Friday, 9 December 2016

Advent Hope

A few years ago, I made a trip to Krakow and made a special trip to the Concentration Camps Auschwitz-Birkenau. The feeling as you went around the places and looked in horror at man’s inhumanity to man it felt like a place of little or no hope. In fact, one of the survivors said that God had forgotten this place and those who were held there. Amongst the corridor and cells there was one I particularly wanted to see and pray at. It was the cell of a Catholic Franciscan Priest Maximilian Kolbe. As we approached there was a candle in the cell. In this cell, he privately said Mass with the scraps of bread that he managed to get. He prayed with people around him and at the end he took the place of a married man with children and was killed instead of this other man. During this horrific human misery, he brought hope to people.

 This idea of hope when all looks hopeless in a strong message in the readings today. In the first reading, today from Isaiah we get this ideal picture of what the Messiah would bring to the world. It is one where the lion sleeps with the lamb where there is peace and harmony among all creatures. The days of the messiah there will be justice and peace. It is an ideal picture. And it is a picture that when we look at the news and read the papers certainly has not happened or come about. And when we look at the world sometimes we can lose hope. Will it ever stop will there ever be peace on earth. It sometimes feels that there is no hope.
The message from St Paul tells us to keep our chin up and that scripture teaches us about what that hope is all about that although sometimes we feel like giving up that we should never lose hope in God love and mercy for us.

We need to be people of hope. We may not be called to go to extraordinary lengths as Fr Kolbe but we need sometimes to be that lone voice crying in the wilderness. By doing this we can help make other people’s paths straight. By doing this we are bringing that hope and joy to others. But, to do this, we need first to make our own paths straight.

During Advent we can attempt to start to make our paths straight. One thing that we can do this advent is go to the sacrament of reconciliation. To make our own relationship with God on the right path. It is one of those sacraments that we all find difficult to go too. It is hard to admit that we are wrong and that we need God’s help. Sometimes we may feel that the situation that we are in is hopeless and that we may feel that there is no point in coming to the sacrament but nothing is hopeless with the love and mercy of God. There is always hope with God there is always hope in his mercy. Pope Francis once said “God never tires of forgiving us we just get tired of asking for it.” The words of absolution in the sacrament are words of hope for us they are words that allow us to hear again and again the mercy of God. For me it is one of the most wonderful of sacraments and I have seen people who seem to have little or no hope when they come in leave with a wonderful sense of hope for the future. There burden that they have been carrying has been lifted.  I have seen people who have been open to the possibility of that mercy and the forgiving grace of God. So, I urge you this Advent to make every opportunity to come to the sacrament of reconciliation. There is a advent service of reconciliation on Sunday 11th of December at St Wilfrid's Burgess hill at 3pm and St Pauls Haywards Heath on Monday 19th December. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Tumped!!! Feast of Christ the King

Watching the Election from America we see that Donald Trump is set to be the most powerful man in the world. He if you like is the modern King. He has been one of the most controversial choices in history but if we look at this new kind of kingship we see that it is one of power and wealth that it does not matter who they tread on or upset. It is one that is very different from the Kingship of Jesus. But when we look at the modern day Kings like Trump you can see that people do get very confused. 
So how is Jesus Kingship different?

Let us look at the Readings today and we can get clues of how different it actually is. First of all we have the idea of this King being a shepherd. A shepherd in the Old Testament was not a shepherd like we know. The Shepherd today leads from the back pushing his sheep forward. In the time of the Bible the Shepherd lead from the front and the sheep knew the voice of their master. When in John's Gospel Jesus says that the good shepherd is the gatekeeper that is exactly what they did they lay down to keep the sheep safe they would put their life on the line for those who they look after. And we can see that in the Gospel we see Jesus doing exactly that. He is laying down his life for his people. Jesus throne is his cross it is here that he shows his true kingship. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who is our King who lays down his life for his people. 

