Category Archives: Spiritual

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini

As we come to the fourth Sunday of Lent, change is coming. We look up from our penitential practice, to the horizon. Rose-coloured vestments suggest the dawning light of the Easter morning. We sing benedictus qui venit… (blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord) with a fresh anticipation. Though Lent is not over — we have three weeks yet! — we have made it halfway. If we have not been as disciplined as we had hoped, here is an opportunity to make a fresh start. With the Lord, it is never too little, too late.

Just as the father received back his son, the one who had squandered everything and debased himself; just as the father welcomed and forgave the older son who sulked, so also he holds his arms open to us. Whatever we have done or failed to do this Lent, now we can put it behind us and, even in the midst of Lent, try again. Now, as ever, we depend not on our own merits, but on God’s abundant mercy. He waits for us, with a patience that is unimaginable.

As we return to him, as we are called to do especially in Lent, we begin to receive the joy that will be ours on Easter morning. So let us unite ourselves to the one ‘who comes in the name of the Lord’ now in our penitence, that come Easter we may be found in him, rejoicing.

Part of a series by Medi Ann Volpe

Heaven and earth are full of your glory

The glory of God might seem an odd topic for reflection during Lent. After all, we omit the Gloria at Mass, and we direct our attention to the Lord’s temptation and his passion. But the Sanctus reminds us, week by week — even during Lent — that ‘heaven and earth are full of [God’s] glory’. We don’t always recognize that glory: it is hidden. As John’s gospel tells us: ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father’ (1.14). Jesus makes God known to us; all the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell—hidden—in Christ. Peter, James and John glimpsed that glory at the transfiguration of the Lord. They learned to see in Jesus, even after his brightness subsided, the radiance of divine glory. So also we learn to see the world differently as the eyes of our hearts are trained by faith: to see Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, for example; or to see his face in the faces of the poor and the marginalized.

Learning to see in this way does not give way to full vision, however. The mystery of God’s presence in the world is like the mystery of the Incarnation itself. How does God become human without eliminating or overriding the human? The Old Testament reading from today gives us a way in to contemplating the mystery: Moses encounters a bush that burns, but is not consumed. So also God’s presence with us and in us throughout creation enlivens and enlightens us, but does not consume us. Only that which is incompatible with God’s presence (that is, sin) cannot survive the coming of the Lord. The flame of God’s holiness burns in us—as in the burning bush—but all it consumes is sin.

As we sing ‘pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua’ (‘heaven and earth are full of your glory’), let’s remember that ‘caeli et terra’ includes us. We strive for holiness in the hope that the glory of God may one day be revealed in us as well.

Part of a series by Medi Ann Volpe

The Holiness of the Lord

The scene that follows the announcement ‘holy, holy, holy’ is dramatic: ‘the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke’. Isaiah’s response is not worship, as we might expect. Instead, he exclaims, ‘Woe is me!’ Seeing the holiness of the Lord makes Isaiah aware of his own lack of holiness, and fearful: ‘a man of unclean lips’ should not (he thinks) behold ‘the King, the Lord of hosts’. God’s glory shows up all that is unworthy about us. Similarly Peter, in the gospel reading from a few weeks ago, responds to the miraculous catch of fish: ‘Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man’. Beholding the greatness of the Lord brings about a new, and unsettling, revelation of our own lack of sanctity. The response from on high is not judgement, however, but comfort. One of the seraphim brings a burning coal from the altar, touches Isaiah’s lips with it, and announces, ‘Behold…your guilt has been taken away, and your sin forgiven’. Likewise Jesus reassures Peter (in the same words the angel used to put Mary at ease): ‘Do not be afraid.’

Contemplating the holiness of God ought to make us mindful of the ways we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This is not the way into condemnation, though, but the door to forgiveness and new life. For both Isaiah and Peter, the recognition of his own unworthiness marks the beginning of a career (if we may call it that) in the service of God. Isaiah accepts the invitation to take God’s word to the people of Israel, and Peter becomes that rock on which the Church is built. Our own careers of discipleship may be less dramatic, but God nevertheless promises to draw us near and involve us in the real drama—the drama of our redemption and that of the whole world. We need not ask whether we are worthy; we need only allow God to make us so.

