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THE CROWNING OF INNOCENCE AND SIMPLE FAITH

Two illiterate peasant children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, were with their cousin Lucia dos Santos when “a Lady-Shining-More- Brightly-Than-The-Sun” appeared to them six times between 13th May and 13th October 1917.

Francisco and Jacinta both died young of influenza, the so-called Spanish Flu. Francisco died when he was 10 years old (1919), Jacinta when she was 9 years old (1920).

Both were beatified at Fatima in the year 2000 by Pope St. John Paul II.

Both are to be canonized at Fatima on Saturday 13th May by Pope Francis.

Sister Lucia died in her discalced Carmelite convent at Coimbra on 13th February 2005 aged 97. The cause for her eventual beatification has been opened.

Like Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta were remarkable in ways perhaps not always understood or admired by the secular world. They were innocent, uneducated, of great simplicity of soul, modest, plain, and unassuming.

Although present at all the apparitions, the two younger children did not hear everything that the Lady said to Lucia. Nor did they themselves speak with her. Lucia saw her, heard her, and conversed with her. Francisco and Jacinta saw her.

The plain marble slabs on their tombs at Fatima simply record their names: Francisco Marto to whom our Lady appeared. Jacinta Marto to whom our Lady appeared.

At the last apparition on 13th October 1917 the Lady finally identified herself: “I am the lady of the rosary”.

That same day was also the occasion of the so-called ‘miracle of the sun’. Something resembling a shining metal disk spun and ‘danced’ across the sky while emitting rays of variously coloured light. The spectacular display lasted for eight minutes and was seen by a crowd of 70,000 people.

The bishop at the time clarified that the miracle, though real, was not an astronomical phenomenon, i.e. it was not the actual sun which danced. (If the sun had truly left its place in the firmament, this world and indeed the whole solar system would have been wrecked.)

Various other phenomena of high strangeness occurred at all the Fatima apparitions. They are certainly intriguing, but for us the message which the Lady gave to the children is of course far more important than the accompanying phenomena.

The prophetic message of Fatima includes the following primary motifs: the real possibility of eternal damnation; the need for prayer, penance, and reparation; the errors which Russia would spread throughout the world; devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; daily recitation of the rosary to obtain peace in the world; the ongoing martyrdom of the Catholic Church.

The above is only a brief outline of the essence of Fatima. The full story is more detailed and complex.

The Lady’s prophecies have been authenticated by verifiable  historical events, past and present.

The ongoing martyrdom of the Church (what was once known as the Third Secret) is even more evident now in this century than in the 20th century.

It is abundantly clear that Russia has not yet been converted. (N.B. Lucia repeated what she had been told about Russia spreading her errors throughout the world without knowing that the word ‘Russia’ was a country. Initially she assumed that “Russia must be a very wicked lady”.)

It is also painfully clear that we still await the promised eventual triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

                                                                                I.H.

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DID NOT OUR HEARTS BURN WITHIN US

The encounter with Christ which was granted to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus was certainly one of high strangeness. It seems incredible that they did not at first recognize Him. If one of our nearest and dearest had died before our eyes, and then three days later ‘appeared’ to us, would we not recognize them? How changed would they have to be in order for us not to know who we were speaking with?

Their moment of recognition has an unmistakeable Eucharistic resonance. He took bread, gave thanks, broke it – and vanished. His subsequent invisibility did not cloud the clarity of their recognition. It seemed to increase their certainty that they had truly been in the actual living presence of the Master. Did not our hearts burn within us?

Their first reaction was missionary. They immediately hurried back to Jerusalem to tell others about their encounter. There they found that the other disciples had had a similar experience: a mysterious and personal presence which imparted the certainty that Jesus of Nazareth was truly risen from the grave, and the confidence and joy which that Presence bestowed.

That paradigmactic encounter and its inherent missionary impulse attain their fuller definition and coloration on the day of Pentecost. After the apostles had been assured of the reality of Christ’s resurrection (Easter day) and His Kingship (Ascension day) they are then sent out to be His missionaries throughout the world. They preach to the nations that Christ’s death on the Cross is the fulfilment of the Hebrew scriptures, that His resurrection is both the proof of His divine glory and is also the promise of our own future glory.

That future glory will be both physical and spiritual, or rather, it will transcend both those categories. The difference between physical and spiritual is a very limited distinction which really only obtains in this fallen world. In this world the sacraments are a pledge that the earthly distinction between the material and the spiritual is not final. The post-lapsarian divergence between the material and the spiritual is ultimately a false binary. It is a temporary lapse of reality back into incoherence, an incoherence which is not the Creator’s ultimate purpose, an incoherence which Christ’s bodily resurrection eternally reverses.

