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Today is Good Friday. Unusual this year for we are all under lockdown in our own homes. The normal church services are only available online. Yet, one benefit arising from our restricted movement is more time to reflect upon the events surrounding our redemption.

Such reflections may well prove both helpful and necessary for our peace of mind. In many conversations, now all conducted over the internet, it is clear that this is a time of anxiety for people. Legitimate anxieties such as how might I earn income, how vulnerable am I to catch covid-19, the pain of being unable to gather with immediate family or friends? Others face the pressures of living within a confined space, with no means to find time and space alone.

On rare excursions out, the world has changed. Few cars, social distancing maintaining gaps between neighbours and friends, and long, queues snaking around supermarkets. Everything is different and this very quickly begins to play upon our fears and stir up anxieties within.

Finding and sustaining faith during such times can prove challenging. Much depends upon the level of intimacy we have built between ourselves and Jesus over the years. This sudden change in our life experience can only highlight for us the character of the friendship we enjoy with God.

Today many of us will reflect upon the long and brutal walk Jesus was forced to take. Bearing the instrument of his own torture and death upon his back, he was experiencing the greatest test to his faith to date. Like Abraham had to hold a knife aloft above his only son, bound in readiness for sacrifice, so Jesus must face this the greatest test to his self professed claim to be the Son of God and his total confidence that God would neither fail nor forsake him.

Many of us find ourselves in just such a situation. This is a season of our own Passion or season of enduring suffering, the actual meaning of the word. We are invited to persevere and the ‘not knowing’ what the future holds for any of us can unleash a host of ‘demons’ that continually torment our minds and depress our mood.

Our confidence can only lie in recognising that in agreeing to follow Jesus, a voluntary decision that is within the power of everyone of us to take or reject, we also agreed to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. Therefore, today of all days, whilst sombre in tone, is also a source of our instruction and encouragement. We are only living where Jesus has been before us.

Whilst painful, this is a safe place. Our lives are hid with Christ in God. And whilst we cannot know the future in any practical detail, we do know, like Jesus, that our lives are ultimately in safe hands, those of our God and Creator. What we have to do is turn our gaze from considering the many possibilities that flood our minds about our unknown tomorrows and direct our full attention to how and where we are today.

The remarkable thng about Jesus, who remember had never experienced resurrection and only had his Father’s promise to go on, maintained a very present focus. In the Stations of the Cross, which many traditions will contemplate today, Jesus, amidst the beatings and his stumbling beneath the weight of the cross, has time to comfort both Mary his mother and the women of Jerusalem. The point being he remained focussed upon the present. This was true once crucified and raised aloft as he took time both to forgive those who’d engineered and carried out his execution as well as welcome a penitent thief into paradise, an eternal embrace conducted within the social distancing execution demanded.

All I can ever respond to is my present. However, my mind fills with thousands of anxieties as I imagine, and seek to navigate my future. Sadly tomorrow does not exist. Only NOW is real. Naturally the circumstances of my now will raise the specter of those issues I have willfully buried beneath the busyness my normal life affords. But maybe, these days of enforced solitude are an opportunity not simply to clean the house and tidy the garden, for those fortunate enough to have one. They are perhaps a heaven sent opportunity to dig up and dust off all those unresolved fears. Time to consider what it is I really need to worry about and why.

My own reflections have helped me see more clearly than ever that so many of the ‘givens’ of my pre lockdown life are the shadows of idols that merely distract me from living a full and complete life. Too many of the aspirations I pursue prove empty promises. They simply evaporate the moment I lay hold of them and prove themselves to be of no lasting or substantial value; they are no help when I face more signifcant questions such as who I am and who has my back in this crisis?

Media directs our gaze toward government, yet what can they do? Despite their essential assurances to quel potential social meltdown, they, like us, are mortal and have no knowledge of what the future holds. Daily briefings from government ministers and an array of ‘experts’ remind us that they are only ever talking about the present, for, as I’ve said, the present is all that any of us can deal with.

So like Jesus, trudging toward Golgotha under the weight of his greatest fears, we are to follow the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength‘.

If we solely look to government this only presents us with the classic misdirect of the illusionist, for we fail to see the source of our help and health, who is God alone. So as we enter this Easter weekend, let’s take the time to place those unrealised fears, stirred by an unknown tomorrow, into the hands of God and pray for both ourselves and those throughout the world who share these troubling times with us.

‘For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Amen’

Coronavirus – living a new life: You can offer all sorts of things as well as prayers.

