Newsletter for Sunday 3 March 2024

1 Mar

The Ten Commandments and Salvation History

On this Third Sunday of Lent, we contemplate another important stage in the history of our salvation. Two weeks ago, on the First Sunday of Lent, we read about Noah and the renewal and re-establishment of the covenant of creation. Last week, we heard how God made a covenant with Abraham and how God promised to bestow blessing upon the families of the earth through the descendants of Abraham. This week we learn about the commandments given in connection with another covenant, the covenant mediated by Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai. Through the Sinai Covenant, the people of Israel are welcomed into God’s family as his first-born son (Exodus 4:22). Israel is God’s first-born son, but one day the covenant blessing of divine sonship will be extended to all the nations and families of the earth. All people, and not just Israel, are called to become adopted children in God’s family.

The Ten Commandments were given to direct how we are to live in God’s family: the first three commandments focus on our relationship with God; the next seven guide our relationship with our brothers and sisters. The Ten Commandments not only guide our relationships but can be seen as part of the spiritual path marked out by God that leads to eternal life with Him. This is why we use them as tools to help us prepare to make a good Confession. Jesus teaches us that the Ten Commandments of the Sinai Covenant are a starting point and a necessary first step, but that we are called to mature in spiritual perfection and holiness in the New Covenant He brings.

The Gospel today gives us a sense of the Old Covenant being brought to fulfilment in the New. The Old Law was given to the people through Moses; the New Law and the gift of God’s grace were given to us through Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us (John 1:17).

The Old Temple had become corrupt. In fact, in Jesus’ day, the part of the Temple that was called the court of the Gentiles was being used to change money and to sell animals to the pilgrims who came to worship. Jesus cleanses this part of the old Temple, built by human  hands, and points forward to the mystery of the New Temple. In the old Temple, the people sacrificed many animals and many types of animals. These sacrifices were ineffective in taking away sin. In the New Temple, there is only one sacrifice in which we share. This is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and our eternal high priest. This one sacrifice is able to take away our sins. The sacrifice we partake of in at every Mass!

Fr David Jones OLW

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Newsletter for Sunday 25 February 2024

23 Feb

Fasting and Reparation

Lent is a time when we focus especially on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In times past, Lenten penances were much more rigorous. Today, there are only two fasting days left on the calendar. They are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday if you’re between 18 and 59 years old. If you’re sick or pregnant, there is no requirement to fast. However, if we are wise we will do more than the bare minimum.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Jonah preached to the Ninevites (Jonah 3), who fasted from all food and drink, and put on sackcloth and ashes to make reparation for their offences against God. As a result they were spared God’s punishment. Due to our sins, God has every right to destroy us, and so we need to make reparation for them. Who knows what catastrophes we may be able to avert in our world by fasting and making reparation? This was the message of Our Lady of Fatima. The sins against the unborn alone, who are the most vulnerable in society, demands we do penance and make reparation.

We ought to be aware that the Church teaches that even after our sins have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Confession, God’s justice demands we do penance to make reparation for them. When mortal sins are absolved by the priest, although the eternal punishment of Hell is removed, we still have to make satisfaction for those sins. Sin has a price and so penance must be done. Satisfaction or reparation can be done either in this life or in the world to come, hence Purgatory.

Fasting is not that difficult. If it is difficult it’s because we don’t practice it enough. It means one full meal in the day with two small snacks if needed, and no eating in between. Abstinence is to abstain from meat. All Fridays throughout the year are days of abstinence for those aged14 and above, unless it happens to be a Solemnity, such as Christmas Day. We can also fast from things like TV, social media or the internet.

Why must we fast? Our Lord speaks about fasting in the Gospels and He Himself fasted for forty days and forty nights in the desert (Matthew 4:2). It helps us to order our lower passions. If you can deny yourself something lawful, you will be in a much stronger position to deny yourself something unlawful. It also helps us to atone for our sins. Since sin is an over indulgence, we can begin to repair the damage by under indulging and denying ourselves. Fasting helps us to pray better and to be awake against the snares of the devil. It is interesting that Adam lost his battle with Satan by eating something which God had forbidden. He didn’t fast from the fruit of the tree.

