Letter from Fr Paul – 7 June 2020, Trinity Sunday

7 Jun

Dear All,

On the Sunday after Pentecost, we always celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity or Trinity Sunday as it is more commonly called. The doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of our faith (Catechism of the Catholic Church #234). That is there is one God and three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When you think about it, the Trinity really is the central mystery of our Faith.

What happens at the beginning of your Christian life when you’re baptised? The priest pours water on your head while saying, “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Each time we come into church we dip our fingers into the Holy Water stoup and make the Sign of the Cross which is Trinitarian. We begin Mass with the Sign of the Cross and the priest blesses in the name of the Trinity at the end of Mass. Some of the prayers at Mass conclude with a Trinitarian formula. So the Trinity really is part of our devotional life. Whereas many other mysteries of the Faith tell us about what God has done for us, like the Holy Eucharist, the Crucifixion or the Resurrection, the doctrine of the Trinity tells us Who God is. But it is a mystery that we will never fully understand.

The great St Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century was writing a treatise on the Trinity (De Trinitate). One day as he was walking along the seashore contemplating, he saw a little child running backwards and forwards from the sea to a spot on the seashore.

The boy was using a shell to carry water from the large ocean and pour it into a small hole that he had dug in the sand. Augustine came up to him and asked him what he was doing. “I’m trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied. “What?” said Augustine. “The hole cannot contain all that water.” The boy stood up, looked him in the eyes and said “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.” Augustine was so struck by the reply he glanced away for a moment in thought and when he looked back the child had vanished. Some people think the boy was an angel while others that it was the Christ Child Himself who came to remind Augustine of the limits of human understanding in relation to the great mysteries of our Faith. But this doesn’t mean we cannot have some comprehension of it.

So… the Trinity means there are three Persons in God and only one nature. Now that’s not as complicated as it sounds! When we say ‘nature’ it answers the question “what?” So if you ask “What am I?” I am a human being. But ‘person’ answers the question “who”. So if you say, “Who am I?” I am Fr Paul. These are two distinct things. So when we apply this to God, the Trinity is telling us there is one divine ‘what’. That is there is one divine nature or one God. But then there are three ‘who’s’, who share that one divine nature: the Father (the First Person), the Son (the Second Person), and the Holy Spirit (the Third Person of the Trinity). And that is basically it. It’s above our ability to understand it fully, but God has revealed it to us. Although the word “Trinity” is not used in Scripture there are many references to it in the New Testament. It is even hinted at in the Old Testament. In Genesis when God creates the universe, He says, “let us make man in our image” (1:26) and there are a number of instances in the Old Testament where if we read it in the light of the New that we can see this. But God chose not to fully reveal it then, probably because Israel at that time wouldn’t have been able to grasp the concept of three Persons in one God and it may have evolved into some sort of polytheism (many gods). It was necessary for the Jews to first understand that there is only one God and that it is He who saves us. It is only when Christ comes that knowledge of the Trinity becomes explicit, and then it is fully revealed at Pentecost.

Let’s take the Gospel for today (John 3:16-18). It contains one of the most well known quotes from the Bible. “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him may not be lost.” A more accurate translation of the Greek would say “that He gave His only begotten Son.” This is important because it makes clear that JESUS is a unique Son. In the Old Testament Angels are sometimes called sons of God. The New Testament refers to Christians as being sons of God or children of God because it is God Who has given us life. And in the broad sense all human beings are children of God because He created all of us. But when we say Our Lord is the only begotten Son (as we do in the Creed every Sunday), this is something different. It means JESUS is the eternal Son of God. That is He is uncreated and eternally begotten of the Father. He was always the Son and there was never a moment when He was not. This is also implied when the Gospel says, “For God sent His Son into the world.” If He was sent He already existed. When we were conceived in our mother’s womb we were created out of nothing by God. The same goes for the Angels. They had a beginning just as we do. But JESUS did not. As the Son, He was sent into the world to take on our human nature, which means that He is not just fully human, He is also fully divine. So JESUS is the eternal, uncreated Son of God who took on our human nature in time, and He was conceived in the womb of Our Lady by the Holy Spirit. But He existed before this from all eternity. And this is important to the Trinity because it shows us there is more than one Person in the one God. As I have already said, this is beyond our understanding but we need to at least grasp the basic meaning of it, so that we know what we believe in, and we must believe it, because God Who is absolute Truth has revealed it to us.

