Tag Archive: Christ


This is a copy of the homily given at Holy Name Church on Sun 21st September, 12pm Mass.  Gospel Matt 20:1-16, First Reading Isaiah 55:6-9

Why be envious because I am generous?

1360aPerhaps today’s gospel is the most unpopular parable by Jesus that is recorded in the Gospel.  It is a story that when we listen to it offends our sense of justice.  Why do those who have done one hours work get paid the same as those that have done a heavy days work in the heat of the day?  It doesn’t seem fair. You can understand how upset you might feel if that happened to you.  It is very annoying when we are waiting patiently in a queue and someone walks to front and jumps the queue.  It is not fair. What is Jesus trying to tell us in this parable?  Things seem to be unfair ……..Sometimes the richest parts of the scriptures are those that we have to wrestle with – were it is not so simple to grasp the meaning -

When we focus on God in this parable – God  is tireless in his desire for souls   – he is seeking out for labourers all day – he is happy to hire the rejects and desires to pay them a full days wage –    he is happy to bring into the vineyard those who had given up hope, those who had been discarded. This image of God is underlined in the first reading of Isaiah – God is rich in his forgiving . Compare this rich, generous God, merciful and free with the self centeredness of the labourers.  How quickly they have a sense of entitlement – forgetting to be grateful for their employment. The disgruntled labourers have become self focused – self centred – like children complaining – with a  narrow sense of justice – Feeling sorry themselves they are obsessed with the latecomers.

It is when we are limited by our human selfishness, with our narrow sense of Justice – when we are victims of a narrow self centeredness  that the words of the first reading are so powerful – god says in Isaiah ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts –  the heavens are as high above the earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts’. 

This difference between how God sees the world and how we see the world – is referred to by St Ignatius as consolation and desolation.  When we start to glimpse the world as God sees it – in a loving creative way, in a free way, in a way full of hope and possibility, and we start to live our lives from this vision – we call this spiritual consolation.  When we are mean spirited, with a narrow sense of justice, with start to resent others generosity, we can become narrower and narrower.  When we forget to be grateful for so many gifts and blessings in our life, we become like the grumbling labourers in the Gospel – turning on the one who has given us so much.

Why be envious because I am generous?

So as this academic year starts in the universities, as a new political year starts with party conference season, let us make an honest and searching examination of conscience,  Where have I become mean spirited in my life?  How am I like the grumbling workers?   Who’s generosity and who’s goodness have I become envious of?

With all these new beginnings, Let us be sure to surround ourselves with people who inspire us with generosity, who are open, who are loving, and avoid those who draw us into that narrowness.  IF we keep our focus on God we will be drawn out of ourselves.

AMDG

Tracy_Caldwell_Dyson_in_Cupola_ISSAt the beginning of the Second Week of the Exercises Ignatius presents us with the Contemplation on the Incarnation.  This has two main elements, he asks to us imagine the Trinity looking down on the world, seeing  and hearing all that is happening, births, deaths, wars, peace etc…   The decision to intervene by seconding the second person of the Trinity (the Son) is made.  Then in the contemplation, we zoom in, Google Earth style, to Mary’s house in Nazareth and the Angel visiting her.  Mary’s ‘Fiat’ – her Yes – is one word that history turns on.  We know how courageous this ‘yes’ is for young women in a culture that has brutal punishments for those unmarried women who bring shame no their families.

bbc-nativity-maryMary’s fiat - ‘ Let it be done unto me’  – is central in the Catholic understanding of the Incarnation – she gives her assent to cooperate with Divine Grace.  I remember being invited to watch a preview of the BBC produced ‘Nativity‘ in Soho in 2010 – it is an excellent production that was shown in four parts.  After the preview some of the producers bounded up to me – seeing that I had been visibly moved and wanted to know my reaction.  I said I thought it had been brilliant but that they had made one mistake. The wide grins started to fade and with furrowed brows they asked me what mistake –  I replied ‘ Well in this version Mary said no to the angel’ …. the brows became more furrowed and the smiles vanished,   moving on to the next person, they said indignantly ‘there’s no right or wrong’.

