Archive for July, 2012

We have seen the Olympic Flame going all over Britain in these past two and a half months. Crowds of people have come out to see it, early in the mornings and all through the days. The ‘living flame’ is a good symbol – a symbol that is very much a flame alive.  A living flame is powerful and dangerous; it is exciting; it is also a cleansing flame that can burn out the old and make way for the new. 

Ultimately, the flame of God is able to make all things new. 

For the athletes, competing in the games, there is always the question of training – training so hard for the honour to succeed. For years and years, they have been training, training, training, often giving up other things in their lives, to focus only on their sport, and on the will to win. 

Our task, as Christians, is to have the same, even stronger, commitment for God, analagous to the athletes and their focus on their sport, always with that one long-term aim – the glory of winning that prized gold medal. Our task, also, is to win our own ‘gold’ medals, first the Kingdom of God on earth, here and now, in all the circumstances of life as we find them, transforming those circumstances by God’s grace, for nothing happens without it being a manifestation of God’s love! Our final ‘Gold’ will be the perfection of the Kingdom of God in heaven, where a host of saints, angels, relatives and friends await us.  It requires some good training for people to believe, experience and know that this is true. That is why people attend the ‘Mariapolis’, to train in the things of God. 

But our way is different to the way of the World. It is not in my strength, or in our strength, that we win the ‘Gold Medal’ of God’s kingdom. It is only in God’s strength. 

Below are two pictures illustrating the Mariapolis, and the vital connections with the Olympics; they display their own inimitable message.

Vitally, we need the flame of the Gospel, alive and burning in us, for the Word of God is like the flame; it makes new; it cleanses; it excites; it gives new meaning to life. In essence, this is what we are sharing at the Mariapolis, at Leicester University, this week in July. In total, there are about 400 of us here, of all ages, and we are becoming one great family, in the one Family of God, the Mystical Body of Christ, in which every person finds their true home.

The flame of the Word of God is our beacon on the journey of life. 

The photograph below shows a group of parishioners from Leyland, attending the Mariapolis, and visiting Mount St. Bernard Abbey. Among them, one can see Fr. Anselm Stark, a monk dressed in white. He lives a life of prayer and contemplation, but he, too, is living the Mariapolis and ‘undergoing the same training’, living in his enclosed Abbey, only about half an hour’s drive from the University, where we are staying. Although not with us, physically, he is closely united with us, in that special spiritual way. In his words, he lives the same spirit of unity, or communion, that the Word of God is teaching  to all of us. 

Group from Leyland who are at the Mariapolis in Leicester 

May God bless us and keep us all safe, this summer, and give us all a good rest. May the living flame of God’s Love renew us, burn out what is not of Love and turn us into loving people.

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Olympic Games Are For Peace:

Recently, various events have happened  in my direction, and together, they have helped me to see ‘Peace’, and ‘Relationships for Peace’ in a new way. 

I have been visiting a family – a very good family, with good values and strength of conviction about all that is good; however, within the family itself, things are not ‘easy’, as there are issues with the children that are giving rise to a need for conflict resolution. Nobody would suspect this from the outside.  Truly, there is great joy in the family; but, there are also some serious issues. 

Another continuing experience concerns a Religious Community, I know, which does a great deal of good. Yet, among its members, it is more or less dysfunctional, but overall, people find God, despite the wounds that are visible within. 

I visited Manfred about whom I wrote last week.  In doing so, I realise how a man, relatively young, can be faced with very serious health problems – something all of us will face one day – and remain, not only positive, but joyful within all the ‘ups and downs’ of life. He knows that Jesus is his Peace – not a platitude for him – but a living experience, with the living and risen Lord. 

Finally, I came across the below shown Peace Icon. It was produced in 1999, before the Year 2000 Olympic Games, for Pax Christi in the monastery of St. John near Jerusalem. It is the icon that is copied in a prayer card, linked to promoting 100 days of peace for the world, over the period of the Olympics. This tradition of peace goes back to the original Olympics in Greece, when a truce was called to allow the athletes, competing at the games, to travel peacefully to the Olympic venue. In 1992, the Olympic Games Committee revived the idea of the ‘truce’ or ‘peace’, and promoted that very important idea of ‘Peace through Sport and the Olympic Ideal’. The idea has been repeated  on the occasion of the Olympics, ever since.

“Christ is our Reconciliation” is the vitally important message conveyed by the icon. It depicts important people throughout the Biblical times, (and history), all of whom stood for peace. The main figure shows Esau and Jacob embracing; this pre-figures peace between Jews and Arabs. There are other important people depicted on the icon, for example St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi.  For my own part, I would pray for peace in the Holy Land, and especially in the Middle East, highlighting  the conflicts going on in the countries of Iraq and Syria, at the present time. 

