Sunday, 28 November 2010

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 24:37-44; Rom 13:11-14
Today’s readings remind us of the End of the World, in particular, about the Second Coming of Christ, “when the Son of Man comes”(Mt 24:39).
There are 2 matters of humour that I often think of when I think of the Second Coming:
The first is a bumper sticker I’ve seen on cars: “Jesus is Coming. Look Busy!”
The second is a comedy sketch from the old Spitting Image series in the 1980s. It featured a priest rushing in to tell the Pope that Jesus had just returned. And, Spitting Image, irreverent as always, had the Pope reply: “Quick! Sell the popemobile and buy a Skoda –I want Him to think I’ve been suffering!”

What both of these comic images have in common is the notion that there is something that we think we can keep hidden from God. And it is right that the thought of trying to hide something from God should be a matter of humour, because God by definition is the one being that we cannot hide anything from.
Of course, many of the things in life that we laugh about are things that people do all the time, are things that WE do all the time. And when we laugh about things that people do all the time part of the reason we laugh is because we can recognise the ridiculousness of it when someone else does it, even if we fail to see the foolishness of our own behaviour in the same regard.

In our second reading today (Rom 13:11-14) we heard St Paul speak about how the coming of Christ will be the coming of "daylight" so that the "night” will be over. As St Paul indicated one of the things that the coming of daylight does is that it shows up all the things that cannot be seen at night. He gave the particular example of people sins: sins will be publicly exposed and seen in the coming of the light of Christ. And he draws a very simple conclusion: if our deeds are going to be exposed to the light, if our deeds are going to be exposed for all to see, then: "Let us live decently as people do in the daytime”(Rom 13:13).

Now, I imagine that many of us might hear the items, the sins, on St Paul's list and think, “Well, I don't do those things” –they are, after all, a list of the most serious sins, the things you would probably LEAST like to have exposed to the daylight.
Maybe, you don't commit any of those sins. Maybe, you don’t need to sell your equivalent of a popemobile because already drive a Skoda.
However, I think we all have little sins that we would be embarrassed to have brought to light: little acts of selfishness, little acts of laziness, uncharitable thoughts about other people, critical judgements, and so forth.

Every year the Church starts our season of Advent by reminding us of the Second Coming of Christ. We prepare to celebrate His birth at Christmas by remembering WHO that baby was and is: the child who was born in Bethlehem is the same God who will come as Lord and Judge at the End of Time.
For the world in general, and for us as individuals with our own particular death, “you do not know the hour”(Mt 14:44).
And so, let us remember that, “Jesus is Coming.” So, “Look Busy!” And let us not only ‘look’ busy but be busy in fact, let us repent and be "busy" with things that He would have us do.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

AIDS, Condoms, and What the Pope Really Said

AIDS, Prophylactics, and What the Pope Really Said, by Fr Dylan James, Moral Theologian, Wonersh Seminary

A document file version of this is avaialble at this link:

Last weekend saw many inaccurate media reports claiming that the Pope said that condoms were sometimes permissible in the fight against AIDS. This is not what he said. Below I have briefly quoted him and explained his comments in the light of his previous comments. If we want to understand him we need to read him in the context of other things he has said and in the context of the standard Catholic moral theology he is articulating.

(1) The Pope said that condoms are not “a real or moral solution”[1] to the fight against AIDS:

(a) Condoms are not a “real” solution because they are not effective at a simple practical level

While condom use can reduce the risk of infection it does not prevent it. As Durex themselves warn: 'No method of contraception can give you 100% protection against pregnancy, HIV or sexually transmitted infections.' As a consequence programs that distribute condoms may slow the spread of AIDS in a population but do not prevent the spread of the disease.
AIDS campaigns that promote the use of condoms frequently mislead people into thinking they can ‘safely’ engage in promiscuous sexual lifestyles when in fact they are exposing themselves to risk. In addition, such campaigns encourage sexual promiscuity among the youth at a younger and younger age and thus hasten rather than slow the spread of a great many sexually transmitted diseases. For example, 1 in 10 young people in Dorset are affected by Chlamydia.[2]
Telling people that they can safely engage in promiscuous sex is a lie. Promiscuous sex, with or without a condom, is not ‘safe’ even though a condom reduces the risk.

