January 2021

We may have left 2020 behind, but many socially distanced measures are still in place. This has meant that some of the events that we normally take part in have been curtailed. One of those was the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. We may not have been able to meet together in the one place, but we can still pray for Unity and not just for one week. Although I am late in getting this to you, hopefully, we still have time to unite our voices and pray for unity among Christians.

Many resources have been made available for this and here are some of the links:

And don’t forget that on Monday January 25th, as well as the Conversion of St. Paul, it is also the time for haggis, neeps, taties and a wee dram of Whisky! We cannot have our usual Burns Supper, but I hope that this time 2022 we can all be seated for some good food, good company and good whisky!

Goodbye to 2020

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Few people would argue that 2020 has been the worst of times in living memory. From lockdowns to restrictions on seeing our families we have lived through an unprecedented year. It would be harder to argue that it has been the best of years, but 2020 has not all been darkness and gloom. Many people have had a re-appreciation of the natural world that surrounds us, the cut from our daily routines has made us pause and re-think what our priorities are and how we keep in contact with friends and family.

I am sure that we have all had those days, maybe even weeks or longer, when lockdown ground us down. For me, it was the middle of November, during the second full lockdown, but what brought back hope and life was preparing for Advent and Christmas. Digging out the decorations, preparing the Oratory and working out how to put a Nativity Scene at the gates brought back focus and direction. The bright lights and the colourful gardens show that we use light and lights to give us hope through dark times.

And it is true that in the cycle of life, as in the liturgical cycle, nothing stays the same. We are in a time of darkness, literally, as winter is upon us. There is a collective sense of grief at the losses that 2020 has taken. We have been unable to grieve in our usual ways either by visiting families or joining in funeral celebrations. Many of us will know someone who has a passed because of Covid-19 or a family that has been affected. It has, in the words of Dickens been the winter of despair.

However, winter gives way to spring. It may seem so far away now, but spring will come. Nature will re-awaken from the winter slumber and our hope will be given light. The three days in the tomb, lead to the resurrection. The months of lockdown will give way to the joy of being together again. The simple pleasures of going for a coffee, meeting family and friends, spending time in company and many more things that we took for granted will be the pleasures of 2021.

Yes, there is still lots to do. The economic realities will still be there, but we need to realise that the old way of doing things did not work and does not work. We realised that essential workers surround us and their invisible contribution was made visible. We saw solidarity as we cheered for the NHS and other key workers. We realised our common humanity, being created in the image and likeness of God, in the generosity that has been offered to charities helping support the vulnerable and marginalised.

2020 will be remembered and studied for many years to come. Could we have done better as a world, as a country, as a community, as an individual? We will all have our answers, but we have the opportunities of 2021 ahead. The vaccine will play its part, will I, will you play your part in making our world a family? A family where all are welcome, all are fed, all are cared for and where we all have a contribution to make.

We are, I imagine, looking to 2021 as the spring of hope to dispel the gloom of 2020. So let us look forward with plans to make those changes that we want and to challenge ourselves, our community and our society to make love of God and neighbour the foundation of all we do!

Paddy

A Christmas Story for 2020

It cannot be said that 2020 has been a regular year! It has been a challenging year for many of us on many different levels. However, I received a phone call from a local primary school, and they were asking for some help with Advent reflections. Of course, I said yes!

I searched through my old Advent retreats and remembered/found the Angel retreat. It looks at how the Christmas story would not have taken place without Angels: it was the Angels who appeared Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, the Shepherds and the Magi! They brought Good News and they brought warnings. When we were sharing about Angels, we realised that we are surrounded by people who bring us Good News, family friends and those who help us in so many ways! We also realised that we can be Angels and so, I asked the kids to make Angels and give them to someone who brings them Good News.

For me, it was not just another day in school! It was the first time in many months that I was in front of people who were not on a screen! The joy, the noise, the feedback, the chatter, the interaction were all a blessing amidst the silence and the social distances that we have all lived with. And that day in the class was enough to fill me with Christmas joy. Being able to share what I knew about Christmas was met with the enthusiasm of the kids and that Christmas joy was the result!

This showed me what I had been missing this year, but also made me appreciate the ministry that I am engaged with. It reminded me that faith has to be lived, not in isolation, but with a community. And now filled with Christmas Joy I wish you all the blessings of this Season and hope that the Angels guide us all through 2021!

