Tag Archive: joy


Generosity & Happiness

AMDG

Todays Homily 

If you want to be happy in life then be generous – generous with God and generous with your neighbour……  There are phenomenal examples of generosity in today’s readings.

GenerosityFirstly we have the generosity of Jesus.  We are told today how he is informed about John the Baptists arrest and later his death. We remember that John was Jesus’s cousin – so this is not only the death of someone who Jesus esteems as the greatest of all prophets – this is also family. Jesus – fully human and fully divine – would have felt this like we would react to a close member of our family. Let us remind ourselves how John was killed.  After being imprisoned by King Herod – he was beheaded and his head was presented on a plate to Salome….  This is a particularly cruel and grotesque death – very public – humiliating….. How would you feel if your cousin died in such a manner?  How did the family of Lee Rigby feel when he was butchered to death on a London street and his crazed attackers.   Jesus doesn’t lick his wounds, he doesn’t harbour bitterness in his heart for Herod – he throws himself into his public mission – calling for repentance and calling his first disciples to follow him.  This is the generosity of Jesus -  Giving himself fully to his mission

Call-of-Simon-PeterSecondly let us look at the generosity of his first disciples Simon and Andrew, James and John.  We are told that they respond to Jesus invitation – I will make you fishers of men – immediately, they dropped their nets and followed him.  There is no haggling with Jesus – there is no …. Let me think about it …. Can I get back to you.  These are hearts open to God – and generous with their responses ….. in other Gospels we are told that James and John were with their boats , father and hired men, so it is clear they have a little fishing business going – if they can afford to hire others to work from them.  So their generous response is against the backdrop of this comfortable life.

Why are generous people happy – because it is in generosity that we imitate God.  The creation of the world and of life is understood by the Church as a free act of creative love – the generous creativity of the divine.  God will not be outdone in generosity – and in some ways our being generous triggers God’s blessings.  It is not like some pastors will have you believe that you will become materially rich – it is a different type of wealth – you will become rich in your spirit.   Gods blessings are already there – it as though being generous makes your heart grow, and it can contain Gods more and more of Gods blessings.

ST Ignatius Loyola – wrote a beautiful prayer about generosity – many of the pupils in our Jesuit schools have to learn this off by heart – it goes like this –

Lord, teach me to be generous.

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and not to ask for reward,

save that of knowing that I do your will.

Lets sit quietly for a moment and think – in which areas of my life can I become more generous?

Joy – (EG 1)

AMDG

Now that academic term has finished – and many students have left Manchester, I have a little bit of space and have decided to slowly read through Evangelii Gaudium  (The Joy of the Gospel) - Pope Francis’s rather lengthy exhortation.  It has been reported as the Pope’s dream for the church – and as you would expect there is some dynamite there.

Evangelii_Gaudium-255x390In the Introduction the Pope reminds us how Joy is at the centre of the Gospel message, giving many examples of this.  I think Joy is a rare experience for many people, but when they meet someone is authentically joyful it makes a powerful impression.   I have always argued that there is a profound difference between joy and happiness – happiness is something that so many strive for, and can achieve when they have a good job, a nice house, financial security and meaning.  So happiness is like a transaction – and it is great when people achieve it.  However Joy is like an unexpected gift – there is nothing that we can do to earn it – only having a heart that is open to God – our creator.     We were created for joy.  Francis reminds us that the sharing of what is really important to us  brings joy.  It also strikes me that when we live joyful lives – people are fascinated, attracted, and – that is when we have to be ready to account for our joy.  This is a different type of evangelisation than bible bashing or door stepping, people coming to us and asking us – why are you so joyful?  I remember a young man from Spain coming last year and asking for the sacrament of confirmation. When I asked him why now? ( he was in his late twenties ) he replied that he had seen some of the students faces who came to mass and the chaplaincy and ‘their eyes were shining’.  (I immediately checked that we had no drug dealers on site…. :)

