Archive for November, 2011


Some little time ago – in October of this year – I happened to switch TV channels only to come across the ‘Daily Mirror’s’, ‘Pride of Britain’ Awards, then being shown on ITV.  This type of programme, it must be said, is not usually my type of ‘watching’, but I stayed with it – and it was perhaps as well that I did, because, once one got away from the ‘hype’ and the ‘sugar-topping’, the programme contained something of very real value – something very much concerned with human behaviour – a person’s often selfless, brave and heroic conduct in the service of others.  In many cases, such acts were carried out at considerable risk to the ‘hero’s’ own safety.     fake watches

I recall one of the awards being given to a 6 years old child.  Suffering from an acute form of lymphatic cancer, he was prompted to start a charity to help other children suffering from similar forms of the disease, simply by raising money to buy better toys for them to play with, whilst they were detained on the ward.  His charity ‘grew’ and, apart from toys, funds are now being raised to provide for better equipment.   A grandfather ‘lost’ his grandson some 30 years ago to leukaemia.  Grieving, he began work to help other grandfathers – other grandchildren – giving of himself, selflessly, over all those years.  His charity ‘took off’ and has now realised over £100M; he still leads the campaign, despite having suffered from a form of cancer himself.  A young boy, 10 years of age, was instrumental in saving the life of his father; his father was attacked by a bull on his farm, at which the boy sounded the alarm, drove the farm tractor at the bull to protect his dad, thus saving his life, by putting his own life  ‘on the line’.  Then, there was the Pakistani father, who had just lost his son, murdered in the August riots in Birmingham.  The man stood his ground, and made a public appeal on TV for the rioting and violence to stop.  Commentators have said that his words were so powerful – so heart-searching – that they found their mark and people took notice; the rioting and violence did stop, from that moment on.  A grandmother used her handbag to ‘batter’ and chase away six armed robbers on motor-bikes; she thought they were mobbing a young boy, when in fact they were about to rob a jeweller’s shop.  A woman motorist came across a motorist stalled on a level crossing, when trains were coming from both directions.  At risk to herself, this lady, got the stranded woman out of her car, and then drove her car off the railway lines, just in time to prevent a freight train from crashing into the obstruction.  From the other direction a passenger train was coming and her actions saved the lives of many passengers on that train, in what could have been a major incident.  Then, of course, we, the viewers, were invited to applaud the heroic efforts of soldiers in Afghanistan, many of whom have risked lives and limbs to protect their fellow soldiers-in-arms.  Such heroics need no further explanation – just the sincere thanks of the Nation. 

The programme contained many more examples of self-less acts of bravery. It is not possible, here, to describe them all – but all of them were built, essentially, on conduct in the service of others.  It is true, also, that many such acts of service do not hit the headlines – or the Awards programmes – yet they, too, deserve commendation in equal degree.  And, in my view, there is another very important factor they all have in common; they are all built on LOVE. 

The love I speak of here is nothing to do with what we call love within marriage – though that is to be highly prized.  Nor has it to do with ‘falling’ in love and the many other aspects of what we often call romantic love. 

The love I am writing about is not easily defined though many attempts have been made over the long history of human behaviour.  Many writers have preferred to ‘rest on their laurels’ by defining what it is not.  Certainly, it is not to do with self and self-centredness, though that kind of self-love does exist for some.  Real love, within human relationships, does not ask for anything in return for the act of giving – and here, that last word of the phrase, provides the clue to its real meaning – for love – real love – is all about GIVING.  

In essence, it consists of “the gift of giving”, or of serving others, without the hope of reward or pay, the whole point being to try and improve that other person’s state of happiness and well-being. When one does the ‘right’ thing for others, one often receives something in return, but the gift of giving, in the first place, can never be influenced by possible reciprocity. Taken to the ultimate, of course, this gift of giving may, and often does, involve giving one’s life, in order to make that other person happy.  It is often said that, “Greater love hath no man than this; that he should lay down his life for his friend.”  The most valuable thing that can be given to another person is one’s own life. replica Rolex

Jesus contemplates his suffering and death – then gives his life for us 

Christ sacrificed his life, so that we might have life in us; similarly, when we express real love, we can give to others everything that is our life: our knowledge, interests, work, sadness, delight, possessions – anything that we are – anything that we have – everything that we are – everything that we have. 

