A wonderful celebration of Confirmation and First Holy Communion at St John Henry’s on Sunday. Mgr Peter Wilkinson conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation, as delegated by Bishop Lopes, and I was privileged to be able to give the children their First Communion. Given the difficulties of this year it was a great blessing to be able to spend time teaching and preparing the children for the Sacraments. Share in the hope, optimism, and joy of their growing faith has been a great and humbling privilege, as well as a deep source of encouragement.
‘Dearly beloved, by Holy Baptism, God our Father gave these his adopted sons and daughters new birth to eternal life. Let us therefore pray him to pour out upon them the Holy Ghost, to strengthen them in their faith, and to anoint them that they may be more like Christ the Son of God: that they may continue his forever, and daily increase in the Holy Ghost, more and more, until they come unto God’s everlasting kingdom.
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hast brought these thy servants to new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, freeing them from sin: send upon them, O Lord, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete; give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and piety; fill them with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen’.
Divine Worship: Occasional Services
‘When Andrew had found Jesus, he called his brother Simon to be a partaker of his joys, which (as it happens in accidents of greatest pleasure) cannot be contained within the limits of the possessor’s thoughts. But this calling of Peter was not to a beholding, but to a participation of his felicities; for he is strangely covetous, who would enjoy the sun, or the air, or the sea, alone; here was treasure for him and all the world; and by lighting on his brother Simon’s taper he made his own light the greater and more glorious. And this is the nature of grace, to be diffusive of its own excellencies; for here no envy can inhabit; the proper and personal ends of holy persons in the contact, and transmissions of grace, are increased by the participation and communion of others. For our prayers are more effectual, our aids increased, our encouragement and examples more prevalent, God more honoured, and the rewards of glory have accidental advantages by the superaddition of every new saint and beatified person; the members of the mystical body, when they have received nutriment of God, and his holy son, supplying to each other the same which themselves received and live on, in the communion of saints. Every new star gilds the firmament and increases its first glories: and those, who are instruments of the conversion of others, shall not only introduce new beauties, but when themselves shine like the stars in glory, they shall have some reflections from the light of others, to whose fixing in the orb of heaven themselves have been instrumental’.
Jeremy Taylor, 1613-1667 (Anglican Bishop of Down and Connor 1661-1667)
Almighty God, who didst give such grace unto thy holy Apostle Saint Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him without delay: grant unto us all; that we, being called by thy holy Word, may forthwith give up ourselves obediently to fulfil thy holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘“Jesus saw a man called Matthew at the tax office and he said to him, Follow me”. He looked at him not with the eyes of the body but rather with the eyes of interior pity. He saw a tax collector, and since he looked at him in pity and choosing him as a disciple, he said, “Follow me”. “Follow” meant “imitate” - not by the movement of his feet, but rather by a change of life. For whoever says he is following Christ ought himself to walk as Christ walked.
“He rose and followed him”. It is not to be wondered at that the tax collector should leave the earthly gains he was looking after at the first command of the Lord and that, abandoning riches, he should join the company of him who, he saw, had no wealth. For the Lord, who outwardly called him with words, through a hidden instinct secretly taught him to follow him: by the gift of divine grace the Lord enlightened his mind to understand that he who on earth called him away from temporal interests, could in heaven give incorruptible treasures.
“And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came out and sat down with Jesus and his disciples”. The conversion of one tax collector provided an example of penance and forgiveness to many tax collectors and sinners. In a wonderful and true sign of the future, he who was to become the apostle and teacher of the gentiles brought with him to salvation a multitude of sinners in the first moments of his own conversion. He began even in the earliest period of his belief his duties as a preacher, which he was to fulfil as he made progress in virtue. Furthermore, if we would penetrate to the inner significance of what took place, not only did he prepare a banquet for the Lord in his home on earth but, what was much more welcome to the Lord, he made a feast in the house of his soul by faith and love, as is testified by him who said: “Behold I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me”.
