November is a month that keeps us on our toes, there is so much going on.
We start the month with the feast days of All Saints and then All Souls, in one celebrating all those who have reached the ultimate goal of heavenly bliss and the other when we think of the others who aren’t there yet but are biding their time in Purgatory, waiting for the call to join the saints in heaven.
This is a time of waiting; waiting for the short, dark and cold days to pass – how lucky we are to have a refuge in our well lit, warm homes. Do we spare a thought for those who are forced to spend these cold, dark days and nights on the street?
What is a saint? The famous names that we all know are those who we are encouraged to venerate because of something extra special in their lives and whose example we are encouraged to follow. However what about the millions of others who have not done anything particularly outstanding but who, because they have led a sinless life and passed away in a state of grace, will have gone straight to heaven? These are the saints who we remember on 1st November. I am sure that we all know someone who is in that group. How many do we know who go through the day thinking not how much money they can make or what luxury they can buy but how can they help someone else who is in need?
Most of us I fear fit into the second group; the not so perfect. We do our best but our human nature is constantly causing us to stumble. Just as we need to have a bath before going out in company so most of us will need a good “clean” before St Peter will allow us to step across the threshold. This will be in Purgatory and it is for all those in this “waiting area” that we are praying on the 2nd.
Just who was our Patron St Hilda whose festival we celebrate on the 18th? She was the Abbess of a community of both men and women in Whitby who was so renowned for her wisdom and holiness that when a dispute arose between two elements in the church, mainly over the date for Easter, they called on Hilda to mediate and all was amicably resolved. How we could do with her skills today!
“We love the house of prayer wherein thy servants meet,
And thou O Lord are there, thy chosen flock to greet.”
So goes the lovely hymn which was sung at the dedication of St Hilda’s in 1904. On the feast day of St Luke, October 18th the Bishop of Manchester came to Whittaker Lane to dedicate the new church which was to serve the good people of Prestwich.
We hold St Luke in very high regard; he is honoured as the patron of doctors and of writers. It is in his gospel that we read the wonderful narrative of the birth of our Saviour. Many believe that Mary related this story to Luke in person.
St Hilda’s has stood the test of time; we are still there in the same place on Whittaker Lane 114 years later. St Hilda’s has always been place of welcome, its doors are open not only to our own congregation but to anyone who wishes to come in to share in our worship or even just to say a quiet prayer.
Throughout those years the church has witnessed countless moments of joy and celebration at Christenings and Weddings and those also of grief and sadness as loved ones have been laid to rest.
St Hilda’s is at the heart of our little community and Canon Denby and myself are delighted to be able to offer ourselves to serve you all, to provide spiritual nourishment and also to welcome you to our many social events.
July and August
“Summer suns are glowing over land and seas,
Happy light is flowing bountiful and free”
The months of July and August are for most of us the happiest time of the year, particularly for schoolchildren. Exams are over; the prospect of six weeks holiday is on the horizon and hopefully the words of the hymn hold true as we enjoy a glorious summer.
I have fond memories of this part of my schooldays at Gorton Mount School as looking forward to the break we sang heartily “Forty Years On”. Well, those forty years have come and gone as I look back with nostalgia on those wonderful days whether at Scout Camp, at the cinema (on rainy days) and endless hours spent on Mellands Playing Fields; but not forgetting to make time to get to church on Sundays. I was no angel, often I was able to avoid paying at the cinema by slipping in through the fire exit and with pals we were often shouted at by irate neighbours when we rang bells and ran away.
These were innocent times; how society has changed! The news of today is dominated by stories of fear, selfishness and greed. The church seems to have lost its appeal particularly with the “young in heart”.
However all this negativity obscures the good still being done by kind, decent people. We seldom hear of it as this behaviour does not sell newspapers but we must not despair, alone we can achieve little but together, united in the practice of our Faith we can hope for a brighter future.
Enjoy your summer holiday and look forward to a return, refreshed and invigorated, in September.
“Jesus who gave himself for you, Upon the cross to die
Opens to you his Sacred Heart, Oh to that Heart draw nigh.”
We are in the month of the Sacred Heart, flaming June (though sometimes a misnomer in this country), the 21st is Midsummer’s Day.
If we look to the left in church we see the statue of Our Blessed Lord, with arms open wide in a gesture of welcome, showing us His Heart. The heart is the source of love; we give our heart to our partner as we receive the sacrament of matrimony; someone who is selfish and has no love for others is called “heartless”.
We share the devotion to the Sacred Heart with the Roman Catholic tradition – it became established in the 17th Century through a series of visions to St Margaret Mary in a convent in France.
As St Paul said, the most important quality in our lives is Love, without it all else is meaningless, just like the sound of a trumpet that is blaring tunelessly.
