Fr Liam says can now be viewed in the weekly newsletter
The Fifth Sunday of Lent – 18.03.2018
Father Liam says: The two Councils of the Church that are quoted most often in our Sunday Mass both date from the fourth century. The Creed that we often use (when we don’t use the Apostles Creed) is a combination of the Creeds issued by the General Council of the Church in Niceae in 325 and a t Constantinople in 381. At these Councils the Church was dealing with great theological disputes that were threatening to tear the Church apart. They had to do with the nature of God himself – how in the one God there are three divine persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The great disputes of the fifth century centred on the identity of Jesus – that he was true God and true Man. All these disputes arose in the East. The Church in the West was trying to cope with the barbarian invasions and had little time for theological arguments, whereas the Church in the East produced thinkers and theologians and conflicting religious opinions. That is why all the early councils of the Church took place in the East in response to all the divisions that arose there. What was now causing division in the Eastern Church in particular was how exactly could Jesus be Divine – how could God be present in the child Jesus and in the man Jesus who was put to death on a cross? The Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Council of Chalcedon in 451 grappled with these great questions. Arising from these disputes the role of Mary came under intense consideration. In giving birth to the child Jesus could Mary really bring God into the world?
The Council of Ephesus gave us the definitive teaching that indeed Mary was the bearer of God. The teachings of these early Councils were given in the Greek language – the language of the East. The Council emphasised that Mary was Theotokos – literally the bearer of God. That is rendered in Latin as Mater Dei – the Mother of God. Catholics are noted for referring to Mary as the Mother of God. She was given that title to defend the true identity of Jesus. If Jesus is truly God and if Mary is his mother then she is truly Mother of God. Other Christians shy away from calling Mary God’s mother. They gladly call her the Mother of Christ.
In the Ave Maria composed by Johann Sebastian Bach he very deliberately omits the words ‘Mater Dei’ from his composition. In the second half of the Hail Mary, where we have ‘Sancta Maria, Mater Dei’ Bach has the words ‘Sancta Maria, Sancta Maria.’ Bach, a staunch Protestant who died in 1750, could not ascribe the title ‘Mother of God’ to Mary. We believe that Mary is the mother of the person of Jesus. All mothers carry a person in their womb. The person that Mary gave birth to had a divine nature and a human nature. A mother gives birth to a person, not a nature. Mary’s Son is divine and human. She is the mother of the divine and human person; she is the mother of God because she is the mother of Jesus. We see from the sermons and writings of Martin Luther that he retained throughout his life his belief that Mary is the Mother of God. This belief was formed in his Catholic childhood and from his days as an Augustinian monk.
Luther wrote ‘She became the Mother of God in which work so many and such great good things are bestowed on her as pass man’s understanding. For on this there follows all honour, all blessedness and her unique place in the whole of mankind among whom she has no equal. She had a child by the Father in heaven and such a Child! Hence men have crowned all her glory into a single word, calling her the Mother of God. One should honour Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honour of Mary is the honour of God, the praise of God’s grace. Mary is nothing for the sake of herself but for the sake of Christ. Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God.’
Luther certainly believed Mary to be the Mother of God but he found the devotion of Catholics to Mary and the Saints to be extreme and exaggerated. In spite of seeing ‘all honour and all blessedness’ bestowed on Mary by God he saw Catholics as ‘having made Mary and the angels into Gods.’ I don’t think Luther would have disagreed with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on Mary.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent – 11.03.2018
Father Liam says: Cardinal Robert Sarah is Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. This is one of the most important Departments in the Roman Curia. The members of the various Congregations are appointed for a five year period but in practice they are often allowed to continue in office until they reach retirement at the age of seventy-five. Cardinal Sarah, is highly regarded as a very holy man and had been spoken of as a possible successor to Pope Francis as Bishop of Rome. But that was before Pope Francis has had occasion to take issue with him with public corrections. One had to do with a directive by the Pope a few months ago restoring to local Conferences of Bishops more authority in the matter of translating texts to be used in the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments. (There was widespread dissatisfaction some years ago when the Curia refused to recognise the competence of Conferences of Bishops to authorise new translations of the Missal in their areas.) Cardinal Sarah seemed to undermine this Papal directive suggesting that Bishops had no such power and Pope Francis felt it was necessary to take him to task on the matter. Previously Cardinal Sarah was strongly urging priest to preside at Mass while facing east. In practice this would often mean reverting to priests having their backs to the people at the celebration of Mass. Pope Francis speedily corrected him on this issue also.
The most recent intervention of Cardinal Sarah on how Mass should be celebrated refers to the manner in which people should receive Holy Communion. Local Conferences of Bishops issued suggestions many years ago on how people in England and Wales should receive the Sacred Host. The Bishops of England and Wales have suggested that we approach the altar in a reverent procession and bow our heads as we profess our belief in the Real Presence of Our Lord by responding ‘Amen’ when the minister says: ‘The Body of Christ’. Then we receive the Sacrament either in the hand or on the tongue before receiving from the chalice if we so wish and returning to our places.
Very recently Cardinal Sarah wrote a foreword to a book by Father Federico Bortoli. In it the Cardinal says that the practice of receiving Communion in the hand is part of a ‘diabolical attack’ on the Church that diminishes reverence to God. He says: ‘Truly the war between Michael and his Angels on one side and Lucifer on the other continues in the heart of the faithful. Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Consecrated Host.’ Sarah tells us that we should receive Communion kneeling and on our tongue.
In the middle of the fourth century Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem gave this instruction to those who were about to join the Catholic Church at Easter: ‘When you come forward for Holy Communion do not draw near with your hands wide open or with fingers spread apart. In stead, with your left hand make a throne for the right hand, which will receive the King. Receive the Body of Christ in the hollow of your hand and give the response ‘Amen’. If we are to take Cardinal Sarah seriously this way of receiving constitutes ‘the most insidious diabolical attack’ on the Blessed Sacrament organised by Satan himself!
We are privileged to gather as disciples Sunday by Sunday at the Table of the Lord. This table makes present for us the words and actions of Jesus at his Last Supper and it anticipates the heavenly banquet as a pledge of future glory is given to us. The central image of all four of our scriptural accounts of the Eucharist is that of a single loaf which is blessed by the Lord, broken and shared and that of the one cup that Jesus blessed and gave to his disciples. Paul reminded the Corinthians: ‘Because there is one loaf we who are many are one body for we all partake of the one loaf’ (1Cor 10:17). Large patens pictured in mosaics from the early Church remind us of one loaf that was such a key element of the Eucharist. Once one has a broken leavened loaf with irregular cube-like morsels one has to use one’s own hand. The sermons of the early Church spoke about those broken loaves with no hint of irreverence, but encouragement that if you have dipped your hand in that dish, you would not betray the Lord.
It is not clear when receiving on the tongue became common but it was certainly as a result of the move to unleavened ‘altar bread’ which spread in the west in the ninth and tenth centuries. One can only receive on the tongue if one has a flat disc-shaped wafer. Why the west moved to unleavened bread is disputed but it was certainly an innovation. It was yet another factor in the rift between the Church in the West and the Greek Churches. This change was accompanied by another development – there was a huge decrease in people coming to Communion. There was a growing sense of fear, of our unworthiness before the Lord. The vision of our gathering in joyful thanks for what the Father has done for us in Christ became dim. It has been one of the aims of the Vatican Council to revive it.
The Third Sunday of Lent – 04.03.2018
Father Liam says: For the past six years in our Parish we have had an auction as part of our January fund raising event for CAFOD. I was interested to learn that for the fifth year running the Vatican will be holding a raffle with all the money raised being donated to charities of the Pope. Pope Francis – who has been Pope for five years – donates the prizes each year. Most of them are gifts that he receives. A Lamborghini made especially for him and decorated in Papal Colours will be auctioned off in Monaco later this year. Also there will be a Volkswagen eco-up! Car powered by methane gas, a top of the range digital camera and an espresso coffee machine. Tickets cost ten Euros and can be purchased on line from a Vatican website (beneficenza.vatican.va). I haven’t bought a ticket but I did buy a ticket for our Parish Event and a big thank you to all who did likewise.
Pope Francis has completed his sixth visit to Latin America with a trip to Chile and Peru. Interestingly he has not yet conducted a Papal visit to his native Argentina but no doubt that will not be long delayed. He has not yet visited France or Spain, Catholic heartlands, in the past at any rate, unless you count a four hour trip to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He recently addressed – as Popes do every January – the diplomats who represent the interests of 185 states. Eighty-five have permanent embassies based in Rome with the rest stationed in various parts of Europe. Twenty-five ambassadors are women, including the envoys from the United States, Australia, Great Britain and Ireland.
The network of Holy See ambassadors – Papal Nuncio’s – is second only to the U.S. in terms of numbers of countries in which they are present. Pope Francis called for patient dialogue between North Korea and the United States. He quoted St John XXIII: ‘The stock piles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round – simultaneously. Nuclear weapons must be banned’. He stressed the need for international co-operation in maintaining the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions. ‘Climate changes, with the global rise in temperatures, and their devastating effects are also a consequence of human activity. Hence there is a need to take up, in a united effort, the responsibility of leaving to coming generations a more beautiful and liveable world, and to work in the light of the commitments agreed upon in Paris in 2015. He strongly focused on refugees. ‘Migration has always existed. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the history of salvation is essentially a history of migration. Nor should we forget that freedom of movement is a fundamental human right.’ He noted that most new arrivals in Europe are driven by a desire to find peace and security. He cited Bangladesh as a country welcoming new arrivals. He saw this at first hand on his recent visit to South Asia where he met a group of Rohingas Muslims driven out of Myanmar. He spoke about human rights being disregarded. The case of abortion: ‘Innocent children are discarded even before they are born simply because they are ill or malformed or as a result of the selfishness of adults.’
Shortly before Christmas Pope Francis spoke frankly to the Church’s central bureaucracy – the Curia. This was his fourth annual address to them and, as on previous occasions, he forcefully addressed the Cardinals, bishops and other department officials on the need for change. Nor did he mince his words: ‘Reforming Rome is like cleaning the Sphinx of Egypt with a toothbrush’, he said, quoting a 19th century Belgian churchman. The phrase did not evoke much laughter among those gathered in the frescoed Clementina Hall of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
Since his election in 2013 as the first Latin American Pope, Francis has been trying to reform the Italian-dominated Curia to bring the hierarchy of the Church closer to its members and to bring about financial reforms and guide it out of scandal that marked the pontificate of his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict. He has however encountered a great deal of resistance, particularly when he has closed some departments and merged and streamlined others. He said that some in the bureaucracy – the nerve centre of the 1.2 billion Church – and whose members are charged with carrying out the Pope’s decisions – were part of ‘cliques and plots.’ Pope Francis called this ‘unbalanced and degenerate’ and a ‘cancer that leads to a self-referential attitude.’ In his pre-Christmas address he spoke of those ‘traitors of trust’ who had been entrusted with carrying out reforms but ‘let themselves be corrupted by ambition and vainglory.’ When they were quietly let go, he said, ‘they erroneously declare themselves to be martyrs of the system instead of reciting a ‘mea culpa’ (Latin for ‘through my fault.)
In July in a major shake-up of the Vatican administration, Francis unexpectedly replaced the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the completion of his five year term of office. He had been at odds with the pontiff’s vision of a more inclusive Church. Francis said the majority of Curia members were faithful, competent and some were saintly. Later, in a separate meeting with Vatican employees and their families, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for the failings of some Church officials
The Second Sunday of Lent – 25.02.2018
Father Liam says: Today we conclude the account of the martyrdom of St Robert Southwell, a Jesuit priest who was executed on 3rd March 1595 in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970. He was put to death in Tyburn, where Edgware Road joins the western end of Oxford Street at Marble Arch. In the centre of the road a triangular brass marks the place where the three cornered gallows formerly stood. Nearby is a beautiful chapel where there is perpetual Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the Convent of the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart. Chatsmore used to be known as Blessed Robert Southwell School
Father Henry Garnett wrote to his Jesuit superiors in Rome describing what occurred as his friend was speaking before his death. “A troublesome minister here said, ‘Master Southwell, explain yourself; for if you understand what you say according to the Council of Trent it is damnable.’ The crowd of bystanders ordered the foolish minister to be silent and the father replied: ‘Master minister, trouble me not I pray you at this time. I am a Catholic and, interpret it as you will, I trust to be saved by the merits and passion of our Saviour. As to the queen, I have never attempted or thought any evil against her; indeed I have always prayed to our Lord, and in this little space of time that I have yet to breathe I will not cease to pray, that of His great mercy, and for the sake of His precious blood and glorious wounds, He may vouchsafe to give her those gifts and graces which His divine wisdom sees to be fittest for the salvation of body and soul in this life and the next. I now commend to the hands of Almighty God my unhappy country, that of His mercy He may fill it with that knowledge and understanding of His truth which most may lead to the salvation of souls and to His eternal glory.’
“When he had said this he caught sight of one of ours (a fellow Jesuit) who gives this account and threw his handkerchief towards him, which however did not reach him. He then went on with his speech. ‘Lastly,’ he said ‘I commend to the hands of Almighty God this my poor soul; this wretched body I leave to the queen’s will; and I pray that this my death may be useful to myself and my country, and may be a consolation to others.’ “And then, while waiting for the cart to be driven away, he made the sign of the cross and lifting his face to heaven he said: ‘Into thy hands O Lord I commend my spirit.’ As there was still some time remaining he uttered with the greatest devotion some sentences of the Psalms, as ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel’; ‘The just wait for me until Thou reward me’; ‘Create a clean heart in me O God’; (as well as) ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, and all the Saints, intercede for me.’
“As the cart was driven away he signed himself, saying ‘Into Thy hands O Lord.’ Whilst hanging from the gallows he often made the sign of the cross for the rope was badly placed on his neck) until the hangman pulled his legs (which is an unusual act of humanity with us) and then he closed his eyes which till then were open. An officer often tried to cut the rope but was prevented by Lord Mountjoy and by all the people, who three times cried out: ‘Leave him,’
“The hangman took him down with much reverence and with his attendants carried him in his arms top the place of his disembowelling. Others they usually drag along the ground in a very inhuman way. One of the pursuivants declared that he had never seen a man die more piously.
“That is what I am able to write at present. Next week the rest shall be written and perhaps the two letters will reach your paternity together. Meanwhile let us give you joy and by your prayers prepare us, of all the most unworthy, for similar combats; for I cannot see how long I can escape the enemies’ hands. This one thing I pray, that my sins may not keep me from the combat or make me less valiant in the fight; and I do not doubt your paternity, by your holy sacrifices, will gain this for me. “Your reverence’s unworthy Son and Servant in Christ. “Henry Garnett”
No doubt, Father Garnett did write to his Superior in Rome a further letter about the death of his friend but there is no trace of it. He mentioned two exceptional circumstances about the execution. Normally the victim would be cut down and disembowelled alive and dragged, still alive along the ground where the body would be cut into four parts. Hence the phrase, hung, drawn and quartered. This did not happen in Robert Southwell’s case. There was another unusual detail – not mentioned by Henry Garnett. When St Robert Southwell’s head was cut off it was not held up so the crowd could see it and cry ‘traitor’. This was so contrary to the practice of the time where Catholics were put to death for their faith. So we come to the end of a letter of one martyr (Henry Garnett) about another.
We conclude with a short note from a letter another martyr, St Philip Howard wrote from his prison to Robert Southwell before he was taken prisoner. ‘My dear and reverent Father, this being the last time that I think I shall ever send unto you I should be very ungrateful if I should not now express my gratitude in words. I could not be more bound to any man – nor to any but one of your calling – so much, and all this in a time when such comforts were most welcome.’
I am indebted to the Editor of ‘The Triumphs over Death’ John William Trotman
The First Sunday of Lent – 18.02.2018
Father Liam says: I have been writing about the tortures endured by the Jesuit priest, Father Robert Southwell, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales who were canonised in 1970. He was martyred in 1595 and a great deal of history of that period has been preserved, though many efforts were made to suppress it. In 1636 John Trussell wrote a history of the life and times of Robert Southwell, emphasising what a literary giant the martyr was but also detailing the manner of his sufferings and death. His accounts are verified by a number of State papers of the time which are still to be seen in the British Museum. Trussell was the literary agent of Southwell. Trussell tells us of the private torture inflicted on the priest while he was being held in the home of the State agent Topcliffe with the permission of Queen Elizabeth I. Public torture was limited in its severity by the presence of magistrates but in the case of private torture there were no such limits.
On one occasion Southwell was left suspended in frightful agony for seven hours while Topcliffe went to the City on some business. On his return the victim, who appeared to be dying, was restored by distilled waters and then hung up again in the same position. His only exclamations were: ‘My God and my all’ and ‘God gave himself to you, give yourself to God’. After ten days of this he was taken out of Topcliffe’s hands by Lord Cecil and the other lords of the Council and committed to the Gatehouse prison where he spent a month in hunger and thirst, in cold and filth and neglect. His father visited him and found him covered with dirt and swarming with vermin with insects crawling in his sores. His father presented a petition to the Queen begging that his son be either executed or treated properly. He was transferred to a dungeon in the Tower of London where, without trial, he was held for nearly three years. He was permitted to have, at his request, the scriptures and the works of St. Bernard.
Father Henry Garnett, another Jesuit priest who was martyred in 1606, who accompanied him from Rome to England in 1586, wrote about the death of Southwell on the day after his martyrdom to the General of the Society of Jesus in Rome, Father Claud Aquaviva. The original letter, of which this is a translation, is preserved at Stonyhurst College. He calls Southwell ‘Christ’s unconquered soldier, most faithful disciple, most valiant martyr, formerly my dearest companion and brother, now my lord, patron and king, reigning with Christ. He has been kept for nearly three years in closer custody than anyone, so that no Catholic ever saw him or spoke to him. He was often tortured and that in a more cruel manner than even this barbarity is accustomed to inflict. He publicly declared that he had been tortured several times and that with torments worse than the rack or even death itself.’ ‘Thus deprived of all human aid at length they brought him forth that it might be clear to all how far divine assistance exceeds all human help. For all this long time he could neither say Mass nor go to the Sacrament of Penance, nor speak with anyone, nor receive consolation from any. Yet he went to judgement and to execution with so calm and tranquil a mind that you would have said that he came from the midst of a monastery of religious men and that he was passing on his own free account from the breasts of his mother to the sweetest of delights.’ ‘He was taken from the Tower of London to Newgate, the prison for thieves and murderers and there he was kept for three days in what is called Limbo, with no comfort but a candle. On 20th February he was brought into court where by a cunning device his adversaries took care that very few people should be present. For the day before, they gave no notice of what they were going to do, either to the gaoler or to anyone else. At the very time he was summoned, a notable thief was led off to execution which was done that almost all the city might be drawn to see him and thus not notice what was done with Father.’ ‘Yet not a few Catholics were present who told us all that passed. For the moment I have so little time that I omit these details just now but I will write them next week or the week after. At this time you will hear only those things that passed at his most happy triumph on the following day as I have been surely informed by one of ours who was present. Having been drawn to the gallows and lifted from the hurdle on which he had been drawn, to the cart, he made the sign of the cross as well as he could (for his hands were bound) and began his speech thus: ’Whether we live, we live unto the Lord, or whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether therefore we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s! When he was beginning a sermon on these words he was interrupted by the sheriff’s deputy. He earnestly begged that he might be allowed to speak, [promising that he would say nothing that could offend anyone. He then began in this manner: ’I have now come here to perform and accomplish the last act of this wretched life. I pray and beseech our Saviour through whose precious death and passion I hope to be saved mercifully to pardon me all the sins I have committed since my birth into this world. I profess myself a priest of the Catholic Roman Church and of the Society of Jesus, and for this I give God eternal thanks.’
I am indebted to the Editor of ‘The Triumphs over Death’ John William Trotman
The Sixth Sunday of the Year – 11.02.2018
Father Liam says: On 25th October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonised forty of the nearly four hundred men and women of England and Wales who gave their lives rather than deny their faith during the turbulent years of the 16th and 17th centuries. In a mere thirty months from now we will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of this event. Since our Parish and Catholic Primary School are dedicated to the English Martyrs it is of special significance to us. Our local Catholic High School used to be dedicated to one of these martyrs – Robert Southwell – before it was changed to Chatsmore Catholic High School some years ago. Perhaps a new name change is overdue, placing it once again under the patronage of one of our Saints rather than having it named after the site of Chatsmore Farm as it was in the early seventies. Interestingly, the first name allocated to it when it opened in the 1950’s was St Mary’s but there was such confusion with the post owing to the number of local places named St Mary’s that after one week the name was altered to Blessed Robert Southwell. Change could really be rapid in those days!
If you were associated with the school in its Southwell – or even if you were not – years you might like to be reminded of his life and times. He was born in 1561 in rural Norfolk and while still very young he was sent to Douai to be educated in a Catholic School as Catholic Schools in England were abolished. He studied for the priesthood in Rome, becoming a Jesuit priest in 1584. Together with another Jesuit priest, Father Henry Garnet – who was also to be martyred – he was sent to England in 1586. Priests who were educated abroad at this time are known as the seminary priests. Seminaries were only recently established after the Council of Trent decided that this was to be how candidates for the priesthood were to be trained. Previously they were very often trained in their own parish by the priest of that place.
When these Seminary priests returned to England they were very often protected and supported by wealthy Catholic families who strove to remain faithful to the old religion – the faith of their fathers and mothers. Southwell was sheltered chiefly in London by Lady Anne, wife of Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel who was a prisoner in the Tower of London where he was to remain until his death ten years later in 1595, the same year as Robert Southwell was put to death. Southwell helped to arrange several Mass Centres. He smuggled students abroad where they studied for the priesthood, he sheltered newly arrived priests after being ordained abroad. He ran a printing press to provide Catholics with prayer books and religious literature. He wrote and produced many books and poems of a high literary quality. He was pursued by powerful enemies including his second cousin Lord Cecil and Topcliffe who knew him as ‘the chief dealer for the papists in England.’
He was seized by his enemies in June 1592 while vested for Mass and dragged of in his vestments so that the crowds could mock him as a Catholic priest and therefore a traitor. He was taken to Westminster where Topcliffe lodged him in a strong chamber in his own house. Topcliffe wrote to Queen Elizabeth an account of how her most coveted prey had been captured. He asked her permission to torture him privately before he was committed to prison. This permission was immediately granted. The very autograph letter of Topcliffe has been providentially preserved in the British Museum. (Lansdowne MS 72, Art.39) Many of the enormities of Elizabeth’s reign have been shifted on to the shoulders of her counsellors but in the case of Southwell we see how Elizabeth and her cousin Topcliffe behaved without any constitutional procedure or check. The tortures inflicted on him in Topcliffe’s house were so atrocious that Father Southwell called God to witness at his trial nearly three years later, that he would rather have endured so many deaths than the numerous frightful ordeals he was privately subjected to. The private torture was incomparably crueller than any public racking. The particular mode of torture used by Topcliffe was to hang him from the wall by his hands, with a sharp circle of iron round each wrist pressing on an artery. His legs were bent backwards with his heels tied to his thighs so that he could get no rest from his toes touching on the ground. This torture left no permanent tell-tale marks. At his trial Father Southwell’s description of his torture caused Topcliffe to demand that if he spoke the truth he should show the marks. Southwells’ reply was ‘Ask a mother to show her pains.” The victim was kept suspended in this way until he either answered the interrogators or fainted from the pain and exhaustion. As no single word could be elicited from Southwell except prayers expressing his union with the sufferings of Christ he was restored from his fainting by burning paper under his nose and the torture was repeated.
I am indebted to the Editor of ‘The Triumphs over Death’ John William Trotman
The Fifth Sunday of the Year – 04.02.2018
Father Liam says: In recent years Mark, the first of the gospel writers, has come to be more greatly appreciated as the genius who under divine inspiration created a whole new form of sacred literature. In today’s section of the gospel we have a great example of his style of writing. There is a haste and directness about our reading. He resembles a reporter who knows he has an important story to tell and wants to get it out.
Some years ago Alex McCowen, the great actor who died last year at the age of 91, demonstrated on television what a riveting story-teller Mark is. On a bare stage he simply narrated Mark’s gospel from beginning to end without the aid of the written text before him. It took just about forty-five minutes and it was truly memorable. A few years later another actor wrote to a number of churches expressing a wish to do something similar for their congregations and I invited him to do so at Walton-on-Thames. These experiences have given me a new appreciation of Mark.
In today’s gospel we see how he avoids all superfluous details as he carries his listeners or readers along at a breathless pace. His pages are teeming with vivid pictures and dramatic action as he keeps us in touch with all the characters in ‘the greatest story ever told’, relating how they react to what is happening in their lives. A key question running all through Mark’s Gospel is ‘Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?’ Mark answers this question for his readers in the very first line of the Gospel when he tells us that Jesus is the Son of God. Mark wrote his gospel to help us to discover this for ourselves. Shall we look again at last Sunday’s Gospel reading which offers valuable help to us as we try to answer this all important question – ‘Who is Jesus?’ Mark, in that passage (Mk1:21-28) uses a literary device that ancient authors sometimes used to get their message across. They placed their central message in the middle of the passage and flanked it on either side with a series of perfectly matched statements. Commentators refer to this method of expression as a necklace effect. If you hold a fine necklace of precious stones at both ends, you will find that the most important gem is in the middle. On either side of the central gem there is a pair of matching smaller stones. This pattern is repeated with ever smaller and matching stones placed next to the ones that go before. The result is that one side of the necklace is a mirror image of the other.
In some biblical writings authors might use similar techniques. They set their central message into the middle of the passage. They lead up to it with a series of details increasing in importance and they move away from it with a series of balancing points in descending order. You could also picture it as approaching an elevation in a series of stepping stones and then moving away from it by another series of similar stepping stones on the other side.
The central point of last Sunday’s Gospel is that Jesus is ‘the Holy One of God’. This central; point is flanked, like the key gem on a necklace, on either side by a series of lesser points. Before the message that Jesus is ‘the Holy One of God’, the unclean spirit cries out: ‘Have you come to destroy us?’ Immediately after it the unclean spirit leaves the man ‘with a loud cry’. So we have the first matched couplet, paired by the word ‘cry’. We now come to the second matched couplet. Before the unclean spirit spoke, we were told: ‘The people ‘were astonished’ at his (Jesus’) teaching. After the unclean spirit leaves we are told: ‘All who looked on were amazed. The second couplet is marked by feelings of awe on the part of the people. Towards the beginning of the Gospel reading, when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, we read ‘Jesus taught them as one having authority, and not the scribes.’ Towards the end of the story, people ask: ’What is this? A new teaching with authority’ The third couplet is united with the idea of teaching with authority.
So we come to the final matching gem-stones. The story begins with Jesus entering the synagogue to teach or disseminate his message. It ends with the report that his fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee. This final couplet centres on spreading the good news. Being aware of how Mark frames his story helps us to appreciate his careful craftsmanship and leads us to the central point – Jesus is the Holy One of God. Synagogues did not come into existence until the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 587 BC. As long as the Temple in Jerusalem stood, it remained the sole place of public worship. The ten northern tribes had been conquered and exiled by the Assyrians about one hundred and forty years earlier. Cut off from their temple worship they eventually lost their faith and are known as the ten lost tribes of Israel. When the two remaining southern tribes were persecuted by the Babylonians they learned from the sad experience of their northern neighbours and established synagogues where children could be taught their faith and the people could gather for prayer and scripture.
The Fourth Sunday of the Year – 28.01.2018
Father Liam says: ‘The Bible’ literally means a collection of books. It is like a library. Just as a library contains all kinds of literature – poems, history, fables etc. – so also we find a wide range of different styles of writing in the Bible. How many books are in the Bible? It depends on which versions of the Bible you use. Catholic Bibles list forty-six books in the Old Testament and Protestant Bibles have thirty-nine. Interestingly Catholics and Protestants have never seriously disputed the list of the New Testament books. They both have twenty-seven books in the New Testament. Why do they not agree when it comes to the Old Testament? The answer takes us back deep into Jewish history.
The Assyrians conquered Israel in 721 BC and the Babylonians conquered Judah in587 BC. After King Solomon’s death his kingdom was divided between Israel in the north and Judah in the south. During the time of the Babylonian captivity and exile the Jews were spread all over the known world. Some retained their Hebrew language but most lost it and adopted the common language- Greek. If you could read and write at this time in history most likely you were reading and writing Greek.
Around the year 250 BC an effort was underway to translate all Jewish Scriptures into the Greek language. More Jews lived outside Palestine at this time than within it. In the 3rd Century BC nearly two-fifths of the population in Egypt, especially in Alexandria, were Jewish, but yet they were unable to read or write in Hebrew. These Greek speaking Jews were known as Hellenistic Jews. Before the exile or diaspora, thirty-nine Scripture books had been written in Hebrew. In the centuries that elapsed while they were in exile a further seven books were written not in Hebrew but in Greek. These seven books were considered as inspired as the thirty-nine Scripture books that had been written in Hebrew before the diasporain .
The Greek version of the Bible was called the Septuagint from the Greek word seventy. It allegedly had taken seventy scholars seventy years to complete the work of translation. They met in Alexandria and translated the thirty-nine Scriptural books that had been written in Hebrew into Greek. They also included the seven other books written by Jews in the Greek language and revered as part of their Scripture. These seven books – the Books of Baruch, Maccabees I and II, Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach) and Wisdom, were known and used by Jews not only in the diaspora but also in the Holy Land. Jesus and his disciples would have recognised them as part of the Jewish Scriptures. No-one had ever thought of refuting them and the early Christians likewise accepted their inspired status. These seven books were later called the Deutero-Canonical Books, meaning the second canon or list while the thirty-nine Hebrew books were known as the Canonical Books.
Jewish authorities in Jerusalem had no objection to these seven books until the year 100 AD. By this time the split between formal Judaism and Christianity was complete and Christianity was seen to form a separate religion in its own right. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD and so was the city. This had a hugely traumatic effect on the Jews. Their city and above all their temple meant so much to them. To this day the temple has not been rebuilt. The whole tragedy caused much soul searching. They wondered why God had punished them so and had they brought this disaster on themselves. In the year 100 Jewish leaders met at the Council of Jamnia and they sought to purify all foreign and gentile influence. They decided to remove anything that was not purely Hebrew from their religion. Because the seven Deutero-Canonical books were never written in Hebrew they were rejected as part of their Scripture.
Since Christianity was by now totally separate from Judaism, the decision of the Council of Jamnia did not impinge on them. They continued to accept the authenticity of the seven books because they had always been considered equal to the other thirty-nine and formed the book of Scriptures that Jesus and the Apostles had used and venerated. It was not until five hundred years ago – in 1517 – that the matter was deemed to be in any way contentious. But in that year Martin Luther chose to adopt the Hebrew Canon with its thirty-nine books rather than the Greek Canon known as Septuagint with its forty-six books. This is why there is a discrepancy between Catholic and Protestant versions of the Bible. Recently many publishers have re-introduced the seven books in Protestant Bibles but they are placed at the back, after the end of the canonical texts and are identified as being part of the Apocrypha which is from the Greek word meaning ‘hidden’.
Catholics use the term Apocrypha to mean something else. We use it to refer to certain writings, which some people alleged to be part of the Bible but which were never considered by the Church as being inspired. They were never included as part of any Bible, Catholic or Protestant. Among such works are the Assumption of Moses, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter and the Acts of St. John
The Third Sunday of the Year – 21.01.2018
Father Liam says: The word ‘Bible’ is not in the Bible! Nowhere from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation (the Apocalypse) is the word ever mentioned. However the word ‘Scripture’ appears fifty-three times and the phrase ‘Word of God’ is found fifty-five times in the King James version of the Bible. So why do we call it the Bible if Scripture itself does not. The word Bible comes from the Greek word biblia, meaning a collection of books. In ancient times the paper made from trees that we are familiar with did not exist. Writing was done on stone or on papyrus, which was made from the leaves of reeds. The ancient Egyptians specialised in making papyrus, which gave us our word paper.
The Catholic Church gave the name Bible to the collection of inspired books known as the Old and New Testaments. The Church also decided which books belonged to the Bible and which did not. Nowhere in the Scriptures is there a list of which documents belong and which do not. In our bibles, of course, there is a table of contents telling us on what pages we find the various books that go to making up the Scriptures. But the Bible itself never gave us such a list. It was modern day editors who did that, in order to make it easier for us to find the particular book we needed to find. Also it was in comparatively modern times that the various books of the bible are divided into chapters and verses. The original writers of the various books that make up our bible never did that.
Who said that the New Testament contains only twenty-seven books? In the early Church there were many books attributed to Thomas or Peter and others which some people thought should be part of the Scriptures. Why isn’t the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Peter in the Bible? What happened to the Apocalypse of Moses and the Apocalypse of Adam? Why are they not part of the Old Testament? Since the Bible never told us what books belong in it, the Church had to use her authority to make that decision.
To understand the history of the Bible we really have to go back to around 1800 BC. It was then that the oral tradition of the Hebrew people started. Abraham and his tribes were nomadic people and they did not have a written language of their own. Mothers and fathers verbally handed down the stories of their people, about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and so on. All these stories that later found their way into the Hebrew Scriptures were handed on for centuries by word of mouth. The word ‘tradition’ means to hand on or hand down. The stories of the Old Testament were told by word of mouth, which we call oral tradition, long before they found their way into the Scriptures. Scriptures is the name given to these traditions when they were finally passed on in written form.
Moses appeared sometime around 1250 BC when God delivered the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt and they entered the Promised Land. Moses had been raised in the Court of Pharaoh where he learned how to read and to write. The era of Moses opened the road of to some of the written words of God – the Scriptures. But the predominant bulk of revelation was still in the oral tradition handed down from generation to generation. Most of the Hebrews were slaves and unable to read or write. Substantial writings were not saved until 950 BC during the reign of King Solomon. King Solomon’s kingdom was divided into the Northern Kingdom known as Israel, and the Southern Kingdom known as Judah.
The Old Testament reflects the enormously complicated history of the Jewish people over well over a thousand years until the coming of Jesus. At Sunday Mass – in fact at all Masses – we have readings from the Old Testament and we sometimes find it very challenging to understand them. At every Mass we have a reading from the Book of Psalms, which was, and is, very dear to the Jewish people. It is their hymn book and their great prayer book. It always formed part of their official worship in their synagogue services every Sabbath in their local religious gatherings and of course in their temple worship in Jerusalem. Like every pious Jew Jesus was very familiar with the Psalms and in the Gospels we often hear him using and praying them. On most Sundays, the first reading as Mass is from the Old Testament. Why do we read the Old Testament at Mass? The simple reason is that we read it for the same reason we read the New Testament – because we believe it is the revealed Word of God. We read it because we wish to know what God is revealing to us.
