Archives for Eastbourne Ordinariate Mission

Seek, find and rejoice

Fr Thomas’s homily at Mass on the Epiphany (6 January)

Leaflet for Mass

The Three Kings, Edmund Lewandowski (1914–1998); Hallmark Art Collection“They departed to their own country by another way.”

If we go through the account of the Magi coming to visit Christ there are two changes of direction, they have a practical basis but there is also a deeper sense of what is going on and how this can have an importance for us today.

Initially those Wise Men gazed up at the skies, as they had done for their entirely lives, they tried to gather news of the world from the changes among the stars — something caused them to think that a new king had been born, and they went off to find him. They travelled to Jerusalem on the basis of seeing that astral vision. There, amidst the vexation which Herod experienced, they were told to go on to Bethlehem; with this new knowledge they ventured out, and the star again guided them to find the infant king. Having made their visit, having given their homage they returned home, following a different route to avoid King Herod.

So both in their journey towards Christ and travelling home they needed to make a change — from their mistaken visit to Jerusalem, and returning by ‘another way’. Is this merely a case of S. Matthew despairing at the lack of first century sat-nav? Surely not.

If we go back to the beginning; these Wise Men, these Magi — they were outside of the covenant of Israel, these were not the sons of Abraham, they were uncircumcised, they didn’t study the Law of Moses. In all probability they were part of what later developed into Zoroastrianism, they believed that events on earth were paralleled by changes in the stars and so they studied night sky for evidence about what was happening. This isn’t quite the same as reading a newspaper horoscope, but it certainly isn’t the same as relying on sound revelation from God.

But yet, even though they were looking in the wrong place — even though they were studying stars rather than looking to God — they were undertaking this search in good faith, they were genuinely seeking after the truth of the world and what God was doing. God knew this, and so he rewarded their search with a hint — he let them know that something was happening, something which was of such great significance that they needed to respond. They were looking for a sign among the stars, and so that’s what God gave to them.

Secure, as they thought, in their faith and in their belief that they had been given a sign of truth they began their journey. It seemed obvious and natural that they should go to Jerusalem – that’s where a new King of Israel would be born, obviously.

But here we reach the first problem — it’s not obviously the right place, indeed it isn’t the right place. As they arrived, as they met with Herod, they were confronted with the fact that their beliefs were wrong — or rather, that they needed to be purified and refined. Their star-gazing religion wasn’t enough to lead them to the truth. God had used it, given their deep desire to find the truth; he had given them a hint, and it brought them closer to him and his truth…but it wasn’t enough.

Then they were given the text of the Prophet Micah to point them towards Bethlehem. The sign of the star had brought them close, but they needed God’s true revelation to lead them across that final step. They had the humility to accept that leadership — they were willing to travel away from the obvious and natural place in Jerusalem to the small town of Bethlehem because now they were following God’s own revelation.

Now that they submitted themselves to God’s word, they were brought to meet with the Truth itself, the new-born child who was that Truth which they had been searching in vain to find. They rejoiced greatly at the precious gift which they had been given.

Eventually it was time for them to return home, rather than simply retrace their steps they took a new journey. This allowed them to evade Herod, but more importantly it shows that they had been changed by what happened. They had encountered the truth — first, the truth of God’s prophets, and them the incarnate truth Himself — their lives could never simply return to what they had been.

In that journey the Magi stand in for all of us. We too, hopefully, are searching for the truth; and it we are to have that same encounter with the truth then we need to make those two detours as well.

We need to have the humility to put aside our own ways of looking and searching. We need to be willing to submit ourselves to God’s revelation, to the Faith once delivered to the Saints, to the Church who has been given to us as our guide. If we simply rely on our own strength and our own thoughts we might well end up at Jerusalem, as those Magi did; but those last few miles of the journey need us to turn to God and accept the teaching which he has given to us in the Bible, and in the unchanging teachings of the Church.

If we do this, then we will be brought to Christ — we will meet with that single source of all truth. But we also need to be ready to return home by a different path — we cannot have a true and meaningful meeting with Christ and not be changed by it. We may not end up in Cologne Cathedral, as those Magi did; but if we meet with Christ, then even as we journey home, we journey with him…and so we walk in a different way, we walk in Christ’s way. We walk with him guiding our steps. But if we walk this way, then like the Magi we will rejoice with exceedingly great joy.