National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil

National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil

However Francis is also gently chastising a distorted type of religion and religiosity. We are warned about this with the great line   ‘There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent rather than Easter’  (6)   .  Reminding us that the Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane he then investigates what might prevent this joy. Francis’s previous job as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires led to him being a key figure in the last general assembly of the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM). Bergoglio, who was a cardinal at the time was the key figures who helped prepare the final document, the ‘Aparecida’ document.   One of the most interesting quotes is lifted directly from that – :

  “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others”  EG 10 ,  Aparecida 360

So the more security, the more comfort and the more isolated we become the more sterile our faith is.   We become like spiritual ‘gated communities’  (my words not the Pope’s).   There is an ecclesiology here that is challenging for many of us who have a default position of seeing the world as hostile.  To a Jesuit ear however you can hear so much of  the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.  Particularly his meditation on The Two Standards (click here if you would like to find out more).  So the opening theme of his exhortation is Joy – and people are thirsting to encounter authentic joy.  One of the most popular posts in this blogs archives is an article about the joy of the fourth week of the exercises, with currently (Dec 2013) over 7,000 individual hits, called a Joy that Surpasses all Joys.  We all need more joy in our lives!

AMDG

I’m giving an advent day of reflection in Gorton today – thought I’d share my reflection below

impatientHave you noticed how quickly technology moves from being a luxury to an essential …..  When Television was invented it for many years it was only to be seen in rich houses, but now we can’t imagine not having a television, often a large flat screen, digital …. So we moved from thinking about television as being a luxury , now it is a necessity.  The same is true about cars, computers,  mobile phones and now not just an internet connection but a fast connection. A modern problem is when can’t connect.  Our mobile phone signal is patchy – and we get angry and frustrated.   Our internet connection is slow and we start clicking the mouse furiously or open new tabs.  All of this incredible digital stuff wasn’t around 20years ago but now our expectations have been raised……    The digital revolution is speeding things up – but the result is this – we are in danger of losing the habit of patience and the practice of waiting…..  Advent is about waiting  ……waiting in hope and waiting in joy………. this is an important part of Christian life.

maxresdefaultThere is a beautiful image in scripture of the watchmen waiting for the dawn.  For millennia, before our scientific age, when we didn’t understand how our solar system operates – there was always this slight nagging uncertainty about would the sun rise again? Panic ensued during a solar eclipse.  In the far north when the Arctic Winter means a perpetual twilight for weeks – when the sun rises for the first time in weeks – communities go out to greet the rising of the Sun .  This is in image that John Paul II was fond of as we approached the third millennium – to be alert waiting for sunrise  – watchmen and women waiting for the dawn of new hope  that Jesus beings afresh every Christmas.  He often called us to be sentinels of the Gospel, turning our eyes to the future, we confidently await the dawn of a new Day… Quoting Isaiah he said “Watchmen, what of the night?” and we hear the answer: “Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy: for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion”…. “As the third millennium of the Redemption draws near, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity and we can already see its first signs.” May Mary, the Morning Star, help us to say with ever new ardour our “yes” to the Father’s plan for salvation that all nations and tongues may see his glory  (POPE JOHN PAUL II, Message for World Mission Sunday, n.9, October 24th, 1999)

downloadThis waiting is the heart of our prayer.  St Augustine says that God often doesn’t answer our prayers immediately because he is waiting for our hearts to grow so that we can receive all the graces he wants to give us.  Our hearts grow in that silent and joyful, patient ,waiting. So can we prayerfully wait in prayer this advent. Three suggestions – firstly draw closer to the Lord, come to mass more often ( if you are just a Sunday Catholic – than choose one day in the week you can come to) – you are guaranteed the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Secondly in adoration – the faithful silence presence in front of the Blessed sacrament  - there you hearts will grow,  remember that Promise that Moses gives in the book of Exodus (14) -  The Lord will fight for you, you only need to be still, you only need to be silent.  Take all those distraction that prevent you from joyfully waiting – those worries, those wounds and lay them before the Lord in adoration. Thirdly watch and wait with the Rosary – praying your beads compels you to slow down – as you go round in a circle, That rhythm can become a rhythm of hope.  If you drive hang  your rosary  round the rear view mirror – when you are stuck in traffic – instead of getting angry or impatient take it down – keep a list of names of people you can pray for in the car…..