Since Jesus is the ultimate revelation of the Father – the very Son of God who took upon himself human form and dwelt among us – would it not be enough to hear about him in the New Testament writings and listen to his words that we find there? Should we not be able to find these all we need to know? This point was made very forcefully in the Second Century AD when a certain Christian leader called Marcia thought that the Old Testament gave a bad impression of God. He was of the opinion that the Bible should be made up of only the Gospel of Luke and some of Paul’s letters. Our Christian ancestors insisted that the Christian Bible must contain both Testaments because they speak about the unfolding of the plan of the one God to make known to the whole world the salvation offered through Jesus.
St. Jerome – one of the greatest Scripture scholars of the early Church, put it like this: ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ’. In other words, if we have little or no knowledge of his Bible how can we understand Jesus? We see how the first disciples of Jesus came to understand who he is through reflecting on the Old Testament.
The Second Sunday of the Year – 14.01.2018
Father Liam asks: What is the third commandment? In the Catholic numbering of the Ten Commandments, it is: ‘Keep holy the Sabbath day’. The Protestant numbering, however, gives it as: ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.’ This is very confusing. The sixth commandment in the Catholic version is: ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ whereas this is the seventh commandment in the Protestant version.
It might help if we simply look at how the commandments are set out in Scripture – in the Book of Exodus. ‘And God spoke all these words saying, I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them, for the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, bur showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments’ You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the lord your God, in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your manservant or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is within them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the lord blessed the Sabbath and hallowed it.
Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife or his maidservant, or his ox or anything that is your neighbour’s (Exodus 20:1-17)
You will see that the Commandments are not individually numbered in Exodus for the sake of easy memorisation. The Church has historically condensed the passage from Exodus into the Ten Commandments. At the Reformation, the numbering adopted by the Protestants differed from that which had previously been the case. In fact only the First Commandment is common to both
In the Catholic scheme of things having strange gods and carving images and bowing down before them to worship them are grouped together as idolatry, while Protestants separate these statements into two distinct commandments. In the Protestant version, when it comes to coveting, the very different sins of coveting your neighbour’s wife and his goods are combined into a single commandment whereas they are very distinct commandments in the version most of us have learned from childhood. Interestingly most German Lutherans have stuck with the Catholic numbering.
It is sometimes suggested that Catholics are ‘hiding’ part of the first commandment as we do not wish to draw attention to carving craven images. But the prohibition against worshipping false gods and carving idols for the sake of worshipping deal with the exact same sin – idolatry. Idol worship was a particularly common form of idolatry and God is making it clear that carving statues or fashioning images for the sake of worshipping them is evil. The Catholic Church condenses both into the single commandment – do not worship false gods. The Catholic Church forbids the worship of graven images just as it forbids the worship of any other false god. But it is clear that there is a correct use of statues and images in religious worship. Just five chapters later than the prohibition of carving images to worship them we find God commanding Moses to carve graven images of angels to be placed on top of the Ark of the covenant. This is in Chapter 25 of Exodus. God had not forgotten the prohibition he gave in Chapter 20. God was not contradicting himself. There is a world of difference in using images as part of our worship of a false god and using images to help us in our worship of the one true God.
The Epiphany of the Lord – 07.01.2018
FATHER LIAM SAYS: This is Year B! If you announced this to your friends, many of them would think that you were rather strange. But the Catholic Church does regard 2018 as Year B just as it regarded 2017 as Year A and will refer to 2019 as Year C. In the Church’s cycle of Scripture readings in our Sunday Masses we have a three year structure. In an effort to set before us a wide selection of readings from the inspired Word of God Sunday by Sunday, our readings from the bible vary week by week over a three year period.
This has been the case for the past fifty years. It is one of the great fruits of the Second Vatican Council which opened up the Scriptures for us in encouraging us to hear them proclaimed at Mass in our own language. Prior to that, of course, Latin was the language of the Mass in most of the Catholic word. In Catholic churches that used one of the several Eastern Rites, Latin was not used in their celebration of the Eucharist and of the Sacraments. And in the Catholic Church in the West up to fifty years ago there was no three year cycle of Scripture readings at Sunday Mass. Back then, the Readings of the Sunday would be the same year by year and we scarcely ever had a Reading from St Mark’s Gospel. Now, in Year B, we normally have a Reading from St Mark, just as in Year A – last year – we normally heard from St Matthew and Year C puts before us Luke’s Gospel Sunday by Sunday. St John does not have a year of its own but we have readings from his Gospel every Sunday during Lent and throughout the Easter Season. In Year B we also have John’s Gospel on Sundays during August. Like Mark, John in his Gospel has no infancy narrative.
So this is the year of Mark. Who is Mark? We really do not know. He certainly was not one of the twelve Apostles. He may be the Mark or ‘John surnamed Mark’ mentioned a number of times in the New Testament, such as the Acts of the Apostles, Second Letter of St Timothy and the First Letter of St Peter. Whoever he was we recognise him as the first person to write a gospel. A gospel is a distinctively new type of writing. There is nothing quite like a gospel outside of the New Testament. Our four gospels are a mixture of narrative and speech centred on the person, life and teaching of Jesus with special emphasis on his death and Resurrection. He is the focus. Each of the gospels presents Jesus to us in the light of his Resurrection. It is the Resurrection that portrays the real meaning and significance of Jesus. The gospels are the great proclamation of who Jesus is and what he came to do. It was Mark who pioneered the work of setting to paper a comprehensive account of the Christian community’s story of the great encounter between God and mankind in the life of Jesus Christ. His opening words are: ‘The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’
Mark begins with a glorious statement of his intention to tell the Good News about Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. Gospel is the more modern form of god-spel which in Old English meant good news. The Greek word which Mark used – and all the books of the New Testament were written in Greek – for good news is ‘evangelion’. In the world of the past – the world without TV, Radio or news-papers – the town-crier or the herald of the King would proclaim the great events to the people. When the event to be announced was one calling for joy and celebration it was called an evangelion. It might be news of a victory in battle or perhaps the birth or a marriage in the Royal family. As the herald of the great King, Mark begins his story of Jesus Christ with the proclamation that this was the evangelion – the true Good News. This was a remarkably brave statement. Mark is saying that the good news that now needs to be proclaimed has nothing to do with Caesar and earthly rulers. It has everything to do with ‘Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God’
Mark’s opening words are a rallying cry to mankind to recognise the great event that has taken place in the person of Jesus who is the Messiah and the Son of God. Because of who Jesus is we must devote our lives to him rather than to mere human beings. The proclamation of such an evangelion would be viewed as a challenge to the secular power. It would be seen as treacherous language. A gospel is written for believers. It is a Christian document addressed to Christians. Each of the gospels was written for a determined community and with the needs of that community firmly in mind. Since they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, they continue to speak to Christian communities of all time.
Mark sets out to declare who Jesus is. He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. It is easy enough to follow a glorious victorious leader. We all find triumph and glory congenial. But Mark stresses in his gospel – more even than the other evangelists – that Jesus is the suffering Son of Man who was put to death as a criminal in the humiliation of the crucifixion. That Jesus would have permitted himself to be taken by his enemies, to be maltreated and mocked by them is something that the contemporaries of Jesus and the readers of Mark could not understand. But he came as the one who let himself be crushed by his enemies who were intent on putting him to death.
One of the features of Mark’s declaration of the good news was the insistence of Jesus that his followers during his lifetime should be reticent about calling him the Messiah. The title ‘Messiah’ had become very ambiguous. The contemporaries of Jesus expected the Messiah to be clearly a victorious and glorious Ruler. Jesus was at great pains to get across the message to his followers that he would be rejected and put to death. They were to refrain from calling him Messiah ‘until the Son of Man should have risen from the dead’. (Mark 9:9) Only in his Resurrection was his true Messiahship revealed. Until then his followers were to be wary of attributing the title to him. A suffering Messiah was seen by many as a contradiction in terms. Jesus’ insistence that his followers should avoid calling him Messiah is sometimes referred to as imposing ‘the messianic secret.’ Modern scripture scholars recognise the genius of Mark in proclaiming the great evangelion – ‘the good news about Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God’.
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph – 31.12.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: In the days long before Twitter and even the telephone a message was often passed on through a chain of people until it – or a version of it – reached the person it was meant for. The story is told of an officer in battle desperately seeking to get a vital message across: ‘Send in reinforcements, we are going to advance.’ The final version that emerged was ‘Send in three and four-pence, we are going to a dance.’ Three and four-pence was, once upon a time, the equivalent of 17p so perhaps a hundred years ago it might get you into a dance of sorts! It illustrates how garbled a message can become when it has been passed on one to another many times over.
In our Christian faith many of our great truths were passed on by word of mouth long before they were written down. Reading and writing were very rare skills among the people thousands of years ago. Even today many people are illiterate. The message of what Jesus said and did was passed on orally for many years before any of it was written down. As we know the first written gospel came from Mark approximately forty years after the Resurrection. We are accustomed to taking it for granted that the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John are inspired by God and are part of Sacred Scripture. And so they are. But it is important to realise that all the sacred writings that are to be found in the Bible have found their way there through God’s revelation to his people. How do we know that in the New Testament there are twenty-seven books? Who decided which precise books formed part of the New Testament? How does it come about that all the versions of the New Testament whether compiled by Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of England, Protestant, Orthodox Christians have the same list of books as are found in one of our Catholic Bibles? The New Testament itself does not tell us which books belong to it. The Table of Contents at the beginning of the Bible is not part of the Scriptures. We learn which books are inspired from Tradition. So often non-Catholics say to us: ‘How can you believe this or that when it is not in the Bible?’ The books that make up the Bible are not listed in the Bible. The list to be found in the Table of Contents of all versions of the Bible come to us from the early days of the Catholic Church. It was imperative that a definitive list of the Books of Scripture should be drawn up very early on. All subsequent Christian Churches adhered to that list. There is no ‘inspired Table of Contents’ to the Bible. All Christian Churches in fact accept and adhere to the list of books found in the Catholic New Testament and up to the time of the Reformation there was also universal agreement on the contents of the Old Testament. Pope St. Damasus in the year 382 at a Synod on Rome listed the books that make up the Sacred Scriptures. This was repeated by Pope St. Innocent in 405. The teachings of these Popes was upheld by the North African Councils of Carthage in 393, 397 and 419 and the Council of Hippo in 393 as well as the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 and the Council of Florence (1440) and the Council of Trent which ended in 1563.
Most Christian Churches observe the Lord’s Day on Sunday. There is no evidence in the Scriptures that Christ instructed his disciples to change the day of the Sabbath. It was a huge thing to do – to alter one of the Ten Commandments. Where does it say in the Bible that we should do that? And yet most Christians do! They follow the very early Tradition that saw how fitting it was that the Lord’s Day should be no other than the Day of the Resurrection, the first day of the week. St Justin, the Martyr in 155 explained to the Emperor why Christians were doing this. The Didache, a hugely important Christian handbook, written around the year 100, or even earlier, says: ‘Every Lord’s Day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanksgiving (Eucharist-Ein) after having confessed your transgressions that your sacrifice may be pure.’ In the Apocalypse, St John refers to Sunday as the Lord’s Day. This is still a point of contention with those, like the Seventh-Day Adventists who claim that our emphasis on Sunday is misplaced and in fact we are violating the Third Commandment.
We must reverence Scripture and recognise that God speaks to us through Scripture and tradition. St Paul says: ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.’ (1 Cor 11:1-2) He says in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians: ‘So then brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us either by word of mouth or by letter.’ (2:15) At the end of the last gospel to be written we are reminded two times that not everything that Jesus did and said could be written down. Some of what has not been written has come down to us in Christian Tradition.
We are enlivened by the twofold gift of Scripture and Tradition. ‘There were many other sign that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing this you may have life through his name’. (John 20:30-31)
‘There were many other things that Jesus did. If all were written down the world itself, I suppose, would not hold all the books that would have to be written.’ (John 21:25)
Fourth Sunday of Advent – 24.12.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Is Christmas just for children? In the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis we hear two very different accounts of the Creation. This should immediately alert us to the fact that Genesis does not set out to teach us science. It has a very much more important task. Its purpose is to impress upon us who God is and how mankind is the crown and glory of everything he has created. In their different ways the accounts we find in chapter one and chapter two teach us these and many other truths about God and his creatures, especially mankind. We do violence to the scriptures if we do not recognise that the Holy Spirit was content to give us these two reflections on God and his creation. They are placed before us in most beautiful picturesque language such as teachers used in the ancient Middle East. They manifestly cannot both be taken literally. This was the kind of language Jesus himself loved to use when he presented his teaching in the form of parables. When Jesus was asked, for example, the question: ‘Who is my neighbour’ he answered by telling the beautiful story that we know as the Good Samaritan.
In the opening two chapters of the gospels of Luke and Matthew we have two different accounts of the conception, birth and infancy of Jesus. In the Mass of tomorrow – Christmas Day – and next Monday – New Year’s Day – the account of Luke is placed before us. On the following Sunday – the Epiphany – we hear from Matthew. We are accustomed to merging these two different accounts together. Children’s Nativity plays do it all the time as do the cribs in our churches over the Christmas Season. But we should give them their own space.
Just as the two distinct accounts of the Creation are placed before us to help us ponder the great religious truths about the wonders of creation and our place in God’s plan, so the two accounts of the Son of God entering our world are given to us to come to terms with such a manifestation of God’s love for us. Each gospel account has its own identity and distinct outlook. It may seem strange to us that only Luke and Matthew give us infancy narratives about Jesus. But their concern is not to supply us with biographies of Jesus, just as the concern of Genesis is not to explain how the world ad all it contains came into existence. From the opening verses of their gospels Matthew and Luke wish to emphasise that Jesus was the promised Messiah and therefore was descended from David, the great Shepherd-King of Israel. They are at pains to impress on their readers and hearers that Jesus was conceived by Mary not through sexual relations with Joseph but by the operative power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus therefore was truly the Son of God. But Jesus’ descent is to be traced through Joseph who was of the House of David. Joseph’s acknowledgement of Jesus, according to Jewish law, would make him the legal father of the child – a status not dependent on physical fatherhood. So Jesus was truly a Son of David. Establishing this dual identity of Jesus as Son of David and Son of God was the great motive behind the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. Both accounts insist that the identity of Jesus was quickly shared by others but that many will reject the message and the Messiah.
Central to Luke’s account of the Nativity are the shepherds and the manger. Mention of the manger would remind people of what Isaiah prophesied: ‘The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its master. But Israel has not known me and my people have not understood me’ (1:3) There is a further pointer to the rejection of Jesus in Luke’s assertion that there was no room for them in the inn. But Luke testifies to those who accepted the Messiah by telling us of the shepherds who when the good news was proclaimed to them went and ‘found Mary and Joseph and the baby who was lying in the manger.’ They then proceeded to spread this great message ‘and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say, (2:18-19)
Central to Matthew’s account of the Nativity are the magi who, led by the star, travelled to Jerusalem and encountered Herod who immediately hatched a plot against the child whom he saw as a threat. This account, which we have in the Mass of the Epiphany every year is remarkably like the story of the infant Moses whom Pharaoh tried to destroy when he set out to kill all the male children as he feared the growing numbers of Jewish people he kept in slavery. Matthew is emphasising – as he does throughout his gospel – that Jesus is the new Moses who is to lead his people from slavery to sin to the freedom of the children of God. For Matthew, the magi represented all the people from outside the Jewish world who would find their way to Jesus while the fury of Herod would be a reminder of the powerful forces which would be arrayed against him.
The opening chapters of Luke and Matthew are full of references to the prophesies of the Jewish scriptures which are now being fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. So many people miss out on the great message of Genesis. In interpreting these opening chapters of the Bible in a very narrow way we fail to see the wonderful teaching of God’s love and purpose that is embedded in it. In the opening chapters of Luke and Matthew we are presented with a wonderful résumé of the Gospel message. It proclaims who Jesus is and the pain of rejection he and his followers would experience and the peaceful victory he would share with all of us. Rightly understood the infancy narratives are really the Gospel in miniature and they reveal the adult Jesus
Third Sunday of Advent – 17.12.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: It is true to say that in most parishes there is a far greater level of involvement than used to be the case. For many years now there has been a big increase in the number of ministries – ways in which we help one another. We have Ministers of the Word and Ministers of Holy Communion. We have people who seek to welcome people as they come to weekend Masses and offer them hymn books, Mass leaflets and Newsletters. The Repository is kept stocked and open so that people can browse and buy after weekend Masses. Music and singing are seen as important elements of our liturgy. In our parish, of course, we have people who come to view the reproduction of Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling from Easter to Halloween each year so there are quite a few people who help in welcoming them and speaking about how it came about. We have a very active involvement in Fairtrade and CAFOD and in helping parents with toddlers and young children. Catechists help in preparing young people for the Sacraments and help adults to know Christ. Essential too are cleaners and flower arrangers.
Parishioners don’t just help with parish activities. They also help others in all kinds of ways – helping in various Charity Shops and assisting children in developing their skills. Obviously there are many people who devote a lot of their time to friends and family members who need loving attention. As St Paul says: ‘there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord.’ There is sometimes a tendency to identify ministry in the Church with liturgical ministry. When St Paul says that there are all sorts of services to be done, he is not primarily thinking of who will read the scripture or administer Holy Communion at the Sunday Eucharist. The Eucharist was of course being celebrated from the beginning, even before St Paul had written any letters or before the Gospels were compiled. Ministry was nor just organised around the liturgy but around building up the life of the community. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ‘All of you should be in agreement and there should be no divisions among you but you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose’ (1 Cor 1:10) He tells them: ‘you are the body of Christ and individually members of it… Are all Apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all posses gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Strive for greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.’ (1 Cor 12:29-31) He immediately goes on to tell them how to be members of the Body of Christ ‘in a still more excellent way’ than being Apostles or prophets or teachers or miracle workers or having gifts of healing or gifts of tongues. He says ‘If I speak in the tongues of mortals or of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers… but do not have love, I am nothing.’ (13:1-2) The way of love Paul emphasises is the most excellent way – the indispensible way – to be part of Christ’s family. ‘Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (13:13-14)
That is what St Paul continues to tell us – ‘keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong’. What a wonderful motto and what a helpful message it is for us. We live in very changing and uncertain times. But from the beginning people have lived in changing and uncertain times. Each period of history has changes and uncertainties different from what has gone before. The changes and uncertainties that as a parish we are facing should not overwhelm us, Christ has not abandoned us. Through St Paul he asks us to ‘be courageous, be strong’. For the past sixty-five years since our parish was established there has been a parish priest of English Martyrs. Prior to that it was part of the Parish of St Mary of the Angels – like St Michael’s in High Salvington – and served by one of the priests of that parish. Having its own parish priest, English Martyrs was able to have more weekday and weekend Masses than had previously been the case. When it was part of St Mary of the Angels, our congregation here on Sundays gathered for just one Eucharistic celebration. For many years we have had three weekend Eucharistic celebrations. In some ways this would have been helpful as it gave people a choice of which Mass to attend. There were also clear disadvantages. The community aspect of Sunday Mass suffered as the congregation was divided into three parts. Parishioners were divided one from another and congregations at each Mass were much smaller. It is not good for morale to gather for a sparsely attended Mass. It gave rise to a situation where it was expected that at one of the Sunday Masses there would be no music or singing and at the Masses where there was singing people often struggled to make a truly joyful sound through lack of numbers. Just as Christians followed St Paul’s cry: ‘Be courageous, be strong.’ Please God, so shall we.
Second Sunday of Advent – 10.12.2017
FATHER LIAM ASKS: What is the Church for? What is at the centre of our membership of the Church? The Church is basically a community of people who work to follow Jesus of Nazareth. The Church then stands for – or ought to stand for – what Christ stood for. To put this in another way, this community, the Church, is the Body of Christ in the world today. The image of the Church as the Body of Christ is a very scriptural one, strongly emphasised in the writings of St Paul. The image brings out the fact that the Church is a body. Like a human body, it is made up of many members with different functions to perform. More importantly the image refers to the Risen Christ who is Head of the Church and who forms an intimate living union with us through our Baptism, sharing his Resurrection Life with us. The Church is the way in which Christ’s Risen presence is made visible in the world today. During his life on earth Jesus was present to people through his physical body, just as it is our bodies which make our presence known to others. It was seeing what he did and hearing what he said that people came to know him and understand him and decide to follow him.
Today, of course, Jesus is no longer present in the world in that way. Nobody today knows what his voice sounded like. But he has to be present in today’s world in some bodily way – otherwise his presence would disappear. The visible way in which he is present to the world today is through the community of his followers, the Church. It is this which draws attention to his presence today. It is the Church which speaks his Word and continues his work. One of the functions of our parish, then, is to be the bodily presence of Christ in this area. We are called somehow to embody Christ in this community.
In the gospels Jesus is presented as one who serves. St Luke’s Gospel says that he stood among the people of his time ‘as one who serves.’ (22:27) In St Mark’s Gospel he says of himself: ‘For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.’ (10:45) It follows that the Church, the community which centres around him, ought to be a serving community. If we are to embody Christ we ought to be seen as a community committed to performing a service. All who are members of this community are called to be involved in performing this service. ‘The disciple is not superior to his teacher… It is enough for the disciple that he should grow to be like his teacher.’ (Matthew 10:24-25) Everyone is called to serve in the Church – to be a partner in service. This means that everyone is called to be a partner in the ministry of the Church.
People often used to think that priests were the only ministers in the parish. A minister is one who serves. The word ministry means service. Since the task of the Church is one of service, it is called a ministry. All the baptised are partners in this ministry. In this universal ministry each one of us has a responsibility towards all. Each Christian has a responsibility not only towards his fellow Christians but towards all the human family. The ministry of the Church is wider than is often thought. The clergy have their own special role in carrying out the ministry of the Church. They are given this role at their ordination. The sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation call all Christians to be involved in their own way in the Church ministry.
How do we find out more about the ministry to which the Church is called? What is the ministry to which each of us is called by virtue of our baptism? We discover that by considering what Jesus stood for in his life among us. What were his concerns? Only if we grasp this can we really understand the service to which each one of us is called. All four gospels emphasise different aspects of Jesus and his mission. But they all set before us the ways in which Jesus related to the people of his time. The background to his ministry is very much about his concerns with the wounded people that he was constantly associating with. The list includes deaf and dumb people, the lame and the leper, the blind, the possessed, the sick, tax collectors and sinners. These play a hugely important part in his daily life and we cannot understand what he stood for without reference to them. It is not possible to understand Jesus except against this kind of background.
In Jesus day very often there was a dimension to the suffering of the sick which people do not experience today. In that society an infirmity was often seen as a punishment for sin. Jesus is asked in St John’s Gospel: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?’ (9:2) People suffering from such infirmities were made to carry not just the burden of their sickness but also the burden of the judgement of other people. They were made to think that God was punishing them for some sin or other. So called religious people often branded people with infirmity as people who were out of favour with God. The social and religious stigma which they had to bear was enormous. Often those described in the gospels as ‘possessed’ were people who were suffering from illnesses that people did not understand at the time and for which there was no diagnosis. Jesus was very sensitive and deeply involved with this human hurt.
First Sunday of Advent – 03.12.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Priests and deacons of the various parishes in each Deanery meet on about six occasions each year. We have a discussion on a variety of topics of a pastoral nature. These meetings usually used to take place at mid-day. In recent years the number of deacons has increased – many of whom are in fulltime employment in various occupations. The number of priests in each Deanery is fewer than used to be the case and many of them are retired from full time parish ministry but are available to help in parishes as required. Our meetings now sometimes take place in the evenings to reflect the changing situation and the topics we discuss also reflect the changing parish scene.
When I came to this Deanery over ten years ago it was expected that our parishes would be affected far more speedily and radically than has been the case. But events are now catching up with us and parish life will have to alter sooner rather than later. One of the consequences of having had so many priests in the past has been the creation of a number of small parishes each with their own parish priest and usually three weekend Masses and weekday Masses. Another result of large numbers of priests was the tendency for priests to assume too prominent a place in parish life. The impression was too often given that the priest was in charge. He tended to be the one who took most of the initiative in the life of the parish and the people in the pews were all too often expected to be rather passive.
This was not meant to be the way. It certainly was not Christ’s plan. Christ’s plan is that we are all branches and he is the vine. We are all called to bear fruit. He says to all his followers that they are salt of the earth and light of the world. St Paul never tires of telling the members of the various Christian communities that they are all parts of one Body. Christ is the head of that body and we are all members of the body. As in a human body all the parts are indispensible. We all have an essential part to play in the life of the Church. We become part of the body of Christ through baptism. Baptism is the sacrament of entry into the Church.
We know that anyone is capable of baptising a person in a case of emergency. A parent, brother, sister, friend can do it. But ordinarily it is a bishop, priest or deacon who does it. Why? Because baptism is our entry into the Christian community and so it is administered by someone who is commissioned to act in the name of that community. We also know that baptism can be celebrated anywhere but the most appropriate place is the community’s normal place of assembly, usually the church building. Baptism, being the rite of entrance into the Christian family is something bigger than a purely personal or family affair. This is spelled out when the minister addresses the person being baptised: ‘the Christian community welcomes you with great joy.’
In the early Church baptism was followed immediately by confirmation. This is still done in Eastern Churches and in our Church in the case of adults. In confirmation – normally conferred by the bishop – the candidate is commissioned to take on responsibility for the Church’s task and to become actively involved in pursuing it. There is the very ancient gesture of the imposition of hands. This is an invocation of the Holy Spirit to assist those confirmed in fulfilling public tasks. They are commissioned to take on responsibility as witnesses of Christ, committed to spreading and defending the faith by word and deed. The central and essential rite of confirmation is the anointing with oil – the oil of Chrism. This is to do with Christ-ening. The word Christ is Greek for ‘the anointed one’. The Hebrew word is ‘Messiah’. By being Christened we become a Christ-figure in the world. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, not simply for our personal sanctification but for carrying out the task of witnessing to Christ.
Membership of the Church means being part of a community which celebrates the Eucharist. Full membership means full participation in the Eucharist. The word ‘companion’ has something to tell us about this. It is derived from two Latin words ‘cum’ which means ‘with’ and ‘panis’ which means ‘bread’. A companion is a person with whom we share bread. By partaking of the Bread of Life we enter into communion, not just with the Lord, but also with all gathered around the table and with all the other members of his family. We become companions in the Church. Companions will have different gifts and different roles but they are all equally members. Real companionship always presupposes the recognition of a basic equality. We through baptism, the Eucharist and Confirmation are full and equal members of the Church – as fully and equally as even the Pope is. There cannot be a membership that is fuller than full and some cannot be more equal than others. If we are conscious of the anointed hands of the priest, we ought to be conscious too of the anointed head and forehead of every confirmed Christian –
Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – 26.11.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: One of the most important figures at the Synod of Whitby was St. Wilfrid. He is one of the Patrons of our Diocese of Arundel and Brighton which is rather strange. Notable Christians were regarded as Saints in the early Church more easily than today as there was no process of canonisation such as we have now where their lives are subjected to greater scrutiny.
Wilfrid was a monk at Lindisfarne and he was made abbot of the new monastery at Ripon by Alfrid who was the son of King Oswy of Northumbria and later succeeded him. Alfrid was a champion of the Roman tradition while Oswy favoured the Celtic way of organising the life of the Church in England. The Synod of Whitby was called by Oswy in 664 to find a way forward. According to Bede’s account of the Synod, the Roman case was propounded by St Wilfrid who was only thirty years old and already Abbot of Ripon. The Celtic case was argued by St Colman, Abbot of Lindisfarne. King Oswy was swayed by the strength of the Roman argument and the Synod ruled accordingly. No doubt there were many speakers on both sides but St Bede does not go into all the details. St Hilda was Abbess of the Abbey of Whitby and a member of the Synod but her impact is not recorded. Like most of the established figures of the Northumbrian Church she was on the Celtic side There is no doubt that Hilda would have made a significant contribution to the debate. Bede was not noted for recording the deeds of women but he nevertheless says of Hilda: ‘So great was her prudence that not only the ordinary folk but Kings and Princes used to come and ask her advice in their difficulties and take it.’
Wilfrid in stressing the primacy of St Peter and the Roman way of being Christian was very strident and in the view of many people insulted the memory of St Colman and his followers who were so greatly revered in Lindisfarne and the other Celtic monasteries. St Colman and some of his followers resigned from Lindisfarne and returned to Iona where the Celtic tradition continued to flourish for some time.
Shortly afterwards, following the death of Colman’s successor, Abbot Tuda, Wilfrid became Abbot and Bishop of Lindisfarne. Wilfrid was now very much the prominent figure as the ecclesiastical leader in Anglo-Saxon England. His impulsive and explosive temperament created many difficulties for the Church in England. What greatly offended Colman and his followers at Lindisfarne was Wilfrid’s claim that to follow the Celtic tradition would be a matter of heresy. What Wilfrid said of Columba and his followers was that they may have been ‘true servants of God’, they may have loved God ‘in primitive simplicity but in devout sincerity’ but, he said if Colman and his followers persisted in the same way ‘you and your colleagues are most certainly guilty of sin if you reject the decrees of the Apostolic See.’
Bede has nothing but praise for St Colman as he describes the events surrounding his departure from Lindisfarne. Even Pope Gregory, who had sent Augustine to Kent, had recognised the potential benefits of a variety of Christian practices in different places. Wilfrid is virtually alone in condemning St Colman as a heretic and in his determination to stamp out what he saw as ‘Irish errors.’ The Celtic tradition of course, acknowledged the Pope as having a special role as the overall head of the Church but they did not see the following of their tradition as a challenge to Papal authority.
Having become Abbot of Lindisfarne, Wilfrid went to Paris to be ordained Bishop and he remained there some time. King Oswy, impatient by his long absence appointed Chad, who continued to adhere to the Celtic tradition, as Bishop of York. St Theodore of Tarsus exercised his authority as Archbishop of Canterbury and ruled in Wilfrid’s favour appointing him as Bishop of York. Wilfrid opposed Theodore’s creation of new dioceses in Northumbria as these were carved from Wilfrid’s territory. Once again he went to Rome to plead his case but Theodore was allowed to appoint other bishops in the area. Wilfrid, as one would expect, did not get along with them!
While out of his diocese carrying on various disputes, he came to the South Coast – to Selsey, near Chichester. Much of Selsey at that time including the monastery he established has long since been washed into the sea. It is because of his ministry in West Sussex that he is a secondary Patron of our Diocese. He upset so many people that twenty-six years of his episcopacy were spent in exile. His storming, turbulent life ended in 709 and he was buried in the Cathedral he had built at Ripon.
Thirty-Third Sunday of the Year – 19.11.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: The Abbey of Whitby was chosen as the site of the Synod of that name called by King Oswy in 664 because it had become the greatest centre of learning in north-east England. It was a double monastery, one of several at the time, where men and women constituted a single community. They lived separately but came together in the same abbey church for prayer. St. Hilda had been Abbess of Hartlepool but in 657 she founded the double monastery of Streanaeshalch, later called Whitby by the Danes. Hilda was a descendant of King Edwin of Northumbria and she had been greatly influenced by St Aiden. Her monastery followed the Celtic tradition. Under Hilda’s charismatic leadership both the men and the women of the community were exemplary in holiness and learning. In Hilda’s abbey women as well as men studied the scriptures. Each monastery had its own school and learning was an important part of the mission. As the Roman tradition became more established the significance of the Latin language grew. In addition to the scriptures, the men and women of the monasteries read the early writings of the Church in both Latin and Greek. The monasteries also encouraged the native language of the Anglo-Saxons and they had an important part to play in the development and preservation of the English language we have today – especially its poetry.
Hilda was well known as an adviser of spiritual matters. People came from all over the land to seek her counsel. She was also a distinguished preacher and a born ruler. She is an example of how women have brought such riches to the Church as spiritual advisors, teachers and leaders. As the barbaric Franks and Lombards continued to pillage and destroy in France and Italy, the situation in much of Europe made learning and the preservation of its cultural heritage almost impossible. It was in the monasteries of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales that that culture and heritage were preserved not only for us but for the entire Western world and the gospel message was celebrated and propagated once again in Europe by these great missionary monks.
Shortly after the Synod of Whitby, Theodore of Tarsus was sent by Rome in 669 as Archbishop of Canterbury. Tarsus was the birthplace of St Paul and is in modern Turkey. Could you imagine a bishop from Turkey being appointed to Westminster – or indeed Arundel and Brighton – today? But, then of course, a bishop from Argentina – and before that from Germany and Poland – have over the past forty years been appointed as bishops of Rome. Some of the early Popes were from Africa. There has even been an Englishman on the chair of Peter. Its most famous occupant was a Palestinian, Simon, son of John. Theodore was appointed in order to unite all of England with the Roman tradition. Up to the Synod of Whitby the Celtic and Roman traditions both flourished in England. In the Celtic tradition bishops were appointed from among the Abbots because monasticism was such a strong feature of the Celtic Church. In the Roman tradition bishops were given authority even over abbots. Theodore established Canterbury as the principal diocese in England – the Primatial See. He brought about a basic reorganisation of the Church, creating many new dioceses. He died in 690 – twenty-one years after arriving in Canterbury. He had been accompanied by Adrian, who was another key figure.
Before coming to Canterbury with Theodore, Adrian had been an abbot in Naples. At that time Naples was very much a Greek city. So Adrian was accustomed to reconciling different cultures and traditions within the Church before he came to England. In fact Adrian had been asked by Pope Vitalian to become Archbishop of Canterbury but he did not feel that he was the right man and recommended Theodore instead. The fact that the Pope accepted his advice and his willingness to accompany Theodore are indications of his strength.
Adrian became Theodore’s constant companion and trusted adviser. Another monk who journeyed to Canterbury from Rome with St Theodore and St Adrian was St Benedict Biscop. He became abbot of the monastery of Sts. Peter and Paul at Canterbury. On visits to Rome he brought books and sacred artefacts to England and promoted the singing of Roman chant. He established the monastery at Wearmouth and brought masons from France to fashion the stone and craftsmen to create sacred vessels, lamps and glasswork. He also established the monastery at Jarrow on the River Tyne and furnished it with a great library. This enabled St Bede subsequently to write his Ecclesiastical History of the English people. St Bede died in 735 having spent all of his life in Jarrow.
Thirty-Second Sunday of the Year – 12.11.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: The beginning of the Christian Church in these islands was very much influenced by monks and monasteries and their abbots. Abbots, in fact, were often local bishops. Not all abbots were bishops but all bishops were abbots. The first three abbots of Lindisfarne were also bishops of Northumbria. All three – Aidan, Finan and Colman – were born in Ireland and before coming to Lindisfarne had been monks in the great monastery of Iona, an island off the Scottish coast.
St. Finan’s great achievement was the conversion of the aggressively anti-Christian leader Penda and the people of Mercia whom he ruled. At Finan’s death in 661 St Colman became Abbot of Lindisfarne and bishop with pastoral oversight of much of the north of the country. It was during Colman’s time as Abbot that the Synod of Whitby was held to resolve a major controversy in the early history of English Christianity.