NOTE:  This week-end, should they wish, those readers attending our Church, will be able to pick up one of these icons; it has the Prayer for Peace on the reverse.  To find out more about the icon visit

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An Experience of Living the Word of God

“The Fire of God’s Love” is a phrase that many of us are familiar with. Fire really does burn us up, and the image is used in the Scripture to burn away the dross and leave the pure metal: “… like gold in the furnace he tried them”, (Wisdom 3:6). The Word of God is also a fire that consumes us, and no wonder, as the Word is Jesus, and his Spirit is the Spirit of God. Not surprisingly, also, it takes some time for most of us to understand the Word of God, because we run away from fire should it be burning us up; similarly, we run away from God’s Love, if He is burning us up out of Love; we would, I suspect, only remain in his fire if we have a real personal experience of God and his love.

Manfred, a friend of mine, has an incurable brain tumour, discovered only about 6 months ago. He is much younger than I, and many are praying for his recovery. Prayers are already being answered, as he remains so positive in his experience, and what he goes through; he does not keep his illness to himself, but shares with others. This is not to boast or show off; rather to strengthen many people.  His testimony is an example of what living God’s Word is all about. It includes the scriptures, relationships with others that devolve on having the Word, having Jesus among us and facing suffering; it involves also prayer, the Eucharist, and sharing the Word with each other, so that it does not get lost. You go to God never alone but with others as Jesus himself, when he died, certainly went to heaven with the good thief: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom .… Today you will be with me in Paradise”, (Lk 23; 42). 

What Manfred writes is helpful to me. For him, everything turns on God’s Love; it includes knowledge of his complaint, the treatment he receives, and the prognosis that his brain tumour is inoperable. His experience is by no means all light – it has darknesses, though there are beautiful moments of light.  Through it all, he points out that God does not want perfect people, but those who love him, no matter what. I can take on board all of that, in my life! 

In April he already wrote to those who are his friends: 

“Hi there, 

On a practical level I am now in my fourth week of the vaccine trial and in my third week of the chemo and radio therapy. By now certain side effects are beginning to make themselves known, such as nausea, tiredness and general loss of taste as well as an increasing aversion to food, i.e. in the present moment I can’t actually stand the sight of food. Sleeping is also a bit of a lottery. But…. and this is a big ‘but’, things are actually going very well considering, I am not in pain, I am up and about, I can be active in a limited way. So, all these small thing are there to be offered for a lot of things for my friends and the life of the kingdom of God.  

God’s fantasy, I have to say, is really without limit! We have just had a retreat over Easter and at one point I was simply moved by the fact that His love really has no end! We are so different from one another and yet such a tremendous gift for one another. It’s really moving to see some times! And I normally don’t do ‘moving’! 

I had an opportunity to understand that there were countless moments before this chapter of my life started in which God prepared me for this adventure. Yes, it is an adventure of love, in which he asks me in every present moment to love, love by being there for my neighbour in the present moment, by living each moment as if it was my last full of love, by being in constant dialogue with Jesus in my neighbour in the present moment. In this way I am beginning to experience something very beautiful – a more constant presence of Jesus amongst us.  Jesus is giving me to understand through my brothers and sisters that the ‘real’ life is his continued presence amongst us more than ever. The greater that presence the more we will be able to discern the plan on each one of us. We will be able to see each other as those gifts from God for each other. This in turn brings about a very concrete expression of this love in every moment.   

I thank God for the immense peace and the joy he gives me, for the lack of pain, for the many things he has made me understand in these two months, for the sufferings I can offer. But most of all, I thank him for using me, a sick and limited person, who has even less of a brain than before for his plans.  

He also has a great sense humour: fancy picking me, with half a brain at the best of times and then taking away the little I have and let me know for the first time that I have clear ideas. Well, I am glad He knows what he is doing and I am up for staying with Him all the way.  

Be sure of my daily offering.  

We meet and are one in our pact of living the new commandment.” 


Manfred undergoing treatment to do some palliative medical treatment on his brain 

This next news came from Manfred, early in July. 

“Hi there,  

This is just a continuation of the communion of my little journey since the last time! The adventure continues and from a practical point of view I have now entered the second part of my treatment. Next week is the second round of chemo in that second part. But God loved me so much that he thought I could cope with a detached retina and so on 30th May I had an operation and had to cancel my trip to Scotland. But I was able to go a bit later. It was great because with varying tricks I was able to eat discovering the beauty of smoothies! Last Monday I had a meeting with the nurse and she thought I looked really well although she is worried about my weight loss. Last Saturday I managed to run two workshops at the Bright Lights festival with many young people from the diocese in Aylesford explaining a little how I live my faith in the light of pain and suffering. The echoes were very positive. The following day I was asked to update some married couples who met in Welwyn Garden City.  

