Saturday, 31 March 2012

Praying with the Pope

Couldn't resist this recent pic of Papa
Bene in a sombrero on his visit to Mexico
As Lent draws rapidly towards its climax and the start of Easter many if us may be pondering how we can keep some of the special atmosphere of prayer going after Good Friday has come and gone. Equally I'm sure many of us set ourselves extremely hard challenges that were too difficult to keep and might like the idea of adopting a less rigorous devotion or schedule for the upcoming months.

Each month the Pope releases his prayer intentions. They range from missionary endeavours to help for the sick but no matter what the topic hey are an encouragement for all of us to pray as one body, one voice, one community, one Church for a specific intention. Prayer is the single most powerful tool at our disposal and all of us praying together is a force to be reckoned with indeed. So why not join Papa Bene this April in praying that many young people may hear the call of Christ and follow Him in the priesthood and religious life and that the risen Christ may be a sign of certain hope for the men and women of the African continent.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Contemplating the Passion

You will have noticed at Mass this past weekend that all of the statues in the church have been veiled, including the crucifix but not the Stations of the Cross. This simple, symbolic act is a reminder to us that, as we draw closer and closer to Holy Week and Good Friday, our attention should shift and focus solely on the Lord's Passion. We meditate again on what Our Lord suffered for us, what He endured for love of us. The use of purple in particular refreshes in us of the call to repentance and to examine our conscience.

This week on Friday at 7:30pm we have our parish reconciliation service. If you haven't been to confession in a long while please do come, don't feel as though cannot return, you will be welcomed warmly back by the Lord and if you feel a little...'rusty' the priest will be more than happy to guide you through.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Newsletter corrections!

Just to let you know there are two errors in this week's newsletter. First of all the second Mass this Wednesday is at 7:30pm and not 7:30am as printed. And secondly this Friday evening there is no Stations of the Cross but instead we have the Parish Reconciliation Service at 7:30pm (this information was also printed incorrectly on the blog in the last post which I have since corrected.)

Friday, 23 March 2012

Stations of the Cross

Each Friday evening in Lent we gather together to pray the Stations of the Cross, to walk with Jesus on that most dark, difficult and painful of journeys. We acknowledge our sinfulness, swallow our pride and instead of continually turning away from God, rejecting Him and His Church, constantly pushing Him away we turn back towards Him and, even though it is hard, we follow Him. In this overwhelming act of love, unconditional, burning love, for each and every one of us Jesus teaches us to pick up our own cross; He takes most, virtually all, of the weight, we have but a little to bear. And in walking that road with Him He uses our sacrifice, our submission to the Father's will to transform us, to help us die to ourselves and become the people we were created to be.

Tonight the Stations were prayerfully led by Fr. Richard, Fr. Aaron and the boys from Youth Cafe. Slightly less boisterous than pictured here (that photo was taken after ample helpings of pizza and fizzy drinks) they helped us to reflect on what Our Lord suffered and to pray, as Jesus did at all times, for the needs of others. Even though I am slightly biased I must admit that they did brilliantly, especially when you consider they had barely half an hour to prepare. Well done guys!

Please do join us on Good Friday at 10am where our wonderful Confirmation candidates will lead us in the Stations.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning, exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.

Today is Laetare Sunday, the middle of Lent; the heart of this holy and penitential season. Today's entrance antiphon encourages us to be joyful during our fasting, pray and almsgiving, to take heart when we stumble and fall and to look forward in hope to Easter. In the Gospel we hear of God's immense love for us, how He sent his Son to redeem us from our sinfulness, to rescue us from ourselves and to unite us with Him. It's a time for small celebration, a time to take a breath and refresh ourselves as we head towards Holy Week.

Today is also Mother's Day! I hope that all of the mums in the parish have been shown just how much their families appreciate them and everything they do. Our mum's are always there for us, always a huge part of our lives, for all of our lives, and we can't imagine what we would do without them. And for those whose mum is no longer here then we can take great consolation in knowing that they will be praying for us in heaven.

And don't forget about Our Lady, she is our mother too! On the cross despite the unspeakable agony Our Lord was in He thought first of us, He knew the importance of a mother's love, our need of a mother's tenderness and care and He gave us the best person He ever could; the woman He entrusted Himself to. How could we ever hope for anyone better?

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Alpha Course training kicks off!

Father Aaron blesses the leaders and helpers who gathered for the first training meeting on Thursday 15th March.

There is still time to volunteer – two more training sessions are planned for Thursday 22nd and 29th March.