And yet there is also a greater challenge for us. When we pray the Our Father we pray that Your kingdom come and so we also have a responsibility to bring his Kingdom here on earth.  We hear what this kingdom is about in the preface of the Eucharistic prayer today. It is one of joy and love of Justice and holiness. It is one that with being co workers with Christ our King we can bring about. At the end of the Liturgical year maybe we can look at how we have done this how we have done this is our parish community and how we what we can do differently to bring Christs kingdom about. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Feast of St Vincent de Paul Poverty

I start this with this Gospel passage from Matthew. It reminds us of our responsibility for each other and being non judgemental in our approach to all kinds of people.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

Jesus said that the poor will be with us always. This does not mean that we do not do anything. That because the will always be with us that we can become complacent about helping those in need. If you google the definition of Poverty it is usually transpired as poverty being those who have little or no money. I have been thinking over the last few years that in fact there are other forms of poverty. St Vincent de Paul stated that Love has no option. God's love and care is not exclusive to one particular group of people.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states " The Church's love for the poor... is part of her constant tradition" This love is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus and his concern for the poor. Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to be able to give to those in need. It extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty"

The most interesting part of the statement from the Catechism is the last statement. IF we take the Gospel and this seriously everyone is our Brother and Sister and the image of Jesus Christ and also that the common idea of poverty needs to be expanded into other forms of poverty. Here below are a few of my ideas on the second part of this part may look like.

Economic Poverty.

This is the one that we usually associate when we hear the word poverty. These are people who live on the edge of society with the lack of money. They may live in rented accommodation or Bedsits or live on the streets. Our helping hand with food or clothing goes a long way in relieving the stress of the day. The poverty that they are living is not always their fault. They have lived in circumstances that are beyond their control either with abusive parents or have found life difficult and find a way out by falling into the wrong sort of people. Walking along side these people can sometimes be very frustrating as sometimes their priorities are different from ours. I remember walking into a house where we had to give them food I was surprised to see the kids playing on their playstation on a very large TV. My first thought was that they were selfish but then they had to do something to relieve the stress of everyday living. The first rule is never to judge that is up to God we can only but help in whatever way we can.

Spiritual Poverty.

This form of poverty is a little more vague. I preface this with a question? Where does true self esteem come from? If self esteem comes only from doing things then it will not last. We will get one knock and it will waver. No true self esteem comes from within and knowing one fundamental thing that we all have in common is that we are loved by God. Let me illustrate this with a story that happened to me a few days ago. I was out shopping in Lewes and I was looking in an antiques shop when I came across a set of Stations of the Cross. Being a priest I took notice of them. Just to say that I was not in my dog collar. The shop keeper asked why I was so interested. My friend then said that I was a priest. Then she asked me a question " Do you believe in God?" she asked. At first a strange question to ask a priest but then after some thought it was not a particular stupid question. I explained to her that I not only believed in God but I knew that he loved me very much and that made me happy knowing that God loved me. It gave me purpose to everything I do. After some discussion she then said " Thanks that lovely but I still do not believe in God."
" Thats ok!!" I said " because God believes on you." Spiritual poverty then is someone who cannot accept God's love for them. As Christians we are people who should be able to tell others about God's love for them.
I think that the biggest poverty in this is the poverty of indifference about God. These are people who just do not care. They have no questions they have no idea about what marvels the lord has done for them. They fill the vacuum of absence of God with other things usually things that are unhealthy.

The Spiritual Poor need careful attention. I get the feeling that they are searching but because of what life has thrown them they cannot accept God in their lives. How do we as Church help these people. We become as someone said to me once " God on legs" IT is by our love of God and how we act and how we are that we show others. Not by any formal teaching but by being Christian. They will see something in us that they want. Let me give you an example. One Easter day at Mass we were giving our Easter Eggs to the Children after Mass. There were as always to many children for the eggs. One little child came up and we had run out. Looking upset another Child gave him his. He said he had far too many at home so you have mine. Now this act of generosity was seen by visitors who were not Catholic and in fact were not even Christian. Seeing this act made them feel that they wanted to get to know this Christian God. The next year that family were received into the Church. An act of love is seen by others who want to be part of it.

Emotional Poverty

I was debating with myself if this kind of poverty was a new thing or if it stems throughout history. There are always going to be people who find it hard to express their feelings  have been hurt and so find it difficult to make relationships. This poverty is sometimes hard to find and see. And yet this hidden poverty can be just as damaging as the other kinds of poverty. This poverty I think is very often prevalent in young people. For many the emotional poverty has come out of the fact that they have found it hard to communicate with the world. They spend their time on social media and so have little or no understanding of how to communicate in the "Real" world.  They appear socially normal and yet find it hard to form and sustain real and lasting relationships. Living in the virtual world the world outside has become dangerous and largely irrelevant. Hidden from the world they spend a large amount of time in their rooms sat at the computer screen. Communication then is largely done by not actually seeing the other person.

