Letting God Find Us

In all three of the stories in Luke’s Gospel today we have something or someone who is lost. The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son often known as the prodigal son. The shepherd searches for the lost sheep and the woman searches for the lost coin and the father searches the horizon waiting for the son to return. What Jesus is telling us when he tells these stories that God is searching for us. Many talk about the spiritual life as our quest for God, our search for God. The spiritual life is sometimes described as finding God in our lives. I think that it is the other way round. God is searching for us. What we need to do is to allow ourselves to be found by God. God is passionate about us. St Catherine of Siena has a phrase that expresses this. She says that God is “mad in love” with us. Here are some of her words. “O eternal Father! O fiery abyss of charity! O eternal beauty, O eternal wisdom, O eternal goodness, O eternal mercy! O hope and refuge of sinners! O immeasurable generosity! O eternal, infinite Good! O mad lover! And you have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you could not live without her, in spite of the fact that you are Life itself, and everything has life from you and nothing can have life without you. Why then are you so mad?  Because you have fallen in love with what you have made!”

So often people imagine God as a distant figure, sitting in judgement on us, waiting for us to do the right thing. In the first reading this weekend from Exodus God says to Moses about the people of Israel who have apostatised: “ Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them;” After Moses pleads God relents. This suggests this is God’s perception of his creation. Bishop Robert Barron in his reflection on this gospel says that the three stories suggest there are three ways of being found. The coin represents people who are spiritually dead. They don’t know they are lost. They are so far from God, so alienated from their real purpose. They have wandered in the land of unlikeness. They are closed in themselves. There is hope because God diligently  searches and finds those who don’t now they are lost. The sheep are those who know they are in trouble. They realise that they are spiritually compromised. God finds them too and carries them home on his shoulders. Finally, in the story of the prodigal son, the son has gone into conscious rebellion of his Father, and there are those who consciously rebel against God and realise they are lost and are seeking a way back.

What is common to all three stories is that there is rejoicing in being found. We need as a parish and a church to rejoice in those who return. Perhaps we need to open are heart and let God find us.

Confirmation – Winning the Hearts of Our Young People

Our purpose in life is to be holy. To be fully the person that God created us to be. We need to understand what this means in our life and in our time. The Second Vatican Council helped us to recognise anew this call to holiness is for everyone. “All the faithful, whatever their condition or state,  are all called by the Lord each  in his or her own way to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect.” This is a call of one who loves us first  and who wants us to come to know and experience this love he has for us. We can express this love as a friendship. “I do not call you servants any longer but friend”,says Jesus.  Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation to Young People which he wrote in March this year says “ Jesus wants to be a friend to every young person. This discernment is the basis of all else” When Jesus, risen from the dead, encountered Peter by the lakeside, his great question was.” Simon Son of John do you love me?” He was asking Peter, Do you love me as a friend?  God is offering us an invitation to be part of a love story.

This invitation to holiness, to friendship and love is especially relevant for our young people.

As a parish community we have a responsibility to support and help the parents of young people in their duty to guide their sons and daughters to discover what God wants of them. What are the implications of God calling us to be holy, to share in the friendship of Jesus.

Preparing for Confirmation is the ideal time for deepening friendship with Christ and opening our hearts to him.I am inviting  our young people who have not received the fullness of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation with the encouragement of their parents to sign up for our Confirmation preparation programme. This will be their opportunity to grow in their understanding that they are chosen by God. This year we are using a Confirmation Programme called “ CHOSEN” . The goal of the programme is to offer the young person a powerful, life-changing experience as he or she prepares to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is our hope that “CHOSEN” will not only offer them a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Catholic Faith, but will also win over their hearts at this critical time in their life. The programme has been carefully designed to address and answer our young peoples fundamental questions about life, and to challenge them to embrace a life of faith.

