On the 21st of November, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches celebrate the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary to honour Mary and her lifelong dedication to God.
Much of what we know about the infancy of the Virgin Mary and what we celebrate in this feast comes from an apocryphal text known as the Protoevangelium of James. According to this text, Joachim and Anne were childless until God heard their prayers: “As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life.”
Mary was then conceived, born, and, at the age of three, offered to the Lord to work and live in the Temple under the supervision of some women. When Mary was betrothed to Joseph, and before they were married, she was given one last task to complete: she was in charge of knitting a new Temple veil.
The Temple veil was the only physical barrier that separated the Holy of Holiest–the space where God lived–from the rest of the Temple. Only the High Priest could trespass that veil once a year. The veil was knitted with threads of different colours and materials: gold, white linen, and blue and purple silk. Together, they represented the whole material world. Trespassing this veil was like abandoning the material world and entering into a new dimension, the realm of the divine. This veil was, in a way, a barrier between the people and God, but at the same time, a sign of his presence.
We know from the Gospels that at the moment when Jesus gave up his Spirit on the cross, the veil knitted by the hands of his mother was torn in half. (If you feel like all your work and efforts are consistently spoiled by your children, now you know you are not on your own.) There is, however, a beautiful prophecy in this. Mary built the last veil of the Temple in Jerusalem but also gave a body to the Son of God: the physical body that veiled the presence of the divine but at the same time made him more present and brought him closer to us than he had ever been. When the veil of his body was torn on the cross, the veil of the Temple split, too; the Spirit of God was no longer in the Temple nor in the dead body of Christ, but it had been poured onto the Church.
Fr Daniel Herrero
Should we be sad or glad?
It is a paradox of the Christian faith that death brings both sadness and hope. The sadness of the loss of loved ones; the hope that life is not a journey to nowhere. It is often said that we shed more tears for ourselves at our loss rather than for the one who has died. Our tears cannot help the dead, but we know they do help us. Our prayers, though, can help the dead on the journey into eternity. And it is true that sometimes our tears are the only prayer we can make.
Death, then, is a journey to the promised land of eternal life. This hope is founded in the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. As life goes on, we become increasingly aware of how fleeting it is and how precarious is our hold over it. Thinking about death can be a positive thing. How do we want to be remembered? Reflecting on our mortality can result in a true love of life. When we are familiar with death, we accept each day as a gift. By facing our mortality, we are put in touch with eternal life. Death is a passage to a new life, which, as Jesus says in the Gospel, utterly transcends the life we know now.
We are constantly passaging: the passage from the womb to the world; the passage from school to work or college; the passage from selfishness to love. Death is not the enemy we often think, who puts an end to everything, but a friend who takes us by the hand and leads us into the kingdom of eternal love. Should we be sad or glad? I suppose that depends on how you have lived.
Mgr Jim Curry
This Sunday, Blessed John Henry Newman will be Canonised in Rome by Pope Francis. This is the end of a long process that started back in 1958. As part of the process, two miracles--thoroughly studied by experts--must be attributed to the future saint.
Jack Sullivan, a man preparing to become a permanent deacon in Marshfield, Massachusetts (USA), received the first one. He was lying on his bed with one of the worst spine disorders doctors had seen in years. After seeing a programme about John Henry Newman on TV, he decided to pray to him: “Please, Cardinal Newman, help me to walk so that I can return to classes and be ordained." Next day, without the spine injury being healed, he was pain free and able to walk. After an operation to reconstruct his spine, Jack was experiencing pain again, and for the second time, he prayed to Newman. To the surprise of doctors and nurses, he was immediately able to stand and walk. Jack Sullivan was ordained deacon in 2002.
A 40-year-old pregnant woman, also from the USA, received the second miracle. During her fourth pregnancy, she was diagnosed with a ‘subchorionic hematoma’, a blood clot in the foetal membrane, which cannot be treated. One morning, she started to bleed, and knowing that she was losing her child, she prayed: “Cardinal Newman, please stop the bleeding!” The bleeding stopped immediately, and she was able to finish her pregnancy with normality. Her baby was born, and she has been able to naturally conceive and give birth to another two children since then.
Two miracles that made it possible for Newman to be proclaimed a saint, but more importantly, that made it possible for these two people to fulfill their vocations. They are a great encouragement to us, too, to find and pursue our vocation knowing that God will accompany us and use whatever we may find along the way to manifest his power and love for us.
As John Henry Newman himself wrote:
“Therefore, I trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life; He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends; He may throw me among strangers; He may make me feel desolate, make my spirit sink, hide the future from me--still He knows what he is about.”
Saint John Henry Newman: PRAY FOR US!
