Newsletter for Sunday 22 May 2022

20 May

Councils of the Catholic Church

The First Reading at Mass today (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29) recalls the Council of Jerusalem which was the very first Council held by the Church around 50 AD. In this Council we have a very Catholic model of how matters of doctrine and pastoral practice are to be dealt with, and the Church has used this model right up to the present day. The last Council of the Church was the Second Vatican Council held from 1962-1965.

A Council of the Church is a gathering of bishops presided over by the pope where matters are considered and maybe even debated. The Council of Jerusalem, presided over by Peter, the first Pope, decided two things: firstly that circumcision was not necessary for salvation (not included in today’s reading), and secondly, “to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication”. It’s true that today we eat blood meat, but the Church makes the distinction between decrees which are binding for all time, like circumcision not being necessary for salvation, and other decrees, where pastoral provisions are specific to a particular time and place, such as to abstain from eating meat with blood in it, because it was offensive to the Jewish Christians who had always obeyed the law of Moses. This part of the Apostolic Decree was never intended to be a universal decree for the whole Church. They didn’t send the letter to all the churches throughout the world, but only to a specific set of churches that were dealing with this particular conflict between Jews and Gentiles. So there is this important distinction. But Peter is the one who arises to settle the matter (Acts 15:7) because the Apostles were divided. This is the charge Peter had received from Our Lord when He prophesied, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, confirm your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). Peter at the Council of Jerusalem fulfils this text, as he will again in the future, and as will every pope after him. Notice here how the Decree is worded, “It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and ourselves…” (15:28). So the dogmatic teaching of the Church on matters of faith and morals when proclaimed solemnly by the Church come from the Holy Spirit and they are infallible and therefore irreformable. They are for all times and all places.

Although the pope under very strict conditions can pronounce infallibly on matters of faith and morals, this does not mean popes can never make mistakes. In the Bible itself we have Paul’s famous rebuke of Peter in Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14). All popes are bound by what has been handed down, and we call it Tradition. No pope can ever define a novel doctrine that was never part of the Church’s Magisterium. This is taught by the First Vatican Council (1868-1870): “For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that they might disclose a new doctrine by his revelation, but rather that, with his assistance, they might reverently guard and faithfully explain that revelation or deposit of faith that was handed down through the Apostles.” Novel ideas can have no place for a believing Catholic.

The controversial ideas concerning sexuality and marriage are very alive within the Church today. But on these and other questions on which the Church has already given an answer invoking Apostolic authority, She can never change her answers or contradict what She has previously taught. The reason for this apparent ‘rigidity’ is not because the Church claims too much authority, but because She has no authority to dissent from the teaching of Her Divine Founder, Who is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it: “JESUS Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (13:8).

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 15 May 2022

13 May

Preparing souls to meet God

In last week’s newsletter I wrote about the priesthood and vocations, and about how we need priests because the priest acting ‘in persona Christi’ (‘in the person of Christ’) prepares souls for Heaven and seeks to bring those entrusted to his care to eternal salvation. A priest is not a priest for himself but for others.

There was once a Catholic priest who worked extremely hard in the Midwest of America in the early 1900s. He rode his horse thousands of miles going from village to village to celebrate Mass and administer the Sacraments to the few Catholics who lived in those areas. One day, after he had finished Mass a lady said to him, “Father, have you heard about old man Jones? He’s dying.” The priest immediately took the Blessed Sacrament, his holy oils and ritual and followed the woman’s son, also on a horse who led him many miles through the woods. Finally they arrived in a dilapidated one-room cabin. The priest entered and saw the bed in the corner with the old man lying there emaciated from cancer. He was just skin and bones. When the man saw the priest dressed in his black cassock, he said, “Father, I knew you would come.” The priest immediately heard the man’s confession, anointed him and gave the Apostolic Pardon. The death rasp had already begun, so the priest knelt down by the bed, held the man’s hand and began to pray the Rosary. As evening came, the sun went down and the cabin became darker and darker. Suddenly this very weak dying man sat up in bed and exclaimed, “I see the Blessed Virgin and she’s smiling at you and me!” The priest turned around quickly, but all he could see was darkness. When he turned back the old man was dead. The priest said, “I stayed there kneeling on the floor holding the old man’s hand until they went cold. Then I cried and thanked God that I was a priest.”

What a grace it is to die a happy death with the Sacraments of the Church. It is something we should all pray for, and that there will be a priest to anoint us when our time comes. What a privilege it is for a priest to help people die well. If you’re declining in health due to old age or serious illness and that death is a possibility, please call one of us priests to give you the Sacrament of the Sick. Father is not too busy for this! Similarly, if a loved one of yours is in the hospital and death is a possibility, call the priest to anoint them in plenty of time. Don’t leave it till the last minute as Father could be out elsewhere. Remember, this is the supreme moment in our lives. Also, anyone in poor health or who is about to undergo serious surgery qualifies to receive the Sacrament.

