Archive for December, 2011

Better than the House that Jack Built:

 Three days to go before 2012, and nobody knows what the future will bring. Who cares? Some will think that, and not give it another thought, but continue with the challenges of living. It could be a good way to be, especially if life is lived out well. Who cares, because we are cared for by a loving being; there is nothing to worry about. St. Paul uses the metaphor of building a house with our life: and we have the famous nursery rhyme in England that comes from the 16th Century: ‘The House That Jack built’ – not well built – but ‘Gerry-built, we say.

My instinct is to try to build something better and solid with life.

I care because as one gets older, the thought enters my head: how many more New Years will I see? There is a loving being who has a plan for me, for you, for each one of us. Cardinal Newman put it beautifully and realistically.

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.

God has led me through my life to know Him. He has given me the gift of making choices that have led Him to be very real; and so it really is not difficult to have him in mind in all the events of everyday life. It is very easy however to forget him, especially when things are going easily for me, and there is the challenge of life.

Archbishop Patrick Kelly in his talks and letters points out many good things and one thing he underlines is in the Pope’s encyclical, “God is Love”.

We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life” (3:16).

The phrase, “being Christian is the encounter with an event, a person…” makes me realise that it is events of my everyday life that are really important. That is where we meet Jesus.

When the Word of God became flesh in Mary in Nazareth and was born a baby in Bethlehem it became much easier to see God in every day events than before. Our compassionate God understands and heals the weaknesses and sins of human beings. We are all chosen in the Word of God before creation began (Ephesians 1: 4). When Jesus taught that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to him (Matthew 25, 40) we can understand that every encounter with another is an encounter with Jesus. The Epistles teach us that all things, all events, all thought, all of life is held together in Christ Jesus (Colossians 1, 15-17). In other words in what happens to us we can meet and reflect on God who is all love, all mercy, all truth, all beauty, all knowledge and so forth. The invitation is to be led through the events of life, in union with God to fulfil the particular task that God wants. That is when, in the present moment, I can ‘hallow his name’: that is when I can forgive myself and others in His mercy, and so receive God’s mercy; that is when I can do good and do his work.

There may be a few more years for this blogger: there may not. But I want to live them well; the difficulty is to live continually in union with God. However each day there is the beautiful prayer that by good fortune monks and priests and sensible people say often: the Our Father: “Thy will be done” is one of the greatest phrases of all time. Let it be done in 2012 better and better, and if I slip a bit, give me the courage to get up and find that will again. Then may a very beautiful house be built, not ‘The House That Jack Built’!

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Starting Again:

Christmas! The Word became flesh and lived among us and the world was never the same again. It happened in an obscure place of no political or religious importance, among the poorest and unknown of the time. Love incarnate, among human beings, changes everything, and could change for the better even the most difficult situations. Below is an example from the USA that might throw light on what I mean for numerous situations in our own communities today. The following article is composed of extracts from the diaries of members of a family.

Fr. Jonathan

The Holy Family by Juan Simon Gutierrez

Los Angeles, March 1993:


I was twelve years married to Barbara. It was a marriage like many others, with its highs and lows, and all the usual routines – getting the kids ready for school in the morning, not having enough money to get through the month and so on. This was the reality and then there was work, which swallowed up more and more of my time. At a certain point Barbra and I no longer noticed each other and boredom began to creep in. And love? Well we seem to have lost that somewhere along the way. Yet it hadn’t always been like that. I remember the Marriage Preparation course we attended and the words of a Jesuit priest about love…. It felt like we were starting off on some great new adventure. Yet here we were slipping inexorably towards that big black hole where so many marriages end: separation. ‘Twelve years married, you’ve already been in this marriage too long’, said a colleague of mine cynically one day. The other night a conversation with Barbra turned into one awful row. Now everything is finished. But all I could think of afterwards was the terrified expressions on the children’s faces, especially Sophie’s, our ten year old, who is the eldest. She had a big sad ‘Why’ stamped all over her face.


Yesterday Mum and Dad were fighting more than usual. This morning Mum brought us to the babysitter. I think she wants to talk to Dad without having us around. I knew that they were thinking of breaking up. In my mind I remembered how it used to be before and I began to cry. Mum asked me what was wrong, and I said to her ‘Why don’t you give in. Why don’t you try to be the first in loving Dad?’


