Both readings for Mass today (https://universalis.com/mass.htm) deal with sin – and redemption. The serpent in the first reading stands for sin; it was the serpent that suggested to Eve to break God’s command in the first place. And now, the same God commands Moses to lift up an image of serpent, that is sin, as a banner of victory.
Fr David shared with us yesterday one of the most powerful Catholic hymns: Vexilla regis.
“The Banners of the King issue forth, the mystery of Cross does gleam, where the Creator of flesh, in the flesh, from the cross-bar is hung.”
Indeed, in the bronze image of a serpent, a symbol of sin is lifted up like a banner of our faith – and, in the Gospel, transformed into an instrument of salvation: Just as in the desert sin was lifted up, God Incarnate was lifted up for us, with all our sins and guilt.
We are once again reminded that Christianity – when understood properly, in its Catholic fullness – is not a mere system of thinking, a set of philosophical ideas, a collection of lifestyle rules, or a narrow-minded obedience to a prescribed script. Christianity is always meant to be an encounter with a living God, with Jesus Christ, with a person lifted up on the Cross. A person who emptied himself to save us.
As Pope Francis said in his homily of 8 April 2014, “a Christian who is not able to glory in Christ Crucified has not understood what it means to be Christian. Our wounds, those which sin leaves in us, are healed only through the Lord’s wounds, through the wounds of God made man who humbled himself, who emptied himself. This is the mystery of the Cross. It is not only an ornament that we always put in churches, on the altar; it is not only a symbol that should distinguish us from others. The Cross is a mystery: the mystery of the love of God who humbles himself, who empties himself.”
O Lord, listen to my prayer and let my cry for help reach you.
By Fr Tomas
Once again we are blessed to be able to share another beautiful painting from Jan Hearn. This one is inspired by today’s Gospel reading from John 8 and particularly brings to life verse 28: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He”.
Scripture tells us that Jesus is ‘the image of the unseen God’ (Colossians 1: 15), ‘the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being’ (Hebrews 1: 3). It is through Him that the invisible God chooses to reveal Himself, through Him that He desires to be known.
One of the things which really struck me when I started studying Catholic theology was that Jesus didn’t have to submit to the terrible death He endured; indeed, just one drop of His blood would have been enough to redeem the entire human race. Rather, Jesus willingly took up the cross and laid down His life so that fallen human beings would have proof of that which we often find so hard to believe: that there is a God who loves us infinitely and that, regardless of what we’ve done, we can be forgiven.
The cross, therefore, is redeemed, no longer being an instrument of torture reserved for the worst criminals, but transmuted into the ultimate expression of a God who longs to reveal the breadth and depth of His love.
This is reflected in Jan’s painting as we see Christ, neither bloody nor in agony, but with His arms stretched open in invitation: come to Me, His blissful expression denoting the satisfaction He takes in the good work He has completed: it is finished. The beauty and goodness of God radiates out in the form of a rainbow behind Him, a symbol of the covenant love to which he now invites the whole world. It is circular, eternal, with neither beginning nor end, and from it, no one is exempt.
Written by Lucy Stothard, art © Jan Hearn
Image: 'The Conversion of St. Paul' by Caravaggio (1600)
It is estimated that Saint Paul spent between five and six years in prison, in various places, during his ministry, including a period under house arrest in Rome. Considering how active and zealous Paul was for the Gospel, having established churches all over the Mediterranean and Asia Minor during the years following his conversion, it would have been easy for him to become bitter, frustrated and disheartened by these unjust imprisonments. Yet it was during these periods that Paul produced some of his greatest epistolary work, letting himself be used by God to write the Spirit-breathed letters which make up the bulk of the New Testament canon today. These letters have inspired, uplifted and encouraged countless Christian pilgrims as they walk the narrow and rugged road to Heaven.
