Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Crackers 6: Digital Nativity


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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Crackers 5: A remarkable puzzle

Some of you may remember this from four years ago. It deserves a second outing and if you know the answer already don't let it out until your friends have tried really hard to find all the books.

There are thirty books of the Bible in this paragraph. Can you find them? This is a most remarkable puzzle. It was found by a gentleman in an airplane seat pocket, on a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, keeping him occupied for hours. He enjoyed it so much, that he passed it on to some friends. One friend from Illinois worked on this while fishing from his john-boat. Another friend studied it while playing his banjo. Elaine Taylor, a columnist friend, was so intrigued by it she mentioned it in her weekly newspaper column. Another friend judges the job of solving this puzzle so involving, that she brews a cup of tea to help her nerves. There will be some names that are really easy to spot. That's a fact. Some people, however, will soon find themselves in a jam, especially since the books are not necessarily capitalized. Truthfully, from answers we get, we are forced to admit it usually takes a priest or scholar to see some of them at the worst. Research has shown that something in our genes is responsible for the difficulty we have in seeing the books in this paragraph. During a recent fund-raising event, which featured this puzzle, the Alpha Delta Phi-Lemonade booth set a new sales record. The local paper, The Chronicle, surveyed over 200 patrons who reported that this puzzle was one of the most difficult they had ever seen. As Daniel Humana humbly puts it, 'the books are all right here in plain view hidden from sight'. Those able to find all of them will hear great lamentations from those who have to be shown. One revelation that may help is that books called Timothy and Samuel may occur without their numbers. Also, keep in mind, that punctuation and spaces in the middle are normal. A chipper attitude will help you compete really well against those who claim to know the answers. Remember, there is no need for a mad exodus, there really are 30 books of the Bible lurking somewhere in this paragraph waiting to be found.

The solution will be published on 6 January 2011


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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Crackers 4: Cardinalmobile

Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith returned to Sri Lanka with some style. The most eye-catching sight from the joyous welcoming parade in Colombo had to be the special custom float that he travelled in.

The newly -created Cardinal was greeted by thousands on the streets of the capital, including the Prime Minister and representatives of the other religious communities of the island.

H/T to the White Monks at Sri Lanka, who have lots pictures covering the event.


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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chrismas Crackers 3: Snow Fight!

It is not often that the snow is plentiful in Dublin as it was back in late November and early December. Our brothers in the Irish studentate made hay while the ... well you know what we mean ...

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Crackers 2: A friar's passion

As a Norwegian brother assigned for studies in Oxford for two years, I’d like to present one of my passions. And what could be more natural for a Norwegian than the Norwegian mountains? I was raised in the mountains of Telemark, and during the last few years, I’ve become more and more interested in climbing them. I’m not a very skilled mountaineer, but in fact you can manage quite well with the help of others who do know the art of ‘vertical walking’. The mountains have a special place in the Norwegian soul, and one of our philosophers, Arne Næss, who died in February 2009, stated that the mountains are not ordinary landscapes. They appeal to us in a special way. They are a place of refuge, of renewal, and a place of challenge. They appeal to our senses and to our spiritual life, and their powerful presence demands attention, participation and respect

The reflections of Arne Næss could also been a good description of mountaineering, and in fact he was a well skilled mountaineer himself. Standing in front of a mountain wall fills us with respect, presence and attention. Hanging by a single rope hundreds of meters over the ground wakes up your senses, it is an existential kick that takes you out of the ordinary way of living

The photos that follow are from the well known mountain Romsdalshorn in the north west of Norway. With its 1550 meters you have a beautiful view of the fjords and the surrounding mountains ...

Early morning before departure. Goal: the North wall.
 Maybe not a giant leap for mankind, but a great step for man!
Friends that made this adventure possible...

The famous "Trollveggen", The Troll Wall, at the other side of the valley.


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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Crackers 1: Linus tells Charlie Brown What It Is All About

I must admit that I love A Charlie Brown Christmas. I always try and watch it on Christmas morning. It is only in the last couple of years that I realised the depth and humanity that Charles Schultz gave to his characters. This scene below is one of my favourite. It is so unashamedly honest and true.

Saying all of that I still join in with the Peanuts dancing (got to Love Pig-pen's bass)


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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Crackers

On each day after Christmas we will open a Christmas Cracker until they have all run out. As you know, anything and everything can be found inside such crackers, the useless and the beautiful, the banal and the inspiring, the trite and the cor blimey, the amusing and the irritating. Let's hope our hoard of goodies will be worth the effort of pulling apart those resistant bits of paper ...


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Christmas Day

Readings - Midnight Mass: Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14; Mass at Dawn: Isaiah 62:11-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:15-20; Mass During the Day: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18

The moon contributes significantly to a peaceful nightscape but it cannot itself be described as a peaceful place. This is because there is no life on the moon. Where there is no life there is no struggle or anxiety, there is no need or threat or fear. If the moon is peaceful then it is the peace of the graveyard, the kind of peace found in dead places and not the full, rich, reconciled, healed, and justice-based peace that the Bible calls shalom.

The earth is not at all like the moon. Here there is life, many kinds of living things, and so there is much struggle and anxiety, there is need and threat and fear. Where there is life there is the possibility of it being damaged, wounded, and even lost. Living things are aware of their surroundings and must keep watch and be attentive. Living things are always anxious or at least alert and they are always needy, for food, for shelter, for a mate. Where there is life there is also threat and fear, even (perhaps especially) from other living things of the same kind.

