We are Relational Beings

Most of us have heard of the internationally renowned sculptor, Antony Gormley, and his piece “The Angel of the North”. It was completed in 1998, and is a steel sculpture of an angel, 20 metres (66 ft) tall, with wings measuring 54 metres (177 ft) across and stands on a hill overlooking the A1 and A167 and the East Coast Main line. Well, he has an exhibition at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, London which ends on 3rd December. The human body is at the core of his wide ranging practice. He says that he sees the body as a vessel for feeling. I was there last Thursday and came away admiring his ingenuity and creativity but feeling myself not uplifted but somewhat downhearted and depressed.

I have been trying to understand why his sculptures evoke this reaction in me. In the notes on the exhibition it says that Gormley describes the body as; “a place of experience, emotion, consciousness, memory and imagination.” The first piece you see as you enter the courtyard in front of the Royal Academy is a small sculptor which is a life size form of a new-born baby made of solid iron. It is just lying on the pavement, lost and abandoned. Throughout the exhibition he depicts various forms of the body. One room is full of iron cast figures, some standing on the floor, others suspending from the ceiling and still others projecting out from the walls at different angles. I know Antony Gormley is trying to get us to reflect on ourselves, and the space we occupy but what I get from this is a deep sense of isolation, detachment and loss. We are relational beings and this sense of the need for companionship and the other is nowhere to be seen, experienced or hinted at. The medium he uses is iron and concrete that seems to emphasise hardness and coldness.

Perhaps my reaction to his art says more about me than about him. Our bodies are made for relationship and love. We experience this through family and friendship. The greatest act that we can be part of each week is the Eucharist, the Mass. We are called to come together to pray and listen and be fed. We become more closely the Body of Christ. Jesus shares his very self with us. When we receive the Host and the Chalice we hear the words: “The body of Christ, the Blood of Christ.” In faith we say “Amen” We are responding to the invitation to share in the ultimate act of love which is his death on the Cross and his resurrection. Our bodies are sacred and made in the image and likeness of God. When we receive communion we become what we eat. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. It means we need to look after our bodies, cherish and value them and therefore we treat each other as unique and special. Through the body we express love and kindness, compassion and service. We are relational beings not destined to live in isolation and loneliness.

Musings of a Parish Priest

Today’s Gospel is very familiar to all of us. It is a key scriptural reading we use when preparing our our children for the Sacrament of reconciliation. This is also a great passage for us to reflect on in our prayer. Zacchaeus was a man apart, collaborating with the Romans in his office of tax collecting. He was determined to see Jesus and not standing on his dignity he climbed a tree. He was making great efforts to catch a glimpse of him. To what extent to I really desire to see Jesus and come to know him? What efforts do I make to see him? Jesus stopped under the tree and looked up and he called him by name. Jesus knew his name. “Zacchaeus come down quickly for I must stay at your house today”. Imagine Jesus looking at you, calling you by name, and inviting himself into you home, your heart. Zacchaeus we are told “received him joyfully”. How would we react if Jesus said that he wanted to come into our heart? Imagine yourself joyfully receiving Jesus. How will the awareness of Jesus in you this effect you? Do you find yourself wanting to put things right? As someone wrote: “I find happiness in putting things right, ordering my life, finding the springs of generosity and justice that have been stifled by old habits”. Zacchaeus was hated by the crowd and rejected but the acceptance and welcome of Jesus somehow changed him. If I allow Jesus into my heart what would I want to change about myself? It is Jesus presence and love that effected a change in Zacchaeus. Jesus didn’t stand beneath the tree wagging his finger at Zacchaeus, telling him that he must change. His treatment of the tax collector was the opposite of the attitude of the crowd who grumbled “He has gone to the house of a sinner as a guest.” The response of Zacchaeus was beyond what was expected. He was willing to give all. The name Zacchaeus comes from the Hebrew and means “the pure one”. As Fr Lane writes: “Before reforming his life and meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus was the pure one only in name but not in deed. After meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus was the pure one both in name and deed.


Jesus is sharing with us an important story this weekend. It is directed at you and me. Are you listening? What do you hear?  The reason he was telling this story was because there were some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else.  It is a good thing to be virtuous but it is a bad thing to think that if we are virtuous we are better than anyone else.  The man praying at the front of the synagogue was telling the truth about the good things he did. But he was blowing his own trumpet. Perhaps he was doing all this so that others would look up to him, they would admire him, and he would look good in other peoples eyes. 

