The Sixth Sunday of Easter 

9th May


St Peter by Edward Burne - Jones 1861 - 1862

In the collection of the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery - Birmingham,  England

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READINGS:  Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48.      I John 4:7-10       John 15:9-17

“Love one another as I have loved you” The new commandment given by Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper. For Jesus, this love to which he calls his disciples to follow is a mirror image of the intimacy of the Father’s love for Jesus; “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love.” These words make plain what Jesus meant in his image of the vine and the branches which we heard last week. Here is the intimacy of the Father and the Son which is to be ours, by God’s gift, so deep and perfect is the love of God for all his children. This love of God for us is to be made visible in the passion of the Lord. “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you.” How fantastic is that; to be known and acknowledged by Jesus as his friends! To make the point even clearer as to how much we are loved Jesus tells us that our being his friends is his choice not ours and it is his desire that we live in this closeness with him so that we can bear fruit and know that we can ask the Father for what we need in the name of Jesus; our friend and redeemer. How truly blessed we are! Today in the reading from the first letter of John we are reminded by the apostle that this love of which he speaks is “God’s love for us when he sent his son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.”

This love of which the scriptures speak is not natural human love which makes us reach out to a particular person but supernatural love whose source is God’s own love which lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. John does not say that God is loving or that he has loved but that GOD IS LOVE  and it is this presence of God that we are called to make visible in the world in our fruitfulness. As we reflect on our lives I’m sure we can easily identify moments when we have been recipients of this sacrificial love of God through the activity of one another and indeed have, at times, been ministers of this love ourselves. In seeking to be open to this love within us we are enabled to build up the community of the Church, the loving body of Christ here on earth. We see this power at work today in the life of St Peter in our first reading where he takes the courageous step of receiving Gentiles into the Church at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. thus opening the way for the Church to welcome all who are called so the universal mission of the Church can proceed. As Peter explains, “The truth I have come to realise is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

A few days ago we celebrated the great Feast of the Martyrs of England and Wales, those who died for the faith between 1535 and 1680. Two hundred and eighty four were either canonised or beatified but the number of all those who suffered death or persecution are beyond reckoning. All these of our brothers and sisters truly were friends of the Lord who followed his example in laying down their lives for Him and the Church. I’m sure we all have our heroes and we remember the more well-known ones like Thomas More and John Fisher. Many were priests and religious but there were also laymen and women; three women in particular spring to mind –Margaret Clitherow, Margaret Ward and Anne Line. Their selflessness and courage did so much to provide safe havens for Priests, who were liable to be put to death if captured, to continue serving the Church in secret.
Anne Line came from Dunmow in Essex and was brought up as a Protestant but she and her brother William, through contact with catholic friends, eventually became Catholics and were disinherited by their father when he found out. Her husband, Roger, was also disinherited by his family and was banished from the country where he died soon afterwards leaving Anne a penniless widow. Eventually Anne was engaged  by Fr John Gerrard to run a house of refuge in London for priests and here she instructed children in the faith, managed the finances and kept house looking after guests and dealing with strangers. When Fr John Gerard was imprisoned for three years, Anne ran the house on her own. When he was released he got her to give up the house for he said: “she was known by so many people that it was unsafe for me to frequent any house she occupied Instead she hired apartments in another building and continued to shelter priests in another building.” Here she arranged for St Nicholas Owen to construct hiding holes. All this she did despite suffering chronic ill-health. On Candlemas Day in 1601 while Mass was being celebrated the House was raided, she managed to get the priest to the hiding hole but she was arrested and tried later in the month for harbouring a priest. She was so ill that she was carried into court on a chair. She was sentenced to death by hanging. On the scaffold she was asked if she would pray for the Queen. She replied: “God bless her, and grant that we may see each other in heaven. I pray for the judge, and for the other three who were the immediate cause of my death” She went on to say: “I am sentenced to die for harbouring a Catholic priest So far am I from repenting for having done so, that I wish with all my soul that where I have entertained one, I could have entertained a thousand.” She died at Tyburn on the 27 February 1601. She truly was a friend of the Lord who followed lovingly and joyfully in his footsteps.

We are blessed to live in more peaceful times and to be able to celebrate and live our faith openly today because Anne and her fellow martyrs kept the faith alive in more troubled times. May we be inspired by their heroic lives to live and to love as friends of the Lord, as they did in their time, so that others may come to experience the love of the Lord for them in our day. May we always cherish the memory of the martyrs and seek their intercession for the Church today.

St Anne Line. Pray for us.

All holy Martyrs of England and Wales. Pray for us.

God bless you,

Fr hugh