For details of how you can become involved contact; Liz Duncan or Ann Hanley.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Preparing for marriage

Today at the 9 o'clock Mass Fr. Aaron blessed four lovely couples (and the ladies' engagement rings) who are preparing for the sacrament of marriage. It was amazing to do this in the middle of Lent, amidst all of the penance and fasting and almsgiving we clearly see the love God has for us reflected in each of these couples as they get ready to commit themselves to each other. Please, please pray for Dan & Katrina, Julie & Antoine, Bun & Chris, Jane & Graham and for Amanda and Philip who have been leading the marriage prep course and do marvellous work!

Standing, from left to right; Dan & Katrina, Julie & Antoine, Bun & Chris
Seated; Jane & Graham

Speaking up for marriage

Today Archbishop Vincent Nichols issued a pastoral letter on the proposed redefinition of marriage by the coalition government. What Cameron and Clegg are proposing is radical and will fundamentally undermine traditional marriages and have big implications for our society as a whole. Please do read the letter and also sign the petition organised by the Coalition for Marriage here.

A Letter on Marriage from the President and Vice-President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

This week the Coalition Government is expected to  present its consultation paper on the proposed change in the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships. 

Today we want to put before you the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the 
importance of marriage for our society.

The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility. This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself. Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion. Understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society.

There are many reasons why people get married. For most couples, there is an instinctive understanding that the stability of a marriage provides the best context for the flourishing of their relationship and for bringing up their children. Society recognises marriage as an important institution for these same reasons: to enhance stability in society and to respect and support parents in the crucial task of having children and bringing them up as well as possible.

The Church starts from this appreciation that marriage is a natural institution, and indeed the Church recognises civil marriage. The Catholic understanding of marriage, however, raises this to a new level. As the Catechism says: ‘The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, by its nature  is  ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.’ (para.1601)

These rather abstract words are reflected however imperfectly in the experience of married couples.   We know that at the heart of a good marriage is a relationship of astonishing power and richness, for the couple, their children, their wider circle of friends and relations and society. As a Sacrament, this is a place where divine grace flows. Indeed, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life: the unending and perfect flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.We know, too, that  just as God’s love is creative, so too the love of husband and wife is creative of new life.  It is open, in its essence, to welcoming new life, ready to love and nurture that life to its fullness, not only here on earth but also into eternity. 

This is a high and noble vision, for marriage is a high and noble vocation. It is not easily followed. But we are sure that Christ is at the heart of marriage, for his presence is a sure gift of the God who is Love, who wants nothing more than for the love of husband and wife to find its fulfilment.  So the daily effort that  marriage requires, the many ways in which family living breaks and reshapes us, is a sharing in the mission of Christ, that of making visible in the world the creative and forgiving love of God.

In these ways we understand marriage to be a call to holiness for a husband and wife, with children recognised and loved as the gift of God, with fidelity and permanence as the boundaries which create its sacred space. Marriage is also a crucial witness in our society, contributing to its stability, its capacity for compassion and forgiveness and its future, in a way that no other institution can. In putting before you these thoughts about why marriage is so important, we also want to recognise the experience of those who have suffered the pain of bereavement or relationship breakdown and their contribution to the Church and society. Many provide a remarkable example of courage and fidelity. Many strive to make the best out of difficult and complex situations. We hope that they are always welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities.

The reasons given by our government for wanting to change the definition of marriage are those of equality and discrimination. But our present law does not discriminate unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It simply recognises and protects the distinctive nature of marriage. 

Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in  the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.

We have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.

With every blessing 
Most Reverend V. Nichols                             Most Reverend P. Smith 

Our need of God's grace and mercy

This morning Fr. Aaron spoke powerfully on our need, our total dependence, on God's grace and mercy. Without it we can do absolutely nothing as all goodness, all holiness, all love and joy and forgiveness come from Him and are His gift to us. He is so generous, so patient and loving to each and every one of us; we rebel and sin time and time again but each time we turn back to Him we are gently and warmly embraced as a parent does his child. Jesus wants us to have a true communion with His Father, He wants nothing more than to bring us to God which is why He willingly suffered and died for us upon the cross but despite our knowing this, although we are so, so thankful for His sacrifice we, because of our fallen nature, continue to push Him away, we keep on sinning. But Jesus knows this about us, He knows us all more intimately than we even know ourselves, and has made sure that when we go astray there is always a road back. We are never abandoned, never cast away, through His ultimate act of love and through the ministry of the Church we are always able to turn back to Him. It can be hard, it can be scary but it is always worth it. God wants us to have a relationship with Him, to be one with Him. And despite the fears and apprehension that come with going to Confession once you get in there you can be quite sure that you will be welcomed with open arms.

