St John Bosco

Hebrews 12.1-4; Psalm 21; Mark 5.21-43

John Bosco (1815-88) was born near Turin in the Piedmont, during a period of drought and famine and in the era of reconstruction following the Napoleonic wars. As a young boy he saw a travelling circus troupe and began to teach himself magic tricks. He yearned to be a priest but lacked even the most basic of education. A sympathetic priest began to teach him and he was finally ordained in 1841. He devoted himself to alleviating the plight of poor boys who came to the city in quest of employment. Working at first in borrowed premises, John Bosco taught the boys; eventually through his efforts the establishment included a school, a technical college and a church. He gained a reputation as an eloquent preacher, often using the magic tricks he had learnt as a child to capture his listeners’ attention.

In 1859, along with 22 companions, he established the Society of St Francis de Sales (better known as the Salesians), named for the 17th Century Bishop of Geneva known for his gentle manner of teaching about the spiritual life and spiritual formation. The new order was dedicated to continuing St John Bosco’s work of spiritual direction and education of boys; it soon spread to England, France, Spain, and Argentina. With the help of St Mary Mazzarello St John Bosco also founded the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, devoted to undertaking the same kind of apostolate to young girls.

Monday of Week 4

Hebrews 11.32-40; Psalm 30; Mark 5.1-20

Chapter 11 of the Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the most exhilarating chapters in the whole Bible. The author recites the stories of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, but then exclaims (verse 32) that there isn’t time to continue the narration, which in each new generation has produced men and women of earth-shaking faith.

The author’s point might remain opaque, however, if we overlook the semi-colon in the middle of verse 35. A crescendo of panegyric climaxes with those who “came back to their wives from the dead, by resurrection.” After the semi-colon, though, the author wears a contrasting mien: “others submitted to torture.” Having catalogued the breath-taking triumphs of heroes of the faith, he turns to think of those whose lives for all that we can see didn’t turn out so well. “They were stoned, or sawn in half, or beheaded; they were homeless … they were penniless and were given nothing but ill-treatment.”

We are meant to see that the triumphs and the tragedies are the same thing. It is God himself who triumphs, God himself who suffers. As St Paul puts it in another place, “whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.” [Romans 14.8] “We don’t need another hero” Tina Turner sang at the close of the 1985 sci-fi film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. But we do need saints. We need men and women whose faith can inspire us and can raise our own flickering faith to a flame.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest, Doctor

St Thomas Aquinas is one of the key saints to become a doctor of the church, and wrote extensively about theology: much of our understanding of who God is and of our place in relation to him comes from St Thomas' work. He is in particular known for his encyclopaedic length 'Summa Theologica'. The Summa is the foundation for much of our doctrinal thought and also his thinking is quite practical:

"Humans do not have a natural tendency to commit evil or sinful acts. Instead, any wrong or sinful acts that may be carried out are due to mistaking a wrong act for a right act. When the wrong act is chosen it is due to a fault in the reasoning of the individual. Just because an action may seem like the right one doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. Any action that jeopardises humans' relationship with God is a wrong action."

He was also a somewhat remarkable person! His family were very distressed when he left their affluence and entered religious life - even to the extent of paying for prostitutes to visit him in his cell to try and entrap him into abandoning his vow of celibacy. He drove them off with a burning stick from his fireplace. He travelled widely, living in many parts of Europe and always teaching and writing - he is the patron saint of all Catholic education.

Towards the end of his life he had a mystical experience in chapel, and immediately said that all he had written was dull compared with the truth he experienced in that vision. He never wrote again, devoting himself to preparing for his death which occurred a year or so later.

Friday of week 3 in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 10:32-39; Psalm 36(37):3-6,23-24,39-40; Mark 4:26-34

Other than being the Friday of week 3 - today is also internationally recognised as Holocaust memorial day.

These words were fond etched on the wall of a Gestapo Cell apparently by an 18 year old Girl: They inspired the second movement of Goreki's symphony of Sorowfull songs.

Mamo, nie płacz, nie.
Niebios Przeczysta Królowo,
Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie.
Zdrować Mario, Łaskiś Pełna.

Mom, don't cry, no.
Pure Queen of Heaven,
You always support me.
Hail Mary, Full of Grace.

Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops

2 Timothy 1:1-8; Psalm 95(96):1-3,7-8,10; Mark 4:21-25

Think of the ways we use light in our churches.

We have stained glass windows - the sun diffracting  through these illuminates the world within in an ever changing way - at its best with the church lights off, and the sun low in the sky. God's gift of light caught by the artists and streamed into our eyes, can help us to experience God's immense love for us.

We have candles all around us. The eternal flame, in our case suspended in the middle of the sanctuary and glimmering red, reminds us of the permanent presence of Christ not just in the tabernacle, but also in the building, the people gathered, and in the actions of our Priests at consecration and the other sacraments. The eternal flame was kindled in the temple in Jerusalem, carried thence to all synagogues and then on into the earliest churches - making real our connection through Jesus to the old testament.

Candles on the altar during Mass help us to focus on that central place. Candles are also used on Sunday at the ambo when the Gospel is read. And we light votive candles to show our prayers offered for loved ons.

In the bible, light always means God, and darkness is the absence of God. Think of the passion of Christ - how we move from light to darkness, and then back to light on Easter morning. Today's Gospel, from Mark 4, reminds us to never hide the light away. Let the light of God's truth show in your world - even the most dim, palest flicker of light in a dark place, brings comfort, direction and safety. However weak we may feel our light is - to someone somewhere it might be the only light they experience today.