Many, of course, deny this doctrine. People like Arius and Mohammed take truths of the Christian Faith and deny first and foremost the Trinity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses also deny the Trinity. They believe JESUS is Michael the Archangel. So we do well to always keep in mind Our Lord saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

The grace of Our Lord JESUS Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Fr Paul

“Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus”
“And they cried one to another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts,
all the earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
 

Live Stream Mass – Nottingham Cathedral

5 Jun

Recognising that the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone, special Masses are being celebrated for the sick, their families, care workers and NHS staff  by one of our diocesan Bishops of England and Wales, in his Cathedral every Thursday at 7pm.

On Thursday 11th June (Feast of St. Barnabas), Bishop Patrick will be taking his turn as part of this important initiative. the Bishop will be offering Mass at 7 pm, which will be live streamed from the Cathedral of St Barnabas on the Bishops YouTube account: https://www.youtube.com/bishoppatrickmckinney

Do join Bishop Patrick at Mass that evening through the medium of live streaming.

Letter from Fr Paul – 31 May 2020, Pentecost Sunday

31 May

Dear All,

Happy Feast! Today’s Feast of Pentecost is one of the greatest of the liturgical year and we can read a full account of it in the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-42), and we hear the first part of it in today’s First Reading. The Gospels do not give an account of Pentecost.

On the ninth day after Our Lord’s Ascension and the fiftieth day after His Resurrection, He sent the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, as He had promised (John 16:7). Our Lady was there too (Acts 1:14). He came with a mighty wind and appeared to the Apostles as “tongues as of fire” and they were filled with truth, love, zeal and fortitude. Previously they were timid men, but now they went out boldly into the world and preached the Good News that JESUS is the true Messiah and that it is by His Name alone that we can be saved (Acts 4:12). This Feast is regarded as the birthday of the Church.

Pentecost was a Jewish feast and literally means ‘the fiftieth day’. On this day the Jews celebrated the end of the grain harvest and the giving of the Covenant on Mount Sinai (Exodus 23:16). And now on this new Pentecost, the Apostles went out to gather the harvest of souls and announce the New Covenant. And after Peter preached, “those who received his word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

We might wonder why the Holy Spirit appeared to them in tongues as of fire. In the book of Exodus in the Old Testament, the Lord came down from Heaven and descended upon Israel in fire to give them the Old Law. So now in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles in tongues as of fire, not to give them the Old Law, which was written on tablets of stone, but to give them the New Law, which is written on the tablets of their hearts. He is now going to put His Law within them through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

St Peter preaching at Pentecost

A question I sometimes get asked as a priest is about the ‘gift of tongues’. There is a lot of confusion today about what this really means. Some people believe you can pray for it and receive it. St Thomas Aquinas teaches that these are graces which are gratuitously given. God gives them to whom He wills, but that they are always ordered toward the good of the Church. You cannot merit these gifts and neither do these gifts depend upon the holiness of the particular individual. Some people claim they have the gift of tongues, but usually upon closer examination they clearly do not. There is a story of a priest who was a linguist and was invited to one of these meetings where they were claiming to speak in tongues, but when they started doing it he walked out. When asked why he had left he explained he had recognised one of the languages and that the person speaking the language was praising Satan. Satan can cause people to speak languages they don’t know, as any exorcist will tell you, so we should be very wary of these types of things. People speaking some sort of gibberish can also claim to be speaking in tongues. But why would God use intelligent human beings to do something so absurd, and how would this be giving Him honour and glory?

So what is the gift of tongues the Apostles had at Pentecost? It is clear from the Scriptures that the Apostles who were Galileans were all speaking their own language which was probably Aramaic, but the people who were listening heard it in their own language, whether they came from Persia, Media, Cappadocia, Asia or Egypt. This was the miraculous gift – that they heard the Apostles preach in their own language. In modern times St Padre Pio sometimes had this gift when hearing Confessions of foreigners who couldn’t speak Italian. The purpose of this gift of tongues at Pentecost was obviously to aid the growth of the Church. The Gospel was to be preached to all nations – it wasn’t just for Israel.