So the earth, in particular the human world, is a place that needs justice, some kind of management and balancing of struggle and anxiety, of need and threat and fear. Inevitably, we contend with each other. We jostle with each other for food and influence. We are aware of each other as potential partners and friends and collaborators but also as different, as rivals, as perhaps not fully trustworthy, not really ‘on my side’.

The human world remains a place where we must strive for justice although it often seems to be beyond us. Where people take action to restore or introduce justice they often end up doing some fresh injustice. Where one kind of exclusion, discrimination or inequality is removed, fresh kinds of exclusion, discrimination or inequality appear in their place.

Jesus was born and lived in Palestine, the place where Europe, Africa and Asia meet. It was a key province of the Roman Empire, guarding the great trade routes to the East and to the South. For centuries it had been fought over by Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Even today ‘Palestine’ represents the knottiest of human problems. It is the place where Jews, Christians and Muslims struggle to live together in justice and in peace. There are many other places where cultures, languages, races, and religions meet and where they must find out how to live together. But ‘Palestine’ is symbolic of them all.

Jesus was born into this knot in the world’s history and geography. We believe him to be the promised Messiah, the one who would initiate God’s reign of shalom. The word means peace but not just in the sense of no fighting. It means a rich, reconciled, healed, justice-based peace, the peace that comes with the Messiah, a peace that is won, as it turns out, through His rejection, death and resurrection. Many biblical texts speak about the Messiah as one who would bring a definitive reign of peace. In fact ‘he himself will be peace’ (Micah 5.4) and ‘in his days justice will flourish and peace till the moon fails’ (Psalm 72).

The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote the first book to be called Politics and in it he says that human community and civilization are built on communication. It is by talking and listening that we recognize and establish justice. Thomas Aquinas liked the idea: ‘communication builds the city’, he says, commenting on Aristotle’s text. It is part of human greatness that we understand the need for justice and can work together to try to build it. And we build it through listening and talking together.

The Word became flesh in Palestine. Into the knot of human struggle and anxiety, of need and threat and fear, God entered to speak His Word. Jesus is God’s final contribution to the human conversation about justice and peace. We will find peace, he says, by following him in loving our enemies. Learn from me, he says, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ‘You must love one another as I have loved you.’ People may feel, and sometimes say, that it is impractical and naïve, this law of love to which Jesus calls us. In this world, with its tensions and anxieties, its needs and threats and fears, it is easy to see why people would feel and say that. But Jesus has overcome the world and has started a new creation in which love is the only law. Those who live by that law already experience the peace he promises, a peace beyond human understanding, a peace this world cannot give.


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Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

In theatre and cinema the 'fourth-wall' is an imaginary barrier between the audience and the world on stage or screen. When a character 'breaks the fourth wall' by either addressing or acknowledging the audience they cross an invisible screen and form a more intense connection with the viewers. One only has to think of the emotion stirred by Charlie Chaplin's address at the end of The Great Dictator, the chuckles raised by a Bugs Bunny aside to the camera, and the thrill and speculation caused by a momentary glance from Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back.

It is not a great surprise that the theory of this performance technique has been used to help understand the Birth of Jesus or 'God breaking the fourth wall' (as somebody on Radio 2 or 4 said at some point this year). To some extent this is understandable. The Almighty can seem distant or in a separate universe, just as characters in a film are. When the Word takes flesh, this is the ultimate crossing of a barrier, however it is still an insufficient analogy. In Christ's coming we do not just receive a nod or a word from God. We receive the Word, the Word breaks into this world like the morning sun and embraces all of humanity, giving true enlightenment and true life. 

However like in a movie we can miss this event if our hearts are not focused on our true goal that is found in the babe in Bethlehem. As we sit on the edge waiting to celebrate the birth of Our Lord, let us not be be merely spectators but true participants in the beginning of our salvation.


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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Preparing the Way: The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

This  week the Students of Blackfriars are preparing the way for Christmas with a series of reflections on the Rosary. They are taking place in the Priory Church at 12:30pm on Tuesday 21st, Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd December. All are welcome!

The third reflection, on the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, the fifth of the Joyful Mysteries, was given by Br Nicholas Crowe OP and is now available in this pre-recorded video for readers who could not join us.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Services At Blackfriars

Tuesday 21st, Wednesday 22nd,
Thursday 23rd December
12.30 Angelus and Rosary Reflections, led by the Dominican students

Friday 24th December
12:00 Conventual Mass, Midday Prayer
14:00 Family Crib Service
18:00 Solemn First Vespers (including Genealogy)
21:00 Polish Mass
23:30 Vigil and Midnight Mass

Saturday 25th December-Christmas Day
08:00 Mass
09:30 Family Mass
11:15 Polish Mass
13:05 Midday Prayer
18:00 Solemn Second Vespers (No Evening Mass)

Sunday 26th December-The Feast of the Holy Family
08:00 Mass
09:30 Family Mass
11:15 Polish Mass
18:15 Conventual Mass and Vespers

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Preparing the Way: The Proclamation of the Kingdom

This  week the Students of Blackfriars are preparing the way for Christmas with a series of reflections on the Rosary. They are taking place in the Priory Church at 12:30pm on Tuesday 21st, Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd December. All are welcome!

The second reflection, on the Proclamation of the Kingdom, the third of the Luminous Mysteries, was given by Br. Haavar Nilsen OP and is now available in this pre-recorded video for readers who could not join us.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Preparing the Way: The Annunciation

This week the Students of Blackfriars are preparing the way for Christmas with a series of reflections on the Rosary. They are taking place in the Priory Church at 12:30pm on Tuesday 21st, Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd December. All are welcome!

