Thursday, 27 December 2012

Holy Family

Sunday GospelLuke 2:41-52 

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

  Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

  He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.

There is something very reassuring about Luke's Holy Family. For him, the  important elements were both 'holy' and 'family'. What made Jesus the man he grew to be was not an environment of closeted privilege but the sacramental  and mundane ordinariness of peasant life. The lineage back to David that includes so many 'black sheep' that few would admit to it; the young woman -  perhaps a second wife; a home in the Galilee surrounded by extended family; a life of habit and tradition - the presentation in the Temple; the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 

But as the saying goes; everyone is ordinary until you get to know them.     

Thanks to the time Luke spent with Mary, we have these snapshot anecdotes that may have suggested something more; at least in hindsight. 

The meeting between the miraculous mothers- Elizabeth and Mary- bringing affirmation of what must have seemed like a dream; the Presentation in the Temple where the wisdom of elders recognised something in the child's eyes. And then this memory of 'the first time we thought we had lost him and maybe when we realised he was not ours at all'. Moments any mother would hold in her heart and that time would lend meaning to.

How many of us have shared similar stories over the past few days in friends and family get-togethers? Cutting through any illusions of superiority with stories of fears and adventures; dares and disasters - that all feed into the people that we become - the ones most likely to...  the ones who never did... and the ones you couldn't stop.

Even at twelve, Jesus knew he was part of something bigger than his mother and father; even bigger than the caravan of relatives, friends and neighbours. That knowledge widened his world; made him into someone more than a boy from the Galilee. The danger of a precocious child; Jesus could well have found a place in the Temple; pledged as Samuel had been. And how would his wisdom have grown then? Where would be his compassion; his friendship with the tax-collector and the fisherman; his appreciation of the shepherd and the farmer?

Mary and Joseph brought Jesus home; did they wonder if it was for the best, or did they understood the need for him to be grounded in his people; in his community? 

In Nazareth, Jesus learns the wisdom of what is important - the intimacy; patience; compassion and relationship of belonging to other people and other people belonging to him. He learns how Love is lived.


Monday, 24 December 2012

Home wanted

First reading2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-12,14,16 

Once David had settled into his house and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.’
  But that very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:
  ‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. And when your days are ended and you are laid to rest with your ancestors, I will preserve the offspring of your body after you and make his sovereignty secure. I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil, I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

I'm not good with shopping. Perhaps it is a general aversion to crowds and noise; or, as my children would say, a reluctance to enter into the Christmas spirit. 

But this time of year I find myself asking so many questions. What is the spending all about? It is good to be hospitable; to be generous; to be thoughtful. But should we be judged on our buying expertise or our knowledge of the latest trend? Perhaps it is me - a' Bah Humbug' amongst the frivolities.

 Is it good though - to prove our affection- our love-  through 'goods'? Or, more specifically to be made to feel that we should prove it through 'goods'? Is the miracle of Christmas so dependent on it's rewards? Or is the world heaping  it's own good intentions onto a miracle that did not live up to expectations?

Too easily we side with the Wise Men- rename even them as 'Kings'. We  build houses; furnish them with luxurious comfort; deck the halls with something that glitters more than boughs of holly; and pile our precious gifts under cedar trees of our own fashioning. 

And yet, the Lord is happy with his tent; his hillside; his cave filled with animals ripe with the musky smell of fleece and fur. The Lord delights in his world and most wonderfully he delights in us. 

The castle of the God child is a peasant woman; she is his house; his home; his comfort. After her, there will never be a place where he can lay his head. God will only find rest in a human being; and so in all human beings; we are each of us - God's House. 

Tonight we will remember this beginning; we will share in this gift; we will bow our heads with the homeless and the outcast and see God in the flesh of a child; a poor child; a destitute child. 

Shall we build him a house? Attempt to impress him with glitter and gold? Or shall we, as the words of the carol suggest,  offer him a home; offer him our heart? Offer him ourselves?


