Archive for September, 2011

Here, in this sentence, we have a saying of Jesus as reported in St. Matthew’s Gospel which, once again, can only make us reflect on what truly ‘Good News’, the teaching of Jesus is. There is so much evidence, in both the Old and the New Testaments, that points us to this conclusion, but, most often, we do not heed the message, or understand its importance. This little statement must lead us to thank God that we are all sinners, assuming that we want Jesus to call us to him. In 1 John 1: 8 we have a further quotation that corroborates this: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”.

 (i)     Jesus forgives Zaccheus – a man who had cheated others

(ii)   Jesus forgives the Woman with the Alabaster Jar of Ointment

Whether, or not, St. Matthew actually wrote the sentence, above, does not stop me reflecting on the person of St. Matthew and the spiritual journey he must have made; for the great saints, like him, believed and lived out this insight that sinners we are,  and Jesus calls us as sinners, and not as virtuous people. I doubt if any saint understood the ‘Good News’, right from the beginning, but like the rest of us, entered a journey of joyful discovery that, in the end, gives meaning to the life that we experience. Life could, after all, be meaningless: ‘Jaques’ of Shakespeare’s play, ‘As you like it’, has his view of life, or quotes a ‘set piece’ that was around at the time. He is the resident ‘sourpuss’ in the Forest of Arden, home to political exiles, banished lovers, and simple shepherds. Picking up on another character’s stray suggestion, that the world is a ‘wide and universal theatre’, Jaques uses theatrical metaphor for his famous speech on the ‘Seven Ages of Man’:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school.  And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,

In fair round belly with good capon lined,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,

His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. 

(Act II, Scene 7) 

According to the Gospel, Matthew was a tax collector, hated, therefore, by the Jewish people because of the tax collectors’ continual exploitation of the people. Pharisees, who loved their Jewish law, and the observance of it, especially hated them, and above all those Jewish tax collectors working on behalf of the Romans, who governed their country. Matthew could have fitted well into both these categories.

Henrick ter Brugghen – The Calling of St. Matthew (1621)

Jesus called Matthew, and he got up and followed. He was one of ‘The Twelve’ and lived in the company of Jesus, for the two or three years they were together. Those apostles had many adventures. They were with Jesus when he worked his miracles; with him when he preached the Kingdom, when he encountered his Mother and family – a Mother and family who seemed to think that Jesus was ‘out of his mind’ for leaving them, the people of Nazareth, and going off to live his wandering life. The Apostles were sent out to preach, heal and drive out devils, which they did. It is probable that Matthew was with the ‘others’ when the two brothers, James and John, prompted by their mother, asked to be first in the Kingdom, and this provoked a jealous reaction from the rest. He would have discussed with the ‘others’ which was the greatest among them, and Jesus, knowing what they were doing, took a child and told them that, ‘… unless they became like little children, they would never enter the Kingdom of heaven’. He was with the ‘others’ at the Last Supper, when Jesus washed their feet; he saw Judas betraying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he, too, fled the scene and deserted Jesus at the time of His greatest need. On the first Easter Sunday, he experienced the amazing triumph of Jesus, Risen from the dead, and all the episodes recorded in the Gospels in that following period, when He was living on earth in his Risen body. Then he witnessed the Ascension, the descent of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, and afterwards, like the ‘other twelve’, he is said to have evangelised in various places.

These events, and reflecting on them in the community of faith, in which he lived, after Jesus had gone to heaven, formed Matthew’s mind. It may have been in later life that he was able to appreciate, as a personal experience, the saying of Jesus that begins this blog: “Jesus did not come to call the virtuous but sinners”.

It is worth remembering that, although we are sinners, we are urged by Saint Paul to become ‘Slaves of Righteousness’. Paul also reflected on the mystery of sin, in his Letter to the Romans (see Chapters 5 and 6), and he pointed out that, in our unredeemed state, we were: “Slave of Sin”, but now through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus we could be “Slaves of Righteousness”. In Romans, (6: 15), we read:

“Should we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness”.

I once ‘buried’ a man who was really worried that he would go to hell; somehow, in this, I think that Fr. Ambrose once again comes to our rescue. Ambrose had the simple faith of a child, right up to the moment of his death, in June of this year – an unshakable faith that God would look after him, and help him. Thanks be to God, for the ‘Good News’ of Jesus: “I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners”, and although God will purify us to be whiter than snow, it is a fact that, all human beings who are saved, are ‘redeemed sinners’ – all, that is, apart from Jesus and his Blessed Mother.