Her husband is busy in the Coronavirus ward. She is at home with her children, busy with the “usual things”: cleaning, washing, cooking. And she asks herself, “How can I be useful right now?”

concept of housing and relocation. happy big family mother father and kids with roof at a home

I am a mom and I work in a hospital, but now I am home on maternity leave with my other children. My husband, an anaesthetist, has started to work in intensive care with coronavirus patients and this situation worries me all day long. But he comes home happy, not because the situation is not dramatic and delicate, but because he is responding to what reality is asking. Therefore, I have begun to ask myself: how can I be useful to the world, to my friends, how can I be in front of what is happening by spending my days locked up at home with my children who do not give me a moment’s peace? What is my task now?

I was reminded of a passage in Bruce Marshall’s book To Every Man a Penny:

“One could become a cyclist or a footballer only by riding a bicycle or kicking a football, but one could become a saint by doing all sorts of unsaintly things in a saintly manner, the abbé Gaston said. One could offer to God’s greater glory all sorts of things besides prayers. One could offer the depth one dug a ditch or the height one jumped or the way one wore a pretty dress, for if to pray was to work, to work was also to pray.”

Remember: “If you do not see Jesus here, it is because you do not want to”

Then, my usefulness in this difficult circumstance does not lie in thinking I want to be somewhere else, but in offering what I do during the day to those who are sick, for my husband, for those who work in hospitals. And everything acquires a new taste, unimaginable in the dramatic situation in which we are called to live. The usual things like cleaning, washing, cooking, being with my children, which I sometimes happen to do unwillingly, are more precious than before, thinking about those who would like to do them, but who cannot because they are unwell. And the lament is overcome by the conscience that I am called to this now, not before or after, now. I cannot detach this new consciousness of myself from the encounter that, “by its very nature, in time, becomes the true shape of every relationship, the true form by which I look at nature, at myself, at others, and at things”, as Fr. Julián reminds us in his letter to the Fraternity. And now the “virtual” company of my fraternity (we meet via video) is my call to always live the real intensely”.

Roberta, Monza, Italy

 

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on December 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant Dead at 41: How Scandal Turned Him to Catholic Faith and Divine Mercy

“His most inspiring trait,” said singer Cristina Ballestero, “was his decision to turn to his faith in God and receive God’s mercy and to be a better man after a regretful decision.”

 

A lovely piece excerpted by America Magazine by Fr. James Martin SJ. Worth the read and as we battle ‘Black Friday’ and its celebration of consumerism perhaps find some space for rest and reflection.

The following is a meditation on the place of gratitude in Ignatian spirituality.

thanksgivingThe traditional first step of the examen, the end-of-the-day prayer that St. Ignatius Loyola told Jesuits never to omit from their day, is gratitude. You recall the good things that happened to you in the past day, and give thanks.

It is an essential step. As David Fleming, S.J., an expert on spirituality, wrote me in a letter, “Ignatius saw the examen as prayer, not just focused on the person, but as directed to God. That’s why the examination begins with thanks to God, establishing the focus. It’s not simply self-examination or dreamy introspection, it is a way of prayer, a way of being with God.

And Ignatius meant giving thanks for any “benefits,” as he said, in the broadest possible sense. Obvious things would include any good news, a tender moment with a spouse, finishing an important project at work. But also less-obvious things: the surprising sight of sunlight on the pavement in the middle of a bleak midwinter’s day, the taste of a ham-and-cheese sandwich you had for lunch; satisfaction at the end of a tiring day caring for your children.

For Ignatius many things–no matter how seemingly inconsequential–are occasions for gratitude. You recall them and you “relish” or “savor” them, as Ignatius would say.

Savoring is an antidote to our increasingly rushed lives. We live in a busy world, with an emphasis on speed, efficiency and productivity, and we often find ourselves always moving on to the next task at hand. Life becomes an endless series of tasks, and our day becomes a compendium of to-do lists. We become “human doings” instead of “human beings.”

Savoring slows us down. In the examen we don’t recall an important experience simply to add it to a list of things that we’ve seen or done; rather, we savor as if we were a wonderful meal. We pause to enjoy what has happened. It’s a deepening of our gratitude to God, and reveals the hidden joys of our days. As Anthony de Mello, SJ, notes, “You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.”

The way of Ignatius celebrates gratitude. The Spiritual Exercises are crammed with references to expressing gratitude for God’s gifts. “I will consider how all good things and gifts descend from above,” he writes in the Fourth Week, “from the Supreme and Infinite Power above…just as the rays come down from the sun.” The examen, as we’ve mentioned, begins with gratitude. According to John Padberg, S.J., a church historian, for Ignatius the “most execrable and the worst” sin was ingratitude.

Gratitude is an essential element in healthy friendships, too.

