Archive for June, 2013

In this Year of Our Lord, 2013, we now find ourselves in the last week of June, and, before the month disappears from our calendars altogether, I just wanted to say a few words about the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Traditionally each year, the Church has dedicated the month of June, to devotions to the Sacred Heart.



On June 1, 2008, at his weekly Angelus address, Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics “to renew, in this month of June, their devotion to the Heart of Jesus.  He said:

“The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a moveable feast, but it most often takes place in June, and thus June is traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart.

The Sacred Heart … (he explained) is a symbol of the Christian faith that is especially dear, to ordinary people as well as to mystics and theologians, because it expresses the ‘good news’ of love in a simple and authentic way, encapsulating the mystery of Incarnation and Redemption.

… The Sacred Heart reminds us that Christ is not God simply appearing as man; He is truly man, just as He is truly God.  

… From the boundless horizon of His love, God entered the limitations of history and of the human condition. He took a body and a heart so that we can contemplate and encounter the infinite in the finite, the invisible and ineffable Mystery in the human Heart of Jesus of Nazareth.

… In that encounter, we feel the presence of Christ’s heart within our own.”

When we speak about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we are leaving aside the purely organic functions of the human heart and referring, symbolically, to nothing other than love – the greatest love that the world has ever known; it is a love that will never be surpassed.  This is not the same as romantic love, so often described in the many forms of our media, but to God’s love – through Jesus – to all of us.  God’s infinite love becomes manifest to us in the form of Jesus – His Son – His Beloved One – given to each one of us for our re-birth, our salvation and redemption.  Jesus is our Saviour and Redeemer – and no greater love has ever been demonstrated to the human race.

In the Litany of the Sacred Heart, we use heartfelt and very beautiful words to describe our feeling for Jesus, the Sacred Heart.  We ascribe titles to him such as ‘Holy Temple of God’ and ‘Tabernacle of the Most High’, but then go on, more simply, to use words to describe him as our ‘source of consolation’, our ‘hope of all who die in thee’ and ‘our peace and reconciliation’ – the latter terms much more descriptive of our frail and human state, than the former ‘majestic’ names.

Jesus, who was also human just like us, must have experienced those same deep feelings for those around him Mary his mother, Joseph, the disciples.  Jesus was also divine – the Son of God – and this is where the greatest love resides – love that transcends everything – love that conquers sin and death – love that demands the giving of one’s life for each and every one of us, each and every day. This love that is expressed as the “Sacred Heart” is more like a furnace of love for each one of us, individually, who have been called, by God, and by our name. When God called Abram (who became Abraham) in that one person was included all those who have faith in God.

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This is how Pope Francis put this on Wednesday of last week:

“God creates the stars, creates the plants, creates the animals, creates this, that and the other.  … but He creates Man in the singular …  one!  God always speaks in the singular to us, because He has created us in his image and likeness. And God speaks in the singular. He spoke to Abram and gave him a promise and invited him to come out of his land. We Christians have been called one-by-one: none of us is Christian by pure chance. No one.” There is a call, ‘by name, and with a promise,’ the Pope said, “Go ahead, I am with you! I walk beside you.” This, he said, Jesus knew as well: “Even in the most difficult moments He turns to the Father”.

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We can also feel the love that God has for each one of us if we let him into our hearts and the Love that is expressed by God, is that of Jesus as he loved those around him who are so close to him, like his mother, or Joseph or the disciples. The implication is that each one of us should love others with the very self same love, just as God’s love is “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”. (Romans 5: 5).

In his blog two weeks ago Father Jonathan spoke about Pope Francis and his message of hope.  Then again in last week’s, he spoke of his feeling of hope, reinforced as he visited Holywell.  To conclude my blog for this week, I would suggest that, if there is one great message in all of this for mankind, it is surely the fact that the Sacred Heart of Jesus – a message essentially about love – contains one great fundamental truth, and that truth is about HOPE.  The most perfect love the world can ever know,  offers all of us – each and every man, woman and child – that promise of hope that is beyond all comparison.  Believe in Jesus, accept his love in the spirit given, trust in him, and nothing can ever be lost, for there is always HOPE, hope of salvation, hope of everlasting happiness with him and Our Father in heaven.

