Making YOUR path straight

The pressure is on. When am I going to write all those cards? Have I accidentally left off anyone from the Christmas present list?  Will I cope this year with the family coming for Christmas dinner? Will I be celebrating alone?  Let us leave those anxieties and worries aside for a while.  We need to make space for Jesus in our heart. The cry of John the Baptist is “In the wilderness prepare a way.” Mountains and valleys can make our journey awkward and slow. They are barriers that need to be overcome. How do we prepare a way that is straight and smooth this Advent so that we can welcome Christ with great joy into our lives and hearts?   As Fr Sylvester Flynn* suggests we need to have a look at our lives or to examine our conscience. What are the paths we need to straighten? Are there attitudes or behaviour that have deviated me from loving God? Are there times when I have allowed anger or resentment blind me to the way of love? The valleys to be filled in are the times when I have wandered from a sense of God’s presence or enthusiasm for God’s work was low. The mountains to be laid low are the obstacles which I imagine to be insurmountable because I have forgotten to trust in God; or the hills to be levelled can be the areas of pride where, because I am good at something, to look down on others in judgement. The winding ways can represent the delaying tactics I employed on my journey back to God. Do I delay, postpone, procrastinate.? Do I say: “tomorrow, Lord”? How do we make the rough ways smooth? We need to acknowledge the jagged edges of our personalities which irritate others or rub them up the wrong way. It could be my insensitivities, my lack of generosity, my unwillingness to compromise or my attempts to dominate others in subtle ways. This coming Tuesday at 7;30pm we have an Advent Penitential Service with an opportunity to go to sacramental confession. The Lord waits for my return. I will receive him a welcome guest into my heart.


* “Good News of Luke’s Gospel”

Our Jesse Tree

Our family wasn’t big into Christmas trees. In the living room the focus was the crib and behind it was a fairly insignificant plastic tree covered in tinsel . A friend of mind always has a big tree on which she daringly places candles which are lit occasionally when everyone is in the room. The tree is very much part of any home’s decoration. But there are those who object to a tree being in the Sanctuary of the Church. This year, at St Thomas, the tree appears this Sunday. But there are no lights or decorations. This tree will be our Jesse Tree. What is a Jesse Tree? The Jesse tree helps us connect the custom of decorating Christmas trees to the events leading to Jesus’ birth. The Jesse tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of King David. We adorn a Jesse tree with illustrated ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history. This Sunday the children will hang the first seven ornaments on the tree. The Sun recalling God’s creation, an apple reminding us of the story of Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark or a rainbow reminding us that God saved the human family through Noah, a star reminding us of the the promise made to Abraham, a ram recalling Abraham willing to sacrifice his son Issac, a ladder representing the Jacob’s ladder and the coat of many colours recalling how Joseph is used by God to save his people in Egypt. Each Sunday they will add more symbols until the tree is covered with images of our history of salvation. 

At the end of the Advent season, as you decorate your own tree, here is a prayer you can say before you switch on the lights.

Lord our God,

we praise you for the light of creation:

the sun, the moon, and the stars of the night.

We praise you for the light of Israel:

the Law, the prophets, and the wisdom of the Scriptures.

We praise you for Jesus Christ, your Son:

he is Emmanuel, God-with-us, the Prince of Peace,

who fills us with the wonder of your love.

Let your blessing come upon us

as we illumine this tree.

May the light and cheer it gives

be a sign of the joy that fills our hearts.

May all who delight in this tree

come to the knowledge and joy of salvation.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Just One Filter

The Church celebrates National Youth Sunday every year on the feast of Christ the King. Last year one of the posters issued for this Sunday was a photo of my goddaughter. This year the advertising is very different. The theme is #JustOneFilter. It is addressing young people that use social media everyday. For us oldies “social media” refers to Facebook, SnapChat, WhatsApp. YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and the like.  No one thinks twice about altering an image before posing it on social media – it’s all just part of the process of attracting as many likes and comments as possible. This year the theme #JustOneFilter encourages young people to think about where else in their lives they are using filters.

What do they do to mask who they really are?

Are they hiding or enhancing parts of their lives to make themselves feel good?

What do they do to feel like they belong?

How do they make themselves look right?

