Sunday, May 31, 2020

Pentecost: Unity

Father Richard's homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost 


It was great to see Pope Francis today back at the window of the Apostolic Palace to lead the weekly Regina Caeli prayer on this great Solemnity of Pentecost. It was also wonderful to see members of the faithful back in St Peter’s Square once again (while observing ‘social distancing’). This after weeks of Vatican City being closed and papal addresses being broadcast from the Pope’s library.

I’ve always considered St Peter’s Basilica and Square as the “centre of the world” and also our spiritual home as Catholics. The colonnades of the piazza symbolise the Church’s embrace of all the faithful across the world, or the “maternal arms of Mother Church” as Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the architect of the Square, referred to them. When you step inside the Basilica, there’s a feature which always catches your eye. We could say it is the very focal point of St Peter’s, since it’s high up in the apse. It is, of course, the window: the ‘Dove of the Holy Spirit’. The feature is a poignant reminder – that the Holy Spirit “pervades and rules” over the entire Universal Church [Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio, 2.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed by Christ on the whole Church throughout the world is what we celebrate on this great Feast day. Jesus breathes His Spirit upon the apostles and they begin to speak in different languages. With these, they’re able to bring the message of God’s Kingdom to all peoples, meaning the Church spreads to the four corners of the globe. Indeed, the ‘birthday of the Church’ as this Feast is so-called, reminds us that the Church could have and can only exist because of the sending forth of God’s Spirit. What is more, we can only by in unity with our brothers and sisters across the world; we can only be a part of the Body of Christ because of the Third Person of the Trinity’s constant work of sanctification.

Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Catholic Church, has a wonderful sentence which describes the unity that the Spirit brings: “All the faithful, scattered though they be throughout the world, are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit, and so, he who dwells in Rome knows that the people of India are his members.” [Lumen Gentium, 13]

Such is the power of the Holy Spirit that a priest praying the Divine Office hiding in the underground Church in China is united with the faithful at Mass in a United States parish. The Spirit brings into communion the convent of nuns singing the Prayer of the Church in Norway, with a parish group praying the Rosary together in South Africa. Those participating in the Mass at Ss Peter and Paul, Leyburn, are spiritually joined with those praying the Mass in St Joseph and St Francis Xavier, Richmond (when we finally get back to public liturgies).

The Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of believers but is also constantly at work in the Church, bringing all parts of the Body together in love. As St John Paul II taught: “The Spirit guides the Church into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and gives her a unity of fellowship and service.” [John Paul II, Dominum et Vivificantem, 25] From St Paul, we hear in our Second Reading that the Spirit gives particular gifts to particular members of the Church. If we invest in these gifts, we serve each other in love and come into ever-closer communion with God and with each other. The work of the Spirit means members of the Church can carry out immense acts of charity for the betterment of the entire world. We see these fruits of the Spirit in the wonderful medical, educational, and missionary services that the Church carries out in every nation, not to forget the work for justice for the vulnerable and poor that Catholics are engaged in.

It’s a mistake to think of the Catholic Church as merely an ‘institution’. Today’s Solemnity reminds us that the Church is also the “mystical body of Christ”. She is sanctified by the mission of the Spirit Who unites all the baptised, bringing them into the Church’s loving, motherly embrace.

We give thanks to Almighty God today for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which leads us on our journey towards her heavenly homeland. We pray for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit into our hearts, the hearts of our families and friends, upon the Church and upon the whole world at this time.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Saturday, 7th Week of Easter: Esteem for others

Fr Richard words for Saturday of the 7th Week of Easter

Esteem for others

St Peter’s love for St John, his brother in Christ, becomes very evident in today’s Gospel. Peter is concerned that the beloved disciple should have a share in his significant mission to feed the Lord’s lambs and sheep.

Seeing John, Peter said to Jesus: “What about him Lord?” In these words, we can see the deep respect and esteem that one fisherman had for the other. Peter knew that Jesus had a “greater and more familiar love”, as St Augustine puts it [Catena Aurea, John 21:19b-23], for John than any other disciple. Peter will have witnessed the love John showed for Christ. He will have admired John for staying close to Jesus throughout his Passion, for being at the foot of the Cross with Mary; in contrast to he who had disowned the Lord three times.

It’s an important lesson for us: in humility, “to count others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). To admire the faithfulness of our brothers and sisters, to be open to learning from their example of prayer and charity, to rejoice in their gifts and talents – these dispositions lead us to be humble. They will bring us closer into unity with our brothers and sisters, and with God Himself.

Despite St John’s purity and closeness to the Lord, in the end Jesus chose Peter instead to be the rock on which His Church was built. Even if we might not grasp why the Lord has given us a particular mission, all that matters is that we accept God’s will and, with the help of the Spirit, strive to carry it out. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

Optional Memorial of Saint Paul VI: Papal death

Fr Richard's homily for the optional memorial of Saint Paul VI. Mass celebrated for Joan and Bill Marsden RIP on their anniversaries

Papal death

Christ unveils the office of His Vicar on earth in today’s Gospel. Peter affirms his love for the Lord three times and is asked to feed Jesus’ lambs and sheep. But the first Pope and indeed all of his successors are warned that the office involves doing things and going places they would rather not. They are told the See of Peter will involve suffering and even death for Christ.

Of course, only a few popes in history have been martyred. But many have undergone ‘death’ in different ways, remembering always that love always involves some kind of suffering.

In God’s Providence, the Gospel for this 7th Friday of Eastertide falls on the optional memorial of Saint Paul VI, a pope known to many of you. He underwent his own ‘sufferings and deaths’ for the sake of the Truth who is Christ. The obvious one that springs to mind was the reaction to his prophetic encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which was about the beauty and truth of human sexuality. He taught that the two ‘meanings’ of the sexual act – the union of the married couple in love and their openness to having children – could not be separated. In God’s plan, both always have to be preserved. Thus, he upheld the constant teaching of the Church against artificial birth control. For this, he was attacked from both inside and outside the Church. Indeed, many left the Church and even several priests left their vocation. The anger in response Humanae Vitae had a deep effect on Paul VI - he didn’t write another encyclical for the remaining nine years of his pontificate. But he knew that his suffering was part of his deep love for the Lord and for upholding his truth.