We open the door at the sound of his voice to receive him, when we freely assent to his promptings, whether secret or open, and when we do what we know we should do. He enters, then, to eat with us and we with him, since he lives in the hearts of his elect by the gift of his love. He rejoices their hearts by the light of his presence in as much as they make more and more progress in their longing for heaven, and it is as though he himself delighted in the banquet of virtues which they spread for him’.
St Bede the Venerable, c.673-735
O Almighty God, who by thy blessed Son didst call Saint Matthew from the receipt of custom to be an Apostle and Evangelist: grant us grace to forsake all covetous desires and inordinate love of riches; and to follow the same thy Son Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘These two great saints of God, James and his brother John, were human, and had their weaknesses, but they had also their splendour. When they were asked if they were able to drink of this cup and be baptised with this baptism, there was something magnificent in their answer, “We are able”. Our Lord, looking at them with love, and perhaps ineffable sadness, said, “Ye shall”. As they stood by His side in the splendour of their young manhood they little dreamed of the things that life would bring them. They had to see Jesus dying on the Cross; there came a day when James was thrown into prison and knew that on the morrow the sword of the executioner would fall on him; John had to live through years of exile. But we know how in those two splendid men it was fulfilled that they were able to drink of the cup their Lord drank of and glorify God.
There is a time when our religion seems a completely thrilling thing, that no power could ever defeat. That is what James and John had known. But the same Lord Who has opened to us the splendour and reality of spiritual things, will surely ask us one day if we can drink a cup and bear a baptism which will be for us our own particular share in His Passion. That day, when it comes, will be the supreme opportunity of our religion and will bring its own grace with it. We shall be able to drink of that cup, and give Him glory in the day of trial’.
from Meditations for Every Day by Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
Grant, O merciful God, that as thine holy Apostle Saint James, leaving his father and all that he had, without delay was obedient unto the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him: so we, forsaking all worldly and carnal affections, may be evermore ready to follow thy holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The first degree of humility is obedience without delay. This is the virtue of those who hold nothing dearer to them than Christ; who, because of the holy service they have professed, and the fear of hell, and the glory of life everlasting, as soon as anything has been ordered by the Superior, receive it as a divine command and cannot suffer any delay in executing it. Of these the Lord says, “As soon as he heard, he obeyed Me” (Ps. 17:45). And again to teachers He says, “He who hears you, hears Me” (Luke 10:16).
Such as these, therefore, immediately leaving their own affairs and forsaking their own will, dropping the work they were engaged on and leaving it unfinished, with the ready step of obedience follow up with their deeds the voice of him who commands. And so as it were at the same moment the master's command is given and the disciple's work is completed, the two things being speedily accomplished together in the swiftness of the fear of God by those who are moved with the desire of attaining life everlasting. That desire is their motive for choosing the narrow way, of which the Lord says, “Narrow is the way that leads to life” (Matt. 7:14), so that, not living according to their own choice nor obeying their own desires and pleasures but walking by another's judgement and command, they dwell in monasteries and desire to have an Abbot over them. Assuredly such as these are living up to that maxim of the Lord in which He says, “I have come not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).
But this very obedience will be acceptable to God and pleasing to all only if what is commanded is done without hesitation, delay, lukewarmness, grumbling, or objection. For the obedience given to Superiors is given to God, since He Himself has said, “He who hears you, hears Me” (Luke 10:16). And the disciples should offer their obedience with a good will, for “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). For if the disciple obeys with an ill will and murmurs, not necessarily with his lips but simply in his heart, then even though he fulfil the command yet his work will not be acceptable to God, who sees that his heart is murmuring. And, far from gaining a reward for such work as this, he will incur the punishment due to murmurers, unless he amend and make satisfaction’.
from The Rule of St Benedict, Chapter V: On Obedience by St Benedict of Nursia, c.480-550
O eternal God, who didst make thine Abbot Saint Benedict a wise master in the school of thy service, and a guide for many called into the common life to follow the rule of Christ: grant that we may put thy love above all things, and seek with joy the way of thy commandments; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Our sufferings are our triumph. Our endurance in your view redounds to our discredit; the fortitude of others to their honour. You may gain popularity by your injustice, but our sufferings and practical example continually attract new converts.
