Archive for August, 2011

Who Is Mary For Me?

On Sunday 14th August, the Church celebrated the great Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption – our Parish Feast Day – brought forward from the date of Mary’s actual feast day, Monday, the 15th.  I felt that the occasion presented a challenge to me.   The challenge was to ask myself, “Who is Mary for me – here, today, in my life?” 

Unlike parishes in Italy, and Malta – possibly other countries – we do not ‘do’ anything special on our feast day.  In many of the countries of Europe, especially those around the Mediterranean, it is usual to gather all the people together, with bands playing and a splendid procession, fireworks, and special decorations in Church; everyone turns out to celebrate. Of course, the climate in Southern Europe is much more suitable for such outside events, but also there is that difference in culture; our English psychological make-ups and temperaments are at variance with those of Italy, Spain and France, for example.  However, there was a time, in England, when we were not so different. People tell me that, in the middle-ages, there were many religious celebrations on feast days, but then along came the Reformation, and this ‘put paid’ to such festivities, as the ‘cult of the saints’ was one of the things the Reformers opposed.  It seems such a pity, to have lost something that was part of tradition, even here in England. 

York Mystery play: on a wagon 

However, the York medieval mystery plays have been revived in recent years, and they are a part of those older celebrations. 

Forgive me – I digress – and must get back to my theme – the challenge that Mary presents! Thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that, from an early age, I ‘knew’ Mary.  Always, she was like a supporter and a helper. I have a vivid memory from about 60 years ago, when I must have been only around the age of eight, of not being able to sleep that bright summer morning, when daylight came early, say at about 5.30am. I wondered what to do, and decided to challenge myself to say ALL FIFTEEN decades of the rosary! And, I did it too! 

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death, Amen.” 

In those days, the words did not mean much to me, but I thought about the mystery in each, and contemplated Mary. I remember feeling so happy that I had completed the fifteen decades; to me, it was my way of making an act of love for her, although I could not have put that into words, at so young an age. Perhaps, the happy feeling I had on completion, was her gift to me!  Often in my life, I feel she has helped me, especially when things have not been going well.  I think it is only natural, when problems arise, to confide in our mothers, to open our hearts to her and to ask for her help.  Mary is, of course, our supernatural mother, a real person, ‘crowned’ in heaven – we Catholics believe – with a human heart beating, and any Christian is entitled to say, that heart is beating for me.  

We say in the psalms: 

Had we forgotten the name of our God or stretched out hands to another god

would not God have found this out, he who knows the secrets of the heart?

(Ps 43 / 44) 

God knows everything, and we can have no secrets from Him. Mary is our Blessed Mother – a Mother who understands – and so we can tell her everything.  She is fully united with God and, therefore, I always think it best not to try and keep secrets from Mary, as well. She always wants the good – what is best – for her children, and, through our Baptism, the life of Christ is in us.  Because she is so perfectly united to Christ, so it is that, she is also closely involved in each Christian’s life.  It is perfectly natural, therefore, to be ‘frank’ and ask for Mary’s help.

Listening is helpful in prison work 

We, ‘Leyland monks’ have the privilege of celebrating Mass, on Saturdays, in Garth prison, and given the relatively stable population, we are fortunate to have a regular Mass attendance.  We get to know each of them well, as we celebrate Mass there, on a rota system; it is something that the monks always enjoy, as the prisoners are very receptive to God’s Word.

Inside and Outside a British Prison – not Garth!   

On Saturday, 13 August – the day before the Feast of the Assumption – it was my turn to celebrate the Mass, and so, with the agreement of the regular ‘chaplain’, mine was a different kind of sermon – a dialogue, in fact! I asked the men, “Who is Our Lady, who is Mary for you?” They joined in much better than I expected, (though prisoners tend to be rather traditional and conservative). My warning, right at the start of Mass, must have helped them to prepare. In fact, right at the beginning of Mass, one prisoner said: “Mary, she is the Mother of God!” 

The dialogue was quite successful; it produced the following comments that are quite profound and moving: 

  • Mary is the Mother of God, but she’s my mother also.
  • As a mother always loves her children whether good or bad, so Mary loves us as her children.
  • Mary is the Origin of the Church.
  • Mary is an ordinary person, like us, and she was filled with God.
  • Mary understands suffering because she stood at the foot of the cross.
  • Mary emphasises all the female side of life in relation to us and God.
  • If you want to ask God for something, go to Mary first because she will get it for you; especially if you feel not quite right with God.
  • She is one who understands us. 

Some of these prisoners will be deprived of their liberty for a long time. I think Jesus would have had a special love for them, and would have enjoyed meeting them.  But, then, so would His Mother! 