Part of a series by Medi Ann Volpe

‘With angels and archangels’: the Sanctus

seraphDuring Lent, we direct our attention to the holiness of God more than at any other time of year. Not only that: we strive to imitate that holiness. One of the ways the Church has called the holiness of God to our minds comes from the sixth chapter of Isaiah: the prophet sees the seraphim, who call out to one another: ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’

The acclamation has been a part of the Church’s liturgy since the early part of the fifth century, though it was probably in use from even earlier times. (The Benedictus qui venit… was attached to the acclamation very early, and in future weeks we will look more closely at it.) For example, St Augustine would recognize the Latin text we sing, although the traditional Gregorian plainchant would not have been familiar to him. (What we rightly consider ancient—dating from the 8th century and widespread by the 11th—had not yet been developed in Augustine’s day!)

It is not just the antiquity of the text that ought to inspire us, however. The inclusion of the Sanctus in the Roman canon in the 5th century brought in the idea ‘that by joining the angels in their song we participate in the heavenly liturgy’ (Enrico Mazza, The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite, p. 48). And this provides an important clue to the means by which we imitate the Lord’s holiness; by participation.

All our Lenten practices—prayer and giving, and giving up—do not work magic on their own. Rather, by them we join ourselves to the Lord’s suffering. It is his passion and death that worked for our salvation, and in his resurrection that we are raised to new life. So in all that we do this Lent, our aim is to make more space for our Lord, so that we can say with the apostle Paul, ‘it is no longer I who live, but he who lives in me.’ When we attend to the presence of God among us and in us, and we participate in him as he dwells in us, holiness will be ours as well.

Part of a series by Medi Ann Volpe.

Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving

fasting-ash-wednesday-2015-4

An early Easter this year means an early Lent… and a timely shift to a penitential mode. Once again, in the words of the Collect for Ash Wednesday, we take up the “weapons of self-restraint” in our “battle against spiritual evils”: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Perhaps these weapons have been sitting in a spiritual cupboard for a while; it’s now time to get them out and dust them off!

In Lent we lift up our hearts and minds to God in more intense prayer: as well as our own private prayer, why not make an effort to get to Mass or Divine Office during the week? During Lent there will also be Vespers and Stations of the Cross from 6:15pm each Friday.

Lent is a time we practise fasting: the Church requires those aged 18-58 to fast on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday, though many extend that to other days in Lent (e.g to CAFOD’s Lent Fast Day, coming up on Friday 19 February). Fasting means having just one modest meal per day, with two light “collations” to keep us going, but no snacks! Those aged 14+ are also required to practise abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays throughout the year. During Lent we offer a simple soup lunch after the Friday 12:15pm Mass, which enables us to observe this small penance together.

Fasting and abstinence remind us of our dependence on God’s providence, but also our obligations to those less fortunate than ourselves: that is, our practice of almsgiving. What we save through more modest eating, and ideally more besides, can be used to combat poverty both at home and abroad. As a parish and chaplaincy community we continue to support CAFOD, and more locally NEPACS working with prisoners’ families; but there are many other ways that each of us can help in need, by giving money, time or talents.

Through all these observances may we be bound closer together as a community, closer too to our brothers and sisters in need, and above all closer to God, as we prepare for the annual commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection.

And, especially in the Year of Mercy, may we make good use of the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) in the coming penitential season; confession is available from 6:30pm on Wednesdays except Ash Wednesday, from 9:45am on Saturdays, by appointment or usually on call.

Prayer for Peace

Hear my voice,
for it is the voice of victims
of all wars and violence
among individuals and nations.

Hear my voice,
for it is the voice of all children
who suffer and will suffer
when people put their faith
in weapons and war.

Hear my voice
when I beg you to instill
into the hearts of all human beings
the wisdom of peace,
the strength of justice
and the joy of fellowship.

Hear my voice,
for I speak for the multitudes
in every country and in every period of history
who do not want war
and are ready to walk the road of peace.

Hear my voice
and grant insight and strength
so that we may always respond to hatred with love,
to injustice with total dedication to justice,
to need with the sharing of self,
to war with peace.