Most of us will know of perhaps the best definition.  It comes from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13: 

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails;  

St. Paul goes on to speak about other closely connected aspects and then concludes with the famous line: 

“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 

God loves all of us – every one – with his infinite love, and his love is absolute.  He made us to love him and to serve him – serve him by keeping his will, keeping his commandments, of which there are only two, effectively: that we should love him, (and no other ‘god’) – and that we should love each other, for his sake.  And if we love Him in this way, then our reward will be great in heaven.

 No Greater Love 

In John 15:12-13: we read:

This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you….  And again: “…. greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  


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 Father Jonathan’s blog of a week ago was on the subject of ‘Hope’.  Quite unwittingly, in a sense, he ‘hit the same note’, because what follows was on ‘stand-by’ in the blog ‘pipeline’.  However, this virtue really is worth the concentration of two different efforts – different in that they arrive at the subject from two quite separate standpoints – both emphasising the importance of HOPE in the world today.  Our world is one largely of negativity as regards God and all that He promises, therefore, largely in despair and woefully deficient in the blessings that HOPE can bring. 

In my quieter, more reflective moments at home, I often resort to a recording of Chopin’s 1st Piano Concerto, taken from an International Piano Competition, held at Leeds, a year or two ago.  The recording is of a young Italian pianist, Alessandro Taverna, and his playing of this famous concerto, in my view, was superb.  Just before he came onto the platform to play, there was a short introduction to the piece by one of the great pianists of our time, Christina Ortiz, and she describes Chopin’s mood, mental state, as he wrote one of the passages in the 1st movement, as desperate.  She says that Chopin was, at that point, very unhappy, having just fallen in love, in Warsaw.  Then just a little later, in the same movement, Christina, goes on to reflect on a similar piano passage, and here she says that Chopin’s attitude was one of “… I don’t know … one of blissful HOPE, happiness, I think … the genius of Chopin.” 

From this, it seems that Chopin’s mood, within a fairly short time-frame, had gone from crestfallen despair, that his love affair was failing, to one of hope that things would turn out ‘right in the end’, and, I think there is little doubt, that this change of mood is to be heard in the lyricism of the pianistic writing. So what, then, can we read into the meaning of this four-letter word…HOPE

I think, essentially that there are two aspects to this emotional state of mind … 1) that we have not yet achieved that which we would like to achieve … and 2) that with hope … we will achieve that happier state of mind, at some future time in our lives.  Hope seems to promote the belief in a positive outcome, to the events and circumstances in one’s life.  With ‘hope; we can look forward with confidence that ‘things will turn out for the better’, and in all of this, there are common feelings of future anticipation … future expectation … future desire … future happiness.  As Alexander Pope wrote: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blest: …” (An Essay on Man).

An Allegory of Hope – Francesco Guardi (1747) 

That, I think, is hope in the ‘ordinary’ sense – in the ordinary use of the word.  But, to Christians, (and those of most other religions) there is undoubtedly, a much deeper meaning to this concept.  Within this context, it is very much tied up with that other important virtue … the virtue of FAITH … faith in the existence of a loving and merciful God, Our Father, who cares for us in an infinite and bountiful way … from which HOPE leads us to trust, unquestionably, in the promises He and His Son, have given us … and this hope, gives us that ‘reflection in the mirror’, showing us where we are today – then goes on to shows us that, with hope, there will be a favourable outcome to our lives, under God’s guidance.  It gives us confidence that, if we try to love God, and keep His word, He will be ‘there for us’ at the end, and that, really, there is no need for us to worry. Hope gives us a sense of ‘certainty’ and a ‘positive’ expectation of our reward in heaven – if we do what God expects of us – in our lives here on earth.  It is, of course, one of the three Theological Virtues, of Faith, Hope and Love, the greatest of these being love. 

Christina Ortiz describes Chopin, as desperate, at one point in his ‘love life’, and here, desperate – in a state of despair – is the operative word.  Despair – the total absence of hope – in ordinary life, would mean that, from a standpoint of unhappiness, negativity and unrewarding actions, there would be no enlightening horizon, no prospect of improvement, no chance of future betterment, no promise of future happiness.  Just think about this, and the prospect is one of a never-ending darkness, and, because such feelings are so often ones of self-rewarding, self-generating magnification, they would assume gigantic proportions, devolving thereto, into never-ending downward spiral and total nightmare.  But, then to apply the same reasoning to despair, as applied, in a theological way, this would inevitably lead to conclusions that denied the existence of God, God’s goodness, God’s mercy, God’s love and forgiveness.  What an awful outlook, that must be! 