Something else I particularly want to mention, because people generally don’t know about it, is the Apostolic Pardon. You should know what this is, because not all priests will automatically do it. When a person is dying, the Apostolic Pardon forgives temporal punishment due to our sins, but not the sins themselves which is why it is usually administered with Confession and Anointing. If we die in a state of grace, if anything remains from our lives for which we have not done sufficient penance, the temporal punishment for those sins is completely forgiven through the Apostolic Pardon. The words the priest uses are: “By the faculty given to me by the Apostolic See, I grant you a plenary indulgence and the remission of all your sins, and I bless you. In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Normally, an Apostolic Pardon is something only the Pope can give, and as you know a Plenary Indulgence also requires one to go to Confession, receive Holy Communion and pray for the Pope’s Intentions, all of which may not be possible for someone who is dying. If the dying person is properly disposed to receive the Plenary Indulgence, he/she doesn’t need to go to Confession, receive Holy Communion or pray for the Pope’s Intentions. The Indulgence is given them there and then by the priest which would mean they go straight to Heaven. What a magnificent gift from Our Lord and the Church which priests can use. “From a sudden and unprovided death, spare us, O Lord.”

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Returning to Mass at Pentecost (a letter from the Bishops’ Conference)

 

 

Newsletter for Sunday 8 May 2022

6 May

Vocations Sunday

The Church has chosen this Sunday, also known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ because the readings are about God as the Good Shepherd, to pray for vocations to the priesthood. And so it is also ‘Vocations Sunday’. Christ called Himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:14) because He wants to take care of us all personally. “The sheep that belong to Me listen to My voice: I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life” (John 10:27-28). The priest is an ‘alter Christus’ or ‘another Christ’ whose task it is to bring those entrusted to his care to eternal salvation, to save their souls. Today, as we all know, there is a dire lack of priests, so this affects all of us, whether we like it or not.

St Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) was a Polish Franciscan priest imprisoned in Auschwitz Concentration Camp during the Second World War, where in spite of the appalling living conditions, he tried to set an example of faith for the other prisoners. He was always concerned for their eternal salvation. On July 31st, 1941, following a prisoner’s escape, ten men were randomly selected to die by starvation as a reprisal. Father Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father whom he had befriended. The German officer was shocked by his offer and asked him who he was, and his answer was simple, yet profound, “I am a Catholic Priest”. Fr Kolbe was no longer able to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, and so he offered his own life as the sacrifice. The officer agreed and Fr Kolbe and the nine others were taken away to die. And Fr Kolbe was the last to die, having endured two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect, but along the way he had helped all the others prepare for death. All you heard in that cell while they were being starved were prayers and hymns. Interestingly, there is no known instance of any prisoner in Auschwitz dying in despair while Fr Kolbe was there. He himself died on the Vigil of the Assumption, 14th August 1941 by being injected with carbolic acid. A true priest who gave his life for his flock in imitation of the Master.

Today we complain about the seminaries being empty, and people even wonder if God has stopped calling men to the priesthood because He wants the laity to take over. No! The Catholic Church needs priests to function otherwise it would not be the Church Christ founded. A Church without priests would be Protestant. Our Lord founded a hierarchical Church with bishops and priests to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, to administer the Sacraments and to teach and to govern. God keeps calling people to this life, but do people hear Him? There needs to be a fervent Catholic environment in families, and the young must be taught not to deny God whatever He asks for. We must pray continuously for vocations from our own homes and families and that those God is calling will hear that call.

St John Vianney (1786-1859) the Patron Saint of Parish Priests wrote, “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put Him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of JESUS Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die (as a result of sin) who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest … After God, the priest is everything! Only in Heaven will he fully realise what he is.”

The Church and the world needs priests! Pray for your priests that we live up to our calling. The Rosminian Order are having a Vocations Weekend at the Rosmini Centre on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd May. You will find the details elsewhere in this newsletter. Could God be calling someone reading this to the priesthood or religious life? Do you know somebody who might make a good priest? Pray for them. Perhaps even suggest it to them. We can all be vocation promoters by helping those around us to live a Christian life. A priestly vocation could be depending on you!

