Sunday, 29 November 2015


Thursday, 15 October 2015

St Teresa of Avila

St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was a Carmelite nun and a Spanish mystic. She is also known as "St Teresa of Jesus" or the "Great St Teresa" to distinguish her from another Carmelite nun, St Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897) known as "The Little Flower." St Teresa of Avila is a very much-loved contemplative Catholic saint. She was Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, a child of a noble family, born on 28 March 1515 at Avila in Castile. Her mother died when she was fifteen. This event upset her so much that her father sent her to an Augustinian convent in Avila. Her father brought her home after a year and a half when she became ill. After being exposed to monastic life she wished to become a nun, which her father forbade as long as he was living. At the age or twenty or twenty-one she secretly left home and entered the Incarnation of the Carmelite nuns in Avila, after which her father dropped his opposition. Much of St Teresa's life was plagued by illness. In 1538 it appears she suffered from malaria when her father took her from the convent and placed her under doctors care. Despite of this she remained ill and undertook experimental cures by a woman in the town of Becedas. These methods left her in a coma for three days and not able to walk for three years. It was during this time of illness and convalescence that she took to daily mental prayer, which led to her experiences with mystical prayer.

She credited her recovery to St Joseph. St Teresa never sought out the mystical experiences that she experienced, but resigned herself to God's will and considers the experiences a divine blessing. She spent long hours in meditation that she called the "prayer of quiet" and the "prayer of union." During such prayers she frequently went into a trance, and at times entered upon mystical flights in which she would feel as if her soul were lifted out of her body. She said ecstasy was like a "detachable death" and her soul became awake to God as never before when the faculties and senses are dead.

St Teresa being a contemplative is well known for her discussion on the grades of prayer through which the soul is focused upon the love of God passes before reaching the "central mansion" of the soul, where Christ lives. She distinguished sharply between the essence of mysticism, which is loving the contemplation of God infused by God's own love and grace, and the tangential phenomena that may accompany the contemplative life, such as visions, audible sensations, ecstasy, levitation, and stigmata. She, as others, believed that Satan could manipulate such phenomena to corrupt the gullible even when they come from God. St Teresa felt that the Devil could twist such things in order to cause the individual to be more concerned with these manifestations than with their true mission of loving God entirely. Although St Teresa warned against taking the powers of the Devil too seriously, and advised that his powers should be despised (tener en poco). She said Satan was constantly active against Christians, especially the contemplative, trying intensely to block them from their goal of achieving absolute union with God. Although the Devil was powerless against the defence that Christ builds up in a faithful soul, he will rush in at the person's weakness moments to suggest things that appear reasonable and good but invariably result in feelings of confusion, worthlessness and disgust. He put for ingeniously devised temptations: he encourages self-righteousness and false humility and discourages us from prayer; he causes us to feel guilty for having received God's grace and to labor under the impossible burden of trying to earn it; he makes us ill-tempered toward others; he creates illusions and distractions in the intellect; he inspires the doubt and fear that the understanding that we are granted in contemplation is an illusion. Sometimes we feel that we have lost control of our souls, as if demons are tossing us back and forth like balls. Sometimes we feel that we have made no progress, but even when the boat is becalmed, God is secretly stirring in the sails and moving us along.

In 1562, against opposition, she founded a convent in Avila with stricter rules that those that prevailed in Carmelite monasteries. She was determined to establish a small community that would follow the Carmelite contemplative life, especially unceasing prayer. In 1567 she was given permission to establish other convents, and eventually founded seventeen others. She dedicated herself to reforming the Carmelite order.

