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AMDG

trollsIt has long been a concern of mine the amount of anger on the internet and the corrosive effect of trolling.   I am particularly concerned with the effect of trolling on the young people I work with.  A major concern for young people is to create an online identity, which makes them particularly vulnerable to trolling – as ridicule, jealousy and betrayal create wounds that are not easy to heal.  The unique environment of the internet creates ‘collapsed contexts’ i.e. the audience is unlimited, and potentially world wide, unlike the normal fixed context of a face to face conversation with a friend or a group of friends.  One aspect of the unlimited context is that when someone is bullied on line or humiliated they start imagining that all of their friends and family have witnessed this (whereas usually a handful of people might have read the comments) .  This then leads to a toxic spiral downwards and self harming or the occasional tragic suicides, that seem to be linked to sites such as ask.fm.

We are building a community on-line and it us up to us what type of community we are building.  Certain people have a lot more power and influence than others – Zuckerberg (Facebook), Schmidt (Google) etc.  With that power comes responsibility and their is little evidence of them taking this seriously.  Have you noticed how  on certain sites, You Tube, Facebook you just expect to see angry and nasty comments whereas on other sites e.g, Flickr – the tone of the comments is much more positive?   I think a link can be made here to the famous ‘broken window’ theory in criminology.   This explanation comes from the original 1982 article in Atlantic Monthly –   Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.Or consider a pavement. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of refuse from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.

The point is that further petty crime and low-level anti-social behaviour will be deterred if you fix the windows and clean the litter, and that major crime will be prevented as a result.  On Facebook and You TBroken windows on an old brick factoryube therefore there are many broken windows, which means that trolls feel very happy to go in and send offensive messages.  However on Flickr and other places informal social controls can be an effective strategy to reduce unruly behaviour.  Effective moderating and community watchmen can change the feel of a website and its comment threads.  Perhaps more political pressure needs to be put on Google (who own YouTube) and Facebook to start taking responsibility.

AMDG        

Homily given at Holy Name Church,  Manchester   15th Sunday  - July 16th 2014

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Today’s Gospel presents a fascinating question for Jesus ‘ Why do you speak to them in Parables’ – This seems to be a question born of the disciples frustration  - you can almost imagine the disciples saying to him – Jesus stop speaking in riddles and just give it to us straight.  The irony is that when Jesus does speak straight particularly when he is predicting his suffering and his death they don’t understand……  Jesus speaks in parables because he is revealing the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.  Understanding a mystery is not like understanding a mathematical equation of a scientific formula  – to understand the truths of the Kingdom of God is not just about logic or reason –  it is nothing to do with how well educated we are, how many degrees we’ve got, in fact intellectual pride can become an obstacle to understanding the mystery that Jesus is preaching –  Certainly Jesus talks about the importance of understanding, but this is the understanding of the heart.  Understanding the Kingdom of God is a process, a journey if you like, a journey of the heart. What the heart understands goes deeper than our intellect, they are truths that we grow into, that we live

Why do you speak in parables?  This to an extent is the same question that we may ask of God, particularly when we are in a dark place, experiencing pain and grief,  we may ask  ‘God where are you, why are you hiding, why don’t you reveal yourself?’  This is why faith is not an easy thing – faith is not a comfortable lifestyle choice – a true living faith stretches us, challenges us, faith calls us to trust and then trust again ……  Be very suspicious of anyone who claims too easily or too glibly to tell you who God is.  Perhaps that is why religious extremism and fundamentalism is so problematic – that desire for certainty, that desire to reduce the mystery of God to something smaller, that we can manipulate – the desire for clarity, can easily come at the expense of others – it is easy to be clear, to be certain when you know who the enemy are.  Ultimately it is a false faith that is built ultimately on hatred and anger – and it is dangerous – we just need to look at the international news to see that.

This easy faith – this certain faith – ultimately is far from the mystery of God, which is the mystery of Love. Today’s parable touches upon this – if we think of the seed as the heart of our faith, the infinitely creative love of God -    like all seeds  this needs nourishing.  Seeds often grow in darkness and silence as they reach for the light – we have to trust in this silence, in those moments of darkness, we have to trust that God’s grace is working – silently  in the rich soil of our hearts.  When we allow ourselves to become superficial, when we are too concerned about the spirit of the age, when we want to ‘fit in’ or we worry too much we are not giving a chance for this seed to grow.