Thank God, we are given the promise of a bright future – for God gave us his Son, to suffer and die for us on the Cross, to rise again on the third day and to enable us to rise with him, to be with him, one day, as He sits by His Father’s side in heaven.                 

From the writer C.S. Lewis, a non-believer who later became a devout Catholic, the following extracts may help us to understand a little more: 

“ … If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  … If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only … to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, echo, or mirage. … I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to the other country and to help others do the same.” 

In this passage, he speaks clearly of earthly hope and hope in the divine.  He also warns of the dangers of false hope – hopes that have their beginnings, and endings, in all that is temporal.  May God grant that we should always have hope – hope that is both temporal and spiritual.  And, again here, whilst the former is laudable, the accent must be on the latter, for what we are fundamentally concerned with is hope for that better life, that life with God. 

I remember, well, the words of advice Father Wilfrid McKenzie O.S.B. often used to give, years ago: “Keep trying – never give up hope.” They are words of good advice, and profound in many ways – for they are words that are reflected in the following passages from the Bible, encouraging us to always persevere: 

  • “And indeed everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope; from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God.” (Rom 15:4) 
  • “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9)  
  • “Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.” (Rom 12:12) 
  • “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father (who has loved us and given us un-ending encouragement and unfailing hope by his grace) inspire you with courage and confidence in every good thing you say or do.” (2 Thes 2:16-17) 

Perhaps, the final word can be left with St. Peter; in his first letter, he wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.”  (1 Peter 1, 3-4).


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Hope Springs Eternal:

When I travel in the car, I find it a very good time to turn off all radios and CD’s, and just allow time for my fairly tired brain to relax and think. That does not mean, however, that I am other than very focussed on the dangers of driving, as the older I get, the more I am aware that a car is also a lethal weapon of destruction. But then I do, sometimes, listen to both the radio and CD’s. I have a favourite CD of short sayings, from the writings of Chiara Lubich, and one of these has stayed with me, in a profound way:

What good would it do Him to be infinitely merciful? What good would it do Him, if it were not for our sins? 

After hearing that for perhaps the tenth time, I turned off everything again, and let it sink in. 

Tomorrow, 11th November, is Armistice Day. We will be holding the Remembrance Day Service for the Borough Council, in our Church, on Sunday at 11.45, and I am to preach. It will be a short sermon, and this saying of Chiara’s, will be the inspiration. She says to me that God’s Love ‘bends over backwards’, in Jesus, to give us hope – for Jesus longs to take away the sufferings that human beings cause themselves.

The slaughter, that best describes the First World War, was mindless and unnecessary: yet God permitted it. Why?

A Photograph of the First World War That Needs No Explanation

The slaughter and torture of all since – right up to the present – is also mindless, and yet God permits it. Why? We have to bear in mind that the ‘sins’ that God permits are, also, in that sense, ‘God’s Will’. The greatest ‘sin’ in the history of the world was, and is, the Passion and Crucifixion of Our Lord, and that ‘permitted evil’ led to the fullness of the Redemption, in the Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead. Jesus ‘spoke’ not only in words – but in his deeds. The Cross was the perfect expression of the Love that God is, and from utter nothingness – God, dead on the Cross – arises the fullness of life. 

What good would it do Him to be infinitely merciful? What good would it do Him, if it were not for our sins? 

God seems to be calling for us to give him the sins we commit, so that He can justify his own Death on the Cross. 

Why do we have the beautiful international saying: ‘Hope springs eternal’? It must come from that unknown part of the self that is deep within our spirit: it is there, that we find the Wisdom that is God. Even in the worst disorder, destruction, hatred and chaos, beauty can spring up. It is part of our human experience. The poppy is the beautiful symbol that ‘springs’ up, out of the muddy, awful waste-land of First World War trenches.  God who is all beauty, joy, happiness, life and glory is not destroyed by any darkness – for: 

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it”. (John 1:5) 

At this point, I will conclude my blog, by quoting a small section of a book entitled, “Your Word is Fire”, a title that goes to the heart of my present meditations. The book is much more meaningful to me, because I know the author quite well: on one occasion we holidayed for two weeks, together, in Ireland. He is an Italian missionary and theologian, a priest called Fr. Fabio Ciardi, O.M.I. He explains, using the ‘Fathers of the Church’ to back his writing, how Jesus speaks to us – but not just in his words; his very life speaks to us, also.  In the end, ‘Hope Springs Eternal’, because Jesus is God-With-Us. 

