Letter from Fr Paul – 22 November 2020, Christ the King

22 Nov

Dear All,

In the centre of St Peter’s Square in Rome stands the world famous obelisk, over 80 feet tall and weighing over 325 tons. It originally stood in a pagan temple in Egypt and was brought to Rome by the evil Emperor Caligula (12-41 AD) and a decade later the equally terrible Nero (37-68 AD) erected a circus around it, and it was there that St Peter was martyred by being crucified upside down, with the obelisk probably being the last thing he saw. In the sixteenth century it was moved to its present location by Pope Sixtus V (1521-90) who had engraved upon it: “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat. Ab omni malo plebem suam defendat”. (Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands; may He defend His people from all evil.”

The obelisk in St Peter’s Square

These words are traditionally sung on today’s Solemnity of Christ the King. Notice these words are not in the past tense, because He still conquers, He still reigns and He still commands. He conquered death, Satan and all evil by His Passion, Death and Resurrection, and for this reason there is a relic of the True Cross of Christ at the top of the obelisk. He commanded the Apostles to preach and teach His Gospel, and He commands all of us to take up our cross and follow Him. He reigns because He is the eternal God who created everything out of nothing, holds all things in being and who will come in glory at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. And this is what Our Lord is referring to in today’s Gospel when He tells the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats – His Second Coming or the Final Judgement at the end of time, also called the parousia, and we are expected to preach on it at this time of year.

There are two judgements. The Particular Judgement happens at death to each individual, whereas the General or Final Judgement is at Christ’s Second Coming. At the Final Judgement, all the dead, that is everyone who has ever lived, will be raised up in their bodies, and the Particular Judgement will be confirmed and made known to all, but it cannot be changed. Our Lord uses the analogy of a shepherd separating the sheep and the goats as a metaphor for the final separation of the righteous, who will inherit everlasting life, and the wicked, who will inherit everlasting punishment. The imagery of sheep and goats is no accident because sheep, generally speaking, are docile to their master whereas goats tend to be more stubborn. So the righteous are those who are obedient to God and follow His voice, whereas the goats, the wicked, are those who are prideful, who are stubborn and who have refused to do God’s will.

The Sheep and the Goats

To the sheep He will say, “Come you whom My Father has blessed, take for your heritage the Kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.” This Kingdom is Heaven. And to the wicked He will say, “Go away from Me with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire with the devil and his angels.” This obviously refers to Hell. Often today, people either don’t like Hell to be mentioned or they don’t believe in it, but we should note Our Lord, who is God, left no doubt about its existence and spoke of it many times in the Gospels, precisely because it is a reality, and therefore we need to be warned of it. To fail to mention it would be a distortion of the Gospel.

So the question we all want to know the answer to is what must I do to get into the Kingdom of Heaven? We certainly need to have faith and Our Lord teaches us that elsewhere in the Gospels. But this parable places an emphasis on the Corporal Works of Mercy which are:

  1. to feed the hungry
  2. to give drink to the thirsty
  3. to clothe the naked
  4. to shelter the homeless
  5. to visit the sick
  6. to visit those in prison
  7. to bury the dead.

And Our Lord says that “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it to Me.” In other words, one act of charity done for the poor is in essence an act of charity done to Christ.

I think the story of St Martin of Tours (ca. 316-397) is well known. On a bitterly cold day, Martin met a poor man, unclothed and shivering by the city gate. Martin felt sorry for him and so he drew his sword, cut his own cloak in two and gave one half to the beggar. That night, Martin saw Christ dressed in the cloak he had given the man saying, “Martin, still a catechumen, has covered Me with his garment.” So the reward for these acts of mercy is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

St Martin of Tours

The goats, on the other hand, were punished for their sins of omission and thrown into the eternal fire with the devil and his angels. The fallen angels then are also separated from God for all eternity, and the fire must be a spiritual one because angels don’t have bodies. Perhaps the really shocking thing here is that the goats don’t find themselves there for sins like murder, adultery or the normal things we associate with grave sin, although those are described as grave sins in both the Old and New Testaments. Just as in last week’s Gospel of the Parable of the Talents, they find themselves there for sins of omission. They didn’t perform any works of mercy. In other words, they didn’t love their neighbour and therefore didn’t love God (1 John 4:20).

