Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday 2020 is like no other Palm Sunday we have celebrated . We all have to use our imaginations and accompany Jesus in his rapturous welcome into Jerusalem in the comfort of our homes or back gardens keeping all the social distancing we are required to do. How unlike that first Palm Sunday, and how unlike when I was in Jerusalem for Palm Sunday 2011. Thousands of us gathered together at Bethphage, all carrying enormous Palm branches.We then processed down the Mount of Olives and crammed through the Lions gate into the walled Holy City. We then entered St Anne's church site, now belonging to the Missionaries to Africa (White fathers). We were then blessed by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michael Sabbah. It is a very happy memory.
May the memory of that first Palm Sunday , and our own reading of the Passion Gospel of St Matthew, help us to pray for so many people throughout the world carrying their own crosses of bereavement, fear and suffering in this cruel pandemic. May we all look forward with hope for an end to this horror and the joy of being fully social and alive again.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Saturday 5th week of Lent

The scene is now set for the events of Holy Week, In today's Gospel we hear a prophecy from Caiaphas the High priest "it is better for one man to die for the people. " Jesus does indeed die for all the people of every time and place. Jesus is the redeemer of the world.
Caiaphas is a key figure in the death of Jesus. He came from a High priestly family. His father in law Annas had been High priest before him and would be high priest again. I wonder did John the Baptist's family know him? Zechariah was of the priestly tribe, perhaps they were related? All supposition but archaeologists are pretty sure where the house of Caiaphas was in Jerusalem. The church of St Peter in Gallicantu  is on the site. The Assumption sisters have their convent there. There are ancient caverns below the church. Is it possible that Jesus was imprisoned there during the night of Holy Thursday?  Certainly there are some first century steps leading up from the Kidron valley to Ciaaphas' house, which can be seen today in the church grounds. On holy Thursday night a brazier is lit at the top of the steps by a statue of St Peter to recall his denial that he ever knew Jesus.
All this is just to help set the scene for Holy week.
As we are all in isolation may we feel the closeness of Christ, who knows our longing to be close to him in church and He will bless us as we remember the saving events of our Faith

Friday, April 3, 2020

WARNING: Email scam

Please ignore any emails you might get purporting to be from Canon Michael (and possibly also Fr Richard), asking you to buy an Amazon gift voucher for his niece with a promise to pay you back. This is a scam.

Friday 5th week of Lent

Canon Michael's homily for today

In today's Gospel, Jesus is accused of blasphemy because he is claiming to be God. We know that Jesus is truly God. Today is the first Friday of the month of April and devotion to the Sacred Heart is primarily devotion to the sacred humanity of Jesus. Yes, Jesus is true God and true Man. Devotion to the sacred Heart reminds us that God now loves us with a human heart - a heart full of love and mercy.

In these difficult times let us renew our trust in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Thursday 5th week of Lent

Canon Michael's homily for today - Thursday, 5th Week of Lent

Today we hear about the great Patriarch Abraham our father in Faith. Abraham is mentioned as such in the first Eucharistic prayer. We are living in troubled times. The closing of our churches is very hard to take. Instinctively we know there is something wrong about it. The church is the House of God, the place of refuge our family home. Yes, my faith is challenged.

Abraham has always impressed me for he truly is "The man of Faith in the bible". He was asked to sacrifice his only son and he was prepared to do so. His Faith was tested. We have been asked to sacrifice the practise and habits of our Faith. It is hard. However, if we trust like Abraham our faith will be rewarded.

May the God of Abraham bless us all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Holy Week retreat resource

A mini-retreat that can be prayed at home during Holy Week has been written by the Diocesan adult formation coordinator, Rev Deacon David Cross.

It includes prayers, scripture readings, and reflections for each day of Holy Week.

Deacon David encourages people to print out the pdf document and send it in the post to parishioners who don't have access to the internet so that we can all be united in prayer.

More information as well as the pdf document can be accessed here: https://middlesbrough-diocese.org.uk/a-mini-retreat-for-holy-week/.

Wednesday 5th week of Lent

Canon Michael's reflection for today. 
Readings: https://universalis.com/mass.htm (click on the correct day on the right hand column)

Today's readings are not easy.

Confrontation is never comfortable. Jesus challenges the hardness of heart and the resistance to the truth of the crowd. If only they would believe - they would experience true freedom.