It is important that the young people sign up as soon as possible because we would like to begin the sessions on Sunday 6th October. The meeting for parents will be on 30th September at 8pm in the St Thomas Hall.  Fill out a form that you can obtain in the Narthex. 

“Jesus is walking in our midst, as he did in Galilee. He walks through our streets, and he quietly stops and looks into our eyes. His call is attractive and intriguing.” (Pope Francis “ Christus Vivit” no: 277)

The Grace of True Humility

My rector at the junior seminary started his talk on humility by telling us of a priest who is speaking about humility to a group of nuns and recommended a book. “This is the greatest book I have ever read on the subject. It is an excellent, lucid and scholarly exposition, and I wrote it.” Was he boasting, blowing his own trumpet, or just being honest?

St Benedict in his rule wrote about the twelve steps of  humility, like twelve steps on a ladder. Its length and position in the rule is arguably the heart of Benedict’s Presentation of the way to God. An initial reading of Chapter Seven of the rule might not be easy for us to appreciate who are living in the 21st century. It is stark and demanding. It might seem to a modern reader as an expression of a spirituality that is no longer acceptable. The Australian Cistercian monk of Tarrawarra Abbey, Michael Casey, has indeed written a book on St Benedict’s teaching on humility, entitled “Truthful Living”. In this book he provides a bridge between an ancient text and the present day.

Jesus isn’t asking us to humiliate ourselves when he tells the story in the Gospel for this Sunday. He isn’t asking us to think less of ourselves than other people. Nor does it mean undervaluing our talents. There is nothing more off-putting than someone constantly professing: “I am not good at anything. I am not important.” We need to remember that the word “humility” come from “humus” which as every gardener knows is the very stuff of the earth. To be humble means to have your feet firmly on the ground. We need to have an honest acceptance of the seeds of talent given to each one of us by God. 

“Humility is never arrogant because it recognising that what talents we have are gifts from God. “What do you have that you have not received? And if you have not received why do you glory as if you had not received it? (1 Cor 4:7) Rather than hiding talents, humility sees the duty to nurture them so as to reflect back the glory of the giver.” (Sylvester O’Flynn). Jesus is our model of humility. “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart” In recent days in the readings at daily Mass we have been hearing how Jesus was condemning the Pharisees as hypocrites. The word means a play actor, pretender, dissembler. Humility means setting aside the mask. It is a kind of nakedness that allows us to be seen without the bulwark of social conventions “We present ourselves to others transparently, in all our imperfection and vulnerability. We depend on their good will for acceptance and love, not on the success of our efforts at self promotion.” (Michael Casey).

Lord help me to be at home with myself. Help me to be myself. Give me the grace of true humility.

The Narrow Door

Are we all going to heaven?  We read in this Sunday’s first reading, “God is coming to gather the nations of every language. God created us to be with him to come to know his love. Our destiny is to be with him forever.”  We believe that with the death and resurrection of Jesus, humankind has been saved and through baptism we have been given the gift of everlasting life. Thus we all have the possibility of salvation and the church is the means of salvation. As John Paul II taught in his letter, Redemptoris missio, “it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for salvation.” We need to hold together the two truths. Together there is the hope of salvation for all, while renouncing the claim to know that all will be saved. The distinction between hope and knowledge is crucial. Human beings do not know the outcome of God’s judgment. We should leave judgment to God, trusting in his love.

If we believe that the Church is a means of salvation then we need to heed the warning of Jesus. We should not presume that being  baptised and being part of God’s family, the Church, means you are saved. You have the hope and means of salvation. Jesus says we need to enter by the narrow door. Belonging to the family through baptism is not enough. “ Lord, open to us” but he will answer, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will find yourself saying, “We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets” but he will reply, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men!” Salvation comes when we accept Jesus and start to follow him. This is the narrow door, the only door to life and it is a demanding entrance. At times, it may be painful, like the discipline mentioned in Hebrews, “but later it yields the peaceful fruit  of righteousness” (12:11). We also need to bear in mind what the Church says in the  Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium 16. “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation. We will be amazed who we will meet in heaven.