Remember advent is a great opportunity to slow down and rediscover the art of waiting and hoping and growing your heart in expectation.

Debating Atheism

AMDG

The lecture theater filling up

The lecture theater filling up

I was invited today by Manchester Students Debating Union to oppose the motion ‘This house would not believe in God‘.  Speaking for the motion was the Philosopher Helen Beebee, and another atheist philosopher who I forget his name.  Opposing it was myself, Writer and Columnist Peter Hitchens and a professor of Biblical Studies…..  we lost (boo hoo!) … overwhelmingly, it seems that atheism is the new cool.  Anyway for what it is worth I am posting up my speech.  It is interesting to note that 250 students attended – sitting in the aisles – so the question holds great interest to them 

Thank you for inviting me to speak today – I strongly commend the Debating Society for organising this debate.  To believe in God or not to believe in God is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life.  My speech has two parts – 1. God as a concept  …… 2. How useful or dangerous is faith?

1.   God as a concept

I studied philosophy at Edinburgh Uni, before I even considered the priesthood.  We looked at a lot of analytical philosophy, discussions about what could be said and what could not be said.  Famously a school of philosophy called the logical positivists had said that the statement ‘ God exists’ was cognitively meaningless – i.e. saying God exists didn’t tell us anything meaningful about what we can know of the world out there.  Why was it meaningless?  ‘God exists’ could not be empirically tested, nor did it contain its truth within itself, like an analytical statement would e.g. 2+2=4.  It was therefore meaningless…..

How does religion talk about God? Often the starting point is through its sacred texts – e.g. The Bible / The Koran.  Believers call this revelation – revealed truth.  If we don’t accept the idea of revelation then in many ways the Logical Positivists are right – language reaches its meaningful limits when we start talking about God.  This is called the problem of religious language.  Faced with this problem we have two options –either the existence of God is meaningless – which is tantamount to saying God as a concept is irrelevant  (first way) -  or the second way is that we are humble in front of the mystery of our limitations – i.e. just because we don’t know – it doesn’t mean we have to dismiss it.

wittgensteinAt this point in my studies I discovered the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein who would become a hero of mine. What I love about Wittgenstein is his philosophy is based on a deep engagement with the world.  He wasn’t just living in an Ivory Tower – He was a stretcher bearer in the First World War – he taught young children in a rural school.  He published 2 major works  –…. The first one the Tractatus is a masterpiece in Analytical Philosophy – and he gets to that impass I just described, the limits of language and opts for the humble approach. The famous last statement says Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.  He was humble in front of the mystery of what we don’t know.

 The second major book was the Philosophical Investigations and he changed his views radically.  He realised the analytical approach was limited. Because we think in words – We have no access to our own minds, non-linguistically. The meaning of words is formed by what we do, Language acquisition is how we learn to act as we are growing up ….. In the same way we have no access to God, independently of our life and language or ‘language games’ as he called them.  So talking about God only makes sense within a religious language game.  So to answer the question about the existence of God is not about analysing a word or an idea, the existence of God becomes a question of how credible that language game is.

So we can debate God as an idea – it may be intellectually stimulating – but we will never convince each other with way – but maybe very congenial over a couple of glasses of wine…… If we are serious about this question we need to look at how people of faith live and judge that – and I think that becomes much more fruitful.