When I asked my friend Steve, a Jesuit priest in New York, about friendship the first thing he mentioned was the examen. “When I think embraceabout friendship, the first thing that comes to mind is finding God in all things,” he said. “That surfaces during my examen, when frequently God directs me to things that God thinks are important–rather than what I might be focusing on. Often that turns out to be friends and interactions with other Jesuits–in even the simplest of ways: a random comment in a corridor or a homily from another Jesuit. The examen helps me to be more mindful, and more grateful for, my friends.”

Paula, a friend who works in campus ministry at a Jesuit school in the Midwest, noted wryly that while everyone will say that they are grateful for their friends, the examen makes it easier to focus on that gratitude. “The examen always helps in friendships and in family relationships,” she said, “because it helps with gratitude.” For Sister Maddy, a woman religious who works at a retreat house in Gloucester, Mass., even days when friends aren’t as present are occasions for being grateful for them. “Every night during my examen, I remember my gratitude for friends–even if I’ve not been in contact with them on that particular day. I’m grateful for them wherever they are.”

Paul, until recently the rector of a large Jesuit community in Boston, said that gratitude was the most neglected part of friendship. For many years, Paul was in charge of training young Jesuits in Boston and Chicago. He has a lifetime of experience in counseling others in their spiritual lives. “One of the most important parts of friendship is living in gratitude for the gift, and growing into that kind of gratitude,” he said.

Paul noted that one common problem in Jesuit friendships stemmed from a lack of gratitude. Without gratitude, you take friendship for granted. “You forget that it takes a little effort. And the small things matter: making time to call, staying in touch. If people can name a friendship, and can appreciate it, they are more inclined to work at it.”

True friendships are hard to come by, said Paul, and they take work. And patience. “There are a small number of people who, for whatever reason, easily make and keep friends. But the vast majority of the human race has to ask for friendship, and be patient in waiting for it to come. When we imagine friendships, we tend to imagine things happening instantly. But like anything that’s rich and wonderful you grow into it.”

But what about those readers for whom talk of friendship reminds them of their loneliness? This discussion may help you find ways to strengthen or deepen your appreciation of relationships with family and friends. But what about the lonely reader? Well, you can enjoy God’s friendship in prayer, seeing how God is active in your work, your reading, your hobbies.

Still, what can we say to those who long for a friend?

It would be wrong to downplay the pain of loneliness: I have known many lonely people whose lives are filled with sadness. Perhaps the only thing I could add is to remain open up to the possibility of meeting new friends and not to move to despair, trusting, as much as you can, that God wants you someday to find a friend. The very desire for friendship is an invitation from God to reach out to others. Trust that God desires community for you, though that goal may seem far away.

“For those who wonder why it’s not happening faster in their lives,” said Paul, “I think that it’s more important to love and take the first step. And it also may seem that most people have to spend their lives giving more than receiving,” said Paul.

“But at the end, even with all the work that is involved, even if you only find one friend in your whole life, it’s worth it.”

Excerpted from The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,

James Martin, SJ

Well, who’d have believed it. Thomas Aquinas appears to have been a pioneer of rap! This prayer is tremendous in its depth and cool in its rhythm.

Laud, O Sion thy salvation, laud with hymns of exaltation, Christ thy king and shepherd true.

Spend thyself, his honour raising, who surpasseth all thy praising; never canst thou reach his due.

Sing to-day, the mystery showing of the living, life-bestowing Bread from heaven before thee set

Even the same of old provided, where the Twelve, divinely guided, at the holy table met.

Full and clear ring out thy chanting, joy not sweetest grace be wanting to thy heart and soul to-day.

When we gather up the measure of that supper and its treasure, keeping feast in glad array.

Lo, the new king’s table gracing, this new Passover of blessing hath fulfilled the elder rite.

Now the new the old effaceth, truth revealed the shadow chaseth, day is breaking on the night.

What he did at Supper seated, Christ ordained to be repeated, his memorial ne’er to cease.

And, his word for guidance taking, bread and wine we hallow, making thus our Sacrifice of peace.

This the truth to Christians given; bread becomes his flesh from heaven, wine becomes his holy Blood.

Doth it pass thy comprehending? Yet by faith, thy sight transcending, wondrous things are understood.

Yea, beneath these signs are hidden glorious things to sight forbidden; look not on the outward sign.

Wine is food and bread is broken; but in either sacred token Christ is here by power divine.

Whoso of this food partaketh, Christ divideth not nor breaketh; He is whole to all that taste.

Wherefore upon this day receiveth, for the thousands will believeth, one’s real food that cannot waste.

Good and evil men are sharing one repast, a death preparing varied as the heart of men;

Yet fore death shall be awarded, as their days shall be recorded which from their beginning ran.