Perhaps the loveliest of these letters is that which Paul wrote to the church at Philippi. The epistle positively radiates joy, peace, love and gratitude, all of which are especially remarkable considering the numerous references Paul makes to his imprisonment, the uncertainty he was experiencing about his own future on earth, his obvious concern for those he loved, and the suffering of the saints. All of these are things we can easily identify with as we enter the second week of our own lockdown. However, I believe that our elder brother in the Lord would have us call to mind some of the great truths which he wrote down during his own period of isolation and confinement.
Paul knew that what he was experiencing would ultimately benefit the Gospel and the whole Church
Fans of C.S. Lewis will almost be able to hear the demon Wormwood skipping around with glee at the thought of seeing Paul, the great evangelist, locked up, only to be harshly reprimanded by his uncle, Screwtape: How imbecilically stupid you are, never seeing past the end of your nose! Don’t you realise that the Enemy will use this, too, as a means of harvesting those wretched little creatures for Himself?
We might be tempted to raise an eyebrow when we hear Paul refer to his chains as a ‘privilege’ (1: 7). But Paul, having unshakeable faith in a God of Love, and understanding the great mystery that is the Mystical Body of Christ, was confident that the Lord could bring something positive out of even the most adverse situations:
‘I am glad to tell you, my brothers, that the things that happened to me have actually been a help to the Good News.
My chains, in Christ, have become famous not only all over the Praetorium but everywhere, and most of the brothers have taken courage in the Lord from these chains of mine and are getting more and more daring in announcing the Message without any fear.’ (1: 12-14)
In modern, secular society, we’re often told that religion (apparently on a level with money and politics) is a topic best avoided in polite conversation. In extreme circumstances, however, society is shaken up and destabilised, and this can make space for broaching difficult topics which were previously taboo. The enemy normally goes to great lengths to distract us from the truth concerning how fleeting and fragile our lives are. One can only assume that times like this, which raise collective awareness of that same shortness and fragility, must make him rather nervous.
Paul had a joy which no-one could take from him
What images come to mind when you think of normal life? For me, these images would consist of simple, everyday pleasures (which, I hasten to add, would actually be luxuries for vast swathes of the world’s population): meeting friends for coffee, nature walks with my family, walking to Mass on a Sunday morning. Most of us didn’t fully appreciate how much we took these things for granted until it was too late and they were gone (one lapsed Catholic here in Newcastle even contacted our parish priest to say that he missed having a Mass to avoid going to!). I’m sure I’m not the only person who, only a day or so into the crisis, found herself wailing on the phone: “I just want life to be normal again!”
But Paul had a different idea of what ‘normal life’ was, writing from his prison: ‘Life, to me, of course, is Christ’ (1: 21). These seven words alone merit deep contemplation. Paul’s life did not consist of any earthly pleasures or routines, although he appreciated and affirmed those things as good. To him, Christ was not someone he sang about on Sundays, or even merely a friend – but his whole life.
We’re often cautioned, in interpersonal relationships, against trying to fit another person into this role. How many of us, when dating as teenagers, had an older person warn us: “don’t make that boy / girl into your whole life, now! You’ve got to keep some other interests, too.” And, of course, they were right, because that’s a place in our heart which no mere human was ever meant to fill. It’s a place which should be reserved entirely for Christ, and Paul understood this secret well. He may have been in prison and suffering, but his life was never going to feel destabilised because it was entirely wrapped up in a Christ who: ‘is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ (Hebrews 13: 8)
Surely this was the joy which Jesus Himself spoke of when He said, ‘…your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you.’ (John 16: 22).
Paul had the antidote to anxiety
Dr. Timothy Keller once preached an excellent sermon on the following two verses from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus. (4: 6-7)
In his sermon, Dr. Keller addressed the popular misconception that thanksgiving and gratitude are the keys to getting God to give us what we want when we pray, an idea which carries more than a whiff of New Age superstition. Rather, says Keller, the thanksgiving should be borne out of the knowledge that God will always answer our prayers in the way which brings about the greatest possible good, both in our lives and the lives of those we care about. Therefore, says Keller, even if the answer is “no” or “wait”, we can still be filled with peace because we know that God’s wisdom far transcends ours, and He will always do what is best for everyone, even if we, with our limited perception, cannot see or understand it.
