Deacon Tony reflects: What do I really want for Christmas?

In what has been a year full of disruption, we have arrived at Advent; a time when we look back fondly at the birth of Jesus (the first coming), remembering the most humble of entrances into our world and look forward to His second coming when He will reveal His awesome power as the High Priest of Heaven.

At the moment we are a country in lockdown and are preparing for the next set of Government restrictions. Our area looks to be heading into what the Government call Tier 2 or High Alert; this will allow us to reopen our churches for public services, as long as we continue with our Covid Safe arrangements. No-one likes to have restrictions imposed; but as Christians we obey when we are working towards the common good.

On Friday we had a 24-hour day of prayer and fasting, praying for God to intercede and bring the pandemic to an end. For some outside of our Faith, they may view this as a pointless exercise; but we are like the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading. We understand that God’s very Presence can makes mountains melt; He is our Creator and whatever He wills will be done. Isaiah recalls a time when God’s chosen people were living apart from God, they had lost their fear of God and Isaiah pleads for God to return. We know that God never left, God is always present, we are the ones who need to turn to God, He is always waiting, always available, always prepared to forgive and always prepared to immerse us in His love.

The psalm today compliments Isaiah’s reading, as the psalmist cries out ‘God of hosts, turn again, we implore, look down from heaven and see. Visit this vine and protect it, the vine your right hand has planted.’ These cries from the Old Testament reflecting how some people remained close to God; despite large numbers abandoning their faith and fitting in with the society and cultures of the lands they had moved to (Does this sound familiar?). St Paul, in today’s second reading, thanks God for the many blessings bestowed upon the people of Corinth when they accepted Jesus as the Son of God; telling them that they will have all of the gifts they need until the last day, because when they accepted Christ they became joined to Christ as we did when we were baptised.

In our Gospel today from St Mark, Jesus tells us to be on our guard, stay awake, because we will never know when the time will come. This reinforces the message we have had from Matthew’s Gospel over the past few Sundays. People get ready, prepare for Our Saviour is coming. Advent, a word that means to come or a notable arrival. Advent declares the season before the Mass of Christ or Christmas. Advertisers tell us to prepare, get ready for the big day. They want us to spend money, and this year there is an even bigger emphasis on spending money. The lockdown has devasted many businesses, businesses of all sizes. People have lost their livelihoods; and this will lead to pressure within households. This will accentuate the difference between those who have and those who have not.

As a Christian body we are called to help wherever we can, remember the separation last week of the goats and the sheep. I believe this is a time for being responsible, this year we have the opportunity to break the cycle of commercialism and remember what Christmas is actually about. The arrival of a baby to a young mother and her husband, a mother who said yes, when she was asked to bring the Son of God into the world. The first Christmas was a simple affair . Despite being in a town full of their relatives Joseph and Mary could not find accommodation; they were forced to find a shelter to give birth to Jesus. The gifts Jesus received on that first Christmas morning were the amazement and wonder of the shepherds. The Wise men from the East brought more elaborate presents, which symbolised Christ’s Kingship and the sacrifices He would make for us.

I think this Christmas, more than any other Christmas is a time to ask, what do I really want this Christmas? For me, it would be an end to the virus, an awakening in people that other people are just as important as they are, regardless of their stature in life. A realisation that a society is only as strong as it’s weakest members and how that society looks after their vulnerable tells a lot about a society itself.

A few years ago, I asked my family that rather than give me something for Christmas then they could get me vouchers for a charity called Lend with Care (This is one of the organisations I mentioned last week). This charity gives loans to people in developing countries to start their own business up. Every so often I receive notifications of repayments and I will top up the ‘my account’ and lend to others. I recently received an update telling me that these businesses have now employed 12 people, who would previously have had no hope of being independent and supporting their own families. I was amazed at the impact a small donation has had on the lives of others. How could you positively impact on other peoples’ lives this year?

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Our doctors, nurses, medical staff and care workers, unpaid carers, and all other keyworkers, that their efforts will result in more people recovering from the virus.
  • Our priests and others who live alone; as we live through this lockdown period, may they be encouraged by our prayers.
  • Those recovering from operations, that they avoid infection and make a strong recovery.
  • For those contemplating going into debt to pay for Christmas, that they will avoid making any rash decisions.
  • For those in debt whose outlook at this time is bleak and lacking hope; that this Christmas their faith in God and their fellow man is restored.
  • Those looking for work at this time, that their efforts will be rewarded.
  • Those planning Christmas get togethers, that their plans do not put anyone else at risk.
  • Those who do not believe in God, that this time of pandemic will be a time when they turn to him for help and realise that God still believes in them.

Deacon Tony Darroch, 28th November 2020.