Christ the Eternal Word

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Second Sunday after Christmas (3 January)

Leaflet for Mass

Adoration of the Shepherds, Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), 1689; Louvre, Paris…that you might know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.

These are the remarkable words of St Paul to the church of God in Ephesians. What is this hope and glorious inheritance that Paul speaks of? He gives us a clue earlier in the passage. Paul says that we were chosen even before the foundation of the world. The statement alone should be enough to blow our minds. Even before the world came into be being, we were already in the mind of God. Not only that, but that he had already planned and made ready the means of our salvation and union with him even before the fall of Adam. Here God holds together the beginning and end of time in a unity which is beyond our minds’ ability to fathom. It sheds greater light on the words of our Lord repeated three times in the Book of Revelation: “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the One who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” This mystery is a profound promise of God revealed in Christ, and one that should provide us with a deep sense of reassurance!

Yet there is more! Having not only prepared a place for us in the heavenly realms, the Lord has also poured out upon us in Christ every spiritual blessing. All that heaven has to offer is ours in the Lord: forgiveness of sins; reconciliation with the Father; the gift of eternal life; the ever presence of Christ in the sacraments; the anointing and indwelling of the Holy Spirit; the witness of the saints and martyrs; the intercessions of Our Blessed Lady the Mother of God and the new heavens and earth where all things are made new where there will be no more tears, sorrows, sadness as sin and death will have been done away with.

As if participation in these elements of heavenly glory were not enough, out of an act of divine love he calls us to not just be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven but calls us to enter into an intimate relationship with him. This new means of relating to the Almighty is revealed to us when Our Lord teaches us how to pray, beginning with the extraordinary profound words, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’ It is also reiterated in our Epistle from Paul “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Thus our relationship with God is more than just that of creature towards its creator — which should carry a utter sense of awe in itself — but the intimate relationship of a family, that we might be of his household, as his children, and he might be our heavenly Father. It is no wonder then that joy, praise and thanksgiving are the innate true characteristics of the children of God.

These mysteries are our hope and inheritance. The Blessed Virgin Mary is full of grace as she perfectly illustrates this intimacy in fulling God’s call to be the mother of the Word made flesh, to be mother of God. Like Our Lady we need to treasure these mysteries in our hearts and contemplate them in our acts of prayer and thanksgiving — and thus open ourselves to receive deeper graces.

The celebration of the Word made flesh in the Babe of Bethlehem is the promise of God made real. The Incarnation reveals that all God’s words of hope spoken through the prophets are made a concrete reality. We can rest in the continuity of the truth that God’s promise has been fulfilled, is being fulfilled and will be fulfilled in Christ our Lord.

We perhaps need reminding of such good news at this particular time so that we do not lose hope and fall into despair. This heavenly inheritance is so much bigger than any pandemic, government policy, or personal situation, all of which will pass away. Steadily fixing our gaze on Christ, who is our hope and joy, enables us to not be overwhelmed with anxiety about what tomorrow might bring but enables us to put all things into an eternal perspective, in the light of the Christ who is our Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end.

Rejoice! The Lord is near

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Third Sunday of Advent (13 December)

Leaflet for Mass

St John the Baptist standing in a landscape, Bernado Zanale (c.1460–1526)Rejoice always, pray constantly, giving thanks in all circumstances.

This Sunday is called ‘Gaudete Sunday’ the Latin meaning ‘rejoice’. It is taken from the opening antiphon at this Sunday’s mass. This lightening of mood is also reflected in the colour rose for the vestments and third candle in the advent wreath. St Paul also tells us in the epistle reading that rejoicing, prayer, thanksgiving are the characteristics of those who are in Christ Jesus. Why? ‘Because he who calls you is faithful’ and has the ability to present us whole and blameless before the Lord on his return.

The Advent theme of looking forward to the day of the Lord’s return is important because it shapes how we view the present. The future vision of union with Christ and heavenly glory enables us to face the present, with all its difficulties, knowing that it isn’t permanent but passing. Our joy resides in the gift of the eternal promise of a new heaven and earth without tears, sorrow or sadness, and that shall never pass away.

We are given a foretaste of that heavenly reality through our communion with Christ in our active prayer, thanksgiving and celebration of the sacraments. It is in the very actions of prayer and thanksgiving that enables us to experience the reality of the future promise. As we hear in Isaiah; “he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness”. The sacrament of our baptism should be brought to mind. This is no ‘pie in the sky, when you die’ but the reality that we are children of God and citizens of the heavenly kingdom now. Once we have grasped this vision we are more able to wait patiently in faith, hope and love, for the fullness of that promise to be revealed.