To love, live and speak the truth

Many of us worry about what other people think of us. We want to be liked. We want to be accepted and part of the group. I don’t think anyone likes to be an outsider. Thus we might find ourselves self-censoring what we say to others so as not to offend or alienate them. If this is true of many of us, then I think it is not a good idea to volunteer to be God’s prophet. God often asks the prophet to share things with people that they don’t want to hear. We see this clearly in the reading from the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is one of my favourite prophets from the Old Testament. As one commentator pointed out, “He is called a prophet of doom. He lived at the most tragic period of Israel’s history during which Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the people were carried off into exile.  He answered God’s call to be a prophet but he did this most reluctantly.” He tried to escape his mission as prophet by pretending to God that he was a stutterer, but God told him to quit pretending and get on with the job. People didn’t want to hear God’s message of repentance and the destruction that would follow if they didn’t respond to the call for repentance. Jeremiah told the people what God wanted them to do. The message was not palatable and so the king was petitioned to have Jeremiah  put to death because “he is unquestionably disheartening the remaining solders in the city and all the people too, by talking like this. The fellow does not have the welfare of this people at heart so much as its ruin.” He was seized, dropped into a cistern and left to die. “There was no water in the well, only mud, into which Jeremiah sank.” If he had only told people what they wanted to hear then he would have been fine and everyone’s best friend. He was rescued by an Ethiopian eunuch. Jeremiah was faithful to God as a prophet, speaking to his people the words that God wanted them to hear. Like Jeremiah, am I faithful to the Lord? Do I live by his word? Am I prepared to follow his way? If we take the gospel message seriously and try to live it boldly, we may be shunned, we may find ourselves on the outside and those we consider friends or family might avoid us. We are challenged to live and speak the truth. This can be costly “The world around us does not share many of our basic values: the meaning of human existence, the worth of human life, the purpose of human sexuality, the dignity of the poor, our need for the church and the sacraments. Speaking up on such matters, even speaking carefully and gently can quickly make us unpopular.” Lord help me to love the truth and give me the courage to speak the truth and live the truth.

The Assumption of Our Lady

This coming Thursday, 15th August, the feast of the Assumption in England is a Holy day of Obligation. It was only in 1950 that Pope Pius XII infallibly proclaimed the truth of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He wrote in his apostolic constitution “the Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, when the course of her early life was ended, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.” Even though it was only infallibly proclaimed then it has been the teaching of the Church from earliest times. The term “assumption” is a biblical metaphor expressing the final destiny of the faithful. Mary is the perfect reflection of Christ, the template of all Christians. Her assumption is a sign of hope for the world, a guarantee that God will realise his saving plan for humankind. As Mary is now, we are to be. As we celebrate this feast we remember our ultimate destiny to be with God. Father Fio Mascarenhas S.J. in his book on Mary writes that Mary’s Assumption is not a personal reward. “It is a pledge of the fulfilment of the promises of God for all of humanity – for she is the model of the people of God, and where she is now, all the elect must hope to be one day!”

The Assumption of Mary has been a subject of Christian art for centuries and its feast day was made a public holiday in England by King Alfred the Great in the 9th century. St John of Damascus describes the origin of this belief in these words: “St Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon [AD 451], made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St Thomas who arrived late, was found empty; wherefrom the apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.”

The Eastern Orthodox  churches celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on August 15, the same day that the Catholic Church and some Protestant churches celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary. When I think of this feast I recall the beautiful Domitian Church in Jerusalem run by the German Benedictines. A focus point is an image of Mary asleep awaiting the assumption and the church is full of wonderful mosaics depicting the life of Mary.

In celebrating this feast this year can we pray for all those who are contemplating their own death. Some people can no longer face the pain and suffering of their illness. They want to hasten their end. I commend them to our loving Mother with the word we say in the Hail Mary “pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”

Live!