The Book of Daniel describes the difficulty of living a life of Faith in the one true God in a society that is at root pagan; not unlike our world today. The Jews faced violent persecution and we admire the steadfast courage of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We might not be persecuted like the Jews were in Daniel's day but, like Jesus, we do need to witness to the Truth and that might lead to an uncomfortable confrontation. Yes, these are difficult readings but they prepare us for Holy Week and the Passion of our Saviour.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Tuesday 5th week of Lent

Canon Michael's reflection for today. 
Readings: https://universalis.com/mass.htm (click on the correct day on the right hand column)

Today we have a reading from the Book of Numbers. A strange book and a strange title, it sounds like a telephone directory. Though there is a great deal in the book about what we would say was numbers (how many were in each of the twelve tribes of Israel etc), there are also some very ancient stories about the wanderings in the wilderness.

Today's first reading is one of those stories, in fact you couldn't make it up. It must be a true story because it turns everything about the Bible upside down. Moses makes a graven image (something which was expressly forbidden in the first commandment) of a bronze serpent. He was commanded to do so by God himself. Now the serpent had always been seen as a symbol of evil yet, here in this story, all who looked upon the serpent were healed. Astonishing!

Jesus says in today's Gospel that when he is "lifted up", a clear reference to his crucifixion, then the world will know the truth. The amazing truth is that though crucifixion had always been seen as proof that you were abandoned by God, that it was a sign of  desolation, it becomes through Faith the greatest sign of all healing. Through the Cross the sins of the world are redeemed.

It is so unexpected. This is how God works. In the book of Numbers a serpent becomes a sign of healing and the Cross, an instrument of execution, becomes the sign of the healing of the whole world.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Monday 5th Week of Lent

Canon Michael's reflection for today. 
Readings: https://universalis.com/mass.htm (click on the correct day on the right hand column)

The Gospel today is of the famous story of the woman found guilty of adultery and threatened with stoning by a mob. Christ says: "let him who is without sin cast the first stone". The woman's life is saved.

We love the gentleness and mercy of God as he tells the woman "to go and sin no more".

Sin is terrible, an offence against God, harming not only ourselves but often others too. There are times when we only acknowledge our sins after having been found out, like the woman in today's Gospel. Is it true that we only learn humility after being humiliated? Well possibly. I only know that God to whom nothing is hidden, who knows every one of our sins, desires only that I come to appreciate his Love and mercy and gentleness and that he wants me to live my life in integrity and "sin no more". To live life to the full and not to live in fear.

Scholars say that this story is not actually part of John's Gospel but a much later interpolation of an old story. Whatever the facts I am glad it's  in the Gospel. It's a brilliant story.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A story from the Holy Land

About twenty years ago I made my first visit to Bethany and the site of the tomb of Lazarus. It was in January and there were very few visitors at that time in the Holy Land. Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem on the other side of the Mount of Olives. However, because of the Israeli security wall you can't walk there. The only way is either by taxi or bus which takes a very roundabout route to the village where Lazarus lived. It is now an Arab village called Al Laziriya.

Anyway, my friend Fr Lawrence Jones and I got there. The place was pretty deserted. We found the beautiful Franciscan church and were beginning to find our way to the site of the tomb when an  elderly Arab gentleman volunteered to be our guide. He led us through the church garden naming all the plants as we went along. We met a Franciscan, who looked at us and without saying a word gave us a look which undoubtedly meant we were caught!

The Arab gentleman took us to Lazarus' tomb and then played out the whole scene of his dramatic resurrection. It was brilliant. A tour de force. I wondered how many times he had told the story. he shouted " Lazarus come out", at the door of the grave. For those who have been to Bethany getting down to the tomb is quite a deep descent though well worth it. At the end of our visit we knew we had to give the man a tip. We duly did so. It was not enough. The gentleman said he had sixty four grand children. We had to give some more. Thankfully he was satisfied. I can't read the story of Lazarus without recalling the day Lawrence and I ha a virtuoso performance of the story with a sting in the tale

5th Sunday of Lent: The friendship of Jesus


Readings, Gospel and Homily (Fr Richard) for the 5th Sunday of Lent

Readings: http://www.universalis.com/mass.htm (Check you have the correct date on the right hand column of the universalis page)

Homily: The friendship of Jesus


"If your friends ask you to meet, you should say 'no'."

This was one of the many instructions the Prime Minister gave us on Monday that really hit home. The idea of jumping in the car to meet up with a good friend or go round to their house is currently out of the question. When we’re deprived of something we take for granted, personal contact with our friends, we realise how much we love them, we realise how precious friendship is.

The great English saint of our Diocese, St Aelred of Rievaulx, who wrote the masterpiece “Spiritual Friendship”, wrote:

“No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy.”