O God, hear my voice
and grant unto the world
your everlasting peace. Amen

A prayer for peace by John Paul II that can be used to pray for an end to the war in Syria and for peace for the Syrian Refugees fleeing violence.

Septuagesima Sunday

PeterInPenitenceAlthough little noted in our contemporary liturgical observance, Septuagesima Sunday once marked an important point in the Church’s year. In the middle ages, some religious began the Lenten fast at Septuagesima, not forty days but up to seventy (as the word indicates) days before Easter. Before Lent properly began, there was a ‘little Lent’, a time of preparation for the penitential season. Even though we no longer observe this ‘little Lent’, there are good reasons at least to mark the day. My attention was drawn to the Church’s bygone practice in a homily I heard a few years ago, which has shaped my attitude to Lent (and in good measure to the spiritual life more generally). Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, but the mode of our preparation is not prescribed with rigorous detail. (More to come on what is specifically asked of the faithful during Lent.) We choose to give up things we enjoy, or take on things which will challenge us.

Marking Septuagesima Sunday gives us a chance to consider prayerfully how we ought to observe Lent. Waiting until Ash Wednesday to make our minds up won’t prepare us adequately for this important period in the liturgical year and in our own spiritual lives. Nor ought we to regard our Lenten observance along the lines of New Year’s resolutions, which once blown tend to be tossed aside until next year. We may well stumble in our striving for true penitence. But God’s grace abounds during Lent, and we are invited to get up and try again, as many times as we fail. So we can take on something that is a challenge, something we are not certain we can do. Still, struggling through Lent, depending on God’s grace, might be just the right way to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s victory (which is also our own) at Easter.

Part of a series by Medi Ann Volpe

Resurrection of the Dead

pascha-01The creed concludes by directing our attention to our own end: we ‘look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’. Maybe by the time we get to the last line, our attention has moved on to the next part of the Mass, or even to what’s for Sunday lunch. Or maybe the repetition week by week has dulled our perception of its oddity. The resurrection of the dead? The life of the world to come? However often we say these things, and however much we might know about the Church’s teaching on resurrection and new life, the future remains ultimately mysterious: we believe, but we do not grasp these things.

Yet remembering our end is of critical importance: even the New York Times advises us to do so. In a recent article Arthur Brooks advised readers to bear their death in mind in order to live a more fulfilling life. (This week our mortality has been brought into incredibly sharp focus, too, by the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman.) Rather than making us more gloomy, he says, remembering the transitory nature of our life heightens our capacity for humour and joy. Not only that: Brooks suggests that concentrating on the ‘scarcity of time’ can help us to choose our pastimes more consciously, focusing on those things that bring real satisfaction (and those listed include prayer and worship) over those that merely distract us.

The op-ed section isn’t the place I would usually turn for spiritual guidance. In this case, though, Brooks points to something we ought to know: that growth in our spiritual life requires a form of attention that directs us to our ultimate end. For his readers, death is the end. We look forward to something else: the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Contemplating this mystery forms a crucial part of the practice of Christian life, and bathes our ordinary experience in everlasting light.

Part of a series by Medi Ann Volpe

Dry January? The feast goes on…

Baptism of ChristIt has been a damp start to 2016, with the Wear breaking its banks in Durham, and far worse further afield. So perhaps it is not the best year for Alcohol Concern‘s annual “Dry January” campaign.

The thinking behind the campaign is excellent. Christianity, like many religious traditions, recognises the need for tempering periods of feasting with periods of abstinence. This is good for personal and public health, both physically and spiritually.

Christianity is rather out of step with the world, though, on its feasting and fasting. The High Street celebrated Christmas from early autumn; we didn’t begin Christmas until 24 December. The secular party was over within days of that, and talk is now of recovery; for us Christians the party is very much still on. We are still celebrating the manifestation of Christ’s divinity in this time of Epiphany: last Sunday, to the Magi; this Sunday at his Baptism; and next Sunday at the Wedding at Cana. Our crib will remain in place until Candlemas, 2 February.

Of course we will fast, abstain and do penance when we get to Lent… but Ash Wednesday isn’t for another month. In the meantime, we should not let the return to work, to school or to university, be a mere resumption of dry drudgery. Instead, we take the festal joy of the coming of our Saviour into the world of our daily lives. Like the Prophet we continue to shout joyfully on the mountain, “Here is your God!” (Isaiah 40:9).