St Padre Pio hearing confessions

Also the gift of tongues signified a reversal of the confusion at the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament. You probably know the story in Genesis chapter 11. The whole world had just one language, and man, because of his pride decided to build a tower up to Heaven to glorify himself rather than God. So God caused mankind to speak different languages so as they couldn’t communicate with each other and build the tower. So Pentecost is the undoing of the sin of Babel, and God is showing us that the only way the world will truly be united is not through human effort and through human pride and power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the Church.

One of the glories of the Church is her official Latin language as it unites the faithful throughout the world in worship. This is just one good reason why it is important we don’t let our heritage of Latin fall into disuse. While there are obviously advantages to having much of the Liturgy in the vernacular, being able to sing and say some of the prayers and hymns in Latin (which was mandated by Vatican II) is a connection with our historical roots going right back to the catacombs. Many of the Latin chants would have been known by the early Fathers and Saints of the Church as well as all the Faithful. And of course, in these days of much international travel we can unite and pray together as Catholics when we don’t all speak the same native tongue. We are the Universal Church, and so we have a universal language.

One final point. We might not always realise that a perfect understanding of the Deposit of Faith was infused into the Apostles at Pentecost. Up to this point they seemed to be in a rather confused state about what Our Lord had taught. But when the Holy Spirit came upon them they understood perfectly everything He had taught them. This was a very necessary gift, because if they were going to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth they had to understand what it meant. And as St Paul says, they were the foundation stones of the churches they would found (Ephesians 2:20), and therefore they had to be able to teach the truth without error. So the Church teaches that each of the Apostles enjoyed infallibility when they spoke officially as Apostles and Teachers of the Faith. In other words there was no error in their teaching. And that teaching is handed down to us today through the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church. It is for this reason that the Church also teaches that Divine Revelation concluded with the death of the last Apostle. And so long as we believe what the Church has always taught or the Deposit of Faith we are not going to be led astray. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “But though we, or an angel from Heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema” (1:8). So beware of novelties! The job of the Pope and the Bishops who are the Successors of the Apostles is to guard that Deposit of Faith. The Bishops, unlike the Apostles, do not enjoy personal infallibility and the Pope only has infallibility under very strict conditions. The last infallible pronouncement was made by Venerable Pope Pius XII in 1950 when he defined the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady. When those conditions do not exist there is no guarantee of infallibility, but that is a topic for another occasion.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Our Lady was present with the Apostles when the Holy Spirit came down upon them two millennia ago. On this final day of May which is her month, let us entrust ourselves to her maternal care and intercession so that the Holy Spirit may descend in abundance upon the Church in our day, fill the hearts of all the faithful and enkindle in us the fire of His love.

May God bless you all.

Fr Paul

The Holy Spirit in Bernini’s “Glory” in St Peter’s, Rome

 

Letter from Fr Paul – 21 May 2020, Ascension Thursday

22 May

Dear All,

I wish you all a very happy Solemnity of the Ascension!

But what is the Ascension of Our Lord and why is it important? It is distinct from His Resurrection. At the Resurrection, the body and soul of JESUS were reunited in a glorified state. I’ve written about this in previous letters. But forty days later, “He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” as we say in the Creed each week. So both His glorified body and soul ascended into Heaven and was taken up into the very life of the Trinity. He had already said, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (John 8:23). So by His Ascension He is confirming this teaching that His ultimate place is at the right hand of God in glory.

The Ascension is not the same as Our Lady’s Assumption. Her body was ‘taken up’ which is what ‘assumption’ means, whereas Our Lord, being God, ascended by His own power.

Today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, of which St Luke is the author, gives us a very detailed account of the Ascension. Towards the end we read, “…He was lifted up while they looked on and a cloud took Him from their sight.” There is great significance in this cloud. In the Old Testament it is God who rides on the clouds. You never see angels or kings on clouds – only God. So the cloud is a symbol of the fact that JESUS is a divine Person. For example, we read in Psalm 104, “the Lord makes the cloud His chariot.” And Our Lord Himself says that at the end of the world “you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of Heaven” (Mark 14:62), at which point the High Priest tore his robe because he knew Our Lord was claiming to be divine and equal to God.

