Newsletter for Sunday 26th June 2022

24 Jun

O happy Rome!

We have had a host of wonderful feasts over the past few weeks: Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, the Nativity of St John the Baptist, the Sacred Heart, and this coming Wednesday we celebrate the Solemnity of the two Princes of the Apostles – Saints Peter and Paul, both martyred in Rome around 64 AD. Peter and Paul converted Rome to the Catholic Faith which would eventually lead to the conquering of the entire Roman Empire.

St Peter was the first Pope. Our Lord had changed his name from Simon to Peter which means ‘rock’. Then Our Lord promised the primacy to Peter when He said, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church” (Matthew 16:18). It is interesting to note that whenever Peter is charged by Our Lord of being the chief shepherd of the flock, it always happens near Roman locations. Our Lord’s promise of the primacy to Peter happened near Caeserea Philippi, where there was an enormous wall of rock, and it was a Roman city bearing the name of the emperor. Then after the Resurrection, Our Lord charged Peter to feed His sheep three times at Lake Tiberius, named after the Roman emperor of the time (John 21:15-19). It is clear Our Lord had planned from all eternity to conquer Rome for the Faith, and that the foundations of the Faith would be Peter and Paul. Peter died by being crucified upside down on the Vatican Hill. As Peter was attempting to escape from Rome, he met the risen JESUS on the Appian Way, and Peter said to Him, “Quo vadis, Domine?” (Where are You going Lord?) And JESUS replied, “Romam eo iterum crucifigi” (I am going to Rome to be crucified again). And so Peter then understood that Our Lord was meaning him, that he shouldn’t run away, and that he must return to Rome to die a martyr’s death. And because Peter felt unworthy to die in the same way as the Master, they crucified him upside down. So just as the Holy City of Jerusalem had its own Calvary where Christ was crucified, so too would the city of Rome have its own Calvary, where St Peter, His Vicar on earth was crucified. He was buried nearby, and over his relics was built the great St Peter’s Basilica. Our Lord’s promise to Peter that on this rock He would build His Church was literally fulfilled by the construction of the Basilica over his grave.

St Paul was a Roman citizen and was martyred by beheading. This was very fitting since he had preached about the ‘sword of truth’ and so he died by the sword. We all know the famous story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-22), but there is a second vision of Christ to Paul when Our Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you testified about Me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome (Acts 23:11). It is clear that Christ chose Rome to be the centre of His Church on earth. From being the centre of the pagan Roman Empire, where countless Christians had shed their blood in martyrdom, Rome became the City of God and the New Jerusalem. Tradition has it that St Peter and St Paul were martyred on the same day. “O Roma felix.” “O happy Rome”, purpled by the blood of the two Princes of the Apostles.

The city of Rome being so important to the Faith is the reason we are Roman Catholics. St Maximus the Confessor (ca. 580-662), who was Greek in language and culture, proudly proclaimed, “I am Roman in faith.” We too are Roman in faith. In conversation we tend to say we are Catholics, but we are really members of the one, holy, Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Rome is the cradle and heart, as well as the capital of the Universal Church and has never officially fallen into error in her teaching regarding faith and morals. St Augustine, in the fourth century, coined the phrase, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est”, which means, when Rome has officially spoken regarding the Apostolic Faith, the matter is closed.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 19 June 2022

17 Jun

The Miracle of the Holy Eucharist

Today’s Feast of Corpus Christi goes way back to the thirteenth century. In the year 1263, a German priest by the name of Peter of Prague was going on a pilgrimage to Rome and he stopped off at the town of Bolsena in Italy to celebrate Mass. He was having problems believing that Christ was truly present in the Holy Eucharist. And so while pronouncing the words of Consecration, blood started to seep from the consecrated Host and trickle over his hands onto the altar and the corporal (a square linen cloth). Naturally he was stunned and at first tried to hide it. But then he interrupted the Mass to go and tell the Pope, Urban IV (1195-1264) who was staying over in the nearby town of Orvieto. The Pope listened to the priest’s account and absolved him and ordered that the miraculous Host and the linen corporal stained with the Precious Blood be brought to Orvieto Cathedral. The blood stained corporal you can still see on display in the Cathedral today as a relic, and I have seen It myself. It was this miracle that prompted Pope Urban to ask St Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) to compose the Mass and Office (the psalms, readings and prayers priests have to say every day) in honour of the Holy Eucharist, and then one year later he instituted the great feast of Corpus Christi.

“Corpus Christi” means “the Body of Christ”. The purpose of this Feast is to thank Our Lord for the great gift of the Holy Eucharist because it is truly His living Flesh and Blood. While it is true that on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday) we commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood, the atmosphere of sorrow that permeates the Holy Week ceremonies doesn’t really allow us to express the great joy we feel at having Our Lord so close to us. But today the liturgical books call for a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament which we shall do at the end of the 11.15am Mass when we witness to our belief in the Real Presence of JESUS in the Blessed Sacrament. Many of the children making their First Holy Communion this weekend will also walk in the procession.