As soon as I got home I rang Peter to finish things up. I just couldn’t put up with any more. But afterwards Sophie’s words were buzzing around in my head. My daughter had been the one to remind me that I had to be first in loving…. That phrase caused a deep disquiet in me and silenced my anger. I’ve always taught the kids to love each other and to compete in forgiving each other. When I used to see Sophie fighting with her little sister, I used to tell her to try to love Karen. Suddenly a thought came to me: my family was breaking up and I was doing nothing to save it. Up until now, I had been running away from the reality of our difficult situation. I didn’t even want to think about it. Now, thinking of Sophie’s word, my eyes filled with tears. My God, the thought of surrendering to Peter was unbearable.


Like other days, I went to work as usual that morning, but I couldn’t concentrate at all, I was too agitated. Then I got Barbra’s call. She had decided to go back to Korea. She wanted to separate and she wanted to establish what we were going to do about the kids. So we had really reached the end. By now this was the reality of my family. O.K. if it was going to happen, let it happen, I was ready. Inside though, my heart was like ice. I remembered how much I had suffered when my own parents had separated for a long time, and the dramatic, unforeseen, economic problems we had. We all had to find somewhere else to live. It was hard to think that my own children were going to experience the same awful sadness that I had gone through. I felt alone, confused and depressed. Before going to the meeting with Barbra, I decided to stop in a church. I don’t know if I actually prayed. I just sat in front of a crucifix. Slowly a doubt began to form in my mind that maybe I could try to do something. Then again, maybe there was nothing more to be done. Barbra seemed very determined and she was not a woman to be swayed when she had made up her mind.


Before the meeting with Peter I stopped by at Rose, the babysitter’s house. I told the children to say a prayer so that during my discussion with Dad, something would change in our heart. I knew we needed a type of miracle. Sophie looked at me with a sense of relief, finding it difficult to keep back a smile. We hugged each other. At that moment I felt overcome by a serenity and a special strength. Thinking again of my relationship with Peter no longer gave me a sense of dismay.


We met. Barbra broke the ice by asking me ‘Why don’t we try to start again?’ She had a new light in her eyes. Her proposal almost threw me, but immediately I answered: ‘Yes Barbra, it was my fault. Let’s start again.’ Therefore the talk we had after was not on the topics we had thought – custody, access and money arrangements. Instead it was a conversation full of sincerity and truth about the mistakes we had made, and our hopes for rebuilding our family. Our viewpoint was different. Suffering had freed our soul and love had been reawakened.


Mum and Dad arrived at Rose’s house while we were eating. They were holding hands and they had a box of cookies for us. Straight away we went home. It was the most beautiful day of our life.

Wishing you all a Very Happy Christmas and New Year.

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Patience is a Virtue:

In the ‘old days’ one would often hear the exclamation: ‘Patience is a Virtue’, most often when things were not going according to plan.  I suppose, if one listens, carefully, to what is going on, even today, these words of wisdom can still be heard – but I would suggest not quite so often as, perhaps, decades ago.  

I think modern society has lost some of that art of waiting for that something special.  It may be that, years ago, economic circumstances forced on many that need to wait, simply because, before hire purchase and today’s credit cards, people had to save up in order to buy the things they needed.  This often involved quite long periods of enforced waiting, coupled with that certain delicious expectancy of the ‘big’ day. 

Patience is very much ‘mixed up’ with the aspect of time.   I say this, because, the passage of time exerts a strong influence on our ability to bear waiting, in order to obtain that which is very much in our hearts.

To the young, especially the very young, time seems to pass so very slowly, so that waiting even a week – and a week is forever! – for that special event, strains every nerve that we have.  To those more mature in years, time passes relatively much more quickly, and so we learn to be patient and wait for that special thing – that special time.  Well, that’s the theory!  Unfortunately, the theory often proves to be untrue, and so one cannot say that patience is much more easily to be found in the elderly – not with any certainty! 

Thinking back, I can still hear my mother – from the kitchen – shouting: “God knows, but you would try the patience of Job.”  It may be that few of us know much about many people mentioned in the Old Testament; however, I think it is likely that a fairly high proportion would know something about the story of Job – that he was a just and holy man who loved God, and who was well-favoured in his life by God.  He was rich, with a lovely home and a loving family of seven sons and three daughters.  In fact, he wanted for nothing, and for all this he gave thanks to his Creator. 

Now it seems that God was persuaded by Satan that Job could be brought to the situation where he would begin to curse God, if God would only allow Job to be stripped of everything that he had.  And so it came to be that Job lost everything – house, money, family – and on top of all that, he was made to suffer extreme physical torment.  Yet, at every stage of his ‘downfall’, Job still refused to turn against God.

