Today marks the third anniversary of the death of one of our Parochial Vicars here at St John Henry’s, Victoria, Fr Michael Birch. Fr Michael was my predecessor as Rector of St John the Evangelist, Calgary (1974-1984), and he did much to build up the Catholic tradition in the parish, laying the foundations for its future entry into the Catholic Church in 2011. The top left-hand photo shows Fr Michael with the then-Anglican Bishop of Calgary, Morse Goodman. Fr Michael was received into the Catholic Church in 2012 and was ordained to the Catholic priesthood, for the Ordinariate, at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Victoria, in 2013. I had the honour of preaching at his First Mass, and the sad privilege of preaching at his Funeral Requiem Mass in the same cathedral in 2016. May he rest in peace, and rise in glory. Jesu, mercy. Mary, pray.
O God, who didst cause thy servant Michael, for whom we pray, to enjoy the office of Priest after the order of thine Apostles: grant unto him, we beseech thee; finally to rejoice in the company of those thy Saints in heaven whose ministry he did sometime share on earth; 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.
Today marks fourteen years of ordained ministry. I was ordained a deacon and priest in the Church of England fourteen and thirteen years ago, respectively, on this day. Whilst it was with thanksgiving and joy that that ministry was set aside, I continue to be deeply grateful for all the good that I received from the Church of England and the Anglican tradition. To mark this memory, and transition, I share a prayer composed by Basil, Cardinal Hume, former Archbishop of Westminster, which was approved by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith:
‘The Holy Catholic Church recognises that not a few of the sacred actions of the Christian religion as carried out in communities separated from her can truly engender a life of grace and can rightly be described as providing access to the community of salvation. And so we now pray:
Almighty Father, we give you thanks for the years of faithful ministry of your servant in the Anglican Communion, whose fruitfulness for salvation has been derived from the very fulness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church. As your servant has been received into full communion and now seeks to be ordained to the presbyterate in the Catholic Church, we beseech you to bring to fruition that for which we now pray. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen’.
Today, a day after my 41st birthday, and on my wife’s birthday, I celebrate the seventh anniversary of ordination to the priesthood in the Catholic Church, at the hands of the Bishop of Calgary for service in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter. In England the Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul - my natal patrons, and a holy day of obligation - is moved to today, which means that this year I have the rare opportunity to keep my anniversary on this day of great significance for the Church’s apostolic ministry and mission.
‘[I]n our day, perhaps more than ever, the Popes have a wider and nobler conception of the duty they have undertaken; they will give the world positive guidance, they will initiate, they will spur us into action. They will not be content to criticise (no difficult matter) the false standards they see prevailing in an exhausted and disillusioned world. They will set before it, instead, the pattern of a Christian world-order, of a civilisation penetrated with, and expressing, the mind of Christ. And if we are to be worthy, you and I, of those great pontificates under which the divine mercy has privileged us to live, we must not be content, either, with a merely negative Catholicism which forbids us to do this, discourages us from doing that, shuts us up in ourselves and reduces the Christian life to a treadmill routine of avoiding sin. We must react generously, and if need be heroically, to the conditions of our age, of a world which enjoys a precarious, and, if will fail in our duty, ignoble peace. That is the lesson which the feast of St Peter and St Paul should have for times like ours; they bear the sword, as well as the keys, they were princes of the Church because they sealed their witness by martyrdom. They beckon us to glorious thrones, but through a hard apostolate. If they disagreed once, it was long ago; they have but one voice now, and it bids us go forward’.
from a sermon preached at the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer & St Thomas More, Chelsea
on the Feast of Ss Peter & Paul, 29 June 1947, by Mgr Ronald Knox, 1888-1957
O God, who hast hallowed this day by the martyrdom of thine Apostles Peter and Paul: grant unto thy Church, in all things, to follow the precepts of those through whom she received the beginning of religion; 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.
‘There is in the Divine Nature a Fatherhood and a Sonship, and we may certainly think of the Holy Spirit under the figure of Motherhood. It was through the power of the Holy Spirit that our Lord was born of Mary, through His overshadowing that our Lady conceived and that of her and in her was created the Sacred Humanity.