If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on adarroch@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.

Deacon Tony reflects: Supporting others this Advent

For some people Christmas has become a time of extravagance, of seeking things for self. I’d like to think that with the troubles faced by many in the world in 2020, that Christmas can become a time of looking out for others again.

There are many ways of doing this. Maybe this Advent (starts next week) we can look for different things to do to help us prepare for the Birth of Our Saviour, maybe we could buy our gifts from different places which share the true joy of Christmas; by helping others instead of increasing dividends for shareholders.

I have put a list of suggestions based on the words of last week’s Gospel, but if you have any others please let me know and we can share them with our Community.

When I was hungry

Donate to or volunteer at the Foodbank https://www.trusselltrust.org/ Make up a Christmas hamper in association with the Foodbank (maybe we could do this with others?) visit https://www.thebesominbasingstoke.org/foodbankhampers

When I was thirsty

Use CAFOD World Gifts to donate water for a family or to donate an emergency water supply visit https://worldgifts.cafod.org.uk/collections/frontpage

When I was a stranger

Lend with Care – help people in the developing world to start their own businesses or get projects off the ground visit https://lendwithcare.org/

When I was naked

Coats4Calais initiative – have a clear out of warm clothing which can be used to help refugees who will struggle to stay warm, visit https://care4calais.org/#coats4calais for more information or email me and I can help you with local drop off points.

When I was sick

A simple phone call to those who are sick or live alone can lift their spirits, as a lot of young people are struggling with mental health issues at the moment it might be nice for them to hear from grandparents, aunts, uncles etc.

When I was in prison

Contact your local prison chaplain, they often need things like bibles, or prayer books and sometimes need volunteers to help them or visit https://www.prisonadvice.org.uk/ which is a charity to help prisoners and their families. Or support the Bible Alive bibles for prisoners initiative visit https://www.alivepublishing.co.uk/outreach/prison-outreach/

Don’t forget that being a prisoner takes many forms, some people are imprisoned by debt, loneliness or addiction, maybe this could be a time to reach out to a family member or friend who you know or suspect this could be applicable to.


I have also signed up for the Injustice Advent Calendar, which is an initiative supported by Traidcraft, where we can be given suggestions daily in the lead up to Christmas to do a small task that can make a big difference in the world. Have a look at https://traidcraftexchange.org/injustice-advent-calendar and see if it is something you can support.

By the end of this year we may well be left with a lot of regrets; of things we wanted to do but couldn’t; let’s make sure that our Advent preparation isn’t one of them!

Deacon Tony reflects: Reaching out to help

Today Jesus is inviting each and every one of us to enter into a personal relationship with Him. Jesus is pointing to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and to prisoners and saying THIS IS ME!

I apologise if I have used this story before, but it is something which has stayed with me for a long time. When I was a child, my Granny used to take my brothers and I every so often to the Wimpy in Glasgow City Centre. On one of these occasions I remember the Manageress asking one of the waitresses why she had paid for a meal for one of the ‘gentlemen of the road’, her reply was that he is ‘Some Mother’s son’, and that if her son was ever in trouble she would hope that someone else would take pity on him and help him, as she had just done for this man. I don’t know if that lady would describe herself as a Christian, but based on that one encounter, surely she would find herself standing on the right hand side on the day of judgement described in today’s Gospel.

Today we find ourselves at the end of a Church Year, which has seen many differences for us all. We were unable to celebrate Lent and Easter together, we have become accustomed to watching Mass online, and of course for those in our Community who have no access to the internet, they don’t even have that consolation.

This year there are many more people going hungry, anyone who volunteers at Foodbanks will tell you of the massive increase in the number of clients. We still see hundreds of people try to reach our shores; so desperate they risk their lives in flimsy boats having been exploited by greedy gangs into parting with vast sums of money; hoping to reach a better life here. No doubt when the restrictions are lifted and the full impact of job losses kick in, there will be an increase in the number of people seeking shelter too.

Today’s Gospel points us towards helping those in need, Jesus lists the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and prisoners. This year has had such a devastating effect on people throughout the world. Cuts in funding for projects, has left many more people hungry. The lockdown has seen an increase in loneliness leading to people suffering from poor mental health, others are frightened for themselves and their loved ones.

Today’s Gospel urges us to reach out and help; help in any way we can. EVERYONE can do their bit; even if we are stuck at home. If we have money we are urged to use it to help, if we have time, we are asked to volunteer or to pray for these people and the people who are helping them. If we have talents we are asked to use them to help or to advocate for these people.