The tax collector was also telling the truth. His prayer came straight from the heart. “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” He acknowledged his need for God. He knew his own poverty, weakness. Why was this the better prayer? It was an honest prayer. He was speaking from the heart. He desired to be at one with God and that meant knowing his need for God. The man was humble.  St Benedict in his rule spoke at length in chapter Seven about humility. He lists twelve steps like twelve rungs on a ladder. Then among the things he says, these two are important.

Firstly we need to accept ourselves as we truly are before God, we need to admit our failings. This is not a guilt trip or false pride at being worse than others. It simply means we are to face our own shortcomings without pretence. When we do, we discover more about the depth of God’s love for us. It is this love of God which starts a process of transformation in us.  Secondly, cultivating a little more humility in our lives is not only good for ourselves but is a necessary part of being in community with others. When we truly experience God’s acceptance and love for us, in spite of our own shortcomings, we gradually become better at not minding the imperfections of others.

Here is a prayer for humility.

God, I am far too often influenced by what others think of me. I am always pretending to be either richer or smarter or nicer than I really am. Please prevent me from trying to attract attention. Don’t let me gloat over praise on one hand or be discouraged by criticism on the other. Nor let me waste time weaving imaginary situations in which the most heroic, charming, witty person present is myself. Show me how to be humble of heart, like you. 

Extraordinary Missionary Month

How are you doing in this Extraordinary Missionary Month? The Parish was very generous in its support of the Missionary congregation of the Spiritans. After Fr Patrice’s preaching on the first Sunday of the month you raised £1,633. 54. Also some of you give regularly to the Churches missionary work through the Red Box that that you have at home. Thank you to all of you who give to missionary work. Today is World Mission Sunday and Pope Francis in his message to us says: “We must also remember that the soul of the Church’s mission is prayer. In this extraordinary missionary month, let us pray that the Holy Spirit may engender a new missionary spring for all those baptized and sent by Christ’s Church.”

Pope Francis invites us all to pray this intention with him and, from that prayer, to be mobilised to whatever missionary action that we might discern, each in our own situation and circumstances. Our prayer should always include a readiness to be mobilised for action, or at least an openness to receiving that grace. In prayer the spirit can lead us to be more aware of what Jesus is asking us to do as missionary disciples. This is the calling of each of us. Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium “Each one of us is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”.’ Praying with the Pope this month could include pondering this quotation. Have I encountered the love of God, and how, where and when has this set me on a path of missionary discipleship? Can I ask the Holy Spirit to give me, or renew in me, this experience? Here is a prayer for the spread of the Gospel from the Roman Missal:

O God, whose will it is that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, look upon your abundant harvest and be pleased to send workers to gather it, that the Gospel may be preached to all creation and that your people, gathered by the word of life and sustained by the power of the Sacraments, may advance in the path of salvation and love.

Cardinal Newman

This Sunday, 13th October, the first English saint of modern times, John Henry Newman, is to be canonised (declared a saint). Also canonized with him will be an Indian, Sister Marian Thresia, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family; an Italian, Sister Giuseppina Vannini; a Brazilian Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes, and Marguerite Bays, a Swiss consecrated virgin of the Third Order of St. Francis. Their canonizations will take place during the 2019 Special Synod of Bishops from the Pan-Amazonian region which is held at the Vatican at this time. The Prince of Wales will lead the UK delegation – because the Queen no longer travels abroad, he is the highest-ranking royal who could attend – along with HM Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy.  John Henry Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Originally an Anglican priest, he converted to Catholicism in 1845 and his writings are considered among some of the most important Church-writings in recent centuries. If you have access to YouTube, Bishop Robert Barron has posted a onehour film he made on John Henry Newman. This will give you a great insight in the man and why he is important for us today.  https://youtu.be/xSJviI29C2w  Bishop Barron  says at the beginning of his film that Newman was a massive and deeply influencial figure and some say he is the greatest Catholic theologian since Thomas Aquinas. Newman is considered one of the most important theological influences of the Second Vatican Council. His work represents the first and most notable attempt to place Catholic thought in dialogue with the enlightenment. You might be aware of his poem “The Dream of Gerontius” put to music by Sir Edward Elgar.  The words of the hymn “Praise to the holiest in the height” come from this poem. Among his published books were “The Idea of a University,” “Grammar of Assent,” and his autobiography “Apologia pro Vita Sua” (A defence of one’s own life.). I love this pray he wrote:

Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as You shine: so to shine as to be a light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from You. None of it will be mine. It will be You who shines through me upon others. O let me thus praise You, in the way which You love best, by shining on all those around me. Give light to them as well as to me; light them with me, through me. Teach me to show forth Your praise. Your truth. Your will. Make me preach You without preaching – not by words, but by my example and by the catching force, the sympathetic influence, of what I do – by my visible resemblance to Your saints, and the evident fullness of the love which my heart bears to You.