The controversy arose from the fact that the early missionaries in England came from two very different sources. They were all monks but some came from Rome, sent by Pope Gregory and led by St. Augustine; they spread out from Kent with their great monastery of Canterbury becoming their powerhouse. Pope Gregory the Great was himself a monk so St Augustine, who had been an abbot in Rome, reflected a Roman monastic tradition. Shortly before arriving in Kent, the Church in Rome had decreed certain rules and regulations that Augustine and his companions implemented with great enthusiasm in the South of England. These Roman monks had come directly from Rome to Kent with the very latest ideas. Meanwhile in the North of England the faith was being spread under the influence of Irish monks who had settled first on Iona and who spread out to Lindisfarne and other monasteries in the North of England. These monks knew little of the latest ideas that had emanated from Rome. Communication was very slow in these days and changes coming from Rome would, with the best will in the world, take a mighty long time to bed down. Even the decisions of the Council of Trent – a mere four hundred years ago – were implemented very slowly indeed.
Historically Christianity in Ireland differed in many ways from how it developed in Rome. And it was the Irish model that had taken root in Scotland and the North of England. They had ways of celebrating the faith that were distinctive to them. How they celebrated Reconciliation in the Celtic tradition differed greatly from how it was done in Rome and surrounding countries. Another difference – and cause of controversy – was how the date of Easter was calculated. How the date of Easter today is observed differs greatly between the Christian Churches in the East – influenced by Constantinople – and the Western Churches – Catholic and non-Catholic – that have adopted the Roman system. Ultimately the date of Easter has much to do with the Jewish feast of Passover. But it has proved too difficult to come up with a unified view.
But, back in 664 at the Synod of Whitby delegates from all the churches in these islands resolved many of these differences – especially the date of Easter. The King Oswy – now ruling over greater territories in the north – called the Council in order to resolve conflicts arising from the different Celtic and Roman traditions within his Kingdom. The date of Easter was a highly important issue as it was the pivotal feast around which the dates of other feasts were determined. King Oswy, following the practices of the Celtic Church, celebrated Easter on the same day as his wife, who had come from the South and was a follower of the Roman tradition, would be celebrating Palm Sunday. Part of King Oswy’s enlarged Kingdom, Bernicia, followed the Celtic tradition and another part – Deira – followed the Roman tradition. Oswy’s son, Alfrid, championed the Roman way of doing things. So the divisions extended right into the King’s household as well as into the different parts of the Kingdom. He was determined to have the matter settled.
The Celtic tradition followed the way handed down to them from the days of St Patrick when there had been no distinct Celtic and Roman way. The Celts clung to their traditions while Rome adopted new variations. St. Columba and his successors – not aware always of what was happening in distant Rome at a time when the Continent was ravaged by what we used to call ‘the barbarian invasions’ – sternly adhered to their ancient traditions in Iona and all the Celtic monasteries. They were now reluctant to abandon them in favour of the Roman way of doing things.
At the Synod of Whitby St Colman argued strongly for preserving their tradition while the Abbot of Ripon, St Wilfrid felt they should follow the Roman way. King Oswy asked Wilfrid and Colman: ‘Is it true that special authority was given to Saint Peter?’ Both answered that it was. The King concluded: ‘I tell you Peter is guardian of the gates of heaven and I shall not contradict him. I shall obey his commands and everything to the best of my knowledge and ability otherwise when I come to the gates of heaven there may be no one to open them because he who holds the key was turned away.’
Thirty-First Sunday of the Year – 05.11.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: I spent a couple of weeks happily visiting various places in Wales this summer. One of the things that pained me was to see how few were the towns where Sunday Mass was celebrated. I fully realise that the Catholic population in many parts of England and Wales is not particularly huge but we don’t necessarily need a large congregation in order to celebrate Mass – nor do we need a Catholic church building. Mass can be celebrated in a wide variety of places. In the early centuries of Christianity this had to be universally the case. Christianity was outlawed and so Christian buildings of any kind were out of the question. Yet Christian communities gathered together, especially to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist together. Many of these would be someone who presided at the gathering and broke the Eucharistic bread for them. The title priest was not always given to the one who presided because the name ‘priest’ was often associated with pagan worship/ For hundreds of years the presiders at the Eucharist may or may not have been married. This did not seem to be of great importance. We know from the New Testament that many of the Apostles themselves were married. Celibacy only came to be a requisite when the Church was about a thousand years into its existence. Nor did these presiders at the Eucharistic Table have to undergo a prolonged period of philosophical and theological training such as we have in our Seminaries. Seminaries in fact only came on the scene about 400 hundred years ago – after the Reformation and the Council of Trent which came to an end in 1563.
The Church learned early how to adapt in order to survive and to grow. Perhaps – as in the case of people – it is harder to adapt the older we get, but it is necessary nevertheless. The longer we avoid change, the more urgent it becomes. Nearly forty years ago, the National Pastoral Congress meeting in Liverpool discussed many issues facing the Church in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Some delegates suggested that ‘careful consideration be given, to the question whether it is God’s will that married men should at this time be called to the priesthood’. The Report of the Congress, ‘The Easter People’ stated among many other things that there was no evident need to petition Rome as the shortage of priests in our country was not sufficient to warrant concern. We don’t need to be reminded how the scene has changed since then with the amalgamation and closure of parishes, the huge decline in ordinations to the priesthood and the ever advancing age profile of serving priests.
The Brazilian Bishop of Xingu a couple of years ago discussed the issue of ordaining married men as priests with Pope Francis. His diocese has 700,000 people, 800 church communities but only 27 priests, many of them elderly. The celebration of Mass two or three times a year is the most that can be managed for most of the people. The Pope explained that he could not take everything in hand personally from Rome. ‘Local bishops who are best acquainted with the needs of our faithful should be courageous and make concrete suggestions’ he explained. The Pope told him that rather than acting alone, he indicated that regional and national bishop’s conferences should seek and find consensus on reform and should then bring up their suggestions for reform in Rome. The Pope made it clear that provided there is discussion and honest agreement it is back firmly in the hands of the Bishop’s Conference to have such informed and courageous conversations. The attempt at shared discussion within the Church in England and Wales in 1980 on this important question withered on the vine back then. We need to ask again: ‘Who will break the Bread of Life for us?’
The next Synod of Bishops will take place next year. It is on the subject of Vocation. Vocation is the call all of us receive through our baptism to play our part in furthering the work of Christ. It is hard to see how the Synod can avoid addressing the issue of the ministerial priesthood, celibate and married. The Eastern Church is in union with Rome (and so as Catholic as is the Church of the Latin Rite). It has always had a married and celibate priesthood working side by side. To a limited extent we have had a similar situation here since Pope John Paul II allowed married clergy of the Church of England to be ordained priests in the Catholic Church when they entered into full communion with it. In our own Deanery we have a married Catholic Parish priest.
We live in a time of rapid movement. Change is no longer a slow and deliberate process. Nowhere is this more evident than in our concern for the future of an ordained priesthood. Without an ample number of priests our people will be unable to gather together as a community around the Table of the Lord. Pope Francis has asked that we listen to each other. It is very important that the Bishops of England and Wales listen to us. Bishop Richard wants to listen to us. Has the time come to revisit a decision requiring a celibate priesthood that is becoming a hindrance to the work of the Church, the work of Christ? The argument that the Church could not afford a married priesthood only applies if we work with the existing model. If we embrace a married priesthood, many of these new priests will already have a salaried position. If other Christian churches can afford a married clergy, why can’t we? What about the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite who have managed to do so from the earliest centuries?
Twenty-Ninth Sunday of the Year – 22.10.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: As we continue through 2017 we will be reminded more and more of the circumstances five hundred years ago that resulted in the Reformation. On 31st October 1517 – as the Catholic Church was preparing to celebrate the Feast of All Saints and All Souls Day – Martin Luther issued his Ninety-five theses directed against the abuses that had come to disfigure the Church. Some of these abuses concerned indulgences and the manner in which they had got entangled with money. Legend tells us that Luther nailed the document setting out his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg. Luther never claimed to have done this and it first gets mentioned several years after 1517. But the timing of issuing it – however it was done – was very deliberate as Hallowe’en was very much associated with gaining indulgencies for the Holy Souls in purgatory.
These theses were directed against other corrupt practices as well. At first Luther never intended shattering the unity of Western Christianity. Five hundred years earlier a great schism had divided Eastern Christianity under the Patriarch of Constantinople from Western Christianity with the Pope as its visible head. Luther’s intention was to bring about an end to the blatant abuses in the Church which were most obvious in Rome and in the Papacy.
Luther was a theologian and a member of the Augustinian Order in the city of Wittenberg. When he was excommunicated in January 1521 he publicly burned the papal document (bulla) at the gates of Wittenberg. This, he said, was in response to the torching of his writings on the orders of the Church. Excommunication is a declaration by the Church that somebody is in ‘ex communio’ – out of communion – with fellow Catholics. Officially excommunication is regarded as ‘medicinal’. It is meant to turn a person away from mistaken beliefs and/or actions, and bring about repentance. Excommunication was never meant to be the final word. The hope always is that the penalty will be lifted and unity restored. On one occasion Luther was asked what he would do if he found himself at a Catholic Mass. He said ‘Don’t take the priest from the altar; don’t blow out the candles either. If I myself were present in the church at the time of the elevation of the Sacrament I would raise my hand, just like the others. I would show respect and honour the Sacrament. For the true Sacrament is there in so far as what is essential.’
He married the ex-nun Katharina von Bora in 1525. They had a large family and were very devoted to one another and to their children. They lived in the Black Cloister in Wittenberg which had been the monastery where Luther and his fellow Augustinian monks had lived. For a further seven years after his marriage he continued to wear his friar’s habit. I don’t know what garb Kathleen wore! Luther, in spite of his fiery denunciations of the Pope being the Antichrist, seems to have been hoping for some kind of resolution to the sorry split. If there had been a speedy and generous reaching out on the part of the Pope to Luther and an acceptance of some part of his reform proposals, we may well have had a very different sequel.
In 2008 Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI visited the former Augustinian friary in Erfurt where Luther was a student. Benedict referred so positively to Luther that some people began to speculate that the excommunication order on Luther was going to be lifted. Perhaps that will happen later this month! Pope Francis has spoken eloquently of Catholics and Lutherans ‘walking together’.
In the past couple of years there have been strident criticisms of Pope Francis and his manner of exercising his office as Bishop of Rome emanating from the Cardinals. The American former member of the Curia, Raymond Burke, is particularly confrontational. But Francis is a very patient and humble man who seeks to win over his opponents ‘lovingly’. If only more of that Franciscan tolerance had been in evidence in the ministry of all successors of St Peter!
Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year – 15.10.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: When Luther began his attack on certain practices of the Church, especially in regard to indulgencies, the European leaders were far from united. Relations between the Emperor Charles V and the French King Francis were at a low ebb and their armies often faced each other in battle. In one of these encounters a young Spanish Knight – fighting for his King and Emperor Charles – was gravely wounded. His name was Ignatius of Loyola and during his long convalescence he reflected on his life and immersed himself in reading the Scriptures and lives of the saints. He resolved at the age of 33 that he would change his life and devote himself to the defence of the Catholic Church which been attacked by Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin.
Finally healed, he studied at the Universities of Salamanca and Paris. In 1534, together with Francis Xavier and four other associates he founded the Society of Jesus, sometimes called the Jesuits. Ignatius went to Rome in 1539 and his plans for the Society – the Rule – were approved by Pope Paul III in 1540. In 1538 Pope Paul III had issued a bull excommunicating and deposing Henry VIII. This little company of devoted and educated men offered themselves to the Pope to campaign for the Church. A great Council of the Church finally got underway at Trent in 1545. Trent was then situated outside the territory of Italy – in the Dolomites in Southern Tirol and was chosen in an effort to reach out to the Reformers. Luther and his associates were invited but they demanded that the Council should throw its doors open to all the baptised as a pre-condition for taking part. Europe – never a settled place – was now in a state or turmoil and the Council of Trent was initially very poorly attended and met – intermittently – over a period of eighteen years. The movement to renew the life of the Church and to root out the many and various abuses that disfigured it is known as the Counter-Reformation ot the Catholic Reformation.
Charles V had been just nineteen years old when he became Emperor of Germany, King of Spain and ruler of Austria and the Netherlands. He also ruled over the America territories with all their treasures, where Cortez had recently made his conquest in the name of the King of Spain. He was therefore immensely powerful. But so also was the French King Francis!. These two kings now embarked on a long drawn out war.
But back in 1519, when Charles V came to power, he was a devout young man and on excellent terms with the Pope. He was keen to settle the case of Luther and have him arrested and outlawed. Had he been able to do so it would have been the end of Luther. In spite of his power the Emperor was unable to do this because Luther was living in Wittenberg and the Prince of Wittenberg was Frederick, Duke of Saxony, known as Frederick the Wise; he was Luther’s great protector. Instead, Charles V ordered the rebellious monk, Luther, to present himself before the first parliament that Charles was to hold in Germany. This was in Worms in 1521. All the princes and great men of the Empire were there in a solemn and splendid assembly. Luther came before them dressed as a monk. He had already made known that he was ready to renounce his teaching if it could be shown from the Bible to be wrong. The Assembly – or Diet – of Worms had no wish to engage with Luther in an examination of Scripture. The Emperor ordered him to renounce his teaching and Luther asked for a day to think. The next day he made a long speech in Latin and German. He said he would be sorry if in his zeal to defend himself he had given offence but he could not recant. The young Emperor – who probably could not understand very much German or Latin – told him to answer the questions clearly and concisely. Luther replied that only arguments from the Bible would compel him to recant. ‘My conscience is bound by the word of God and for that reason I can and will renounce nothing, for it is dangerous to act against one’s conscience… So help me God. Amen’
The parliament then passed an edict declaring Luther an outlaw which meant that nobody was allowed to give him food, aid or shelter. If anyone did, they too would be outlawed, Nor would anyone be punished for his murder. But his Protector, Frederick the Wise, had him kidnapped and taken in secret to his castle, the Wartburg. During the years he spent there, Luther translated the Scriptures into German and wrote other works. But his speeches and writings had an inflammatory effect on many of his followers. They were throwing paintings out of churches and teaching that it was wrong to baptise children as people had to decide for themselves whether they were to be baptised. People called them Iconoclasts (destroyers of images) and Anabaptists (re-baptisers). Repercussions arose from teaching that each individual should, obey the voice of his own conscience and should obey no-one else. Some people – responding to this – armed themselves with scythes and flails banded together killing their landlords and attacking monasteries and cities. Luther now left his stronghold to crush and to punish these rebel bands. There was a growing lack of unity among Luther’s followers and between them and the followers of other Reformers such as Zwingli and Calvin.
Twenty-Seventh Sunday of the Year – 08.10.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Five hundred years ago one of the great tragedies in the history of Christianity got under way. In October 1517 Martin Luther led a protest movement against the abuses associated with indulgencies. This led to the major breach in the Church, known as the Protestant Reformation.
The Catholic practice of indulgences developed gradually during the Middle Ages but grew enormously in the years running up to 1500 AD as the connection between the gaining of indulgences and the giving of money became stronger. Causes such as the Crusades and the building of churches and cathedrals, which required huge sums of money, were often supported by the issuing of special indulgences. The re-building of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome was going to be enormously expensive and so in 1515 a major effort at fund-raising included the promulgation of the St Peter’s indulgence decided on by Pope Leo X.
A number of respected and influential figures had, over the years, expressed reservations about the increasingly frequent fund-raising ventures involving indulgencies. Clergy often warned in their preaching against the dangers of seeing indulgences as a substitute for true penance. A senior German member of the Augustinian order, Johann von Staupitz, preached against these abuses during Advent 1516 and his sermons were published in Latin and German early in 1517. Luther was also an Augustinian priest and a friend of Staupitz. It was clear that St Peter’s indulgence was not popular in Germany. Helping to finance their local cathedrals was one thing, but sending their money to Rome was another matter. The Franciscans were often associated with preaching indulgencies but the German Franciscans refused to accept this one as it was too associated in the public eye with ‘Roman luxury’. So the Dominicans were asked instead and the campaign in Germany was led by Johann Tetzel.
It was not preached in all the German States. Martin Luther was a theology professor in the University of Wittenberg, which was in Saxony, whose ruler was Frederick the Wise. Frederick would not allow the St Peter’s indulgence to be preached in his territory – for financial reasons of his own. So this indulgence, to which Luther took such great exception, was never preached in Wittenberg. But people from Wittenberg were close enough to the borders of Saxony to go and hear Tetzel preach.
‘As soon as a coin in the coffers rings, the soul from purgatory springs.’ According to Martin Luther, this was the depths to which the preaching on indulgences had by 1517n been reduced. This was how he articulated it in the 27th of his 95 theses. There is no direct evidence that such words were used by Tetzel or any other preacher but it made a good story. Not many people have had a good word to say about Johann Tetzel. He is the pantomime villain of the Reformation, often portrayed as crude and unscrupulous in making the wildest claims to extract money from the credulous. Tetzel was certainly flamboyant and enthusiastic, as were many great medieval preachers who drew vast crowds. But Tetzel was a sophisticated and thoughtful theologian. He was educated at the University of Leipzig and had taught theology at the Dominican school there. While Tetzel’s superiors were slow to react to Luther’s challenge, Tetzel recognised the seriousness of the threat. He was the first to respond to the criticisms of Luther. He was roundly abused by Luther and his friends who recognised him as a formidable adversary, which is why they attacked him as savagely as they did.
Tetzel was at the heart of the first coherent effort to rally forces against Luther. At a meeting of the Dominican Chapter in Frankfurt there was a demonstration of support for Tetzel and a series of theses were prepared in defence of indulgences to be debated by Tetzel. This closing of ranks in the Dominican Order around Tetzel led the Augustinian Order to rally around Luther and give him the benefit of any doubt they might have had. This gave Luther crucial breathing space to make his case. Luther now decided that he would reply to Tetzel’s theses not in Latin but in German.
Tetzel’s 106 theses were brought to Wittenberg University with instructions that they should be distributed among the students. Before this could happen the bookseller found himself surrounded by a hostile crowd and the whole consignment of documents – eight hundred copies – was taken from him and burned. This was not something that could be dismissed as a student prank and it was the first sign that Luther’s protest would raise forces he could not control. It caused Luther considerable embarrassment and he was forced to protest that he had nothing to do with the incident. In choosing to respond to Tetzel in the vernacular Luther took the debate outside of the universities into the public square. He abandoned the protection that his status as a professor had afforded him and from now on he would be a marked man
Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year – 01.10.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: It would be rather foolish for someone with no qualifications or experience in these matters to give advice to parents or teachers on how to relate to children in their care. I do not propose to do this but I did come across an interesting point of view on the subject which I would like to share with you.
It is about encouraging children and making them feel good about themselves. We all, I hope, know how important this is. But it is also very important, a recent study suggests, that we learn to give children the right kind of praise. This study, published in ‘Psychological Science’ is co-authored by Gail Heyman, a development psychologist at the University of California in union with Kang Lee of the University of Toronto and others from a Chinese University and has some very interesting things to say. It suggests that it is not a good idea that children should be praised for being smart. Experts, it seems, are telling us to praise children for their efforts, not for their abilities. Children who are praised for their efforts have a greater chance of success because they are more motivated. When children are being praised for being smart – we are told – they are more likely to give up in the face of obstacles. If we over praise them we may not be doing them any favours. When they go to ‘big school’ they may discover that they are not as clever as they thought or were told! Will they be able to cope with being ‘average’ or ‘normal’?
These researchers understand that it is perfectly natural to tell children how smart they are, but they suggest that a different approach may be better. The problem is that when they are being praised for being clever or learn that they are regarded as smart, they feel pressure to perform well in order to live up to the expectations of parents or teachers or even peers. Research was carried out on three hundred children in Eastern China. Half of them were aged three, the other half were aged five. They were asked to play a guessing game using number cards. The children were either praised for their intelligence or their performance. One group received no praise at all.
The researcher asked the children who had been praised to promise not to cheat and then left the room for sixty seconds, right in the middle of the game. While the researcher was out of the room, the children’s behaviour was recorded by a hidden camera. The camera captured the children getting out of their seats or leaning over to have a look at the answers that had been left on the desk. The results showed that both the three and the five year olds who had been praised for being smart were more likely to act dishonestly than the ones praised for their efforts or those who had no praise at all. The results were the same for boys and girls. It seems that giving children praise for being smart promotes dishonesty. Praising specific behaviours or praising effort is a different matter and the praise will have positive outcomes. It seems that there is a moral dimension to different kinds of praise that affects children as young as three. They appear to behave differently when told ‘you are smart’ instead of ’you did very well this time.’ The wrong kind of praise, it seems, can make a child more willing to cheat.
The series of extreme weather episodes in so many places in recent weeks might lead us to believe that climate change is at the root of it all. Extreme weather has been a feature of our planet from the beginning of time. But recent events should prompt all of humanity to be more protective of our common home. Our environment is in a very fragile condition. Rising global temperatures make weather patterns bigger and harsher in their impact. But we cannot say that any specific extreme weather event is the result of human intervention in our environment.
President Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris Climate Agreement and cut funding from climate research. Regulations that President Obama had introduced aimed at reducing carbon emissions are being removed. Nevertheless, great efforts are being made throughout the world and in the individual States of the USA to address the problems.
It is so heartening to see all the wind turbines being put in place off our coast here in Ferring and Goring. They are an encouragement to all of us to play whatever part we can in addressing the great threat to our environment and in helping us to pass on to future generations a home worthy of their human dignity in line with God’s generous plans.
Twenty-Fifth Sunday of the Year – 24.09.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have made a further ruling concerning Holy Days of Obligation. For some years past the Feast of The Epiphany has been observed in England and Wales on 6th January if that day falls on a Sunday otherwise it has been observed on the nearest Sunday to 6th January. So it has been kept on a Sunday. The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord has also been observed on a Sunday for several years past. Prior to 2006 Ascension Day was celebrated on the Thursday after the 6th Sunday of Easter but for more than a decade it has been celebrated in England and Wales on the seventh Sunday of Easter. New rules come into effect as from the beginning of 2018 affecting these two Holy Days. Henceforth the feast of the Epiphany will be observed on 6th January except when it falls on a Saturday or a Monday – in which case it will be transferred to the nearest Sunday. Ascension Day will now take place on the Thursday after the Sixth Sunday of Easter. I am not aware of any consultation having taken place about this decision, nor have I seen any explanation of why the bishops have made these changes. They may very well have given their reasons – but at the time of writing this, I have not seen them. To me it seems a very strange decision. I can’t see it as helping in any way the strengthening of the faith of worshippers. Surely we can do greater justice to the observance of the great Feasts of the Epiphany and the Ascension with a Sunday celebration rather than in mid-week. Also it makes it more difficult to arrange mid-week celebrations bearing in mind the need for priests to have time off at these times. How can we provide Masses in our Catholic Schools on these feasts with the accelerating shortage of priests? How much thought have the bishops given to it? Have they not more pressing problems to consider?
Pope Francis has given Bishops’ Conferences throughout the world authorisation to decide on the translation of liturgical texts. He has given back to national conferences of bishops the responsibility for deciding the precise texts to be used in our public worship. The Second Vatican Council gave back these rights to the Conferences of local bishops over fifty years ago. The result was that we had a satisfactory translation of the prayers of the Mass up to six years ago. Not everyone was delighted with the translation, but generally people were quite pleased.. Over the years since the Council these powers of the bishops to decide on these matters were removed from them as Rome gathered more and more decision making to itself.
The Council in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy in 1963 decided that the primary responsibility for revising the Liturgy from the Roman Rite belonged jointly to the Holy See and the bishops of different regions. In 1964, however, Pope Paul VI said that translations should be submitted to the Holy See for official ratification. With the end of the Council and the bishops back home in their dioceses, the Vatican sought to keep a lid on things. The Paul VI Missal appeared in 1970 and this was in use until 2011. Meanwhile there was co-operation on liturgical translations between the eleven English speaking conferences of bishops. They became known as the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and they began the task of revising the texts for the entire English speaking world. All eleven English speaking Conference approved the new translation and in 1998 submitted to Rome for confirmation. The Vatican cardinal in charge of Liturgy and the Sacraments, Cardinal Medina Estevez, simply rejected this 1998 Missal. He demanded widespread changes in the mandate, structure and personnel of ICEL, which led to new rules in its way of operating.
This has all led to the present translation which was imposed on the English speaking Episcopal Conferences. Pope Francis was very aware of the level of dissatisfaction about this text and calls for translations that are not only faithful to the Latin original but are also intelligible when they are proclaimed in the vernacular languages. He speaks of the difficulties ‘that have arisen’ between the bishops’ conferences and the Apostolic See’. He speaks of the need for ‘collaboration full of mutual trust.’ He is telling the Congregation of Divine Worship – and indeed all Vatican bodies – to show due respect to the authority of bishops conferences. What now!
Twenty-Fourth Sunday of the Year – 17.09.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Recently a beautiful solar eclipse swept across the United States from coast to coast for the first time in almost a century. It crossed the U.S. from Oregon in the north-west to South Carolina in the south-east – a distance of almost four thousand miles as all along its path countless numbers of Americans watched in wonder through telescopes, cameras and protective glasses The last such event ninety-nine years ago would have been watched by far fewer people using much less advanced technology. Many people had planned for many years to be in the path of the eclipse because, of course, the timing and the course of the event was well known for decades. The sun was completely obscured by the moon for about two minutes in each location along the narrow corridor across the States. In addition to the millions who had travelled to see it there were, of course, billions throughout the world who were able to see it on television.
One of the most moving aspects of the event for me was to see and hear so many people clapping their hands as their special two minutes of total eclipse had ended. I regarded this as people raising their minds and hearts to God in thanksgiving for the wonder of his works who brought all things into being in a most wonderful way.
New light has recently been shed on the Shroud of Turin which many people believe to have been the burial cloth of Jesus. The image on the shroud aroused great interest when it was first photographed in 1898 by Secondo Pia. When he developed the negative he noticed that it showed a positive image of a human face. Whose face was it and how did it get there? These are the questions that have been asked ever since. If the shroud is a medieval forgery how could the image be in effect a photographic negative?
The shroud was subjected to Carbon 14 dating technology in 1987. The samples used were taken from the edges of the shroud that was patched following fire damage hundreds of years earlier. The result of this dating indicated that the shroud belonged to the 13th Century. But it was in the 13th Century that the damage and subsequent repair took place so many people felt that the tests were compromised.
A different sort of dating test was conducted by Giulio Fanti of Padua University in 2013. This technology uses infra-red light and spectros-copy to measure the radiation intensity through wavelengths. From these measurements a date can be calculated. Fanti’s method dated fibres from the shroud to 300 BC – 400 AD. Many people still dismiss the possibility of the shroud’s authenticity on the basis of the flawed Carbon 14 dating. The blood stains on the shroud are real human blood, not paint. The flow of the blood indicates that the body had been crucified and subsequently buried. The fact that the blood-stains retain their reddish colour is evidence that the blood came from a person under extreme duress. The most recent finding again suggests that the crucified man was tortured.
The cloth is consistent with fabrics from first century Israel – not with Medieval Europe. The shroud details are in line with first century Jewish burial customs. They also show that the crucified man was scourged and huge thorns were placed on his head and was wounded in the side. There were no bones broken. The shroud shows that the nail wounds were in the wrists, not in the palms. The flesh of the palms would not have supported the weight of a man’s body. Traces of the spices used for Jewish burial have been found. Tests even indicate that the dust from the area of the image by the knees and feet of the crucified man is from the area around Jerusalem.
Pollen from the shroud is not only from the Jerusalem area but from Turkey and other places where the shroud had been kept down the centuries. There are microscopic traces of the flowers that would have been used for burial. These flowers would have been blooming in Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover. Everything points to the shroud being the burial cloth of Jesus. What else could it be? But many scientists remain unconvinced. Of course we do not have to believe in the shroud. It is undeniably mysterious.
Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year – 10.09.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Pope Francis is now eighty years old and has been Pope for well over four years. The vast majority of Catholics are fully behind his reform programme. They see his compassion and concern for the poor and marginalised and are greatly edified and encouraged by what they see. They recognise his message has the authentic ring of the Gospel and they hope and pray that he will have the strength and energy to guide and inspire us well into the future.
He faces stiff resistance from the small group of Cardinals who are opposed to some of his initiatives. Pope Francis is remarkably calm about this. He defends their right to have and to voice their own opinions. Nevertheless the manner in which they express their disagreement with the Pope is concerning. It is difficult to imagine a group of Cardinals taking a similar stand against Pope John Paul II or Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. What is happening in Rome today is indeed very strange.
These Cardinals – long embedded in the Curia – have been accustomed to being in a position where their opinions and ways of enforcing them have been unchallenged. They seem to resent their comfort zone being disturbed by a Pope who does not seem to appreciate the inner workings of the Roman Curia in the way that they do. His chief critic, Cardinal Raymond Burke, has been sidelined by Pope Francis who appointed him Patron of the Knights of Malta. Burke has often spoken of issuing a ‘formal act of correction’ against the Pope. He and his small group of fellow Cardinals are greatly worried by the document of Pope Francis called ‘The Joy of Love.’ This was issued by the Pope as a response to the Synod of Bishops which met in 2015 and again in 2016 to consider how the Church could support families in living the Christian life. These Cardinals are of the opinion that the Pope should expressly answer certain questions that they have posed to him. These chiefly concern whether divorced and remarried Catholics are ever allowed, in any circumstances, to receive Holy Communion. They have no doubt that the answer to that question is ‘NO’. They want the Pope to agree with them.
Pope Francis however does not approach the problems of life in that frame of mind. Life is very seldom a question of black or white. Nor does he think that pastoral issues should always be presented to the Pope for him to solve. Pope Francis is trying to decentralise decision making in the Church – as the Vatican Council called out for. Looking to the Pope to solve every problem is an infantile attitude – and a relatively recent development. Pope Francis is committed to the Council’s call to follow a path of Christian discipleship in a prayerful and reflective way and not expect answers to be handed down from Rome whenever it is asked. So Pope Francis has refused to answer the slate of questions presented to him. Nor has he commissioned a Curial body such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to rule on the matter. The various Conferences of Bishops, arising from the Synod, were encouraged to offer their own guidelines.
Pope Francis wrote to the Argentinian Bishops backing their response. These guidelines explained that in certain individual circumstances Communion could be offered to the remarried. Francis told the Argentinean Bishops that ‘there is no other interpretation’ of ‘The Joy of Love’. The guidelines issued by the Maltese Bishops and the German Bishops were also praised as they were in a similar vein.
It is not only a handful of Cardinals who are upset. A letter was published by a coalition of priests from around the world requesting clarification from the Pope on the issue. I must confess that I fail to understand why they allow themselves to be so worked up on this issue. Why, for instance, do they not seem to be worked up by murderers being allowed – under certain circumstances – to receive Holy Communion? What about IRA leaders and Mafia members?
Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year – 03.09.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: One of the greatest poets that fought in the First World War was Siegfried Sassoon. Despite his German fore-name he was a thoroughly English ‘fox-hunting’ man. He survived the war – unlike many of the ‘War Poets’ and died in 1967 at the age of eighty-one. The experiences he suffered made him detest war and he is the angriest of the poets. People were asking: ‘Why did we fight this war?’ and Sassoon was convinced that the whole exercise was futile and the huge casualties resulted from poor leadership.
The poem ‘The General’ was written in 1916 and he was already totally disillusioned. Who is the enemy in this poem?
‘Good morning, good morning! the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead
And were cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card’, grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
But he did for them both in his plan of attack.’
‘Up the line to death’ was the expression used by soldiers. Sassoon himself was a fierce fighter. His comrades nicknamed him ‘mad Jack’ but he could not see the point of the war. When he was awarded a Military Cross for outstanding valour he is reputed to have thrown the medal into the River Mersey. Incidentally, he became a Catholic ten years before his death.
The last British soldier to have fought in World War I died in 2009. He was Harry Patch and he visited Passchendale on the 90th Anniversary of the battle in 2007. He described the war as the ‘calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings. It wasn’t worth one life.’ At Passchendale – one hundred years ago, a quarter of a million British soldiers were lost in months of fighting in deep mud, with barely five miles of ground won. The war that was called ‘Great’ was the bloodiest war in British History, but no war has produced a greater wealth of English poetry.
The poets of these awful four years reflected on whether their real enemy was Kaiser, a first cousin of their own King, George V or those who led them into the meaningless slaughter for no good reason. Lord Alfred Tennyson saw things very differently when he was writing about one of the battles of the Crimean War in 1854. ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ commemorates a bloody and absolutely hopeless assault by six hundred British Cavalry on Russian artillery guns. A French general watching it said: ‘It is magnificent but it is not war.’ But Tennyson does not criticise the commander, or his country but lavishes praise on the bravery of these soldiers who rode to their death. ‘Their’s not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.’ He saw their deaths as glorious.
Most people thought that the Great War would be over ‘by Christmas’ – in two or three months. The Spirit of England at the outbreak of the War is expressed by Rupert Brooke in ‘The Soldier’.
‘If I should die, think only this of me.
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.’
Brooke’s poem was instantly taken up by war propagandists. It was read out to the congregation in St Paul’s Cathedral. Clergymen gave sermons on it. It was recited as school assemblies. It was a particular favourite of Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty. He wrote the glowing obituary of Brook in The Times. Brooke volunteered on the outbreak of the war at the age of twenty-eight and died in the first year of the conflict of an infected mosquito bite. He is buried in a ‘foreign field’ – the Greek island of Skyros. Three years and millions of deaths later, Brooke’s anthem rang hollow. Those who actually experienced the horrors of it all tended to see it as futile rather than glorious.
The best known of the War Poets was Wilfred Owen, a decorated and gallant officer. He was killed in the last week of the war. The telegram announcing his death was delivered to his family as the church bells began ringing – declaring the end of the war, 11th November 1918. It is hard for us to imagine the horrors experienced and witnessed by men such as Owen. He speaks of seeing dead comrades day after day, year after year. In his poem fittingly called ‘Futility’ he asks ‘why are all these young and idealistic men being slaughtered?’ The traditional Biblical account of Man’s creation out of clay – fashioned by God’s hand – is hinted at in a moving single line: ‘Was it for this the clay grew tall?’
(I am indebted to Jack Sutherland’s ‘History of Literature)
Twenty-First Sunday of the Year – 27.08.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: When I was a priest at Reigate, I often used to visit the nearby village of Shere. It was a great place to bring visitors to because of its antiquity. Its greatest attraction to me was its church which used to have a very special space attached to it called an anchorhold. This was a place where an anchorite used to live in solitary confinement as a way of living the Christian life more deeply and more heroically. This was quite a feature of the medieval church. There was an anchorhold in Leatherhead that measured eight feet square and one at Compton with a separate space for sleeping and one at Hardham in Sussex. There was a much larger one at Chichester Cathedral which measured twenty-nine by twenty-four feet. Some anchorholds had gardens attached and it was not unknown for two recluses to inhabit neighbouring cells.