Reflecting on all these ideas, I also believe that they can be incorporated in a simple, but very meaningful way – a way that is available to each one of us – and this devolves on the word ‘Hail’ that comes off our tongues so glibly, when we say ‘Hail Mary’, or ‘Hail Holy Queen’. Increasingly, it can become our very own personal greeting to Our Lady.  She is one with God in heaven; she is also ever with us as our Queen and Mother; moreover, we are all one with God, united by his grace.  So here is the perfect way to greet her, just as we say ‘Hello’, ‘How are you’, or ‘Hi’ when we meet a friend. This can be our real greeting to Mary; we already know her, in the way that those prisoners describe, so beautifully, and when we truly greet her in this way, she will most certainly respond – to us, her children.  How? With that sense of peace which fills our hearts, minds and spirits!

In e-mailing the blog, ‘Word Press’ tends to distort the original formatting of the document.  Readers may wish to visit the website to read it in its original format.

The Anglican Archbishop of York, speaking the other evening on a TV news programme, said that in his view the underlying main reasons, for the recent rioting in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and elsewhere, were concerned with satisfying one’s own desires, to the total disregard for other people, their interests, their property – even their lives and safety.  The Prime Minister, also speaking about the very frightening aspects of the riots, has referred to England’s ‘Broken Society’.  HRH Prince Charles, only yesterday, went to visit some of the areas affected by rioting; in meeting some of the victims, he pronounced himself very much in sympathy with the concerns they expressed, and said that the ‘Gang Culture’ – very much a significant feature of the riots in these inner city areas – were, in his view a ‘cry for help’ from many of the youth involved.

Teenagers of Today

Politicians, on all sides, have had their say, Parliament has debated the issues, and many authorities the length and breadth of the country – including the various police forces involved – have condemned the young people, the Government’s economic strategies for reducing the Nation’s debt, etc.  So, where does all this leave us?  Does it help to solve the problems endemic in our society?  Does it help us to move forward to a more tranquil and peace-loving people?   I do not think so.

After all the rhetoric, one is left wondering just where the discussions at parliamentary and local government levels, the debates on TV and radio, the ‘write-ups’ in the national press, have actually taken us?  In reply, I have to say that nothing ‘concrete’ has been achieved, and that we are now no further forward to the finding of solutions – solutions to what appear to be intractable evils in British society – evils that, from the evidence of the last few days, are not confined to the young people, given that the police and the courts have been pressurized into dealing with many who fall outside the youth and the gang cultures.  Nor are they restricted to that section of our society that is often described as disadvantaged – the poor, the unemployed and all the other ‘have-nots’.  Many of those identified, as having played some part in the riots and the looting, have been found to be employed in decent jobs, many have come from ‘good’ families, many have sufficient money to be able to spend time on computers – certainly sufficient enough to incite others to riot.

If we were to get together in a group and put forward the reasons we believe responsible for the unrest in our inner cities, I think we would find that there would be many more reasons than the total number included in the group.  We would all have our views, and you may well agree with me that among the reasons advanced would be the lack of money, the lack of jobs and the lack of opportunity, coupled with things like gangs and the peer pressures they exert.  I have heard opinions on TV that take in the corruptions people have heard about – corruptions involving the MP’s, the police and the media – not to mention the phone-hacking scandals still making the headlines.  Many would point to a lack of discipline and respect for authority.  Others would blame things on the fact that the young have nothing better to do than ‘hang about around street corners’ – drinking and drug-taking and the like. 

I suppose that all these factors may well play a part in modern day Britain – certainly, we hear about these ‘evils’ every day – but no one seems prepared even to begin to address them. 

However, one rarely hears any mention of God’s two principal commandments – to love God – and to love our neighbour.  Could it not be that, over the generations, we have got into the habit of putting more and more ‘false gods’ – money, possessions, power and greed – before the loving Father of us all, and before our love for him? Millions have turned away from Him; millions have forgotten he even exists.  Could it not be that, for decades now, we have become more and more self-centred – to the detriment of our fellow men and women, their interests, their well-being, their safety, even their lives?  I wonder? 

Those of us, of a certain age, can all remember times when the values produced by belief, honour, respect and love for God and our neighbour, were much more to be found in our English culture.  Over the years, we have advanced a great deal forward in terms of economics and technology; however, we have, perhaps, taken many steps backwards in terms of our morality, and away from those things that contribute to the quality of a ‘good’ life.  The unfortunate part of all this is that it may be very difficult – impossible even – to ‘turn the clocks back’ and regain what we have lost.

We should not lose hope, however, for God is with us – always.


