Sunday, August 23, 2020

August 24th and purgatory.

 August 24th is our wedding anniversary and has nothing to do with purgatory! It is also the feast of St. Barthlomew who according to legends was skinned alive and beheaded so he is often pictured holding the knife he was skinned with or holding his own skin. An Apostle and Martyr he must have died an agonising death. This saint's memory is venerated in the Catholic Church and Orthodox and Anglican Communities.

The extremely admirable convert priest, aplogist and writer, Monsignor Ronald Knox died on this day in 1957. In time to come I hope he will be made essential compulsory reading to seminarians. In the meantime I was very pleased to hear Mgr Knox's name mentioned in a beautifully crafted sermon on a sad occasion. The occasion was the requiem Mass for Fr. Hall's own wife, Liz (to whom reference is made in the sermon) who died a few weeks ago in lockdown. May she rest in peace.
I hope Liz is rejoicing in the bus ride and eventual promised destination. (See sermon)

The sermon is reproduced here in full:

Homily for Requiem
What do you think will happen to you when you die?  Not your body - you've probably watched enough episodes of Silent Witness to be quite an expert on that.  I mean your soul - your self?
You may be surprised to know that the New Testament does not go into great detail about this.  St John tells us, "Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when Jesus Christ is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is."  When Jesus is revealed we shall be like him - but does that mean when we die?
St Paul speaks to the Corinthians of a time of testing: "Now people build on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, but also with wood, hay, and straw. The work of each builder will become visible, for the Day of the Lord will disclose it, because the fire will test what sort of work each has done.  If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.  If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire."  The problem here is that he is talking about the Church, not about us as individuals.
It's in this light that I'd like to talk to you about one of Liz and my favourite books.  I don't know how many we've bought over the years to lend or give to people.
It's "The Great Divorce" by C S Lewis.  The title is Lewis's response to the rather strange poem by William Blake called "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell".  No marriage, says Lewis in his foreword, but a Great Divorce.
The book takes the form of a dream, in which Lewis finds himself in a dismal street, in a grey town, just as the light is failing on a winter's afternoon.  Suddenly, a resplendently shining double-decker bus arrives, and he joins others climbing aboard.  The bus takes him out of the town, in fact out of the world, and to the outskirts of heaven.
They land in a pleasant flower-strewn meadow, and Lewis has a series of surprises.
First, his fellow passengers, who had seemed so real on the bus, now seem transparent, ghost-like, mere smudges on the air.
Secondly, the grass on which he is standing does not bend under his weight - in fact its solidity hurts his feet.
Then, when he tries to pick a flower or a fallen leaf, he finds them far too heavy to lift.  It is as if this new world is much more real than he is.
A further surprise comes when he notices that each visitor from the bus has someone to meet them.  His own welcomer - guide, you might say -  is a Scottish author whom Lewis had admired throughout his life, whose writing, along with that of G K Chesterton, had begun to turn  him as a young man from being an atheist into a believer in God.
You really need to read this short book yourself, but suffice it to say that most of the rest of it is formed of two things: Lewis questioning his guide about the world in which he is in, but also the encounters between other passengers and their guides.
For each one of the visitors to the outskirts of heaven has some thing that is chaining them to the grey town - some thing that is preventing them from moving further into the heavenly land.
It is the guides' job to help the visitors receive freedom and solidity.  Some visitors need healing from spiritual and emotional wounds.  Some need to repent of attitudes that still turn them in on themselves. Some need to receive forgiveness from those they have wronged; others need to forgive those who have wronged them.