If we look around us – in our day to day lives – the people we know. We work with, our friends, there is a great dissatisfaction with what consumerism offers us…. Sometimes even an exhaustion and a deadly cynicism as a result of this.  But along side this is a great thirst and a hunger for something authentic …. And there is nothing more fundamental then the universal creative love of God – it is the reason that we are all here in the first place.  So if we have the courage to allow that seed to grow in us, if we provide the right conditions for it – an openness of heart, an enquiring faith, times of silence, times of prayer then we will have the integrity to pass on that seed – to those who are searching for it.  Often they will come to us and ask – there is no need to force it, and then – God Willing – we will yield a harvest, maybe a hundredfold, maybe less…..

Let us make that our priority …..  invest in your faith ……  let the seed grow

AMDG

This is the homily I gave yesterday in Sacred Heart Edinburgh for the 14th Sunday, Year C. 

Book_of_eli_posterFour years ago there was a fascinating film released called the Book of Eli (spoiler alerts!).  It was set in a post-apocalyptic America and stars Denzil Washington who is on a special mission taking a valuable parcel to a safe spot on the West Coast of America.  It is a dangerous mission because post-apocalyptic America is lawless, most of the population are dead, no institutions are left standing, there is no law and order – Just groups of violent gangs – killing and robbing…..

It becomes clear that the parcel our hero is carrying is seen as very valuable.  He has to fight off many groups who wish to take it from him, I should warn you that it is quite a violent film.  You are left wondering – what is in this parcel that everyone is trying to get …..  well it is a surprise to find out that is only a book…..  It turns out that in this post-apocalyptic world many libraries have been destroyed and so there is a community that has based itself on a remote Island – where Alcatraz used to be – and the mission of this community is to try to rebuild a library and thus preserve what is left of human knowledge.

Our hero is trying to get the book to this island – then he encounters a gang who realise how precious this book is…. And for the second part of the film they hunt him down…. In one speech the leader played by Gary Oldham says

Don’t you see? It’s not just any book.  It has the power to motivate people. It can give them hope, it can terrify them. It can shape them. Control them. That book is a weapon. Aimed right at the hearts and minds of people,  Just imagine  what I could do with it.

bookofeli011You might have realised by now that the book that he is carrying is the only surviving copy of the Bible….  His mission is to get it to safety.    Another twist is that it comes apparent that our hero is blind – which is a shock when you realise how adept he is at fighting people off.  It becomes clear that he has an incredible sense of hearing and also claims he is being led by the light of his faith…….  Unfortunately towards the end of the film Gary Oldman’s gang catch up with him seriously wounding him and capturing this precious book.  Then the final twist – when the only surviving Bible is delivered to the baddy  – he opens it up to find out that is written in Braille…. He can’t understand it …. Meanwhile the wounded hero has just made it to Alcatraz – aware that he is slowly dying – he waves away treatment because he has an urgent task – and the final scene is him lying down surrounded by secretary’s – as he starts dictating the Book of Genesis …. in his long journey across America he has memorised the whole of the Bible.

This film reminded me how we have lost a sense of the power of the Bible – we take it for granted – for many of us we only expose ourselves to it when we listen at mass – and even then sometimes we are only half-listening.  Gary Oldman’s character is right – the Bible is dangerous when we take it seriously  – The New Testament especially has had a huge impact on shaping the world, even in a secular society – many of our assumptions about justice, about charity, about care, about law – are all hugely formed by the words of the Bible and the New Testament.  It truly has changed societies.

Today’s reading about the Kingship of the Messiah – Zechariah’s prophecy of a king who will bring peace, who will make war obsolete, no need for armies. A king who will ride on a donkey – all of this is turning the logic of the world on its head. Then in the Gospel we hear that the message of this King is only fully accepted by those who become child-like – those who become ego-free, not the childish but those who are child-like. A child who can be blissfully happy in a simple environment, who has a sense of wonder as they discover the world, who has a great openness to life, not preoccupied by status, not worrying about the future – it is only with this childlike openness that we can co-operate with grace, that we can help build this Kingdom.

It is also when we set aside our worries and concerns that we can ‘rest’- Jesus says come to me those of you labour and rest – this isn’t just the rest of sleep – there is a deeper rest than that – there is a recreative rest, have you ever seen a child totally absorbed in play? When we put aside things and get caught up in a great conversation, or absorbed by a fascinating game, or listening to sublime music – it is refreshing, and more than physically resting, it recharges our creative batteries – Jesus wants us to come to him and rest – by savouring his word, by having the courage to go into silent contemplation.