They were attached to the church and a slit was provided so that the recluse could join in the worship and receive Holy Communion. Before being allowed to become an anchorite some method of finding out the suitability of the candidate had to be followed, as well as some assurance about arrangements for continuing material support.
In Shere there is a document displayed in Latin where the candidate asks for papal permission to become an anchorite and papal approval for her to do so can be seen. In addition there is the request to Rome for her to be released from her state of life and a further request some time later for permission to re-enter the anchorhold. All that is left building-wise is the squinting window into the sanctuary.
Upon enclosure, the intending anchorite would take solemn vows of obedience and chastity. The life of an anchorite was regarded as a kind of living death. Part of the rite of enclosure was taken from the burial service. Dust was sprinkled as at a burial. In some cases when the door was sealed, the Mass for the Dead was said. Normally the anchorite would never leave his or her cell again. Some anchorites were buried in their cell. There is a 15th century Rite for Enclosure which specifies provision of a shallow grave already dug within the anchorhold for the recluse to contemplate. They would live in a cramped and comfortless confined space without any ornament except for a crucifix. They would be wholly dependent on others for all their needs of sustenance and hygiene. Holy Communion was allowed perhaps fifteen times a year and family visits were allowed only infrequently. The cell, as well as having an opening into the church, sometimes had a small window opening out to the world outside, which was to be covered with a curtain.
The day of the anchorite was occupied with the recitation of prayers, which began with their waking moments and only ceased with prayers just before going to sleep. A typical day of prayer might start at 3.30 am with preliminary devotions. Matins, Lauds and Primer from the Office of Our Lady would begin at 5.00 am; at 8.00 am Terce, another of the parts of the Office of Our Lady with Litany of the Saints. Prayer from The Hours would follow with Litany of the Saints; the seven penitential Psalms; the fifteen Gradual Psalms and Devotions before the Cross. At 11.30 am there may be Mass followed by further prayers from the Office. This would be followed by a meal and a rest period. At 3.00 pm there might be private prayers and devotions. Evening prayer at 5.00 pm. Night prayer at 7.00 pm followed by bedtime prayers and devotions.
Between Easter and Harvest time, two meals a day were allowed, except on Fridays. During the other half of the year the recluse was expected to fast as much as possible, except on Sundays. No meat or fat should be eaten and no dairy produce on Fridays or in Advent. The recluse was expected to wear clothes next to the skin that were rough and coarse in texture. The wearing of haircloth and self-flagellation were only to be undertaken with a confessor’s permission and frequent washing was encouraged. They were not to teach children as this would distract them from their vocation. They were not to send or receive letters. With their confessor’s agreement however they could dispense guidance to those who sought it from them. A female anchorite (or anchoress) was allowed to sew and mend church vestments or clothes for the poor. The word ‘anchorite’ derives from the Greek word for ‘to retire or retreat’.
Twentieth Sunday of the Year – 20.08.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: In this parish certainly we often use the Apostles Creed, rather than the Niceno Constantinopolitan Creed, at Sunday Mass. For one thing it uses rather less complicated language as it was not the product of lengthy deliberations that took place at two General Councils of the early Church held in Nicea and Constantinople in the Fourth century, responding to seriously conflicting views concerning the identity of Jesus and the life of the Trinity. But the present translation of the Apostles Creed can also cause unnecessary bewilderment. We say of Jesus that ‘he descended into hell’. For some years before the 2011 translation we had become accustomed to saying that ‘he descended to the dead.’ This was a happier rendering of the Creed as it expresses more clearly the fact that through the saving death of Jesus he reached out to those who had died throughout the ages bringing them salvation and life. ‘Sheol’ is the Hebrew word that we often translate as hell but which really means ‘the underworld’ or the domain of the dead. I think translators, living and dead, stand in need of our prayers.
The Apostles Creed begins: ‘I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.’ It does not profess the Father almighty to be creator of hell. How comfortable would we be in professing the Apostles Creed if this formed part of it! Biblical statements and Church teaching about the faith reflect the culture of the period in which they were formulated. The Book of Genesis is not a scientific description of how the universe came into being and where human beings fit into it.
The Bible is not a book of history, geography or science. It is a written account of the religious experience of the people of God, of the Jews in the Old Testament and of the Christians in the New. It is inspired by God to guide us and lead us to him and so it is truly the Word of God. The colourful language and metaphorical imagery are not to be taken literally. We don’t expect people to take us literally when we speak of the sun rising and the sun setting. Jesus of course, like us, used the language and images of his time and place. What else could he do? We must take him seriously and respectfully by seeking to discover his meaning in terms of what the modern world understands. The most solid and consoling statement we have about the afterlife is the beautiful affirmation of St Paul to the Corinthians: ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’ (1 Cor 2:9) Anything beyond that is mere guesswork and theological opinion. We really know nothing about the geography or furniture of heaven, hell or purgatory.
A fully developed human being has freewill. Freedom is part of being human. In eternity will we be free? Would Paradise be thinkable if we had no personal freedom? Surely God will give us enhanced freedom, rather than take away our freedom. Could we even give praise and glory to God if we were not doing so freely?
The question that arises about those who die apparently at enmity with God: ‘Can they exercise their freedom? Can they change their mind and embrace God’s love?’ The Catechism of the Catholic Church (par 1033) states: ‘To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever and ever by our own free choice. This state of deliberate self-exclusion from communication with God and the blessed is called hell.’ But is it possible to opt for hell? Is it possible to reject God’s merciful love for ever?
I recently came across a wonderful line from Scripture that nobody had ever pointed out to me. I feel I must point it out to you. It comes from the Second Book of Daniel: ‘But God will not take away a life. He will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence.’ (14:14) What a marvellous revelation. How closely does it attune to the saving message Jesus came to give us. ‘God will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence.’ God has sent us his Son who draws us all, eventually, to the Father. This is the God Jesus revealed to us – a God of inventive mercy who will not rest until we find our rest in him.
The Church never ceases to declare that certain people are in heaven. But it has never declared that any particular person is in hell. The inventive nature of God’s love is our source of hope and confidence. If we cannot say that any particular person is in hell do we have to believe that hell is populated? To believe that there are people in hell for all eternity would be a failure of God to devise his saving plan to ensure that no outcast is banished forever from his presence. Perhaps St Therese of Lisieux had it right when she said: ‘I believe in hell but I believe it is empty.’
Nineteenth Sunday of the Year – 13.08.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: When Edward VI was on his deathbed efforts were made to secure a Protestant succession to the English throne. The Lord Protector was John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland and was, like Edward, very strongly Lutheran. He was related to Lady Jane Grey who was third in line to the throne, after the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth. The Lord Protector Northumberland persuaded his son to marry the unwilling Lady Jane. He then proclaimed her queen three days after Edward’s death. She was forced to abdicate nine days later in favour of Mary. Lady Jane and her husband were imprisoned in the Tower of London. Following a rebellion in her favour – in which her father participated – she was beheaded with her husband and her father. Popular support was with Mary who entered London as Queen in August 1553 and was crowned in October.
In spite of national protests, Mary was determined to marry her cousin, Philip II of Spain. There was much rivalry between England and Spain for many years especially at sea. These culminated in the Armada episode. After the marriage in July 1554 Mary lost a gre3at deal of support. She restored ecclesiastical laws to the way they were before the accession of Edward. Her cousin Cardinal Pole came to England as Papal Legate and Parliament was reconciled to the Holy See. The last three years of her reign were besmirched by cruelties and burnings at the stake. Nicholas Ridley, High Latimer and Thomas Cranmer were the most notable victims but in all nearly three hundred people were burned giving Mary the name ‘Bloody Mary’.
A total of twenty-seven people were put to death for their faith in Sussex from 1555-1558 AD. Two were buried in Chichester, one in Steyning, three in East Grinstead, four in Mayfield and Seventeen at Lewes. The greater number – twenty-four out of twenty-seven – were put to death in East Sussex towns. Being closer to the Continent than West Sussex, East Sussex was more open to the influx of new ideas.
With the return of Catholicism under Mary an effort was made to ensure regular preaching at Sunday Mass. Following the example of Cranmer in the reign of Edward, a set of homilies was prepared to be used by ‘insufficient’ preachers. By ‘insufficient’ preachers were meant preachers that were not up to the mark! Biblereading or the possession of Bibles was never condemned by the Marian regime. Protestant versions of the Bible were suspect, not English Bibles as such. A new English translation of the New Testament was one of the projects begun at the Synod that Cardinal Pole arranged in 1555 AD.
All kinds of new texts had now to be produced. Printers in London and France quickly brought out editions of the traditional Sarum prayer book in Latin and in English which continued throughout Mary’s reign. Many of them were printed in Rouen. Many English Catholic printers had settled there when Edward was King. A publisher who had to go abroad was John Wayland. He had functioned in London throughout the Edwardine period, producing texts for the Protestant church. Presumably he now was chosen to print the official Catholic Missals and prayer books because of his proven reliability and his established links with government.
The Wayland prayer books has the main text in English and the Latin version confined to smaller print in the margins. Interestingly, it doesn’t give the conditions for gaining indulgences or miraculous legends that used to be a feature of Catholic books previously and which were so scorned by the reformers. It is much more ‘theologically correct’ than the pre-Reformation books. Later editions also give instructions on the Mass and other aspects of the faith. It is a great testimony to the maturity of Catholic scholarship to produce such wellbalanced theology and spirituality in a time of religious ferment.
Supplying the parishes with all that was required for the restored Catholic liturgy was no easy task. Many of the objects needed were safely hidden but much more was confiscated. But it is clear that great energy and promptness was in evidence to ensure that the church and the liturgy were given the dignity they deserved. The work of destruction could be carried out quickly and cheaply. Restoration was another matter. A survey of one hundred and thirty-four parishes in 1554 AD showed that they had all rebuilt a high altar, obtained vestments and copes, most of the utensils of Catholic worship and most of the books. By the end of the reign most churches had a Rood (large crucifix) with the figures of Mary and John and also images of one or more saints, banners, hangings and a canopy for processions of the Blessed Sacrament. In addition ‘most of the parishes in the sample decorated their churches more than the legal minimum required’. Individuals who had acquired church goods were pursued and they or their executors were often successfully forced to return their gains or a cash equivalent.
The Transfiguration of the Lord – 06.08.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Up to a little more than a century ago, Sussex was very under-populated and roads were treacherous. Writing in 1880 Richard Jeffries tells us that thirty people died on the Downs in that Winter and speaks of how ‘open, wild and colourless’ the countryside was. ‘Even in Summertime a stranger, if he stays till dusk may easily wander for hours. Once off the highway, all the ridges and slopes seem alike and there is no end of tem.’ The move of people from the countryside to the towns did not take off until after the First World War.
The old industries of the Weald had largely died out by the mid-eighteenth century. There had been a thriving iron industry in Sussex during the Tudor times. Kipling said that the ‘guns which smote King Philip’s fleet’ had been forged in the Sussex Weald. After the Armada threat of 1588 the industry quickly declined. The Wealden Ironmasters had retained a monopoly on gun-founding throughout the seventeenth century, but the advent of the coke-fired blast furnace in 1710 heralded the demise of the local industry that was unable to adapt to change.
The glass industry, inspired by the Huguenot émigrés also prospered under Queen Elizabeth and provided much employment close to the Surrey-Sussex border in the northern Weald. But the industry failed to secure the necessary patronage. The appalling road system in Sussex had a large influence on the failure of the iron and the glass industries.
The cloth and leather industries which also prospered in Tudor times had gone into decline by the eighteenth century. The policy of enclosure brought fresh pressure to the people. Already hit by a decline in the traditional sources of employment, local people were not inclined to submit to this new intrusion. This defiance manifested itself in small ways such as the gathering of firewood or in more dramatic ways such as large-scale poaching or even attacks on the property of the new ‘owner’. They justified their actions on the grounds that they were acting in accordance with ancient customs.
The steward of the Duke of Newcastle recorded the action he had taken against trespassers in January 1763: ‘I have got a list of about ten poor wretches chiefly women and children that have been pilfering the woods this cold weather and intend having them all before a magistrate at the first proper opportunity and if I can prevail upon the justices to act as they ought shall get several of them whipped, the one man sent to the house of correction but I don’t know that anything will be sufficient to keep them honest. They are a parcel of the most distressed and miserable objects I ever saw among the human species.’ Four months later another ‘wood stealer’ was detected and the steward had obtained an order to pull down the man’s cottage by way of punishment. Sussex was one of the most ‘pauperised’ of all the English counties by 1800.
Because of all these circumstances, smuggling came to be seen as an attractive proposition – by those willing to defy the laws and harsh punishments of the day. In 1752 AD Horace Walpole, (son of Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain) wrote about the criminality of the people of Sussex. On entering the inn at Robertsbridge he found that it was ‘full of smugglers’ all armed to the teeth. Although it was two in the morning he and his party retreated from the inn and set off for Battle where they found ‘a worse inn, crammed with excise officers, one of whom had just killed a smuggler.’ Two years earlier the notorious Hawkhurst Gang had been broken up and their leaders arrested. The defendants were all convicted and shortly afterwards they were hanged on the Broyle, north of Chichester. From there, their bodies were taken to various spots around the county and ‘gibbeted’ – that is, hung in chains from a high pole. But smuggling lasted in Sussex long after these events. To the poor of rural and urban Sussex these men were viewed as heroes. Many years later old men would recall with warmth and affection the ‘Free-traders’ of their youth. George Ramsley, leader of the ‘Aldington Blues’ of Romney Marsh, was still remembered by local people in 1890 AD who used to drink his health. They thought there was no one like him as he brought a lot of money into the place – ‘a stout, jolly kind of fellow, as fine a fellow as ever walked.’
Many of these gangs could be ruthless and indiscriminate. A colourful description of the Shipley Gang came from the pen of William Abberry and gives us some idea of criminal activities in early nineteenth century Sussex: ‘Farmers and millers, chief sufferers by the depredations of this gang, trembled to hear of them, respectable people were afraid to go to bed and afraid to sit up. The gang on principal scorned work and would carry on poaching in broad daylight. Their usual method at night time was to surround a mill or farmhouse, gain admittance, using force if necessary, and whilst two or three of them with masked faces would entertain the people in the house by holding them with pistols, the others would loot the place. Mills and shops were bashed in and much of the contents as could be conveniently moved were taken away.’ The Shipley Gang was broken up in 1818 AD and its members either sentenced to death or transportation for life. But sons and nephews of the original gang were organising their own poaching activities twelve years later.
(I am indebted to Chris Hare and his ‘History of the Sussex People’.)
Seventeenth Sunday of the Year – 30.07.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Sussex used to be a very rural county and set in its ways. The Industrial Revolution had a much bigger effect in the North than it had on the rural South, notably Sussex. But technological changes had a great effect on agriculture. Throughout the winter of 1830 Sussex farm workers rose up in revolt in protest against low wages and piece work. There was much unemployment as a result of mechanisation. Those affected demanded redress at angry meetings. Threatening letters were sent to landowners and magistrates; Threshing machines were smashed and barns and ricks of corn were set on fire. The Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne, sent a letter to the Magistrates of the Southern Counties, demanding that they take the harshest possible measures against this mounting rebellion.
In late November 1830, a prominent landowner in East Preston. George Olliver was hiring men to thresh his corn. One of those approached was a twenty-six year old, Edmund Bushby, who refused the offer of piece rate work and wanted a set wage instead. Instead of employing workers Olliver hired one of the new mechanical threshing machines. There was an argument between Olliver and Bushby and that night one of Olliver’s ricks went up in flames. Edmund Bushby was arrested on the initiative of George Olliver and was found guilty of arson in Horsham. In those days arson was a capital offence though often commuted to a sentence of transportation. However in this case Bushby was hanged in public outside Horsham Gaol on New Year’s Day 1831. This illustrates the rapid deterioration that had taken place between workers and employers – between the poor and the wealthy – that took many years to dissipate. As late as 1866 the West Sussex Gazette reported on ‘Outrages on Agricultural Machinery’ taking place in the county. In the early 1880’s a journalist wrote of a ‘savage animosity’ which existed between ’man and master’ in some rural areas. George Olliver received £500 reward for helping to secure the arrest and conviction of Edmund Bushby – a huge amount in those days. He used part of it to establish am school for the poor in East Preston. The building – now offices –still stands in the village. Despite this Olliver was not respected locally and attacks on his property continued for several years. During the early 1830’s three other Sussex men were executed for arson. One of them was a nineteen year old of limited intelligence, George Wren of Alfriston, convicted on evidence that would not stand up today.
‘Bonfire Night’ had a special place in the Sussex calendar and was celebrated with more exuberance here than elsewhere. Effigy-burning and the rolling of lighted tar-barrels through the streets were the main part of the celebrations. The ‘Bonfire Boys’ would parade noisily waving skull and cross-bone flags and singing popular and tribal songs. Some banners declared ‘We burn to remember’ and similar messages. Lewes was particularly noted for this revelry. They recalled the gunpowder plot and the arrival of William of Orange. They also remembered the Battle of Inkerman in which Sussex men fought in November 1854 in the Crimea. They certainly remembered the protestant martyrs burned in Sussex during the reign of Queen Mary.
If we are to believe the words of a Worthing resident in 1879 things could be very exciting nearer home. ’The scenes that annually occur in this town on the 5th of November are a disgrace to the governing body of the place. For hours the property of the ratepayers is entirely at the mercy of the most unmitigated roughs – I should be sorry to honour them with the name of savages. These brutes, armed with bludgeons, are allowed to amuse themselves by hauling and rolling old boats and burning tar-barrels through the principal streets of the town, the boats are set on fire, and anything they can lay their hands upon is taken to add to the flames of this moving mass of fire.’ Not everybody was so enthusiastic to end the ‘Bonfire Night’ revels. Attempts at Worthing in the 1870’s to suppress these demonstrations led to several brutal clashes with the police. In 1876 a police officer was seriously injured. On the following Bonfire Night police officers were drafted into the town from all over the county but this did not prevent a bloody battle from taking place – which some people blamed on the over officious police.
The places most noted for the vehemence of the ‘Bonfire Night’ celebrations were the very places where outbreaks of hostility to the Salvation Army took place from around the year 1880. At that time the Salvation Army did not try to establish itself in either Lewes or Rye as opposition to them was so great. Across Sussex the Bonfire Boys appeared on the streets, calling themselves ‘the Skelton Army’. They marched with their skull and crossbones flags and challenged the Salvation Army and police and magistrates to take them on.
At Worthing, riots in the summer of 1884 were only quelled by the intervention of mounted Dragoons following the reading of the Riot Act. At Eastbourne in 1890 the Mayor himself encouraged the rioters. At Hastings the ‘Skeleton Army’ threatened to turn the town upside down if the Salvation Army dared to process. Why were the Salvation Army targeted? One reason was their support for temperance and their opposition to late-night revelling. Also, they came from outside the area. At this stage they were mostly from London and so were regarded by the ‘Skeleton Army’ lot as foreign in their conduct and attitudes. These riots represented the last stand of the blinkered mentality and with the Edwardian period and the popular press came a more national outlook, more free of regional prejudices.
(I am indebted to Chris Hare and his ‘History of the Sussex People’.)
Sixteenth Sunday of the Year – 23.07.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: The civilisation into which Christianity was born was a mixture of Greek and Roman influences which formed the Roman Empire. The decline and fall of this civilisation began around the year 400 AD and led to what came to be called the Dark Ages. In the early centuries of the Church – while Christianity was declared to be illegal and often fiercely persecuted – the Empire had established peace and prosperity within its borders and by the time that outside tribes – the so-called barbarian invasion – overran the Empire, the whole Mediterranean basin and much of Europe had almost wholly Christianised. The incursions of the Goths, Vandals, Huns, Franks and Lombards lasted from the third to the sixth century and brought about the end of the Roman Empire. Why the Empire had become so vulnerable and unable to defend itself was probably due to a number of causes, such as plague and over-expansion. When these tribes settled within the Empire they contributed new life and vigour to the population and eventually to a new burgeoning of civilisation. Portions of the tribes of the Goths such as Visigoths (West Goths) and Ostrogoths (East Goths) overran France, Spain, Germany and Italy and established powerful Kingdoms, half Gothic and half Roman within the Empire. But these Kingdoms in turn were attacked and overthrown by other tribes such as the Huns and Franks and Vandals who had little regard for art and civilisation. (The Vandals were more barbarous and unteachable than most of the tribes. In 455 AD they took and sacked Rome. By now the Roman Emperor had long since left Rome and made himself a new city and capital named after himself – Constantinople or the City of Constantine. Constantine befriended Christianity and gave it its liberty in 313 AD but was only baptised on his deathbed. The Popes were the only power left to confront the invaders. Pope Leo somehow deflected Attila the Hun from attacking Rome.) The last and fiercest of these tribes were the Lombards who invaded Italy in 568 AD and established a Kingdom in North Italy – named after then – Lombardy.
St Gregory the Great was Pope from 590 – 604 AD. One day seeing some fair-haired British youths in the slave market in Rome, he inquired as to their nationality and was told that they were Angles. He said that they were angels, not Angles and he resolved to send a body of monks under St Augustine to spread Christianity in England. It was already established in the North of England by Irish monks but Augustine and his body of Roman monks brought the faith to Kent and the South. St Gregory in sending missionaries to England was following the example of an earlier Pope, St Celestine, who made St Patrick a bishop and sent him to bring the faith to Ireland in 429 AD.
A great German Catholic scholar, Dr Dollinger (+1890 AD) wrote: ‘During the sixth and seventh centuries, the Church in Ireland stood in the full beauty of its bloom. Troops of holy men obeyed the counsel of Christ and forsook all things that they might follow Him. There was not a country in the world during this period which could boast of pious foundations or of religious communities equal to those that adorned this distant island. The names of heresy or of schism were not known to them; and in the Bishop of Rome they acknowledged and venerated the Supreme Head of the Church on earth and continued with him and through him with the whole Church in a never interrupted communion. The schools in the Irish cloisters were at this time the most celebrated in all the West. Whilst almost the whole of Europe was desolated by war, peaceful Ireland free from the invasions of external foes, opened to the lovers of learning and piety a welcome asylum. The strangers who visited the island not only from the most remote nations of the Continent received from the Irish people the most hospitable reception, gratuitous entertainment, free instruction and even the books that were necessary for their studies. On the other hand many holy and learned Irishmen left their own country to proclaim the faith, to establish or to reform monasteries in distant lands and thus to become the benefactors of almost every nation in Europe.’
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (+1890 AD) speaks of Ireland and Britain as the Isles of the North who at different times brought faith and learning to a Europe that was ravaged by war and dissention. Newman speaks of ‘St Columba who is the Apostle of the Northern Picts in the sixth century, St Columanus who at the end of the 6th century was sent with twelve of his brethren to preach in France, Burgundy, Switzerland and Lombardy where he died. All these great acts and encouraging events had taken place ere yet the Anglo-Saxon race was converted to the faith or at least while it was still under education for its own part in extending it.’ Newman goes on: ‘The foundation of many of the English sees is due to Irishmen. The Northumbrian diocese was for many years governed by them and the Abbey at Lindisfarne which was peopled by Irish monks and their Saxon disciples spread far around it, its all-blessing influence.’
‘The seventh and eighth centuries,’ Newman writes, ‘are the glory of the Anglo-Saxon Church as are the sixth and seventh of the Irish. AS the Irish missionaries travelled down through England, France and Switzerland to lower Italy and attempted Germany at the peril of their lives, converting the barbarians, restoring the lapsed, encouraging the desolate, collecting the scattered and founding churches, schools and monasteries as they went along, so amid the deep pagan woods of Germany and roundabout, the English Benedictine plied his axe and drove his plough, planted his rude dwelling and raised his rustic altar upon the ruins of idolatry, and then settling down as a colonist upon the soil began to sing his chants and to copy his old volumes and thus to lay the slow but sure foundations of the new civilisation. They consecrated their respective gifts to the Almighty Giver and labouring together for the same end they obliterated whatever there was of human infirmity in their mutual efforts.’ All this changed when the Vikings came and destroyed the monasteries and missionary work in each of the isles of the North.
Fifteenth Sunday of the Year – 16.07.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: When I began my studies for the priesthood in 1960 we were told, not unsurprisingly, that among the many things expected of us during vacation was that we should attend Mass daily. In my case, however, this was not quite so straightforward. My local parish priest did not say daily Mass in the church. His parish was very rural and his policy was to say daily Mass privately in the oratory of the parochial house. In addition to the Blessed Sacrament being reserved in the tabernacle of the parish church, it was also reserved in the tabernacle of his oratory. When people passed the church in those days it was customary to make the sign of the cross and for men to doff their caps or hats – out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament. When they passed the parish priest’s house they did the same thing as they knew the Blessed Sacrament was reserved there.
When I came home for the Christmas holidays I visited my parish priest and told him that I was expected to go to daily Mass. He said that I could come to his house at a specific time and I served the Mass. The only other person present was the housekeeper who would have made the responses – in Latin – until I arrived on the scene. When it came to Easter holidays the parish priest told me that I needn’t come to Mass at his house anymore. He obviously felt it was an inconvenience for him – that in the event of my continuing in the Seminary for six years he could well do without! In addition he was over seventy years which was venerable at that time!
I didn’t tell the Seminary authorities about this – nor did I broadcast it among my fellow seminarians as far as I can remember. It would have been a rare state of affairs which I did not want to draw attention to.
In recent years an increasing number of parishes in Ireland as well as in much of the Catholic world cannot celebrate weekday Mass with the same frequency that they once enjoyed. The immediate reason for this is the greatly reduced number of ordained priests. Where one priest has to serve two or three parishes – as is increasingly the case – different forms of daily public worship have to be explored. In a large number of places throughout the world Catholics have never had large numbers of ordained priests. For many people in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Australasia and South America, the norm is infrequent Sunday Mass. For them the question of daily Eucharist is deemed to be a privilege that is only available in large towns and cities.
The situation to which we have grown accustomed in Great Britain and Ireland where there are so many churches and so many Masses is a relatively new phenomenon. It arose from the surge in the number of priests being ordained from the 1930’s through to the early 1960’s. So many of the parishes in our Worthing Deanery date from this time, such as East Worthing, High Salvington, Goring-by-Sea, East Preston and Rustington. When churches were built in these places they soon developed to separate churches because there were so many priests available.
It is essential that matters are kept in perspective. In recent years the number of priests we have had has been historically very high. We have known no other situation so we have come to regard the last forty or fifty years as having been the norm. In fact they have been highly exceptional. We now have to live with altered expectations. We can no longer expect daily Mass to be the norm in our Catholic churches. There should be daily worship. The prayer-life of the local community must be nourished. What form this weekday public worship should take has to be given great consideration. But Mass on weekdays will no longer be possible on a daily basis in most parishes.
Our long tradition in both the Church of the East and of the West has given to us a rich fare of ways in which public worship has been offered. Outside of the Eucharist, the oldest has been and remains the Liturgy of the Hours, most particularly Morning, Evening and Night Prayer. Its basic content is the offering of praise and thanksgiving to God, with Christ, through the Psalms and intercessions. Monastic communities developed their own ways of worshipping daily. It was not until the ninth century or so that daily Mass became common in monasteries and some of the churches of the large cities in the Church of the West. The Eastern Church has never, generally speaking, known the practice of celebrating the Eucharist daily. It was only in the nineteenth century that priests in the Western Church were expected to celebrate daily Mass as a matter of course.
It is difficult for us to imagine how the Church has changed in so many ways in the course of the centuries. It is important that we realise this, otherwise we can so easily be alarmed at the changes that will increasingly be part of our Christian lives. Christians have always responded to Christ’s command to pray without ceasing. Above all they have striven to gather for the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist.
Fourteenth Sunday of the Year – 09.07.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Recently we celebrated the Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul as a Holyday of Obligation. England and Wales must be about the only places on earth where this is the case. I think it is due to the struggles of the Reformation in Tudor times that the Catholic Hierarchy in these lands have decided to maintain this Feast as a Holyday of Obligation – to emphasise our loyalty to the See of Peter. As is very evident from the numbers who attend Mass on this Feast, the people in the pew are not overwhelmed.
Later this year the feasts of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and All Saints – Holydays of Obligation as well – also fall on weekdays. If such great Feasts as the Epiphany, The Body and Blood of Christ and the Ascension of the Lord can be celebrated on a Sunday why cannot the Feasts of Sts Peter and Paul, the Assumption of Our Lady and the Feast of All Saints be also celebrated in similar fashion? This is especially the case when parishes often have great difficulties in finding celebrants to lead the celebration. And it will very soon be far more difficult.
Consider Christmas, which this year falls on a Monday! The Fourth Sunday of Advent – like all Sundays – would be expected in this parish to have three Masses – the Vigil Mass and morning Masses at 8.15 and 10.30am. If we were to follow precedent, on Christmas Eve there would be a Mass, greatly appreciated by families of young children, at 6.00 pm. There would also be a Mass at 9.00 pm doing duty for the Midnight Mass. On Christmas morning there would be – if we follow precedent – Masses at 8.15 and 10.30am.
As we know very well the time is fast approaching when parishes such as ours will not be served by our own priest. It is time to give serious thought to how things can be managed differently. If there were to be in the future provision for just one Mass at English Martyrs each Sunday – and each Christmas – we would have to organise ourselves for such a contingency. It would require planning. That should be starting now – planning that would go hand in hand with releasing all the talents that our people have to enable them to fulfil their task of transforming our Christian community.
Since there will be fewer Sunday Masses thought should be urgently given to ways in which more people can be accommodated. If pews were replaced by chairs would that help? Could we dispense with kneelers? There must be specialist advice available on optimum use of space. Are churches the only buildings to use pews? We could consider opening up the eastern area of the church. The Good Shepherd Chapel area might be capable of being incorporated into the main worshipping space. I’m not an expert in building techniques but there are means of dispensing with walls without causing a collapse of the structure! If the Barn were to be linked up to the church by television would it be regarded as part of the worshipping space? The Good Shepherd Chapel – if it were to be incorporated into the larger area – could be provided with sliding glass doors so that it could continue to be used on weekdays for Mass in the Winter and as a place of prayer when visitors come to view the ceiling.
I am putting these half-baked ideas before you in the hope that it might stimulate further and better ideas. All I know is that we cannot survive unless we plan for the future. The future will be far different from anything we have yet experienced and we must embrace its challenges and possibilities.
St Justin the Martyr described how the Eucharist was celebrated around the year 160 AD. He was explaining to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius what Christians did when they assembled. He began by saying ‘On the day we call the Day of the Sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.’ The ‘same place’ was not a Christian building as Christianity was outlawed. They gathered in the same place for their one Sunday celebration. The Christian community was not fragmented by having a number of celebrations. They demonstrated their unity and strength by gathering together as the community of Christ in that place giving united witness and worship.
I noticed in the Diocesan Directory that Woking Parish has an average Sunday Mass attendance of 1,847 spread over 4 Masses – all in one church served by two priests. Crawley’s Mass attendance is 1,572 spread over 9 Masses celebrated in 6 churches and served by three priests. Parishes do things differently!
Thirteenth Sunday of the Year – 02.07.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Somebody has said that the Church has been in crisis since Judas left the Last Supper. So many aspects of life are in a state of crisis today! In Britain there is so much uncertainty brought about by the decision to leave the European Union. There is the whole scenario of climate change and how its worst effects can be avoided. We have the heightened threats of terrorism all over the world. Have we the energy to deal with these and all the problems that confront us and find time and courage to address the challenges facing the Church in this country and in our own Diocese? Not to speak of the individual difficulties we all have to surmount.
The shortage of priests in our Diocese has been increasingly evident for many years. Twenty years ago the late Monsignor Jim McConnon brought out an important work entitles ‘Planning for the Future – the Final Report’. This was in response to the urgings of many parishes for the diocese ‘to be positive and to explore every means of encouraging the growth of the Church. Even forming clusters will not of itself solve the problem. We need VISION for the GROWTH of the Church’. The report identified the clergy shortage and made a valuable contribution to Diocesan planning leading up to the year 2010. A subsequent paper took the process forward.
Bishop Richard is actively working towards implementing a strategy to take effect early in 2018 that will serve the Diocese over the next twelve years until 2030. At the moment there are about ninety active priests in the diocese. By 2030 it is envisaged that this number will have dropped to fifty. Many retired priests are able to help out as and when needed but the age profile for our priests is such that a disproportionate number are fast approaching seventy-five years of age – a trend that has long been identified.
In the Autumn the bishop will be having a meeting in all of the thirteen deaneries of the diocese at which representatives of each parish will be taking part. This will be all about an interchange of views and suggestions as to how best to go forward. The bishop is in favour of having parish discussions prior to the Autumn deanery meeting so that our representatives can better reflect parishioners’ standpoints. We certainly hope to arrange such a meeting as it is vital that we give thought to how we might best play our part in the growth of God’s Kingdom of justice, love and peace. A few thoughts that might stimulate discussion!
We might consider whether parish boundaries remain the same. In the event of the present shortage becoming more acute would parishes that have already ‘merged’ be subject to further changes?
The most comfortable option would surely be to maintain the present parish system. Many people would favour that, even though not every parish could have its own resident priest. Even this would require considerable change as there would have to be more involvement on the part of the parishioners. Each deanery could have perhaps three priests with the assistance of those retired to reach out to smaller parishes. It should be possible to keep parishes strong and prayerful. People cherish their parishes and just because there is not a resident priest does not mean it is not viable. The Diocese should recruit, train and employ leaders within the community, particularly in parishes where there is no resident priest or deacon. Parishioners must be encouraged to believe in their mission and Christ given task of working in the vineyard. Some parishes however are so small that not all can survive in their present state.
It is crystal clear that the present system is unsustainable. Irrespective of the number of clergy it is unsustainable because it does not take Christ’s invitation to all his people seriously. We require a new mind set, a new realisation of how essential we all are in Christ’s plan. ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.’ On occasions when no priest is available to lead the celebration of the Eucharist, should the parishioners still gather for the Celebration of the Word and of Holy Communion? Should they be encouraged to do this rather than travel to another church for Mass? Do we have too many Masses? When should they be reduced in number to reflect shortage of priests? Are our parishioners prepared to make sacrifices when changes are proposed? How many would cease going to Sunday Mass if ‘their’ Mass disappears? How important is our comfort-zone to us? And what will happen if we are expected to sing at the Celebration of Sunday Mass if we have grown accustomed to a ‘quiet’ Mass?
