Category: UK


AMDG

P1050059This a month of exciting new beginnings and sad farewells in Manchester.  When I started this job the provincial used a great image of the university chaplain being like the person who stands at the feeding station at the marathon.  You are there to give whatever help you can and then they are gone …. flying past, into the adventure of life.  We have already met some wonderful new students in welcome week – and I am filled with optimism for the year ahead.  We have great potential to build a special community.  However that optimism is tinged with sadness as we say farewell to some special friends.  One in particular has gone back to Damascus to be a lecturer.  As there are no flights into Syria – her father met her in Beirut and they drove across the border together.  We have all been praying for her on this dangerous journey – but she arrived back safe, and has sent us an email that I have permission to share ( an edited version)

 

Dear Fathers, I hope you are all well and in good health. I arrived to Damascus on Thursday; it was a long but safe journey. Today I went with my dad to university because I do not feel confident enough to be on my own in a city that I no longer know. Damascus has changed so much. Most women wear veils and this makes me feel very sick and very angry. Public transport is quite expensive because of the situation. It is relatively safe in my town where I live with my family. In the city centre and near university it is quite safe at the moment.  I still feel very scared every time I hear the M16, drones and all sort of weapons. It seems talking about weapons has become very familiar here among people. Relatives come to see me and all they talk about is weapons or war. I went to a small catholic church near my house this evening; it was lovely to be there and to be able to say the liturgy in Arabic. I do miss Holy Name.  I have to start preparing and designing my lectures.  Please do stay in touch!  May God bless you all and deliver you from every evil.  United in Jesus,  ******* .

So we keep her in our prayers at daily mass and her family – I have told her that she will be one of the keys in rebuilding Syria and bringing peace back.  Turning back to Manchester  I spied a great bit of advice for new Catholic students on the Jesuit homepage, created by Henry Longbottom who was with us for a few months.  It is an excellent reflection…. pass it on.

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.

Reintegrating Prisoners

AMDG

1376142163There has been a very interesting development with our Foodbank the last couple of weeks.  We are suddenly receiving a lot of referrals from the Probation Service.  As they attempt to reintegrate former prisoners back in to civilian life, it is famously hard for those used to an institutional life to cope on their own again.  We know that the recidivism rate is a source of concern (the rate of ex-prisoners re-offending on release), and that there are many strategies attempting to reduce this.  So it is great if the Foodbank can assist in anyway.  Our ‘front of house’ students are trained to be non-judgmental of anyone who is referred to the Foodbank.  It is the job of our referral agencies to decide who is in genuine need, not our job.  We just assist in giving out the food and offering advice about where else to go.  Usually people are incredibly grateful for the help they get, and the students do a great job at welcoming them, making them feel relaxed, helping to ‘signpost’ them on to other support.  

National Probation Service (1)However last week there was interesting development.  One guy, referred by the probation service,  came in and was very angry at being given a bag of Tesco-value tea-bags.  ‘I’m not an animal’ he said angrily to the students.  Another guy came in and rejected half of the food that was given to him.  The emergency food provision – is carefully measured out, nutritionally balanced, under guidelines given by the Trussell Trust.  So having half of it thrown back in their faces, because the guy didn’t like tomato sauce or couldn’t be bothered to carry cans was a bit galling.  However they all kept their cool, and today we all got together and had a brief reflection on the experience.  It was  interesting to consider the issue facing ex-prisoners as they attempt to reintegrate, maybe they are a bit institutionalized after years locked up, used to the same menu.  Another possibility is perhaps a ‘chip on their shoulder’ about being locked up – and how they feel civvies view them.  Also with the first chance to exercise choice in a long time it maybe that their reactions are a bit exaggerated. 

It also more evidence that as the state rolls back it support, and there is no strong family unit in place to takes is place – more and more pressure is being put on voluntary groups, often faith-based ones to fill in the gap.

