Wednesday 29 June 2011

Will Pope Benedict XVI ever publicly celebrate an EF Mass?

I cannot believe that any Catholic would not welcome the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of Mass by the Holy Father. In fact, the balance of Church life seems out of kilter because it has not yet taken place. We have the Ordinary Form which, of course, Pope Benedict celebrates and then we have the Extraordinary Form which he doesn't.

Photo: Orbis Catholicus
We wait and pray, Holy Father!

Would it be too banal to liken this situation to a man who has two cars? He drives one regularly but the other remains unused in the garage. Need I say more?

But there may be sound reasons why this momentous event has not taken place; there are groups within the Church who actually would be most.......upset? ....not quite the word......very angry? - more like it, if the Pope said the Tridentine Latin Mass. In fact, it is rumoured that some French Bishops (and possibly a few  German and Dutch ones) would be so angry that they would cut the ties with Rome. I do not know if this is true or not but it may account for the fact that the 'Mass of all Time' has not featured on the Holy Father's busy schedule.

He has to do all within his power to stop any fragmentation of the faithful, yet he cannot be held a hostage to fortune, or, in this case, Providence! A difficult road to walk and one that may not satisfy the traditional wing of the faith - prayers are needed and, with that thought in mind, I turn to the unfailing wisdom and grace of Thomas a Kempis.

This is a chapter for those who want for something that appears unnattainable:-

The Voice of the Lord:

My son, on every such occasion this is what you should say: Lord, if this is Your will, let it happen like this. Lord, if this brings you honour, let it be done in your name. Lord, if You see that this will help me and do me good, then grant that I may use it to the honour of Your name. But if you know that it will harm me, and not advance my soul's salvation, then take the desire away.

The Holy Spirit is not the author of every desire that seems good and proper to you. It is not easy to decide whether it is a good spirit or an evil one that generates any particular desire, or even if it originates in your own spirit. Many find themselves deceived in the end, although they thought at first that some good spirit led them.

So whatever desirable scheme presents itself to you, you must be governed by humility and the fear of God as you work towards it; above all, you must commit it entirely to Me, abandoning your own will, and saying: Lord, You know what is best. May Your will decide what shall be done. Give what You will, how much You will, and when you will. Do what you know is best for me, do what pleases you and brings your name most honour. Put me where You will, and deal with me in all things as You please. I am in Your hand - turn me backwards and forwards, turn me upside down.
Here I am, Your servant, ready for anything, for I have no desire to live for myself, but only to live perfectly and worthily for You.

A prayer that God's will be done

Most kind Jesus, grant Me Your grace to be at my side and share my labours, and remain with me right to the end. Grant that it may always be my longing and desire to do whatever is acceptable and pleasing to You.
May Your will become mine, and my will always follow Yours in perfect harmony. Grant that I may be one with You in choosing and rejecting, that I may be unable to choose or reject except as You would do.

Grant that I may die to the claims of everything in this world, and that for Your sake, I may aim at being unknown and unvalued among men.
Grant that beyond all my desires I may find my rest in You, and in You discover peace for my heart. You are the true peace of the heart, its only rest.
All that is outside You is rough and restless. I rest in You, the highest, the everlasting God, and even as I lie down, sleep comes, and with sleep tranquility.

The Imitation of Christ

Posted by Richard Collins - Linen on the Hedgerow

Monday 27 June 2011

St John Southworth - Westminster Cathedral's saint

Today, a special solemnity is being celebrated at Westminster Cathedral - namely the feast of its own saint, the 17th century priest-martyr, John Southworth. Some of you might already be aware that his body was moved to the middle of the nave last week, in preparation for today's celebration. St John is familiar to many who have visited the Cathedral - he can normally be seen lying in a large, glass reliquary (a feretory) in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs. For those not so familiar with his life, though, here is a short outline of the main points.

St John Southworth was a Lancashire man. Born, in 1592, into a branch of the Southworths of Samlesbury Hall, Blackburn. The Southworths were a recusant family, who had remained loyal to the Catholic faith despite the many hardships this incurred. In fact, St John’s father had been penalised by heavy fines for his refusal to attend the local Anglican parish church. He had also spent some time in prison for his role in harbouring the famous Jesuit martyr-priest, St Edmund Campion. These were dangerous times to be a Catholic in England and Wales, and, as St John would have known from his earliest childhood, many good men and women had to pay with their lives for their desire to follow Christ in the Catholic Church. It shows amazing bravery on his part, then, that at the young age of 21 he decided to go abroad and train as a priest specifically for the English mission. He knew that this vocation could end up in his own martyrdom.

Many young men had gone over to French Flanders to train for the priesthood at Douai. In 1613 John Southworth joined them. Little is known of his time here, though we know that he was ordained in 1618, and, after further training, was sent back to England in October 1619. Like many of the men who worked as priests in the home mission Fr Southworth went back to his home turf. We know that he remained active in the north-west for several years, and was probably well accustomed to hiding in priest-holes from time to time! During 1624 and 1625 St John Southworth went back to Douai, before returning to his native Lancashire. In 1627, though, he was arrested. This was his first arrest of many! Another priest, St Edmund Arrowsmith, was arrested with him. They were both tried for treason (by being active Catholic priests), and both were found guilty and detained at Lancaster Castle. St John was given a reprieve, but not before seeing Fr Arrowsmith being led to his gruesome execution. In fact, John Southworth gave his friend absolution as he was led past his cell window.

The Queen, Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, was a Catholic and worked hard to try and save as many priests as she could. It was probably at her request that St John Southworth was moved from his miserable conditions in Lancaster Castle to The Clink prison (built for the purpose of housing religious dissenters), in Southwark. In April 1630 the Queen moved again, with the help of the French Ambassador, and managed to release 16 priests from The Clink into exile, and safety, in France. St John was amongst these prisoners. Some suggest that he didn’t actually cross the Channel, but others seem to think that he probably did, and that he went back to Douai. Whatever happened to him during that time, we do know that he was back in London and specifically in the Westminster area in 1636 - where he remained off-and-on for the rest of his life.

Westminster at the time of St John Southworth was known for its dark, rambling alleys, extreme poverty, and for the criminal underclass that lived amongst the mashes and hovels just south of where the Cathedral stands today. During the Middle Ages Westminster had become a centre of power, thanks to the Royal Abbey and the greater role of Parliament (which met within the Palace of Westminster). Many powerful people moved into the area, and they were catered for and served by the poor of the marshland. Also, during the Reformation many places of Sanctuary (where suspected criminals could seek refuge from the law) had been dissolved or abandoned (and rights of sanctuary removed). One of the greatest Sanctuaries was Westminster Abbey, and many suspect characters had sought refuge there. During the 16th Century many criminals, who had left the Abbey (now it wasn’t a safe place to hide), decided to settle in the locality. This established Westminster with a reputation for danger and criminality, which lasted even to the time of Dickens, who called area “the Devil’s acre”! During the time of St John Southworth this same place would have had a very bad reputation, and there were parts that were definitely to be avoided by “the great and the good”. It was in this area that our Saint found himself in the 1630s.

Westminster Abbey had a prison, called The Gatehouse, which had been in use since the 14th Century. In 1636 St John Southworth was committed to this prison – though also seems to have had a dwelling in Clerkenwell. The Gatehouse was what we would nowadays call an “open prison” and many inmates were allowed out on day-release or even to live in their homes outside the prison walls. It was whilst he was a prisoner at here that St John, together with the Jesuit, St Henry Morse, tended to the spiritual and material needs of local Catholics. The years of 1636/7 were known for a plague epidemic in London. Westminster was badly hit by this disease. Most people in need had to rely upon the charity of the local (Anglican) parish, therefore Catholics were left unaided. Frs. Southworth and Morse would visit Catholics in the marshes and alleyways of Westminster, to distribute alms (probably provided by the Queen and foreign Embassies) whilst officially being prisoners of The Gatehouse themselves!