Twelfth Sunday of the Year – 25.06.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: In our Diocese there are thirteen Deaneries. Each Deanery is made up of a number of parishes. Worthing Deanery comprises seven parishes. A few years ago there were ten parishes in it but now three of these have been linked to a neighbouring parish within the Deanery and no longer have their own resident priest. This is fairly typical of the situation throughout the diocese. There will inevitably be more linked parishes as there are far more parish priests retiring or dying than being replaced. The age profile of priests is getting very high. Bishop Richard tells us that in twelve years time it is likely that the Diocese will be served by fifty parish priests rather than the present ninety. Of course in addition to these there will be the retired priests who are available to help out when required.
A number of efforts have been made over the years to plan ahead so that when a vacancy occurs in a parish it is dealt with in a measured, rather than a haphazard way. These efforts have not been entirely successful! Bishop Richard is determined to grapple with this issue as it is becoming more and more pressing. Beginning in the Autumn he will hold a meeting in each of the Deaneries and will listen to the views of the parish representatives in each Deanery. By that time he will have a small advising body to assist him in forming a picture of the situation.
He is very aware that the result of this process wont be regarded as being satisfactory. People will be unhappy that the existing situation will no longer be guaranteed and many will feel that the proposed way forward is not ideal. The bishop however, has the task of trying to ensure that there is the best pastoral provision provided for the Diocese as a whole in so far as this is possible. He is only too aware that there will be much anger directed at him as he is the person who has to make the final decision. But the Diocese does not have the luxury of just hoping for the best.
After Easter the parish priest of St John the Baptist Parish in Brighton retired. He is in his late seventies and will continue to be hospital chaplain and help generally. However the parish can no longer have its own exclusive parish priest. One parish priest will serve the Parish of St Joseph, Brighton and the Parish of St. John the Baptist. Initially there will be an assistant priest as well. St Joseph’s parish has already been linked for many years to St Francis Parish, Moulsecoomb. Sunday Mass will no longer be celebrated at St. Francis The scenario in Brighton is indicative of how other parishes have already been affected and of how even more parishes will be affected in the not too distant future. But we will cope if we allow God to be with us.
I was reading about Glendalough, a beautiful historical place of great Christian antiquity. St Kevin’s monastery, with its stone cells and wooden huts fell into decay. But not far away, sometime after, another monastery began to bloom, with its Cathedral. Its round tower – the belfry – still stands. Something happened to all that too. The flowering was followed by decay. Centuries later a new monastery arises – an Augustinian monastery – ushering in a reforming church with fresh hope. When that in turn collapses, the story does not end. It merely leaves the valley and moves on to a new landscape nearer the sea. How wonderful must have been all these times of growth and flowering! How sad when it seemed to end! We live in such times. We have to come to terms with that. It is part of a cycle. These days will be followed by better days. But they will be different days. And they in turn will change again.
‘O Thou who changeth not abide with me’.
The Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ – 18.06.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Body & Blood of Christ, we have the first words of scripture that tell us of that great mystery. They come in St Paul’s First Letter to the Church in Corinth – and Paul was writing before any of the Gospels were written. ‘The blessing cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.’
Shortly afterwards in this same letter he gives his community the first account we have of the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus: ‘on the same night that he was betrayed.’ I came across this beautiful account of the first celebration of the Eucharist on the surface of the moon. This is how Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon describes that memorable event. ‘On the day of the moon landing we awoke at 5.30 am Houston time. Neil Armstrong and I separated from Mike Collins in the command module. With only seconds worth of fuel left we touched down at 3.30 pm. Now was the moment for Communion. So I unstowed the elements in their flight packets. ‘I put them and the scripture reading on the little table in front of the abort guidance system computer. Then I called back to Houston: ‘Houston this is Eagle. I’d like to request a few moments silence. I’d like to request each person listening in to contemplate for a moment the events of the last few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way’. ‘For me this meant taking Communion. I opened the little plastic packages which contained bread and wine. I poured wine into the chalice my parish had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the cup. It was interesting to think that the first liquid poured on the moon and the first food eaten there, were consecrated elements.’ This happened on 20th July 1969.
About half way between these two accounts of the Eucharist, related but on totally different planes of importance, one at the Last Supper but the other on the moon, we have a clear picture of how many communities in Ireland celebrated the Eucharist over a thousand years ago. We know something of the painstaking and glorious ways in which the monks in those days produced the scriptures that were proclaimed in the Eucharistic celebrations and meditated upon in their prayers. Copies of these have come down to us remarkably preserved, having been hidden from the raiding Vikings and other predators. Also a number of examples of the sacred vessels that were used at their Eucharists have also been discovered. Some of them were buried near ancient monasteries that had been plundered. These too were often beautifully crafted using all kinds of precious stones and metals. They now can be seen in the National Museum in Dublin. The manner in which they were fashioned gives us a clear picture of how the Eucharist was celebrated and treasured.
There is a matching chalice and dish that were found in Derrynaflan and restored in all their beauty. The dish is a good-sized dinner plate, about 36cm in diameter. This clearly shows that those gathered around the Table of the Lord were still using a loaf. Breaking the loaf was a very important part of the Eucharistic Celebration – just as it was at the Last Supper and at the Eucharist at Corinth described for us by St Paul. Medieval writings tell us that the Eucharist was often broken into about seventy pieces. Turning to the chalice it is clear that they only used one cup – after the example of Christ and the infant Church. In the case of these ancient chalices unearthed in Ireland – like that at Derrynaflan – they would be designed to be shared by about seventy communicants, just like the plate. They came supplied with handles so that they could be safely passed on from one person to another – without any fear of spillage. They typically held about 1.5 litres of wine. Such an amount provides on average seventy-five mouthfuls which fits well with the figure of pieces into which the loaf was broken. This took time and was accompanied by chants – which also have come down to us. These would continue as long as it took to break the loaf. Chants that were sung during communion have also come down to us.
Perhaps the evidence that has come down to us is of best practice. It would be perhaps unrealistic to suppose that every celebration reached that standard. But it was something to which all could aspire.
The Most Holy Trinity – 11.06.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: A couple of weeks ago somebody from the north of England wrote a letter in a Catholic paper about attending Sunday Mass in a Surrey parish. It was the First Holy Communion celebration that day. This visitor was very critical of the singing on that occasion. The following week there was a letter from a man in Devon who remarked that the church in question was circular and that might account for the poor singing as he felt that circular buildings are not acoustically proficient. Lo and behold another week and another writer – this time from Wales – came up with another theory. She felt that the poor singing may be due to the amount of visitors who came for the First Holy Communion Celebration. She felt that many of them may very seldom attend church and so would be out of their depth.
Because we have had a relatively large number of First Communicants for a number of years our First Holy Communions take place not at one of our regular Masses but an extra Mass is celebrated at 12.30 pm. Such is the case today. I am confident that the singing will be just fine and even if it does leave room for improvement that is no bad thing. There is always room for improvement. The good Lord, I’m sure has an interest in us and our celebrations that extends far beyond the quality of our singing – nevertheless we must all do the best we can.
Meanwhile – back in Rome – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has largely kept out of the limelight ever since his resignation over four years ago. He lives in a former monastic building in the Vatican and has professed his warm admiration for Pope Francis on a number of occasions. Recently he wrote a few words by way of support for a book by Cardinal Robert Sarah who leads the Divine Worship department. A year ago Cardinal Sarah said that priests should celebrate Mass facing east. In effect that would often mean saying Mass with their back to the people as was the case up to fifty years ago. Our beautiful church was built after the Second Vatican Council. If we followed Cardinal Sarah’s wishes, how would we go about it! Luckily most priests completely ignored Cardinal Sarah and Pope Francis lost no time in making it clear that he didn’t think it was a good idea either.
Cardinal Sarah recently brought out a book on the liturgy. Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote an Afterword, praising it and its author: ‘We should be grateful to Pope Francis for appointing such a spiritual teacher as head of the Congregation that is responsible for the celebration of the Liturgy of the Church.’ Last October Pope Francis appointed several new members of the Congregation of Divine Worship replacing more conservative figures with proven pastoral moderates. Rather than demote Sarah he used diplomacy. Benedict went on: ‘With Cardinal Sarah, a master of interior prayer, the liturgy is in good hands.’ Why did he write that? Perhaps the publishers were keen that he would as they have a book to sell! Some people think that Cardinal Sarah could be the next Pope!
Pope Francis recently addressed a meeting of Scientists in Rome: ‘I am deeply appreciative of your work,’ he said, ‘and I encourage you to persevere in your search for truth. For we ought never to fear the truth nor become trapped in our own pre-conceived ideas. We should welcome new scientific discoveries with an attitude of humility.’
Pentecost Sunday – 04.06.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: In the County of Sussex when King James VI of Scotland succeeded Queen Elizabeth as King James I of England, after more than forty years of Elizabethan rule, there were about three hundred adult practising Roman Catholics. About half of these were living in what could be called communion – such as were to be found – in Battle, Chichester, around Findon on the Gage estates and on Lord Montague’s property near Midhurst, at Steyning and Clapham and Iden where the families of Leeder, Shelley and Scott were the chief landlords. Horsham and Framfield – the seat of the Copley’s and branches of the Gages – also had a number of Catholic families. Otherwise in Sussex in some forty villages a few Catholic families were to be found. Lady Montague at Battle ran a notable, self-contained, Catholic household which was relatively undisturbed. There were often three priests at Battle and religious ceremonies were often splendidly celebrated. Lord Montague was based at Cowdray and came to be regarded as the chief support of the Catholic cause in the South of England. Dr Johnston paid a visit to Cowdray and said: ‘I should like to stay here for four and twenty hours. We see here how our ancestors lived.’
Sir Thomas Caryll was a noted and devoted Catholic landlord with estates at Shipley and West Grinstead. He was one of the first benefactors of the new Grammar School at Steyning in 1614. Some heads of families went into exile to escape punitive taxation and harassment. One of the best documented cases is Edward Gage of Framfield or Isfield. After at least two terms of imprisonment and repeated monetary fines, he went abroad in 1606 after selling two-thirds of his estates. He died in 1614 and his monument is in Framfield church where his heir is still recorded in 1724 as a Catholic. Sir Thomas Leeder of Steyning left England in 1607 for Louvain. One of his children became a Jesuit in England but his heir conformed to the State religion.
Priests ordained on the Continent made their way back to England from France and the Low Countries through the Sussex estates of a number of Catholic landowners. Recusants in widely scattered villages were enabled to receive spiritual support more easily and more often than, for example, would have been the case in the West Country.
The Second Lord Montague was suspected of some connection with the Gunpowder Plot. He suffered forty weeks imprisonment and a fine of £4,000. The village of Easebourne and the town of Midhurst, close to his palatial house at Cowdray, became the principal centre of Catholic population in Sussex and so remained well into the eighteenth century. In West Sussex, except for the ennobled Browne’s at Cowdray and the Howards at Arundel, leadership among the gentry belonged to the Kemps at Slindon, Goring’s at Burton, Shelley’s at Clapham and Caryll’s at Harting and West Grinstead. The 6th Duke of Norfolk, Henry Howard, died abroad in exile in 1684. He was a great-grandson of the martyr Philip Howard and had never made secret of his Catholicism. He was a friend of Samuel Pepys. His son and heir, another Henry, conformed to the State religion. In fact in Sussex there was a marked tendency for the heads of the richest Catholic families to conform to the established church. Many Catholic families as the Goring’s, the Shellie’s, the Gages, the Montague’s had parted from the Catholic faith by the beginning of the 19th Century AD. Yet it was a time of expansion for the Catholic community.
The Catholic life of Sussex was notably affected by the immigration of devoted clergy from France, which began on a serious scale in 1792. Most of the refugees landed in Sussex and made their way to London or Chichester. They were supported by all classes of the population without distinction or religion. Some found hospitality in Sussex and were afforded opportunities for practicing their religion by their Catholic hosts. The local press was divided between sympathy for the forces which drove these clergy from France and a spirit of self-congratulation on how well England welcomed the oppressed. The priests that settled in Sussex seem to have been completely accepted. The Abbé Joseph Mouchel took charge of a mission in Brighton not only for his exiled compatriots but also for the scattered native Catholics. He occasionally assisted in the work of the mission in Slindon. Another French priest, in 1815, began ministering at Lewes. Other French names appear in the registers of various Sussex missions. Seven Sussex Catholic churches were registered in 1829 – when Catholic Emancipation was granted. Brighton was by now growing in size and prestige with a big Catholic population. Next to Brighton, the biggest Catholic congregation was at Slindon with 112 – substantially more numerous that Arundel with 78. The church registered at Easebourne with a congregation of 55 had been founded by Anthony Browne in 1770. West Grinsted survived the extinction of the Caryll’s with a congregation of 36, a similar number to those at Barlavington. Horsham was growing in its own right as a market town and mustered a congregation of 30.
The Sussex Catholics living east of Brighton were practically unprovided for at this time. The Duke of Norfolk, Bernard Edward, succeeded to the Dukedom in 1815 and was empowered to exercise the office of Earl Marshall in 1824 in spite of his Catholic faith.
(I am indebted to Roger B Manning’s Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex)
The Ascension of the Lord A – 28.05.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: One of the canonised English Martyrs with a close connection to Sussex was the Jesuit priest Robert Southwell who was executed in February 1595. Elizabeth became queen in 1558 three years before the birth of Southwell. What was the religious situation like in Sussex as he grew into adulthood?
Sussex while relatively tranquil put up a resistance to the religious change brought about by Elizabeth after the short reign of the Catholic, Mary. Historians examine the provisions of the last wills and testaments of people who died in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign to detect how effective she was in imposing the teaching and practice of the established Church of England. The Diocese of Chichester covered the area of Sussex but the first bishops of Chichester that Elizabeth appointed were not very vigorous in their leadership. In selected towns and parishes all recorded wills have been examined to give an idea of the transition from Marian Catholicism to official Elizabethan Protestantism. They note those who explicitly request that their souls be prayed for and those who instead provide only for the distribution of alms at the time of burial. Beyond the fact that about half of the wills sampled indicate that the testers were Catholic, it is not a very accurate exercise. But it does seem to indicate that where the local Lord of the Manor is a strong Catholic this had a big influence on others. Such a landlord would use his influence to have the Catholic priest remain in office and would of course encourage Catholics in remaining strong. This was the situation in West Firle, near Lewes, where the Gages were staunchly Catholic landowners and who were connected through marriage with many other Catholic landowners in the county and beyond. Battle Abbey was the principal seat in East Sussex of the Lords Montague, a family which stands out among the Catholicism nobility of Sussex for weathering the storms of religious change. The extent to which Catholic practice persisted in Lewes and Cuckfield has surprised historians, in view of the Puritan activity in these towns.
In 1564 the Bishops were required to give an assessment of conditions in their sees to the Privy Council. Bishop Barlow of Chichester spoke of the great scarcity of educated clerics who could be trusted to preach good doctrine. He felt that there was no hope in winning over the people until more members of the gentry had been persuaded to support the religious settlement.
The Reformation made no significant progress in Bishop Barlow’s time in Sussex. Barlow admitted that it was only ‘fear of your Lordships’ vigilant authority’ that ‘open violence’ was avoided in Sussex. A visitation of the diocese took place in 1569 after Barlow’s death on the instructions of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The report draws a vivid picture of the degree to which Catholic piety was strongly practised in many parishes and voices official dismay that this should be the case. Ten years after the first attempts to enforce the religious settlement of Elizabeth the report finds that the Catholic squires are defiant in their faith and that the Catholic priests from the time of Queen Mary are still clinging to their parishes. If the situation was not a happy one for the established religion, it was not a happy one for Catholicism in Sussex (and elsewhere) either, as the Catholic religion was in the process of becoming dependent on the Catholic gentry for survival. But at Arundel the altar still stood in the parish church ‘to the offence of the godly’ who wanted the communion table instead. The report says that at Battle and Lindfield the parishioners were very ‘blind and superstitious’ and everything was held in readiness ‘to set up the Mass again within twenty-four hours warning’.
Sometimes the resistance to religious innovation was led by the lord of the manor; elsewhere it was the parish priest or schoolmaster. At Racton the squire, Arthur Guster, had prevented the election of churchwardens and ruled ‘the whole parish’. In Findon, the vicar who was also the schoolmaster fortified the resistance ‘In the town of Battell, when a preacher doth come and speak anything against the Pope’s doctrine they will not abide but get them out of the church. They say that they are of no jurisdiction, but free from any bishop’s authority. The schoolmaster is the cause of their going out who afterwards in the corners among the people doth gainsay the preachers. It is the most popish town in all Sussex’. Seven priests from Mary’s reign are described as opposed to the Protestant Settlement but still cling to the benefices. One of these was David Spencer, parson of Clapham. He died in 1573. His will was witnessed by William Shelley of Michelgrove, head of one of the most important Catholic families in Sussex. One of his executors was the schoolmaster – vicar of Findon, a Mr Story, who had been cited as an unreformed Marian cleric along with Spencer in 1569.
It is amazing that at least seven Catholic priests remained among the clergy of Chichester Diocese for ten years or so into Elizabeth’s reign. It shows how difficult it was to enforce religious settlement on Sussex. In Elizabethan London there was only one suspected Catholic remaining among the parish clergy of that city in 1561.
(I am indebted to Roger B Manning’s Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex)
6th Sunday of Easter A – 21.05.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: There will no doubt be a number of commemorations later this year marking significant events of a century ago when World War I entered its fourth year. By now the war was costing Britain seven million pounds every day but the cost in human lives was incalculable. The United States entered the war in 1917 following a 1915 German submarine attack on the Lusitania, a liner carry American passengers as well as munitions destined for Britain. Russia, one of the original allies collapsed in revolution and many of its troops deserted from the Eastern Front. The new revolutionary government withdrew from the war. The bloodiest fighting was on the Western Front, a long line of defensive trenches that stretched from Belgium, through France down to the Swiss Border. At the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium, lasting fourteen weeks, ending in mid-November, about 270,000 Germans died. Allied losses from British, Canadian, South African, Irish, Australian and New Zealand troops numbered about 300,000. I came across this essay by Arthur Clutton-Brock (1868-1924) entitled ‘Sunday Before the War’ describing how events slowly unfolded in a quiet valley in the West of England on Sunday 2nd August 1914 – preceding the ultimatum to Germany expiring at midnight, 4th August. He refers to the outbreak of hostilities as the passing of ‘a golden age’ as the previous fifty years had been a period of great prosperity for England and most of the great world powers.
‘On Sunday, in a remote valley in the West of England, where the people are few and scattered and placid, there was no more sign among them than among the quiet hills of the anxiety that holds the world. They had no news and seemed to want none. The postmaster had been ordered to stay all day in his little post-office, and that was something unusual that interested them, but only because it affected the postmaster.
It rained in the morning, but the afternoon was clear and glorious and shining, with all the distances revealed far into the heart of Wales and to the high ridges of the Welsh mountains. The cottages of that valley are not gathered into villages, but two or three together or lonely among their fruit-trees on the hillside; and the cottagers who are always courteous and friendly, said a word or two as one went by, but just what they would have said on any other day and without any question about the war. Indeed, they seemed to know, or to wish to know, as little about that as the earth itself, which, beautiful there at any time, seemed that afternoon to wear an extreme and pathetic beauty. The country, more than any other in England, has the secret of peace. It is not wild, though it looks into the wildness of Wales; but all its cultivation, its orchards and hop yards and fields of golden wheat, seem to have the beauty of time upon them, as if men there had long lived happily upon the earth with no desire for change nor fear of decay. It is not the sad beauty of a past cut off from the present, but a mellowness that the present inherits from the past; and in the mellowness all the hillside seems a garden to the spacious farmhouses and little cottages; each led up to by its own narrow, flowery lane. There the meadows are all lawns with the lustrous green of spring even in August, and often over-shadowed by old, fruit-trees – cherry, or apple, or pear; and on Sunday after the rain there was an April glory and freshness added to the quiet of the later summer.
Nowhere and never in the world can there have been a deeper peace; and the bells from the little red church down by the river seemed to be the music of it, as the song of birds is the music of spring. There one saw how beautiful the life of man can be, and how men by the innocent labours of many generations can give to the earth a beauty it has never known in its wildness. And all this peace, one knew, was threatened; and the threat came into one’s mind as if it were a soundless message from over the great eastward plain; and with it the beauty seemed unsubstantial and strange, as if it were sinking away into the past, as if it were only a memory of childhood.
So it is always when the mind is troubled among happy things, and then one almost wishes they could share one’s troubles and become more real with it. It seemed on that Sunday that a golden age had lasted till yesterday, and that the earth had still to learn the news of its ending. And this change had come, not by the will of God, not even by the will of man, but because some few men far away were afraid to be open and generous with each other. There was a power in their hands so great that it frightened them. There was a spring that they knew they must not touch, and, like mischievous and nervous children, they had touched it at last, and now all the world was to suffer for their mischief.
So the next morning one saw a reservist in his uniform saying goodbye to his wife and children at his cottage-gate and then walking up the hill that leads out of the valley with a cheerful smile still on his face. There was the first open sign of trouble, a very little one, and he made the least of it; and, after all, this valley is very far from any possible war, and its harvest and its vintage of perry and cider will surely be gathered in peace.
But what happiness can there be in that peace, or what security in the mind of man, when the madness of war is let loose in so many other valleys? Here there is a beauty inherited from the past, and added to the earth by man’s will; but the men here are of the same nature and subject to the same madness as those who are gathering to fight on the frontiers. We are all men with the same power of making and destroying, with the same divine foresight mocked by the same animal blindness. We ourselves may not be in fault to-day, but it is human beings in no way different from us who are doing what we abhor and they abhor even while they do it. There is a fate, coming from the beast in our own past, that the present man in us has not yet mastered, and for the moment that fate seems a malignity in the nature of the universe that mocks us even in the beauty of these lonely hills. But it is not so, for we are not separate and indifferent like the beasts; and if one nation for the moment forgets our common humanity and its future, then another must take over that sacred charge and guard it without hatred or fear until the madness is passed. May that be our task now, so that we may wage war only for the future peace of the world and with the lasting courage that needs no stimulant.
5th Sunday of Easter A – 14.05.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Today, Saturday, Pope Francis has canonised two of the three children who witnessed the apparitions of Our Lady near Fatima, one hundred years ago. Today is the centenary of the first apparition and Pope Francis was in Fatima to preside at the canonisation this morning at the end of an open air Mass attended by hundreds of thousands of people. The newly canonised saints are siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto who both died while still children in 1919 and 1920 respectively. Their older cousin Lucia dos Santos, who was the third visionary, became a Carmelite sister who died in 2005 at the age of 97. The cause for her beatification is under way. She was 10 at the time of the apparitions.
Francisco and Jacinta are the youngest children, apart from martyrs, to be canonised in the history of the Church. Francisco died at the age of 10 in 1919 and his sister died a year later aged 9. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on six occasions at monthly intervals in 1917 to these young children as they were looking after sheep a few miles from Fatima where they lived. The visions of Our Lady experienced by these three shepherd children aged between 7 and 10 are among the most extraordinary of all the appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Pope St. John Paul II attributed his survival to the intervention of Our Lady of Fatima when he was the victim of an assassination attempt as he was being driven through the crowds in St Peter’s Square on the 3rd May 1981. The surgeon who operated on him said that it was incredible that he had survived the shooting. The bullet that hit him is now in the crown of the statue of Our Lady at the shrine.
About four million people visit Fatima every year but it is expected that there will be very many more this year, between pilgrims and tourists. The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, with its magnificent spire, marks the place where the apparitions occurred. The focal point is the Chapel of the Apparitions where Mary’s image is enclosed in a case on a marble pedestal. I visited Fatima several years ago more as a tourist, I confess, than a pilgrim. On that occasion there were very few there which made it a little lacking in atmosphere.
The first apparition of a beautiful young woman all dressed in white took place around noon on 13th May. She told the children that she was from heaven. She asked them to come to this place at the same time on the thirteenth day of each month for six months. She also asked them to pray the Rosary every day. When she appeared on 13th June she again asked the children to pray the Rosary every day. She told Lucia – the oldest of the children – to learn to read and write. She told her she would live a long life while the younger children would die soon. During the third visit on 13th July the children were informed of three secrets. During August the children were detained by the local mayor who tried to get them to reveal the secrets. For this reason they were unable to meet as arranged on 13th August. However, they were released from prison on 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady appeared to them on 19th August.
When she appeared to them on 13th September Our Lady told them that Jesus and St Joseph would appear to them in October. She again encouraged them to pray the Rosary each day and told them that they should pray for the end of the war which had now entered its fourth year. On the sixth and final appearance of Our Lady on 13th October a crowd of more than 70,000 people gathered near the Cova da Iria. As torrential rain lashed the crowd they witnessed what became known as the ‘miracle of the sun’. It was reported that they saw the sun rotate and appear to grow in size. Alarmed at the sight, everyone fell to their knees. Even though the rain was persistent their clothes were not wet. While this was happening the children saw some apparitions. Firstly, they saw St Joseph with the child Jesus who seemed to be blessing the world. Then the Blessed Virgin told the children that she was ‘Our Lady of the Rosary’. She requested that they pray the Rosary every day and she asked that a chapel be built on the spot where the apparitions had taken place.
Lucia – the oldest of the three shepherd children – told her family and friends what was happening after the first two apparitions. She was so strongly rebuked by her mother that she hesitated before returning to the Cova da Iria on 13th July. In 1921 – after the death of her cousins – she joined the Dorothean Sisters, near Porto. She became a Sister of St Dorothy in 1928. In 1946 she entered the Convent of the Carmelite Sisters of Coimbra where she was known as Sister Maria Lucia of the Immaculate Heart.
A year after the apparitions Francisco contracted influenza and he subsequently died in 1919. Jacinta also contracted influenza in 1918 but also suffered from pneumonia and tuberculosis. Many millions of people died of influenza at the end of the Great War, as it was then called. Francisco and Jacinta Marto were both beatified by Pope St John Paul II in Fatima on 13th May 2000 AD. They were both canonised by Pope Francis in Fatima on 13th May 2017
4th Sunday of Easter A – 07.05.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: In 1586 Robert Southwell together with his fellow Jesuit Henry Garnett returned from Rome where they had been ordained shortly before and came to England at a particularly dangerous time. Robert found protection at the hands of Anne Dacre, Countess of Arundel whose husband, Philip Howard was imprisoned in the Tower of London where he was to die in 1595 – the same year that Southwell would be martyred.
For two years Southwell lived in a house owned by Anne Dacre in London. He worked to set up a network of routes and bases all over the counties of Surrey and Sussex. He knew a number of prominent Catholics – among them were some of his own cousins, including the Shelleys, the Gages and the Copleys. He was able to help arrange a number of Mass centres and hiding places for hunted priests. He also arranged for students to be smuggled abroad where they could be prepared to become priests. By the time of Southwell’s death about three hundred of these ‘seminary priests’ were serving the Catholic community in England. Seminaries were a recent development. They were set up after the Council of Trent to better form candidates for the priesthood. Several English Seminaries were set up on the Continent – Irish and Scottish ones too – so that priests would be available. The priests that survived from the time of Queen Mary – the Marion priests, as they were called, were now rather few.
One of the aims of Southwell and Garnett was to set up printing presses so that Catholic literature could be made available. A number of illegal printing presses had been set up but they were usually hunted down and dismantled. The whereabouts of Southwell’s and Garnett’s presses however were never discovered and are largely unknown to this day. But Anne Dacre had given Southwell the use of a house somewhere in the suburbs which served as their printing base. First off the hidden press were a series of prose works by Southwell, addressed to the imprisoned Earl of Arundel and other Catholic families. Written in direct, refreshing language An Epistle of Comfort, The Triumphs over Death and A Short Rule of Good Life were designed to provide spiritual guidance and strength for the entire community of suffering English Catholics. They were valued in fact by some Protestants as well as Catholics. Southwell also wrote and published religious poetry. He wrote an open letter to Queen Elizabeth in response to Lord Cecil’s ‘proclamation’ issued against Catholics. By now Southwell knew that his time was almost up as he was the object of a nationwide manhunt. He asks her if the ‘General Resurrection’ were to occur ‘in your Majesty’s time, a time not so impossible as uncertain’ what would be the response to her religious policy of ‘all your Royal ancestors this fourteen hundred years’ who protected the ‘ancient faith, among them her father, its famous ‘Defender’? He emphasises the natural submissiveness of Catholics ‘bound to obey the just laws of their princes.’ (The young King Henry VIII was given the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ by the Pope).
The Queen, he says, is the innocent victim of malicious misinformation about her most loyal subjects. It is unlikely that the Queen ever read it but it was widely circulated in printed form. When arrested after being discovered by spies as he said Mass, he was repeatedly tortured for information with no result. He was imprisoned in the Tower and endured two and a half years of solitary confinement. He had spent six intensely active years in London before being caught, imprisoned and executed. At the time of his death he was one of the country’s bestselling authors.
His mother had once been governess to Queen Elizabeth. On the night before he was executed he was visited in his cell by Lord Mountjoy who had been sent by the Queen to find out for certain whether he had come back to England to make an attempt on her life. He assured Mountjoy that his mission was entirely spiritual. The next day mercy was shown to him on the scaffold. By the time the noose was cut, Southwell was already dead. Very often those executed died only after being hung, drawn and quartered. They would have been cut down from the gallows while still alive. Their bodies would have been dragged along the street by horses and finally they would have been put to death by having their bodies cut into four parts. In the case of Southwell, the Queen was finally convinced that he was no traitor and so was spared much suffering but not execution.
The Act of 1581 specified that missionary priests were to be adjudged traitors if it could be proved that they had sought to withdraw any of the Queen’s subjects from obedience to her as their sovereign or supreme governor of the church. This was found to be too difficult to prove in a court of law. The Statute of 1585 made it necessary only to prove that a man was a Jesuit or a missionary priest in order to secure a conviction for high treason. The Statute of 1585 also made it a capital felony to provide aid or comfort for such a priest. John and Margaret Gage of Haling, Surrey who were cousins of the Gages and Shelleys of Sussex were condemned under this law but were later reprieved although never pardoned. Edward Shelley of Warminghurst was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in August 1588 for helping a priest. His brother Richard died a lingering death in the Marshalsea from having the temerity to present to Queen Elizabeth the Catholic Petition for Toleration. Castle Goring was the seat of a branch of the Shelley family. A house once known to have harboured a priest was likely to be repeatedly searched by armed posses.
As Elizabeth’s reign progressed the harsher the climate for Catholics became. Prominent Catholic families who earlier had provided many magistrates and other officers to their counties and towns were forced to withdraw from those tasks and they drew closer together to preserve their faith in the face of persecution. More and more they intermarried with members of other Catholic families and they formed a tightly knot clan of recusant families. They provided much of the Catholic leadership in Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire and maintained a network that smuggled priests from South coast ports up to London. But under the pressure of the times, many of these families eventually ceased to be Catholic.
3rd Sunday of Easter A – 30.04.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: St Robert Southwell was a familiar name in our parish and in the surrounding parishes up to thirty or so years ago. Our local Catholic Secondary School – now known as Chatsmore Catholic High School – was named after Blessed Robert Southwell. Why it ceased to be, I’m not at all sure. Who was Robert Southwell and why was it thought appropriate to name our school when it was first established, in his honour?
He was, of course, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales who were canonised in October 1970 in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome by Pope Paul VI. There were many more martyrs from England and Wales but forty were canonised in that great ceremony. Before that they were beatified and known as Blessed.
Robert had very strong family links with Sussex and at the time of his death he was one of the country’s best selling authors. His literary achievements were sidelined for centuries and only in recent decades have they begun to be recognised. Among those who interrogated him before he was found guilty of treason was his cousin, Sir Robert Cecil, the Secretary of State of Elizabeth I. He was cruelly tortured in an attempt to get him to implicate others but he heroically refused. Robert Cecil said of him: ‘They boast about the heroes of antiquity, but we have a new torture which it is not possible for a man to bear and I have seen Robert Southwell hanging by it, still as a tree-trunk and no one able to drag one word from his mouth.’
There were many wealthy Catholic families in Elizabethan times who remained true to their faith and encouraged other Catholics to do the same. Mass could be said in their large houses for the household and others in the neighbourhood. Many of them were able to support and house a Catholic priest who in addition to their priestly duties often helped to educate the local Catholic children. Obviously there were no Catholic dioceses or parishes or schools. There were a few bishops appointed by Rome as Apostolic Administrators. They were not diocesan bishops but helped to keep the Catholic faith alive. Some of them were born of landed Catholic families – families that often saw their wealth severely depleted by fines and by their material support of the Catholic communities.
Through his mother, Bridget Copley, Robert Southwell was connected to a formidable network of wealthy Catholic gentry spread out across Sussex. He spent much of his childhood with these cousins who secretly practiced their Catholic faith. His father’s family were East Anglian and were not Catholic.
In 1569 when Southwell was nine years old there was a rising of the Catholic North against the Elizabethan regime. In the aftermath of this rebellion the Pope issued a bull exempting Catholics from loyalty to Elizabeth. Laws against Catholics were immediately tightened. Southwell’s aunt and uncle, Catherine and Thomas Copley, left their great Sussex house – seized by the Lord Treasurer – and fled to Louvain. A few years later the fifteen year old Robert followed them overseas to Douai in Belgium where he continued his education. Boys who went abroad to avoid the ban on Catholic education in England ran terrible risks, but the alternative was also dangerous. Robert’s two brothers were fined £200 by the Star Chamber for alleged sedition. The English College in Douai had been set up by Cardinal William Allen as a miniature Oxford University. The studies often led to priesthood. Many of the tutors were formerly Oxford professors who had left England in order to profess their faith in a college directed by the Jesuits. Jesuit education was the most advanced and enlightened of its day.
For some years Cardinal Allen had been sending back missionary priests to England. In 1577 Father Cuthbert Mayne was executed for treason and further executions followed. As a result Catholic resistance grew and students for the priesthood in the new colleges abroad increased. In due course Robert decided to join the Jesuits after considering the contemplative life of the Carthusian Order. He travelled to Rome and was accepted into the Jesuit novitiate there with a view to joining a mission abroad. The Jesuit leadership then did not encourage sending more young men to England as they saw it as too dangerous. It seems that Robert was open to the idea of the Indies. Meanwhile there was a formation period of eight years where the brilliant scholar with a love for literature and the theatre was put to work in the kitchens, in hospitals and among the poor on the streets. In 1581 he was sent to the English College in Rome to continue his studies.
At last in 1586 – two years after his ordination and after many requests – Southwell received permission to go to England. His companion and Superior was to be Father Henry Garnet. They were allowed to go though their superiors were reluctant and apprehensive about the venture. One of their tasks was to set up a printing press to counteract State propaganda. They also were to try preventing information from falling into the wrong hands. At home and abroad the English State had a strong spy network. Sir Francis Walsingham, one of the principal secretaries of Queen Elizabeth and a member of the Privy Council was the chief spy master and it was into this maze that Garnet and Southwell entered. There was an elaborate sting operation known as the Babington Plot designed to ensnare as many young Catholics activists as possible. Anthony Babington himself was closely connected to Southwell’s family. The Babington Plot implicated Mary, Queen of Scots in treason and furnished details of some of the plans for the Spanish Armada. Babington was born into a wealthy Catholic family and served as a page to Mary Queen of Scots when she was imprisoned at Sheffield. He led a conspiracy aiming to murder Elizabeth and release Mary. He was put under pressure to discover the whereabouts of Southwell and Garnet and other Catholic priests. He was executed together with his co-conspirators.