The first reflection, on the Annunciation, the first of the Joyful Mysteries, was given by Br Andrew Brookes OP and is now available in this pre-recorded video for readers who could not join us.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Rosary Reflections in Christmas Week


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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A White Christmas in Oxford?

Snow has been affecting many parts of the country, but it finally came to Oxford on 18 December. Some of the brothers in Oxford took to clearing a path to help those coming to church for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. They were, quite practically, preparing a way for the Lord!
First (Proper) Snowfall of 2010

Don't forget the Rosary Reflections this week, at which some of the student brothers will preach. They take place at 12.30 on Tuesday 21st, Wednesday 22nd, and Thursday 23rd December.

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Fourth Sunday of Advent - Set apart for the Gospel of God

At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Joseph comes to what we might call the natural conclusion: Mary’s pregnant, he’s not the father … so a quiet divorce is the best solution. Now, as we hear in the first reading, the natural interpretation is not the only possibility: the Lord promised as a sign to King Ahaz that a virgin would conceive and bear a child (Is 7:14). Joseph probably knew this prophecy in the Book of Isaiah, but that doesn’t mean he immediately jumped to the conclusion that his fiancee was to give birth to the Messiah! Rather, it was only when the good news was announced to him by an angel – a messenger of God – that he was able to see things for what they really were. Having heard the angel’s good news, he is then able to act accordingly: he takes Mary as his wife, and calls the child Jesus, as he was told.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of that child, then, what are we to learn from the example of Joseph? I think an important aspect to consider is the role of the angel in announcing the reality of the incarnation to him. Joseph had the Scriptures of the Old Testament, he knew the goodness of his fiancee, but nevertheless he needed to hear the news from a credible witness in order to appreciate the amazing, supernatural truth of the situation.

Now in the tradition received from the Fathers of the Church, we find extensive parallels drawn between the Church and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both, in different ways, make the Word of God present in the reality of human lives – it is in the Church, as in the Blessed Virgin, that the Word is made flesh. Now, of course, in Mary the Word is made flesh by the great mystery of the Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas; in the Church, this happens in the lives of Christians – of you and of me – those of us who, by the sacrament of Baptism, have been born of the Holy Spirit and who, especially by our participation in the sacrament of the Eucharist, live with the life of Christ himself. Filled with this divine life, we are to live in imitation of Christ and his teaching, and so make the Word of God a human reality in our own time.
Without a striving to live such a life, it doesn’t matter how well or how truthfully we proclaim the Word with our lips – we will not be taking part in its “incarnation”. However, today’s Gospel reminds us that preaching is still vitally necessary. Anyone can get hold of and read the Bible. Anyone can hear of and admire the goodness of a Maximilian Kolbe or a Mother Teresa, whose lives truly were conformed to Christ. But still there needs to be a further element: credible messengers who can show, as the angel did to Joseph, that these different aspects of the Church’s life do not depend on some merely natural explanation, but that ‘that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 1:20).
So often – and understandably – those outside the Church see her as a purely human institution, and seek human explanations for the way she lives and acts. In the course of our attempt to live the Christian life, then, we must always be prepared to give the real – supernatural – explanation for the way we live, relating everything, as St Paul does in today’s second reading (Romans 1:4), to the child whose name is called Jesus, for he has saved his people from their sins (Matthew 1: 21).

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday - Third Week of Advent

Gn 49:2, 8-10; Ps 72:1-2, 3-4ab, 7-8, 17; Mt 1:1-17

Over the last week, every Gospel reading in the lectionary has mentioned John the Baptist, and so it's really been driven home the importance of John in understanding Jesus' identity. As we approach the final week before Christmas, another essential factor concerning Jesus' identity is highlighted - the genealogy. The genealogy of Christ in Matthew's Gospel is much more than a list of names. Christ represents the culmination of salvation history.

Although Matthew neatly summarises Jesus' genealogy in terms of three sets of fourteen, on closer inspection this genealogy is anything but neat. There are several aspects which seem rather troubling. There is little correlation between Matthew's genealogy and Luke's. Matthew emphasizes Jesus' royal ancestry, but Luke only mentions King David. There are also noticeable discrepancies between Matthew's genealogy and the book of Chronicles. At least three kings are missing who are present in Chronicles, Asa is misidentified as the psalmist Asaph, and Amon is misidentified as the prophet Amos. Four women are mentioned who were of rather dubious moral character. Why does Matthew mention these rather than more respectable figures like Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah? Another puzzle is that Matthew only mentions thirteen generations from the period of exile to the Messiah, rather than fourteen. What is the significance of the missing generation? These questions have been much debated by theologians.

But perhaps this all seems rather academic when we come to the final twist in the genealogy – it seems that it is not actually a genealogy of Jesus at all, but only extends as far as Joseph who is not Jesus' true father. According to Palestinian law, the head of a family was no less a father of his adopted children than of those he had procreated, but does this fact really convince us of the relevance of Joseph's family tree? Perhaps there is an important theological point to be made here. In the bible, there are several examples of births which are in some way miraculous. In the story of Abraham and Sarah, or Zechariah and Elizabeth, we see the generosity of God in giving offspring to His chosen people. This generosity is seen on a whole new level when God even more miraculously gives the child Jesus to Joseph. Through the genealogy, we see that Jesus is a gift to all of Abraham's children. The fact that Joseph did not beget Jesus does not in any way lessen the deep bond between Joseph's family and Jesus. Because through adoption Jesus Christ became fully incorporated into the human family, it is also possible for us to believe that through adoption we can be truly incorporated into the family of God.


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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Well It is the Thought That Counts....