One of the curates at St Margaret’s, Westminster, complained of two “Popish priests” [Southworth and Morse] who “…under the pretence of distributing alms sent from the Friars at Somerset House [the Queen’s chaplains] and other Papists, doth take occasion to go into divers plague-stricken houses in Westminster, namely into those of William Baldwin and William Stiles, in the Hemp Yard, Westminster…”. It seems that the curate, William White, was worried that parishioners of his, suffering from the plague, had converted to Catholicism through St John’s ministry, as he wrote that “…Baldwin…received the sacraments from him according to the Church of Rome and so died a Romish Catholic…thus under the pretence of relieving the bodies of poor people, he poisons their souls.” The complaints of local clergymen led to Fr Southworth’s arrest and detention at The Gatehouse on the orders of Sir Dudley Carlton, Clerk to His Majesty’s Privy Council. In 1640 he was transferred to The Clink, where the Commission for Causes Ecclesiastical confirmed his imprisonment. By mid-1640 St John Southworth was free again, but by the end of the year he appears to have been detained at The Gatehouse once more. During these various imprisonments Fr Southworth was protected by the Secretary of State to the King, Francis Windebank, who seems to have allowed him relative freedom, and who eventually became a Catholic himself.

His Royal protectors were soon to be of no use, as England became a Protectorate and virtually a Puritanical nation under Oliver Cromwell, and King Charles I himself was executed (1649). Still, St John Southworth continued in his ministry amongst the poor of Westminster. He seemed to have been living in the area when he was apprehended whilst in bed in 1654. When St John Southworth was finally arrested and brought to trial at the Old Bailey many people urged him to plead “not guilty” to the charge of administering the sacraments as a Catholic priest. Even the Judge himself is said to have advised him to deny the charge – having no real evidence against him. Fr John Southworth, though, could not deny his priesthood and as a result was found guilty of the treasonable charge. At the sentencing it is said that Serjant Steel, who read out the sentence, wept bitterly. It would be true to say that many people, even outside the Catholic Church, loved Fr John Southworth.

On 28 June 1654 St John Southworth was dragged to the gallows at Tyburn. He was to be hung drawn and quartered. The executioner felt such pity for the 62-year-old that he let him hang to death – thus relieving him of the torture of quartering. St John was allowed to make a speech and to wear his vestments at the place of execution – a rare privilege. An eye-witness recorded his last words during which he said:
“My faith and obedience to my superiors is all the treason charged against me; nay, I die for Christ’s law, which no human law, by whomsoever made, ought to withstand or contradict… To follow His holy doctrine and imitate His holy death, I willingly suffer at present; this gallows I look on as His Cross, which I gladly take to follow my Dear Saviour…I plead not for myself…but for you poor persecuted Catholics whom I leave behind me.”
It seems that the butchered corpse was bought by the then Duke of Norfolk and given to the Spanish Ambassador, who ensured that St John Southworth’s remains were buried at Douai. There he remained at peace until 1793, when the French Revolution reached the seminary, and his body was hidden and buried in an unmarked grave. In 1927 the Saint’s body was rediscovered during some building work, and was returned to England by Rev Albert Purdie. A hearse took the relics from Dover to St Edmund’s College, Ware.

When John Southworth was beatified in 1929 his relics were enshrined at Westminster Cathedral – where he now rests in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs. St John’s remains are the only complete relics of any of the Martyrs of England and Wales. On October 25th 1970 Pope Paul VI canonised John Southworth, along with the other Forty Martyrs.

St John Southworth, ora pro nobis

Posted by Dylan Parry at A Reluctant Sinner

Thursday 23 June 2011

Treasures of Heaven - The British Museum brings together some of the world's most extraordinary Christian relics, including the Mandylion of Edessa

The British Museum opens its latest major exhibition today, called Treasures of Heaven: saints, relics and devotion in medieval Europe. This exhibition, which will run until 9 October 2011, will bring together for the first time some of the finest sacred treasures of the medieval age. It features over 150 objects drawn from more than 40 institutions including the Vatican, European church treasuries, museums from the USA and Europe and the British Museum’s own pre-eminent collection. Amongst it star attractions is the Mandylion of Edessa, the holy image of Christ's face that is kept in the one of the Pope's private chapels. As this image is rarely seen in public, a visit to the British Museum this Summer will be a must for many Catholic and Orthodox believers.

According to the British Museum's introduction to the Treasures of Heaven: -
It was during the medieval period that the use of relics in devotional practice first developed and became a central part of Christian worship. For many, the relics of Christ and the saints – objects associated with them, such as body parts or possessions – continue to provide a bridge between heaven and earth today.

Relics were usually set into ornate containers of silver and gold known as reliquaries, opulently decorated by the finest craftsmen of the age. They had spiritual and symbolic value that reflected the importance of their sacred contents.

The earliest items date from the late Roman period and trace the evolution of the cult of the saints from the 4th century to the peak of relic veneration in late medieval

Relics featured in the exhibition include three thorns thought to be from the Crown of Thorns, fragments of the True Cross, the foot of St Blaise, the breast milk of the Virgin Mary, the hair of St John the Evangelist, and the Mandylion of Edessa (one of the earliest known likenesses of Jesus).

Treasures such as these have not been seen in significant numbers in the UK since the Reformation in the 16th century, which saw the wholesale destruction of saints’ shrines. The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to glimpse the heritage of beautiful medieval craftsmanship that was lost to this country for centuries.
The Mandylion of Edessa - also known as the Holy Towel or the Image of San Silvestro.

According to legend, the first century King Agbar of Edessa wrote to Jesus, inviting him to live in his city, for he had heard that there was a plot to kill the Messiah. King Agbar also suffered from leprosy, and asked Our Lord to heal him. According to the early Church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, Abgar received a response from Our Lord, informing the King that he would not be able to visit, though promised to send one of his disciples after the Ascension. Eusebius claimed that Thaddaeus (Jude) eventually made it to Edessa, bearing the words of Jesus, by the grace of which King Abgar was miraculously healed.

Other accounts of this story, especially within the early Syriac Doctrine of Addai, recount that King Abgar actually sent a messenger called Ananias to ask Jesus to visit Edessa. Apparently, Ananias was also a painter, who attempted to paint a portrait of Our Lord. But, because of Christ’s dazzling glory, the artist was unable to complete the work. Jesus therefore left the artist an imprint of his face by wiping it on a towel - hence “Mandlyion” is often translated as “Holy Towel." This divine portrait, was then taken back to Edessa and conserved in the royal palace. It’s claimed in this version that it was by touching this relic that the king was finally cured of his leprosy. Other authors from the ancient world also claim that an angel painted the image.

Evagrius Scholasticus wrote in AD 593 the first known account of the existence of a physical image in the ancient city of Edessa (modern-day Urfa in Turkey). In the Ecclesiastical History, Evagrius mentions a portrait of Christ, of divine origin (θεότευκτος), which had miraculously helped the people of Edessa against an invading Persian army. It seems that this image had been found hidden in a wall, where a Christian bishop had placed it for safe-keeping after the kings of Edessa had reverted to paganism.