I have to say that there are so many graces and gifts attached to this experience, that I am really moved by it. God is really at work despite me and my condition. But there are also moments of darkness, when I wished I was not ill, when I wished I could do more even around the house, when I am afraid of what is to come, and when I lose patience. However, God’s love is never far away. I read something from my friend Emmaus about God’s closeness to us all who live the Word of God. 

I have God with me when I love in the present moment. 

I need to love always. If I am outside myself I find that his love is there and God does not need perfect people to do his work, he needs people who are willing to love him, no matter what.  

Sharing with others what I live is a really powerful tool to change the world. So, it is no longer me who lives this experience, but us. Suddenly there is a different perspective on things: The sky is the limit, because we have Jesus with us. What more do we want. Emmaus is very powerful when she says that if God is in the driving seat in our lives for the Kingdom, we can do anything! God is in the driving seat when we have Jesus amongst us. It really is simple, but also not really! 

Giving my moments of living a purpose gives me direction. All contributes to the common goal of a more united world. This coming week I will offer everything for the Mariapolis preparations.  

Be in touch.” 

It is strange that, for many, or most of us, it takes so long to understand what, or who, the Word of God is, and how to put it into practice!

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Everyone benefits when living the Word

Life is so full of paradox and contradiction. One that ‘stumps’ me is that the Word of God is, essentially, the person of Jesus; if we listen to it and put it into practice, we will receive ‘Life’ to the full. Yet, for many Christians, the Word of God is just something that belongs to the ‘boring’ Bible, is anything but ‘cool’, and basically has no effect. Far from being a ‘Word of Life’, it is a sterile thing. What a paradox!

Young people working with Animate Volunteers

Regarding the Word of God, we always seem to get it so wrong. It is not simply an intellectual exercise teaching us the meanings and interpretations of scripture and its life-giving powers; rather it is a part of life itself – all that makes up our lives. The Word of God is the one ‘through whom everything exists’, so our thoughts, our feelings, our affections, our worries and everything else, good and bad, easy or difficult that we encounter, are all included. To be able to interpret these human things, and act then in a fully human way, we need to live as we are created. We human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, so if we ignore God, we are not being human, and, we ignore God if we do not know the scriptures. It is through the scriptures, the written Word of God, that we can interpret those human experiences. 

Last month I was living for the whole month – along with millions of others over the world, and with many specific friends in our country – the Word: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you”, (Jn 6: 27). It is wonderful to take a small extract from the scriptures, yes, the Word of God, for a whole month. In every little word in the scripture, the whole Word of God is present, i.e. Jesus. It means I can digest the meaning in small ‘chunks’ as I live his Word; he becomes alive in me, and in my relationships, when I make the Word real. 

About two weeks ago, I went to visit the ‘Animate Group’ at Lowe House, St. Helens. The Group is a team of young people who work with Fr. Simon Gore, a diocesan priest, to ‘animate’ Catholic Youth throughout the diocese, and beyond, in their relationships with God. It was a simple evening. We ate together, with simple fun, chat and laughter, and I was able to ask them some questions, and find out more about who the young ones were, and why they had volunteered for this work.

Leyland young person, Natasha Lee, commissioned as a Minister for Holy Communion

What intrigued me – as ever – was how easy it was, to make friends and share with them. I asked one, a leader called Fergus, if he had found that their experience of trying to help young people, in schools and parishes, to know and love God, had helped him. “Definitely”, was his straightforward reply. In other words, who are the real beneficiaries of the ‘Animate Experience’? The answer must be, both the young the team serve, and the team. A further question could be, “Who gets the most benefit?” I think the answer may not devolve, on the masses of young people, the team visit. 

The same question might be asked of mums and dads, of teachers and their pupils, of priests and parishioners. Who benefits the most from their lives? Certainly, for that evening, I think I benefitted much more, seeing this group of dedicated young Catholics, aged probably 20 to 25, with their priest, than they benefitted from me.

 Young people working away at a project with Animate – a reciprocal experience

 When we live the Gospel, we always receive, as well as give. It is the nature of life – the essence of the Word of God. To know Jesus, we must know the scriptures and make them real, let them live, let Jesus be alive. It is not a dry, intellectual exercise that would lead, inevitably, to the sterile boredom of those who do not know God – and do not want to know. Rather, it is an affair of life, of the heart. 

Jesus gives us the ‘Food’ that endures for ‘Eternal Life’, and that means he gives ‘Himself’. Living in, and among, us He forges with us, and for us, new friendships, and we have the benefit of his presence. We are invited to live with Him, now and forever. 

N.B. If anyone wants to live the new “Word of Life” of this coming month, then it is: “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Mt 13,12). A commentary that I find most helpful, on this text can be found on our St. Mary’s Website under the tag “Bulletin”. Click on that and find the drop down menu including “Word of Life”.

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