Lent 2018 (Please click to download PDF)
The Rector writes …
It seems likely that Pope Paul VI will be canonised later this year. I only saw him on one occasion but it was momentous. I was staying in Rome with a retired Vatican diplomat who obtained a ticket for the Mass celebrated by the Pope on his feast day of Saint Peter & Saint Paul. I was fortunate to be placed with the diplomatic corps having a direct view onto the altar. Pope Paul was almost immobile – he was suffering from crippling arthritis – and had to be lifted up the altar steps. Pain was written into his face and he was to die just a few weeks afterwards. Those present, though, witnessed a sort of miracle. Once the Pope began the Canon of the Mass it was as if the years of suffering had fallen away and he became so absorbed in the Eucharistic action that his whole person seemed to be transformed. The look on his face was one of total love and concentration and although the crowds thronging Saint Peter’s could not have seen what those closest to him witnessed, there was a sudden stillness in the basilica – a really precious few moments when everyone felt they were held somewhere between heaven and earth. It is an experience which has remained with me ever since, and one that humbles me every time I go to God’s altar.
Genuine holiness is palpable: we sense when we are in the presence of true goodness and though sanctity is hard to define we do recognise it for what it is. Those who were open to an encounter with Jesus in the years of his public ministry would have had just that experience. The people who came crowding around looking for a Saviour instinctively recognised that in Jesus they were touching a reality they could find nowhere else. We know from the long process of discernment undergone by the first Disciples that Jesus defied easy definition: he did not force his identity on anyone – leaving everyone space to draw their own conclusions. In the face of the controversy following his description of himself as “the Bread of Life”, Jesus asked the Twelve: “what about you do you want to go away too?” and Peter responded: “Lord, who shall we go too? You have the message of eternal life?” (John 6:68). Christians are called to be living icons of Jesus. By virtue of our Baptism and our regular reception of the Eucharist we can say with Saint Paul in complete honesty: “I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). What the poor in spirit sensed in Jesus two thousand years ago, they ought to sense in each Christian today. If Jesus radiated holiness of life then the primary vocation of each of his followers must be to echo that same holiness in their own way of living.
The Gospels were never intended as conventional biographies but they do underline the simple truth that for Jesus prayer was a necessity not a luxury. Before every significant event of his ministry Jesus is shown at prayer, sometimes spending whole nights in a quiet place. “Jesus liked to pray solely for the sake of praying, simply to express his communion with his Father, to hallow his name. There was no separation, hardly even a difference of detail, between adoration and adherence to the plan of God” (Yves Congar). As Lent begins, each of us needs to reflect on the part that prayer does or should play in our own daily routine. If we are to live like Jesus, we have to learn to pray like Jesus. “When our personal prayer is in question, everything depends on our union with Christ and also on the authenticity of our prayer in taking up the line of his own, that is to say in being receptive and wholly offered so that in us, through us, in and through Christ, God might accomplish his design and might manifest his glory” (Yves Congar).
Prayer for Blessed Paul VI was clearly centred in the Eucharist, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium). It should be so for us. There is no better place to grow in prayer than before the Blessed Sacrament. Our own church is open from 6 o’clock each weekday morning and stays open till after the last Mass. Why not set aside extra time this Lent to rest quietly with Our Lord in this church, or one near where you work or live? “If we really loved the good God, we should make it our joy and happiness to come to spend a few moments before the tabernacle to adore him, and we should regard these moments as the happiest in our lives” (Saint John Vianney).