Newsletter for Sunday 9 August 2020

7 Aug

God Never Abandons Us

Today’s Gospel is the well-known story of the disciples in a boat battling against a stormy sea when JESUS suddenly comes walking towards them on the water and says, “Courage! It is I! Don’t be afraid.”  The disciples are terrified and think they are seeing a ghost. But the ever-impulsive Peter takes the matter into his own hands and starts to walk out towards JESUS on the stormy waters, but then after a few steps he takes his eyes off JESUS and begins to sink. He cries out, “Lord, save me!” JESUS holds His hand out to Peter and says, “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Now this Gospel story isn’t merely an event from the past. It continues to happen over and over again throughout history. And the point of it is that just because we have to endure trials it doesn’t mean we have been abandoned by God. This applies to the Church and to all of us as individuals. Trials and sufferings make us grow and they can make us stronger. So, when we have to endure trials, and we all have to at some point in our lives, it is good to ask ourselves, “What is God trying to say to me here? What can I learn from it?

One of the things we can always learn from a trial is that we get through it by the grace of God and not by our own strength. Compare Peter in this Gospel to what he came to be later on. He went through a lot and by the time the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles at Pentecost he was a different man. In the Gospel, Peter denies Our Lord three times, but then later on in the Acts of the Apostles he twice endured prison for preaching the Gospel. All the Apostles felt privileged to be able to suffer for JESUS. St Paul tells us in Second Corinthians, how he was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, thirsty, cold and naked, all for the spread of the Gospel (2 Corinthians    11:24-28).

St John Vianney, also known as the Curé of Ars (1786-1859), whose feast we celebrated last week couldn’t pass his exams to become a priest. In the end, by much prayer, by God’s grace and a very helpful priest he did just enough to be ordained, but even then he was ordained more for his holiness and virtue than for any qualifications. John became one of the greatest Confessors in the history of the Church, and he is now Patron Saint of Parish Priests!

So when we have to go through a trial let us abandon ourselves to JESUS as the saints did. Let us learn to trust Him now in these difficult times and allow His grace to work on us so as we become the human beings He intends us to be. 

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 2 August 2020

31 Jul

“Nothing Can Come Between Us and the Love of Christ”

The above quote comes from today’s Second Reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Romans. Two points: Firstly, this is a controversial passage of Scripture because some people say this means that once a person has come to believe in JESUS and accept Him as their Saviour, salvation is assured regardless of what you do or how you live your life. Well the Catholic Church has never interpreted it in this way. First of all because when Paul lists what won’t be able to separate us from the love of Christ, he lists sufferings, not sins. Paul does not say that blasphemy, fornication, idolatry, theft or murder won’t separate you from the love of Christ. Rather he says distress, persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger and the sword, which are very different. Paul continues, “These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of Him who loved us.” So it is actually through trials and sufferings that we become victorious, just as Our Lord Himself did on the Cross.

Second point: we are talking about spiritual battle here. “Neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, or any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ JESUS our Lord.” There are good angels and bad angels. There are invisible powers that are the enemy of God at work in this world. None of these things can separate us from God’s love as hard as they might try. They may persecute you, tempt you or even attack you but we must not fear. God never abandons His Church no matter how bad things get.

The Church is being persecuted in many places throughout the world now. In some countries like China it is full on, but in other places it can be more subtle through fines or taxes. We may be denied our freedom of worship, freedom of speech, or attempts may be made to prevent us from preaching certain truths Christ taught because they don’t fit with the contemporary world view. It has been reported this past week that quoting from the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church in Scotland could soon be regarded as hate speech if a new bill is passed in Parliament.

These words of Our Lord come to mind: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). JESUS wants His followers to be different from those who are not. The great Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) said decades ago, “One of the surprises of Heaven will be to see how many saints were made in the midst of chaos, and war and revolution.” We are in a spiritual war right now. JESUS is Lord of all and nothing occurs without His permitting it. These may be tough times to live in, but it is where God has placed each of us in history and it is an opportunity to become a great saint. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us! St Michael the Archangel, pray for us!

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 26 July 2020

24 Jul

Our Need of the Sacraments

A limited schedule of public Masses was resumed at St Mary’s last Tuesday after nearly four months of your absence. Around 30 people were present and it was great to have you back because we priests have missed you all. Thanks be to God we were able to put all the strict requirements in place to enable us to open safely for the public celebration of Mass. A number of parishes will not be able to do this so we are truly blessed. A very big thank you to all those who have helped make this possible.  If you feel uneasy about coming to church at this time please stay at home. The obligation to hear Mass on Sundays is still suspended until further notice. Also with the limit on numbers not everyone is going to be able to get a place each week. We hope to have an online booking system in place soon, so for the time being places are on a “first come first served” basis. The church will open 15 minutes before Mass is scheduled to begin. We could still do with a few more volunteers under 70 years of age for stewarding and cleaning. Please let me know if you are able to help.