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

Proverbs can be rather special and sometimes important to our understanding of many different aspects of our way of life. The one above is essentially an English proverb, with reference to how we use, and value, our pennies and pounds, though knowing the ‘wisdom of peoples’, it probably exists in other forms, and in other languages.

During the last week, I have thought about its meaning quite a lot – not from the monetary point of view, though that must be its origin – rather about its application to the spiritual journey we are all travelling; I refer to the path towards God.  So far as the monetary meaning of the proverb is concerned, I think that this is fairly obvious.  If one is careful about the use of our ‘pennies’ – taking proper care and attention over the small – then it stands to common  sense, that we will have no need to worry over the larger sums of money that come our way.  In the spiritual sense, the proverb’s application is much the same.  If we go about our lives, taking care of the little things that brings us closer to God – a prayer here, a prayer there, a good turn here, a good turn there, and little acts of charity, along the way, to try and love and support others with whom we ‘rub shoulders’, then the more we practise these small things, the more will they change our lives, especially our attitude of mind. All these will be a kind of ‘cash in the bank’, adding up – ‘stacking up’ our credit – with the Lord. After all it is God, in the first place, who has been in action in the small things, ‘the pennies’, so to speak, of life. The much bigger things – things that are likely to change lives, irrevocably – things of life and death significance – will be dealt with in that same positive frame of mind. They will still involve challenging and difficult moments, but the habits of a life time’s training, in the small events of life, will help to bring us through all those major decisions.     

This spiritual journey is real, very important – one cannot underestimate that importance – and if we travel it faithfully, and consider well what we are doing, and where we are going, that same spiritual journey can help a person climb over the roughest obstacles that our ‘temporal’ life can throw at us.

 Sometimes Life Is Just An Assault Course

Yet, it is an interesting fact that some people – an unknown proportion, I think – are not interested in things spiritual. On the positive side, however, I meet with people and I share their views; they tell me that, without a faith in God, they cannot understand how people can cope with life!  

Some time ago, a man – some 16 years younger than myself – came to see me; he told me that he had a severe cancer and that he had lost his faith. He talked, and talked in tears, about what this illness meant for him, his fears for his wife and family he would leave behind; one of his children was very young, around just seven years of age.  He said he did not think he would reach Christmas, and indeed, his prophecy was to prove true. He was hoping that chemotherapy would extend his life, but this was not to be. In the end, it was living the present moment, and trusting in God, that really helped him – this together with all the comfort he accrued from his loving family and friends, as well as the nurses and doctors in the hospice. Whenever there was a chance to pray, or to receive Holy Communion, he gratefully accepted it. This man, a parishioner, became a friend. For me, it was hard to understand God’s ways in all of this; it must have been so much more difficult for his family, but at least, we – the family and I – were aware that God was calling him to a better life.  In the end, faith carries us through, but that faith is (was) built up – made stronger, and unassailable, by all the little things – the ‘pennies’ if you like – by the frequent prayers, the sacraments and the little acts of kindliness and love. 

‘Multi-tasking’ is not a good thing for me, nor is it for most; I came to the realisation of this by observing Fr. Ambrose, who had a gift for living, well, the task in hand. He was able to focus, very directly, on the one thing to be done, and refusing to be deflected by other, perhaps, extraneous matters. As monks we must undertake quite a lot of praying together.  In this, it is amazing how that time of common prayer can be one that brings its own problems; problems arising when it is hard to focus on the prayers in hand; problems in concentrating on God’s presence; problems to do with, living in God, as we pray.  At such times, rather, the mind and heart can wander away into many distractions. It cannot be a good thing when heart and mind wander at prayer, but, we are human, and far from perfect, and God knows this. Ask and he will help, and with God’s help, even wandering minds can be overcome – as they most certainly are on ‘good’ days.

