Tag Archive: Saint


AMDG  –  Doubting Thomas and Divine Mercy Sunday

This Sunday – we had three things converging – Doubting Thomas, Divine Mercy Sunday as instituted by St JPII, and also Pope Francis announcement of an extraordianry Jubilee Year of Mercy (to begin on Dec 8th) ….. I shameless tried to squeeze them all in to my homily …

Today we hear the famous post-resurrection encounter of Jesus with ‘Doubting Thomas’….. who refuses to believe that Jesus is truly risen unless he can but his fingers in his wounds.

Why did Thomas did his heels in – and refuse to believe that Jesus was Risen?  Why did he demand special proof? Why wasn’t he satisfied like the other disciples?

Because Thomas loved Jesus – and when we love we also know that we our heart has also been exposed to being hurt.  Anyone who has experienced the death of someone they love…..  anyone who has seen a relationship disintegrate…. Anyone who has been left by someone they love knows the hurt and pain that follows.  Jesus mission had ended abruptly – Thomas after witnessing the miracles, the great crowds… was convinced that this was the Son of God.  He had left everything to follow him …. And then in confusion and dread witnessed his arrest, he had run away to save his own life but heard about Jesus being tortured, heard about his public and humiliating death.  The experience of Holy Week that we have just passed through had left the disciple frightened, disorientated and disillusioned.

So stubborn Thomas, having been so deeply hurt because of his love for Jesus, is reluctant to raise his hope again.  When we human being are hurt so often we react like hedgehogs and curl up into a little ball, nursing grudges, becoming angry and bitter.  But look at Jesus’s response – Jesus who had been abandoned by his disciples, who had been tortured and killed in a humiliating way – but now the risen glorious Jesus, still bearing his wounds, his first words are not of blame and retribution but of peace and mercy.

A modern doubting Thomas

‘ Peace be with you ‘   and to Thomas  ‘ Doubt no longer and believe’ … and Thomas makes one of the most beautiful declarations of faith in the Bible ‘ My Lord and My God’ – and then Jesus  commissioned to the Disciples to spread this message of peace and mercy, the forgiveness of sins.

The difference between our human experience of being hurt, and how we nurture grudges and find it difficult to forgive and the divine mercy is great.  So it is beautiful that Saint John Paul II has named this Sunday Divine Mercy Sunday and dedicated it to the visions that Sr  Faustina of Krakow had just before WW2,  She died a year before the Nazi’s occupied Poland which lead to some terrible years, firstly with the Nazi Occupation and followed by the Communist Occupation, a period which John Paul referred to as the crucifixion of Poland.  The most famous of the visions was the lord revealing his sacred heart with rays of white and red light flowing from it as we can see at the font of the church by the lectern …. Coming at the start of the 20th Century – the most violent, most genocidal, most hate filled period in world history …..  In the face of this violence and hatred – God reveals his mercy.

What is mercy -?  Coming from –misericordia – mercy is a deep loving identification in others suffering  ….  Mercy is the very essence of God, not just one attribute amongst many….. Psalm 113 reminds us that God’s mercy endures forever and a merciful Church is what Pope Francis longs for….  Pope Francis today has declared this year – to be an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy for the Church …. He has published a bull for the called Misericordia Vultus……   Saying  “The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love……  we will be asked if we have helped others to escape the doubt that causes them to fall into despair

I think we should take this invitation seriously.  As well as an increased participation in the Sacrament of Confession – so that we can experience God’s Mercy ….  Let’s remember the seven corporal works of mercy are: 1. Feed the hungry.
2. Give drink to the thirsty.
3. Clothe the naked. 4. Shelter the homeless.
5. Visit the sick.
6. Visit the imprisoned. 7. Bury the dead. And the seven spiritual works of mercy are: 1. Counsel the doubtful.
2. Instruct the ignorant.
3. Admonish sinners.
4. Comfort the afflicted.
5. Forgive offences.
6. Bear wrongs patiently.
7. Pray for the living and the dead.  Anyone who is interested in how we can implement this more – students and non-students …. Come and see me …. We already have exceptional things like the foodbank, homeless runs, running breakfast clubs in local primary schools but we can do more … come and see me if you are interested.  How will you respond to this extraordinary Jubilee of God’s Mercy?

Wolf Hall & Hagiophobia*

AMDG

tumblr_m9yucbzytr1r6bdhjo1_12801 *Hagiophobia,  I have just discovered is the fear of saints or Holy things…. ok so we are all familiar with Vampires cowering from crucifixes, or troubled by holy water, but I am thinking about a more subtle and perhaps more serious form of cultural hagiophobia.

Christopher Hitchens’ almost visceral hatred of Mother Teresa would be an example of this, his book the Missionary Position, is a classic case of a hatchet job.  But at least Hitchens described himself as a polemicist and was quite open about this.  However Hilary Mantel’s historical novel Wolf Hall and its sequels contain a more subtle but equally relentless character assassination of St Thomas More.  Her distorted and cruel caricature of one of the great figures of the Tudor times,  is a great calumny.

Mantel, raised a Roman Catholic and educated at convent school, has turned her back on the church of her youth with an unusual and unbalanced venom. In an interview in the Telegraph she said “ I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.”  With the stroke of a pen she condemns 1.2 billion people.  At the time I remember reading many comments expressing relief that we have been saved from the ‘respectability’ that Mantel obviously craves.  And she has achieved that respectability in glorious fashion with back to back Booker Prizes and now wall-to-wall gushing praise for the BBC adaptation of her books.

utopia-thomas-more-paperback-cover-artThis leaves me very uneasy, as one of the biggest problems that a post-Christian culture faces is a cultural amnesia. A lack of historical grasp can be dangerous, repeating mistiakes and underpinning prejudices.  This portrayal of More as a zealous monster, and Cromwell the destroyer of the monasteries, as a hero, flies in the face of history.   This is important as so many of viewing the series will see this as history, my atheist sister after reading the books declared with a certain provocative pleasure – what an unpleasant character More was.  The vast majority of historians describe More as one of the intellectual greats of Europe, a renaissance man, the author of Utopia, great friend of Erasmus who worked for the reform of the church from the inside.  As the newspapers are full of gushing praise about Wolf Hall – they focus on the lavish production values, the great acting, its what the BBC does best, historical dramas – and I can see the producers eyes filling up with dollar signs as they anticipate the DVD box sales, and BBC Worldwide licks it lips anticipating the sales to foreign broadcasters.  The problem is the History Sucks – and we will be exporting it around the world and most people will be watching it as fact.

The series has just been reviewed on Thinking Faith 

AMDG

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.

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