AMDG

I’m giving an advent day of reflection in Gorton today – thought I’d share my reflection below

impatientHave you noticed how quickly technology moves from being a luxury to an essential …..  When Television was invented it for many years it was only to be seen in rich houses, but now we can’t imagine not having a television, often a large flat screen, digital …. So we moved from thinking about television as being a luxury , now it is a necessity.  The same is true about cars, computers,  mobile phones and now not just an internet connection but a fast connection. A modern problem is when can’t connect.  Our mobile phone signal is patchy – and we get angry and frustrated.   Our internet connection is slow and we start clicking the mouse furiously or open new tabs.  All of this incredible digital stuff wasn’t around 20years ago but now our expectations have been raised……    The digital revolution is speeding things up – but the result is this – we are in danger of losing the habit of patience and the practice of waiting…..  Advent is about waiting  ……waiting in hope and waiting in joy………. this is an important part of Christian life.

maxresdefaultThere is a beautiful image in scripture of the watchmen waiting for the dawn.  For millennia, before our scientific age, when we didn’t understand how our solar system operates – there was always this slight nagging uncertainty about would the sun rise again? Panic ensued during a solar eclipse.  In the far north when the Arctic Winter means a perpetual twilight for weeks – when the sun rises for the first time in weeks – communities go out to greet the rising of the Sun .  This is in image that John Paul II was fond of as we approached the third millennium – to be alert waiting for sunrise  – watchmen and women waiting for the dawn of new hope  that Jesus beings afresh every Christmas.  He often called us to be sentinels of the Gospel, turning our eyes to the future, we confidently await the dawn of a new Day… Quoting Isaiah he said “Watchmen, what of the night?” and we hear the answer: “Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy: for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion”…. “As the third millennium of the Redemption draws near, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity and we can already see its first signs.” May Mary, the Morning Star, help us to say with ever new ardour our “yes” to the Father’s plan for salvation that all nations and tongues may see his glory  (POPE JOHN PAUL II, Message for World Mission Sunday, n.9, October 24th, 1999)

downloadThis waiting is the heart of our prayer.  St Augustine says that God often doesn’t answer our prayers immediately because he is waiting for our hearts to grow so that we can receive all the graces he wants to give us.  Our hearts grow in that silent and joyful, patient ,waiting. So can we prayerfully wait in prayer this advent. Three suggestions – firstly draw closer to the Lord, come to mass more often ( if you are just a Sunday Catholic – than choose one day in the week you can come to) – you are guaranteed the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Secondly in adoration – the faithful silence presence in front of the Blessed sacrament  – there you hearts will grow,  remember that Promise that Moses gives in the book of Exodus (14) –  The Lord will fight for you, you only need to be still, you only need to be silent.  Take all those distraction that prevent you from joyfully waiting – those worries, those wounds and lay them before the Lord in adoration. Thirdly watch and wait with the Rosary – praying your beads compels you to slow down – as you go round in a circle, That rhythm can become a rhythm of hope.  If you drive hang  your rosary  round the rear view mirror – when you are stuck in traffic – instead of getting angry or impatient take it down – keep a list of names of people you can pray for in the car…..

Remember advent is a great opportunity to slow down and rediscover the art of waiting and hoping and growing your heart in expectation.

Debating Atheism

AMDG

The lecture theater filling up

The lecture theater filling up

I was invited today by Manchester Students Debating Union to oppose the motion ‘This house would not believe in God‘.  Speaking for the motion was the Philosopher Helen Beebee, and another atheist philosopher who I forget his name.  Opposing it was myself, Writer and Columnist Peter Hitchens and a professor of Biblical Studies…..  we lost (boo hoo!) … overwhelmingly, it seems that atheism is the new cool.  Anyway for what it is worth I am posting up my speech.  It is interesting to note that 250 students attended – sitting in the aisles – so the question holds great interest to them 

Thank you for inviting me to speak today – I strongly commend the Debating Society for organising this debate.  To believe in God or not to believe in God is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life.  My speech has two parts – 1. God as a concept  …… 2. How useful or dangerous is faith?