What I find amusing (or should it be disturbing) when I am visiting Medieval English Cathedrals is that when you walk in and pay your £10 entrance fee, rather than smelling burning incense and the celestial sound of monks chanting the daily offices, you are more often than not met with the smell of a cooked breakfast from the cafeteria that has been built next to the baptistery and the soothing sound of pan piped moods gently playing in the background. I wander what would Jesus think, of what has happened to his Father’s house? Well we know what he did feel 2000 odd years ago. Today we see, as one of my confirmation candidates put it, Jesus’ sacred humanity, demonstrating the human emotion of anger; it is an episode where Jesus is seen as one like us, we identify with him. In many respects we can often idealise Jesus as superman, like some sort of Marvel comic superhero, this is not satisfactory and it doesn’t bear any relation to who He was and is.

In Herod’s temple precincts - a vast complex, there consisted 4 courts, the court of the priests, the court of Israel, the court of women and the court of the Gentiles, it was likely that it was in the Court of the Gentiles that Jesus drove out the merchants and money changers. Our Lord was so angry with these people for having turned the temple into some sort of marketplace, and he would have been angry for many reasons; one would be that there was injustice going on, people being ripped off and cheated left, right and centre, another would be that the central place of worship and prayer was being profaned by shopping and other non-religious activities, but a most significant reason lies in the fact that the court of the Gentiles, was an area where foreigners and strangers to the Jewish religion would have gathered in a place near to God, it was a place where they could have the possibility of encounter; encounter with the God who has revealed his name. If you like it was a place of opportunity to come across the divine, for Jews or otherwise. By trading and dealing there a barrier was being put up preventing any possible experience with God, and Jesus wanted that barrier torn down, swept away.  Jesus himself in his death and resurrection would be the mediator between heaven and earth, nevertheless in his life here on earth, he still stresses the importance and holiness of God’s house, the Temple as a place of meeting.

However I believe there is a deeper spiritual significance to this account for each and every one of us here. As St Paul says in his letter to the Christians at Corinth, Our bodies are all temples of the Holy Spirit. Over time we tend to clutter our body and minds which prevent us from encountering God’s love and mercy. Perhaps this Lent through this Gospel today, our Lord is wanting and reminding us to sweep out all that clutters our lives, in other words to get rid of sin and repent. Jesus doesn’t want our souls to be filled with rubbish and sinful baggage of the past, and I am sure you agree with him. The way to do this, and I will say it simply; if you have not been for a long time, be reconciled & go to confession!

In a time set aside in particular for repentance, penance and prayer, we often turn to things we give up, such as chocolate, sweets, as if Lent were a spiritual diet or money saving exercise, but what good is that, will we be a different person at Easter, will we have grown in holiness, will we have become closer to Christ, if we are honest probably not. Whereas if you can say to yourself by Easter, I went to confession for the first time in years, I am realised from the burdens and decluttered my past, and I am closer to Jesus, then Lent 2012 would have been a success.

Whenever I preach about going to the sacrament of reconciliation, of going to confession, there is a palpable groan, and people just ignore what I have to say, thinking it applies to other people. But think, when was the last time you went, why have you not been in a long time, maybe you have had a bad experience in the past of confession or daunted? As I said last week the longer you have been away the bigger the welcome will be. God rejoices and is happy, when we make the effort, it is a victory over the devil. In that room, Fr Richard and I sit there waiting, as Christ, we are given the authority by Him, to forgive sins in his name. Akin to the Father waiting for the prodigal son, for someone to sweep away all that hinders them from moving on towards holiness, towards a grace-filled relationship with God.

Someone remarked to me recently having been away from the Church for many years, that they were shocked at Sunday Mass to see everyone go to Holy Communion, and no one go to confession, the last time they were in church around 50 years ago, the opposite was true. I am not saying to go back to that, far from it, but the reality has to be somewhere in the middle.

Historically – and it remains so today that Confession, absolution and penance are strictly linked to Holy Communion, in the Orthodox Church, it is confession on Saturday, and holy Communion the next day, you can’t do one without the other. Can we in all conscience go to communion if we are aware of serious sin? Again in St Paul we read, "Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord."