The holy image was reportedly transferred in to Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, in AD 944, along with the original letter from Jesus to King Abgar. The monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai, still claims to have two side panels from a triptych that had been designed for the Mandylion at this time - the Mandylion itself would have been the centre-piece. The Orthodox Church still commemorates the Translation of the Mandylion to Constantinople on 16 August.

The "holy towel" disappeared from Constantinople during the scandalous Fourth Crusade in 1204. Some claim that it then became one of St Louis IX of France's wondrous relics, which he stored in his specially designed Parisian church, Sainte Chapelle - originally built to house the Crown of Thorns. Some scholars have argued that the image at Sainte Chapelle was probably that which is now called the Shroud of Turin. Having said that, some historians claim that the Mandylion as once owned by the kings of France was part of King Louis IX's collection and that it was eventually destroyed during the French Revolution.

It may be, though, that the Mandylion had found it’s way to Rome by the 15th century – where it was housed in the convent at San Silvestro in Capite until 1870, when Bl Pope Pius IX had it moved to the Vatican for safe-keeping. This image is now kept in the Matilda Chapel – one of the Pope’s private chapels. It is housed in a Baroque frame donated by a nun, Sister Dionora Chiarucci, in 1623. The earliest evidence of its existence is 1517, when it seems that the nuns of San Silvestro had been expressly forbidden to exhibit it - to avoid competition with the more famous Veil of Veronica, housed in St Peter's Basilica. There remains some debate as to whether the Vatican's image is the original Mandylion, or whether it is a very early copy - as it seems to date from the 4th century, if not later.

In the summer of 1996, the Vatican Museum’s chemistry and painting restoration laboratory analyzed their Mandylion. Although it seems to date from the 4th - 5th century, the linen cloth itself was found to be glued to a cedar support panel. It was also confirmed that the face of Christ was “painted,” although the non-destructive tests were insufficient to specifically confirm what type of painting medium was used.

Having conceded that it may be the work of human hands, if one looks closely at the Mandylion of Edessa as found in the Vatican - by zooming in on this high resolution image - it is clear that the eyes have a very human quality. The irises are extremely detailed and it is even possible to see their unique pattern. For all the doubts as to the historicity of the Mandylion and as to whether the Vatican's image is the original, I personally have the feeling that what we see here is some mystical image of Our Lord's face. It is obviously highly regarded by the Pope - who is usually the only person with access to it!

To see the Mandylion and the many other sacred relics and images included in the Treasures of Heaven, please visit the British Museum website for visiting times and ticketing details.

This post was published simultaneously on A Reluctant Sinner by Dylan Parry

[Images: Top: Reliquary pendant of the Holy Thorn (as seen on the recent BBC4 documentary, "Treasures of Heaven"), Paris (c 1340), The British Museum; source: The British Museum. Bottom: The Holy Mandylion of Edessa, The Matilda Chapel, The Vatican; source: The Vatican Splendours exhibition]

Wednesday 22 June 2011

English Bishop murdered for the Faith!

At 5am on 22nd June 1535 the Lieutenant of the Tower of London went to the cell in which the Bishop of Rochester, John Fisher, was imprisoned. He woke the Bishop from his sleep to inform him that it was the King’s pleasure that the Bishop should be executed that day. Fisher asked him at what hour the execution was due to take place and when the Lieutenant answered that it was appointed for 9am, Bishop Fisher replied “Well then, let me by your patience sleep an hour or two, for I have slept very little this night, not for any fear of death, I thank God, but by reason of my great weakness”.

Bishop John Fisher was a cool man in the true sense of the phrase. He faced a king who had set about the total destruction of all that was holy, Catholic and sacred in the land and he faced him without apparent fear – and he faced him alone. None of his Episcopal colleagues appeared eager to stick to their principles; they preferred to switch allegiance, deny their long held beliefs, reject the Holy Father and align themselves with the emergent protestant movement that was shaking Europe to its foundations. That was not for John Fisher.

Born a Yorkshireman (well known for their gritty stubbornness) John Fisher was estimated to be well into his seventies when he was faced with the ultimate decision of right or wrong. Naturally, he chose right despite Catholic  England collapsing around him.
The Tower of London - last home
to the Bishop of Rochester

He was first arrested in March 1533 after preaching against the King’s divorce but released within a few weeks. He avoided further arrest later in the same year as he fell seriously ill. In March 1534 he was re-arrested for his alleged part in the Nun of Kent affair (Elizabeth Barton, the visionary who was executed in April 1534).

Then came the Act of Succession which the Bishop resolutely refused to sign and he was committed to the Tower of London on April 26th.
Due to his age and ill health he suffered greatly in the Tower and in May 1535, the new Pope (Paul III) appointed John Fisher as Cardinal of St Vitalis in a move designed to soften Henry’s attitude towards him. It had the reverse effect and the King refused to allow the Cardinal’s hat entry into the country promising that he would, instead, send the head to Rome.

He was then tried on 17th June and sentenced to the brutal hanging, drawing and quartering method of execution; this was later changed to beheading.

So it was that this great man finally arose from his sleep and dressed ready for his execution. He asked his manservant to remove his customary shirt of hair that he wore daily and to replace it with a freshly pressed white linen shirt and the best clothes that were available.
The manservant queried this request, not unreasonably arguing that, as the Bishop only had less than two hours to live, why should he take so much trouble.
The Bishop replied: “Dost thou not know that this is our wedding day and it behoveth us, therefore, to use more cleanliness for solemnity of the marriage?”

Taking a small copy of The New Testament in his hand he made the sign of the cross and left the prison accompanied by the Lieutenant.
As he ascended the scaffold the sun lit up his face and he said as he went to his death:
“Come ye to Him and be enlightened and your faces shall not be confounded”
With his outer clothes removed he stood a slight and emaciated figure in his shift, the final indignity.
As he bent over the block he asked for prayers for himself, prayed for the king and then entered into silent prayer before the axe blade fell on his neck.

       St John Fisher – Pray for the Bishops of England and Wales
                                     Ora Pro Nobis!