Coming up to another Christmas that seems to have begun on the high street straight after Halloween my mind has turned to one of the most diabolic excesses of the commercial "holiday season": the pop artist's Christmas album. It is depressing when great artists like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix release appalling covers of Christmas carols. Not only are they distressing to listen to but they also reek of "selling out" and cashing in (but to be fair to Dylan he has donated all royalties to charity). Below is a selection of some contemporary musicians' take on some festive standards. The first two are pure stinkers (especially "Mr. Rebel Yell" Billy Idol) with only ironic value. Luckily the Thin White Duke is incapable of producing anything below par. However the selection below is not total box of purple Quality Street; and Scottish indy-folk lords Belle and Sebastian show how not to ruin a Christmas (or Advent) song. Of course, they recorded it for a charity album.


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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday - Third Week of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 45:6-8, 18, 21-26; Psalm 84; Luke 7:19-23

The public ministry of Jesus begins ‘from the baptism of John’ (Acts 1:22) whose appearance in the wilderness of Judea, preaching and baptising, marks the fulfilment of a number of biblical prophecies. John the Baptist is ‘a voice crying in the wilderness’. This was a phrase used in Isaiah 40 for the one who announces the return of the people from exile in Babylon. That return meant a fresh beginning, an end to the alienation between God and his people, and the establishment of a new covenant between them. The end of the exile, their redemption from Babylon, was of crucial importance for the people of Israel as it made concrete God’s continuing care of them.

The wilderness of Judea
For the prophets the forty years Israel spent wandering in the wilderness was the honeymoon of her relationship with God, an idyllic period of young love, innocent and loyal. So renewal and new beginnings in the relationship between God and his people are associated with the wilderness. The wilderness is the place to look for signs that new things might be about to happen. The first sign that the exile in Babylon was ending was Isaiah’s ‘voice crying in the wilderness’. The first sign that Jesus, the Messiah, was about to begin his mission was the voice of John crying in the wilderness and proclaiming ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’.

A second strand of Old Testament expectation focused on the prophet Elijah and is also fulfilled in the person and mission of John the Baptist. The biblical tradition is that Elijah did not die but was swept up to heaven in a fiery chariot. In some Jewish circles there was a belief that before the final visitation of God, Elijah would return to warn the people that this ‘great and terrible day’ was about to dawn. This prophetic tradition gives voice to a passionate desire for justice, the hope that God will come as judge to set right all that has been distorted by injustice, cruelty, oppression and wickedness. Is there any redress for all the cruelty and violence that people suffer? To whom can the poor of the earth turn for help, truth, and justice if they cannot turn to God?

Jesus begins his preaching with the same message, ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’. But, in the mouth of Jesus, these words have greater depth and power. John points to the one who is to come but Jesus is that one. John warns people of the imminence of the kingdom but Jesus is its presence. John baptises with water for repentance but Jesus baptises in the Holy Spirit and fire for new life, new creation. What is promised in the words of the Baptist is realised in the words, actions, teaching, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Parched land around the Dead Sea
In Jesus the prophecies are fulfilled, as always, in unexpected ways. Who would have thought that God would engage with injustice, oppression and violence by allowing his Son to become the innocent victim of injustice, oppression and violence? Who would have thought that the blossoming of new life in the wilderness of human hearts would be more radical and more demanding than planting vegetation in a desert? Who would have thought that love could be more demanding than justice? Who would have thought that our judge would first be our saviour? Yet all this is true in the kingdom established by Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist prepares the way of the Lord. He is not only the greatest of the prophets but the greatest of human beings according to Jesus. He prepares the way, and points to Jesus, not just with his finger and with his voice, but in his preaching and his missionary work, in his suffering and in his death. In the career of John the Baptist we see already the pattern of Jesus's own life, mission, suffering and death. And yet the least of those who believe in Jesus have access to something greater, Jesus says. Our hold on it may be weak and often tested (as was the faith of the Baptist and the trust of Jesus) but even the tiniest flicker of faith gives us purchase on a wonderful reality: the presence of God among us in Jesus Christ, our saviour and our judge.


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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Defining 'life'

Dr William Carroll, Aquinas Fellow at Blackfriars, Oxford, offers here a scientific and philosophical reflection on the meaning of 'life' in the light of recent discoveries.


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Monday, December 13, 2010

Saint Lucia

The feast of Saint Lucia is a popular event in the region that I come from, the Scandinavian countries. Dressed up in white with candles in their hands, children go in procession early in the morning this day singing the Lucia hymn and handing out Lucy-cakes.

The story says that Lucia was a virgin from Syracuse in Sicily, and that she devoted her life to the Lord when she was young. Her decision to live in celibacy made a certain magistrate Paschasius very upset, and he had her condemned to death. After several attempts at execution, she eventually fell by the sword, as nothing else seemed to harm her. She died in 304, in the middle of the great persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

Lucia is certainly a martyr who showed strong faith and fidelity towards the Lord, but it is probably less her life story than her name and date of death that have made her so important in the northern countries. According to the old calendar reckoning, the 13th of December was the longest night of the year. In the Nordic countries where the winter is long and dark, what could be more appropriate than to celebrate a Saint that represented the light? This day of the year was not only considered to be the longest night, but also the night when evil forces were particularly active, probably caused by a certain confusion between Lucia and Lucifer ... songs were sung about ‘the long Lucy Night’ encouraging all not to be afraid, because God protects those who seek him. We may see such understandings as superstition today, but if we think of it, we do still pray for protection and sing to praise our Lord. Therefore, in this period of Advent, we may join in this Lucy-choir, as we wait for the everlasting light to come to shine for all nations.