Lewis watches as many, many of these visitors lose their chains and move "further in and higher up".  But with great sadness he also sees some who are so turned inwards, so attached to their current state, that they refuse the healing and freedom they are offered, and make their way back to the bus.
Liz and I, from our earliest days as Christians and even more as we began to discover the treasures of the Catholic Church, were confident that heaven would one day be our destination.
But moved by C S Lewis, and by reflecting on the misplaced attachments in our own lives, we both realised that we would need a time of healing, of penance, of purification before we were ready to come into the awesome presence of God.
You will recognise, of course, that what C S Lewis is describing in his book, what Liz and I both anticipated, is what the Church has traditionally called purgatory.  While the Church has given, and still gives, teaching about this intermediary state, answers to the question "but what is it like?" have been left to poets like Dante and authors like Lewis.  Lewis, the Northern Irish Protestant, has been praised by Pope Benedict and by at least one other major Catholic theologian for his fictional depiction of the Last Things.
If that's the case, then what is happening to Liz now, in as much as we can say "now" about the heavenly lands?  Liz died strong in the faith and fortified by the sacraments of the Church.  But using the language of the Great Divorce, she will be growing more solid as she faces up to the things that hold her back, lays down her burdens, and receives healing and forgiveness.
And that it why it is such an important work of mercy for us to pray for Liz and all the departed.  Our prayers, our penance, even perhaps our forgiveness, can help in that solidifying process. 
Let me close by referring to another dream - one written down by St John Henry Newman 20 years after his reception into the Catholic Church, and later set to music by Edward Elgar.
In the Dream of Gerontius an old man approaches his death, strong in faith and hope, and fortified by the prayers and sacraments of the Church.
Knowing that he will have to spend time in purgatory, nevertheless it is his great wish that he might see the face of God first.  Carried up to the highest heaven by his guardian angel, he is granted that vision.
"Now he lies, " says Newman, "Passive and still before the awful Throne.  O happy, suffering soul! for it is safe, Consumed, yet quicken'd, by the glance of God."
Gerontius himself then says,
"Take me away, and in the lowest deep there let me be.  There will I sing, and soothe my stricken breast, that sooner I may rise, and go above, and see him in the truth of everlasting day"
Newman's poem ends with words that describe exactly what we are doing tonight.  The Guardian Angel says,

Angels shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee as thou liest
And Masses on earth and prayers in heaven
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most Highest.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Pentecost xii

Mass on Sunday at St. Joseph's, Bradford at 1.00 p.m. for the twelfth Sunday of Pentecost. Please remember your mask. Communion will be distributed on the tongue.

Reminder that there is Mass on Thursdays at 9.30 a.m. at St. Anthony's, Clayton in Bradford. More regular Masses will resume in September and I shall post about these nearer the time.


Sunday, August 16, 2020


After worrying about how numbers would pick up after such a long period of lockdown I was delighted to see numbers exceeding those which were pre lockdown in the middle of March today at St. Joseph's. Please remember there are no public Masses at Broughton yet but I have been speaking to Fr. Parfitt this evening and he remains in good spirits.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Further resumption of Masses

I now understand that in addition to the regular resumed Masses at St. Anthony's Clayton and St. Joseph's Bradford that the first Friday Mass at St. John the Evangelist, Bradford will resume in September at 6.00 p.m. with the possibility of a regular Sunday evening Mass at St. Winefride's, Wibsey at 6.00 p.m. in the offing. The third Sunday Mass at the Cathedral in Leeds will similarly resume at 8.00 a.m. on the third Sunday of September. There will also be a regular monthly Mass at St. Joseph's in Pontefract starting in September.

I shall relay confirmation of details at other churches in due course.

We are most fortunate in this diocese to have a bishop who permits the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue albeit with strict conditions for the recipient and priest. 

Saturday is the feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Lady - translated to Sunday in England and Wales for observance of the external solemnity.

I hope to be able to report on more Masses according to the Rite of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham when Fr. Stafford is able to resume his duties here in Bradford on his monthly Saturday at St. Joseph's. 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Pentecost X

Mass again tomorrow at 1.00 p.m. at St. Joseph's, Bradford for the tenth Sunday after Pentecost. Please remember to bring a mask. Communion will be distributed on the tongue to those who wish.