To conclude, let us have a look and see what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says about all this. First of all the Catechism says, “Jesus identifies Himself with the poor of every kind and makes active love toward them the condition for entering His kingdom (#544). So our love and care for the poor are a condition for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican

Secondly, the Church is very clear about the reality of Hell, and the teaching in the CCC is based on this Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love Him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against Him, against our neighbour or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:14-15). Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from Him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are His brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from Him for ever by our own free choice. [Emphasis mine]This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “Hell.” (#1033). So we should notice God respects our freedom and we have to choose freely to love Him. And if we choose to separate ourselves from His love, that is by definition, Hell.

The parable ends on a very positive note: “the virtuous” will enter into “eternal life.” When Our Lord speaks about Hell He always concludes with the reality of Heaven. That’s what we were taught to do in the seminary in Rome. So here is what the CCC says:

“Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they “see Him as He is,” face to face…This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called “Heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (#1023-1024).

I’m sure we all want to be happy for ever, with Our Lord, Our Lady and all the angels and saints, and that’s what Heaven is. So our liturgical year comes to an end with our eternal destiny of Heaven being set before our eyes where Christ reigns as King of all Creation. We have to decide if that’s what we want. This Parable of the Sheep and the Goats exhorts us to live lives of love now on earth so as we can spend an eternity of love and happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven.

God bless you all.

Fr Paul

“My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)

Letter from Fr Paul – 15 November 2020, Thirty-Third Sunday of the Year

15 Nov

Dear All,

We are now half way through the month of November during which we pray in earnest for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. We should pray for the Holy Souls always, but during November we intensify our efforts. Sadly, the idea of Purgatory has been thrown on the scrap heap these past few decades. Many never speak of this truth, and nowadays some even step back in horror at the mere mention of it. This is probably because the doctrine is not properly understood, and as a result the Holy Souls suffer because fewer people pray for them. However, the reality of Purgatory is a divinely revealed truth which is also contained in Sacred Scripture. I offer this week’s letter in the hope that it will inspire more people to pray for the Holy Souls.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches, “All who die in God’s grace, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven… The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (#1030-1031).

The final book of the Bible, the Apocalypse or Revelation states clearly that nothing defiled will come into the presence of God and see Him face to face (21:27). There can be nothing impure or imperfect in Heaven. Now suppose there were no Purgatory. God’s justice would be too terrible for words. What about those who are not as pure as they should be? Maybe they haven’t reached the perfection God had desired for them. Could any of us say that at the end of our earthly life we would be so pure and holy that we could stand before the most holy and immaculate God? I know I couldn’t! The point is that if we deny Purgatory, we send the vast majority of the human race to Hell. Without Purgatory, those with the slightest imperfections would have to be rejected by God. Haven’t we all done silly things, an uncharitable deed, engaged in idle talk? We may have had our sins forgiven, but have we paid the debt of sin in this life? Are the remnants of those sins still on our souls? Nothing impure can enter Heaven. Purgatory then is merciful. It is where God’s love tempers His justice. As I have often pointed out, even St Padre Pio thought that he would pass through Purgatory.

We call the souls in Purgatory the “Holy Souls” because they died with grace in their souls. This means they died as friends of God, but they still require some purification because every single sin and fault has to be expiated (Matthew 5:26). They are also referred to as “Poor Souls” because they can no longer help themselves get to Heaven. This is because we have to work out our salvation on earth in our bodies, because human beings are both body and spirit. So when the soul leaves the body at death, we can no longer merit. Therefore, the Holy Souls, the Poor Souls need outside help, and that’s where we come in (2 Maccabees 12:46). They depend on our prayers, the Indulgences we gain for them and the Masses we have said for them. And we should be helping them out because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and together we all make up the Communion of Saints. They are our family members.