(b) The Church has a real solution it offers: abstinence and faithfulness

Any ‘real’ solution is not going to be easy and what the Church notes is the only effective way to avoid infection involves discipline and self-restraint –something that the modern world avoids. The only way to safely avoid sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sex if you are single and be faithful to your spouse if you are married. Thus the Pope said in his 2009 trip to Africa: "The traditional teaching of the church has proven to be the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS."[3]
Those countries in Africa that have promoted abstinence programs instead of condom programs have statistics that show their success.[4] “Recognition of the value of promoting abstinence, instead of just relying on condoms, came in a commentary published in The Lancet Nov 27 [2004]. Written by a group of medical experts, and endorsed by a long list of health care experts, the article noted that when campaigns target young people who have not initiated sexual activity, ‘the first priority should be to encourage abstinence or delay of sexual onset, hence emphasizing risk avoidance as the best way to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.’”[5]

(c) The Church does a lot of work caring for AIDS sufferers

Did you know that 25% of AIDS care worldwide is provided by Catholic organisations?
As the Pope said in his recent interview: “Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on AIDS. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many AIDS victims, especially children with Aids.
“I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.”[6]

(2) What then did the Pope say about condoms that was mistakenly claimed to be ‘new’?
The Pope spoke about what can sometimes be a “first step” towards moral living, even when this first step is something that is nonetheless still sinful. He said “perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.”[7]
When the Pope was asked in response, “Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?” It was then that the Pope said, “She [i.e. the Church] of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution” but only a possible “first step” towards a moral life.
In noting that the “first step” towards morality is often something that is still sinful the Pope is articulating standard Catholic moral theology. In commenting on the Pope’s words the moral theologian Professor Janet Smith used the example of theft to illustrate what the Pope is saying: “If someone was going to rob a bank and was determined to use a gun, it would better for that person to use a gun that had no bullets in it. It would reduce the likelihood of fatal injuries. But it is not the task of the Church to instruct potential bank robbers how to rob banks more safely and certainly not the task of the Church to support programs of providing potential bank robbers with guns that could not use bullets. Nonetheless, the intent of a bank robber to rob a bank in a way that is safer for the employees and customers of the bank may indicate an element of moral responsibility that could be a step towards eventual understanding of the immorality of bank robbing.”[8]

(3) Why then has the media misinterpreted the Pope’s words?
Different reports have said very different things and have no doubt done so for very different reasons. Some seem to have imagined that the Pope said what they wished he had said rather than what he actually said. Others have misinterpreted the Pope because they are unfamiliar with his other writings and unfamiliar with Catholic moral theology.
Regardless, nothing the Pope said is new and nothing he said changes the fact that, as he said, condoms are not “a real or moral solution”[9] to the fight against AIDS.

[1] accessed 26/11/2010
[2] accessed 23/11/2010
[3] accessed 23/11/2010 . To see some other secular reports backing the science of what the Pope has said about abstinence and faithfulness being the only effective way to prevent the spread of AIDS, follow links at: accessed 23/11/2010
[4], among many other reports on this point see: accessed 26/11/2010
[5] accessed 23/11/2010
[6] accessed 26/11/2010
[7] Ibid
[8] accessed 23/11/2010
[9] accessed 26/11/2010

Monday, 22 November 2010

Vigil for Nascent Life, 27th November 2010

Prayer Vigil For Unborn Life
5.45pm-6.15pm Saturday evening, 1st Sunday of Advent, 27th Nov 2010

There will be a half-hour of prayer immediately after the evening Mass.
Our Bishop has encouraged us to respond to the Holy Father’s “unprecedented request” for Catholics throughout the world to join him in observing a “Vigil for All Nascent Human Life”. The purpose of this prayer vigil is “is to ‘thank the Lord for his total self-giving to the world and for his Incarnation which gave every human life its real worth and dignity,’ and to ‘invoke the Lord’s protection over every human being called into existence’.”

Opening Hymn while the Blessed Sacrament is incensed
Soul of my Saviour sanctify my breast,
Body of Christ, be thou my saving guest,
Blood of my Saviour, bathe me in thy tide,
wash me with waters gushing from thy side.