Other popes have experienced ‘death’ in different ways. Canon Michael and I recently watched The Scarlet and the Black, in which Gregory Peck plays Mgr Hugh O’Flaherty, a real-life Irish priest who saved thousands of Jews and ‘escaped prisoners of war’ in Rome during the Second World War. In that film, the suffering of Pope Pius XII was evident. He was a prisoner in the Vatican, taunted by the Nazis. And yet, contrary to some unpleasant narratives, he saved tens of thousands of Jewish lives by his actions as pope.

On this Feast, we give thanks for the witness of Paul VI, whose other encyclicals such as ‘On the Development of Peoples’ and ‘Of the Celibate Priesthood’ are also to be recommended.  But we give thanks to Almighty God also for the gift of the See of St Peter, the Vicar of Christ who steers the barque of the Church through the course of history.

Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, will be suffering at this time, having to suddenly steer the ship through the crisis of a global pandemic. Let’s pray especially for him today.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Thursday, 7th Week of Easter: Our Father

Fr Richard's words for today

Our Father

Jesus raises His eyes to heaven in prayer to the Father in today’s Gospel. How often do we pray earnestly to our Loving and Eternal Father? To what extent are we conscious of addressing our praise and supplications to God the Father in particular?

These are good questions to ask. It’s so easy to rattle off spoken prayers without fully concentrating on which Person of the Blessed Trinity we’re addressing. Notice how the Intercessions at Mass are always addressed to the Father. The heart and summit of the Mass is the Eucharistic Prayer – a great prayer of praise and thanksgiving to the Father for the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. The saints tell us there is so much to meditate upon in the first two words of the Lord’s prayer that we could spend quite a long time in silence before moving to the next stanza.

The realisation that God is our Father: that He loves us, cares for us and wants us to share in the life of the Trinity – this should bring us deep joy. Christ is the Mediator between God and man. By His Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection, He has brought us into unity with our Almighty and Merciful Father.

As we approach the birthday of the Church at Pentecost, let us ask the Holy Spirit to bring us ever closer to the Father, that we may see His glory. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Feast of Saint Augustine of Canterbury: Being sent

Fr Richard's words for the Feast of St Augustine of Canterbury

Being sent

In my first year in Rome (2011-12), I was very lucky to altar-serve for Pope Benedict XVI. The occasion was Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Dr Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, was in attendance. It took place at the Church of San Gregorio over at the far side of the Circus Maximus. It was from the Benedictine monastery on this site where Saint Augustine, who was the prior, was sent along with his 40 monks by Pope Gregory the Great in 597 to the British Isles to convert the “Angles”.

To be “sent”: In today’s Gospel, the Lord appoints 72 disciples and sends them out to evangelise the towns and villages. Today’s Responsorial Psalm declares: “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News.” By virtue of our baptism, we also are “sent” by God into the world to live the Gospel and proclaim Christ’s Kingdom with joy.

When the evangelisers reached France, scary stories were circulating about the barbarity of the Angles! They were fearful, and sent Augustine back to Rome to report to the Pope. Gregory was much more optimistic about the openness of the English to the faith and sent them on their way again.

The mission of proclaiming the Gospel can be daunting at times. But, encouraged by the Pope, Augustine and his companions were reminded to be at peace and to trust in the Lord. Thanks to Augustine’s evangelising mission, the Christian faith was brought to our islands and many turned to the Lord.

In the daily response to our “being sent”, it’s our interior life of closeness with the Lord which will inspire our exterior works of spreading the faith. If, like Saint Augustine, we come close to the Lord in prayer, He will give us the courage to proclaim His Kingdom to the people of our time. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Saint Philip Neri: Aspire to sainthood

Fr Richard's homily for the Memorial of Saint Philip Neri. Mass was celebrated for the intentions of the York Oratory community.

Homily: Aspire to sainthood

I have a special affinity with St Philip Neri. The second “Apostle of Rome”, as he is affectionately known, lived at San Girolamo, literally across the cobbles from the Venerable English College, where I trained for the priesthood. He was there at the time when the seminary was founded in 1579. He loved the first students who were later to be martyred for the faith on their return to England. Whenever he saw them in the street, he would greet them with these words: “Salvete Flores Martyrum” – “Hail flowers of the martyrs.”

During my time in Rome, the college community had a private audience both with Pope Benedict XVI and with Pope Francis. Both mentioned the example of Saint Philip in their addresses. In particular, Pope Benedict’s words, incidentally on the Feast of St Francis Xavier in 2013, drew attention to the college and also the neighbourhood in which we lived and studied being hallowed with “many saints”, including St Philip. “Make it your aspiration to be counted among their number,” the Pope said. Words addressed to all of us.

St Philip’s closeness to the English was always acknowledged on this day – when we’d always provide the choir, servers and deacons for the Feastday Mass in Chiesa Nouva, where his tomb is situated. Sadly, because of the present situation, the English students aren’t in Rome today.

In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about the mission of St Paul, who himself ended up in the eternal city and was martyred there. Paul is speaking about his many journeys where, along the way, he preached to the people about Christ, urged people to convert, and proclaimed the kingdom to all whom he met. St Philip imitated Paul in his zealous, joyful preaching and example to the people of Rome. He would walk the city’s cobbled roads, talking to people on street corners and in the piazzas. He had a great sense of humour and a gift for striking up conversations. He would encourage people to follow the path of Christ, he would gather groups to meet for prayer and study, and he would lead his followers to the hospitals to care for the sick. Night, however, was the time for solitude and prayer.

In Benedict XVI’s words, may we aspire to be counted among St Philip’s number. Let us ask this Apostle of Rome’s intercession, that we may not be afraid to speak to people on our streets about the salvation won for us by Christ Jesus and the happiness of a life spent with our Saviour.

*We pray especially today for the Oratorians, the community which St Philip founded, and in particular for the community of the York Oratory at St Wilfrid’s. We pray for their apostolate in our Diocese and that they may continue to strive in imitating St Philip Neri in holiness of life. Lord hear our prayer. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial of Saint Bede: Believe in Christ

Fr Richard's words for the Memorial of Saint Bede

Belief in Christ

The Venerable Bede is the only Englishman to have been declared a Doctor of the Church. He is a significant figure – not only for the Church but also for the history of our nation.

Much of what we know about our isles from 55 BC until 731AD comes from Bede’s masterpiece – The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. What’s more, the mere fact that we’re currently in the last week of Eastertide in a year called 2020 AD is largely down to Bede. He helped establish the computus – the system that calculates the date of Easter – and also the practice of counting years back from the birth of Christ, where we refer to them as Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord.

