Domus Capellanus

Finally there is a break in the dreadful weather to take a few photos of the new Domus Capellanus (Chaplain’s House) at Saint Dominic’s Priory. My grateful thanks to the Sisters and their generous benefactors for providing a wonderful new residence for me.  Here are some photos of the yet to be completed building.

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Saint Ambrose

If you’ve ever been to New York, you will have been awed by the many tall sky-scrapers which adorn the skyline of Manhattan.  They are all build on the solid foundation of hard granite.

Today we honour the memory of Saint Ambrose, one of the great Latin Fathers of the Church who helped to lay a strong foundation for us today.  Our Catholic tradition encompasses so many different nationalities, cultures and customs, that even the highest sky-scraper pales in comparison.  Saint Ambrose was the teacher and inspiration of Saint Augustine, who was converted to Christianity by his preaching and encouragement.  Saint Ambrose guided the Church through difficult times, and the Augustinian and later the Dominican tradition built on his foundation, proved to be solid and monumental.

Relying on solid foundations can be tricky.  Some people fall into the trap of admiring past foundations, but build their own house on the nearby shifting sands.

Even the Mass itself, the great foundation of our faith, can be built on nice music or on nice words, rather than on the Christ whose presence is revealed on this altar.  Saint Ambrose loved the liturgy and he wanted to be sure that words and intentions were always in harmony, so that faith could flourish and withstand the problems Christians faced when the Mass was over

Advent is a time to check our foundations.  Is our life of faith centred on God, or is it merely words and ceremonies?  Is our Christmas founded on Christ, or will it be celebrated on the shifting sands of materialism that will blow away on Boxing Day?  Only on the right foundations can we build great things.

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Saint Nicholas

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In some parts of the world, particularly in eastern Europe, today is a special day for many Christian children.  On the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas, children put their shoes outside their bedroom door before they go to bed, and in the morning, they find treats inside them, courtesy of St. Nicholas.

The real St. Nicholas was born in 270.  His parents died when he was young, and Nicholas was raised by an uncle.  When Nicholas grew up, he was ordained a priest, and later became the Bishop of Myra, a city in southwestern Turkey.  Bishop Nicholas defended the divinity of Christ during the Council of Nicaea.  He died on 6th December 343.

Countless stories have come down through the centuries of Nicholas’ remarkable generosity.  According to one well known story, Nicholas helped a poor man who had no money for a dowry for his three daughters.  Without a dowry, they would remain unmarried, and possibly end up having to support themselves as prostitutes.  So, Nicholas threw a bag of gold into the man’s window one night and did it again as each of the other two daughters came of age.  Thus, began the tradition of St. Nick secretly giving children gifts.

And so today we should consider how we can be a blessing to other people as St. Nicholas was.  By being as generous as we can.  By imitating his habit of giving ourselves to other people through acts of love, compassion, and kindness.  Every day, God gives us opportunities to bless people by giving of ourselves, just as he does.  Every day, God invites us to share in the joy he has in pouring himself out for his children.

God has been generous to us in so many ways.  Today, in response to that generosity, we should ask God to open our eyes to the needs around us.  As we become a blessing to others, so we will be blessed as well.

Saint Nicholas, pray for us.

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Wednesday of the 1st Week of Advent

Here’s a question for clever Dominicans to think about today.  Why didn’t Our Lord give the apostles exactly the right amount of food to feed the crowd?  Why did they end up with so many leftovers?  Did Our Lord perhaps think that the disciples might get hungry again?  Did he anticipate more people showing up later?  More than likely, Our Lord wanted to teach them something about leftovers.

The number of baskets gives us a clue.  In Jewish thought, the number seven was an expression of perfection, the kind of perfection found only in God.  The Book of Genesis tells us that it took God six days to create the world, and then he rested on the seventh.  It was a day of satisfaction and plenty.  It was a time for God to enjoy his creation, a creation so good and so complete that it couldn’t be improved upon.  In the same way, the bread Our Lord provided in this miracle satisfied the crowd in a way that no earthly food ever could.

