Newsletter for Sunday 31 January 2021

29 Jan

JESUS the Exorcist

Last weekend at Mass I mentioned that one of the primary themes of Mark’s Gospel which we are reading this year is the idea of JESUS as exorcist. In today’s Gospel reading (Mark 1:21-28) we have the first of those stories with Our Lord setting a man free who is possessed by an evil spirit. As Our Lord approaches the man, the evil spirit cries out in a panic, “What do You want with us JESUS of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know Who You are: the Holy One of God.” And JESUS says, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” And the man is immediately set free. This is an important incident because one of the signs of the coming of the Messiah would be that He would overthrow the devil and drive out demonic forces (Genesis 3:15). And this was the first of many such encounters in the Gospel.

It is very popular today to deny the existence of the devil, but the Gospel teaches us that he and the demonic world are very real indeed, and being fallen angels they want us to share in their eternal damnation. Sceptics also like to say that stories of possession in the Bible are nothing more than cases of epilepsy or psychological disorders which at the time were mistaken for something more sinister. There is no doubt Our Lord, Who is God, believed in the reality of Satan and the evil spirits, and He would certainly be able to tell the difference between demonic possession and physical or psychological disorders. In fact, he cured them all. The frequent exorcisms He performed are a sign of His power over evil and a proof of His authority to set people free. He has overthrown the power of sin and death and He wants us to share in that victory.

Genuine demonic possessions are very rare, so we should never worry about it, but we all suffer from temptations. Pope Francis says we shouldn’t approach the devil or talk to him because, “like a rabid chained dog, he’ll bite if you try to caress him. His proposals are nothing but lies, but we fools believe him.” Things such as horoscopes, Ouija boards, clairvoyants and fortune tellers are dabbling with evil and we must have nothing to do with them. Neither is there any such thing as “white” magic.

We are in this special Year of St Joseph who is invoked as “Terror of Demons”. St Joseph’s fatherhood has power and the two greatest people that ever lived on this earth, JESUS and Mary, subjected themselves to him. Now in Heaven, St Joseph’s intercessory power is a serious threat to the kingdom of darkness. The lily he holds in his hand (see St Joseph’s statue in the church) is like a sword of purity which will slay every form of filth and darkness if we invoke him. In the words of Fr Donald Calloway, an authority on St Joseph: “one word from his mouth routs the forces of darkness as an axe levels a field of trees.”

St Joseph, Terror of Demons, protect us.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 24 January 2021

22 Jan

The Sacred Scriptures are Inspired by God

This Sunday, the Third in Ordinary Time, is observed as a day devoted especially to the Word of God or the Sacred Scriptures. The Bible consists of 72 books which were written by men who were inspired by God. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) put it like this: “In composing the sacred books, God chose men, and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted” (Dei Verbum, #11). So these human authors, although they were moved by God, wrote in their own styles and with their own thoughts, but only what God wanted them to write. The Second Vatican Council confirmed all previous teaching on this topic by saying, “everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit” and goes on to say that since the Holy Spirit obviously cannot confirm error, there is no error in the Bible.

However, there can sometimes be difficulties in the text, but we have to have humility and recognise our own limitations. St Augustine in a letter to St Jerome in the Fourth Century wrote, “If I come across anything in those Scriptures which troubles me because it seems contrary to the truth, I will unhesitatingly lay the blame elsewhere: perhaps the manuscript is untrue to the original, or the translator has not rendered the passage faithfully, or perhaps I have not understood it.” In seeking to understand difficult passages, it is important we look at the human limitations of the authors and their cultures, their languages and the literary genres they used. Sometimes we have to ask if a particular book or passage is meant to be historical or whether it is an allegory or a parable or even a combination of both. Our Lord Himself spoke very directly to people but He also used parables. The sacred authors do the same.

It is clear then that in reading the Bible we need guidance. That guidance comes from the Catholic Church which Christ gave authority to teach in His Name (Luke 10:16). The theory of “private interpretation” which emerged during the sixteenth century Reformation has caused thousands of different sects to arise with different beliefs and practices, all claiming to be based on the Bible. This is just one reason why from the earliest days of the Church Scripture has been read aloud in the Sacred Liturgy and then explained by the bishop or the priest.

One of the best ways to read Scripture is to read daily what has been selected by the Church to be read at Mass. In this way we read what is appropriate for the time of year and thus we grow in the spiritual life within the framework of the Sacred Liturgy.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 17 January 2021

15 Jan

Your Body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit

St Paul in today’s Second Reading (1 Corinthians 6:13-20) tells the Corinthians something that might have sounded strange to them. He tells them to glorify God in their bodies. Corinth was a Greek city, and for the Greeks the body was an unimportant thing. For them, only the soul mattered, and they thought the soul in this life was imprisoned inside this mortal body of ours. As a result they tended to have a very lax attitude when it came to sexual morality. Since the body wasn’t important they could do with it whatever they liked. But for us as Christians, this is not the case.