These are naturally anxiety-provoking times, yet Christians have the chance to exude that peace which transcends all earthly knowledge – and what a powerful witness that would be to the world.
Let’s finish this post with a reminder to: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.’ (4: 4)
Saint Paul, pray for us!
by Lucy Stothard
The Mass readings for today (https://universalis.com/mass.htm) bring two remarkable stories about women who were saved from death. The perhaps more familiar story about the stoning of the adulteress is depicted in the illustration by our parishioner Jan Hearn.
We will, however, have a closer look at the first story:
The story of Susannah and Daniel is, again, one of the passages that will not be found in Protestant Bibles for not having been included in the original Jewish canon. Yet, Article VI of the 39 Articles of the Church of England lists it among the books which are read "for example of life and instruction of manners".
Daniel is as a young exile from Judah who became an important advisor to the Babylonian and Persian kings in the 6th century before Christ, and was distinguished by his ability to interpret dreams. In spite of his exile, he remained steadfastly loyal to his faith, and was respected and admired by Jews and gentiles alike. His recalled the success of the biblical hero Joseph in the land of Egypt, who was also an advisor in the court of a foreign
king, and the wisdom of the great king of old, king Solomon.
In our story, Susannah bathes in her garden, and two lustful men secretly observe her. They blackmail her that if she does not surrender to them, they will claim that she was meeting a young lover. She refuses them and is arrested. The proceedings are interrupted by Daniel who proposes that the men be questioned about the details of what they saw. They name two vastly different trees which makes clear that they made the story up. Virtue triumphs and the false accusers are put to death.
The story of Susannah has been used from the 15th century as an opportunity to depict a nude female body. Once we are allowed to leave our homes, we do not have to travel too far to see some stunning examples; the National Gallery in London contains exquisite canvases by Ludovico Carracci (https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/ludovico-carracci-susannah-and-the-elders), Guido Reni (https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/guido-reni-susannah-and-the-elders) and Francesco Hayez (https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/francesco-hayez-susanna-at-her-bath).
Susannah innocence was a stamp on her conduct and lifestyle before all people, who through witnessing her trial and outcome may have repented from their ways. She remains an example of a life of purity and as a righteous example and model. However, although the story is named after Susannah, Daniel is the other hero, clever enough to use his knowledge of the Jewish law to effect her salvation. While she is resigned to her fate, Daniel listens to the spirit awoken inside of him by God and his behaviour shifts the focus of the story from Susannah’s condemnation and rescue to his remarkable wisdom.
It should be also noted that from very early on, Susannah has been perceived as a symbol of the persecuted Church.
The first full commentary on the Book of Daniel was written by Hippolytus of Rome in the early 3rd century:
“It is within our ability to understand the true meaning of all that befell Susannah, for you can find all these things fulfilled in the present condition of the Church. Susannah prefigured the Church; and her husband Joachim, Christ; and the garden, the summoning of the saints, who are planted in the Church like trees laden with fruit.”
Indeed, both Jesus and Susannah were betrayed in a garden. The unjustly accused Susannah, then, also becomes a “type” of the Lord in His saving passion. St. Jerome compared of the resounding clamour raised for the execution of Susannah with the of the loud “Crucify him” uttered against Our Lord on Good Friday.
This helps us to understand even better why we need to read the story of Susannah and Daniel this week.
By Fr Tomas
This Sunday, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, has been traditionally called Passion Sunday, for as of today, the sufferings of our Redeemer become the main focus of our worship. It is called Dominica de Passione in the Roman Missal, and Dominica Passionis in the Breviary. Traditionally, all statues and crucifixes are veiled at the Vespers for Passion Sunday.