“Why then”, you say, “do you complain that we attack you, if you are willing to suffer; when you ought to love those at whose hands you suffer what you desire?” We are, certainly, willing to suffer; but it is in the same way as a soldier desires war. No one endures war willingly, since alarm and risk are involved in it: the battle nevertheless is carried on with every nerve; and he who complains of it, yet rejoices in it when victorious, because he is acquiring glory and spoil. It is our battle to be summoned to your tribunals, there to contend for the truth at the risk of our lives. It is our victory, too, in that we obtain that for which we contend. This victory gains for us both the glory of pleasing God, and the spoil of eternal life. But we are overwhelmed; yet only when we have won our cause; therefore we conquer, when we are slain; and in fact we escape, even when we are overwhelmed. You can call us then, if you like, “faggot-men”, and “half-axle-men”, because we are bound to the stock of a half-axle, and surrounded with faggots when we are burned. This is the robe of our victory, this is our triumphal vestment, in such a chariot do we celebrate our triumph. Naturally, therefore, we displease those whom we vanquish; for on those grounds we are deemed desperate and reckless men. But this very desperation and recklessness, with you, in the cause of glory or fame, uplifts the banner of valour... Here is a glory, licensed, because of human origin; which is attributed neither to the presumption of recklessness, nor to the persuasion of despair, in its contempt of death and every kind of cruelty; which is as much allowed to be endured for country, territory, empire, or friendship, as it is forbidden to be suffered for God! And yet you cast statues, and write inscriptions, and engrave titles, for all those men to last into eternity: and as far as you can, by means of monuments, you yourselves afford them a kind of resurrection from the dead. If he who hopes for this fact from God, suffers for God, he is deemed insane. But pursue your course, excellent governors, and you will be more popular with the multitude if you sacrifice the Christians to their wishes. Crucify, torture, condemn, crush us. For the proof of our innocence is found in your injustice. It is on this account that God suffers us to suffer this... [N]o cruelty of yours, though each were to exceed the last in its exquisite refinement, profits you in the least; but forms rather an attraction to our sect. We spring up in greater numbers as often as we are mown down by you : the blood of the Christians is a source of new life’.
from Apologeticus pro Christianis, Chapter 50, 197 AD, by Tertullian, c.155-c.240
O God, who didst consecrate the abundant first fruits of the Roman Church by the blood of the Martyrs: grant, we beseech thee; that with firm courage we may together draw strength from so great a struggle and ever rejoice at the triumph of faithful love; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
A poem by Christina Rossetti today to mark this great solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, which is also my fortieth birthday. The poem serves as a timely reminder to me that amidst my own ‘human errors manifold’, the gift that is a dual vocation and ministry of priest and husband requires me constantly to ‘launch out into the deep’, delving into the depths of the heart and soul in order to discover the great mystery of who God created and intends us to be in relation to Himself. This will, by necessity, involve ‘a fall, a rise, [and] a scaling’ of Heaven in order to obtain our ‘humbled heart’, and so, in time, pray God, to pass into that place where, ‘human-eyed’, we will behold the Beatific Vision for all eternity. Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us in this great endeavour of life.
‘Launch out into the deep’, Christ spake of old
To Peter: and he launched into the deep;
Strengthened should tempest wake which lay asleep,
Strengthened to suffer heat or suffer cold.
Thus, in Christ's Prescience: patient to behold
A fall, a rise, a scaling Heaven’s high steep;
Prescience of Love, which deigned to overleap
The mire of human errors manifold.
