Saturday, 26 March 2011


GospelJohn 4:5-42 

Jesus came to the Samaritan town called Sychar, near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well is there and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat straight down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?’ – Jews, in fact, do not associate with Samaritans. Jesus replied 

‘If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, he would have given you living water.’

‘You have no bucket, sir,’ she answered ‘and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?’ Jesus replied:
‘Whoever drinks this water
will get thirsty again;
but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give
will never be thirsty again:
the water that I shall give
will turn into a spring inside him,
welling up to eternal life.’
‘Sir,’ said the woman ‘give me some of that water, so that I may never get thirsty and never have to come here again to draw water.’ ‘Go and call your husband’ said Jesus to her ‘and come back here.’ The woman answered, ‘I have no husband.’ He said to her, ‘You are right to say, “I have no husband”; for although you have had five, the one you have now is not your husband. You spoke the truth there.’ ‘I see you are a prophet, sir’ said the woman. ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said:
‘Believe me, woman,
the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know:
for salvation comes from the Jews.
But the hour will come
– in fact it is here already –
when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth:
that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants.
God is spirit,
and those who worship
must worship in spirit and truth.’
The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when he comes he will tell us everything.’ ‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am he.’
  At this point his disciples returned, and were surprised to find him speaking to a woman, though none of them asked, ‘What do you want from her?’ or, ‘Why are you talking to her?’ The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people. ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder if he is the Christ?’ This brought people out of the town and they started walking towards him.
  Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, do have something to eat; but he said, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples asked one another, ‘Has someone been bringing him food?’ But Jesus said:
‘My food is to do the will of the one who sent me,
and to complete his work.
Have you not got a saying:
Four months and then the harvest?
Well, I tell you:
Look around you, look at the fields;
already they are white, ready for harvest!
Already the reaper is being paid his wages,
already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life,
and thus sower and reaper rejoice together.
For here the proverb holds good:
one sows, another reaps;
I sent you to reap a harvest you had not worked for.
Others worked for it;
and you have come into the rewards of their trouble.’
Many Samaritans of that town had believed in him on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, ‘He told me all I have ever done’, so, when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, ‘Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.’

This week in school we were talking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation with our eleven and twelve year olds, some are Catholic, many are not, none had ever made more than their First Confession. Over two or three lessons we led them through being sorry, meaning being sorry and what you can do about it on a person to person level. 

Then we talked about what's left. What's left when your behaviour affects everyone in your family; what if it affects you and you can't say 'sorry' to yourself; what if you never get to say sorry; what if the person doesn't accept 'sorry'; what if; what if 'sorry' is not the right word?

Time then for God to step in, always time for God to step in, but here they saw the need for this Greater Power to be able to take away some of the burdens they were carrying and replace it with the grace; desire and blessing to begin again. A short meditation leading to an examination of conscience saw pencils racing across the page to get events, feelings and regrets out of their system; their obvious honesty was profound.

When we did a short 'stone' meditation by way of a Reconciliation Service; the stones burned hot in their hands as they, as children can, gave over all that they had been holding onto. When the time came to drop the stones in the water - some couldn't wait - some could hardly let go. All felt relieved. It was wonderful to be involved in such freedom. One girl said - I never got what sin is - but it's not feeling right.

It is a pity that the Sacrament of Reconciliation has such a bad press. That it is regarded as a duty on a par with visiting dentists; yet it is pure gift; pure grace. Maybe if we took the time to prepare that we gave our students this week it would probably help; rather than convincing ourselves that God has got a handle on it and knows we are sorry; when it is not God, but ourselves, with the 'need to know'.

 I had never really connected the Samaritan woman with the Sacrament (after all, if there is sin it is implied and if assumed then not 'forgiven' and Jesus always forgives)  

But tonight when  I was making ready around Church, thinking about the Scripture, the Confessional light went on. Here was our priest, in Jesus' name, offering a channel for the living water that is God's grace and forgiveness of all our regrets. Sitting, waiting for friends and strangers to seek out this gift; freely given to anyone who asks. Yet people walk past; having other things to do; other priorities in mind.