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Love will come again

Sunday Gospel- Fourth Sunday of Advent - Luke 1:39-44 

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

There is something about being barren; even if healing eventually comes.

Twenty-odd years ago 'barren' was a word that described me for some time until medical intervention and a visit to Fatima brought the miracle of conception. 

I hadn't told anyone, friends or family, I hadn't wanted the pity or the questions so, instead, got the assumptions and gossip - 'that I was too busy; too career minded.' There is no easy path.

When I conceived, of course, that wasn't the end of the anxiety - each week marked on the calendar - by eight weeks; this - by twelve weeks; that - by sixteen weeks; the first line of safety had been crossed but by then it was impossible not to watch the ticking of the days and measure the movement of the body and the life within. 

Sometimes, it felt that I spent the day holding my breath; believing that no-one realised just how precarious and precious this experience was. 

I wonder if this is why Mary ran to Elizabeth.

Did Mary move from those who would gossip and doubt to the arms of a kindred spirit? Run to her soul's friend, Elizabeth, who is filled with the knowing; the goodness and graciousness of God. 

After all, Eizabeth shares so much in common with Mary - Elizabeth knows that the Lord has spoken; has promised. Elizabeth speaks for each of us who sees Christ in another; who knows that God is faithful. 

She recognises that the Lord is with and within Mary. Knows that the Lord is also with her; that the Lord is with all of us who hear; who see; who trust.

Within Elizabeth, the prophetic voice of John also speaks; generations already naming Mary as blessed; most fortunate; most joyful of women - her fulness; our fulness of faith - if we have faith. 

If we are not part of the doubt and denial that the world can change - has already changed. If we hear the Spirit call to the spirit within each of us - telling us that we are - each one of us-  part of God's plan. If we believe that our very lives are fulfillments of God's promise.

Then, the Kingdom will come; Love will come again; Then, through God's grace, we will give birth to a new tomorrow. 


Magnificat Reflection

Reflection on the Magnificat

My soul proclaims
its nearness to the Lord
delighted and fulfilled.

But my heart aches
broken by the accusation of my own people
shattered by stones of mistrust and judgment
No angel's promise of comfort - rather 
Life's pathway set out in shards of flint.

A flinty gaze fills my eyes
and they widen, seeking the future road
staring into dark shadows;
welcoming the desert heat
that burns away the tears of hesitation
before they fall - 

They fall, regardless

Each breath a tightening 
a measured in and out 
words said and unsaid
considered, found wanting

But not 'yes'
Never 'yes'.

For always - 'yes'.

My heart aches with Love.
With Love too much to be contained
yet unrecognised.

With Love that will lie in my arms
bloody and helpless
more than once.

With Love that will live within me 
and without me
for more than Abraham;


Friday, 21 December 2012

Lamentation for the End of the World

The world will end today
It will end in hospital wards
in speeding cars
in shop doorways
in dark alleys
It will end in unrequited love
rejection and betrayal
denial and loss
in goodbye
It will end in dreams shattered
expectations dashed
starved ambition
It will end in abuse and misuse
in humiliation
random acts of neglect
The world will end today
and another and another
until the weight of the universe
presses down on human hearts
And a new world will not be born
If Pandora's box cannot be made
of rough timber and straw
if Hope will not fit in an infant's hand
The world will end today


Friday, 14 December 2012

Check your focus

GospelLuke 3:10-18 

When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’
  A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’ As well as this, there were many other things he said to exhort the people and to announce the Good News to them.

As great a light as John the Baptist is - in every cell of his being - he knows he is not the Light.

But he would have 'done'. His followers were clearly devoted to him -  they thought little of Jesus and his friends. He may have had his oddness but there was something familiar in his ministry. He fits the profile but there is little difference between him and the prophets that had come before.

John's followers were rebels but not radicals. They wanted the Messiah that the Jews had always wanted; they wanted to topple the enemy; to have their land and their place in it. It was about them and their God; for them John was enough.