Monks at Prayer

They say that, ‘life is never easy’. To react calmly when routines are disrupted can be very frustrating; not to become obsessive, when something of value has been mislaid, or lost, can be hard; remaining at peace, when strong criticism is levelled against you, is another challenge, and, by God’s grace, I have found it is possible, in some instances, not to react to such provocation. Many people face the challenge of having to deal with human – perhaps sexual attractions – to another and the sense of love that very often begins to emerge – when both the attraction, and the love – are morally wrong – simply because of the upsets these cause to the stable relationships that already exist.  I mention, here, just a few examples – the challenges to all of us are myriad. However, with God’s grace, things do begin to improve, little by little, (the ‘pennies’ again), in all these situations and the many others that face us all.  Certainly, for me, it is a slow process, with ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ along the way.

From my own perspective, something that has proved a great help has been the practice of trying to live, well, the present moment, in all its simplicity, focussing on the one thing that I am called to do, at that time.  As I said earlier, ‘multi-tasking’ is not for me.  A parishioner once said that, ‘today is the best day of the rest of your life’; that little saying has become a ‘mantra’, for me, to live as well as possible, the ‘now’ – the activity in which I am actually engaged.  Furthermore, each day I receive from others on the internet a ‘password’ to help me live the present moment.  To be honest, sometimes, the ‘password’ often gets neglected, especially when ‘life’ takes over, but, to give one example, today’s ‘password’ has been very apposite for me, given the mood and situation in which I found myself; it was: “Have a merciful love” – and that, for each moment of the day. Thus, my aim today, was to live mercifully with myself, and with others, all day long. It proved a great help on another busy day. 

At this point, I return to my opening proverb: “Take care of the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”. As I said before, this is not just about money; it also concerns the spiritual life. The other aspect of this is that, if one fails to take care of the ‘pennies’ – of the little things – praying well, thinking well, putting to death the evil that is within, by focussing on the good, and trying one’s best to be loving to all with whom you engage, then the ‘pounds’ – the bigger things – are going to raise their heads and ‘kick you where it hurts’. The solution is look after the ‘pennies’, and to do this,   you can always put yourself right with God the Father again, in whatever way is appropriate; as an American would say: “Start right over.”   In modern technological parlance: “Hit the reset button.”

Starting over is helpful for our humility, especially if it means saying ‘sorry’ to God – or to another, and humility is essential for our journey to God. In the final countdown, we might do well, also, to remember part of the address to a pope, just before he is crowned as the successor of St. Peter: 

“Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return”. 

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.

Our Lady of Sorrows

In last week’s blog, Father Jonathan wrote about the Feast of the Birthday of Our Lady.  Without any thought of reciprocation, or ‘quid pro quo’, I nominate what I consider to be another great feast of Mary – ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’ – celebrated annually on this date, 15 September. 

A Picture of Our Lady Surrounded by the Seven Sorrows

It is many years ago, now, that I remember first coming across the title, ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’, though I cannot recall the source of my education, nor can I say that I ever took the trouble to research the name. However, over the years, I have come to know something about the relationship between parents and their children, and in this regard, I cannot conceive of any bond stronger than that foetal-originating connection between mother and child.  More to the point, when someone, or something, hurts, or causes harm to a child, then most would agree that the parents cannot help but suffer, also – in many cases just as much as the child; of such is humanity.  From this kind of standpoint, it is then easy to understand, from Jesus’ life, the many distressing sufferings Mary was to undergo as she followed her child along the ‘path of life’.  After all, they were both human – with human feelings. In that special way, they were no different from any other man or woman.  Certainly then, Mary fully qualifies as ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’.   

The title, ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’ says two things to me.  Firstly, the title itself is quite beautiful, though rather sad, and secondly, in another sense, it is one that speaks of a beautiful Jewish lady, who at God’s invitation, was to become the mother of the world’s redeemer – saviour even – and in so doing endure unbearable ‘heart-piercing sorrows’ along the way.  The old Jewish holy man, Simeon – a God-fearing man who, the Bible Says– ‘lived in Jerusalem’ and ‘was waiting for Israel to be saved’ (Luke 2, v25), happened to be in the Temple when Jesus was ‘presented’ by Mary and Joseph.

Simeon, the Infant Jesus and Mary – Aert de Gelder (1700-10)

Given special insight by God, he recognised Jesus as the Messiah, and then uttered the ‘immortal’ words of the ‘Nunc Dimittis’: 

“Now, Lord, you have kept your promise, and you may let your servant go in peace.  With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: a light to reveal your will to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel.”   (Luke 2, 29-32) 

After giving them his blessing, Simeon then said to Mary: “And sorrow, like a sharp sword will pierce your own heart.” (Luke 2, v35). 