Why did what Jesus say enchant the crowds? Why have his words been the inspiration of generations of Christians, sustained the Martyrs in their sufferings, formed saints, sustained missionaries..? Because, in his words, he gives himself. He speaks who he is. His life speaks. 

St. Gregory the Great (died 604 AD; he sent St. Augustine to England) is the spokesperson of the tradition that sees in the sacred books a message that God has sent to all humankind. “What is Holy Scripture – he asks – if not a letter from almighty God to all his creation?” In Holy Scripture he lets us take note of his will, reveals his plan of salvation, his thoughts of peace; and he shows in practical terms the way a person can conduct his or her life. Having said that, Holy Scripture is something more than a message from God. It is true that it contains his Word, but when God speaks he does not say words, he says himself. St. Augustine of Hippo (died 330 AD) reminds us that God never gives less than himself. 

The unique Word that the Father, from eternity, pronounces is the Word, his Son. It is a unique Word that completely and finally expresses himself: he gives all himself. He is not like us because, when we express ourselves, we need many words and concepts…and even then we find that we have not managed fully to say what we mean. St. Augustine (of Hippo) says something else that in the Word that the Father has said everything in an ineffable way, (not to be spoken because of its sacredness; unutterable: the ineffable name of the deity.) 

A woman can give birth to many children because to each one she gives her life, but not the whole of her life….she is there also to give birth to others. The Father is not like that. He cannot generate more children because when he generates his only Son, his favoured one, he gives the whole of himself fully and completely and makes him another He: God from God, Light from Light. The Father cannot say another word. “All that God the Father has given to God the Son – writes St. Augustine (of Hippo) – he has given in generating him…How in any other manner can he give words to the Word in whom in an ineffable way the Father has said everything?” 

Perhaps we can begin to intuit with our hearts why ‘Hope Springs Eternal’.  Our God is madly in Love with each one of us, and all of us together, and in every circumstance of life.

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Follow Me (Mt. 9:9):

If somebody had no idea in which direction to go, then you might help them and say: “Follow me”, if you were sure of the way. You might advise people in a car to ‘follow me’ if you needed to get somewhere, together, and you knew the way, and the other did not. But, to do what Jesus asked, in the sense of giving up ‘everything’, to follow him with your life, is quite another thing altogether. It is quite alien to my experience, that anyone would use those words, in that sense.

It is true that the founders of Religious Orders, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Benedict, St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Ignatius and others, all had companions and followers. For that matter, similar followings happen in our own life-time; Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Chiara Lubich also had many companions who followed the example of these ‘leaders’ on their way to God. However, in all these situations, one is not, necessarily, following the particular founder of a Religious Group; rather, he or she is following God, or Jesus, in the ‘spirit’ of the person who founded that special group. The ‘following’ would be the result of seeing the life-style of the person whose life was already answering a call from God, then being attracted by him, or her, or their companions; normally, there would be time to discern, and talk, about the response to the inner-call that one felt.  There would be conversation about the feelings in one’s heart, in discerning – in deciding – what to do.

In my own case, I am sure that what attracted me to make the ‘big’ decision to follow God, as a monk, was the result of my own uncertainties about life, coupled with the life-style, and the types of person exemplified by many of the monks to be found at Ampleforth, in the 1960’s, whom I admired and respected. Then, there was the knowledge that, taking this path would be a worth-while venture. Later on, and after already being a monk, that initial response would be increasingly purified, through circumstances of life, until bit-by-bit, the response to the call of God was not based on negatives, alone, but on that indescribable ‘something else’ that is to do with God himself.

Who would dare to say ‘follow me’, and ask another to change his, or her, whole life-style except the ‘leader’ who could be quite sure, that he, or she, was offering the follower something better, than the way of life they were already living – already experiencing?  It’s a ‘BIG’ ask, and only somebody that knew us, through and through, could ‘dish-out’ the invitation; only somebody capable of sharing, capable of giving what was needed in life, would dare to do it. The Word of God, through whom all things are made, who chose us, in Him, before Creation began, and who is LOVE, itself, and who gave himself for us on the Cross, out of Love, provides us with the answer.

Jesus calls people to ‘follow Him’ throughout history, again and again, each day. It may not be in a ‘life-changing’ way, but more often, in small things. For instance, he is calling me, through particular circumstances, to go and visit somebody who needs that contact. He may call me to be generous with my time. He may be calling me to answer the telephone, and be kind to a person who wants me.