The Communion of Saints: the Church Triumphant (in Heaven), the Church Militant (us on earth)
and the Church Suffering (the Holy Souls in Purgatory)

We pray to the saints in Heaven and they pray for us. And we pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory and they too pray for us. And we pray for each other here on earth – the Communion of Saints.

The CCC continues, “The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them” (#1032).

It is certain that the Souls in Purgatory are happy because their stay there is temporary and they know they are saved. Everyone in Purgatory will get to Heaven, but at the same time there is suffering because we have to pay back to God what we owe. St Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) says that although Purgatory is painful because we see all the horror of our own sins, it is incomparably joyful because God is with us there and we are learning to endure His truth and His light.

St Catherine of Genoa wrote a “Treatise on Purgatory”

Many private revelations reveal how the suffering of the souls in Purgatory can be relieved by us. I would like to relate a story from the book “Hungry Souls” by Gerard van den Aardweg first published in 2009. This is the story of a Bohemian widow who saw the dead. The souls asked her to tell her Parish Priest, Fr Hermann Wagner about these visits so as he would promote devotion to the souls in Purgatory. He was the only one who knew about the visits. Ruth (not her real name) was a quiet, rather pious lady in her fifties who did a lot of good. Her husband had died eight years before and her son had been killed during the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

One evening Ruth heard a voice which sounded like her husband’s but she wasn’t sure. She knelt down and prayed the Rosary for the Holy Souls and for her husband in particular because he had been rather impatient during his illness and had reproached God for it. She also took Holy Water and sprinkled it for him saying, “O Lord, give him eternal rest.” Then she saw her husband and he said quietly, “Don’t be afraid Ruth. It’s me. I’ve come to ask your help. Pray three Rosaries each day, and don’t tell anybody because they wouldn’t speak well of it.” Then he disappeared. But every day she prayed the three Rosaries asking God to forgive him for impatience during his suffering. After some weeks he appeared to her again, this time looking well and beautiful. “How are you Jacob?” she asked. “I’m fine. I may come home soon. I thank you Ruth. Thank you very much.” She wanted to embrace him but he declined saying, “Later Ruth. One day it will be wonderful. But I am allowed to tell you only one thing: others also want to come to you. God has given them permission. You can help them. Don’t reject them and never be afraid.” He vanished and she never saw him again. She assumed he must now be in Heaven.

Souls in Purgatory being delivered by the angels

No souls appeared to her for quite some time and her only son Jacob was killed on the battlefield in Poland. She continued to pray very hard for the Holy Souls and she would ask them how it was with her son Jacob. Then one afternoon, rather unexpectedly an old woman appeared. She was quite wrinkled and Ruth thought her quite frightening. At first she didn’t think she was a Poor Soul. On taking a closer look she thought if she weren’t so ugly it might be her grandmother who had died long ago. A little uncertain she asked, “Who are you? Do I know you?” The old woman replied, “You do know who I am. I am your Grandma Joanna.” Ruth asked what she could do for her to which she responded, “You can do a lot for me. Pray every day a Rosary especially for me and be really good to the poor, particularly when someone needs help.” Then she vanished. Ruth then remembered how her grandmother was very hard on others and had often scolded people. She hadn’t been very good at praying either. So Ruth prayed a Rosary for her everyday and although it wasn’t always easy she went every day to the church to pray for her too. She didn’t want to say no to such a request for help.

A few months later her grandmother appeared to her again, this time looking not nearly so wrinkled and she even smiled. “I thank you Ruth, you have helped me very much. At first my way up was so long and full of stones that I almost despaired. Now it is not so far anymore. I thank you Ruth.” She kept smiling and then said, “Don’t worry about your son Jacob. He is already in Heaven. He was lying all night in a crater severely wounded, but he called upon JESUS and put his wounds in His wounds. That way he died. His death was a death of sacrifice united with that of JESUS. And so his guardian angel took him straight up. Dying is beautiful if you love JESUS.”