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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Third Sunday of Advent: The One Who Is To Come

The familiar figure of John the Baptist, embodying our Advent hope, greets us again in this Sunday’s gospel. However, we find a man whose circumstances are much changed. The figure of hope seems to have become rather a pathetic figure, the great preacher and prophet languishes alone in a prison cell, awaiting his fate. To compound this unfortunate state of affairs it seems that the Baptist has also come to question the deeds of the one they call the Christ – the Anointed One – the one he was sent to prepare the way for. Indeed, he has come to question whether Jesus is such a Messianic figure at all.

Today’s Gospel is then, a question of identity. For John, disconnected from the community he loved, alone in a world filled with uncertainty, the identity of the Anointed One is paramount, and so he sends his disciples to ask; “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” It may seem a rather odd question, after all, if he has heard of the deeds, why then ask the question? The answer to this would appear to be that the identity of ‘the One who is to come’ was very different from the One that the Baptist expected. Indeed, the figure of Jesus had fulfilled none of John’s eschatological promises. John had preached that; “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” In an age when such a Messiah was expected to overturn the social and political status quo, John’s question does seem more reasonable. Should we look for another, or perhaps read differently, should we be looking for another of a different kind? Read in this manner we can see that although John’s expectations of Jesus’ role as judge were correct, he was unaware of the mission Jesus first had to fulfill on earth.

John is for us, a very human figure, his certainties have turned to questions, and he seems to waver between a man of prophecy and a man uncertain of the future. But where is the hope? Well, difficulties and questions do not equal despair: where would we all be if such were the case? On the contrary John provides the opportunity for Jesus to make clear the situation concerning his identity. In replying to John’s question Jesus marries his deeds with a patchwork of prophetic promises in Isaiah (29:18-19, 35:5-6, 61:1); "the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offence at me.” Jesus makes clear the fruits of his ministry and lastly proclaims blessed those who do not see his actions, unexpected though they may be, as a stumbling block to faith.

Whilst the question of identity is not cleared up with a simple Yes or No the answer couldn’t be clearer, and the message we can take from this should be heartening as we journey onward through Advent. We may all have times when we question, when our expectations in faith are not fulfilled, but we must draw upon what we see and hear, upon word and deed. We are surrounded by numerous examples of Christ’s love for us and nourished by the words of scripture. Indeed, our principal source of comfort and solace, even when we feel we are languishing alone and afraid, is Christ himself, given to us in the Eucharist. His identity is certain, but are we this Advent, able to recognise Him? “Are you the One who is to come.”

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent reflections from across the Irish Sea

The Irish Dominican students are running a very good series during Advent entitled Reason for the Season, explaining why Catholics do the things they do at different points during the liturgical year. The first video for Advent can be found here.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday - Second Week of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 48: 17-19 Psalm 1 Matthew 11: 11-16

One of the features of our post-enlightenment culture is a somewhat ambiguous attitude to authority. On the one hand our politically correct consciousness recoils at the slightest hint that we are imposing our values on others, and at the same time we aggressively reject any perceived infringements of our own autonomy. Simultaneously, however, the dizzying speed of technological development and a trend towards ever increasing specification has left us more and more dependent on 'experts', authorities in narrow subdivisions of human knowledge in fields such as medicine, economics, computing, and science, whose expertise seems to be beyond the criticism of common sense. If knowledge is power, then, we are in an age of mini-empires, with numerous sub-disciplines of thinkers and practitioners claiming an absolute authority over very specific areas of our lives.

It is very easy to think of the Church in these terms, as just another authority with expertise in that sphere of our life that we label 'religious' or 'spiritual'. Yet the Church is only handing on the revelation it received in Christ, the Word of God. This God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, is omnipotent and omniscient, all powerful and all knowing. His authority then, and his teaching, are not meant for a part of our life but for all of it.

In today's Gospel, we hear Jesus parodying his contemporaries, for 'John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, "He has a demon"; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say: "Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners"' Then, as now, God's prophet and his Son were rejected because they had broken out of the mental categories in which people had tried to imprison them. Jesus' contemporaries were prepared to offer obedience to God only in a qualified sense, perhaps because they misunderstood the nature of God's authority.

In the first reading Isaiah presents God not as an authoritarian despot but as a teacher whose instructions guide us to a peace that is 'like a river'. Similarly the psalmist proclaims blessings to those who 'delight in the law of the Lord'. This is the peace, the blessing, of being true to one's nature. Freedom is not found in resisting the authority of God. Freedom comes through obedience, through listening, to the one who made and sustains us. God is not the enemy of our freedom, in fact He creates our freedom; and as our maker and sustainer, the God who knows us better than we know ourselves, He guides and teaches us as to how best to use this great gift of being free. Advent, then, is an ideal time to resolve to deepen our attentiveness to the Word of God, in order that we may be led into a deeper embrace of the Incarnation.


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Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Master's Advent Message

In his Advent message the Master of the Order asks us to keep oppressed Christian communities in mind, especially our brothers and sisters in Iraq. It has been some weeks now since the devastating attack at the end of October but we must remember that the Iraqi Christian community continues to suffer a great persecution. As we journey through Advent let us pray that "the Lord of Peace will fill the world with his justice and give the grace of peace in abundance."

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Immaculate Conception

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Homily at fr Austin Milner's Funeral, 3 December 2010

This is the homily preached by Fr David Sanders at the funeral of Fr Austin Milner. The readings of the Mass were Isaiah 25 6-10, Roman 8:2-10 and Mathew 11:25-30

Jesus tells us in the gospel passage we have just heard that it is the infants, the little children, who will be given the revelation of God’s mystery, it is the simple who will understand his divine plan; it won’t be the clever and the wise. Not that Jesus seems to have had anything inherently against the learned but the trouble was that they were placing too many obstacles in the way of the coming of God’s kingdom which appeared in his ministry. Often it is their arrogance, their cleverness, which gets in the way of God’s rule while the simple ones, the ones who are willing to become like children, these are the ones who are open to God’s spirit.

