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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?

AMDG

Today’s Homily 

cute-old-cuoples-6Occasionally you meet these wonderful older married couples who have been together for many years and still seem to be in love each other.  They have a spark in their eyes, or a gentle touch between them, a concern for each other – and it makes you think – they are still as in love with other as they were those first days they met.  Sure, their love has changed – it may be more like a deep slow flowing river than those earlier years when it had all the energy of a waterfall.  But they still love each other – totally. And it is marvelous to behold – it gives us hope!  Even if we are in difficult relationships – or have a history of broken relationships – even if we feel a bit battered and bruised because of our experience of love…. We may feel a pang of jealousy… but if we are honest we are filled with admiration and hope.  This is in parallel with our faith – we are called to be in love with God our creator – we are called to return that love that he has for us – a love that never grows stale – a love that is eternally creative. And so at the beginning of this new year that is our challenge for us – how do we make sure that our Love for God isn’t growing stale – how do we make sure that we are always wishing to renew it – that we are not just here in this beautiful church out of habit or because it is a routine and we feel guilty if we miss Sunday mass.

Because our faith can be so much more than that.   Even if it feels like we are clinging on by our fingernails – we are still being called deeper and deeper into love. Those couples that stay in love – do not take each other for granted. It is as though they have this capacity to see each other with fresh eyes each day – with fresh wonder.   Can we do this when we look at Jesus?  John the Baptist introduces Jesus to us today saying four remarkable things about him – so in case we have got too used to him – let’s listen again.

John Says this

  1. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world
  2. He is the Chosen one of God
  3. He is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit
  4. “ A man who is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me”

logos-300x225Let’s think about this last one. Jesus existed before John – well we know from Marys visit to Elizabeth when John leapt in the womb, that he’s not speaking biologically -  So we remember that electric opening to John’s Gospel – ‘ In the beginning was the word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.’  This is called the pre-existence of Christ – the word, the logos – that we believe Jesus, the son of God, existed from the beginning of time.  Jesus who we hear about in the Liturgy of the Word, Jesus who is with us in a unique way in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  This pre-existence of God, that John proclaims in the Gospel is important as it touches on the power of God’s love for us. Why ?  because in order to become man, a historical man, Jesus son of Mary – son of God – step son of Joseph, – and also in order to be present to us in blessed sacrament every day as we celebrate the mystery of mass in this church and the chapel next door – God is emptying himself to be with us in a supreme act of Love.

This idea of Jesus’s pre-existence as the word is of crucial importance in an age were so many people wish to portray faith as irrational. Pope Emeritus Benedict has said that Christianity must always remember that it is the religion of the “Logos.” ….. according to him is our philosophical strength, that our faith and the created world comes from the rational – not the irrational;  this saves Christianity from becoming distorted by irrationality – prevents us from being sucked into violence.  When we are accused of being bigots – remembering that in the beginning was the word – and through him all things were made – reminds us that to believe in Christ is Rational no matter how unpopular this has become – or how inconvenient the power of this self emptying love is to a world that is so often selfish and only interested in domination.    What’s more, Benedict goes on to say – this ‘logos’ – is infinitely creative  - especially when the crucified God is manifested as love, it is only this that can really show us the way.  Its worth repeating that – The Word is infinitely creative especially when the crucified God is manifested as love.

So when we read the Gospel again – and when we come together like this to represent the Body of Christ, when we receive communion today – we can fall in love again.  Because He never gets tired of us.  Divine love never grows stale

My Homily Given Today on the Feast of the Epiphany 

CHRISTMAS_SHOPPERS1_1AMDG  I am going to let you into a secret – one of the things I like about being a priest at Christmas is that I don’t have to buy a lot of presents.  It’s not that I am means spirited – or stingy …….. honestly …….. but I am very happy that being a priest it allows me to concentrate on what is really important at Christmas.  But even I can’t get totally out of it – I went over to see my sister in Nottingham last week and two of my beautiful nieces, Charlotte and Emily.  Now they are only 4 and 6 so I don’t think they would understand if I turned up without presents – so briefly I had to join the crowds in the Arndale Centre – looking for presents – and it was stressful! Too many people – some very rude people pushing you out the way – and all just to get a couple of presents (they both love Barbie and Moshi Monsters) that I know were made in China – and probably will be forgotten about in a few week and thrown out when my sister decides there are too many toys cluttering up their bedroom.

Does that sound familiar to you?