Our Missionary Commitment

This is a busy weekend for us at St Thomas of Canterbury.  Father Federico Gandolfi OFM is here and on Friday after celebrating evening Mass spoke about his work in South Sudan. At all Masses this weekend Fr Patrick is speaking about the work of the missionary order of Spiritians and he will be asking for our support through prayer and donation.  Our own Fr Sylvester is a member of this congregation which was formerly known as The Holy Ghost Fathers.  It’s 100 years since Pope Benedict XV’s encyclical “Maximum Illud” called on Catholics to bring the Good News to all peoples (Missio Ad Gentes). So to commemorate this anniversary, Pope Francis has declared October 2019 to be an Extraordinary Month of Mission (EMM). This special month of prayer and action calls us all to renew our missionary commitment. Because we’re all called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with all peoples. It is too easy for us to leave all missionary activity to people like Fr Frederick and Fr Patrick. Pope Francis reminds us to pray that “the Holy Spirit may engender a new missionary spring for all those baptised and sent by Christ’s Church.”   So what should you and I do to be part of this new missionary spring. What am I doing to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others?

Here is the prayer written for this month.

Heavenly Father, 

when your only begotten Son Jesus Christ rose from the dead,

he commissioned his followers

to “go and make disciples of all nations”

and you remind us that through our Baptism we are made sharers in the mission of the Church.

Empower us by the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be courageous and zealous

in bearing witness to the Gospel,

so that the mission entrusted to the Church, which is still very far from completion, may find new and. efficacious expressions that bring life and light to the world.

Help us make it possible for all peoples to experience the saving love

and mercy of Jesus Christ,

who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever.

Global Healing & Our Harvest

Traditionally Harvest festival is held on the Sunday near or of the Harvest Moon. This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. The equinox this year is Monday 23rd September. Thank you to all those who have donated food as part of our display around the altar. This will be distributed to those in need. We are having fun things in the Hall after the 9:30am Mass this Sunday to celebrate harvest. This is our opportunity to give thanks to God for the blessing of the produce of the land that feeds and nourishes us. But also we need to reconsider the ways we use and care for the land. We know that we cannot use this earth for our wellbeing alone but need to care and look after what has been entrusted to us by God. As I write (Friday) there are climate change protests in major cities throughout the world. The demand is for immediate ambitious change . Pope Francis three years ago wrote a wonderful encyclical Letter “Laudato Si” on care for our common home. In it he says that climate change “ is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.” He says that “we are called to recognise the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”

Before the summer some of us watched and discussed the film “Global Healing” and we began to think about ways we are individuals, families and a parish can change our lifestyle to help the healing of the planet. I believe this needs to continue. There are many good ideas on the CAFOD ( the official aid agency for the Catholic Church in England and Wales) website Catholic international development charity | CAFOD;

Let us also pray a prayer written by Pope Francis:

O God of the poor,

help us to rescue the abandoned

and forgotten of this earth,

so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives,

that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty,

not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts

of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognise that we are profoundly united

with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.

Preferential Option for the Poor

A group of us were discussing this Sunday’s gospel where Jesus told the story of Dives and Lazarus. Someone in the group said that it is the responsibility of rich people in this world like Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, to give more of their money to the poor and the needy. It is easy for us to think that these words spoken by Jesus to the Pharisees apply to people rich people like Bill Gates. He is about the third richest person in the world and owns about $107 billion. In fact his foundation gives much money to charity. But this story of Jesus is not just addressed to the Pharisees but it is addressed to each one of us today? Am I the rich man who feasts magnificently everyday or am I the poor man who who fills himself from the scraps that fall from the rich mans table? If we look at our lifestyle today there’s is no doubt that we in the West are comfortable and we are well aware that there are many many of our brothers and sisters who are in the greatest need. One of the major developments in Catholic social teaching in the 20th century has been the “ preferential option for the poor.” The option for the poor is simply the idea that, as reflected in canon law, “The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor.” It indicates an obligation, on our part who call ourselves Christian, first and foremost to care for the poor and vulnerable. The preferential option is part of the social teaching of the Church. Because God created all that is good, all men have a share in the earth’s bounty. This “principle of the universal destination of goods,” says the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, “requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern.” The preferential option for the poor is a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity,” says Pope John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical Solicitudo Rei Socialis. “It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning the ownership and use of goods.” The doctrine has its roots in Christ’s life and teaching itself. “Christ the Savior showed compassion…, identifying himself with the ‘least’ among men. ‘It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones,’” the Compendium says, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2443). The Question I need to ask myself today is “Is the poor my priority?” “Are we a church for the poor?” “Are we a parish that makes the poor a priority?” Who is a sitting on the doorstep of my life that I am ignoring? This week let us show preferential option for the poor by doing something on Harvest Fast Day this Friday 4th October and by coming to meet Fr Freddie on Friday evening after 7:30pm Mass which he will be celebrating. 