Jesus is sitting, waiting too;  his friends off feeding the body rather that the spirit - other priorities; other places to be. 

It is this woman who comes to the well. Maybe not a sinner (though aren't we all?) but not right.  There is something not right about a woman who has grieved for five husbands and whatever the circumstance of the present relationship. There is something not right about a woman coming to the well alone; without women friends; without a child on her back or running around her feet.

This woman is no outcast; she is able to return to her village not imagining that she won't be heard; she can hold her own in conversation with a stranger (too clever for her own good?).  She knows herself;  her longings; she wants to feel right. She is prepared to do the work; to enter into dialogue with the 'enemy'; to enter into relationship with this man who knows her in spite of  the bravado and the stigma of who she is or is not. This man has what she needs and she has the confidence and humility to ask for it.  Not out of shame or even guilt; but with with the optimism that God's grace is the answer; will fill her with light; will make her new. 

And because it does she has the generosity of spirit to bring others to that same well, whilst Jesus' disciples are still wondering what he has been up to. 

What a wonderful way this would be to approach the Sacrament and especially in this time of Lent -when we are seeking our way through desert paths - what an opportunity to find an oasis in which to sit with a friend; to rest; to be unburdened; to be made new.


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Emperor's New Clothes

Gospel of the Day- Matthew 20:17-28 
Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, and on the way he took the Twelve to one side and said to them, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise again.’

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus answered. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ ‘Very well,’ he said ‘you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’

When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
Francis - Assisi

I read this and thought of St Francis, standing in the town square naked as the day that he was born, proclaiming he had nothing except what his heavenly Father would give him.
And then I thought of this....

The Emperor's new clothes...As the laughter built to a crescendo, the Emperor tore a cloak from one of his guards, wrapped it around himself and ran off into the dark shadows of the palace.
The little boy followed after him, noting the twists and turns of corridors and stairs until he came to the door of the Emperor’s own rooms. He pushed the door ajar and entered. Adjusting to the light and shadows of shuttered windows and candlelight he moved through the space relying as much on his outreached hands and sharp ears to find his way towards the sound of sobbing.

The Emperor sat against the wall under one of the shaded windows, still wrapped in the rough, brown cloak; his head in hands. The boy sat crosslegged on the floor on the other side of the window and waited patiently.

The Emperor sighed, looked up and saw the boy; and spat words of accusation ‘Are you happy, boy; come to gloat about how you brought the mighty emperor to his knees?’

The boy spoke gently ‘What did you think you were wearing? What did they tell you?’
‘That it was the most magical of robes; that it was unique; made only for the powerful of men; only the cleverest of men; only the most royal of men. That everyone would bow down before me - I would become known as the greatest emperor that ever lived,’ he sighed again,’ the greatest fool that ever lived.’

‘What did it cost?’ the boy asked ‘All the money in the palace coffers’ the emperor admitted, under his breath ‘ the money for the food stores for the winter; for the care of the orphans; for the medicines in the hospitals; for the shelters for the homeless; all the money that was meant to take care of my people – so that people would wave and bow and cheer at me. Even if the magical clothes had been real, how could I have thought it was worth it, I have brought suffering on my people and shame on myself.’ he pulled the cloak tighter. ‘I will never leave these rooms again.’

‘That might not be so bad’ the boy remarked ‘ your people will go cold and starve whilst you sit here in luxury feeling sorry for yourself. ‘

The emperor lowered his eyes remembering when once he imagined himself a good and generous leader, loved by his people. How his ambition had led him astray. He glanced around his rooms; even in the half light he saw the sparkling gold and velvet finery of his surroundings; things bought on a whim, out of boredom, for fashion and for show; things that he never looked at once he had them; things that really didn’t matter; things that knew nothing about love. His eyes widened.