In Scotland there is an expression ‘We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns’, which actually originates from a Church of Scotland minister (The Rev John Thomson) who used to call his congregation his ‘bairns’, which is old Scots for ‘children’, his congregation started to say they were all his children, and this was taken up into everyday language at the time to mean that we are all the same under the skin, all in this together, all brothers and sisters. If we can truly see each other as brothers and sisters then we can surely look out for each other as brothers and sisters.

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Deceased family members, parishioners and friends and especially those who have no one else to pray for them.
  • Those who have lost hope, that today’s Gospel can help them to see that every act of kindness towards those in need will be appreciated by God Our Father.
  • Those who are having operations at this time, pray that God guides the hands of the surgeons and that their operations will be successful and that they will make a quick and full recovery.
  • Our doctors, nurses, medical staff and care workers, unpaid carers and all other keyworkers as the Coronavirus seems to be spreading further again.
  • Our priests and others who live alone; as we live through this lockdown period, may they be encouraged by our prayers.
  • Also remember those in hospital or in Care Homes who cannot receive visitors at this time;may they find comfort in our prayers.
  • For the success of the Diocesan Day of Prayer and Fasting for the end of the Pandemic on Friday 27th November.

Deacon Tony Darroch, 21st November 2020.

If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on adarroch@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.

Deacon Tony reflects: Using our God-given talents

We all recognise talents in different ways; often we will find ourselves in awe of or envious of the talents we see in other people. For example, growing up, all I wanted to be was good at football, but I was normally one of the last to be chosen when the teams were being picked and promptly put in goal. As adults we can appreciate the talents of great artists, sculptors, musicians, authors and architects, as Christians we recognise that all talents have been allocated by God as gifts and that everyone has talents which God expects us to use.

In our Gospel St Matthew recalls the parable of the talents when Jesus is teaching us that talents have to be used and they have to grow. Those who do not use their God given talents will suffer severe punishment.

If we look carefully at the Gospel reading, we can see that each was allocated their talents in proportion to their ability. This is important, as it indicates that God will not demand anything from us unless He knows we can fulfil it. As St John Henry Newman said “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”

The three servants in the parable were all given a mission, the first two chose to risk their talents and managed through that risk to double what they were given. The third servant was risk averse or as portrayed in the parable he was lazy. He chose not to risk using his single talent but decided to hide his talent by burying it. How often are we tempted to hide the talents we have been given? If as St John Henry Newman says that we are the only person allocated a certain task by God; even though we may never know it; then we are actually going against the will of God by not using the talents we have been allotted.

When we look at our Gospel in conjunction with the second reading we can appreciate that putting off using our talents is not an option either. St Paul reminds his readers that our judgement can come like a thief in the night and urges everyone to remain alert, so that we are prepared for our day of judgement.

We are all called to use our talents to help others. Never has it been more important to ensure that those who have, look after those who do not have. Let’s be clear here, by ‘having’ I don’t just mean temporal things like money or property or what the world sees as riches. Our call from Jesus is far more important than that. Those who have good mental health for example are called to help those who are struggling with their mental health. Those who have confidence are called to help those who are shy. Those who have companionship are called to help the lonely. Those who have good health are called to help the sick. All of these are gifts which parts of our community have and which other parts of our community do not have. Jesus expects us, as a Community, to lift those who have little or nothing, those who are struggling, those in need.

November is a particularly hard month for those who have lost a loved one, they may be contemplating a first or another Christmas without their loved one. As a Church we remember the dead in prayer and pray for the comfort of those who grieve. In St Bede’s Church the Baptismal Font; deprived of water due to the Covid restrictions; is being repurposed to house notes of the names of the dearly departed, the Baptismal Candle burns alongside firmly forging the links between our Baptism and that first light which heralded the Resurrection. This is a beautiful tribute to our deceased loved ones and a reminder to all those who are using the Church for private prayer at this time, of the love we as a Community have for our deceased brothers and sisters.

Next week we hope to launch a Zoom call to allow people within the Parish to come together, initially just to share a cup of tea together, but we hope this will lead to other initiatives. For example, the RCIA programme will continue this Wednesday as a Zoom call. In the Tadley and Burghfield parishes, people have come together on a Friday evening to pray the Rosary asking Our Lady to intercede for us for an end to this pandemic. The technology is here and present, it is up to us to use it to deepen our faith, to reach out to others and to ensure that no-one in our Community is left behind. All ideas are welcome, please get in touch via the email address at the bottom of this reflection if you would like to support this or have suggestions to help enrich our Community during this lockdown period.

The greatest talent, which we have all been given is prayer. Prayer allows us to enter into dialogue with God. Prayer allows us to ask God for help, help for our neighbour and ourselves. Prayer allows us to remember those we love who are living and dead. Prayer allows us to ask our Father in Heaven for help, recognising that we are unable to do everything under our own power because the God who created us has not forgotten us and allows us to call Him our Father.