Job – in the midst of all his troubles

Job’s ‘Comforters’, his three ‘friends’, Bildad, Zophar and Eliphaz, visited him in his affliction; they suggested he was getting what he deserved, maintaining that his misfortunes were sent by God as punishments for sin. With friends like this, who needs enemies! Job would not accept their arguments; he ‘stuck to his guns’ that God is a loving God, with an absolute love for all of us – each one of us.  In the midst of all his suffering, Job refused to condemn, or to curse, God, whom he loved and feared. The result of all this was that Job was rewarded by God for his patience.  His wealth, his house and his family were restored to him.

It is my contention that all of us can learn something from all of this. All too often, these days, people of all ages are far too impatient.  In the material sense, we just cannot wait for the things we want.  This means that we are not prepared to save and wait for what we consider to be essential to maintain, or improve, our standard of life.  What we want, we must have – and have it now.  The consequence of this is that we go into debt in order to buy whatever it is.  But, more than this – much more – is that the whole country gets itself into a state where virtually everyone is in debt, to the tune of billions of dollars, euros, pounds, etc. – and all of it simply because of the perceived necessity to live beyond our means, and contrary to what I call the first law of household economics – and all because of answering to our ‘greeds’, rather than our ‘needs’. 

In quite another sense, we can become impatient with God, not wishing to keep to His time-scale, but, very much, wanting to impose our own.  Why is it that we are always in such a rush?  We say our prayers and ask God to help us in this way or that – and what happens when we don’t get an instant answer?  We then become frustrated and accuse God of not listening – of not caring – or, in the words of Job’s Comforters, of paying us back for our sins.  But, then, there are always those who do not have any patience with God, or belief in God – never mind belief in his infinite goodness and love.

Shakespeare, as was his wont, came up with a very wry definition of patience:

‘He that will have a cake out of the wheat must tarry the grinding.’

(Troilus and Cressida (Act I, scene I))

But, there is a very fine definition of patience by Bishop Horne (1730 – 1792), Dean of Canterbury and later, Bishop of Norwich: 

‘Patience is the guardian of faith, the preserver of peace, the cherisher of love, the teacher of humility; Patience governs the flesh, strengthens the spirit, sweetens the temper, stifles anger, extinguishes envy, subdues pride; she bridles the tongue, refrains the hand, tramples upon temptations, endures persecutions, consummates martyrdom; Patience produces unity in the church, loyalty in the State, harmony in families and societies; she comforts the poor and moderates the rich; she makes us humble in prosperity, cheerful in adversity, unmoved by calumny and reproach; she teaches us to forgive those who have injured us, and to be the first in asking forgiveness of those whom we have injured; she delights the faithful, and invites the unbelieving; she adorns the woman, and approves the man; is loved in a child, praised in a young man, admired in an old man; she is beautiful in either sex and every age.’

Bishop Horne, makes the ‘jump’ from an ordinary definition of Patience to one that very much involves the religious idea of forbearance.  Patience was always a strong theme in Judaism, where the Talmud extols the virtue, and in the Hebrew Torah, there are several references to patience in Proverbs:  ‘The patient man shows much good sense’, (Proverbs 14), and, ‘A patient man is better than a warrior, and he who rules his temper than he who takes a city.’ (Proverbs 16:32). 

In Christianity, patience is thought of as one of the most valuable virtues of a good life, and is increasingly viewed as the work of the Spirit of God. References to the virtue are legion throughout the New Testament. Though not one of the three traditional Theological Virtues, nor one of the Cardinal Virtues, nevertheless it is one of the Seven Virtues – opposites of the Seven Deadly Sins – alongside chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness, and humility. 

At the time of writing, we are all waiting for the great feast of Christmas – a time of waiting and preparation we call Advent – and all of us, young and old, should use this time wisely.  It is a time given to us – each and every one – to prepare ourselves for the coming of God, as God-made-Man, born to us, to live among us, to teach us God’s way, to suffer and to die for us.  We celebrate Christmas as the start to this whole process.  It is right, therefore, to treat it as one of the year’s great feasts – but with patience in the ‘build up’ – not trying to ‘jump-the-gun’ – and all the while making proper arrangements for the coming of Christ’s Birthday.  That’s the way it was meant to be – not scurrying through Advent in total impatience for the big day to arrive; and, not in scurrying round the shops buying up everything in sight, ready for the ‘Big Day’, whilst, at the same time, losing sight of its real meaning. 

John Ruskin wrote a lovely passage on the theme of time and patience; in this, I think he was trying to show us God’s way, rather than ours: 

‘Not without design does God write the music of our lives. Be it ours to learn the time, and not be discouraged at the rests. If we say sadly to ourselves, “There is no music in a rest,” let us not forget “there is the making of music in it.” The making of music is often a slow and painful process in this life. How patiently God works to teach us! How long He waits for us to learn the lesson!’  


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