Regretfully, I am unable to share any photos from our church, and so I am posting a photo of the chapel
at St. Stephen’s House in Oxford, the seminary where I trained for priesthood:
Let me share with you also a few thoughts of the Holy Father on the Gospel reading for today, with another wonderful illustration by Jan Hearn:
“We all have within us some areas, some parts of our heart that are not alive, that are a little dead. . . . But if we become very attached to these tombs and guard them within us and do not will that our whole heart rise again to life, we become corrupted and our soul begins to give off, as Martha says, an ‘odor’, the stench of a person who is attached to sin. And Lent has something to do with this. Because all of us . . . can hear what Jesus said to Lazarus: ‘He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!’”
“Today I invite you to think for a moment: Where is the dead part of my soul? Where is my tomb? . . .
Let us think: what part of the heart can be corrupted because of my attachment to sin, one sin or another?
And to remove the stone, to take away the stone of shame and allow the Lord to say to us, as he said to Lazarus,
“Come out!” That all our soul might be healed, might be raised by the love of Jesus, by the power of Jesus.
He is capable of forgiving us. We all need it! All of us. We are all sinners, but we must be careful not to become corrupt! Sinners we may be, but he forgives us. Let us hear that voice of Jesus who, by the power of God, says to us, ‘Come out! Leave that tomb you have within you. Come out. I give you life, I give you happiness, I bless you, I want you for myself.’"
“May the Lord today, on this Sunday, which speaks so much about the resurrection, give us all the grace to rise from our sins, to come out of our tombs; with the voice of Jesus, calling us to go out, to go to him.”
(From a homily by Pope Francis of 6 April 2014)
By Fr Tomas
Image: Hosea forgiving Gomer by Lucy Stothard
Today I wanted to share something a bit different. Since Lent is a season in which we’re encouraged to turn anew from sin and back to the God who loves us, I thought it might be nice to share an imaginative retelling of the story of the prophet Hosea. This is inspired by the Jewish tradition of midrash – putting flesh on the bones of Scripture.
For those who don’t know, Hosea lived in Samaria in around the eighth century BC. His steadfast love for his wife, Gomer, in the face of her repeated infidelity, paints a beautiful picture of the love God has for the people of Israel, but it also speaks of Christ’s love for the Church and that of God for the individual soul.
The name Hosea means ‘He saves’. It is an alternate form of the name Joshua > Yeshua > Jesus.
If you’re completely honest with yourself, you’re not entirely sure what he ever saw in you.
It’s not that you’re not attractive, of course. You are. You’re young and fertile and men look twice when they see you. You have something they want. In a world where women have no power, this knowledge makes you feel powerful.
Your people have a religion. Their God is the One True God, or so they claim. You’re not sure you believe this, and apparently a lot of your friends and neighbours aren’t, either. There are other people living nearby, and they have their own gods, their own rituals. Their rituals are a lot more exciting than the ones practiced by your own people. As soon as you’re old enough, you decide to give it a try. You discover that there are men who will pay to be close to you in the name of ‘worship’. This idea thrills you.
But Hosea is not like them. He’s a good man. A righteous man. He keeps the old religion, faithfully worships the God you’re not sure about. When he comes to you one day, you wonder for a second whether he might have been converted.
When he asks you to marry him, it’s all you can do not to laugh in his face.
But then you see the sincerity in his eyes, realise he’s serious. You’re about to refuse, but something inside tells you to consider his offer. After all, it’s not every day that a good, righteous man comes up to you with an offer of marriage. Especially not to a woman like you, a woman with a bad reputation. You can tell his intentions are good. He’ll protect you, provide for you. Might not be a bad thing. A girl’s got to think about her future, after all.
So you accept, and do your best to settle down, put the wild days of your youth behind you, be a good wife. You had your suspicions about your new husband at first because he seemed a bit too good to be true. As it transpires, he’s every bit as loving and faithful as he said he would be. You have enough corn, oil, wine and flax to keep you in comfort and security. It’s a good life. The first child comes along and, although you’re a little confused by your husband’s choice of name, everything seems to be going well.
A bit too well, in fact. Though you try to fight it, you can’t help feeling restless. Motherhood is harder than you thought and while your life is comfortable, it’s also a bit tedious. You start thinking about your old life. You know you’d be stupid to throw away what you have with this man. At the same time, you convince yourself that what he doesn’t know, can’t hurt him. One night, while he and your son are asleep, you slip out.