‘I will call the housemaster and he can collect all these together, go to the other cities and sell them. We will use the money to buy the winter grain, the medicines and everything we need.’ He paused, ‘and meanwhile I will go into the city – I have no right to expect the people to accept an apology but perhaps they will accept my hands; my labour; my time. Perhaps I can help to repair the damage my ambition has caused.’ The Emperor’s hand brushed over the coarse wool of the guard’s cloak. ‘Perhaps, as their servant – I may earn the right to be emperor again. '


Saturday, 19 March 2011

Father's Pride

GospelMatthew 17:1-9 

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this the disciples fell on their faces overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.
  As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order, ‘Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’

One of the many things I love about the Gospels is that it isn't just the people that Jesus comes into contact with that are transformed; but that Jesus also takes this journey of discovery and transformation himself.

If we chose to imagine Jesus as God in disguise, then many of the events in Jesus' life seem unnecessarily vague or secretive.The places he visits, the people he meets seem to randomly appear; as if Jesus himself is simply allowing himself to be distracted by whoever needs him next.

Maybe that's true; maybe Jesus, having grown up in the limitations of his own small world; finds it hard to accept that judgement and ill-treatment of others is so widespread.

Maybe, after rejecting the temptations of the devil to 'make it all better' he is frustrated by the fact that he can make very little of it 'better'. Maybe he actually has little more awareness of the 'Grand Plan' that his Father has for his life that we have for ours.

In the chapter before this one, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the journey to Jerusalem; perhaps they still didn't quite understand what was ahead - but all too clearly Jesus seems to realise where this walk is taking him.

And to get an even clearer view he takes some of them up a mountain.

Mountains in the desert are, more or less, vertical bits of desert. Climbing into the hot, breathless air exposed to the unrelenting fierceness of the sun and the rock shaping sandblasts of wind; there is little to recommend in the ascent except that, from the heights, there's a totally different view.

Like our own life's labyrinth, the desert gives few clues away; each rock looking much like another; each dried out riverbed leading back to the same emptied source. But from above a pattern emerges - where you have come from; how you have got here and where you are going to.

On the mountain top Jesus, for a moment, brings it all together.

Moses and Elijah are where Jesus has come from - their own legendary lives only signposts to the Way. The Way that shines brightly - transfigured, reminder of the Divinity that infuses every atom of his humanity.

The friends who are with him, Peter, James and John - the ordinary fishermen - the closest of friends yet hardest to convince. This is where he is now; in the thick of life; it's wonders and it's frustrations. Peter's nervous offering of a tent - the hospitality of a man used to  desert life and it's discomforts.

The future remains in the hands of Jesus' Father and it is not Jesus' divinity that is praised but his place as God's Beloved Son. You only have to say it out loud, to imagine the pride, the love in God's voice; giving Jesus the grace to move on; to take the next step; to go back down the mountain.

In our lives, in the lost twistings and turnings;  when our hearts are dry and our eyes are sandblasted by tears and sorrow;  it can be difficult to seek out God's blessing. The effort can seem too much when we are already weary, yet there is no-one else to go to.

Why climb a mountain only to have to come all the way down again? You may not be able to change the situation you are in, the challenges you are faced with; the road you are being asked to travel - but then, there is more than one way to travel.

Sometimes you have to rise up; lift yourself out of where you are;  take time to see where you are. You have to set the time aside to learn who can be relied upon; who are the friends who will help; to allow yourself to rest in God's light, in God's hands.  To hear the Father's words for ourselves 'You are my Beloved'.


Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Something about Lent

Today we enter the paradox that is Lent.

From today we are no longer in Ordinary Time which, in itself, is a wonderful concept - we are now in Extraordinary Time; as near a 'real time' example of Kairos time, God's own time,  as we are likely to experience in this life.

By time (?) you get to my age you are already aware that time is not as simple as it is supposed. The clock may tick at its regulated rhythm but the passing of moments, hours and days have no predictable pattern; dragging or  racing with an urgency or ennui of their own.

We have our traditions; the ashes we use this Wednesday are made from the leftover palms of the previous Palm Sunday. The mark of our beginning created from the failed triumph of last year's entry into Jesus' place of execution - back and forth.

