Thursday, 5 February 2015

Thoughts from our Chaplain - The Power of Faith

Presentation of Our Lord
This week has seen three liturgical memorials which have celebrated the power of faith.  The first, on Monday 2 February was the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord or, to give it its medieval name, Candlemas.  Marking that day on which Jesus was presented by his parents in the Temple, it is also an important point in the life of the Mary the mother of God and her husband Joseph.  It is to His parents that Simeon addresses his prophecies about Jesus and they are both surprised by his words; he says to Mary: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed--and a sword will pierce your own soul too."(Lk 2:34-35) However, amazed as they may have been Mary and Joseph took Jesus back to Nazareth and brought him up, watching as he “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him” (Lk 2:40)  These words stayed with Mary and only became clear to her as Jesus neared Jerusalem and the events of his Passion.  But still Mary kept by her son’s side in the certainty that God’s will and Simeon’s prophecy would be fulfilled showing a true faith in the destiny the child the angel had announced to her.

St Blaise
On Tuesday we had two saints to commemorate: St Blaise and St Lawrence of Canterbury.  Nothing was really known of the life of Blaise other than the fact he was Armenian. That was until the end of the 5th Century when he is mentioned in the writings of a court doctor with a reference to his legendary healing of the child choking on a fish bone. Although Blaise was obviously a well-known and reputable doctor he was chosen by popular acclamation to succeed to the See of Sebastia when the bishop died.  Saint Blaise soon fulfilled the hopes of the people of Sebastia and proved by his holiness and his miraculous cures to be a worthy Bishop. The end of his time as Bishop occured when the local governor came to Sebastia with orders from the Emperor to destroy the Christians; Blaise was arrested and sent to prison.  It was on his way to prison that he encountered a woman who was distraught because her son was choking thanks to a swallowed fish bone.  The woman threw herself at the feet of Blaise and through his intercession and the faith of the mother and son, the child was saved.  Despite this Blaise was taken to jail and there he was scourged and beaten, but he held strong in his faith.  Finally, though the governor gave orders for Blaise to be beheaded.  Soon after his martyrdom people began to ask for the intercession of Blaise and he became a popular saint, one of the fourteen holy helpers.  Churches were dedicated to him and a number of towns were named after him.  In Bromley in Kent there is a St Blaise’s well in the ruins of the bishop’s palace where the chalybeate (containing iron) waters were said to be healing waters.  Today, on St Blaise’s day throats are blessed with a pair of crossed candles and the blessing given; "May Almighty God at the intercession of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, preserve you from infections of the throat and from all other afflictions".   
St Lawrence

The third of our saints for this week is Saint Lawrence of Canterbury who died on 2nd February 619.  Laurence, a Roman monk, was the second Archbishop of Canterbury from 604 to his death, having come to Britain with Saint Augustine whose successor he was.  His time as archbishop was not a happy one; he tried in vain to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon bishops with those of the Roman Mission despite many attempts to enter into discussion with them.  He also had difficulties in Kent when King Aethelberht died and his successor Eadbald returned to pagan worship. The result was that Mellitus, Bishop of London and Justus, Bishop of Rochester had to flee to Gaul to escape his anger, however rather than leave his Diocese, Laurence put his faith in God and remained at his post.  A legend says that when he was on the verge of giving up he had a vision of Saint Peter who whipped and chastised him for his weakness.  The next day the marks of the whip were still visible and after showing them to Eadbald, the King immediately converted back to Christianity.  And so through the influence of Saint Peter, Laurence continued in Canterbury and the bishops of Rochester and London returned to their Sees and continued their mission.

And so we have three examples of the power of faith in the lives of Mary, Mother of God: Saint Blaise and Saint Laurence.  But of course these examples remain only stories if they do not have a positive effect upon those who hear them.  A nice pious and warm feeling may be nice but it also needs to be followed by a strengthening of our faith in time of amazement (Mary), torture and execution (Saint Blaise) or a threat of a failed mission (Saint Laurence).  Just how much we can accomplish through the power of faith only God can say but whatever it is we know that with his help the possibilities are great; for us we can do little but for God everything is possible.

PS, we have a number of saints prayer cards at the Shrine that can be purchased from our Gift Shop.

Fr Michael Manning, O.Carm.

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