When the second and third children come along, you’re not sure whether or not they’re his, and you pray he won’t be able to tell. Bar two more unusual names, it’s not clear whether or not he’s figured out what you’re up to behind his back. You tell yourself you should probably quit before you get caught, but you can’t.
The problem is, people talk. One day your husband comes home, his face drawn in pain. Your heart drops to the pit of your stomach. He knows. In an instant, it’s all over. He renounces you publicly and your children do the same. Knowing the penalty for adultery in your society, you flee.
You have no place to go but to the Caananite temple, where you try to resume your old life, the life Hosea tried to save you from. You tell yourself it will be fine. You didn’t need saving in the first place. And for a while, it is fine. You earn enough to keep yourself, and you barely think about Hosea at all. After all, he knew what he was getting himself into when he married you. You’re sure he’ll get over it.
But then, little by little, the customers start drying up. At first you’re not sure why, but then you realise it’s probably because you aren’t quite as young and beautiful as you used to be. Your youth and looks were your currency, and you’ve spent them. Pretty soon, you find yourself out of a job.
Now you’re hungry, penniless and alone. By day, people cast scornful glances in your direction. They know what you are. By night, the wind blows cold and makes you shiver. Then all of a sudden, you come to your senses. Hosea’s a fool for love, and he always was mad about you. You’re sure that if you go back to him, he’ll take you back. The thought of your old life of comfort puts a spring in your step as you head off in the direction of his home.
You haven’t gone far when you’re taken captive by slavers. They beat you and put you in shackles. No, you plead, you don’t understand. I have a husband – I’m on my way back to him. They just laugh in response. Who would marry a woman like you?
The next day you find yourself in the market square, ready to be sold off like an animal. Your hair is matted, your face streaked with dirt and tears. You remember Hosea, how good he was to you, the life you had, your beautiful children. How could you have been so stupid?
The voice of the slave merchant rings out across the square. Who will give me thirty silver shekels for this woman? Your stomach twists itself into knots as you wonder who will buy you and what they might do to you. You don’t dare to look up.
Then another voice reaches your ears, calm and clear. I'll give you fifteen, and a bushel and a half of barley. It’s a voice you recognise, although for a second you don’t dare to believe it. Then, hesitantly, you look up, and your eyes fill with tears as you recognise the face of your estranged husband looking steadily at you through the crowd. Relief washes over you as you realise that he is the one who has bought you back. Your knees go weak, and he rushes forward to catch you.
You know your life is never going to be the same, of course. He has bought you back as a slave, not a wife, but you know he’s a good man who will treat you fairly. At least you’ll be fed and housed. Perhaps you might even get to know your children, albeit as their servant.
But then your new master starts acting rather strangely. He gives the children you once bore him new names. He takes you into the wilderness, brings you gifts, sings over you, speaks tenderly to you. You realise he’s courting you afresh, that he wants you back, not as a servant, but as a wife. He gazes at you with eyes filled with compassion, looking for a sign that you’ll return his love.
And it takes a while, but you do. Little by little, you learn to be faithful. You don’t always get it right, but he’s patient and kind. You start to truly know him, appreciate him in a way you never did before. Gradually, you learn to love and forgive others the way he has loved and forgiven you.
When people meet you now, they can’t deny that you’ve changed. You’re humbler. Nicer to be around. Slower to anger, more ready to bear with the faults of others. There’s a joy and gratitude about you that permeates everything you do, even on the hard days.
As for the God of your people, the God you weren’t sure about?
Well, you can’t say for sure, but it sort of feels like you’ve met Him.
by Lucy Stothard
As every evening at 6pm, I have offered the sacrifice of Mass for our parish and for all who worship at S Giles in the improvised chapel in my study.