A wonderful poem on Mary’s fiat is by Bishop Robert F Morneau ….. and yes I know this doesn’t take into account the Immaculate Conception (before you write in) …. but even if theologically not quite correct it opens a new vista onto Mary’s fiat…

 

Annunciation

Were others asked?
A lassie from an isle in a distant sea?
A maiden in North Africa
or a slave girl from the Congo?
How many times were angels sent
and returned, unheard, unheeded?
Was Mary tenth on salvation’s list.
Or the hundredth?
And you, my soul.
was fiat spoken
when the angel came?

 

AMDG

loyola2Thanks for all the messages on this feast of St Ignatius…..  I have fond memories of celebrating this feast in Tanzania in recent years with our pupils, and in India with the Dalits, and in Manchester with some of the students.  This year seems special, here at St. Beunos, in North Wales, directing the 30 days – in the silence of the Exercises, at the beginning of the Second Week.  Now our retreatants are praying for a growing interior knowledge of Christ. Having meditated on the Call of the King they are now contemplating, step by step, the life of Jesus.    After the intensity of the First Week it is a rich and vivid journey they are making, using imaginative contemplation. If we are to remember Ignatius for anything – it is not necessarily for the Jesuits, for our works, for the apostolates – Ignatius knew that we are founded to serve the church, to help souls.  Famously Ignatius said if we were to be disbanded it would take 15 mins in the chapel for him to reconcile himself to that.

The heart of St Ignatius is found most clearly in making the Exercises.   That is a legacy of his that we can never lose.  This uniquely transformative tool that has changed so many lives.  And in the privilege of giving the exercises, I feel very close to him.   One of the things we are encouraged to do is review our own notes of the Exercises we made in Tertianship.  I was in Manila – three years ago – and during the second week I read a biography of St Ignatius by the Basque Historian José  Tellechea Idígoras.  It is the best biography I have read.  I have been thinking a lot over the past few days about how Ignatius would ‘give’ the Exercises.  There were no retreat houses in his day, no en-suite facilities!  He would invite someone he had got know, for whom he thought it would be profitable. They would often stay in a spare room in his house and he would meet them after dinner to listen, to help and then set them points for the next day.  Maybe we need to renew that practice ourselves…..   and then there is beautiful description Idigoras leaves us with of Ignatius….  you can imagine him towards the end of his life…. perhaps leaving the house after having met his exercitant….

He wore a simple austere cassock and fought off the cold with a large cloak.  When he left the house he wore a voluminous cape and a broad brimmed hat with attached chords that he tied to his chin. It was impressive to see him walking in the street. He was always going, because of some business, to some specific place or to see some particular person. At this period in his life his fair hair had disappeared, he was bald and wore a short beard from which loomed an aquiline nose and high cheekbones.  His complexion had become darker, weather-beaten, perhaps even yellowish because of his liver ailment? His countenance, serious and peaceful, was the image of circumspection and a life lived interiorly. Some found it particularly luminous and expressive. His eyes which at one time had been sparkling and bright were now blurred by work, old age and copious tears. They had lost their gaiety but not their penetrating force. He seldom looked at people straight on.  When he did, however, people said he took in the person from head to toe. His gaze seemed to have the power of seeing straight through a person right into his heart. 

 

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            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?

Incarnation

AMDG

My homily for midnight mass – inspired by  Rob Marsh on Thinking Faith 

doctor_1416155cWe can probably identify life –changing moments…..  moments that make us think about life in a profoundly different way.  I would like to share with you a life-changing moment, that most of us have shared.  A few years ago, in Manila the capital of the Philippines, I had my first major operation – on my left knee.  I had worn out the cartilage and after the operation – the surgeon told me my football and running days were over.   My first reaction was – can I still go hill walking?    That hospital in Manila –was a turning point because suddenly my body became an obstacle to my dreams.  My left knee was screwed – and it forced me to reluctantly admit – there was no way I was going to ever going to become a midfield general, and score the winning goal in the Champions League Final……..  Ok maybe I knew that already…. It reminded me of when I was a little boy and coming out of the cinema after seeing Superman and being mildly irritated when I couldn’t fly – I even had the cape on….. but now it was definitive, the doctor told me I had worn my left knee out with training and running for marathons. This was a turning point for me and for so many of us because when  we are young it is as though our bodies are filled with unlimited potential. We admire youth because we see they can dream – and now my body had become an obstacle to my dreams……

downloadeThe opposite is at the heart of Christmas  – that God seems to love human bodies and choose them as the way of fulfilling God’s dreams. God the creator of the universal – and remember according to the Hubble Telescope the observable universe is hundreds of billions of Galaxies – and our Galaxy probably has 2 billion stars in it.  This all powerful – creator God – 2014 years ago (give or take a few years) – took on a finite human body – became a human being – a little baby – vunerable – flesh and blood – crying and going to the toilet – the God who created the universe.