Let’s contrast that experience with the presents given to Jesus by the wise men at the feast of the Epiphany. Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh – Gold – which represents the Kingship of Christ.  Isn’t it interesting that when there is a period of political or financial instability the price of Gold soars.  People buy Gold when they don’t trust their rulers or their economy – just look at what is happening in India now with such a frustration with corruption.  Gold has a value that lasts – its not another throwaway consumerist trinket.  In this baby in Bethlehem we see that if you invest your hopes and your dreams in his kingship it will bear dividends – not of more money but of peace, of joy, of love.   Frankincense – the gift of priesthood – like the incense that we use at mass to consecrate the altar, which I have just you to consecrate this book of the Gospels.  In this child born into poverty we have what Saint Paul was the ultimate high priest – whose sacrifice on our behalf brings us back into the loving orbit of God our creator.  And in Myrhh – we have an analgesic – a pain killer – something that we still use in dentistry and when we gargle mouthwash. This a prophetic gift which indicates the wise man forsee the suffering that this new king-priest will have to endure suffering to fulfill his Messiahship.

downloadGold, Frankincense and Myrrh – three prophetic, wise gifts laid at the feet of Jesus in the dirt, smell, damp and darkness of the stable in Bethlehem.

Lets compare the vision of the three kings to the that of King Herod.  Herod is the consummate political survivor – even being prepared to kill his own children to maintain his own power. He is ruthless and will do anything to consolidate his power.  That is the extent of his vision – raw power – and anyone or anything that gets in his way will be ruthlessly eliminated. If you read the historians of this time he was notorious for executing three of his own sons – Caesar Augustus even commented ‘It is better to be Herod’s dog rather than one of his sons’   What type of man is that?

We think that the magi came from Persia (Iran), India and Arabia and their exotic caravan would certainly have been noticed even in a bustling Jerusalem,  So Herod assembles his own wise man and discovers the prophecy of the messiah.  The Magi were looking for truth – seeking the star – and their gifts show how deeply they understood the prophecy.  The best gifts we receive come from people who understand us.  Herod – in his ego and his paranoia is seeking for threats to his power and as we will see is ruthless in his reaction.

King-Herod-300x300We all know that we can be like Herod in our lives and relationships – bearing grudges, playing games, manipulating people.  Ok we may not resort to murder or even physical violence – but so many of us like another form of assassination – gossiping, undermining someone’s reputation.  We become so obsessed with maintaining our own comfort that we stop seeking the truth. If you are seeking the truth, if you are seeking Christ, than expect opposition from the Herods of this world.  Expect to be scorned, to be laughed at.  But keep seeking – look for the gifts of the spirit – look for the gifts that will never grow stale – or be thrown away.  Truth, Freedom (and real freedom is spiritual – it is detachment), Peace and Joy.  They are gifts that come from kneeling and adoring – they are gifts that come from following those things that produce wonder in your heart.  You won’t find that Peace and Joy in the Arndale Centre – you may find it at the Holy Name.

 

 

The Holy Name

AMDG

859744_10151803274681496_264154740_oYesterday was the Titular Feast of the Society of Jesus. ‘The most Holy Name of Jesus’.  The Jesuit ‘mother-church’ in Rome is the Church of the Gesu.  Originally here in Manchester the founding fathers of the mission wished to call our church the Gesu – but the bishop of Salford, Bishop Turner, rightly  intervened and said it would sound a bit weird.  We have to remember that in 1870′s Catholicism was only just re-emerging into British public life and there was an acute sensibility to how we would be re-established.  So following his advice, the Gesu became the Holy Name.  Yesterday Pope Francis celebrated the feast of the Holy Name with Jesuits in the Gesu. It was a great occasion – and a double celebration of the Holy Name and the canonisation of the Jesuit Peter Faber.

In his homily, Pope Francis praised Faber’s “restlessness” to his brother Jesuits: “This is the restlessness that Peter Faber had, a man of great dreams.” He was, said the Pope, a “modest man, sensitive, with a deep inner life and endowed with the gift of making friends with people of all kinds…… However, he was also a restless spirit, indecisive, never satisfied…He was a man of great desires, and he took charge of his desires, recognized them….. An authentic faith always implies a deep desire to change the world. Here’s the question we must ask ourselves: Do we also have great vision and momentum? Are we too bold? Do our dreams aim high? Does our zeal devour us (cf. Ps 69.10) or are we mediocre and are satisfied?”

1601218_10151803281286496_1118849445_nAt the end of mass a gift (seen on the right)  was presented to Pope Francis by the postulator of the cause of St. Peter Faber, Father Anton Witwer, SJ, and the Vice-Postulator Father Marc Lindeijer, SJ. It is a facsimile of the Final Vows of St. Peter Faber in 1541.  Final Vows represent the full incorporation of a man into the Society of Jesus – often taking place 20 or so years after you entered as a novice.  Every Jesuit takes simple and perpetual vows after two years in the Novitiate. One way of looking at it that at First Vows, you accept the Society; at Final Vows, the Society accepts you, “for better or worse.”  Final Vows included a Fourth Vow of obedience to the Pope – to be available to be sent anywhere on Mission.  At end of the final vow mass – the now fully professed Jesuit will take 5 Private Vows in the Sacristy – surrounded by his fellow Jesuits.   These vows show how well St. Ignatius understood human nature and are described very well by James Martin –   First, there is a  vow never to change anything in the Jesuit Constitutions about poverty–unless to make it “more strict.”  Second, a vow never to “strive or ambition” for any dignity in the church, like becoming a bishop.  Third, never to “strive or ambition” for any high office in the Jesuits.  Fourth, if we find out that someone is striving for these things, we are to “communicate his name” to the Society.  (A friend calls this the vow to rat out someone, but it’s another indication of how much Ignatius wanted to eliminate ambition, as far as possible, from the Jesuits.)  Finally, we take a vow that, if we are somehow made bishop, we will still listen to the superior general.

