Monday, 22 January 2018

The Visitation (3)

The Visitation (3)

When Our Lady came to St Elizabeth, the latter exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

We can see in St Elizabeth’s words the beginnings of the Hail Mary. Sometimes we are accused of making too much of Our Lady, of putting her in the place of God, or even of worshipping her, but there is nothing further from the truth. All we do is follow the example of what holy men and women have done through the ages, starting with St Elizabeth. When she says that Our Lady is ‘blessed’, then we might think of the Beatitutes (blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are those who mourn etc.) and if we can all be blessed, then Our Lady is no different. But this is not the case at all, because the word that the Bible uses in these two places is different. We make the connection because we have used the same word (‘blessed’) to translate two different Greek terms. The beatitudes says makarios (μακαρίος), while the Visitation uses eulogetos (ʾευλογητος). So when St Elizabeth says that Our Lady is ‘Blessed’ it points to the One in her womb, rather than to us. 

Also eulogetos (the ‘blessed’ of the Visitation) has the sense of being well spoken of’ or being praised’. We praise Our Lady because she is worthy of it, and we know that it true, because St Elizabeth tells us.

So, when Elizabeth says this, she connects Our Lady with her Son in a most intimate way, and says that we must praise Our Lady in the same kind of way that we praise her Son. She is Blessed, or to be praised, because she said yes to the angel, and as a result she has Jesus within her: the author of all life. In the way that we praise Him, so should we praise her too.

How then could it be that we could praise the Virgin too much? St Elizabeth tells us that she is Blessed, and we know and act accordingly. Know that when you say your Hail Marys you are putting our Lady in the same camp as her Son - worthy of praise and Blessed indeed!


This originally appeared on the back of the bulletin of the Shrine of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury, and St Michael Shepton Mallet

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Doctor... nearly!

I am so pleased to say that I had my viva examination in Durham this week, and that after rigorous and taxing questioning, thumb screws and all,

I have passed my PhD!

I have to make minor corrections (so not a doctor yet), and then have to graduate (in the summer, so really not a doctor yet), and then, I shall be able to respond to the question in the theatre that I have waited for all my life...

"Is there a doctor in the house?"
"Yes, but only if you want to discuss Vatican documents relating to the Jews."


Friday, 19 January 2018

The Visitation (2)

The Visitation (2)

We left the Visitation at the moment when Our Lady and St Elizabeth greeted each other. This whole episode is rich in meaning, but let us just concentrate on the bare bones.

The first thing to say is that this is just so in keeping with the personality of the Virgin Mary. Never having been pregnant myself, I have no idea if a long journey, while pregnant, in the heat, not in a comfortable car, is something I would jump at… but Our Lady knew that her cousin needed her, and so she went. We know that Elizabeth was of a certain age, and no matter what her own personal circumstances (Angel, Father of the child being God, St Joseph being wobbly), Our Lady simply saw someone in need and thought of Elizabeth, before she thought of herself. Perhaps this is one of the results of being conceived without the stain of Original Sin, that she responded to the needs of others before thinking of herself. Now there is definitely a lesson in there for us.

But the meeting of the Visitation was much more than the two women, because there were four people present - St John the Baptist was in the womb of St Elizabeth, and Our Saviour in the womb of His most holy Mother. When they met, the child in St Elizabeth’s womb ‘leapt for joy’. Before his birth, John recognised his creator and Saviour. Indeed perhaps it was because he had not yet been born that it was easier for him to recognise the divine. This world can dazzle us so much that our eyes become distracted and our heads befuddled. But in the womb, St John saw’ much more clearly than many would even in the flesh.

Is it then any surprise that St John became a wild man, living in the desert, eating honey and dressed in animal hides, preaching a message of repentance and the closeness of the Kingdom of God? What attractions has the world, and what can it put forward as important, when you have known the presence of God Himself before your earliest memory? John had experienced God in the womb of Our Lady, and there was nothing, and there could be nothing, more important that that. How his heart must have leapt for joy again on that day by the waterside when John pointed his finger at his cousin and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.”


This originally appeared on the back of the bulletin of the Shrine of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury, and St Michael Shepton Mallet

Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Visitation (1)

The Visitation (1)

The Gospel of St Luke (1.39-56) tells us about the visit that Our Lady made to her cousin St Elizabeth. Elizabeth, you will remember, was miraculously pregnant with St John the Baptist. We are told that she was ‘well on in years’, and, in one of the most wonderful phrases in the Bible, that ‘her days of girlhood were over’! She and her husband Zechariah wanted a child, but they were unable to conceive. When Zechariah was serving in the Temple, the archangel Gabriel appeared to him, announced that Elizabeth was pregnant, that the child was going to be called John, and that he would be ’filled with the Holy Spirit’, even before his birth.