Our brother Austin had something of that simplicity, that openness, even a child-like innocence in his approach to God. At his baptism he had received the spirit of the risen Christ which would work on his character over the years, gradually moulding and shaping it into the image of Christ. Not that Austin was not both learned and intelligent, but to these gifts, he gave God’s Spirit free access, to work on them.

He was born and baptised in Bristol in 1935 to a loving Catholic family and grew up happily with his parents and his brothers Anthony and Paul, and sisters Patricia and Mia, to whom he was devoted. They moved to London. It was war time and bombs were falling so they had to move again. He was eventually sent for his secondary education to the Benedictines at Glenstal Abbey in Ireland which  he loved. And it seems from an early date he felt called to the religious life and finally chose the Dominicans and entered the order at the early age of eighteen.

He went through the usual pre-Vatican II studies of the time here in England and then spent three fairly disciplined and sober years studying with the  French Dominicans at Le Saulchoir near Paris. There his interest in the liturgy grew and when he came back here to Oxford he began to teach it.  But the times they were a changing, and the bold and free spirit of Austin felt called to preach the Gospel to many of the interesting groups the swinging sixties were throwing up. So he would be seen striding across Pusey House lawn among hippies and flower people or talking in tongues with the newly formed Catholic charismatic groups.

But then more change came about. The spirit blew him, so to speak, to the Caribbean and to our mission in Grenada where in fact his father had been born. He got stuck into pastoral work with typical enthusiasm but to such an extent that in these troubled post-colonial days in Grenada  he was soon  hauled before the tyrannical, slightly crazy, prime minister Eric Gairy to give an account of his subversive preaching. Austin always had a  concern for justice and for caring for what the Gospel of today calls the weary and overburdened poor. Anyhow he survived this ordeal. But the Church in the Caribbean  needed his learning in Trinidad and he was asked to go  St John Vianney seminary  to teach liturgy. He spent the next ten years in Trinidad before he moved to Jamaica to live in our Dominican community in Kingston and teach in St Michael’s Seminary. But it was certainly not a quiet life in this violent city.

In 1988 the devastating hurricane Gilbert struck Jamaica  and he was asked to  go to Morant Bay, a coastal town, to look after the parish that had been battered by those terrible storms. A few weeks ago the parish priest of this parish  e-mailed  me to ask whether Austin could contribute to a booklet he was  preparing to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the parish. Austin was too weak to write so I took notes from what he said. I asked him what did hurricane do and he said it ripped off the roof, of the convent, of the church and of the presbytery. And what did you do. He said he got into a lorry and went to Kingston to get food and drink for the victims.  This was typical of his forthright, direct approach to things, though I must admit I hope he was not driving the lorry or that would have just added to the mayhem.

This week I received a message from the Archbishop of Kingston, Archbishop Donald Reece whom some of you know. He paid great tribute to the profound and lasting effect Austin had had on so many of the priests and people he taught throughout the Caribbean. But of course with Austin there is always what you might call the eccentric side which people will always remember. The archbishop reminded me that this big, sometimes awkward priest, we know as our brother Austin was also known out there as the Big Bird and the stories about him are legion. But with the laughter there is always a great affection  because everyone could see that behind the naivete there was a tremendous spirit of  goodness and kindness.

So after an impressive 30 or so years of work on the mission Austin came back to Oxford. He was in his early 70s but he threw himself into the new life with great enthusiasm. Now he could pursue his scholarly interests and he was also asked to teach liturgy. He had not lost his innocence. He had an amazing credulity about the free offers he got in the post. He actually thought he would win these vast sums of money they promised and was always seeking people to go on a free holiday to places like Turkey, not fully aware that a sea-side hotel in January there, in weather like this, might not be so attractive.

He loved being back in a big religious community with its study, and choir, and fraternal spirit. And then of course he was so glad to see the family more often, especially his nephews and nieces and  to be able to visit them  in Ireland, Paris and Majorca and even his brother Paul in the States.

It was amazing how open he was to invitations to preach; he did lots of mission preaching, he worked with the Spode Music Week, he was chaplain to the Worth lay group for the Easter retreat in Wales, he frequently helped with the youth groups at Kintbury. And in the community he took his turn and cooked for more than 20 and I think he did more lifting of books for the library than anyone else. And then earlier this year we celebrated in this same church, where he had been ordained, his fifty years of priesthood. The family came and stayed and I think the highlight for him was the singing of his brother Anthony’s Mass by the Spode choir. In August he celebrated his 75th birthday.

At the beginning of September he was diagnosed with leukaemia. He took it in his stride. He had the same openness and candour about death as he had about life and began to prepare for it. In fact he channeled his declining energies into a weekly course on the sacraments. He said he preferred to do something constructive while he was waiting. After the sixth lecture he could not go on and, as many have remarked, he then put his teaching into practice as he approached his final days. He was conscious of how people were concerned for him. During these weeks he expressed his gratitude for all the care that brothers John and Graham and their assistants and his own family had given to him as his sickness got worse.

And then last Sunday the community was summoned to his room for the viaticum. It was the last liturgy he organised and appropriately it was on the First Sunday of Advent. The word of God was read. He received the body and the blood of Christ. He renewed his baptism promises in a strong voice. The Salve Regina was sung and he said goodbye and began his final journey. In a few hours he had died.