Through His operation the Church came into being. After the Gospels come the Acts of the Apostles: those who had seen the Light were to live as children of the Light: those who had heard the Word were to preach the Word. But to do this they needed light and strength. There were many things our Lord had said they would forget, many they would not understand, many they would fear to act upon. They needed that things should be brought to their remembrance and interpreted, and they needed the courage of love to act upon them. All this the Holy Ghost brought them. He filled the apostles with power for their ministry. As He brought the world out of chaos, brooding over the waters, so He brooded over the sinful world, and brought the Church into being, and will at last bring it to perfection.
It is through the power of the Holy Ghost that the Eucharist is consecrated. Even as by His power the Divine Son became present on earth, so by His power our Lord becomes present on the Altar. We must remember that the Holy Ghost Who accomplishes this mystery is Himself always with us. It is the Holy Spirit Who mothers a soul. He bears with us patiently, checks us quietly and sometimes sternly, but, if we will go wrong, like a patient mother He goes with us where we go’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
Most merciful God, we beseech thee: that thy Church, being gathered together in the Holy Ghost, may nevermore be disquieted by the assaults of her enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Alas, the holy seasons of the Ember Days, which recur four times a year at the beginning of spring, summer, fall and winter, are no longer observed as they were in the old Church, namely as days of ordination of our priests when the Church wants her faithful to remember her priests by prayer and sacrifice. Nowadays, we have “Priest’s Saturday”, which takes, somewhat, the place of those very holy seasons. Ember Saturday, which was the day of the final ordinations, is the day when we might explain the sacrament of Holy Orders to the children. On the evenings of these Saturdays, after preparation for the Mass, we could tell them about the holiness of priesthood and sisterhood, about our Holy Father, the Pope, about the cardinals and bishops, and particularly about our own bishop — our true representative of Christ. We could remind them to remember the Pope, the bishop, and all the priests in their daily prayers. If it is at all possible, we might have them participate in the yearly ordination ceremonies, a great liturgical experience’.
from Around the Year with the Trapp Family, 1955, by Maria Von Trapp, 1905-1987
O God, who didst lead thy holy Apostles to ordain ministers in every place: grant that thy Church, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, may choose suitable men for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of thy kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, 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. – A collect for the Ember Saturday in Lent, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church’s foundation is unshakable and firm against the assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbour of salvation for all in distress. Although the Church is tossed about on the sea, it rides easily on rivers, especially those rivers that Scripture speaks of: The rivers have lifted up their voice. These are the rivers flowing from the heart of the man who is given drink by Christ and who receives from the Spirit of God. When these rivers overflow with the grace of the Spirit, they lift up their voice.
Drink, then, from Christ, so that your voice may also be heard. Store up in your mind the water that is Christ, the water that praises the Lord. Store up water from many sources, the water that rains down from the clouds of prophecy.
Whoever gathers water from the mountains and leads it to himself or draws it from springs, is himself a source of dew like the clouds. Fill your soul, then, with this water, so that your land may not be dry, but watered by your own springs’.
from a letter to pastors by St Ambrose of Milan, c.337-397
O God, who didst set thy blessed Bishop Saint Ambrose in thy Church as a Doctor and defender of the Catholic faith and an example of apostolic fortitude: grant, we beseech thee; that aided by his intercession, we may escape the dangers of error, and never be ashamed to confess thy truth; 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.
‘[N]ever forget that the principal form of Eucharistic prayer is contained in the holy Sacrifice of the Altar. It is Our opinion that this point ought to be considered more carefully, Venerable Brethren, for it touches on a particularly important aspect of priestly life.
…We… hope to say something worthwhile in this matter by showing the principal reason why the holy Cure of Ars, who, as befits a hero, was most careful in fulfilling his priestly duties, really deserves to be proposed to those who have the care of souls as a model of outstanding virtue and to be honoured by them as their heavenly patron. If it is obviously true that a priest receives his priesthood so as to serve at the altar and that he enters upon this office by offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice, then it is equally true that for as long as he lives as God’s minister, the Eucharistic Sacrifice will be the source and origin of the holiness that he attains and of the apostolic activity to which he devotes himself. All of these things came to pass in the fullest possible way in the case of St John Vianney.