Our Lady of Sorrows – by Giovanni Bastista Salvi da Sassoferrato – and a Russian Icon 

Our Lady of Sorrows is the title given to Our Blessed Lady by the Church, in order that people should appreciate, the more, the sorrows in her life.  In the same vein, she is also called, ‘Mother of Sorrows’, ‘Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows’, ‘Our Lady of the Seven Dolours’, sometimes simply as ‘Mater Dolorosa.’  The name, ‘Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows’, perhaps gave rise to – or was perhaps derived from – the devotions to Our Lady, consisting of prayers / meditations on each of her ‘Seven Sorrows’: 

  1. The Prophecy of Simeon. 
  2. The Flight into Egypt.  
  3. The Loss of Jesus in the Temple. 
  4. Mary meets Jesus in his way to Calvary.  
  5. Jesus dies on the Cross. 
  6. Mary receives the Body of Jesus into her arms. 
  7. The Body of Jesus is placed in the tomb.

At one time, it was a popular devotion amongst Catholics, to say one ‘Our Father’ and seven ‘Hail Mary’s’, having in mind each of the seven sorrows, and using what was called the ‘Servite Rosary’. This was a Rosary consisting of a ring of seven groups of seven beads, each group separated by a small medal depicting each one of the sorrows of Mary, though in some cases this was just a single bead. A further series of three beads and a medal were also attached to the chain, before the first ‘sorrow’, and these were to be dedicated to prayer in honour of Mary’s tears, as well as to indicate the beginning of the chaplet. Conventionally, the beads were made of black wood, or some other black material, indicating sorrow. Sometime this ‘aid-to-prayer’ was also called the Seven Swords Rosary, this last title referring to the prophecy of Simeon. 

The Feast of Our Lady Of Sorrows, (in Western Christianity), goes back to 1413, and a Synod of Cologne, then celebrated on the Friday after the Third Sunday of Easter, but devotions to Our Lady, in this regard, go back further to 1233, and the founding of the Servite Order – also known as the Servite Friars.  In 1238, this Order adopted the Sorrows of Our Lady as their principal devotion, the prayers to Our Lady being said standing under the Cross.  It was they who developed the Servite Rosary.  There was also the Black Scapular of the Seven Dolours of Our Lady, the black scapular being the symbol of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows, and this fraternity also owed its origins to the Servite Order. 

Much more recently, Vatican approval was given for Our Lady’s feast to be celebrated more widely, first permission being granted to the Servite Order in 1667, and this was afterwards extended to include the whole of the Latin Church, the feast then being on the Third Sunday in September.  In 1913, Pope Pius X moved the feast to the 15 September, the date it still occupies today.  In the ‘days of yore’, people used to gather to honour Our Lady by singing (or praying) the ‘Stabat Mater’ – the words of which are quite beautiful. ‘Stabat Mater’ is often taken to mean ‘Mother standing by the Cross’. There are around 60 translations of the text, into different languages, and a number of them have been set to music by the great composers, Haydn, Palestrina, Pergolesi … … 

The following is an English rhyming translation by Beatrice Bullman: 

Mother bowed with grief appalling must thou watch, with tears slow falling, on the cross Thy dying son!
Through my heart, thus sorrow riven, must that cruel sword be driven, as foretold – O Holy One!
Oh, how mournful and oppressed was that Mother ever-blessed, Mother of the Spotless One:
She, whose grieving was perceiving, contemplating, un-abating, all the anguish of her Son!
Is there any, tears withholding, Christ’s dear Mother thus beholding, in woe – like no other woe!
Who that would not grief be feeling for that Holy Mother kneeling – what suffering was ever so?
For the sins of every nation she beheld his tribulation, given to scourgers for a prey:
Saw her Jesus foully taken, languishing, by all forsaken, when his spirit passed away.
Love’s sweet fountain, Mother tender, haste this hard heart, soft to render, make me sharer in Thy pain.
Fire me now with zeal so glowing, love so rich to Jesus, flowing, that I favour may obtain.
Holy Mother, I implore Thee, crucify this heart before Thee, guilty it is verily!
Hate, misprision, scorn, derision, thirst assailing, failing vision, railing, ailing, deal to me.
In Thy keeping, watching, weeping, by the cross may I unsleeping live and sorrow for his sake.
Close to Jesus, with Thee kneeling, all Thy dolours with Thee feeling, oh grant this – the prayer I make.
Maid immaculate, excelling, peerless one, in heav’n high dwelling, make me truly mourn with Thee.
Make me sighing hear Him dying, ever newly vivifying the anguish He bore for me.
With the same scar lacerated, by the cross en-fired, elated, wrought by love to ecstasy!
Thus inspired and affected let me, Virgin, be protected when sounds forth the call for me!
May his sacred cross defend me, he who died there so befriend me, that His pardon shall suffice.
When this earthly frame is riven, grant that to my soul is given all the joys of Paradise! 