If enough of us take the words of the bible seriously – then they these dreams of a kingdom of peace will become a reality , we will change our lives and become more open. Less interested in ‘Rich Lists’ and ‘Celebrity Culture’ and more in rediscovering wonder and having an open heart. And maybe in a frenetic age – we will rediscover how to rest …. In God’s wisdom and in his love. And that would be worth fighting for ……

Book of Eli on IMDB  (link) 

AMDG

e8fc6da0-c235-4aa6-8fc7-23f12e3029e2HiResI have been enjoying accompanying the Missionaries of Charity on an 8 Day Retreat.  It is always great to see how an Ignatian individual guided retreat (IGR) is so often an experience of renewal. The MC’s founded by Mother Teresa live a very austere and effective form of religious life.  Famously only owning two sari’s, sharing bedrooms, never travelling alone, with all their communities giving hospitality to the poorest of the poor through breakfast clubs, soup kitchens and also summer camps for urban youth.  Alongside all of this is a highly structured day including four and a half hours of prayer.  Because of all of this, the Sisters have a very rich interior life – which means that it is a privilege to accompany them on a retreat.  The normal periods of resistance and adapting to a rhythm of silence and prayer are not ‘issues’ as they may be with other retreatants.  In fact conversely encouraging the sisters to temporarily leave behind a routine of oral prayer and devotion and have the courage to make imaginative contemplations on the Gospel passages and Ignatian themes, and more importantly to give God enough silence and stillness for Him to work in is the challenge.  The fruits are wonderful to witness.

Part of my role in accompanying them is to try and go deeper into the life of Mother Teresa, to understand this remarkable woman who began life in a Loreto convent (an Ignatian order) and ended up being a Nobel Prize Winner and probably the most recognised women on the planet.  Mother always had Jesuit spiritual directors, in fact one played a crucial role in helping her discern ‘the call within the call’ that brought her out of the convent and on to the streets of Calcutta.  However what has struck me most is the anger and sheer hatred that she seemed to generate in some quarters.  Most notoriously from Christopher Hitchens and his documentary / book Hells Angel.  For a couple of weeks now I have been mulling this over, and being in a privileged position to listen to the sisters and witness their work at first hand over a few years his criticisms, few of which are well-founded, have been wildly exaggerated and lacking insight, generosity, compassion.

mqdefaultHitchens epitomises a chattering class that live lives that are ultimately unhappy and frustrated, and so compensate by justifying themselves to each other through a spurious moral superiority. So much of the commentariat are affected by this impotence – the secularist and self-appointed gurus have a very flimsy record in building up civil society and actually changing the world.  It is easy to stand on the side-line and harp, but Hitchens takes this to an unhinged level – so detached from any practical engagement with poverty.   Comparing reading his writings and listening to the Sisters testimony is an interesting comparison of spiritual desolation and spiritual consolation.  Hearing (outside of the confidential confines of Direction) Sisters talk about going in and cleaning the house of two dying alcoholics living in squalor in Liverpool is inspiring and moving.  Time will be the judge of the legacy Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Christopher Hitchens….. although an interesting footnote for me was meeting his nephew Daniel Hitchens this year.  Daniel was an outstanding member of the new intake for Catholic Voices, who train spokesman for the Church.  A recent convert, I asked him why he had become a Catholic, and one of the reasons was because his uncle hated Catholics so much!  Peter Hitchens has written a fascinating book in response to his brothers atheism, called ‘The Rage against God’.  The anger that underpins much of the ‘New Atheism’ is ultimately not constructive, whereas the love that inspires the commitment of the MC’s is creative, and creates hope in the poorest and darkest corners of our world, including urban Britain.