For, if you give careful consideration to all of the activity of a priest, what is the main point of his apostolate if not seeing to it that wherever the Church lives, a people who are joined by the bonds of faith, regenerated by holy Baptism and cleansed of their faults will be gathered together around the sacred altar? It is then that the priest, using the sacred power he has received, offers the divine Sacrifice in which Jesus Christ renews the unique immolation which He completed on Calvary for the redemption of mankind and for the glory of His heavenly Father. It is then that the Christians who have gathered together, acting through the ministry of the priest, present the divine Victim and offer themselves to the supreme and eternal God as a “sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God”. There it is that the people of God are taught the doctrines and precepts of faith and are nourished with the Body of Christ, and there it is that they find a means to gain supernatural life, to grow in it, and if need be to regain unity. And there besides, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, grows with spiritual increase throughout the world down to the end of time.
It is only right and fitting to call the life of St John Vianney a priestly and pastoral one in an outstanding way, because he spent more and more time in preaching the truths of religion and cleansing souls of the stain of sin as the years went by, and because he was mindful of the altar of God in each and every act of his sacred ministry!
It is true of course that the holy Cure’s fame made great crowds of sinners flock to Ars, while many priests experience great difficulty in getting the people committed to their care to come to them at all, and then find that they have to teach them the most elementary truths of Christian doctrine just as if they were working in a missionary land. But as important and sometimes as trying as these apostolic labours may be, they should never be permitted to make men of God forget the great importance of the goal which they must always keep in view and which St John Vianney attained through dedicating himself completely to the main works of the apostolic life in a tiny country church.
This should be kept in mind, in particular: whatever a priest may plan, resolve, or do to become holy, he will have to draw, for example and for heavenly strength, upon the Eucharistic Sacrifice which he offers, just as the Roman Pontifical urges: “Be aware of what you are doing; imitate what you hold in your hands”’.
from his encyclical Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, 1 August 1959, by Pope St John XXIII, 1881-1963
‘For the third time this year, Holy Church comes claiming from her children the tribute of Penance which, from the earliest ages of Christianity, was looked upon as a solemn consecration of the Seasons.
The beginnings of the Winter, Spring, and Autumn quarters were sanctified by abstinence and fasting, and each of them, in turn, has witnessed heaven’s blessing falling upon their respective three months; and now, Autumn is harvesting the fruits which, divine mercy, appeased by the satisfactions made by sinful man, has vouchsafed to bring forth from the bosom of the earth, notwithstanding the curse that still hangs over her. The precious seed of wheat, on which man’s life mainly depends, was confided to the soil in the season of the yearly frosts, and with the first fine days, peeped above the ground; at the approach of glorious Easter, it carpeted our fields with its velvet of green, making them ready to share in the universal joy of Jesus’ resurrection; then, turning into a lovely image of what our souls ought to have been in the season of Pentecost, its stem grew up under the action of the hot sun; the golden ear promised a hundredfold to its master; the harvest made the reapers glad; and now that September has come, it calls on man to fix his heart on that good God, who gave him all this store. Let him not think of saying, as that rich man of the Gospel did, after a plentiful harvest of fruits: My soul! thou hast much goods laid up for many years! take thy rest! eat! drink! make good cheer! And God said to that man: Thou fool! this night, do they require thy soul of thee! and whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? Surely, there is too much of the Christian among us to allow us to be senseless in that way. If we would be truly rich with God, if we would draw down his blessing on the preservation, as well as on the production, of the fruits of the earth, let us, at the beginning of this last quarter of the year, have recourse to those penitential exercises, whose beneficial effects we have always experienced in the past. The Church gives us the commandment to do so, by obliging us, under penalty of grievous sin, to abstain and fast on these three days, unless we be lawfully dispensed.
