Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Weeds and wheat revisited

From Getty Images
Back after a long break! Here's something I wrote for the August edition of The Portal (do have a look...) I'm delighted to have been asked to be part of this e-magazine; I won't say more about it now, just encourage you to visit the website. And even consider subscribing..?

Anyway (end of plug), I'm returning to a favourite theme.

'I need 500 words,' said our good Editor, 'by yesterday. The theme is up to you.' Suddenly I was back at my Anglican selection conference when, just as I was about to leave the interview room, I was told: 'you're standing on the platform with three minutes before your train leaves. How do you share the essence of the Gospel with the anxious person who's just asked what you believe?'

Still in my mind was what, at the time of writing, was last Sunday's Gospel reading: the parable of the wheat and the darnel (Matthew 13:24-30). As the two memories collided and mingled, here's what emerged...

We were all told at Sunday School, I suppose, that one of the points of this parable is that wheat and darnel look almost identical while they are still immature. And so, as the owner of the field says, to try to weed out the darnel immediately would be to risk destroying the good plants too. But what else is there to learn? It's easy, and comforting, to think of the wheat as the Church and the darnel as the world. Frighteningly, it's just as easy - and it has a piquant comfort all its own -  to see the Church as the field, and enjoy trying to spot who's the wheat and who the darnel. Nearer the truth, I think, is the realisation that we ourselves - each one of us - are the field; within each individual heart and soul is a tangle of wheat and darnel that even the Lord of the Harvest himself counsels against trying to weed: not yet. And meanwhile, here we still are as the Body of Christ.

We are uncomfortable with the unconditional love of God. We find it safer to hedge it round with ifs and buts: I suspect that, deep down, we actually find it hard to believe that we are so loved. And so our welcome to others becomes conditional, and that's something we should be concerned about.  Surely we in the Ordinariate should understand what it is to be made welcome.  Probably we can't remember being welcomed into the Church of God at our baptism (received just as we were, 'mewling and puking' as likely as not*). But we can remember the welcome from our prodigal Father to the ragbag, the Noah's ark, the patchwork of fields of wheat and tares that is the banquet of the Catholic Church. Did any of us deserve such a lavish gift?

Why do we continue to regard the Eucharist as a reward for good behaviour? And we all do, don't we, from time to time - whether for ourselves or others? We forget that God's gift of forgiveness is not confined to the Sacrament of Reconciliation but is right there in the invitation we are offered at each Mass: 'Behold the Lamb of God; behold him who takes away the sins of the world.' (Have a look at paragraph 1393 in the Catechism).  To come to Communion in humble astonishment and trust in God's unconditional and redemptive love - knowing that we could never earn or deserve it  - poses less risk, I believe, of receiving unworthily than to think we can or should somehow weed our own field first.

So, that's my three-minute message:
We are utterly unworthy;
We are utterly loved;
We are called to love as we have been loved.

Through the 'medicine of immortality' Our Lord nurtures the wheat already growing in us, and we can trust him to take care of the darnel as he knows best.  Deo Gratias!

* Some of us may have been received into the Catholic Church in a similar state. God still loves us.

Thursday, 6 February 2014


The Magi, from the St Alban's Psalter, 12th century
Did you know what 'desire' means - the word, that is, etymologically speaking?

It's from the Latin desidero, which like 'consider' comes from sidus, sideris - a star.

My desire is my guiding star, my lodestar - to follow it is to find Epiphany. 

May He give you your heart's desire... Psalm 20
You have granted him his heart's desire; you have not refused the prayer of his lips. Psalm 21

Our one desire and choice should be the end for which we were created... To praise, reverence and serve God our Lord... All other things on the face of the earth are created for us to help us. Spiritual Exercises #23 ask for what I desire... Spiritual Exercises #55 and passim

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

God of Surprises

 This picture appeared in several papers yesterday. I love it! It came as a gift for me - I'm doing some work at the moment on different ways of praying. This is something I'm passionate about - people (including myself!) exploring different ways of spending time with God. (And Jean Vanier suggested there are at least a thousand and one such ways!)

But there's a difference between prayer practices and prayer itself. The former we can learn about, and plan for, and do. The latter will - thank God! - creep up behind us and surprise us. 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

So quick to judge...

I went to Mass in a very large, famous and busy urban place of worship. As people knelt after Communion I became aware of a stream of conversation nearby. Who could be so irreverent and insensitive? And I realised I could only hear one voice - was he on his mobile phone? Worse and worse... Eventually, irritated and distracted, I glanced round. An African man was on his knees, hands raised, an expression of sheer joy on his face, pouring out his prayer to God.

Kyrie eleison.  ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.' (Luke 18:14)

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Just after the Full Moon

Today's picture from NASA APOD
I'm back... A belated Happy New Year, everyone. (What do you mean, you didn't miss me?) To ease me back after my blogging sluggishness (and to make sure this gets posted before this Wolf Moon wanes too far) I'm  pinching gratefully borrowing from others...

I always enjoy the Poetry Chaikhana blog, and especially so yesterday's poem by Izumi Shikibu:

Watching the Moon 
at midnight,
solitary, mid-sky,
I knew myself completely, no part left out.

Do read it there, and Ivan Granger's commentary. He says that, like the Moon, our individual consciousness only gives light if it reflects... And here I would say: if it reflects the Light of God, the 'love that moves the Sun and the other stars.'  'Look to him and be radiant', says the Psalmist in what has long been a 'touchstone' verse for me.  I give thanks for the ways in which that reflected light shines on me through colleagues, students, fellow-pilgrims, pastors, preachers, dear 'soul friends' and (God forgive me!) the most unexpected of people. And all the graces I pray for can be summed up as the grace to grow to fullness, like the Moon, so that I can reflect more.

A while ago, A Minor Friar (apologies, I've kept the quote but not the link to the exact post) wrote about watching the early morning light reflected in the sacred vessels on the altar and said 'take a moment just to appreciate the light; its dignity as the first of us creatures, the first of us to receive the original gaze of divine blessing, it was good.' 

 And this morning this little prayer came my way, and I'll try to make it my own as an invocation to start each day:

Sol iustítiæ, tibi dies noster consecrétur,
—qui in baptísmate nos illustrásti.

Sun of Justice, you filled us with light at our baptism,
– we dedicate this day to you.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

By the way...

... Sharp-eyed readers might have noticed a new page listed at the top of this blog, entitled 'Listen With Your Eyes'. It's about a course I'm creating and will be leading in London this summer: an experience of Visio Divina, or praying with art and the imagination. One of my passions!

Click and have a look; tell your friends - and please, if you're not too far away, consider coming along!

Thanks, and once again a very happy New Year to you!

New Year

 Last year I offered the Suscipe prayer as my post for New Year's Day, and I can do no better this time. The best prayer, to my mind, for a new day or the end of the day, the end and beginning of the year, before the Christmas crib - or indeed the Cross on Good Friday when it comes...

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty: my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All that I have and call my own. You have given it all to me; to you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours, do with it according to your will. Give me only the love of you, and your grace: that is enough for me.

And this year there's  a beautiful suggestion for a ritual to go with the Suscipe to begin and end the day, at  God in All Things - have a look...

And as a New Year's gift I share with you something my spiritual director gave me: a prayer based on Ephesians 3:14-21. I think it goes well with the Suscipe - a glimpse of what 'your love and your grace' might really be like.

I pray you, according to the riches of your glory, grant that I may be strengthened in my inner being with power through your Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith, as I am being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that I may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that I may be filled with all the fullness of God.