His involvement in the AD dating system brings us right back to the very basic (and most important) characteristic of every saint and every Christian – Bede believed in Christ, that He became Incarnate on this earth at a particular place and time. So too, the disciples in today’s Gospel declare to Jesus: “we believe that you came from God.”

One of the great things about preaching on the Feast of a biblical commentator is that you can go and have a look at what they actually said about the Gospel of the day. Jesus answered the disciples: “Do you believe at last?” And Saint Bede comments: this “can be understood in two ways: either as a reproach or an affirmation.” If a reproach – Jesus is telling them they woke up late to belief. If an affirmation – Jesus is saying ‘what you believe is true’. [Catena Aurea: John 29-33]

Bede’s commentary reminds us that although people may doubt Jesus is God and be slow to follow Him – it’s never too late in life to convert and believe in Him. Nevertheless, may we always strive, rather, to be affirmed by Christ as a result of a strong and unwavering belief in Him. In his final few moments, St Bede said aloud: “my soul longs to see Christ its king in all his beauty.” May this be also our prayer and longing.

St Bede survived an outbreak of plague when he was a young boy at Monkwearmouth–Jarrow Abbey. We ask for his intercession that we may all be protected from the current virus outbreak we’re experiencing.

Venerable Bede – Pray for us.

Parish News: Fr Richard's recent Mass intentions

Mass Intentions

May 4th: Intention of Dan and Megan and Family
May 5th: Ron Maites
May 6th: Joyce Burke
May 7th: In Thanksgiving for Holy Orders
May 8th: Edna Powell
May 9th: Brian Phillips
May 10th: Lena Buxton
May 11th: Rose French
May 12th: NHS Staff - especially Ward 60 at Hull Royal Infirmary
May 13th: Ron Maites
May 14th: John Mason
May 15th: For Vocations to Diocese of Middlesbrough
May 16th: Priest's Private Intention
May 17th: Priest's Private Intention
May 18th: Peter Anthony Kearney
May 19th: Susan Thompson
May 20th: Jim Lehany
May 21st: Intentions of Fr Peter Stoddart/Kath Allison
May 22nd: Yorkshire Brethren
May 23rd: Mgr Anthony Bickerstaffe
May 24th: Young People of the Parishes


Since the "lockdown" began, I've celebrated two funerals: for Angela Bennington who was resident at Scorton Care Village and, this week, for Sandra Thompson, of Catterick Garrison. May they rest in peace. Please pray for the repose of their souls.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

7th Sunday of Eastertide

The holy season of Easter is almost over. Everyday an empty church! The beautiful month of May an empty church.
What is God saying to us?
Well of course there is a personal answer each of us can give, for myself strange to say I have become more aware of the world around me. I am sure I am not alone in this, though I may not express myself very well. Silence, isolation and Lockdown can make one more aware of sound, society and the needs of others.
Prayer becomes more important, conversation with God more important. an appreciation of time, there is no need to rush. All of these things have come to mind.

Today in the readings of the Mass there is a sense that something is going to happen.  Surely we too are being prepared for something great.
May we all respond to the graces that are ours and to be aware of what God is going to call us to do when lockdown comes to an end.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

May 23rd

I am sure all of us have found more time for personal prayer during lockdown,  The apostles and Our Lady only had 10 days of lockdown in the Upper Room and then they experienced the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit.

What are the signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life? A question worth asking. The answer I would like to give today is the realisation of God's Love. I exist , because of God's Love. Amazing!
Why on earth did God allow me to exist? God willing I'll find that out one day.

Let's keep praying for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, May 22, 2020

St Rita

We are in that special time of the Church between Ascension and Pentecost. It is the time of the first novena when that apostles gathered with Our blessed Lady to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
We can make the same prayer to day if we simply pray the three most powerful words "Come Holy Spirit", we will be renewed.
The Church and the world needs a constant need of the energising power of the Holy Spirit of God.

Today we remember St Rita, the patron saint of impossible cases. I know she is a popular saint but she certainly did suffer. She was forced to marry a horrible man when she was only 12, he was a horrible husband. Their two sons took after their father. Ghastly! Eventually St Rita's husband softened in his attitude to Rita and was reconciled to the Faith and then he was murdered!
The two sons were full of hatred and vengeance, they wanted to kill the perpetrators of the murder - vendetta.
St. Rita saw her two sons die before their planned retaliation and she was able to bring peace between the warring families.
St Rita knew mental and physical suffering and abuse, emotional torture and fear. She never lost her faith in God and spent her last years in religious life where she also experienced a partial stigmata. She is pictured in sacred art with a thorn pierced in her forehead.
St Rita pray for us and for all who suffer in abusive families.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Sebastiano Ricci's 'The Ascension of Christ'

Happy Solemnity of the Ascension! Here is a lovely image illustrating the mysteries we celebrate today.

Sebastiano Ricci (Venice , 1659-1734), The Ascension of Christ, oil on canvas, 100 x 75 cm, The Shippley Art Gallery, Gateshead 

This painting by the Venetian painter Sebastiano Ricci is a preparatory sketch for the decoration of a church ceiling. Italian art had developed since the late 16th Century the use of illusionistic painting on churches, domes, and vaults to open them towards a vision of the heavenly Glory of God.

The Ascension, a moment which unites the terrestrial world and the celestial world, is a perfect theme for this type of painting: the use of the illusionist perspective and fore-shortening translate Christ’s ascent among the clouds much better than a two-dimensional painting can do. The faithful in the church are situated just below the apostles and, like them, fix their gaze on Christ returning to his Father and opening the doors of Heaven to us.

Ricci came to England in 1711 in the hope of painting the dome of the new church of St. Paul’s in London. This may be one of his projects. He did not get the commission but painted instead a striking Resurrection for the chapel of Chelsea Royal Hospital.

Parish news: First Communion/planning for church reopening

We have received a document called "planning for opening of churches in the Diocese of Middlesbrough". That sounds very encouraging, although no date has been given for this to happen as yet.

I am very conscious of the children who are preparing for their First Confessions and First Holy Communion. Pope Francis himself prayed for them on Sunday as he was aware that there are lots of children missing out as May is a traditional time for children receiving these sacraments. God willing, I hope the churches will be open in September and I was thinking - perhaps the last Sunday in September, the 9.30am Mass at Richmond, would be a good day to do it. I will be writing to all the parents shortly.