Our Lady of Sorrows – pray for us. 

I am very fond of this feast day, and it teaches me how Our Lady was able to remain fixed only on God, and, in Him, on others, especially her Son Jesus, also God, whom she had to ‘lose’ on the Cross when he said those immortal words to her and St. John: “Woman, behold your son, Son behold your Mother”. That was a sword all right, spoken by HER son to her.  She must also have received her son in the Eucharist, after his Resurrection, and remained one with Him also, in her relationships with him present in all those around her. But she had lost him, too, in another way. There is something ‘big’ here that is also very mysterious. 

Father Jonathan. 

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 Feast of the Birthday of Our Lady

If you should read the ‘Fathers of the Church’, there you will find great wisdom and a sense of joy in the disclosure of God’s plan for humanity. The ‘Fathers of the Church’ lived from the time of Jesus until St. Bernard of Clairvaulx, who died in 1113 – according to some Patristic scholars – and to explain the name, ‘Fathers of the Church’, they are the important theologians and spiritual writers, of the first period of Christianity.  Many of them write, ecstatically, about the Birth of Our Lady, because the birth of that little ‘Baby Girl’ marked the first of the stages of our salvation.  Mary, daughter of Joachim and Anna – as tradition has it – would be the mother of the Saviour.

Birth of Our Lady. 

Later, what happened, physically, and spiritually in her, when she conceived and gave birth, does not stop in the new creation, which came into being after the Resurrection. Even today, Mary is involved, whenever there is the spiritual birth of a person into the life of God, for at that moment, a person is united, intimately, with the life of her son, Jesus. Mary, in heaven, is completely united in, and with, her Risen Son, though she is distinct as a person. When a person becomes a ‘member’ of Christ – part of his mystical body – that very same Divine Life that Jesus lives, is shared, in an appropriate way, with man, woman, boy or girl, who is ‘born again’ on this earth, in Him. And, because of that intimate relationship – Jesus with Mary – in a very real sense, all Christians are ‘Children of Mary’.  What a truly wonderful honour that is for all of us!

Infant baptism 

The ‘Fathers of the Church’ write with the same joy, and fervour, about the meaning of baptism.  The presence of the Risen Christ is manifest in many different ways – not only in the life of the baptised – but also, in the person of the Bishop, in the Eucharist, in the praying Christian, in the poor person, in any brother and sister …. and so on.  But, yet another ‘presence’ was mentioned in the Gospel of last Sunday: “Where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them”. Mary is involved in each of these different ‘presences’ of Christ in our world, because of her intimate union with Him. She sees her Son born again, and again, in people throughout this world. 

There is something so very refreshing about this ‘presence’: ‘Where two or more meet in my name’ and it is simply that this ‘promise’ does not refer just to Church. If people meet in the Name of Jesus, in a family, in a work situation, in a parish, in a pub, on holiday … or wherever … then Jesus, himself, is there. That realisation, of course, is an awesome concept, for he is really present, as a person. This is what the Church, itself, should be – the place where Jesus is the ‘Director of Operations’, and as ‘Church’ is where people congregate, Jesus can be the ‘Director of Operations’ in any circumstance.

People Gathered in a ‘Pub’

What is so liberating about this is that, should people agree to be united, in his name, then it will not be just the whim of one person – just his, or her, dominance – that will cause decisions to be made; rather it will be the person of Jesus, who always has the good of all at heart, and to whom all are subject. All of us are subject to the ‘Word of God’, and THE Word of God is Jesus himself – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.