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Deceased family members, parishioners and friends and especially those who have no one else to pray for them.
  • Those who do not recognise their talents, that they can identify and use them for the good of many.
  • Those struggling to risk using their talents, that they will trust in God and use them to bear fruit.
  • Our doctors, nurses, medical staff and care workers, unpaid carers and all other keyworkers as the Coronavirus seems to be spreading further again.
  • Our priests and others who live alone; as we live through this lockdown period, may they be encouraged by our prayers.

Deacon Tony Darroch, 13th November 2020.

If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on adarroch@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.

Deacon Tony reflects: Wisdom

November is a traditional time for Catholics to pray for our dead relatives and friends. In the Northern Hemisphere this is a time when we see the leaves falling from the trees, the grass growing less and the summer flowers are now becoming a pleasant memory. Certain flora and fauna are going to sleep for the winter in order to protect themselves from the harsh weather which the winter season can often bring. As a nation we also remember in prayer those who have fallen in service of our country and we raise money to support their families and the service men and women who have been injured in service of our country. They have all paid a price for the freedoms we enjoy.

In our readings this week we appear to be looking at wisdom; in the first reading from the book of Wisdom this message is actually for a surprising audience. This message is addressed to pagan kings and despots (tyrants) to encourage them to seek wisdom. The message is clear that wisdom is available for all who seek it and even thinking about wisdom means that one has started a journey towards less anxiety.

The bridesmaids in our Gospel this week are a timely reminder to all of us to adopt the habits of the wise and keep ourselves in a state of readiness to meet Our Lord. We are given lots of information through the media on how to reduce the risk of Coronavirus, wash our hands, cover our faces, keep handles clean, keep our distance from others we meet, stay indoors. Now we are being denied the opportunity to be with Jesus in the Eucharist for at least the next four weeks.

How can we reduce the risk of not being ready to meet the Lord?

We need to ask for forgiveness for our sins; if we are unable to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist then we need to encounter Him through Scriptures, could we perhaps turn the TV or other screen off for an hour and read a passage from the Bible? As Christians we have an obligation to love our neighbour, can we spend some time each day checking up on a family member, a neighbour or another parishioner who lives alone? A quick phone call from one of us could be the only conversation someone else gets that day. As I mentioned earlier, this is the time of year when we think about those who have died, perhaps we can metaphorically ‘trim our lamps’ and top then up with oil by praying for the souls in purgatory during this lockdown.

St Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians gives very clear teaching on death and the resurrection, he urges us not to grieve for those who have died in the hope of being with Jesus. Why should we be sad for them? St Paul is certain that those who die in Jesus will be the first to rise from the dead when Jesus returns and those believers who are still alive at that time will be taken up to meet him so that we can all be with Jesus forever.

Bishop Philip is calling on everyone in the Diocese to join with him in a day of fasting and prayer on Friday 27th November to pray for an end to the Coronavirus; please make a note of this date in your diary and start to think about how you would like to spend time that day to earnestly ask God to intervene and bring this virus to an end.

My wife, Pam, passed on a thought the other day to me. In the past we often spoke about 20-20 vision, meaning that we have perfect eyesight or that we can see things very clearly. She said that this year of 2020; with all of the restrictions, job losses, sickness and death in the world; has helped her to see more clearly what is really important. The times when we cannot be with those we love, makes the time spent with them so much more special, giving us a new appreciation of those special people in our lives.

During this second lockdown, can we spend our time more wisely than the first? I have good intentions, I want to spend more time reading instead of watching TV, I’ve already started a book (First Comes Love, by Dr Scott Hahn) which has been on my shelf for a long time. I also want to try and lose some of the weight I put on during the first lockdown. But as we know good intentions are not enough; we have to turn our intentions into actions if we want to deliver on them. It is not enough to be thirsting like the voice in today’s psalm, if we want to satisfy our thirst we need to drink from the wells we have available. For the next four weeks our wells can include watching Mass online (both St Bede’s and Holy Ghost will be streaming Mass), returning to Spiritual Communion instead of Sacramental Communion, praying for our deceased loved ones and reading Scriptures to avail ourselves of as much quiet time with God that we can, so that when the bridegroom comes there will be oil in our lamps allowing us to can enter the feast and be recognised by our bridegroom.

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Deceased family members, parishioners and friends and especially those who have no one else to pray for them.
  • Victims of terror.
  • Those looking for work.
  • Our doctors, nurses, medical staff and care workers, unpaid carers and all other keyworkers as the Coronavirus seems to be spreading further again.
  • Our priests and others who live alone; as we go in to another lockdown period, may they be encouraged by our prayers and companionship of spirit.

