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Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 056

WHAT CATHOLICS
BELIEVE

 By
Fr. JOHN REDFORD

A step-by-step beginners’ guide to the Catholic faith

No. 19

 

THE STORY OF THE CHURCH – II

In Britain, it is very much a part of Western civilization, which now has become very prosperous and highly developed in scientific and technological terms. The things which are so much a part of our everyday life in the West (television, electricity, railways, washing-machines) did not come out of the blue, but have grown up in European countries like Britain, France and Germany which were all Catholic countries in the Middle Ages.

The Church encouraged scientific enquiry at first, one of the first great scientist being a Franciscan Friar, Father Bacon. But a conflict soon arose when it seemed that some scientific ideas about the world did not square with the Bible; although now we are sure that there is no conflict between science and the Bible, because they are teaching different aspects of the truth.

But there was an even bigger conflict in Europe when a German friar called Martin Luther challenged the Pope’s authority over the question of indulgences and, as time went on, Luther became even more bold, and found more and more of the German princes on his side. He challenged the need for the Church to interpret Scripture at all, saying that the Bible alone was sufficient for faith. Thus, eventually, Germany, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries, or at least large parts of them, accepted the ‘protestant’ religion.

In England, Henry Tudor VIII gave himself the title ‘Head of the Church’ in his own country, after Cardinal Wolsey had failed to persuade the Pope to give an annulment declaring invalid the King’s marriage with Katherine of Aragon. In defiance of the Pope, Henry went ahead to marry Anne Boleyn, and the schism from Rome of the Church in England began.

Thus, by the middle of the sixteenth century, what was once Catholic Europe was in tatters, with Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland still remaining true to the old faith, but with the remaining countries now broken from Rome. Even other nations like France, still officially Catholic, were threatened with the possibility that they would be converted to the new religious ideas.

The first need was to reform and update the Catholic Church herself. This was done at the Council of Trent, which reformed the Mass, the training of priests, and deepened the understanding of Catholic doctrine. Thus arose a great era of what is called ‘Counter Reformation’, led by the Jesuit order and by the newly-trained secular priests, many of whom died a martyr’s death for their faith.

From now on, there was a new spirit of free inquiry in Europe, which led to the great inventions which are now so much part of our lives, but which also led to the more scientific study of the Bible itself, by both Protestants and Catholics. There was also, however, growth in scepticism and an increasing number of thinking persons who rejected the idea of supernatural religion.

In England, in the nineteenth century, there was a great revival of Catholicism in England, with a prominent Anglican theologian, John Henry Newman, becoming a convert to Catholicism. Great thinkers like Newman grappled with problems presented by atheism and agnosticism, and the Church prospered not only in Europe, but even more in the new colonies in Africa and in South America and in India.

In the twentieth century, marked by great changes due to technological progress, but also by incredible cruelty on a massive scale, the Christian Churches have come much closer together after the Second Vatican Council; and we pray with Christ that divisions may be healed, and ‘that they all may be one…’

 

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Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 055

WHAT CATHOLICS
BELIEVE

 By
Fr. JOHN REDFORD

A step-by-step beginners’ guide to the Catholic faith

No. 18

 

THE STORY OF THE CHURCH – I

Every individual feels the need to belong, to be part of a great family, or of a great enterprise. We love to be proud of past achievements of our country or family, and want to tell the story of these exploits to our friends and to our children. Just like the plants, human beings need to have a strong roots.

As members of the Catholic Church, we have nearly two thousand years of history to recount, of which we are all a part. It is a fascinating story, as we look back to the ‘rock from which we were hewn’ (words spoken by the prophet Isiah, who lived centuries before the Church was founded) a story of saints and sinners, successes and failures, God working wonders through fallible human beings just like you and me. In its own way, a true miracle.

In the earliest day of the Church, when it grew extremely rapidly, there were more Jewish Christians than non-Jewish. The hero of the early days of the Church was Paul, who took the Gospel right across the known world to Rome.

Eventually, however, Jewish Christians became more and more dissatisfied with the lax attitude which Paul and other Christian leaders had towards the Jewish Law (Paul answering their objections by saying that the Law of circumcision was now fulfilled by Christian baptism). By the end of the first hundred years of Christianity, the Church had already become majority-Gentile rather than Jewish.

In the first two centuries Christianity was illegal, and many Christians became martyrs rather than worship the Emperor Caesar. Some of these martyrs were also great leaders and Christian thinkers, like Cyprian and Justine. Others of the ‘early fathers’ as they are called, like Chrysostom and Augustine, were not martyred, but wrote great works of theology (the scientific and systematic study of our faith in God) which we still read today.

After Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church became very powerful in Europe, the Pope sometimes being more powerful than the Emperor as a political ruler, and the monks, who educated the people after the collapse of the old Roman Empire, became very wealthy and influential. But still, there was the desire to make the whole of life Christian, whether ‘religion’, ‘politics’, ‘work’, or ‘play’.

In the Middle Ages, great saints like St Dominic and St Francis preached the Gospel wandering around the countryside with no money or possessions. In the universities, the greatest minds of the time like Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus (called ‘scholastics’) were lecturing and writing about the great problems of faith and life.

But the majority of the people apart from the clergy were illiterate, basing the religious life not upon solid preaching of Scripture, but upon legends of the saints; and the authorities in the Church were even more-wealthy. Thus, later in the Middle Ages, men arose who challenged the whole authority of the Catholic Church, and said that new ideas were needed.

Already, a whole group of Christians in the East and separated from the Pope, calling themselves ‘Orthodox’, with almost the same beliefs as Catholics apart from belief in the final authority of the bishop of Rome, the Pope. Sadly, this schism remains unhealed.

But now, a greater ‘schism’ or ‘division’ threatened the Church. In the early days of the Church, Christians debated whether Christ was truly God and Man, and even then, some Christians separated because some could not accept that Jesus was God (the Arians) and some could not accept that he was truly man (the Docetists). But a greater trouble still was brewing.

 

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 054

WHAT CATHOLICS
BELIEVE

 By
Fr. JOHN REDFORD

A step-by-step beginners’ guide to the Catholic faith

No. 17

 

THE LIFE OF PRAYER

We saw in the very first talk how the Catholic religion is essentially about developing friendship with God, our loving heavenly Father. One of the most important ways in which we express our friendship with another person is by talking to them, and listening to them. Prayer, according to St Augustine, may be described as ‘conversation with God’.

Every Christian is strongly recommended to hold daily conversation with God, because we want to be conscious all the time of his loving presence, and ready to follow his wishes in the circumstances of our daily life.

Traditionally, Christians are encouraged to pray first thing in the morning and last thing at night, so that our first action of the day will be to say to God ‘thy will be done’ and the last action of the day will be to repose ourselves in the arms of the Father.

Morning and evening prayers (however long or short) are best done in the silence and secrecy of our own room. When we pray in secret, our heavenly Father will hear us in the personal secrecy of our hearts.

Our prayers should include simple praise of God for what he is and for what he has done for us; confession of our sins and failings, particularly those of the past day; prayers (‘intercessions’) for those we love, for those we find it difficult to love, and for our needs; and most important of all, adoration of God who fills us with his presence and with his love.

As to the form of our prayer, we may use set prayers (‘Our Father’, ‘Hail Mary’, ‘Glory be to the Father…’ ‘I confess…’), or quite informal talking to God. Most of us need a combination of set prayers and informal conversation with our heavenly Father, the set prayers helping us to formulate our thoughts, and informal conversation enabling us to express our personal ideas.

However, we must never forget that a most important element of prayer is simply being in the presence of God, and loving him without expressing any words at all. As the Cure d’ Ars said, ‘I looks at him, and he looks at me’. This form of simple adoration even goes beyond what we call ‘meditation’, which takes a religious idea and reflects upon it for a while.

Of course, not only morning and evening are for praying. It is good to take the opportunity of saying short prayers (‘Hail Mary…’, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour, have mercy on me, a sinner’) during the day, or to pay a visit to Church and pray in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

A good practice when possible is to join in public prayer, either daily Mass, or other prayers in Church. We should look upon the Church as our home.

Finally, we must not be discouraged when God does not seem to answer our prayers. Sometimes, like any good Father, he says ‘No’ or ‘Wait’ to our requests, because finally he knows what is best for us, knowing as he does the whole plan.

Lord, teach us to pray.

 

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 053

WHAT CATHOLICS
BELIEVE

 By
Fr. JOHN REDFORD

A step-by-step beginners’ guide to the Catholic faith

No. 16

 

THE CHARISMATICS

Each of us has some talent (music, do-it-yourself, knitting) which benefits not only ourselves and makes us feel we have achieved something, but which we also gives enjoyment or help to someone else. A great cause of unhappiness in the world is when people feel their talents are not being used, or where their work is uninteresting or apparently futile.

Christ, our Lord told the parable of the talents. The ‘good’ people who make their talents profitable are commended while the man who received only one talent is rebuked for not making anything out of his gift. Christ is saying that all of us, however useless we may feel ourselves to be, have been given gifts by God which we should try to use to the full.

But the Christian is not only given natural talents (sports or hobbies) but also spiritual gifts, to use for the benefit of the whole Church, the ‘body of Christ’. Since each of us are members of that body, we have an essential part to play in the life of the Church.

