Category: Culture


Pancakes & #Ashtags

AMDG

IMG_4420Its been a busy couple of days at the Manchester Chaplaincy. Traditionally we sell pancakes to fund the excellent work that our student SVP group do, particularly with the poor homeless (4 soup runs a week) and the breakfast club that they fund and run in Moss Side which ensures that the kids start the school day with a full stomach. Foolishly I challenged them to beat the record of 300 pancakes – with a meal on me promised as the prize …..  they sold 600 pancakes this year.  A great effort and busy day at the chaplaincy – we reckon with the foodbank open in the morning we possibly had close to 800 coming in and out of the building in one day …which is probably a record!

1503833_10152641314431048_3035044841266490689_nNext day, Ash Weds, it  was the church’s turn to be full – with 400 at each mass.  as well as welcoming all who came – I challenged the irregular mass-goers to make it a regular habit during Lent.  I also asked them to do something I never thought I would find myself doing …..  to take a ‘selfie’ of them wearing there ashes with pride…. and to post them on Twitter / Facebook / Instagram etc….  as a way of witnessing.  We even had #ashtag trending, albeit it briefly, in Manchester…. here is our collage below.  Sorry for all those we have left out ……

 

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And one of my favourite Tweets!

Equilibrium & Stephen Fry

AMDG

This is an edited Version of the Homily Given at the Holy Name, Manchester on Feb 9th 2015

saving-face-behind-the-scene-1We all know the Genre of documentary where we get to follow 24hrs in the life of a celebrity … A day in the life of Paris Hilton – or Steven Gerard….. Well today’s gospel (Mark 1 29-37) gives us, without the cameras and the irritating commentary, A day in the life of Jesus Christ ….. It is at the beginning of Marks Gospel and is unusually full – the Healing of Peters Mother-in- Law, and then the healing of the crowds after sunset- and then the key –  Jesus’s pre-dawn prayer in a lonely place – and then his journey preaching and casting out devils.

If you were the producer of this programme – in the midst of all the demands being placed on Jesus – you would make that Prayer before the dawn the hinge moment of the documentary – that is the key scene. Sure all the miracles and his teaching would be very telegenic, but that period of prayer in a lonely place, on his own, before dawn is the key to understanding Jesus. It is here we see his union with the Father – it here we understand where he gets his power from, his energy and compassion…. And perhaps most interestingly it is here where we see how he keeps his equilibrium amongst so many demands and so many expectations.

JobWe all lead busy lives, and we know how easy it is to lose our balance and sense of perspective – Listen to Job in the first reading ‘Months of Delusion I have assigned for me – Nothing for my own but nights of grief’ It is easy for us to get sucked into the business of our lives and start thinking like this – St Ignatius refers to it as Spiritual Desolation. Someone who seems to have lost that sense of balance, that equilibrium this week is the famous atheist Stephen Fry. On Irish TV he was asked what he would say to God if he went to heaven. Fry responded, “I would say, ‘How dare you. How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. The God who created this universe, if he created this universe, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”

While Stephen Fry’s complaint reveals more about Stephen Fry than Almighty God (as this comment piece suggests it may be difficult to distinguish sometimes) , it is still a very a common complaint made, maybe in a less strident tone, and a question worth asking. If your friends know about your faith – It might well come up again and again in conversations in the pub, in the lecture theatre, in the lab, in the gym ….. You are a Christian Why does God Allow Evil? Isn’t Steven Fry right? In my response I might want to point talk of free will. We may do what we like. God, as a loving father, does not force us to do anything, but allows us to learn and grow. When we get it wrong unless we regret and try and change our life then evil proliferates. In ways we cannot comprehend the vast majority of the suffering and evil in the world comes from this basic reality. However as Christians we also have this great hope – the resurrection. God is no stranger to suffering as we see in the cross of Jesus but the darkness of the Cross and Good Friday becomes the new hope of Easter.  So matter how bleak it appears, despite the greatest evil, all that is beautiful, good and true will triumph.