Socius – Father Jonathan – (A Joint Enterprise)



Last Monday was my day off, and after a good night at my friends in Liverpool, I was off early enough in the morning and heading for Greenfield in Flintshire, North Wales, next to Holywell. It all turned out a lovely surprise for me.

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Aerial Map of the Greenfield Site

At the bottom of the aerial map, (No. 10) are the ruins of Basingwerk Abbey, founded some 750 years ago by the Cistercians and it was very good to go round and reflect on the monastic life led there, all those centuries ago by the monks of that era – that was until 1536, when the monastery was dissolved. The old abbey Church proved elusive for me, and in this diagram perhaps it is to be found at the very bottom of the picture.

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 First view of the ruins of Basingwerk Abbey

Eventually, after a walk up the beautiful Greenfield Valley, and having made a detour to enjoy open stretches of Welsh countryside, I hit upon the medieval shrine of St. Winefride’s Well (No. 7 in the aerial map).

St. Winefride was a beautiful young girl whose uncle, (the brother of her mother, Wenio), was St. Beuno.  She had a suitor, Prince Caradog, and when she decided to become a nun and refused to marry him, he, in his rage, cut off her head; her severed head rolled down the hill, where it came to rest, and at that point, a spring of water with healing properties began to flow. The story reminds us of Lourdes and St. Bernadette, in some ways: in fact, the shrine is called the Welsh Lourdes. But, to return to Winefride, her uncle St. Beuno is said to have retrieved her head, whereupon he placed it back on her shoulders: miraculously she became alive again.  Later, she did enter a convent, where she died in 660 AD.

A small ‘miracle’ happened to me on the occasion of my visit. The lady who looks after the shrine shop told me that, in an hour’s time, at 12 noon, there would be the daily service at the well, in honour of St. Winefride. Meanwhile, I looked round the museum and, as I did so, could not help but muse over the story of the well, St. Winefride, and the pilgrimages that had grown in number – particularly numerous under the Jesuits – who promoted the shrine in the early 20th century. It appears that there have been unbroken pilgrimages, from the death of the Saint in the 660 AD till today – thirteen hundred unbroken years of healing.  As in Lourdes, there are the crutches on display from those whose limbs had been restored to health – all stored there. I did not linger to read, in full, the long story of St. Winefride, written in the 13th century by a monk scribe. For me, it seemed a little too ‘far fetched’.  By 11.30am, I left the warmth of the museum, and still feeling ‘peckish’, went to see the medieval perpendicular shrine, built some time after 1500 to cover the well, by Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII and grandmother of King Henry VIII.

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I sat down in the shrine, by the side of the water. It had been raining slightly as I had ascended the hill to this point; breakfast had been at 7.00 am, and I was not really in the mood to stay; rather, I would have preferred to get on with a good invigorating walk over the Welsh hills, and find some food. My mood was also coloured by my doubts about the ‘legend’ of St. Winefride, written in the 13th century, a long time after the supposed events. There were very few others about, and for 25 minutes I was left alone with my thoughts. It was then that I felt a change of heart:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  (Ezek: 36, 26) 

Mind in turmoil, I felt the need to do a wee bit of penance, to sit there and think of the mighty power of God; then I began to realise just how sceptical I had been, so many times in my life, preferring my own comfort to a short period of prayer in God’s presence. Furthermore, I did not like the ‘smack’ of superstition and sensationalism in the story of St. Winefride. However, I think this saint, in her own “pilgrimage place”, worked a small miracle in me. After all there had been centuries of pilgrims over the years going there, and they still do! It was my ‘inner attitude’ that was ‘worldly, negative and not open to faith’. I stayed the short time until a few minutes after 12 noon, a layman Minister of the Eucharist from the local parish, and myself, went through the litany of St Winrefride. I responded as he led me, supposing me, I think, to be an elderly lay-pilgrim come to say his prayers.

