Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hallowe'en for some

For Catholics, of course, it's Hallowe'en tonight since we're keeping All Saints' Day tomorrow, because 1 November is a Saturday this year and Hallowe'en is of course All Hallows' Eve (I hope you're taking notes at the back there - there'll be questions later. And if you know the answers, please tell me. In words of one syllable, preferably). 

We've all got different thoughts about Hallowe'en, I suspect. For some good thoughts on keeping it all in proportion, see The Beaker Folk; for a consideration of some of the real dangers, see iBenedictines    

In a previous parish, we had Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction on Hallowe'en night, and prayed for all the streets of the parish by name, for protection and peace. Some of the local children saw the church lights on while out trick-or-treating, and came in. They sat quietly with us for a while in their witch and ghost costumes. Some people of a fastidious or traditionalist bent might have demurred, but I thought it was rather lovely; of course it meant too that I could explain to them what the occasion was really all about in the Christian calendar. 

Have a glorious All Saints' Day, and may we enjoy the prayers and friendship of all the saints. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Unity and Community

Back in September the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham held a series of events under  the banner of Called To Be One - open invitations to anyone interested to come and find out what the Ordinariate is all about.  I was invited to give a reflection at Evensong at the end of the event we held in our parish. I thought I'd share it here...

Poor old Ahaz, in our first reading (Isaiah 7). He demurs from asking God for a sign: perhaps he thinks he’s being humble or pious, or maybe he prefers to be self-sufficient. How do you discover what God is asking of you? Do you struggle on your own to work out an answer, or do you sit back and wait for divine revelation? A good discernment will alway, I think, be a mixture of both. Many of us here who have made the journey into the Catholic Church have done so after a time of agonising deliberation; not a few of us, I suspect, will have come to the point where we could only say to God, ‘your will be done. Show me…’

The sign that Ahaz is promised (despite his avowed independence!) is the sign of Emmanuel: God with us. Literally the word means with-us-God. Not ‘me and my God’; God with us… plural. One of Pope Benedict’s favourite words is gemeinschaft. It’s often translated as ‘community’, but that is an inadequate word. Gemeinschaft describes a group of people where togetherness itself is the goal, where values, ideas and faith are shared. Not like a group of people on a bus: they may have a common destination but each one is going there for his or her individual needs. There are rules on the bus - no smoking, no spitting, no speaking to the driver - which are largely obeyed; the passengers may form a community of sorts, but they are separate individuals: each one the centre of their own little universe.

The sign of Emmanuel has been part of the discernment of everybody here today. Among those who have joined the Catholic Church some made the discernment as a community; others of us have had to grow into one. What we have tried to do today is share a little bit of what that means to us, and how we have experienced gemeinschaft in the Ordinariate. All of us here right now, though, are here because of the gemeinschaft we share already: ‘all who have been baptised have put on Christ’: we are ‘all one in Christ Jesus’.

Those are words from tonight’s second reading (Galatians 3) where very early on we hear that uncomfortable little word sin. We can’t consider disunity without it. Isaiah’s prophecy of how the sign of Emmanuel will appear - the lion and lamb - is manifestly not fulfilled yet, not because of God’s indifference but because of our fallenness. Neither do we - any of us - live as though there really is ‘neither Jew nor Greek; slave nor free; male nor female.’ We still need the rules on the bus, and to feel the pain of the disunity they bring to us all, but they are not God’s ultimate dream for us.

Pope Francis addressed us all when he said recently, ‘We know well the sins against unity - jealousy, envy, apathy - which come about when we place ourselves at the centre… God’s will, however, is that we grow in our capacity to welcome one another, to forgive and to love, and to resemble Christ. May we all examine our consciences and ask forgiveness… and may our relationships mirror more beautifully and joyfully the unity of Jesus and his Father.’

Wherever the journey takes you, take care to seek the places where you encounter Emmanuel - God with us. To what deeper ‘us’ are you being called?

Thursday, 16 October 2014

What we're called to be

Credible and joy-filled witnesses
...according to Pope Francis at yesterday's General Audience . I don't want - or need, I think - to comment. Isn't that enough? Wouldn't it be more than enough, if that's what we all truly were?

Picture credit: Getty Images. Just because I liked it. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Blood Moon and Blessed JHN

What connects them, other than this being the day after the lunar eclipse and the feast-day of Blessed John Henry Newman?

Perhaps simply my wonder at the fact that the Love and Reason (hallmarks of the power of God, as Pope Benedict loved to remind us) which align the stars and planets could also be the 'kindly light' which led this one man's heart to the place where he found peace, 'like coming into port after a rough sea.'

Newman, theologian and philosopher, made this remarkable statement: 'From the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no variations to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever.'

From someone of a lesser mind than Newman's this would sound facile, like laziness or infantilism. And I include myself in that! So dare I say that for me, the goal presented by Newman's statement means above all no longer having to argue,  to seek to prove or defend what I believe in an antagonistic, point-scoring way. It's a challenge to resist being drawn into competitive debates that ultimately get no one anywhere. It's an invitation to see evangelisation differently - and still to be fervent about doing it.

Blessed John Henry, pray for us.

O God, who bestowed on the Priest Blessed John Henry Newman the grace to follow your kindly light and find peace in your Church; graciously grant that, through his intercession and example, we may be led out of shadows and images into the fullness of your truth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Synod on the Family

I'm still naive enough to be shocked now and again by intemperate language. I don't mean rude words: I have a good stock of those myself, and they can be quite useful on the right occasion.  No, I mean the kind of 'witty' remark (usually only so in the ears of its utterer) which is delivered without regard to those present who might be hurt by it.  

