On the Shortness of our Earthly Life

Hans Holbein, the Younger - Sir Thomas More - Google Art ProjectIn recent weeks, I have been sorting my stuff into what needs to be packed, what can be given away and what can be discarded. The other day I was struck by the story I read by a good Catholic journalist friend of mine. He wrote about the elderly people of Karamless in Iraq. The IS terrorists were nearing their village and all of the younger people fled. The only ones left behind were the elderly who were not fit enough to run. When the terrorists got to the village, they told all the elderly people (who were all Christians) that they must convert to Islam or they would be killed.

The courageous elderly people said that they would rather die than deny Christ. Perhaps the terrorists could not find anyone willing to kill all the elderly people but in any case, they were told to leave the village immediately with only the clothes on their backs. We must pray for them and hope that their prayers help us – especially when we are in a dilemma about which of our possessions to recycle.

Despite hearing daily of those who die suddenly, whether in war or in peace, we find it difficult to remember that our life here is short, we have one soul to save and an eternity to face. A young priest was reminded of this once when he visited a monastery. He went to talk to one of the old monks in his cell, to obtain some spiritual advice, and commented on how few possessions the old monk had. The wise religious replied that the young priest had very few things in the guest room. The young guest replied “But I am only passing through.” The old monk replied “We are all only passing through.”

That is why so many great saints focussed on the four last things in their preaching and why great spiritual writers began with this theme as the first meditation when guiding others to deepen their spiritual life. Here on earth, God calls us to know, love and serve Him, especially through our charity to others: in heaven, He has prepared an eternal place of happiness. To live according to God’s will on earth will certainly make the world a better place, but at the same time it will make us fit to receive our eternal reward.

On the day before his execution, St Thomas More wrote to his daughter from his cell in the Tower of London and said “pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends that we may merrily meet in heaven.” Well I am only moving down to Margate, not facing martyrdom, but I could not think of a better prayer to make than that of the pioneer of our English Martyrs.

Sermon given by Fr Finigan for the 22nd Sunday of the year (A). Our Lady of the Rosary. 31 August 2014

Thank you

I am very grateful to you for all of your cards, letters and good wishes. Thank you also for your most generous farewell gifts.

Thank you to the Social Club for the gathering and lunch on Monday and for the kind gift of a new camera. I look forward to using it to capture the famous Margate sunset.

Thank you to everyone who assisted with High Mass on Wednesday, and with the reception afterwards. The Mass was sung and served beautifully and the reception was a most enjoyable occasion. Congratulations to Hugo for handling the difficult role of MC at High Mass for the first time.

Please remember me in your prayers as I start in Margate, and please be assured of my continued prayers for you. It has been a great joy and a privilege to serve the parish of Blackfen for the past seventeen years and I have many fond memories of my time here. May God bless you.

St Bartholomew and our love for the Holy Eucharist

BartholomewSt Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles and gave his life in witness to Christ as a martyr. We may accept the common opinion that he is the same as Nathaniel who is mentioned in the first chapter St John’s Gospel. There, Nathaniel is told by St Philip that they have found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, and that He is Jesus of Nazareth. Nathaniel was sceptical and said “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” St Philip invites him to “Come and see.” (Jn 1.45-50)

When Jesus saw Nathaniel, He said that he was an “Israelite without guile” – perhaps in modern slang, “an honest, down-to-earth bloke.” Nathaniel was immediately converted by Our Lord and said “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel.” Jesus promised him that he would see greater things – as indeed he did: as a witness to the teaching, miracles, death and resurrection of the Lord. He was one of the apostles who saw Jesus on the shore of the sea of Tiberias after He had risen from the dead. (Jn 21.2)

The historian Eusebius says that St Bartholomew went as a missionary to India where he left behind a copy of St Matthew’s gospel. Other traditions record him as serving as a missionary in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, and Lycaonia, as well as Greater Armenia where he is greatly venerated. In modern political geography, that would be much of Iraq, north-eastern Syria, and part of Iran, with central Turkey, Armenia, and much of modern Georgia and Azerbaijan. Such missionary journeys, like St Paul’s (and those of the modern traveller) would see warm hospitality, interspersed at times with significant dangers.

The strongest tradition is that St Bartholomew was martyred in Albanopolis* in ancient Greater Armenia, (modern day Azerbaijan) by being flayed alive and then crucified head-downward.

So let us apply the lesson of the life of St Bartholomew to the Holy Eucharist which is the focus I have chosen for this month. We can learn first of all from St Barthlomew’s simplicity: Our Lord Himself spoke of him as an honest and undeceiving man, and his immediate response of trusting faith is an example for us to follow. Our Lord teaches us straightforwardly in the sixth chapter of St John’s gospel that He is the bread of life and that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to draw our spiritual life from Him. Therefore we kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and say simply and humbly, “My Lord and my God.”

