Archive for October, 2012

You’ll Never Walk Alone:

One of the musical items featured in the BBC’s ‘Last Night of the Proms’, 2012, was the Rogers and Hammerstein’s song: ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.  In the second half of the programme, it was sung by the BBC Symphony Chorus, accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and led by the Maltese Tenor, Joseph Calea.  Of course, the audience of some 6,000 ‘Prommers’ joined in this lovely anthem, and the whole sounded like one great, and glorius hymn to God.  It was certainly enough to stir the senses, to get the ‘hairs standing on the back of one’s neck’, and move the stoniest of hearts.

The Last Night of the Proms, 2012

The song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was composed for the Musical, “Carousel”, and the words read just like a hymn; in the show, it is sung by Nettie, to give courage and support to her cousin, Julie, after her husband kills himself because of his involvement in a failed robbery.  Perhaps, even more famously, it became the anthem sung by football supporters of many football clubs, worldwide – most significantly – by the Liverpool FC  supporters, since at least the early 60’s.  The words go as follows:

“When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark.

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone …. …”

In my view, this anthem has been instrumental in helping the Liverpool fans, has given them the courage to bear the pain and suffering – to bear the brunt – and come to terms with the infamous Hillsborough disaster of April 1989; Liverpool FC were at the Sheffield stadium for a semi-final match again Nottingham Forest.  In the human crush that occurred at the start of the match, 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death and over 700 others were injured, many seriously.  The incident involving so many fatalities was bad enough – the worst ever to have occurred at a football match in Britain – but this was compounded by the ‘failed’ enquiries into the causes.  I say failed, because it now transpires that the official authorities, allegedly, have consistently failed, all through the years, to reveal the truth of what actually occurred, despite the repeated calls and demands of the bereaved families, desperate to know the truth surrounding their loved ones’ deaths.  However, in the course of the last few months, 2012, thousands of documents relating to the disaster have been offcially released, and an independent inquiry has made public its report, setting out the actual details of what took place on that fateful day in 1989.  Most importantly, that report absolves the Liverpool fans of all blame, though they were publicly castigated by officialdom in earlier reports:

“On the 20th anniversary of the disaster, government minister, Andy Burnham, called for the police, ambulance, and all other public bodies to release documents which had not been made available to Lord Justice Taylor in 1989. This led to the formation of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which, in September 2012, concluded that no Liverpool fans were responsible for the deaths, and that attempts had been made by the authorities to conceal what had happened, including the amendment of 164 statements relating to the disaster by the police. The report prompted immediate apologies from Prime Minister David Comeron, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton, Football Association Chairman, David Bernstein, and Kelvin MacKenzie, then-editor of The Sun, for their organisations’ respective roles. In September 2012, the Hillsborough Independent Panel concluded that up to 41 of the 96 who had died might have been saved had some failings been addressed. The report revealed “multiple failures” by other emergency services and public bodies which contributed to the death toll. In response to the panel’s report, Attorney General for England and Wales, confirmed he would consider all the new evidence to evaluate whether the original inquest verdicts of accidental death could be overturned.” 

 The Liverpool ‘Shrine’ for the 96, and the Anthem above the Stadium Gates

Turning away from the injustices dealt out to the deceased fans and their families, and back to the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, I am quite sure in my own mind that the words of the anthem, the heart-warming tune and the way in which its singing is sure to touch all hearts, reflect a certainty that, overall, it is God’s way of helping us – even those who are, perhaps, disposed to put football before religion.  As I said earlier, it always puts me in mind of a hymn, and very often it is sung in that way – reverential, with longing and with hope – even by those who may not believe.  For those who do, it is, surely, a way for believers to express their trust and hope in the Lord.  It is saying, we are never alone, and that God is always with us, to love us, and help us. And, who knows, He may listen, and even help the play on the football field to proceed in a certain way?  And all the ‘Anfield Scousers’ in the world would not argue with that!

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone …. …”


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You Did It To Me:

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). 

This blog attempts to continue the conversation in last week’s blog, referring to the fact that the way we relate to God develops and changes in different times and contexts. Its thesis is that an individualistic approach to God, for all the good it has done in the past, is not adequate for people to find union with God in today’s world. The Holy Spirit, himself, is offering us an alternative: i.e. that we deliberately and consciously make our journey to God with others: If we reach union with God, we only do so with others. 

I well remember a highly respected, observant and experienced monk of our community speaking about the mistake that people make when they decide – not to love their neighbour for himself or herself – but because they want to love “Jesus” in their neighbour. He explained that, what we must do is actually to love the other person, as a human being, and if we thought, primarily, about loving Jesus in the other, we were ‘forcing it’, ‘manipulating the situation’ and not really ‘being simple, straight forward, and human”.  