A true prophet; John knew he wasn't; knew that Jesus would be so much more than he could imagine - couldn't image - remember his message from prison - 'are you the One?'. John warns us - don't be distracted; look beyond; don't settle for 'enough'.

But we often do; we become captivated by something just a little out of the ordinary; just enough of a challenge. Sometimes we connect with the personality of others who are making the spiritual journey beyond; writers; theologians; priests and retreat leaders and we follow them. We grant them authority through lineage and tradition. We listen to what they say and read what they think; we rely on them to do the 'witnessing' and attach ourselves to their coat-tails.

To paraphrase St Paul we follow Rhor or Merton or Fr so-and-so; but they are just human beings on the same journey as us; we are meant for Jesus. Their words may tempt us but they will not fill us with the joy of that personal calling; the holding, healing relationship that is ours, and ours alone.

We admire the many that we recognise as witnesses; John himself, the saints, the 'wise' people. We cannot let them become the distraction. In following those that inspire us, we must never forget that we are intended to be witnesses ourselves.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Call

GospelLuke 3:1-6 

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.

Last week, Advent began with the words of an adult Jesus; foretelling a world of chaos and bewilderment where only his followers could stand with confidence- if they dared.

Now, his cousin, John walks through the dustclouds of desert wilderness proclaiming ancient prophecy. Luke places John clearly in history; the who's who of leaders both political and religious will be recorded elsewhere; ensuring that the reader understands this is  not a parable, a myth or a fable. This is a prophecy fulfilled in their lifetime. A son of man - miraculous by birth - will bring God's promise to anyone who will open their ears and hear his voice.

In Advent we are reminded of our own journey through life; how the years go by and the expectation of Christmas becomes more and more defined by the actions of the past - our disappointments and regrets often more than our joys. How often we hear people say; hear ourselves remark how quickly the year has gone. And what have we achieved? We live not with expectation of the future but with a yearning for 'might have been'.

John demands that we stop. He demands that we stop thinking about ourselves and our needs; that we rethink our desire to have it all; and to have it all our way. After all there is a baby to consider.

A new birth calls for a new commitment and, just as we change our lives, our surroundings and our routines to fit in with our own new arrivals, the coming of the Christ Child calls for a 'metanoia' - a complete emptying out and turning around of everything we are. We are asked to attend to the pitfalls and avoidances in our lives. To become hopeful; to become joyful; to become adult in our faith and our responsibilities.

 How else could we expect God to trust us with his Son?


Saturday, 1 December 2012

End of Days

GospelLuke 21:25-28,34-36 

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.
  ‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’

Faith is filled with paradox- experiences that talk to many in many different ways - that seem to lead one way only to bring us around to another. Advent begins as the Liturgical year ends - Luke's apocalyptic vision graphically mirrors not the 'End of Days' but the world that surrounds us now. Prophecy is not about the future but the present and the present hasn't changed very much at all. Since the Resurrection has there ever been a time when the world has not been menaced and people haven't felt bewildered?

Menace has also accompanied humanity along life's journey. This year we have been fascinated with the Mayan prophecy that the 21st December 2012 will see the end of civilisation; the media fills the news channels with disasters both natural and man-made. Yet the Christmas lights went on in the retail centres in early November and the same media channels are dispersed with the paradoxical advertisments of all the things that we 'need' to make us happy and the pleas to give a thought, and a donation, to those who have nothing. Bewildering indeed.

Jesus warns us that it is so easy to give in to the bewilderment; to allow ourselves to be distracted by the immediacy of worldly pleasures or the depression of apathy. There are those who look forward to the Second Coming with great anticipation or maybe the sense of 'let's get it over with'. Either way it takes our focus from the watchfulness of our vocation. We are told not to fear; to be witnesses to the freedom that has been won by Jesus' gift, already made, for all of us. We are told to live; to live with the awareness that we may encounter Jesus in any moment and to be ready to respond in love.