When St Teresa was fifty-three she met the twenty-six-year-old St John of the Cross, who was dedicated to reforming the male Carmelite monasteries. Following a period of turbulence within the Carmelites, from 1575 to 1580, the Discalced Reform was recognised as separate. As St Teresa was traveling about Spain founding her reformed Carmelite convents her pen was busy too. All of her books have become spiritual classics. Life, her first work and autobiography written in 1565, describes how she experienced a spiritual marriage with Christ as bridegroom to the soul; she had this experience on November 18, 1572. Following this experience she wrote The Way of Perfection (1573), about the life of prayer. This was followed by The Interior Castle (1577), her best-known work, in which she presents a spiritual doctrine using a castle to symbolise the interior life. This latter book was revealed to her on Trinity Sunday, 1577, in which she saw a crystal globe like a castle that contained seven rooms; the seventh, in the centre, held the King of Glory. One approached the centre, which represents the Union with God, by going through the other rooms of Humility, Practice of Prayer, Meditation, Quiet, Illumination, and Dark Night.

After founding her last convent at Burgos, in 1582, St Teresa returned in very poor health to Avila. The difficult journey proved to have been too much for her frail condition. She took to her deathbed upon her arrival at the convent and died three days later on October 4, 1582. The next day the Gregorian Calendar went into effect, thus dropping ten days and making her death on October 14th. Her feast day is October 15th. St Teresa was canonised in 1662 by Pope Gregory XV and was declared doctor of the Church, the first woman so honoured, in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

St Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi (Italian: San Francesco d'Assisi); born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but nicknamed Francesco; 1181/1182 – October 3, 1226) was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men's Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of St Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis for men and women not able to live the lives of itinerant preachers, followed by the early members of the Order of Friars Minor, or the monastic lives of the Poor Clares. Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
Francis' father was Pietro di Bernardone, a prosperous silk merchant. Francis lived the high-spirited life typical of a wealthy young man, even fighting as a soldier for Assisi. While going off to war in 1204, Francis had a vision that directed him back to Assisi, where he lost his taste for his worldly life. On a pilgrimage to Rome, he joined the poor in begging at St Peter's Basilica. The experience moved him to live in poverty. Francis returned home, began preaching on the streets, and soon gathered followers. His Order was authorised by Pope Innocent III in 1210. He then founded the Order of Poor Clares, which became an enclosed religious order for women, as well as the Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance (commonly called the Third Order).
In 1219, he went to Egypt in an attempt to convert the Sultan to put an end to the conflict of the Crusades. By this point, the Franciscan Order had grown to such an extent that its primitive organisational structure was no longer sufficient. He returned to Italy to organise the Order. Once his community was authorised by the Pope, he withdrew increasingly from external affairs. In 1223, Francis arranged for the first Christmas nativity scene. In 1224, he received the stigmata, making him the first recorded person to bear the wounds of Christ's Passion. He died during the evening hours of 3 October 1226, while listening to a reading he had requested of Psalm 142 (141).
On 16 July 1228, he was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory IX. He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment, and is one of the two patron saints of Italy (with Catherine of Siena).
On the day before Francis was canonised, I was ordained into the sacred priesthood, and on the day after the little saint died I was episcopally consecrated, ie the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi 1991.
Saint Francis had many mystical experiences which made my own affinity with him all the closer. This statue of the beloved saint stands in the retreat's grotto garden which also serves as a sanctuary for wildlife.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Holy Guardian Angels

Today is the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels. Paul V was the first Pope, in 1608, to authorise a feast day in honour of guardian angels. Pope Clement X changed the date to October 2nd and Leo XIII, in 1883, upgraded the date to a double major feast. There is a proper Office in the Roman Breviary and a proper Mass in the Roman Missal, which contains all the apposite extracts from Sacred Scripture bearing on the three-fold office of the angels, to praise God, to act as His messengers, and to watch over mortal men. "Let us praise the Lord whom the Angels praise, whom the Cherubim and Seraphim proclaim Holy, Holy, Holy" (second antiphon of Lauds)."Behold I will send my angel, who shall go before thee, and keep thee in thy journey, and bring thee into the place that I have prepared. Take notice of him, and hear his voice" (Exodus 23; capitulum ad Laudes). The Gospel of the Mass includes that pointed text from St Matthew 18: 10:"See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven."Although October 2nd has been fixed for this feast in the Roman calendar, it is kept, by papal privilege, in Germany and many other places on the first Sunday (computed ecclesiastically) of September, and is celebrated with special solemnity and generally with an octave (Nilles, II, 503). This feast, like many others, was local before it was placed in the Roman calendar. It was not one of the feasts retained in the Pian breviary, published in 1568; but among the earliest petitions from particular churches to be allowed, as a supplement to this breviary, the canonical celebration of local feasts, was a request from Cordova in 1579 for permission to have a feast in honour of the Guardian Angels. (Bäumer, Histoire du Breviaire, II, 233.) Bäumer, who makes this statement on the authority of original documents published by Dr Schmid (in the Tübinger Quartalschrift, 1884), adds on the same authority that "Toledo sent to Rome a rich proprium and received the desired authorisation for all the Offices contained in it, Valencia also obtained the approbation in February, 1582, for special Offices of the Blood of Christ and the Guardian Angels."