Deacon Tony Darroch, 3rd November 2020.

If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on adarroch@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.

Deacon Tony reflects: For all of the saints

Today is a day when we remember all of the saints, those on earth striving and working towards the Kingdom and those already there who are praising God and praying for us to come and join them.

This week’s readings are a reminder that we have all been called to be saints through baptism. Indeed, in many of St Paul’s letters which can be found in scriptures he addresses the faithful as saints.

In our first reading from the book of the Apocalypse; also known as the book of Revelation; we are given an indication of the vastness of those who are or who will become saints. We hear about the seal on the foreheads of the servants of God. This seal for us reminds us of our baptism when we were given the seal of the Holy Spirit, but for the early Jewish readers it would have reminded them of the passage from Ezekiel (9:4-6) where executioners passed through the city and struck down those who did not have the mark (or seal) of a cross on their forehead. Those marked with the seal of the cross had been those who were faithful to God’s teaching. The number of those sealed is thought, by scholars, to be symbolic and was chosen as twelve (as in tribes of Israel) squared times 1000 to indicate a vast number. This 144,000 represent those faithful still on earth at the end of the world. The huge number too many to count represent the faithful who have already reached the end of their life before the end of the world.

The significance of the palm tree branches is reminiscent of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, then the people cried out Hosanna meaning ‘Save us’, now they rejoice crying out ‘Victory to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’1

Our second reading again reminds us of our baptism, and that through it we have become adopted children of God. However, St John reminds us that this is not the end as we have this privilege here and now and that by being faithful and Christ like we have the promise and hope of so much more than being merely children of God. By being pure and faithful we can be like Jesus and see him as he really is.

The magnificent invitation in the Gospel acclamation to ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened’, in a world where people’s value is often seen in what they do rather than on them as individuals and where people are in fear of losing their jobs many nowadays feel obliged to work longer hours. Others are just overwhelmed by everything that is going on and struggle with everyday life. Jesus invites everyone to come to him to find rest, give Jesus our burdens and free us from the slavery of sin.

I know that at the times when I feel overburdened, I often forget to pray, I try to do things by myself, and then wonder why I still struggle. These are the times when I need to remember to pause, try and find some quiet time and remember the message from the Beatitudes which are recalled by St Matthew in the Gospel we hear this week. Here, Jesus gives us an insight into the rewards available for those who are faithful, with ‘challenging and humbling dispositions which express what being caught up in the life and love of God looks like here and now.’2 The focus here is not on present fulfilment; which dominates our secular society; but on the future promised which will be available once the kingdom of God has been fully revealed.

At a time when large parts of our country and it seems most of our neighbouring countries are being put under further restrictions because of Covid, we need to remember these readings which point to our future. For us as Catholics the message at the end of the passage used from St John’s letter is shouting loud and clear at this time of pandemic ‘everyone who entertains this hope (of eternal life) must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.’

The way we as Catholics do this is to take part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; if we truly fear God’s judgement; at a time of pandemic there should be queues outside every Confessional (with appropriate social distancing). We should all be knocking on that door and yet as a Sacrament it is under used. We all need to remember that this is another opportunity to receive grace from God and experience His loving mercy. The Church says

In the sacrament of penance the Father receives the repentant son who comes back to him, Christ places the lost sheep on his shoulders and brings it back to the sheepfold, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies this temple of God again or lives more fully within it. This is finally expressed in a renewed and more fervent sharing of the Lord’s table, and there is great joy at the banquet of God’s Church over the son who has returned from afar.3

Our world can be a place of terror and tragedy as borne out by events in the past week in Nigeria, in Nice, the English Channel and off the coast of Senegal. Today’s feast and the words from scripture give us hope that in God’s Kingdom there will be comfort for those who have mourned, satisfaction for those who have hungered and thirsted for what is right and mercy for those who have shown mercy.

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Deceased family members, parishioners and friends and especially those who have no one to pray for them.
  • Those who are struggling to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
  • All refugees; that they find a place of safety.
  • Victims of religious persecution, especially those who died in the tragic events at Notre Dame church in Nice.
  • Those looking for work.
  • Our doctors, nurses, medical staff and care workers, unpaid carers and all other keyworkers as the Coronavirus seems to be spreading further again.
  • All the saints in heaven and on earth who have inspired us in our faith.

Deacon Tony Darroch, 30th October 2020.

If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on adarroch@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.

1 Marcus Maxwell, Revelation, The people’s Bible Commentary, (The Bible Reading Fellowship, Oxford, 1997)74-79.

2 Robert Draper, Pastoral Review Vol 16 Issue 4 – Breaking the Word, (The Tablet Publishing Company, Twickenham, 2020) 80.