Fr James Foley, who became parish priest in 1860, bought this plot in 1866 for £5,125. The architect was George Goldie, well known for his love of the Gothic style. The foundation stone was laid on 14 May, 1867. The site was large, but awkward, extending 300 feet back from the High Street with a very narrow frontage of only 33 feet, compared to the far end of 65 feet. The Church was opened on the feast of the Visitation--2 July, 1869.
Bishop Tray celebrated pontifical High Mass, and Archbishop Manning (later Cardinal) preached the sermon. On the night of 13 September, 1940, during a large scale air raid, the Church was destroyed as was the Carmelite Church in Church Street. Worship continued in a local cinema, the Cavendish Furnishing Company store, the Assumption Chapel in Kensington Square, and lastly the Congregational Chapel in Allen Street.
On 31 October, 1958, the doors of the current building were opened, with the official opening by Cardinal Godfrey on 6 April, 1959. Fr Charles Cox, one of the curates at the time, composed the music of the favourite catholic hymn “Sweet Sacrament Divine.”
In 1921, GK Chesterton was received into the Catholic Church and made his first communion at OLV. In 1869, Cardinal Manning named OLV as his pro Cathedral. It remained so, until the opening of Westminster Cathedral in 1903.
We celebrate the faith of our predecessors, brothers and sisters, the people, religious and clergy who have worshiped, served, and cherished this place as their spiritual home. Today we welcome our present Archbishop, His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who will preside and celebrate this Solemn Mass. Our preacher is the Revd Canon Michael Brockie, Provost of the Cathedral Chapter of Westminster.
We welcome, too, Fr Patrick Ryall OSM, Dean of the Kensington and Chelsea Deanery. We have so much to thank God for. We have a lively multi-cultural parish with so many faithful people who are the living stones of The Church of Jesus Christ.
1794: The mission is re-established
1813: Holland Street Chapel opens
1869: The Church opens
1940: The Church is destroyed
1994: The parish celebrates 200 years
2019: 150th anniversary of the first Church on this site.
It’s not about personalities, is it?
In the Eastern Churches, the apostle Andrew is venerated as the apostle who is foundational to the preaching of the gospel. Venice claims St Mark, Ethiopia cites Philip, and we in the Latin West (that’s Europe south of the Urals) look to Peter and Paul. These personalities were key to the growth of the early Church. They come from the apostolic age, as we call it now: that generation who walked, talked, and ate with Jesus.
Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that Christianity is not an abstract notion or idea; it is, rather, an encounter with a person—Jesus Christ. Pope Francis invites Christians everywhere to a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ each day. No one is excluded from the Joy brought by the Lord. Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. Living like that we are robbed of our joy.
Personalities matter: our approach to life, faith, and others matters. Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Thanks be to God for that person and all the personalities who lead us to Him, Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.
Next week, we celebrate with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, the faith of our fore bearers, who 150 years ago built a church on this site to shelter the Catholic community and praise God. The solemn Pontifical Mass will be celebrated at 11am, followed by a parish party.
Please remember, there is no 10.30 am or 12 noon Mass.
Who has ever been at Mass and suddenly heard the name of a completely unknown character in one of the readings?
This Sunday might be one of those days, and since the temptation to pull out the phone in the middle of Mass and Google the name might just get a little too overwhelming for some, I decided to spare you the struggle by dedicating a few lines to the character of Melchizedek. He appears only twice in the Old Testament: in Chapter 14 of Genesis, and once more in Psalm 110. Despite his being such an obscure individual, the striking similarities between him and Jesus have fed Christian imagination from the very early days.
Melchizedek was King and Priest of Salem, a place that Psalm 76 identifies as Jerusalem. Jesus, too, is King and Priest of the Heavenly Jerusalem. His name can also mean ‘King of justice’ and ‘King of peace’, but is there any king who has brought to the world justice and peace like Jesus has? Melchizedek was believed to be “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life” (Heb 7:3), and so does Christ exist from before all ages. But also, having no father and mother, and therefore being unable to trace his ancestry to the tribe of Levi--from which all priests must come--Melchizedek’s priesthood had to be of a completely new kind, just like Jesus’ priesthood is of a new kind. And if that was not enough, Melchizedek appears offering unusual sacrifices of bread and wine, which Jesus also used when he instituted the Eucharist.
Who exactly was this figure of the Old Testament? This is a question that still remains open. Some say he was a Canaanite priest, others believe he was Shem, the firstborn son of Noah. What all Christian theologians agree on, however, is that he is a figure that points towards Christ and speaks of God’s intention to save the whole of humanity.