Tonight was particularly moving as shortly before the Mass, I joined millions of Christians around the world who prayed with Pope Francis who imparted his extraordinary Apostolic Blessing Urbi et Orbi from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Holy Father prayed for the world at this critical juncture in the presence of the ancient icon of Mary Salus Populi Romani– usually housed in the Basilica of St. Mary Major – and the miraculous crucifix kept in the church of San Marcello on the city’s Via del Corso. The Pope then exposed the Blessed Sacrament for adoration and imparted his blessing.
“For weeks now it has been evening,” said the Pope. “Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice it in people’s gestures, their glances give them away.” In this situation, he said, we feel afraid and lost, like the disciples whose boat was in danger of sinking while Jesus slept at the stern.
Now is not the time of God’s judgment, but of our own: “a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.”
The Pope said we can draw lessons from the many people who – even though fearful – have reacted by giving their lives, including medical personnel, supermarket clerks, cleaners, priests, police officers, and volunteers. This, he said, “is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial.”
Pope Francis said faith begins “when we realize we are in need of salvation” and are not self-sufficient. If we turn to Jesus and hand Him our fears, said the Pope, He will conquer them.
“Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.”
Jesus’ cross, said Pope Francis, is the anchor that has saved us, the rudder that has redeemed us, and our hope, because “by His cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from His redeeming love.”
“In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things,” he said, “let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: He is risen and is living by our side.”
“Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.”
Concluding his meditation, Pope Francis entrusted us all to the Lord, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that our faith might not waiver in this time of crisis.
“Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: ‘Do not be afraid’ (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, ‘cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us’ (cf. 1Pet 5:7).”
By Fr Tomas
Today I feel especially blessed to be able to share some beautiful paintings from Jan Hearn, who is a parishioner of St. Giles in Reading. They depict three scenes from the New Testament: the calling of St. Matthew, the woman at the well and the healing of the blind man.
"Not me, surely?" Matthew appears to be asking in disbelief, as the Lord stretches out His hand to him. Tax collectors were the most despised members of first century Jewish society, and with good reason - they worked alongside the Romans to become rich at the expense of their fellow citizens, mercilessly extorting money from their poor and vulnerable neighbours. They were considered the worst of sinners and, potentially, beyond redemption - until Jesus appears and shows that there is truly no-one on Earth who falls outside the scope of God's merciful love.
It's the middle of the day when this Samaritan woman comes to draw water from Jacob's well. Ordinarily, women visit the well at daybreak so they don't have to make the journey in the intense heat. That this woman would rather face the heat than the other women of the town tells us something about her reputation. Yet she encounters a Christ who meets her where she is and reveals His divinity to her. It's a revelation which sets her free from the prison of shame and loneliness and enables her to run back to her people, crying in wonder: "Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did!"
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?" The disciples' question is a perfectly reasonable one. In Jesus' day it was commonly believed that physical impairments were the result of God punishing a person for some sin, either their own or that of an ancestor. Yet, their knowledge of God was still imperfect. Jesus' answer and subsequent healing of the man can go a long way toward helping us understand the nature of our loving Father.
We hope you have enjoyed these paintings. Please feel free to share any thoughts or impressions you have in the comments!
written by Lucy Stothard, art © Jan Hearn
From my corner of the parish
I was just up on the top floor of our house, checking the spare bedroom in case either
Christopher or I need to isolate ourselves from each other and I looked out of the spare
bedroom window. It looks north and I often reflect as I look out from it over the parish, how
lucky I am to live so close to S Giles Church. I began to wonder how everyone in the
congregation and our parish family are at this difficult time. It occurred to me that many of
our congregation live outside of the parish boundaries and so will not be able to see the
church, as I can. So I attach a photo, looking out of the window.
In case you are not familiar with the street names, other than hearing them in the intersessions
on Sunday at Mass, the street with the van is West Hill. There is a new car park, running
parallel to Southampton Street, where I live. The little bit of the house you can see with the
massive tree behind it, is where I lived before we were married; it is Sherman Place (off
Sherman Road). There are only 2 houses in Sherman Place, but it has the great distinction of
backing onto the sex shop!