3 ———————-The Rite of Penance, (Mayhew-McCrimmon, Great Wakering, 1976)13.

Deacon Tony reflects: Loving God with everything we have

Today’s message is all about love. Our Old Testament reading has Moses receiving the instruction to tell the Israelites not to oppress or molest strangers, reminding them that they were strangers themselves when they lived in Egypt. Instructing them to look out for the widow and orphans, not to exploit the poor and to look out for those in need. Being a message from the Old Testament there is also emphasis on how God will treat those who do not follow His instructions.

The psalm used today emphasises the love we should have for God, how we should recognise God as our fortress our place of refuge when times are tough and how we should thank God with our praise and worship as a result of the love He has shown us.

St Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians praises them, telling them how their faith has been recognised by their neighbours – not through words but by their actions – serving the living God.

Matthew’s Gospel has one of the most famous passages, when someone tries to disturb Jesus by asking which is the greatest commandment. Jesus answered “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second resembles it; you must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets also.” Most of us are aware of the command to love God and love our neighbour, but there are two distinct ways of loving being commanded here.

By loving God with of our heart, all of our soul and all of our mind, it is emphasising that we are to love God with everything we have. God at the centre of our lives, not as an afterthought. By loving our neighbour as ourselves we are being instructed to treat others in a way which we would like to be treated by other people.

God is love concept text lying on the rustic wooden background.

So how do we love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind? We have plenty of examples in the lives of the saints; St Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower for example dedicated her every breath to God. She saw it as her mission to “make others love God as I do, to teach others my ‘little way.’ I will spend my Heaven in doing good upon earth…”1 Or St Pio, who constantly prayed the rosary equating holding his rosary beads as ‘holding Mama’s hands’ as he said “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding your Blessed Mother’s hand. Pray the Rosary every day. Abandon yourself in the hands of Mary. She will take care of you.” 2

These two saints loved God with everything they had, and they have encouraged generations to do the same; both while they lived and since they left this earth by the examples they have left behind.

We are also called to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. We do not have to look very far to see people who do this. Our own communities have people who do so many wonderful things; people who visit the sick, who help at the foodbank, who volunteer for the night shelter, who distribute the Parish Newsletter to those without the internet, who visit those who may be alone; and in so many other ways. We have vibrant communities, and we support our neighbours as it is part of every Christian’s vocation to do.

We are called to serve, to serve one another on a daily basis, so when we hear today’s Gospel each and every one of us has to ask ourselves the question what more can I do to love my neighbour? If we are honest there is always more to do, but if every one of us answers the call then our neighbours will be like the neighbours of the Thessalonians in our second reading, in that they will know we are Christians by our love.

This week a petition; signed by (at the time of writing) over 600,000 people to end child food poverty by providing children who receive free school meals with vouchers during school holidays; prompted a debate in Parliament which ended with our MPs voting against this proposal. This has prompted a further petition which is currently gathering pace to end the subsidies to MPs for their meals in the House of Commons; again at the time of writing over 600,000 people have signed this petition.

In our first reading today we are instructed by God to look after the vulnerable in our Community; I believe our MPs need to heed that message, for as God said in that reading when the poor cry to God, He will hear their cry and those who have neglected the poor will not like God’s response.

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Families who are struggling to put food on their table, that they get the help they need.
  • Those who are lonely, that neighbours will reach out to them.
  • For those who find it difficult to ‘love themselves’ – may they learn to be kind to themselves and allow themselves to be loved and cherished.
  • Those looking for work.
  • Our doctors, nurses, medical staff and care workers, unpaid carers and all other keyworkers as the Coronavirus seems to be spreading further again.
  • Expectant mothers, that they will have safe pregnancies and deliver healthy babies.

Deacon Tony Darroch, 24th October 2020.

1 St Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, (TAN Books, Charlotte, North Carolina, 2010)

2 5 Thoughts from Padre Pio on the Rosary available from https://aleteia.org/2019/10/25/5-thoughts-from-padre-pio-on-the-rosary/ accessed 24th October 2020.

Deacon Tony reflects: Contributing to society

In a recent RCIA class we were discussing creation with the passages from the beginning of the Bible in Genesis. We were reminded that God created everything that we can see, touch, smell, taste and hear. Everything belongs to God as He created everything.

In today’s Gospel the Pharisees and the Herodians attempt to be as subtle as the serpent in the Garden of Eden when they set a trap for Jesus. When they ask whether it is right to pay taxes or not?