The risen Christ is neither constrained by the physical world, but neither is He a ghost. He exemplifies that wholeness of being which awaits us all beyond the grave, by God’s mercy. He is the revelation of that integrated wholeness which we can know only partially in this life, but which we hope to possess in its fullness, in the life of the world to come. A blessing I wish for us all.

 

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POWERFUL BECAUSE TRUE

The resurrection of Christ was of a wholly different category of reality from the resuscitation of Lazarus. Lazarus was given a temporary reprieve. He would later die again and return to the tomb. By contrast, Christ rose from the dead to a new and glorified life, never to die again. He rose from the dead to life in the Spirit.

In the moment of Christ’s death He breathed forth, handed over, His Spirit: tradidit Spiritum (John 19:30). His resurrection was the initial public release of His gift of the Holy Spirit. That giving of the Holy Spirit was seen again on Easter day when the Lord granted to the Apostles His own power to absolve sins.

During the following Forty Days before the Ascension, the Lord Who is Spirit completed His general public revelation. Then at Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given definitively ad robur, for strengthening. The power of the resurrection was hurled outwards from Jerusalem, spreading Christ’s Gospel to the ends of the earth through the preaching of the Apostles.

The fuller elucidation of that preaching came years later in the inspired writing and editing of the New Testament. But the preaching came first, as it always should.

If and when we ever stopped preaching the explicit truth about Jesus Christ, then it would hardly be surprizing if the mighty rushing wind and the contagious flame of the God the Holy Spirit seemed to be in decline, sometimes to the point of seeming to have degenerated into an embarrassed and furtive whisper.

We hear a lot about the Church being called to serve the world and work with the world. Yes indeed we are. But sadly that serving and working have often involved more whispering than preaching. In recent decades the results of so much whispering have not been spectacularly successful as regards evangelization.

The best way to serve the world, and work with the world, is to preach loud and clear the full Gospel truth about Jesus Christ the Son of God. Jesus is Lord. He is risen from the dead and He is Lord.

The Apostles did not whisper. They proclaimed and they evangelized. They did not concentrate on preaching to the converted. They did the opposite. They concentrated on preaching to the unconverted. They made converts. They did their job.

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Crucifixion

HOLY WEEK WITH NEWMAN

“As the solemn days proceed, we shall be especially called on, my brethren, to consider His sufferings in the body, His seizure, His forced journeyings to and fro, His blows and wounds, His scourging, the crown of thorns, the nails, the Cross. They are all summed up in the Crucifix itself, as it meets our eyes; they are represented all at once on His sacred flesh, as it hangs up before us—and meditation is made easy by the spectacle. It is otherwise with the sufferings of His soul; they cannot be painted for us, nor can they even be duly investigated: they are beyond both sense and thought; and yet they anticipated His bodily sufferings. The agony, a pain of the soul, not of the body, was the first act of His tremendous sacrifice; “My soul is sorrowful even unto death,” He said; nay; if He suffered in the body, it really was in the soul, for the body did but convey the infliction on to that which was the true recipient and seat of the suffering.

Now apply this to the sufferings of our Lord;—do you recollect their offering Him wine mingled with myrrh, when He was on the point of being crucified? He would not drink of it; why? because such a portion would have stupefied His mind, and He was bent on bearing the pain in all its bitterness. You see from this, my brethren, the character of His sufferings; He would have fain escaped them, had that been His Father’s will; “If it be possible,” He said, “let this chalice pass from Me;” but since it was not possible, He says calmly and decidedly to the Apostle, who would have rescued Him from suffering, “The chalice which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” If He was to suffer, He gave Himself to suffering; He did not come to suffer as little as He could; He did not turn away His face from the suffering; He confronted it, or, as I may say, He breasted it, that every particular portion of it might make its due impression on Him. And as men are superior to brute animals, and are affected by pain more than they, by reason of the mind within them, which gives a substance to pain, such as it cannot have in the instance of brutes; so, in like manner, our Lord felt pain of the body, with an advertence and a consciousness, and therefore with a keenness and intensity, and with a unity of perception, which none of us can possibly fathom or compass, because His soul was so absolutely in His power, so simply free from the influence of distractions, so fully directed upon the pain, so utterly surrendered, so simply subjected to the suffering. And thus He may truly be said to have suffered the whole of His passion in every moment of it.”

(From discourse 16: Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion)

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PASSIONTIDE

The raising of Lazarus is a most suitable subject for our contemplation during Passiontide. We would be missing the most important meaning of that gospel miracle if we thought of it as simply an exercise of human affection. Christ Himself says that the meaning is greater than that: “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God…” The raising of Lazarus was not just so that our Lord might continue to enjoy his friend’s company, nor merely for the sake of consoling Martha and Mary. Christ called Lazarus back to  life principally in order to teach us. It is part of revelation.