We want young people to hear the message that there is ONE filter that helps us stay true to ourselves, that helps us all to measure our lives in the right ways and present ourselves to others as we are. This is the filter of God’s Love.

Obviously this is a message not only for young people but for all of us. When we look at our lives through this filter we see ourselves and others as God does, as truly loved, valued and significant, no matter what is going on in our lives. We want young people to know that they are works of art, masterpieces, lovingly created by a God who knows them and wants to be close to them. There is a link to this Sunday’s Gospel for the Feast of Christ the King. 

In the gospel we hear that Jesus came to “testify to the truth” and that “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:33-37). Many of our young people do not hear often enough the truth that God loves them, and that Jesus, King of the Universe, can transform their lives if they allow Him into their hearts.

This weekend, let us pray for the young people of our parish, all those at St Anselm’s School, those who come to Prayer and Pub, those who are beginning their Confirmation preparation programme in the New Year, those at the University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church, Canterbury, the University of the Creative Arts and Canterbury College. 

Endings and beginnings

The Christmas lights were switched on this last Friday in Canterbury.  Preparations for Christmas are now upon us and we have 35 days before the beginning of the Christmas season. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.  This Sunday and next Sunday in the Liturgy we consider the end of time and readings from the apocalyptic book of Daniel before we begin the new liturgical year. It is only after reflecting on the end times that we begin our new liturgical year and celebrate the four weeks of Advent. As we consider the end times or the second coming of Christ, the question for us now is not at what hour or day will Jesus come but am I ready to meet Jesus?  So for now it is a good time to consider our own mortality. We need to appreciate the precious gift of our limited time on earth. We pass through times of growth, and maturity and then we decline. We are on our way to be at one with the loving Father. The Canadian priest, Ronald Rolheiser in his column in the Catholic Herald last week wrote that our death is meant to be met and respected as a normal human experience and not as a medical failure. “Death and its inevitability in our lives are to be understood as a growth point, a necessary maturation, something to which we are organically and spiritually destined and not an aberration or unnatural intrusion into the life cycle.”  So how are we preparing for our death?  You will find lots of practical advice on making a will, having a funeral plan and the like, but I am not talking about this aspect. We come to the inevitability of our death by being ready, by being awake. It is essential for us to live in the present moment and see each day as a gift from God. The way we prepare is to live life with great thankfulness and joy. Perhaps as we wake each morning we could pray these words from Psalm 15. Preserve me God, I take refuge in you. My happiness lies in you alone. You are my portion and cup, you yourself are my prize. I keep you ever in my sight, even at night you direct my heart. With you at my right hand, I shall stand firm. And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad. For you will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness for ever.

Lest We Forget

This Sunday, 11th November, is Armistice Day and is also known as Remembrance Day. It marks the day World War One ended, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. Nowadays, we remember those who were lost in the war by holding a two-minute silence and by wearing a red poppy.  The act of remembering is important. We are people who keep anniversaries and remember the past. The act of remembrance helps us to understand the events of the past and learn from them. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 41 million. World War II fatality statistics vary, with estimates of total deaths ranging from 50 million to more than 80 million. The higher figure of over 80 million includes deaths from war-related disease and famine. Civilians killed totalled 50 to 55 million, including 19 to 28 million from war-related disease and famine. These staggering statistics impel us to foster a deep desire to work and pray for real and lasting peace. In many Catholic churches a requiem Mass is celebrated for the dead of the two world wars on this day. When we celebrate a requiem Mass we commend the dead to God’s merciful love and plead for the forgiveness of their sins. As a Christian community we affirm and express the union of the Church on earth with the Church in heaven in the one great communion of saints. Though separated from the living, the dead are still at one with the community of believers on earth and benefit from their prayers and intercession. In this way we recognises the spiritual bond that still exists between the living and the dead and we proclaim our belief that all the faithful will be raised up and reunited in the new heavens and a new earth, where death will be no more.  So we remember and we pray for those killed through war and we pray for peace today.