The sacrament which gives us the strength and the help to develop these spiritual talents (and indeed our natural talents when used in the service of God) is the sacrament of Confirmation. The bishop, or a priest designated by the bishop, lays his hands on the Christian, just as the apostles laid hands on the first Christians, and prays for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be given to them, as it was first given on the day of Pentecost.

Some of these gifts are quite extraordinary, like speaking in strange tongues, curing people of sickness, being able to see into the future (called ‘prophecy’) and casting out evil spirits. All these gifts have been present in the Church, and are particularly associated with people who are close to God.

But not only people with extraordinary talents are the Church’s ‘charismatics’. Priests receive the Holy Spirit at ordination, and their particular gift is to be leaders of the community in the name of Christ. Monks and nuns, called to live a life of prayer and contemplation, are filled with the desire to pray for their own salvation, and for ours. This strong desire is also a charism given by the Holy Spirit.

Another special gift from the Holy Spirit is the wish to give up everything for Christ, even things which are generally helpful to our life; property, freedom, and marriage. Thus, all down the centuries, men and women have taken vows of poverty (giving up the right to own material goods), chastity (giving up the right to marriage), and obedience (giving up the right to make decisions about one’s life, but doing simply what others in the community want, and so like Christ being servant to all).

As we saw earlier, marriage is a sacrament where the couple receive the help of Christ in their life together, not only for their own good, but also to build up a family of God. This is truly a vocation, just as much as those who take the ‘vows’, and for this the Holy Spirit is also given.

Finally, there are hundreds of spiritual talents which all exist for the building up of the body of Christ; mercy (giving up other things to nurse the sick, or feed the hungry); knowledge and faith )wanting to teach the Christian faith to others); reverence (filling us with the wish to be with God and to face life’s difficulties in his presence).

And the greatest charism of all, as Paul said, is love, that same love which enabled Christ our Lord to die and rise again for us.

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 052

 WHAT CATHOLICS
BELIEVE

 By
Fr. JOHN REDFORD

A step-by-step beginners’ guide to the Catholic faith

No. 14

 

HEALING THE SICK

In the life which we live on earth, sickness is one of the unfortunate things we fear most. It can take us away from our loved ones, and turn us from being active and responsible people into being totally dependent on someone else, almost like being an infant again.

In the Old Testament, sickness is treated as a great problem. In the story of Job, a good man suffers misfortune, crying out more than once, ‘Why was I born at all, if my life is only like a prison?’ But in the books written by the prophets, there is expressed the firm hope that one day God will save the sick, and the blind will see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk.

When Jesus came, he did so many miracles of healing that even those who did not accept him as a Messiah said, ‘When the Messiah comes, will he do more miracles than this man has done?’ We find that Jesus responded to human needs, and his pity healed the blind man who cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me’.

However, it is obvious that not all the people in Palestine at the time of Jesus was on earth were cured of their sickness. Some did not have faith, and so a cure was not possible; and some were not around when Jesus was passing by. And even those who were lucky enough to be cured by him would still eventually have to submit to the final sickness, death.

Therefore, the most important sickness of all was cured by our Lord when he rose from the dead, what St Paul called the ‘last enemy’ of the human race. We as Christians know that death is only the gateway to a new life, in which we will know and love God and each other completely.

After Pentecost, the apostles and other Christians did as many remarkable things as Jesus himself had done while on earth, healing men and women from serious sickness such as paralysis, and from all kinds of sickness. And since then, there have always been in the history of the Christian Church, miracles of healing, often associated with prayers of saints like Bernadette of Lourdes, or with special manifestations of God’s power as in the charismatic renewal movement.

In connection with the healing of the sick, the Church has a special sacrament whereby a person who is seriously ill is anointed with holy oil. This is a sign to the sick person that Christ is present as the divine Healer, and the whole Church prays with faith as the Letter of St James says, that he or she will recover to full health and strength.

However, just as in our Lord’s day, not everyone who is anointed with the Sacrament of the Sick will necessarily recover; since all of us must die sometime. In some cases, it is God’s will to allow even a long illness, as a way in which we can learn to love and to offer up our sufferings to God in prayers for others. ‘For’, as St Paul says, ‘it is when I am weak that I am strong’.

Prayer of Thanksgiving at the Sacrament of the Sick: Lord God, with faith in you, our brothers and sisters will be anointed with this holy oil. Ease their sufferings and strengthen them in their weakness. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Finally, a short prayer for the sick person:

Our Lady, help of the sick, pray for him (or her).