Lazarus was reprieved. He was not at that time raised to the unending life of the resurrection. He was not at that time given a new and glorified body. He was brought back to earthly life as a sign, a revelation, that Christ is the one who calls all mankind out of our tombs. The raising of Lazarus was a miracle which conveyed the shape of things to come. It was a sign of the truth of what Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed Himself to be: the Resurrection and the Life.

Lord, he whom you love is ill.  My name is Lazarus, and so is yours. Our name is Lazarus. Lazarus is humankind, every single instance of sick and dying humanity. Lazarus is a race intent on the pursuit of death, a race who throughout its long and sordid history has repeatedly shown that it more often inclines to the pursuit of death and corruption than the quest for life in all its fulness.

Down long centuries God saw that we were sick. Again and again He sent us the means of our healing. On Mount Sinai He gave us the preventative medicine of His holy Law, to teach us how to live. He sent us messages, one prophet after another, to urge us to mend our ways. All His efforts were largely ignored. In the end He knew that He had to come Himself. Messages and gifts had been of no avail. His own personal presence was required. The Creator came, and He came as Saviour.

The Godhead crossed what for us is an unimaginable gulf between Himself and us. God’s own mind came. His thought and utterance, His very self, arrived. No longer just a spoken word, or even a written word, but a living, breathing word, flesh and blood, with the face and voice of a man, with the sighs and the tears of a man. He came in person to reprieve us in person, from the tomb. He came to restore His most precious gift of all, the gift of eternal life. He did that by means of His Passion and cross, and it cost Him everything.

May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ be for ever in our hearts and minds.

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Temptation

THE SEASON OF LENT

In Lent we follow our Lord into the desert; not the literal desert of Palestine, but the desert which will surround us whenever we deny ourselves some of the comforts and props of life. Such comforts, though not wrong in themselves, can become barriers. By stripping some of them away, we make more space, clear more ground, for a closer encounter with the Lord. When we enter into spiritual solitude, we shall certainly find temptation. Do not be discouraged. When you are in the desert, you will not be alone.  You will be there in the unseen company of countless  angels and saints, whose joy it is to help us poor sinners as we feebly struggle. Struggle we may, but we do not struggle alone.

In the silence and emptiness of the desert, we shall certainly hear the uncouth and menacing sounds of the Evil one, prowling around looking for souls to devour. But we must remember that the victory has already been won. Satan is threatening, but he is not omnipotent. He is clever and cunning, but not so clever as to impede the workings of grace.  All we have to do is to place ourselves unambiguously under the banner of Christ’s Precious Blood. Whenever and wherever that Precious Blood is invoked, Satan slinks away, in confusion and defeat.

We should not be discouraged. We need to remember that so long as we are resisting temptation, however strong it might be, we are committing no sin. Temptation, however powerful, is not of itself sinful unless we encourage it. So long as we are struggling we are still on the side of the angels, and the Precious Blood can do its healing work. Do not be disconcerted by the strength of our temptations. We live in a fallen world. The Devil never sleeps. Our soul is wounded, and easily skewed.

At Mass, every time the words of consecration are said over the chalice, the Precious Blood comes pouring in to it. Christ’s Blood is streaming in the firmament, and also down into the chalice. Then we raise up that living Blood in the chalice and offer it before the throne. From that throne, at every Mass, the Father’s mercy can once again engulf a sinful world.

First the Blood, then the Mercy.

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Expulsion from Eden

SEPTUAGESIMA, SEXAGESIMA, QUINQUAGESIMA

The Church’s traditional liturgical calendar gives us the three weeks of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima to get us in training for Lent, our annual attempt at a forty days spiritual marathon.

We start our training by soberly recalling the essential facts of our existence and our destiny: our creation, the Fall, the promise of redemption, the life of grace, the cost of discipleship, the malice of the Evil One, the mercy of Christ, the offer of salvation, the hope of glory.

These three pre-Lenten Sundays have wisely been restored in the rite now proper to the Catholic Ordinariates (olim Anglicani).

The Ordinariate Mass book “Divine Worship – The Missal” is a magnificent and admirable piece of work. Apart from the Cranmerian elements that have been included, its various options permit a celebration which comes close to the liturgical preference that so many Catholics have asked for over the years since 1969 but have so far been denied: Mass in the old rite (the extraordinary form) but in a decent and dignified vernacular translation.

The orations in the Ordinariate missal are particularly impressive, and many feel that the quality and ‘tone’ of those prayers far surpass the equivalent texts in both the former and current ICEL missals. In the Ordinariate missal the liturgical English actually sounds intelligible, and reads and sounds like prayer – a splendid achievement.

The whole of the Ordinariate missal repays careful study. I hope that a smaller size version of it will be made available. Then the wider study of its contents could greatly illuminate the ongoing difficult situation which the ordinary form of the Roman rite finds itself in.