The Sign of Peace

We may ask ourselves: “Where is Jesus present then?” In reply, I think we could say certainly at Mass. The Sign of Peace is the ‘give-away’. It doesn’t matter to whom one sits adjacent – that person is one to whom you wish peace and good-will. In other words, in Church, we are almost certainly meeting, in his name, for God makes no distinction between persons. Sadly, should a person be in Church, holding some deep resentment against another – especially if that other is also present – then this would detract from the ‘Unity’ of the occasion. Love – in God – is for everyone, friends, enemies, men, women and children – for all humankind. 

The ‘whole’ meaning of Jesus’ promise, (“… where two or three come together …”) arises out of relationships between people. Relationships are the key.  It occurs (v.20) in the final section of the Gospel passage (Mt, 18: 15-20), the earlier parts of which deal with a very delicate matter – that where people fall short, or sin, and when, and how, a person should correct that person. Nothing could be more delicate than the correction of another – and what counts, is that not one of God’s little ones, should be lost (Mt, 18; 14). St. Paul, in the Second Reading for Sunday, last, puts it all in a ‘nutshell’, when he says: “Avoid getting into debt except the debt of mutual love.” You do not owe anything to anyone, except to love them, and for them to love you! Paul is not referring to money, only. We could ‘owe’ the other affection, love, kind feelings, or resentment, revenge – or even utter dislike, bordering on hatred.  St. Paul says the only thing we should owe anyone else is love, and perfection is mutual love! Therefore, in endeavouring to ‘correct’, if there is any sense of judgement, or superiority, then Christian, or even true human correction, is unable to be given. Correction must be linked with love. Charity travels with truth, and if there is no charity, then better not to try and correct anyone. Unfortunately, human beings do not always act in this way. 

Our task, therefore, is truly to grow in love of one another. Nothing else matters. Jesus says of himself that: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. In other words … “I am Peace; I am Light; I am your friend who gives his life for you.” Here, there are no ‘strings’ attached – just love! What a truly good friendship is ours, when we do not want anything from him, or her, and he, or she, wants nothing from us – just pure gift! This is a pure love – like that of the Holy Trinity.  This is why, Jesus’ promise: “Where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them”, is not just words, but a whole new experience of life; it is something living; but the gift of this presence, of Jesus, will only come to us if we listen – truly listen to God – whoever we may be. 

And this is where Mary comes in the picture, again. She was the one who was, and is, utterly open to God and what He says, to her, and to us. “Be it done to me according to your Word”; this was not just lived by Mary, at her Annunciation, but throughout the whole of her life. 

Given that there is need for correction, as the Gospel implies, then there must be someone who stands in the position of seeing somebody who is doing wrong. Similarly, there must also be someone who stands in need of correction – someone who has turned away from God and his love. Any one of us could, from time to time, be the one who corrects, or indeed, the one who needs correction.   

Perhaps, I am the one who has acted badly – let us pre-suppose; perhaps, I am being self-centred, living in a way that makes the most of others’ misfortunes, in a way that is entirely superficial. The one who has strayed from the ‘beaten track’, too, needs to listen to God’s word, when a brother, or sister, comes along to support, and to correct out of love; he, or she, needs to be open to the other’s suggestions.  Perhaps, I am the one to correct others. In this, I must listen to God’s word, so that I will deliver not my own self-centred ideas, but God’s; whichever category we fall into, we must listen to God.  This ‘listening ear’ rings very true for a Benedictine monk, for the first words of St. Benedict’s Rule are, “Hearken my son to the precepts of the master”. 

To summarise, if the Lord is to be among people who are gathered in his name, then not only is Mary involved, because she is the Mother of the Lord, and so welcomes her Son’s presence among his people, but she is involved, also, in that her virtues are being copied. To be united, in His Name, means that everyone then listens to God’s Word, as Mary did; it implies both humility and love – virtues that Mary had – and which we also share. If Mary in her ‘nothingness of love’, lives in us, then Jesus, himself, can be born among those who meet in his name. 

May the Lord be truly among us in our Parish, in our families, in our places of work, and may we learn how to improve his ‘personal presence’ among us – for the good of the Church, the world about us, and for our good, as well. 