Let us not, in our prayers and fasts, forget the new Priests and other Ministers of the Church who... are to receive the imposition of hands. The September ordination is not usually the most numerous of those given by the Bishop during the year. The sublime function to which the Faithful owe their Fathers and Guides in the spiritual life has, however, a special interest at this period of the year, which, more than any other, is in keeping with the present state of the world, which is one of rapid decline towards ruin. Our Year, too, is on the fall, as we say. The sun, which beheld rising at Christmas, as a giant who would burst the bonds of frost asunder and restrain the tyranny of darkness - now, as though he had grown wearied, is drooping towards the horizon; each day we see him gradually leaving that glorious zenith, where we admired his dazzling splendour, on the day of our Emmanuel’s Ascension; his fire has lost its might; and though he still holds half the day as his, his disc is growing pale, which tells us of the coming on of those long nights when Nature, stripped of all her loveliness by angry storms, seems as though she would bury herself forever in the frozen shroud which is to bind her. So it is with our world. Illumined as it was by the light of Christ and glowing with the fire of the Holy Ghost, it sees in these our days that charity is growing cold, and that the light and glow it had from the Sun of Justice are on the wane. Each revolution takes from the Church some jewel or other, which does not come back to her when the storm is over; tempests are so frequent that tumult is becoming the natural state of the times. Error predominates and lays down the law. Iniquity abounds. It is our Lord himself who said: When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find, think ye, Faith on earth?
Lift up, then, your heads, ye children of God! for your redemption is at hand. But from now until that time shall come, when heaven and earth are to be made new for the reign that is to be eternal, and shall bloom in the light of the Lamb, the Conqueror, days far worse than these must dawn upon this world of ours, when the elect themselves would be deceived, if that were possible! How important is it not, in these miserable times, that the Pastors of the flock of Christ be equal to their perilous and sublime vocation; let us then fast and pray; and how numerous soever may be the losses sustained in the Christian ranks of those who once were faithful in the practices of penance, let us not lose courage. Few as we may be, let us group ourselves closely round the Church, and implore of that Jesus, who is her Spouse, that he vouchsafe to multiply his gifts in those whom he is calling to the - now more than ever - dread honour of the Priesthood; that he infuse into them his divine prudence, whereby they may be able to disconcert the plans of the impious; his untiring zeal for the conversion of ungrateful souls; his perseverance even unto death in maintaining, without reticence or compromise, the plenitude of that truth which he has destined for the world, and the unviolated custody of which is to be, on the last Day, the solemn testimony of the Bride’s fidelity’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
Today is the memorial of the Cure d’Ars, Saint John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. The statue below, carved in the late 19th century, is from my own collection, given to me by my wife in 2009. It occupies pride of place in my study; the good pastor looking down upon me as I strive to live out the vocation God has given me in his sacred priesthood. Please pray for all priests today, asking St John Vianney for his intercession, that we may ever strive to live by his example of evangelical zeal in the exercise of our pastoral and sacramental ministry, to the glory of God and for the salvation of many souls.
‘The Cure of Ars is a model of priestly zeal for all pastors. The secret of his generosity is to be found without doubt in his love for God, lived without limits, in constant response to the love made manifest in Christ crucified. This is where he bases his desire to do everything to save the souls ransomed by Christ at such a great price, and to bring them back to the love of God. Let us recall one of those pithy sayings which he had the knack of uttering: “The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus”. In his sermons and catechesis he continually returned to that love: “O my God, I prefer to die loving you than to live a single instant without loving you... I love you, my divine Saviour, because you were crucified for us... because you have me crucified for you”. For the sake of Christ, he seeks to conform himself exactly to the radical demands that Jesus in the Gospels puts before the disciples whom he sends out: prayer, poverty, humility, self-denial, voluntary penance. And, like Christ, he has a love for his flock that leads him to extreme pastoral commitment and self-sacrifice. Rarely has a pastor been so acutely aware of his responsibilities, so consumed by a desire to wrest his people from the sins of their luke-warmness. “O my God, grant me the conversion of my parish: I consent to suffer whatever you wish, for as long as I live”. Dear brother priests, nourished by the Second Vatican Council which has felicitously placed the priest’s consecration within the framework of his pastoral mission, let us join Saint John Mary Vianney and seek the dynamism of our pastoral zeal in the Heart of Jesus, in his love for souls. If we do not draw from the same source, our ministry risks bearing little fruit!’
from a letter to all priests, Maundy Thursday, 1986, by Pope St John Paul II, 1920-2005
Almighty and merciful God, who didst wonderfully endue Saint John Vianney with pastoral zeal and a continual desire for prayer and penance: grant, we beseech thee; that by his example and intercession, we may win the souls of brethren for Christ, and with them attain glory everlasting; 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.
Fr Lee Kenyon
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