St Jerome, Doctor

Zechariah 2.5-9, 14-15; Jeremiah 31; Luke 9.43-45

Jerome (Hieronymus) (c342-420) was born in Strido (now in Croatia, then part of the Roman province of Dalmatia) and studied in Rome. As a student he lived the life of sexual escapades and experimentation common at the time, but, convulsed with guilt, he began visiting the tombs of the Christian martyrs, and, entering their crypts, he felt he had experienced the terrors of hell. He was baptised in Rome, and having decided to devote himself to a life of ascetic penitence he retired to Syria to live as a hermit, where he also learnt Hebrew under the tutelage of a converted rabbi. He was ordained in 378 or 379 at Antioch. He returned to Rome and worked on a revision of the Latin translation of the New Testament.

In 385 he left Rome for Antioch, and by 388 he had established himself in a cave in Bethlehem, where he spent the next thirty-odd years translating the Old Testament out of Hebrew into Latin and writing many commentaries on scripture, the second most voluminous writer (after Augustine of Hippo) in Latin Christianity.

SS Michael, Gabriel & Raphael, Archangels

Apoc 12.7-12; Ps 137; John 1.47-51

Three archangels are named in Scripture; a fourth, Uriel, is named in the apocryphal book
II Esdras. Prior to 1969 each of the three had his own feast day. The suffix
-el in each of their names means God; Michael means ‘Who is like God’, Gabriel ‘Strength of God’, and Raphael ‘Healing of God.’ Gabriel is the announcer of the births of John Baptist [Luke 1.11-20] and of Jesus [Luke 1.26-38]; he is also mentioned in the book of Daniel [9.16]. Michael is named in Daniel [10.13; 12.1], in Jude {verse 9], and in the Apocalypse, where he is the captain of the heavenly army who will defeat Satan and vindicate God’s people. Raphael is a major character in the Old Testament book of Tobit and is thought to have been the “disturber” of the waters of the pool of Bethzatha whose action made them efficacious for healing. [John 5.2-9]

This feast (which originated at the dedication of a Roman basilica in honour of St Michael) reminds us of the angelic world and of their constant ministrations to our world. With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God; they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word.” [Psalm 102(103).20] Their song of praise at the Incarnation of the Son of God [Luke 2.13-14] was the terrestrial manifestation of their continual song of praise [Isaiah 6.2-3] in which we are invited to join as that Incarnation is repeated and the Son of God comes down from heaven to be present on earthly altars.

St Wenceslas

Haggai 1.1-8; Psalm 149; Luke 9.7-9

Wenceslas (c911-35), the “good King” of the familiar Christmas carol (which has nothing apart from its wintry setting to do with Christmas), was born in the castle of Stochov near Prague and became Duke of Bohemia in 921; he remained in office until his assassination in 935. His younger brother, known as Boleslaus the Cruel, was implicated in his murder. He was posthumously declared to have been King by Otto I, the Holy Roman Empire, and he is considered the patron saint of the Czech people.

The carol speaks of Wenceslas’ strong faith and his concern for the poor, and throughout the Middle Ages he was taken as the primary exemplar of a righteous King, his strength revealed not simply in his princely valour but through his consummate piety.

On this feast day in 1958 Karol Wojtyła (later Pope St John Paul II) was consecrated Bishop of Ombi, Poland. On this feast day in 1973 Pope John Paul I died after thirty-three days as pope.

St Vincent de Paul

Ezra 9.5-9; Tobit 13; Luke 9.1-6

St Vincent (1581-1660) was born the third child of a peasant family in the village of Pouy in southwest France. At the age of 15 his father sent him to a seminary, raising the fees by selling his oxen. In 1597 Vincent entered the Faculty of Theology of the University of Toulouse. He managed to pay for his studies by tutoring. He was ordained on 23 September 1600 at the age of 19, against the decrees of the Council of Trent which stipulated a minimum age of 24. He was appointed parish priest of Tilh, but a lawsuit was filed to prevent the appointment because of his young age. Rather than fight the matter in court, he resigned and continued his studies, receiving the Bachelor of Theology degree from Toulouse in 1604; later he received a Licentiate in Canon Law from the University of Paris.

Vincent’s motivation in entering the priesthood had been to better his financial condition, but on hearing the confession of a dying peasant he underwent a dramatic change of heart and devoted himself to ministry to the poor. He founded the Sisters of Charity and he was appointed Chaplain among imprisoned galley slaves in Paris. This led him to found the Congregation of the Mission (the Vincentians, known in France as the Lazaristes), a congregation of priests dedicated to ministry to the poor in smaller towns and villages. He became known as a conductor of retreats, inspiring the clergy to deeper devotion and to higher standards of moral life. He pioneered training of the clergy and established many seminaries. He died in Paris on 27th September 1660.

SS Cosmas & Damian

Ezra 6.7-8, 12, 14-20; Psalm 121; Luke 8.19-21

These two brothers, reputedly twins, born in Arabia in the 3rd Century, were eminent for their skills in medicine and surgery. They never accepted money for their services, for which reason they are known as Anargyroi (‘without silver’), and they cured blindness, paralysis, and reportedly drove out a breast serpent. They were arrested by Lysias, governor of Cilicia (modern-day Çukurova, Turkey), around the year 283, during the Diocletian persecution of the Church, because of their faith and their fame as faith healers. According to legend they remained true to their faith despite the gruesome tortures inflicted on them, including being hung on crosses, stoned, and shot by arrows. Finally they were martyred by beheading. They are invoked in the Roman canon, and are the patron saints of pharmacists.