In e-mailing the blog, ‘Word Press’ tends to distort the original formatting of the document.  Readers may wish to visit the website to read it in its original format.

The Beautiful Game?

 I think you would agree with me that, in this country today, virtually everyone will be aware that in just less than one year, we shall be hosting the 2012 Olympic Games.  We are getting more and more regular daily reminders of the event, and I suspect that this will only continue on an incremental scale, until such time as we finally arrive at the Opening Ceremony, next July.

A Hammer-Thrower in Action 

In my mind, the truly original idea of the Olympic Games was to encourage ‘cutting edge’, but fair competition, between athletes at the peak of their physical fitness – a laudable aim, you may agree – and I think that this ideology succeeded, from the time of their inception in ancient Greece, right up until comparatively recent times.  That is, until other things, other evils – money, betting, speed and strength-enhancing drugs – began to enter into the arena.  And, we have all seen the results – results that detract from the founders’ ideas and culminate in winning at all costs, cheating, etc; such results are very much in the minority so far as the Games are concerned, but they tend to give athletes themselves a bad name, and leave a slightly less than sweet taste in the mouth.  Tainted results!

Anyone for Rugby? 

The way I see things, good, clean and fair competition, can be very beneficial to the individual – and to the team.  It may well enhance the body, the mind and the spirit, urging one on to perform better in the things one undertakes – not just in sport – but in other walks of life as well.  And, I am sure there is one further benefit, simply because God wants us to try our best and excel in whatever we attempt.  It encourages camaraderie between people, friends, rivals, and providing there is always love and respect for the opponent – other competitors – then the great pleasure arises from doing one’s best in an effort to win; on the other hand, should one try hard and lose, then there is honour in that, also.  Certainly, there is no disgrace in losing to the better man, when one has given all in the race to the finish.  We have all seen the members of the winning team – in the Boat Race, on the rugby field and the cricket pitch – join their captains in applauding the efforts of the losing side.  I happen to be convinced that God is with us when we play the game in this way. 

So why do things become corrupted?  Why is it that, all too often, they end in unsavoury, ‘un-gentlemanly’ (to use a sexist term) conduct before, during and after the match?  What is it that underlies the behaviour of men and women, turning what used to be called ‘sport’ into games that no longer qualify for that name, in that they are many times decidedly ‘unsporting’?  There are many factors involved I am sure, but among those that spring to mind are fame, money, power etc., and the pursuit of self-interests, all built on a lack of love and respect for the opponent and a philosophy that says ‘win at all costs’. 

Then, instead of the quite beautiful picture of a winner and loser embracing the game, and each other, in brotherly or sisterly love, we have the ugly pictures of adrenalin-driven aggressive, arm-waving, fist-shaking and faces that say: ‘Woe betide the one that gets in my way’.  Too much money in prizes, too much money being paid to the professionals, betting and gambling, and drug-taking that, for me, takes all the sport out of sport.  Even racism has raised its ugly head.

A Picture of Racism in Football 

We have all seen the ‘high tackle’ that could break a rugby player’s neck, the tackle from behind that takes a footballer legs from under him and has the potential to maim.  We have read about the scandals surrounding snooker and cricket, mainly to do with betting, that reduce a gentleman’s game to one governed by corruptly unfair practices. 

On the other hand, we have all seen children playing the game – tennis, cricket, or football, on the park on a Saturday, or Sunday afternoon, and marvel at the way they play for the love of the game.  And, when one compares the two different sides of sport, I know which side God is on.  If I was to hazard an opinion as to the root cause of the evils that have invaded sport, then I would have to go for money.  Big money results in big-scale unfairness – and even the original perfection of the Olympics is no longer immune from it. It even results in players ‘throwing’ a game – playing below par in order to lose.  Where is the sport in that? 

If I may summarise, competitive sport, played for the love of the game, in fairness and with respect for the other side – for the opponent – in a loving and caring spirit of friendship – can be a wonderful thing, and one that is right up God’s street.  When greed for money and power enter and are allowed to take over from playing sport for the love of the game, then we are no longer playing according to God’s rules and a certain ugliness is often the result.  In the end, it all comes down to love and respect for the other person – in this case the opponent(s) – and this is what true sportsmanship is all about.

(In e-mailing the blog, ‘Word Press’ tends to distort the original formatting of the document.  Readers may wish to visit the website to read it in its original format.) 

A Vision For The Church?

Recently there have been further issues in the Irish Church, with another report on a diocese there, in regards to safe-guarding issues. There is no need, here, to enter into the momentous developments in Ireland, between Church and State, for they have been well documented recently. For the purpose of this short reflection, two different Irish priests – both living there – have said to me, that those in authority in the Church, do not have much vision about the future, and therefore have not been able to react, in an appropriate way – a way that gives credibility, in these often confusing times, and that this has led to vociferous attacks against the Church authorities.