It was this very reality that enabled John the Baptist to say that he was nothing, in this world, but ‘a voice crying in the wilderness’. He understood that the Christ to whom he would bear witness too, even to the point of giving up his life, was holy and the fulfilment of all God’s long given promises. Christ has been revealed therefore the future hope is assured.

John therefore clings to nothing in this world that is passing away, status, riches or honour and claims that he isn’t even worthy to untie the sandals of the Messiah. It was the servant’s or slave’s job to take the sandals off his master’s feet and wash them when he had returned to the house — yet John says he not worthy to be even called a slave of the Christ.

John puts his trust in the one who is more than a master, indeed he is God made flesh. It is however this Messiah who will nevertheless kneel down and wash his disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. In doing so he reveals the nature of divine love as an example for all to follow and a glimpse of the kingdom to come.

Let us each our hearts prepare

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Second Sunday of Advent (6 December)

Leaflet for Mass

St John the Baptist preaching, Mattia Preti  (Il Cavaliere Calabrese) (1613–1699), c.1665, Malta; Fine Arts Museums of San FranciscoMake straight in the desert a highway for our God.

John the Baptist appears out of the wilderness, clothed in camel hair and rumoured to live on locusts and wild honey.

The desert is a powerful symbol: it is where the Lord will go once John the Baptist has revealed him to the world. The desert is the place of divine encounter and trial. It’s the mountain wilderness where covenants are made and renewed.

A prophetic appearance from the desert cannot but invoke in the minds of the people of God the exodus from slavery in Egypt and their desert wanderings before entering into the promised land.

This evocative image embodied in John’s appearance was enhanced by his ministering a baptism of repentance in the river Jordan. There were plenty of ritual baths used by the Jews in Jerusalem but the Jordan is significant in that the first exodus ended once the people of God crossed the Jordan. John stands on the banks of the Jordan calling the people of God to prepare for the day of the Lord and the appearing of the long promised messiah. The message of John is clear, this messiah will lead the people into a second exodus.

It is no wonder that all the people of Judea and Jerusalem were going out to John at the Jordan. John’s ministry marks him as the last in a great line of Old Testament prophets as he himself fulfils the words of Isaiah: a voice cries in the wilderness: “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

His proclamation is the beginning of the gospel or good news of our Lord. John sets the scene and prepares the people for the ‘Lamb of God, who will take away the sins of the world.’ Our Lord will lead a people into a new exodus, not from a merely physical enslavement but a spiritual captivity to sin and death.

This new exodus requires a baptism through water and fire of the Holy Spirit to be regenerate as the renewed people of God, the Body of Christ, the Church. Here we are called into a new covenantal promise as we in turn are being prepared for our entry into the heavenly homeland, a place spiritually flowing with milk and honey. It is the fulfilment of our true hears desire — finally to be freed from temptation and sin and be embraced by our Heavenly Father. Christ, as promised in Isaiah, ‘will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom.’

This time of waiting and longing for the fulfilment of our journey into the fullness of our heavenly home can so often be marked by trials and tribulations that make us cry out, ‘how long, Lord?’

These times of trial and struggle — be it the madness of this COVID ‘pandemic’, which has seen greater losses of our physical and spiritual freedoms, or more personal and relational trials — test us often to the limits. Yet our preparations to celebrate the nativity with a sense of overwhelming thanksgiving is a timely reminder to us that God fulfils his promises.

The Lord of life, the Word made flesh, was born to us to bring us salvation and a spiritual liberty of the soul that not even the threat of death could steal away — the testimony of the martyrs bears witness to this. It is also a promise that we can trust that he will come again in glory to reveal a new heaven and earth where there will be no more tears or mourning or sadness. This promise has been sealed within us by the presence of God through the Holy Spirit.

The call then is to make straight his paths, through what is often the barren wilderness of our hearts. It is a call to prepare with thanksgiving, works of charity, generosity and love and a willing heart to come before our Lord acknowledging our sins in an act of penitence.

The promise is profound and the Eucharist is a foretaste, our manna along the way, in a spirit of faith, hope, and love for the fullness of heavenly joy.