Prayer of Pope Francis for the Jubilee

Merciful like the Father (Year of Mercy)Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father, and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him. Show us your face and we will be saved. Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured Paradise to the repentant thief. Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father, of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy: let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified. You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing, so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord, and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind.

We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

The eternally begotten Son

TheotokosLast week we focused on the eschatological dimension of our faith in Christ – its relation to the end of this world. As Advent begins, we turn to the identity of Jesus as the eternally begotten Son of God.

During Advent we prepare for the feast of the Nativity. According to the Catechism, by this preparation we share in Israel’s long expectation of the messiah, and renew our own desire for Christ’s second coming (CCC 524). Our participation in the hope of Israel has an added dimension: we look not merely for the one who will restore the kingdom to Israel, but for the one who will reconcile humanity to God and so restore all of creation. The One whose birth we celebrate and whose return we anticipate is not a human king, but the eternally begotten Son of God, who is God: ‘God from God, light from light, true God from true God.’ The creed could not be clearer about the divinity of Jesus Christ.

The Creed helps us to consider this mystery and to meditate on it – an important practice for all Christians in a context in which our faith can be elbowed aside by the cultural expectations of gifts and party food. Although some of the advertisements encourage good works consistent with Christian faith — to be generous to those in most need, and to look toward the poor and neglected — the words of the creed draw us back to the foundations of our faith. Our concern for others is not a response to the evocative images set around us in the media but is an integral aspect of our
grateful response to the eternally begotten Son ‘who came down from heaven’ to save us. He himself is the gift for which we should long; he is the treasure of our hearts to be shared with others.

Part of a series by Medi Ann Volpe

And his kingdom shall have no end

Christ the KingThe creed answers the question, ‘who is Jesus?’ from three angles. First, the creed tells us who Jesus is from eternity: Son of the Father Almighty. But unlike human sons, who are like and unlike their fathers, Jesus is of the Father’s being, like the Father in every way. He is fully God.

The second angle is historical: we declare that Jesus was born, suffered, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven. In this, the briefest of narratives, we affirm what Jesus did for us and for our salvation.

The solemnity of Christ the King invites us to consider Christ from the third angle, the eschatological, that is, with reference to the end (ta eschata are “the last things” in Greek). This phrase in the creed quotes Luke 1:33 and Isaiah 9:7 to assert that even though Jesus will hand the kingdom – that is his people – to the Father, and even though God will be “all in all” as 1 Cor 15:28 tells us, Christ will continue to reign with the Father, united with his Body the Church in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

But Christ the king is also judge of his Body and of all humanity, and “judge” can be a fearful image. Our fear should only ever be a holy fear, though, not a terror. When Peter, in his boat full of fish, recognised Christ, he exclaimed, ‘Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ Yet Jesus responded to Peter’s admission of sin with mercy, and called Peter to be his disciple. So also Jesus reveals us to ourselves even as he is revealed to us, and as he spoke to Peter he speaks to us as well: ‘Fear not.’ As we say the creed today, let us do so in confidence of his mercy and his power. Faithful is he who calls us, and he will lead us into his glory.

Part of a series by Medi Ann Volpe

One God, the Father Almighty

Baptism of the LordTaken in isolation, reference to the all-powerful God might be frightening rather than comforting. After all, in the contemporary world power is suspect, and absolute power all the more so. But God’s power is not corruptible, and it cannot be considered in isolation from three truths about the divine.

Firstly, the one in whom we believe, ‘God, the Father Almighty,’ is the Lord who is slow to anger and rich in mercy, near to the brokenhearted, and the saviour of all those who are crushed in spirit. God is love — boundless love that surpasses all we can imagine. Secondly, the power of the Almighty is the power of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We have seen this power: Jesus shows us the Father (John 14.8-10). He shows us compassion and love, and he makes use of the divine power in laying down his life and taking it up again, for our sake. God’s power comes to us in the eternal mercy this Father shows his eternal Son.