In these people there is a need for instant gratification and affirmation. The only problem is that it only lasts a few minutes it is not lasting. As a Church and a community of faith we need to help people build lasting relationships. The most important relationship is our relationship with Jesus by helping people build and foster this relationship we can show them what it means to have a true and lasting relationships. To understand that they are loved by God and that they should love themselves as children of God. To do this means that they can then build good relationships with others. Often the problems of this poverty is linked back to self esteem.

Physical poverty

Many people their poverty is very obvious. We as a community need to help these people to understand that they are still human being and have a role to play in society. They are not to left on the scrap heap. When I think of this poverty my mind is drawn to the life and especially to the later life of St John Paul II here was a man who was able to communicate in his illness and physical aliments the love of God and the power of witnessing to the cross through bearing our own crosses.

The Gospel reading that I had chosen for this look at poverty reminds us that each and everyone is our Brother and Sister. It also reminds us that many of us will full at some point in our lives into one of these categories. We help others because we are Christians because we see in our brothers and sisters Christ: Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

What it means to be Christian

Last Tuesday I was deeply disturbed in my prayer life. I was thinking a lot about what happened in France to the priest Fr Jaques Hamel. In my prayer I was thinking what the nature of priesthood was. I was praying because I was thinking would I be able to give my life to that extent. What would I do if someone came into the Church and want to do harm to me and the congregation. I was thinking about the Good Shepherd narrative in John Gospel. Where the shepherd is the gate keeper keeping his flock safe from predators. My disturbance came because I realised that I would be scared and want to run very fast. It disturbed me because I felt it was Contrary to my calling as a priest. 

Its funny though how the Lord hears our prayers and the answers come if we put our trust in God. Wednesday morning I said Mass as usual. As I celebrated the Mass and said the words of Consecration  " This is my Body, This is my Blood" I looked up to see the Crucifix. It came to me in a flash. Here was Jesus Christ himself telling me that the sacrifice of the Mass shows me how to follow Jesus. It is with complete trust in him.

Jesus is with us in the sacraments the Cross shows us the depth of his love and how we should follow his way his love and his truth. It was obvious priesthood indeed being a Christian means to be a witness. Later in the week I was struck by the Holy Father when he prayed in the cell of St Maximum Kolbe. In silence he sat there. I wonder what he was praying? What was he thinking? The Clue I think came in his silence and the call of Forgiveness and reconciliation. 

We must always remember and it something we forget sometimes is that Jesus is always with us. He is with us all the time in the dark as well in the light. Our Human feelings will be scared and want to run away if we were ever faced with what the Martyrdom. And that is perfectly understandable but what they teach us is something great. Jesus is always with us he helps us when we are scared and feel alone. We put our trust our hope in him. And we pray, we pray for forgiveness for reconciliation we pray for all of us that we can be witnesses in our daily lives and always show the true face of Jesus. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

The Three Popes John Paul Benedict and Francis

One of the more disturbing things that has happened over the last few years is, and I only say, in some quarters a disquiet about Pope Francis. It is I have to say very disturbing. There has also been some people who see Pope Francis as not a real Pope at all. Rather than seeing this I can see that there has been a continuity between the last three Popes. I am a simple man but this is what I see.

Pope John Paul II (Saint)

When I was seven years old I traveled to Wembley  to see John Paul II. It was my first experience at large crowds celebrating faith. I was highly impressed as a seven year old of what was going on around me. It was the first time also that a Pope had visited these lands since the Reformation. What I saw a Pope that was able to reach out to the whole world to visit and preach the good news even though sometimes this was hard hitting and uncompromising. He helped the demise of the Berlin Wall and the Eastern block something that seemed unthinkable. He for me is also the person who when I was ordained was mentioning his name in the Eucharistic prayer as Pope and now call upon him as a saint. He was truly missionary. He was lastly a man of hope for all the nations of the world and a great man of faith.

