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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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Fabrizio de’ Massimi, who has been so of- ten mentioned, had five daughters by his wife Lavinia de’ Rustici, and she was again preg- nant, and the pains of labour had even com- menced when Fabrizio went to ask the holy fa- ther to pray for his wife. Philip, reflecting for awhile, said, “This time your wife will have a son but I wish you to give him the name I shall choose; do you agree to this?” Fabrizio answered, “Yes.” “Then,” replied Philip, “I will give him the name of Paolo.” After Lavinia’s death, and when the boy was about fourteen years old, on the 10th of January, 1583, he fell sick of a fever, which lasted sixty-five days con- tinuously. Philip went to see him every day, for he loved him tenderly, and had heard his con- fessions ever since he was a child. He was so

pious a boy, that when Germanico Fedeli, wondering at his patience through so long and painful a malady, asked him if he would like to change his present illness for Germanico’s health, he replied that he would not barter it for the health of anybody, as he was quite con- tented with his sickness. On the 16th of March the poor boy was reduced to the last extremi- ties; and as the holy father had desired to be informed when he was on the point of expir- ing, they sent to say that if he wished to see him alive he must come as quickly as possible, as matters were now at the worst. The messen- ger arriving at San Girolamo found that Philip was saying mass, so that he could not speak to him. Meanwhile the boy expired; his father closed his eyes, and Camillo, the curate of the parish, who had given him Extreme Unction and made the commendation of his soul, was

already gone; and the servants had prepared water to wash the body, and linen cloths to wrap it in. In half an hour’s time the holy fa- ther arrived; Fabrizio met him at the top of the stairs, and said to him weeping, “Paolo is dead;” Philip replied, “And why did you not send to call me sooner?” “We did,” rejoined Fabrizio, “but your Reverence was saying mass.” Philip then entered the room where the dead body was, and throwing himself on the edge of the bed, he prayed for seven or eight minutes with the usual palpitation of his heart and trembling of his body. He then took some holy water and sprinkled the boy’s face, and put a little in his mouth. After this he breathed in his face, laid his hand upon his forehead, and called him twice with a loud and sonorous voice, “Paolo, Paolo!” The youth immediately awoke as from a deep sleep, opened his eyes

and said, as in reply to Philip’s call, “Father!” and immediately added, “I forgot to mention a sin, so I should like to go to confession.” The holy father ordered those who were round the bed to retire for awhile, and putting a crucifix into Paolo’s hand he heard his confession and gave him absolution. When the others re- turned into the room Philip began to talk with the youth about his sister and mother, who were both dead, and this conversation lasted about half an hour, the youth answering all questions with a clear distinct voice, as if he had been in perfect health. The colour re- turned to his countenance, so that those who saw him could hardly persuade themselves that anything was the matter with him. At last the holy father asked him if he could die will- ingly; he replied that he could. Afterwards Philip asked him a second time if he could die

willingly; he answered, “Yes, most willingly; especially that I may go and see my mother and my sister in Paradise.” Philip then gave him his blessing, saying, “Go, and be blessed, and pray to God for me;“ and immediately with a placid countenance and with out the least movement Paolo expired in Philip’s arms.

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Expulsion from Eden


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.


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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


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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SPN hand & heart


Saint Philip Neri (1515-1595) said “The sanctity of a man lies in the breadth of three fingers (the forehead), that is to say, in mortifying the understanding, which would fain reason upon things.”

The shorter version of his maxim is “Holiness is three fingers deep”. 

With these words the saint exhorts us to mortify the razionale – our habit of trusting too much in our capacity for reasoning.

Saint Philip’s maxim does not propose an irrational approach to the life of faith. He simply warns us of the spiritual danger in overvaluing our own intellect. He meant that we come to a deeper relationship with God not primarily by reasoning about it, but by opening ourselves up to the laws and aspirations which the Creator Himself has written on the human heart.

By mortifying our tendency to excessive rationalizing, and by disciplining an unwarranted confidence in our own ability to understand everything, our hearts are freed from the tyranny of the razionale. In this freedom we become more receptive to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so may grow in holiness.

We mortify our mind in order to liberate and enlarge our heart.


[drawing by the Slovakian artist Radovan Bolcar]

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At Lauds of the Epiphany the antiphon for the Benedictus is a shining example of how liturgical texts can disclose the fuller meaning of the gospels, meanings and connexions which are easily missed when we make the mistake of reading the Bible in an excessively literalist way, as if it were a Wikipedia article.