Canon Michael

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Richmond/Wycliffe Parish Notice: Gift aid

Dave Williams has kindly given us a notice for St Joseph and St Francis Xavier and St Mary's parishioners:

"As we continue in these strange times, one thing has come to my attention. Those parishioners who pay through weekly Gift Aid envelopes, with a few exceptions, must be accruing quite a few envelopes by now. As you know, when you sign up to Gift Aid, you commit to paying a weekly amount. If you could, it would help if you could pay up to date, either by cash, or cheque (payable to "St Joseph & Francis Xavier Parish Account") in one of your envelopes, perhaps enclosing an Easter offering in the Easter envelope. These could then be passed to me, directly, at 32 Newbiggin, or via Canon Michael. Any questions can be directed to me. My email is, and my phone number is 07799322049. Thanks."

St Bernadine of Siena

The first reading of todays Mass is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. St Paul has arrived in Athens, the intellectual capital of the Roman Empire. It is here in the market square or the  Areopagus that Paul delivers one of his most famous sermons. He sees how religious the Athenians are with their many temples and altars, even one dedicated to the Unknown god. St Paul uses this fact to tell them the Good news of Jesus Christ. Their Unknown god is now made known to them. All is going well , the crowd seem impressed until St Paul speaks of the resurrection. The people laugh at him. We are told that only a few people came to believe in Jesus.
Our Faith rests on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is that which gives us hope. I also find it interesting that one of Paul's best sermons was something of a failure when it was first heard. Someone once told me what is the difference between a good sermon and a bad one? I said I don't know thinking that the answer might be 5 minutes. No , the difference is a good listener!

St Bernardino was a renowned preacher. He would pack the piazza of Italy. Crowds flocked to him. His favourite theme was simply Jesus and His Holy name.
As he grew older poor St. Bernardino lost his teeth. Preaching must have been a real ordeal, but the people still came. I think of the expression the singer and the song, well in Bernardino's case they were both attractive.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Today we honour one of England's greatest saints. Dunstan's influence was immense in that last flowering of Anglo Saxon society before the fall of King Harold on Senlac Hill in 1066.
Dunstan was a reformer, he renewed monastic life in the country, he built many churches he brought the church to life again after the ravages of the Viking invasions.
there is one story I like about Dunstan when he was a young man working in the blacksmith shop. He had a fight with the Devil and he pinched his nose off with a pair of tongs. if you ever go to Ampleforth abbey ask one of the monks to point out St Dunstan on the choir screen- he's got the dvil's nose in his tongs!
marvellous, these good old stories, we might smile but they do give us lessons too.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Parish news

Please pray for the repose of the souls of Peter Kearney and Peter Hughes who have died recently.
May I offer my sincere sympathy to Niall Kearney and Robert Hughes who have lost their brothers. I am conscious that there are no doubt many of our parishioners who have lost family and so again I would like to assure you all of mine and Fr Richard's prayers at this time. Each day we offer a Holy Hour for an end to the pandemic and for the parish.

We remember too those whose anniversaries occur about now: Fr Pat Breen of Ulshaw Bridge and  Fr Alfie Dodds of Wycliffe and Jim Lehany of Colburn

Mass Intentions Canon Michael
Monday Raymond Corbally, Tuesday Henry Whitehead, Wednesday Mary Coughlan
Ascension Thursday People of the Parish, Friday Emily Pearson, Saturday Amy Donovan

Fr Richard is saying Mass for Peter Kearney at 6.30pm today and on Wednesday for Jimmy Lehany

St John Paul

Pope John Paul would have been 100 years old today. Many of us can vividly remember his visit to our country back in 1982. I was there in York having slept the night on the racecourse. I had the privilege of holding the microphone for the Pope. I remember each time I brought it to him he would lift it a little higher. It was marvellous to see the huge crowd there in front of him. An unforgettable experience. I was on the 9 0'clock news as I was standing right next to the Pope and then would you believe it the coverage from Liverpool focussed on my sister Angela standing in the crowd! People in our road  always thought we were big Catholics but to have Michael and Angela on the news - well you couldn't top that!

Little did I know that 15 years later I would be celebrating Mass with the Pope in his private chapel in the Vatican. I even have a signed copy of his book "Gift and Mystery". It is a treasured possession.

There are many things you could write about John Paul, indeed there are copious tomes written on his life and work, but for me I think of his approachability. There was I , just an ordinary priest from the North of England yet he was happy for me to join him for Mass. John Paul had a great love for priests and wanted to affirm them in their ministry.

Let's pray for Pope Francis today and for vocations to the priesthood

Sunday, May 17, 2020

6th Sunday of Easter: God "in" us

Fr Richard's words for the 6th Sunday of Easter

God "in" us

“…I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.”

For Jesus to be ‘in’ us - a statement in today’s Gospel that is quite extraordinary. Jesus tells his disciples – if they love him and keep the Commandments, they will be ‘in’ Jesus, and He will be ‘in’ them. Moreover, another Advocate, the Spirit of truth, will be sent to them and will be ‘in’ them.

God is so close to those who love Him that He’s literally “in” them. Have we ever stopped to meditate on the true magnitude of that truth? I spoke on Monday about the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in our hearts. It’s this same awesome reality that is opened up for us in today’s Mass.

If we love Him and are obedient to His Law, the Lord God dwells in our hearts. The Son and the Holy Spirit are sent to live in each of us and, wherever the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity dwell, so too, by grace, is the Father. This intimacy which God wants to have with us is truly staggering. What is more, by being ‘in’ us, God invites us to be ‘in’ Him – literally, to be drawn up into mystical union with the Trinity.

The 19th/20th century Discalced Carmelite nun, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, opened up in her writings the stunning truth we’re speaking of. In fact, she’s often called “the saint of divine indwelling”. The young mystic once wrote to her mother: “Oh, may the Master reveal to you His divine presence, it is so pleasant and sweet, it gives so much strength to the soul; to believe that God loves us to the point of living in us, to become the Companion of our exile, our Confidant, our Friend at every moment.” (1)

St Elizabeth gets over to us something of the fortitude our soul gains by being inhabited by the living God. Of course, St Paul enhances our understanding when he refers to Christians as “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19). With this sublime dignity we have, comes a responsibility: to respect and honour the God who deigns to call our hearts His home. In the first words of today’s second reading, St Peter expresses well this call: to “reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts…” We do this by praising Him, as today’s Psalmist says, by singing “to the glory of His name” (Psalm 65). We reverence Christ also by striving to avoid occasions of sin with the help of grace. By rejecting all that defiles us, our hearts can remain the place where God makes His dwelling.