That argument to me was very compelling and understandable, all the more so because that monk and I had a good relationship. Yet, Jesus spoke the opening words of the blog, above, and also, when he appeared to Saul on the way to Damascus, he said to him: “Saul, Saul, why  you persecuting me?” I do not like to dismiss the words of Jesus despite what my friend had said. 

In practice over the years, it has sometimes been a struggle for me to put myself out for the other when he, or she, is someone to whom I find it hard to relate. Whenever I was able to manage it, it was because the words of Our Lord helped me: I was doing it for him, in that person. It was also a matter of relating to that person, as a human being. This way of acting led me many times to resolve difficulties with others, and I am glad I followed that way. Yet I have always had, at the back of my mind, what my fellow monk friend said. 

In the meantime, the famous saying in John’s epistles “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4: 12), has only reinforced my conviction that the way to love God is to love my neighbour, and in this way we may achieve even the highest contemplation. This does not take away the value of quiet hours of prayer alone with God. However it is easy to ‘kid myself’ that I am in contemplative union with God, when I say to Him: “Dear God (or Jesus) I love you!” and then I fail to “love” or put myself out for my difficult companion, who needs my attention. St. John understood this, for later on in the same chapter, he writes: “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers and sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen”, (1 John 4; 20). 

The Holy Spirit is calling us, in today’s world, to be in the highest contemplation, but immersed in this world. It is a great help to achieve this high aim, by living the present moment to the full. 

Living the present moment well is not easy; all of us are so easily distracted from what is ‘the one thing necessary’, for a host of reasons. One of those reasons for me is not having the awareness of my constant need for God, and his love, in each day – whether I feel up, or down; and the spiritual and mental effort, under the grace of God, to achieve that attitude of mind, at least in my case, is not over yet.

Recently, I came across the following words by a Bishop I knew, personally. His name was Klaus Hemmerle, and he was Bishop of Aachen, in Germany, a philosopher above all, and a Bishop who worked, tirelessly, for ‘The Kingdom’. What he writes here has resolved my difficulty between listening to the words of Jesus and listening to my monk friend.

Bishop Klaus Hemmerle of Aachen, in Germany

 Bishop Klaus was always ‘on the go’, engaging with people, never still for long. This good man lived, and died, for communion, or unity, in the Church; he enlightens me about the challenge presented at the beginning of this short blog. Loving Jesus, in the other, is to love the other as a person, in his, or her, own right. 

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40): 

‘This Word tells us definitely what the human person is and what the human reality is … This interpretation of what it is to be human is certainly scandalous, and no less than Jesus who scandalized people by declaring himself the Son of God. In the name of their own freedom, in the name of their own identity and specialness, people feel they must protest against being identified with Jesus Christ. People wish to be loved for themselves, for what they are, and don’t want to be degraded to a kind of mask for Jesus. They fear instead that the ‘something more’ of love that they receive for love of Jesus will be something that takes no account of them, something that puts them to one side, something that robs them of the love they desire for themselves and which they need. But any whose love is such that by loving Jesus in the other person they neglect the other as a person, in this act neglect Jesus as well. And any whose consideration of the presence of Jesus in people leads them to diminish the reality of the human being, in reality have not understood in the slightest the presence of Jesus in their neighbour. 

Jesus makes himself one with me, that is, he does not leave me alone. He is on my side in a radical fashion, he accepts me just as I am, and anything that concerns me concerns him too. I remain myself, I become fully myself, precisely because I do not remain alone. 

The mystery of Christ is the mystery of every human being. What does this mean for the person I meet and what does it mean for me and my life? With reference to the other it means I am never involved with someone who is just a link in a chain or a cog in a machine or merely a cipher amidst the huge mass of human material. Every time I meet a human face, I meet God in the unconditional reality of the divine, I meet the voice that over this human face utters what was said of Jesus on the mountain of Transfiguration: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved!’ (Mk 9:7). There are no exceptions. 

We meet Christ especially in the least, in those who seem the furthest from him, in persons where the face of Christ seems blanked out. How can this be? On the cross, living his forsakenness by God, making himself even sin (2 Cor. 5:21), Jesus identified himself with all that was most distant from God, from all that most seems opposed to God. Only by discovering Christ in our neighbours, in those furthest from the mystery of their own personhood and from the mystery of Christ, giving to the person that human love which is offered in an undivided way to the person and to Christ himself, can our neighbours discover their own identity with Jesus, their closeness to him, their being fully assumed by him.”