AMDG

Thanks for all the messages about yesterdays homily on Radio 4  (available on listen again for 6 days from now  Link )

 In response for a few requests for a copy of it – below is the original unedited version ( we had to cut it to allow it to fit into a 38min live broadcast) 

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Guido Reni’s St Peter & Paul

In a culture that can seem obsessed with celebrity, that even grades them A-List, B-List etc. – the church celebrates today two of our foremost saints…. Saints Peter and Paul have been called the indispensable men of the early church, Peter with the unique authority that Jesus conferred to him, as we heard in today’s Gospel, Petrus the Rock who is given the keys to heaven, on which Jesus says I will build my church – and Paul the great missionary who first takes the News of the Risen Christ to those outside of the Jewish community. It may be fitting in these days of the World Cup to compare them to a defensive and attacking midfielder, Peter anchoring the team built around him and Paul making ranging runs into the opponent’s box. Different roles, and as any team knows, there may be tensions between their star players, but if that energy can be harnessed and becomes a creative tension, if the egos (and perhaps I should say teeth!) can be kept in check and when we’re playing for the team not for ourselves, when we remember it’s God’s Kingdom rather than our own we’re building – these different but complementary roles can become great channels of grace. Peter and Paul certainly had their differences, notably Paul rebukes Peter in his Letter to the Galatians, for Peter’s decision to stop eating with Gentiles to appease the hardliners in the early church. But Paul always ultimately deferred to the senior apostle.   Both were to die a martyr’s death in Rome, sometime in the AD 60′s, Peter reputedly crucified upside down in the area of Rome known as the Vatican Circus, and Paul beheaded.  Ever since then

Catholics believe that the leadership of Peter has continued down the years in the Popes, some saintly men, others certainly not – and these saints and sinners have exercised what we call the Petrine ministry. It‘s been a great scandal and a great sadness that this Petrine ministry has become a source of division for so many Christians – so much so that Pope John Paul II appealed to all Christians to help him explore how the Petrine ministry could be at service to unity….. a crucial question that we have to take seriously. We can see the damage that inter-religious feuding can wreak, looking at the painful history in our islands, but also now in the poisonous conflict between the Sunni and the Shi’ite.    It is clear after Pope Francis’ recent visit to the Middle East that he, following in the footsteps of  John Paul II, wants his role to be at service to unity.  He surprised the world with his invitation to both the Presidents of Israel and Palestine to join him for prayer – and it was great to see how quickly they responded, joining him in prayer in the Vatican Gardens and giving people a new hope and a new dream of peace.

images (2)Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis – was never meant to be Pope. He’s a Jesuit like me , and when he took his final vows, he took private vows never to seek authority or status in the Church or within our Order – Jesuits call it ‘ambitioning’ and it’s strictly forbidden, as St Ignatius – the founder of the Jesuits saw clerical ambition as one of the main sources of corruption in the Church. In the influential Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius we are asked at one point to meditate on how power, wealth and honour can in a very subtle but deadly way to undermine our commitment to be disciples of Jesus.  So Pope Francis has an inbuilt aversion to careerism in the church……  so how did he become a bishop – let alone sit on the Chair of Peter?  Because as a Jesuit he has also promised special obedience to the Pope – which took priority when first he was asked by the Pope to be a Bishop in Argentina – and then was elected Pope by his peers.

 

I think the other key to understand him is to understand the significance of the Spiritual Exercises.  Jesuit training is called formation – it often lasts for longer that ten years, but the key experience of that formation is a 30 day silent retreat called the Spiritual Exercises.  This is a programme written and honed by St Ignatius which is split into Four Parts.  Each day is split into 5 hour long slots of prayer – interspersed with mass and also a daily meeting with their spiritual director.  The four parts –are referred to as’ weeks’, although the Director decides how long is spent in each week – for some it can be a couple of days, for others it can be up to ten or more days.  For each week there is a grace that is being prayed for and series of meditations which are leading towards that grace. To understand Pope Francis is to see someone who is profoundly marked by the grace of the first week – which is a gentle, but deep and honest assessment of life, warts and all.  And when it is when we honestly look at our mistakes, at how we’ve hurt others and inspite of all of that – we are still loved unconditionally – that our life changes.  It happened to me and I am sure it happened to Pope Francis.  Somehow this sense of being loved inspite of all my messiness – and my sinfulness, as well as being a healing experience it unlocks a great compassion in us.  And more that his simplicity, and his integrity people sense a deep compassion there. And I think there is wonderful parallel with Peter there – who denied Christ three times and was forgiven three times.  Both are leaders who made mistakes early on and have encountered a Risen Christ who is only compassionate.

