I read a book a few years ago which had a profound effect on me. ’Forgiveness – Breaking the Chain of Hate‘ by Michael Henderson looks at the lives of dozens of remarkable people of many nations and faiths who have been able to break the chain of hate through repentance and forgiveness. They included survivors of the Burma Road, the Siberian Gulag and Nazi atrocities. This for me is the key to life of Nelson Mandela which is being celebrated today. One of the most eloquent testimonies has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu, you can watch it below, but for me he identifies this remarkable inner transformation that took place in prison. To my ears it is similar to the transformation that can happen in the silence of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. ‘The crucible of prison added a deep understanding of the human condition and a profound ability to emphasize ….. like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the Earth – The Madiba who emerged from prison in 1990 was virtually flawless. When you thing that he went to prison as an angry young man and he emerged as an icon of magnanimity and compassion‘. The whole interview is below: the first few minutes are dynamite!
Growing up as a young priest, a terrible sadness for us is the climate that has been engendered by the paedophile crisis. The terrible acts of a tiny minority of dysfunctional priests has smeared us all, to such an extent that it seems crazy to family and friends that we enter the priesthood in this day and age. Sure, we are not entering for an easy life or the prestige and power! Our formation, screening and training is excellent to prepare us for comprehensive safeguarding and a sensitivity to the vulnerable adults and children. However there has also been a real climate of fear about engaging with young people, and cases of false allegations and a litigious culture can act like a straight jacket on your pastoral impulses.
That is why Pope Francis global witness is so liberating for us! How comfortable he is in his own skin, as a friend who received a blessing from him recently said – he just radiates joy and love. And more importantly how children flock to him and embrace him. This is a great boost to our confidence and long may it continue. The world needs that powerful witness of Francis – like a Grandad to the world. And children who are being robbed of their childhood by pornography and hypersexualisation, they also need him. Below are two moving examples of this.
Firstly a clip that was replayed and replayed by the Brazilian TV channels when the Pope was over for World Youth Day. Nathan de Brito, the little boy who broke past barriers to run into Pope Francis’ arms. As They embraced on the Popemobile as de Brito confided to Pope Francis, “Your Holiness, I want to be a priest of Christ, a representative of Christ.” Pope Francis beamed at the small child in the Brazilian national soccer team jersey and told him, “I am going to pray for you, but I ask you to pray for me.” He wiped tears from his eyes as he embraced de Brito and told him, “As of today, your vocation is set.” After exiting the Popemobile, the video shows de Brito blowing the Pope a kiss before covering his face with his hands, completely overwhelmed by the incredible experience.
The second clip is of the Pope meeting migrants who had been shipwrecked in Lampedusa and those who helped them…and then there is the little boy in the yellow short….he will not leave the Pope’s side! he even escorts a little girl to see the Pope! A security guy tries to bribe him with candy but has no luck…he wants to stay with Francis! As the commentator on you tube says - I love this kid…and understand him! This happens in the first couple of minutes in the clip
Exciting news from Manchester is that L’arche are opening a new community in Manchester. The leader of the group, Kevin Coogan, came and gave a fascinating and engaging talk about his experience with L’arche and his passion for living with adults with learning disabilities. He explained how L’arche, set up by the Canadian Catholic Jean Vanier, had pioneered the model of ‘care in the community’ in the 50’s and 60’s when those with serious mental or physical disability had been confined to large institutions and kept out of sight and mind.
He was so honest and open about the challenges of living with people who had often been abandoned at birth, confined to institutions which may have provided a safe but often not a caring environment. So the psychological damage of this experience created another level of difficulties. The power of L’arche is that these people become friends. And it was fascinating to me to hear how an emotional co-dependence can actually be healing rather than destructive or limiting. The Community is being part funded by the local authority as they are providing a quality of care for vulnerable adults that is unlikely to be matched. But that relationship has a very interesting tension – for instance where do you draw the lines between a true life-giving healing relationship and safe professional distance.
Kevin Coogan and his brother Steve raising money for L’arche
A fascinating example Kevin gave was his experience of going on holiday with his wife and kids and bringing two community members with them. From a faith perspective this is a wonderful and inclusive act of generosity, an unforgettable experience that is priceless. As a priest I am often grateful for the hospitality of being received into families whether for dinner or a brief break. However from the cold hard gaze of the local authority – often the funding agency – it would be tempting to be cynical and say, this is a sneaky way of subsidising a family holiday. Of course this is open to abuse, but when you see the compassion and the generosity with which they are received into the family environment you have to applaud the vision behind this, and bemoan the short-sightedness of the limited vision that comes from a cynical administrative approach. It was a meeting that has left me much to ponder!
We had a powerful celebration of Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary today. This is a big feast here in the Phillipines where Marian devotion is incredibly strong. In spite of tropincal storms many turned out for a procession to honour the Immaculate Conception last Sunday in central Manila. As you can see from the photo they made sure that the statues were kept dry – unlike most of the faithful. This is a feast celebrating the sinlessness of the Mother of God who, we anticipate in this second week of Advent, will give birth to the King of Kings. Today the presider was a famous Jesuit called Fr Manoling Francisco. What is most notable about Manoling, as well as his writing, his teaching as a theologian, setting up a foundation to support education for youngsters from the Mountain Region (were we depart for tommorrow) is his musical compositions. His songs seems to be sung everywhere. Most of them are in Tagalog – I can’t get his Our Father of my head at the moment….