Strength and protection may thy passion be,
O bless├Ęd Jesus, hear and answer me;
deep in thy wounds, Lord, hide and shelter me,
so shall I never, never part from thee.

Guard and defend me from the foe malign,
in death's dread moments make me only thine;
call me and bid me come to thee on high
where I may praise thee with thy saints for ay.

Prayer (said by priest)


Please join in the responses in bold print
Lord, have mercy - Response: Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy - Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy - Lord, have mercy
Christ hear us - Christ, graciously hear us

God the Father, Creator of the world, Response: Have mercy on us
God the Son, through whom all things were made,
God the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life,
Lord Jesus, the Beginning and the End,
Lord Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life,
Lord Jesus, Eternal Word of Life,
Lord Jesus, living in the womb of the Virgin Mary,
Lord Jesus, Lover of the poor and weak,

For the gift of new life, Response: We thank you, Lord
For those who cherish and support life,
For all those in healthcare,
For mothers who welcome new life,
For those who support new mothers,
For fathers who accept their responsibilities,
For those who help provide alternatives to abortion,
For those who promote adoption,

For parents fearful of their responsibilities, Response: Aid them, Lord
For mothers with unplanned pregnancies,
For weak and sick unborn children,
For doctors caring for life in the womb,
For unborn children under threat,

For every sin against life, Response: Forgive us, Lord
For experimentation on human embryos,
For profiteering in human experimentation,
For the sin of abortion,
For mothers and fathers pressured to have abortions,
For all doctors & nurses who perform abortions,
For the silence of Your people,
For our own complicity in failing to defend life,

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Response: spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
graciously hear us, O Lord
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.

Let us pray,
Almighty and ever-living God, You have created all things through Your Son Jesus Christ. He hallowed life in the womb by His incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary. May all who acknowledge You promote the sacredness of life and always serve You faithfully, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Litany adapted and shortened from the “Litany in Response to Abortion” by Fr Frank Pavone, accessed 20/11/2010)

Prayer (said by priest)

Tantum ergo sacramentum
Veneremur cernui;
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui;
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

Genitori genitoque
Laus et jubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque,
Sit et benedictio;
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio.Amen.

Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.
Reverently bow your heads while the congregation is blessed by Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Divine Praises (repeat each line after the priest)

While the Blessed Sacrament is reposed into the tabernacle we will sing the following refrain three times:
O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine

Final hymn to Our Lady:
As I kneel before you, As I bow my head in prayer,
Take this day, make it yours and fill me with your love.

Ave Maria, Gratia plena, Dominus tecum, Benedicta tu.

All I have I give you, Every dream and wish are yours,
Mother of Christ, Mother of mine, present them to my Lord.

As I kneel before you, And I see your smiling face,
Ev'ry thought, ev'ry word, Is lost in your embrace.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Pastoral letter from Bishop

There was no sermon this week because there was a pastoral letter from the Bishop. This will be available at the Diocesan website:

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Remembrance Sunday, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Shaftesbury

Lk 21:5-19
Today in Britain we keep Remembrance Sunday when we think of those who have died in the wars: we thank God for their labours and sacrifice, and pray to God for them.

This year I would like to spend a moment recalling a virtue that we associate with soldiers, a virtue that is typically defined with respect to soldiers, namely, fortitude, and its related act: endurance.
The Latin word for fortitude, which gives us the ancient meaning that saints and philosophers assigned to it, combines both strength and courage.
The ancient philosopher Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas both write at great length about fortitude and they describe it as THE soldierly virtue, the virtue that faces fear (Summa Theologica II-II q123 a3) and faces death (a5). In particular, St Thomas considers what is the DEFINING act of fortitude, and says that it is endurance, because it is endurance that enables a man to stand firm in the face of fear and death (a6).
And, in this, the soldier models something that all of us need to live.

The soldier endures despite discomfort and difficulty before the battlefield, the soldier endures despite fear and uncertainty in the midst of a battle, and the soldier endures despite the attack of the enemy.
For us as Christians, Scripture explicitly describes Christians as "soldiers of Jesus Christ”(2 Tim 2:3) and describes us as such in the context of saying that we must "endure suffering".

