Archive for February, 2012

Last week Socius wrote a blog entitled “The Place for Prayers is in Church”. It was connected with the theme of atheism in modern Britain, and was closely argued to show that a position of belief in God was more sensible than that of believing there is no God. As somebody once observed: you have to have faith to be an atheist! It is most interesting that, in the history of the world, atheism has not been at all widespread. Even today it is not widespread outside of Europe, but among our fellow Europeans it is developed, and the atheists, at least in Britain, are gaining the higher moral ground.


Father and Son at Leyland Confirmation Preparation

As a priest in a parish, people sometimes say to me: “Father it must be hard to work as a priest in today’s world!” It is interesting that ‘practical atheism’ is widespread. In practice, people who believe, largely do not put their faith into action, by worshipping God on Sundays. In practice, we are surrounded by many who do not live by the norms of Christian belief, in regards to moral behaviour in business, in relationships, in fidelity in marriage, in the sanctity of life in the womb and, increasingly, in the sanctity of life in terminal illness. In practice, the Churches are largely in decline, and, those who do believe, can be publicly ridiculed by the media. In practice, once good practising Catholics, are no longer to be considered as such. In practice, it is very difficult to find young people who are a part of the community of faith and, so it might go on.

Trying to find names of saints for girls – Leyland St. Mary’s Confirmation Programme

I think it would be difficult to live as a priest today, if I had not found that, in all the above circumstances, God’s light shines on me and guides my steps, and his fire still burns in my heart, above all, through an increasing love of the Word of God; that is a massive support mechanism. On my own – left to my own devices – it would be impossible to live as a priest today!

Evidence is important in all this. We can find evidence for God’s existence; it is evidence, of course, that drives science forward, as experiments are undertaken to demonstrate what the scientist is out to prove. It drives belief, too. It is evidence, accrued from personal experience that interests me, at this moment, though there are other types of evidence, of course, for God’s existence.

This train of thought has been growing in my heart, both from my experience, and from a phrase underlined by Archbishop Patrick Kelly, (our Bishop in the Diocese of Liverpool), referring to Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”. “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person.”

Archbishop Patrick (2nd from left) with the Apostolic Nuncio and two monks at Leyland St. Mary’s

The Word of God is an event in some, if not all, lives. Ultimately, the Word of God is a person – the ‘WORD BECAME FLESH AND LIVED AMONG US’; we Christians know that this person is not dead, but alive, and we can have a personal relationship with the ‘Word of God’ because he became Flesh, and rose again. The ‘Word of God’ changes things, and although, of course, Christians live by faith, I as a Christian, can say as somebody who tries to live by God’s Word, and tries to do his will, that I know Jesus, who is the ‘Word of God’. I know him because he changes things, and gives me ‘light’ with which to live and, also, a ‘fire’ burning inside – not the fire of human love – but close to it. “Were not our hearts burning within us as he talked to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32), commented those two disciples when Jesus appeared to them, in the breaking of bread, at Emmaus. Those two disciples did not ‘know’ God, in the sense of understanding him – and his infinite power, knowledge, love and mercy – but their hearts burned within them, at the events they experienced.

Jesus breaks bread at Emmaus

I would like to wager that many people have had experiences that are similar, both those who are ‘Churchy’ people, and those who are not. Many people have been deeply, and personally, touched by events – experiences – they have shared. It may have been a funeral; it may have been something seen on the internet, or on TV, or it may be a neighbour they know, who has given inspiration. The Emmaus pair knew they had found the ‘pearl of great price’ for which they would sell everything. The same sense has also been mine, and it is for that reason that my life as a monk, and as a priest, is so good.

The ‘Word of God’, in the scriptures, betrays no doubts about the existence of God. Praying the Psalm at Morning Prayer, today, brought into my heart a wealth of ideas, and reflections, about my own experience. 

We heard with our own ears, O God, our Fathers have told us the story

of the things you did in their days, you yourself, in days long ago. (Psalm 43 (44)) 

I am fully aware of what God has done in the lives and events of so many people connected with me – in the way love and mutual respect have grown, where there was little before – when there was little self-respect and it has grown into Godly self-esteem – where sins have been forgiven, and people have found that inner freedom and joy. was not in my bow that I trusted nor yet was I saved by my sword:

It was you saved us from our foes, it was you who put our foes to shame.

