Newsletter for Sunday 15 August 2021

13 Aug

Mary, true Ark of the Covenant

The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven is a very great and ancient Feast. When we say Mary was assumed into Heaven, we don’t only acknowledge her soul being taken up into Heaven as is the case with everyone else who has made it there. Mary, at the conclusion of her earthly life was taken up soul and body into Heaven. In other words, her body never turned to dust in the grave. Just as Adam and Eve would not have turned to dust had they not sinned, so Mary, being immaculately conceived and having never sinned retained the gift which Eve lost by sinning, and so her body suffered no corruption.

One of Our Lady’s titles is ‘Ark of the Covenant’. Today’s First Reading from the book of the Apocalypse (11:19, 12:1-6, 10) opens with John’s vision of Heaven in which he sees the Ark of the Covenant there. “The sanctuary of God in Heaven opened, and the Ark of the Covenant could be seen inside it.” The Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament had been lost for centuries before the birth of Our Lord, and now it suddenly appears in Heaven in this reading. The Ark of the Old Testament was a pre-figuring of Mary, the true Ark of the Covenant. Whereas the Ark of the Old Testament contained the stone tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written, the manna (sweet bread) with which God fed the Israelites in the wilderness, and the rod of Aaron the High Priest, Mary contained in her womb JESUS the living Word of God (not just written on stone), JESUS the Bread of Life and fulfilment of the Old Testament manna, and JESUS the eternal High Priest. The Ark was also made of acacia wood which is incorruptible and doesn’t rot. So just like the Ark was made of incorruptible wood, Mary’s body is incorruptible. It is not going to rot in a tomb but rather be taken up into Heaven.

And so as soon as John sees the Ark in the sanctuary in Heaven, all of a sudden the image switches, and now he sees a woman in Heaven, almost as if the two images are superimposed on one another. “Now a great sign appeared in Heaven, a woman adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown.” The ‘woman’ here is clearly Mary and she is in Heaven.

This is how Pope Benedict XVI put it in his homily for the Feast in 2011: “The passage from the Book of the Apocalypse also indicates another important aspect of Mary’s reality. As the living Ark of the Covenant, she has an extraordinary destiny of glory because she is so closely united to the Son whom she welcomed in faith and generated in the flesh, as to share fully in His glory in Heaven. This is what the words we have heard suggest: ‘A great sign appeared in Heaven, a woman adorned with the sun …’ (Apoc 12:1) … Mary, Mother of God, full of grace, fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, already lives in God’s Heaven with her whole being, body and soul.”

But what does all this matter to us? What Mary has now, we hope to enjoy one day. As St Alphonsus Liguori said, “JESUS did not wish to have the body of Mary corrupted after death, since it would have redounded to His own dishonour to have her virginal flesh, from which He Himself had assumed flesh, reduced to dust.”

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 8 August 2021

6 Aug

Food for the Journey

As a child my mother used to tell me the fascinating story of a German mystic, Therese Neumann (1898-1962) who had many heavenly visions and saw many scenes from the life of Our Lord. Like St Padre Pio and St Francis of Assisi she bore the stigmata – the wounds of Christ on her body. Although bedridden for many years due to an accident, she physically relived the Passion of Christ every Friday and would clinically die at 3pm (the traditional hour of Our Lord’s death), meaning that all the vital signs of life would disappear from her only to return a short time later. Countless bishops, priests and laity would visit her each year and witness all this first hand, including the fact that for twenty years she took no food or drink and lived only on Holy Communion. Many doctors and even some priests thought it a hoax, and so on one occasion she was closely examined for fifteen days, never being left alone for an instant, during which time she took no nourishment except for Holy Communion. But her health and weight remained the same as before. When asked how this could be Therese replied, “The Saviour can do all things. Did He not say that, “My Flesh is real food, and My Blood is real drink?”

God sometimes allows miracles like this to verify the fact that His Son truly is the Bread from Heaven and that we really receive Him in Holy Communion. When Our Lord says in today’s Gospel that He is the living bread come down from Heaven and whoever who eats this bread will live forever, this is the Holy Eucharist (John 6:41-51). Just as the prophet Elijah in the First Reading (1 Kings 19:4-8) couldn’t complete his journey without the nourishment miraculously provided by God, similarly we cannot complete our earthly journey without the supernatural food given us by Christ. This is why He instituted the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, because He knew we would need it for our journey towards eternal life in Heaven.