                             A Prayer Composed by Saint John Fisher

Help me, most loving father, help me with thy mighty grace. Succour me with thy most gracious favour. Rescue me from these manifold perils that I am in, for unless thou wilt of thy infinite goodness relieve me, I am but as a lost creature. Thy strict commandment is that I should love thee with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, with all my power. And thus, I know, I do not, but am full far short and wide therefrom; which think I perceive by the other loves that I have had of thy creatures heretofore. For such as I sincerely loved, I loved them so that I seldom did forget them. They were ever in my remembrance and almost continually mine heart was occupied with them and my thought ran ever upon them as well absent as present. Specially when they were absent I much desired to have their presence and to be there where they were, or else my heart were never in any rightful quiety. But alas, my dear father, I am not in this condition towards thee. For I keep thee not in my remembrance nor bear thee in my thought nor occupy my heart with thee so often as I should, but for every trifle that cometh to my mind I let thee slip and fall out thereof. And for every fantasy that stirreth in my heart I set thee aside, shortly forget thee. I suffer many a trifling thought occupy my soul at liberty, but with thee, my dear father, I have lightly done, and forthwith turn me to, the remembrance of thy creatures and so tarry with thee but a short while, the delight in thy creatures so pulleth and draweth me hither and thither, my wretched desires so blind me. This false world so deceiveth me that I forget thee, which art my most loving father and art so desirous to have my heart and love. What are thy creatures but creatures made by thee? Thou made me and them of naught and thou far incomparably passeth all them. And what are my desires, when they are set on thy creatures and not in an order to thee, what are they but wretched and sinful affections? And finally what is this world but a miserable exile, full of perils and evils far unlike that glorious country where thou art resident and sheweth thy most excellent Majesty in wonderful glory? There thou art clearly seen to all thy blessed angels and saints of thy most highly triumphant court. They be there ever present before thy blessed face and behold thy Majesty continually face to face. O my dear father, here should be mine heart, here should be my desire and remembrancy. I should long to have sight of thy most blessed face, I should earnestly desire to see thy country and kingdom, I should ever wish to be there present with thee and thy most glorious court. But this, alas, I do not. And therefore I sorrow at my grievous negligence, I weep for my abominable forgetfulness, I lament my vileness, yea, my very madness, that thus for trifles and vanities forget my most dear and loving father. Alas, woe is me! What shall I do? Wither may I turn me? To whom shall I resort for help? Where shall I seek for any remedy against the worldly and earthly waywardness of my heart? Whither should I rather go than to my father, to my most loving father, to my most merciful father, to him that of his infinite love and mercy hath given me boldness to call him father? Whose son Jesu my saviour hath taught me thus to call him, and to think verily that he is my father, yea, and a more loving father than is any natural father unto his child. These are his words speaking unto the natural fathers of this world when ye that are infect with evil can liberally give unto your children good gifts, how much rather your heavenly father shall give a good spirit to them that ask it of him. These works, most gracious father, are the words of thy most dearly beloved son, Jesu, wherein he teaches us that thou art our very father and maketh promise on thy behalf that thou shalt give thine holy spirit unto them that ask thy son or thee studiously. Thou willest that we should believe him and faithfully trust his words. For thou testified of him that he was thine entirely beloved son and bade us hear him and give a full faith unto his words. Wherefore we may be certain and sure of three things. The first is that thou art our father, the second that thou art a more kind and loving father unto us than are the carnal fathers of this world unto their children. The third, that thou wilt give, to such as devoutly ask it of thee, thy most holy spirit. We may be well assured that for thine inestimable goodness, and for the honour of thy name and everlasting truth thou wilt not disappoint these promises, for as much as they were made by thy most entirely beloved son Christ Jesu whom thou sent into this world to make the truth certain and to confirm the same unto us by the blood which he shed for us on his cross.
O father, then, whither shall I turn in my necessity rather than to thee which have me call thee by this name, a name of much love and tenderness, of much delight and pleasure, a name which stirreth the heart with much hope and constancy and many other delectable affections. And if nothing were told me but only this name, it might suffice to make me steadfastly trust that thou, which hast commanded me to call thee by this name father, will help me and succour me at my need when I sue unto thee; but much rather because my saviour thy son Christ Jesu hath assured me that thou art a more kind and more loving father unto me than was mine own natural father. This assurance made by the most entirely beloved son should specially move both thee and me. First it should move me to have an hope and a confidence that thou wilt deal with me according to the same promise. Second, it should also move thee to perform this promise effectually and so to show thyself a kind and loving father in this my petition. My petition, most dear father, is agreeable to that same promise made by thy most entirely beloved son my saviour Jesu. I ask none other thing but thy good and holy spirit to be given unto me according to that same promise which he promised.
I know, most gracious father, that thou art here present with me albeit I see thee not. But thou both seest me and hearest me and no secrecy of my heart is hid from thee. Thou hearest that I now ask thine holy spirit and thou knowest that I now pray therefore and that I am very desirous to have the same. Lo! Dear father, with all the enforcement of my heart I beseech thee to give thine holy spirit unto me. Wherefore unless thou wilt disappoint the promise of thy son Jesu thou canst not but give me this holy spirit; so by this means I shall be fully relieved of that misery whereof I complained unto thy goodness at the beginning. Thy most holy spirit he shall make me to love thee with all my heart, and with all my soul, with all my mind, with all my power, for he is the author of all good love, he is the very furnace of charity and he is the fountain of all gracious affections and godly desires. He is the spiritual fire that kindles in the heart of them where he enters all gracious love; he fills their souls in whom he is received with the abundance of charity; he makes their minds sweetly to burn in all godly desires and gives unto them strength and power courageously to follow all ghostly affections and specially towards thee. Wherefore, dear father, when thou hast strictly commanded me thus to love thee with all my heart and thus would I right gladly do (but without thy help and without thy holy spirit I cannot perform the same), I beseech thee to shed upon my heart thy most holy spirit by whose gracious presence I may be warmed, heated and kindled with the spiritual fire of charity and with the sweetly burning love of all godly affections, that I may fastly set my heart, soul and mind upon thee and assuredly trust that thou art my very loving father and according to the same trust I may love thee with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind and all my power. Amen

Today is also the feastday of that other great Saint and fellow martyr of St John Fisher, St Thomas More – Ora pro nobis!

Posted by Richard Collins  - Linen on the Hedgerow

Monday 20 June 2011

Can Anything Good Come Out of Hertfordshire?

The Shrine of St Alban, Martyr

Today is the Feast of St Alban, Martyr

Having been raised in Letchworth Garden City, I used to take regular day trips to St Albans with my parents when I was growing up.  There we would wander around the very beautiful St Alban's Cathedral in the city. It is a small city, but in those days, cities were only cities if they had a Cathedral.

The shrine to St Alban, pictured left is still there and St Alban still receives pilgrims every year, even though the Cathedral itself is now Anglican.

The Cathedral website tells the story of the man from Verulamium, as it was then known. St Alban is Britain's first Christian martyr.

'A man called Alban, believed to have been a Romano-British citizen of the Roman town of Verulamium around the end of the 3rd century, gave shelter to an itinerant Christian priest, later called Amphibalus.
Impressed by what he heard Alban was converted to Christianity by him. When a period of persecution, ordered by the Emperor, brought soldiers in search of the priest, Alban exchanged clothes with him allowing him to escape and it was Alban who was arrested in his place.
Standing trial and asked to prove his loyalty by making offerings to the Roman gods, Alban bravely declared his faith in "the true and living God who created all things". This statement condemned Alban to death. He was led out of the city, across the river and up a hillside where he was beheaded.
As with all good stories the legend grew with time. Bede, writing in the 8th century elaborates the story, adding that the river miraculously divided to let him pass and a spring of water appeared to provide a drink for the saint. He also adds that the executioner's eyes dropped out as he beheaded the saint, a detail that has often been depicted with relish since. At the time of Bede there was a church and shrine near the spot, pilgrims travelled to visit, and it became an established place of healing. He describes the hill as "adorned with wild flowers of every kind" and as a spot "whose natural beauty had long fitted it as a place to be hallowed by the blood of a blessed martyr".
There is an even earlier record of St.Germanus visiting the shrine around 429. Alban was probably buried in the Roman cemetery to the south of the present Abbey Church. Recent finds suggest an early basilica over the spot and later a Saxon Benedictine monastery was founded, probably by King Offa around 793. This was replaced in 1077 by the large Norman church and monastery, the remains of which are still partly visible in the tower and central part of the present cathedral.
Pilgrims still come and St Alban's martyrdom is particularly remembered on and around 22nd June each year with a major festival pilgrimage and Passio; an exploration of the martyrdom through carnival.'

St Alban, ora pro nobis.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Funeral rites?