Christ promised St Bartholomew that He would see greater things, and so He did. Not only did he see the risen Lord on the shore of Tiberias, he is now joined with the twelve who are the foundations stones of the heavenly Jerusalem, and the martyrs in white robes who see the risen Christ in glory in heaven. Holy Communion is the bread of eternal life and a pledge of future glory.

When we receive Holy Communion and are united with Christ here on earth, we must look forward eagerly to seeing Him in glory in heaven.

Today we must also pray for those Christians in the lands where St Bartholomew preached, who are suffering persecution. There have been many new martyrs in recent months. May their prayers join with those of the holy apostle, for peace, and the restoration of the Church so that in every age the invitation may be made without fear of violence to “Come and see” our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Sermon given by Fr Finigan for the 21st Sunday of the year (A). Our Lady of the Rosary. 24 August 2014

* Here is a link to a Google map of “Where the Apostles died” according to tradition.

The Eucharistic Sacrifice

Christ priest MassIn the canon of the Mass, just after the consecration, we offer to God’s glorious majesty

“this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation”

The holy Mass is a true and proper sacrifice which Christ left to the Church by commanding the apostles at the Last Supper to “do this for a commemoration of me.” (Lk 22.19) The Mass is, as the Council of Trent taught, a visible sacrifice, that is, it is carried out by a visible liturgical rite which is sacrificial in character. It is given to us by Our Lord to make present the sacrifice that He offered on Calvary so that we may draw fruit from it.

The prayers of the Mass remind us that Our Lord is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. At the Mass, it is that same holy Redeemer Jesus Christ who is both the priest who offers and the victim who is offered. That is why we say that the priest at the altar stands “in the person of Christ” when he offers the holy Mass.

Since the sacrifice of the lamb of God is made present, the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice, a sacrifice which takes sins away. It does not apply simply to original sin, or to a vague “sin of the world” (it is always easier for us to be sorry for other people’s sins rather than our own.) The sacrifice of the Mass is applied, as again the Council of Trent teaches, “to the remission of those sins which we daily commit.”

As a sacrifice for the remission of sins, the Mass is of value not only for those who are in the Church building at the time, but for all the living and dead. This means that our participation at Holy Mass is an act of charity for others, because our prayers are joined to those of Christ who died on the Cross for them.

Sometimes today, the mistaken impression is given that the Mass is simply a communal meal which we share, in memory of Jesus. It is true that the Mass is “a sacred banquet in which Christ is received” and the highest form of participation is to receive Holy Communion, but it is not a communal meal like a cocktail party with canapés. Our focus is not on ourselves, but on the Lord.

As Cardinal Ratzinger explained in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy the celebration of Mass “facing the people” led to a “closed circle” in which the priest and people were in danger of that inward focus which Pope Francis has criticised. When we celebrate Mass facing towards the East, we are turned, together, to the Lord. The direction is East because of the rising sun is a symbol of Christ our Lord coming again in glory. Facing eastward also has the merit of taking attention away from the priest. When he offers the liturgical greeting “The Lord be with you”, he turns to the people, and when he speaks to the people in his sermon, he faces them. But when He is speaking to the Lord, He faces, with them, towards the rising sun, in union with the whole Church and indeed with the whole of creation. His personality is of no account; the only thing that matters is that he stands, as an unworthy minister, in the person of Christ.

When we participate at Holy Mass, we should ask for the grace to do so with faith and reverence, with compassion for Our Lord on the Cross and sorrow for our sins which crucified Him, with love for Him and confidence in His mercy. We must also desire the benefits which Our Lord wishes to give us. When we are distracted, it often gives us a clue to our real priorities. We want a piece of work to be done, we want to feel better, we want to go on holiday, we want to buy something. These distractions can be used to serve as a reminder that if we have sense, we will earnestly desire much more the grace that God wishes to give us on this earth, and the glory that He promises in heaven.

Sermon given by Fr Finigan for the 20th Sunday of the year (A). Our Lady of the Rosary. 17 August 2014

Some notices for 10-17 August

As there is just one newsletter for August, here are some notices for this week:

  • Please keep Deacon Michael Baldry in your prayers as he has been ill in hospital.
  • Deacon Braz Menezes wishes to thank parishioners for their many letters, cards and Masses. Deacon Braz has been diagnosed with bowel cancer. Please continue to keep him in your prayers.
  • This Friday, 15 August, is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is a Holyday of Obligation on which we are bound to attend Mass. Masses in the parish are at 10am, 4.15pm and 8pm (Latin)
  • There will be a Latin Low Mass this Monday at 11.30am. (There is no 10am Mass on Monday at the moment.)
  • As I am clearing out the presbytery, there are some books on sale in the Small Hall. Hardbacks £1, paperbacks 50p. Proceeds to SPUC.