My mother introduced me to St Teresa of Avila and, later on, to St Thérèse of Lisieux. Her death on the day following the feast of the latter was the most difficult moment of my life. Her last breath came at twenty minutes past five o’clock on the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels 1992. All I can remember is my father’s distant voice proclaiming: “She’s gone.” Two little words that were of themselves devastating ― yet I knew in my heart she had not gone at all, but had passed into the Lord’s safekeeping where she would be for eternity. Like her favourite saints, my mother remained as fragrant as flowers in death, resisting decomposition until the last; even when I replaced the lid on her coffin in the stone chapel for the very last time. She became the “first person I would anoint and on whose behalf I would recite the prayers for the newly dead, since receiving the mitre.”[The Grail Church, Holy Grail, 1995, page 102.] My mother’s funeral was also the first I would conduct in my episcopal office. It was held at Islington and St Pancras Cemetery on the feast day of St Teresa of Avila, one of the two saints my mother felt most close to; the other being St Thérèse of Lisieux. I also conducted a funeral service in the same cemetery chapel some eight years later for my father. 

"For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways.” - Psalm 90: 11

"No evil shall befall you, nor shall affliction come near your tent, for to His Angels God has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways. Upon their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone" - Psalm 91: 10-12

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession” (No. 336). St Basil asserted: “Beside each believer stands an angel protector and shepherd leading him to life. ”

The truth that each and every human soul has a Guardian Angel who protects us from spiritual and physical evil has also been shown throughout the Old Testament, and is made very clear in the New Testament.

It is written that the Lord Jesus is strengthened by an angel in the Garden of Gethsemane and that an angel delivered St Peter from prison in the Acts of the Apostles.

But Jesus makes the existence and function of guardian angels explicit when He says: "See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 18: 10).

In saying this, Jesus points out that all people, including little children, have a guardian angel and that the angels are in Heaven, always looking at the face of God throughout their mission on earth, which is to guide us and protect us throughout our pilgrimage to the house of our Father. As St Paul says: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?" (Hebrews 1: 14)

However, they guide us to Heaven only if we desire it. St Thomas Aquinas wrote that angels cannot act directly upon our will or intellect, although they can do so on our senses and imaginations – thus encouraging us to make the right decisions. In Heaven our guardian angels, though no longer needing to guide us to salvation, will continue to enlighten us.

It is important to pray to your guardian angel and become friends with your angel. Call upon them in times of temptation or weakness and they will assist, enlighten, and protect you.

The prayer to the guardian angels has been present in the Church since at least the beginning of the twelfth century.

Guardian Angel Prayer:

Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

Guardian Angel Quotes:

"The servants of Christ are protected by invisible, rather than visible, beings. But if these guard you, they do so because they have been summoned by your prayer. "

~ St Ambrose

“Let us affectionately love His angels as counselors and defenders appointed by the Father and placed over us. They are faithful; they are prudent; they are powerful; Let us only follow them, let us remain close to them, and in the protection of the God of heaven let us abide.”

~ St Bernard of Clairvaux

"God's universal providence works through secondary causes . . . The world of pure spirits stretches between the Divine Nature and the world of human beings; because Divine Wisdom has ordained that the higher should look after the lower, Angels execute the Divine plan for human salvation: they are our Guardians, who free us when hindered and help to bring us home."

