Fr Liam says

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.

cross anchorAfter 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’.

TANGMALANGALOO
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?

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