Blessed Charles de Foucauld

Last Friday it was the 100th anniversary of the death of charles_de_foucauld. He was shot dead by a youngster who was keeping guard over him. This Frenchman spent the latter part of his life living among the Touaregs, nomadic tribesmen in Algeria. He wanted to bring Christ to them through his presence and simple life style. He built a hermitage at Tamanrasset and spent his time in prayer and compiling a dictionary of the Tourag dialect. He was known locally as the Marabout, the holy man. Brother Charles had wanted to set up a base near the western boarder of Algeria from which he could evangelise Morocco, a country which missionaries like the White fathers were unable to penetrate. He imagined Jesus said to him: “Take me among those who do not know me, take me among them and set up an altar, a tabernacle, and bring the Gospel not by preaching in words, but preaching by example, not proclaiming it, but living it.” Also his desire was to found a new kind of religious order but the rule he wrote was far too strict. So at the time of his murder his life seemed a failure. He had not achieved much. There were no converts to Christianity and no religious order. Yet after his death there emerged the Little Brothers of Jesus and the Little sisters of Jesus. There are also lay groups that follow his spirituality of hiddenness and simplicity.embarek
For most of my priesthood I have belonged to a group of priests known as Jesus Caritas, a priests’ fraternity. When designing his habit, for the religious order he had hoped to found, he created a simple image of a red heart with a cross at the top and the words Jesus Caritas – Jesus Love. Throughout his life, Charles was striving to find the best way to imitate the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth. He finally settled in the obscurity of the desert.
How is his life relevant to us today who live in places that are the opposite to desert life? We meet once a month to pray, listen to the Gospel and share with each other how Christ is working in our lives. The way we are encouraged to prepare for this is by having a day in the desert. This would be in a quiet place taking with us some food and the New Testament. The idea is to let the solitude soak into us because God is found in silence; a time alone when we review our month prayerfully asking the spirit to show how Christ has been speaking to us in the events of our every day lives.
Blessed Charles de Foucauld help me to trust in the Father, to give my life to Him, that he may do with me what he wills.

The Feast of Christ the King

The Christmas ads are out on Television. The lights in Canterbury have been switched on and all the stores are geared up for Christmas shopping. Some friends I know are even now writing Christmas cards! This weekend we are celebrating the last Sunday of the Churches’ year, the Feast of Christ the King and the new liturgical year begins next Sunday with the First Sunday of Advent. There is little use in bemoaning the early appearance of Christmas. One way to look at this secular preparation for the celebration of the feast of Christmas is as a reminder that, in our hearts and minds, we need to use these next four weeks of Advent as an opportunity to let the readings and prayers of the season prepare us for the celebration of Christmas As the writer Stephen Binz says “The goal of our practices during Advent is to deepen our longing for Jesus, for his coming into our hearts and for his glorious coming at the end of time.”
There are some practical things that we can do. Advent is a time when we can prayerfully listen to God’s word. Why not use the scripture readings of each day be a source of prayer. There is a little book in the Shop that has all the readings for this season and it only costs £1. Find five or ten minutes in your day to sit quietly to read and ponder the gospel of the day. During this season we hear the stories of our ancestors as they longed for the coming of the Messiah. These stories teach us to be receptive and to open our hearts to God’s initiative.
We could also use these next few weeks to prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation.(confession). We have a parish penitential service on 14th December at 7:30pm when there will be a opportunity to celebrate together and going individually to a priest. We usually try to ask visiting priests to come and join us.
We are aware that now the days have become short; our Jewish ancestors burned lamps during their festival of Dedication. These days they light the candles of the Hanukkah menorah as an expression of gratitude for God’s saving presence. We have an Advent wreath. As we light the four candles, one each week, we are reminded of how God’s light has gradually “illuminated the world’s darkness through history, culminating in Jesus, the Light of the World and the Sun of Justice.” Perhaps you could join with others in the family and make a simple Advent wreath that can be the centre piece of your table and when you have meals together light a candle and pray, “Come Lord Jesus, come in our hearts and enkindle in them the flame of your love

Time for harvest thanksgiving

This time of year is the time for harvest thanksgiving. It was the autumn equinox last Thursday 22nd September and we had a Harvest Moon on 16th September. This is the month we are asked by the Church to pray in thanksgiving for the harvest, the fruits of human work and pray for the reverent use of creation. Harvest comes from the Anglo-Saxon word hærfest, “Autumn”. It then came to refer to the season for reaping and gathering grain and other grown products. Harvest was a big thing in my last parish with the children and parishioners bringing non perishable food for the Manna Centre at London Bridge that gave food and care to the vulnerable and those sleeping rough. Those doing the flowers made an impressive and beautiful decoration for the Sanctuary expessing the theme of Harvest. Here at St Thomas of Canterbury, since I have come here, we don’t seem mark harvest time with the same enthusiasm which seems a shame as we are right in the garden of England! On Friday, 8th October, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development (CAFOD) is encouraging us to have a Harvest fast day. When we hear the stirring words of Amos castigating the well-off for neglecting those in need in the first reading today, and as we hear the challenging story told by Jesus of the the rich man who was totally indifferent to the poor man at the the gates of his sumptuous house we need to ask ourselves these questions. What are we doing for those under our noses who are in great need? Have do we give thanks for all that God gives us? Are we willing to share what we have with those in need? Should we, as a parish, be giving a tenth of our income to those most in need, sometimes know as tithing? Is the social teaching of the Church a priority for us? A prayer at Harvest time:

The earth is fruitful may we be generous.

The earth is fragile may we be gentle.

The earth is fractured may we be just.

Creating God, harvest in us joy and generosity as we together share in thanks and giving

The Lord Prayer

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.

St Peter Chrysologus
St Peter Chrysologus

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.”

 

Peter and Paul

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”

Our parish is definitely a community of communities.

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!

The reality of the cross

 

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

“I am a sinner”

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.

 

Greetings from Lourdes

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 here  each 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 a  good 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 gate  which 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.
 
 

The coming of the Hungarian relic of St Thomas a Becket to England.

Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols (left) receives the Hungarian relic of St Thomas Becket from Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest Cardinal Peter Erdo before a ceremony at Westminster Cathedral,

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.