The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Romans 12:9-16; Isaiah 12; Luke 1:39-56

Of such high importance, that we celebrate this feast of the visitation every evening (by reciting Mary's words in evening prayer), today is rightly a feast day. This year falling on a Friday, we can forget about fasting and abstinence, as the feast is compulsory!

The Magnificat can be seen as a poem with three messages:

A song of Praise - and about the best we have! This outstanding poem has become the lyric to many of our best loved hymns and sacred musical moments.

Acknowledgement of God's Plan - Mary quotes from a variety of scripture that all point to this moment, when God's plan to send his Son to save us all, is fullfilled

The Fiat - no not the small Italian car, Fiat means 'Yes'. Without Mary's yes to God, his plan could not continue. Humanity needs to accept God's plan - God made himself vulnerable to us. Can you imagine that? Our God is powerless with our Fiat? Mary could very easily have said 'no' and none of us would blame her, because when we think about it - would we accept public humiliation, rejection by her Fiancé, and a life of isolation and poverty by accepting the child out of wedlock? How tough was Mary's decision to say her 'Fiat' ?

If you only have time to pray briefly today: Pray the Magnificat.

And Mary said:
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Thursday of week 8

1 Peter 2:2-5,​9-12; Psalm 99(100):2-5; Mark 10:46-52

There are only two occasions in Mark's Gospel where Jesus says "your faith has healed you".

The blind Beggar Bartimaeus, and earlier, the woman with the heamorage, both demonstrate what faith is. Faith is a verb - Jesus is not responding to their belief in Him but to their putting into action their belief. The Woman, despite the insurmountable prejudices of the time against her, reaches out to Jesus and touches his garments. Bartimaeus shouts, shouts shouts for Jesus, despite many urging him to be quiet!

We need to take care that when we observe or experience someone acting against the apparent norms of society - check to see if they are exhibiting their faith by putting their belief in God in the only way the they know how to act?

Wednesday of week 8

1 Peter 1:18-25; Psalm 147:12-15,19-20; Mark 10:32-45

Marks' account of the good news is a dynamic take, full of movement and drama, and of all the gospels is possibly the easiest to read in an evening. Indeed, it is a good thing to do, once in a while, to take the entire message in one go and then reflect upon it.

However, in each Mass we can obviously only hear one small fragment of the good news - but you can spot the general frame of Mark in todays. The apostles and Jesus are travelling - and not just anywhere, they are now going up to Jerusalem. The time has come for the Lord to be glorified - but the apostles are not quite in tune with what that means! Jesus tells them he will be mocked, scourged and Mal-treated, not made into the messianic king as they perhaps are expecting! And yet, immediately, they start contesting amongst themselves to be sat as His princes in the heavenly kingdom!

Is the message for us that we need to be focused on what we must be doing here, today in God's world, and less on what we hope to be in the future, enfolded in the glory of God in heaven? Soon, Jesus re-inforces this message by washing our dirty, grimy feet - and implores us to do the same for each other.

Tuesday of week 8 in Ordinary Time

1 Peter 1:10-16; Psalm 97(98):1-4; Mark 10:28-31

Many who are first will be last, and the last first

Don't be too comfortable! We might be forgiven for thinking that although 'many' who are first will face a reversal in fortunes not all will, and we might be one of the lucky ones! In the meaning of the time when this was written, it is more of a statement that many are first, and they ALL will face reversal. We can not escape that!

Except - we can. If we have skills, means and / or influence, then we can put those at the service of the Lord, and thus place ourselves below others in the human pecking order of life. If we live in the UK we are all more or less ahead of 2/3 of the worlds population in material means - likely, much further than that. We have to do much to reverse that!

Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop

1 Thessalonians 2:2-8; Psalm 116; Luke 10:1-9

When Pope Gregory began to plan for the evangelization of England, the land was still largely pagan, although in the southwest there were remnants of earlier missionary efforts. To lead this important mission, Gregory chose Augustine, prior of St. Andrew's monastery in Rome, of which Gregory had been the founder. Nothing is known of Augustine's life until the year 596, when, with a party of Benedictine monks, he set out northwards from Rome. He carried letters of commendation to various Gallic bishops. On reaching Provence, the monks accompanying Augustine grew fearful of the dangers that lay ahead. Alarming stories were told of the ferocity of the pagans and the hazards of the Channel crossing. They persuaded Augustine to return to Rome to ask the Pope's permission to abandon the whole enterprise. Meanwhile the Pope had received word that the common people of England and also some of their chieftains and kings were ready to welcome Christian missionaries. After Pope Gregory had told Augustine this news and had discussed the situation with him further, Augustine rejoined his companions and inspired them with his own courage. Taking with them several Franks to act as interpreters, the party crossed safely over to the Isle of Thanet, in the domain of Ethelbert, King of Kent, whom they formally notified of their arrival and of their purpose in coming.

Ethelbert was still a pagan, but his wife Bertha, daughter of King Charibert of the Franks, had been converted to Christianity. Sitting under a spreading oak, Ethelbert received the missionaries. After listening carefully to their words, he gave them permission to preach to his subjects. He also made over to them a house in Canterbury, with the use of the little stone church of St. Martin, which had stood there since the period of Roman occupation. This had formerly been the oratory of Queen Bertha and her confessor Liud hard. Ethelbert was converted and baptized at Pentecost, 597. After this promising start, Augustine went back to Provence to be consecrated bishop by Vergilius, metropolitan of Arles and papal legate for Gaul. On his return some ten thousand of Ethelbert's subjects were baptized in the Swale River.

Augustine, greatly heartened by the success of his mission, now sent two of his monks to Rome to report to the Pope, and to ask for more helpers. Also he wished to have the Pope's counsel on various problems. When the monks came back to England with a fresh band of missionaries, they brought the pallium for Augustine. Among the new group were Mellitus, Justus, and Paulinus, who was afterwards archbishop of York. With these "ministers of the Word," wrote the Venerable Bede, "the holy Pope sent all things needed in general for divine worship and the service of the Church, viz. sacred vessels, altar cloths, ornaments for churches, and vestments for priests and clerks, and also many books." The latter item was especially important, for the books helped to inspire the great love of learning which characterized the English Church.

Gregory sent to Augustine a plan for developing an ecclesiastical hierarchy and establishing a working organization for the whole country-a plan which was not fully carried out in Augustine's lifetime. There was to be a northern and a southern province, with twelve suffragan bishops in each. In a letter to Mellitus, which is presented earlier, following the life of <St. Gregory>, he gave instruction on other points, showing his administrative ability as well as considerable psychological insight. Pagan temples were, as far as possible, to be Christianized and retained. Consecration rites and feasts of martyrs were to replace the heathen festivals, for, Gregory wisely writes, "he who would climb to a lofty height must go by steps, not leaps."

In 603 Augustine rebuilt and reconsecrated the Canterbury church and the house given him by King Ethelbert. These structures formed the nucleus for his metropolitan cathedral. They were destroyed by fire in 1067, and the present cathedral, begun by the great Lanfranc in 1070, stands on their site. A converted temple outside the walls of Canterbury was made into another religious house, which Augustine dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. After his death this abbey became known as St. Augustine's.

With the King's support, the Christianization of Kent proceeded rapidly, but Gregory's charge had stated, "All the bishops of Britain we commend to your Fraternity." The survivors of the ancient British or Celtic Church and their bishops had been driven westward and southward into Wales and Cornwall by the Saxon conquerors of the fifth century. Here they had persisted as Christian communities, cut off from the outside world. Although they were sound in fundamental doctrine, some of their usages were at variance with those of Rome. Now, in virtue of his archiepiscopal jurisdiction, Augustine invited the Celtic bishops to meet with him at a spot outside the confines of Wessex, which has since come to be known as Augustine's Oak. In long conferences with the representatives of the Celtic Church Augustine urged them to comply with the customs of the rest of Western Christendom, in particular in the method of determining the date of Easter, and to aid him in converting the pagans. Loyalty to their own local traditions, however, and bitterness against their Saxon conquerors, made them unwilling to agree, even though Augustine performed a miracle of healing in their presence to prove the supernatural source of his authority. They consented to attend a second conference, held in Flintshire, but it too proved a failure. Augustine did not rise to greet his Celtic brothers when they arrived and they felt that he lacked Christian humility. They refused either to listen to him or acknowledge him as their archbishop. It was not until 664, at the Synod of Whitby, that their differences were resolved and ecclesiastical uniformity was established.