As well as our bodies, the universal Church is also referred to by St Paul as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (Eph 2:19-22). It’s why Jesus also says in the Gospel that the Spirit will dwell “with” his disciples as well as “in” them. (2) As parts of the Body of Christ, we are united and shaped by the power of the Holy Spirit who acts in the Church, especially in her Sacraments. It’s by the Sacrament of all Sacraments, the Eucharist, that Christ “joins himself to us in the most perfect union” (3) by our reception of Holy Communion. Sadly, you’re not able to receive the Lord physically at the moment. But reflecting on Jesus “in” us, we’re reminded of the significance of the “spiritual communions” you are making in these days. As the traditional prayer by St Alphonsus Liguori makes clear, we show our desire to receive Christ spiritually into our soul and to embrace Him “as if [He] were already there.”

In our present situation, when we’re continuing to spend more time at home, perhaps even alone, let us never forget the mind-blowing truth that the Holy Trinity abides in our hearts – loving us, comforting us, sanctifying us.

We end with the Prayer of St Elizabeth of the Trinity, used in the Catechism:

“O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action. Amen.” (CCC 260)


(2)   Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament - Second Catholic Edition RSV, p. 190;

(3)   Nicolas Cabasilas, Life in Christ, IV, 10: SCh 355, 270, quoted in John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 2003, 34.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Saturday, 5th Week of Easter: A different direction

Paul ordaining Timothy
Fr Richard's words for the Saturday of the 5th Week of Easter

A different direction

The story of Paul and Timothy’s evangelising mission provides a great lesson in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In today’s reading, when the evangelists were set on going to a particular place to preach the Gospel, the Holy Spirit directed them to a different place. They did not question the will of God but followed it immediately and faithfully. Then, St Paul is convinced that his vision of a Macedonian asking him to go to that place and evangelise there was the call of God.

Timothy and Paul took to heart the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “A servant is not greater than his master.” Despite taking decisions themselves on seemingly noble courses of action, they had the humility to accept God’s will for their mission and ditch their original plans.

At times in our lives, we can go down particular paths that are good, wholesome and well intentioned in themselves. But then, if we’re open to the promptings of the Spirit, He can surprise us and direct us to another path according to His will – whether it be to do with a small decision we have to take, or whether it’s as big as discerning our vocation.

Personally, for a time, I thought my “path” was to attempt to get a good reporter’s job on (I hoped) a national newspaper and get married and have kids. But the Lord had different plans! He knew from the beginning of time that I was to be His priest.

“Not my will, but your will be done” (Lk 22:42) is the only response that will bring us true and lasting happiness. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Feast of the Dedication of Middlesbrough Cathedral: Religion over retail

Fr Richard's Homily for the Feast of the Dedication of the Cathedral

Homily: Religion over retail

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of our Cathedral - the mother Church of the Diocese. We look to St Mary’s as the point of unity since it is the Bishop’s Church, the place of his cathedra, the seat of his authority from where he shepherds his flock.  

All parish churches in the Diocese are in unity with the Cathedral church. The Feast of its Dedication draws our attention to the importance and sacredness of our churches. Each of them is the house of God.

Sadly, as we know, our churches are closed at the moment. This is a source of great pain. We know that civil authorities and bishops have a responsibility to exercise the virtue of prudence in their making of tough decisions based on sound advice, particularly when protection of people’s health is of significant concern. In the last few days, however, there has been a noticeable move both by the laity and bishops to now call for churches to reopen, even if just for private prayer. Indeed, as you may have heard, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, chair of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, was due to have a meeting with government officials today to discuss this possibility of opening churches for individual visits. He makes clear the bishops have drawn up a strategy for proper safety and sanitisation measures to be in place.

Currently, churches are included in the last stage of the Government’s plan to lift “lockdown”, meaning that they won’t open until July 4 at the very earliest. As the Bishops’ Conference statement rightly expressed the other day: “The timing and the manner of the opening of churches touches profound sensitivities and spiritual needs. The Government’s document and statements fail to recognise this.”

‘Phase 3’ of the Government’s plan ranks churches in the same category as beauty salons, pubs and cinemas. This category is even lower than non-essential retail outlets opening – sports shops and the like. On this Feast of the Dedication of our Cathedral let us be very clear in our message to society – going to the house of God is not on a par with getting your nails done or going for a pint. It’s not less important than buying a new pair of trainers. The church, rather, is the place of salvation where the Gospel is proclaimed and the saving mysteries of our redemption are celebrated. Whatever the prudential judgments are that need to be made about churches and, later down the line, public worship – they should not be based on this present ranking system.

It’s a sad reality that our culture sees retail and religion as synonymous. Jesus the Gospel chosen for today’s feast couldn’t be clearer on this point. Our Lord drove the money changers out of the Temple, reminding them to treat it for what it is: his Father’s house. Christ shows us that worship of God is more important than shopping.

Churches are God’s dwelling place. They are indeed the most sublime and important places on the face of the earth. There, the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, truly resides in the tabernacle. As is alluded to in our reading from the Book of the Apocalypse, the church is the place where heaven meets earth. It’s the place of our encounter with Christ and his Body, the Church. It’s the place of prayer, adoration and contemplation of God. Quite simply – it’s the refuge for all, a place to encounter love Himself.

On this Feast, we give thanks to Almighty God for our Cathedral and our churches. We pray for Bishop Terry. We pray for positive news to come from today’s meeting between the Cardinal and Government. We pray that our churches may be safely opened again soon.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Feast of Saint Matthias: Listen, observe, love

Fr Richard's words for the Feast of St Matthias, the Apostle

Listen, observe, love

St Matthias was chosen by the Lord to replace Judas as the twelfth apostle because of his faithfulness to Christ. St Peter told the meeting of the apostles that they must choose someone who was with them right from when John was baptising up until the Ascension. They prayerfully asked the Lord to show them who it was who was to join their number – and the Lord guided them decisively to Matthias.

