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AMDG    Feast of  St Ignatius

“ So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God! ” Luke 12:21

This is the challWhosAtYourCenter-1rfhglh0klcn41e93wwg46ro4wpl9mezyp0u8kp9qsisenge at the heart of our faith – Who is at the center of your life?  Is it Me or God ?  If I am an honest is God an insurance policy that I have just in case my other plans don’t work out?  Is my career the most important thing and I am happy to come to church as long as God doesn’t get in the way – or ask me to do anything that will disturb my plans?   As long as I keep God in a box that is labelled ‘Sunday’ or ‘Church’ he won’t bother for the rest of the week…..

So many of us who call ourselves Christians – live like this…. Spending some much time and energy storing up treasure for ourselves – that we don’t really want God to trouble us…..  where do you put your trust?  Do you place your trust totally in God ?

51vxcbXaBmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_According to the American Franciscan, Richard Rohr, it is the job of the first half of life – to establish ourselves, to leave home, to build an identity, to get a qualification (might be a university degree) and to start a career.  We all need to pass through this stage and therefore we develop a spirituality for the first half of our life – which is more concerned with outer things than inner things,  so my Catholicism is   and it is often only when a crisis comes along that we are jolted off our path.   Often it is when someone we love dies, maybe we go through an illness, and suddenly we start asking ourself – what is life all about?  All the stuff that was important about establishing our identity now becomes less important  and we start ‘Falling Upwards’ as Richard Rohr calls it – we start to put God in the center.

This happened to a young Spanish Nobleman, Inigo Lopez de Loyola – who found himself as a soldier defending the town of Pamplona – in 1521 – when a French Canonball ripped through his legs and shattered his knee.  Forced to recover in bed he started to ask himself these deeper questions – and realised it wasn’t just his knee that was shattered but also his self-image, his understanding of himself.  Bed ridden for 9 months he dreams about the future – about returning to his chivalrous ways ….  But as time dragged on and boredom forced him to read the only books that were at hand – religious books about the saints …. He noticed that he started to have a second type of daydream – instead of returning to be a solider for the King – he would become a pilgrim – a soldier for God.Thus 495 years ago began an journey that leads us to here to this beautiful church today –the Holy Name was founded in 1871 by men who have followed in the footsteps of Inigo.

Ignatius at Pamplona Back recovering in his bed in Loyola, Inigo the swashbuckling soldier (now crippled) notices that he starts to have a second type of dream which is obviously fed by his reading  – doing great things for God – outdoing the saints in holiness.  He noticed this left him feeling a deep joy and peace that lasted longer the other dreams of future worldly glories ahead….  He had discovered already the fruits of making yourself ‘rich in the sight of God’ … Inigo was becoming Ignatius.  He realised that up till then he had wasted too much time chasing  ‘vainglories’  – it all seemed worthless now when compared to things of God.

The genius of St Ignatius – a great gift for me in my life which I will always be grateful for – is that he allowed God to teach him – and then showed others how to search for God’s will in their lives.  He taught us to recognised Spiritual Consolation – the joy and the peace and the love that comes from moving closer to God….  We call this Ignatian Spirituality ….  And it is an incredible legacy that has led to countless men and women changing their lives – abandoning our obsession with material wealth and storing treasures that make us rich in the eyes of God.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAIpAAAAJGI0YzQzZDMyLTc5MzQtNGY1Ni1hMTc0LTRjMmZkMjVjNWI4MQAfter the fall of the Berlin Wall – the end of Communism – we all hoped for an new age of peace, of stability but in fact what happened was the world became more complicated …..  this new multi-polar world has been marked by Four things – that military planners called VUCA.   Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.  The world seems to have become less predictable, more scary – Volatile in the nature and speed of change,  Uncertain in the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise.  Complex in the different forces and issues, and Ambiguous in that reality is difficult to read now, Confusion seems to abound.

This is a confusing and at times scary world….  Where an 80 year old priest is brutally executed during mass, with unprecedented people on the move, with an acceleration of technological change that has never been seen before.

St Ignatius gives us a fantastic map to navigate our way through this world.  As God so patiently taught him – he wishes us to learn in a similar way – to be taught by God – who longs to be our teacher. It is a map – that helps us to navigate through a hurting and crazy world….  His way of praying helps us to listen to our teacher – even though there is so much to distract us away from these heavenly treasures.

And one his sons, Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope – is currently in Poland – celebrating mass as we speak with 3 million young people – Francis will be delighted to share such a special day for him ( and all Jesuits) with such a wonderful crowd – including our group of 20 from here.  The Pope’s  desire will be to share with all those youngsters the Joy of putting God in the center of your life – the Joy of being truly free – knowing that you are loved sinner – the peace that comes from falling Upward and knowing that in the end everything will be all alright.

Homily given at the Holy Name Church, Manchester  –   July 31st 2016 

AMDG

Pedro-Arrupe-at-prayer11

Fr Pedro Arrupe

I have been enjoying a few days in Valladolid with a group of Jesuit theologians who are preparing for ordination. They are taking part in what is called the ‘Arrupe Month’. Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the general of the Jesuits,  noticed that in the 1970’s there was a curious phenomenon of men who left the order (and often the priesthood) soon after they had been ordained.  It was almost as though even after the long period of formation they were expecting something magic to happen – and had a rather superficial expectation of what the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred, really meant.   So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued on December 27, 1979 addressed this – and now there is  a period set aside for a deepening of self-knowledge and Jesuit identity to help prepare the Jesuit Scholastic for ordination to the priesthood. I have joined them for a couple of days to give some input on thriving in (not just surviving) the first years of priesthood.