Our Lord’s Ascension also gives us hope. This world is not our final end. Heaven is our destiny. This is what the world has forgotten today. St Thomas Aquinas explains that Christ, by taking to Heaven the human nature which He assumed, gave us the hope of going there too. Our hope is to be resurrected and then to be with Christ forever in our glorified bodies in the life of the Blessed Trinity. Our Lord didn’t come here to stay – He came to show us the way. There’s the famous Gospel we read almost always at funerals these days: “I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with Me, so that where I am you may be too” (John 14: 3). That’s our destiny if we are faithful to Him, do what He commands us, repent of our sins, and die in a state of grace. This is why the Church must always preach about eternal life and not become secular and only worried about the things of this world, because JESUS said, “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) and we need Christ and His Sacraments to help get us there. So JESUS is and remains for every single human being the only source of salvation whatever religion one may subscribe to. St Paul writes magnificently in his letter to the Phillipians that “At the name of JESUS every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that JESUS Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:10-11). All the Elect in Heaven cast their crowns at His feet and fall down before Him and worship Him, because He is worthy of all glory and honour, and because their salvation begins and ends in Him alone (Apocalypse 4:11). This is not politically correct but it is the truth.

So now that Our Lord had ascended into Heaven He would no longer be visible to us in human form.  We all know that Christ is the Head of the Church, but before He ascended, He passed His visible headship to Peter and the Apostles, and He does this in today’s Gospel:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Matthew 28: 18-20).

He tells them to go out and baptise all nations, to cast out demons, to heal the sick and so on (Mark 14:17). But this is the actual moment when Our Lord is giving Peter and the other Apostles jurisdiction to govern the Church which will last until He returns at the end of the world. So at the death of the last Pope, Christ will take up the visible Headship again. But until Christ comes again, there will always be a visible Head on earth – that is a Pope.

There are some people today who claim that the last ‘true’ Pope was Pius XII who died in 1958 and that none of the Popes since are valid, and all kinds of reasons are put forward for this novelty. It is called ‘sedevacantism’ or ‘the See is vacant’. This is utter nonsense and heretical. There will always be a visible Pope, and it’s an Article of Faith that the Papacy is the perpetual principle of unity. In history it has occasionally taken a while to elect a Pope but the Church will never go for decades without one. And it was at the Ascension that this visible Headship was passed on.

So we can see Our Lord has not abandoned us or left us orphans by ascending into Heaven. He even said, “It is expedient that I go, because if I do not go the Paraclete [the Holy Spirit] will not come, but if I go I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). Don’t forget to make the novena to the Holy Spirit in anticipation of Pentecost which is a week on Sunday. The novena begins tomorrow (Friday). In case you missed it before, here is the link.

https://www.praymorenovenas.com/novena-to-the-holy-spirit

If you wish, you can sign up for it and receive it by email each day. The more parishioners we have doing it the better.

May God bless you all. Let us all keep praying for each other, for the end of the virus, for all the sick and those suffering hardship, and that we may meet back in church soon.

Fr Paul

Come Holy Spirit!

Letter from Fr Paul – 13 May 2020, Our Lady of Fatima

13 May

Dear All,

I hope you are all well. We priests remain in reasonably good shape! I am awaiting news to see whether in the light of the Prime Minister’s recent statements on the Coronavirus  we will be able to open the church at least for some hours during the day for private prayer. When this happens it is likely conditions will be attached to it, but I’m not sure yet exactly what they might be. I will let you know as soon as I hear anything official. I do not believe public Masses will resume any time soon. When they do resume a lot of thought will have to be given as to how we organise it with the social distancing rules which will clearly be with us for some considerable time. Let us keep praying for an end to this crisis particularly with the Holy Rosary.

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima and I celebrated Mass this morning at the Lady Altar in the church. It is the 103rd anniversary of the first apparition. Between 13th May and 13th October 1917 Our Lady appeared to three Portuguese children, Lucia Santos, and Jacinta and Francisco Marto, and asked them to pray the Rosary for world peace, for the end of World War I, for the conversion of sinners and for the conversion of Russia. The central message of Fatima is the same as Our Lord and the Church have always taught: repent and turn away from sin, prayer and reparation. Jacinta and Francisco are now canonised saints and Lucia who died only in 2005 is a Servant of God.