All day long our boast was in God and we praised your name without ceasing. (Psalm 43 (44)) 

I am also fully aware that any good that is done by me, or anyone else in the world, is the work of God himself and not my work. The task of the Christian is to abide in God and let him work his wonders; the abiding is our work that is actually also God’s grace! 

Sadly, the ‘Word of God’, in the scriptures, is ignored by the majority; however, it comes to life when the life of God, that is the ‘Word’, produces its effects. The most important effect, to focus on for this short blog, is that it produces a community of people, who are all bound together, by the ‘Word’, into union with one another, in God. Jesus himself realised this, for in St. John’s Gospel, we read “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) The ‘Word’ creates a communion of people that cares for each other, and serves others outside the group. People take note that, in this kind of community, there is something special. Sometimes they refer to that ‘peace’, for which outsiders yearn.

Religious Men of different Religious Orders at a recent meeting 

It is the support-mechanism, we give to each other, that is essential; this is very much so for me, personally, and it evokes a different image of ‘Church’. Nobody is an isolated individual but as Cardinal Newman spoke, ‘a link in a chain’. ‘Church’ is not just a system, a set of rituals, a structure; essentially, it is a communion of loving people, who belong to each other, respect each other and where Jesus the ‘Word of God’ is alive within’ and among them. All the ritual, structures, and systems come after that, though they are necessary, in their own way – they have a part to play. Church is a communion of people where one learns not to look down on anyone – even if their beliefs are utterly different to one’s own. The support-mechanisms, themselves, have their own systems, rituals and structures, in a loose way, but it is the life-events, where God is present, that is most helpful, and, even if some of those ‘supports’ give way, it does not negate the fact that the ‘support’ is the life-saver; more than that, it is, itself, the presence of the ‘Word of God’ surrounding me, not just as in a book of words that is the Scripture, but as a presence of a person, who is divine, and who I know, and try to love. 

No, it is not hard for me to live as a priest in today’s world, atheistic though it may be. It would be nice sometimes, not to be quite so busy though!

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A few days ago, I was busily engaged in other matters at home, and was listening with ‘half an ear’ to the evening news. My attention was then, quite suddenly, drawn to an item on the news concerning a town council in Devon, and the objections of one ex-councillor to the practice of holding prayers before a council meeting. His objections prompted discussions among the members of the council and were eventually over-ruled. All this has now resulted in the National Secular Society (NSS) taking the matter to the High Court, on the grounds that the holding of prayers, as an integral part of council meetings, breaches the human rights of those who do not wish to take part. The case was heard by Mr Justice Ouseley, who gave his judgement to the effect that prayers were not lawful under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972. However, he said prayers could be said as long as councillors were not formally summoned to attend.

The judgement was being seen as a test case which could affect local councils across England and Wales. Mr Justice Ouseley ruled the prayers as practised by Bideford Town Council had been unlawful because there was no statutory power permitting them to continue. The judge acknowledged the case did raise issues of general public importance and gave the council permission to appeal.

The NSS, which said prayers had no place in ‘a secular environment concerned with civic business’, argued the ‘inappropriate’ ritual breached articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect an individual’s right to freedom of conscience and not to face discrimination. The case, however, was not won on human rights grounds, but on a point of statutory construction of local government legislation.

The councillor who raised the issue was an atheist, and, with no question raised as to his sincerity or integrity, he had argued that the place for prayers was in church, and not at council meetings. He had resigned from the council because the council’s decisions had gone against him.

My first reaction on hearing this news item was that here was news of another attack on God, and God’s territory, and further evidence of movement towards the greater secularisation of society.

Since listening to this report, I have thought further about the matters raised within this Devon council. To my way of thinking, it seems common sense to argue that, should the council continue to hold prayers before their deliberations, (in the absence, perhaps, of those who object), then one of two scenarios is bound to be true:

a) If the council meeting was NOT the place for prayers before the discussions that were to follow, then the members had wasted perhaps a couple of minutes in asking God for help with what was to follow. Certainly no bad thing could come of it.

b) If it should be found to be right that prayers were an advisable course of action, and that their offering could only result in God’s help, then certainly no one could reasonably argue that supplication had been a waste of time and effort, and asking for God’s help could only result in good for the meeting, the councillors and the results for the whole community.

 However, in all of this there are surely much wider issues at stake. I refer to the question of ‘atheism’, which lies at the root of these discussions.

The Greek word αθεοι (atheoi), as it appears in the Epistle to the Ephesians (2:12) on the early 3rd-century Papyrus 46. It is usually translated into English as “[those who are] without God”.

