Sunday, November 29, 2020

1st Sunday of Advent: Vocations of vigilance

Fr Richard's words for today

Readings: Universalis: Mass

Vocations of vigilance

"Stay awake" is the message of this first day of Advent. We're reminded that we don't know when the Second Coming of Christ will take place. And so we must be always prepared and stay attentive as we await the Last Day. 

The Parable of the Vigilant Doorkeeper and Servants shows that God has provided a context of how He wishes us to "stay awake". The Lord calls each of us to a vocation  - a particular state of life which has its own "manner", if you like, by which we remain ready for the coming of Christ in glory, and therefore, for the final judgment. The parable outlines the responsibilities of we who are parts of the Body of Christ, the Church.

The house owner who goes abroad leaves his home in charge of servants, who each have their own task. Christ tells all his disciples to "stay awake" as they fulfil their missions. Scholars associate the doorkeeper with Holy Orders, and in particular, pastors. Priests, bishops and the Pope "guard" the door of the Church, and the members of Christ's faithful serving inside. They protect the Church from dangerous intrusions by the evil one and by things that threaten to distract the faithful, such as false doctrines. Pastors are also tasked with feeding and enriching Christ's servants. St Paul alludes to this mission in today's Second Reading from 1 Corinthians, where he thanks the teachers and preachers for their witness. Today, therefore, please pray for your priests (which I know that you do generously anyway). Pray that they may be good "doorkeepers" in protecting the Church, God's holy people.

To those who are married and have families: your "way" of staying awake is to continue to be loving and faithful to your spouses, to care for your children, and, critically, to hand on the Faith diligently to them. To be faithful and generous wives, husbands, mums and dads is to be God's true servants, going without sleep at all times (in some cases, in reality as well as spiritually!). 

Religious men and women "stay awake" by their dedication to a life of prayer as well as apostolic service. The consecrated single life is a vocation of remaining vigilant by a total uniting to Christ. 

And to those who've not yet discovered their vocation - "stay awake" by continuing to discern what God has called you to do. Allow the Lord to mould and shape you as a potter works on the clay, an image we hear in our first reading from Isaiah.

Whatever our vocation is, or wherever we are in our journey of determining it, we know we are given the gifts of the Spirit if we stay close to Christ and the Sacraments of His Church. These gifts of grace help and strengthen us to stand ready for the day of our liberation.

Advent is a golden time of allowing the Lord to renew and enrich us in the living of our "watchful" vocations. It's a wonderful season of quiet meditation on the mysteries of Christ. Take opportunities to go into "retreat" mode, even if only for a few minutes. Reflect on where we are in the living of our own vocation: What are the joys and blessings I want to thank God for? In what ways am I "being vigilant" in living my vocation? What are the areas I need to bring to the Lord for his healing and help?

May we live Advent as a season of deep reflection on our "vocations of vigilance". We make one of the intercessions to Jesus from last night's Vespers our own: "You will bring us wisdom, fresh understanding and new vision. Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay."

Resumption of public Masses and Newsletter

Public Mass will resume this coming Wednesday, December 2nd, when the ban on public worship is lifted. The Mass schedule will be as normal from then. We look forward to seeing you again!

Click here for this week's newsletter with all the details

Friday, November 27, 2020

Friday, Last Week of Ordinary Time: Heaven to earth


Fr Richard's reflection for today

Readings: Universalis: Mass

Heaven to earth

"I saw the holy city, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband." (Ap 21:2)

St John's spectacular vision of the new Jerusalem descending to earth concludes today's reading from Apocalypse. This verse of Scripture is very timely as we await with great anticipation the return of public Mass next week.

What John sees is exactly what we witness at the Mass, for the Eucharist is the uniting of heaven and earth. The Mass is a foretaste of the heavenly Jerusalem. It's why we Christians who are on the journey to our heavenly homeland yearn for the Mass - because it's there that we participate already in the heavenly banquet. 

The new Jerusalem is described as a "bride all dressed for her husband". The holy city is the Church in heaven, just as we are parts of the Body of Christ, the Church, here on earth. The Catholic Church is the beautiful Bride of Christ, the Bridegroom. Yes, individuals within the Church can be great sinners and  even corruption can take hold in the governance of it. But in its mystical character, the Church is Jesus' Holy Bride and its the wedding Feast that we participate in when we pray the Mass.