Lord, Lover of Thy Peter, and of him
Beloved with craving of a humbled heart
Which eighteen hundred years have satisfied;
Hath he his throne among Thy Seraphim
Who love? or sits he on a throne apart,
Unique, near Thee, to love Thee human-eyed?
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
‘The Church has raised today’s feast to its present high rank because St Mark is the author of the second Gospel. For the same reason he deserves our gratitude, respect, and love.
John Mark, later known simply as Mark, was a Jew by birth. He was the son of that Mary who was proprietress of the Cenacle or “upper room” which served as the meeting place for the first Christians in Jerusalem. He was still a youth at the time of the Saviour’s death. In his description of the young man who was present when Jesus was seized and who fled from the rabble leaving behind his “linen cloth”, the second Evangelist might possibly have stamped the mark of his own identity.
During the years that followed, the rapidly maturing youth witnessed the growth of the infant Church in his mother’s Upper Room and became acquainted with its traditions. This knowledge he put to excellent use when compiling his Gospel. Later, we find Mark acting as a companion to his cousin Barnabas and Saul on their return journey to Antioch and on their first missionary journey. But Mark was too important for the hardships of this type of work and therefore left them at Perge in Pamphylia to return home.
As the two apostles were preparing for their second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take his cousin with him. Paul, however, objected. Thereupon the two cousins undertook a missionary journey to Cyprus. Time healed the strained relations between Paul and Mark, and during the former’s first Roman captivity, Mark rendered Paul valuable service, and the Apostle learnt to appreciate him. When in chains the second time Paul requested Mark’s presence.
An intimate relationship existed between Mark and Peter; he played the role of Peter's companion, disciple, and interpreter. According to the common patristic opinion, Mark was present at Peter’s preaching in Rome and wrote his Gospel under the influence of the prince of the apostles. This explains why incidents which involve Peter are described with telling detail (e.g. the great day at Capharnaum). Little is known of Mark’s later life. It is certain that he died a martyr's death as bishop of Alexandria in Egypt. His relics were transferred from Alexandria to Venice, where a worthy tomb was erected in St Mark’s Cathedral’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
O Almighty God, who hast instructed thy holy Church with the heavenly doctrine of thy Evangelist Saint Mark: give us grace; that, being not like children carried away with every blast of vain doctrine, we may be established in the truth of thy holy Gospel; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. -Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Our Lady said yes for the human race. Each one of us must echo that yes for our lives.
We are all asked if we will surrender what we are, our humanity, our flesh and blood to the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to fill the emptiness formed by the particular shape of our life.
The surrender that is asked of us includes complete and absolute trust; it must be like Our Lady’s surrender, without condition and without reservation.
What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood, our daily life, our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking, working and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows - to God.
To surrender all that we are, as we are, to the Spirit of Love in order that our lives may bear Christ into the world - that is what we shall be asked.
Our Lady has made this possible. Her fiat was for herself and for us, but if we want God’s will to be completed in us as it was in her, we must echo her fiat’.
Caryll Houselander, 1901-1954
On Divine Mercy Sunday, Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury writes to the faithful on the worthy reception of Holy Communion. Here is his pastoral letter in full.
My dear brothers and sisters,
On this Second Sunday of Easter, the Gospel tells of the encounter of the Apostle Thomas with the Risen Jesus which leads to his supreme profession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” I want to recall today how we who have not seen and yet believe come to this encounter of faith with Jesus Christ now in His Risen Body. It is an encounter which leads us in the Holy Eucharist to constantly renew Thomas’ profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” In this Year of the Eucharist, I have reflected with you on how Christ loved us to the end by entrusting to the Church the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist. Today, I want to recall how He invites us to the most intimate communion with Himself which we rightly call “Holy Communion!”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “To receive Holy Communion is to receive Christ himself”.