 ‘Atheism’, a word that comes originally from the Greek word ‘ATHEOS’, meaning ‘without god’, is defined in a broad sense as the rejection of belief in the existence of any deity – that there is no such thing as a supreme being – that no deities exist. People who follow this philosophy – and most are sincere in their beliefs – tend to be sceptical of all supernatural claims and argue that there is no empirical evidence to support the existence of a god – or gods.

The question of the existence of evil, is used as one of their strong points, arguing that, given that evil exists in the world we know, then this ‘flies in the face’ of all that an omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omniscient, god would stand for – for such a god would stand for good against evil and destroy it at source. Then there is the argument from inconsistent philosophies – the widely differing and contrasting views held by the different religions, theologians and other authorities – the argument being that one religious argument defeats another, and, certainly, not all the differing views held, can be correct. The safe way then is stand back and reserve judgement. Thirdly, there is the argument from the standpoint of ‘non-belief’. The premise of the argument is that if God existed (and wanted humanity to know it), he would have brought about a situation in which every reasonable person believed in him; however, there are reasonable unbelievers, and therefore, this weighs against god’s existence.

Overall, it would seem that, perhaps, a majority of atheists hold to the view that it is not for them to show that a supreme being does not exist; rather it is for the believer to show that there is evidence for his existence.

 Going back to the two scenarios described under discussions on the council meetings, I think there is room for a projection of the two possible outcomes, to the basic question of atheism:

1. Take first the unbeliever. He does not believe in the existence of a supreme being – a god to whom people can pray and ask for help in their lives. There is no one ‘up there’ that can help in any way, and when we die, as die we all must, then there is nothing – no further existence – no supernatural life – no heaven (or hell) – and certainly no life of happiness to anticipate. Everything comes to a complete nothingness – the largest ‘black hole’ one can think of – if you like. He has never said a prayer in his life – in his life, he has not wasted his time on such frippery. But what if this man is wrong – just think about the waste of his whole life, and the possible awful consequence?

 2. Then take the believer. This man has lived a life believing in the existence of God – of a supreme and loving supernatural entity, who has listened to his prayers and who has helped him in his life. Certainly, there will have been difficulties and problems along the way – some of them most upsetting – but with God’s help these have been overcome. When this man comes to die, assuming he has loved God and dies with such love in his heart, he can look forward to a life with God – a life of eternal happiness. OK – assume there is no god – and so this man is then proved to be wrong. If this man is proven wrong and there is no such thing as God, heaven and all the rest; if there is just total blackness, then in reality, he has lost nothing. He has still lived a good life, helping others, doing the right thing, and that cannot be a bad thing.

 To my oft-befuddled brain, there is only one winner here – and it’s not the first man. He started the race, giving himself no chance of winning – and just consider the value of the prize lost for coming nowhere in this most important race. The worrying aspect, you may agree, is that this is the position chosen by all too many people in the increasingly secular British society of today – and, perhaps, of most of the ‘developed’ western world. OK, the atheist councillor had his say – as was his right – and the High Court has upheld his position. But, at what cost, I wonder?

St. Scholastica:

Tomorrow, Friday 10 February, marks the Feast Day of St. Scholastica, a saint well recognised by both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, though if my own experience is anything to go by, I would humbly suggest that she is not very well known among the lay-people of the Church – the parishioners connected with, or served by monk-priests of the Order of St. Benedict – perhaps, proving the exception to this opening suggestion.  Indeed, not much is known about her life – even from officialdom – and the little that is known comes almost exclusively from the writings (‘Dialogues’) of St. Gregory the Great, (Pope Gregory the Great 590 – 604).

St. Benedict and St. Scholastica

(St. Scholastica is often depicted in art as a habited nun,

holding a crozier and crucifix, with her brother) 

It is thought that she lived from around the year 480 until 543 / 547.  Born in Italy, she was the twin sister of St. Benedict of Nursia; from an early stage in her youth, she led a life dedicated and consecrated to God, the one other dedication in her life being to that of her brother.    cheap fake rolex watches

St. Gregory, in his ‘Dialogues’, tells us that after Benedict established his famous monastery at Monte Casino, she became a nun and leader of a community for women at Plombariola, about five miles from Benedict’s abbey. We do not know, for certain, what rule this community followed, although it seems most likely it was the Rule of St. Benedict.  Thus she is regarded as the first Benedictine nun.