And to think that all Zechariah had wanted to do was a spot of sacrificing in the Temple!

We know that Zechariah was struck dumb until he confirmed that the child’s name was to be John, and we next pick up the story of what Elizabeth, Zechariah and bump (filled with the Holy Spirit bump), were up to when Our Lady went to visit her kinswoman.

By now, the Archangel Gabriel had been busy, and had also been to see the Blessed Virgin, and after the action of the Holy Spirit, Our Lady too was pregnant. By the time of the Visitation St Elizabeth is six months gone and as Our Lady stays with her for three months, she must have stayed for the birth itself. Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in Hebron, which was quite some distance away, and this must have been quite a thing for Our Lady to do. After all, it is not as if Our Lady’s life had been exactly quiet. After the annunciation, word had got round that she was pregnant, and we are even told that Joseph, an honourable man, was going to spare her from more gossip by not going forward with the marriage. Then ’an angel of the Lord’ appeared to St Joseph in a dream and the marriage was back on. OK, so we don’t know who this ‘angel of the Lord’ was, but I’d put a crisp £5 note that it was Gabriel again - that Archangel gets around!

So after all that, Our Lady sets out on a journey to visit Elizabeth. It may have just been kindness, and an outpouring of charitable love, but God had great plans for this meeting between the two women. Great plans indeed!


This originally was on the Back of the Bulletin of the Shrine of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury, and St Michael Shepton Mallet

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Pennies for Jesus

I have just changed the charity that receives the Crib Offering in Shepton and Glastonbury. It will now go to the Good Counsel Network. Like many parishes in this diocese, it has previously gone to CCS Adoption. This used to be our adoption agency until the Government forced it to change and it could no longer place children only with families with a mother and father (or occasionally a single parent family). For some inexplicable reason, my Diocese still has a collection for it (though now it is only optional), but CCS send letters to Priests with little cards to put next to the Crib every year.

I am often criticised for changing the crib offering. After all, CCS do a good job in placing difficult to place children, don't they?

I  saw the following on their website:

"At CCS we recognise the strengths and skills that LGBT adopters bring and welcome enquiries from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender adopters. In the last year a third of our approved adopters have been people from the LGBT community."
I have no idea why my Diocese has anything to do with this. 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Far be it for me enter the fray concerning the capital of Israel. But I'm going to, so here goes.

It comes after I saw this link on the Catholic herald website, "Jerusalem church leaders in Jordan condemn ‘Judaization’ of city", and that looks pretty bad. It seems to be almost universally the case that 'Christians' side with 'Palestinians' and therefore are against 'Israel'. Rather like the tyranny of not drinking fair trade coffee, voting UKIP and supporting Brexit. Indeed, if the average Catholic did any of these things and mentioned it in public then they would probably be publicly stoned. Well, not by people in the pews, but but by 'official' Catholics. It is not just the secular state which has a right-on agenda.

Today I'm identifying as a Fair Trade planet
So the idea that Mr Trump (hated by the liberal intelligensia - how dare he stop supporting abortion oversees!) could declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel ticks all the right boxes, and pushes all the correct buttons, and liberal rage boils over (tinged with religious self righteous fury).

Of course living in a country which has just voted to leave the European Union so that, in part, we can decide our own fate: it seems ludicrous to say that Israel cannot decide on its own capital. How would it be if the United Nations said that St Dogbreath-on-the-Marsh was now the capital of England! And I know some of the history and some of the problems of Isreal, but are we really saying that as long as we do not allow Israel to call Jerusalem its capital then peace will reign?

But, I hear you cry, should I not listen to the voices of the Christian and Catholic leaders on the ground in Israel and Jordan? Well, perhaps I should listen to them more...


my degree looked into the formation of the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, a document which for the first time put forward a positive view of Judaism (Nostra Aetate also said a lot more which was pretty badly thought out - but I digress). None of us, surely would decry such a statement. Except, of course, that the Bishop, Cardinals, and Patriarchs in the Middle East at the time did such a thing. They did not want anything positive said about Judaism at all. And they lobbied pretty hard to make sure that it did not.

Nostra Aetate is all well and good, but it does not mention
witches, covens, or the worshipers of the Norse Gods.
I'm in Glastonbury, this is important.
Some may have done it for anti-semitic motives (in fact we know that some did) but most did it for the simple reason that they feared that if the Church said anything positive about the Jews, then the Muslim Arabs would persecute the small Christian communities in their midst. I understand that. But it always makes me read such statements as we find in the link above in a particular way.