The church looms up, just right of centre with the Oracle behind and the Vue Cinema turret
visible. Looking straight on we can see S Mary in the Butts, flying the flag and if you are
very careful you can see the edge of Greyfriars poking out. The scene looks a bit of a jumble,
but knowing the streets and the landmarks help to appreciate what a wonderful parish this is.
The words of a hymn we used to sing at Sunday School (I expect anyone aged over 40 did the
same!) Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light, are going through my mind, and it occurs
to me it’s the words: You in your small corner, and I in mine are the words I am thinking of.
Hopefully we shall not need to use the spare bedroom and I hope that no one from our parish
family will need to completely isolate from family members, but those words from Sunday
School days will ring in my mind if needed.
I hope that you all stay well, keep safe and keep in touch
In case you are driven to distraction trying to remember the words by Susan Warner, they are
Jesus bids us shine,
With a pure, clear light,
Like a little candle,
Burning in the night.
In this world is darkness,
So let us shine--
You in your small corner,
And I in mine.
Jesus bids us shine,
First of all for Him;
Well He sees and knows it,
If our light grows dim;
He looks down from heaven,
To see us shine--
You in your small corner,
And I in mine.
Jesus bids us shine,
Then, for all around
Many kinds of darkness
In this world are found -
Sin, and want, and sorrow;
So we must shine,
You in your small corner,
And I in mine.
If you try to find the first reading for Mass today (https://universalis.com/L/0/mass.htm) in your Bible, some of you be looking for it for a very, very long time. The reason is that the Book of Wisdom is an ‘apocryphal’ or ‘deuterocanonical’ book. Martin Luther, in his Bible translation of 1534, extracted the apocryphal books from their usual places in the Old Testament, and had them printed at the end of the Old Testament. He maintained that they “are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading.” After that, many Protestant Bibles omitted them completely. However, in 1546 the Council of Trent specifically listed the apocryphal books approved by the Catholic Church as inspired and they are always included in Catholic Bibles.
The Book of Wisdom was written about fifty years before the coming of Christ. Its author, whose name is not known to us, was probably a member of the Jewish community at Alexandria, in Egypt. He wrote in Greek and, at times, he speaks in the person of Solomon, placing his teachings on the lips of the wise king of Hebrew tradition in order to emphasize their value.
Today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom contains a prophecy about the death of the virtuous man – which has been understood by many as being the death of Our Lord. It can be read, despite its early date, as speaking of Jesus and about His different and challenging teaching, pointing out at sins and transgressions of His contemporaries. Although not worded as specific predictions, this passage is a very powerful pointer to the salvation that God had been planning from the beginning of time. The passage, however, doesn’t only point us to Jesus. It also describes aspects of the life of anyone who choose to follow Jesus and who are prosecuted for Christian faith.
The title of the book invites us to ask the question: what is wisdom? St. Thomas Aquinas refers to it as “a right judgment in accord with eternal law” (ST II-II, q. 45, a. 2), as seeing things the way God sees them.
Firstly, there is wisdom that we call practical: it consists in the kind of learning that can only be obtained by experience. As we get older, we accumulate this type of wisdom that enables us grow in the art of living.
Secondly, there is speculative wisdom. It deals with the deep questions about the meaning of life, the significance of suffering, the origin and destiny of man.
Finally, the last – and possibly highest – form of wisdom is the kind that God gives, the revelatory wisdom. When Solomon prays for wisdom, he is not asking for human wisdom, but for a gift of wisdom from God, knowing that only God is infinitely wise, the perfect sage. Nevertheless, God does not hoard His wisdom, but bestows it as a gift. Through this divine wisdom, God grants us a share in His very own eternal wisdom, handing us His pair of spectacles through which to see the world.
Let us pray today for the gift of wisdom in the words of this Jesuit prayer:
In everything we do, O Lord, give us a desire to seek out the truth;
give us a willingness to heed the advice of others;
give us wisdom in reaching decisions;
give us faith to believe in our conclusions;
give us courage to put our ideas to the test;
and, if we prove ourselves wrong, give us the grace to admit it.
By Fr Tomas