The number seven also reveals God’s limitless generosity.  Our Lord told Peter to forgive his brother seventy times seven times, in other words, without limit.  Our Lord knew that Peter could be that forgiving because God’s mercy is boundless.

Our Lord also teaches us that whenever we give to someone, relying on God’s resources, we will never run out.  So these fragments weren’t really leftovers.  They were part of God’s endless supply of blessings.

Now all of this applies in a special way to the Eucharist; the Bread of Life that Our Lord gives us every day at Mass.  This bread, which is his Body, is unlike any other food we could ever eat.  It is perfect, lacking in nothing.  The Eucharist is full of God’s eternal, unlimited blessings.  When we eat this bread in faith, surrendering our hearts to Jesus, he fills us with everything we need and he satisfies our hearts’ desires.  And not only that, he gives us plenty of ‘leftover’ grace to share with everyone we encounter.

Tuesday of the 1st Week of Advent

Every Advent we hear hope-filled oracles from the prophet Isaiah, words that tell us about what that day will be like when the Messiah comes.  As we reflect on these prophecies, we can see how they speak not only to the prophet’s own time but also to what life is like now that Our Lord has come-and to what life will be like when he comes again in glory to establish his eternal kingdom.

Today’s first reading is a perfect example of these three dimensions.  First, Isaiah speaks to the people of Jerusalem who are facing an increased threat from Assyria.  Yes, the king of Assyria may come and lay an axe to the tree of Jerusalem, but God will never abandon his people.  Even if King David’s dynasty is reduced to the hacked-off trunk of a once flourishing tree, a “shoot” will appear, and new life will spring up again.

On the second level, we can see that Jesus himself is this anointed Messiah sent by God.  He is the true Son of David, filled with the Holy Spirit, who has inaugurated a new era for his people.  Because of Christ, we are already living in God’s kingdom, where redemption has been won, and we have been set free to live in peace.

And yet we know that the world is not yet fully under the reign of God.  Sin persists, both in our culture and in our hearts.  And that’s where the third level comes in.  In addition to giving hope to the people of ancient Jerusalem and painting a picture of the age of the Church, Isaiah’s words give us hope for the future.  They tell us about the peace, harmony, healing, and justice that we will all come to know after Our Lord’s Second Coming.  They tell us that this world will eventually give way to a new creation, where every tear will be wiped away and suffering and death will be no more.

As the season of Advent unfolds we should lift up our hearts and take courage, because Jesus, the promised Messiah, is our peace and our salvation.

Saint Francis Xavier

Today we honour the memory of Saint Francis Xavier, the patron of the foreign missions.  Our Lord calls us all to “go and preach to all nations”.  But our preaching and teaching isn’t done on distant shores, but here in our own land, in our own place and among the people we know.  Saint Francis generously gave of his time and his talents to benefit others.  May we follow his example.

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During Advent, the Church asks us to look in two directions: back towards the dawning of salvation, when God’s only Son came to dwell among us; and forward, to the day when he will return in glory.  As we look back, Our Lord wants to remind us that he has been with us at every step of our lives, protecting and guiding us.  There has never been a time when we were alone and isolated from him.  Like the pillar of fire that guided and protected the Hebrews, he has always been watching over us.  And now, as we look to the future, he wants to give us a deeper longing for “that day” when God will renew his creation and remove everything that separates us from him.

Looking back and looking forward like this will produce in us the same conviction that the centurion had in today’s gospel: Our Lord exercises all authority over heaven and earth, and he demonstrated this authority when he preached the Gospel, forgave sins, cast out demons, and calmed the angry seas.

But all that didn’t end when Our Lord ascended into heaven.  Our Lord is still able to heal, to deliver, and to bring peace.  Nothing is beyond his ability.  He is worthy of our complete trust.

Our Lord didn’t come just for the men and women of his own time.  He didn’t come just for Mary and John the Baptist and Peter and James.  He came for each and every one of us.  He came to extend his loving authority over our lives and to bring us with him into the promise of his kingdom.  He who came once in the flesh is prepared to come again, and at every moment to be with us and to give us a share in the riches of his grace and power.

