the 9th June, we will be celebrating the third most important feast in the Church’s year, Pentecost. The English word “Pentecost” is a transliteration of the Greek word pentekostos, which means “fifty.” It comes from the ancient Christian expression pentekoste hemera, which means “fiftieth day.” But Christians did not invent the phrase “fiftieth day.” Rather, they borrowed it from Greek-speaking Jews who used the phrase to refer to a Jewish holiday. This holiday was known as the Festival of Weeks, or, more simply, Weeks (Shavuot in Hebrew). This name comes from an expression in Leviticus 23:16, which instructs people to count seven weeks or “fifty days” from the end of Passover to the beginning of the next holiday (pentekonta hemeras in the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture). It was on this Jewish feast that the disciples and Mary locked in the Upper Room were filled with the Holy Spirit. This coming Thursday is the feast of the Ascension that takes place nine days before the Pentecost feast. What I encourage you to do as a preparation for the feast of Pentecost is, like the apostles and Mary, pray. Your prayer could be for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  This is important especially as we might perceive that our lives as Christians might lack dynamism, lack strength in prayer and action. Perhaps we might be aware that we are relying too much on our own power and our own will. What we are looking for in our lives is an adult re affirmation and renewal of the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, an opening of ourselves to the graces of the sacraments. I will leave at the entrance of the Church a leaflet entitled “Novena to the Holy Spirit”. This contains some suggestions for prayer. Let us pray that the charisms we have been given in baptism and confirmation may be active in our lives.  Pope Francis has written in The Joy of the Gospel (paragraph 30) “The Holy Spirit also enriches the entire evangelising Church with different charisms. These gifts are meant to renew and build up the Church. They are not an inheritance, safely secured and entrusted to a small group for safekeeping; rather they are gifts of the Spirit integrated into the body of the Church, drawn to the centre which is Christ and then channeled into an evangelising impulse. a monolithic uniformity. This is not helpful for the Church’s mission.”

Here are some other suggestions for us to prepare for Pentecost. 

a. Read Acts 2, the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost;

b. Decorate a cake with Pentecost flames and other symbols to celebrate the birthday of the church;

c.  Talk about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (see Isaiah 11 and 1 Corinthians 12; also, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1830-1831);

d. Make a Pentecost hanging or mobile that features a dove and tongues of fire;

e. Learn a prayer to the Holy Spirit to use in your family prayer time;

f. List the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23; Catechism, 1832) on separate slips of paper. Have each family member randomly select a fruit to cultivate.

Love One Another

In the gospel today Jesus says to us “I give you a new commandment:“love one another.” What is new about this commandment? In the Old Testament we encounter God calling his people to love. St Augustine in his reflection on the gospel of John says; “It is that particular love which the Lord distinguished from all carnal affection by adding “love one another as I have loved you”. This is the love that renews us, making us new men, heirs of the New Testament, singers of the new song”. So the phrase “Just as I have loved you” is important. Do you know and have you experienced God’s love for you? Remember those words in John’s first letter, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but he has loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Do you live and act as though you know and experience God’s love?

Last Thursday I was at a study day for priests and deacons on Young People in the Church. We were looking at Pope Francis’ recently published Apostolic Exhortation that he wrote to Young People after the Synod on Youth met last October. A key chapter in the document “Christus Vivit” is Chapter 4 entitled, “A great message for young people.” The Pope wanted to speak to young people, and thus to all of us, about what is essential in their lives; something we should never keep quiet about. It is a message that contains three great truths. The first great truth is “God love you.”  He says that it makes no difference whether the young people have heard it or not. “I want to remind you of it. God loves you. Never doubt this, whatever may happen to you in life. Any every moment you are infinitely loved.” He reminds the young people “For him, you have worth; you are not insignificant. You are important to him, for you are the work of his hands. That is why he is concerned about you and looks at you with affection.”

Later on he says, “He (God) does not keep track of your failings and he always helps you to learn something even from your mistakes. Because he loves you.”

Last Thursday Jean Vanier, the founder and inspiration of L’Arche, was buried at Trosly-Breuil where he formed his first L ’Arche community with Raphael and Philippe, two men with intellectual disabilities. By his life he showed us what it means to love. He said, “To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance.” And “Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness”. Let us not then be daunted by the command to love. Open you heart to God’s overwhelming love and be filled with the Spirit, that you may love as He loves you.

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.