Tag Archive: Religion


AMDG            Yesterdays Homily for the feast of the Presentation given in Oxford 

touching-the-void-posterA few years ago I read a book called Touching the Void – it was one of those books that you can’t put down and I thing I read it in three sittings in the space of 24 hours…… it told the story of climber called Joe Simpson and his friend who had a climbing accident in a remote mountain in the Andes…….. After breaking his leg, his friend lowered him down, attached by a rope, in rapidly worsening conditions, till eventually he was lowered off a cliff. Finding themselves at a dangerous impasse, he had to make an excruciating choice, they wither both wait and die, or he cuts the rope abandoning his friend to almost certain death, but probably survives himself.

He cut the Rope.

Amazingly his friend was to survive, and crawl back to the base six days later.…………However  going back to that night when the rope was cut, he fell and landed on a ledge.  When he was sitting on the ledge, alone, forsaken …. and staring death in the face, Joe Simpson decided there was no God.  He encountered  a void……  He would have experienced what St Ignatius would refer to as an acute desolation.   The recently canonised Jesuit Pierre Favre, talks about intense experiences in prayer ‘where God withdraws his presence’. Not permanently ….. but in a way to teach us when we are in danger of taking God for granted.  In the time of the Ezekiel, about 600 years before the birth of Christ – he predicted a chilling prophecy ‘ That the Glory of the Lord would leave the Temple’ .  This would be devastating news for the people, that temple was where humans and God were reconciled;  it was the unique place to encounter God, the one place where sacrifice to God was allowed.  Can you imagine how the People must have felt when Ezekiel prophesied that the Glory of the Lord would leave the temple’.  The temple would soon be destroyed by the Babylonians,  for the Jewish People it was a communal experience of touching the void.

images (1)So we can appreciate today’s readings, and particularly the Joy of the Prophets Simeon and Anna in the light of this experience of desolation.   Firstly we heard the Prophet Malachi in the first reading,  ‘And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek,’  – this prophecy would give great hope….. but none would expect the manner of the Lord’s coming.  And so today we hear how the child Jesus is presented before God in the Temple. We are told that Simeon is awaiting the consolation of the people Israel – and as he holds this child in his arms he believes this promise is finally fulfilled .  With the eyes of a prophet he recognises the presence of the Lord in this small child, and utters the words of that beautiful prayer ‘The Nunc Dimitiss’ which is said by millions of us each night at Compline.  Similarly the prophetess Anna, having spent years of prayer and fasting in the temple in anticipation of this moment, she rejoices in the Lord having returned to the temple.

The return to the temple of the Lord has profound significance for Christians on two levels….. Firstly in the physical, historical presence of the Lord – the presence of God on this planet is transformed.  In the incarnation – God is no longer limited to the Temple…. No longer limited to one city, one place.  Christ’s Body becomes the Temple – so as he dies on the cross, the curtain in the Temple that veils the Holy of Holies mysteriously is torn into two.  Then on the second level – the temple is the place of sacrifice, bulls and goats, doves and incense were offered to be burnt as thanksgiving offerings, guilt offerings, offerings at key moments in life e.g. childbirth.    When the Lord is presented in the Temple he will become the sacrifice that fulfils all other offerings – and we continue this sacrifice every day when we pray the beautiful prayer of the mass.  However in the sacrifice of the mass, the most beautiful prayer we can make, we relive the greatest sacrifice of all, Christ giving his body and blood for the sins of the world.  His sacrifice trumps all else – and this prayer is being offered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week all over the world, in great cathedrals and in simple chapels, in the heart of great cities and on the tops of mountains, in schools and universities and in rainforests.

So as the Lord is presented in the temple – let us renew our devotion to the mass – to Christ’s presence in the Liturgy of the Word and in the Eucharist, and in and amongst each other.  We are not alone – we are not abandoned – sitting on an icy edge of life,  when we gather together for mass, mysteriously we are in the real presence of God – whose grace works quietly and patiently transforming our hearts and our lives.

The headquarters of eBay in San Jose, Californ...