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First Sunday of Advent

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One of my oldest friends, who used to work with recovering alcoholics, told me that one of the most common reasons for drinking to excess is to counteract the feeling of depression.  People who abuse alcohol generally feel sad, or find it difficult to talk to other people, and alcohol has the effect of raising their spirits and making it easier for them to live with themselves if they live alone, or to live with others when they are in company.  The only trouble is that the effects of alcohol are short-lived and can lead to even greater depression and still more drinking.  No wonder Saint Luke, in today’s gospel, warns us against drunkenness and debauchery.  The wrong use of drink, drugs and other unhealthy pursuits, makes people insensitive to the finer and more precious things in life.

Part of the painful process of growing up is learning to control our moods.  Alcohol and drugs are just some of the many ways in which people attempt to exercise such control in their lives.  But they are the wrong ways for, in the end, they are doomed to failure.  If we are going to successfully control our moods, it is essential, in the first instance, to accept them as part of ourselves.  Moods of helplessness, fear, depression, or even exhilaration, are an essential part of our humanity as we grow in our understanding of the problems and sufferings of ourselves and of others, and we are drawn to unite ourselves with those who need help.

Believe it or not, the Church too has her moods.  They are an essential part of her personality as she grows in the life of Christ.  The Church’s mood of desolation in Lent and Holy Week, gives way to exhilaration at Easter.  And then at Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, there is the mood of confidence, coupled with a certain apprehension at the Church’s renewed responsibility to bring Christ to the world.

Today we begin the season of Advent.  And the Church’s mood is set for us in the readings of the Mass: and it is a mood of expectation; something is going to happen.  What that ‘something’ is can only be described in symbols; and “the signs in the sun and moon and stars” to which Our Lord refers, feebly reflect the splendour of that day when the Son of Man will “come in a cloud with power and great glory”.  Something is going to happen.  God is coming.  And for many people in our world today, people who have ignored or rejected God, this can only mean the ‘bewilderment’ and ‘fear’ which Our Lord speaks of.

But for Christ’s followers the truth that God is coming brings neither ‘fear’ nor ‘bewilderment’.  Rather it brings ‘confidence’.  We can “stand with confidence before him” because we have anticipated his coming.  We have made the necessary preparations.

God’s coming in grace is primarily what we look forward to in Advent; and it’s not accompanied by terrible signs.  On the contrary, it is the gentle and quiet action of God as he not only looks lovingly upon us, but actually shares his love with us.  The word grace means ‘gift’, and it is the gift of God’s own life we receive during this season of Advent.  We might compare it with the smile that wins our confidence and draws from us a smile in return, even when we are in the worst of moods.  We may resist it; for God’s smile is resistible, such is the power of our free will.  But the penalty for resisting is to remain in our misery.  If we have only the confidence to allow God’s smile to win us to himself, only then will we become a new person.Advent is the time when we prepare to receive the gift of God’s grace.  It is the ‘gift-giving’ season, completed in our own sharing of gifts at Christmas.

But perhaps we are not in the mood for such a celebration.   Some people may prefer to remain in a state of dis-grace, using alcohol or drugs to keep them ‘high’.  Or maybe we are unwilling to soften our heart of stone and love our neighbour as Christ has commanded us – not just in word but in deed.  If we are unwilling to put into practice the basics of our faith, then how can we hope to change ourselves, and hold our heads high when the Lord comes?

Such attitudes miss the whole point of this season of Advent.  We cannot hope to change ourselves.  We cannot overcome our dis-grace by our own efforts alone.  We need to be alert to those moments of grace, and especially to those high-points of God’s coming in prayer and in the liturgy and in our celebration of the sacraments together.

We need to be alert at these moments for, because of their very quietness, we are liable to overlook their significance, just as the birth of our Saviour was overlooked at Bethlehem.  As the gospel warns us, we must “stay awake”, we must remain vigilant.  And then we will be changed, not by our own power, but by the power of God; and we will, in the words of the second reading, begin “to make more and more progress in the kind of life that we are meant to live”.

And in our everyday living our moods will continue to remain part of us.  But they will begin to coincide with the Church’s moods.  And they will begin to bring us security and happiness, not only in this life, but also in eternity.

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