Ruth thanked her grandmother for telling her all this and then Grandmother Joanna told her she would not be coming any more but others would. Many more did come and Ruth prayed and sacrificed for them and she released them from Purgatory. Some poor souls told Ruth they are often around their living family members and friends for years but receive no help. Ruth wrote down their complaints:

“You in the world have no inkling of what we have to suffer. Being abandoned and forgotten by those who have been nearest to us in the world: that is most bitter. Sometimes they stand at the tombs of our decayed bodies and don’t pray for us at all. They act as if we don’t exist anymore. God’s justice commands us to be silent. But we stand at the door of their houses, of our former dwellings, and wait. We stand there and wait, days, years. We wait for them to give us a small sign of their love by prayer and sacrifices. But we stay there in vain. Tell them through the priest: Love should not die at death. We are still alive and we are hungry for love. For your love!”

I find this a really moving story. The Holy Souls need our help. Don’t be deaf to their pleas. See the newsletter for the Indulgences you can gain for the Holy Souls by visiting a cemetery during the whole month of November. Pray the Rosary for them. Have Masses offered for them. Perform acts of charity on their behalf. In the words of St Padre Pio, “Let us empty Purgatory.” And remember, we are members of the Communion of Saints!

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.

God bless you all.

Fr Paul

Letter from Fr Paul – 8 November 2020, Thirty-Second Sunday of the Year

8 Nov

Dear All,

A number of people asked if in the event of another lockdown I would resume writing a weekly letter. So here it is. We are told it will be only for a month.

The Cardinal and some of our Bishops and also the Archbishop of Canterbury have appealed to the Prime Minister that churches should remain open for public worship. They have argued that public worship is vital to the life of the country and also that our churches with the rigorous measures we have put in place are certainly among the cleanest and safest places to be. Of course, it is also our duty to worship God in public because Christ is King and Lord of all and the whole universe is subject to Him.

On Wednesday I celebrated the last public Mass at St Mary’s before lockdown and it happened to be the feast of St Charles Borromeo (1538-84) which seemed very apt because he was Archbishop of Milan during the plague of 1576-78. This epidemic became known as the “St Charles Plague” because of the heroic way he responded to it.

St Charles Borromeo

Charles was born into a noble family in Milan in 1538 and his uncle, Cardinal Medici, became Pope Pius IV who made him a Cardinal before he was even ordained a priest so as he could administer the diocese of Milan. To be made a Cardinal before ordination was quite common in those times. Charles was then ordained at the age of 25 and he quickly became Archbishop of Milan and played a major role in the Council of Trent, which was basically the Catholic Church’s answer to the Reformation. The Council upheld Catholic teaching and decreed various reforms which St Charles vigorously implemented in Milan, including the proper education of priests, the importance of caring for the poor and he insisted on far greater reverence during the Mass.

When the plague broke out in Milan in 1576 Charles was attending a funeral of a bishop elsewhere, but when he heard the news, instead of keeping away he immediately returned to his Cathedral in Milan and begged God for mercy. Then without further ado, he went to the centre of the outbreak. When he finally got home he found officials waiting for him asking him to take charge of the situation since all the city’s leaders had fled!

The authorities out of fear of contagion had already forbidden public processions and religious ceremonies, and so many souls were being deprived of the Sacraments. St Charles said that it was because of this that the wrath of God had been called down upon Milan. Therefore, he told the officials that the only cure was to pray and do penance with greater fervour than before. 

Charles went out every day to visit the sick and dying and offered himself as a victim for the sins of his people. Although there were many priests in Milan, there were problems with their ministering to the dying, since many parishioners wouldn’t let their priests near them until the passage of time had shown they had remained healthy. Many priests in Milan went into hiding, fearing they might catch the disease. And so St Charles told them, “Do not be so forgetful of your priesthood as to prefer a late death to a holy one.” 

