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:
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.
3rd Sunday in Advent
There’s More to a Desert Than Sand
At the mention of a desert, people’s imagination conjures up endless sand dunes. A desert is mentioned in both the First Reading (Isaiah 35:1-6,10) and the Gospel (Matthew 11:2-11) for this 3rd Sunday of Advent. There are, however, deserts without sand. If you look back at the 70s and 80s you will find evidence of ‘food deserts’ in European cities. Then, local small food shops had been put out of business by large, price-undercutting, out-of-town supermarkets. One unanticipated consequence was that semi-immobilised and housebound city dwellers were unable to buy nourishing food in their immediate locality. Elderly and long-term sick people were becoming seriously malnourished and, as a consequence, swelling the numbers in hospital A&E departments. Urban ‘food deserts’ were identified as the cause and the government of the day launched an investigation.
This century there’s evidence of the growth of ‘faith deserts’. They are reappearing in both Europe’s cities and countrysides. Their existence is camouflaged by the numerous churches, with their distinctive steeples, that still cover the landscape. But these buildings are now often used for secular purposes or have become tourist attractions. Those churches still welcoming worshippers have shrinking elderly congregations. Sunday, as the Lord’s Day, has long since been successfully subsumed by rampant commercialisation and consumerism. The spiritual malaise of a ‘faith desert’ is not new. In the Book of Wisdom, long associated with King Solomon (970-931BC), we read:
“The reasonings of mortals are unsure and our intentions unstable; for a perishable body presses down the soul, and this tent of clay weighs down the teeming mind.” (9:13-15)
When God became visible among us in the person of Jesus, many Jews had become used to observing the externals of their religious practice for political purposes. They were an occupied people struggling to retain their ethnic identity which was inseparable from their religious practice.
How many Christians today, including Catholics, have an insufficiently shallow appreciation of how their predecessors struggled to remain loyal to their Baptismal promises? For countless Catholics back then, the cost was not just their livelihood but their life itself. Are young Catholics in this 21st century aware that from the reign of Henry Vlll (1507-1545) there was progressive legislation prohibiting the practising of the Catholic Religion in Britain and Ireland? Are they aware that their Roman Catholics predecessors, over those centuries, were deprived of their vote, their right to hold public office and to own land?
It was not until 1766 that the Penal Laws, as they were called, began, very slowly, to be dismantled. Penal Laws, as the name implies, penalized those who lived by the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and imposed stringent civil disabilities on Catholics who did so. This protracted period of active persecution forced faithful Roman Catholics to hide and disguise their fidelity to Catholicism. Are we, the Roman Catholic community of this 21st century, sufficiently alive to the fact that our freedom of worship today is in no small part due to the blood shed by many of our predecessors, from that era, who suffered martyrdom in the centuries of persecution?
“I would never have known you were a Roman Catholic.” Sometimes this response greets the revelation by a Roman Catholic of his/her membership of the Catholic Church. The response, itself, could be said to pose a question; namely, has the Catholic friend, colleague, neighbour blended-in so well with society that his/her faith is invisible? But then, if our daily living of our Catholic faith is invisible, can we said to be fulfilling our Baptismal undertaking to promote the Gospel? Advent is an appropriate time for us, as the Baptised, to review what should be the visibility to our neighbour of our Christian faith in God.
Stalwarts setting out to cross a desert prepare with care. In addition to the appropriate training for physical fitness, there is the making of extensive preparations and the gathering of all manner of provisions. The same applies when Christians face a faith-desert. In the first place there is the need to recognise the faith-desert that exists. For the people of previous generations there had been an almost tangible sense of a national belief in God. Words and phrases such as ‘prayer’, ‘please God’, ‘God willing’ were regularly heard in general conversation. You rarely hear these words and phrases in use today, unless you happen to speak them. I recently said to a friend’s young child who was heading to bed “Good night ----- and God bless you.” The child, who knows me well enough as a family friend, looked mystified by those last four words – ‘and God bless you’. It was as if I had switched to speak in a foreign language. Yet that child is Baptised (as is the father) and attends a Catholic primary school.
The child’s mystification made me look around the living room. There was nothing in sight that would identify this as a Christian home or link this family with a larger believing community. I had not previously noted the absence of a crucifix. There were no Baptismal or First Holy Communion family photographs. It brought home to me that my friends and I, despite the frequency of our conversations, had never discussed the subject of faith in God. How successfully the inroads made by the faith-desert had obliterated so many external traces of this family being a family of faith.
By now you may have chosen your Christmas greeting cards. Do they convey your belief in the centrality of Christ to the celebration of Christmas to your family and friends? If not, should you be sending them? Your Baptism has gifted you with a Divine adoption. You are an adopted son or daughter of God your Father. Surely, your allegiance to God takes precedence over all other relationships? Your non-believing relatives and friends, knowing you, will recognise that you are a person of faith in God and your choice of greeting will not surprise them.
The devilment of living in a faith-desert is that it is all too easy to lose sight of the desert’s reality just because there are no sand dunes!