When Our Lord foretold the Holy Eucharist, not everyone believed. Many who had followed Him walked away. But as St Augustine said, we need unbelievers because they give us the opportunity of knowing more clearly what we believe. In chapter 6 of St John’s Gospel, Our Lord explained the reality of the Real Presence and foretold He would give His own Flesh and Blood to His followers. “Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood will have eternal life” (John 6:54). His Flesh and Blood is the supernatural food for the soul. Over the centuries, almost all the major breaks with the Catholic Church have been over the interpretation of Christ’s words of institution of the Eucharist. Over the bread, JESUS said, “This is My Body which will be given up for you.” Over the chalice He said, “This is the chalice of My Blood of the New Testament which will be poured out for many unto the remission of sins.” There is nothing in the text to suggest He meant it symbolically or figuratively. Bread and wine are not flesh and blood by their nature or by their use as symbols in any language or culture, either in Our Lord’s time or in our own. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity meant what He said, “This is My Body, This is My Blood.” The clarity of these words do not allow His followers to misunderstand His meaning.

There was no doubt in the mind of the early Church that what Christ instituted at the Last Supper was His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. One of many such testimonies is from St Justin Martyr writing around 150 AD. “We receive [the Eucharist] not as ordinary bread or ordinary drink, but just as our Redeemer JESUS Christ became incarnate by the Word of God and took on Flesh and Blood for the sake of our salvation, so as we have been taught the food which has been Eucharistized … is both the Flesh and Blood of that same Incarnate JESUS.”

O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 12 June 2022

10 Jun

Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity

The Catholic Church, founded by Our Lord JESUS Christ, faithfully passes on from generation to generation all the doctrines which are essential for salvation. One of those doctrines is that of the Most Blessed Trinity, and today the Church observes a very special Feast in honour of this most profound mystery of our faith. The doctrine is that there is only one God, and that in this one God there are three distinct Persons who are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All are equal, eternal and uncreated and all are fully God, yet there is only one God. But how can this be? How can God be three distinct Persons and yet only one God? The answer is that we can never fully explain it because it is a mystery beyond our understanding. However, while it is not contrary to reason, it does transcend it.

The Bible, even in the Old Testament gives us clues about the Blessed Trinity. For example, right at the beginning in the book of Genesis, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (1:26). He speaks of Himself here in the plural. On the front of the High Altar in the church right now, there is embroidered on the altar cloth the words, “Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus.” This is a quote from the prophet Isaiah (6:3) “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts.” Some may argue this is just a Jewish way of saying ‘very holy’, but as Christians we see more in it: the angels praising God as a Trinity of Persons.

The truth of God being a Trinity of Persons is fully revealed in the New Testament. Our Lord says, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30), “To have seen Me is to have seen the Father” (John 14:9), and, “But when the Paraclete comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, Who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness to Me” (John 15:26). There are numerous other indications too, but the most explicit reference is in Matthew’s Gospel when JESUS says, “Baptise them in the name (singular) of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19).

The Holy Spirit has always ensured that the Church keeps this divine revelation about God’s nature intact, which has not always been easy, as corrupting this truth has been at the top of Satan’s agenda, because he knows how wrong ideas about God can lead to wrong paths and then ultimately to destruction. This is what happened in the Garden of Eden when Satan persuaded Adam and Eve that God’s prohibition of their eating the fruit of the forbidden tree was unreasonable, and that God was being deceitful and unfair. Satan changed their idea of God and so they ended up being disobedient, which was the original sin. Similarly, would Islamic terrorists blow up innocent people if they believed correctly that God was a Trinity who loves the whole of humanity, both believers and unbelievers, saints and sinners alike? I think they would not.

Our whole faith is really summed up in our belief in the Most Blessed Trinity and in Our Lord JESUS Christ Who is the Second Person of the Trinity Who became man. He is our Saviour, and it is through Him that we will enter Heaven. He is the door of the sheepfold (John 10:7). He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), and there is no other name by which we may be saved (Acts 4:12). So let us hold fast to the true faith which God has revealed. We can never accept that there be any compromise in the truth of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, in JESUS Christ the God man, and of the uniqueness of the Catholic Church He founded which, guided by the Holy Spirit, teaches infallibly all truth necessary for salvation. We must have courage and strength, despite difficulties and trials, to remain true to what has been given us and to ensure that it is handed on safely to future generations. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 5 June 2022

3 Jun

Come Holy Spirit and set us on fire!

Today we celebrate the great Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit, as Our Lord had promised, came down upon Our Lady and the Apostles and the Catholic Church was founded. When Our Lord was on earth He laid the foundations for His Church, but the references were always in the future tense. “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church” (Matthew 16:18). Neither did He say ‘churches’, but ‘Church – in the singular. So there is only one Church and that is the Catholic Church, which He established and which enjoys divine rights over the Deposit of Faith and the Sacraments and which came to birth at Pentecost.

This is also a feast about fire which challenges us to come out of our sometimes lazy and tepid Christian lives. Our Lord said, “I have come to cast a fire upon the earth” (Luke 12:49). This is the fire of the Holy Spirit, which transforms us, refines us and purifies us and emboldens us.