A Shepherd Leading His Sheep

This idea of vision, in our confusing times for the Church, has been something that has exercised my mind, as well. There is a certain responsibility, for the small part of the Church, in which others, and I, have a certain responsibility. For me, this would mean the Parish of St. Mary’s, Leyland, the monastery of Ampleforth, the Archdiocese of Liverpool – and, of course, all other aspects of Church that touch on my life. Clearly, the Church is what is of the greatest interest here, for fundamentally, it is nothing less than the continuing presence of the Risen Christ, in our world.

Jesus at the Last Supper

Yes! These are confusing times! We do need help in formulating an appropriate vision, for the present, and for the future of the Church; without that help, who would have the wisdom, or the ability to understand, comprehensively, the many complex strands, the many complex movements, systems and structures involved? 

For one thing, there are many diverse and strongly felt opinions. There are those who find ‘communion, community, the Holy Spirit guiding us, openness and dialogue with others’ as the way ahead. The Vatican Council certainly promoted these ideas, and they are enshrined in the theological, and spiritual, principles contained in the notion of ‘communion, fellowship, (‘koinonia, in Greek)’, that is present in the Vatican Council, and in Church documents covering the past forty years. 

Others think the Church has been ‘led astray’ by the Vatican Council, and that we must develop ‘devotions, have a separate Catholic traditional culture, lead others to the one truth that we possess, become distinct and Catholic and let others come to us. Dialogue with others is a betrayal of what being Catholic is!’ This attitude, or way of thinking, is growing in the Church at present, and its argument can be ‘backed up’ by statements even from the Vatican Council – and from other Church documents. 

Within all this there are other strands that complicate the issue. An obvious one is our own sinfulness, and inadequacy, whichever way we think!  Another is uncertainty, about how to respond to the behaviour of people, with whom we are closely involved, that goes against traditional Catholic teaching.  Another is concerned with the rules and regulations of the Church, and the possibility of using an interpretation of these rules, in a way that suits our own way of thinking and thus allows us to go our own way. Then, there are issues of government and state that impinge on our beliefs and practices. There are, also, the perennial, and universal, foundation stones of a Catholic Christian — the search for God or holiness — the place of prayer in our lives — and the Sacramental life by which we remain in close union with God, especially the Mass and frequent Holy Communion — the challenge of loving our neighbours — the over-riding challenge of the relative wealth which we enjoy in Britain as a whole, compared with the utter destitution of such a large percentage of our fellow human beings, throughout the world. 

Where then do we find Vision? Please do not expect a clear answer in these few lines. Rather it may help to share a direction of thought and some experience. Here, I make some short points. 

  • If we are to have a vision, it is precisely WE who need it; it needs to be something shared. It is a very slow business to gain the confidence of many, but it took centuries for Christianity to be absorbed, and some argue that we do not yet follow the full implications of the Gospel.
  • People are very conservative, and do not like change that affects their personal beliefs, this despite the paradoxical fact we live in fast changing times. People have often said that, in superficial ways, people think and behave, in 2011, differently to the way people did as recently as 2009, but, when it comes to changing behaviour, in tune with Gospel values, we are slow to change – in any profound way – our personal habits.
  • A vision needs to affect us in practical ways, and needs to be, in ‘tune’, with the way Jesus behaved. Such a vision would not be acceptable if people felt dominated, or led, in directions they do not want to go.
  • Those who propose such a vision, need to be authentic, in their own personal lives. Furthermore, they need to stick to the vision that God has given to them, and believe in it, despite human frailty, weakness and disappointment. Part and parcel of such a vision would be a developed sense of mercy, and forgiveness, both of us and of others.

Cutting the Cake at My 40th Anniversary Celebrations

Recognising some truth in the above, it may still be possible to find a simple formula, under which to proceed. One that comes to mind is ‘Helping the Church to be the place where people feel at home!’ We all need to belong, to love and be loved, and would not that provide a possible ‘vision’? Of course such an approach would be ‘generic’, and would have many different expressions, in the local context, but that again, would be a part of a future vision: let the local become something alive’ and distinct’ in each different situation. 

Here there may be something to think about, and, perhaps, such ideas might help those in high authority within the Church, to know how to react, and support people when the Church we love is attacked; this may be so, even though it may be to the good that such attacks happen, should it be that Church people have seriously failed others!

In e-mailing the blog, ‘Word Press’ tends to distort the original formatting of the document.  Readers may wish to visit the website to read it in its original format.