He went to the monasteries and asked the priests there for help. Many responded positively and heroically served the sick. After the plague subsided, not one of Charles’ companions had died, whereas many of those who refused to help had. But he also advised his priests not to “neglect human means, such as preventatives, remedies, doctors, everything that you can use to keep off infection, for such means are in no way opposed to our doing our duty.” He also said, “From the beginning I resolved to place myself entirely in God’s hands, without however despising ordinary remedies.” He issued many guidelines telling the faithful not to gather in crowds and to avoid contact with each other. Masses were held outdoors if the church was too small and he ordered more Masses be celebrated. Catechism classes were held on street corners. 

He told everyone to “take the plague of the soul into consideration more than the contagion of the body which, for many reasons, is less pernicious.” St Charles insisted on public prayer and penance. Ashes were constantly distributed. There were three processions a week during which he walked barefoot wearing a thick penitential cord around his neck. 

St Charles set up nineteen columns throughout the city where public Masses were celebrated every morning. This allowed the sick to attend Mass every day and the priests would distribute Holy Communion to all the victims of the plague through their windows. He was concerned chiefly for the spiritual welfare of his flock.

An engraving depicting St  Charles Borromeo ministering to the sick, circa 1880

By Christmas of 1577, the plague had become less widespread. Seventeen thousand people had died in Milan out of a population of one hundred and twenty thousand. However, in Venice which is a much smaller city, forty thousand people died in the same two years.  Why had Milan been spared from a greater loss? 

According to St Charles, “Not by our prudence, which was caught asleep. Not by science of the doctors who could not discover the sources of the contagion, much less a cure. Not by the care of those in authority who abandoned the city. No, my dear children, but only by the mercy of God.” 

St Charles died in 1584 at the young age of 46 having exhausted himself working in the vineyard of the Lord. His heart is preserved in the Basilica of San Carlo al Corso in Rome, which is cared for by the Rosminian Fathers.

The Altar with the relic of the incorrupt heart of St Charles Borromeo in Rome

Cardinal Vincent Nichols said on Radio 4 last Thursday that he expected the Government will soon abandon its ban on public worship. I think he is working hard behind the scenes. Let us pray through the intercession of St Charles Borromeo that this will come about quickly.

God bless you all.

Fr Paul

Letter from Fr Paul – 30 August 2020, 22nd Sunday of the Year

31 Aug

Dear All,

JESUS says in today’s Gospel, “If anyone wants to be a follower of Mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). And St Paul also says, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God … For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-23).

St Helena, (ca 248-330) who was the mother of the Emperor Constantine (272-337) went searching for the True Cross on which Our Lord was crucified because she recognised its power. Constantine, who at the time was a pagan had prayed to the True God to give him a sign of victory against his enemies. And so he saw a sign in the sky of a cross with the words “In hoc signo vinces” which means, “In this sign you shall conquer.” So Constantine put the Cross on his standard and shields and then marched into battle.  He was victorious at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 and went on from there to conquer all of the Roman Empire, east and west. This was the beginning of Christendom, because he ended the persecution against Christianity and made Catholicism the official religion of the Roman Empire. So recognising the power of the Cross, his mother St Helena went to Jerusalem to find the actual Cross on which Our Lord was crucified.

  

“Discovery of the True Cross” by Agnolo Gaddi, (1350-1396)

Pagan emperors years before had purposely piled masses of soil and rubble over Mount Calvary and built a pagan temple to prevent any Christians from worshipping at these holy sites. When St Helena arrived, being the mother of the Emperor, she ordered all the soil and rubble be taken out so that the Holy Places could be restored. After a lot of digging they came upon three crosses, but there was no sign on any of them.  Assuming that one was the True Cross and the other two belonged to the thieves crucified alongside Christ, a woman dying from a terminal disease was brought to the spot. She touched the crosses, one by one and after she touched the third cross, she was cured, thereby identifying the True Cross.