 “Let us, then, pray with all fervour for this peace which our divine Redeemer came to bring us. May He banish from the souls of men whatever might endanger peace. May He transform all men into witnesses of truth, justice and brotherly love. May He illumine with His light the minds of rulers, so that, besides caring for the proper material welfare of their peoples, they may also guarantee them the fairest gift of peace.”  St Pope John XXIII

The Word of God

Fr Hans Puthiakulangara

On Wednesday night Fr Sylvester and I were at the Mass of Welcome of Fr Hans Puthiakulangara as the Pastoral Administrator of the parish St Simon Stock, South Ashford.  He was asked a series of questions by Monsignor Matthew Dickens the Chancellor of the Diocese.  The first was  “It is the duty of the priest to proclaim the word of God. He must study the bible and meditate on its message; believe what he reads; teach what he believes and practice what he teaches. Are you willing to co-operate with your bishop in preaching Christ in season and out of season, explaining to all the word of God? “ It reminded me of the Vatican II document on priestly life that clearly states that the primary duty of the priest is to proclaim the Gospel of God to all.  I am sure that if you asking many people, when asked what is the primary duty of the priest they would answer “to celebrate Mass”.    When we affirm that “the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life” we are not denying that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.  I remember a priest working in Chile said that his one aim as a parish priest was to get people to read and love the Scriptures. 

The Mass and the sacraments mean little to anyone who does not know Jesus.  We can come to a deep and initiate knowledge of Jesus through the Gospels especially.  We as a parish are called to be missionary. We need to ask ourselves “How important is Scripture in my life?” At the end of Mass, the priest says’ Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.  We are better able to to do this if it the gospels are part of our life. 

Pope Francis, speaking to young people of Argentina earlier this year, said:

“But to travel this path of helping to lift up others, let us not forget, we need personal encounters with Jesus, moments of prayer, adoration and, above all, listening. The word of God; I ask you: how many of you read two minutes of the Gospel each day? Two minutes! Keep a little copy of the Gospel in your pocket, in your wallet … While you are on the bus, while you are on the subway, on the train or you stop and sit at home, open it and read it for two minutes. Try, and you will see how your life changes. Why? Because you will meet Jesus. You will meet Him with the Word”.

All Hallow’s Eve


Happy Halloween? 
We have seen the costumes and the accessories in the shops for weeks reminding us that Wednesday is commercially known as Halloween. I am not sure what we are wishing people when we say Happy Halloween.  Since I was a boy this day has become more sophisticated. We used to have games such as trying to grab floating apples from a bucket with only our teeth. Now it seems to be about witches, bats, carved pumpkins, zombies and ghouls.  Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve, is the night of 31 October, the eve of All Saints’ Day. According to the Oxford dictionary it is “often celebrated by children dressing up in frightening masks and costumes. Halloween is thought to be associated with the Celtic festival Samhain, when ghosts and spirits were believed to be abroad.”
Traditionally for us, November is the time when we remember those of our loved ones who have died.  The 1st of November, All Saints, we honour the “Holy men and women of every time and place” (collect) who rejoice in God’s presence. These are not just the saints that are listed in our calendar but also those whose names are know to few or none, our own family members possibly who have lived their faith to the full. Then on All Souls Day, 2nd November, we remember all the faithful departed. These we pray will one day share in the resurrection of Jesus. Praying for the dead is deep in our tradition and goes back to the earliest days of the Church.  We believe that our prayers can be of assistance to the dead. We profess this every time we say the creed.”I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” 
This weekend we have at the back of the Church sheets on which we encourage you to write the names of family and friends who have died. Every day during November we will bring these up in the offertory procession at Mass and place them on the Altar. Also next Sunday 4th November we will have the blessing of graves at Canterbury Cemetery.
After prayers outside the chapel, the people go and stand beside the graves of their family and friends and Fr Sylvester or myself will come and say prayers  with you. We are very fortunate to be able in these various way express our faith in the gift of everlasting life. 

A Ministry of Service

Painfully at this time in the Church we are having to deal with sexual abuse of children by some priests.  We need to give priority to the special pastoral care to all those effected by this abuse.