Satan also tried to tempt Our Lord with food by telling Him to turn stones into bread. And He replied, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Be quite sure that during Lent Satan will try and tempt you to give up your fasting and self denial. But let’s call on Heaven to help us remain strong in our resolutions, thereby making reparation for our sins and those of the world.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 18 February 2024

16 Feb

Stations of the Cross

Lent has now begun, and the ‘Via Crucis’ or ‘Way of the Cross’ is a very popular Lenten devotion. Stations or the Way of the Cross are celebrated at St Mary’s every Friday during Lent after the 6.30pm Mass. The story of the Stations goes right back to the first Good Friday, when the apostles, disciples and followers of Our Lord began to tread the very same ‘Via dolorosa’ or ‘Way of Sorrows’ Our Lord Himself walked to save us. In the early centuries, Christians from all over the world would come to Jerusalem to walk the same holy road. But then Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Muslims and so this devotion became very dangerous and eventually impossible. So the Church decided that the devotion could be performed in individual parish churches.

From the earliest days this devotion was promoted by the Franciscans. St Francis had a great devotion to Our Lord’s Passion and was the first to bear the stigmata (the wounds of Christ). The Church attached Indulgences to making the Stations, at first only for the Franciscans, but then Pope Benedict XIII in 1726 extended this to the whole Church and it became commonplace to see the Stations of the Cross in all Catholic churches.

Traditionally there are fourteen Stations, and most of the episodes are described in the Gospels. A few are not, such as JESUS’ three falls, His meeting with His Mother, and Veronica wiping His face. These incidents are part of tradition which is also a sound source of history.

Every time you make the Stations of the Cross you may gain a Plenary Indulgence. The Catechism describes an Indulgence as the remission of temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt is already forgiven in Confession (CCC #1471). Every sin has two consequences: guilt and debt. In the Sacrament of Penance we confess our sins, receive God’s forgiveness and perform a penance. So through a good Confession the guilt of our sins is removed, and if we have committed mortal or grave sin which cuts us off from God, we are restored to God’s grace and thus we avoid Hell. But the debt still has to be paid. That debt is paid either in this life or in Purgatory where God heals us and undoes the damage we have done. This is where Indulgences help us, because they help us to pay the debt of sin in this life. So it’s a good idea to try and gain as many Indulgences as we can. We may also apply any Indulgences we gain to the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

So how do you gain an Indulgence by making the Stations of the Cross? The Stations must be lawfully erected, which they are in St Mary’s. There must be fourteen crosses and we must meditate on the Passion and Death of Our Lord at each Station. Those unable to come to church may also gain the Indulgence by spending 15 minutes in devout reading and meditation on Our Lord’s Passion. In addition to making the Stations, one must be in a state of grace, have a detachment from all sin, even venial sin, make a sacramental Confession within a week either before or after, receive Holy Communion, and pray for the Pope’s intentions which we do at the end of the Stations anyway. If one doesn’t fulfil all these conditions, the Indulgence is partial, but one must be in a state of grace. You can fulfil all these conditions on a Friday evening by making your Confession before the 6.30pm Mass, receiving Holy Communion at Mass, followed by making the Stations.

This devotion helps us to think of what Our Lord did for us and the great love He showed in doing it. By devoutly making the Stations, it helps us to return some of that love. Be sure to try and gain the Indulgence at least once this Lent.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 11 February 2024

9 Feb

Our Lady of Lourdes

Today is the World Day of Prayer for the Sick and, were it not a Sunday, we would be celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Lourdes must be the most famous apparition and pilgrimage site of Our Lady in the world and many of you have visited there. Countless healings and miracles in both body and soul take place there all the time.

St Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879) was born into a very poor family, and on the morning of 11th February 1858, as she went out with her sister to collect some firewood, Our Lady appeared to her in a grotto. There were 18 apparitions in all and Our Lady asked for two simple things: prayer and penance for sinners, and for a chapel to be built there.

In one of the apparitions Our Lady instructed Bernadette to drink from the spring and wash herself there. Bernadette didn’t have a clue what Our Lady was talking about since there was no spring, but Our Lady pointed to the exact spot. Bernadette began to dig in the ground and wipe herself with the mud, and everyone thought she had gone completely mad. They were astonished when shortly after, water began to flow from the very spot where she had been digging. And within just a few days people were claiming cures as a result of using this water. Cures continue there to this day.  