Wow……

How does infinity dwindle to infancy?   Why did God choose to do this – in Bethlehem – in a country that was occupied by a ruthless foreign power? How does God fit into a body without making it explode?  This is the mystery of the Incarnation, remember incarnation – carne – flesh, meat – God became our flesh and blood – no other religion claims that – in fact if you were to claim to be God you are silenced…. Killed, incarcerated, and that is exactly what happened to Jesus.  It is such an amazing thing – to be the infinite God – who has become finitely incarnate.

download (1)Since I have been working at university – listening to so many students – sharing their joys, listening to their fears and worries.  I have seen the pressure so many of themselves are put under – academic pressure, financial pressure. But there is another kind of pressure which is deeper – a terrible kind of desolation – and it is all to do with self image, how they see their bodies.  I listen to beautiful young women telling me how they feel ugly, how they feel fat, their hair is the wrong colour , their breasts aren’t big enough.  And this deep unhappiness with their bodies is growing with men too – IT is being fuelled by the false images they are watching – airbrushed models,  unrealistic portrayals of sex, the culture of celebrity.   The financial and academic pressure will pass – but this type of pressure, self inflicted is much deeper and spiritually much more corrosive.

So remember the Incarnation – remember the real heart of Christmas – God, it seems, doesn’t hate bodies. In fact  God uses the human body – with all its limitedness – and all its mortality – to save the world.   How could we have allowed ourselves to be so far from that? There are websites know that encourage people to harm their bodies …… there is so much poison out there about how we think about ourselves… Christmas is the antidote to that poison.

download (2) And remember tonight is the start of Jesus’s human journey – the infinite all powerful God vulnerable in the hands of his mother – who will soon become refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers as they escape King Herod into Egypt.    Remember how the story ends – the Jesus the sun of God is tortured – his body nailed to the cross – and his heart stops beating, water and blood flowing out of his broken body.  This is no myth – this is history.  And when he rises from the dead – his glorious risen body – which is still carrying his wounds – becomes our hope, becomes our destination.

images Every day in this church – that body is made present to us in a unique way during the mystery of the mass – 365 days a year – twice a day when university term is on – three times a day on a Sunday – the incarnation of Christ during mass.  There is that famous saying – a dog is not just for Christmas – so let us remember the incarnation is not just for Christmas.  So all of you here tonight – who are occasional catholics – or visitors – you are very welcome, and it is great to see you.  Come more often next year – it would be wonderful to see you every Sunday  – this great mystery of God’s love – that he chose to take on the form of this life, on this planet, in this Galaxy – it is a mystery that we can never get used to.  But If we contemplate it, if we live it, if we renew it weekly – it is a mystery that brings us joy, a mystery that makes us appreciate life and our bodies, no matter how old they become.  When we forget it – and get caught up in the cares and worries of life – I can assure you one thing – we become miserable.

In a moment we will express our faith – this great story of God becoming Man – and tonight we will kneel after the words – God became man – to contemplate the immensity of the incarnation – to remember the Joy of Christmas.

Speaking Truth to Power

AMDG

This is my homily for tomorrow – the Second Sunday of Advent 

john_baptistSpeaking Truth to Power is a phrase that is often used to describe people who bravely stand up against injustice.  It takes courage, it takes integrity to put your head above the parapet.  It probably explains something behind the overwhelming reaction to the death of Nelson Mandela this week.  Whenever there is a media frenzy there is a lot of nonsense spoken about someone’s life – and this week is no exception to this – however it cannot be denied that Mandela become a powerful symbol for many people.  He spoke truth to power, and they tried to silence him, but in the end truth won out.  He was lucky – he wasn’t silenced – he didn’t become a political martyr.   Speaking truth to power is part of the job description for an Old Testament Prophet.  And today in the Gospel – on the second week of our Advent Journey we meet the greatest prophet of them all, according to Jesus, John the Baptist. Unlike Nelson Mandela – we know that John was eventually silenced – beheaded by Herod.  John is one of the great advent figures – bridging the gap between the NT & OT.  He speaks with great authority, and that authority is recognised by the people and so he attracts great crowds.