The culmination of the Fatima apparitions was the spectacular Miracle of the Sun which took place on 13th October in front of 70,000 people and had been foretold by Our Lady so as everyone would know that what the children had said was true and also the urgency of the message. Maria de Capelhina, who later became custodian of the original chapel built at Fatima, described how everything turned different colours – yellow, blue and white. Then the sun shook and trembled. “It looked like a wheel of fire that was going to fall on the people. They began to cry out, ‘We shall all be killed.’ They recited acts of contrition. One woman began to confess her sins aloud…when at last the sun stopped leaping and moving, we all breathed a sigh of relief. We were still alive, and the miracle, which the children had foretold, had been seen by everyone.”

Fr Ignacio Lorenco, a nine year old boy at the time, was an eye witness from a village eleven miles away. The sun, he said, “suddenly seemed to come down in a zigzag, menacing the earth. Terrified, I ran and hid myself among the people, who were weeping and expecting the end of the world at any moment.” He also said people were crying out to God to forgive their sins.

Another eye-witness, Dr Almeida Garret, a University Professor said, the sun looked like “a glazed wheel made of mother-of-pearl”, noting that “it spun round on itself in a mad whirl. Then suddenly one heard a clamour, a cry of anguish breaking forth from all the people. The sun, whirling wildly, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth, as if to crush us with its huge, fiery weight.”

There was another extraordinary phenomenon. When the people were arriving at the place of the apparition called the Cova da Iria, it had been pouring with rain for hours, and so they were drenched, the ground was covered in mud and so were they. Yet once the miracle was over and the sun had returned to its normal place, everything was dry, there was no more mud and the people’s clothes were clean. Countless other miracles are associated with Fatima, physical cures and healings and the even more important spiritual healings –  more important because the soul is immortal.  

The Holy Rosary, as always, featured very prominently in Our Lady’s message at Fatima. She urged the daily Rosary to bring about the end of the war, and at the final apparition in October she announced herself as the Lady of the Rosary. I have said a lot about the Rosary in the last two newsletters but I cannot emphasise its importance enough. I know many people find the Rosary hard to sustain. Lucia who later became a nun had some beautiful words on this: “Even for people who do not know how, or who are not able to recollect sufficiently to meditate, the simple act of taking the Rosary in their hands in order to pray is already to become mindful of God, and a mention in each decade of a mystery of the life of Christ recalls Him to their minds; this in turn will light in their souls a gentle light of faith which supports the still smouldering wick, preventing it from extinguishing itself altogether.” So persevere with it. God will reward us if we do. And surely if we do what Our Lady asks of us it will hasten the end of this global crisis which the whole world is now living through.

The other great message of Fatima was about making sacrifices for sinners. Our Lady told the three children in the July apparition, “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say often, especially when you make some sacrifice, ‘O my Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.’ This is how we help to save souls which is the Church’s primary mission. It doesn’t mean we have to practice great austerities. Some of the saints were called to this – the three children used to tie ropes around their waists as a penance. But for most of us the sacrifice is to fulfil our duties, keep God’s Law and avoid all sin. Sister Lucia told us that when your daily work is boring or monotonous, that’s your cross. Similarly, today when we go out to the supermarket, we will invariably find we have to queue to even get in. We don’t have the freedom to go where we want. We can’t come into the church and it’s difficult to receive the Sacraments. Maybe someone ignores us or we’re passed over. Someone might speak to us in a disagreeable tone. All these things, (and you will think of others) we can offer up in a spirit of sacrifice.

St Thérèse of Lisieux who is a Doctor of the Church said even the tiniest things can be offered in this way, even something as simple as picking a piece of paper up from the floor. Sister Lucia explained the fact that they are small do not make them any less pleasing to God. We should try and cultivate the habit of this and thus we will grow in merit, atone for our own sins and help to save souls. Doing this gives a purpose to everything. Remember Our Lady at Fatima said so many souls are lost because they have no one to make sacrifices and to pray for them. So remember the prayer: “O my Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” So simple and yet so powerful! We just have to remember to do it.

Let us continue to keep in our prayers at this time all the needy, the sick and the suffering, those who have died and their families. Let us also remember our health workers, our teachers and those who have been so generous in making self-sacrifice during this crisis. We pray for the Pope and the Bishops that they will defend our rights as Christians, and for our government that the steps they now take to ease the lockdown will be for the good of all, both spiritually and temporally. Please also keep in your prayers our Confirmation candidates who were due to receive the Sacrament from Bishop Patrick this Friday. Stay strong and pray hard, because we may have a battle on our hands for our Church, our Sacraments and our culture.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

May God bless you all.

Fr Paul