 

Francis is a man who knows he made many mistakes as young Jesuit – who was thrust into authority at a young age in a toxic political situation in Argentina – the Dirty War.  Through the spiritual exercises he has faced up to this, his mistakes, his weakness, and has experienced that like St Peter – even though he is frail, God still loves him.  He often describes himself as a loved sinner – and someone who has experience of the mercy of God, becomes more and more compassionate themselves.  The courage to go deeply into silence – to honestly assess one’s life and to experience the love of God – as happens so often in the Spiritual Exercises – gives one great freedom – freedom from fear, and also great compassion.  These graces are not instantly available – they take commitment to prayer, the courage to seek silence and the wisdom of a Spiritual Guide.

 

So what about us? As we remember how the risen Jesus undoes Peters threefold denial – by offering Peter the chance to express his love three times ….. so we too are offered that same encounter with the unlimited mercy of God.,  Only this encounter can change hearts and change minds – and an increasingly angry world is thirsting for this.  Let us,  like St Peter, and Pope Francis dedicate our lives to sharing this compassion…..Let us be the blessing which Zechariah recognised was coming from God in Jesus: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel: for he hath visited and redeemed his people.’

 

 

AMDG

_75733908_75733906With the rise of ‘Jihad Tourism’ in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, we are told in the UK that the majority of the resources of MI5 is now spent on tracking British Jihadists. Whilst it is alarming to see masked young men with British accents calling for others to join them, I haven’t seen many intelligent reflections on what is attracting them.  What are the underlying causes?  Sadly sectarian hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims is out of our hands.  However close behind is a hatred of  ‘the West’.  Some of the disillusionment is justified,  most of it isn’t.  Perhaps our culture excludes more that it includes – with a jaded consumerism, a morally bankrupt celebrity culture and a pornography addled internet with an increasingly toxic and angry social media. Secularists seem to be in denial of all of this and the public debate about faith becomes shriller,  with religion being marginalised and often portrayed as being  problematic.

As well as some mosques there seem to be three places were radicalisation often occurs, prisons, the internet and universities.  A brief look at the history of university education in this country may be in order at this point.  Up until the middle ages the universities in these isles were places of theological formation – often run by monastic orders.  Of the seven ancient universities (founded before 1600), three of them were founded by papal bulls (Glasgow, St Andrews, Aberdeen) the rest by royal charters (Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Dublin). After Henry VIII’s schism, Catholics were banned from attending many of these universities, and they became exclusive to Anglican students. In the 19th Century, the new generation of ‘redbrick’ universities, based in the growing industrial cities saw it as their civic duty to accept any students without reference to religious belief, and so were proudly secular.

hospital-chaplain-officeThe universities in Manchester fall into this category and because of this secular background they have an uneasy relationship with religion and its presence on campus.  It is time for them to rethink this. It maybe that things are changing as they realise how chaplaincy services provide valuable student support and can be at a basic level be a useful addition to student welfare provision.   Generally in universities with huge populations of students, (In Manchester 40,000+) – this support for students welfare is inadequate.  More importantly universities need to realise that their most effective weapon against radicalisation is well-funded and supported chaplaincy provision.  Most young people who are serious about faith will adopt a more conservative/traditional religious identity in order to distinguish themselves in a secular and sometimes hostile culture.  A good chaplain can bring experience and wisdom to smooth of some of the harder edges….  universities don’s seem to realise that, students unions often put chaplains in backwaters in freshers week, or their offices in out-of-the-way, hard to find places.  Chaplains often complain of institutional apathy, or obstruction and tokenism from the institutions.  This needs to change.

AMDG

2 of our students with a representative of the myriad foundation

2 of our students with a representative of the myriad foundation

One of the beautiful things to see emerging the last few months is how students of different faiths are helping us with the foodbank. Every few weeks or so a couple of Muslim lads drop by with a car full of food that they have collected from various mosques.  The same day when they paid their last visit we received a cheque for £250 from the local synagogue.  Neither donations had been solicited from either faith community and they were gladly received.  The Muslims run an excellent charity called the Myriad Foundation which aims ‘ To make a positive impact on society and a significant contribution to the community’.  

Another story which was heart-warming  was when two young ladies turned up with two boxes of cakes.  I gratefully received them and asked them what had motivated them to donate them. It turned out that their mother had recently used the foodbank.  She was so grateful that now that she had got out of her temporary crisis, she had held a cake sale to raise money for our foodbank, and so the next week a cheque arrived for a few hundred pounds.