Scholastica was in the habit of meeting with her brother once each year.  Because she was not allowed to visit the monastery, it was usual for the two to meet in a house not far from the grounds of the monastery, and oftentimes, Benedict was accompanied by one of two of his brethren.  At such meetings, brother and sister would converse on spiritual matters, in prayer and pious conversation, discussing sacred texts and similar issues.  In the evening, and before taking their leave of each other, they would most often reflect on what had taken place between them.  On one occasion – only later to be proved their last meeting – Scholastica pleaded with her brother to stay the night and return to his monastery the following day.  Benedict explained that it was impossible for him to be absent from his cell for the night, and, at this, Scholastica joined her hands and bowed down her head in prayer to God.  At once, there came a tremendous thunderstorm accompanied by torrential rain, so furious in its impact, that Benedict and his companions were prevented from leaving.    

At this Benedict exclaimed: “May Almighty God forgive you, sister, for what you have done.”  Scolastica replied simply: “I asked a favour of you, and you refused to grant it. I asked it of God, and He has granted it!”  They spent the night in spiritual conference.  The next morning, they parted to meet no more on earth, for Benedict returned to his monastery and soon afterwards, saw a vision of Scholastica’s soul departing her body, ascending to heaven in the form of a dove. She was to die three days later.

Benedict arranged for the body of his sister to be placed in the tomb he had prepared for himself.  He also arranged for his own to be placed there after his death.  Saint Gregory says, “so death did not separate the bodies of these two, whose minds had ever been united in the Lord.”

Though we know little of St. Scholastica’s life, there is no reason to doubt the veracity of the little we know from the writings of St. Gregory, certainly as to the manner of her relationship with her brother, the manner of her calling – a life dedicated to God – the manner of her last meeting with St. Benedict, and finally, the manner of her passing from this life on earth.

There are, however, one or two comments I think it appropriate to make. 

  • St. Scholastica knew in her heart that on the occasion of their last meeting, she would not see her brother again, on this earth.  This was why she asked him to stay so that they could finalise their discussions.
  • St. Benedict had no inclination that he would not see his sister alive again.
  • St. Scholastica’s plea to St. Benedict fell on ‘deaf ears’ and she then turned to God, who heard her prayer and granted it – at once.
  • As to prayer, St. Scholastica gives us the example of what our prayers to God can achieve – not just the trivial, the banal or the momentous – but in everything that matters to us – for God wishes us to be happy and nothing is too little, or too great, for him to grant.  We can always turn to him and say ‘sorry’ for our transgressions; but, we can also turn to him with our hopes and our dreams, those things nearest to our hearts.

 The image of  St. Scholastica was depicted with that of St. Benedict on one side of the 2002 Austrian €50 coin, commemorating the ‘Christian Religious Orders’.

St. Scholastica is sometimes shown, in art, as receiving her veil from Saint Benedict, as in death, her soul departing her body like a dove; or kneeling before Saint Benedict’s cell.  She is the patroness of Monte Casino and of all the Cassinese communities, and is often invoked as protection against storms and rain.    replica breitling

Saint Scholastica – Pray for Us.


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Let’s Love God through Our Life:

The other Tuesday morning at the Mass with the young people – mainly from our High School – I found myself saying to them, something that is true for all Christian people who follow the Master – something that I firmly believe – but something that is also a great challenge; “These things we read in the Gospel happen in our lives today. I look forward to you pupils telling me what Jesus has done in the events of your lives too”. The Gospel that day was Mark 5: 21-43, and it tells of Jesus and the Synagogue official whose daughter was desperately sick.  Sadly, she later died. Her father wanted Jesus to cure her – as we know he then did, bringing her back from the dead.

Talitha Kum (Aramaic for ‘Little Girl Arise’)

 The Gospel also includes the cure of the lady, who had had a haemorrhage for 12 years; she touched his cloak, in the dense crowd around him, when he was on his way to perform the cure.

 In a way this puts me ‘on the spot’, however, because it makes me realise that there is a duty not to put burdens on others peoples’ shoulders, but to carry them oneself. So what has happened in my life that brings both ‘Healing’ and even ‘Resurrection’? If I can point to such things, then the Gospel message makes sense, and Jesus becomes a real person at my side: i.e. LOVE in me has grown, and it extends both to me, and to others.