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The Year of Faith Begins:

The Year of Faith began yesterday.  Coinciding with the opening of the 2nd Vatican Council, 50 years ago yesterday, 11 October 1962, it is a calling to faith from Pope Benedict. 

Fifty years ago I was a young monk, very immature, very opinionated, but chosen by God to belong to him alone, as a monk. He must have had a lot of trust to choose me. He knew very well how often I told him that I wanted to belong to him; however, I am aware of how little I put into the relationship with him, and conversely, how much he did for me. Over the years, I have listened when my brethren make speeches, given their experience of being a monk for 50 or 60 years, and there is one over-riding theme: a desire to thank God, and all who have supported them over the years, especially their fellow monks. In 2011 it came my turn to make a speech on my Golden Jubilee of monastic life, and it was the same for me. This attitude exemplifies a witness to the life of faith and our knowledge of God, who helps us to change from being self-centred to being other centred – from seeing everything in relation not to the ‘me’ but to the ‘other’. 

The Vatican Council has had much more influence on peoples’ lives, in the long term, than has the fully reported scandals, murders and wars of those days. Since Monday of this week, 8th October, a new Synod of the Catholic Church has been going on in Rome. Proceeding even now, it remains unreported by our British media; however, it may be significant to note that this Synod will affect people much more for good, than the present scandal concerning Jimmy Saville – a scandal that continues to make today’s headlines.

Archbishop Rowan Williams with Pope Benedict XVI 

Yesterday, 10th October, the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed this Synod of Bishops, on the topic they are getting to ‘grips’ with – ‘The New Evangelisation’. I doubt if many, in England, know about this important English contribution to the Synod of the Catholic Church, made up of Bishops and other invited members, among them Religious men and women and laity.  Archbishop Rowan spoke as a brother-believer to the assembly. He explained something of what it is to be a human being, as well as a ‘man of faith’. He underlined the need for people to be changed: 

“To be converted to the faith does not mean simply acquiring a new set of beliefs, but becoming a new person, a person in communion with God and others through Jesus Christ.”

He went on to say something very important: 

“Only as this begins to happen will I be delivered from treating the gifts of God as yet another set of things I may acquire to make me happy, or to dominate other people. And as this process unfolds, I become more free—to borrow a phrase of St Augustine (Confessions IV.7)—to ‘love human beings in a human way’, to love them not for what they may promise me, to love them not as if they were there to provide me with lasting safety and comfort, but as fragile fellow-creatures held in the love of God. I discover how to see other persons and things for what they are in relation to God, not to me. And it is here that true justice as well as true love has its roots.” 

Whatever anyone says, the Spirit of Vatican 2 is still very much alive, given that he has been allowed to speak. This, itself, is an act of faith and trust by Pope Benedict, who personally invited the attendance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, at this important synod. 

The way people respond to God has changed over the centuries. In the beginning, post Apostolic times, martyrdom was the high point to be longed for: this was followed by the ‘flight from the world’ of the early monks, when persecution in Europe ended.

 Skellig Michael with another Skellig also in view

Some Celtic monks resorted to the Atlantic Ocean, setting up their monastery on a tiny Island called Skellig Michael, about 12 miles from the mainland.  It was an extreme example of ‘fuga mundi’ or ‘flight from the world’. To this day, it is quite an adventure to visit the Skelligs. Later, faithful Christians thought that other people were a distraction from God, who is to be loved best by being ‘alone with the Alone’. That spirit is still very strong, and links to the idea that I, alone, and God, are the basics in the best way to find God. Since we are also encouraged to be ‘self-reliant, and in control of our own lives’, there is a very strong tendency to ‘go it alone – individually – to God’, even in today’s world. We are often, not trusting of others, but suspicious and defensive when it comes to others, who may be a threat to my position in life, my job to be done. This individualism is reinforced by modern technology, the motor car and many of the ‘gismos’ that we have all around us.

Young person on a mobile ‘phone

They lock me into myself, often, and I can fail to relate to my immediate neighbour, though I can talk to a person far away on my mobile. 

Now in this very confusing world – the World post Vatican 2 – God is calling us to himself in another way. He is asking us to come to himself on the Journey of Faith – with others – in communion with others. Our neighbour is not to be avoided, but to be loved.  Archbishop Rowan is part of this direction of thinking. But so are all the decrees of the Council: the Church, the Light of the Nations; on Revelation, the Liturgy, the Church today, Joy and Hope; on Ecumenism; on the relationship of the Church with non Christians; on Religious Freedom and so forth.

Next week, I would hope to comment on what loving our neighbour means, and how our Journey of Faith links to that mysterious phrase of Jesus:

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40):

To read the blog in its original format, please visit the main blog site.