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 Relic of St Winefride 

Saint Winefride; pray for us:

Glorious Virgin and Martyr: pray for us;

Fair flower of ancient Wales: pray for us:

That we may be delivered from disordered passions of the mind;

Virgin and Martyr pray for us… 

In truth, I didn’t mind the ‘mechanical’ ritual; I didn’t mind the total lack of any relationship between us; I didn’t mind his unsmiling seriousness; I didn’t mind the cold, nor my empty stomach. When the ritual words had ended, the layman invited me to kiss the relic that he took from a felt covering. Was this really St. Winefride’s little finger? It made no difference to me, as I kissed it devoutly, and I drank from the well-water tap that is on the side of the building. It was a case of saying ‘thank you’ to my companion and departing. It’s true that for me Christianity could be expressed in a very different way. As I left, I felt much better, changed inside from my usual ‘hardness of heart’, that often prefers the easy path to self-satisfaction, rather than the harder, and humanly more difficult way, back to God. Penance and Prayer, even as small as this, is invaluable.

The experience made me realise that there is always hope; I need not be stuck in my usual negative thoughts on this kind of occasion. If I endure, God can show me his favour, and I can realise he has changed my heart into one of more compassion and love. The rest of the day was a delight – and, somehow, my spirit was uplifted.

Yes, there is always time to grow and change and develop and understand more about oneself and the mystery of God. 

Fr. Jonathan

On Pope Francis:

It is only three months since Pope Francis was elected Pope on 13 March 2013, and this leader of ours has broken the mould of who a Pope is, how he should behave, how he should speak, and what his priorities are. He is a real ‘breath of fresh air’ in the Church – fresh air that permeates right down to the people in the pews, and even to those who do not frequent the pews of our Churches.  Already, he is not just breaking the mould of the papacy, but also of the Church, itself: he is changing the ways in which authority should be expressed – by bishops, priests, indeed, any person. He insists that the people – priests – should get out of the sacristies of the churches, and get involved with the poor, or those on the edge of society. The emphasis on ritual in the liturgy is being replaced by the inner spirit of the liturgy; there appears to be a greater openness and relaxation than ever before; there is a break-down of the ‘fear element’ when taking new initiatives, a basic commitment to the Gospel as the guide for life, rather than reliance on law and regulation. I perceive openness to all – in whatever state they find themselves.

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Pope Francis and some of the 9,000 Jesuit students

On the 7th June, for instance, Pope Francis, a Jesuit himself, met with 9,000 Jesuit pupils from Jesuit schools across Italy and Albania. He had a short address of ten minutes to give them but, seeing the enthusiastic love and support of all present, he said: “I’ve prepared a text but it’s a little long…I’ll give it to the Provincial so you can each have a written copy. Instead some of you can ask me questions and I will try to answer them”.  This is actually what he did; it is not the usual way for a Pope to act! One cheeky little girl, with great simplicity, asked him if he had “wanted to become Pope?” After initial laughter, Pope Francis, with some hesitation and thought, answered: “Anyone who wanted to become a pope would not be doing himself a favour.  God would not bless anyone who did … I didn’t want to become Pope.”

He celebrates Mass each day and delivers a short sermon. His practical words are eagerly followed all over the world – not least by the author of this blog! Apparently, in Argentina, his sermons as Archbishop of Buenos Aires were printed in the daily newspapers, as people were so keen to read them. On the day of writing this short article, the Pope’s homily at Wednesday morning Mass centred around Jesus’ words in the Gospel of the day: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.” (MT 5:17). 