After their arrival in England in July 1586 the two Jesuits made their way separately to London where they went from one Catholic home to another, celebrating Mass in crowded rooms and escaping government agents. Garnet was an excellent musician and there was a memorable event when he sang with the great recusant composer William Byrd who was to become his friend. In early August the Babington Plot was exposed. A wave of arrests, confiscations, imprisonments and executions followed but for the moment Southwell evaded arrest.
2nd Sunday of Easter A – 23.04.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: This Sunday – The Second Sunday of Easter – has many names. It was called the Sunday after Easter. This might imply that Easter lasts just one day which would seriously downgrade the significance of Easter. If today is the Second Sunday of Easter then Easter Sunday could be called the First Sunday of Easter and Pentecost Sunday could be called the Eighth Sunday of Easter – or the Fiftieth Day of Easter. Pentecost means the fiftieth day. The Jewish feast of Pentecost occurred on the fiftieth day after Passover.
Today was also called Low Sunday to emphasise the contrast between the solemnity surrounding Easter Sunday and the Sunday following. The name is not much used today fortunately as the Church encourages us to maintain the specialness of Easter for the full fifty days. One of the ways by which the term lived on – in clerical circles anyway – was in the practice of the Bishop’s meeting together in this week – referred to as ‘The Low Week Meeting’ to discuss Church matters. But they meet at different times now – just to keep us guessing!
This day was also known as ‘Dominica in Albis – the Sunday when the newly baptised Christians wore their white robes for the last time. Dominica is the Latin word for Sunday. It literally means: ‘The Lord’s Day’. At the Easter Vigil ceremony the newly baptised used to cast off their normal clothing before being baptised by immersion and were then dressed in white. Baptism is the Greek word for being plunged into water. In the early centuries of the Church, before and after the Roman Empire forbade the practice of the Christian faith, great numbers of adults were baptised by going into the water. Baptisms took place in private houses and elsewhere before they were allowed to have church buildings. Boys and men baptised at Easter were helped to robe themselves in their white garments by male deacons and girls and women had the assistance of female deacons or deaconesses. When adult baptism became much rarer it seems that female deacons disappeared. Pope Francis has recently set up a commission of six men and six women to throw further light on the wider ministry of deaconesses in the early Church with a view to reviving their ministry.
Perhaps a major argument in favour of having deaconesses in the Catholic Church is that it would enable us to hear the Word of God broken for us by women. In the present law of the Church only clergy are allowed to give homilies during Mass and since clergy are all men, women are excluded from this ministry. Even Mother Theresa of Calcutta, now canonised, would have not been allowed to preach. If this rule was being introduced into Church law for the very first time today, do you think it would happen? Would not such a step cause uproar? If it would be unacceptable to introduce such a rule now, why is it acceptable to maintain it? It will be interesting to hear what the commission thinks and what Pope Francis decides. Cardinal Vincent Nichols however is not keen on the idea. His concern is that effort to make women deacons might derail other attempts to enable them to exercise leadership roles in the Church.
What is within the competency of the Bishops of England and Wales is to make a united approach to Pope Francis on the matter of ordaining married men to the priesthood. We already have many married priests. We have one in the Worthing Deanery. These are men who were married Anglican priests who were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Many such men expressed a wish to become priests in the Catholic Church and they were allowed to do so in spite of being married. We have had this situation for several years now and the heavens haven’t fallen in. Pope Francis has on a number of occasions expressed a willingness to ordain married men who had not had Anglican Orders in situations where the local conference of Bishops requested it. There seems to be an unwillingness on the part of the bishops to respond to the Pope’s initiative to make such a request.
Another name given to today – especially in the Eastern Church – is St Thomas Sunday. The gospel account of Jesus appearance to the disciples one week after his resurrection – when Thomas was with them – is always read today. Thomas gives us the strongest affirmation of Easter Faith ‘My Lord and my God’.
The most recent title for today’s Feast is Divine Mercy Sunday or the Feast of the Divine Mercy. Devotion to the Divine Mercy is very much associated with Sister Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who in her Diary reported visions and visitations from Jesus and conversations with him. The devotion was actively promoted by Pope Paul II. Sister Faustina was canonised on the Sunday after Easter Sunday, 30th April 2000 when Pope John Paul officially designated that Sunday as the Sunday of the Divine Mercy. The devotion is now widely celebrated and the image of the Divine Mercy is often displayed in Catholic Churches. Pope John Paul died in April 2005 on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday. He was beatified on Divine Mercy Sunday, 1st May 2011 by his successor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and was canonised on Divine Mercy Sunday, 27th April 2014 by Pope Francis
Easter Sunday – 16.04.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: As we look around us gathered here on this great Feast it is good to ask ourselves the question: ‘Who are we?’ St Augustine’s answer to that question is justly famous: ‘We are the Easter People and Alleluia is our song’. (Augustine was Bishop of Hippo in Northern Africa. He died in 430 AD) This is who we are, not just on this day or in this season. This is our lasting identity in this life and for all eternity. For centuries the Church celebrated no other feast than Easter. They changed their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday because of Easter. Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday – so how could they not observe Sunday as their great day? Every Sunday was special, though Easter Sunday was the most special day of all. They regarded every Sunday as ‘a little Easter’. Easter permeated their entire year and their entire lives.
So important was Easter that they soon gave great prominence not only to the week following Easter but to the week of weeks – seven weeks – that followed it. We continue to do that two thousand years later. We celebrate the Easter Season for fifty days – until Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost literally means the fiftieth day. Next Sunday is the Second Sunday of Easter. We do not officially know it as the Sunday after Easter – certainly not.
The Easter Season ends this year on 4th June – Pentecost Sunday. The previous Sunday is celebrated as the Seventh Sunday of Easter in most of the Catholic Church. Several countries however, including England and Wales, now celebrate Ascension Day on that Sunday. But the Feasts of the Ascension and of Pentecost are seen as Easter celebrations – aspects of the great Easter Event.
We have just concluded the shortest of all Church seasons. It is just three days – but what three days they are! We call them the Paschal Triduum. Triduum is derived from the Latin for ‘three days’. The three days of course are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. Lent came to an end on the afternoon of Maundy Thursday.
Every day came to an end in Jewish reckoning at sunset. This is why we say in the Creed that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. The Friday of his death ended at sunset by which time the body of Jesus had been placed in the tomb. The second day (Saturday) came to an end with sunset on the Sabbath which coincided with the Jewish Feast of the Passover. That sunset ushered in the Third Day – the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. The Sabbath literally means the Seventh Day. Jesus rose on the first day of the week.
As well as celebrating Easter at great length each year the Church prepared at great length for this great feast. So the Season of Lent came into being – from Ash Wednesday to just prior to the celebration of Maundy Thursday. Lent originally began on a Sunday but the observances of Lent were so severe that Sundays were exempted from the rigours of the fast. To make up for these days the 40 days of Lent began on the Wednesday before the First Sunday of Lent with the ceremony of ashes. So every year Easter is marked by having 90 days – three months – dedicated to it. Six weeks are designated as the Season to prepare and seven weeks are devoted to the celebration.
The words Lent and Easter are not really Christian names though they concern the deepest Christian mystery. The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon Lencten, meaning Spring. It must seem odd for Christians on the other side of the globe to be celebrating Spring in Autumn! The word Easter is derived from the name of the Saxon goddess Eastre – the divinity of the dawn.
When Augustine said ‘We are the Easter people’ he used a different word for Easter. He spoke and wrote in Latin. Most European languages use a modification of the term Pascha which is of Jewish origin and refers to the great Jewish feast of the Passover on which Christ celebrated his – and our – Passover. The word used for Lent in most European languages is derived from the Greek or Latin names for forty days and so is equally appropriate for either side of the Equator!
We mark our celebration of the Sundays of Easter by having the Easter candle alight during all Sunday Masses of the Season. It is also lit at the Masses throughout Easter Week. During the Easter Season the first reading is not from the Old Testament. This is a major departure from the norm. On all other Sundays of the year the First Reading is from the Old Testament. But until Pentecost the First Reading every Sunday – and every weekday – comes from the Acts of the Apostles. This book was written by St Luke as the sequel to his Gospel. In it he tells how the ministry of the Risen Jesus was carried on by his disciples as they laboured to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth. Luke was the companion of St Paul – hence the prominence of Paul in Acts.
The Acts of the Apostles should really be called Acts of Apostles. That is what it says in the Greek that Luke wrote. It means what is says because it speaks of some acts of some apostles. Most of the twelve, for instance, are never mentioned again after Chapter One. Acts highlight the emergence of the Church as the witness to the continuing work of the Risen Christ in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are reminded that every Christian community belongs to the lineage of the faithful witnesses that we meet in Acts. We are called every day, everywhere, to live what we hear and celebrate and to sing Alleluia as our song of joy and thanksgiving.
Palm Sunday – 09.04.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: In many South European churches we see depictions of Jesus, Mary, apostles and others dressed in solemn garments. These garments play a very prominent part in the life of these churches – especially in Holy Week. A very important way in which they celebrate the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord are the processions around the streets of towns and cities commemorating Christ carrying his cross and enduring cruel indignities culminating in his crucifixion and his victory over death. By the beginning of Lent each year each church community would have decided how exactly the gospel story of Christ’s Passion would be enacted in their own streets. So Important a feature of their devotion is this that the images of the principal figures of the Holy Week events are prominently displayed in the church throughout the year wearing their distinctive garments.
Did anything like this ever happen in England? Perhaps the nearest to it in English towns and streets would have been the Mystery Plays which were hugely important in the England of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. These plays were of a religious nature – mystery meant ‘a sacred event’ as in the mysteries of the Rosary – and grew out of their church celebrations. In the Middle Ages in England congregations actively took part in religious ritual enacting large parts of the Holy Week and Easter services.
The Guilds – a form of early trade unions – were very active in the everyday life and church life of the people. There was no great division between the secular and religious life of the people such as there is today. Guilds emerged in towns and cities in all European countries – including England – when society was becoming more urbanised. They sprang up in the prosperous towns and cities – but not in the huge cities. They were provincial, not metropolitan. The Guilds looked after the interests of their members. The various trades had their own Guilds and members tended to be literate as well as skilled – whereas most of the population was at best semi-literate. The Guilds passed on their skills through a master-apprentice system.
In the medieval period the most important book was the Bible. Books were hugely expensive even after the invention of printing in the late fifteenth century. The Guilds took it on themselves to evangelise – to spread the good word – by street entertainment. Drama served the purpose perfectly. Annually, on some particular Holy Day in the Christian calendar dramatic biblical narratives would be staged. Each guild would sponsor a wagon or ‘float’. Typically the Guild would choose an episode from the Bible which fitted in with their profession. The pinners (nailmakers) for example would tell the story of the crucifixion. The bargemen might tell the story of Noah and the Flood. Some priests – who were among the more literate members of their community – would have helped write the plays. Each Guild would store lavish costumes, props and scripts for repeated use. Prompt-copies of some scripts have survived, notably those of York, Chester and Wakefield. In 2016, the York Cycle of plays was performed in York Minster. William Shakespeare would have seen them during his childhood at Stratford-on-Avon and was influenced by them for the rest of his life. He occasionally refers to them in his plays as something his audience would have been familiar with as well.
The entire Wakefield Mystery Cycle comprised thirty plays including a number of Shepherd’s plays, celebrating wool which was the town’s principal source of prosperity. The Mystery Plays died out as a vital part of town life in the late 1500’s. The Reformers did not encourage them. Perhaps they felt that they did not treat the scriptures with enough reverence. The Guild system was breaking up and there were mass movements of the population. Permanent theatres were now being built in towns. Mystery Plays took place in the street and town squares in all kinds of weather. The Mystery Plays not only helped to evangelise but they boosted the English theatre.
The Fifth Sunday of Lent – 02.04.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Towards the closing weeks of Lent in some Catholic churches, the Crucifix and statues are draped with a purple veil. Up to fifty years ago this was the universal practice. In recent years there is a tendency to revive this way of doing things. A number of priests seem to wish to embrace a number of pre-Vatican II ways. As Holy Week approaches we are encouraged to give greater thought to the Sufferings, Passion and Death of Our Lord. Why would the Crucifix, at this very time, be veiled?
The crucifix was not a symbol that the early Christians used. Crucifixion was still a very current form of execution used by the Romans who ruled a considerable part of the known world. We know that the most common image the early Christians used to help them honour Jesus was that of the Good Shepherd. No crucifix has been found in the Catacombs. There is no mention of an image of the crucifix by any Christian writer in the first four centuries of the Church. As well as depictions of The Good Shepherd, Christians also used images of Jesus as the Lamb, triumphant and carrying a flag of victory. They also used the image of a fish. The Greek word for fish is icthus which was read as an acronym of the Greek phrase Iesous Christos Theou ὖios Soter (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour). It is thought that these were adopted as secret symbols when the Church was suffering persecution.
On Good Friday great reverence is shown to the Cross – a plain wooden Cross without the figure of Jesus. The words used as it is venerated make it clear that it should be a cross rather than a crucifix: ‘Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the salvation of the world, come let us adore.’ The empty cross is an instrument of torture that has been defeated. It is an image of Christ’s love for us and of his victory over death. We refer to the wood of the Cross on which hung (not hangs) the salvation of the world. In the Letter to the Hebrews we are assured ‘we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure’. (6:19). The sign of the Cross-anchor was also adopted by the early Christians as a hidden symbol which would not have been recognised by the authorities.
After the persecutions had ended the empty cross became the pre-eminent symbol of Christ’s love and self-sacrifice by which we are saved. When the figure of Christ came to be attached to the cross he was shown with his arms outstretched and dressed in a long, seamless tunic often with a halo and gold crown in kingly or priestly dress. This image was most popular between the sixth and the thirteenth centuries. Christ was shown as our great High Priest and Universal King and gloriously triumphant. It was this situation which influenced the Church – as Holy Week approached – to draw a veil over the crucifix – because it very much depicted the Risen and Triumphant Christ. It was seen as not being in tune with the suffering Christ being led to his horrific death. When the Church – in the west – decided to have the crucifix covered it was driven by the same logic to cover the statues of Our Lord and Mary and the Saints as well. That practice held until fifty years ago and it still happens!
From around the thirteenth century, crucifixes increasingly depicted Christ on the Cross as having died in agony. We know that St Francis paid great attention to the humanity of Jesus. This led him to venerate the humility and vulnerability of the Infant Jesus. It was St Francis who is credited with the Christmas Crib. He also had a great devotion to the sufferings of Jesus. St Francis had the stigmata – the wounds of Our Lord – on his body. It is from around the time of St Francis that crucifixes emphasised more and more his suffering. The crown of thorns replaces the crown of glory. Why would one want to cover the image of our suffering saviour as we approach Passion Sunday and Good Friday?
The Fourth Sunday of Lent – 26.03.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Pope Pius XII died in 1958 – almost sixty years ago. On his death Golda Meir, then Israeli Foreign Minister, wrote: ‘WE mourn a great servant of peace.’ Albert Einstein, who had escaped Nazi Germany said in 1940: ‘Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth… I am forced to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.’ Israel Zolli, who was Rome’s Chief Rabbi at the time of the Holocaust became a Catholic and took the Pope’s Christian name, Eugenio, in tribute to the efforts he had made on behalf of the Jews. Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizmann, paid similarly generous tributes to Pius XII at the end of the war. In 1963 a previously unknown German, Rolf Hochhuth, published a play called ‘The Deputy’ which painted a very different picture of Pius XII. Hochhuth claimed that his play was historically accurate and portrayed the Pope as anti—Semitic and compliant in the persecution and death of the Jewish victims of Nazism. The play was premiered in West Berlin and was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in England and America. There followed an astonishing tide of antagonism towards the memory of Pius and the part played by the Church in these terrible events.
In 1964 Pope Pius VI commissioned extensive research into this whole subject. This was eventually published in 1981 and it showed the degree of Papal and Catholic support for the Jewish people during the war. But the accusations did not go away. The distinguished historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, wrote that he repeatedly received requests for his support from PhD studies purporting to show that Pius XII was ‘silent’ during these atrocities or even ‘anti-Semitic’. John Cornwell’s book ‘Hitler’s Pope’ was one of a number giving a damning picture of the Pope. These have been savaged by knowledgeable critics such as Gilbert and Rabbi David Dalin. But the reputation of Pope Pius remains besmirched.
Pope Francis recently visited Auschwitz as did Pope John Paul II, Paul VI and Pope Emeritus Benedict. They had spoken and prayed aloud in the former notorious concentration camp, but Francis opted to stand in silent prayer. The BBC reported that the silent prayer of Pope Francis was in reparation for the silence of the Catholic Church – repeating the widely held view of the record of Pius XII and the Church during the war. Lord Alton of Liverpool immediately protested and made a formal complaint to the BBC. In early December the complaint was upheld. The head of the editorial complaints unit, Fraser Steel, wrote in reference to the BBC’s report of Francis’ visit: ‘This did not give due weight to public statements by successive Popes on the efforts made on the instructions of Pius XII to rescue Jews from Nazi persecution and it perpetuated a view which is at odds with the balance of evidence.’
There have been recent significant developments in Holocaust Studies. Two years ago the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, an historical research institute, set out on a project to mark places as ‘Houses of Life’ where Jews were sheltered during the war with memorial plaques. The Chairman of the Foundation wrote that ‘to our surprise we have learned that the overwhelming majority of Houses of Life were institutions related to the Catholic Church including convents, monasteries, boarding schools, hospitals etc’. In Rome alone some 4,500 people found refuge in churches, convents and monasteries. Many Jews were sheltered in Warsaw in spite of the fact that the penalty for Poles who rescued Jews was the death camp or, more likely, instant execution.
The Foundation named after Raoul Wallenberg found an extensive Catholic contribution to saving Jewish lives. Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat in Budapest during the war who together with Angelo Rotta, the Papal Nuncio, saved 120,000 out of the city’s 150,000 Jews. Wallenburg was arrested by the Red Army and was never seen again.
Several aides of Pius XII acknowledged that they had worked to rescue Jews on his direct instructions. They included two future Popes, Mgr Angelo Roncalli (John XXIII) and Mgr Giovanni Montini (Paul VI). Pius XII sheltered Jews in the Vatican and at his Summer Residence Castel Gondolfo where a maternity unit was installed. Before becoming Pope, Pius XII was Secretary of State to Pius XI. He helped to draft the text of the Encyclical issued on 14th March 1937 written in German. It is entitled ‘Mit Brennender Sorge’ (With Burning Anxiety) and it condemns Nazism. ‘Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State and divinises them to an idolatrous level perverts the order of the world created by God.’ He had negotiated a concordat between the Holy See and Germany in 1933, not to appease Nazism but to have some means of holding the Nazis to account through an international treaty. The Nazi regime referred to Cardinal Pacelli – as he then was – as ‘Jew-loving’ and the Third Reich attempted to prevent his election as Pope in 1939. His statements before and during the war were unmistakably hostile to Nazism. To be more forthright – far from doing any good – would run the danger of causing more mayhem. A Nazi plot to kidnap Pius XII in 1944 was only averted by the intervention of SS General Karl Wolff.
The degree of communist support for Hochhuth’s play only came to light in 1988 with the publication of the memoirs of Ion Pacepa, a Romanian three-star general who defected in 1978. The Soviets aim was to discredit the Papacy
(I am indebted to an article in The Catholic Herald, 10th March by Fr Leo Chamberlain OSB)
The Third Sunday of Lent – 19.03.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: I am always disappointed when I go to Mass in other countries and find that the chalice is not presented to people at Holy Communion. In England and Wales – and presumably in Scotland – communicants have the opportunity to receive ‘under both kinds’. That certainly is not the normal practice in Ireland, nor on the Continent. The Second Vatican Council encouraged us fifty years ago to return to the original way of receiving Holy Communion in the way Jesus had invited us to do. This is clear from all four accounts of the institution of the Eucharist that we find in the New Testament. But in so many places it has not happened, for one reason or another – or perhaps for no good reason!
At the Last Supper there would have been drinking of wine in the course of the meal when those at table would have used individual cups. But when Supper was ended, Jesus took the cup over which he said the blessing – the words of institution – and he asked those at table to share that cup with him. To share a cup was something very unusual to do. We are so accustomed to hearing and reading what Jesus did that its strangeness does not really hit us.
For the Jews every meal was sacred and involved giving thanks to God. But of all their meals The Passover meal was the most solemn and sacred. The Leader of the group or the head of the family would take the loaf of bread and share it, thanking God and honouring him. He would take his cup of wine and praise God on behalf of all at table and each would drink from their own cup. This accords with the way we eat and drink at a meal. We might have a common dish from which we share but we each drink from our own cup or glass. At a formal meal there may be lots of glasses so we take special care not to take a glass that belongs to our neighbour at table. We may share a bottle of wine but we do not share glasses – unless there is a special reason for it.
But at the Last Supper it was very different. That is why at Mass, the cup is shared. It is passed from one to another and each drinks from it. What Jesus did with the cup at the Last Supper was very much at variance with the culture of the Jews and of the Greek and Roman worlds. It was something that Jesus very definitely chose to do and chose to ask his followers to do. And this is what the early Church invariably did. But from the Seventh Century there was a tendency for people not to receive Holy Communion – not to eat or to drink at the Eucharist Table. A number of factors contributed to this ever-growing practice. The Eucharistic fast became more rigorous. People who had demanding physical work to do were discouraged from receiving Communion by having to fast from Midnight. There was a growing emphasis on our sinfulness and unworthiness. Combined with a greater emphasis on the majesty of Christ and the reverence due to him more and more people received Holy Communion less and less frequently. The perception grew that while ‘going to Mass’ was the way for ordinary folk, ‘receiving’ was something that belonged to very special people!
The first account we have of the institution of the Eucharist is in the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians – written before any of the Gospels. The letter shows us that the Christians of Corinth were having a very difficult time in coming to terms with how they should celebrate the Eucharist. Corinth, with its two ports was a very busy place with a huge mix of people. This would be reflected in the Sunday congregation gathering for the Eucharist. They had no specific place of worship as Christianity was outlawed. They met in private houses. In practice this meant the houses of the wealthy as they would have large dwellings. The wealthy often had slaves – it was then a normal feature in society. All this gave rise to tensions when the wealthy Christians and their Christian slaves met together to celebrate the Eucharist. The Christian community, instead of being united was pulling apart into factions. Can you imagine wealthy merchants sharing the same Eucharistic cup as their slaves? Sharing the common cup was an action that identified them as Disciples of Christ and it was a challenge to how deeply they were committed to following him. ‘For as often as you eat this loaf and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes… Examine yourselves, and only then eat the loaf and drink the cup.’ (1 Cor 11:28-30)
The sharing of the cup is the action of Jesus at his meals with his people. Only in a family of great intimacy could one do such a thing. It is not the ordinary way of behaving. But Christ has called us into a life of extraordinary intimacy with him and with one another. Ordinary ways of behaving are not what he expects of us. Sharing the cup of the Lord should remind us of our dignity as brothers and sisters of Christ and remind us of the equal dignity of each one of us. Is it any wonder that the rich merchants of Corinth baulked at the idea of sharing the cup with their slaves? What does sharing the cup at our Eucharistic celebration call us to do in our world of such inequalities, injustices and hunger?
The Second Sunday of Lent – 12.03.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: William the Conqueror invaded England on 28th September 1066 AD and less than three months later – after ‘Hastings and all that’ – he was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day. Having dealt with a few rebellions William consolidated his rule as undisputed King by the compilation of the Domesday Book in 1086. On his death in France in 1087 AD his son Robert took over the rule of Normandy and his other surviving son became King of England William II.
It had taken many centuries for England to become a united country. It took even longer before England had a language that united the speech and writing of the whole population. There were many very distinct dialects reflecting the many distinct Kingdoms that had reflected the many divisions and rivalries that still exist!
Perhaps the greatest factor that unified the language was the writing of Geoffrey Chaucer who died in 1400 AD. Other English poets were writing at the same time as Chaucer but many of them are almost unintelligible to us. But we can pretty well understand him because his English was the London dialect and his writings – especially the Canterbury Tales – were so hugely popular that they influenced the language of the whole country.
Geoffrey’s father was in the wine trade which meant that Geoffrey was in close contact with continental Europe and its languages and cultures. We don’t know where or how he received his education but he was extraordinarily well read and fluent in several languages. As a young man he embarked on a military career and was taken prisoner and ransomed. On his return he married a wealthy lady and settled down. He was assisted by friends at court and was employed in the King’s service at home and abroad.
In the mid 1370’s he was Controller of Customs in the Port of London but soon afterwards his fortunes declined. Now a widower and out of favour at court he retired to Kent where he wrote The Canterbury Tales and his other great work Troilus and Criseyde based on Homer’s Iliad. But it is by the Canterbury Tales that Chaucer remains known. Then narrative opens in April 1387 and this is how it begins:
‘When that April is with his showers swoot
The drought of March hath pierced to the root…’
We can see that though it comes from 650 years ago it is broadly understandable – if we know that ‘swoot’ means ‘sweet’. Twenty-nine pilgrims – including Chaucer who keeps out of the fray – gather at the Tabard Inn on the South Bank of the Thames in London. They intend to make the four-day, one hundred odd mile pilgrimage by horse to the tomb of the martyr Thomas á Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Their host at the Inn appoints himself their guide. He decrees that each of the pilgrim’s should tell two stories on the way and two on the way back. This would mean about one hundred and sixteen tales. That design was never completed. What has come down to us are twenty-four tales, some fragmentary.
It is not a devoutly ‘Christian poem’. Chaucer sees Christianity as a very broad church in which are ‘worldly’ and ‘religious’ very often in the same person. Among the pilgrims are a number of church people, a friar, a monk, a prioress and a parson. These church people do not especially like each other nor is the reader expected to like them all. Other pilgrims include a cook, a miller, a sailor and a reeve (a land agent). There is also a merchant and ‘The Wife of Bath’, a widow of five marriages who picks fights with the others on the subject of marriage. There is also a doctor, a lawyer and a clerk. All human life is there!
Editions of the Canterbury Tales were censored for young readers until well into the twentieth century. The twodozen tales cover quite a range of experiences and viewpoints. It concludes with a high minded and earnest sermon by the Parson. Perhaps Chaucer is telling us that it is a Christian book and it has the ending to prove it!
(I am indebted to John Sutherland’s History of Literature)
The First Sunday of Lent – 05.03.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: The Academy Awards Ceremony last weekend caused quite a stir when the true winner of the Best Picture Oscar turned out to be ‘Moonlight’ rather than ‘La La Land.’ What pleased me most about the event was that the award for the best Short Documentary went to ‘White Helmets’.
The ‘White Helmets’ are the true heroes of Syria’s devastating conflict. Their proper name is the Syrian Civil Defence and they have about 2,600 volunteers in their ranks, among them bakers, tailors, carpenters and students. It is thought that they have saved more than 70,000 lives. They are known as the ‘White Helmets’ because white is the colour of the hard hats that these volunteer rescue workers wear when they rush through the streets of Syrian cities to the scene of yet another devastating airstrike. They often wrestle people from the wreckage left behind after the fighter jets of Syrian President Assad or his Russian allies pour destruction on residential areas. The White Helmets recently pulled five year old Omran Daqueesh from the rubble in Aleppo. The image of Omran’s dazed and bloodied face as he later sat in an ambulance went all round the world.
Founded four years ago the White Helmets have quietly gone about their emergency humanitarian work but they have been gaining more and more international attention. There is a campaign to have them awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. They have recently accused the Assad regime and its allies of deliberately targeting their facilities and personnel in Aleppo. Three of its four facilities in eastern Aleppo were hit in a wave of early morning air raids. They have lost over 130 of their volunteers over the past three years. They are usually the first – or only – people to respond to an air strike. The regime forces often bomb the same location again knowing that the White Helmets and locals stream there to rescue people.
This war is now in its fifth year with no end in sight. The White Helmets have no political affiliation and their aim is to rescue people from all sides of a vicious conflict. More than 400,000 lives have been lost and millions of Syrians have been driven from their devastated homes. They were recently among the winners of the Right Livlihood Award – sometimes known as Sweden’s alternative Nobel Prize. But obviously what they want most of all is an end to the fighting when they can help to rebuild the country from the ruins.
Last Saturday the Worthing Deanery Refugee Day was well attended. Representatives from the various parishes of our Deanery were keen to learn how we can respond to this massive Refugee Crisis. Aiden Cantwell, the Diocesan Justice and Peace/Social Action advisor explained that the Diocesan policy is to encourage parishes to work through bodies that are operating at local level. Bishop Richard feels that this is far more feasible and effective than setting up a separate initiative. At our local level there are two very involved groups – Voices in Exile based in Brighton and Refugees4Worthing. There is also a group called Sanctuary at work in Chichester. It is envisaged that our efforts will be mainly directed through Refugees4Worthing group.
As a group of churches and people of goodwill Worthying4Rerfugees wishes that the Worthing area should be a place where refugees and displaced peoples – especially those from Syria – can find welcome, safety and justice and integration into the local community. It draws its inspiration and motivation from the Christian faith, remembering that Jesus himself was a refugee who says that we will be judged by our response to those in need of food and shelter, clothing and support.
‘This is the time of mercy. Each day of our journey is marked by God’s presence. He guides our steps with the power of the grace that the Spirit pours into our hearts to make them capable of loving. It is the time of mercy for each and all, since no one can think that he or she is cut off from God’s closeness and the power of his tender love. It is the time of mercy because those who are weak and vulnerable, distant and alone, ought to feel the presence of brothers and sisters who can help them in their need. It is the time of mercy because the poor should feel that they are regarded with respect and concern by others who have overcome indifference and discovered what is essential in life.’ (Misericordia et Misera, 21) Pope Francis
8th Sunday of the Year A – 26.02.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: King Hammurabi ruled in Mesopotamia – present day Iraq – nearly 1800 years BC. Mesopotamia literally means the land between the rivers. These were the two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates which join together to flow into the Persian Gulf. King Hammurabi is best known for his Code of Laws and for his military conquests which made Babylon a great power. His Code of Laws – known as the Code of Hammurabi – was inscribed in stone and is the oldest law-book in the World, known for its strictness and justness. Mesopotamia was ruled at various times by the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Sumerians. They worshipped Baal, the sun god and the moon goddess Ishtar or Astarte and also the stars. Over the centuries they closely studied the heavenly bodies and gave them names. They believed that some planets brought good luck, others misfortune. Mars meant war and Venus, love. To each of the five planets known to them they dedicated a day. This is the origin of our seven day week. With the Sun and the Moon that made seven. In English we still continue to call Saturday, Sunday and Monday after Saturn, the Sun and the Moon. But we now call the other days after other gods. In other languages – such as French or Italian – most of the days of the week still belong to the planets that the Babylonians first named. Interestingly, in the Irish language three days are named in reference to fasting. Fasting was a huge feature in their Christian life in the early centuries. Wednesday was a minor fast day throughout the year and Friday was a day of serious fasting. So they are names accordingly – the day of the First Fast and the Day of Fasting. Thursday is called the day ‘between fasts’. At the best of times very few would have been able to feast magnificently but on two days each week they cut down on what little they had. Lent was something else!
To go back to the Babylonians and the Sumerians before them, they erected strange buildings so as to see the stars better in a misty land. They were convinced that their welfare was governed by the stars so they constructed tall, broad towers called ziggurats to get nearer to them. There were terraces piled one on top of another with ramps and steep narrow staircases. Right at the very top was a temple dedicated to the moon or one of the other planets. People came from far and wide to ask the priests to read their fortunes in the stars and they brought valuable offerings with them.
In the Book of Genesis we have the story of the Tower of Babel in Chapter 11 which was designed to make fun of these builders of towers. These ruined ziggurats can still be seen today with inscriptions telling how this or that King built or restored them. What look like little hills in fact are mounds of bricks and rubble. Deeper down are stout, high walls – remains of towns and cities laid out with long streets, tall houses, palaces and temples. Unlike Egypt’s stone temples and pyramids, the buildings in Mesopotamia were built with sun-baked bricks which cracked and crumbled over time. One such mound is all that remains of Babylon, once the greatest city on earth, swarming with people from every part of the world to trade their wares. Nineveh, once the capital of the Assyrians, is another of the many mounds standing in the desert.
At one time this area had huge canals and water cisterns which retained the water and irrigated the land. The great plain of Mesopotamia was rich and fertile. When the canals became blocked with silt and the cisterns filled with mud, the land became a desert wasteland and a marshy swamp with here and there a mound with a rich story to tell.
I am indebted to E H Gombrick’s ‘A Little History’
7th Sunday of the Year A – 19.02.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: The practice of visiting holy places was a prominent feature of Catholic life in England as elsewhere from the early centuries of the Church. What happened to this aspect of Catholic devotion when the Reformation burst upon the scene? Catholics in these islands had to find alternative venues for celebrating the Mass and receiving the sacraments and nourishing their devotional life. They continued to frequent hallowed places that had been vandalised and abandoned at the Reformation. The bare, ruined choirs of monasteries remained an important part of many people’s devotion. They would secretly visit such places as the famed Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset or the many Cistercian abbeys whose walls were still standing.
On 1st September 1614 the northern High Commission issued an order to Justices of the Peace to apprehend ‘superstitious and papishlie affected persons’ who flocked to the site of the former Carthusian monastery of Mount Grace in Yorkshire. A week later thirty men, women and children from Allertonshire were arrested for praying there on the eve of Our Lady’s birthday. The site and a nearby holy well grew in popularity over the following decades and people could be found kneeling there for hours on end despite the fact that the chapel was roofless and exposed to high winds. In an account of her journeys Celia Fiennes writing around 1700 describes how she found the altar of the ruined chapel of Our Lady of the Crag at Knaresborough decked with flowers and the floor covered in rushes when she lodged at the same inn as a ‘papist lady’ who went to the ruins of the local abbey to pray.
In Scotland, too, many made pilgrimage to the sites of the old Catholic cathedrals, monasteries and churches. In Peebles, elders and magistrates used to lay in wait at the ruined Cross Kirk for those who continued to make journeys there in May. At Elgin parishioners habitually visited the deserted Channonry Kirk to pray and offer supplications for departed relatives and friends. We are told that at Tirriff hundreds of people assembled at the ruined church ‘in pursuance of an old and pious custom of their forefathers’ and implored the aid of God, the Virgin Mary and the Saints, clothed in penitential garments made of white linen.