~ St Thomas Aquinas

Thursday, 1 October 2015

St Thérèse of Lisieux

St Thérèse of Lisieux (2 January 1873 – 30 September 1897), or St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, was a French Carmelite nun. She is also known as "The Little Flower of Jesus."

St Thérèse loved the priesthood and consecrated herself for priests, calling herself "an apostle to apostles." She did not pray for priests for their sake only, but out of love for the souls they were to serve. She prayed for the priest in solidarity with Jesus in the Eucharist, with Mary, with the Church, and with the world, and offered her life for their apostolic ministry.

She felt an early call to religious life, and, overcoming various obstacles, in 1888 at the early age of fifteen, became a nun and joined two of her older sisters in the enclosed Carmelite community of Lisieux, Normandy. After nine years as a Carmelite religious, having fulfilled various offices, such as sacristan and novice mistress, and having spent the last eighteen months in Carmel in a night of faith, she died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four. The impact of her posthumous publications, including her memoirThe Story of a Soul, made her one of the greatest saints of the twentieth century. Pope Pius XI called her the Star of his pontificate; she was beatified in 1923, and canonised in 1925. Thérèse was declared co-patron of the missions with Francis Xavier in 1927, and named co-patron of France with St Joan of Arc in 1944. On 19 October 1997 Pope John Paul II declared her the thirty-third Doctor of the Church, the only Doctor of his long pontificate, the youngest of all Doctors of the Church, only the third woman Doctor.

Devotion to Saint Thérèse has developed around the world and she was my own mother's favourite saint. My mother died on the day following the feast of St Thérèse. The depth and novelty of Thérèse's spirituality, of which she said "my way is all confidence and love," has inspired many believers. In the face of her littleness and nothingness, she trusted in God to be her sanctity. She wanted to go to Heaven by an entirely new little way. "I wanted to find an elevator that would raise me to Jesus." The elevator, she wrote, would be the arms of Jesus lifting her in all her littleness.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Pope Saint Pius X

Piux X (born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto at Riese, near Venice, on 2 June 1835) condemned the error of Modernism in the encyclical Pascendi and the decree Lamentabili. Modernism and relativism were trends that wanted to assimilate modern philosophers into theological research in the way Aristotelianism had been used by thinkers like Thomas Aquinas in the past. Modernists claimed that Church beliefs were in a continuous process of evolvement. Following these encyclicals, Pius ordered that all clerics take the Sacrorum antistitum, an oath against Modernism. He also encouraged the formation and efforts of Sodalitium Pianum (or League of Pius V), an anti-Modernist network of informants. In 1908 the papal decree Ne Temere came into effect. Marriages not performed by a Catholic priest were declared legal but religiously invalid, a move which worried many about the status of "mixed marriages" outside a Catholic church. Priests were given discretion to refuse to perform mixed marriages or lay conditions upon them, commonly including a requirement that the children be raised Roman Catholic. Also in 1908 the Catechism of Christian Doctrine was first issued. In less than fifty pages it deals with questions of faith and morals in simple language, one reason for its continuing popularity. Later Joseph Ratzinger (later to become Benedict XVl) would say that Pius’ characteristics were “simplicity of exposition and depth of content.”

In 1913 Pius suffered a heart attack from which he never fully recovered. In 1914, the Pope fell ill on the Feast of the Assumption (August 15th). The outbreak of the First World War only worsened his condition and the 79-year-old pope became deeply depressed. He died on 20 August 1914, just a few hours after the death of the Jesuit superior general, Franz Xavier Wernz. 

In his will he wrote: “I was born poor, I have lived poor, and I wish to die poor.” Much of the pomp and ceremony of the Vatican he found profoundly distasteful.

Pius X was buried in a simple tomb in the crypt below St Peter’s Basilica. He had forbidden the removal of organs for the embalming process, a custom followed by his successors. 

He was being acclaimed a saint immediately after his death and the crypt could not hold all those wanting to venerate his tomb. Masses were held near his tomb until 1930.