The editorial title to this article is a line from “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” by Charles Coffin, tr John Chandler.

Bishops’ Update on COVID-19 and Vaccination

Bishop Richard Moth and representative vials of vaccine; Diocese of Arundel & Brighton and Daniel SchuldiIn September 2020 the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales issued a statement COVID-19 and Vaccination (24 September 2020). In the light of the recent breakthrough in vaccine development we now wish to issue a follow up statement.

The development of a vaccine against COVID-19 presents an important breakthrough in protecting others as well as oneself from the virus; a virus which has not only caused a global pandemic and led to a huge loss of life but has also placed a great burden on healthcare workers and systems.

Each of us has a duty to protect others from infection with its danger of serious illness, and for some, death. A vaccine is the most effective way to achieve this unless one decides to self-isolate.

At present, debate concerns the use of the vaccines developed by Pfizer & BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca. Some have questioned the use of the Astra Zeneca vaccine since it has been developed from cell-lines originating from the cells of an aborted foetus in 1983.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Academy of Life have expressed the view that one may in good conscience and for a grave reason receive a vaccine sourced in this way, provided that there is a sufficient moral distance between the present administration of the vaccine and the original wrongful action.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, we judge that this grave reason exists and that one does not sin by receiving the vaccine.

Both the Pfizer & BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have a different source since they are mRNA-based vaccines. On 2 December 2020, the Pfizer & BioNTech vaccine was approved for use in the UK.

Each Catholic must educate his or her conscience on this matter and decide what to do, also bearing in mind that a vaccine must be safe, effective, and universally available, especially to the poor of the world.

Catholics may in good conscience receive any of these vaccines for the good of others and themselves. In good conscience, one may refuse a particular vaccine but continues to have a duty to protect others from infection.

Right Reverend Richard Moth
Chair, Department of Social Justice
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

Statement on the Bishops’ Conference website

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Watch, for you know not the hour

Fr Neil’s message about the readings for Mass on Advent Sunday (29 November)

Readings for Mass

Panorama from the Dukes Pass in The Trossachs, Scotland as the dawn mist rolls down from the Bens; John McSporran, 2017In this first Sunday of Advent our Lord in the Gospel reading exhorts us to be on guard and watch for the master’s return. Of course, in Advent we look towards celebrating Christ’s first coming in the nativity. However, we are also reminded that our Lord will return again at an unexpected hour to wrap up all things. It’s this second coming that Christ encourages us to watch out for. We do not want that day to find us (spiritually) fast asleep.

It’s all very well being told to stay awake for that great day but our ability to remain watchful must depend on other qualities — or we will soon get tired of trying to remain in a state of readiness. Our two other readings give a clue what will enable us to better take our Lord’s words to heart and allow a more active spiritual engagement with the season of Advent.

Our Epistle tells us that acts of remembering and thanksgiving for the gifts of grace we have received from the Lord, enable us to wait with patience ‘the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ’. A simple examination at the end of the day or with the family over the evening meal that asks ‘What am I most grateful for today?’ and ‘What am I least grateful for?’ enables us to see where God has been active through the day and where we might need to put things right that we got wrong. Sacramental confession is particularly helpful during Advent and of course it is no coincidence that the eucharistic prayer at mass means thanksgiving. The mass is our central act as a community of faith and greatest means of preparation for our Lord’s return.

The reading from Isaiah reveals a second attribute that allows for watchfulness, and that is longing. ‘O that you would tear down the heavens and come down’ reveals a passionate longing for the return of the Lord when justice and mercy might be established. This sort of longing is only achieved when love rather than cringing fear marks our relationship and understanding of God.

Christ’s first coming reveals the nature of God’s will and love for us and all creation. Yes, God is holy and requires justice, but he is also merciful. I most certainly make mistakes and get things wrong. I am a sinner and there is no hiding that, yet love reveals that every time I acknowledge my mistakes, am sorry for the hurt they cause and seek in him forgiveness, then I always discover the depths of his merciful love. ‘There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents…’

This encounter with love transforms our watching and waiting into a desire and longing for the one who out of love sought those who were lost that they might be restored again, like the Prodigal Son. Love allows a watchfulness that longs with joy for the one who has captured our hearts.

Therefore let this Advent not disappear under the weight of shopping and tinsel, but be a beautiful time of watching with thanksgiving and a passionate longing for the return of the Lord in all his glory.