Archive for December, 2012

What is to be done on Boxing day, or as the Irish call it, St. Stephen’s Day? For anyone with a temperament and physical needs like mine, it takes a good walk to settle the body down after the joys of the different food and drink; not that there was any excess, but my body, at least, was not used to it. So, in the pouring rain, Wednesday afternoon was devoted to a good hard walk around Leyland. I needed it, also, to clear my head and heart of many things; as I meandered, I found myself reflecting on the ‘Our Father’. It was a rather strange meditation. 

God, I felt, is so loving yet strange. I think I can tell for myself he loves me when I think of the effects of his love. He has shown me his love through the spiritual gifts he has given me; they almost force me to believe in his loving care for me, at each and every moment.  Above all, this means that I know that, if I do my part, I can be sure of having the presence of Jesus, with me and in me, because he has given me the gift of being united with many others in his name; this includes members of my community, other religious, lay people, men and women, young and old – and not forgetting various other clergymen, for: “Where two or more are gathered in my name there am I among them” (Mt. 18: 20) 

Also, he not only allows me to start again always, when I desert him, but welcomes me back each time with a wonderful smile of love; hence, in every way, he has looked after me physically, but more to the point, as far as I can tell, and only because of his love, I am not in bad shape psychologically and spiritually. I am able, I hope and pray, to make a contribution as a monk, and as a priest, for his Kingdom. Occasionally, he gives me a ‘knock’ or ‘two’, perhaps to remind me of my vulnerability as a human being, my loneliness (in one sense), my mortality, and that one day – perhaps soon – I will meet Jesus, just as St. Stephen did, and as is described in the Acts of the Apostles. 

God has allowed all this to happen because he has given me the obedience to be a monk, working on the parish; how hard it would be to have these signs of God’s love, in the same way, had I always been a monk in the monastery – and this despite the fact that God has called me to a monastic vocation? As these thoughts cross my mind, I cannot help but think of predecessor monks like Abbot Herbert Byrne, who died in Leyland, or the great Benedictine missionary saints like the Englishman, St. Boniface, who were missioners.

 The strange beauty, yet hallowed bleakness, of this December Scene puts me in mind of the unknowability of God – especially  at this time of year. 

The very strange part of all this – and I can assure you it’s a puzzle worth the effort – is that although I can see the effects of God, and his love, in my life, I am not sure that I know God, in himself, at all. As I walked around Leyland in the rain, I found myself praying the Our Father, and got stuck on the first two phrases: “Our Father……”   “who art in heaven”…..  The puzzle sometimes gets even more puzzling!

Who is God? God is immense and I am just a tiny creature. I cannot understand his logic, except in so far as, I look at the absurdity of the life of Jesus. I know he is God made man; he calls himself: “The Son of Man”, and I cannot get my head round it! Clearly, he emptied himself of his ‘Godhead’, but, as a baby, I wonder if he had any awareness of his divinity? Is it possible that the emptying of his own “persona” – (I think) we define as “The Word of God” – mean that God did not ‘erupt and explode’ into his life as a baby? 

His ordinary life must have been some kind of cruel torture, as he saw the way people of all sorts, ignore God and his Love. Absurdity in extremis! Then, at the end his own Passion and Death on the Cross, with that sense of abandonment, by God the Father – who had been the whole purpose behind the previous 33 years, or so, of life – surely that must have been doubly, or infinitely, absurd. My head cannot get round this at all – try as it may! So, I go back to the effects of God’s love in my life. I know Him, but do not know Him at all. I love Him – or try to do so.  Of one thing I am sure, that that Love is his gift. I want to love him more than any other, or any thing – but do I? 

To conclude, all this is the result of my musings on Boxing Day. I share them with anyone interested.

Father Jonathan

Hope at Christmas:

Among all the bad news we have heard recently in the media, it is very hard to find any good news – and this at a time when we are preparing for the coming of Jesus, the Christ-child, at Christmas.  Fortunately, I suspect that in peoples’ personal lives there is faith, hope and love.

Next Tuesday, everyone will be celebrating – each in their own way – their idea of Christmas, and much of what will be described as celebrating, will be nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas, but will have plenty to do with shopping and spending money – most can ill-afford – with eating and drinking, perhaps to excess, whilst that message of a ‘Saviour Being Born for All the People’, would seem to have been lost in the mists of antiquity.

Taking all of this to heart, it  would be enough to send one into a deep depression, were it not for hope – hope that lives on eternally in the human soul.

That hope comes from the true message of Christmas; it comes from the very fact that Jesus was born of a young Jewish woman, betrothed to Joseph, and who came into this world at Bethlehem, at a time when things were just as bad for the Jewish people of those days, as they are now for the people of the world in 2012. Occupied by the Romans, the country was ruled by their own King Herod – a King just as murderous and corrupt as many despots of today – and a king not worthy of the title.  That hope – in the form of the Christ-child – changed the world then, and since, for millions of people who were at that time, and still are, prepared to believe in God and his infinite mercy.