At the recent National Conference of the Trussel Trust – I attended a workshop on how to receive the stories of our clients.  At first we were reluctant to ‘pry’ into the reasons why people were coming for the foodbank.  However we have since learnt that we actually have a duty to give people the option to tell their stories.  It seems that about 80% of the users are all to keen to tell their stories (we have had been able to help over 1,300 people so far).  The Trussel Trust are keen to get their stories’out there’ in order to challenge the negative stereotypes and myths of ‘scroungers’ that seems to poison the public debate about poverty in this country.  The stories initially are taken anonymously and will be posted up on our blog (link), and then the majority of clients give permission to use them with media outlets / or journalists who get in touch – this time with some independent verification.

AMDG

freezerApologies to those who have been sending messages asking me what’s happened to the Blog.  Now that the University Semester has ended I think I have the time and energy to pull it out of the deep freeze….. This year happens to be a special anniversary for the Jesuits, it is 200 years since the universal restoration of the Society.  Somehow I found myself agreeing to design a website and a blog to commemorate this – at the request of the General Curia in Rome.  By Feb I realised that I didn’t have the time / energy to keep the two blogs running so I focused on the Restoration Blog.

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Pombal expelling the Jesuit from Portugal

Cutting a long story short, in the 18th Century, the Jesuits found themselves inside a perfect storm - as the world moved out of the medieval world, with the authority of church and king being challenged, Tradition and faith were often portrayed as being opposed to reason, individual enquiry and the scientific method, The old order was being challenged – some monarchs tried to respond by creating a political system  ‘enlightened absolutism’ or ‘enlightened despots’ which seems to be a bit of an oxymoron. In religious terms, many thinkers, sick of the wars between Catholics and Protestantism that had torn Europe apart,  There was a backlash against the political influence of organised religion, and new ideas were suddenly debated including deism and atheism.

In this climate, the Jesuits were under serious pressure,  Their influence was seen as to great, their thriving missions were too successful and often a thorn in the side of Colonialists, and an emerging trading class who were making a lot of money. So starting with Portugal they were expelled from a succession of European Countries and their colonies.  This political expulsion was followed by a canonical suppression, as Pope Clement XIV universally suppressed the Society of Jesus in 1773.  The Empress of Russia refused to promulgate the papal bull – so the Society of Jesus was left in limbo until their universal restoration in 1814, hence the anniversary this year.  If you want to read more, the blog is at www.sj2014.net

AMDG            Yesterdays Homily for the feast of the Presentation given in Oxford 

touching-the-void-posterA few years ago I read a book called Touching the Void – it was one of those books that you can’t put down and I thing I read it in three sittings in the space of 24 hours…… it told the story of climber called Joe Simpson and his friend who had a climbing accident in a remote mountain in the Andes…….. After breaking his leg, his friend lowered him down, attached by a rope, in rapidly worsening conditions, till eventually he was lowered off a cliff. Finding themselves at a dangerous impasse, he had to make an excruciating choice, they wither both wait and die, or he cuts the rope abandoning his friend to almost certain death, but probably survives himself.

He cut the Rope.

Amazingly his friend was to survive, and crawl back to the base six days later.…………However  going back to that night when the rope was cut, he fell and landed on a ledge.  When he was sitting on the ledge, alone, forsaken …. and staring death in the face, Joe Simpson decided there was no God.  He encountered  a void……  He would have experienced what St Ignatius would refer to as an acute desolation.   The recently canonised Jesuit Pierre Favre, talks about intense experiences in prayer ‘where God withdraws his presence’. Not permanently ….. but in a way to teach us when we are in danger of taking God for granted.  In the time of the Ezekiel, about 600 years before the birth of Christ – he predicted a chilling prophecy ‘ That the Glory of the Lord would leave the Temple’ .  This would be devastating news for the people, that temple was where humans and God were reconciled;  it was the unique place to encounter God, the one place where sacrifice to God was allowed.  Can you imagine how the People must have felt when Ezekiel prophesied that the Glory of the Lord would leave the temple’.  The temple would soon be destroyed by the Babylonians,  for the Jewish People it was a communal experience of touching the void.

images (1)So we can appreciate today’s readings, and particularly the Joy of the Prophets Simeon and Anna in the light of this experience of desolation.   Firstly we heard the Prophet Malachi in the first reading,  ‘And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek,’  – this prophecy would give great hope….. but none would expect the manner of the Lord’s coming.  And so today we hear how the child Jesus is presented before God in the Temple. We are told that Simeon is awaiting the consolation of the people Israel – and as he holds this child in his arms he believes this promise is finally fulfilled .  With the eyes of a prophet he recognises the presence of the Lord in this small child, and utters the words of that beautiful prayer ‘The Nunc Dimitiss’ which is said by millions of us each night at Compline.  Similarly the prophetess Anna, having spent years of prayer and fasting in the temple in anticipation of this moment, she rejoices in the Lord having returned to the temple.