The root of the trap is that many of the Jews held to the ancient law that images were forbidden. Many others did not want to pay taxes to the occupying Romans. They knew that if Jesus advocated for the non-payment of taxes to the Romans then they could have had him arrested by the Romans for encouraging political resistance. Jesus was not like Adam and Eve; he saw through their trap. The fact that they had a coin available is noteworthy (even though they didn’t want to use the Roman coins, they had one).

By stating that they should give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give unto God what is God’s, Jesus avoids the trap and sets a principal which holds today. We, as Christians must recognise that everything belongs to God and we need to contribute to society through our civil responsibilities, in this case paying taxes.

In discussions at an Evangelising Cell meeting this week, we looked at how far we should take this; challenging each other on things like when we have work done at home, do we ever ask what the price would be for cash? Hence avoiding the tax!

In these times when many businesses are struggling and many of us opt for the easiest option, how discerning are we when we choose which companies to give our business to? Do we choose a local family run business who may cost a little bit more and in the good times maybe sponsor a local sports team or provide prizes for a school fete or do we choose a multi-national company with a reputation for next day delivery, massive profits, and very little evidence of paying tax at appropriate levels, if at all?

Do we recognise that all we have comes from God? How do we share the many blessings bestowed upon us in our everyday life?

This October we are asked to contribute to Cafod and Missio over two successive weeks. We know that Covid 19 has hit our country hard; with thousands dying, and many people still feeling the effects of the virus months after they were first diagnosed. Hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs and many others are fearful of losing their jobs, but the people served by Cafod and Missio have no health care except what we provide through our contributions to these organisations.

Can we reflect God’s generosity to us by how we support these organisations?

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Those completing the Baptism Preparation Course this Sunday.
  • Those who work in the Missions
  • Those looking for work.
  • Our doctors, nurses, medical staff and care workers, unpaid carers and all other keyworkers as the Coronavirus seems to be spreading further again.
  • Saturday 17th October is the International Day for the eradication of poverty, we pray for all those who are striving to end poverty in our world.

Deacon Tony reflects: acts of kindness

The Queen’s Birthday Honour’s List was announced this weekend, it has been delayed because of the Covid crisis. Not surprisingly it recognises the many unsung heroes from the NHS who have risked their own lives to try and help those affected by this horrible illness. As usual celebrities are the ones who make the headlines. One young man stands out for me, in a time when footballers can earn a fortune and become very wealthy at a young age; Marcus Rashford is one of these privileged young men. Thrown in to the first team at Manchester United while still at school, he has grabbed his chance for success on the field and is now an established England International.

As a football fan, regardless of what team you support, you admire talent, and this young man is extremely talented. Marcus has not been rewarded by the Queen for his efforts on the field. Marcus Rashford has stood up when many others have sat down. He has spoken up for those less fortunate than himself and he is a voice for the children who go to bed hungry in this country. He has remembered the times when his mother struggled to put food on the table as he was growing up and through the voice his football talents have given him he has spoken up in the media and managed to get the Government to support poorer families with food vouchers throughout the pandemic so far.

We may not have such a public voice, but we do have God given talents; which we are expected to use to help others.

This week’s Scriptures has similarities to last week’s in that we have some beautiful prose from Isaiah and then a very strong message to the Chief Priests and scribes from Jesus recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.

If you read the words in Isaiah, they are comforting for our current situation, they talk about how God will wipe away every tear and destroy death for ever. It is a message of hope for those in desperate times. As believers we look forward with hope to that day when all our tears will be wiped away and we can all praise God together basking in His light.

The psalm used today is one of the most popular and well known psalms which we have. At the root of it the response today, “in the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for ever and ever.” This statement is one of confidence; that confidence is not arrogance, but the sure knowledge that this is what God has promised us. Those who follow the Good Shepherd, have a place in heaven; Jesus told us that too when he said “In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (John 14:2).

In our Gospel today, we hear again that those originally invited to the banquet, rejected the call. So others were invited to take their place. The part where the person was spotted without a wedding garment is one which troubled me, until I read a reflection in the “I am With You” book on today’s Gospel.1 The new invitation is open to everyone who loves God and their neighbour. Our wedding garment is not something we can buy. Our wedding garment is crafted in how we live, every act of kindness, encouraging word in fact everything we do to help someone else adds stitches to our garment and we don’t even have to know how to sew! All we need to do is love.

What have you done this week to contribute to your wedding garment? Every act of kindness, which might mean nothing to the person delivering it, will mean a great deal to the person receiving it. As Christians we are called to let others know by our actions how precious they are to God. Can I whole heartedly say that is how I have treated everyone I have met or spoken with this week?

For me the response is probably not; like most people I have regrets following interactions with people. Delays in replying to messages, being too swift to judge other people’s motives. For the times when I haven’t treated other people as being precious to God I ask for forgiveness and the ability to recognise and change my behaviours so that the people I interact with are left in no doubt about how special they are.