A personal anecdote may illustrate better what I mean. It concerns myself and, therefore, will cause no embarrassment to anyone else. Once there was a fine monk, in our Parish of Leyland, called Fr. Kenneth Brennan; we became great friends, and were both curates in the Parish, under Fr. Ambrose. Fr. Kenneth died in 1986, at the age of 80+. He was a man to whom I could speak about anything, and he trusted me, as I did him – a great gift. One day, when I was in his company, he asked me if I prepared my sermons for Sunday Mass. I asked him why his question. He replied that some Parishioners had said to him that they thought I was probably a little lax in that direction. At this, I admitted, sheepishly, that I was not an expert at preparing my sermons. He looked at me with a wry smile and said; “I thought so, but because you are Jonathan, you get away with it.” His way of putting things, took the ‘sting’ out of his correction, and, from that day to this, I have always prepared a sermon, even though some people may still find me a little ‘rambling’. I think he had the ‘mantle’ of Mary in his heart that day. Were we all to have that ‘mantle’, it would do wonders for the improvement of human relationships.  

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 famous Psalm, the ‘De Profundis’ is recited when a person dies. It speaks about God’s mercy:

“With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption”. 

Mercy, or the loving kindness of God, has been a theme in God’s relationship with his people, in both the Old and New Testaments. In the ‘Magnificat’, we read: “His mercy is from age to age, on those who fear him”, and in the ‘Benedictus’, we read: “You little child, (i.e. John the Baptist) shall go ahead of the Lord to prepare his ways before him, to make known to his people their salvation through the forgiveness of all their sins, the loving-kindness of the heart of our God who visits us like the dawn from on high”. This conjunction of ‘mercy’ – or ‘loving kindness’ – and God, go right back to the origins of our Christian Faith. 

When we first began hearing, in Lancashire of the 1990’s, about ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’ – the Sunday after Easter – as a special day in the Church, I heard priests, and others, questioning the idea. We were in Lent, soon approaching Holy Week. Then, as now, during Holy Week, we would have been celebrating the whole story surrounding the merciful Love of God, which is the whole point of the mystery of Jesus’ excruciating Passion experience, followed by the victory over sin and death, that comes with his glorious Resurrection. Why was it necessary, then, to have another special feast day for Divine Mercy? Some of the opinions advanced in those days – some twenty years ago now – seemed to suggest that the Divine Mercy devotions were rather backward looking, conservative, very pious, and rather for the old-fashioned! Also, was it not rather strange to suggest that on Good Friday, of all days, a novena should start to promote ‘Low Sunday’ as the ‘Feast of Divine Mercy’ when, for centuries, Good Friday had been THE feast of God’s mercy! 

On the other hand, in the 20th Century, God has brought mercy to the forefront in a new way, by the gift given to Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun, highlighting, precisely, this aspect of God. With the guidance of Almighty God, and the help of her confessor, Fr. Michal Sopocko, she was the one who promoted the Sunday after Easter, as the ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’.

Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska & Picture of Jesus of Divine Mercy 

On the occasion of my Ruby Jubilee of Priesthood, I asked Fr. Egidio Mazutti, an Italian priest-friend to preach, and he spoke about ‘The Divine Mercy’; he also presented me with a copy of the Diary of Saint Faustina, and this has brought this saint ‘alive’ for me, as I grow in awareness of the greatness of her spirit. She is a comparatively ‘recent’ saint, and the story of ‘her soul’ is fascinating. She became a nun, after various vicissitudes, in the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, on 30 April 1926. She died at the young age of 33, in 1938. To be honest, over the years, and even before reading her diaries, my attitude to the Divine Mercy celebrations on ‘Low Sunday’, had already undergone radical change, and in a very positive way. 

As to these changes wrought in my own make-up, for one thing, I have seen the piety and goodness and of those who attend the ‘Divine Mercy’ devotions, in our Church, each ‘Low Sunday’; for another, I have witnessed the remarkable conversions of people, back to God and the Church, that have been the result of these devotions, within our own St. Mary’s Parish. But most of all, my reflections on my own life, and on the horrors of the Twentieth Century, has affected me, greatly. From time to time, I have been in need of mercy from God – and others; it has always been more helpful, to me, to receive sympathy and understanding, rather than judgement and condemnation. It is not the case that there has been no judgement, when sympathetically received; rather, the judgement is easier to receive – and to deliver, I suspect. Then again, the situation, in today’s world, leads me to believe, that one gift the world ‘desperately’ needs, in a new way, is precisely that of believing in God’s merciful Love – ‘desperately’, because of the absolutely horrific times in which we live – the gut-wrenching, life-pictures we modern people see – the ‘blackest’ evils we experience – and the confusions of mind and heart, that are now so widespread. 

