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.”

Newsletter for week starting 21st July 2019

 

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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.

Newsletter for week starting 14 July 2019

 

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Sheep Among Wolves

In my former role as part of the team responsible for promoting religious education in the diocese I would  often meet with the staff of primary schools to help them formulate a mission statement for the school

If you search on the internet for an answer to the question  “What is a Misson Statement ? This is the sort of answer you get.  “ A mission statement is a short statement of why an organisation exists, what its overall goal is, identifying the goal of its operations: what kind of product or service it provides, its primary customers or market, and its geographical region of operation.”  In today’s Gospel reading Jesus sends the seventy two out.

They have a mission. Note that Jesus didn’t gather them together first for a meeting to thrash out a mission statement.  He sends them to go ahead of him to prepare for his visit. They go in pairs, taking nothing with them. They are instructed to salute no one on the road. They must be focusing and not allow themselves to be distracted. In the town they visit they accept the hospitality there and cure the sick and give the message that the Kingdom of God is close at hand (very near). Here we have a mission statement in action. Jesus didn’t promise that things would be easy. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”.  Despite this they returned rejoicing. As a parish we are empowered by Christ to continue his mission. We are called to prepare the way for the coming of Christ in the lives and hearts of all. In fact at the beginning of the our Parish Directory there is a statement of our vision as a parish which reads  “to build trusting relationships with each other across every age group and nationality so we can reverently share in joyous celebration of the Eucharist and share the Good News with all.”  How well do you think we are doing in making this vision a reality at St Thomas of Canterbury today?  This coming Tuesday I am on a study day for clergy, looking at the phenomenon of “Divine Revelation” a process of parish renewal intended to move parishes from maintenance to mission. This was instigated by Fr James Mallon, a Canadian priest who with a team of lay people transformed their parish of St Benedict’s in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Divine Renovation is one of the popular initiatives that encourage parishes to move from Maintenance to Mission.  If we want to be missionary it will mean that we will be called to leave the comfort of the familiarly and cosy to become more like sheep among wolves. 

Newsletter for week starting 7th July 2019

 

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Newsletter for week starting 30 June 2019

 

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Earthware Jars

Each Month the Pope suggests an intention for our prayer. In June, his suggestion was as follows: “That priests, through the modesty and humility of their lives, commit themselves actively to a solidarity with those who are most poor.”
Last Friday, the feast of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Cardinal Vincent Nichols invited all diocesan priests of England and Wales together, at Westminster Cathedral, to mark the end of a year of events commemorating the 450th Anniversary of the Foundation of the English College, Douai, and the post-Reformation Mission of the secular Clergy in our countries. It was a day of universal prayer for priests, to give thanks to God for the gift of their priestly vocation, to remember those who have ministered before us, and to ask God’s continued blessing on priestly ministry and fraternity in England and Wales.
As I begin my 45th year as an ordained priest it is good for me to reflect on the importance of the ministerial priesthood in the life of the church today. Apparently, the late Cardinal Basil Hume OSB, when he ordained priests, suggested that we don’t ask: “Is the man to be ordained strong enough to be a priest?” but we need to ask: “Is this man weak enough to be a priest?”  As I look back on my life as a priest, I have come to accept my own shortcomings, my own weakness and rely on the strength that comes from putting my total trust in God. I chose for my ordination card the words of St Paul, “We are only the earthenware jar that holds this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians: 4v7.) St Paul was acutely aware that he needed to be used by Christ as an instrument of love and power in sharing the good news.  Later on, in the same letter, Paul tells us about being given a thorn in the flesh to stop him from getting too proud. He asked God for it to leave him. God’s reply was: “My grace is enough for you: my power is at best in weakness” So as a result Paul reflected: “I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses…For it is when I am weak that I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).  A friend gave me a tee shirt for my birthday and printed on it was a picture of myself with the word “Superpriest”, because I used to say this ironically when I felt at times the expectations of people in the parish were that I should be able to be good at everything. There were also times when I also felt I was failure because I failed as an excellent preacher, administrator, listener, leader and all-round good egg.  To grow in maturity is for me to accept and understand that Christ has chosen me, not because I am perfect or better than anyone else, but he knows that if I submit to his grace and love I can become an instrument of his love. Super priest I’m not – I need all of you as part of our parish family to make God’s Word real in our lives and into the lives of those who we come into contact with each day. 
Here is a suggested prayer 
Holy Father, who by no merit of their own, chose priests for communion with the eternal priest of your Christ and for the ministry of your Church, grant that they may be ardent but gentle preachers of your Gospel and faithful servants of your mysteries. Amen

Newsletter week starting 23 June 2019

 

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Corpus Christi – The Gift of the Eucharist

This weekend we are celebrating the Solemnity of Corpus et Sanguis Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ). This feast gives us the opportunity to recall the greatest gift of the Eucharist given to the Church by Jesus at the Last Supper. It stands at the centre of the Church’s life. Pope John Paul, in his encyclical letter of 2003 “Ecclesia et Eucharistia”, sought to rekindle the sense of amazement that should always fill us when we gather for Mass. Why should we be so amazed and filled with a sense of joyful wonder? Because the Risen Christ is with us as he promised. “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church“.  We believe that the Eucharist, the Mass, contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth, that is Christ himself, our Passover and our living bread. Receiving Jesus in Holy Communion unites us with Christ – with Christ in his death and resurrection and with Christ as Omega and End of history, the final goal of our life on earth. But it also at the end of Mass, the deacon or priest says “Go and announce the gospel of the Lord”. Like the apostles at the Last Supper, if we wish to be close to the Lord we must answer the command of Christ to wash the feet of others in humble service as signs of hope, signs of resurrection, to the world. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: “the Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and blood of Christ given up for us, we recognise Christ in the poorest, his brother and sisters.” Receiving Christ’s presence in Holy Communion should flow into social action, into active love for the poor and oppressed, the sick and the sad. “Those who recognise and worship Christ in the breaking of bread must recognise and serve him also in the broken lives of those around them” (Bishop Michael Evans). 

This weekend at all Masses the Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion have the opportunity to renew their commitment of service for another year. This takes place after the Lamb of God.

We receive the whole of Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity under the form of bread alone, or under the form of wine alone. The fullness of the grace of his presence is available to us under one kind or another.  However: “the meaning of communion is signified as clearly as possible when it is given under both kinds, and Catholics are encouraged to desire Communion under both kinds in which the meaning of the Eucharistic banquet is more fully signified.” Having Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion makes it possible for us at St Thomas of Canterbury. Thank you for your ministry of service.