Bernadette’s Parish Priest, Fr Peyramale, was at first, very sceptical about the apparitions, and told her to ask this Lady to identify herself and give her name. So on 25th March 1858, the Feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette asked the Lady who she was, and she gave the wonderful answer, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette didn’t understand what this meant. She wasn’t a theologian. In fact, she was very ignorant, and neither was the dogma of the Immaculate Conception something well known at the time. It is a dogma of the Church that Our Lady, through no merits of her own, but because of the Divine Son she was to bring into this world, was preserved from the stain of Original Sin, and from all personal sin from the moment of her conception. So as Bernadette made her way from the grotto to the presbytery to tell her Parish Priest, she kept repeating these words over and over again in case she forgot them. She rushed into the presbytery and said, “The Lady said, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’!” The priest was stunned, and it was an emotional moment for him, because he knew Bernadette wasn’t educated, and for her to be able to give this title of Our Lady, was for him a proof of the genuineness of the apparition.

We tend to focus on the miraculous healings of the body which take place at Lourdes and there are many. But even more miraculous are the conversions and the healing of souls which take place there. Even if you can’t go there, you can still receive the benefits of Lourdes by invoking Our Lady under the title of Our Lady of Lourdes and her Immaculate Conception.

Bernadette was persecuted from every side – by her family who forbade her from going to the grotto and also by the civil authorities by whom she was imprisoned. She was also persecuted by the religious authorities, and when she became a nun, one of the sisters was very unkind to her. Our Lady told her, “I do not promise to make you happy in this life, but only in the next”, which is a reminder to the modern world, that this life only has meaning and relevance as a preparation for the next – that is for eternity. Our Lady consoled Bernadette and gave her the strength to face these trials and to carry the heavy load of the cross.

As we begin Lent this Wednesday, we can ask Our Lady of Lourdes to help us carry our crosses, to make them less burdensome, and to give us the courage and strength of perseverance in adversity. And let us never forget how much Our Lady loves us, and that she wants us to be with her and JESUS in Heaven.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 4 February 2024

2 Feb

Are you preparing for Lent?

Do you know that Lent is less than two weeks away? Ash Wednesday falls on 14th February this year. Let’s not wait until Shrove Tuesday to decide what we’re going to do for Lent! Now is the time to prepare ourselves.

A good preparation for Lent is to ask ourselves, “What in my life needs to change?” If you were to die today, what would happen when you had to stand before the Judgment Seat of JESUS Christ? We would all like Him to say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 24:21), but is that what He would say to us? It’s not enough to say, “I believe in JESUS.” Remember, even the devil believes in JESUS and knows Who He is, as we heard in last week’s Gospel (Mark 1:21-28). Our Lord told us, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14). Unfortunately we all want the easy way, but JESUS told us that is not the way that leads to life. And so that’s why over the next few days we really need to look at ourselves and see what we need to change in our own lives.

What is it I do all the time that offends God? What are the sins I bring up constantly in Confession? Take one of your main weaknesses and work on that. There’s no point in giving up chocolate and alcohol if I merrily carry on sinning! So we need to be serious. There are terrible things going on in the world today and we don’t know what the future may hold for us or our country. So we need to be ready, and not just with food stacked up in the cellar. We need to have our souls ready.

Increase your prayer life. This is most important. If you’re just saying an Our Father and Hail Mary each day, that’s not enough. We must all be seeking deeper union with JESUS. Spend time before Him in the Blessed Sacrament. The church is open a lot during the day, and there are two hours of Adoration every Saturday morning between 10.30am and 12.30pm concluding with Benediction. Read and meditate on the Scriptures, especially the Gospels. Say the Rosary devoutly thinking on the mysteries. And then through that growth in the spiritual life, it becomes much easier to address the other areas in your life that need attention, like anger or lack of faith, addictions and so on. Then God will give you the grace to improve on them. This is the hard road to sanctity we are all being called to. “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). In other words, don’t think as the world thinks. Think as Christ thinks. Be faithful to Him. Keep the Commandments. Obey the moral law as the Church has always understood it. If we strive to do these things, even if we sometimes fall, we will be pleasing to God, and He will reward us for our labours with eternal life.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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