2. Faith is it useful or dangerous?  

My answer to that is both – there is good faith and bad faith. For me it’s quite simple good faith encourages you to love more – bad faith increases hate and sectarianism.   It’s best if I stick to my faith.  I am 39 years old. When I was 23 I left my girlfriend who I was deeply in love with and started training to become a priest – you know Catholic priests can’t marry.  It was a big sacrifice – and one I made grudgingly. But we both knew that I wouldn’t be fulfilled unless I tried this out.  I joined an order of Catholic priests called the Jesuits –  we are known for our long and rigorous training. Pope Francis is a Jesuit. The first two years I was a Jesuit novice – it is a probationary period.  I was sent to work in Brixton Prison, Teach in a comprehensive School in London & live with Gypsys in Ireland.  The heart of these two years is a thirty day silent retreat called the Spiritual Exercises.  Before then I nearly quit especially during the work in the prison.  During the 30 days of silence I had the most profound experiences of my life – Ever since then I am convinced that God exists. Because of this after my two years as a novice I took perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

I have never yet regretted that decision – not once.  In fact I think I have learnt the meaning of Joy since then, and I have studied 4 more degrees in theology, psychology and education.  I have worked in incredible places. In Tanzania teaching Aids Orphans, in India with the untouchables – training teachers, in North London working with gangs, and in the shanty towns in Manila.   At the heart of this has been my faith in God – God is real to me not just an idea. So it is up to you – to decide whether I am mad or delusional.  But I have seen with my own eyes – on a planet of 7 billion people  religion is increasingly important for the vast majority of them.   Now of course there is good religion and bad religion.

So to conclude – if you want to keep this debate at the level of ideas then we won’t really get  anywhere fast -  its important to realise what a huge influence religion has for good and bad in the vast majority of peoples lives on this planet – and you can judge how important my faith is to me by the decision I’ve made in my life – the experiences I’ve had.  I am a very committed religious person – its up to you to decide whether I am mad or wasting my life.

Pope Francis’ liberating effect

AMDG

BRAZIL-POPE-WYD-CHILDGrowing up as a young priest, a terrible sadness for us is the climate that has been engendered by the paedophile crisis. The terrible acts of a tiny minority of dysfunctional priests has smeared us all, to such an extent that it seems crazy to family and friends that we enter the priesthood in this day and age.  Sure, we are not entering for an easy life or the prestige and power!  Our formation, screening and training is excellent to prepare us for comprehensive safeguarding and a sensitivity to the vulnerable adults and children.  However there has also been a real climate of fear about engaging with young people, and cases of false allegations and a litigious culture can act like a straight jacket on your pastoral impulses.

That is why Pope Francis global witness is so liberating for us!  How comfortable he is in his own skin, as a friend who received a blessing from him recently said – he just radiates joy and love.  And more importantly how children flock to him and embrace him.  This is a great boost to our confidence and long may it continue.  The world needs that powerful witness of Francis – like a Grandad to the world.  And children who are being robbed of their childhood by pornography and hypersexualisation, they also need him.  Below are two moving examples of this.

Firstly a clip that was replayed and replayed by the Brazilian TV channels when the Pope was over for World Youth Day. Nathan de Brito, the little boy who broke past barriers to run into Pope Francis’ arms. As They embraced on the Popemobile as de Brito confided to Pope Francis, “Your Holiness, I want to be a priest of Christ, a representative of Christ.” Pope Francis beamed at the small child in the Brazilian national soccer team jersey and told him, “I am going to pray for you, but I ask you to pray for me.” He wiped tears from his eyes as he embraced de Brito and told him, “As of today, your vocation is set.” After exiting the Popemobile, the video shows de Brito blowing the Pope a kiss before covering his face with his hands, completely overwhelmed by the incredible experience.

The second clip is of the Pope meeting  migrants who had been shipwrecked in Lampedusa and those who helped them…and then there is the little boy in the yellow short….he will not leave the Pope’s side! he even escorts a little girl to see the Pope!  A security guy tries to bribe him with candy but has no luck…he wants to stay with Francis! As the commentator on you tube says - I love this kid…and understand him! This happens in the first couple of minutes in the clip 

Building Community

 

AMDG

I discovered a book yesterday called ‘Rekindling Community’ by Alistair McIntosh.  It is no 15 in the Schumacher Briefings,  named after the now deceased economist and ecologist E.F.Schumacher who published a very influential book in the 1970′s called ‘Small is Beautiful‘.  Inside I found this wonderful picture -