On 19 August 1939, Pope Pius XII delivered a tribute to Pius X at Castel Gandolfo and on 12 February 1943, he was given the title “Venerable.” In 1944 his coffin was opened and, although he had not been embalmed, his body was found after thirty years to be in an excellent state of conservation. Following the confirmation of two miracles, he was beatified on 3 June 1951. 

On 29 May 1954, less than three years after his beatification, he was canonised, following the recognition of two more miracles. Pius X thus became the first pope to be canonised since Pope Pius V in the 17th century.

Pius X’s feast day, initially assigned to September 3rd, was moved in 1969 to August 21st, closer to the day of his death.

Although not present upon his arms, the only motto attributed to Pope Pius X is the one for which he is best remembered: Instaurare omnia in Christo("To restore all things in Christ"). These words were the last he spoke before he died.

Founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the Society of St Pius X is a priestly society of common life without vows. Its main objective is to provide training for the Catholic priesthood without any trace of Modernism in doctrine, morals or worship. The Society was originally erected in Fribourg, Switzerland by Bishop Francois Charriere, of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg on 1 November, 1970.

Today the Society is working in some sixty countries, everywhere providing the unchanging Catholic doctrine, the Mass of All Time, the liturgy, as well as the sacraments in their traditional form, the true channels of grace and of salvation.  It has six international priestly seminaries established on four continents. Its ministry is a parish-model ministry exercised through its priories where the member priests live in common, an important aspect of the priestly life in the SSPX. It also devotes itself to many other forms of apostolate and works of charity: third orders, chaplaincies, houses for spiritual retreats, primary and secondary schools, colleges, retirement homes, clinics, missions, as well as various works of charity. In Great Britain and Ireland, the Society's Priests regularly offer the traditional Latin Mass in some thirty churches, chapels and Mass centres. Saint Michael's School provides a Catholic education for junior and senior boys and junior girls. There is a Retreat House at Bristol. Publications include a regular newsletter and a quarterly magazine, Mater Dei.

The District also has an apostolate in Scandinavia, covering Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


Lazarus of Bethany, also known as Saint Lazarus or Lazarus of the Four Days, is the subject of a prominent miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus restores him to life four days after his death.

In the context of the Gospel of John, the narrative of the Raising of Lazarus forms the climactic sign. Each of Jesus' seven signs illustrates some particular aspect of his divine authority, but this one exemplifies his power over the last and most irresistible enemy of humanity — death. For this reason it is given a prominent place in the gospel.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he finds that Lazarus is dead and has already been in his tomb for four days. He meets first with Martha and Mary in turn. Martha laments that Jesus did not arrive soon enough to heal her brother and Jesus replies with the well-known statement: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." Later the narrator here gives the famous simple phrase, "Jesus wept."

In the presence of a crowd of Jewish mourners, Jesus comes to the tomb. Over the objections of Martha, Jesus has them roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb and says a prayer. He then calls Lazarus to come out and Lazarus does so, still wrapped in his grave-cloths. Jesus then calls for someone to remove the grave-cloths, and let him go.

The narrative ends with the statement that many of the witnesses to this event"believed in Him." Others are said to report the events to the religious authorities in Jerusalem.

The Gospel of John mentions Lazarus again in chapter 12. Six days before the Passover on which Jesus is crucified, Jesus returns to Bethany and Lazarus attends a supper that Martha, his sister, serves. Jesus and Lazarus together attract the attention of many Jews and the narrator states that the chief priests consider having Lazarus put to death because so many people are believing in Jesus on account of this miracle.

The miracle of the raising of Lazarus, the longest coherent narrative in John aside from the Passion, is the climax of John's "signs." It explains the crowds seeking Jesus on Palm Sunday, and leads directly to the decision of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin to kill Jesus.

It is notable that Lazarus is the only resurrected character in the Bible (besides Himself) that Jesus personally refers to as "dead." The Daughter of Jairus, whom He resurrected at another time, was said by Jesus to have been "sleeping."