The return to the temple of the Lord has profound significance for Christians on two levels….. Firstly in the physical, historical presence of the Lord – the presence of God on this planet is transformed.  In the incarnation – God is no longer limited to the Temple…. No longer limited to one city, one place.  Christ’s Body becomes the Temple – so as he dies on the cross, the curtain in the Temple that veils the Holy of Holies mysteriously is torn into two.  Then on the second level – the temple is the place of sacrifice, bulls and goats, doves and incense were offered to be burnt as thanksgiving offerings, guilt offerings, offerings at key moments in life e.g. childbirth.    When the Lord is presented in the Temple he will become the sacrifice that fulfils all other offerings – and we continue this sacrifice every day when we pray the beautiful prayer of the mass.  However in the sacrifice of the mass, the most beautiful prayer we can make, we relive the greatest sacrifice of all, Christ giving his body and blood for the sins of the world.  His sacrifice trumps all else – and this prayer is being offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week all over the world, in great cathedrals and in simple chapels, in the heart of great cities and on the tops of mountains, in schools and universities and in rainforests.

So as the Lord is presented in the temple – let us renew our devotion to the mass – to Christ’s presence in the Liturgy of the Word and in the Eucharist, and in and amongst each other.  We are not alone – we are not abandoned – sitting on an icy edge of life,  when we gather together for mass, mysteriously we are in the real presence of God – whose grace works quietly and patiently transforming our hearts and our lives.

Generosity & Happiness

AMDG

Todays Homily 

If you want to be happy in life then be generous – generous with God and generous with your neighbour……  There are phenomenal examples of generosity in today’s readings.

GenerosityFirstly we have the generosity of Jesus.  We are told today how he is informed about John the Baptists arrest and later his death. We remember that John was Jesus’s cousin – so this is not only the death of someone who Jesus esteems as the greatest of all prophets – this is also family. Jesus – fully human and fully divine – would have felt this like we would react to a close member of our family. Let us remind ourselves how John was killed.  After being imprisoned by King Herod – he was beheaded and his head was presented on a plate to Salome….  This is a particularly cruel and grotesque death – very public – humiliating….. How would you feel if your cousin died in such a manner?  How did the family of Lee Rigby feel when he was butchered to death on a London street and his crazed attackers.   Jesus doesn’t lick his wounds, he doesn’t harbour bitterness in his heart for Herod – he throws himself into his public mission – calling for repentance and calling his first disciples to follow him.  This is the generosity of Jesus -  Giving himself fully to his mission

Call-of-Simon-PeterSecondly let us look at the generosity of his first disciples Simon and Andrew, James and John.  We are told that they respond to Jesus invitation – I will make you fishers of men – immediately, they dropped their nets and followed him.  There is no haggling with Jesus – there is no …. Let me think about it …. Can I get back to you.  These are hearts open to God – and generous with their responses ….. in other Gospels we are told that James and John were with their boats , father and hired men, so it is clear they have a little fishing business going – if they can afford to hire others to work from them.  So their generous response is against the backdrop of this comfortable life.

Why are generous people happy – because it is in generosity that we imitate God.  The creation of the world and of life is understood by the Church as a free act of creative love – the generous creativity of the divine.  God will not be outdone in generosity – and in some ways our being generous triggers God’s blessings.  It is not like some pastors will have you believe that you will become materially rich – it is a different type of wealth – you will become rich in your spirit.   Gods blessings are already there – it as though being generous makes your heart grow, and it can contain Gods more and more of Gods blessings.

ST Ignatius Loyola – wrote a beautiful prayer about generosity – many of the pupils in our Jesuit schools have to learn this off by heart – it goes like this –

Lord, teach me to be generous.

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and not to ask for reward,

save that of knowing that I do your will.

Lets sit quietly for a moment and think – in which areas of my life can I become more generous?

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