And now we come  to pray for him  at this Eucharist and then to bring his body for burial. We give thanks to God for the life of our brother Austin. We ask God to console and comfort all those who mourn his loss and grieve for him. And we ask God to raise him up to heaven so that he may take part in the divine liturgy and sing in unison with the heavenly choirs and finally enjoy the vision of the God he loved and served so well.

- David Sanders OP

You can read here Fr Austin's words on the occasion of the golden jubilee of ordination to the priesthood. The photographs on this page are from that celebration.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

John Orme Mills OP RIP (1930-2010)

Please pray for our brother John Orme Mills OP of the Cambridge community who died this afternoon. He was born on 25th September 1930. He worked for some years as a journalist before joining the Order and made his profession on 2nd April 1971. He was ordained to the priesthood on 26th June 1976. He lived in the communities at Oxford, London, Newcastle and Cambridge as well as serving for some years as an assistant to the Master of the Order at Santa Sabina, Rome. He was editor of New Blackfriars for many years, was the 'London correspondent' of Doctrine & Life, and was involved in editing a number of books on faith and social justice. He was an active member of the Eckhart Society, and once again placed his editorial skills at its disposal, as editor of The Eckhart Review. We ask you to join us in praying for the happy repose of his soul.

Lord, you gave John your servant and priest the privilege of a holy ministry in this world.
May he rejoice for ever in the glory of your kingdom.
We ask this through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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Monday - Second Week of Advent

It is very easy in our busy lives to put religion on the “back burner” – we try to get to Mass every Sunday, we say a prayer every now and then (when we remember), but other than that, we can very easily let our faith slip our mind. We are so busy worrying about organising our lives and solving the various problems that arise that we forget that it is ultimately Jesus who is the organising principle of our life, and the solution to our problems.

Thus, in Advent, with its theme of vigilance, the Church puts before our minds the various images of the end times and of Christ’s second coming that we find in the Scriptures, the point to which all life is tending. In today’s first reading, we find a beautiful image of the results of our salvation, when all that hinders our joy will be taken away. It is an amazing thing to hope for. In the Gospel, however, we are reminded of the particularity of Christian hope: this salvation which Isaiah foresaw has already worked itself out in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the historical life of Jesus, in his many miracles and most of all in his Passion, our salvation has already been won, and through his Church, which makes that salvation present in the world of today, we come to share already now in God’s gift of eternal life: so our hope looks forward not to some future event, but to the full realisation of what has already been given to us ‘in sacramental guise’ (as St Thomas Aquinas says in his prayer before Holy Communion).

In this season of Advent, then, let us pray for an increase in the gift of hope, that we may come to a deeper awareness of the salvation given to us in Baptism, and so order our whole lives towards Christ, in whom is the consummation of all things.


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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Second Sunday of Advent:-Viva La Revolution

If we are asked to imagine John the Baptist, I imagine that most of us paint a picture of a wild man: A dishevelled feral figure wearing camel hair, and eating locusts and wild honey barking at the respectable Sadducees and Pharisees calling them “a brood of vipers”. If John the Baptist appeared today on our streets we might feel uncomfortable; we might see him as a bit too much and a bit too extreme. He might offend our sensibilities but what we cannot deny is that he is certainly passionate. He is passionate about the love for God and passionate about his desire that others know God and the love He offers too. 

However this undiluted and honest love of God can and does make many people uncomfortable, because the love of God is so radical and so revolutionary. It cannot be put in a box or neatly arranged on a shelf. John is sickened by the Pharisees' and Sadducees' arrival. Not only because he disagrees with their views but because they have cheapened and watered down the powerful grace of God that has been entrusted to them. They have turned the teaching of the love of God into ho-hum mediocrity. Even with this in mind John does not dismiss the members of the Jewish elite but asks them to “bear the fruit that befits repentance”. He calls them out and asks them to prove that they mean to repent.

This challenge is also given to us now. Just as it was not enough to say “we have Abraham as our father", it is not enough to say now “well … I go to Church, I say my prayers, I’m a good person” and so on and on. We have to prove to the world that we believe, not only by repenting but also by believing in and living the gospel. We have to be passionate about the faith, and in doing so our faith not only changes our lives, but the world around us.

But we are not alone in this challenge. John promises that God will send his Holy Spirit and fire, a fire that will engulf us, giving us life and vitality. The fire that John foretells is not only a fire of judgement but a fire that gives power and energy, a fire that we are called to be part of.

The season of Advent allows us to renew and rekindle our commitment to God’s revolution of love, a revolution that begin when the Word takes flesh. This event makes wolves and lambs cohabiting and bears and cows having a common nursery seem positively pedestrian. Advent allows us to prepare for an event that is groundbreaking and radical, but if we lose perspective the Word taking flesh can become humdrum and sentimental in our minds. Advent allows us to take stock and realise the immensity of God’s love for us. It gives us an opportunity to see the coming of Jesus through fresh eyes. So much so that when we reach Christmas, we can proclaim with one passionate voice "Viva la Revolution!"

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Saints This Month - 4 December St. Maruthas

St. Maruthas was the Bishop of Tagrit or Maypherkat in Mesopotamia (modern Tikrit, in Iraq), a city on the border of Persia and the Byzantine Empire, The Church in this area was in disarray due to the constant persecution from the Persian Emperor Sapor. Maruthas  was a man of holiness and wisdom. He brought into his episcopal city the relics of so many martyrs of the period that it received the surname Martyropolis. He was one of the leading figures of the Church and took part in both the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, convened against the heresy of Macedonius and in 383 he attended the Council of Antioch against the Messalians. In 403 he returned to Constantinople to appeal on behalf of the Persian Church for protection against persecution. Alas the Emperor Arcadius was too busy with the affairs of state to hear the appeals of this noble bishop. During his time in Constantinople he became good friends with St. John Chrysostom.