“Today the Church is joined to the heavenly Spouse, for in the Jordan Christ washed away her offences: the Magi hasten with gifts to the royal nuptials, and the guests are gladdened by the water become wine, alleluia.” 

In the incarnation of the eternal Son, the Godhead wedded our human nature. Christ is the divine spouse of the human race. The Magi seeking truth and wisdom find it when they adore the celestial Bridegroom, the Infant God at Bethlehem.

The wedding feast at Cana is so easily misinterpreted, by missing the point. How many weak and watery fundamentalist homilies have  expounded the Lord’s thoughtfulness as regards the catering arrangements at Cana. That is not the point. The point is that at Cana Christ is the true Bridegroom. By His presence and His grace He replaces the water, the provisions of the former covenant, with His new Messianic banquet, His new and everlasting covenant. Cana is to be read in correlation with the Last Supper. The same Person is the Bridegroom at both banquets.

The Magi did not study a text (unless it were their reading of the stars), they worshipped a Person. In adoring, they found the Truth. The Truth led them to worship. The Truth changed them. They returned to their own country, their previous way of life, by another way. They returned home with new wisdom and new faith.

The newness and distinctiveness of Christian Truth is irreducible, though many try to accommodate it to other lesser truths. We do so at our peril. Loudly denouncing violence and cruelty while remaining silent about the religious errors that so often motivate such sins, is a gross disservice to humanity, and a gross disloyalty to our Maker and Spouse.

The marriage covenant between the Almighty and His People is a dual responsibility. God remains faithful to His marriage vows. Do  we? Clearly not always. Some centuries are more faithful than others. Look at the disastrous twentieth century. We should burn with shame if for the sake of political correctness and religious cowardice we ever pretend (or allow the impression to be given) that religion without Christ is true religion in the truest sense, or that faith without Jesus is real faith in the truest sense.

The previous and pagan beliefs of the Magi were a preparation for their conversion, not a substitute for it. They adored the Infant God even though their understanding of Him was incomplete. Christ Jesus Himself, Son of God and Messiah, evangelized them before they had been catechized.

The New Evangelization will get nowhere until we stop pretending.

And until we stop pretending, confusion will increase, and the ‘Lord of Misrule’ will continue his wrecking.

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Shepherds at crib







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Burning Bush


Adonai is the Old Testament’s way of writing the name of God. Via its Greek equivalent, Kyrios, it is best translated into English as Lord. That same title includes the connotation of Israel’s Lawgiver and Leader. Israel’s Lord manifested His presence to Moses on Mount Sinai. Moses perceived the divine presence as something which suggested the likeness of a burning bush. This was a likeness, not a photograph.

In the novena leading to Christmas eve the liturgy uses the title Adonai to address the Son of God within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in expectation of His nativity: not a photograph, but a real Person.

O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on mount Sinai:
Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free. 

To address the Infant God in utero as Adonai reminds us that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is the complete fulfilment of the Old Testament. The God Who became incarnate in Christ is the one Who had revealed Himself to Israel throughout many centuries in shadows and images. Jesus of Nazareth is the true fulfilment of everything that Israel had hoped for in the coming of Messiah: Wisdom, Lawgiver, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Rising Sun, King of the Gentiles, Emmanuel.

Of all the saints and scholars who have pondered the clarity of this fulfilment, is not St Paul the clearest? After St Paul’s conversion, his own theological elucidation of his new faith demonstrates with unambiguous clarity that the Old Testament, rightly understood, points to Christ Jesus and leads to Him. For Paul, conversion to the (then) new religion was the only possible outcome of his God-given clarity.

Are we still clear? Alas not always. Various theological contortionists and a toxic dose of secular political correctness have together muddied the waters.

Such obfuscations might well tempt us to exasperation or even to anger. That temptation must be stoutly resisted. If error provokes us to anger, then the Devil gains a double victory. Our proper and charitable response to the confused and the purblind must always be to offer up prayer and sacrifice for their enlightenment and salvation, and our own.

We must implore the Wisdom from on high to come and set us right. We need a restored theological coherence if we are to fulfil our mandate from Jesus Christ the Son of God: to bring all mankind to the light and joy of His Gospel – the Christian Gospel.

The Christian Gospel.  All mankind.

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