Mark spent all last year warning us that discipleship is hard and that there is no easy option. Luke's Gospel rallies us; assuring us that we can make a difference and to have confidence that we already belong. The early disciples were expecting Jesus to return in their lifetime; we have time to recognise what the presence of Jesus feels like; the movement inside like the turning of a child; the heaviness of a love that is lifelong.

Advent may resemble Lent in it's watchfulness; unlike Lent, there is expectation and longing. A longing for the bewilderment to end; for the message to be heard; for the chance to begin again. An expectation that, like pregnancy, will be fulfilled in its  own time.  


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sunday Gospel - Christ the King

GospelJohn 18:33-37 

Pilate addresses Jesus
Liverpool Christ the King Cathedral
‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’

Jesus stands before Pilate, accused and in chains, and the conversation is kingship.

In all of John, this is the only time that a Gentile speaks - during the Passion; it is the only way that this conversation could take place; the only way that Jesus could define his mission as a mission for the whole world; the only way that Jesus could get at what his mission is all about. 

Pilate is all too aware of the situation; it was the threats of the crowd to 'report' him to Caesar that drove him to this moment; demands made of him that will abuse his authority. It seems that it is not only Jesus' hands that are tied.  Pilate has no appetite for what is being asked of him yet there is nowhere to go; nothing else to do.

The priests will get their way, not because they are right, but because Pilate doesn't want to be seen to be weak. Pilate is weak; his confidence, his power, his authority is given to him by those around him. And, strangely,  his need for this justification and seeing that Jesus makes no claim on his world's approval,  allows Pilate to name Jesus as 'king'; allows Pilate to accept that there is something more; that there is a kingdom 'not of this world'.

Jesus is free to define 'kingship' as something other - as service; as sacrifice; as surrender. 

As service to those who cannot stand; to proclaim the way of Love and not oppression.
As sacrifice, to put yourself in the midst of chaos, so as to bring peace.
As surrender to the will of the Father; who holds the world and who has made it for Himself.

And to do this with integrity and dignity.

Jesus did not come to take over the world; in fact that was one of the great temptations. Christians are not here to take over the world; we were never meant to be a superpower; never meant to have any power.

In these times of violence against innocence, the images that we encounter on tv and the internet can be horrific; for some it is not just a two dimensional experience but one that is lived out in fear, anxiety and loss. It is surely human to be filled with both grief and rage - and too often it is the rage that acts - violence against violence - power against power - and the pattern continues. 

Even in the most mundane of lives...the rage against the person who 'cut you up' on the way home that leads to the argument with the neighbour - that leads to slammed bedroom doors and the aggressive attitude to workmates the next day.

 Somewhere it has to stop. 

Why does Jesus always ask questions? So that we can own the answer; that there is another way. Our baptism gives us the same authority - priest, prophet and king; we all share this royal inheritance of faith. Somewhere in each life, each day, each person must find the courage to hear the truth and bear witness.

God is Love.

“The non-violent resistor not only avoids external, physical violence, but he avoids internal violence of spirit. He not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he refuses to hate him. And he stands with understanding, goodwill at all times.”  Martin Luther King Jr.


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Nobody knows

GospelMark 13:24-32 

Jesus said, ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.
  ‘Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
  ‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.’

The time of distress is not a distress caused by God;  rather the times of unrest and conflict between ourselves; the occupation at the time; the destruction of the Temple; time after time human beings fight each other for assumed power. Jesus refers to the prophetic voice of the past to remind the listeners that   violence, oppression and domination is nothing new; this has been a continuing human struggle since Cain and Abel.

Although Jesus has come to offer another option; an option for the poor, an option for Love,  Jesus sees that most of the world will reject his teaching. Already his followers are turning away; he witnesses the hard hearts of the scribes and pharisees in the Holy of holies; he sees the oppression of the poor and the widow. He knows that even his death will not change this.

He is warning those who are left that life is not going to be easy. They will be leaven; they will be a lamp; they will be the few amongst the many and the violence will be as hard on them as on everyone else. But after this 'manmade' violence,  heaven will reach down into the earth, brighter than the stars and the sun, and his chosen will be gathered up.

