Category: Nature

The Entrance to Heaven


One of our students took a picture from a recent retreat – as we were walking on Formby Beach (8 miles north of Liverpool).  It reminds me of the pair of disciples walking to Emmaus….   He has called the picture ‘The Entrance to Heaven’ and entered it into a Winter Photography Competition.  I love the sense of space and the incredible skies in it.  The Competition had over 150 entries – but it has been selected for the final – the last 5.  You can vote for it by following this link….   and ‘liking’ it    *Link 




Homily given at the Holy Name, Manchester at Midnight Mass, 25/12/2014

Jesus-and-ChristmasThe Night of Nights…..  Tonight we remember the night on which all of history turns…..  the night in which God breaks through 2014 years ago – the night that our Calendar is based on, the night which divides time to Before and After …..  Before the coming of Christ and After the Arrival of Our Lord.  The Incarnation – the infinite God becoming a finite, vulnerable baby – the craziness of a love that never gives up on us, that never gives up on humans even though we make such a mess of things….. The Night of Nights

Tonight there is a crack in the Universe – that is first noticed in Nazareth as an angel appears to a young girl –  then the crack leads a starry trail to Bethlehem that starts to attract attention from far away, in the learned scientific halls of astronomers and also closer to home in the palaces of ruthless power.  But notice how the truly powerful one – the creator of the universe –  chooses to visit us – on the edge of things, in poverty, in simplicity, far from corridors of political intrigue, far from halls of great learning.

It is in the emergency shelter of a stable that this child-God begins to open a space in the world in which God’s healing love can work.  This space – the stable in Bethlehem – will soon grow into a new sanctuary – and will spread around the world – overtaking nearly half of the world’s population.  From here the faith of 2 and half billion people is born, from this temporary shelter, great cathedrals will arise all over the world, this humble beginning will inspire great works of art, literature and breathtaking beauty.

star-of-bethlehem1But tonight is about going back to those humble beginnings in Bethlehem – and one thing I ask that you do over the next days and weeks – is to gaze upon that image of the stable, to ponder how it all started – the vulnerability, the tenderness……  A modern translation of St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises asks us to enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the eyes of faith  .  We can do that beautifully in front of the crib …….  Gazing at the figures ……… enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the Eyes of faith .  In a few moments of stillness and silence …… watch the brave Girl who said yes to God, even though to be pregnant out of wedlock was a great shame and often meant you would be stoned to death or thrown down a well …… ponder on the courage of Mary….. and then the quiet support of Joseph, that decent man who instead of abandoning Mary listened to the angel in a dream and stood by her, his faith overcoming his pride, his compassion overcoming his male ego.  As we watch them caring for each other – allow that tenderness to seep into your soul, and then that tenderness will lead you to ponder the vulnerable, baby Jesus, dependent on their care – the man who will command the waves to be still, who cures so many people, who raises Lazarus from the dead….  As a helpless baby – The Son of God born into this world.

Some time over the next few days, take a little time out from the feasting, the telly, the computer, prize your eyes away from your smart phone and contemplate that image from Bethlehem…….  What we spend our time looking at affects us deeply – how we thing about the world – how think about our selves.

kim-kardashian-paper-cover-billboard-650Possible the most looked at image last year was that strange picture of Kim Kardashian – with her unusually shaped body – showing a little bit too much of it – and then that bizarre image of pouring champagne over her head into a glass that was balanced on her unusually shaped body……  I think you know what I mean …..  these images were looked at so often the strap line ‘Break the Internet’ was attached to it.   Talking to so many students – I know how much pressure they feel under to have the perfect body – male as well as female students.  How they are bombarded with images of ‘beauty’ all the time and how it leaves so many feeling inadequate, frustrated and unhappy.  It is like a spiritual sickness in our image obsessed world……

So be careful what you are looking at – notice if it doesn’t increase your faith , or your hope or your love it is probably slowly having a poisonous effect…. Take time away from all of that and spend some time gazing with wonder at the nativity scene – The church is open all day during the holiday period – when you gaze at the crib – what you find there is the image of pure Love – a love that is strong that as St Paul said it emptied itself, by taking the form of a servant so as to be born as a human….. the longer you Gaze on that – that love will slowly penetrate your heart ….  And you won’t feel inadequate or unhappy but your heart will fill with wonder…..

Enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the Eyes of faith 

And if this is your annual visit to church, or you don’t come very often, if you’re not sure about your faith, or you just like celebrating Christmas – you are very welcome …. But come again, come more often, spend less time with the Kim Kardashians of this world and the snares of our celebrity culture and more time with us and ponder Him who is the source of our joy and who can change anything


Tracy_Caldwell_Dyson_in_Cupola_ISSAt the beginning of the Second Week of the Exercises Ignatius presents us with the Contemplation on the Incarnation.  This has two main elements, he asks to us imagine the Trinity looking down on the world, seeing  and hearing all that is happening, births, deaths, wars, peace etc…   The decision to intervene by seconding the second person of the Trinity (the Son) is made.  Then in the contemplation, we zoom in, Google Earth style, to Mary’s house in Nazareth and the Angel visiting her.  Mary’s ‘Fiat’ – her Yes – is one word that history turns on.  We know how courageous this ‘yes’ is for young women in a culture that has brutal punishments for those unmarried women who bring shame no their families.

bbc-nativity-maryMary’s fiat – ‘ Let it be done unto me’  – is central in the Catholic understanding of the Incarnation – she gives her assent to cooperate with Divine Grace.  I remember being invited to watch a preview of the BBC produced ‘Nativity‘ in Soho in 2010 – it is an excellent production that was shown in four parts.  After the preview some of the producers bounded up to me – seeing that I had been visibly moved and wanted to know my reaction.  I said I thought it had been brilliant but that they had made one mistake. The wide grins started to fade and with furrowed brows they asked me what mistake –  I replied ‘ Well in this version Mary said no to the angel’ …. the brows became more furrowed and the smiles vanished,   moving on to the next person, they said indignantly ‘there’s no right or wrong’.

A wonderful poem on Mary’s fiat is by Bishop Robert F Morneau ….. and yes I know this doesn’t take into account the Immaculate Conception (before you write in) …. but even if theologically not quite correct it opens a new vista onto Mary’s fiat…



Were others asked?
A lassie from an isle in a distant sea?
A maiden in North Africa
or a slave girl from the Congo?
How many times were angels sent
and returned, unheard, unheeded?
Was Mary tenth on salvation’s list.
Or the hundredth?
And you, my soul.
was fiat spoken
when the angel came?



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