Reflecting on this awesome reality of what the Mass is, may we grow in love of it and come to treasure it as the heart of our Faith and the means of our salvation. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thursday, Last Week of Ordinary Time: World is passing

Fr Richard's words for today

Readings: Universalis: Mass

World is passing

As we approach the end of the Church's year, the Scriptures turn our attention to the end of time - the Apocalypse. Indeed, the weekday readings at the moment are from the final book of the Bible bearing that name. 

Today, in the reading and Gospel, we hear prophecies of the demise of two place names - Babylon and Jerusalem. Scholars of the Book of the Apocalypse (or Revelation) think that "Babylon" may well actually refer to the earthly Jerusalem itself. In any case, prophecies of the destruction of cities come because of their inhabitants'' rejection of God's Covenant with His people.

The fall of cities in the Scriptures are signs of the coming of Christ again in glory, to judge the living and the dead. These coming events remind us that - ultimately - the earthly realm will come to an end.  While Our Lord created us for this world to sanctify it and continue His work of salvation, we as Christians are citizens of heaven. Thus, we need to stay awake and be prepared both for our particular and final judgment when Our Lord comes again on the clouds. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Optional Memorial of Saint Catherine of Alexandria: Beauty and eloquence


Fr Richard's words for today

Readings: Universalis: Mass

Beauty and eloquence

Today we honour the wonderful St Catherine of Alexandria, one of my favourite saints. She is most popularly known because of the instrument of torture she was set to be martyred on: "the Catherine wheel". 

Born around 287 in Alexandria, Egypt, she was part of a noble family. She was, therefore, an impressive scholar, especially as Alexandria at the time was a centre of learning. At the age of 14, Catherine had a vision of Mary and the infant Jesus which transformed her life and moved her to become a Christian. Catherine was renowned for her beauty, heroic virtue and holiness. She was dedicated to Christ in virginity and chastity. All these virtues make her a very attractive saint for us to imitate. 

When the emperor Maxentius began persecuting Christians, Catherine confronted him and condemned his cruelty. The emperor summoned fifty orators and philosophers to debate her. But the highly intellectual Catherine was moved by the power of the Holy Spirit to speak eloquently in defence of her faith. In God's providence, the Gospel that falls on this day is Jesus talking precisely about what his disciples are to do when faced with persecution: "you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will able to resist or contradict." St Catherine's words were so moving that several of the pagans were converted to Christianity and were immediately executed. Catherine refused to renounce her faith and, after the "Catherine wheel" miraculously shattered when the virgin touched it, she was, in the end, beheaded.

Saint Catherine teaches us many things. Notice how, when Our Lord says "I will give you the words to say" when we are being persecuted, He doesn't say: "in that case, don't bother learning anything about the Faith." Saint Catherine's dedication to study reminds us that we do need to engage intellectually, to ask questions in our search for the Truth, and to be prepared to answer questions. Yes, the Lord will give us the words we need - but we need too to "do the groundwork" in order to cooperate with His help. As Catholics, we are people of both Faith AND Reason. Our Faith makes rational sense. We can ask Saint Catherine, the patroness of philosophers, to help us keep the resolutions we make to study our Faith.

Also, Saint Catherine's powerful witness unto the shedding of her blood poignantly makes us ask the difficult question: if it came to it, would we too give our lives rather than renounce our Faith in Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ?

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Solemnity of Christ the King (National Youth Sunday): Engaging the Young

Fr Richard's homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King (National Youth Sunday)

Readings: Universalis: Mass

 Engaging the young

The American Bishop Robert Barron is a well known social media evangelist. He is the founder of the Word on Fire ministry, which produces weekly shows exploring the Catholic Faith. Bishop Barron often speaks about the "disaffiliated" - those who have abandoned their Faith - and how to bring them back into the fold. 

The auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles analyses recent surveys which indicate the "disaffiliated" are increasingly young people who explain the main reason they've stopped practising the Faith. They say it's because they never had their questions adequately answered - and therefore don't believe the doctrines of the Church. Whenever such polls are done in the United States, it's safe to assume the findings are similar in the United Kingdom. Bishop Barron's advice on how to engage these young people is to first begin with the aspect of the Church's life that does attract them - namely its teaching on Social Justice. 