But when? And why the fig tree?

Fig trees have their place in the Bible; a tree of food and shade; a tree that Jesus often comes into contact with. For its fruit and its shade the fig is a welcome tree but, in a desert land,  it needs a rich soil. More importantly, it is one of the few trees that loses its leaves in the colder months so as to gather its strength for the harvest. In fact, the fig waits, even through spring, to the warmer months before beginning to show itself to the world. When the fig leaves begin to unfurl, there can be no doubt that summer is on the way. God's Creation follows its path.

The world we seek to create tries to carve out its own path and is often at odds with itself. The artificial environment that we have engineered easily outshines the sun, moon and stars. The night sky is darker, and further away, than it has ever been, wrapped as we are in twenty four hours brightness and busyness. Yet, within the virtual realities of assumed happiness is the knowledge that we are missing something. It may only be once the fighting and the turmoil and distress has worn  itself out that we realise the something we are missing wants us back.

How unsettling that is; the edginess of 'just around the corner'; the wondering of when. Yet knowing that in this generation; in our lifetime; in our life - something will be unfurled in us that cannot be ignored; the reminder that Jesus has redeemed us; it is Jesus who wants us back. As saints and prophets; evangelists and angels; as his chosen.

After the distress; the chosen will be gathered up - and to what? Perhaps not to heaven, not yet. Perhaps the time on earth will last a little longer. When there is no more energy for anger; when domination has finally found itself impotent; perhaps then the time will have come for Love and it will be those who remember how to love to speak the words.

In Jesus' name.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

All that I am

GospelMark 12:38-44 

In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’

  He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.’

The treasury gives many the opportunity to give a great deal. There is not one but thirteen pots, shaped like upturned trumpets, some dedicated to a certain aspect of Temple necessities; care for the poor, the widow and the leper; for free will; for incense and for sacrifice. Temple money was made of brass and made a great clatter as it poured into the pots especially if someone wanted their contribution to be noticed. The Jewish canon ruled that the minimum donation was two prutah - two mites.   

The treasury was placed in the court of the women; not a place set aside for women but the limit of the Temple where women were allowed. Like many religious communities today, the Temple relied upon the unseen and unacknowledged for their upkeep. Their money welcome even if they were not. 
Jesus is 'people watching'- paying attention to his Father's world - and he sees her; the widow; one of the little ones; the poor ones; the ‘don’t really matter’ ones. Perhaps, as he is watching her, he is reminded of his own mother. Perhaps he is reminded of the scrimping and saving that she had to do maybe before and certainly after Joseph’s death. After all, Joseph was a labourer, long robes would have be useless to him, would have got in the way of his livelihood trying to support a wife and child. A family who should know their place; the comments of those who hear Jesus preach – ‘this is only the carpenter’s son’, ‘only Mary’s son’ – with the veiled addition of ‘who does he think he is?’

Yet his mother and father brought him up to be a good Jew; to know the traditions and responsibilities of his faith; to know them well and not always to accept how they have been acted out. The sharpness of his comments suggests past experience. Jesus teaches his disciples to be circumspect; not to be distracted by finery or assumed importance or status.

Jesus says ‘I tell you most solemnly…’ I love that phrase. It’s a ‘look at me when I’m talking to you. I’m not just  ‘one of the lads’ now’ phrase.

Because, to the ‘lads’ it will have been a little thing; a non-event. Widows give pennies every day, rich men give more – that’s the way the world is; and the world demands its pay. We are encouraged to see success and generosity in £ signs. We find it hard to appreciate that 100% of very little is still 100%.

I suppose it must have been possible for the widow to simply not pay; to avoid the Temple and the treasury itself? Surely it would be better that she had something to eat; something put aside for the rainy day?

 It is through her own integrity that she gives 'all she has'. 

The thought of giving all we have is a challenge. Charity and hospitality is not meant to be about what we can spare -whether time, commitment or money - but in doing all we can to meet need, poverty, loneliness and injustice. Our faith should be implicit in our lives -  not something we can put on or take off; not something we can pay off or be compensated for. The actions of our faith should leave us with nothing; should be all we have and all we are. 