When the sacrament is broken, doubt not in each severed token, hallowed by the word once spoken, resteth all the true content;

Nought the precious gift divideth, breaking but the sign betideth, he himself the same abideth, nothing of his fullness spent.

Lo! the Angels’ food is given to the pilgrim who hath striven; see the children’s bread from heaven, which to dogs may not be cast;

Truth the ancient types fulfilling, Isaac bound, a victim willing, paschal lamb, its life-blood spilling, manna sent in ages past.

O to Bread, good Shepherd, tend us, Jesu, of thy love befriend us, thou refresh us, thou defend us, thine eternal goodness send us in the land of life to see;

Thou who all things canst and knowest, who on earth such food bestowest, grant us with thy Saints, though lowest, where the heavenly feast thou showest, fellow-heirs and guests to be. Amen. Alleluia.

Thomas-Aquinas

Norman_graceVisitors are a blessing. Today Norman & Grace Barnes are coming to lunch. They started Links International and have invested their whole lives in mission. Now in their later years they continue to live with boundless energy in pursuit of God, with Links as a wonderful testimony to their vision always to look beyond the known toward the unknown, the very essence of mission. We look forward to welcoming them into the Oratory today.

At Mass yesterday the homily was on the Magi visiting Jesus in this Epiphany week. The point was well made that having found the manger and the baby Jesus, the object of their long and perilous journey, the Magi returned ‘a different way’. Whilst self evidently we know they avoided Herod, they returned different people because of their encounter with the infant Lord of all. They had stepped from the way they had lived up until that point into the Way of Jesus. The early disciples were known as followers of the Way. Every time we encounter Christ, or experience an epiphany,  we are changed.

A wonderful reflection upon mission as we seek to introduce people to walking in the Way and to turn aside from countless attractive alternative thoroughfares that offer little hope despite the hype and bright lights suggesting glittering prizes for all. As with the Magi the decision to seek may happen some good time before the object of that search is located. Like the Magi the journey may prove uncomfortable and we might need to ask questions as we lose sight of our objective as we surely will.

This message is also true for those of us who count ourselves to be followers of the Way already. We are to keep scanning the horizon to maintain our gaze upon the star, sole indicator of the presence of the Divine. The Church is itself on mission in pursuit of God, as Israel once followed fire and cloud, across the wasteland that is so apt a metaphor for so much of contemporary life.

At the start of this New Year we commit ourselves as the Oratory, and in  the spirit of our guardian and guide St. Cuthbert, to mission, inviting the uncertain to seek a Saviour and to remind ourselves that we too are to maintain our gaze upon Christ amidst the many distractions life presents us with.

Contemporary Magi: Get it On!

Contemporary Magi: Get it On!

In this, the second of three blogs on prayer, I want to briefly consider Meditation and Contemplation as an encounter with the Triune God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit. As I’ve said previously we are all engaged in seeking to find appropriate pathways in prayer to enrich our friendship with God. I am increasingly called to walk the way of a contemplative, a steep learning curve that challenges so much of my character and my learned behaviours from family, education, church and mission.

This second purpose, which I characterise as ‘encounter’, is unambiguously directed towards a personal encounter with the Divine. Whilst experiencing a strong encounter with God at my conversion aged 19, I very quickly fell in love with the work of God as an evangelist with Youth for Christ. I made the mistake of stopping my disciplined prayer life, convincing myself that the work of God was itself really prayer. Foolishness and pride combined to ensure that, whilst I gained profile and platform, I lost sight of the person and presence of my Saviour. The end result was six months off work with physical and emotional exhaustion.

This was followed by navigating the issue of childlessness, followed by my wife’s long struggle with Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, a battle she ultimately lost after eighteen years of glorious struggle. In this ‘Valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23:4) I either had to find my way into the very presence of God, or renounce my faith entirely. Slowly I discovered the path to God’s parlour, a well worn path whose paving stones had borne the footfall of many a saint of old. I was grateful to find myself walking in their shadow into the heart of God.

When we fail, for any reason however noble or just, to pause, or to, ‘Be still and know’ as the psalmist says (Psalm 46:10), we stop nourishing our spiritual nature within. It’s like refusing to eat food in order to save time, failing to acknowledge that physical strength will fail as a result. My path was marked with the recognition that I stood with the Publican with one simple prayer constantly upon my lips, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner’. From this place I knelt and gazed in the hope of catching sight of Jesus and of being enfolded within arms of eternal love.

Take time to ‘be Still & Know’. Without knowledge God remains merely an idea or an optimistic thought. Yet, God yearns to be known personally.embrace

 

* As a revelation to ourselves and to others

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