Tag Archive: love


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.

Generosity & Happiness


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?

Breaking the Chain of Hate


download1I 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! 

Pope Francis’ liberating effect


BRAZIL-POPE-WYD-CHILDGrowing 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 

l_arche_logo_with_titleExciting 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!


The Captain and the Chaplain


 There are not many European stories that break into the Phillipino press – let alone talked about here over breakfast or lunch. There is currently an impeachment trial for the chief justice which is getting a lot of column inches. Foreign stories are often dominated by the US or China.   So it has been of note to see how the tragic sinking of the liner in Italy has broken into the news – and the table discussions.  A death toll in single figures, sadly, is unlikely to garner much attention here, it seems to be the focus on the reckless captain that is generating interest.

What has caught my attention is in comparing the stories of the captain and the chaplain. The Captain has been criticised for abandoning ship after his reckless maneuver, saving his own skin rather than his passengers safety. As you might have seen they have released the recorded conversation of the coastguard and the captain.

Coastguard (De Falco): “Listen there are people going down from the prow using the rope ladder; you take that rope ladder on the opposite side, you go aboard and you tell me the number of people and what they have on board. Is that clear? You tell me whether there are children, women or people needing assistance. And you tell me the number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I’ll make you pay for sure. Go aboard.”

Captain (Schettino): “Commander, please?”

De Falco: “Please, now you go aboard.”

Schettino: “I am on the life boat, under the ship, I haven’t gone anywhere, I’m here.”

De Falco: “What are you doing, commander?”

Schettino: “I’m here to coordinate rescues.”

De Falco: “What are you coordinating there? Go on board and coordinate rescues from on board. Do you refuse?”

Schettino: “No, no I’m not refusing.”

De Falco: “You’re refusing to go aboard, commander, tell me why you’re not going.”

Schettino: “I’m not going because there is another lifeboat stopped there.”

De Falco: “Go aboard: it’s an order. You have no evaluation to make, you declared abandon ship, now I give orders: go aboard. Is it clear?”

Compare this with the accounts coming from the Apostleship of the Sea in Italy, of how the 70 year old chaplain Fr. Raffaele 
Mallena came to the aid of passengers and crew members. According to Fr Mallena said that during dinner he felt immediately that something was very, very wrong. He went to the chapel to pray and  when he realised the “abandon ship” alarm was sounding, he consumed the Eucharist and locked the staff’s valuables, including jewellery and money, in a safe. During the chaos that followed, the priest tried to stay aboard with the crew but was persuaded it would be better if he boarded a lifeboat and left the sinking ship. Thousands of passengers at the Savona cruise terminal where the local Apostleship of the Sea joined other agencies to distribute clothing and food. It is also providing spiritual and emotional support. Fr Mallena and parishioners on the island of Giglio, where the ship sank, worked during the night to assist those leaving the ship.

Women and Children first on the HMS Birkenhead

Of course none of us know how we will react when faced with such tragic circumstances.  But the comparison is stark and telling. Just a historical note of interest – a matter of pride for us Scousers (from Liverpool) is the account of the sinking of the HMS Birkenhead (taken from here clicky) . The heroic actions of the men on this boat established the protocol of  ‘women and children first’ .  In 1852 after hitting rocks the Birkenhead was rapidly sinking in the shark-infested waters of South Africa. While about sixty men were sent to the pumps, the other men were commanded to stand drawn up in line and to await orders. The teams who were in charge of the boats were frustrated to find that most of the lowering equipment would not function, as a result of a lack of maintenance and the thick layer of paint that clogged the mechanisms. Eventually two cutters and a gig were launched and the women and children were rowed away from the wreck to safety. The horses were cut loose and thrown overboard. Only then did Captain Salmond shout to the men that everyone who could swim must save himself by jumping into the sea and making for the boats.

The soldier’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Seton, knew to rush the lifeboats might mean that the boats would be swamped and this would further endanger the lives of the women and children already aboard the boats. He drew his sword and ordered his men to stand fast. The soldiers did not budge even as the ship split in two and the main mast crashed on to the deck.
The Birkenhead went down rapidly for only twenty-five minutes after she had struck the rocks, only the topmast and topsail yard were visible above the water. There were about fifty men still clinging to them. The sea was full of men desperately clawing for anything that could float. Death by drowning came quickly to most of them, but some of the men – and the horses – were taken by Great White sharks.

(taken from the website http://www.birkenhead.za.net/)

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!)


Reaching Love


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! 

The Gift of Tears….


 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.

On Sin 

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!!


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