And how often it is the unassuming ones who fulfill this vocation. The media has been discussing the recent influence of Catholic Social Teaching in British politics; aiming the morals and ethics at the directors of businesses and leaders of social organisations. The one who will arrive with 'the' car and 'the' suit and who then will tell the poor how to live. 

Catholic Social Teaching begins in the community and it move up and out from a desire to 'love your neighbour' and it is usually instigated by those who have walked the walk already. 

 How often the church - and the world-  relies on such people who fit one more thing into their already busy lives; who don't imagine retirement as an opportunity to rest; who believe that sometimes they are the 'someone' who should sort it out. These are the people who say 'yes' far more than they ever say 'no'; who can always fit another minute in the day; another plate at the table; another stop on the way home. 

And, often,  it isn't until the job's not done that they are noticed at all. 

 It’s a compelling thought that, rather than sitting in robes of silk and enthroned in splendour at the front of a church, God actually spends His time at the back and, often, not in church at all. Like his son, he watches in the shadows, noticing all the little goodnesses, sacrifices and graces are carried out by the unassuming, unknown, undervalued ones in the community; who are, in truth,  giving all they have.


Monday, 5 November 2012

More questions?

GospelMark 12:28-34 
One of the scribes came up to Jesus and put a question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’ Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to question him any more.

I wonder if the scribe uses the question simply to join in the debate. This is surely the easiest question that Jesus has every been asked and, more than that, he answers it. 

The words of the 'Shema' are the first pieces of scripture that a Jewish child learns and are repeated at least twice a day for the rest of their life. These first lines, the heart of the faith,  are wrapped within a case as a mezusah - a blessing for the doorpost of a house, even the lintel of a room.

But then, Jesus looks into the 612 remaining precepts of Jewish law and names the second; a verse from Leviticus 19 'thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'.

We know what Jesus means when he says 'neighbour' - everyone you ever meet, everyone on the planet - we are all connected. If you don't want to love someone whether it's your awkward and actual next door neighbour, the down-and-out who comes and sits next to you on the park bench or the Third World child dying of Aids, you can't go and find the loophole; there won't be one.

Yet, we have managed to create a few boundaries. Using Church teaching to add 'ifs and buts'; applying measures of worth and unworth; justifying our place on the 'left' or 'right' hand of doctrine; building holocausts of those who don't fit our acceptable limits and sacrifices of those who challenge our preconceptions. 

Maybe this scribe was tired of all that, as I sometimes am myself. Love may be difficult at times but, surely, worth the effort. 

I was out with some students last week, visiting our Cathedrals and the Synagogue. The students were fascinated by everything they saw and experienced. We sat putting together our research into hand-made books, chatting about the day and their own lives. 

They asked me why there wasn't peace; why Christians go to war; why people are rich when others starve; why bad things happen to good people; why we don't follow the Gospel if we believe it's true?

Great questions - maybe we should be looking for our own answers.


Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Death and Life
A Wisdom Story of Hope 

From a tale I heard once

In a place that is not this place, there is night; the longest of nights. This place has been abandoned by the day; by the light; by all that has comfort and warmth.

The land is coal and ebony on obsidian. Raven clouds streak across a stygian sky – starless, moonless.  You may stare; but it is your heart that sees, not your eyes.

The night is relentless; arctic winds slice the landscape raw. Tops of hills reveal skeletal trees, heads bowed before the ruthless zephyrs. Their silhouettes, clawed hands imploring, seeking to escape an early grave. Seeking, but all too late; life has gone.

Yet, the heart sees…what? A rhythm moving against death’s surge; but slow…so slow.
The heart sees… a being, a creature, a man. An old man, as black and as dark as pitch; rough carved from slate; a semblance of a body; ancient bones as spare and as twisted as the branches he clings to; eyes rheumy, clouded, barely open.  Surely near death? Near, but not dead.