There are many opinions, hopes and fears around as the Synod on the Family opens in Rome. For wise reflection, as always, see Digital Nun; and visit the Eastbourne Ordinariate Mission for prayers about the Synod (and add your own petitions).  Not everyone is as thoughtful or prayerful as these bloggers, though.  I was saddened by 'jokes' I heard about 'votes for adulterers', which surely won't help or edify anyone.  So here is Duccio's painting of the woman at the well (John 4:1-42); of course I think also of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11). We don't know the names of either of these women; might we, though, not ask their prayers for an understanding of God's merciful justice as we would of any of the New Testament saints who had a life-changing encounter with Jesus?

There are things on the Synod's agenda which touch my heart - and those of people I care about. I hope we are all able to pray not for what might be good for us as individuals but 'for our good and the good of all His holy Church.'

As Digital Nun says, 'The whole Church, not just the Synod participants, has a particularly important role in praying not only for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Synod’s deliberations but in the acceptance and implementation of its conclusions afterwards.'  Those of us who are still damp after our swim across the Tiber might need to remember that Synod now means something different to us as Catholics from what it might mean from within a 'church run by a debating society'. (I hope those words won't offend anyone; they're not my own. I know, I'm risking being guilty of the very thing I'm describing.)

Today's reading at Morning Prayer was James 2:12-13:

Talk and behave like people who are going to be judged by the law of freedom, because there will be judgement without mercy for those who have not been merciful themselves; but the merciful need have no fear of judgement.

I quote it above all to myself...

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Asking for it

Id Quod Volo - dogs are very good at it
Here's another piece for The Portal...

In one of the scurrilously brilliant Julian and Sandy sketches from the 1960s radio series Round The Horne, Kenneth Horne visits the Bona Gift Boutique. As he browses the shelves, Hugh Paddick's  character Julian counsels (in a tone which suggests that this is part of his philosophy of life), 'If you don't see what you want, Ducky, ask for it!'

Useful advice too (oh dear, this sounds like a particularly clunky sermon-opener!) for the life of prayer - or is it? St Ignatius Loyola tells us that one of the preludes to any time of prayer should be to 'ask for what I desire' - id quod volo. Of course, within the structure of the Spiritual Exercises we are told what this should be: joy, sorrow, compassion, etc. depending on where we are in the dynamic of the Exercises. If you don't see the grace you need in your life, ask for it. All well and good. But what about the things we actually desire? Is it all right to ask for them?

St Teresa of Avila says somewhere that petition - asking for things - is a good practice for beginners in prayer. The trouble is, when we read something like that, we can tend to imagine a kind of hierarchy of prayer; we don't notice that St Teresa includes herself among the 'beginners'. Naturally we will want to explore what we see as the enticing higher planes of the spiritual life. We become bored and impatient with the foothills - fine for children and new Christians, but we feel we should be capable of better.

Actually, I believe God is everywhere in the landscape. Anything, if it is brought into dialogue with God, can become real and precious prayer - even the humblest faltering petition. If I hear suddenly that someone I love is ill, or has been in an accident, I'm not likely to sit calmly down and do some Lectio Divina. My instinctive prayer will probably be nothing but a garbled 'please, please...'  That's prayer which is real, from the heart. A surrendered silence where I can listen to what God says in response may come later, but it's not better or higher prayer, or prayer more pleasing to God - just different. After all, who was it said we should become like little children (who know all about asking for things, and not so much about doing it elegantly or subtly), and who taught his friends a prayer full of petitions?

Yes, but... Prayer for healing or forgiveness is of course a good thing. What if 'that which I desire' is not quite so good? Am I still supposed to ask God for it? What if my desire right now is that X, who has hurt me, should meet with an unfortunate accident involving a sewage tanker; or that - well, you can supply your own examples: I don't want to give too much away about mine! When St Teresa said petitionary prayer was good for beginners she told us why: because when we hear ourselves speak our desires out loud we can allow God to change and purify them. After all, God already knows the depths of our hearts; it's when we suppress or deny what's there that it can fester and grow out of proportion. Shame is far more destructive than any desire.

And, before Teresa, St Augustine had come to realise that beneath all the disordered desires of his colourful youth was the one longing 'to love and be loved'.  It's true for us all, under even our most shabby desires. God will help us discover that truth, and answer our longing, if only we tell him about it. 

Pope Benedict on Creation

... A plug, in case anyone's interested. Here's the blurb for a day I shall be leading next month:

Saturday 11 October 2014, 11am - 4pm
From God's Good Earth:
A Day With Pope Benedict XVI on Creation
at the London Spirituality Centre, Lombard Street EC3V 9EA

"God created the universe in order to enter into a history of love with humankind."

"We must not in our day conceal our faith in creation. We may not conceal it, for only if it is true that the universe comes from freedom, love and reason, and that these are the real underlying powers, can we trust one another, go forward into the future, and live as human beings."

An invitation to engage heart and mind as we consider the theology and spirituality of creation under the guidance of Pope Benedict's homilies on Genesis, which he gave in 1981 as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.  This will be a day of recollection offering a balance of input and time for quiet personal reflection, as well as a chance for dialogue within the group.

See, email info[at] or call 020 7621 1391