Advent

Dear one and all,

The Season of Advent has started! It is only four weeks long and can pass in the blink of an eye! So I’ve taken some time to go through some on line resources that are available for everyone to use. Please feel free to share those you find useful and let us know if you find anymore that you have found useful!

Advent General

https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-liturgical-season-of-advent.html
https://www.catholicdoors.com/prayers/english4/p02965.htm
https://www.sciaf.org.uk/resources/542-advent-resources-for-parishes-2020
https://cafod.org.uk/Pray/Advent-prayers
https://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/Seasons-Advent-Christmas.htm

Advent Calendars

https://cafod.org.uk/Pray/Advent-calendar
https://advent.bustedhalo.com/

Advent Retreat/Reflections

https://waterloocatholics.org/documents/2019/12/HO-Advent%20Exam%20of%20Conscience.pdf
https://bustedhalo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/BH-AdventRetreat.pdf
http://www.liturgies.net/Advent/adventstations.htm
https://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/Advent/
https://pray-as-you-go.org/
https://bustedhalo.com/questionbox/why-do-we-read-so-much-from-the-prophet-isaiah-during-advent-and-christmas

Getting Ready for Advent

It might seem strange to be talking about Advent a week before, but it is good to be prepared and not caught unaware: exactly what Advent is all about! Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus meaning arrive, approach, appearance. It was taken by the Church from the middle ages to signify the coming of Christ. It reminds us that the birth of the Saviour is an event that we need to prepare for and be reminded of.

Advent is not just about remembering the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem just over 2,000 year ago, but being prepared for the return of The Saviour. As the Catechism says: When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviours first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming (No. 524).

The Advent Wreath usually consist of five candles, three purple and one rose and one white. The purple and rose candles are set in a circular wreath (usually made of evergreen branches) with the white candle in the middle of the wreath. One candle is lit for each Sunday of Advent, with the rose candle being lit on the third Sunday (Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice”) and the white candle is lit once Christmas liturgies begin. The purple candles represent the penance and sacrifice we undertake to help us prepare for the Lord’s coming at Christmas; the rose candle represents the rejoicing of the faithful at the mid-point of Advent and the white candle represents the birth the Saviour.

Advent is not as strict as Lent, and there are no rules for fasting, but it is meant to be a period of self-preparation. The purple colour associated with Advent and it is also the colour of penance. The faithful should fast during the first two weeks in particular and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The first reading at Eucharist, both weekday and Sunday, is taken from the Prophet Isaiah and talk of the coming of the Saviour. We are to be prepared for the return of our Saviour.

The colour of the Third Sunday of Advent is rose. This colour symbolizes joy and represents the happiness we will experience when Jesus comes again. The Third Sunday is a day of anticipatory celebration. It is formerly called “Gaudete” Sunday; from gaudete means “rejoice” in Latin.

Finally, Sundays during Advent, just as during Lent, should not be given to fasting, but instead to celebration because we celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord every Sunday. It is important to remember, however, there are no particular rules for how the laity should observe Advent.

From December 17th the tone of the liturgy changes. This time is often known as “O” time. This is because the “O” Antiphons are sung or recited during the last seven days of Advent (from December 17 through December 23) as part of the Liturgy of Hours. Each hymn begins with the interjection “O” followed by a title for Christ, e.g., O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King of Nations, O God-with-Us.

Another way to count down to Christmas is the Advent Calendar that begins on December 1st. Again it is a visible way to focus our attention on the coming Solemnity of Christmas. Many families will also have a nativity scene that can both teach us about the birth of the Saviour, when Jesus was incarnate as human (God becomes human) and remind us of the Gospel narratives. It was St. Francis of Assisi who arranged the first nativity scene!

These are some of the many ways that we can get ready from Christmas, but what about ourselves? What can I do not to be caught in the consumer Christmas? As stated earlier we can make a commitment to fast (and not just to make space for the huge Christmas feast!) to remind ourselves of the coming celebration. The daily readings for Advent are a huge help in getting ready for both the birth of our Saviour and for the return of our Saviour. Given current restrictions there will be fewer opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but that does not mean that we cannot review our lives and make positive changes. The same goes for Advent retreats, but there will be some on-line resources (I’ll compile some for next week!). What will I be doing? As always, I will try and find some time and space to “feeding” myself; reflecting on the daily readings, learning more about the saints of Advent and spending time with the narratives of Jesus’ birth in Gospels Matthew and Luke.

Next week, I will have some on-line Advent resources that can be shared, used and adapted to what I need and what you need. If you have any resources for Advent that you wish to share, pass them along!

November – The Month of the Holy Souls

The Feast of All Souls is celebrated in commemoration of the faithful departed in Purgatory. The first record of this celebration took place in the Monastery of Cluny, France in 998. It was instituted by Abbot Odilo, a Benedictine, and this observance was soon adopted by other Benedictines, and by the Carthusians. Pope Sylvester II (1003) approved and recommended it. It was some time, though, before the secular clergy introduced it in the various dioceses. From the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries it gradually spread in France, Germany, England, and Spain, until finally, in the fourteenth century, Rome placed the day of the commemoration of all the faithful departed in the official books of the Western Church for November 2nd (or November 3rd if the 2nd falls on a Sunday).


One of the reasons for this could be that Autumn is a great time of year for death or being reminded of death as nature changes once again: the leaves are falling, the plants are dying and days grow shorter. Halloween was traditionally a great reminder of death, being on the eve of All Saints Day (All Hallows) and an opportunity to reflect on our own “saintliness”.

The month of November reminds us of our loved ones who have died, but also reminds us that we too face death. Forgetting the inevitability of death is not good for us. Nor is it good for those who have already died. If we do not remember death, then we will not remember to pray for the dead. And the dead desperately need our prayers. That is why we often refer to the dead in Purgatory as the Poor Souls.

The Book of Remembrance

The November Dead Lists are available for us to write the names of our family members and friends who have died and have gone before us. They may take different forms in different parishes and communities. Here, the names are collected and printed so they can be added to our Book of Remembrance. All of the souls named will be remembered daily during the prayers and Eucharist that is celebrated in the Oratory.

Prayers for the Holy Souls

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.

Amen

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God,
rest in peace.

Amen.

Some Scriptural References on for the Holy Souls

2 Maccabees 12:38-46
Matthew 12:31-32
1 Corinthians 3:10-15
1 Peter 3:18-22
1 Peter 4:6

November: The Month of the Holy Souls

November is the month of the Holy Souls. During this month we pray especially for our departed friends and loved ones who are making their journey towards the eternal light of God.

As Catholics we believe that although those who have died are separated from us physically, they remain connected to us as members of the Church. Jesus has conquered death, and so those of us who are part of the Body of Christ here on earth remain a living part of that body even after our earthly life comes to a close. We know this to be true because when Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees who say there is no life after death Jesus replies ‘Have you not read what was said to you by God, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?” He is God not of the dead, but of the living.’ (Matt 22:31-32) Thus he implied that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not dead, but alive with God.

Scripture teaches that it is ‘a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins’ (2 Macc 12:46). We also get our first example of Christian prayer for the dead from the bible, St Paul prays for his departed friend Onesiphorus saying ‘May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day (the day of judgement).’ (2 Tim 1:18)

Following the example of Scripture, and Christian practice through the ages, we pray for all the faithful departed during this month. It is traditional to make a list of departed loved ones and remember them in prayer. During this extraordinary year, we, the Xaverian Community, have a Book of Remembrance in our Oratory. Please send us the names of those you wish to remember during this month and we will pray for them when we gather in prayer.

A Bishop Whose Heart Embraced the World

St. Guido Maria Conforti founded the Xaverian Missionaries in 1895 in Parma, Italy as a life-long dream to serve the mission of the church. His feast day is November 5th and is a feast day for we, Xaverians, throughout the world.

The son of Rinaldo and Antonia Adorni, Guido Maria was the eighth of ten children of an ancient family of Parma, Italy, landowners. The Conforti family was rooted in Parma since the Middle Ages and held administrative responsibilities for this region from the first half of the 14th century. They are remembered as early as 1285 and much information regarding their ancient roots is still available.

In 1872, Guido attended an elementary school in Parma, a Catholic school, of course. At age 7, young Guido was drawn to visit a large crucifix of Christ in a small chapel across from his school. He formed a relation this way with the person of Christ, as he later stated, He looked at me and said many things to me! … it is a miraculous crucifix: I owe my vocation to it.

This crucifix was his reference point: It speaks with an eloquence that has no equal. Years later, in seminary, while reading the biography of St. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary who died at the gates of China in 1552, it became the inspiration for the missionary vocation of Guido. But his requests to be accepted as a missionary by Jesuits and Salesians, were rejected due to poor health and a nervous condition.