PictureWe are staying at a fascinating and beautiful College – the Royal English College ‘St Albans’ in Vallodalid.  It was founded by the English Jesuit Robert Persons in 1589, during the English Reformation, as a seminary to train Catholic Priest for the English and Welsh Mission, at a time when it was illegal to do so in the UK.  It has an impressive legacy of alumni who are saints – many Jesuits,  although not all – who would eventually be executed on their return to Britain.   Their portraits line the corridors.  In today’s climate of Islamic violence we have to be careful about the narrative of martyrdom – although it is worth noting that none of the Catholic men and women executed were perpetrators of Violence.  Although it fair to say that Fr Persons was agitating the Spanish King to invade so that England could return to becoming a Catholic country. This  resulted firstly in the famous failure of the Armada.  A second attempt was foiled in Cadiz by Walter Raleigh ….  but we will come to that in a minute.  The College, well endowed, and beautifully kept, still has the patronage of the Spanish Royal Family.  When you enter the college you are greeted with a picture of the King & Queen of Spain with an affectionate and personal message to the College. This Royal patronage is important when you think of how the Jesuits where expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions, so you can see how it is good to know you have powerful allies ….  things can change however.

44423190For me the jewel in the crown in Valladolid is ‘La Vulnerata’ or the Wounded One  – a disfigured statue of Mary in the chapel.  After Sir Walter Raleigh defeated the Spanish Fleet in Cadiz and took control of the city in 1596,  some of the English troops started a riot (like the football ‘fans’ in Marseille). The soldiers dragged the statue  to the market square where they desecrated it.  The priests and seminarians of the English College in Valladolid brought it to Valladolid and installed with great solemnity in the College Chapel in 1600.  They wished to make reparation for the desecration of their fellow country men.  Every year during Holy Week the statue is processed along the street, where it is met by a huge paso or float, which has a large depiction of the Crucified Christ resting on top of it. The two images meet, and dance to each other for a brief period—then the Vulnerata comes back to the College

gress-CZESTOCHOWA-650x340A little like the famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czetochowa which was similarly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430… and has now become the most visited shrine in Poland, and revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike.  The potential power of our vulnerabilty is a spiritual paradox.  Christ glorious risen body still carried his wounds as St Thomas can testify. The popular devotion to these disfigured images of Our Lady are striking – they seem to unlock a mysterious power in peoples hearts. Many people point to John Paul II visits to Czetochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this icon of the suffering Poland and the first Polish Pope drew millions together in defiance of the authorities.  Pope Francis will be visiting next week during the world Youth Day  celebrations,  I hope the Queen of Poland draws the 2 million young people expected to attend, to her heart.

AMDG

Cheap-FlightOne of the great paradoxes of our time is global travel.  For those of us in the wealthy world, hopping on a plane has become as easy as travelling by bus.  In the Uk with companies such as Ryan Air, and Easy Jet pioneering low cost travel, our expectations have been raised considerably. I remember the first flight I had when I was about 10 – our whole family dressed up as though it was a special occasion.  Now it is run of the mill.  As globalisation shrinks the world, many are being left behind.  So for those who can’t afford to be ‘hypermobile’ it seems as though the rich world are building bigger barriers to restrict their movement.  I was in Istanbul airport a day before the terrorist attacks…  an incredible modern hub, with Wifi everywhere, Starbucks, wealthy tourists, business travelers mingling in a bubble of luxury and affluence.  But these Staging Posts for the hypermobile are becoming targets for rage and anger of the excluded (not that terrorism can be  justified ) .

Elysium-wallpapers-141There was a brilliant film – released in 20013 called Elysium.  It is from the incredibly rich vein of dystopian scifi.  Imagining a future where Planet Earth has been plundered of resources by the wealthy Elite and left as an overpopulated desert for the poor majority.  The elite have created a space station in orbit which they have escaped to – where everything is beautiful green, fertile, the Elysium of the films title.  The Spaceships that shuttle between the two are looked at with envy and despair by the majority of humanity reduced to scrabbling around a parched earth like chickens.  Interestingly the church is represented by this wonderful nun who we discover in a back-story  has been the transformative teacher to our Hero (played by Matt Damon)  – who is an orphan.  So even though the rich have abandoned the earth – the church has not abandoned the poor.  Perhaps Neil Blomkampf, the writer, has had some Catholic influence?

_90030142_033584780-1Sadly however our age of hypermobility sharply contrasts with the fear of immigration that Farage and his cronies whipped up in the poisonous discourse before Brexit.  The rhetoric of ‘taking control’ of our borders seemed to be very effective, but perhaps implausible in a Globalising Economy.  I thank God for my Irish grandparents so I can now apply for dual citizenship – again a luxury for the wealthy.    Having crossed a few borders in the last months it was notable in East Africa that there was a tightening of checks on the borders…  partly because of the yellow fever outbreak in Angola. We have to acknowledge our fears, but when it leads us to build barriers I think we are losing out.  In a choice between Donald Trumps wall building and Pope Francis’ bridge building, I know what future I want.

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