St Helena who found the True Cross

The Cross of Christ brings life because it has defeated death and the devil. The Cross is the instrument of salvation and it was chosen as such by God from all eternity. Just as the fall of Adam took place next to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so it would be by another tree, the Cross, that the Second Adam (JESUS) would bring salvation to this fallen world. The Cross of Christ was also pre-figured by Noah’s Ark which was made of wood. Just as those inside the Ark were saved from the flood, so we are saved from the shipwreck of sin and arrive safely at the port of Heaven by the Cross of Christ.

And so Our Lord tells us to take up our cross daily and follow Him. It is not only military battles that have been won through the Cross, but spiritual ones too thereby saving many souls. Just as Our Lord, the Head of the Mystical Body was victorious through the Cross, so we too who are members of His Mystical Body – the Catholic Church, must also gain victory through the Cross.

The best way for the Cross to touch us is through the Sacraments because we are given a share in the victory of Calvary when we receive them. At Baptism we are marked with the Sign of the Cross several times which signifies that our faith above all is a faith of the Holy Cross. When we are anointed with the Oil of Chrism at Confirmation to make us Soldiers of Christ we are again marked with the Sign of the Cross.

At Baptism we are marked several times with the Sign of the Cross

But there are other ways the Cross can come into our lives too: the pains and sufferings of life which we can offer up. We need to realise that crosses must come into our lives because they will save us. This is why God permits them. They can come in many forms: pain, grief at the death of a loved one, misunderstandings among friends and in families, financial problems and so on. This is all due to Original Sin – the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. If there had been no Original Sin there would be no suffering. There would be no death, disease or sickness in the world. But God permits these things because He knows He can bring a greater good out of it. The greater the struggles you have, the greater the graces and the victories will be. So let us use these struggles as a weapon to save our souls and those of others. Sickness and infirmities borne patiently can help us atone for our own sins and for those of others.

Connected to all this is what we call “Victim Souls”. A victim soul is a person especially called by God to sacrifice and suffer in union with Him for the conversion of souls, and in reparation for the sins of mankind. In other words, their mission is to lead souls to God. Examples would be St Faustina and St Padre Pio.

St Padre Pio bore the stigmata (wounds of Christ) for 50 years

There are so many sins in the world today, those of the ignorant and also those committed with malice by people who hate God, and then there are the infidelities of all of us. They all deserve God’s punishment. But God has given us two great means of averting this: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the voluntary expiation of sins made by generous souls. St Gemma Galgani (1878-1903) received the wounds of the Passion on her body which bled every Thursday and Friday. They would then disappear and return again the following week. In 1900 Our Lord said to her, “Victims of expiation are needed for the sins of the world. If only you could let the whole world know how incensed My Father is at the world. Even now He is preparing a severe chastisement for the whole human race.” The fulfilment of this prophecy was more than likely the First World War. We, by offering up our sufferings and trials can do the same, even though we are probably not called upon to do so to the same degree as these great saints did.

St Gemma Galgani

This is a huge topic, but one final point I would like to mention now, and hopefully it will be a reassuring one, is that if you have much to suffer, it is a sign that God has a high degree of glory planned for you in Heaven. If you have many crosses to bear in spite of the fact you have tried hard to lead a good life and love God above all else, it is a great sign for you for eternity. Just as some stars are more brilliant than others, so the saints in Heaven have different degrees of glory. Those who converted just before death will no doubt have a lower degree of glory than those who led lives of heroic virtue. Now suppose God has planned for you a very high place in Heaven, but you don’t have the inclination or will to attain it and you are content with avoiding any serious sins, you say your prayers, attend Mass and do many good works. But that is not enough for what God intends for you. So He uses the Cross – this could be pain, tribulation, temptation and sickness. God is preparing you now for a marvelous glory He has prepared for you in Heaven. Just as the vine has to be pruned year after year to bear really good fruit, so our souls need pruning and refining to be worthy to take our place among the highest choirs of the angels and saints. By our own efforts we cannot attain this, and so God purifies and refines us by sending us crosses and sufferings. Let us always remember the words of St Paul, no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

God bless you all.