We have a great privilege as Catholics to be able to receive JESUS in the Holy Eucharist so we must thank Our Lord profoundly for this great gift and we must strive for great purity of soul in order to receive Him worthily. St Padre Pio once said with great trepidation, “God sees stains even in the angels. What must He see in me?” Therefore he was very diligent in going to Confession frequently. St Thérèse of Lisieux, if she was aware of the slightest venial sin on her soul, would refrain from receiving Holy Communion until she had been to Confession. This was one of the main reasons Pope St Pius X lowered the age of First Holy Communion to seven years to allow JESUS to enter the innocent hearts of children. So we should not receive if we are aware of any unconfessed mortal sin, because otherwise as St Ambrose said, “we enter church with a few sins and leave it burdened with many.”

One of the most consoling things for a Catholic has to be our final Holy Communion or ‘Viaticum’ which means ‘food for the journey’ when death is approaching. It’s a great grace when this happens. When our earthly life is failing we look to JESUS, the life of our immortal souls and remember His promise, “He who eats this Bread shall live forever” (John 6:59).

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 1 August 2021

31 Jul

Making a Life and not just a Living

Last week Jesus performed the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and all the people who witnessed the amazing miracle wanted to make Jesus king. Making Jesus king was the same thing as asking him to lead them in a revolution against the Roman Empire. The Israelites at that time were an occupied territory, ruled by the Romans, so the people were looking for a revolutionary leader to help them win freedom.                                               

But Jesus didn’t come to earth in order to spark a political revolution. He had a much bigger agenda, and so do His followers. He tries to explain this to them. He says: “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” True Christians, in other words, understand that real fulfilment comes from more than just making a living; it comes from making a life.

Many of our Lord’s most famous sayings taught the same lesson: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:4), for example, and “seek first the Kingdom of God(Matthew 6:33), and “what does a man gain if he wins the whole world but loses his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

Our life on earth is preparation for something greater; our citizenship is in heaven, and here on earth, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “We have no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14). It is certainly no sin to desire and to work for happiness here on earth, as long as we have the right expectations. Jesus is very clear in telling us that the complete fulfilment and permanent satisfaction that our hearts long for will never be found here on earth.  All the pains and pleasures of this world, all the accomplishments and achievements that look good on a college application or a CV or on ‘This is your life’, these are all passing things. We were made for greater things, for eternal life with God in heaven.

Here is how Pope Benedict XVI explained it just days before he was elected Pope:

“All people desire to leave a lasting mark. But what endures? Money does not. Even buildings do not, nor books. After a certain time, longer or shorter, all these things disappear. The only thing that lasts forever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity.”  

It is a healthy thing for us to ask ourselves where we are looking for our true happiness: From the satisfactions of this world, or from our everlasting friendship with Jesus Christ? One thermometer for this aspect of our spiritual lives is our use of our leisure. People banking on perfect happiness in this passing world often give top priority to leisure They tend to live for the weekend or for the holidays. They tend to spend all their free time indulging in their favourite hobby. They can tend to become easily upset if something prevents them from watching the ‘match’ or seeing their favourite TV programme.

But people who are truly working for ‘food that endures’ are more balanced in their use of their time. They more easily recognize that the purpose of ‘leisure time’ is to help us relax and re-create, restoring our energies so that we can keep on striving to fulfil our life mission with our families and community. They don’t live for the weekends; they use the weekends to help them live life more fully.

As Jesus renews his commitment to us in the Mass this weekend, let’s ask Him to help us renew our commitment to Him, so that while we continue working for a living this coming week, we don’t lose sight of what it’s really all about, ‘Making a life’, an eternal life, with Christ, Mary, and the saints.       

Fr David Jones OLW

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Newsletter for Sunday 25 July 2021

23 Jul

The Bread of Heaven

Over the next five Sundays we will be taking a break from the Gospel of St Mark and reading instead from Chapter 6 of St John’s Gospel which is known as ‘The Bread of Life Discourse’. It begins today with John’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand where Our Lord by a miracle of multiplication feeds five thousand people with just five loaves and two fish (John 6:1-15). This is the only miracle of Our Lord to appear in all four Gospels and it will ultimately be fulfilled in the miracle of the Holy Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,

“The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through His disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of His Eucharist” (#1335).