Cardinal’s Iraq Appeal: “Help and protect persecuted communities facing a threat to their very existence”

The President of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has released a statement on Iraq calling for urgent “help and protection” for the persecuted communities in the north of the country.

Cardinal Nichols calls on the UK Government to “lead the efforts in the face of such a human calamity” to restore communities and facilitate essential humanitarian aid.

Full Statement

I have followed with deep sadness the unfolding disaster in Mosul, in Sinjar and Qaraqosh, and in other towns and villages across northern Iraq. This is a persecution of immense proportions in which Christian, Yezidi and other communities have been targeted by ISIS and forced to flee their ancestral homes in the Nineveh Plains in search of temporary safety. All they are doing is trying to escape certain death.

Today, I add my voice to those of the Church leaders in Iraq as well as all the Bishops of Oriental Churches who met in Beirut yesterday alongside the Apostolic Nuncio. Along with Christian and Muslim leaders in Wales and many others we appeal for help and protection for these persecuted communities facing a threat to their very existence in their biblical homelands. It is imperative that the international community ensure the physical protection of all communities in Iraq, their human rights including the right to religious freedom. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to lead the efforts in the face of such a human calamity in order to help restore these shattered communities, provide them with urgent humanitarian aid and work with others to ensure their long term security in the land of their birth.

I encourage our own Catholic community to continue to give generously to our agencies working to support the people of Iraq. Above all I invite all people of faith to turn to God in prayer this weekend and seek for our world the change of heart and the gift of grace that alone can bring us peace.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
Archbishop of Westminster

The Urgency of the Gospel of Life

JP2 babyIn a country like ours, protecting the right to human life is an urgent and pressing social and moral concern. As St John Paul said, the right to life is the most fundamental right, and the source of all other rights. You can’t exercise the right to do anything else if you have been killed.1

Each year in the UK, the lives of nearly 200,000 children are ended by abortion, and many more through embryo experimentation, the discarding of “spare” embryos in IVF, and early abortions by the “morning after pill.”

In response to this, we must of course offer help to mothers in difficulties: the Good Counsel Network undertakes this often difficult work of mercy and we support this work in the parish.

It is also necessary to be well-informed in this issue by joining one of the pro-life organisations such as SPUC, and taking the trouble to budget some of our time and effort in becoming properly informed. Too many Catholics simply get their information from the television which in our country is strongly biased against the sanctity of human life. As a result, many Catholics slavishly parrot the shallow and deceptive propaganda of the secular metropolitan elite. This is simply not good enough: not only is it a dereliction of our duty to know, love and serve God, it leads with shocking frequency to Catholics themselves condoning, excusing or otherwise co-operating in the destruction of human life.

Today, a new threat to life has arisen through the same relentless propaganda, now pushing for the legalisation of assisted suicide. Changing the law in this way will have many bad consequences such as making elderly people feel pressured into not being “a burden” on their relatives.

In addition, the legalisation of assisted suicide in Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland has led to a steady increase in the number of cases, and the spread of the practice to involve people with chronic but not fatal diseases, disabled people, children and those with mental illnesses and dementia.

We should be aware too, that it costs on average £3000 to £4000 a week to provide in-patient hospice care, but just a one-off cost of £5 to pay for the drugs which would help a person to commit suicide.

Another fact that is influential on opinion is that the British Medical Association and all major disability advocacy groups oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide.

Such points are useful in trying to persuade people, perhaps at work or among our friends and family, who have been enticed by the one-sided emotional presentation of difficult cases.2

Ultimately, though, we affirm the natural law and the inviolable principle of the right to life of every innocent human being, and the duty to care for the sick, the elderly and the disabled, rather than to allow the Government to take the cheaper route of lethal injection.

Pope Francis has given us heartfelt encouragement to witness to the Gospel. In a country like England, that witness, if it is to be authentic to the signs of the times, and to the needs of our fellow-citizens, must include informed, confident, and loving witness to the Gospel of Life.

Sermon given by Fr Finigan for the 17th Sunday of the year (A). Our Lady of the Rosary. 27 July 2014

1. See the Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae (“the Gospel of Life”) by Saint John Paul II.

2. See the report form Care Not Killing on the results from a recent poll: Assisted Dying and Public Opinion

Portiuncula Indulgence Saturday 2 August

This Saturday 2 August, a plenary indulgence may be gained (under the usual conditions) by the faithful who visit a parish Church and say the Pater and Credo.

This indulgence was granted by Pope Honorius III to the Church of Our Lady of the Angels (the “Portiuncula“) which contains the little Church which was repaired by St Francis. The indulgence has been granted ever since, having later been extended to all parish Churches throughout the world.



Catholic Church, Blackfen