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.

Joy – (EG 1)

AMDG

Now that academic term has finished – and many students have left Manchester, I have a little bit of space and have decided to slowly read through Evangelii Gaudium  (The Joy of the Gospel) - Pope Francis’s rather lengthy exhortation.  It has been reported as the Pope’s dream for the church – and as you would expect there is some dynamite there.

Evangelii_Gaudium-255x390In the Introduction the Pope reminds us how Joy is at the centre of the Gospel message, giving many examples of this.  I think Joy is a rare experience for many people, but when they meet someone is authentically joyful it makes a powerful impression.   I have always argued that there is a profound difference between joy and happiness – happiness is something that so many strive for, and can achieve when they have a good job, a nice house, financial security and meaning.  So happiness is like a transaction – and it is great when people achieve it.  However Joy is like an unexpected gift – there is nothing that we can do to earn it – only having a heart that is open to God – our creator.     We were created for joy.  Francis reminds us that the sharing of what is really important to us  brings joy.  It also strikes me that when we live joyful lives – people are fascinated, attracted, and – that is when we have to be ready to account for our joy.  This is a different type of evangelisation than bible bashing or door stepping, people coming to us and asking us – why are you so joyful?  I remember a young man from Spain coming last year and asking for the sacrament of confirmation. When I asked him why now? ( he was in his late twenties ) he replied that he had seen some of the students faces who came to mass and the chaplaincy and ‘their eyes were shining’.  (I immediately checked that we had no drug dealers on site…. :)

National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil

National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil

However Francis is also gently chastising a distorted type of religion and religiosity. We are warned about this with the great line   ‘There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent rather than Easter’  (6)   .  Reminding us that the Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane he then investigates what might prevent this joy. Francis’s previous job as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires led to him being a key figure in the last general assembly of the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM). Bergoglio, who was a cardinal at the time was the key figures who helped prepare the final document, the ‘Aparecida’ document.   One of the most interesting quotes is lifted directly from that – :

  “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others”  EG 10 ,  Aparecida 360

So the more security, the more comfort and the more isolated we become the more sterile our faith is.   We become like spiritual ‘gated communities’  (my words not the Pope’s).   There is an ecclesiology here that is challenging for many of us who have a default position of seeing the world as hostile.  To a Jesuit ear however you can hear so much of  the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.  Particularly his meditation on The Two Standards (click here if you would like to find out more).  So the opening theme of his exhortation is Joy – and people are thirsting to encounter authentic joy.  One of the most popular posts in this blogs archives is an article about the joy of the fourth week of the exercises, with currently (Dec 2013) over 7,000 individual hits, called a Joy that Surpasses all Joys.  We all need more joy in our lives!

Person of the Year

AMDG

proxyThe announcement that Pope Francis has been chosen as Time Magazines ‘person of the year’  marks an incredible turnaround in the public perception of Catholicism. Pope John Paul II was also given this title in 1994 – in recognition of his moral leadership and role in the downfall of Communism and after he had been Pope for 16 years (Pope John XIII was also in 1962).  It is quite remarkable that Francis got it before he had even completed a year of his pontificate. Time describes him as a “septuagenarian superstar” who “makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office”.  It is worth noting that his biggest critics seem to be from within the church particularly from the right.  I was told by one of our students that he is not going down very well in Poland where the church is still riddled with clericalism.    Maybe aware of these internal critics – many of them who seem to be digital pharisees – the Vatican spokesman, Fr Lombardi SJ, said that Francis wasn’t looking for Time’s recognition, but if it gave people hope, then the Pontiff was happy.

What is the hope based on? Perhaps it is simply leadership.  It is interesting that the day after the Mandela Memorial – when Barack Obama has sharp words for some of the worlds leaders   “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people…..  There are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard”     It was notable that the assembled crowds booed their own president Jacob Zuma who has been accused of wide-spread  corruption.  The Pope Francis vote seems to be against a background of weak-leadership in the world.  Times managing editor, Nancy Ellis, confirmed this by writing, “At a time when the limits of leadership are being tested in so many places, along comes a man with no army or weapons, no kingdom beyond a tight fist of land in the middle of Rome but with the immense wealth and weight of history behind him, to throw down a challenge,”

Ad Multos Annos

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.

Breaking the Chain of Hate

AMDG

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! 

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