“The hour of the law’s fulfilment, is when the law reaches its maturity when it becomes the law of the Spirit. Moving forward on this road is somewhat risky, but it is the only road to maturity, to leave behind the times in which we are not mature. Part of the law’s journey to maturity, which comes with preaching Jesus, always involves fear; fear of the freedom that the Spirit gives us. The law of the Spirit makes us free! This freedom frightens us a little, because we are afraid we will confuse the freedom of the Spirit with human freedom.”

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 Pope Francis when he said he did not want to have the job of being Pope

In the above short paragraph, ‘moulds’ in our lives, that need ‘breaking’, are there. I want to mention a few but without any specific person in mind:

  • Mould (1): For young people and older people that worshipping in Church is not ‘cool’; we can be united with God, but can easily ignore worship with others.
  • Mould (2): That I am unable to go to Church because I have broken the rules of the Catholic Church.
  • Mould (3): That priests and nuns and monks (Religious men and women of all orders) come from other peoples’ families, not mine own.
  • Mould (4): That I have a routine in my life which is fixed and nothing can disturb it.
  • Mould (5): That Jesus and God are not important for me to have fun and enjoy life; better without them.
  • Mould (6): That there is not much I can do in this world to change it for the better.

At the previously mentioned interview with young people, somebody asked Pope Francis how should the young respond to the challenge of material, and spiritual poverty, in our world. This is how the Pope responded:

“First of all I want to tell you something, tell all you young people: don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope. Please, don’t let it be stolen from you. The worldly spirit, wealth, the spirit of vanity, arrogance and pride…all these things steal hope. Where do I find hope? In the poor Jesus, Jesus who made himself poor for us. … Poverty calls us to sow hope. This seems a bit difficult to understand. I remember Fr. Arrupe (Father General of the Jesuits from 1965-1983) wrote a letter to the Society’s centre for social research. At the end he said to us: ‘Look, you can’t speak of poverty in the abstract: that doesn’t exist. Poverty is the flesh of the poor Jesus, in that child who is hungry, in the one who is sick, in those unjust social structures. Go forward, look there upon the flesh of Jesus. But don’t let well-being rob you of hope. Young people should bet on their high ideals, that’s my advice. But where do I find hope? In the flesh of Jesus who suffers and in true poverty. There is a connection between the two.”

On this question of ‘hope’, I told a class in school that, since becoming Parish Priest in Leyland, I have dealt with quite a few suicides of young people, who must have lost hope. I think here we have a Pope who is helping people to find the sense of meaning of life, even when all might seem to be lost. 

If you wish to watch a short clip about the audience on June 7th download:

Father Jonathan.

Uniting Heaven and Earth:

We are living in the liturgical time of Pentecost, of the Holy Spirit. This is the time of the Church, triumphant in heaven, and the Church, in travail on earth; the time of the Glory of the Holy Trinity.

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Paul at His Writing Desk

Our Christian lives witness to this. When Paul was writing to his beloved friends, not knowing whether he would live or die, he is quoted as: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ……Our citizenship is in heaven…”  (Philippians 3: 7-20).  In the light of this, how unnecessary it is to be anxious; unnecessary, to be troubled or worried!

Yet…. who isn’t anxious, troubled or worried? What mother is not worried about her child? Mary was worried when Jesus was apparently lost in the Temple at the age of 12; so, we are in good company. What faithful Catholic is not worried about the state of the Church today? What good citizen is not worried about his country, where it is, and where it is going?

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A Lady Deep in Prayer

Yet, we live in a dynamic peace, living with the mind of Christ. The other day, one of our parishioners remarked at his own astonishment during one sacramental programme that went particularly well; this man, father of one getting ready for the sacraments, said he had never realised that Jesus was a real person.  It is probable he thought that Jesus was a system of philosophy, a book of rules or a cloud in the sky or… I don’t know what!  But, to complete the ‘picture’, it must be added that Jesus is alive with us today and that we, as Christians, live in him. It is a joy to meet parishioners walking around Leyland, knowing that, as they go their ways, many of them are praying. I do the same – driving, walking, sitting still – it makes no matter.  At a guess, no one ‘taught us’ this technique; it is a logical consequence of what we believe, and it goes back a very long way – to the very beginnings of the Church: Jesus is alive and with me.