Fr Daniel Herrero Peña
The Holy Trinity, God, is not an idea. The blessed Trinity is the reality of God, the ground of our being. As Carl McColman writes:
God is in us, because we are in Christ. As members of the mystical body, Christians actually partake in the divine nature of the Trinity. We do not merely watch the dance, we dance the dance. We join hands with Christ, and the spirit flows through us and between us, and our feet move always in the loving embrace of the Father.
The early Saints of Cappadocia came to express this insight by using the analogies, similes, and metaphors of dance.
God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself. Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between three--a circle dance of Love.
Want to discover more? Consider reading Brother Elias Marechal, a monk of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia: Tears of an Innocent God
(Paulist Press; New York, 2015).
Or simply pray each day:
Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen
Fifty days, or seven weeks, after the Feast of Easter, the Jewish people celebrate the feast of Pentecost, from the Greek πεντηκοστη, which means “fiftieth.” The feast is also known by its Hebrew name Shavuot שבועו)), which means “weeks,” referring to the seven weeks that separate it from Easter.
The feast of Pentecost commemorates the day in which God, seven weeks after rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, appeared on Mount Sinai and gave them the Ten Commandments (the Torah). On that day, God transformed a group of slaves into his people by establishing a covenant with them. We can find in the book of Exodus the account: “There was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that the people who were in the camp trembled. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire, the smoke went out like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.” (Ex 19:16-18)
The occurrence is strikingly similar to what happened with Mary and the apostles 50 days after the resurrection of Christ. They were together in a room, when suddenly a mighty wind blasted the house, shaking it, and fire appeared that divided and rested on each of them. It was the new Pentecost, the day in which God manifested himself again–as on Mount Sinai.
Only this time, God did not intend to speak exclusively to the Israelites. Instead he separated from the Israelites a small group—the twelve apostles. He filled them with the power of his Spirit so they could spread the Good News to all the nations of the world–the news that God had established in Christ a New Covenant to which everyone, Jews and non-Jews, are invited. As a sign, God gave his apostles the gift of tongues, so that all people could hear them speaking in their own languages. They could welcome the Good News and receive in themselves the same Holy Spirit and become children of God. Thus, the prophecies of old were fulfilled: “In the last days–the Lord declares–I shall pour out my spirit on all humanity.” (Acts: 2:17)
Fr Daniel Herrero Peña
To be glad of life, because it gives you a chance to love;
To work, to play, and to look up at the stars.
To despise nothing in the world except what is false and mean.
To fear nothing except what is cowardly.
To be guided by what you admire and love,
Rather than what you hate.
To envy nothing that is your neighbour’s
Except their kindness of heart and gentleness of manner.
To think seldom of your enemies, often of your friends, and every day of Christ.
And to spend as much time as you can, with body and with spirit, in God’s out-of-doors.
These are the little signs on the footpath of peace.
Henry Von Dyke
During their visit ‘ad Limina Apostolorum’ with the Pope, the bishops of England and Wales asked Pope Francis for a message that they could bring back to their dioceses.
The Pope answered their request very simply: “that we are to live the gift of our faith with joy." Joy is the supreme good. We may experience poverty, discrimination, failure, the loss of property or people we love… but we can more easily live through all that if only we have joy in our hearts.
Even for Qoheleth--by far the most critical and gloomy character of the whole Bible--life is worth living only because of the joy of family, of seeing the fruits of one’s work and of sharing your life, time, and food with good friends (Eccl 9:9; 3:22; 2:24).
Other biblical witness, however, affirms that there is an even greater joy in praising God in the liturgy. The liturgy is like an open door that allows us to have a glimpse into the infinite, the eternal, the divine… heaven. In the liturgy, we experience both the loving presence of God and the fellowship of the brothers and sisters. (Ps 33:1-3; 133).
There is an even greater joy, though: the joy of having an encounter with Jesus Christ. John the Baptist leapt for joy when--still in the womb of his mother--he heard the greeting of Mary, who already carried in her womb the child Jesus. Mary herself was told by the angel Gabriel that she ought to rejoice because she would be the mother of Jesus. And with them, so many other men and women who experienced Jesus’ love and power to forgive and to heal. (Mk 2:1-12; 5:1-20; Lk 5:17-26; Lk 8:1-8).
A joy that comes not so much from being freed of one’s ailments but from realizing that in the person of Jesus Christ, God has chosen us from among all the other people and called us to participate of his Kingdom (Col 1:11-14).
This joy does not fade when trials come; rather, it increases because the result of suffering is a deeper and more meaningful relationship with our loving God as well as an increase in faith, hope, and charity (Rm 5:3-5; Jm 1:2-4).
Let us rejoice, then, for having received the greatest gift of all: meeting the person of Jesus Christ in our lives.
Fr Daniel Herrero