Fr Paul

Letter from Fr Paul – 23 August 2020, 21st Sunday of the Year

23 Aug

Dear All,

Inscribed around the inside of the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in Latin in letters six feet high are the words of Our Lord to Simon Peter from today’s Gospel: “Tu  es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam.” “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church.” (Matthew 16:18).

The inscription inside the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. “Tu es Petrus”

This is the promise of the Primacy to Peter, and we believe that this is not only a primacy of honour but also of jurisdiction. Peter received from Our Lord supreme authority to teach and govern the whole Church. And Peter has a line of successors in this who we call the Popes. Pope Francis is the 266th Successor of St Peter.

Peter’s name to begin with was Simon and it was Our Lord who changed it. “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter) (John 1:42) and Peter means rock. Whenever someone’s name is changed in Scripture, it signifies a new vocation. Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel and so on. Peter is going to be the foundation of the Church Christ will found. “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church.” So Our Lord compares His Church to a house that is built on a rock which will give it stability and which will be its foundation, and that rock is Peter. Note here that JESUS says Church (singular) and not churches. The Church is His Body and He cannot have many bodies. There is only one Church – the Catholic Church which is founded on a single man who is to have divine assistance, and that man is Peter. There is a famous phrase coined by St Ambrose of Milan (ca. 340-397) in the Fourth Century: “Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia.” “Where Peter is, there is the Church.”

Our Lord also gives Peter the “Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” or the keys of the Church.  Keys were regarded by the Jews as a symbol of ownership or supreme authority so that he who holds the keys is the master of the house. Therefore Peter is to be the ruler of the Church. He is also given the power of binding and loosing. Whatever Peter commands or forbids, he does it in the name of Christ. The keys are the symbol of the Papacy and you can see the crossed keys on the notice board outside our church.

“The Delivery of the Keys” by Pietro Perugino, (ca 1446-1523)

As I have said above, this was the occasion of the promise of the Primacy, but the conferral of the Primacy took place after the Resurrection when three times Our Lord asked Peter if he loved Him and three times Peter replied in the affirmative. JESUS said, “Feed My lambs, feed My sheep.” (John 21:15-17). Our Lord here gives Peter complete jurisdiction over the Universal Church. JESUS said of Himself, “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11) and He is now delegating that authority to Peter.

Peter might seem an extraordinary choice on Our Lord’s part to be the visible Head of the Church on earth. After all, he denied three times that he even knew Him and Our Lord had prophesied this. He said to Peter, “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32). And St Paul tells us, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor. 1:27) And we should not assume that these powers given to Peter were to end with him. The powers are transferred to his successors – the Popes. St Peter was the first Pope. The Pope has to guard the Deposit of Faith and feed the flock with the Truth. We believe that in order to do that, the Pope under certain conditions has the charism of infallibility. That is to prevent him from formally teaching error on faith and morals. I have already written about this in more detail in my letter of 28th June.

Just as an illustration of God protecting His Church from formally teaching error, Pope Sixtus V who reigned for just five years (1585-90) did much good in reforming the Church. But he made a grave mistake in trying to reform St Jerome’s translation of the Bible (Latin Vulgate) which was the official translation. At this time there were many versions of it in circulation so the Pope wanted to provide the best and most accurate version, particularly as Protestantism was really gaining ground at this time. So he got together a group of scholars which included St Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) and they began the revision process. Pope Sixtus didn’t like their work, abandoned the commission and decided to do it himself, something which was way above his intellectual ability. When he showed the Cardinals what he had done, it was full of errors, parts had been missed out and he had even added things in. This was a serious danger to the Church as Protestants would inevitably say the Pope thinks he is equal to God in changing His Word and would effectively be trying to correct the Holy Spirit. Needless to say there was huge opposition to the Pope’s plans from important theologians and scholars and Pope Sixtus was about to make shipwreck of the doctrine of infallibility. He was preparing to promulgate his work as the only official version of the Scriptures in the Catholic Church. The Papal Bull was already written, and copies of his new translation were already bound and delivered to all the Cardinals in Rome. It seemed nothing could stop him and all he had to do was to formally promulgate the Bull. But then he died. He had been in excellent health up to this point and had been one of the most active Popes ever. The advance copies were quietly withdrawn by the Cardinals and the Papal Bull never saw the light of day. Did God intervene and prevent Sixtus V from formally teaching error to the whole Church? Who knows, but his death prevented him from crossing that line.

