Category: Mary


AMDG   Homily given at Midnight Mass, at the Holy Name Manchester, 2016

shepherds-seekingTonight as so often before we are invited to that manger in Bethlehem – but maybe after this year of surprises, as our future seems more uncertain than ever before – as we are aware of a terrible persecution and suffering of so many of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world – we are coming to the manger with a deeper longing than usual. We have just listened to the timeless words of Luke – the turning point of human history is recounted – the birth of Christ from which we measure time and dates.  Through Luke’s words we are invited to listen to the message of the angels and discover anew an unexpected joy. Obedient to the angels we are invited to accompany the shepherds in leaving the darkness of the night and come to witness that strange scene around the manger.  We are called back 2000 years ago to experience a new light that has come in such an expected way into our human world.

Maybe this year the darkness around the manger seems to press in more.  The world without God – is dark – A world without God is brutal – The world of the powerful were the weak are trampled upon – discarded. This dark world is the world of Caesar Augustus, of King Herod, of Bashar Assad, the world of Game of Thrones, perhaps even the world of the Apprentice.  It is a pagan world –  It is survival of the fittest, mafia gangs – a world saturated with sex without love, a world where so many young people are made to feel ugly and insecure, a world where the old feel abandoned and a nuisance. Where refugees are made to feel worthless and unwanted, we have 7 refugees sleeping next door tonight.

It is into this messy world that God chose to enter – into its messiness and fragility.  And we need Jesus Christ more than ever before – as for so many people – hope seems to recede, anger seems to bubble up everywhere – we need someone to give us Hope and to give us Joy.  Essentially at Christmas we need to find some time to gaze at the crib –  to gaze at this curious way in which hope and joy has come into a dark world.  We need to squeeze some time out from our feasting and partying, from our boozing and box sets – to spend some time look at the crib.

e40e5abaccfc35f4ccf077910302958aWe know a new born human baby is helpless – uniquely in the animal kingdom.  Often primates rely on their parents but no-one is as helpless as the new-born human.  Why out of all the animal kingdom are baby humans so dependent on their mothers?  We are told that this is because of the underdevelopment of our brain after 9 months. So the Almighty -Omnipotent God chose to enter our helplessness.  Because of this vulnerability and this helplessness – at birth neuroscientists tell us that babies have a repertoire of skills to get their Mother to fall in love with them – they are bonding machines.  Let’s imagine Jesus bonding with Mary. We know that human babies love to gaze at Faces –  Jesus would be lying next to Mary and look at her face.   After a while he would develop a seductive sense of timing, knowing when to look to attract her gaze and then when to look away and then when to look back at her to attract her gaze again.

Jesus, like we did when we were little,  would become extremely good at reading Faces – noticing tiny differences in the muscular movements around the eyes and mouth of Mary.  We know that in experiments with babies where they stare at a gallery of faces they usually stop and stare longer at their mother’s face. A famous experiment   demonstrated that 6 month old babies could recognise different features in the faces of monkeys which adults can’t. So in their powerlessness Babies see more than we do in our busyness.  What does the baby Jesus see when looking at your face?   What would it be like standing there in the shadows and watching the infant Jesus stare at his mother – – Jesus would stare at her and she would gaze back…. watch them bond. The mother of God with the incarnate deity.  Maybe then Jesus would stare at you in the shadows, lurking at the edge of the manger … with all of the light and dark of your own life – what would that feel like?

e7576dc944ad965f5e0deb1a1a20fc05We know that equally as important as the power of this gazing – is touch.  In fact Babies will forego food for touch –  Some of our skin receptors have a social function – social touch helps the brain develop, it reduces stress and blood pressure.  God in Jesus needed to be touched – God is no longer so far above us, totally transcendent, distant – but in Jesus Christ he needed the touch of Joseph and Mary. Maybe when we gaze at the Crib – Mary will allow us to hold the Baby Jesus.  Like all new mothers – feeding him – holding him she would have experience a deep sense of fulfilment that she would never imagine before.  Can we watch her feeding God?

Let us be amazed by that – The all powerful God, creator of the galaxies and the universe, needing to be touched by us ….. and He still does as we take him into our hearts in the form of communion – that incredible sacramental self-giving of God.

So as we come out of the shadows with the shepherds tonight – into that unique light of Bethlehem – we are invited to be transformed by that encounter with God made man….  We are invited to live in that light even in the midst of this hurting and fragile world …..  we are invited daily to touch Almighty God who longs to be touched by us …. Something that we can do in a unique way in Holy Mass….  Let this special Mass, Christs Mass change us.

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.