We are members of a society and we must follow the example of Jesus in caring for all those around us. We are so lucky in what we have – following the words of the song “count your blessings”. When we compare our blessings to all that is lacking in the lives of others it makes us aware of how much there is a need for unselfish love in our world, not only at the national level where we can do nothing, but in particular in our personal lives where we can have some effect.
I wish you all well for this month, may the sun shine on us all and let us try to bring some sunshine into the life of others
“Mother of Christ, Mother of Christ, I toss on a stormy sea
Oh lift thy child as a beacon light, to port where I fain would be
Then Mother of Christ, Mother of Christ, this I do ask of thee
When the voyage is o’er and I stand on the shore, do show Him at last to me.”
May is the month of Our Blessed Lady – Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May.
The promise of new life at Easter is now fulfilled as the gardens and meadows burst into bloom; trees are covered in blossom, a promise of the fruit that is to follow.
This is a month of joyous celebration. In keeping with the season we respond to the invitation in the Mass to “Lift up your hearts”
In May we have two of the major feasts in the Church calendar – the Ascension – as Jesus is taken up into heaven where one day we will all hopefully join Him and Pentecost – celebrating the dramatic event of the Holy Spirit appearing as tongues of fire giving the disciples the strength and courage to go forth and preach the Good News.
As members of the Christian Community we should continue this today, carrying the joyful Message to those in need – the sick, those in low spirits, those experiencing problems related to age and those whose faith is being shaken and who are plagued by doubts.
We do not worship Mary but seek her help when in need and follow her example in selfless concern for others.
Let us rejoice in the legacy of the Risen and Ascended Saviour. Our motto at St Hilda’s is “Faith and Fun” and this should be our watchword as we seek to do our best for all those around us but always with a smile, invoking the help of Our Blessed Mother under her title of “ Mary the Queen of Joy”.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee
“Oh to be in England now that April’s here”
This well known poem “Home-thoughts from abroad” expresses Robert Brownings nostalgic longing for his homeland and all that is happening there during the glorious season of Spring.
Spring is a time of rebirth as bulbs and seeds that have lain hidden within the earth during the harsh conditions of winter suddenly burst into life and reach up towards the sun.
New life appears among the animals as we see the lambs gambolling in the fields and newly born calves being protected by their proud mothers.
In the church we celebrate rebirth; Our Saviour had been tortured, killed and buried yet here on Easter Sunday we see Him triumph gloriously over death as he rises from the tomb.
Bells have been silent and flowers have not been seen during Lent yet now we come together in a glorious celebration with the gold vestments of the priest, the sound of the choir in full voice, and the church resplendent in a riot of colour of spring flowers. The stone has been rolled away; the message of the empty tomb is that Jesus is no longer there, He is among us!
In our praise we have inherited a word from the earliest days of the church. “Alleluia” is a word that comes from Hebrew meaning “Praise the Lord” and which is sung over and over again as we rejoice in the Resurrection of Our Saviour.
I wish you and your loved ones a happy and holy Easter
The flaming month of June opens with the glorious feast of Pentecost on Sunday 4th. This is the day which we celebrate as the launch of the Christian Church; when Mary and the disciples were cowering in a locked room in fear and trembling because of threats from the Jewish authorities.
The Holy Spirit descended upon them, appearing as tongues of flame hovering over their heads, and gave them the strength and courage to open the door, to go out into the streets and to proclaim the Good News to the whole world.
How the celebration of Pentecost (or Whitsuntide) in our city has changed over time! When I was a boy we really looked forward to processing through the streets in our Sunday Best in the Whit Walks. How proud we were if we were given the privilege of holding a ribbon attached to the church banner.
The Walks, both the Roman Catholic and the Anglican were the highlight of the holiday weekend.
What a shame that the dwindling numbers have led to the processions being cut back. It should be an opportunity for us all to make a public affirmation of our Faith.
As we head towards the longest day of the year and hopefully plenty of good weather I wish you all a Holy and happy Whitsuntide and may the Holy Spirit bring you the strength and courage to stand up for your Faith if ever it is challenged.
“The happy birds Te Deum sing, ‘tis Mary’s month of May”
In this month the world around is bursting into new life, the trees are starting to put on their finery, new-born lambs are seen in the fields, and we honour the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Our Saviour.
There are many churches throughout Manchester dedicated to Mary, among them our Cathedral and closer to home our mother church of St Mary the Virgin in Prestwich.
What an example is set by Mary! Her unquestioning acceptance of the news that came as a bolt from the blue that she was to be the mother of God, her constant support for her Son during his childhood and as a young adult and then the unbearable agony of witnessing his trial, torture and final humiliation on the cross.