The headquarters of eBay in San Jose, California. Photographed on August 5, 2006 by user Coolcaesar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was fascinated to read that Ebay has recently banned the selling of spells, curses, hexes, magic, prayers, potions and healing sessions from its website.  Ebay – the virtual marketplace – is a capitalists dream.  Never has there been a market place with so many dimensions, with millions of items for sale worldwide.  The range of ‘ items are’grouped into more than 40,000 main and sub-categories, and cover everything for instance, a finger painting in real chocolate pudding by two-year-old Corbin, who is hoping to raise enough pocket money to visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom or a nifty black Ferrari 360 (starting at $150,000). Never before has there been a market with such abundant dimensions.  But it seems that even the free market has limits!

I think it is foolish to dismiss the paranormal, but also wise to protect the vulnerable from crass exploitation. There is a fine line between this type of exploitation and that of more reputable mainstream religions.  A slightly alarming development in Christianity over recent years has been the rise of the ‘Gospel of Prosperity’ mainly in Pentecostalist circles.  Something that impresses me about Pentecostalism is its ability to help people who are struggling ‘sort their lives out’ particularly in a poor urban context, and the creative ways many Pentecostalists put their faith into practical action and help transform communities and add to the common good. However what is a distortion of the Gospel is this idea that God will bless you financially if you donate generously to the pastor. Apart from obviously being open to corruption, it is this fusion of personal empowerment / self help which I think ultimately leads to a consumerist narcissism as opposed to the radical self-giving which is at the climax of the Gospels, and Jesus’s stress on servant leadership.  This distortion of Christianity is proving very popular in Asia, especially in South Korea which now has the biggest ‘church’ in the world in Seoul.

Interestingly eBay’s simple online system relies to an extent on the fact that most people are basically honest. But as the market grows in value, it inevitably attracts more rogues.  The first line of defence in online trading is eBay’s feedback profile, which is in effect the online reputation of both buyers and sellers. When any transaction is completed, both buyers and sellers are invited to rate how successful it has been, and leave a review. These reviews can be read by all users.  Many of the traders on eBay have come to value their reputations greatly, and those with enough positive-feedback scores are allowed to participate in buyer-protection schemes, which offer refunds. As far as religion goes – reputations are forged or destroyed at a much slower rate, over thousands of years.

AMDG

Jim Murphy at Manchester Universities Catholic Chaplaincy

In Britain it is the Political Parties conference season.  The Labour party is just finishing its conference here in Manchester.  I was very struck with the Scottish MP Jim Murphy who took an hour out of his busy schedule yesterday to talk to the students here at the Catholic Chaplaincy. Currently the shadow defence minister, and heavily involved in the Labour Party policy review, it was great to have him opening our ‘Faith and Politics’ season.  The stock of politicians at the moment in the UK is quite low, especially after the expenses scandal a few years ago, when widespread corruption and greed was exposed. Having sat in on a Fringe event earlier on in the week, it is very clear that net-working and self-promotion seems to be rife at these conferences.  Sometimes the self promotion seems stronger that the desire to serve for the common good, and this is probably why the public attitude to politicians has become, sadly, so jaded.

When Jim Murphy arrived it was clear he had lost his voice.  It was a real strain to hear him speak.  He had had two breakfasts that morning.  He refused any money for the taxi fare – and spoke gently but with passion about how faith and politics can be complementary.  I was quite struck by him – he didn’t need to come and talk to 35 students in the Catholic Chaplaincy, I’m sure it has done nothing for his political profile, there were probably more prestigious and more high-profile events he could have attended.  But he was faithful to his booking, even though his voice was giving out.  We were able to give him some throat lozenges as a thankyou gift, ‘I’ll have to declare these’ he said grinning.  I was fortunate to be able to tell him afterwards, that he had done a great thing,  as these students – some aspiring politicians , many Catholic, others not, had been really encouraged by him coming, and speaking openly about the tensions of faith and religion.  He is a role model for them.  He looked genuinely taken aback when I said that.  If only we had more politicians like him.

 

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