Tag Archive: love


All_Saints_Catholic_Church_(St._Peters,_Missouri)_-_stained_glass,_sacristy,_Sacred_Heart_detailI have been telling many of our students here,  that when we die, God is not going to be interested in how you did in this module, or what mark you got in this exam – however He will be interested in how much love you shared in your life.  Today the church focuses on the mysterious way that God manifests his love for us through the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is a beautiful devotion that has been part of the Church’s armoury of prayer since its earliest days.  There are countless schools, hospitals, orphanages, parishes and even universities around the world that proudly carry the name of the Sacred Heart in their Title.

pierce-christs-sideThe limitless ability of God to love us is made most visible with the historical figure of Christ on the Cross, on Golgotha, outside of the city walls of Jerusalem.  There is a famous story of a German Jesuit who appeared on a late night discussion programme with a famous imam.  When the presenter pressed them to explain the difference between the Muslim and Christian understanding of God, the Jesuit said – ‘Through human eyes, the Christ was a failure ‘ –  this was followed by  a profound silence (which you don’t often see on television!).   When the camera panned to the imam, he was sitting there with silent tears rolling down his face.  A deeply holy and spiritual man, who was obviously close to God, the imam recognised the power of his German friends words.

Wounded-HandsIn the early church, a very popular devotion developed which was contemplating on the sacred wounds of Christ .  We know these wounds, on his forehead the marks of the crown of thorns, on his hands and his feet the holes from the nails, and in his side the large wound that the lance made that pierced his side, were still present in the glorious body of the risen Christ.  Even nowadays they mysteriously appear in cases of stigmata, in the body of doubting-thomasmystics. The wound in his side, opened up Christs heart to us, and so the devotion to Christs wounds, developed to a devotion to his heart, promoted by St Bernard in the eleventh century, and promulgated most notably by the Franciscans and the Carthusians.

In its modern form, the devotion is associated with Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque, a French Visitation sister who claimed to have a series of visions in the 17th Century, that lasted for 18 months.  In these visions, she claimed Jesus appeared to her radiant with love and asked to be honoured under the figure if his heart.   Her spiritual director was  Claude de Colombiere SJ,  is now a Saint. He was crucial in that he did not dismiss Margaret Mary’s claims, but wisely accompanied her and discreetly encouraged her, in spvisitationite of widespread disbelief and even jealousy from many of her sisters and friends. The series of promises that were made to those who followed the devotion,
which include regular communion, attendance of mass on ‘First Fridays’ and weekly holy hours, were sent around the world under the patronage of an American Businessman, with the approval of the Church.  Although the Church officially approves of the devotions, individual Catholics are not bound to follow them.  I wonder whether it could be the perfect antidote to the epidemic of pornography in our times.



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


e8fc6da0-c235-4aa6-8fc7-23f12e3029e2HiResI have been enjoying accompanying the Missionaries of Charity on an 8 Day Retreat.  It is always great to see how an Ignatian individual guided retreat (IGR) is so often an experience of renewal. The MC’s founded by Mother Teresa live a very austere and effective form of religious life.  Famously only owning two sari’s, sharing bedrooms, never travelling alone, with all their communities giving hospitality to the poorest of the poor through breakfast clubs, soup kitchens and also summer camps for urban youth.  Alongside all of this is a highly structured day including four and a half hours of prayer.  Because of all of this, the Sisters have a very rich interior life – which means that it is a privilege to accompany them on a retreat.  The normal periods of resistance and adapting to a rhythm of silence and prayer are not ‘issues’ as they may be with other retreatants.  In fact conversely encouraging the sisters to temporarily leave behind a routine of oral prayer and devotion and have the courage to make imaginative contemplations on the Gospel passages and Ignatian themes, and more importantly to give God enough silence and stillness for Him to work in is the challenge.  The fruits are wonderful to witness.

Part of my role in accompanying them is to try and go deeper into the life of Mother Teresa, to understand this remarkable woman who began life in a Loreto convent (an Ignatian order) and ended up being a Nobel Prize Winner and probably the most recognised women on the planet.  Mother always had Jesuit spiritual directors, in fact one played a crucial role in helping her discern ‘the call within the call’ that brought her out of the convent and on to the streets of Calcutta.  However what has struck me most is the anger and sheer hatred that she seemed to generate in some quarters.  Most notoriously from Christopher Hitchens and his documentary / book Hells Angel.  For a couple of weeks now I have been mulling this over, and being in a privileged position to listen to the sisters and witness their work at first hand over a few years his criticisms, few of which are well-founded, have been wildly exaggerated and lacking insight, generosity, compassion.

mqdefaultHitchens epitomises a chattering class that live lives that are ultimately unhappy and frustrated, and so compensate by justifying themselves to each other through a spurious moral superiority. So much of the commentariat are affected by this impotence – the secularist and self-appointed gurus have a very flimsy record in building up civil society and actually changing the world.  It is easy to stand on the side-line and harp, but Hitchens takes this to an unhinged level – so detached from any practical engagement with poverty.   Comparing reading his writings and listening to the Sisters testimony is an interesting comparison of spiritual desolation and spiritual consolation.  Hearing (outside of the confidential confines of Direction) Sisters talk about going in and cleaning the house of two dying alcoholics living in squalor in Liverpool is inspiring and moving.  Time will be the judge of the legacy Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Christopher Hitchens….. although an interesting footnote for me was meeting his nephew Daniel Hitchens this year.  Daniel was an outstanding member of the new intake for Catholic Voices, who train spokesman for the Church.  A recent convert, I asked him why he had become a Catholic, and one of the reasons was because his uncle hated Catholics so much!  Peter Hitchens has written a fascinating book in response to his brothers atheism, called ‘The Rage against God’.  The anger that underpins much of the ‘New Atheism’ is ultimately not constructive, whereas the love that inspires the commitment of the MC’s is creative, and creates hope in the poorest and darkest corners of our world, including urban Britain.