Since the Incarnation, human flesh has been united to the Godhead, and so in Baptism we become part of the Body of Christ (the Church) and our body becomes a Temple of the Holy Spirit. And so St Paul then rightly says, “the body is not meant for fornication; it is for the Lord.”  And in verse 16 he continues, “Do you think I can take parts of Christ’s body and join them to the body of a prostitute? Never!” What St Paul is trying to say here is that what Christians do with their bodies, Christ does through them because they are members of His Body. And this is great when we do good things, but if a person engages in mortal sin and particularly sexual sin, Paul is saying you are uniting Christ with a prostitute. And God forbid, he says, that someone do something like that. He continues, “flee from any sexual immorality” because any other sin a person commits is outside the body, but in this case he sins against his own body which is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. It is a desecration of something that is holy and therefore a serious thing. So, says Paul, you have to understand, “You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for.” He is referring here to Christ pouring out His Blood for us on the Cross to pay the ransom for our sins.

So what does all this mean for us? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “All the baptised are called to chastity. The Christian has “put on Christ,” the model for all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life” (#2348). Chastity here means to avoid all sexual sin. So those who are married are called to conjugal chastity, where sexual union and procreation are one of the ends of marriage. But the unmarried are called to chastity in continence, that is abstaining from sexual relations. Therefore, strive to be faithful because your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 10 January 2021

8 Jan

The Sacrament of Baptism & Sanctifying Grace

Today is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Baptism is the first of the Seven Sacraments, all of which were instituted by Christ. By it we are made members of the Church and heirs of Heaven, and so the day of Baptism is the most important day of our lives, and parents should not delay in having their children receive it.  Due to our fallen nature, we are all born in a state of Original Sin; that is without sanctifying grace (the life of God) in us. Baptism fixes this, and if we receive the Sacrament after the age of reason, all our personal sins as well as all due punishment is removed too. In Baptism we receive sanctifying grace into our souls and we are thus born into the supernatural life and become the adopted sons and daughters of God. We need sanctifying grace in our souls to get to Heaven. Think of it like this. We cannot fly by ourselves because it is beyond our natural powers to do so. We need a flying machine. The same is true of the spiritual life. If we rely on our natural powers to get to Heaven after death, we won’t make it. So we have to receive supernatural powers, which are above our human nature, which can only come as a free gift from God. So the most important thing in life is whether or not we have sanctifying grace in our souls, and that sanctifying grace is first given at Baptism. (I know there is also Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood. I will expand on this on another occasion). We can lose sanctifying grace through mortal sin, because mortal sin kills the supernatural life in us. This is why Our Lord instituted the Sacrament of Confession which is for the forgiveness of sins after Baptism, and if we have any mortal sins, by humbly confessing them and receiving absolution, sanctifying grace is restored to our souls. Dare I say it again, this is why to confess regularly is so important and why it was so disastrous spiritually not to have it freely available during recent lockdowns. We’re talking about eternal life here!

JESUS is the new Adam and the first of a new humanity. As He was baptised in the waters by John, God’s Spirit, like a dove descended on Him and anointed Him, ushering in the start of the new Creation in Christ. And so St Paul can say, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). St Mark in today’s Gospel tells us that the heavens were literally “torn asunder” at our Lord’s Baptism, meaning that Heaven is then dramatically opened to us. St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) teaches that when Our Lord was baptised by John, He sanctified the waters. As that muddy water from the Jordan poured down over His body, the Spirit of God entered it. No longer would Baptism be merely symbolic (as was the case with John’s baptism). Now it would truly cleanse the soul and fill it with divine life, with sanctifying grace. What was muddy is now the instrument of purity. Divinity enters humanity and we now become sharers in His divinity, thus giving us the ability to enter Heaven.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 3 January 2021

2 Jan

The Year of St Joseph

This is the first newsletter of 2021 and so on behalf of all the priests I wish you all a very Happy New Year. I think we are probably all glad to see the back of 2020 as a lot of people have had a very tough time of it, and we have all had some sufferings and trials. Let us offer them up in union with the Cross of Christ and invoke the help of Our Lady and St Joseph for an end to the pandemic that has been plaguing the whole world this past year and for a good solution to all the problems of Brexit. We also thank God for the blessings we have received in 2020 and that we were able to celebrate Christmas Mass together publicly. This was not the case everywhere in the world.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Pope Francis has declared a Year of St Joseph to mark the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. It runs from 8th December 2020 to 8th December 2021. I think it is great news and is very timely with the situation in which we find ourselves in the Church and the world today. The Church today needs the protection of St Joseph more than ever as She is under attack both from the outside and the inside. When the Church is in trouble, so will the world be. Pope St Paul VI famously said in 1972, “the smoke of Satan has entered the Church”, and we have seen so much evidence of that in recent decades with many scandals reaching even to the highest levels of the Church. But this is the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30). In God’s own good time the wheat and the weeds will be separated and a new period of glory will be given to the Church, the Bride of Christ. God can always bring good out of a bad situation. Let us invoke St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church to bring about the new reign of Christ in the world and the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, promised by Our Lady of Fatima. Here is a lovely prayer to St Joseph by St Francis de Sales (1567-1622) which seems very apt for our times:

Glorious St Joseph, Spouse of the Virgin Mary, we beseech you through the Heart of  JESUS Christ, grant to us your fatherly protection. O you, whose power reaches all our necessities and who knows how to make possible the most impossible things, open your fatherly eyes to the needs of your children. In the confusion and pain which press upon us, we have recourse to you with confidence. Deign to take beneath your charitable guidance this important difficult affair, the cause of our worries, and make that its happy outcome serve for the glory of God and the good of His devoted servants. Amen.

St Joseph, Protector of the Holy Church, pray for us!

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Regrettably it has not been possible to provide the Liturgy for 3 January.