Finally, ‘Almighty’ means that God’s power is unique, unrivalled and beyond our comprehension. The emphasis on the oneness of this God in the creed reflects a theme Christians inherited from their Jewish origins (Deut 6.4), and it shows us that above and beyond all power in this world is that of the Father Almighty. But this power is something that exceeds our capacity to imagine. The greatness of this power is in its ability to love and to give life without loss, to create and recreate. Yet, far from being a stony and distant strength, the almighty power of God has drawn near to us in Christ and remains with us in the Holy Spirit. As nothing exists that could challenge the Almighty, that makes us very safe indeed.

Part of a series by Medi Ann Volpe

Hope and rebuild

It is providential that the readings for Remembrance Sunday this year speak of two widows: the Sidonian widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:10-16) and the widow putting two copper coins into the temple treasury (Mark 12:41-44).We do not know how these two women came to be widows: it may or may not have been through warfare. But certainly we know the immense human cost of war through the ages on those who are made widows and orphans. How should the Christian respond to such tragedy?

The stories of these two widows perhaps give us some guidance. The Sidonian widow, bereaved and believing that starvation is just round the corner, shares what little she has with the Prophet Elijah and receives from him a message of hope from the Lord for the future. In the face of warfare we must continue to hope for a better future, both in this world and the world to come.
The widow at the temple gives “all she had to live on” to the temple; we too should give our all for the building up of God’s temple: not so much the physical edifice, but the communion of faith, charity and peace which is the Church. After the destruction of war, we rebuild for a peaceful and faithful future.

We hope, and we rebuild: and thus show a world of despair and destruction a better way.

Saints in the Creed

Most of what the Creed says is about God: we say, “I believe in one God”, and then say lots of things about that God in whom we believe.

But the Creed also relates these truths about God to humanity. It emphasises that what Jesus does is “for us men and for our salvation” and “for our sake”. And it ends by recognising our “baptism for the forgiveness of sins”, our “resurrection from the dead” and our “life of the world to come”.

The Creed may be mostly about God, but it is for humanity. We are sinners who need the forgiveness of baptism. Conscious of the mortality of our bodies, we look forward to resurrection. Recognising that this world is finite and imperfect, we hope for the next.

That hope is expressed in a special way this week. On All Saints’ Day, 1 November, we joyfully celebrate those whom Christ has made holy: those countless people, most of whose names have been forgotten by us, who nevertheless show us the way to God through their prayer and example. They show us hope. Then, on All Souls’ Day, 2 November, we show hope by praying for those others who have died in Christ still needing to be purified in order to come to the fullness of holiness.

The Creed expresses the faith of the whole Church, those who have passed beyond this life as well as those still walking this earth. As we remember them all in coming days, may the whole of the Church be bound ever closer together in expression of the unchanging faith.

Why do we need Creeds?

Council of NicaeaWhen we say the creed each Sunday, we proclaim the faith into which we were baptized. Although we are not entirely certain where creeds come from, we know that catechumens in the early Church had to learn answers to a series of questions about the core beliefs of the Church. They repeated these publicly as part of their baptismal ceremony to attest to their belief. Creeds may have originated in part as a condensed version of these answers, and would have varied locally (one of the most famous surviving examples is known to us as The Apostles’ Creed – it was actually the local creed used in Rome). The Council of Nicaea produced a Creed in 325 and later in the same century the Council of Constantinople (381) produced another which it said expressed the faith of Nicaea, and it is this we use today. Bishops had to sign up to this creed when they were ordained, and gradually, over many decades it came to be used in the liturgy and in catechesis.

Catechumens professing the faith at their baptism did need to have a basic grasp of the creed, but not perhaps for the reason you might think. Gregory of Nyssa, a bishop who was present at the council of Constantinople, worried that a false conception of the Trinity would undermine the Christian at the very beginning of his or her new life in Christ. Why? Not because we have to understand in order to for God to save us, but because we do develop ideas about God in our imaginations. The ideas in the creed help us to develop our faith, hope, and love. Doctrine is not a barrier to keep out those who have difficulty comprehending it (such as children, for example, whom Jesus said we ought to be like), but a gift to keep our imaginations faithful.