I recently attended a cremation service conducted by a 'Humanist Celebrant' she was rather spikey both in hairstyle and in manner I thought. Her oblique references to 'personal faith' dripped with distaste and the family had none the less chosen a real hymn. 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' is a litany of thankfulness to God. The Celebrant  pointed out that it meant a great deal to the family of the deceased, as if that excused the distasefull realigous sentiments!

humanist funeral logo

So if they find great meaning in singing 'How Great is God Almighty who has made all things well', why did they choose a service that rejected faith in God? I don't think they did intentionally deny God rather as non church or chapel goers or fumble in the darkness of not knowing they ;opted for a practitioner who would not go on about God ,this is Wales and fire and brimstone Chapel ministers are still very common and one such as that would have been uncomfortable listening for a generation that turned its back on the chapels of their parents and grandparents,which stand derelict or converted into shops and flats in every Welsh comunity. I don't know the bereaved family well enough to have discussed this with them though,but it was noticeable how many of the people who eulogised the departed said things that showed a belief in an after life which is an anathema to Humanists. I presume the undertakers have her number for people with no connection to organised religion.
It was quite obvious from the messages left online that most people are assuming an afterlife and mentioning Angels and looking down from heaven, they imagine what I have seen described as the automatic canonisation of the dead, in other words from sentiment, a pleasant ordinary person beloved by family and friends is expected to be allowed into heaven. We Catholics know this may not be so,for most of us Purgatory will be necessary for us to face God, what comfort the bereaved are missing when as believers they could pray and have masses said for the loved ones.Sure that all believers will one day be united at the Beatific Vision.
The person who gave me a lift was obviously uncomfortable with my faith and embarrassed when I mentioned it,she spouted the polite 'shut up' phrases about 'respecting my right 'and 'hoping I found it comforting' and 'not knowing herself ,if God was real' and so 'not personally believing in my rites and prayers'.I hope I said the right things to help her on a journey to God but without upsetting her on an emotional day she knew the deceased better than I. At our parting I asked her to let the family know if she thought it of any comfort that I and my blogger friends were praying for him and them. I wished I had been able to say and do more but it was what it was.An occasion of laughter applause and tears with blind hope that this was not the end.

I pray they are comforted and I pray for all the souls of the people who died without the comfort of faith.

Friday 17 June 2011

St Claude de la Colombière and the British Royal Famly - London as an early centre of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

It is well-known that June is the month of the Sacred Heart, when Catholics are called to renew their devotion to Our Lord's physical heart, which overflows with an infinite and intense mercy and love for each and every human being. Of course, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an ancient one that became especially popular in medieval Europe. But, the person who really injected life into the devotion was St Margaret Mary Alacoque, the French nun whose visions in the 17th century led to increased reverence towards the Sacred Heart.

St Margaret Mary was helped by her confessor, St Claude de la Colombière SJ, who promoted the devotion to Our Lord's heart and is often known (along with St Margaret Mary) as an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a little known fact, though, that St Claude spent a large part of his ministry in London, and even suffered under the anti-Catholic persecutions that had come about through the malicious lies spread by a former seminarian called Titus Oates. It is amazing to think that this great man lived at St James's Palace, and was a chaplain not only to Margaret Mary Alacoque, but also to a future Queen of England.

Claude de la Colombière was born of French noble parents in 1641. He had a happy childhood, surrounded by a devoted family and very close friends. Although known for enjoying life to the full, Claude entered the Jesuit novitiate as a 17-year-old, where he spent several years studying for the priesthood and working as a teacher in various institutions. After his ordination he taught at the Jesuit college in Lyons, whilst also preaching retreats and serving as moderator for several Marian congregations.

In 1674, Claude de la Colombière took a personal vow, under penalty of sin, to observe the Rule and Constitutions of the Society of Jesus to the utmost perfection. This personal vow of his became a source of inner freedom and helped Claude attain an early sanctity and a renowned ability to be greatly compassionate and empathetic towards others.

Claude was appointed the Rector of the Jesuit college at Paray-le-Monial in 1675. It was during this time at Paray that he became St Margaret Mary Alacoque's spiritual director. He encouraged and supported her though a difficult period when her own community was highly suspicious of her supernatural visions and claims about the Sacred Heart. Colombière also strove to assure the anxious young nun that her visions were authentic. He instructed her to write down all that she had experienced and pledged himself to the mission of spreading the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

In 1676, after only a year and half in Paray, Claude de la Colombière was sent to London, as he had been appointed "Preacher to the Duchess of York" - Mary of Modena, wife of the then Duke of York and future King James II (England's last Catholic king). This role was fraught with difficulties because of the anti-Catholic sentiments that prevailed in England at the time. Despite this, Fr Claude de la Colombière took up residence at St James's Palace in October of that year. He ministered at the Queen's Chapel, which had been built as a Catholic chapel for King Charles I's wife, Henrietta Maria. This Royal chapel still exists, though has since been converted into an Anglican place of worship - the Queen's personal chaplain normally resides there to this day.

According to the Claude's official biography on the Vatican website: "In addition to sermons in the palace chapel and unremitting spiritual direction both oral and written, Claude dedicated his time to giving thorough instruction to the many who sought reconciliation with the Church they had abandoned. And even if there were great dangers, he had the consolation of seeing many reconciled to it, so that after a year he said: 'I could write a book about the mercy of God I've seen Him exercise since I arrived here!'"

The intense pace of Claude de la Colombière's work in London and the city's poor climate combined to undermine his health, and evidence of a serious pulmonary disease began to appear. Claude, however, made no changes in his work or life-style. At the end of 1678, though, Fr de la Colombière was calumniously accused and arrested in connection with the so-called Titus Oates' Plot. After two days of interrogation, Claude was transferred to the severe King's Bench Prison where he remained for three weeks in extremely poor conditions until he was finally expelled from England by royal decree. His imprisonment had further weakened Colombière's health, which deteriorated rapidly upon his return to France.

The last two years of St Claude's life were spent at Lyon, where he acted as spiritual director to Jesuit novices. He also returned to Paray-le-Monial, where he sought to improve his health. Immediately after his death in 1682, St Margaret Mary received a special revelation from Heaven, confirming that Claude de la Colombière did not need prayers as his soul was already enjoying the Beatific Vision.

This post was simultaneously published on the A Reluctant Sinner blog by Dylan Parry. Information regarding the images can be found by clicking on the above link

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Another great convert and a 100 year old prophecy

Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson converted to the faith on 11th September 1903. His was a somewhat spectacular conversion (in the eyes of the media) as his father had held the post of Archbishop of Canterbury and Benson, himself, had been ordained as an Anglican vicar in 1895. In 1904 he received the sacrament of Holy Orders and, by 1911 he was made Monsignor.

He wrote many great books, many of them with a prophetic element. The following is an extract from 'Christ in the Church'. It has certain resonances today but was written in 1911.

"I do not for one instant profess to believe that all the world is about to turn Catholic: I am quite sure that it is not; I even think it probable that we are on the verge of a Great Apostasy; but of one point I am as certain as of my own existence, that, fifty years hence there will be no considerable body in the whole of Western Christendom which will be able for one moment to compete with her; and that a thousand years hence, if the world lasts so long, we shall have once more the same situation that we have now.
On the one side will stand human society ranged against her, in ranks and companies of which hardly two members are agreed upon anything except opposition to her. There will be the New Theologians of that day, as of ours; new schools of thought, changing every instant, new discoveries, new revelations, new presentations and combinations of fragments of old truth. And on the other side will stand the Church of the ages, with the marks of her passion deeper than ever upon her. From one side will go up that all but eternal cry, 'We have found her out at last; she is forsaken of all except a few fanatics at last; she is dead and buried at last'.
And on the other side she will stand, then, as always, wounded indeed to death, yet not dead; betrayed by her new-born Judases, judged by her Herods and her Pilates, scourged by those who pity while they strike, despised and rejected, and yet stronger in her Divine foolishness than all the wisdom of men; hung between Heaven and earth, and yet victorious over both; sealed and guarded in her living tomb, and yet always and forever passing out to new life and new victories.