The other day on my ‘rest day’, I was in the Liverpool City Centre calling at St. Paul’s Bookshop, from where I had ordered the ‘new’ Missal. Walking with a friend through the pedestrian area, we came across the people selling the ‘Big Issue’, mainly poor people, and usually from overseas. The first person was a bit ‘pushy’ and, for some reason that I later regretted, I did not respond to him, except to say: “Another time”.  A little later, in Bold Street, I saw another ‘seller’ man, standing rather quietly and diffidently. The thought had already ‘crossed my mind’ that I should be more generous to homeless people – and so I ought to have been so to the ‘pushy’ chap; at this, I approached this ‘quiet man’ and gave him the £2, asking him from where he came? He smiled, shyly, and said: “Romania”.  This marked such a great moment of joy for me; I hope the seller, too, felt some joy in receiving the donation.

Sellers of the ‘Big Issue’ are most often from foreign lands, ‘disadvantaged’ by ethnicity, homelessness, poverty, unemployment….

I wonder why it is that people do not follow Jesus very much in today’s world. Why do people not follow him, into a life within the Church, in particular?  Here, I am not, necessarily, referring to a ‘vocation’ as a priest, or a religious, or one dedicated to God, but rather, to worshipping God regularly in Church?

It occurs to me to wonder, whether the practical reasons, at least for those working, or those with children, is that life is often so full and so busy, that there is little time left for worshipping God. Some people, who do worship God, state that they can identify with this analysis. In the view of many, there is always that some ‘more important thing’ to do, like finish off that job, prepare for a GCSE exam, go to a dance class, play football; perhaps it is just a much-needed rest during the week-end, after a week of work-exhaustion.  I am sure that there are other deeper problems, too – indifference, that ‘no-need-of-God’ –  that uncertainty about what is right and wrong – that ‘comfort-zone’ feeling of having enough money / resources to live a fairly comfortable life, without anything much to disturb it. All these result in many not having a real personal relationship with God that is meaningful.

A German journalist, Peter Seewald, recently, took part in a long conversation with Pope Benedict XVI, about issues connected with these questions; the results have been published as a book, entitled ‘Benedict XVI, Light of the World’. He put a long question to the Pope which might be shortened in this way: 

“Holy Father, society’s problems are not improving and this underlines all the more the urgency of the questions that shape our lives. What are our values and standards? What are we actually doing with our lives? How do we want to live them in the future? We see in our time a world in danger of sliding into an abyss. We see unrestrained economic systems which devours values on a large scale. Society plunges ahead restlessly with no clear sense of direction, and today we consider wrong what yesterday we considered right, and tomorrow we regard as right what today we regard as wrong. 

There is burnout, new addictions like internet games or pornography. We have unmanageable work related stress. We find children who suffer on account of the loss of family relations. The media dominates and tries to break our taboos, dumbing us down and blunting our moral sense. We have electronic media which has the potential to manipulate and destroy the qualities that make us human. 

The Church has contributed greatly to the development of civilisation. Today there is an attitude of contempt for the Christian religion, and increasingly hostility to Christianity in many countries. What has happened?” 

The Pope’s answer is interesting and may be a light for some of us. A summary follows:

“First of all the development of the modern idea of progress and science has created a mentality that we think will make God ‘superfluous’. Today, people think that they, themselves, can do everything that they once awaited from God alone. In light of this scientific and intellectual way of thinking, matters of faith appear as old fashioned, a myth, or belonging to a bygone civilisation. Religion, or at least the Christian religion, is accordingly classified as a relic of the past.

 People in the eighteenth century during the Enlightenment were announcing that the Pope was inevitably doomed to disappear one day.

The Enlightenment, it was thought, would finally sweep away these age old myths, once and for all.There is a sense that, for many, things are not ‘quite right’ with our world; people worry about the future, and there appears to be no satisfactory answer to these feelings.  Yet, to the discerning, there is an answer: “Follow me”, said Jesus, the Word of God.

Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) – The Angelus  – (Workers in the fields stop work to say the prayer in honour of Our Lady) 

I have found that, stopping ‘everything’ for the ‘Angelus’ when I hear the bell at 12 noon and at 6.00 pm, is always something difficult to do. Are there not always things to be getting on with? Yet, when I turn away from the negatives, and towards those few precious seconds thinking of the Annunciation-cum-Incarnation, I always feel the positive benefit of that change of mind, and that thing that ‘could not be left’ is never damaged by those few moments in prayer.  ‘Follow Him’ and we can learn, day-by-day, in union with Him.

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.