That teaching is beautifully presented for us in today's Gospel - the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Christ the King instructs us to see His regal face in the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner. To stretch out our hand to the needy is presented not just as a call but as a command, as necessary for salvation. The importance of works of justice resonates with young people. Therefore, Bishop Barron encourages us to use this social teaching as the point of engagement. He asks us to present to them the great examples of charity - like Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Saint Francis of Assisi. More importantly he encourages the Church to get young people involved in these works.

The hope is, that by drawing the young to something that attracts them, we can then present to them the fullness of the Faith, centred on the Person of Jesus Christ, who we adore today as King of Creation. By showing young people (and, indeed reminding ourselves) that Christ is to be recognised in the marginalised, the poor, and the vulnerable - prompting us to serve Him in them - they will then be drawn further into relationship with Our Saviour, receiving Him in the Sacraments.

Faced with the beauty and majesty of the Universal King, we pray that our young people may enter into the depths of His wisdom and that of His Bride, the Church. By our pastoral outreach, Christ can lead them to understand and follow faithfully the other teachings of the Church that they find difficult.

One thing is for sure, the Good Shepherd is constantly searching for the lost ones. As we hear the Lord say in the Prophet Ezekiel (today's First Reading): "I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong." May we assist Our Lord in encouraging the young to an encounter with Christ the Priest and King. We pray for the faithful young people of our parishes who are the witnesses each and every day to their peers of Christ's love. We give thanks to Almighty God for the gifts, talents and their example. We ask the Lord to bless them.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Great Anticipation


Fr Richard's words for the Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Readings: Universalis: Mass (Readings for the Memorial: bottom of page)

Great anticipation

By Tradition, Saints Joachim and Anne brought their spotless daughter Mary to the Temple to be consecrated to the Lord. The Presentation of Our Lady is the manifestation to the whole universe of she who would later bring forth to the world its Saviour. This joyful Feast, therefore, represents a great anticipation of Christmas and Epiphany, when Mary will give birth to her Son who will shine out as the Light to the Nations. As the Prophet Zechariah says to Jerusalem in the reading for this Memorial: "Sing, rejoice, daughter of Zion; for I am coming to dwell in the middle of you - it is the Lord who speaks."

Yes, by the Immaculate Virgin, the "singular vessel of devotion", God becomes man and dwells among us. Therefore, we owe Mary great devotion as it is she who will lead us to her Son, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday, 33rd Week of Ordinary Time: The Divine Ego

Fr Richard's words for the Friday of the 33rd Week of Ordinary Time


The Divine Ego

In today's Gospel, Jesus encounters a number of people with "big egos" in the temple. Firstly, he drives out those who think the House of God is a place they can trade rather than the place set aside for prayer. Then, as he teaches each day, the chief priests, scribes and leading citizens try to get rid of Him. So filled with their own self importance, they're priority is to stamp their supposed authority and shut down the Son of God Himself. However, they struggle to find a way to do away with Jesus as the majority of people hold onto His Divine words.

When Christ speaks, there's always people who reject Him because they think they're more important. But there are also people who are open, who listen to His words, and take them to heart. Faithful followers of Christ humble themselves before Him. They offer their whole lives to Him; they submit to His teaching as they recognise it brings them to life eternal. 

Faithful Christians are those who reject their own egos for the only ego that matters - Christ's. It is Jesus Himself who has the authority to teach in His Father's House. The French Dominican theologian Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange says that a saint, he says, substitutes his own ego for the Divine Ego who is the Incarnate Word, He who declares: "The Father and I are one." May we do away with pride and sit always at the feet of He who says: "am the way, the truth and the life."

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in Leyburn

Today (20th Nov) and next Friday (27th Nov), there will be Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at Ss Peter and Paul, Leyburn, from 12 Noon until 1pm.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Dedication of the Basilicas of Ss Peter and Paul: Looking upward


Fr Richard's words for the Optional Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Ss Peter and Paul

Looking upward

Why do we dedicate churches under the patronage of saints? It is a pertinent question to ask on a Feast like today. Some churches are dedicated to Our Lady, to a dogma of the Church, or to a particular title or attribute of Our Blessed Lord (e.g. the Holy Name of Jesus). But most churches are named after a patron saint. Firstly, because they direct us to give honour to those saints; to follow their example. A second reason comes to mind when reflecting on today's reading: the vision St John is given of heaven, where all the heavenly beings give praise to Lord who sits on the throne. For the churches dedicated to the saints direct us to look up; they entice us to seek to join them in the heavenly homeland.