Jesus also cherished friendship. In today’s Gospel, he travels to Bethany with his disciples who are close by his side. St John throughout his Gospel uses the word philia, the love of friendship, to describe his relationship with the disciples. He’d also made great friends with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. We hear today that Jesus loved them. Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus and the people who saw his emotion said: “See how much he loved him!”

Although the wonders of modern technology mean we’re still able to speak to and even see our friends, it might be the case we don’t meet up with them for weeks, perhaps even months now. And, sadly, as people die of coronavirus and indeed of any other illness at this time, some people will not see their friends again (at least on earth).

But in our isolation, whatever form that currently takes, we know our best friend, Jesus Christ, will be always with us, as long as we call on Him. A good priest friend of mine chose for the words on his ordination card John 15:15, Jesus saying: “I call you friends.” Indeed, Our Lord is very close to us. We know this because of what St Paul tells us in our second reading today. As Christians, our interests our spiritual, “since the Spirit of God has made his home in you.” He tells us that “if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified…” In other words, by Christ’s Incarnation, Passion, death and Resurrection, He dwells in our hearts. He has breathed his Spirit deep within us to give us life. We know where one Person of the Trinity dwells, there are the other two.

At this time of isolation, we know that Jesus our friend lives among us. This wonderful reality means that, rather than calling this period a time of isolation, we can turn it on its head and think of it rather as a time of solitude, a time of resting with our greatest friend, the Lord.

If we stay faithful to Jesus our friend, he will raise us up like he did his friend Lazarus. As St Paul again tells us today: “he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.” Jesus will lift our spirits, bring us joy and peace, and lead us, when Our Father calls us, to the everlasting joys of heaven.

As we today rededicate our country as Our Lady’s Dowry, we call on Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of us all, to bring us deeper into friendship with her Son, who will console us and raise us up.

Duccio di Buoninsegna's: "The Raising of Lazarus"

A very Happy Sunday! Here is the latest in our series of depictions of the day's Gospel:


Duccio di Buoninsegna (Sienna, c.1260-c.1319), The Raising of Lazarus, 1310-1311, tempera and gold on panel, 43.5 x 46 .4  cm, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth (Texas)[CC]



This painting is a visual storytelling of John’s detailed account of the resurrection of Lazarus. From left to right, we see Christ and his apostles arriving too late at Bethany; Mary, followed by Jewish mourners, falling at His feet; the ever practical Martha questioning the order given by Jesus of opening of the tomb, as the body may already smell, a fact confirmed by the man plugging his nose; the risen Lazarus still bounded with strips of material. Duccio highlights the deeper meaning of this event, a public display of faith in Christ, by giving central stage to Martha who proclaimed her faith in Him before the miracle. 


Duccio also uses his revolutionary talent in portraying emotions by suggesting the distress of the Lord on His face. The genial idea of giving to Lazarus an upright position against the dark of the tomb creates an intense face to face between Christ and his friend whose cheeks are getting rosy. It is indeed a public prefiguration, but just known to Him, of His forthcoming death and resurrection.



At the beginning of the 14th C., Duccio played a capital role in the history of painting by introducing more naturalism and life in the prevailing Byzantine style. This panel was part of the huge double faced altarpiece, a Maesta, now dismantled, that he painted for the cathedral of his home town, Sienna. The panel was certainly the last one on the right of the predella, at the bottom of the altarpiece, close to the altar.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Rededication of England as the Dowry of Mary


Remember tomorrow that we're asked to join our brothers and sisters across the country by rededicating England as the Dowry of Mary. The rededication takes place at 12 Noon and will be led by the Rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, Mgr John Armitage. The rededication can be done at home by making both a "personal promise" and a "communal entrustment".

More information and instructions can be found here: https://www.cbcew.org.uk/home/events/re-dedication-of-england-to-mary/



You can watch the rededication Mass from Walsingham live here: https://www.walsingham.org.uk/live-stream/. It begins at 11.45am.

At 10am, Fr Phil Cunnah will celebrate Mass from our Cathedral, followed by the rededication prayers: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrHHOTloR8TPdwQEC8IlPVw (click the live stream)

The title "Dowry of Mary" goes back to 1381, when on the Feast of Corpus Christi, King Richard III dedicated the country as Mary's Dowry. The title means that England was "set aside" as a gift for Our Lady under her guidance and protection. The rededication, which we've been preparing for these last couple of years, has taken on an extra significance in recent weeks as we ask Mary to protect us from the coronavirus pandemic.