Place your light on a lamp stand!

The Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle – Feast

The popular phrase ‘ road to Damascus moment’, and another ‘I have seen the light!’ derives from the time in St Paul’s life given in todays first reading. Saul, a devout Jew,  had been persecuting Christians, who he probably viewed as a troublesome and even dangerous sect within judaism. They were likely to cause trouble with the Roman authorities!

His turn around – literal and metaphorical – on that road to Damascus was remarkable – and signified by the change of name to Paul. Without the intervention of Ananias however, it might have gone very differently.  Such dramatic moments in our journey to God are rare – it seems – or else no one talks about them! It was through the meeting with Ananias in Damascus that Saul actually found his conversion, the events on the road to Damascus simply preparing him for that encounter with a fellow human.

There are key moments in our lives when God’s grace is poured out into us, and that grace then allows us to be more like him. Perhaps we are about to enter a confrontation at work: a moments prayer before we go in, can lead us to be the one person in that room able to find the compromise leading to a just and peaceful solution. Perhaps our gifts allow us to prevent a violent assault on someone in a late night pub argument. Perhaps we are there when someone needs to have a shoulder to cry on, or the time to listen.

All of these moments can be someone’s Damascus moment: we never know how much of an effect our christian presence in the world can have! We need to be like Ananias – there to respond when God’s call comes to someone close to us.


Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop, Doctor

Hebrews 10:1-10; Psalm 39(40):2,4,7-8,10,11; Mark 3:31-35

St. Francis de Sales was born to a noble family at Chateau de Sales in the Kingdom of Savoy near Geneva, Switzerland on August 21, 1567. He eventually became Bishop of Geneva (although he only visited that city twice!) and because of his writings and even more because of his example of humble persistence in bringing people to God, he is a doctor of the church.

Francis was both intelligent and gentle. From a very early age, he desired to serve God. He knew for years he had a vocation to the priesthood, but kept it from his family. His father wanted him to enter a career in law and politics. God made his will clear to Francis one day while he was riding. Francis fell from his horse three times that day. Every time he fell, the sword came out of the scabbard, and every time it came out, the sword and scabbard came to rest on the ground in the shape of the Christian cross. After much discussion and disagreement from his father, Francis was ordained to the priesthood and elected provost of the Diocese of Geneva, in 1593, by the Bishop of Geneva.

During the time of the Protestant reformation, Francis lived close to Calvinist territory. He decided he should lead an expedition to bring the 60,000 Calvinists back to the Catholic Church. For three years, he trudged through the countryside, had doors slammed in his face and rocks thrown at him. In the bitter winters, his feet froze so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow. Francis' unusual patience kept him working. No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door. So, Francis found a way to get under the door. He wrote out little pamphlets to explain true Catholic doctrine and slipped them under the doors. This is one of the first records we have of religious tracts being used to communicate the true Catholic faith to people who had fallen away from the Church. He is therefore patron saint for publishers.

The parents wouldn't come to him, so Francis went to the children. When the parents saw how kind he was as he played with the children, they began to talk to him. The Salesian's (the order founded for him) are well known for their patient work with disadvantaged youngsters. By the time Francis returned home, it is believed he brought 40,000 people to the Catholic Church.


His full biography is to be easily found online.

Newman Association 7th February

Newman Association:  There will be a talk on Tuesday 7 February at 2.30pm, in the lounge of Sacred Hearts' Hall, Moorend Road, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, GL53 9AU.

Fr Aelred Baker, the resident priest at Nazareth House and the Archivist at Prinknash Abbey, will speak to us on:

Newman and Stories in the Bible.

All are welcome.                                                      Admission: £3 (members & students free)

Enquires to Stephanie Jamison, tel: 01242 539810.

Monday of week 3 in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 9:15,24-28; Psalm 97(98):1-6; Mark 3:22-30

Emerging from nowhere special - the back of beyond - a new word intrigues the scribes enough to take the week long journey from the temple in Jerusalem to hear it. And to say they were worried is an understatement, as the word is saying that all must change. The word is also healing and casting out demons, which the scribes can not and do not try to deny. However they do not understand how, and so accuse this new word of using the dark powers of the devil to perform these powerful acts.

Jesus responds with parables - stories with a deeper meaning, and which required interpretation to understand. And of course, humans being humans the interpretation varied (And still does!) One of those sayings of Jesus that certainly can be difficult to interpret and understand is that of the 'sin which can not be forgiven', that of blaspheming against the holy spirit. This is 'an eternal sin' that can only be forgiven by God - and indeed we can be sure that God will forgive if we are open to God's forgiveness. From this arrises the concept today of the two types of sin, venial and mortal. Only a mortal sin requires us to seek the sacrament of confession, all other sin being forgiven in the penitential rite at the start of every Mass. A mortal sin is any sin that separates us from God - which is blocking us from accepting God's healing.

Our conscience will let each of us know if our sin is keeping us from God's forgiveness. This is the time of year when our young children on the first holy communion program receive their fist sacrament of reconciliation. We must remember then in our prayers, and also pray that God will inform our consciences, and that we may be aware of any sin that is coming between us and his love - and perhaps we can get to confession during Lent and accept God's loving forgiveness before Easter.