We can use our imagination to picture Matthias’ fidelity to Christ in stark contrast to the betrayal of Judas. Judas was in the “inner circle” around Jesus throughout His public ministry. And yet, despite being in closer ‘physical’ proximity, his heart was far from embracing our Lord and Saviour. Matthias, in comparison, isn’t mentioned at all in the Gospels. He is silent. And yet, from a distance, perhaps the ‘outer-circle’ of Jesus’ followers, he listens to every word the God-man says. He quietly observes the miracles Jesus performs. Like Mary, he sees and listens to all that Jesus preaches and does - and ponders it in his heart. Matthias is the faithful and unassuming follower of Christ. Because of his humility, he is chosen to be a witness to the Resurrection, one of the twelve foundation stones of our holy mother, the Church.

Matthias both observed and listened, leading him to love. He listened attentively to Jesus’ preaching; he was convinced and transformed by the Lord’s saving actions. He came to love the Son of God, the source of love, who loved him tenderly. By his encounter with Christ, Matthias was able to carry out Jesus’ commandment in today’s Gospel to “love one another, as I have loved you.” The apostle loved by bringing the saving message of Christ to, by tradition, the Cappadocian people. In the end, he showed “no greater love” than by laying down his life for Christ in martyrdom.

May we follow the path of Matthias. May we quietly and humbly observe, listen and love Christ – yes, even if it comes to it, by laying down our lives for our friends.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Optional Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima: Fatima points to Jerusalem

Fr Richard's homily for the optional memorial of Our Lady of Fatima

Homily: Fatima points to Jerusalem

Today we look to Fatima, a Portuguese city, where Our Lady appeared six times to three shepherd children in 1917. She exhorted them (and us) to pray the Rosary each day and to make sacrifices for sinners.

Our Lady chose to appear to Saints Francisco and Jacinta along with Lúcia (a servant of God), poor, humble children of faith, who in their own simple way were journeying towards another city, the heavenly Jerusalem. This is the pilgrimage of every Christian. In today’s first reading, Paul and Barnabas set off towards the earthly Jerusalem. It would have been a journey full of joy, a travelling home to the holy city. Just as the earthly Jerusalem is the birthplace of the Church on earth, so the heavenly Jerusalem is the Church’s eternal home. Especially at the Mass, the Church on earth and in heaven unites to praise God.

Jesus in the Gospel gives us one of the many images of the Church when he says to us: “I am the vine; you are the branches.” To remain united and loyal to the Church is to be a branch, joined to Christ the vine, Christ the head of the Church. To be a branch, open to God’s grace flowing from the vine, means we will bear much fruit; we can journey on in faith to our heavenly homeland.

By looking towards Fatima on this day, Our Lady will point the way to Jerusalem. Mary our Mother is the image of the Church, for the Church is also our mother. She reminds us to remain united to the vine, her son Jesus Christ, and gives us the tools of prayer and penance to help us on our journey towards the holy city. And, what is more, she accompanies us on every step of the way.

Listening, following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, we can continue on our pilgrimage to heaven, saying the words of today’s responsorial psalm: “I rejoiced when I heard them say, let us go to God’s house.” 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Optional Memorial of St Pancras: True peace

Fr Richard's homily for the optional memorial of Saint Pancras

Homily: True peace

“Peace” is often an underestimated concept. The Church is quick to point out that “peace is not merely the absence of war” and cannot be “reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies.” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 78) It is, rather, an enterprise of justice and a fruit of love.

Any peace on earth between people “results from the peace of Christ which radiates from God the Father.” (GS, 78) In fact, Saint John XXIII once said: “The fact is that true peace cannot come save from God.” (John XXIII, True Christian Peace, 1959) It’s this true peace that Jesus gifts to his disciples in today’s Gospel: “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.”  

Saint Pancras, who we honour today, certainly received and embraced that wonderful gift. At the age of just 14, he knew peace wasn’t just an absence of violence. He wasn't fazed by the threat of being beheaded for not sacrificing to Roman gods. He knew where true and everlasting peace lies – in the courts of heaven. 

St Pancras was martyred in 303 as a witness to God’s love. More than 200 years later, Saint Augustine brought the relics of St Pancras to England. Many churches here were then dedicated to the teenage martyr, including one in north London, one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in England and the reason for the name of a certain nearby railway station.

In this Easter season, we’re conscious of the saving action of Christ, who made peace by the blood of His Cross (Col 1:20), therefore reconciling us with the Father and each other. Saint John XXIII taught that the gift of true peace is primarily of the heart: “[it] is before all else an interior thing, belonging to the spirit, and its fundamental condition is a loving and filial dependence on the will of God.” (John XXIII, True Christian Peace, 1959)

We pray for that gift of deep peace for ourselves and for all people, especially at this difficult time. We continue to pray for our deceased loved ones that they may, as that traditional prayer ends, “rest in peace. Amen.” And when our earthly pilgrimage has ended, may we too enjoy that peace and rest of heaven that knows no end.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Monday, Fifth Week of Easter: Indwelling of the Trinity

Here are Father Richard's words for the Monday of the 5th Week of Easter

Homily: Indwelling of the Trinity

The pagan crowd in today’s reading saw Paul’s curing of a cripple and concluded that he and Barnabas were gods. The two apostles were so appalled by this claim that they tore off their clothes, rushed into the crowd and shouted that wonderfully stern phrase which often prefixes a reprimand of someone: “Friends, what do you think you are doing?”

Paul and Barnabas were so horrified by this heresy. In response, they make a robust defence of the One they preach and in whose name they act: “the living God who made heaven and earth and the sea and all that these hold…” As today’s response to the Psalm declares: we only give glory to God.

In the Gospel, we hear more of who our God is and how close He is to us. Jesus mentions the three Persons of Who the Church later came to define as the Holy Trinity. We, like Saint John Henry Newman in His wonderful hymn affirm: “Firmly I believe and truly, God is Three and God is One.”

Jesus says to anyone who loves Him, both He and the Father “will make our home” with them. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will also be sent by the Father in Jesus’ name to teach us. Here, Jesus alludes to that sublime reality: the indwelling of the Holy Trinity.

The Catechism speaks of our ultimate end: to enter into perfect unity with the Blessed Trinity. “But,” it says, “even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity.” (CCC 260) There’s a beautiful quotation from Pope Leo XIII which speaks of this ‘indwelling’:

“God by grace resides in the just soul as in a temple… From this proceeds that union of affection by which the soul adheres most closely to God, more so than the friend is united to his most loving and beloved friend, and enjoys God in all fullness and sweetness.” (Divinum Illud Munus, 9)

During this Easter season we invite the Holy Trinity to dwell in our hearts, that we may be totally united to Him.

Ending with the prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity we say: “Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.” (CCC 260)

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Don't worry!