The Ordination of Deacons in our Diocese

Isaiah 6:1. 6-8; Ephesians 3:14-21; Matt 5 13:16

The readings listed today are not those for the daily Mass, as for the ordination of Deacons they have been varied.

Today sees the ordination to the Permanent Deaconate of 5 men from our diocese, including John Andrews from our Parish. In the news section of the website is a link to the live stream from Clifton Cathedral for those not able to travel to Bristol.

So how and why did I come to this point in my life, where I am to be one of those five? Almost 25 years ago I met a Deacon, (David Wakefield, RIP) at a retreat centre which he managed, and (very!) early on Sunday morning it so happened that we both needed a coffee, and we met in the kitchen. This led to a conversation, which opened my eyes to the possibility. Hitherto I had only seen Deacons as 'super-servers', because I only ever saw them participating in Mass. He shared with me about his calling - to serve the people of God, through the Word of God (catechising, preaching, proclaiming Gods word), through service at the Altar - symbolising the people of God sharing in the sacrifice of the Mass, and through service of Love of the people - in his case, running a retreat centre. Although all of these involved him doing things - none of them defined him - he was defined as being a Deacon by being a person prepared to do those things.

Two decades later, and an initial application being turned down ("but come again in a few years time") I found that the call to be a deacon had not gone away. Somewhat like a tap on the shoulder, God seemed to be constantly calling me forward. So I once again talked about the deaconate with my wife, my friends, and Deacons near me - and once again applied to join the formation program.

Canon Christopher Whitehead, who runs the formation program, has led us through six years preparation, all the time reminding us that discernment is not a quick thing. All of those sessions, essays, conversations and readings are there to help us, and those involved in our formation, to discern this calling by God to this mission of being a deacon. As he puts it - we are always at liberty to ring the bell and ask to be let of the bus, and the bus conductor always has the freedom to suggest to us that we are on the wrong bus! But, that wheather we stay on to the final bus stop (ordination) or get off along the way - we will have grown and developed more into what God wants us to be, than if we never began the journey.

If you think that you might be called - talk to any Deacon, your Parish priest, or contact Fr Christopher directly: his details are on the diocesan website. An initial conversation may lead to you hopping onto a bus journey that allows you to change others lives - and your own.

Thank you for your prayers and support along the way.


Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday, 24 September 2023

Friday of week 24

1 Timothy 6:2-12; Psalm 48(49):6-10,17-20; Luke 8:1-3

The ancient world was not a comfortable place for women - who were in many places seen as possessions, and as important only in the domestic scenario.

Luke however shows women very differently. Many are key to Christ's ministry, and not just by providing food, comfort, shelter and money. They are also given hugely significant roles. Mary from Magdala, for example, is the first human to see the risen Christ, and becomes the apostle to the apostles, taking the good new to them. Mary the mother of Jesus is central to the good news - without her 'fiat' to the angels message then none of us would have a Christ to Love and to try to get to know. In Luke's gospel we see women engaging with God intellectually - not just as people who do good things, but people who reason and seek to understand why - "Mary pondered these things in her heart".

The new Christian life as expressed in Pauls' letters sees women taking on roles equal to men - so Christians are meant to be an expression in the world of the completeness of creation - in his own likeness he made them, male and female he created them. Recognising that our history has not yet brought us to a place where we can say we are all given equal opportunities, we do however have good examples of Women in influential roles in our own diocese. We must pray for this to continue to grow, as otherwise the church is not complete.


St Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13; Psalm 18(19):2-5; Matthew 9:9-13

It is remarkable how few facts are known about Mathew! He was born in Capernaum, and was working as a tax-collector when Jesus called him. He wrote his gospel in Aramaic, and is said to have preached in the East.

He has however left us with a rich book, his Gospel, which written in Jesus's own tongue, has something immediately compelling about it. For example he makes good use of imagery - 'cunning as snakes' and 'harmless as doves' are phrases in widespread use to this day. Internal references to other events suggest that the text was written after Marks Gospel, and that has been dated with some certainty to AD 65. If Matthew was a young man when Jesus calls him and that same Matthew is the author, then Matthew was writing in his own late middle age. But a tax collector is perhaps more likely to have been a mature man and so the text was written in Matthews old age. It may well then have been scribed for him by another. Whoever did write it had access to first hand knowledge of Jesus.

St Ignatius of Antioch knew Matthews Gospel referring to it in his own work, dated at 108AD. This is why it is considered likely the Gospel of Matthew was written in Antioch, where there was a thriving early christian community made up mainly of converted Jews. The text makes frequent reference to the earlier covenants, and is clearly written by a Jew, for the Jews. It is easy to imagine a group of these people listening to Matthew, one of the few people alive to have met Jesus, as he told the remarkable story of his personal conversion, while a scribe made hasty notes in a corner to be later turned into the words we have in the Gospel.