On this Sunday of Divine Mercy, we glimpse the mercy which led Our Lord to so entrust Himself to us and are moved to reflect on how we must be ready to receive Him and prepared in our own hearts “for so great and so holy a moment”. We may face the danger today of seeing the reception of Holy Communion in terms of secular inclusiveness. It would then become a token of our hospitality, rather than as the gift of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ which constitutes the most radical call to holiness and the means to becoming the saint we are each called to be.
At the end of his life, Saint John Vianney reflected, if only all his parishioners had accepted his call to frequent Holy Communion “they would all now be saints”. Holy Communion offers such an immediate path to holiness, to complete union with Christ Himself that He Himself told us: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”. The Catechism reminds us that we will always find in Holy Communion our true nourishment which restores our strength; separates us from daily sin; breaks disordered attachment to creatures; and roots the whole of our lives in Christ; and makes us so completely one with His Mystical Body the Church that we are truly “united heart and soul”.
We see why we can never approach Holy Communion casually, still less if we have not confessed and repented of any mortal sin or of a lifestyle in contradiction with our Christian calling. The Apostle Paul urged the first Christians to examine themselves carefully before receiving Holy Communion because anyone who did so in an unworthy state would, he said, be “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord”. The Church calls us to frequent Holy Communion, prepared by the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation so that we might become holy, might become saints. The Second Vatican Council urged us to “frequent” both these two Sacraments eagerly and devoutly as the path to holiness.
This Eastertide, I want to invite you to consider how we each prepare for this moment of Holy Communion in the days, hours and minutes before we approach the Altar. Let us ask ourselves how we seek to receive Him with the deepest reverence and love, and how we spend the precious moments after receiving Holy Communion. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote beautifully of this time when she reflected “we are as close to Him, as we can be... He will do miracles within us, and will give us what we ask, since having come to visit us, He is as it were in our very house”. With the Apostle Thomas, may we not allow these moments to pass without many renewed acts of love, of adoration, of reparation, of thanksgiving, and of that Easter faith which cries out: “My Lord and my God!”
United with you in this Eucharistic faith and love,
+ Mark, Bishop of Shrewsbury
‘We want to come to our prayer in the spirit of a disciple. Always saying the same prayers just as a matter of duty will be to lack the spirit of discipleship in prayer. The disciple will always have something to bring to the Master. There is the day’s work behind him, for which he wants criticism, correction, forgiveness, and teaching; there is the day's work before him, for which he wants guidance and direction. Therefore in his prayer there will be much listening and expectant silence, and obedient readiness for alteration or abandonment, so the holiest way of the Master may be communicated to his listening spirit. It makes the whole difference if, instead of bringing a plan to Him and asking Him to bless it, we come to Him as disciples to learn what His best plan may be, quite ready to abandon our own plan and to have all our idea altered as we kneel before Him. Perhaps we were going to ask Him how we should do or say something: we find it would be much better not to do or say anything at all. When the Master has finished giving us His advice, as in simple prayer and meditation we lay our souls before Him, we shall not get up immediately and go away, but in meditation we shall contemplate the Master’s own work, His skill in doing the thing we have bungled. Then we shall cease from looking even at the Master’s work and contemplate the Master Himself. Himself - myself - my work - His work - Himself. That will be the kind of order in which we bring ourselves and our interests to Him.
If we really love God we shall not be saying that we have not time for prayer. People do not talk like that when they are in love. Romeo had to haunt the house of Juliet, and Juliet could not have said that she had no time to see Romeo. They could not help coming together. A disciple will find the time for prayer to the Master; and the more we pray, the more precious does prayer become. Throughout the day we want to keep the spirit of recollection, in other words, the remembrance of vocation. The boat that meets the storm is the same boat that lay quietly at anchor. It came to harbour that it might go forth again; it goes forth that it may come back: but the captain was with it in port or at sea. We must keep in our life this sense of going out from Jesus and returning to Him, and yet keeping Him with us all the day’.
from The Way of Victory: Meditations for Lent and After by Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
Fr Lee Kenyon