For Catholics the Sacraments are very important. Many of you have told me you have come to a greater realisation of this during lockdown, and they must be important because Christ instituted them all for our benefit. Due to Original Sin we are all sinners and the Sacraments help to make us holy, they help us to become saints and win Heaven. The Sacrament to which all the others point is, of course, the Holy Eucharist because the Holy Eucharist is Christ Himself, and so we must always receive Him reverently and worthily. So to increase our worthiness we go to Confession even if we’re not in serious sin. God loves us so much He gives us Himself in spite of our unworthiness. So let’s sweep the house clean! If we are aware of any unconfessed serious sin, we ought not to receive Holy Communion until we have a made a Sacramental Confession and received Absolution. Make a Spiritual Communion instead. We are only obliged to receive Holy Communion once a year. A priest is available for Confessions in the church on Saturday mornings between 10.30 and 11.30am and on request. If you’re in a state of grace the devil can’t harm you, but if you’re not, you’re fodder for him. Give yourself the protection. It has been hard in recent months with Confession not being so easily available, so I would encourage you now to make use of it.

We are trying hard to ensure Holy Communion is distributed as safely as possible, but if anyone is apprehensive about the risk of contagion at Holy Communion, you are advised not to receive until the present danger has subsided, and then again, make a Spiritual Communion instead.“Sweet Sacrament! we Thee adore! O, make us love Thee more and more!”

 Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 19 July 2020

17 Jul

From Great Sinner to Great Saint

In today’s Gospel we hear another well-known parable: ‘The Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel’ in which the enemy comes to a field during the night and sows darnel or weeds among the wheat in order to ruin the crops. Once the wheat begins to grow the servants notice the weeds coming through, and so they ask the sower of the good seed if they should weed it out, to which he responds, “No. Let them both grow till the harvest, and at that time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.” Our Lord a little further on explains that the parable refers to the Kingdom of God and the Final Judgement. The good seeds are the subjects of the Kingdom, who are going to shine like the sun in Heaven for eternity after the Final Judgement. And the weeds or darnel are “the subjects of the evil one” who unless they repent in this life will be thrown into “the blazing furnace” or Hell which is eternal punishment and separation from God.

Now we might be tempted to think when we hear this parable and Our Lord’s explanation of it, “Well, that’s good! Those evil people deserve their comeuppance while the good people get rewarded”, but this is not the best response. Our Lord wants us to be concerned not only for the well-being of the just but also of those on the path to ruin, and these days that’s a very easy path to get on. Yes, on the Day of Judgement everyone will have to answer for every thought, word, deed and omission, but before this, God wants to give everyone that is on the path to destruction the opportunity to repent and gain eternal life.

The story of Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926) is an extraordinary one. Although he was brought up in a staunch Italian Catholic family, he turned away from the Faith, began attending séances and ended up becoming a satanic priest. He pulled other people away from the Church and also became involved in drugs. Being so heavily involved in satanism and being exposed to the horrible satanic rituals caused him to suffer from serious depression and paranoia and eventually a total breakdown. However, his family never gave up on him. They stormed Heaven with prayers for his return to God, and their prayers were later answered. He returned to the Catholic Faith and left behind his involvement with the occult. He became a Third Order Dominican and dedicated his life to bringing people into the Faith, particularly through Our Lady and the Holy Rosary. Many converted because of him.

No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace and forgiveness and it is wonderful that we can help change darnel into wheat by helping people through prayer and deed. Pray and make sacrifices for the family member who has stopped going to church, the young person who is always in trouble with the police, the former friend who can’t let go of a grudge, or the neighbour who never stops gossiping. The whole of Heaven rejoices when such a miracle of grace takes place.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 12 July 2020

11 Jul

Parable of the Sower

Today we hear the well-known Parable of the Sower in the Gospel. God created us with free will and we are all free to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation. But all the time there are outside influences trying to get us to choose what is bad for us.

Satan is represented here by the birds that eat the seed of the path. Satan and his legions are always trying to tempt us to disobey God’s commandments. “Oh go on. It’s nothing. God won’t mind. It’s not that serious. After all, you can always go to Confession after!” But will you get that opportunity to confess? “Oh, but you don’t need to go to Confession. Just go to God direct. Confess to a priest? That’s just medieval superstition!” The evil one uses these subtle temptations to break our relationship with our Heavenly Father who loves us, and who desires nothing more than our eternal salvation.

Then there is the rocky soil. Often God asks us to make a sacrifice and carry our cross. But our desire for the comforts and pleasures of life cause us to resist and opt for the comfortable option.

The soil that fell among the thorns represents the culture we live in. This fallen world promises us all sorts of pleasures, but they will never satisfy us because we are made for God alone, and only He can satisfy us. That’s why when we get something we have always wanted we will soon after desire something else. It’s only when we follow God’s Will that we will be satisfied. St Augustine famously said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”

So, we have to cooperate with God’s grace. There is a school of thought that says that we human beings are not free to change our lives because everything is controlled by instinct or other forces beyond our control. This is not true. God is ultimately in charge of everything, but we do have free will, and the choices we make can have a lasting effect on ourselves and others. This parable teaches us that that while God offers the gift of faith to everyone, people respond to it in many different ways. Some will ignore it or reject it altogether while others will accept it only in a half-hearted manner. Some though will take it to heart and make it bear much spiritual fruit. Only the last group is truly pleasing to God, and only they have the assurance of the Kingdom of Heaven. So let us give God the chance to bear a rich fruit in our lives. The wonders He can produce in us when we cooperate with His grace are truly amazing! Let us pray that we will recognise these gifts and opportunities when they are offered so that we can truly make a difference in the world.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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