1.   God as a concept

I studied philosophy at Edinburgh Uni, before I even considered the priesthood.  We looked at a lot of analytical philosophy, discussions about what could be said and what could not be said.  Famously a school of philosophy called the logical positivists had said that the statement ‘ God exists’ was cognitively meaningless – i.e. saying God exists didn’t tell us anything meaningful about what we can know of the world out there.  Why was it meaningless?  ‘God exists’ could not be empirically tested, nor did it contain its truth within itself, like an analytical statement would e.g. 2+2=4.  It was therefore meaningless…..

How does religion talk about God? Often the starting point is through its sacred texts – e.g. The Bible / The Koran.  Believers call this revelation – revealed truth.  If we don’t accept the idea of revelation then in many ways the Logical Positivists are right – language reaches its meaningful limits when we start talking about God.  This is called the problem of religious language.  Faced with this problem we have two options –either the existence of God is meaningless – which is tantamount to saying God as a concept is irrelevant  (first way) –  or the second way is that we are humble in front of the mystery of our limitations – i.e. just because we don’t know – it doesn’t mean we have to dismiss it.

wittgensteinAt this point in my studies I discovered the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein who would become a hero of mine. What I love about Wittgenstein is his philosophy is based on a deep engagement with the world.  He wasn’t just living in an Ivory Tower – He was a stretcher bearer in the First World War – he taught young children in a rural school.  He published 2 major works  –…. The first one the Tractatus is a masterpiece in Analytical Philosophy – and he gets to that impass I just described, the limits of language and opts for the humble approach. The famous last statement says Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.  He was humble in front of the mystery of what we don’t know.

 The second major book was the Philosophical Investigations and he changed his views radically.  He realised the analytical approach was limited. Because we think in words – We have no access to our own minds, non-linguistically. The meaning of words is formed by what we do, Language acquisition is how we learn to act as we are growing up ….. In the same way we have no access to God, independently of our life and language or ‘language games’ as he called them.  So talking about God only makes sense within a religious language game.  So to answer the question about the existence of God is not about analysing a word or an idea, the existence of God becomes a question of how credible that language game is.

So we can debate God as an idea – it may be intellectually stimulating – but we will never convince each other with way – but maybe very congenial over a couple of glasses of wine…… If we are serious about this question we need to look at how people of faith live and judge that – and I think that becomes much more fruitful.

2. Faith is it useful or dangerous?  

My answer to that is both – there is good faith and bad faith. For me it’s quite simple good faith encourages you to love more – bad faith increases hate and sectarianism.   It’s best if I stick to my faith.  I am 39 years old. When I was 23 I left my girlfriend who I was deeply in love with and started training to become a priest – you know Catholic priests can’t marry.  It was a big sacrifice – and one I made grudgingly. But we both knew that I wouldn’t be fulfilled unless I tried this out.  I joined an order of Catholic priests called the Jesuits –  we are known for our long and rigorous training. Pope Francis is a Jesuit. The first two years I was a Jesuit novice – it is a probationary period.  I was sent to work in Brixton Prison, Teach in a comprehensive School in London & live with Gypsys in Ireland.  The heart of these two years is a thirty day silent retreat called the Spiritual Exercises.  Before then I nearly quit especially during the work in the prison.  During the 30 days of silence I had the most profound experiences of my life – Ever since then I am convinced that God exists. Because of this after my two years as a novice I took perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

I have never yet regretted that decision – not once.  In fact I think I have learnt the meaning of Joy since then, and I have studied 4 more degrees in theology, psychology and education.  I have worked in incredible places. In Tanzania teaching Aids Orphans, in India with the untouchables – training teachers, in North London working with gangs, and in the shanty towns in Manila.   At the heart of this has been my faith in God – God is real to me not just an idea. So it is up to you – to decide whether I am mad or delusional.  But I have seen with my own eyes – on a planet of 7 billion people  religion is increasingly important for the vast majority of them.   Now of course there is good religion and bad religion.