What kind of men were the Apostles before Pentecost? They were rough, ignorant and timid, but also ambitious, because they were hoping for personal glory here on earth. Then the Crucifixion came, their hearts sank and they deserted JESUS. The Resurrection restored their faith but they still lacked courage and enterprise. So they gathered in the Upper Room in hiding for fear of the Jews, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit Whom Our Lord promised would come to enlighten them, teach them all truth and give them the courage and ability to spread the Faith throughout the world. Then fifty days after the Resurrection on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, “they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from Heaven”. There appeared “tongues of fire which settled on them” (Acts 2:1). From this moment when they received the Holy Spirit they were utterly transformed. Their minds were infused with supernatural light, their hearts were overflowing with love, and they received courage and strength to withstand all human opposition. Then they went out and began openly preaching the Gospel of JESUS Christ. Their preaching was heard by each listener in their own language so that the light of the Gospel could be given to all. Neither did they show any fear when they had to face the wrath of the Synagogue or Jewish officials. After this they went out into the whole world to win it for Christ.

The Holy Spirit accomplished in them what armies have never been able to do except perhaps in a very limited way. But God used these weak and ignorant men to conquer the world for Christ so it would be obvious that God’s power was with them.

But what of today? We can become depressed when we see the state of the world and the state of the Church. We are constantly told the Church is dying, but the Church can never die, because Christ is alive and His Mystical Body, the Catholic Church, is vivified by the eternal Spirit Who can never die. The Spirit is the very soul of the Church which can no more be destroyed than the soul of an infant. The Church throughout history has been attacked and betrayed from within and from without just as She is today. But the Church will never die because Christ can never die again. All the old heresies, errors and betrayals being regurgitated in the Church today will disappear again just as they did in the past, so that in the end He will be glorified in His Mystical Body just as He is now in His physical Body.

So what does this mean for us? Too many Christians are silent today out of fear, perhaps fear of being called names or of being unpopular or not being able to answer difficult questions. Sometimes we can be very comfortable in the “Upper Room” of the parish, but once outside we retreat into silence. The Holy Spirit wants to change that! Pray to Him and ask Him to light a fire in you! We need to win souls for Christ. The spread of the Gospel is in your hands. Be not afraid. Come Holy Spirit and enkindle in us the fire of Your love!

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 29 May 2022

27 May

Last Thursday Christianity got strange

In the readings for Ascension Day Jesus tells the Apostles about wild signs that will accompany believers, and then He rises up into the clouds and disappears. It might seem a bit much. But if you think through the claims being made, they do make sense.

First, about those signs … they are literally true. “These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons,” Jesus tells the apostles. “They will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17). Imagine Jesus had said instead “These signs will accompany people in the 21st century: They will map the human genome. They will walk on the moon. They will wrestle alligators, and they will cure deadly plagues.”

That wouldn’t bother us. We know that people have done all these things. We wouldn’t expect that every or even most people would do each of them. After all, at the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus says, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” — but no one expects every Christian to literally travel the entire world preaching, telling every single person about Jesus. As it happens Jesus’s followers, as a group, have in fact gone out into the whole world. They have driven out demons; spoken new languages; I personally know of several sick people who were healed; St. Paul was unharmed by a serpent; and the Christian community includes poison survivors, too.

But the signs are also spiritually true. As St Gregory the Great put it, “Holy Church does every day in spirit what then the Apostles did in body.” When we speak the mysteries of God, we speak a “new language,” he said. When we warn people away from evil, we “take up serpents;” when we resist “words of pestilent persuasion” we survive poison. And every time we successfully encourage a neighbour to holiness, we have healed a sick person. “These miracles are greater,” he said, “as they are spiritual, and by them souls and not bodies are raised.” So, in both senses — the literal and the spiritual — this Gospel has been fulfilled as Christ said.

But what about Jesus ascending into heaven?
If it seems odd or uncharacteristic for Jesus that “as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight,” it’s important to remember a few things. Jesus had to walk a fine line. He was both man and God, but that reality was too mind-blowing for people to grasp. So, throughout His whole life on earth, He had to demonstrate He was God while preaching His message very carefully. This is why He did a few things like multiplying loaves, walking on water and raising the dead, while saying a lot of things that only God could say — about the kingdom of God, the meaning of love, and the purpose of life. But when it came time for him to depart, He no longer had to walk a fine line. Now He had to show plainly who He was and what He had come for — to form a group of people who would proclaim His name to every end of the earth.

People often ask, in frustration, “If Jesus was really God, why didn’t He just speak plainly about it and show who He was?”

Well, He does just that in the Ascension. In Matthew 28:18 He tells the Apostles that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Him. Then He ascends, showing it to be true.

Ultimately, the message of the readings is that Yes, Christianity is strange. Or, better, mysterious. We profess it every week at Mass: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” Our whole faith is predicated on belief that Almighty God came down from heaven to gather us up and bring us back there with Him. In His public ministry, Jesus showed us that God could dwell and walk with us. In the Ascension, He shows that we can dwell and walk with God.
How? “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” He said. Stay tuned for next week …

Fr David Jones OLW

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