Anyway it is clear he has a wonderful romantic spirit and it was a pleasure to hear him speaking so passionately about Our Lady today. That her ‘fiat’ her ‘yes’ to God was an act of incredible generosity and purity of heart – considering the punishment off stoning that was given to Women who become mysteriously pregnant out of wedlock. I was musing about this whilst wandering through the campus here at the Ateneo de Manila when I stumbled upon this. Addressed to Lila with the Golden Eyes…..
Courage certainly! Purity of heart? – I’d like to think so!
I bet you didn’t realise that Adele was so popular over here (not bad for a Tottenham girl!)
At the end of the fourth week – after contemplating various post-resurrection narratives – we reach a beautiful and original Ignatian contemplation – often referred to by Jesuits as just The Contemplatio. The goal of this is to know how to love as God loves….. wait a second ….. go back and read that last sentence again….. the goal of this is to know how to love as God loves! If that is not something worth investigating then what is!
Ignatius starts with 2 suppositions…
1) Love shows itself in deeds not in words
2)Love is a constant and generous sharing between the lover and the beloved and vice versa.
Let us recall that Ignatius is famous for the gift of tears. Most of his spiritual notes / diaries were burnt at his request before his death, but what survives of his spiritual diary is full of references to ‘tears’. Tears whislt saying mass, whislt making a discernment, even whilst gazing at the stars. It seems that he frequently and intensively felt the magnificent sense of Gods love. Some of his contemporaries even claim that his face would be luminous at times as though radiating an inner light. Seomething quickkly notice by children on the streets of Manresa, Paris or Rome. So he is worth listening to when he talks about Gods love!
After the presuppositions there are four points of consideration that lead into the Contemplation A) God Gives Gifts
B)You are a guft (God is present in you as well as other gifts)
C) God is dynamic - He is constantly giving and recieving
D) He (She) deisres us to be part of this dynamism – so that we become co-creators
Love is a powerful word – we are limited in English – but this love of God is close to the agape of the Greeks – self giving love (as opposed to eros - the possesive love that is exhausted, philia - friendship, or storge- affection). When we experience this self-giving love we are drawn into responding (not compelled) but this uncondition – self giving love – calls us out of ourselves.
That is definately worth meditating on! How much is this type of love part of my life?
The Spiritual Exercises on Coronation Street?
If you have ever sat by the hospital bed of someone you love – as they are dying – you will have experienced the anguish and pain of being helpless in the face of such a trauma. Even worse accompanyings somebody who has been tortured and is to be executed – violently – especially if you are convinced they are innocent. Well this is what happens in the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises….
It is all very well following Jesus in the second week, witnessing his miracles, seeing the crowds grow around him, hearing his great parables, soaking in the richness of the sights and sounds of the Second Week. The real test of discipleship, and friendship, is when the crowds turn on him, his friends disappear – his enemies become more vocal and more violent. Ignatius challenges to enter in to all of these scenes as well, using our imagination and with an open heart. This is the cost of discipleship.
There is a real gear change in the third week – for me it has always been a difficult part of the exercises. The prayer becomes dryer – its difficult to stomach. In the third week we also enter the mystery and power of evil. And whilst I am writing this I thihnk of the thousands who aer being tortured, or who have been left to rot in some hell hole – thinking the world has forgotten about them. It may be difficult to understand the violence and the evil, but we believe somehow Love is always stronger – and it will ultimately win – this is our faith. More of that to come….
Please leave comments – but don’e expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December. This post was written and automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence!
After the consideration of the Principle and Foundation we enter the first week of the Exercises. The aim of the First Week is to have a sense of the reality of being loved in spite of all the times I mess up. As we know – when we experience being loved in spite of our selfishness or our unpleasant character traits , we are moved with gratitude and a sense of unworthiness. This is what we call unconditional love – and for those of us lucky to experience it through friends and family or others, it is the most important thing in our lives! Ignatius aim is for us to consider that unconditional love from a cosmic perspective.
The main graces prayed for are : for a personal shame and confusion for my sins, for mounting and intense sorrow, and tears for my sins leading to a sense of gratitude for a love that is so freely given.
There can be an unhealthy preoccupation with sin and guilt, something that we like to caricature the pre-conciliar church with. However I think there can be an equally unhealthy avoidance of the reality of sin – a smug self satisfaction, a denial of personal resposibility, an ‘anything goes’ delusion that refuses to address the moral complexity of the world and oursleves as free moral agents. So the ideal for this week is that the ‘reality check’ that comes from examining your life, your journey so far is to find a balance between those two unhealthy extremes. Both extremes turn us in on ourselves, whether a neurotic obsession with sins, or the equally narcissistic denial of the brokenness and pain in our lives.
‘You can do what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else‘ - seems to be a dominant ethic in the West, and this is called tolerance – but at best it is a lack of interest in the other, a disengagement. Having worked with many youngsters struggling to grow up in a world overloaded with information, this indifference is harmful. In a culture which has relegated the word sin to the packaging of ‘unhealthy’ foods, ‘Go on indulge yourself – its so tasty its sinful’ – the First Week can be quite a culture shock!
Interestingly for Ignatius this was the minimum to be given of the Exercises. In his notes (annotations) to those directing the retreat he acknowledges that for some – should he who is giving the Exercises observe that he who is receiving them has little ability or little natural capacity, from whom not much fruit is to be hoped…. let him not go on into the matter of the Election, or into any other Exercises that are outside the First Week, especially when more progress can be made in other persons and there is not time for every thing. Annotation 18
Please send your comments – I will be off line till December – so you may have to wait for them to be moderated, but don’t let that put you off!!