In this world our worship will never be perfect. But we must always strive to make it less imperfect. I respectfully suggest that when the time comes to revise the Ordinariate missal, the following improvements would greatly enhance it, and make it a most desirable additional option for all English speaking Catholics.

  1. To remove the Cranmerian elements.
  2. To restore the traditional version of the Roman canon (in the vernacular) with the silence, and all the manual gestures and genuflections sanctified by so many centuries of usage and still retained, thank God, in the 1962 Missale Romanum.

It’s dangerous to play the prophet, and we should never allow our life of faith to degenerate into obsession with single issue problems.

Notwithstanding, I do hazard a non-polemical prognostication: if the extraordinary form of the Roman rite were made available in a decent and coherent vernacular version for those who wanted it (with the option for Latin always remaining of course) there would soon follow a grace-filled and landslide renewal of the Church’s spiritual and liturgical life.

I am well aware that many people have their own pet theories, and that opinion greatly varies.

I.H.

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Presentation

CANDLEMAS

Our Lady carried into the old temple a new and living temple, a new and better temple not made of stone but of living flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of Messiah. In that strange encounter, when the new temple came to replace the former, our Lady heard Simeon’s prophetic words but doubtless she did not fully understand their import.

Thirty three years later when our Lady stood at the foot of the cross, the mysterious destiny of her Son, the new temple, became painfully clear to her. She realized why it was that He had to die. It was so that Simeon’s prophecy might be fulfilled; so that her Son would be revealed as Messiah, the light of all nations and the glory of Israel. She came to understand that her Son’s death was necessary for the salvation of Israel and of all nations.

At the foot of the cross the Immaculate Heart of Mary not only understood the prophecy, she also personally experienced it. She was pierced by the sword of sorrow that Simeon’s enigmatic prophecy had foretold. In that transverberation she shared in the painful and paradoxical revelation of her Son. The light of the gentiles was revealed, but dying in agony. The glory of Israel was made visible, but covered in blood.

Christ was first given to us through our Lady. It is still through her that Christ is given, because it is through her intercession that God gives us all the graces necessary for our salvation. In our daily spiritual lives the lights of Candlemas, the lights of faith, hope and charity, will burn all the more brightly when we place ourselves unconditionally in our Lady’s maternal arms.

Fr John Henry Newman established the English Oratory on the eve of Candlemas, 1848.

He understood that our Lady was never closer to her Son than in His Passion. He later wrote the following brief verse to place under a picture of the Heart of Mary:

 

 Holy the womb that bare Him,
Holy the breasts that fed,
But holier still the royal heart
That in His passion bled.

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Church on rock

CHRISTIAN UNITY

In his writings St Paul makes it very clear that in his preaching he was passing on to his listeners something that he himself had been given, not something that he had invented: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I had received.” St Paul received a direct and personal revelation from Christ the Lord. That revelation transformed  Saul from being a vicious persecutor of the Church, and converted him into being Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, the most inspiring and most effective missionary the Church has ever had.

St Paul’s life exemplifies our human destiny; converting to the truth, and helping others to do so. That is the true fulfilment of every human life.

We should pray regularly for the conversion of our own needy country to Christ.

Let us pray. O merciful God, let the glorious intercession of Thy saints assist us, particularly the most blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Thy only-begotten Son, and Thy holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, to whose patronage we humbly recommend this our land. Be mindful of our fathers, Eleutherius, Celestine, and Gregory, bishops of the Holy City; of Augustine, Columba, and Aidan, who delivered to us inviolate the faith of the Holy Roman Church. Remember our holy martyrs, who shed their blood for Christ: especially our first martyr, Saint Alban, and Thy most glorious bishop, Saint Thomas of Canterbury. Remember all those holy confessors, bishops, and kings, all those holy monks and hermits, all those holy virgins and widows, who made this once an island of saints, illustrious by their glorious merits and virtues. Let not their memory perish from before Thee, O Lord, but let their supplication enter daily into Thy sight; and do Thou, who didst so often spare Thy sinful people for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now, also, moved by the prayers of our fathers reigning with Thee, have mercy upon us, save Thy people, and bless Thine  inheritance; and suffer not those souls to perish, which Thy Son hath redeemed with His most Precious Blood, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, world without end. Amen.

Let us us pray.  O loving Lord Jesus, Who when Thou wert hanging on the Cross didst commend us all in the person of Thy disciple John to Thy most sweet Mother, that we might find in her our refuge, our solace, and our hope; look graciously upon our beloved land, and on those who are bereaved of so powerful a patronage; that, acknowledging once more the dignity of this holy Virgin, they may honour and venerate her with all affection of devotion, and own her as Queen and Mother. May her sweet name be lisped by little ones, and linger on the lips of the aged and the dying; may it be invoked by the afflicted, and hymned by the joyful; that this Star of the Sea being their protection and their guide, all may come to the harbour of eternal salvation. Who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.

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