So, too, then as now, and as at the beginning, there will be secret gardens where she is known and loved, where she will console the penitent as the sun rises on Easter Day; there will be upper rooms where her weeping friends are gathered for fear of the Jews, when, the doors being shut, she will come and stand in the midst and give them Peace; on mountains, and roads, and by the sea, she will walk then, as she has walked always, in the secret splendour of her Resurrection. So once more the wheel will turn; there will be ten thousand Bethlehems where she is born again and again; the kings of earth will bring their glory and honour to lay at her feet, side by side with the shepherds who have no gifts but themselves to offer. Again and again that old and eternal story will be told and re-told as each new civilisation comes into being and passes away - that old drama re-enacted wherever the Love of God confronts the needs of men".

Richard Collins - Linen on the Hedgerow

Monday 13 June 2011

Poor Banished Children

If you are looking for something to read you need look no further than the latest novel by Fiorella de Maria Nash.

It has an excellent review by Fr Tim Finigan and is a must for your summer reading.

To purchase a copy please contact your local Christian bookshop before going to the obvious online source. Your local Christian bookshop and online Catholic retailer would prefer your support.

Posted by ST PAULS.

Saturday 11 June 2011


We hear them preaching in our own languages the marvellous works of God. Acts 2:11
The extraordinary event that was Pentecost gave birth to the Church. The mighty wind and tongues of fire were symbols of the divine power that would infuse the apostles and the Church in their mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord to the world. In all four gospels Christ had promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit in his name, and now that promise has come to pass. The Spirit so transformed the disciples that the courage and eloquence they previously lacked now became their hallmark. Luke, the author of Acts, relates that Jewish pilgrims present from many different nations heard the apostles speak about Christ in their own particular language. He probably has in mind the disunity of the human race from its early history as recorded in Genesis (11:1-9), when God confused and scattered humanity because of its pride. Now, at Pentecost, unity is again restored through the Holy Spirit when representatives of many nations could understand the one language of the gospel of Jesus Christ. With good reason the Second Vatican Council could describe the Church as the Sacrament of Unity.
The apostle Paul had a keen awareness of the essential place of the Holy Spirit both in the life of the baptised Christian and in the Church at large. The anointing with the Holy Spirit conferred on believers at baptism enables them to make a full profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and the Son of God. With the unity of the Church in mind, Paul teaches that the diversity of spiritual gifts which individual members of the Church enjoy have their single source in the Holy Spirit, and must therefore serve the common good. The Apostle introduces the concept of the Church as a single body with many parts. He is referring here to the Church as the Body of Christ into which believers are incorporated through baptism. This is a profound analogy which seeks to underline the mystery of the Church as the unity of the baptised in Christ, who have a mutual responsibility for each other. The safeguarding of that unity both in fidelity to the tradition of the apostles and the witness of the Christian life is the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Easter evening scene of the risen Lord encountering his disciples in the Upper Room presents us with John’s understanding of the Holy Spirit and his function in the life of the Church. The Evangelist had noted earlier (Jn 7:39) that the Holy Spirit could be given only after Jesus had been glorified. Now the victorious and glorious Jesus was able to share his life-giving Spirit with his disciples as he had promised. At the creation the Lord God breathed into the dust and created man (Gen 2:7); the Church is now the new creation animated by the Holy Spirit. The power of the Spirit, conferred by the risen Christ, will enable the Church to be the means of reconciliation between humanity and God, described here as the forgiveness of sins.
Text © ST PAULS Publishing
This reflection is taken from You Will Be My Witnesses by Bishop Michael Campbell OSA, Bishop of Lancaster, and published by ST PAULS.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ - Died 8th June 1889

The Catholic litany of famous converts seems never ending and Father Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ must appear close to the top, certainly of any nineteenth century version of such a list.

Born in the East End of London of a wealthy father, Gerard was the eldest of eight children. The family were strong High Church Anglicans and steeped in literature and the arts.
He soon developed an interest in art and painting in particular (his Great Uncle was the famous artist, Richard James Lane).
 And it seemed that his nephew was also destined for a career in the arts. When the family moved to the more salubrious surroundings of Hampstead Heath, the ten year old Gerard found inspiration in Keats poetry and developed a precocious talent for prose.

At Balliol College, Oxford, (1863-67) he studied classics and formed a friendship with Robert Bridges, a fellow poet who, in fact, was destined to become Poet Laureate.  By the summer of 1866 he had made up his mind to convert to Catholicism and travelled to Birmingham to consult the man who had travelled the road to Rome very famously before him, Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman.

"Glory be to God for dappled things...."

Things moved on apace and Gerard was received by the Cardinal,into the Church on 21st October 1866; within eighteen months he had resolved to enter the priesthood and, as a sign of commitment, gave up writing poetry and made a bonfire of all his poetical works, resigning himself to a life in imitation of Christ.

However, after a short period he reconciled his creative talent and resumed writing verse. He studied at St Beuno’s College in North Wales and so began his fascination with the Welsh language (he had already formed an affinity for Old English, a close relation to the Welsh). The repetitive sounds of Welsh were, it is believed, a major influence on the alliterative and onomatopoeic distinctive style that he developed in his main works.

Ordained into the Jesuit Order in 1877 he began a series of appointments, teaching first in Chesterfield, moving to Mount Street, London as a curate before accepting similar posts in Oxford, Manchester, Sheffield, Stoneyhurst in Lancashire and, finally, University College, Dublin.

Never blessed with a strong constitution, Dublin and its heavy workload began to have a bad effect on his health and by 1889 he had contracted typhoid fever and died. His last words were: “I am so happy, I am so happy, I loved my life”.

There is some speculation that his mood swings throughout his brief life were as a result of depression, what is termed today, Bipolar Disorder.
He died 8th June 1889 and is buried at Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.

The Kestrel, country name....Windhover

The Windhover

                                                 To Christ Our Lord
I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
      dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
      Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
      As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
      Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing. 
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
      Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

      No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
      Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Is it my imagination or is there an element that could be found in any of the poems of Dylan Thomas here?

Posted by Richard Collins - Linen on the Hedgerow

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Saint Robert of Newminster

The text of a booklet I wrote with my late son Geraint for St Robert of Newminster Parish, Aberkenfig,today 7th June is his feast day

Saint Robert was born around 1100AD in the town of Gargrave in Yorkshire. The only information about his parents is that they were “honourable and eminent in their Christian faith”. Robert apparently lived a pure and devout life at home. He was educated in Paris at the university and there wrote a treatise on the Psalms that unfortunately has been lost over the years.

Psalms were (and still are) a very important part of worship and Saint Robert was said to recite all the psalms every day from memory. In his time many of the Catholic devotions that we take for granted were not yet in use and recitation of the psalms was used instead.

Robert became parish priest of his hometown and the church of Saint Andrew still stands on the same sight although very little if anything is left from the 12th Century. Yorkshire at that time was liable to raids from Scotland and it is said that Gargrave was spared because the church was dedicated to Scotland’s patron saint. Life at that time was hard and the land was still recovering from the aftermath of the Norman Conquest when large areas of the north were laid waste as a punishment for rebellion. Robert apparently found no spiritual satisfaction as a parish priest and was inspired by reading the beatitudes to seek greater personnel poverty and simplicity. He therefore became a Benedictine or “Black Monk” at the abbey of Saint Mary in Whitby.