 Following the news on the Internet, watching even shows on TV, listening to most radio programmes does not leave me with much sense of satisfaction. The exceptions, for me, would be some music that touches my heart, or even occasionally, sport. Recently, there was a three-part serial called ‘The Blackheath Murders’ on TV and on the ‘iplayer’. I watched them all. You see, my parents used to live in Blackheath, and I spent many a holiday between 1965 and 1995, in this lovely London village, situated in South East London, (SE3). My parents are buried at the local cemetery at Charlton, and so, the title fascinated me; it was good to have an occasional view of the large London houses on the edge of the Heath, now all turned into flats and bed-sits, but externally, still showing the magnificent detached Georgian buildings of the past; also the wonderful Anglican Church of ‘All Saints on the Heath’ that fits in so well, with its light grey stone, and proportioned tower, on the grassy expanse of Blackheath.

All Saints Church, Blackheath

 Curiosity kept me watching – just to find out who the murderer was, and when all was revealed – well the ending was, really, rather banal. I did not feel much the better after it.

 However reading a wonderful book for meditation entitled, ‘Your Word is Fire’, which displays in its first pages the wonderful power of God’s Word, and enables me, therefore, to enter the life of God, that is enclosed in the Word of God, in human terms, has left me feeling ever more in awe of God, his grandeur and his beauty.

An Image of the Fire of God’s Love

The book has been so good for me that it has become an idea to try to translate it, for it is written in Italian.  That would be a ‘Work of Love’, for then others may benefit from it, as I have done. However, it very pointedly makes me realise that effective prayer, that for me is linked nearly always to ‘lectio divina’, is a very good way to ‘Feel and Know Love, i.e. Jesus’. It is not a cure for the difficulties of life that inevitably do, and will, arise; it does, however, give an understanding about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, to be self-disciplined, patient, humorous, loving and kind, in the face of all that life throws at me. The lesson for me is that effective prayer helps one to have the relationship of faith and trust, that the Synagogue official, and the woman with the haemorrhage, both had for Jesus. He then works his miracles in us.

What follows describes a tiny experience for which I thank God; it involves a specific event, but it also includes a change of mentality, a change that may seem small, but it has taken years to develop. The event in question was something so very simple. I was in our kitchen when I heard one of my companions ‘groaning’: quite by accident, he had tipped a pile of ‘muesli’ on the floor, from the packet and the little pieces were everywhere. Without much ado, it was easy to fetch the ‘Ewbank’ carpet sweeper, and in 10 minutes or so, to clean it all up.

The ‘Ewbank’ carpet sweeper

My colleague, Fr. Peter, simply sat down and ate his breakfast: he had a train to catch in 30 minutes from Leyland Station, and, knowing the relationship we have, he knew that I was happy and content to do the small task for him; and indeed, I was. On the ‘face of it’, this simple act was nothing more than that of helping a good friend – a friend with whom I have a pact to try to live each day, united in the name of Jesus, so that He will always be among us and within each of us – the deeper meaning! (cf Mt. 18: 20) There was no fuss, no bother; Fr. Peter felt good, and so did I, as all was cleared up off the carpet.

However, this simple episode marks a change of attitude – one ‘miles away’ from the fact that, for many years, I used to get very angry when such accidents occurred, and thoughts that said; “Clumsy oaf; let the person responsible clear it up, why doesn’t he / she take more care?” That would have been my reaction, at one time, stemming from my young days when that would have been the normal reaction, in our family – and not just ‘ours’, but many others, I would suggest. Seeing others react in this way, it had ‘rubbed off’ on me!

But, over years of living with people who were, in this regard, much more loving and tolerant, and then having contact with mothers, who are, forever, clearing up the messes of their children, I acquired a much better loving attitude to such circumstances – to such accidents. The change took a long time, something that makes me realise that it is untrue when people say, “Father, I cannot help my addiction, or my mistakes, because of this, or that happening to me when I was young”. We can be masters of our own lives, rather than ‘programmed’ beings, if we make decisions supported by God’s immense love. We can overcome our limitations, our sinful tendencies. We can let God and his Love live in us – another way of knowing Jesus – another way of knowing that the Gospel is real.

The way to effect the change, in me, was to search for companions who want to put Love at the heart of their lives, and with whom each person could learn to overcome the areas in their lives, that were dead and in need of healing. In addition, God may grant another grace: he may bring you to such openness, together, that you agree to live the new commandment of Jesus, which is the key to enjoying the UNITY that guarantees the presence of Jesus, LOVE –  among you and within you, (Mt 18: 20). Then Jesus becomes real, and you will know and be able to share, what Jesus has done in the events of your lives.

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