The Papal Basilicas of Ss Peter and Paul have an obvious added significance - they are both built over the tombs of those two greatest apostles of Christ. St Peter's Basilica, originally built in 323, was reconstructed after one thousand years due to structural concerns. The current basilica was completed in 1626. St Paul's Outside the Walls was also built in the Emperor Constantine's time in the 4th century, but was destroyed by a fire in 1823. The present basilica was completed in 1854.

Whenever you step foot into these two monumental structures, your eyes are directed upwards. This is what churches are for - we step out of our world and into a glimpse of heaven, to remind us where we are destined. The central apse of St Paul's even has that stunning, striking, golden mosaic of the apostles on either side of Christ who sits on the heavenly throne. 

These two great basilicas of Christendom remind us to reject sin and stay close to Christ, so that we remain on the path to life eternal. We can ask for the intercession of Ss Peter and Paul, the princes of the apostles and foundations stones of the Church, to guide us to that heavenly homeland.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Memorial of Saint Hilda of Whitby: Welcome Christ & be transformed

Fr Richard's words for the Memorial of St Hilda of Whitby


Welcome Christ & be transformed

"When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: 'Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.' And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully."

The story of Zacchaeus that we hear in today's Gospel emphasises the importance of welcoming Jesus, both into our physical homes and into the home which is our heart. Jesus says to us each and every day, "I must stay at your house today'. The question is, do we always and with joy welcome the Lord? Or do we say "we're too busy", or, "we'd rather have someone else in, thanks"? 

Saint Hilda of Whitby, one of our very own we celebrate today, constantly welcomed the Lord with joy. At the age of 33 the holy virgin resolved to consecrate herself to God as a nun. She was chosen as an abbess, first of the monastery at Hartlepool and then the monastery that came to be known as Whitby Abbey.

We know from the story of Zacchaeus that when we welcome Christ into our hearts and stay devoted to Him, then we are transformed. Upon his encounter with Our Lord, Zacchaeus pledged to give half his property to the poor and pay back  four times over those he'd cheated. In Hilda's case, she had already been a holy young woman but she increased in virtue all the more by committing herself in virginity to Christ the Bridegroom. Her holiness inspired the conversion of many sinners. She was also a pioneer in providing education at the Abbey for young men and women alike, as early as the 7th century. St Hilda's particular zeal was for Scripture studies, allowing the students to grow in love for God's word.

The life of St Hilda teaches us that, when we make a home for Christ in our hearts, His Holy Spirit burns within us, allowing us to generously pour out our love for God and for His people. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Optional Memorial, St Edmund of Abingdon: Jesus passes by


Fr Richard's words for the Optional Memorial of St Edmund of Abingdon


Jesus passes by

Jericho is the lowest city on earth, it being 258 metres below sea level. It's geographical profile provides a metaphor emphasising the extent of Jesus' public ministry. He is prepared to go anywhere - even to the lowliest of the low places - to seek out souls to save.

Jesus passes by the blind man on the side of the road in Jericho. Jesus too walks in our midst - today in the Yorkshire Dales. Our reaction too should be to call out for Jesus' healing touch - "have pity on me Lord". Then, when Jesus makes us see with the eyes of faith, we like the healed blind man are called to follow Him along the road.

Jesus the Saviour also came by St Edmund of Abingdon, the holy Archbishop of Canterbury from 1234-1240. When studying in Oxford, he received an apparition of the Christ Child as he walked in some fields. In memory of that occasion, 'he used every night to sign his forehead with the words "Jesus of Nazareth", a custom he recommended to others.' ( Already a pious boy, that encounter made him ever more zealous in following and serving his Lord. He made a vow of chastity; he furthered his theological studies in Paris; he preached the Sixth Crusade; and he was charitable to the sick and poor. Most of the night, he spent in prayer. As Bishop, he too imitated Christ the Good Shepherd in walking among the sheep offering the gift of Faith, despite fierce opposition from both the king and even monks. Even after his death those who, in turn, walked past his shrine at Pontigny Abbey, France, asking for his intercession, were granted miracles.

We ask for St Edmund's intercession that whenever we recognise the presence of Christ in our midst, we too will follow the Lord wholeheartedly, giving praise to God in our service of Him.