Firstly, by simply looking around me, at various wonderful things and treasures, including the relics of St John Bosco, the fact that all our churches are heavenly spaces – buildings of faith, and manifestations and antechambers of our ultimate goal: Paradise – was really reaffirmed for me.
Secondly, noticing the way some people -- all of us at one time or another? -- can be so uncharitable towards children and young people, even when they are obviously searching for God, helped me realise the importance of Don Bosco's God-given compassion -- what his life was all about. Like his Divine Master, Bosco knew that love is the answer, and that deep compassion, kindness, and patience are great tools of evangelisation.
This photo above shows a view of the Mass which was celebrated today by Bishop Alan Hopes in the presence of the relics of St John Bosco – the relics, enshrined within a wax model of the saint, include his hand and the bone from one of his forearms.The photo below shows pilgrims venerating the saint as he arrived at the Cathedral yesterday.
After joining the queue to venerate this holy man, it dawned on me that Westminster Cathedral actually houses several other great heroes and heroines of our Catholic faith. All the altars, of course, contain various relics. In fact, very important relics of Don Bosco’s own saintly and kindly inspiration, St Francis de Sales (after whom the Salesians are named), were placed in the Cathedral’s High Altar during its consecration in 1910 -- Cardinal Bourne also had a great devotion to St Francis.
Westminster Cathedral is also home to the major relics of St John Southworth (below) – the only fully preserved body of a priest-martyr from the Reformation and post-Reformation persecutions rests in one of the Cathedral's side-chapels.
Other relics available for veneration at the Cathedral include some belonging to St Thomas Becket, which are to be found in the Vaughan Chantry. The Treasures of the Cathedral Exhibition also has a great number of sacred relics on display, including a part of St Charles Lwanga's back-bone (below). (St Charles is one of my favourite saints, and a man we should turn to for help during these troubled days when the Church faces a new persecution for defending important truths about human nature, see today's Telegraph.)
Another special relic is a femur of one of England’s greatest saints, Edmund of Abingdon (below). This sacred object is kept in St Edmund's own shrine (in the Crypt), and is usually brought out for veneration on his feast day in November.
These relics don't just remind us of the holy men and women who have gone before us, helping us realise that they too once walked this earth, but they form tangible and powerful links to Heaven. During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when we are allowed to join the whole company of the Blessed in worshipping the Most Holy Trinity, in adoring the Lamb of God on the Altar of His Sacrifice, then the remains of the saints physically present in the church (in reliquaries or on the altar) call to mind the fact that these men and women are praising God with us, as they now stand before Him and behold Him in the Holy of Holies.
As we look on Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine, those in Paradise see him as he really is. Those of us who belong to Jesus Christ, or desire to belong to him, here on earth, form part of the Communion of Saints – which includes all those who are now rejoicing in Heaven. Every Mass, every Sacrament, every good prayer even, is a marriage of Heaven and earth; the consummation of God’s love for the whole Church as well as for our individual souls.
|The Blessed Sacrament Chapel|
This image has been released into the public domain
Credit: Patche99z (source: Wikimedia)
Of course, the greatest of our saintly friends is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who usually has a little house in each and every Catholic church – otherwise known as the Lady Chapel. How wonderful that we can ‘pop in’ to speak with our Heavenly mother by visiting the chapel or shrine dedicated to her in our parish churches and cathedrals! After telling her all our troubles and all that is on our mind, she invariably takes us to see her Son, whose beating heart, housed in every tabernacle, speaks to us of nothing else but Love!
|The Lady Chapel|
Released into the public domain
Credit: User:FA2010 (source: Wikimedia)
Talking of love … All our religious observances are, as St Paul reminds us, naught if we do not try to approach God as creatures of love, willing to love and be loved. We are often our own worst enemies, and our lack of trust and joy in God's compassion, revealed to us most wonderfully in Christ’s sacred and most loving Passion, can sometimes lead us – or me, at least – away from the ultimate goal of life, which is inseparable communion with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I often hate myself, suffer from great and secret bouts of depression, and am nearly always sorrowful to the point of death (is that a bad thing?). When these pains are offered, hopefully in a state of grace, in union with Christ’s Sacrifice, then a deep joy can be found, even in the midst of excruciating agony. But when I decide to revel in disaster, to see only the bad, and to let anger be some sort of perverse comfort, what becomes of me then? ‘The wicked man grinds his teeth and fades away’ as the psalmist says.
Pain united to the Lord’s own Passion, Death, and Resurrection, leads to complete freedom – whereas suffering turned in on itself can often lead to a tragic and self-centred enmity towards God, ourselves and our neighbours. The fruits of such enmity sometimes exhibit themselves in a desire to criticise or judge others, or in a need to bully or cajole, or in obsessively attempting to control our little world to the point that God is replaced by our unbridled individual egos … the false god of self. (The amount of times I have taken all those faults to the Confessional!)
Don Bosco teaches us to be compassionate
What’s the point of these rambling lines? Well, I also saw and experienced a few not so nice things during the past couple of days which have made me consider my own behaviour. One such thing was seeing an angry grown man being unkind to a little girl during Mass this afternoon.
The child was there with a few of her friends, and had probably decided to travel to Westminster Cathedral to visit the relics of Don Bosco – a man who showed pure gentleness and kindness towards the young people of 19th century Turin. I happened to be sat close by, on the other side of an aisle. To my horror, just as the little girl turned to another, apparently asking what page in the missalette they were on, a man, probably in his 60s, who was sat behind them poked her hard in the back, before going on to remonstrate with her and humiliate her!
I was filled with rage at the sight -- a rage that was, thankfully, quickly tempered by a sort of compassion; mainly towards the girl, but also for the man. I prayed that his behaviour would not keep her away from the Love of God, and also desired that he would come to rest in God’s peace. Had not that ‘spirit of Don Bosco’ overtaken me, I fear I may have ended up hitting the man -- hardly an act of charity, but a fallen and natural human reaction, I guess! Yet, as Our Lord often reminds us: who are we to judge or condemn? I have been more than angry with others during Mass myself, especially those who chatter or make noises at the holiest moments. When will I learn to be gentle and humble of heart?
Trying not to lose sight of the important things
Other examples of similar behaviour during the past few days have made me dwell more than usual on how angry some of us can get over trivialities, and how easy it is for Christians to forget all about love, even when we are surrounded by Jesus and all his saints and angels!
Being frail, we can easily lose sight of the important things, choosing instead to make mountains out of molehills, expending energy on criticising other weak creatures, yet never giving a thought to the pains and loses endured by them. If only life didn’t get in the way, love would flow like a river from heart to heart… But day-to-day life does get in the way: we do get depressed, we do fall, we sin and squabble, we nit-pick and gossip – or most of us do! Thankfully, the God who is all compassion and mercy, and who is there for us whenever we call on Him, is also there for every single human being on this planet, even the ones that sometimes get on our nerves!