I have a easy way to deal with all of this in my mind.

I compose myself, and drift off into mystical prayer, and try to envisage Our Lord standing there in front of me. Then I ask Him a simple question: "What is the capital city of Israel". He will either say "Shechem, Penuel, Tirzah and then Samaria" (in which case He is talking about the Kingdom of Israel before its destruction in the eighth century by the Assyrian Tiglath-Pileser) or He will say "Jerusalem".

Now, is this the Capital?
Jerusalem, the city of David, God in the midst of its citadels.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Things Old and New

The old crib (knitted by my mother), in a new place (the hearth of the presbytery of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury).

Monday, 11 December 2017

The Nativity Scene

The Nativity Scene

Part of our Christmas celebrations (and preparation for them) can come from having Nativity Scenes in our homes. Indeed, we will have one in Church. They are depictions of the moment of Our Lord’s birth in a way that we can see and touch. They come in many shapes and sizes. I have a few of them, but I think my favourite is one that my mother knitted. Don’t ask her to make you one, she has sworn that it is the only one that will ever come off her knitting needles!

St Francis of Assisi invented the crib scene in 1223 to help people to experience the birth of Christ in a more tangible way. He had been to the Holy Land and had seen the place of Our Saviour’s birth, and was so moved that he wanted the people back at home in Italy to experience something that had touched him so deeply. So in a cave near Greccio, St Francis staged the first nativity scene. This first one involved human beings and live animals (so the did the original one as well!), but soon the people and animal were replaced by statues and pictures. The point of it, however, was always the same - to help devotion to the Christ-child, and to focus our minds at Christmas. This is needed in every age, as we can always get caught up in the material celebration of the season and forget the heart of it.

I hope you have a nativity scene in your homes. If not then you might think about getting one this year. You can hunt one down for just a few pounds. The point is not that they are expensive extravaganzas, but that they help your spiritual life. And try to make sure that the baby Jesus is not there until Christmas day (or if He is, then cover Him up - He won’t mind, I promise). And your cribs can be wonderfully personal. Mine includes an elephant (long, long story) and a robin. If you have family around you (especially little ones) then make the crib something special that they are involved in, perhaps with short prayers, or they could add their own animals. And if you are alone, then remember that you are not really. Because there in your hearth or on your sideboard, you have angels poised to sing the glory of God, and Shepherds, and St Joseph, and Our Lady. You have animals, and the whole world of God’s love for you. Because this is the true message of Christmas. God became man that we might know His unending love.


This first appeared on the back of the bulletin of St Mary of Glastonbury and St Michael Shepton Mallet

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Christmas Mass Times

Why the UK Parliament is simply wonderful

Browsing Youtube last night, looking for kittens playing the piano, or the like, I came across the clip above. Actually it is not really a clip, it is one and a half hours long.

I began by thinking "I'll watch a bit of that" and ended up watching it all. It is a fascinating dissection of the issues surrounding human rights, and although I have not followed the argument which they are talking about to any great extent, this debate is simply one of the best things I have seen in a long time.

Why? Well I think any undergraduate studying philosophy, or theology or politics should be forced to watch it and take notes. Rory Stewart's explanation of the discussion is masterly, and although I may not accept all of this conclusions, nevertheless you cannot fault his skill.

Also, they are not speaking with notes. They know this stuff, they are intelligent men who have this information at their finger tips. Love them or loath them, they are not playing to the crowd. They are able to put forward detailed arguments in a clear way, not reading someone else's hand out.

And they are doing it for the simple reason that it has to be said. This is not the cut and thrust of Prime Minister's Questions, the point of which seems to be to get a headline for that day... it doesn't really matter if is it right or not, just that it is snappy. The debate between Jacob Rees-Mogg and Rory Stewart may be many things, but it is not snappy. They are not doing it for the cameras (Jacob Rees-Mogg is almost horizontal!) and not for the crowds (Youtube has 35000 views, and, let's face it, the chamber is not exactly bulging), but because the issues deserve an in depth discussion.

So, I would prefer to trust these men rather than the men and women who will say just anything (especially when they know nothing) just for a cheap vote.

And this is why the UK Parliament is simply wonderful. Because this debate between Jacob Rees-Mogg and Rory Stewart took place in the House of Commons. This debate, at an hour and a half, and watched by few, is part of our governmental system.

Would that there were more of it.

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