In today's gospel we heard the Lord Jesus also speak about endurance and about suffering: he spoke in particular about the sufferings that would accompany the end of the world: nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, there will be earthquakes and plagues and famines and fearful signs from heaven. Worse still, for Christians, there will be persecution.
And what must the Christian do in the midst of all this? What is it that will gain the Christian eternal life? Jesus says, “Your ENDURANCE will win you your lives"(Lk 21:19).

The endurance I have just described is perhaps most obvious in the face of the dramatic sufferings Jesus indicated. However, there are many other forms of endurance that characterise Christian living: to love others often requires simple endurance in the form of patience with other people; to love others in obedience to Christ's command requires a further form of endurance in that it requires endurance in the form of maintaining our hope in the promised reward for loving others; and loving others include endurance in the form of patience with the difficulties of life so that we don't allow our illnesses and difficulties, our personal crosses, to make a so disagreeable that we fail to love. To be a Christian is to endure.

So, to come back to where I began, as we think today of the many soldiers who died in the wars, let us think too of the way in which soldierly fortitude, and its principal act of endurance, models the endurance that we each need to be manifesting in our daily Christian lives.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Mass Intentions

From the newsletter this week:

The month of November is a time when people particularly remember to have Masses offered for the dead, especially for family and friends. There are brown ‘Mass Offering’ envelopes in the porch for this purpose: please write your intention on the outside of the envelope, enclose your Mass stipend donation, and place the envelope in the collection plate or in the presbytery letterbox.

The practice of offering Masses for the dead is the Christian fulfilment of the Jewish practice of having sacrifices offered in the Temple for the dead “so that they might be released from their sins”(2 Macc 12:45). The Early Church celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the sacrifice that superseded the Old Testament Temple sacrifices and it was for this reason that the writings of the Early Church Fathers record how the Mass was offered for the dead. For example, Tertullian writes in the 2nd Century about a widow who had Mass offered for her deceased husband: "Indeed she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship with him in the first resurrection; and she offers her sacrifice on the anniversaries of his falling asleep". Similarly, many of the Fathers echo the sentiment expressed by St Gregory the Great, "Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them." While St. John Chrysostom encourages us by saying, "If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them."[1]

But what does it mean to have a Mass offered ‘for’ something or someone? In answering this question it is important to differentiate between the general and particular intentions in the Mass: Every Mass is offered with the general intention that is articulated in every Eucharistic Prayer: for the glory of God and for the needs of the Church and the world as a whole. In addition, each individual member of the congregation brings his or her own particular intentions in his or her prayers that are united to that Mass. There is a third type of intention brought to the Mass, however, and it is this intention that is referred to when people speak of a ‘Mass Intention’, namely, the specific intention for which the priest celebrant offers the Mass: The priest’s intention specifies the “special fruit”[2] for which that particular Mass is being offered. It is in this sense that someone asks a priest to offer Mass ‘for’ something or someone.

Mass Stipends
Linked with the above is the ancient practice of Mass Stipends: a financial offering to accompany the offering of your prayer, a specific donation to accompany the specific request. While the amount donated for a Mass is at the discretion of the individual there is a standard rate set in each diocese and for many years our Bishop has set this at £10. In this parish the donation goes to the parish funds (in contrast, most other places continue the ancient practice of the Mass offering going to support the priest).

Other Intentions
The Mass is the greatest prayer we have since it is the sacrifice of Christ Himself. It is therefore important to remember that we can have Mass offered for many intentions: for the living as well as for the dead, for family difficulties, for sickness, as well as in thanksgiving for graces received etc.

Announcing the intention?

In some parishes the intention of each Mass is published in the weekly newsletter or on the notice board. Sometimes a priest may announce the intention. It is worth noting, however, that the offering of the Mass for that intention does not depend on it being publically voiced but on it being specified in the priest’s personal prayers. Similarly, if a priest announces that “I am offering this Mass for [such and such an] intention” he does not thereby require the rest of the congregation to pray for that intention or to make their own lay-offering of the Mass to be for that intention.

[1]Fr William Saunders, “What does it mean to have a Mass ‘offered’ for someone?”, accessed 2/11/2010
[2]Pope Pius VI, Auctorem Fidei (1786), cited in Aidan Nichols, The Holy Eucharist (Dublin: Veritas, 1991), p.100.