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.

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.