That begs another question, are we even aware of what sin is nowadays? “I haven’t murdered anyone” people say, we have just heard of the Ten Commandments in our first reading. Yes, the Ten Commandments are a basis for our examination of conscience but it is much more than that. What about killing the soul, mine or someone else’s? Read a good examination of conscience, and you will discover things that you think are alright, things that we have become desensitised to; things we mistakenly think are not that sinful but actually are damaging: abortion, gossiping, wasting time, money and food, making fun, racist thoughts, meanness, disrespect, manipulation, the perils of the internet, speeding, deceit, lies, bullying on the web or in action, drunkenness, pornography, sins of the flesh, overindulging, laziness at home, laziness in prayer.

It is also not about the priest making you feel bad, I was away from the sacrament for years, I went wild at university going to communion aware of sin but I had a change of heart and rediscovered it as a young adult, and have never looked back, and now I go fortnightly. We as priests harp on about it because we have seen lives transformed and turned around by the love of Christ in this sacrament.

Perhaps the Pope is right, and there is a generation of those from 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and 00’s completely lost to this sacrament,  a generation that was made to think that everyone has the right no matter what we have done or failed to do, to receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Or perhaps we are all saints. There is a lot of pain and hurt today and so the healing is all the more needed particularly in this sacrament.

If we are embarrassed or don’t know how to go, or can’t remember. Just explain to the priest and he will lovingly guide you through, you won’t shock him -we have heard everything under the sun!

Make a real difference this Lent, and experience the free and liberating sacrament of reconciliation, recognise its direct link to Holy Communion, and the importance of receiving Holy Communion in a state of grace so that God’s gifts, of Faith, hope, love and strength may grow in you.

Jesus wants to clear out your temple - of mind and body and spirit, this Lent just allow him to do that, hear those words of absolution again, Through the ministry of the church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This Lent there are lots and lots of opportunities to be reconciled to God in this amazing sacrament. Here are a list of the times but you can always ring the office on 01403 253667 and make an appointment (you can also email Fr. Richard here and Fr. Aaron here), both priests will be more than happy to meet at a time to suit you if none of the following fit into your schedule.

  • Every Friday and Saturday confessions are heard after the 10am Mass.
  • Every Saturday from 5:15pm to 5:45pm.
  • At the parish reconciliation service on Friday 30th March at 7:30pm.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

How's Lent for you?

So we're a couple of weeks in and I have to is Lent this year going for you? Some of us enjoy it, some not so much, some persevere with apparent ease in fasting from chocolate (or whatever else it is we've given up) others find it a constant struggle. But how "well" we do (or think we are doing) as we go through Lent isn't what's important, in fact our efforts on their own are quite futile. What does matter is our entering into, in whatever way we can, a deeper relationship with Christ. To offer up our little penances, our fasts, our alms giving to the Lord, we try to suffer with Him in the desert, to unite ourselves with Him in a different way, to enter into His life, His Passion, His death in a personal way. In dying to ourselves in the little things of every day we allow more space for God's grace, give Him the opportunity to work within us and make us more like Him. It can be a long and arduous process, Lent can feel long and arduous, but at the end of it is the best of rewards; Christ Himself. And that makes all the penance and what not more than worthwhile.

So if you fancy doing that little bit extra over the next few weeks to give yourself to God that bit more there are plenty of things happening in the parish. Each week there are the Stations of the Cross at 7:30pm on Fridays and our special intention each week is that the dignity of each and every human life will be respected and cherished all over the world. We also have our "Lenten Challenge"; with Mass every Tuesday at 6:30am followed by a simple breakfast in the hall. And don't forget our Parish Reconciliation Service on 30th March. All fantastic opportunities to move closer to the Lord!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Blog reshuffle

As you can see I have had a play around with the layout of the blog. It's still a working process and if there are any suggestions/comments I would be grateful for them. And whilst we're on the subject of commenting I am glad to let you know that, since many of you have emailed regarding not being able to post comments without having your own Google account, I have amended the restrictions to allow anyone to do so. I do, however, have one small request...please leave a name. Anonymous comments are a personal bug bear of mine and I won't publish them. By all means use a nickname or pseudonym if you don't feel comfortable leaving your real name, even initials will do!

If I can draw your attention to two items on the sidebar; "Local Catholic Websites" and "Local Catholic Blogs." I've added all of the things I could instantly think of but if there's something missing you'd like me to add then please comment on this post or email me here.

One last thing; I would like to change the overall background to an image of St. John's but all the ones I have are either too small or just not that nice. If any of you have a really good one that you could send me to upload that would be wonderful.