It is clear that Our Lord performed this miracle to prepare the crowd to accept the difficult doctrine of the Eucharist; that the bread and wine at Mass at the words of Consecration are changed into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord. Then when they had all eaten their fill, JESUS ordered the disciples to “Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.” You will find this detail in all four accounts. The gathering up of these pieces or fragments was important to Our Lord. Why would this be the case? It cannot be He was merely concerned not to waste food.

Every single act and word of Our Lord had a significant meaning. He wanted to make people accountable for every fragment, whatever the size of this miraculous bread. When He performed this miracle He would obviously have had in mind what He would do at the Last Supper which was the First Mass. As He did in this miracle, He would take bread, bless and break it and give to His disciples to eat.

The early Church after Our Lord’s Ascension into Heaven believed in the Real Presence of JESUS in the Holy Eucharist. Gradually they would come to understand that Christ is fully present in even the tiniest particle or fragment of the consecrated bread and in every drop of the consecrated wine. They would then have remembered Our Lord’s insistence on the gathering up of the fragments at the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and it follows this accountability would be even greater in the real gift of Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. St Thomas Aquinas, in the ‘Lauda Sion’ which is the great Sequence for Corpus Christi wrote:

“And when the Sacrament is broken, waver not! But remember, that there is as much under each fragment, as is hid under the whole.”

Still today at Mass, the priest, who is acting in persona Christi, (in the person of Christ) is to gather up the fragments from the paten and the ciborium and purify them and his fingers over the chalice, lest any fragments remain on them. Similarly, great care is to be taken in the laundering of the linens which purify the ciborium and chalice lest any fragments remain on them. They have to be rinsed in water and then poured into the earth before being washed and ironed for their next use.

These are all clear signs to us of the Real Presence and the great reverence and care we must have towards the Holy Eucharist collectively and as individuals.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world … This is the bread that came down from Heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live for ever” (John 6:51,59).

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 18 July 2021

16 Jul

Conversing with Our Lord

The Apostles having returned from their first solo missionary journey of preaching repentance, casting out demons and anointing and curing the sick now spend some restful time with Our Lord and report on their progress (Mark 6:30-34). The message here is clear. The Apostles had spent considerable energy in preaching and healing the sick and casting out devils, and now they needed to spend some intimate time with Our Lord to recharge their spiritual batteries. And we need to do the same. The Benedictines have as their motto “ora ET labora”; that is “prayer AND work”. It is not either or. So we can spend plenty of time doing things for Christ, but it’s even more important that we spend time in quiet contemplation with Him too. Only spending time with Him can give us the necessary strength, wisdom and energy we need to carry out our spiritual tasks. Venerable Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) understood this well because he would often say, “I pray because I don’t have time.” If we don’t spend time in prayer, we won’t have much to give others.

We all know prayer isn’t easy. The saints knew it was essential but that doesn’t mean they found it easy. St Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-91) when asked by his spiritual director if he suffered from distractions in prayer responded, “If I were to sum up all the distractions I have had during the past six months, there wouldn’t be enough time to fill the saying of a Hail Mary.” Even the great St Teresa of Avila (1515-82) once said of her prayer time, “I was more occupied in wishing my hour of prayer were over and in listening whenever the clock struck than in thinking of things that were good.” So we can all have hope!

However difficult we might find prayer we must never give up trying. When God sees us struggling and striving to speak to Him, however imperfect our efforts, we are being greatly pleasing to Him. We can pray anywhere, but we should always begin by asking God to help us pray well. While it is an excellent thing to pray in church in front of the Blessed Sacrament we can also pray in our room at home or on the bus or when we’re in the car. There is nothing irreverent about doing that. We may well find it hard to sit in meditation for an hour, but we surely wouldn’t find it hard to raise up our heart and mind to God several times a day for a minute or so saying short prayers like, “JESUS I love You.” “God help me to believe in You.” “JESUS, forgive me my sins.” Anyone who perseveres with this type of prayer is well on the way to holiness.

St Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-97) admitted to many distractions in prayer, but as soon as she became aware of them she would pray for the people who were diverting her attention. In this way her distractions became spiritually beneficial. We can easily try and cultivate this habit ourselves. And remember, prayer doesn’t have to be about holy and lofty spiritual matters. We can tell JESUS about anything; our fears, our aspirations, our concerns and our interests. This is how the Apostles would have spoken with Him. Keep it simple and straight forward and you’ll overcome many problems.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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