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 051

 WHAT CATHOLICS
BELIEVE

 By
Fr. JOHN REDFORD

A step-by-step beginners’ guide to the Catholic faith

No. 13

 

FRIENDS OF THE FRIENDS OF GOD

Every society needs leadership, whether it is a large country like China or USA, or whether it is a group at a disco or nightclub, where a natural ‘leader’ will often emerge. That leader will be good or bad insofar as he helps each individual in that group to feel part of the whole set-up, and insofar as he helps the group itself to grow and develop.

Christ our Lord, from the moment when he formed his community on earth, chose men who would be leader, men whom he called the ‘Twelve’ – the same number as the twelve tribes of Israel. These he sent out to preach the Gospel, and to carry on his work.

These men were by no means perfect (the leader of the Twelve, Peter, denied Christ when he was arrested before his crucifixion), and came from ordinary profession. But still Christ said to them, ‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you’.

After the resurrection, the apostles became the leaders of the Church. Helped by the Holy Spirit they taught the new converts, led the celebration of Mass, and acted as judges within the Church in difficult situations.

But the Church was not meant to end with the first apostles, St Paul, one of the great apostles of them all, handed on the leadership of the new Churches he had founded to the people he called ‘elders’, laying hands on them as a sign of the Holy Spirit coming on them to help them. These ‘elders’ (presbyters) were the first leaders of the Church after the apostles, people we now call ‘bishops’ and ‘priests’.

Since then, there have been thousands of priests and bishops ordained (that is, made priests by the laying on of hands). So much so, that there were over three thousand bishops present at the Second Vatican Council, from all over the world. The giving of ‘holy orders’ is another ‘sacrament’, a mystery where Christ is present, making a leader to represent him, to be ‘another Christ’.

It is very important to realize that, although a priest has a high vocation, he is still very much human, going to confession just like everyone else, because he has often the very same failings as the people have who come to him to receive the forgiveness of Christ.

As time went on, the practice of priests not being married became a law in the Church in the West. In this way, the priest, and bishops, follows the way of Christ who was not married, in freeing himself even from good human relationships, in order to be a father to the Christian community and to develop his life of personal prayer.

All Christians should regularly pray for priests, and especially for priests they know, so that the priest may be a good leader of the Christian community in the name of Christ, and a true friend of the friends of God. In this way, he will be worthy to take his place among the army of his brother priests, who have lived and sometimes died, in the service of God’s people.

 

 

 

Kepah ~ Parish Newsletter 050

WHAT CATHOLICS
BELIEVE

 By
Fr. JOHN REDFORD

A step-by-step beginners’ guide to the Catholic faith

No. 13

 

FRIENDS OF THE FRIENDS OF GOD

Every society needs leadership, whether it is a large country like China or USA, or whether it is a group at a disco or nightclub, where a natural ‘leader’ will often emerge. That leader will be good or bad insofar as he helps each individual in that group to feel part of the whole set-up, and insofar as he helps the group itself to grow and develop.

Christ our Lord, from the moment when he formed his community on earth, chose men who would be leader, men whom he called the ‘Twelve’ – the same number as the twelve tribes of Israel. These he sent out to preach the Gospel, and to carry on his work.

These men were by no means perfect (the leader of the Twelve, Peter, denied Christ when he was arrested before his crucifixion), and came from ordinary profession. But still Christ said to them, ‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you’.

After the resurrection, the apostles became the leaders of the Church. Helped by the Holy Spirit they taught the new converts, led the celebration of Mass, and acted as judges within the Church in difficult situations.

But the Church was not meant to end with the first apostles, St Paul, one of the great apostles of them all, handed on the leadership of the new Churches he had founded to the people he called ‘elders’, laying hands on them as a sign of the Holy Spirit coming on them to help them. These ‘elders’ (presbyters) were the first leaders of the Church after the apostles, people we now call ‘bishops’ and ‘priests’.

Since then, there have been thousands of priests and bishops ordained (that is, made priests by the laying on of hands). So much so, that there were over three thousand bishops present at the Second Vatican Council, from all over the world. The giving of ‘holy orders’ is another ‘sacrament’, a mystery where Christ is present, making a leader to represent him, to be ‘another Christ’.

It is very important to realize that, although a priest has a high vocation, he is still very much human, going to confession just like everyone else, because he has often the very same failings as the people have who come to him to receive the forgiveness of Christ.

As time went on, the practice of priests not being married became a law in the Church in the West. In this way, the priest, and bishops, follows the way of Christ who was not married, in freeing himself even from good human relationships, in order to be a father to the Christian community and to develop his life of personal prayer.

All Christians should regularly pray for priests, and especially for priests they know, so that the priest may be a good leader of the Christian community in the name of Christ, and a true friend of the friends of God. In this way, he will be worthy to take his place among the army of his brother priests, who have lived and sometimes died, in the service of God’s people.