A French traveller to Ireland in 1644 was struck by the ‘great reverence’ which old people in Waterford showed to mouldering churches to which they came in solemn procession praying for their dead relatives and friends. ‘I have noticed them at this devotion three and four hours.’ Standing crosses – or what remained of them – were another powerful reminder of their forbidden way of life. A report on Lancashire in 1590 described how Catholics set down corpses at these stopping places and prayed for the deceased on their way to nocturnal burials.
Ancient holy wells and their chapels were popular destinations. Pilgrimages to the ruined chapel and well of Our Lady of Grace at Fochabers in Scotland proved particularly hard to uproot and many were punished for going there. Another French traveller to Ireland in the early 1670’s was greatly impressed by the diligence of Catholics who travelled across woods and mountains where they met for Mass in a humble room in a small hamlet, remarking that ‘God does not seek grand palaces.’
In many cases Catholics were refused burial in consecrated ground and they were sometimes buried in open fields. A Lancashire landowner, William Blundell, enclosed a piece of his land to create a resting place for such Catholics. Over eighty people were buried there – at Hakinke – between 1611 and 1631. The High Sheriff came with a posse of thirty men to destroy the walls and deface the stone crosses and disturb some of the graves. Blundell himself was fined £1,000 – a massive sum. In Ireland there was a great revival of erecting memorial crosses requesting prayers for the repose of the souls of those who had died. When the Catholic James II came to the throne, people became more bold in erecting them alongside the King’s highways. Many earlier ones were now restored. Many holy wells and their chapels were also rehabilitated in the 1680’s. In the Scottish Highlands at the same time Catholic chapels sprang up. One at Ince Blundell was built in the form of a cross and could accommodate up to three hundred people. These, of course, were vulnerable to attack, especially with the arrival of William of Orange and his wife Mary on the throne. Then a number of Catholic buildings were unroofed and sacked. At Fernyhalgh a new chapel had been built when James II ascended the throne and 1,069 people were confirmed there in September 1687. But the Williamite coup resulted in the life of that chapel coming to an end. It also marked the end of any realistic hope of a political restoration of the ‘Old Religion’.
6th Sunday of the Year A – 12.02.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: We know that the Church was outlawed in the Roman Empire for the first two hundred and fifty years or so of its existence. In spite of this it grew and spread west into Europe but it spread east from Jerusalem as well. It moved through Syria and beyond – outside of the Roman Empire. Edessa was a cosmopolitan trading city and the Church there claimed descent from the apostle Thaddeus. In Edessa – also outside the Roman Empire – the Church was free. While Christians in the Roman Empire had to live and move and have their being secretly and in private, Christians in Edessa were able to build proper public church buildings. There is a record of the earliest Christian building in the world in Edessa but it was destroyed in a flood in 201AD. The Christians in Edessa lived in great harmony with the Jews and they studied the Bible together. Christians at this time had not come to a united view as to what apostolic writings were inspired so the ‘Bible’ meant the Jewish Scriptures. ‘Ta Biblia’ is Greek for ‘the books’. By 220 AD Christians began to use the word ‘Bible’ for both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures.
Music and singing – as well as Scripture – were always seen as being part of Jewish and Christian worship. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that after the Last Supper – the First Eucharist – ‘After Psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives.’ (26:30) Paul wrote to the church at Colossae: ‘With gratitude in your hearts sing Psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God.’ Where did the first church music come from? The earliest known collection of Christian hymns ‘The Odes of Solomon’ come from Syria. Hymn writers flourished there around 200 AD. Church leaders like Ephrem of Edessa wrote hymns and prayers for the Eucharist in metrical verse. They set new Christian hymns to old popular melodies. Rather like the approach of the Salvation Army in modern times who wrote Christian lyrics to well known music-hall tunes.
Some of the early Popes came from the East and brought their practices with them. Pope Sergius, who was Syrian, used a Syrian form of words when he introduced ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ into the Mass. English church music followed suit. There was the famous Syrian Archbishop of Canterbury called Theodore of whom the English historian, the Venerable Bede, says that after he arrived ‘they began in all the churches of the English to learn church music.’ Until recently what is probably the earliest known liturgical music was still being sung in the church of St George in Aleppo. But Aleppo has been almost totally ruined in the several years of the cruel Syrian conflict.
Syria enriched the church in England and in the West generally all those centuries ago with their music and song. Maybe we can find means of helping the Syrian people today in their dreadful nightmare. The devastation suffered by the Syrian people is so massive that we must respond by reaching out to them. WE must not allow ourselves to be paralysed by the scale of the problem. We hope the meeting in the Barn on Saturday 25th February will be fruitful. Invitations have gone out to all the parishes’ of the Deanery – from Shoreham to Littlehampton. We will have input from key people from the Diocese and no doubt we will be inspired to respond to what is the greatest humanitarian tragedy since the Second World War.
Bishop Richard is encouraging all the Deaneries to do what we can to light a candle rather than just curse the darkness. He has suggested that we use this prayer:
Prayer for Refugees
Almighty and merciful God, whose Son became a refugee
and had no place to call his own;
look with mercy on those who today are fleeing from danger,
homeless and hungry
Bless those who work to bring them relief;
inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts,
and guide the nations of the world towards that day
when all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and of peace.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
5th Sunday of the Year A – 05.02.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Mathematics was not my favourite subject in school and I have never since made any progress in understanding its intricacies. I have great sympathy for students – of whatever age – who have to labour day by day to make sense of it. I have come across a piece of information recently which might give encouragement to those who might be tempted to throw in the towel. It is this: Scientists have recently discovered that plants carry out intricate calculations each night to prevent them starving before dawn. In the middle of winter the homework they have to do is particularly demanding. In order to keep themselves going in the absence of sunlight, plants perform division equations to ration their store of starch until the moment the sun reappears. By counting their starch and dividing it by the number of hours left until morning they ensure that they do not run out before dawn. They can even adjust their calculations during the night.
Researchers from the John Innes Centre in Norwich discovered the amazing things plants do. The study was published by Professor Martin Howard in ‘eLife’ and provided ‘the first concrete example in biology of such a sophisticated arithmetic calculation.’ The ability to do this plays a crucial role in plants’ survival because they are dependent on starch which is produced from carbon dioxide and sunlight during the day. They need starch to provide them with energy. Without it, they die. ‘The capacity to perform arithmetical calculations is vital for growth,’ Professor Alison Smith explained. She is a biologist who helped to make the discovery. ‘The calculations are precise so that plants make the most efficient use of their food.’ The researchers found that the plants used their starch at a steady rate, so that about 95% of their stock had been used up by dawn. When researchers changed light conditions, the plants altered their rate of usage.
St. Columban, who established several monasteries in France at the end of the Sixth Century AD when Christianity and civilisation were threatened in much of Europe, was known for his mystical relationship with the natural world. He is quoted as saying: If you want to know the Creator, know Creation.’ Today we have the means of knowing the wonder of creation so much better than all the generations who have gone before us. Its immensity and intricacy are so much greater than scientists of even twenty years ago could have imagined. But sadly this knowledge does not always draw people to a knowledge and love of the creator. So many people can’t even manage to believe that there is a Creator!. And many who believe in a Creator don’t believe that creation is in danger at our hands.
It is marvellous that plants have ensured their survival for millions of years by making the most efficient use of their food. It is alarming that humans can be so stupid and selfish that they can seriously put the environment at risk by their irresponsible behaviour and blindness. Pope Francis – especially in his letter ‘Laudato Si’ – has been a significant source of inspiration for all mankind to wake up to the reality of what is at stake. In Para 165 he says that ‘technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels needs to be progressively replaced without delay.’ In Para 206 he says that ‘a change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products.’
It is easy to be downhearted by the crassness of people in responsible positions who refuse to move things in a positive direction. But it is important to remind ourselves that with each positive step we take we are participating in and contributing to right relationships with all of God’s Creation. In Pope Francis’ words ‘Hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.’
President Trump has ordered the U.S. Environment Protection Agency to remove the climate change page from its website. That page contains links to global warming research and detailed data on emissions. He threatens to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement which aims to limit global warming to no more than 2°C.
In addition to installing fifty solar panels fifteen months ago we are in the process of installing LED lights in the church and the Barn. In the next few weeks we will have installed these bulbs, which are more environmentally friendly, in the Presbytery also. We must all look to ways that make a difference for the better in all departments of life!
4th Sunday of the Year A – 29.01.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: In Medieval times the three great places of pilgrimage for Christians were Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. By the end of the 13th Century AD Jerusalem was extremely difficult to get to. Holy Years =- which began in 1300 AD – made Rome a very popular destination. In earlier centuries Santiago had become very popular when law and order were at a low ebb in Rome and the Shrine of St James remained a great centre of pilgrimage up to the Reformation. There were countless lesser pilgrimages undertaken to shrines all over Europe. Canterbury and Walsingham were the notable English destinations.
There is a Santiago Pilgrims Guide for the year 1140 AD which says that ‘the faithful who are going on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St James should be able to plan in advance, if they read this guide. They will know what conditions to expect on the way’. There are accounts of the pilgrimage all the way back to the 4th Century. Much of the information in these guides would have been handed on by word of mouth as even small books would be very expensive – and many could not read. There would have been advice on roads and rivers, bridges and hospices (guest houses) and on food and drink.
It is estimated that between 200,000 and 500,000 people a year would journey to Compostela, rich and poor, the healthy and the sick. It is estimated that about a quarter or a third would have been women. The well-to-do might be accompanied by their own doctor. The pilgrims did not necessarily have to be pious. Preachers warned against frivolity, restlessness, curiosity, pride and the hope of material gain. Pilgrims were encouraged to fast on the way, to abstain from meat, to stay only one night in any one place and not to sleep in a comfortable bed.
There were many hospices on the various routes to the great centres of pilgrimage. ‘where they fulfil a need. They are houses of God, holy places, where the pious pilgrims may refresh themselves. Therefore there can be no doubt but that the builders of such holy places will enter into the Kingdom of heaven’. The author of the guide warns pilgrims about dangers from nature and from their fellows. The journey through the Landes in Southwestern France, which would take three days, was mentioned as being especially unpleasant. ‘These will be days when you will be utterly exhausted! For it is a God-forsaken place, flat region with very few stopping places’. The author curses the ferrymen at the foot of the Pyrenees. Their dugout boat made from a tree-trunk was very small and unsuitable for carrying horses. ‘If you get in this boat, take care: you will soon be in the water.’ Pilgrims should only get in a few at a time because of the danger of capsizing. They should let their horses swim across, if possible leading them by the reins. ‘After they have taken the money the ferrymen often let so many pilgrims get in that the boat sinks and they all drown in the river. The boatmen then take all the belongings of the drowned people. Pilgrims would barely have escaped the dangers of the ferrymen when they were confronted by a new hazard in the inhospitable and densely wooded Basque country. ‘If the pilgrim sees the local inhabitants, his blood will freeze.’ They are men of barbaric speech and rough physical appearance. The toll men are guarded by two or three men with lances. They approach the pilgrim and forcibly demand an exorbitant toll. ‘If the traveller should think of refusing them the money they demand, they kill him with their cudgels and appropriate the sum. Then with curses they strip their victim naked.’
The author is very pleased with just one region and its people – his own homeland! ‘Leaving Tours one approaches Potiers, an exceptionally pleasant and blessed region. It would be hard to find men who are more generous and hospitable than they are.’ The further to the south the author travels the more critical his remarks become about the inhabitants. The only people he finds praiseworthy beside the men from Potiers are the ‘countrymen’ of St James the Apostle. The people of Galicia have most in common with ‘we men from France!’
In the large square surrounding the Cathedral, pilgrims would change money, find lodgings and buy all kinds of goods including ‘small scallop shells, to show that they had been at St. James Shrine’. These shells were kept by the pilgrims and on their return journey place them ‘in their cap’ like a badge. At the end of their lives, the pilgrims would have their scallop shells buried with them in the firm belief that St James would lead them safely to their eternal home.
I am indebted to Norbert Ohler’s ‘The Medieval Traveller
3rd Sunday of the Year A – 22.01.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: At the end of October there was a Catholic-Lutheran event in the Lutheran Cathedral of Lund in the south of Sweden. It marked the start of the year long commemorations which will culminate in October of this year marking the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The events in Southern Sweden were designed to herald efforts to bring about greater closeness and healing within the Christian family. Pope Francis joined other Christian leaders in Lund Cathedral and in the neighbouring city of Malmo.
The anniversary will be marked by Catholics and Protestants everywhere. The United Service of Prayer for Christian Unity, which is being held in many churches worldwide this Sunday, encourages us to recognise our common calling. The major commemoration will take place in Germany where the Reformation began. It was sparked by Martin Luther, a Catholic priest, in response to the abuses and scandals in the Church, occasioned by the way the practice of indulgences had developed. Before the Pope’s visit to Sweden, the Nordic Catholic Bishops Conference – covering Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark – issued a Pastoral Letter urging Catholics to reflect and repent for the wound of separation. Pope Francis joined in the Concelebrated Mass in the Catholic Cathedral of Malmo. Pope Francis will not be visiting Germany as part of the Anniversary events this year. While relationships between the Churches continue to improve there is still some distance to go.
The Catholic practice of indulgences developed gradually during the Middle Ages but grew enormously in the years running up to 1500 AD as the connection between the granting of indulgences and the giving of money became stronger. The Crusades required a lot of money to organise and finance. Magnificent Cathedrals – made possible by ever advancing building techniques – also required huge sums of money to build and adorn. The raising of these finances was increasingly supported by the issuing of special indulgencies. St Peter’s Basilica in Rome was being rebuilt to replace the Basilica built by the Emperor Constantine over a thousand years before. This was going to be enormously expensive and Pope Leo X in 1515 promulgated the St. Peter’s indulgence to help pay for it.
A number of respected and influential people had over the years expressed reservations about linking fund raising to indulgences. In their preaching clergy often warned about the dangers of seeing indulgences as a substitute for true penance. A senior German priest, Johann von Stanpitz – a member, like his friend Martin Luther, of the Augustinian Order – preached against these abuses in December 1516 AD and his sermons were published in Latin and German early in 1517 AD. It was clear that the St Peter’s Indulgence was not popular in Germany. Helping to finance their local Cathedrals was one thing but sending the money to Rome was another matter. Germany consisted of a number of independent states whose rulers were very powerful even in religious matters. Some states did not allow the St. Peter’s Indulgence to be preached in their territory. The Franciscan Order was often asked to provide the preachers for indulgences but in this case the Franciscans refused as it was too associated in the public eye with ‘Roman Luxury’. The Papacy and the Roman Curia were steeped in corruption so the Franciscans made a shrewd decision. The Dominican Order was asked to promote it instead and Johann Tetzel was put in charge of organising the St Peter’s Indulgence in Germany.
Martin Luther was a theology professor in the University of Wittenberg which is in Saxony. The Ruler of Saxony was Frederick the Wise who did not allow indulgences to be preached in his territory – for financial reasons of his own. So this indulgence – to which Martin Luther took great exception – was never preached in Wittenberg. Nevertheless, Wittenberg was close enough to the borders of Saxony to allow people if they wished to go and hear the indulgence preached – and perhaps hear Tetzel himself. Not many people have a good word to say about Tetzel. He is often portrayed as a kind of pantomime villain who made the wildest claims to extract money from the credulous. The jingle ‘As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs’ is associated with him. But there is no direct evidence that he or any preacher used such words. But it made a good story – still told after 500 years.
Tetzel was certainly an enthusiastic and flamboyant preacher as were many great preachers in the past and he drew great crowds. But he was a sophisticated and thoughtful theologian. He was educated at the University of Leipzig and he taught theology at the Dominican School there. While Tetzel’s superiors were slow to react to Luther’s challenge Tetzel recognised the seriousness of the situation and responded strongly to the criticisms made about him and his preaching. Luther and his friends recognised him as a formidable adversary which is why they attacked him as savagely as they did. The Dominican Order rallied around Tetzel and in turn the Augustinian Order rallied around Luther. Most people thought that the controversy was a local skirmish that would quickly blow over. Unfortunately opportunities to properly deal with the situation were missed and Christianity has remained deeply divided and wounded ever since.
2nd Sunday of the Year A – 15.01.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Why do we call today the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time? Does this not imply that last Sunday was the First Sunday in Ordinary Time? Ordinary Time for the Church means time outside of the seasons of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. But last Sunday was very much within the Season of Christmas. We celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany on that day – even though it was the 8th of January. As we know the traditional date of the Feast of the Epiphany – the Twelfth Day of Christmas – is the 6th January. Several years ago the Bishops of England and Wales decided that major feasts of Our Lord – such as Ascension, The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) and the Feast of the Epiphany would always be celebrated on the nearest Sunday. The only exception is Christmas Day which is always celebrated on 25th December no matter what day of the week it is. In the case of the other Holydays of Obligation – those that are not feasts of Our Lord, they continue to be celebrated on the traditional dates assigned to them – except when they fall on a Saturday or a Monday in which case they too are celebrated on the nearest Sunday. These feasts are: the Feast of St Peter and St. Paul on 29th June; the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 15th August and the Feast of All Saints on 1st November. This year these feasts fall on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday so they will not be moved to Sunday But all this only applies to England and Wales. In the Universal Calendar of the Church last Sunday was celebrated as The Baptism of the Lord, which is regarded as the First Sunday of Ordinary Time. Hence we find ourselves today celebrating the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (or Time Throughout the Year). So I managed to answer my own, not very important question, eventually and in my usual convoluted fashion!
But why, you may ask, are not the feasts of Sts Peter and Paul, The Assumption and All Saints not celebrated on the nearest Sunday? This is a question for the Bishops of England and Wales! Perhaps they would be unable to come to one mind on the issue. But it does not seem to me to make much sense, especially in the case of 15th August when it is becoming more and more difficult to find priests to say Mass in peak holiday time. And why is it necessary to observe the Feast of St Peter and St Paul as a Holyday of Obligation? England and Wales are among a very few places that continue to do so. Perhaps the Bishops of England and Wales have very good reasons for these decisions but it would be good to share them with us! It is important to have an opportunity to ask questions in a forum where they can be answered. This is why a number of Dioceses hold a Synod periodically. This was something that the Second Vatican Council envisaged.
Just as the Universal Church has regular Synods of bishops to examine important issues so also Dioceses can hold Synods where all of us can have an input. I believe Bishop Richard is considering this. Of course it has to be carefully planned if it is to be fruitful. Provision is now being given to allow all of us to be involved in some way in the Synod of Bishops. So why not have an input at Diocesan level? At Parish level we have recently been having open Parish Meetings and some splendid initiatives have resulted. We hope to have another such meeting next month. As the Post Office used to tell us, it is good to talk – especially if the talk leads to fruitful action.
I heard a true story recently about a teacher who had been telling her pupils about how Christ had been born and how shepherds had come – and wise men who brought gifts of gold and so on. The teacher spoke of how the child grew up and Mary and Joseph had very little material gifts to give him. A boy put up his hand and asked: ‘What did they do with the gold?’ The teacher answered that in thirty-three years in the classroom she had never been asked that question. She confessed that she did not know the answer but there was a good chat in class about it. Questions are good even when there is no obvious answer!
The Epiphany of the Lord – 08.01.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: I recently came across this poem that I think is worth reflecting on, especially at this time of year. Tennyson wrote these lines about one hundred and fifty years ago in the mid 1860’s. He hints that these were great years of scientific discovery, travel and exploration – what we call progress.
The first underground trains were running in London and the first submarine had been used in warfare. Dynamite had been invented by Alfred Nobel – the founder of the Nobel prizes. Dynamite was used for many purposes – not always peaceful ones. The vast interior of Africa was being tracked at this time and the knowledge gained was not always put towards good ends. Tennyson poses the question: Is all this ‘progress’ being used to make us wiser and more enlightened?
The poem should prompt us to reflect on how we use our gifts as we embark on another New Year.
I Stood on a Tower I stood on a tower in the wet,
And New Year and Old Year met,
And winds were roaring and blowing;
And I said, ‘O years, that meet in tears,
Have you all that is worth the knowing?
Science enough and exploring,
Wanderers coming and going,
Matter enough for deploring,
But aught that is worth the knowing?
Seas at my feet were flowing,
Waves on the shingle pouring,
Old year roaring and blowing,
And New Year blowing and roaring.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Mary, The Holy Mother of God – 01.01.2017
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Some people find it hard to let go of Christmas. This poem is a rather strange reflection on ‘What is Christmas Day?’ It was written by an Australian priest well over a hundred years ago – Father Hartigan who wrote under the name ‘John O’Brien’.
The bishop sat in lordly state and purple cap sublime,
And galvanized the old bush church at Confirmation time;
And all the kids were mustered up from fifty miles around,
With Sunday clothes, and staring eyes, and ignorance profound.
Now was it fate, or was it grace, whereby they yarded too
An overgrown two-storey lad from Tangmalangaloo?
A hefty son of virgin soil, where nature has her fling,
And grows the trefoil three feet high and mats it in the Spring;
Where mighty hills uplift their heads to pierce the welkin’s rim,
And trees sprout up a hundred feet before they shoot a limb;
There everything is big and grand, and men are giants too
But Christian Knowledge wilts, alas, at Tangmalangaloo
The bishop summed the youngsters up, as bishops only can;
He cast a searching glance around, then fixed upon his man.
But glum and dumb and undismayed through every bout he sat;
He seemed to think that he was there, but wasn’t sure of that.
The bishop gave a scornful look, as bishops sometimes do,
And glared right through the pagan in from Tangmalangaloo.
“Come, tell me, boy,” his lordship said in crushing tones severe,
“Come, tell me why is Christmas Day the greatest of the year?
“How is it that around the world we celebrate that day
“And send a name upon a card to those who’re far away?
“Why is it wandering ones return with smiles and greetings, too?”
A squall of knowledge hit the lad from Tangmalangaloo.
He gave a lurch which set a-shake the vases on the shelf,
He knocked the benches all askew, up-ending of himself.
And so, how pleased his lordship was, and how he smiled to say,
“That’s good, my boy. Come, tell me now; and what is Christmas Day?”
The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew –
“It’s the day before the races out at Tangmalangaloo.”
The Nativity of The Lord – 25.12.2016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: It is thought that the carol ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ was used by Catholic parents in Elizabethan England to pass on the faith to their children. The ‘Seventh Day’, for instance, would be a peg to speak about the Sacraments and the ‘Eighth Day’ would remind them to speak about the Beatitudes The Twelve Days of Christmas – A Correspondence (John Julius Norwich) The appropriate verse of the carol could be sung before each letter
25th December: My dearest darling, That partridge in that lovely little pear tree! What an enchanting, romantic, poetic present! Bless you and thank you. Your deeply loving Emily
26th December: My dearest darling Edward, The two turtle doves arrived this morning and are cooing away in the pear tree as I write. I’m so touched and grateful. With undying love, as always, Emily
27th December: My darling Edward, You do think of the most original presents; whoever thought of sending anyone three French hens? Do they really come all the way from France? It’s a pity that we have no chicken coops, but I expect we’ll find some. Thank you, anyway, they’re lovely. Your loving Emily
28th December: Dearest Edward, What a surprise – four calling birds arrived this morning. They are very sweet, even if they do call rather loudly – they make telephoning impossible. But I expect they’ll calm down when they get used to their new home. Anyway, I’m very grateful – of course I am. Love from Emily
29th December: Dearest Edward, The postman has just delivered five most beautiful gold rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly. A really lovely present – lovelier in a way than birds, which do take rather a lot of looking after. The four that arrived yesterday are still making a terrible row, and I’m afraid none of us got much sleep last night. Mummy says she wants to use the rings to ‘wring’ their necks – she’s only joking, I think; though I know what she means. But I love the rings. Bless you. Love, Emily
30th December: Dear Edward, Whatever I expected to find when I opened the front door this morning, it certainly was not six socking great geese laying eggs all over the doorstep. Frankly, I rather hoped you had stopped sending me birds – we have no room for them and they have ruined the croquet lawn. I know you meant well, but – let’s call a halt, shall we? Love, Emily
31st December: Edward, I thought I said no more birds; but this morning I woke up to find no less than seven swans all trying to get into our tiny goldfish pond. I’d rather not think what happened to the goldfish. The whole house seems to be full of birds – to say nothing of what they leave behind them. Please, please STOP. Your Emily.
1st January: Frankly, I think I prefer the birds. What am I to do with eight milkmaids – AND their cows? Is this some kind of a joke? If so, I’m afraid I don’t find it very amusing. Emily
2nd January: Look here Edward, this has gone far enough. You say you’re sending me nine ladies dancing; all I can say is that judging by the way they dance, they’re certainly not ladies. The village just isn’t accustomed to seeing a regiment of shameless hussies with nothing on but their lipstick cavorting round the green – and it’s Mummy and I who get blamed. If you value our friendship – which I do less and less – kindly stop this ridiculous behaviour at once. Emily
3rd January: AS I write this letter, ten disgusting old men are prancing about all over what used to be the garden – before the geese and the swans and the cows got at it; and several of them, I notice, are taking inexcusable liberties with the milkmaids. Meanwhile the neighbours are trying to have us evicted. I shall never speak to you again. Emily
4th January: This is the last straw. You know I detest bagpipes. The place has now become something between a menagerie and a madhouse and a man from the Council has just declared it unfit for habitation. At least Mummy has been spared this last outrage; they took her away yesterday afternoon in an ambulance. I hope you’re satisfied.
5th January: Sir, Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform you that with the arrival on her premises at half-past seven this morning of the entire percussion section of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and several of their friends she has no course left open to her but to seek an injunction to prevent your importuning her further. I am making arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock. I am, Sir, Yours faithfully, G.CREEP
Fourth Sunday of Advent – 18.12.2016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: The word ‘gospel’ literally means ‘the good news’. For the Christian the good news is that Jesus Christ who was put to death for us is Risen and shares his Risen life with us. This has always been the fundamental belief of the Church and has been the kernel of its teaching. The Church exists to proclaim the gospel. It has no other purpose. We are the Church and the gospel is the treasure handed down to us through two thousand years. We have the privilege and responsibility to live it and to pass it on to future generations.
The first followers of Christ were prepared to die as they witnessed to that good news by their fidelity to the gospel. One of their great achievements – by the power of the Holy Spirit – was the creation of the New Testament. Up to that point the Scriptures were the sacred writings that helped prepare the world for the coming of its Saviour. Now mankind was also gifted with Scriptures that proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ – the Gospel.
In the New Testament writings, four were recognised as different from all the others. These were called ‘Gospels’ and present to us the ministry, suffering and death of Jesus written in the light of his Resurrection. Only Matthew and Luke tell us of anything concerning his infancy which is why we hear from them more than from Mark and John over Christmas and into the New Year.
Today we hear from Matthew beginning with verse 18 of the first chapter. But we don’t hear the first 17 verses of his gospel. These verses are an extraordinary way to begin his account of Jesus, which is why we don’t find them read in any Sunday Mass. He begins with the words: ‘The story of the origins of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.’ It continues: ‘Abraham was the father of Isaac; Isaac was the father of Jacob; Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.’ It lists fourteen generations before he comes to David. Then he lists another fourteen generations till he comes to the Babylonian Exile and finally another fourteen generations till he comes to the birth of Jesus. Some people on the list are some of the most revered and important names mentioned in the Bible. Most of them are unknown. Included are some men and women of very doubtful character. When it comes to ‘the bottom line’ of the list we find a very interesting development. We hear that Matthan was the father of Jacob; Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary; of her was begotten Jesus, called the Christ.’ So Matthew goes on, in today’s Gospel reading, to explain why he spoke of the parentage of Jesus in the way he did. ‘Now, as for Jesus Christ, his birth took place in this way.’ Matthew in his gospel is very keen to emphasise that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of David. He is writing to a community of Christians who came to baptism from Judaism. In verses 1 and 18 of Chapter 1 he refers to Jesus as Jesus the Messiah.
I think many people don’t realise the significance of the word ‘Christ’. They seem to think that Christ is part of the name of Jesus. Rather like having a fore name and a surname. Christ is not a name. It is a title, a very significant title. Christ is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Messiah. The English form of this word is ‘the anointed one’. Three kinds of people were said to be anointed: priests, prophets and Kings. Jesus is the supreme high priest and universal King. He is the ultimate prophet as he fully reveals the Father to us. Matthew places great emphasis on this aspect of Jesus’ identity as it was of such significance to the Jewish people. The Messiah was to come from the lineage of King David, the shepherd=King of Israel so Matthew is keen to show that Jesus is descended from David.
In today’s Gospel we have Matthew’s version of the annunciation. We usually think of the Annunciation as the message given to Mary that she had been chosen by God to be Mother of the Saviour. This is how Luke introduces us to the Incarnation of the Lord. Matthew chooses to put before us the revelation made to Joseph. The angel of the Lord who appeared to Joseph in a dream addresses him as ‘Joseph, son of David.’ If Jesus was to be the Messiah, he would have to be the Son of David – and he would have to be Son of Joseph. That is why Matthew emphasises that Joseph was given the task of naming the child. The husband in Jewish law, by naming the child, is acknowledging that the child is his. Joseph is the legal father of Jesus. This, Scripture scholars tell us, is a more correct description than to call him adoptive father or foster father. Matthew goes on to tell his hearers and readers that not only would Jesus be the Son of David but he would be Emmanuel, God with us. The Risen Jesus’ last words in Matthew’s gospel (28:20) are ‘I am with you always to the end of the world.’
Matthew wrote his gospel to encourage the Jewish born members of his community to renew their faith in Jesus the Messiah. Some of them weary of persecution had begun to fall away. He reminds them that Jesus is the Messiah that the Jewish Scriptures spoke of. The One whose first coming we are preparing to celebrate is the One who has never left us and who continues to shower his blessings on us because he cherishes each and every one as his brothers and sisters.
Third Sunday of Advent – 11.12.2016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Divine Providence has given us four Gospels each written by a different person at a different time and in different circumstances in response to the particular needs that various infant Christian communities found themselves in. Each of the gospels has its own special perspective on the ministry and significance of Jesus so each has its own unique structure and approach. As we approach Christmas this becomes especially evident.
Only two gospels, Matthew and Luke, tell us anything of the events surrounding the conception, birth and infancy of Jesus. We might find it extraordinary that some of the gospel writers show no interest in telling us things that we might like to know. For instance, John’s Gospel nowhere tells us the name of the Mother of Jesus. When he speaks of Mary he never gives us her name and ignores the family circumstances in which the Word became flesh and lived among us.
The first Gospel written, Mark, begins with the adult Jesus at the start of his public life being baptised by John the Baptist. There is no mention in Mark’s Gospel of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus. There are twenty seven books in the New Testament and only Matthew and Luke appear to show any interest in the family origins of Jesus. The thirteen letters attributed to St Paul are the earliest New Testament writings and give us remarkably few biographical details of Jesus life and ministry.
It is clear that the gospels do not attempt to give us a biography of Jesus. The goal of the gospels is to bring readers and hearers to a faith in Jesus that leads them to accept God’s Kingdom. The Vatican Council teaches us in its Constitution on Divine Revelation issued in 1965 that ‘the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.’ That is a far cry from assuming that every statement has to be understood literally.
Matthew and Luke begin their gospels with the conception and birth of Jesus. Neither Matthew nor Luke was composing simply a life of Jesus. Indeed their infancy accounts differ greatly from one another. We are accustomed to having all the books of the Bible (or at least the New Testament) in one volume. But in the early Church it took some hundreds of years before the Church definitely decided which books belonged to the Bible, which books were inspired. So it took a long time to have equal access to all the books we regards as scriptural. There were also issues arising from the difficulty of actually copying books by hand. When paper and ink as we know them did not exist, writing was slow, laborious and expensive. When people gathered for Mass, obviously the Scriptural Readings could only come from the Scrolls that the local Christian communities were able to acquire. Being much nearer to the time and place to where the scriptures originated the early Christians were able to understand much better than us what the sacred writings were meant to convey. They were familiar with the picturesque language used and would not be concerned with issues of a literal understanding of the texts that often bother us.
Second Sunday of Advent – 04.12.2016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: God loves the world. It is his creation. Everything that exists is precious to him because in mysterious ways he has brought everything into existence. One of our great tasks as human beings is to be stewards of God’s creation. We are meant to treasure and affirm one another and we are called to treasure and affirm the wonderful home God has provided for us. Because we have been falling down very seriously in reverencing and caring for God’s wonderful gifts to us our very environment is endangered. Generations who will come after us will inherit a very damaged world unless all of us urgently begin to change our ways. That is why for many decades various Popes have been alerting us to our responsibilities – most of all our present Pope. How we care for the earth is an important part of our Christian calling. Increasingly the United Nations has been mobilising political action.
The Paris Agreement is a legally binding commitment entered into by 113 countries to abide by the same rules in regard to protecting the environment and controlling the level of toxic emissions. This crucial Agreement was ratified in Marrakesh last month.
The U.S. President Elect, Donald Trump, is someone who believes in making his own rules. In spite of the U.S signing up, Mr Trump is threatening to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal. He has appointed as Head of his Environmental Protection Agency a man – Myron Ebell – who claims, like Trump himself, that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese! The good news is that it would take Trump four years to extricate America from the deal. There would also be a huge political and social backlash if he were to try to push through his climate change denial agenda. The only way he could speed up breaking up the Agreement would be to lead the United States out of the United Nations. This would make America a rogue state so even Trump might regard this as a step too far! He has begun to hint that he would ‘Keep an open mind’ about the Paris Accord. That is mighty decent of him. Let us hope that he is good at rowing backwards. In any case he would need to get the support of both Houses of Congress before pulling America out of the Accord. But undoubtedly there is a lot of support for exploiting American reserves of fossil fuel. Maybe we might hear the view of the Conference of Bishops of the United States on these matters. Or maybe we might not! Most Catholics who voted in the American Presidential election voted for Trump.
First Sunday of Advent – 27.11.016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Somebody passed on a little story to me and I would like to pass it on to you. I don’t know where it came from originally but I think it deserves to travel a long way!
In a mother’s womb there were two babies, one asked the other: ’Do you believe in life after delivery?’ The other replied: ‘Why, of course! There has to b e something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.’
‘Nonsense!’ said the first. ‘There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?’ The second said: ‘I don’t know but there will be more light than there is here. Maybe we will be able to use our legs to move about – and maybe we could use our mouth to drink and feed ourselves. Maybe we will be able to do many things that we cannot even begin to imagine now.’ The first replied: ‘This is absurd. Do you really think we could use our legs to walk? Walking is impossible. Have you ever seen anybody walk? And the idea of eating with our mouths is ridiculous. The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need for now. But this cord is so short that life after delivery will be impossible. The very idea makes no sense.’
The second insisted: ‘Well, I think that there is something there for us after delivery. Of course, it might be quite different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.’ The first replied: ‘Nonsense! If there is life after this, why has no-one ever come back from there to tell us? Delivery is the end of life and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It will be the end of the story.’
‘Well, I don’t think so,’ said the second. ‘After delivery, surely we will meet mother and she will care for us.’ The other replied: ‘Mother, you actually believe in mother! That is laughable. If mother exists, then where is she?’