Pope Benedict

I remember watching the white smoke and seeing Benedict walk out on the balcony and my then parish priest saying "Oh My God this is really bad news."  For me I was still getting over the death of John Paul II. I remember thinking lets just hold out for this person and see what happens. What I think we got was a thinking careful loving Pope. He was able and still able to expound the Gospel message. I remember the joy of the British people as he came to England and he was humble and brought good news to us all. He also had a reputation of being a traditionalist without compromise. This I feel was also slightly unfair. The one gift that Pope Benedict gave the Church which I will ever be thankful is a renewed love and sense of the Mass.

Pope Francis.

Where we have had both the mission and the teaching Francis teaches us about charity. He tells us to look towards mercy and love of God for all of us. He has a remarkable facility to reach out and touch people. I remember at a papal audience in May how he reached out to us in his words and also he warm attitude to everyone. He has challenged the Church to think about what we are doing and what we are about. Jesus upset the status quo and so does Francis. His legacy will be written in history but he is doing great things and for me is in continuity with the other two Popes in recent history.

I am not for Pope Francis, Benedict or John Paul I respect them all equally as Popes who had something to say at the time that they were living. Surely what they have done is both in their own way taught us something about the nature of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Debate Continues

I have been reading lately with interest the comments about what way the priest should face while saying Mass. And after reading some of the reports and questions I have been more aware of how I have been saying Mass. I have also been looking closely when I attend Mass or when I watch another celebrate Mass. So these thoughts are my own.

I love saying Mass and the celebration of the Mass is something that needs to be done with dignity and respect. IT is not about the priest and how he is feeling it is about God. We gather around the altar to be present to the saving work of Jesus Christ. So what have people come to Mass for. So I asked them. These are there responses and they have given me time to reflect on how I celebrate the Mass.

  • To Pray
  • To gather as community
  • Comfort and peace
  • To stop in the business of life
  • To receive grace from the Lord
The first one on the list is the most important for me. To pray the Mass rather than just say it. To put as it were my personality aside for a while and let God work through me. To help people to come and see the Lord and receive his grace.

This I feel can be done whatever way we stand as a priest. If the Mass is prayed wuith reverence and dignity then I do not feel that it matters. It is when the priests personality gets in the way.When the priest adds his own words to the words that have entrusted to the church that we get into trouble, then the people get angry. it becomes more about Father than about God.

The great thing about the faithful is that they love the Mass and therefore love the Lord let us endeavour to do that together.

The dignity of the Mass can be celebrated in any language facing the people or facing east. It can have guitar music, organ music or simply plain chant.

Lastly maybe a further question could be the placing of the tabernacle in relation to the altar especially in small churches or churches that already have a high altar. Should it be moved to the side or not? 

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Body and Blood of Christ

 I wonder when you reflect back what  the best present that you have ever been given? As you rack your brains I suspect that after some thought we can think of a few presents that we have been given that means a lot to us. Maybe it was given by someone whom we love and is very close to us. Maybe it was given by someone who has died and although small reminds us something of their love for us and our love for them. And in a sense this is why we celebrate the feast of the body and blood of Christ Corpus Christi.

We are reminded of the Last Supper when Jesus said this is my body take and eat. Do this in memory of me. They are words that we hear every time that we come to Mass and so this is what we do.

Today is a celebration of Jesus gift of him very self to us. It is a reminder of the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the church. After all the Vatican fathers said that the mass was the source and summit of all our worship. And we come to receive Jesus himself so we need to get ourselves ready and prepared. If we were going to see the Queen or going out for an important dinner or just going out to see friends we would organise ourselves to be ready our Sunday best would be out and we would try our best not to be late. We would not turn up in a pair of Jeans and a tee Shirt.  Well when we come to Mass we are preparing to meet someone more important than any of these people we will be seeing God himself and receiving him.

When we receive Jesus what do we say. Well I have had many responses to thank you to cheers mate. But what we actually say is Amen (So be it). We are saying out loud and clearly yes I believe too. So the Blessed Sacrament demands respect because we have Christ among us. This gift of Jesus himself is something that we should not take for granted. By preparing ourselves to meet Jesus by being in the right frame of mind and being in the right relationship with our Brothers and Sisters we can come to Jesus with an open heart and open mind to accept and really appreicaite his love for us.