So to conclude – if you want to keep this debate at the level of ideas then we won’t really get  anywhere fast –  its important to realise what a huge influence religion has for good and bad in the vast majority of peoples lives on this planet – and you can judge how important my faith is to me by the decision I’ve made in my life – the experiences I’ve had.  I am a very committed religious person – its up to you to decide whether I am mad or wasting my life.

AMDG

bbcradio4Today we were very lucky to host the Radio 4 Sunday Service here in the Holy Name Manchester .  It has a UK audience of 2.5 million, and  is streamed live all over Europe, as well as being available to listen again for 7 days on the BBC Website.  On the internet it is a global audience.   Because it is live – the timings are very tight – so a couple of times my homily was shortened (I bet the students wish that a Radio 4 producer came to all our masses !)  Here is the original homily I gave on the difference between optimism and hope. 

The wonderful Choir rehearsing for the Radio 4 Broadcast

The wonderful Choir rehearsing for the Radio 4 Broadcast

There is a profound difference between optimism and hope. Today is about hope – the feast of Christ the Universal King – He is the reason for our hope.  Being around so many students here in Manchester fills me with optimism – their energy, their idealism, their passion.  But optimism can be fragile – we can easily get sucked down into swamps of cynicism, or wallow in a culture that delights in mocking.  We have just heard how they mocked Jesus on the cross ‘  If you are the King of the Jews save yourself’  Jesus is not the king of one ethnic group he is the universal King – In the midst of his suffering even the good thief senses this and rebukes them from his own cross – ‘Have you no fear of God?  – and his reward is the promise of Jesus the King of Heaven  – ‘ Today you will be with me in paradise’.  Can you imagine how the good thief’s heart soared with Hope on hearing this unexpected promise? Hope is deeply rooted, Hope is more resilient than optimism, it doesn’t snap in the face of storms, nor does it wither away amidst hostility.   Christian Hope is anchored in two places – firstly our belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, so we can hope in the face of inevitable death, we can even hope in the face of disaster.  And secondly today we anticipate what the Catholic writer J.R.R Tolkien calls the ‘Return of the King’.  That we look forward to Christ the King returning to bring about a new era of justice and peace for all people.  When it seems that there is too much suffering and evil is flourishing, leaders are getting away with oppressing and killing their own people – belief in the return of Jesus is not just wishful thinking, delusional – but is a wellspring of hope.

As a university chaplain I see the potency of that hope every day.  Here in Manchester, our chaplaincy family consist of students from all over the world. They come from so many different situations, and what unites them is their faith, sometimes in the face of terrible persecution. Last week a young man from Pakistan told me how his family home was burnt down 6 months ago in anti-Christian Riots, students from Nigeria tell me with pride about the courage of their families who are going to church today even though there is a continual threat of bombing, the faith and devotion of a student from Syria, who is trying to help her family in Damascus is a constant inspiration.  These are intelligent, professional, scholars, many of them scientists who appear to have an unshakeable hope in their hearts.

Fr Williams Office turned into a live broadcast studio

Fr Williams Office turned into a live broadcast studio

A couple of years ago I was sent to the Philippines for my last year of training as a Jesuit.  Part of that experience was to live in the shanty towns in Manila for a few weeks.  The shanty town was very densely populated – with many people building houses on stilts out into Manila Bay.  When I arrived they were recovering from a very strong typhoon that had destroyed many houses. It was a remarkable experience, to briefly share the lives of these people.  Two things struck me – firstly how resilient they were.  They did not have much – so in the typhoon they had not lost much, and as we helped them rebuild their houses there was great joy and freedom.  Secondly how that resilience was rooted in faith and hope.  This is so evident in the recent disaster in the Philippines. It is has been remarkable seeing how extended families have pulled together, we have seen this these weeks in Cebu and Leyte, how families have travelled to the disaster areas to help feed and rebuild their loved ones. The communities that are present and able to immediately provide that hope are not the politicians but the churches.