Truly, I believe, we have one saving grace on which to continue to hope, and that is GOD IS WITH US.  Traditionally, He comes to us at Christmas, but, in reality, he is always with us, today, everyday, always.

The Scene of One More School Massacre – Newtown, Connecticut, USA

It is in this light that we can look on what happened in the recent past – news that is so distressing:  the alleged false police statements that led to a senior politician resigning; the recent Connecticut killings of children and adults; the nurse who took her own life after a prank from the DJ’s in Australia; the Jimmy Saville scandals and deceptions that have led to the overturning of the inquests into the Hillsborough football disaster. 

The Scene of the Memorial to the 96 at Liverpool FC

As was said at the beginning, bad headlines such as these could easily pitchfork us all into a depressed state  of mind, but HOPE overcomes such things, once we get to know that Jesus came, and is still here for us. If only that message could be received and understood by more people in the world today, then perhaps we would not be inundated quite so much, and affected by, the media’s bad news – the sorry headlines – we see almost every day.  Pray God that this could be so! 

A very Happy and Holy Christmas to you all, with every blessing in the New Year.


Christmas time is for Hope. How necessary that is in our fallen world, beautiful as it is, but so often a place of sadness and distrust, suffering and hatred. We are meant to live here in peace and love and the birth of the divine baby is proof. He is still living today. The following story illustrates this. Please click here (on the ‘click’ instruction below) and roll your mouse over the image to change to the next of eleven images that tell the story. Hope is what rekindles Peace, Faith and Love.

May I wish all the blog readers a Blessed and Holy Christmas.

Fr. Jonathan

Click Here


To Be a Child of God:

Was anyone else struck by the contrasts in the Gospel, last Sunday, at Mass – contrasts in the events leading up to the coming of Jesus at Christmas time, when as St. John puts it: “… ..  the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. (See to whom the Word was revealed in the passage from Luke’s Gospel for last Sunday, the second of Advent year (Year C)).

“In the fifteenth month of the reign of Emperor Tiberias when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip was ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” (Luke 3: 1-2)

 The wilderness of Juda

Here, above, we are given a picture of an emperor, a governor, some princes or rulers, high priests who exercise their powers from palaces or from the temple. Then, in contrast, we see humble, small but decisive events, happening in the wilderness. The Word of God came to John, son of Zechariah. This contrast between the history of the great and powerful, and the seemingly insignificant history of simple folk who listen to the Word of God, is a constant theme in the work of the Lord. God does do great things, and he does them in the little, simple and humble events of everyday, such as we find in a family where there is love, forgiveness, understanding – totally divorced from the world of  the powerful, the ruthless and the often murderous potentates of this world.

The contrast is even more striking because St. Luke refers to the wilderness, rather than a palace or even the Temple, because the wilderness belongs to nobody; the land is empty and without any value, and yet it is in such a wilderness that God’s power can act most distinctly, most directly. In the description of this event there is no human splendour or solemn ceremony. All we find is a man, dressed for the wilderness, who turns towards all humankind, promoting forgiveness and regeneration. 

Presently, as in every year at this time, we are waiting this Advent to become Children of God. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”, (John 1:12), and we do so when we allow the Word of God to grow in us. How does that happen? The Word of God grows in us, in so far as we welcome it, understand it and put it into practice. On this point  Pope Paul VI is very explicit:

‘How is Jesus present in a soul? Through the communication to us of the Word of God. God’s thought, the Word, the Son of God made man enters us. We could even say that the Lord becomes flesh in us when we come to accept that his word dwells in us’. Did not St. Paul give birth to his Christians in the same way? ‘In Christ Jesus I became your Father through the Gospel’ (1 Cor. 4:15). Before we began to live the Word, the Word lived in us: it lives in us, forms us, guides and transforms us into the living Gospel.” 

Let me share with you a simple event that might illustrate what I mean; what happened to me, happened in our parish, and, in my own mind it proves the point. I have changed the names and context so as not to embarrass anyone still living. In some ways, this story is of a devoted husband and wife, becoming the ones who contributed – along with many others – to the birth of the ‘Word in Me’. 

In the 1980’s, I was asked to do the funeral of this wonderful parishioner, Matt. He was not just a parishioner, but also a friend, and he and his wife, Jenny, are like the very best of Christians. They are like John the Baptist, open to God’s word in the wilderness, as they had a ‘wilderness experience’ that nobody would every wish for themselves. Like John, they were humble, simple Lancashire folk, and nobody would ever consider them of the slightest importance in world terms.