The horrors of the 20th Century cry out for merciful forgiveness, first of all from God, for so many evil atrocities, and secondly, for mercy between human beings.

The Atom Bomb on Japan and Its Devastation

Picture the horrors of two world wars and the wholesale slaughter of civilians, by mass bombings, by atomic bombs, in concentration camps – particularly the six-million Jews at the hands of the Nazis: picture, if you can, the Russian genocide, by Russians, under Stalin, nothing other than the mass-murder of their own peoples – and others; that slaughter was surpassed, probably, if that was possible, by Mao Tse Tung and his supporters in China; picture the scene of the mass murders by Pol Pot, and similar scenes later in Ruanda; then, take on board the wholesale slaughter of the unborn, in many countries, which, to legal shame, began in Britain in 1967; elsewhere on this ‘widescreen’, there is that lack of moral uprightness in the ‘capitalist’ societies of the developed world, resulting in injustice, deprivation, disease, hunger and starvation; and the picture would not be complete with scenes of oppression of Palestinians, by Israelis in the Holy Land, the rise of terrorism, and suicide bombings. It is impossible to describe all of them! The list of horrors goes on and on!

 An Aborted Foetus at Eight Weeks Old

As to the confusions of minds and hearts, I think of the challenges loyal, Catholic grand-parents, face when few, if any, of their children or grand-children, regularly worship God, on Sundays, any more. I worry about the rise of militant secular values that influence so many towards indifference to the ‘real’ values of the Gospel. I fear for a world, in which we are living a ‘cultural dark night’, of such darkness, that it seems God is irrelevant, and in support of this proposition, it was said by an Estonian on the radio only this week, that ‘she had no time for a dead guy up in the sky, nor did most of her fellow countrymen and women’. (Estonia is allegedly one of the least religious countries of the world). Much, much more could be said on this topic of rising confusion – confusion, perhaps also delusion! Pope John Paul II spoke the following words in his homily, on Divine Mercy Sunday, 22 April 2001: “The message [St. Faustina] brought is the appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies.” 

 “The loving-kindness of the heart of our God who visits us like the dawn from on high”, has shown itself in all these bleak situations, and experiences, in many different ways, and now, briefly, I return to Sister Faustina.  She used to talk to Jesus, personally, and He to her. She not only suffered physically with her TB, but often she also felt spiritually forsaken by God. However, her faith in God’s love and mercy was what maintained her on the journey of life that God wanted for her.  Among many other things, Jesus told her:  

  • In the Old Covenant I sent prophets wielding thunderbolts to my people. Today I am sending you with my mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my Merciful Heart. (1588 in her diary)
  • It’s a sign for the end times; after it will come the day of justice. While there is still time, let them have recourse to the fount of my mercy; let them profit from the Blood and Water which gushed forth for them. (848 in her diary). (Let) the greatest sinners put their trust in my mercy. They have a right before others to trust in the abyss of my mercy. My daughter, write about my mercy towards tormented souls. Souls that make an appeal to my mercy delight me. To such souls I grant even more graces than they ask. I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to my compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in my unfathomable and inscrutable mercy. Before I come as a just Judge, I first open wide the doors of my mercy. He who refuses to pass through the doors of my mercy must pass through the doors of my justice. (1146 in her diary).

Sister Faustina proclaims the most wonderful insight that one small drop of the blood of Jesus, would be enough to wipe out all the sins of the world, and that blood has already been shed. So, despite the worst evils of the world, despite the worst sins of all humankind, God’s mercy is, in comparison, like the width of the ocean, to a drop in a rain storm. It is always available for us, as long as we turn to him, and seek his Divine Mercy. 

If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive?

But with you is found forgiveness, for this we revere you…

Because with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption… 

(Psalm 129 (130) The De Profundis) 

The Return of the Prodigal Son 

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.