Jesus knows what we are like. He knows we can be worriers and have all sorts of anxieties filling our minds. Well in todays Gospel he simply asks us to trust in Him. One of the most popular images in the catholic world is that of the Sacred Heart, the symbol of Divine Love.
Jesus Loves you and me and in todays gospel he tells us that he has a place reserved for us in heaven so that we can be with Him. So let us trust in Him. Life on earth is short, don't worry.

It was during the Last Supper that Jesus said these words knowing that very evening he was going to be betrayed, arrested and deserted by all his friends, He was going to die on Calvary. Yes, trust in God doesn't mean that we can avoid the Cross in our lives too but it does mean that we have Faith that somehow God will work all things for the good of us Whom he loves.

Praise be Jesus Christ ! Praise for evermore! My Jesus Mercy Mary help

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Whatever you ask for

The Gospel for each day has usually come form St John. Jesus is speaking to his disciples, which means he is speaking to you and me. This morning I heard Jesus say "Whatever you ask for in my name I will do.....if you ask for anything in my name ,I will do it."
Now what do we think of that? I have been reading a book which I haven't read since 1980. It's as if I am reading it for the first time. It is a wonderful book entitled "Elected Silence" Thomas Merton's autobiography. In the chapter I read yesterday he was asking God to make sure his first novel would be published and would be a great success, all for God's glory of course. Well it was never published. God didn't want Thomas Merton to be a novelist but a Trappist monk. It is marvellous story. he says this :
                            "  When God promises to answer our prayers, he does not promise to give us exactly what we ask for. But we can always be certain that if He does not give us that, it is because He has something to give us much better instead. That is what is meant by Christ's promise that we will receive all that we ask for in His Name."

then he writes a little Latin " Quodcumque petimus adversus ultilitatem salutis , non petimus in nomine Salvatoris "

Which I think could be mistranslated as don't ask for anything which isn't good for you... God knows best

Friday, May 8, 2020

VE day

Victory in Europe 1945. It is hard for those of us born after the war to imagine the Second World War. Films and the Victor comic of childhood days and even History books cannot and could not give a true picture of a nation at war.
It is also hard to imagine that the continent of Europe should have witnessed the evils of Nazism. There was a time when Europe was known as Christendom. Nazism was a symptom of what a total rejection of God leads to: the degradation of humanity.
It is the role of the Church to constantly raise the minds and hearts of mankind to the Love of God and the dignity of each and every human person.
May the continent of Europe reject all forms of evil and build a civilisation of Love.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

First Holy Communion

Today is the anniversary of my First Holy Communion back in 1966. It is still a most wonderful memory when I first received Our Blessed Lord into my heart and soul. I shall always be grateful to my parents, teachers and priests who taught me and gave me the example of their faith.
There are mixed emotions for me as your priest when I think of all my parishioners who cannot receive Our Lord as they would want to do. I think also of our children who should have made their first holy Communion on Sunday last. God willing their day will come.

On a happier note today is the feast of one of the patrons of our diocese; St John of Beverley. He was born in the village of Harpham not far from Driffield. He went to school in Whitby. He loved horse racing or should I say loved riding fast! There is a lovely account of one of his healing miracles in St Bede's history when he heals a deaf boy who also had a scabby head. St Bede records a lovely growth of thick black hair and perfect hearing!

So let us pray for our diocese in these troubled times, for our bishop and for vocations to the religious life and priesthood. We need a few vocations from Richmond we haven't had an ordination for ages.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

6th May

In today's first reading we get a glimpse onto the first parish in Antioch. As with all parishes it is quite a mixed group of people from different backgrounds and with different talents. One of the first parishioners called Manaen was brought up with King Herod! Isn't it extraordinary how the message of Christ can touch anyone?
The parish in Antioch saw the importance of group fasting as well as prayer. Pope Francis has asked us all to pray and fast on May 14th to ask God to bring the pandemic to an end.
the other feature of this parish was that it was missionary. Every parish worth its salt must be missionary otherwise it is dead.
Let us hope that our Dales parish will be alive and growing for many years to come

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

5th May

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that it was in Antioch that people were first called Christians.
It is a great thing to be called a Christian, to think that people know us as a follower of Jesus.

My other thought for the day is that Antioch is in Syria, It is very close to the Idlib province where there is unimaginable suffering. Let us all try to remember to pray for the children and families of Syria. Let us pray for Peace in the land where people were first called Christian

Monday, May 4, 2020

Parish news

This morning I offered Holy Mass for the intentions of Christopher & Fenella Harker.  The Mass Intentions for the rest of the week are as follows: Gerard Smith, Tess O'Friel, David Donovan, our parish SVP and Peter Gallagher (Fr Frank's brother)

Today is the feast of the English Martyrs. It was on this day in 1535 that three Carthusian monks were brutally put to death for their loyalty to the true Faith and the unity of the Christian religion. Hundreds more were to suffer over the next 150 years. Catholicism was associated with treachery, Our monasteries were destroyed including Easby Abbey and the Franciscan and Benedictine priories in Richmond.Images of Our blessed Lady and the saints were burnt It was a time of persecution. I have noticed there is a plaque to John Acrige on the side of Trinity Church in the market square. John was once a curate in the town. He was involved in the revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569 and died in the infamous Blockhouses of Hull. He is not classed as a martyr by the Church but he was an undoubted victim of the turbulent times of the sixteenth century.

On a jollier note it is Fr Richard's birthday on Thursday. he will be 35. That's as many years I've been a priest!
God bless him.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Mass by telephone

The Diocese has today announced that a recording of Mass over the telephone is now available, aimed particularly for those who don't have access to the internet. The "Mass-by-phone service" is thought to be the first of its kind in the country. 

The telephone number is 01642 130120. Calls are charged at the local rate. 

The Mass available to listen to at the moment is one celebrated by Father Phil Cunnah this morning at the Cathedral.

Please spread the word and the details to those you know who would benefit from it.