Augustine's last years were spent in spreading and consolidating the faith in Ethelbert's realm, which comprised large sections of eastern England south of Northumbria. Sees were established in London and Rochester, with Mellitus appointed bishop over one and Justus over the other. Seven years after his arrival Augustine died, leaving the continuation of his work to others.

St Bede the Venerable

James 5.13-20; Psalm 140; Mark 10.13-16

St Bede (ca672-735) is known as the Father of English History for his monumental Ecclesiastical History of the English Peoples, completed about 731.  He is the only native of Great Britain to have been declared a Doctor (‘teacher’) of the Church.  Many consider him the most important European scholar of the two centuries between the death of St Gregory the Great (604) and the coronation of Charlemagne in 800. 

Born near present-day Jarrow, probably of a well-to-do family, he spent most of his life as a Benedictine monk in the double monastery of St Peter and St Paul in Northumbria.  At the age of about 14 he survived the devastating plague of 686; he was said to be one of two surviving monks in his monastery who were capable of singing the whole of the office.  He was ordained a deacon at the age of 19. About 702 (age 30) he was ordained a priest.

In addition to his astonishing historiography, he wrote scientific and theological works, the range of his interests running from music and metrics to scriptural exegesis.  He died on the Feast of the Ascension; in 1020 his relics were translated to Durham Cathedral, where they remain today.  His accomplishments remind us of the importance of the monasteries in the history of these islands, and encourage us to ask his intercession for monastics and scholars.

St Aldhelm

James 5.9-12; Psalm 102; Mark 10.1-12

St Aldhelm (ca639-709) was from a young age a monk of Malmesbury; indeed the town took its name from Aldhelm’s teacher, the Irish scholar Máeldub, who had settled there.  After a short interlude at Canterbury (where he studied with the notable African scholar Hadrian) he returned to Malmesbury and in 675 he became Abbot upon Máeldub’s death. His contemporaries described him as ‘a wonder of erudition’.  As the community at Malmesbury increased he was able to establish new monastic establishments at Frome and at Bradford-on-Avon.  In 705, upon the death of Hædde, the Bishop of Winchester, his diocese was divided, and Aldhelm became Bishop of the western half, centred on Sherborne.  He remained Abbot of Malmesbury as he took up his new episcopal duties.  Nonetheless he was an active and energetic bishop, well known for his public proclamation of the Gospel interspersed with songs in popular style and with clowning routines.  He died on an episcopal visitation to Doulting, Somerset.  He was buried at Malmesbury, but in 980 St Dunstan translated his relics to Canterbury. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest

Hebrews 10.11-18; Ps 109; Mark 14.22-25

Pope Benedict XVI designated the year from the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart in 2009 to the same solemnity in 2010 as a Year for Priests, ‘meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a stronger and more incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world.’  This new feast, added to the calendar of the Catholic Church in England and Wales in 2018, offers an opportunity for the whole Church to pray for her priests to grow into the image of Our Lord, the Eternal High Priest. [Hebrews 2.17]

‘As Mediator between God and human beings, fulfilling his Father’s will, he sacrificed himself once on the altar of the Cross as a saving Victim for the whole world.  …[W]ith a brother’s kindness he chose, from among the children of Adam, men to augment the priesthood, so that, from the sacrifice continually renewed in the Church, streams of divine power might flow, whereby a new heaven and a new earth might be made, and throughout the whole universe there would be perfected what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the human heart.’