Tag Archive: spirituality


AMDG    Feast of  St Ignatius

“ So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God! ” Luke 12:21

This is the challWhosAtYourCenter-1rfhglh0klcn41e93wwg46ro4wpl9mezyp0u8kp9qsisenge at the heart of our faith – Who is at the center of your life?  Is it Me or God ?  If I am an honest is God an insurance policy that I have just in case my other plans don’t work out?  Is my career the most important thing and I am happy to come to church as long as God doesn’t get in the way – or ask me to do anything that will disturb my plans?   As long as I keep God in a box that is labelled ‘Sunday’ or ‘Church’ he won’t bother for the rest of the week…..

So many of us who call ourselves Christians – live like this…. Spending some much time and energy storing up treasure for ourselves – that we don’t really want God to trouble us…..  where do you put your trust?  Do you place your trust totally in God ?

51vxcbXaBmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_According to the American Franciscan, Richard Rohr, it is the job of the first half of life – to establish ourselves, to leave home, to build an identity, to get a qualification (might be a university degree) and to start a career.  We all need to pass through this stage and therefore we develop a spirituality for the first half of our life – which is more concerned with outer things than inner things,  so my Catholicism is   and it is often only when a crisis comes along that we are jolted off our path.   Often it is when someone we love dies, maybe we go through an illness, and suddenly we start asking ourself – what is life all about?  All the stuff that was important about establishing our identity now becomes less important  and we start ‘Falling Upwards’ as Richard Rohr calls it – we start to put God in the center.

This happened to a young Spanish Nobleman, Inigo Lopez de Loyola – who found himself as a soldier defending the town of Pamplona – in 1521 – when a French Canonball ripped through his legs and shattered his knee.  Forced to recover in bed he started to ask himself these deeper questions – and realised it wasn’t just his knee that was shattered but also his self-image, his understanding of himself.  Bed ridden for 9 months he dreams about the future – about returning to his chivalrous ways ….  But as time dragged on and boredom forced him to read the only books that were at hand – religious books about the saints …. He noticed that he started to have a second type of daydream – instead of returning to be a solider for the King – he would become a pilgrim – a soldier for God.Thus 495 years ago began an journey that leads us to here to this beautiful church today –the Holy Name was founded in 1871 by men who have followed in the footsteps of Inigo.

Ignatius at Pamplona Back recovering in his bed in Loyola, Inigo the swashbuckling soldier (now crippled) notices that he starts to have a second type of dream which is obviously fed by his reading  – doing great things for God – outdoing the saints in holiness.  He noticed this left him feeling a deep joy and peace that lasted longer the other dreams of future worldly glories ahead….  He had discovered already the fruits of making yourself ‘rich in the sight of God’ … Inigo was becoming Ignatius.  He realised that up till then he had wasted too much time chasing  ‘vainglories’  – it all seemed worthless now when compared to things of God.

The genius of St Ignatius – a great gift for me in my life which I will always be grateful for – is that he allowed God to teach him – and then showed others how to search for God’s will in their lives.  He taught us to recognised Spiritual Consolation – the joy and the peace and the love that comes from moving closer to God….  We call this Ignatian Spirituality ….  And it is an incredible legacy that has led to countless men and women changing their lives – abandoning our obsession with material wealth and storing treasures that make us rich in the eyes of God.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAIpAAAAJGI0YzQzZDMyLTc5MzQtNGY1Ni1hMTc0LTRjMmZkMjVjNWI4MQAfter the fall of the Berlin Wall – the end of Communism – we all hoped for an new age of peace, of stability but in fact what happened was the world became more complicated …..  this new multi-polar world has been marked by Four things – that military planners called VUCA.   Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.  The world seems to have become less predictable, more scary – Volatile in the nature and speed of change,  Uncertain in the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise.  Complex in the different forces and issues, and Ambiguous in that reality is difficult to read now, Confusion seems to abound.

This is a confusing and at times scary world….  Where an 80 year old priest is brutally executed during mass, with unprecedented people on the move, with an acceleration of technological change that has never been seen before.

St Ignatius gives us a fantastic map to navigate our way through this world.  As God so patiently taught him – he wishes us to learn in a similar way – to be taught by God – who longs to be our teacher. It is a map – that helps us to navigate through a hurting and crazy world….  His way of praying helps us to listen to our teacher – even though there is so much to distract us away from these heavenly treasures.

And one his sons, Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope – is currently in Poland – celebrating mass as we speak with 3 million young people – Francis will be delighted to share such a special day for him ( and all Jesuits) with such a wonderful crowd – including our group of 20 from here.  The Pope’s  desire will be to share with all those youngsters the Joy of putting God in the center of your life – the Joy of being truly free – knowing that you are loved sinner – the peace that comes from falling Upward and knowing that in the end everything will be all alright.

Homily given at the Holy Name Church, Manchester  –   July 31st 2016 

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.

AMDG

_75733908_75733906With the rise of ‘Jihad Tourism’ in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, we are told in the UK that the majority of the resources of MI5 is now spent on tracking British Jihadists. Whilst it is alarming to see masked young men with British accents calling for others to join them, I haven’t seen many intelligent reflections on what is attracting them.  What are the underlying causes?  Sadly sectarian hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims is out of our hands.  However close behind is a hatred of  ‘the West’.  Some of the disillusionment is justified,  most of it isn’t.  Perhaps our culture excludes more that it includes – with a jaded consumerism, a morally bankrupt celebrity culture and a pornography addled internet with an increasingly toxic and angry social media. Secularists seem to be in denial of all of this and the public debate about faith becomes shriller,  with religion being marginalised and often portrayed as being  problematic.

As well as some mosques there seem to be three places were radicalisation often occurs, prisons, the internet and universities.  A brief look at the history of university education in this country may be in order at this point.  Up until the middle ages the universities in these isles were places of theological formation – often run by monastic orders.  Of the seven ancient universities (founded before 1600), three of them were founded by papal bulls (Glasgow, St Andrews, Aberdeen) the rest by royal charters (Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Dublin). After Henry VIII’s schism, Catholics were banned from attending many of these universities, and they became exclusive to Anglican students. In the 19th Century, the new generation of ‘redbrick’ universities, based in the growing industrial cities saw it as their civic duty to accept any students without reference to religious belief, and so were proudly secular.

hospital-chaplain-officeThe universities in Manchester fall into this category and because of this secular background they have an uneasy relationship with religion and its presence on campus.  It is time for them to rethink this. It maybe that things are changing as they realise how chaplaincy services provide valuable student support and can be at a basic level be a useful addition to student welfare provision.   Generally in universities with huge populations of students, (In Manchester 40,000+) – this support for students welfare is inadequate.  More importantly universities need to realise that their most effective weapon against radicalisation is well-funded and supported chaplaincy provision.  Most young people who are serious about faith will adopt a more conservative/traditional religious identity in order to distinguish themselves in a secular and sometimes hostile culture.  A good chaplain can bring experience and wisdom to smooth of some of the harder edges….  universities don’s seem to realise that, students unions often put chaplains in backwaters in freshers week, or their offices in out-of-the-way, hard to find places.  Chaplains often complain of institutional apathy, or obstruction and tokenism from the institutions.  This needs to change.

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