Here in Britain we need communities of hope – our students here in Manchester have started the first student-run foodbank in the country.  It is needed because so many have lost the support of family – have no extended family they can turn.   But the student community here gives them hope, when they have to choose between heating their homes and eating – it is our foodbank that they can turn to which helps them through a short-term crisis, without creating dependency and also signposting them to other voluntary support groups.   And it is remarkable how much of this civil society is faith based.  They are communities of hope.

We are called to build communities of hope, the church is called to take risks and we can’t just do it from the safety of the internet. There is a fascinating book by Sherry Turkle, an MIT Professor, called Alone Together – Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.  So let us expect and give more to each other. Pope Francis is challenging us to get out of our digital bubbles, and also to stop hiding behind our ceremonies – and go out and spread our hope especially to the poor. He has said the Church that remains in the Sacristy gets sick.  We are being challenged to become a church that carries the hope that is rooted in our hearts to the edges and margins of society. Are we up to that challenge?

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You can hear  the whole service by clicking on this link

Remembering with Hope

AMDG

disciples-empty-tomb-wallpaper   Taken from Todays Homily

Physical death is inevitable for all of us.  One day our hearts will stop beating, our brains will stop working, our bodies will become stiff and cold, and start to decay. …….  I thought that would cheer you up!  ……..  But that is not the end of the story for us.  Our faith leads us beyond death.  Biological or physical cessation does not mean spiritual death for us.  So this November as we remember the dead…..we must always we remember that our faith is built on the rock of the physical resurrection of Christ – his defeat of physical death.  We can historically prove Jesus’s death. Historians tell me that even the empty tomb of Jesus can be historically proven with recourse to divergent and non-Christian Sources.  But the physical resurrection of Christ is a matter of faith.   It is the physical resurrection of Jesus that gives us hope in the face of our own death.   Some theologians have tried to water this down – but we remember in the gospels that Thomas touched the risen Jesus’s side, that the risen Christ ate with the disciples –these physical details matter.   The  physical resurrection of Christ – this allows us to make sense of death.  In today’s Gospel Jesus encounters the  Sadducees who do not believe in the resurrection.  Jesus is talking to their unbelief  and says  that God is not the God of the dead but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive

mem-127aOur belief in the resurrection and in eternal life  allows us to hope even in the face of terrible killing and slaughter on a massive scale.   Today we remember those who have died in the terrible wars of  the twentieth century – In this country it is called Remembrance Sunday.  It is today because of the end of World War One – On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. Here in the Holy Name in Manchester we have a war memorial with 226 names on it, 226 young men, sitting in these pews who were killed.  Today we remember them especially.  I will ask someone you all know, Michael Keneely to come and lay flowers by their names.  You may not know Michael by name – but you will recognise his face.  Michael is the old man that welcomes you at the back of church when you come to mass.  He was a marine in the Second World War and took part in the D-Day Landings on Sword Beach in Normandy.  It was the D-Day landings that led to the liberation of Europe.  Michael’s brother was later killed in Palestine.   Let’s give him a round of applause as he brings the flowers forward.