However like a considerable number of monks at that time he was uneasy with the way the order was living and wished to follow a stricter and simpler life. There had been remarkable development in the religious way of life centred on Saint Bernard and Citeaux in France and in northern England a group of brothers has been literally thrown out of the abbey at York because they wished to lead a simpler life. These monks had been granted permission to begin a new foundation on the banks of the river Skell. Robert was allowed to join them. With another brother called Adam he went to the infant Abbey of Saint Mary of the Fountains. They lived in the most basic turf roofed hut and spent long hours of the day and night praying and singing the psalms, fasting and relishing all the cold and hardships. Robert found the monks building a hut to use as a chapel and “all blessing God with fervour, poor in worldly goods but strong in faith”.

They soon applied to Saint Bernard to become part of the new Cistercian order and Bernard sent Geoffrey, an older monk, to instruct them in the new rule. They had at one time been reduced to eating the roots and leaves of trees to survive but they were joined by the Dean of York who brought lands, money and books for the library.

The New Order greatly impressed a wealthy landowner from the north who like many worldly men wished to build a monastery on his patrimonial estates to pray for the redemption of his soul. Ranulph de Merlay was Lord of Morpeth in Northumberland and so in 1138 Robert was elected by his peers to be the abbot of the first daughter house and set off with twelve brothers to the “Newminster” taking possession at the feast of  the
Epiphany 1139. The Cistercians sought peace in remote natural surroundings and Newminster was then surrounded by forest some half a mile from the settlement of Morpeth, ideal for the “White Monks”

Our Lady is always patroness of a Cistercian Abbey and of the order itself, the unbleached white wool of the habit symbolises the purity of the Mother of God and the monks end their worship with the Salve Regina to this day. So Newminster was the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Marry, an unusual name for a Cistercian Abbey as they usually refer to a natural feature such as the fountain or the beautiful light.

The Cistercian Order Became incredibly popular during this period, some 350 monasteries were founded during the life of Saint Bernard, which he attributed to Our Lady. Life was not easy for Robert and his monks, the first monastery (most likely a wooden structure), was burnt down by soldiers of King David of Scotland but it was soon rebuilt and the monks continued their way of prayer and service to God.

The Life of the monks was austere, no shirts, cloaks or blankets were allowed; the diet was simple fish, eggs and bread but no red meat. The Chapel would of only had a wooden cross and no pictures or ornamentation. Worship was simple compared with other orders and time was spent in manual labour. Robert began with high ideals and carried these out in his daily life gaining a reputation for holy living and great insights into the hearts of men. His fasting was severe even by the standards of those times. Several times Robert appeared to have received supernatural information.

While celebrating mass at the high alter one day it was revealed to him that the abbeys fishing boat had foundered in a storm and that the crew had drowned. He instructed two brothers to go to a place below the cliffs in Whitby, retrieve the bodies and give them a proper burial. It transpired exactly as Saint Robert said.

On a separate occasion he is reported to be riding around the abbeys holdings delivering bread to the lay brothers and riding an “old nag”, a noble man arrogantly enquired of the apparently lowly brother “Is the Abbot at Newminster?”  “He was there when I was,” replied the Saint, the noble man soon realised the monk was the saintly abbot and chastened, offers Saint Robert his fine horse to make amends for his rudeness.

On Another Occasion while journeying through Newcastle, Saint Robert sees a trickster at work, apparently trying to cause a riot and sends him packing preventing any trouble by the force of his tongue. In medieval versions it is a devil or even the devil himself whom Robert defeats.

One of the most popular tales about Saint Robert illustrates his selfless personality and his striving always to defeat his own nature. As was his usual practice he had fasted so hard during lent that his monks were concerned for his health, the brother almoner came to him with bread and honey on a dish and Robert said he might manage to eat, but then a beggar came to the door and Robert gave his food still on the dish to the caller. Next day as the monks sat together at the table the dish appeared at Saint Roberts place transformed into gold, it was said an angel had taken the Saints portion to heaven.

The Cistercian way of life meant that an abbot had a duty to spend a great deal of time travelling. Robert would have had to visit the daughter foundations of which in his time there were three. Pipewell in Northamptonshire endowed by William de Batevileyn on September 13th 1143; Roche, South Yorkshire founded July 30th 1147 by Richard de Bully and Richard Fitz-Turgis, and Sawly also in Yorkshire not far from Gargrave founded on 6th January 1148 by William de Percy. Robert was also expected to attend yearly General Chapter meetings at Citeaux. All of this in a time of much colder winters and almost non-existent roads, when the only transport was provided by horses, donkeys or oxen. Today so much travelling would be a burden but think how long it would have taken Robert!

Very few men can command authority without making some enemies and Saint Robert was accused by some disaffected brothers of improper behaviour with a pious lady whom he visited regularly. He was called to Citeaux where Saint Bernard found him innocent of all charges and gave him a belt as a token of his innocence and the high regard of which he was held by the order. The belt or girdle was later said to have had healing powers.

Saint Robert had as his spiritual director and confessor the hermit Saint Godric of Finchdale; he often went to visit him at his remote and rather desolate hermitage. Godric had lived a full life before taking up his religious vocation he may even have been a pirate at one time! He must have had a very different life to Saint Robert who had spent his whole life in a religious and scholarly atmosphere. But both men showed great wisdom and lived lives of heroic sanctity. Saint Godric told Saint Robert on one visit that they would never meet again in this life and so Saint Robert hurried back to Newminster and prepared to die. Sure enough he became grievously ill with a fever.

The brothers gatherd around and asked him to name a succesor, Roberts’s reply to his spiritual sons could be seen as a sort of dire prophecy, but I like to think the saint was gently teasing his brothers when he replied, “why ask me? I know that when I am dead you will elect brother Walter, to the ruin of this house and the scandal of the order.” There is no record of bad conduct or scandal and Newminster flourished for a further 400 years, until the dissolution. Saint Robert died on June 7th 1159 and his friend and guide the hermit Saint Godric had a vision of his soul ascending like a ball of fire to heaven.

After his death Robert was fist buried in the chapter house though later his remains were transferred to the chancel and laid to rest before the high alter. Miracles began to answer prayers for his intercession, a violent madman was cured and a dispute with a dishonest farmer was resolved and the man converted. A Brother who fell from a high ladder while painting, was spared from any injury because he invoked the name of Saint Robert during his fall. Saint Roberts’s tomb became a place of popular pilgrimage for the people of the area and numerous miracles are said to have occurred thanks to his intercession.

There are no known descriptions of saint Robert of Newminster physical appearance, but his nature is described as “modest in demeanour, merciful in judgement. Gentle in companionship and exemplary in conversation” There is one seal of his time as Abbot surviving on a document, it is very simple and portrays the Abbots hand grasping his staff of office. There are no writings attributed to him for as to read and there is no known image or portrayal, although I have found a medieval portrayal of a Cistercian abbot which is probably the sort of picture that would have been used as an illustration of saint Robert of Newminster, he raises one hand in blessing and holds his Abbots staff with the other, his eyes are raised to heaven.

So here I have presented all that I can find out about Saint Robert of Newminster and although most of the sources I have used repeat that very little is known about him I think we actually know quite a bit, when you compare the known facts to what we know about some of the disciples for instance! We have his place of birth and the ruins of his Abbey, we know a few stories that illuminate his character and we know that he has continued to be venerated not just by Cistercians but also by the Benedictines for almost 900 years. It was the Benedictines who brought the veneration of Saint Robert to South Wales in the 19th century. Father Robert Green the builder of our church, had a personnel devotion to Saint Robert and the parishioners asked for this to be reflected in the dedication when the school building was consecrated as the parish church some years after it was built. Following the completion of a larger school. I have found no special intersession or prayer associated with our Saint but it would seem in keeping with his life if we just ask
Saint Robert Of Newminster, Pray for us

posted by Diddleymaz

Sunday 5 June 2011

Pope Benedict XVI encourages families to be courageous and rejoice!