This abuse has changed many peoples attitude towards priests.  There are those who say that abuse has been allowed to go unchallenged because of clericalism within the Church.  I believe that clericalism has been allowed to happen when we disassociate Holy Orders from Baptism. It is when we forget the connection to the baptised. I must remember that I exist as a priest only to serve the baptised. For me my baptism is more fundamental than my ordination. Holy Orders serves the baptised and when you forget that then you have clericalism.  Clericalism happens when we cling to honour, power and prestige as a priest.  It happens when there is an obsession with holy orders in itself.  We all must never forget that the priesthood is a ministry of service.  A priest is here to help people become holy. “When we forget that, we become caved in on ourselves, as St Augustine says.”  (Bishop Robert Barron)

In the gospel for this Sunday Jesus says: “Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Pope Francis said, “We must never see our ministry as a source of self-gain; rather our sacred ministry has to be the means of our self-giving”. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston wrote, “In the life of the priest and deacon, there can be no dichotomy between our cultic role and the humble service we must give as in washing the feet of our brothers and sisters. The towel should be as emblematic as the stole for our priests and deacons, where humble service must reflect the humble and loving service of the Good Shepherd.”  Please continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood. We need men who are willing to embrace a life of humble service of the baptised.

Holiness is a call to all

This Sunday at the Mass in St Peter’s Square, the Pope Francis will be adding Archbishop Oscar Romero, the martyred bishop of San Salvador, to the list of saints. Pope Paul VI (Giovanni Battista Montini) will also be added. These two names are alongside two diocesan priests and two religious sisters: a German and a Spanish missionary in Bolivia.
Another person was added to the list, late in the day. He is an Italian man of 19 years, Nunzio Sulprizio, who was beatified in 1963. Nunzio is a little known apprentice blacksmith. Both his parents died while he was a child, and so his uncle took charge of him. Unfortunately, his uncle mistreated him in many ways, including forced labor in a blacksmith shop where on Nunzio’s shoulders enormous weights had to be carried over vast expanses. Nunzio eventually contracted gangrene and was sent to a hospital in Naples. He suffered immensely but found sustenance in the Eucharist. He eventually recovered, and then dedicated himself to be of service to other patients before cancer took his life just before his 20th birthday.  Daniele Palmer who reflects on his life in this weeks “Tablet”, points out he did nothing exceptional in the church, he did not found a community. His short life was full of pain and suffering. “He was a simple man, a young Catholic who became ill doing his job; whose hardships were met by prayers; whose faith was not an escape but an anchor that held him firm.”  This is fitting as the Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” is in full swing. It is giving us a clear message that holiness is not restricted to priests, sisters, bishops and popes.  Holiness is a call we all receive. I think that it is harder to grow in holiness as a priest, nun or bishop because there is more in your life to make you complacent. There is always the temptation to think, “I’m alright Jack.” Holiness is living the ordinary life extraordinarily well. We are only able to do this if we rely on God’s grace, his power. St Paul says that he makes his weakness his special boast so the power of Christ may stay over him.  “For when I am weak then I am strong.” We thank God for the witness to holiness of great men like Archbishop Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI but also the great witness of the ordinary folk, like Nunzio Sulprizio.

Unbinding Ourselves

I was visiting Oxford last week and went to the chapel of  New College. In the antechapel under the West window depicting a nativity scene based on a design by Sir Joshua Reynolds stand a large sculpture of Lazarus by Jacob Epstein that he carved in 1951. It stands about 12 feet high. It is said that Khrushchev, after a visit here, claimed that the memory of this haunting work kept him awake at night. Lazarus is still wrapped in the bands and his head is twisted halfway round so that his chin touches his shoulder. The wrists are bound tightly to the thighs. But the arms and elbows project away from the body. 

As I walk round this amazing piece of work I found myself uttering those words of Jesus, “Unbind him let him go” from the Gospel of John (11: 44).  Jesus had called his dead friend out of the tomb. He had set him free. We speak about the bond of marriage as in the first reading this weekend. God unites Man and Woman and in the gospel Jesus talks about God uniting two into one Body and this is life giving. But there is also much in our lives that bind us, constrict us, keep us in the dark tomb in a dead like state. We might be living our lives more dead than alive. There could be habits of sin that constrict us and make us prisoners. We need to hear the voice of Jesus calling us back to life.  He is the only one who can set us free. He calls us out into the sunlight and to live the new life of Easter given to us at our baptism. We are unable to free ourselves however much we try. It requires the healing grace and gentle voice of Jesus.  This will most certainly take place when we encounter Jesus is the sacrament of Reconciliation.
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