 

Gratitude & Candles

AMDG

Candlemas Day

Image via Wikipedia

I was woken up by the sound of plainchant this morning at 6am!  I have to confess I was still in bed…. so I missed the striking sight of the theologians processing into chapel, in their white soutanes, carrying Candles to celebrate the feast of  the Presentation.  Today’s feast is popularly known as ‘Our Lady of the Candles’ here in the Philippines or otherwise known as  Candlemas.   As quite a few of my ex-students are reading this blog  - maybe  a small reminder of today’s feast would be helpful.  The presentation of Our Lord in the Temple (40 days after Christmas Day) – is when we recall Mary presenting the Child Jesus to God in the temple.  40 days was what the Mosaic law prescribed as a period of purification for women after childbirth.

It is a feast that is underplayed in the Church – at least in my experience. I would like to see  a mini-revival. Why? Because it is about gratitude .  For me this is a key to being happy in life.  The happiest people I meet are the most grateful, the most thankful.  2000 years ago in Judea, women showed their gratitude to God by presenting their new-born children at the Temple.  Often when I celebrate baptisms I think that part of the celebration is in offering the life (child or adult) back to God.  When we see things as gifts we are grateful.  Conversely the most miserable people you meet, and often the most angry are those who feel life ‘owes’ them something, or they have been cheated some way.  This sense of entitlement may have been behind the recent credit crash.

So today at mass – I prayed in gratitude for my Mum, who gave birth to two of us!  and also my nieces and nephews. Maybe I’ll never be a dad – but there is still some  joy and privilege in baptising, in celebrating new life.  I hope next week to be celebrating more baptisms in the remote Palawan islands…. but more of that later.  So what are you grateful for? and how are you going to show that gratitude today?

The following video from Igniter – gives fantastic food for thought on that.  The background of volunteers and a soup kitchen remind us that gratitude often leads to generosity.  This time of year we need more grateful people! Good luck to all those working in the night-shelters back where Winter is hitting hard.

Stefan with Pedro in Mindanao

Today’s post is from British Jesuit Stefan Garcia – who witnessed the destruction of the Tropical Storm first hand. His mother is English and his father is Filipino.  Before joining the British Province Stefan grew up in Cebu in the Philippines.  He studied zoology before joining the Jesuits – and has just flown to Guyana for Regency.

Home visits. For me they’re about 3 parts joy to 2 parts frustration. After ten years of “living abroad”, a trip back to the Philippines was needed to remind me of where I come from, what made me the person I am, and using a more zoological tone, what kind of environment has shaped me into the Jesuit I am. Coming home for me meant supping from love in abundance, with my family. Sadly, my body reacted not so well; immediately my childhood omnipresent dust allergies fired up.The doctor says I’ll always have this reaction to my homeland. Allergens are most violent when most familiar because your body has an overreaction to the things it has had to deal with. It’s a good metaphor for my emotional life as well. Seeing family and friends after such a long time is genuinely wonderful, but being in this country angers me quite often: the corruption, the greed, the disregard for human life. I guess that’s everywhere, but I never feel it as strongly as when it so close to my heart.

The recent floods in Mindanao were for me especially heart breaking, not only because I was actually there and saw all the devastation, but because I love so many people in those places that were worst hit. And to know that much of this damage could have been easily prevented had the cities placed effective city planning to get people out of living in the most dangerous flood areas makes my blood boil. Being back home, in the Philippines, makes me angry. But it is the right kind of anger, the kind that should propel one to action, the kind that made me say “enough is enough” and so I dedicated my life to try and help others the best way I knew how, by being a Jesuit. Seeing it on the ground in the Philippines, the work of our good Jesuit brothers has been deeply consoling. In particular, my time with Pedro Walpole SJ has shown me what can (and cannot) be done. Pedro is a pioneer in the Philippine province; he works tirelessly to improve both the education of young tribal people (and in turn providing a model that could be adopted by the Philippine education system), and he has developed our knowledge of environmental sciences in the Philippine context. For example, his organisation Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) will soon be publishing a textbook on landslides. His marriage of both incisive science, involvement with the people most affected, and personal prayer and reflection has shown me a “way of proceeding” that should be emulated by all our sisters and brothers in our apostolates. His team of workers at the ESSC also made me deeply hopeful, to see a group  of young, intelligent, dedicated Filipinos actively working to make their country and the world a better place, especially for those most in need.