The Forty Days are not even forty days. The intention to recall the time Jesus spent in the desert after his Baptism, is punctuated by the Sabbaths - as we share the journey towards death we are constantly reminded of the Resurrection which is to come; to travel without the benefit of hindsight is almost impossible - back and forth.

I have just spent the evening emptying out the flowers and easily removeable paintings, photos and statues from the body of the church; soon the bigger statues and stations of the cross will be shrouded in purple robes - 'all the better to not see you with, my dears'. Drawing our attention to what we had taken for granted all these months; like God, their presence made more intense by their absence - back and forth.

Another tradition of our church is the installation of a small labyrinth on the sanctuary below the main altar. An illogical and unworldly path; from circumference to centre no more than a step - yet it can take ten minutes to follow the twists and turns that draws the spirit in. A labyrinth  illustrating this strange inward turning journey; this walk into a desert landscape; this voyage without  landmarks.

Simply following a yearning into the centre; into our centre; into Godspace. And then having no alternative but to spiral out again; a gyroscope of faith - back and forth.

During Lent, we make the choice to become unworldly; to escape the expectations; to turn again. We choose to deny ourselves pleasures; large and small. If we take this denial seriously we accept some suffering rather than questioning the need for it; somehow we understand the need. That there is solidarity in suffering...solidarity with a God who chose to suffer to set us free; who, in some Kairos moment, continues to suffer and who needs us, in our freedom, to chose to walk beside him.

Blessed journeying.


Sunday, 6 March 2011

A moment's mindfulness

With Lent in mind and the struggle of many 'Martha's to find a minute -

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Book or it's Cover

Matthew 7:21-27

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?” Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!
  ‘Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and hurled themselves against that house, and it did not fall: it was founded on rock. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. Rain came down, floods rose, gales blew and struck that house, and it fell; and what a fall it had!’

A hard reading for us 'practising Christians'; we who feel that we are living out our lives doing the right thing. And more especially for those of us who imagine that it is a gift to teach others; to interpret the Word to others.

It is a risky business; teaching the Gospel could be as simple as could be; read enough books; go on enough retreats; listen to enough talks and there you are - an expert. Learn a few pertinent verses and remember the stories of a couple of saints and you can debate to your heart's content. If it was just meant to be a subject - a topic for discussion, then that's great . If Jesus was just a character in a book; a figment of some Gospel writer's imagination then it would be all about the presentation and our ability to shine. 

We can all be very shiny on the outside - that doesn't make us 'good'. And having had a few discussions this week about books (it's National Book Week) I was thinking about how we can be very like books in that respect. We had a book swap in our library and the tables were filled with bright, shiny books, with barely a crease to the spine. Books with blurbs full of promises and catchphrases; critiques and five star ratings. Perhaps they were just bad choices at the time; a quick read on a train or a title everyone was talking about - but they hadn't lived up to the hype; held the interest or touched the place in our heart  that stories sometimes do. Little orphan books looking for new homes.

Last year we brought in our favourite books; difficult when you are a reader; because it 'just depends'. On the day I brought in a children's book that I  bought many years ago in a jumble sale. It was worn then; but it's even more worn now; having lived under my pillow; under the bed; in suitcases; in schoolbags and lent, with trepidation, to friends now and again. I love that book- the story; the poems; the illustrations; the paper; the typeset; the cover; the graffiti added by my  brothers; even the smell-everything about that book is right; is good. It speaks for itself. And not surprisingly, most of the other favourite books were in a similar state.

And then I thought about our Scripture group and our Bibles - the Word. Some of us have invested in new Bibles or different translations; but the ones that grab my attention are the ones that have come away from their bindings; that need to be wrapped for safe-keeping - having had other prayers and notes added to the pages; having been earmarked; cornered and post-it noted. Bibles whose words have been the rock of that person's faith; their cornerstone; their foundation.

Jesus says many times 'you have learnt....' and then,  the challenge  'what have you done with what  you have learnt?'.

We can't just learn our faith;  we have to learn it; know it and then live it out until we become dog- eared, tattered and bound with  acts of faith and love.