As St Paul points out in his Letter to the Galatians for those who accompany others “it was good of you to share with me in my hardships. In return my God will fulfil all your needs, in Christ Jesus as lavishly as only God can.”

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Those starting the Baptism Preparation Course this Sunday.
  • Those who are feeling isolated by health restrictions, loneliness or being far away from home.
  • Those looking for work.
  • Our doctors, nurses, medical staff and care workers, unpaid carers and all other keyworkers as the Coronavirus seems to be spreading further again.

Deacon Tony Darroch, 10th October 2020.

If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on adarroch@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.

1 Two in One Flesh Team, I am with You – Year A, (Two in One Flesh, Caterham, 2013)118-9.

Deacon Tony reflects: listen to the messenger

Vineyards and vines appear throughout Scriptures and they represent Israel and God’s chosen people. In today’s first reading we have the fine prose of Isaiah, describing a friend who prepared the land and formed a vineyard, planting the best of vines and expecting a good yield. His hard work was rewarded with sour grapes. Isaiah explains that the vineyard will be allowed to be over-run, it will suffer drought and abandonment, the creator has lost patience with the vineyard. He reveals that the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah the chosen vines. The sour grapes are bloodshed and cries of distress.

In our Gospel Jesus uses a similar example, however Jesus is more direct. In the passage which immediately followed last week’s Gospel when we heard of the two brothers who changed their minds about labouring in their Father’s vineyard; this week Jesus directs his parable straight to the Chief priests and the elders of the people. Jesus tells of the tenants; tenants is significant here; they may have been the chosen people, but they do not own the vineyard, they are present as long as the owner allows it. The messengers in the parable are the prophets sent to plead and direct the Israelites into changing their ways and coming back to the Lord. These were assaulted and some were killed. More servants were sent and they met with the same fate. Finally, Jesus tells them that the master’s son was sent and foretelling his own death, he predicts that they will plot his death and try to steal his inheritance.

The Chief priests will have been very aware of the connection, in fact if you continue with Matthew’s Gospel until the end of the Chapter it states “When they heard his parables, the chief priests and the scribes realised he was speaking about them, but though they would have liked to arrest him they were afraid of the crowds, who looked on him as a prophet.” (Matthew 21:44-46).

We can listen to this parable and think that is the fate of the Israelites, but where do we fit in with this? Are we doing our best to follow the faith we profess? As I often do, I look to Fr Placid Murray for inspiration for my reflections, the reflection for this week includes the following –

How many messengers have we rejected? God uses many people as messengers. It could have been our Dad asking us to behave ourselves, it could have been our mother’s tears, or a sister’s kindness or a teacher’s warning or a priest’s advice. How short of a harvest will we be when the Lord of the vineyard comes to collect his produce?”

Many years ago, when I was not a regular at Mass, I was standing in a Baker’s shop in Tadley and a Parishioner came in and without warning announced to me that “I should be at Mass with my wife and children.” He promptly left, with me standing embarrassed beside a couple of work colleagues. I may not have liked his message, in fact it irritated me greatly; not because I thought it was none of his business, but because I knew he was right. I believe that man was used by God to deliver that message to me. He is now buried in the same cemetery as my Dad and every time I visit my Dad’s grave I visit his grave too and say a prayer for him. I see him as being crucial to bringing me back into the Church and I will be forever grateful to him.

The message delivered by Jesus all those years ago was delivered to the established Church, what message is Jesus giving to us today? Do we listen to or reject His messengers? Are we judgemental? Do we gossip? Do we criticise people behind their back? Or are we merciful? Do we refuse to listen to gossip and maybe even challenge those who share it? Are we supportive of those who need help?

The parables in the Gospel are meant to challenge us, they prompt us to ask questions of ourselves; our responsibility is to examine our behaviours and change them as we feel prompted. By responding appropriately, we will be able to deliver the produce to the Lord of the harvest when the season arrives.

This month of October is a time when it is traditional for Catholics to pray the Rosary, at a time of pandemic we are encouraged to offer up the Rosary to Our Lady, that she will intercede for us to relieve the suffering of those who are ill, to comfort those who are grieving, to protect those who are providing care and to inspire those who are working in the field of science to improve testing regimes or to find a vaccine which will be available for all. Mother of Perpetual Help pray for us.

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Those continuing the RCIA journey next Wednesday at St Bede’s Hall.
  • All pregnant women, especially those in our parishes and families.
  • For vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and the religious life (please pray the rosary for this).
  • Those who are feeling isolated by health restrictions, loneliness or being far away from home.

Deacon Tony Darroch, 2nd October 2020.

If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on adarroch@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.