Today, Pope Benedict XVI preached on the importance of the family during a Mass in Zagreb, Croatia. In his homily, the Holy Father reminded us that society depends on loving families, saying that "in today's society the presence of exemplary Christian families is more necessary and urgent than ever." He also emphasised that Christian families remain one of the main vehicles for effective evangelisation.

Also, in his homily, Pope Benedict XVI highlighted the fact that the family is under threat in an ever more secularised Europe, and calls on families to "be courageous" in the face of this modern threat to its very existence. He also asked family members to "rejoice" in their vocation, as he prayed "to the Lord that families may come more and more to be small churches and that ecclesial communities may take on more and more the quality of a family!"

                                             Homily of Pope Benedict XVI

Dear Brothers and Sisters!
In this Mass at which it is my joy to preside, concelebrating with numerous brothers in the Episcopate and with a great number of priests, I give thanks to the Lord for all the beloved families gathered here, and for all the others who are linked with us through radio and television. I offer particular thanks to Cardinal Josip Bozaniæ, Archbishop of Zagreb, for his kind words at the beginning of this Mass. I address my greetings to all and express my great affection with an embrace of peace!

We have recently celebrated the Ascension of the Lord and we prepare ourselves to receive the great gift of the Holy Spirit. In the first reading, we saw how the apostolic community was united in prayer in the Upper Room with Mary, the mother of Jesus (cf. Acts 1:12-14). This is a picture of the Church with deep roots in the paschal event: indeed, the Upper Room is the place where Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood during the Last Supper, and where, having risen from the dead, he poured out the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the evening of Easter Sunday (cf. Jn 20:19-23). The Lord directed his disciples "not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4); he asked that they might remain together to prepare themselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And they gathered together in prayer with Mary in the Upper Room, waiting for the promised event (cf. Acts 1:14).

Remaining together was the condition given by Jesus for them to experience the coming of the Paraclete, and prolonged prayer served to maintain them in harmony with one another. We find here a formidable lesson for every Christian community. Sometimes it is thought that missionary efficacy depends primarily upon careful planning and its intelligent implementation by means of specific action. Certainly, the Lord asks for our cooperation, but his initiative has to come first, before any response from us: his Spirit is the true protagonist of the Church, to be invoked and welcomed.

In the Gospel, we heard the first part of the so-called "high-priestly prayer" of Jesus (cf. Jn 17:1-11a) - at the conclusion of his farewell discourses - full of trust, sweetness and love. It is called "the high-priestly prayer" because in it Jesus is presented as a priest interceding for his people as he prepares to leave this world. The passage is dominated by the double theme of the hour and the glory. It deals with the hour of death (cf. Jn 2:4; 7:30; 8:20), the hour in which the Christ must pass from this world to the Father (13:1).

But at the same time it is also the hour of his glorification which is accomplished by means of the Cross, called by John the Evangelist "exaltation", namely the raising up, the elevation to glory: the hour of the death of Jesus, the hour of supreme love, is the hour of his highest glory. For the Church too, for every Christian, the highest glory is the Cross, which means living in charity, in total gift to God and to others.

Dear brothers and sisters! I very willingly accepted the invitation given to me by the Bishops of Croatia to visit this country on the occasion of the first National Gathering of Croatian Catholic Families. I express my sincere appreciation for this attention and commitment to the family, not only because today this basic human reality, in your nation as elsewhere, has to face difficulties and threats, and thus has special need of evangelization and support, but also because Christian families are a decisive resource for education in the faith, for the up-building of the Church as a communion and for her missionary presence in the most diverse situations in life.

I know the generosity and the dedication with which you, dear Pastors, serve the Lord and the Church. Your daily labour for the faith formation of future generations, as well as for marriage preparation and for the accompaniment of families, is the fundamental path for regenerating the Church anew and for giving life to the social fabric of the nation. May you remain dedicated to this important pastoral commitment!

Everyone knows that the Christian family is a special sign of the presence and love of Christ and that it is called to give a specific and irreplaceable contribution to evangelization. Blessed John Paul II, who visited this noble country three times, said that "the Christian family is called upon to take part actively and responsibly in the mission of the Church in a way that is original and specific, by placing itself, in what it is and what it does as an 'intimate community of life and love', at the service of the Church and of society" (Familiaris consortio, 50). The Christian family has always been the first way of transmitting the faith and still today retains great possibilities for evangelization in many areas.

Dear parents, commit yourselves always to teach your children to pray, and pray with them; draw them close to the Sacraments, especially to the Eucharist, as we celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Eucharistic miracle of Ludbreg; and introduce them to the life of the Church; in the intimacy of the home do not be afraid to read the sacred Scriptures, illuminating family life with the light of faith and praising God as Father. Be like a little Upper Room, like that of Mary and the disciples, in which to live unity, communion and prayer!

By the grace of God, many Christian families today are acquiring an ever deeper awareness of their missionary vocation, and are devoting themselves seriously to bearing witness to Christ the Lord. Blessed John Paul II once said: "An authentic family, founded on marriage, is in itself 'good news' for the world." And he added: "In our time the families that collaborate actively in evangelization are ever more numerous [...] the hour of the family has arrived in the Church, which is also the hour of the missionary family" (Angelus, 21 October 2001).

In today's society the presence of exemplary Christian families is more necessary and urgent than ever. Unfortunately, we are forced to acknowledge the spread of a secularization which leads to the exclusion of God from life and the increasing disintegration of the family, especially in Europe. Freedom without commitment to the truth is made into an absolute, and individual well-being through the consumption of material goods and transient experiences is cultivated as an ideal, obscuring the quality of interpersonal relations and deeper human values; love is reduced to sentimental emotion and to the gratification of instinctive impulses, without a commitment to build lasting bonds of reciprocal belonging and without openness to life. We are called to oppose such a mentality!

Alongside what the Church says, the testimony and commitment of the Christian family - your concrete testimony - is very important, especially when you affirm the inviolability of human life from conception until natural death, the singular and irreplaceable value of the family founded upon matrimony and the need for legislation which supports families in the task of giving birth to children and educating them. Dear families, be courageous! Do not give in to that secularized mentality which proposes living together as a preparation, or even a substitute for marriage! Show by the witness of your lives that it is possible, like Christ, to love without reserve, and do not be afraid to make a commitment to another person!

Dear families, rejoice in fatherhood and motherhood! Openness to life is a sign of openness to the future, confidence in the future, just as respect for the natural moral law frees people, rather than demeaning them! The good of the family is also the good of the Church. I would like to repeat something I have said in the past: "the edification of each individual Christian family fits into the context of the larger family of the Church which supports it and carries it with her ... And the Church is reciprocally built up by the family, a 'small domestic church'" (Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Participants in the Ecclesial Diocesan Convention of Rome, 6 June 2005). Let us pray to the Lord, that families may come more and more to be small churches and that ecclesial communities may take on more and more the quality of a family!

Dear Croatian families, living the communion of faith and charity, be ever more transparent witnesses to the promise that the Lord, ascending into heaven, makes to each one of us: "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). Dear Croatian Christians, hear yourselves called to evangelize with the whole of your life; hear the powerful word of the Lord: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). May the Virgin Mary, Queen of Croatia, accompany you always on your way. Amen! Praised be Jesus and Mary!

Posted by Dylan Parry - A Reluctant Sinner
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