Welcome to St Austin's Catholic Parish, Stafford
If you would like to speak to someone about safeguarding and the Church’s work, please call
0121 230 6240. If you would like to speak to someone independent of the Church you can contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.
Message from Archbishop Bernard Longley:
This week the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has published its report on the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
We apologise to all victims and survivors of child sex abuse. We hope that with this Inquiry they feel that they have been listened to. Even so, words are not enough.
We are committed to continuing to improve our safeguarding procedures and to listen to and learn from victims and survivors. Past failings must never happen again. The diocesan response to the report can be found at
If you have a safeguarding matter to report please contact the Archdiocese safeguarding team on 0121 230 6240 or via email: email@example.com
Listen to this Sunday's Gospel reading by visiting the website www.sundaygospel.co.uk.
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A String of Pearls
People place a high value on a string of flawless, natural, graduated pearls. The Hebrew word for preaching, charaz, means ‘stringing pearls’. Luke’s chapter 12, from which we have an excerpt for this 20th Sunday of the Year, could be described as a collection of some of Jesus’ verbal pearls. While he gave them no particular order or connectedness, we can look at some of his teachings from the entire chapter.
We are to avoid hypocrisy which is another word for insincerity.
We are to be fearless, because one person’s power over another is limited to this life. One person may take the life of another, but not their soul. Matthew (10:28) records Jesus’ warning about fearing the one (Satan) who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Also, we are to be fearless because God’s care of us is highly detailed. Again, from Matthew (10:29): “Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. Why, every hair on your head has been counted.”
We are to beware of the unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit. Those who heard Jesus speak about the Holy Spirit, at this stage in his ministry, had the understanding of the Spirit that was common among the Jews. A Jew who witnessed the manifestly good work of God and then described it as evil, was closing his/her heart to God. Perhaps, in our time, there are instances where there have been the unjust suppression of dissenting voices both within the Church and within the wider society. In Matthew (12:31) Jesus says: “And so I tell you, every human sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
Jews understood God’s Spirit as the bringer of Truth to people and as the enabler who made it possible for people to grasp God’s Truth. There’s the old adage ‘use it or lose it’. By repeatedly rejecting God’s Spirit, and repeatedly choosing our own will, we can become impervious to God’s Spirit. As a consequence, we see evil as good and good as evil. A classic example would be the Scribes and the Pharisees who had so blinded and deafened themselves to God that when he came amongst them, they called him the devil.
Why is there an unforgiveable sin? Because when a person no longer recognises and seeks that which is good, when goodness no longer holds any appeal to them, they are unable to repent. It is not God that disbars them, they disbar themselves.
Jesus’ ‘string of pearls’ also identifies the virtue of loyalty which has no earthly reward but does have the welcoming words of our Saviour to greet us in heaven: “Come. Blessed of my Father …” (Matt.25:34).
Jesus’s ‘pearls’ also confirm the role of the Holy Spirit as the permanent advocate of those who accept Jesus as God-made-Man and commit themselves to follow his teaching.
Those who were learning to accept Jesus as the Messiah, the promised One, still held to the idea of a conquering king whose presence would usher in a golden age. Quite likely, one of Jesus’ ‘pearls’ would have come as a bleak shock; namely, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were blazing already!’ (Today’s Gospel)
For the Jews, fire is almost always a symbol of judgement. They were hearing Jesus say that the advent of his kingdom would herald a time of judgement. The element of judgement runs through the teaching of Jesus, much like the cord that strings together the pearls. However much people may wish to ignore the element of judgement, it remains unalterably present. Of course, the Jews were firmly of the belief that God would judge them by one standard and all other nations by another. This was tantamount to saying that being Jewish would bring its own absolution. Shades of this mentality were also found in Catholicism, when the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism was thought to be sufficient for eternal salvation.
Jesus continues: “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”
The implication of this passive voice of the verb to be baptised has, in its original Greek, the implication of a person being wholly submerged, totally entombed beneath the waves. Were we to give Luke’s words a modern translation, the result might be to have Jesus saying: ‘I have a terrible experience through which I must pass; and life is full of tension until I pass through it and emerge triumphantly from it’.
For Jesus, Calvary’s Cross was the permanent backdrop to his life on earth. By contrast, the Jewish backdrop was of victorious, avenging armies and flying banners.
Jesus’ coming inevitably brought division:
“Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division ...”
It is said that the division it caused was one of the major reasons why the Romans hated Christianity. It divided families. Over and over again a family member had to decide whether they loved kith and kin better then Jesus Christ. The essence of Christianity is that loyalty to Christ has to take precedence over the dearest loyalties of this earth. A man must be prepared to count as loss all earthly things for the privilege of belonging to Jesus Christ.
Some scholars have suggested that Luke 12:49-50, which form part of today’s Gospel, are a glimpse into the soul of Jesus. By describing his mission in terms of fire and division, Jesus made it clear that there could be no neutrality regarding his words and works. He knew that the challenging character of his teaching would meet with growing opposition and hostility on the part of those who refused to accept the truth.
So, when next your eye alights upon a string of flawless, natural, graduated pearls, perhaps pause for thought beyond their natural beauty or monetary value.