Category: Christianity


AMDG

51vxcbXaBmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A book which has had a big influence on me recently was Richard Rohr’s Falling Upwards.  Rohr, an American Franciscan has written many books on Spirituality.   He is a ‘spiritual entrepreneur’ having started different communities and recently a Centre for Action & Contemplation.  One of the themes he is very interested in is that of Male Spirituality.  He is acutely aware of a modern male crisis, often linked to the search for a masculine identity. We know about the pressures and expectations that men and women face in their daily lives, its just that men arent very good at talking about it Recently looking at  as sharp rise in  Male Suicide rates,  analysed  and concluded that men are failing to cope, as well as keeping their problems hidden from others

Looking at the perennial issue of reform in the Church – it is important to note a sharp generational tension in the Catholic priesthood (at least what I perceive in the UK).  The older guys – often the ‘formators’ –  are confused about the younger guys who are entering.  Those of us born since the 70’s were formed in postmodern age, where almost nothing has been stable or constant or certain,  social attitudes have changed dramatically.  The church has been trying to reform itself through the Second Vatican Council, the reception of which takes generations to ‘bed in’.   Exacerbating this in the Catholic Church have been the recent  years of public scandal over paedophilia and cover-up by the hierarchy. Now, at least in the UK these scandals are being revealed everywhere, BBC, even Football Clubs, so at least the Catholic Church is not being portrayed as the unique place for these terrible crimes.

Rohrs’ thesis is that the task in the first half of life is in ‘forming the container’…. 51606445-wounded-child-falling-from-his-bike-and-crying-while-holding-his-knee-with-dad-coming-to-help-isolat-stock-photocreating our identity, building up our ego, leaving the nest, achieving things.  Kids test their strength, and when they fall down, they have to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and get on with it.  However most of us get to a point where we are secure enough in who we are that we realise that these things don’t matter so much any more – and we start falling upwards.  This is chronological, we have to past through the first phase to get to the second – but we move at different paces…. often linked to suffering.  So for instance, you could be in your 60’s but emotionally you are still a teenager, need your ego boost, need attention etc you are still in the first half of life.  You can also be 16, caring for an ill parent, looking after your brothers and sisters as though you were their dad or mum, and you can be incredibly mature… already you may have reached Rohrs’ falling upward stage.

It may be that we have a generation of priest, seminarians and some bishops,  a high percentage who have what we would call “father wounds,” which can take the form of an absent, emotionally unavailable, alcoholic, or even abusive father and often had no chance to do the task of the first half of life well. So now they want a tribe that is both superior and secure— the danger is a generation of seminarians and young clergy who are cognitively rigid and “risk adverse”; who want to circle the wagons around their imagined secure and superior group whilst the Pope is encouraging them to get out of the sacristy and not be frightened of making mistakes.  This results in a form of clericalism –   preoccupation with clothing, titles, perks, and externals of religion; and more complex things such as  ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, and social justice are dead issues for them. None of us can dialogue with others until we can calmly and confidently hold our own identity.

downloadAn interesting thesis – fitting into to why some aspects of the Catholic blogosphere and media are obsessed with Amoris Letitia… and looking inwards…. talk about the reform of the reform rather than getting their hands dirty by sharing in the messiness and brokenness of all our lives. In a time of VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, it is tempting to pull up the drawbridge.  Whereas we are called to deepen our faith, put out into the deep – and listen to Jesus saying ‘Do Not be Afraid for I am with you always’.

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

Today’s Gospel should make us feel uncomfortable – the rich man who steps over the beggar at his gate. Like all of us he is uncomfortable when confronted with destitution, with extreme poverty….  I think Jesus wants us to feel uncomfortable when we hear his words today.

Cladownloadyton M Christensen , in 1995, coined the phrase disruptive technology.  These are innovations often produced by an outsider which changes the market, or the way we do things. So for instance in Academia, whose currency is the transmission of knowledge – Wikipedia is  a disruptive technology, open source, peer edited,  free access to knowledge, which led to end of to many traditional encyclopaedias being produced.  You can think of many examples digital photography and the demise of Kodak, Uber challenging the taxi industry, amazon and bookshops etc etc

The Gospels of Jesus Christ are meant to be disruptive –  Jesus in the tradition of Prophets from the Old Testament is warning us.  The Prophet Amos in th first reading says ‘Woe to the Complacent in Zion’  …. Our complacency our comfort in this world where there is such extreme wealth and extreme poverty is an offence to God.  Amos the prophet does not mince his words.

But Jesus is more sophisticated even as a prophet – he doesn’t want to harangue us, he doesn’t just want us to feel guilty and powerless that we can do nothing, he wants us to change our hearts – he wants a deeper transformation.  He wants us to ponder this parable, to reflect on it … to pray with it – so that our hearts change.

tentsofsomeofthehomelessnearmanchesterpiccadillyrailstationToday’s Gospel of the poor man at the rich man’s gate is meant to disrupt our complacency – We are meant to feel uncomfortable if we really listen to this.   We see poverty on the streets of Manchester all the time, there is even a small tented shanty town growing up near Piccadilly, and we also see bright new shiny buildings going up everywhere.  This paradox is perplexing …. If the economy in Manchester is booming – how come so many people are obviously being left out?  What has happened to the common good?

sermon-slide-deck-til-death-do-us-part-matthew-19112-19-638And if we are honest we developing coping mechanisms to cope with this – but the danger is that all these coping mechanisms take us in on ourselves ….  Saint Augustine said that sin is a life lived “inward” for self rather than “outward” for God and others. The theological phrase in Latin (if you are interested) is “Incurvatus in se” (Turned/curved inward on oneself).  How many things allow us to live like that now – we can control our environment – glued to our smart phones – living digital lives – we put our headphones in and we can even block the world out.  But let us acknowledge these are coping mechanisms.

But God has told us repeatedly through the prophets, through Moses, through Abraham, to have a deep attentiveness to the Poor….. but that makes us uncomfortable.   Jesus wants us time and time again about the isolating power of wealth …  the more we have we are that isolated from each other, and ultimately isolated from God – we create rich ghettoes, gated communities, bigger walls…. And we become miserable

How can we help?  There are so many ways so many initiatives flowering up around us ….  The Holy Name and the Chaplaincy are becoming a centre for many of these initiatives…..  just take the newsletter home and read it.  But even before that maybe we can pray for the grace of freedom – to leave the technological arms race where we have to constantly upgrade our phones, the grace of freedom to realise how we are trapped by consumerism, and how we become blind to our neighbours in need…   That could be our simple prayer for the week …  Lord make me free…  when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed at night.

Homily given at the Holy Name Sunday 25th September 12.00 mass