It is old timers like Pedro that feed us young ones with the expertise and experiences we need to grow into sincere apostles. For me, the work of the ESSC has given me both the technical knowledge I need and the desire to work skillfully and realistically in what can seem like the bleakest of endeavours. But God leads them through the mire of their difficulties, and like them, I hope to be lead by Him. Through such amazing people, God energises us to do better, not to settle for what clearly is not good enough. I pray that the Lord provides me with the strength and courage that I have experienced in others so abundantly in the Philippines.

All the best in Guyana Stefan.

The website of the Jesuits in Guyana is here – clicky clicky!

AMDG

Greetings of Christmas Joy and Peace Everyone!   I have emerged from the mountains of the Cordillera, exhausted but very happy, with wonderful memories of a very special Christmas with the people of Tanudan.  Thanks for the concerned messages regarding the terrible typhoon that hit the South of the Phillipines.  I didn’t know about it till yesterday which shows you how cut off we have been up in the mountain villages.  It had been raining steadily for 2 weeks as the tail of the Typhoon hit us – which meant landslides and swollen rivers making vehicular access impossible.  As a result we have been without electricity for much of the time (having to ration the remaining gasoline).

As they say a picture paints a thousand words – so below is a small taste of the journey into the mountains – with chickens / pigs / puppies – the last vehicle I saw for two weeks!  From then on it was walking from village to village for the pre-dawn masses, beautiful singing, and a simple lifestyle!

A first Christmas without presents/cards /booze/ TV /even electricity but full of singing, dancing and joy!  It was humbling to see how happy the people where to have mass for Christmas.  Even managed to squeeze some Baptisms in on Christmas day – after the celebratory pig was prepared of course.  Unfortunately the relentless rain seems to have destroyed my boots and my video camera – but I seem to have some footage saved.  So the next few days I will post some more stuff.  What remains with me is the glow of hospitality – unlike the people of Bethlehem, the people in the villages of Tanudan all opened their doors – many gave me their beds or a floor to sleep on, fed me, washed my muddy gear, gave me copious amounts of gorgeous home-roasted coffee.  So there was room at the inn this Christmas for me!

AMDG

St Lorenzo Ruiz

At last! We have finished the retreat – we are out of the silence. Talking and listening to my fellow tertians the shared feeling is one of renewal and deep gratitude. The proto-martyr of the Phillipines, St Lorenzo Ruiz, on his death in Japan said If I had a thousand lives – all of them I will offer to Him.   A beautiful hymn in Tagalog has been composed to this by a remarkably creative young Jesuit – Manoling Fransisco .  We sang the hymn together at the final mass of the retreat, and it was a lovely way to sum up the feelings in my heart.

I think for Ignatius the primary sin is not of pride but of ingratitude. As someone once said to me that Gratitude is the least of the virtues, but ingratitude is the worst of vices. It seems to me that the unhappiest people you meet in life, are those who take things for granted or even worse are locked into a mindset of ‘the world owes me a living’.  This gratitude at the end of the retreat is expressed by a beautiful prayer of ‘giving back’ that is treasured by all Jesuits.  It is often referred to by its Latin Title The Suscipe….. 

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

The Suscipe is a radical prayer of total self-giving, the fruit of self-reflection and of openness to God’s love.  Very close to the heart of St Ignatius……  I think the happiest, most joyful people you meet in life are the ones who can say this prayer, roll it around in their heart, habitually.

Thanks for all the comments left – and the interest shown – Now can anyone tell me what happened in the world in the month of November?  

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