In the year 165AD, an account was written of the trial that St. Justin Martyr and his companions underwent, before they were executed.  In its expression, it is almost as fresh as if it had happened just yesterday:

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 St. Justin, Martyred in 165 AD

“The saints were seized and brought before the prefect of Rome, whose name was Rusticus. As they stood before the judgement seat, Rusticus the prefect said to Justin: “Above all, have faith in the gods and obey the emperors.” Justin said: “We cannot be accused or condemned for obeying the commands of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

…….The prefect Rusticus said: “Are those doctrines approved by you, wretch that you are?” Justin said: “Yes, for I follow them with their correct teaching.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “What sort of teaching is that?” Justin said: “Worship the God of the Christians. We hold him to be from the beginning the one creator and maker of the whole creation, of things seen and things unseen. We worship also the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He was foretold by the prophets as the future herald of salvation for the human race and the teacher of distinguished disciples. For myself, since I am a human being, I consider that what I say is insignificant in comparison with his infinite godhead. I acknowledge the existence of a prophetic power, for the one I have just spoken of as the Son of God was the subject of prophecy. I know that the prophets were inspired from above when they spoke of his coming among men.”

Rusticus said: “You are a Christian, then?” Justin said: “Yes, I am a Christian.”

The prefect said to Justin: “You are called a learned man and think that you know what is true teaching. Listen: if you were scourged and beheaded, are you convinced that you would go up to heaven?” Justin said: “I hope that I shall enter God’s house if I suffer that way. I know that God’s favour is stored up until the end of the whole world, for all who have lived good lives.”

The prefect Rusticus said: “So you imagine you are going to heaven and will receive some appropriate reward?” Justin said: “It is not a case of imagining. I know; I am certain.”

……The prefect Rusticus pronounced sentence, saying: “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the command of the emperor be scourged and led away to suffer capital punishment according to the ruling of the laws.” Glorifying God, the holy martyrs went out to the accustomed place. They were beheaded, and so fulfilled their witness of martyrdom in confessing their faith in their Saviour.”

The Eucharistic prayer in the middle of Mass throws light on all this. There we can picture the whole court of heaven worshipping God the Father, in complete freedom and joy, because Jesus has brought us that freedom – full and complete. He is the Salvation of the whole Cosmos, including the human race. It is because of Him, his Resurrection, his Victory over all that is evil, over all division, over all suffering, that Heaven – the life of the Holy Trinity – is open for all who truly believe in Him. In one way, Jesus – the man on earth – is no more than a part of creation; however, in his Resurrection from the Dead, the whole cosmos is contained in him.


 The Court Of Heaven with Jesus Triumphant Among Them All

The Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11).  During Mass we invoke the Holy Spirit to change the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. Intrinsic to the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer is directed to God the Father.  And so, in heaven, the trembling joy of all the ‘redeemed’ is manifest because of Jesus; he is there at the centre; he is there at the right hand of God the Father; the Holy Spirit is also there in this union, for he is the Love between Father and Word – Father and Son. The chorus of all present – angels, redeemed people, the saints – the whole of creation –  is directed to God the Father, in the Word (or Lamb of God) by the power of the Spirit.

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 Good Shepherd Mass, June 2012, in Our Church

At Mass, it is exactly the same. We have Jesus among us, sacramentally and truly present by the power of the Holy Spirit, worshipping God the Father. So, if I spend my time at Mass, imagining what is going on in heaven, during the Eucharistic prayer, it is no distraction, but a part of a living reality where my home is, (or my citizenship, as one translation puts it). No wonder the Mass is called a wonderful mystery of faith.  But, it is not a mystery in the sense of being an imagining; no – it is true to our life lived – true to what happens to us.

I return to St. Justin who said, almost nineteen hundred years ago: “It is not a case of imagining. I know; I am certain.”

Father Jonathan