The challenge for me in the gospel this weekend is to understand what Jesus is asking of me when he says that I need to make myself rich in the sight of God. God looks at me and knows I am rich not because I have made lots of money or that I come from a wealthy background. I am not rich because I have great power or that I am a celebrity and have lots of friends. I am rich because of God’s overwhelming love for me and that he has given me the gift of everlasting life. I am rich in God’s eyes because he gazes on me and he delights in me. I can become blind to my true wealth by my tendency to greed. I put my faith in what I can possess. These possessions give me a false sense of security and I think that what I possess will make me happy.

Flor McCarthy tells the story of a miser who had great deal of wealth and was looking forward to years of happy living. However, before he could make up his mind as to how best to spend his money, the Angel of Death appeared before him to take his life away. The man pleaded with the angel to be allowed to live a little longer. “Give me three days of life and I will give you half my fortune, he begged. But the angel wouldn’t hear of it and began to tug at his cloak. “Give me just one day., I beg of you,” said the miser, “and you can have everything I accumulated through so much sweat and toil.” But the angel refused his request. The miser just managed to wring just one small concession from the angel – a few moments in which to write down this note: “Oh you, whoever you are who happen to find this note, if you have enough to live on, don’t waste your life accumulating fortunes. Live! My fortune couldn’t but me a single hour of life.”

True happiness lies in living in the present moment and relishing what God has given to me.

New Archbishop

This last Thursday the 11th Archbishop of our Diocese, John Wilson, was installed at our Cathedral of St George’s at Southwark.. It was a day of great joy and celebration. In his homily Archbishop John said that “if any of you are surprised of see me standing here today, then let me reassure you that you’re not as surprised as I am.”  We were celebrating the feast of St James the Apostle.. The first reading for that feast was 2 Corinthians 4:7-15. It begins “We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.” Archbishop John spoke of this passage when he said: “We may be fragile vessels, mere earthenware jars, only too aware of our limitations and conscious of our unworthiness, but God pours into us the gifts, and the graces, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Whatever we have to face, whatever problems or difficulties, we do so certain that we carry within us the very life of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  He reminded us that we are pilgrims and that “together we will continue to make our pilgrimage of faith, trusting in the overwhelming power that comes, not from us, but from God.”  He reminded us that each of us has a unique and essential place on this journey. “For my part. I will do my very best to try and love you as a father, try to walk beside you as a brother and try to serve you as a friend.” He talked about St Oscar Romero. There is a shrine to him in the Cathedral. The Archbishop John referred to a book of his homilies, entitled, “The Church is all of you”  He reminded us that the Church is all of us, “joined with Jesus Christ, our head, and continues His mission. In this, every Catholic is called to be an evangelising disciple. Each one of us has a irreplaceable part to play in the flourishing of God’s kingdom. The Lord need you. His Church needs you. This Archdiocese and its Archbishop, its parishes and its schools needs you so that united in faith, here and now, we can announce anew the joy of the Good News, so that side by side we can serve the Lord in the downtrodden and in the despairing, in the weakest and in the poorest.”

As he continued  theArchbishop referred to the words of St Oscar Romero about what was the ministry of a bishop. “A bishop is not a technician, an administrator, or a boss. A bishop is essentially a pastor, a father, a brother and a friend. He journeys with other people, sows hope along their path, shares their sorrow and joy, urges them to seek peace..justice and love, and teaches them to be brothers and sisters.” He then talked about the significance of the Pallium which he received from Pope Francis last month when he was in Rome. He said that it reminded him to exercise his ministry with the heart of the Good Shepherd. He said: “As bishops, priests and deacons, we share the social responsibility for shepherding the hundred, not just the ninety-nine.” 

Let us pray for him, giving thanks that he has been chosen to be our shepherd. His final words were “Please pray for me as I promise to pray for you. Please ask our Blessed Lady to draw us, through the Immaculate Heart, ever closer to the Sacred Heart of her Son.”