The second said: ‘She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of her. It is in her that we live and move. Without her we would not – we could not – exist.’
The first said: ‘Well, I don’t see her. Surely I would be able to see her if she was around. So it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.’ To which the second replied: ‘Sometimes when I really listen, I can sense her presence and I can hear her loving voice calling down from above.’
34th Sunday of the Year – 20.11.2016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Why were Christians so widely persecuted in the early centuries when the Roman Empire was still pagan? One possible reason was that there were some people who just wanted more human bloodshed in their places of amusement – the circuses. But that by no means explains why Christians were singled out. Some learned people wrote about their fears of some corrupting forces at work within the Empire, undermining its traditional cultural values. Many intellectuals saw the Empire as the protector and defender of local gods and civic customs. The Jews and especially the Christians were seen as promoters of a dangerous sect. They were at odds with the wider society because they saw themselves as followers of a different God to the pagan gods and the spread of Christianity threatened the values of the rest of society. But the Christians did not reject Roman Rule. They protested their loyalty to the Emperor but they could not agree to take part in the worship of idols and Emperor Worship.
The persecution under the Emperor Decius around the year 250 AD was particularly severe. Nor did all Christians remain true to their faith. Quite a few fell away. But in the face of terrible punishment the strength and constancy of many Christians ensured that the Church survived and grew. But what of those who fell away – the lapsi as they were called. The persecutions of Decius were so systematic that hardly any Christians escaped the test – except the tiny minority who had the means to flee. The result was that there were very many more nominal apostasies. They remained Christian at heart and when the persecution abated many of them wished to return to the practice of the faith. The issue about the absolution of returned apostates was a burning question. Some people took a very strict position while others were more lenient. The Rigorist position was led by a Roman priest called Novation who saw it as his duty to seek to be elected as Bishop of Rome. He was opposed by a group in Rome who followed a more lenient procedure in reconciling the lapsi. These were led by a deacon called Cornelius who crucially was backed by the very influential Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian. Cornelius was elected Pope and so needed to be ordained a priest before becoming Bishop of Rome.
Novation was bitterly disappointed at not becoming Pope and with his followers he organised a church of his own and found three bishops to consecrate him Bishop of Rome. He hardened his position about the lapsi. Not only would he refuse them pardon but he denied that there was any possibility of their ever being pardoned, no matter what their sorrow, no matter how severe the reparation they made.
The new Pope Cornelius summoned a Council of Bishops at Rome. The teaching of Novation and his followers was condemned and they were expelled from the Church. But something of the spirit of Novation survived and he was able to organise a strong minority. The Novation Church had its hierarchy, its sacraments, its churches and its cemeteries. Its existence was legally recognised by the Emperor Constantine in 326 when he allowed the practice of Christianity. It lost its last church in Rome in 426 AD but in the East and in Africa it lasted even longer. The schism of Novation centred on one question: ‘Could the Church, in Christ’s name, absolve all sin?’
If returned apostates could not be reconciled to the Church, what kind of Church would it be? And if apostates were to be excluded, surely all kinds of other offenders could be excluded as well! The very nature of Christ’s salvation was at issue. Could we put boundaries to Christ’s love and forgiveness? We are still asking these questions today! But as we end The Year of Mercy we know his mercy has no end!
33rd Sunday of the Year – 13.11.2016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: A year ago the countries of the world hammered out the first international pact since 1992 to protect the planet. This is known as the Paris Agreement and it now has officially entered into force. The deal is signed and sealed and is legally binding. The landmark agreement required ratification by at least fifty-five countries representing at least fifty-five per cent of global greenhouse emissions.
The latest round of United Nations climate talks has begun in Morocco and will focus on reaching the ambitious climate goals that have been agreed and put on paper. Each country is now committed to the climate plan that they have adopted. This obliges the countries to work towards the temperature goals of the agreement. All nations are obliged to curb greenhouse gas emission in a way that will ensure that the rise in average global temperature is ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and as low as 1.5 degrees Celsius. As it currently stands the national pledges will not achieve this. It would limit the temperature rise to roughly three degrees C. But the countries that are committed to ratchet up their pledges every five years, beginning in 2020. 103 countries had ratified their agreement as of 9th November. That includes both the US and China. These two leading economies together represent thirty-eight per cent of global emissions and they jointly announced their agreement on 3rd September. Weeks later Brazil and India and Canada entered their ratification papers. Australia, Russia, the United Kingdom, much of Africa and most of the Middle East have yet to ratify the agreement signed by 195 nations last December.
The pace at which the Paris Agreement moved – from adoption in December, to signing by a record 175 countries in April to ratification six months later – was unprecedented for recent international agreements. No doubt this has been due to the widespread realisation of the urgency of the crisis. It is a clear signal that world leaders have the climate issue high on their agendas. From the perspective of the United States, another factor may have been the incentive to lock in the deal before a possible Trump presidency. The President elect has said that he would ‘cancel’ the Paris Agreement as he is of the opinion that global warming is a hoax manufactured by China. The gathering of world leaders in Marrakesh from 7th – 18th November is referred to as COP22. That reminds us how long these talks have been going on. COP22 means the 22nd Conference of Parties and the Conference is an annual event. Having agreed on what needs to be done the task now is to start getting things done.
A one-day consultation was held in Rome on 28th September focusing on COP22. Pope Francis said: ‘The climate change is a human problem. It is our problem so we should solve it. It produces poverty and misery in the world. That’s why I’m so worried about it.’ After the meeting he said: ‘How beautiful it would be to leave the world a better place than the way we found it.’ This Vatican event went beyond talking about what they wanted to see happening on the world stage. There were discussions on what is happening and what should be happening in our own churches. There was a discussion on how the connection between our faith and our care for creation could be emphasised in our Catholic school system.. How church funds are invested was discussed. Should we not refuse to invest in funds and practices that are neglectful of the environment? It was pointed out that the churches should take a lesson from the Paris Agreement and report on their own emissions and track progress in lowering them. The Church should also ensure that the Western World ‘hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.’
To illustrate the importance of paying attention to what is happening around us I think the following true story is instructive. A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC playing the violin on a cold January morning. For about forty-five minutes he played six Bach pieces while thousands went through the station at rush hour. After three minutes a man stopped for a few seconds to listen. A minute later a lady threw a dollar into the box without stopping. The one who paid him the most attention was a three year old boy but his mother tugged him along – but the boy looked back at the violinist. Several other children and their parents reacted in the same way as did the three year old boy and his mum. In the forty-five minutes only six people stopped for a while. About twenty gave him money but continued to walk at their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished no one noticed, no one applauded. There was no recognition. The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days earlier Joshua Bell sold out at a Boston Theatre and the seats averaged $100. The Washington Post arranged the event in the Metro Station as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priority of people. In a common place situation, at an inappropriate hour very few had a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the best music ever written on a superb instrument. How many things are we missing and with what results? As the great American golfer Ben Hogan said: ‘As you walk down the fairway of life you must smell the roses, for you only get to play one round.’
32nd Sunday of the Year – 06.11.2016
FATHER LIAM ASKS: What is a marriage annulment? It is a decision made by the Church or State that a marriage ceremony entered into by two people did not result in a true marriage. It is a finding therefore that the marriage was null and void – that for whatever reason something prevented the marriage from being valid.
People often say that Father X married them. We know what they mean but it is not true of course. It is the couple themselves, the man and the woman, the bride and bridegroom who marry one another. When the marriage is a sacrament – and not every marriage is a sacrament – it is the bride and groom who are the ministers of the sacrament. If they are not baptised, for instance, their marriage is not sacramental because we need to be baptised before we can celebrate or receive any other sacrament.
In any marriage – sacramental or otherwise – it is the consent of the parties – the promise they make to love each other without limits and forever – that makes them husband and wife. The Catholic understanding of marriage is that it is the living out in love of the promises that the couple make to each other on the day of the marriage. For that to happen the promises they exchange must be made freely. They need to understand what they are undertaking and they must be able to live out these promises – and they must want to do so. Much more is involved than just going through the ceremony!
Not everyone is able to enter a valid marriage at every stage of their life – or at all. There is a minimum that is required and that minimum is not a trifle. There are people who marry without an adequate understanding of what they are doing or of the commitment they are undertaking. Not everyone has the maturity that married lives require. A commitment to what is impossible for one is never valid. The Church understands marriage to be ‘a communion of life and love.’ Those entering marriage must have personal strengths and qualities to enter such a union.
Church and State have always accepted that marriage can be declared invalid or null. But the presumption is that the marriage is valid. When a request for a decree of nullity is made the party or parties making the claims must seek to establish that this is not so. Each diocese has a marriage tribunal to look at cases brought before it. This body examines whether the parties had sufficient understanding of what they were doing, whether they seriously intended to do it or whether they were able to live out these promises. It is not the task of the marriage tribunal to judge or blame people. Its purpose is to seek to determine if a marriage came into being when the couple exchanged their marriage promises.
Pope Francis issued an important document about a year ago dealing with marriage and family life. It is entitled – from its opening words –‘The Lord Jesus, the merciful judge.’ It contains a major reform of procedures regarding marriage annulments, which he believes will help in his own words ‘an enormous number of the faithful.’ He wants those who have experienced marriage breakdown to have easier access to justice and help them, more easily, to once again play a full part in the life of the Church. In some places tribunals are very difficult to access because of distance or cost of having to take time off work. He allows the bishop to take the place of the tribunal to bring justice closer to the people. The annulment process should be cost free and it should be quicker. In the past if the diocesan tribunal decided in favour of an annulment, a higher tribunal had to agree to its findings making the process even more costly, slow and anxious. Now that is no longer the case. An appeal only happens when the other party wants it. Even then when an appeal is regarded as a delaying tactic it can be dismissed.
To further help those who might be put off the idea of a tribunal Pope Francis has introduced a new initiative – a new ministry. A bishop can appoint somebody whose task it would be to meet with a person or couple whose marriage had broken down to help in the preparation of their application for a decree of nullity. This would make the process less intimidating and quicker. It is up to the bishops to provide this ministry in their dioceses. The new process is designed to make interviews shorter and easier for people and to give greater credibility to people’s testimony – unless there are indications to the contrary.
There are some who have been saying that the reform is inspired by ‘false’ compassion. Some believe that Pope Francis’ whole ministry is inspired by false compassion. I wonder why they don’t say the same about Christ’s ministry as revealed to us in the Gospel! Others say that these reforms have the potential to bring about great good and make a great difference to a great many people.
31st Sunday of the Year – 30.10.2016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: On 19th November Pope Francis will create seventeen new cardinals, thirteen of whom are under 80 years old and so will be able to vote in the next conclave. Cardinals under 80 are called electors as they are eligible – unless otherwise debarred – to cast their vote when it comes to electing a new Pope. Pope Francis is continuing to limit the number of cardinal-electors to one hundred and twenty, the number established by Pope Paul VI over forty years ago. Of course, if he wished, the Pope does not have to stick to that number but like Pope John Paul II and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Francis is content to leave it at 120. Interestingly there is no cardinal-elector as things stand for either Scotland or Ireland for the first time in many years, but England and Wales have Cardinal Nichols of Westminster.
Pope Francis has now selected thirty of the one hundred and twenty cardinal-electors that will one day appoint his successor. For the most part he has selected cardinals from countries or dioceses that have never had a cardinal before. In the past there were certain dioceses that nearly always had a cardinal as their bishop but Pope Francis wishes to make the College of Cardinals more international. In the not too distant past there were a highly disproportionate number of Italian cardinals, but that is changing rapidly.
Five of the new intakes are from countries that have never had a cardinal – the Central African Republic, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and Lesotho. Three others have come from dioceses whose bishops have never been made cardinals. This is similar to what he did in his consistory of February 2014 when he selected men from Cape Verde, Tonga, Burma and Panama.
One of the two new cardinals about to be created from dioceses in the United States is Archbishop Tobin of Indianapolis who headed a Congregation (or Department) in the Roman Curia under Pope Benedict. Some powerful figures in Rome felt that Tobin should have come down harder on some Religious Sisters in the United States whose stance did not appeal to some conservative bishops. Pope Benedict moved him out of his position heading the Department dealing with Consecrated Life. While at the Curia he fearlessly confronted the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith over the heavy-handed inquiry it had conducted into Religious Orders of women. When Pope Francis was elected he soon put an end to that nonsense and gave his full support to the Sisters. Francis was also very impressed with the way he welcomed displaced Syrians to his diocese in spite of the opposition of the Governor of Indiana who is Donald Trump’s candidate for Vice President.
In fact, what these new Cardinals have in common is that they are distinguished by their pastoral concern for the communities they serve. The youngest of the new College of Cardinals is 49! God willing, he will be an elector until 2047! He is the Archbishop of Bangui in war-torn Central African Republic. He came to the attention of the press for grappling with a knife-wielding militiaman who was threatening to kill a Muslim child. He has worked with other Christian leaders and Muslim leaders to bring about peace. Pope Francis visited the country about a year ago. The first serving Nuncio to be made a cardinal is the Papal Ambassador to Syria. While most western diplomats have long since fled that war-torn country Archbishop Mario Zanari has stayed put as a sign of Pope Francis commitment to the cause of the Syrian people.
Previously the youngest member of the College of Cardinals was the bishop of Les Cayes, the first Haitian cardinal in history. He was 55 when he was appointed in 2014. Haiti was perhaps the most impoverished country in the world – even before it was struck by the latest disaster. Pope Francis, in January 2014, wrote a letter to those he was about to create cardinals making it clear that there should be no lavish festivities to mark their election. In the past cardinals-to-be were sometimes accompanied to Rome by large numbers of friends from their home countries. By implication there was a message there for existing cardinals as well to embrace a simple life-style. I imagine that there will be no such letters on this occasion as everyone has got the message. And most of the new cardinals have been living this message all their lives.
30th Sunday of the Year – 23.10.16
FATHER LIAM SAYS: A little over 500 years ago the world was transformed as never before. Europe had discovered that the world was a far bigger place than ever imagined. So many European countries were, overtime, to gain control of vast territories. It was the beginning of the age of colonisation on a huge scale which, in the short term, brought immense wealth and influence to certain strata of the conquering powers. The Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, British and Belgians built huge empires with repercussions that are still with us. The Europeans were able not only to explore the world but to dominate it. The territorial conquests of those powers brought terrible suffering in their train. There was a price to be paid for the rising standard of living enjoyed by the privileged segments of the populations of the colonising nations from the sixteenth centuries onwards.
Spain’s fortunes were linked with the discoveries of Columbus. In 1498 AD, after some rather disappointing exploits, he began exploring what is now northern Venezuela. He came across locals wearing strings of pearls around their necks. He discovered a set of islands with astonishingly rich oyster beds. Sacks filled with pearls, ‘some as large as hazelnuts, very clean and beautiful’ were shipped back to Spain, generating fortunes for the captains and crews who brought them home. The pearl bonanza was followed by the discovery of gold and silver as they moved on to Central and Southern America where they came into contact with civilisations such as the Aztecs and the Incas. ‘The Indians’ as Columbus wrongly called them ‘do not have arms and are all naked and of no skills in arms and so cowardly that a thousand would not stand against three.’ They had watched with wonder at one banquet as Columbus showed them the accuracy of a Turkish bow and demonstrated the power of a Lombard cannon and of a spingard – a heavy gun capable of piercing armour. The new arrivals were proud of their instruments of death and disdainful of those whose territories they had violated. ‘They are fit to be ordered about and made to work, plant and do everything else that may be needed and build towns and be taught our customs’, Columbus wrote. From the beginning the local populations were identified as potential slaves and violence quickly became standard. On the island of Cuba in 1513 AD villagers who arrived to present the Spanish with gifts of food, fish and bread ‘to the limit of their larder’ were massacred ‘without the slightest provocation’ in the words of the dismayed observer. ‘I saw cruelty on a scale no living being has ever seen or expects to see’ wrote the Spanish friar Bartolomé de las Casas of his experiences in the earliest days of European settlement. He was writing a report designed to inform those back home of what was happening in the New World. What he saw was only the beginning as he wrote in his horrific account of the treatment of the ‘Indians’ in his ‘Historia de las Indias’.
The native populations in the Caribbean and the Americas were devastated. Within a few short decades of Columbus’ first voyage the numbers of the Taino people fell from half a million to little more than 2,000. This was in part due to ferocious treatment by those who began to style themselves as ‘conquistadors’ or conquerors. The indigenous population fell victim in large numbers to the diseases that were brought from Europe. The inhabitants of Tenochtitlan were decimated by highly contagious outbreaks of smallpox to which they had no resistance. Famine followed as agricultural production, for which they were largely responsible, collapsed. In Guatemala, again around 1520 AD, a severe epidemic of smallpox was followed by a deadly outbreak of measles.
Herman Cortés, whose expedition resulted in the death of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma and the collapse of the Aztec Empire, stopped at nothing to enrich himself. ‘I and my companions’ he told the Aztecs ‘suffer from a disease of the heart that can be cured only by gold.’ Cortés and his men seized the Aztec treasures, pillaging ‘like little beasts, each man utterly possessed by greed.’ Exquisite items were looted, including ‘necklaces of heavy gems, anklets of beautiful workmanship, wristbands … and the turquoise diadem that is the insignia of the ruler, reserved only for his use. They took everything.’
That was not enough. The nobility and priesthood of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, were massacred during a religious festival. The Spanish force went berserk, chopping off the hands of the drummers before attacking the crowd with spears and swords. The sea lanes to Europe now became thick with heavily laden ships from the Americas. Albrecht Dürer was stunned by the quality of the craftsmanship of Aztec treasures he saw exhibited in 1520 AD. ‘Nothing I have seen in all my days rejoiced my heart so much as those things.’ He says the objects he saw included a sun entirely of gold and a silver moon both six feet in width, marvelling ‘at the subtle ingenuity of the men in those distant lands who had created them.’
The Spanish King Charles V was also King of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia as well as of territories in Burgundy and the Low Countries. With unlimited funds flowing back across the Atlantic he was the dominant figure in European politics and was styled the Holy Roman Emperor. He was a nephew of Catherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII. Henry made himself a very powerful foe when he sought to sideline the niece of the powerful Emperor.
My thanks to Peter Frankopan, author of ‘The Silk Roads’
29th Sunday of the Year – 16.10.2016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: The territory now called Ukraine and Southern Russia was once ruled by the Khazars. They became increasingly prominent because of the military resistance they put up during the period of the great conquests following the death of Muhammad in 632 AD. So powerful were they that many other tribes amalgamated with them for protection. Byzantium – what remained of the Roman Empire – felt they were so important that early in the eighth century two marriage alliances were entered into between the ruling houses of Khazaria and Constantinople. Pressure from the Muslims on the Roman Empire’s Eastern frontier was acute so Christian Constantinople made these almost unprecedented alliances with the Steppe nomads. Rising levels of trade and long periods of stability transformed the fortunes of Khazar society. By the early ninth century there were sufficient Christians across Khazaria to merit bishops being appointed. There were also substantial Muslim populations. But in the middle of the ninth century the Khazaia people decided to become Jewish. How did that come about?
Around 860 envoys from Khazaria arrived in Constantinople and asked for preachers to be sent to explain the fundamentals of Christianity to them. ‘From time immemorial’, they said, ‘we have known only one God (that is Tengri) who rules over everything… Now the Jews are urging us to accept their religion and customs while on the other hand the Arabs draw us to their faith, promising us peace and many gifts.’ A delegation was dispatched led by the brothers Cyril and Methodius. Cyril has given his name to the alphabet – Cyrillic – which he devised for the Slavs. They stopped on the way to spend winter learning Hebrew in order to be able to debate with Jewish scholars who were also heading to the court of the Khazarian ruler known as the Khazan. In spite of the brilliance of the brothers in their debates with their Jewish and Muslim rivals they did not prevail.
A copy of the Khazan’s letter explaining his tribe’s conversion to Judaism survives. The Ruler had asked the Christians whether Islam or Judaism was the better faith. The Christian delegation said that Islam was certainly worse. He asked the Muslims whether Christianity or Judaism was preferable. They lambasted Christianity and said that Judaism was the less bad of the two. The Khazan ruler announced that he had reached a conclusion. Both had admitted that ‘the religion of the Israelites is better’, he said, so ‘trusting in the mercies of God and the power of the Almighty I choose the Religion of Israel, that is, the religion of Abraham.’ The change to Judaism is borne out by the change of burial practices at this time. Coins now bore the inscription: ‘Moses is the messenger of God’. This was not as provocative as it seems as Muslims and Christians would say Amen to that.
Jewish merchants were highly adept linguists. They appear to have travelled regularly to India and China returning with musk, aloe wood, camphor, cinnamon and other eastern products which they traded along a chain of ports and towns like Mecca, Medina and Constantinople as well as towns on the Tigris and the Euphrates. There was much contact between merchants of all faiths and of none. But their business was very often not fair trade. It was most horrible of all when it involved slavery. A very familiar form of greeting is ‘Ciao’ pronounced ‘chow’. Apparently the original spelling is Schiavo and the word comes from the Venetian dialect and it does not mean ‘hello’ – it means ‘I am your slave.’ The very word indicated how widespread slavery was in the Mediterranean world.
Venice was once a self-governing territory. Italy only became a united country about one hundred and fifty years ago. Long before then Venice was one of the great powers of the world. How it developed from an insignificant town in an unpromising lagoon at the northern point of the Adriatic into a dazzling, powerful city was down to the fact that its inhabitants were singularly successful at business. Its glorious churches and beautiful palaces were built on the proceeds of lucrative trading with the east. A major component of their business was the slave trade. As early as the second half of the eighth century, at the very dawn of its existence as a town, merchants from here became involved in selling men, women and children into captivity. It took time for trade to really take off, but a series of treaties drawn up a century later indicate how flourishing the business was. Other towns in Italy were threatened by the affluence of the Venetians so these treaties were the result of negotiations between the merchants of various towns. However, Venice did not pay much heed to treaties and they were soon selling people of neighbouring lands whether Christian or not.
Muslim slave traders were highly active in the Mediterranean. Men, women and children were brought from all over northern Europe to Marseilles. Some of these slaves came by way of subsidiary markets such as Rouen where Irish and Flemish slaves were sold on. Rome was another key slave-trading centre. In 776 AD Pope Hadrian condemned the sale of humans ‘to the unspeakable race of Saracens.’ He said some had boarded ships bound for the east voluntarily ‘having no other hope of staying alive because of famine and crushing poverty.’ Nevertheless ‘we have never sunk to such a disgraceful act’ of selling fellow Christians, he wrote, ‘and God forbid that we should.’
My thanks to Peter Frankopan, author of ‘The Silk Roads’
28th Sunday of the Year – 09.10.2016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: In the early centuries of Christianity, the Roman Empire was struggling with all kinds of attacks on its territories from peoples from beyond its borders. These used to be referred to as the Barbarian Invasions. How did the Church fare – outside of the Roman Empire.
The Barbarian Hordes threatened Persia as well and around 400 AD Persia and Rome formed a remarkable alliance. United by their common interest in repelling these invaders they built a massive fortified wall running for one hundred and twenty-five miles between the Caspian and Black Seas. This was to serve as a physical barrier between the ordered world to the south and the chaos to the north. It had thirty forts evenly spaced along its length and was protected by a canal fifteen feet deep and was manned by thirty thousand troops. It was the work of the Persians but Rome agreed to make regular financial contributions to its maintenance. As a sign of how deep was the desire for unity, the Emperor Honorius in Constantinople appointed the Shah of Persia to be the guardian of his son and heir. As far as Rome was concerned it was too late for walls as in 410 AD the Huns stormed and sacked Rome and spelt serious danger for the Eastern half of the Roman Empire.
In Persia the Church was about to experience one of its most far-reaching expansions in history. Christianity expanded rapidly into new regions without the iron fist of political power behind it. Deep in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula the spread of the faith was witnessed to by many martyrs and the King of Yemen became a Christian. A Greek-speaking visitor to Sri-Lanka in about 550 AD found a robust community of Christians, overseen by clergy appointed ‘from Persia’. Christianity even reached the nomadic peoples of the Steppes. Officials in Constantinople were offered hostages as part of a peace agreement and found that some had ‘the symbol of the cross tattooed in black on their foreheads.’ The officials asked how this had happened and were told that there had been a plague ‘and some Christians among them had suggested doing this and from that time their country had been safe’ (from the plague).
By the middle of the sixth century there were archbishoprics deep within Asia. Cities noted in recent times for being centres of conflict such as Basra, Mosul and Tigrit had flourishing Christian populations. Cities like Merv and Kashgar (an oasis town on the entry point to China) had archbishops long before Canterbury did. These were major Christian centres many centuries before the first missionaries reached Poland or Scandinavia. There were thriving Christian communities in Samarkand and Bukhara (in modern Uzbekistan) a thousand years before Christianity was brought to the Americas. Even in the Middle Ages there were many more Christians in Asia than there were in Europe. After all Baghdad is closer to Jerusalem than to Athens, while Teheran is nearer the Holy Land than is Rome. Christianity’s success in the east is often not realised.
The expansion of the Church owed much to the tolerance and good will of the Persian rulers. Meetings of the Church in the east began with prayers for the health off the Persian ruler. In the late sixth century the Shah helped to organise the election of a new Patriarch. He urged all the bishops in his realm to ‘come quickly…to elect a leader and a governor… under whose administration and leadership lie every altar and every church of our Lord Jesus Christ in the empire of the Persians.’ The Persian ruler had gone from being the persecutor of the Christians in Asia to being their champion.
Religious tolerance in Persia went hand in glove with economic growth. Massive irrigation programmes in Khuzestan and Iraq boosted agricultural production and wealth and trade flourished. But tensions between Christians and Jews also grew. The arrival of the Bubonic plague in 540 AD changed everything. It brought severe economic depression, Constantinople adopted an aggressive attitude to its neighbours, including Persia. The Turks were a growing power and Constantinople managed to offend them as well. Into all this mix came the birth of Islam
My thanks to Peter Frankopan and his book ‘The Silk Roads’
27th Sunday of the Year – 02.10.2016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Last week I was speaking about a Court case that took place a little over a hundred years ago that concerned rival claims to the ownership of the parochial house in my native parish of Knockanore. The housekeeper of the recently deceased parish priest, Miss Mary Power, claimed ownership of the house as the parish priest – having borrowed £300 from her to furnish a dowry for his niece – had signed over the house and lands (comprising 25 acres) to her. The newly appointed parish priest, Father Richard Casey, had gained possession of the property and claimed a legal right to do so as he was duly appointed parish priest. She sued him in a celebrated trial to secure his removal and to establish her legal right to the property. She accused him of organising a boycott against her resulting in her having to leave her home.
In evidence Father Casey denied instituting a boycott but in the interests of what he regarded as his legal right he took peaceable possession of the parochial house when it was vacated by Mary Power and asked that her registration of title to the property should be declared inoperative. Father Casey claimed that the recently deceased parish priest Father Tom Walsh – like his predecessors for the previous 64 years – had acquired the property as a trustee for the parish. Seeking to transfer it to private use was a breach of trust and did not give any rights of ownership to Miss Power. The Master of the Rolls agreed that if it was trust property it could not be assigned for a non-charitable purpose. Father Casey’s legal team pointed out that since 1907 by a matter of Catholic Church legislation all trust lands were vested in the bishop.
The legal team of Miss Power argued that as they read the deed, the premises was not a trust but the property of the parish priest. It appears that Father Walsh purchased the parochial house and land under one of the Land Acts of that period. He got approval from the parishioners at a public meeting but he purchased it in his own name. Subsequently he passed the property on to Miss Power as a means of settling his debt. Pressing the case against Father Casey that he has hassled her and caused her distress Miss Power cited the fact that when he was taking possession of the vacant property he marched to the house together with a large number of parishioners accompanied by a band! The Master of the Rolls found that no evidence had been given implicating Father Casey in any violence, intimidation or boycotting. In his opinion there was no question of aggravation or damages or anything of that sort. Miss Power’s legal team were happy with that finding and Father Casey left the witness box.
What remained to be settled concerned the fact that Father Casey had entered the premises and remained in occupation. Father Casey’s legal team stated that in regard to this, there were only two questions to be answered, a question of law and a question of fact. The question of law was whether a charitable trust attached to these premises. The question of fact was whether Miss Power acquired legal ownership either through actual or constructive notice. If there was no trust, that would be the end of the case. They proceeded to argue that there was a charitable trust. The Master of the Rolls said that the rights of successive ministers of a parish to reside in the dwelling house occupied by their predecessors was not before him for the first time. At one time he thought that the Land Purchase Acts might result in many such cases. This did not now seem to be the case as far as the Catholic Church was concerned. The celibacy of the clergy, he said, was doubtless a great protection against any attempt to divert houses or lands for church use to private purposes. Most people would wish that these residences should be used for a minister and his successors in the parish. It should not be left, as in this case it had been left, to the devotion, high principle and love of the church which was engrained on the character of most of her sons. But these good intentions, love of the church and high-mindedness were not sufficient to create, and impose upon an individual, a trust in the eye of the law. This situation was not confined to clergy only. In country places the doctor’s residence had been the doctor’s residence for generations. If an inquiry into the like of those persons were made it would, he feared, be found that the process by which one doctor succeeded another in these residences depended on generosity and good will.
Addressing the arguments of those whose parents and grandparents had carried loads of materials for the building of the house for the priest, the Master of the Rolls quoted from a school book of the time: ‘Jack has a horse and cart and can draw wood and stones in it.’ Alas their heroic efforts in the teeth of the Great Famine back in 1845 did nothing to prevent the property falling into private hands, 64 years later. Miss Power was the legal owner.
Father Casey promised that he would give up possession within a fortnight. He was shortly afterwards moved to another parish, perhaps in an effort to draw a line under the whole sorry chapter. A new Parochial House was built and a smaller plot of land was provided. The house at the centre of the whole controversy has been in ruins for the past fifty years and is shrouded from view by a clump of trees. The local children, I’m sure, know nothing of what caused such grief and scandal back then. They have enough of today’s variety to cope with.
As for Mary Power she seems to have been quickly reconciled to the community. Her married niece inherited the property and she lived there for about forty years. She had a son who was a contemporary of mine. In the early sixties they sold the property and settled in Cork, forty miles away. After a very brief period the house was never lived in again. A nephew of Mary Power became a priest in the Waterford Diocese.
Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year – 25.09.2016
FATHER LIAM SAYS: Who owns the house I live in? On the pier at the entrance to 37, Compton Avenue there is a little plaque bearing the words ‘The Priest’s House.’ We all know that it does not belong to any one individual. Nor does it belong to the Parish of English Martyrs. In English Law a Roman Catholic Parish is not recognised as a legal entity and therefore cannot legally own property. The legal owner of Catholic churches, presbyteries and halls that come under the jurisdiction of the local Bishop is the Diocese as the Roman Catholic dioceses are recognised as legal bodies. So the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton owns 37, Compton Avenue as far as the law of the land is concerned.
My native parish of Knockanore in the Diocese of Waterford was very confident that they owned the house and land that successive parish priests had occupied from 1844 – 1908, a period of sixty-four years. Rural parishes in Ireland often had a substantial amount of land attached to the presbytery as the priest needed a horse to get around a scattered parish – and perhaps a cow to furnish him with milk. These animals needed hay and oats and grass and shelter so a little farm was often provided. Attached to the presbytery in Knockanore were twenty-five acres of arable land. There were three churches in the parish.
In January 1909 a new parish priest was appointed to Knockanore as the previous parish priest, Father Thomas Walsh, had died the previous November. The new priest was Father Richard Casey who found to his dismay that
the presbytery was occupied by the housekeeper of the previous parish priest, Miss Mary Power, who claimed that she was the owner of the property. She did tell Father Casey that he could live there for the time being, until he could find other lodgings. He refused her offer saying that as parish priest he had a right to live there – a right that he would pursue. He then found temporary lodgings elsewhere in the parish until the matter could be resolved.
Shortly afterwards Father Casey called a meeting of the parishioners telling them of the turn of events. They advised him to have another meeting with Mary Power. She told him that Father Walsh had signed over the house and lands to her in 1899 and they were now registered in her name. In that year the niece of Father Walsh was getting married and needed a substantial dowry. Father Walsh had not the means to oblige her so he borrowed £300 from his housekeeper. In return, by a conveyance dated 21st November 1899 Mary Power was granted the property. Father Casey asked for proof that she had given the money to Father Walsh and she showed him the receipt to that effect. She also showed him the document showing that the property was registered in her name early in November 1908 – nine years after the date of the conveyance between her and Father Walsh. By the time of the registration Father Walsh was on his death bed – he died on 15th November. Father Casey insisted that it was the parochial house and he would make sure that she knew that and the people would also let her see that. Shortly after this interview Mary Power consulted her solicitor with a view to negotiating the sale of the premises for the sum of £800. The parish was willing to offer her £400. This offer was refused by Mary Power and her solicitor as being inadequate. Following on this about a hundred parishioners called on her with the object of trying to get her to hand over the house to Father Casey as the parochial house. She declined to interview them, suggesting that they should see her solicitor.
Mary Power had two employees – one to help with the housework and one to work on the farm. Now she could find no one to work for her. Nor would the local shopkeeper deal with her. She felt ostracised and boycotted so she left the house and took lodgings in Yougal – ten miles away. With the property vacated, Father Casey and a number of parishioners gained entry to the house. Upon hearing this Mary Power arrived the following day with a hatchet to break in the door. There were six or seven men inside so she had to withdraw. Now she took legal action to regain possession of the property and to put an end to the trespass – as she saw it – of Father Casey occupying it without her consent and using it as his residence. The court had to decide who owned the property.
In 1844 the local landlord granted the land to the then parish priest and paid £300 to a Youghal contractor to build a parochial residence. As part of the deal the parishioners supplied the stones, sand and gravel and drew all these materials to the site. In the following years assessments were made on the parishioners for the upkeep of the property which they paid without any hassle. None of the parish priests during this period of sixty-four years paid any fee to the landlord or anybody else. By right of being appointed as parish priest by the Bishop they occupied the house and land for the duration of their term of office. Could Father Walsh legally sign away the property to another? You cannot give away something that does not belong to you. Hence the court case.
The court proceedings went on a long time. It was a ‘cause célèbre’. When I was a child the old people of the parish often spoke of it. Many of their fathers and uncles told the court that they had brought sand and stones and gravel in their horse-drawn carts for the building of the parochial house at the very time when the Great Famine was stalking the land. Would the landlord have given twenty-five acres of good land and financed the construction of a splendid house if he did not intend them for permanent parochial use? How could they be legally fritted away by a stroke of Father Walsh’s pen to secure a dowry for the niece of a parish priest? The Diocese of Waterford undertook to pay the legal costs involved in defending the case, which would be substantial. Could they lose?
Older editions of Fr Liam says can be found at frliamsays.blogspot.co.uk