The Church will also last till the end of time because “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18) and the Gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth and all brought into the Church which as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is His Body” (#846).

There have been many throughout history who have sought to destroy the Church and the Papacy, but they will always fail because of Christ’s promise that He would be with His Church until the end of time (Matthew 28:20).

Pope Pius VII

Napoleon Bonaparte (1768-1821) was a baptised Catholic but during much of his life made many threats against the Church and the Pope. In 1804 he insisted the Servant of God, Pope Pius VII (1742-1823) came to Paris to crown him as emperor. When the Pope arrived he was very badly treated and during the coronation ceremony Napoleon famously took the crown from the Pope’s hands and placed it on his own head! Afterwards he tried to bully the Pope into moving the Papacy to Paris so as he could control the Church to which the Pope replied, “How well you act comedy.” Napoleon was so furious that he tore a drawing of St Peter’s Basilica to shreds in front of the Pope declaring, “This is what I shall do to the Church – I will crush her utterly.” To this, Pius VII calmly replied, “Now you act tragedy.”

The Coronation of Napoleon in 1804  by Jacques-Louis David. Pope Pius VII is seated on the right

A few years later, in 1809, Napoleon seized the Papal States – these were territories in Italy which belonged to the Church. From that moment Napoleon’s fortunes changed. Four days later, he suffered his first major defeat in battle. Later on he had Pope Pius arrested which resulted in the Pope excommunicating him. Napoleon reacted, “Does he suppose the [weapons] will fall from the hands of my soldiers?” Strangely enough this is exactly what happened. When he invaded Russia he was forced to retreat during the brutal Russian winter, with many soldiers becoming so weak due to the cold they could no longer carry their weapons. Napoleon was eventually defeated and sent into exile. He sometimes amused himself by complaining about the Church and pretending any religion was superior to Catholicism, but he also begged the Pope to send him a Catholic chaplain, while also praising JESUS Christ as truly divine, and stating that “The nations of the earth pass away, and thrones fall to the ground; the Church alone remains.” Napoleon learned the hard way that Our Lord’s promise to Peter will never fail.

No one, and nothing, will ever overcome the Catholic Church. To sum it all up, the great Archbishop Venerable Fulton Sheen (1895-1979), speaking of the Church in the first person singular wrote:

“I have adapted myself to every form of government the world has ever known; I have lived with Caesars and kings, tyrants and dictators, parliaments and presidents, monarchies and republics. I have welcomed every advance of science, and were it not for me the great records of the pagan world would not have been preserved. It is true I have not changed my doctrine, but that is because ‘the doctrine is not mine but His that sent me.’ I have changed my garments, which belong to time, but not my Spirit, which belongs to eternity. In the course of my long life, I have seen so many modern ideas become unmodern, that I know I shall live to chant a requiem over the modern ideas of this day as I chanted it over the modern ideas of the last century.

I shall grow weak when my members become rich and cease to pray, but I shall never die. I shall be crucified as I was on Calvary, but I shall rise again. And finally when time shall be no more, and I shall have grown to my full stature, then shall I be taken into Heaven as the bride of my Head, Christ.”

May God bless you all.

Fr Paul

Pope Francis, Vicar of Christ and the 266th Successor of St Peter