We have now celebrated the glorious event of the Resurrection of Jesus and now in Eastertide we are following the story of the final stages of Jesus’ ministry on earth: the meeting on the road to Emmaus, the miraculous draught of fishes, the breakfast at the lakeside, Thomas’ scepticism followed by his glorious affirmation “My Lord and my God” and then the Ascension.
The message throughout is one of hope and love. Although the earthly ministry came to an end with the Ascension the ministry continued and does so to this day through the intercession of the Holy Spirit.
Snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are appearing; the days are getting longer; bird song is all around us. Spring is here!
Our world is coming out of a long, cold and dark winter and our spirits are lifted with the promise all around us of a New Life.
Our Easter season starts at the lowest of points with Jesus, who was completely free of all guilt, being nailed to a cross, dying in torment and being sealed in a tomb.
For many this was the end of all hope but imagine the disciples’ amazement when on arriving at the tomb on the Sunday morning they found that the body was no longer there!
It was not long before they realised that the prophecies were being fulfilled and that He had risen from the dead and was once more alive and amongst them.
How they must have all felt on learning the news; Mary in the garden, the apostles, including Thomas, in the upper room.
They realised the truth that we all acknowledge, that Jesus is with us forever and we are never alone in trying to cope with the trials of everyday life.
We should not try to live solely by our own wits but must take the hand of Him who will guide us on the right path.
Easter is the greatest festival in the Church’s year; this is a time when we realise that our faith is one of hope; despite all the gloom and despair that we experience, we can hope and trust in our future united with Jesus and our loved ones in Heaven
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights”.
We commemorate this incident from St Matthew’s Gospel each year in the forty days and forty nights of Lent; the period of renewal and preparation which leads up to the great feast of Easter.
This year the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, is on March 1st. This day takes us in to the long haul towards the celebration of the Resurrection.
Like all periods of waiting Lent can either fly by or be a long slow drag.
We should use this time as a period of reflection, to examine exactly where we are in our Spiritual Journey and by means of a personal resolution give ourselves a helping hand on the way.
In the past we used to focus on giving something up, I wonder whether takings in the pubs decreased during Lent, or sales of chocolate dipped.
This is very good practice but perhaps an alternative might be to do something extra for Lent; possibly a special good deed. Does that older person need a little extra company as a relief from loneliness? Should I put a bit extra into the Porch Box collection?
Let us pray together that through our Lenten Observance we arrive at the glorious celebration of the Resurrection strengthened in our resolve to follow Jesus.
“February brings the rain, thaws the frozen lake again.”
This is the shortest month of the year but one in which daylight increases and we can save on our electricity bill for lighting.
Although it is still cold and the ground is hard, yet under the soil new life is stirring and as we move on into Spring the green shoots of new life will be bursting forth.
The season of Lent, the time of preparation for the greatest feast of all, Easter, is later than usual this year and so Ash Wednesday is not until March 1st.
This means that over the next few weeks the priest will be wearing, very appropriately for the season, green vestments.
As we witness this process of rebirth and regeneration we reflect on all that God has provided for us; we all experience times of sorrow and loneliness when we feel that we have nowhere to turn but if we put our trust in Jesus we know for certain that he will always be there to help us through from the darkness into the light.
This is the month that “brings the snow and makes our feet and fingers glow!” I sincerely hope that this does not happen; snow looks lovely on a Christmas Card but it looks and feels different when I am tramping around Whittaker Lane.
My New Year’s wish for 2017 is twelve months of Peace and Racial Harmony and a prayer that more cures may be found for so many dreadful life-threatening ailments.
On 6th January we hear the story of the three wise men who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ Child. At first sight these seem unusual gifts to give a baby but we need to remember that they are symbols – they are gifts for all mankind and represent security and health, worship and a reminder that our time here is limited.
We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves, to give worship to God to thank him for all that he does for us but also to remember that one day our time on this earth will be over and that we must make sure that we are in a fit state to meet our Maker.
We are now in the season of Advent; we are waiting for the day of celebration of the birth of our Saviour.
Christmas is the second most important festival in the church’s year after Easter. It is a time for fond memories and love. However in our materialistic age the celebration, the making merry and giving and receiving presents for many has obscured the real reason for the celebration – the birth of a child in a humble stable in the occupied territory of Bethlehem.
God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to be our Saviour – as we say the Creed together we affirm that He became truly man and who thirty-three later was to show the depths of His love by accepting to die to atone for our sins.
I hope that you will be able to come and join us at St Hilda’s for one of our services either on Christmas Night or in the morning to wish our Lord a Happy Birthday.
I wish you and your loved ones a happy and peaceful Christmas