Mary or Martha?

The visit of Jesus to the home of his friends  Lazarus, Martha and Mary is a challenging and thought provoking incident in the gospel for us.  You often hear people ask “are you a Martha or a Mary?” Some say, ”It is all very well Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus and Jesus saying she has chosen  the better part but that doesn’t put the food on the table.” What Mary was doing was listening to Jesus. Her whole attention was on him.  You could say that hers was an attitude of contemplation. One of my favourite writers is the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. He died in 1968.  One of his earliest book  was “New Seeds of Contemplation” which I first read when I was twelve. He writes contemplation is an awaking to a whole new level of reality, which cannot be clearly explained. “It can only be hinted at, suggested, pointed to, symbolised.” There is an obvious tension between action and contemplation in our lives. We need both. But Jesus said to Martha, that Mary has chosen the better part. It is easy to imagine that action, work, is being down graded by that remark of Jesus.Yet he is reminding us to make contemplation an essential part of our everyday life. To be contemplative is to discover the true God at the very centre of our being and that we are nothing apart from God. With this discovery a new life dawns. We are liberated from selfishness. “The ego-self (which in reality is a false self) is discarded like “an old snake skin” (to use Merton’s words)and we come to recognise our true self which all the while has been hidden in God.” (William H. Shannon). When we were re-designing the sanctuary in my last parish we commissioned the artist to sculpt Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus on the front of the Ambo (from where we proclaim the Word of God at Mass). Mary was in an attitude of listening. She was being in the presence of Jesus. She was in an attitude of contemplation.  Without giving time to being present to God, then we are in danger of living on the surface of life. Many of us are living active and busy lives but without a time of contemplation and prayer then our life becomes unbalanced. We have a saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”  Perhaps we need to change this to say “All work and no prayer (contemplation) make Jack or Jill not only a dull person but not truly alive.”

Pause – Be Still and Know that I am God

I have been reading a book written by Chris Chapman entitled “Earthed in God”. He uses his experience and love of gardening as a way of talking about spiritual growth. He says that his book rests on the understanding that God desires and works for our flourishing much as we do when we sow seeds and watch over their development. In Chapter Five he quotes St Benedict in his Rule “Listen, what can be sweeter to us, dear ones, than this voice of the Lord inviting us?” We must not only listen but also “incline the ear of the heart”.  I was reminded of this when reading the words from the book of Deuteronomy which is our first reading this Sunday.  “The Word is very near to you, it is in your heart and in your mouth for your observance.” Chris writes that we need to allow ourselves time to stop and be open to what we are experiencing. Many of us find this difficult. We are under pressure of time. “In a garden – as in other areas of life – it is easy to be swept along by what needs to be done and to forget to be present to what we are part of creating.” I thought about this when sitting on a seat in a beautiful garden this past week.  Seats, says Chris Chapman “are invitations to stop doing for a while and being present to the sun on your face, the fresh green light of spring foliage.” We need to take time to listen to the Word that is in our heart and in our mouth. If we are constantly on the go and doing then we will not hear the word in our heart. The seat in the garden, if you like, invites us to lay aside preoccupations that guard and govern us. Yes, we do have to plant and sow and weed and harvest and the seasons make masters of when we do this. But within this cycle – just as the cycle of the Church’s liturgical calendar – is a rhythm, a heart beat of the spirit behind all we do.


How about this week finding moments in our busy hectic day to pause? Find a time when you pause to look around you and take in all you see, and hear, and feel.  Let what you see around you sink in and speak to you. Let the Word within you emerge. “ Be still and know that I am God.” sings the psalmist. We recognise the presence of God in us because God has created us in his image and God is there within us. Christ Jesus became fully human therefore it is in our humanity that we encounter Christ. Find a seat, find time to pause, switch off the phone, turn off the radio and television. God is very near to you, he is in your heart.