AMDG

           This is a modification of Today’s Homily on the Gospel of Zacchaeus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs Jesuits when we pray, we often like to use our imaginations.  We call it imaginative contemplation.  You put yourself in the middle of the Gospel Scene – and watch, and listen and even try and smell & touch what is happening.  Today’s Gospel of Zacchaeus is a wonderful scene to do this with.  Zacchaeus the small tax collector, hated by many people for helping the Romans and becoming rich from his collaboration and probably his corruption.  Jesus is coming and as always attracting great crowds – so Zacchaeus  climbs the tree to see him pass, and Jesus invites him down – and we have this wonderful conversion of Zacchaeus – I’ll give half of what I own to the poor.  Notice the key dynamic with this story – it is through this encounter with Jesus, that his heart changes.   As he scurries down the tree he his joyful, even though everyone is complaining around him.   It is when we encounter Jesus – that our hearts change…..  In the mass we have the perfect setting to encounter Jesus.  We believe that the risen Lord is here amongst us now – that he is uniquely present in his word and in the Eucharist.  But just because we are present here – just because we are sitting in the pews – it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are encountering him.  Zacchaeus hears his invitation and comes scurrying down to meet him, joyfully.  We are here today at mass, and we maybe just going through the motions, here out of duty – it might even have become such a habit that we aren’t really noticing what is going on.  How can we encounter Jesus today if our hearts are not open to him, if we stay sitting up in the tree?  Even more dangerous – we may not feel the need for Jesus.  Zacchaeus knew he needed to be saved from his greedy ways. Look how he promises to give to the poor.  We may be a bit too complacent, a bit too comfortable to encounter Jesus.

NightFever2Pope Francis has a lovely image – of the shepherd who goes out to the save the lost sheep.  He says sometimes in the state of our church today, have lost the 99 sheep and only have one left.  And instead of going out to look for the 99 – we stay in and look after the one we have, like hairdressers fussing over the one sheep. How do we go out prudently and gently evangelise? On Friday night we had a group of 30 students praying in the church – they lit candles all over the place, had beautiful music, and then in groups of two – holding lanterns they waited outside the church and invited people in to light a candle.  Different people came in.  One man said that it was lovely to be invited in – he hadn’t been in a church for 20 years, and then he asked if he could stay a while and just sit.  Others came in and asked to speak to a priest after they had lit their candles.  It was a gentle way of reaching out to the lost 99 sheep as Pope Francis said.  We called the event – Nightfever ( a movement that started in Germany)  – and we will hold it every first Friday of the month.  So be careful that we don’t become too comfortable and too complacent in our faith.  Learn from Zacchaeus – what more can I do?  How can I help the poor – remember being in mass is not enough – we know we have encountered Jesus when our hearts our changed – so let’s sit in silence for a moment – and ask Jesus to help us to climb down from our trees.  How can we encounter him?   In what way can get more involved in our faith???  Don’t be frightened to ask him – here and now.

Widow’s Mite & Spiritual Wounds

AMDG

currencyTwo lovely stories today from the adventure that is the Catholic Chaplaincy at Manchester.  It has been widely reported about the great scandal of loneliness amongst the elderly in our country, ia great shame.  It is alarming the growing intolerance of the old – often seen as a nuisance, slowing our consumerist society down.  Coupled with this is the growing scandal of heating bills and the greed of the energy companies, to which the old are particularly vulnerable. An Old Lady came in this morning – who regularly attends mass.  Very frail, hunched over but with a real spark in her eyes.  I look forward to our weekly conversation.  She told me with tears in her eyes that she was moving back to Newcastle – because she couldn’t afford to heat her flat in Manchester.  According to her the council had ripped out the night storage heaters and updated the radiators.  She has found a smaller flat in Newcastle which is more efficiently heated.  And then stooping down she pulled out a huge jam jar full of 10ps and copper she had been collecting for years!  She wanted me to take it for the church. The widows mite indeed.

images (5)Also we had the foodbank open this morning and an emaciated young man was referred to us.  An essential part of the foodbank is that people are welcomed and sit down and treated to tea and homemade cakes (from the students).  Whilst the food parcels are being prepared, they tell us a bit of their story and we find out more about the nature of their crisis.  This helps us to ‘signpost’ them to other support services they might not be aware of. Talking to one of our students he said how he was struggling to cope with the aftermath of his fathers death.  Evidently a pentecostal  ‘pastor’ had told him that as he was gay he was to never go into a church.  For some reason he had obeyed this idiot  (millstones round necks come to mind) .  The young man  really wanted someone to pray with him for his father.  So to his great relief and delight our student took him into the chapel and they prayed together.  A case of spiritual wounds being harder to cure then the physical wounds of hunger.

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