Will… from where?

Strength…from where? 

A heartbeat forces a breath, persuades the hand to reach forward; to grasp the next branch; to pull forward; to rest; to breathe; to begin again. Slowly, so slowly, he achingly drags himself from branch to branch, tree to tree. Gasps of life defying the banshee moans.  Heartbeat by heartbeat the old man creeps through the landscape.

At the top of a hill, he stops, anchors himself against the body of a stunted tree and lifts his head. The eyelids barely open any wider, he seems to be scenting the air as much as seeking, but perhaps it is his heart that sees, for there, far, far in the distance - not black. A shade; a gleam; a light; a hope. The old man gathers the hope and places it carefully in his heart. And begins again; a heartbeat; a breath; the hand reaches forward. No faster, for the old man is exhausted through to the marrow of his bones; but, with hope, the heart is determined not to fail.

Time creeps; breath follows breath, grasp follows grasp. Hope grows. The glimmer becomes a glow held steady – a window? Closer, closer; a child’s cutting of a house, imagined against the slate sky.  The tree line fails and now he must crawl, digging bony fingers into dead grasses, razor edged, tearing into the creases of his palms. No matter, all he has is given to the light, believing that, even from here, he can feel the warmth of a fire, the welcome of a hearth.

Finally, his hand touches stone, the doorstep; the boundary between death and life. Without the strength to haul himself to his feet, he scratches against the door, for all the world like an aged tomcat seeking a home. The wind carrying the sounds away into the night.  Scratch, scratch, scratch – there is no more.

The door opens; a dragon’s breath of heat and light blinds the night; a woman, not young, not very old, peers quizzically into the dark then down to her feet. ‘There’ she says, ‘There, there.’

She gathers the old man easily into her arms, just like an old tomcat, skin and bone, skin and bone; and takes him to her rocking chair near the warmth of the fire, the welcome of the hearth. She settles herself into the chair with the old man in her arms, gathered in, gathered in and she begins to rock. She gifts the warmth of her body against the frozen chill of skin and bone. She rocks; to and fro, to and fro. And every now and again she murmurs a woman’s healing;

‘There, there….there, there’.

Time passes; it seems the wind does not howl so defiantly now. The man in the woman’s arms no longer seems so old; an aged warrior perhaps, battle-torn and scarred but not bowed.

‘There, there…there, there’

The wind quietens to a whisper, a lullaby to accompany the woman’s words. The man is now younger, lean muscled limbs, a strong, handsome face relaxed in sleep. The woman smiles now but does not let him go.

‘There, there…there, there.’

Hours have gone by; the man has become a young boy, wavy hair, long eyelashes – beautiful. He fidgets in his sleep but holds on to the woman as closely as she holds him. The sky seems to have shaded from darkest slate to a dove grey but there are still no stars, no moon, no light other than the hearth fire.

‘There, there…there, there.’

The longest of times and the woman now cradles a strong baby boy, plump as a puppy with golden curls and the pout of a cherub. She gazes at him with pride and love and a great deal of satisfaction.  The grey of the sky has now become a dusky pink streaked with indigo. So nearly dawn but not quite.

‘There, there…there, there.’

And for hours the sky remains unaltered and the baby boy stays fast asleep. The woman sighs, a woman’s sigh, she has done all she can. She tickles his feet and the palms of his hands but he does not wake. She pinches his cheeks and his nose but he merely brushes her hand away and settles into the crook of her elbow. Finally, between finger and thumb, she takes three hairs from a curl on top of his head and plucks them out.

The baby’s eyes blaze open – fire bright, furnace bright; astonished, indignant.

‘There,’ the woman says, ‘you are.’

She carries the baby to the doorstep and shows him the nearly dawn.

‘And there…’ she points ‘…is where you should be.’

Without hesitation, as a hawk is released from the glove, the baby soars into the sky, golden bright, star bright, sun bright; the herald of new life, new beginnings, the Spring Son.


Inspired by a tale told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes