Advent – The Lord is coming

Lighting the Advent Candle at Westminster Cathedral, Vigil Mass November 30 2013

The Latin word Advent means coming. In Advent, we await the first coming of the Lord. It is a time of expectation and joyful anticipation. We prepare for Advent and look forward to the coming of Christ. And when He comes He will bring peace

Nation will not lift sword against nation,

there will be no more training for war,

O House of Jacob, come,

let us walk in the light of the Lord

-Isaiah 2:4-5

Picture: Lighting the Advent candle at Westminster Cathedral


A Saint Remembered

It has become a recent custom at Westminster Cathedral that in marking the feast day of St John Southworth, the feretory containing the relics of our saint is moved from its usual resting place in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs into the nave of the Cathedral where visitors and worshippers may pray and light candles around the relics.

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Father John Southworth was born into a family of Catholics in Lancashire in 1592. His family had been subject to persecution including having to pay heavy fines for not renouncing their faith. John Southworth’s father had himself been imprisoned for harbouring the Jesuit martyr-priest, Father Edmund Campion. Despite those times being very dangerous for Catholics in England and Wales, John Southworth travelled to Douai in France to study for his vocation which would conclude with his own martyrdom.

Following his ordination, Father John returned to England in 1619 and for most of the next 35 years carried out his pastoral duties and was arrested on no less than four occasions. Much of John Southworth’s work was in Westminster which in the middle ages was an area noted for its crime and abject poverty. Despite the reputation of the area and in the face of constant mortal danger, John Southworth  served the poor, the ill and the needy in Westminster and Clerkenwell . During the years of the plague, at great personal risk he worked among the infirmed and dying and raised funds for the families of victims.

While John Southworth was released on three occasions of his arrest as a result of the intervention of Henrietta Maria, the French Catholic wife of King Charles 1, he was again detained in 1654. Refusing to renounce his faith and saying instead,

“My faith and obedience to my superiors is all the treason charged against me; nay, I die for Christ’s law, which no human law, by whomsoever made, ought to withstand or contradict… ”

John Southworth was condemned to death at Tyburn despite the pleas of many including those of several foreign ambassadors.

His remains were sent to Douai for burial and then transferred to and hidden in an unmarked grave during the French Revolution. They were discovered in 1927 and returned to England. When he was beatified in 1929, John Southworth’s relics were enshrined at Westminster Cathedral. On October 25 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised John Southworth in company with the other martyrs of England and Wales.

Today, The St John Southworth Fund in carrying on the spirit of it’s patron saint, supports the work of parishes and organisations on a wide range of issues including poverty, old age, infirmity, disability and deprivation in the dioceses of Westminster, Brentwood and Southwark and in the county of Hertfordshire.

In tune with The Twelve

Colours are used to denote the various seasons in the liturgical year. Purple which represents anticipation and preparation is the colour of Advent and Lent, red for feasts of the Lord’s passion, Blood and Cross while white symbolizes purity, joy and triumph so it is the most appropriate colour of Christmas and Easter. In this season of Ordinary Time  the vestments are predominantly green, signifying the season of hope and growth.

In contemplating the mysteries of Christ we reflect not only on his life and miracles but his teachings as well. It was Christ of course who taught his apostles to say the ‘ Our Father ’ saying,  ‘ So you should pray like this ’ ( Matthew 6:9 ), because Christ himself gave to all who did receive him, the power to be children of God ( John 1:12 ). Thus God was father to the apostles. Therefore just as the apostles did, we too in receiving Christ pray in the same way, in harmony and with one accord to ‘ Our Father who art in Heaven ’

St Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the third century was an important Early Christian writer who spoke of the God of peace, the teacher of harmony who taught us unity and willed that each one of us should pray for all. Hence each of us does not ask for bread alone nor that he alone should not be led into temptation. Instead we pray for all and as St Cyprian writes so eloquently ‘ Our prayer is public and for all, and when we pray, we pray not for a single person, but for the whole people because we are all one ’

Christians know of course that Christ had also said that ‘ …your Father knows what you need before you ask him ’ ( Matthew 6:8 ). So when we say this wonderful prayer that is so rich in spiritual power, all that we pray for to God is answered if we ask for it in the name of the son, to which I would add, if we ask as it says in this wonderful prayer, that ‘ thy will be done ’. So indeed we are asking to do His will and since He alone knows what we truly need, then if this is in accordance with His will, He will grant in His own time.

No picture to see this week since my equipment is being serviced but as you know, God comes to us in our hearts. That is where we meet and see Him.

In Ordinary Time

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The faithful will all be aware that when the season of Easter comes to a close, the Paschal Candle which has been on display and lit at masses since the Easter Vigil is moved from the sanctuary to the baptistery where it is used at baptisms. At funerals it becomes a symbol signifying Christian passing as a true Passover. This period between Trinity Sunday and Advent is known as Ordinary Time. During this part of the liturgical calendar, we celebrate the mystery of Christ in all its fullness.

Christ’s whole life is a mystery. In the Creed we learn of the mysteries of the Incarnation and of the Paschal mystery. It reveals nothing in particular about the life of Jesus of the form one would read in a biography. Yet, that which is written was recorded as it says in the Gospel of John so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this, we may have life through his name. Thus there can be no denying the richness of the mysteries of Jesus.

Through the Gospels and the writings of men who were among the first to have known Christ, in the case of John, instructed by Jesus to write down all that he saw or as in the example of Paul, called by God to the faith, the deeds, miracles and words of Jesus himself are made known to us. They also reveal the Father since Christ himself had said

“To have seen me is to have seen the Father”

John 14:9

In undertaking his redemptive mission, Christ ensures that as we receive the sacrament of his body, we are also in receipt of his divinity and the salvation he brings.

The mysteries of Christ are not in the realm of a whodunit. Instead they are something unquantifiable, something that is of unlimited richness which when revealed to us assures us of endless grace and the continued love of the Father.

In his death through which all our sins are taken away and by his Resurrection, Christ justifies us and brings us once again to the Father. In the picture of man’s journey then, what we had lost in Adam, we would recover in Jesus.

Just as Christ himself made his journey from a boy into manhood and as we heard at this past weekend St Paul made his own unique journey from persecutor of the church to Apostle of Christ, it too is our unique and personal journey when we are called to follow Christ and in going with him, complete our journey to the Father.

On Conscience and Conformity

Oswald von  Nell-Breuning was furious.

The rage of the then 90-year old former architect of the papal encyclical of Pope Pius Xl written in 1931 was amply and not without a touch of humour, demonstrated to the assembled audience by Fr Patrick Riordan.

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In 1931 Pope Pius discussed the ethical implications of the social and economic order and described the major dangers for human freedom and dignity arising from unrestrained capitalism and totalitarianism under the communist regimes, calling with urgency for the reconstruction of a social order based on the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. Von Nell-Bruening thus raged at relative lack of progress made by politicians of whom he was critical for having failed not only in their duty to inform society or persuade us with reasoned argument but instead choose to ignore our reasoned argument while placating us with sound bytes, as it were.

Fr Riordan went on the explore the relationship between faith and politics, returning to the Catholic position of a long-held belief of separation of church and state. If the concept of separation did truly exist, would faith then be subservient to politics? In respect of this, the question for Christians is what our faith requires of us in relation to politics. How should we react when faced with choices?

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In developing the discussion, Fr Riordan drew on various writings by the leaders of the church, not least Mit Brennender Sorgean encyclical of Pope Pius XI which was published in 1937. Smuggled into Germany and read out at mass on Palm Sunday, it was highly critical of Nazism and the manner by which it elevated one race above others and raised the notions of their perceived values to an idolatrous level, concluding that in the face of spiritual loss, the only alternative available was that of heroism. Pope Pius’s call to Christian witness was clearly answered by the Austrian Franz Jägerstätter who in turn refused the call-up into the Austrian army referring to the war and the conduct of it as unjust.

More recently Pope John Paul II writing with respect of the collapse of the Soviet Union, cited the events of 1989 as a warning to those who would see political realism as outweighing law and morality in the political arena. He spoke as events would show, of the success of the gospel spirit  over an adversary determined not to be bound by moral principles. Pope John Paul II spoke of intrinsic evils, calling on us to stand up against them, not unlike a call to heroism as suggested by Pope Pius Xl and heeded by Franz Jaggerstatter and his wife, Franziska both of whom were persecuted for their beliefs.

In conclusion Fr Riordan investigated the role of evangelisation today and in reflecting on Pope Paul VI’s writings on the subject, looked to the challenges faced by Christians as they  question the norms of  conformity urged by the changing values and judgment of an increasingly secular and at times, unjust world when these are in contrast to the Word of God. Being true to the faith does also mean that we are not like sheep.

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I have to confess that writing the blog on this lecture took me far longer than usual. It would indeed have taken even longer without the advantage of watching the splendid video of the lecture produced by the Communications Office of the Diocese of Westminster and the Agency for Evangelisation at Vaughan House which was the venue for these lectures.

Images from the lecture

Time to Give Thanks

At Westminster Cathedral, Fr Alexander in his homily at the vigil mass of Corpus Christi referred to the occasion as one of the great solemnities of the liturgical year and one by which we have the opportunity to thank God for the gift of Christ.

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Man has much to be grateful for Christ, predating even the days when our Lord walked the earth. You may remember of course St Paul’s reminder to  the brothers in Corinth about the journey of their fathers through the desert. He spoke about how they were guided by the cloud above them, that they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them as they went and indeed that rock was Christ. So Christ himself has been with us from our early days. It reminds me of the poem of the footprints in the sand, when the person observing two sets of footprints while walking along the beach with the Lord, upon looking back at the various scenes of his or her life noticed that during the lowest and most difficult moments only one set of footprints were to be seen. When questioned on being supposedly abandoned, the Lord’s reply was that during those trying times it was the Lord who was carrying that person. We know from the Holy Trinity, that if the Father did the carrying then so did the Son.

Thus it is fitting that we should always remember Christ and not only in the sacraments but in our daily lives since who could and would understand us in the way that he does. It is not as St Paul says that we have a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us but instead we have one who had been tempted in every way that we are. So we should be confident that in Jesus we have one in whom not only will we always enjoy kindness, generosity and understanding  but we will also find his grace when we are in need of his help.

Returning to St Paul again who in referring to the partaking of the sacraments said,

Until the Lord comes therefore,

everytime you eat this bread and drink this wine,

you are proclaiming His death

Corinthians 11:26

it would be good that while we reflect on his words and give thanks for the deed and great gift that it is, to live a life that reflects the worthiness of the gift.

Firmly I believe and truly God is Three and God is One

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In my early days while newly-baptised in the faith, I recall my first Sunday of The Most Holy Trinity. It was a bright sunny day and I remember reflecting on its’ title as being a day when we specially celebrate God in Three Persons. I think that back then we simply used to call it Trinity Sunday and I remember with much pleasure the hymn set to the words of John Henry Newman.

Over time and particularly now as I approach and embrace my faith with greater awareness and renewed energy, I have come to see this special day as more than just a commemoration. I hope I have begun to understand it better and more fully.  In doing so I also see that the message of the promise which was made and fulfilled by the Risen Christ at Pentecost is repeated and given greater emphasis today.

To me, the journey of the Word which begins  with God the Father is then given us by the grace of the Son and further inspired by the coming of the Holy Spirit. And when the Spirit having been sent to us is in us, the Word which comes from the Father is also in us. Therefore if we keep The Word, we will receive into our hearts the Father and the Son which was what Christ meant when He said

” If anyone loves me he will keep my word

and my Father will love him

and we shall come to him

and make our home with him ”

– John 14:23

Thus the words of the celebrant at the beginning of  mass ‘ May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all ’, takes on a special significance.

The Trinity is all bound into One with the Word being handed down by the Father through the Son and then made firm by the Holy Spirit. We cannot receive one without the other or any combination of two parts without the third since they are All in One.

Isn’t this the richest gift one could ever have or be given?

And I hold in veneration,

For the love of him alone,

Holy Church as his creation,

And her teachings as his own.

Adoration ay be given,

With and through the angelic host,

To the God of earth and heaven,

Father, Son and Holy Ghost

Image – Icon of The Most Holy Trinity        Source – web