Parish News: Fr Richard's Mass intentions

Intentions for Masses celebrated by Fr Richard this past week have been:

3rd Sunday of Easter (26th April) - Holy Souls
Monday (27th April): 3rd Week of Easter - Protection of Unborn Children
Tuesday (28th April): Optional Memorial of St Peter Chanel - Tony Power
Wednesday (29th April): Feast of St Catherine of Siena - Doris Swales
Thursday (30th April): Optional Memorial of St Pius V - Intentions of Nero and Cristiana
Friday (1st May): Optional Memorial of St Joseph the Worker - John and Renée Joyce
Saturday (2nd May): St Athanasius - Matt Duffy (my grandfather)
4th Sunday of Easter (3rd May) - Intentions of Alex Corser

Month of May: The Little Garden of Paradise

A work of art for the beginning of this month of May

Master of Paradiesgärtlein, ‘Paradiesgärtlein’ (Little Garden of Paradise), mixed technique on oak, 26 x 33 cm, Städel Museum, Frankfurt (Germany)

This painting, probably executed for a convent of Dominican nuns, is characteristic of the elegant international gothic style which developed in Northern Europe at the end of the Middle Ages. It also reflects the importance of the mystical current which enriched the spirituality of that time, thanks in particular to the influence of Meister Eckhart. The beauty of spring began then to be associated with that of the Virgin Mary, which gradually led the Church to dedicate the month of May to her.

The Virgin Mary, wrapped in her blue cloak, is seated with several saints in a secluded garden filled with flowers and birds. She reads a book with Hebrew characters while the baby Jesus plays at her feet with St Cecilia’s cithara. St Dorothea is picking cherries, St Barbara draws water from the fountain. On the other side St George, with his dragon looking like a toy next to him, and St Oswald of Northumbria are listening to the Archangel St Michael. The garden is full of plants and birds, all precisely represented. Most of them have a symbolic meaning related to the life, the qualities and the holy status of the Virgin Mary.

Despite its apparent secular elegance, this painting is a religious image representing the "hortus conclusus" (secluded garden), one of the litanies of the Virgin taken from the Song of Songs. It is of course known as an allusion to the virginity of Mary. It is also, according to Biblical tradition, a place of beauty and bliss where a human being can develop his or her inner life and his or her communion with God, following the example of Mary.

4th Sunday of Easter: The Shepherd of souls

Fr Richard's homily for Good Shepherd Sunday

The Shepherd of souls

There’s lots of sheep in our parishes. Our familiarity with these mammals means that our reflections on today’s Gospel will be quite vivid.

Walking in the Dales quite a lot recently, I’ve encountered many a sheep and lamb. Today’s Gospel tells us that sheep run away from strangers and that they ignore thieves and brigands. So far, they haven’t run away at speed from Canon Michael or myself and they haven’t usually ignored us – so that’s a relief! In truth, they seem to have been quite curious about our presence.

Once or twice I’ve witnessed farmers tending to their sheep. On one occasion, I heard a shepherd talking loudly to his flock while he fed them. I think he was telling one or two of them off for being a bit too eager. But it did demonstrate to me the close bond shepherds have with their flock.

Jesus the Good Shepherd is totally united to us, His sheep. As Shepherd, He cares for and protects us; He leads and guides us; He loves us and teaches us. Yes, sometimes although always with great mercy, He “disciplines those whom He loves” (Heb 12:6). But He always comes looking for us when we go astray, eager to take us upon His shoulders and bring us back to the flock.

Christ tends to His sheep who are the body of Christ, the Church, of which He is both Head and Shepherd. At present, it might seem as though we’re ‘physically’ dispersed in our own parts of the field, not able to gather as the Lord’s flock. Nevertheless, we are still united as His body on earth and our Good Shepherd is always by our side.

Saint Peter, the first “chief shepherd” of the Church on earth, both speaks and writes in today’s readings, urging us to put our whole life in the caring hands of Christ. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter teaches the crowd in our first reading so convincingly about the need to turn to Jesus that three thousand are baptised that day. And in his first letter, the first pope reminds us that Christ is “the shepherd and guardian of our souls”.

Peter’s words draw our attention to the different forms Our Lord’s protection of us through His Church takes. The Good Shepherd is constant in drawing us close to Him in love. But His love also encompasses warnings to us about the thieves and brigands who do prowl around seeking to lead us astray from the flock. Today, these perils manifest themselves in different ways. The temptations of the devil can often be very subtle. Dangers can also appear in the form of various ideologies prevalent in our day which might seem harmless but are actually contrary to our Catholic faith and endanger our soul. It is the particular responsibility of the Church’s pastors today to both bring the love of Christ to His people but also to warn them against the threats to their spiritual and moral life.

Good Shepherd Sunday indeed turns our attention in particular to those who are configured in a special way to Christ at ordination and “act in the name and person of Christ the head and shepherd.” [John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, 15] Priests are the “sacramental representation” of the Good Shepherd and are charged with proclaiming His word, bringing Christ to the flock in the Sacraments, preaching and teaching the Gospel, and giving themselves totally for the service of God’s people.

Please pray especially for your priests today! Please also actively promote this life-giving vocation in your families and, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, let us ask the Good Shepherd to send labours to His harvest in the Diocese of Middlesbrough.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Memorial of St Athanasius: Jesus is God

Fr Richard's homily for today's Memorial of St Athanasius

Homily: Jesus is God

Many of Jesus’ disciples stopped following Him after hearing His “Bread of Life” discourse. They couldn’t stomach His claim to be the “living bread which has come down from heaven”, not to mention His command to “eat this bread”. Fundamentally, they objected to Jesus’ claim to Divinity. Relying solely on human logic, they refused to believe that the man from Nazareth in their midst could be God.

Similarly, the Divine Personhood of Christ was the doctrine that Saint Athanasius of Alexandria defended and proclaimed to his dying day. He lived during the 4th century and, at the time, the Arian heresy was rife. Arius taught that Jesus did not exist eternally as God before His Incarnation as man. He said that Jesus was only “divine” by analogy and that He was a created being. Arians did not believe that Jesus was of the same substance as the Father, or in that intimate Father-Son relationship which Jesus so beautifully alludes to in today’s Gospel.

Saint Athanasius vehemently opposed this heresy, earning him the title “Father of orthodoxy”. He was present at the Council of Nicaea (325) from which we get the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (the longer Creed for Sundays and Solemnities). In that Creed we indeed profess that Jesus is the “Only Begotten Son of God”, that He was “born of the Father before all ages”, and the He is “begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.”

Saint Athanasius’ defence of this Doctrine made him many enemies. He was falsely accused of several crimes, including murder, and was exiled at least five times. But despite his sufferings he never ceased in proclaiming Christ as true God and true man.

Thank God Jesus is God! It’s only the God-man who was able to conquer sin and death by dying and rising again. It is He who is our hope, our comforter, and our love. In the words of Simon Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.”