In 1876 he entered the seminary and established a friendship with the rector, the future Blessed Andrea Ferrari, a friendship that lasted for a life time, even when Ferrari became the Archbishop of Milan. Conforti was ordained in 1888 and in 1892, at age 27, was appointed a canon at the Cathedral of Parma. By 1896 he was appointed Vicar General of the Diocese.

As a priest, and later as bishop, he worked out missionary calling, founding the Xaverian Missionaries on the feast of St. Francis Xavier, on December 3rd, 1895. Struggling with difficulties getting the foundation on its feet, and the challenge of a lifetime of poor health, he was a man of wisdom, insight and peace. He sought, and asked his missionaries to pursue a spirit of living faith which enables us to see God, seek God, love God in all things, intensifying our desire to spread his kingdom everywhere, and a calling to mission with a goal to make of humanity a single family.”

In 1899, Msgr. Conforti sent the first two missionaries to China, but by 1900, the Boxer Revolt caused the killing of many missionaries and other religious. In 1904, a second group of missionaries was sent to China. In the laying of the cornerstone of the mother house in 1900, Bishop Magani stated, From this nest the young eagles of the Gospel will fly to bring faith to those that still live in darkness… The dream of Conforti is still alive in Bangladesh, Burundi, Brazil, Cameroon, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Mozambique, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Spain, Thailand, Taiwan, the UK and the USA.

Inspired by St. Guido Maria Conforti and St. Francis Xavier, we, Xaverian Missionaries, serve to keep the local Church aware of, engaged with and connected to the missionary mandate of the universal Church, principally by witnessing Jesus to those who have yet to know Him.

Spirituality Centre: News

The Conforti Mission Spirituality Centre of the Xaverian Missionaries in Preston will be closed for groups until May 2021. On legal and Medical advice this decision is sadly an inevitable consequence of the current Covid-19 pandemic. Our staff have been retained by the Xaverians and will continue to work for the local Xaverian Community from home or at the centre as per government guidelines. The community will continue to reside at the centre and availability of the centre for Groups will be reviewed by the Trustees in April 2021. 

We had hoped for a change in the pandemic, but the current restrictions place many obstacles in working with groups. We recognise that this is not the news you wished to hear, but let us hope and pray that we will meet in the Spring of 2021 free from social distancing and Covid restrictions.

Paddy

Mission Sunday: 18th October 2020

Today, over one billion Catholics all over the world observe today as World Mission Sunday. This annual observance was instituted 94 years ago in 1926 by Pope Pius XI’s Papal decree. Every year since then, the universal Church has dedicated the month of October to reflection on and prayer for the missions. This annual celebration gives us a chance to reflect on the importance of mission work for the life of the Church. It reminds us that we are one with the Church around the world and that we are all committed to carrying on the mission of Christ, however different our situations may be.

Pope Francis writes in his 2019 World Mission Day message, Baptized and Sent. “This missionary mandate touches us personally: I am a mission, always; you are a mission, always; every baptized man and woman is a mission.” Hence the Holy Father calls on all Catholics and the Church to revive missionary awareness and commitment. In his 2020 message our Holy Father want us to discharge our mission duty by volunteering with prophet Isaiah “Here am I, send me” (6:8) to alleviate the suffering of our Covid-19-stricken brothers and sisters.

The Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales, in Scotland and in Ireland have their own mission offices and more information about how they are part of the global mission of the church are here:

The Church, according to Vatican Council II, is “missionary” in her very nature because her founder, Jesus Christ, was the first missionary. God the Father sent God the Son, Incarnate in Jesus, His Christ, into the world with a message of God’s love and salvation. Thus, the evangelizing mission of the Church is essentially the announcement of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation, as these are revealed to mankind through the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. How should we evangelize? By exemplary and transparent Christian life, by prayer and by financial support. The most powerful means of preaching Christ is by living a truly Christian life: a life filled with love, mercy, kindness, compassion, and a spirit of forgiveness and service. Prayer is the second means of missionary work. Jesus said: “Without me you can do nothing.” Therefore, prayer is necessary for anyone who wishes to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour. All missionary efforts also require financial support because the love of God can often be explained to the poor only by providing them with food, medicine and means of livelihood. Hence, on this Mission Sunday, there is collection in all churches in all countries to help support the missionary work and all missionaries!