What is his message for this advent ?  I think that he is warning not to be complacent in our faith.  He calls the Pharisees and the Sadducees ‘A brood of vipers’.  He is not confronting the power of Herod yet – but a much more subtle power – the power of respectability and the power of a good reputation and keeping a public face.   So let us examine our own faith and our own lives.

roman-triumphSt Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises writes very clearly about the seduction of power and honour.  In his meditation on the Two Standards – he talks about how the trappings of fame and honour are used by the enemy to seduce us …. to pull us away from God, so that we come to believe that we are all powerful.  There is a fascinating index called ‘The Power Distance index’ which measures how much a country respects authority and values hierarchies.  The higher the country is the more likely it is to be totalitarian and score high on corruption scales.  In ancient times when a Roman General or a Roman Emperor used to have a victory triumph (or parade) and was receiving the adulation of the masses – a slave would stand behind him and according to Tertullian whisper in his ear “Look behind you! Remember that you are a man! Remember that you’ll die”…..the famous memento mori.

So this Advent – let us heed John’s challenge.  Let us be honest about the little ways we are seduced into thinking that we are great, we are clever, lest we become complacent.  Advent is a time for our hearts to become humbler – that we dust away the complacency – as we would preparing a guest room – for a special guest.  But this time the room is our hearts – and for the grace of Christmas to go really deep – our hearts have to mirror that humble manger in Bethlehem.

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

AMDG

downloadJust finished reading an excellent book on the Pope called ‘Pope Francis – Untying the Knots’ by Paul Vallely.  Of all the books rushed out to capitalise on the widespread interest of a new pope – this seems to be the best so far in English. The title is well chosen because it refers to a painting of Our Lady – Untier of Knots that Bergoglio has a special devotion for, but also refers to the task that the author was facing looking at a complicated life of a Jesuit who has often found himself in leadership roles, often in very difficult circumstances, with a legacy that isn’t straightforward to tease out.  I think the author seems to do a fairly good job.  However what was fascinating for me – was the account of Bergoglio’s ‘intervention’ (speech) which made such a big impact amongst the other cardinals at the general congregation before  the conclave started.  Unlike many of the other speeches, which have been reported as being inward looking – this electrified the synod hall – because it was simple, spiritual, theological and most important from the heart.  

download (1)The only purpose of the Church is to go and out and tell the world the good news about Jesus Christ.  Evangelizing presupposes in the Church the “parresia” of coming out from itself. The Church is called to come out from itself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographical, but also existential: those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of injustice, those of ignorance and of the absence of faith, those of thought, those of every form of misery.

When the Church does not come out from itself to evangelize it becomes self-referential and gets sick (one thinks of the woman hunched over upon herself in the Gospel). This self-referentiality, is a sort of theological narcissism. In Revelation, Jesus says that he is standing at the threshold and calling. We often assume that the text refers to the fact that he stands outside the door and knocks to enter. . . But at times I think that Jesus may be knocking from the inside, that we may let him out. The self-referential Church presumes to keep Jesus Christ within itself and not let him out.

mq1The Church, when it is self-referential, without realizing it thinks that it has its own light; it stops being the “mysterium lunae”.  The mystery of the moon is that it has no light but simply reflects the light of the sun.  When the church thinks it gives out its own light it gives rise to a grave evil, that of spiritual worldliness (according to Henri De Lubac, the worst evil into which the Church can fall).  To simplify, there are two images of the Church: the evangelizing Church that goes out from itself; or the worldly Church that lives in itself, of itself, for itself. 

Thinking of the next Pope: a man who, through the contemplation of Jesus Christ and the adoration of Jesus Christ, may help the Church to go out from itself toward the existential peripheries, that may help it to be the fecund mother who lives “by the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

The speech delivered in Italian – was short – just over 3 minutes, but it made a big impact.  Cardinal Schonborn turned to a neighbour and said – ‘That’s what we need’.  Cardinal Ortega from Havana asked Bergoglio later if he could have a copy to distribute.  It was only a few scribbled notes, but overnight Bergoglio transcribed from memory what he said and passed it on, giving permission for it to be put up on the website of the Archdiocesis of Havana in Cuba.  My version (above) is a mixture of Vallely’s, Sandro Magisters and my own translation.

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