So these challenges – made to us in pubs or in friends houses – actually become a wonderful opportunity to witness to our faith and give account of our hope… and why faith filled people often live joyful lives….. as someone once said it is better to light a candle that curse the darkness…..

whirlwindToday’s readings give us a lot to ponder about. In the book of Job we have the most powerful exploration of this problem of pain and suffering – I haven’t come across another text in literature from any culture that looks this problem in the eye and tries explores it so bravely and honestly – It is at the beginning of Chapter 38 that God answers Job from the whirlwind and gives him a tour of the cosmos…. Where you there Job when I created the heavens and the earth – He shows Job the Plan of Salvation that spans all of space and time.. So if you want to answer your sceptical friends questions immerse yourself in the book of Job .. and then remember that in the Gospel we see how Jesus keeps his equilibrium in the face of so much suffering and brings his healing power to all those people who come to him …….

But the best way to answer this critique of faith – actions rather than words – how you live your life – do we try and imitate Jesus – do we try and bring healing to peoples lives – do we put our faith into action? Here at the chaplaincy there are many ways to respond to suffering – the foodbank of course – our great SVP group who made three homeless runs this week and volunteer in many other ways – and at the end of mass tonight you will get a great chance to meet Clara who organises volunteering placements in some of the poorest parts of the world for Jesuit Missions… So its better to light a candle than curse the darkness and you can inspire you sceptical friends by putting your faith into action

Jesus will ask you at the end of time – What have you done for the sick, naked, hungry, for the poor…….

Wolf Hall & Hagiophobia*

AMDG

tumblr_m9yucbzytr1r6bdhjo1_12801 *Hagiophobia,  I have just discovered is the fear of saints or Holy things…. ok so we are all familiar with Vampires cowering from crucifixes, or troubled by holy water, but I am thinking about a more subtle and perhaps more serious form of cultural hagiophobia.

Christopher Hitchens’ almost visceral hatred of Mother Teresa would be an example of this, his book the Missionary Position, is a classic case of a hatchet job.  But at least Hitchens described himself as a polemicist and was quite open about this.  However Hilary Mantel’s historical novel Wolf Hall and its sequels contain a more subtle but equally relentless character assassination of St Thomas More.  Her distorted and cruel caricature of one of the great figures of the Tudor times,  is a great calumny.

Mantel, raised a Roman Catholic and educated at convent school, has turned her back on the church of her youth with an unusual and unbalanced venom. In an interview in the Telegraph she said “ I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.”  With the stroke of a pen she condemns 1.2 billion people.  At the time I remember reading many comments expressing relief that we have been saved from the ‘respectability’ that Mantel obviously craves.  And she has achieved that respectability in glorious fashion with back to back Booker Prizes and now wall-to-wall gushing praise for the BBC adaptation of her books.

utopia-thomas-more-paperback-cover-artThis leaves me very uneasy, as one of the biggest problems that a post-Christian culture faces is a cultural amnesia. A lack of historical grasp can be dangerous, repeating mistiakes and underpinning prejudices.  This portrayal of More as a zealous monster, and Cromwell the destroyer of the monasteries, as a hero, flies in the face of history.   This is important as so many of viewing the series will see this as history, my atheist sister after reading the books declared with a certain provocative pleasure – what an unpleasant character More was.  The vast majority of historians describe More as one of the intellectual greats of Europe, a renaissance man, the author of Utopia, great friend of Erasmus who worked for the reform of the church from the inside.  As the newspapers are full of gushing praise about Wolf Hall – they focus on the lavish production values, the great acting, its what the BBC does best, historical dramas – and I can see the producers eyes filling up with dollar signs as they anticipate the DVD box sales, and BBC Worldwide licks it lips anticipating the sales to foreign broadcasters.  The problem is the History Sucks – and we will be exporting it around the world and most people will be watching it as fact.

The series has just been reviewed on Thinking Faith 

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