Letting God Find Us

In all three of the stories in Luke’s Gospel today we have something or someone who is lost. The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son often known as the prodigal son. The shepherd searches for the lost sheep and the woman searches for the lost coin and the father searches the horizon waiting for the son to return. What Jesus is telling us when he tells these stories that God is searching for us. Many talk about the spiritual life as our quest for God, our search for God. The spiritual life is sometimes described as finding God in our lives. I think that it is the other way round. God is searching for us. What we need to do is to allow ourselves to be found by God. God is passionate about us. St Catherine of Siena has a phrase that expresses this. She says that God is “mad in love” with us. Here are some of her words. “O eternal Father! O fiery abyss of charity! O eternal beauty, O eternal wisdom, O eternal goodness, O eternal mercy! O hope and refuge of sinners! O immeasurable generosity! O eternal, infinite Good! O mad lover! And you have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you could not live without her, in spite of the fact that you are Life itself, and everything has life from you and nothing can have life without you. Why then are you so mad?  Because you have fallen in love with what you have made!”

So often people imagine God as a distant figure, sitting in judgement on us, waiting for us to do the right thing. In the first reading this weekend from Exodus God says to Moses about the people of Israel who have apostatised: “ Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them;” After Moses pleads God relents. This suggests this is God’s perception of his creation. Bishop Robert Barron in his reflection on this gospel says that the three stories suggest there are three ways of being found. The coin represents people who are spiritually dead. They don’t know they are lost. They are so far from God, so alienated from their real purpose. They have wandered in the land of unlikeness. They are closed in themselves. There is hope because God diligently  searches and finds those who don’t now they are lost. The sheep are those who know they are in trouble. They realise that they are spiritually compromised. God finds them too and carries them home on his shoulders. Finally, in the story of the prodigal son, the son has gone into conscious rebellion of his Father, and there are those who consciously rebel against God and realise they are lost and are seeking a way back.

What is common to all three stories is that there is rejoicing in being found. We need as a parish and a church to rejoice in those who return. Perhaps we need to open are heart and let God find us.

Confirmation – Winning the Hearts of Our Young People

Our purpose in life is to be holy. To be fully the person that God created us to be. We need to understand what this means in our life and in our time. The Second Vatican Council helped us to recognise anew this call to holiness is for everyone. “All the faithful, whatever their condition or state,  are all called by the Lord each  in his or her own way to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect.” This is a call of one who loves us first  and who wants us to come to know and experience this love he has for us. We can express this love as a friendship. “I do not call you servants any longer but friend”,says Jesus.  Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation to Young People which he wrote in March this year says “ Jesus wants to be a friend to every young person. This discernment is the basis of all else” When Jesus, risen from the dead, encountered Peter by the lakeside, his great question was.” Simon Son of John do you love me?” He was asking Peter, Do you love me as a friend?  God is offering us an invitation to be part of a love story.

This invitation to holiness, to friendship and love is especially relevant for our young people.

As a parish community we have a responsibility to support and help the parents of young people in their duty to guide their sons and daughters to discover what God wants of them. What are the implications of God calling us to be holy, to share in the friendship of Jesus.

Preparing for Confirmation is the ideal time for deepening friendship with Christ and opening our hearts to him.I am inviting  our young people who have not received the fullness of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation with the encouragement of their parents to sign up for our Confirmation preparation programme. This will be their opportunity to grow in their understanding that they are chosen by God. This year we are using a Confirmation Programme called “ CHOSEN” . The goal of the programme is to offer the young person a powerful, life-changing experience as he or she prepares to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is our hope that “CHOSEN” will not only offer them a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Catholic Faith, but will also win over their hearts at this critical time in their life. The programme has been carefully designed to address and answer our young peoples fundamental questions about life, and to challenge them to embrace a life of faith.

It is important that the young people sign up as soon as possible because we would like to begin the sessions on Sunday 6th October. The meeting for parents will be on 30th September at 8pm in the St Thomas Hall.  Fill out a form that you can obtain in the Narthex. 

“Jesus is walking in our midst, as he did in Galilee. He walks through our streets, and he quietly stops and looks into our eyes. His call is attractive and intriguing.” (Pope Francis “ Christus Vivit” no: 277)