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 1 May 2022

29 Apr

Obey God rather than men

“Obedience to God comes before obedience to men” replied Peter in today’s First Reading (Acts 5:27-41) when the high priest had tried to prevent the Apostles preaching the Gospel. The Apostles, having seen the risen Christ, and also having been filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, went out into the streets of Jerusalem, the very place where Our Lord had been put to death and preached His Resurrection. Peter had already been arrested and thrown into gaol for this, and he knew that he may suffer a worse fate if he persisted in preaching Christ. But having seen the risen Christ he was now fearless and nothing would deter him. But after reaffirming the truth of the Gospel they had been preaching, the Apostles left the Sanhedrin “glad to have had the honour of suffering for the sake of the name”. The Church having been born at Pentecost, would now continue in her mission to bring the unadulterated Truth to her members till the end of the world, no matter who tried to prevent it.

While it is true that the Will of God and the will of man will not always conflict, sometimes they do and then we have to choose between them. In such a scenario there are only two options – God or not God. If we choose God, we will get two things: persecution and suffering in this life, but eternal happiness in the next. This is why the Apostles were “glad to have had the honour of suffering for the sake of the name”. Suffering for Christ is a badge of honour. But if we reject the Will of God we risk Heaven and our eternal salvation.

Standing up for the Truth will almost always bring hardship but it’s our duty to defend Christ. We may be intimidated by threats or prejudice, anti-Catholic laws may be passed. We may be mocked, ridiculed and ostracised and perhaps lose our employment. We might even be imprisoned. So we need to have the boldness of the Apostles. After all, Our Lord told us we must preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth until the end of time (Matthew 28:19-20). The message is very clear: Repent and reform your lives and be baptised into the Church founded by Christ if you want to be saved. That’s the basic message which doesn’t sit well with the world today.

There have been many witnesses to this truth throughout the history of the Church. St Thomas More (1478-1535) was Chancellor of England and a friend of King Henry VIII. When the Church and the Pope wouldn’t give in to Henry’s marital demands, Henry declared himself the head of the Church in England, usurping the authority of the Pope, and granted himself the desired annulment of marriage, thus breaking with Rome. Almost all of England’s bishops supported the king, but St Thomas More refused to go along with it. His family were threatened and tortured but he would not betray Christ’s Church, and so he was executed. Thomas said, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first”.

Similarly, many in the Church today fear the opinions of men more than God. Not enough bishops speak out and so the Church is being humiliated by relativism, and our once Christian society is being completely eroded. But the Church is divine and belongs to Christ. In these trials where many of the shepherds have become ravening wolves, we must remain faithful by our prayers and penances, by the frequent reception of the Sacraments, especially Penance and Holy Communion and by our good works. We must also really study our Faith. In this way we will contribute to the renewal of Holy Mother Church. May She once again become radiant in all her beauty for the whole world to see.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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Newsletter for Sunday 24 April 2022

22 Apr

 

Divine Mercy sets us free

It is easy to think of Divine Mercy as no big deal at all. We never doubt God’s mercy. We take it as a given – and we assume it would take us doing something really extraordinarily wicked to lose that mercy. But as Holy Week has reminded us, it is not as easy as that.

Divine Mercy depends on the Resurrection.

St Paul tells the Corinthians “If Christ is not risen from the dead, then our preaching is useless, and so is our faith,”(1Cor 15:15) We have to remember: “Men do not die for things they doubt.” The entire Christian faith is built on the certainty of the Resurrection –the certainty of the Apostles and the witness of the early Christians is a key to that. These Christians did not doubt. Neither should we! Many died for holding this truth.

The Church celebrates Easter Sunday for eight days in a row – culminating on a day that has only recently been called the Feast of Divine Mercy, this Sunday. This is a great reminder that without the Resurrection, there is no hope for mercy.

But Divine Mercy sets us free. A central tension in the film, ‘Paul, Apostle of Christ,’ is between Paul and a prominent Roman opponent who gets upset at Paul when he can’t promise him a miracle. “You have certain powers, but claim to have no authority of your own,” he said. “You sound more like a slave than a leader.” “All men are a slave to something,” Paul answers. “The question is – what?”

This is the key question of Divine Mercy Sunday, when God grants the Apostles the power to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation: “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:22)

This is the great gift the Passion of Christ paid for – this gift of forgiveness that sets us free from slavery to sin. But notice what Jesus says: Some sins will be forgiven; some will be retained. There are many ways to retain our sins – making them habits, not trying to end them, never confessing them. But there is only one way to see them forgiven – confession, with a firm purpose of amendment to change our lives.

Divine Mercy sets us free – but only if we step out of our cage and ask for it.

Divine Mercy entails our own works of mercy too, passing on what we have received. In addition to following God’s commandments in our own life, love & faith, requires more. We have to touch others with the mercy and love we have received:

“Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead … [and] giving alms to the poor” (CCC 2447).

St Faustina asked us to pray, ‘Jesus, I trust in you’. And we need to make sure it shows. Don’t let all the blessings of this weekend go to waste, grasp them with thankful hands!!

Fr David Jones OLW

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