Part of a series on the Creed by Medi Ann Volpe

The Creed

Have you ever wondered why we say the creed each Sunday? The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that ‘Communion in faith needs a common language of faith, normative for all and uniting all in the same confession of faith’ (CCC 185). The creed is a gift, and an essential part of what constitutes us as a community. When we say the creed, we accept the gift of faith that is the Church’s faith, and we put our trust in the One she names as Lord and Saviour. 

Do we need to understand every word of it in order to proclaim it? No. A child learns to say ‘I love you’ long before she really grasps what love is, and yet she speaks truly. So also we say ‘I believe’ as we grow in understanding of the commitment we make together. Nor do we come to understand it in the order in which we speak it. We may feel we grasp more clearly the statements of the second article of the creed, those which remind us of the narrative of Jesus’ incarnation, life, passion, death and resurrection—and so we should. The tender love and compassion of ‘God the Father Almighty’ who might seem rather distant as ‘maker of heaven and earth’ shows forth in all its gentleness and forbearance in the life of Christ. 

The creed offers us a chance, week by week, to meditate upon the faith we have received, and to make it our own.

This is the first in a series of thoughts on the Creed by Medi Ann Volpe.

A 16th-Century Rule of Life

Above all things love God with thy heart.

Desire his honour more than the health of thine own soul.

Take heed with all diligence to purge
and cleanse thy mind with oft confession,
and raise thy desire or lust from earthly things.
Be you houseled with entire devotion.

Repute not thyself better than any other persons,
be they never so great sinners,
but rather judge and esteem yourself most simplest.
Judge the best.

Use much silence,
but when thou hast necessary cause to speak…

Banish from thee all grudging and distraction,
and especially from thy tongue. And pray often…

Resort to God every hour…

Show thyself a sore enemy to vice,
and sharply reprove all vile and reprobrious words
and deeds that be not honest.

Be not partial for favour, lucre, not malice,
but according to troth, equity, justice and reason.

Be pitiful unto poor folk and help them to thy power,
for there you shall greatly please God.

Give fair language to all persons
and especially to the poor and needy.
Also be easy and diligent in giving of alms.
In prosperity be meek of heart and in adversity patient.

And pray continually to God
that you may do that which is his pleasure.

Also apply diligently the inspirations of the Holy Ghost,
whatsoever thou have therein to do.
Pray for perseverance.
Continue in dread and ever have God afore thine eye.

Renew every day thy good purpose.
What thou hast to do, do it diligently.
Stablish thyself alway in well-doing.

If by chance you fall into sin, despair not,
and if you keep these precepts
the Holy Ghost will strengthen thee
in all other things necessary,
and this doing you shall be with Christ in heaven,
to whom be given laud, praise and honour everlasting.

from the Rule of Life collected by Bl Adrian Fortescue. Bl Adrian, a member of the Lay Fraternity of St Dominic at Oxford, died a martyr at the Tower of London on 8 or 9 July 1539.

Laudato si’

St Francis of Assisi

Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, [Saint Francis] burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.

from Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato si’, 24 May 2015

Sacraments of Initiation

By happy coincidence we are celebrating this week all three sacraments of initiation. Both on Sunday 14 and 21 June we will celebrate the sacrament of baptism, by which a new member enters into the Church.

On Friday 19 June at St Joseph’s Church, Mill Lane, Gilesgate, Bishop Séamus will celebrate a Mass for Confirmation of teenagers from the Durham Parishes, including two members of our own congregations. The candidates will receive the Holy Spirit anew and be strengthened for their role and mission as adult Christians.

And at the 10:00am Mass here at St Cuthbert’s on Sunday 14 June we celebrate the first participation in Holy Communion of two of our children.

This Sunday we finally return to the green of Ordinary Time after the long cycle of Lent and Easter, followed by the great feasts of the Most Holy Trinity and the Body and Blood of Christ. We use green as a sign of the vitality and fruitfulness that there is in the Church throughout the year, and these infants, children and teenagers are signs to us of the growth of God’s kingdom.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is like a man who throws seed on the land. “Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know” (Mark 4:27). The seed of faith is sown in baptism, strengthened in confirmation and nourished in the eucharist. We give thanks for the gifts of these sacraments and pray especially this week for those who receive them: that their faith may continue to grow and that they may be an example to us all, all year round.