Category: Religion


AMDG

1102014686_univ_cnt_5_xlI have been thinking a lot about Pope Francis’s ‘Eldest Son Problem’.  If you remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder brother who has worked hard and kept the rules all the time, seethes with resentment as the dissolute younger brother is forgiven and embraced by the father.  In fact, his resentment at the Father (God’s) unlimited mercy and forgiveness stops him from going in and enjoying the banquet.  Francis is experiencing a similar type resentment from a sizeable group – particularly in The States.  Often an elite of some type or other, who seems to resent the popularity of Pope Francis outside of the borders of the church.  It’s as if they don’t want the wrong type of people included in ‘their church’ which, from the outside, has started to resemble an exclusive and comfortable country club. They can seem to dominate the English-Language-Catholic-Blogosphere and so they appear to be many, but this is an exaggeration – what they are doing is creating an ‘echo chamber’  and they are not representative of most Catholics.

private-club-members-only-sign-k-0249_grnrevFrancis’ inspiring model of the ‘field hospital church’ that gets out there in the middle of the messiness of life, that tends wounds and listens to those hurting, is very threatening to some people, even if it is close to Jesus’s vision.  So an alternative ecclesiology is at play – rather than the field hospital church it is the ‘officers mess‘ church. They create an elitist Catholicism,  have an ideological spin on history, often use the labels of tradition and orthodoxy  as weapons  and don’t seem to take into account the reality of many peoples messy lives. Creating a virtual gated community, their criticisms of Francis are out in the open, relentless and already they are splintering (always a sign of the bad spirit).  What worries me is the effect that these blogs are having on some of my students, perhaps even on some of our bishops.  The less you are pastorally engaged – the more tempting it is to live in these echo chambers in order to feel good about your Catholic Identity.

ddeb78bb63620d00e54880ddb8b12536 So is their a solution?  How do we get the Elder Brother to join the banquet? Or even more worrying,  how do we bring these dissenters along with us?  Richard Rohr thinks we can learn something from the Japanese here,  and how they discharged soldiers.  After the defeat in the Second World War, many soldiers were not fit to return to their communities. Their identity for so long was to be a loyal soldier for their country and now they needed a broader identity. So some very wise villages created a public ceremony where they were welcomed back and praised effusively for what they had done.  The community realised that they needed to move on  so they created this ritual for closure and transition for ex-soldiers to return to civilization.  After the praise and thanksgiving, an elder would stand and declare ‘The war is now over – this community needs you to let go to what has served you until now, we need you to return as a man, a citizen and something more than a soldier.’

Maybe the Pope needs to do the same with some of our culture-warriors that are finding it difficult to move with him.

The Trinity

AMDG       Homily given in the Holy Name Manchester, 12pm,        22nd May 2016

rf_detail_176_0There is an assumption that every preacher dreads Trinity Sunday – how can we speak about the inner nature of God?  How can we talk intelligibly of this ultimate mystery?  Human Language always fall short…..  but I think that this is an unhelpful attitude because God desires for us to know Him.  In Jesus Christ, in the incarnation, in the second person of the trinity – we see that God longs for us to know Him, God longs for us to grow in discovery of Him.  This is the great adventure of life …..  Knowing God …… moving closer to that ultimate mystery of being .

As we grow in knowledge of God, that desire to know is transformed into a desire to love God.  Knowing becomes loving, curiosity leads us to adoration. I consider the best place, not the only place, but the best place to go on this journey of knowing and loving God, is here in the Catholic Church.  If the fundamental task of every human being is to know, love and then serve God than the Roman Catholic Church is the best place to live that adventure as we have so many wonderful guides who have gone before us.

Pedro-Arrupe-at-prayer11Fr Pedro Arrupe, who was the General of the Jesuits about 40 years ago, talks about this adventure in a beautiful way –  “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

This striving to know God has led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.  The Church Father, Tertullian, provides us with the first recorded use of the word Trinity in the third century.  God is One and Three: He is not an eternal solitude; rather, he is an eternal love that is based on the reciprocity of the Persons, a love that is the first cause, the origin, and the foundation of all being and of every form of life.

295px-Kircher-Diagram_of_the_names_of_God

Athanasius Kirchers – Names of God in Oedipus Aegyptiacus

But nowhere in Scripture do we find God calling himself the “Trinity.”  However the Trinitarian understanding of God is not something that we have figured out by ourselves.  If we ask ourselves “Is this the way Christ spoke?” looking at the stories from the Gospels, we can confidently say – yes.  We recognize that we he often spoke of the Father – doing his Fathers business, being with his Father, in today’s Gospel        ‘Everything the father has is mine’  and also of sending the Spirit – ‘when the spirit of truth comes’ Today – On Trinity Sunday, we praise God for who he is not merely for the wonders that he has worked.   The names that we give to God, names like “All Good” or “Perfect Being,” contain truth but are not complete. Knowing God’s name is an essential part of that journey of our life.  And we see how God reveals his nature through the life of Jesus.

So God is three persons – but one substance – consubstantial as we say in the Nicene Creed.  This unity is engendered by love, Trinitarian unity, is a unity more profound than the unity of any building stone, it is a more profound unity than in a material sense.   This is why unity is so important – and when we damage that unity – through Gossip, through attacking other Catholics,  through criticising the Pope, whether through our words or what we write online,   even when we refuse to attempt to understand those who are different from us – we are working against that divine unity.

This love than cannot keep to itself, this love which flows out, that breathes the Spirit, is Communio-logodynamic not static.  God in the Trinity is closer to us than our heart beat, and we are called to share in this community of Love. When we look at our community, formed from people from all over the world – who have travelled to study and teach here, to live in this rainy city of Manchester – the ‘communio of the Trinity’ is our touchstone.   In a culture that is stretched by globalization and blighted by individualism, we are called to offer a witness of community and in beautiful way of koinonia, of communion. This reality does not come ‘from below’ but is a mystery which, so to speak, ‘has its roots in Heaven,’ in the Triune God himself. We express that communion, sacramentally every day – but also through our living together, our eating and celebrating together, the work we do for the poor.

The more we love like this and the more we share our lives – the closer we come to living this mystery of self-giving and reciprocal love that God offers to us in his very being.  If you can help us build up this community you are helping is to contemplate the very heart of God.

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!