Maruthas returned to Tagrit and concentrated on rebuilding his Church. He proved to be a great organiser and he was one of the first to give a regular structure to his church. He also produced some important works in the Syrian language, among which the most famous are his Commentary on the Gospel, The Verses of Maruthas, The Liturgy of Maruthas, and The 73 Canons of the Ecumenical Council of Nicea. In his later life the Emperor Theodosius the Younger sent him to the Persian Court. His affability, saintly life, and his knowledge of medicine impressed the Persian Shah. He persuaded the Shah to a favorable disposition towards Christians, which assisted greatly in the freedom of Christians in Persia. On his return to his See he began to rebuild Christian churches razed during the persecution. He died in 422 leaving the Persian Church stronger and more secure.

As our brothers and sister in Iraq suffer insecurity, persecution, and martyrdom, let us pray that the intercession of St. Maruthas may bring peace, strength, and security.


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Friday, December 03, 2010

Friday - First Week of Advent

In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew 9:27-31, two blind men come to Jesus and, in faith and desperation, cry aloud to Him; “Son of David, have pity on us!” Their use of this Messianic title is an indicator of the faith they have in Him, and as they throw themselves upon His mercy, all that He asks of them is that they believe. Thus it is faith that opens their eyes and it can open ours too. Blindness is, therefore, not simply a physical affliction, it can also be a spiritual one. Our faithlessness, such as we see Isaiah rebuke Israel for (29:17-24), can lead to a complete spiritual blindness and with it an inability to see our way and help others to do the same.

There are not many among us who could claim never to suffer from a certain sightlessness or a lack of vision for whatever reason. For instance, how often do we reproach ourselves for our inability to see someone with the eyes of charity? How often can our viewpoint or aims be deemed ‘short sighted’ or are we accused of being ‘blinded to reality’? Being blind to who people really are and the situations we find ourselves in is nothing new, but that should not prevent our striving to overcome such sightlessness. Indeed, we can, through God’s abundant grace, come to see with absolute clarity. We may, for example, begin in charity to see a person for who they really are, a son or daughter of Christ, and love them for this as God loves them: unconditionally. Such were the men in today’s Gospel; through faith their eyes were opened. These men came to love Christ because, even before they could see him physically, they were not blinded to the reality of his divine goodness.

Advent, as a time of preparation and penance, is about allowing our eyes to be opened. How can we prepare as we should for the coming of Our Saviour if we insist on stumbling by ourselves in the dark? If we are in such a position then let us have the courage to put out our hands to Christ and cry: “Son of David, have pity on us!” Let us walk in the light of faith this Advent, eyes wide open, and see Christ for who he truly is: Our Lord, Our Saviour, Our Hope and Our Redemption.


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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Thursday - First Week of Advent

Isaiah 26:1-6; Psalm 118; Matthew 7:21. 24-27

Where are you going?When adverse weather hits closer to home, such as flooding in Cornwall, or severe winter weather in Britain, we realize that we’re just as vulnerable and helpless as our fellow men and women in less developed countries. But at least many are able to stay snug in our centrally-heated homes, connected to the world via the internet, and with electric lights by which to read. All the comforts of technology and modern living tend to insulate us from the realities of life, until we receive a sharp awakening from the rain, floodwaters, and winds of life which blow and assail us.

For some, these may be natural calamities: about ten major typhoons a year strike the Philippines, so having one’s house collapse is a real possibility and a fact of life. But for others, it may be personal illness, accidents, or bereavement. For others still, it may be financial hardship, unemployment, or even loneliness. And sometimes, these afflictions are by no means mutually exclusive.

The crucial difference, in the face of these trials of life, is whether we remain standing, or collapse, and there is no doubt that those with faith, who have something to live for, carry on. It is a faith that I have seen most evidently in the poorest, and not just in the Third World, but also on the streets of Oxford. On the other hand, those who trusted in themselves, and in their wealth, security, and possessions, will often despair as these things are taken away or become meaningless and empty.

Advent challenges us to re-focus our vision, looking to Christ as the source of our hope, and to ensure that he is the foundation of our lives. And we do this not just with words, but with actions that make it a reality. Then, when the wind and ice hits, we will be prepared and not caught adrift in the snow.


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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

News from Around the World

Our Irish Brothers based at San Clemente in Rome celebrated the feast of Saint Clement (November 23rd) with the seminarians of the Irish College. The procession in honour of its patron has now become a valued tradition in the San Clemente neighbourhood.

(h/t to orbiscatholicussecundus for the photos)

When you visit Rome, San Clemente is a 'must see': find out more about it here.

The Holy Father held up St. Catherine of Siena as an example of spiritual maternity in his audience last Wednesday

After a lot of very positive response to their first appearance, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist were featured again on Oprah Winfrey's show. You can view an excerpt from their return visit here.

The friars across the pond are also keeping busy. Our brothers in the studentate of the province of Saint Albert the Great (popularly known as 'the Chicago province') have launched a new website just in time for Advent. You can find the site here.

This is an exciting time for the Chicago Province's studentate. They begin construction and renovation next week on the former Loretto Academy building in St. Louis. The works will create a new Priory, where the studentate will be housed.

Two friars from the Province of St. Joseph were interviewed on EWTN Live with Mitch Pacwa SJ. The whole show is available here.

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