Once upon a time, Matt and Jenny would never fail to come to Sunday Mass. But, for the last year and a half of Matt’s life, he could not speak: nor could he eat (save through a tube), nor move; nurses had to come into his house, equipped with a special bed, yet, he never complained. He was always delighted to see people, and so was Jenny, his wife. Neither of them thought themselves as good, or holy, or anything like that. Matt had always been a quiet man, but his silent goodness, and joy on his death-bed for something like 18 months, were more eloquent to me than anything else in the world. 

There are three children of the marriage, and not one of them is a Church-goer. One of them, Lizzie the unmarried one, has such a good understanding about how to love. She is very close to a holy, diocesan priest of those years, and she remains a good, yet confused, lady. The others are also special, kind and loving, each in their own way. 

God certainly writes straight with crooked lines! 

Another came to see me, recently about his own situation, and it seems that this other person thinks that God has a “twisted and nasty sense of humour”! It was not very pleasant for me to have to listen to this opinion of God, whom I would like to hold as the principal good in my life; however, I suppose through the great gift of ‘knowing’ God – a knowledge that the Holy Spirit has given me – together with my own lack of sensitivity – I am able to empathise, a bit with others; this enables me not to be too upset, to overcome and move on ahead. In total contrast, Jenny and Matt never blamed God for their long, drawn-out experience of meeting death. 

I learned a lot from Matt all those years ago, and it has stood me in good stead. I have no idea how Jenny, and he, were so persistent in their love of God, despite their difficulties, and without the tangible gifts of God’s love, that I have experienced. Even so, the ‘Word of God’ grew in them as, God willing, the Word will grow in me, and in us, becoming ‘Flesh in us’ as we journey on.  

And so, we become Children of God, if we accept the Word made Flesh, welcome Him into our lives, and live with him as an intrinsic part of our innermost self.

Fr. Jonathan

The Agnus Dei:

Apropos the Blog published last week on November 29th, concerning the ‘Sanctus’ of the Mass, there is another very wonderful part of the Mass in which all those present, priest and congregation, join in submitting everything to Jesus – he who takes away the sins of the world – and asking for his mercy.  I refer, of course, to the Agnus Dei: 

“Agnes Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis; (2)

Agnes Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.” 

“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; (2)

“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.” 

Quite apart from the words, which in themselves are very meaningful, many of the great composers have created some of their greatest music for the Agnus Dei – and among these, I think it may be argued, that the most heart-touching melodies have been reserved for those composed as ‘Requiems’.  I have in mind music composed for Requiems by Mozart, Brahms, Verdi and Faure, but there are many more quite beautiful scores intended to be used at Masses for the Dead.

 A lamb holding a Christian banner is a typical symbol for Agnus Dei 

In the Old Testament, whenever sacrifices were to be offered to God, the first choice for that sacrificial offering was an animal of some kind, and since the Jews of those days, thousands of years ago, were agrarian almost without exclusion, tending flocks as well as lands, then the animal would most likely come from one of their flocks, most often a sheep or a goat.  The Bible tells us that the most sacrificial choices involved the killing and offering of a lamb, very often newborn, and it is from these ideas that we arrive at the position where the sacrifice is, essentially, defenseless, spotless and totally innocent.  How analogous to the person of Jesus is that – Jesus, the Lamb of God? 

This title we give to Our Saviour comes from the words of St. John the Baptist, recorded in the Gospel of St. John: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29).   John is baptizing people in the River Jordan; he looks up, sees Jesus approaching, and this is the exclamation that falls from his lips.  The very next day, John the Baptist again sees Jesus walking by and, for the second time, points him out, saying: “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). This occurs in the presence of the first two apostles; they called Jesus “Rabbi” (Master), and followed him.  Both references speak to the Divinity of Christ.  However, the second part of John the Baptist’s recognition refers clearly to the part Jesus will play in taking away our sins, and to do this he must die for them; this is where it is prophesied that Jesus will become the sacrificial Lamb – the Lamb that is slain – and humanity, in all its sinfulness, is the slayer. (All these thoughts are reflected in us at this time of the Church’s Year – Advent – that time of preparation for the ‘Coming of the Lamb’ at Christmas.)

The Lamb of God, carrying the Vexillum (Flag-like Standard) of the Cross and bleeding into the Chalice 

Most authorities take the view that there is a real significance in the association between the ‘Paschal Lamb’ of the Jewish ‘Passover’, and Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God’.   On the one hand, we have the fact that ‘lambs’ were sacrificed by the Jews, during the first ever Passover; on the other, we have the fact that Jesus was ‘sacrificed’, on the ‘Preparation Day’ for the Jewish Feast of Passover.  In the Old Testament, the newborn lamb was the perfect sacrificial choice, as defined by God, in his directions for the Passover and the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in the land of Egypt. In the New Testament, the Lamb of God is the perfect sacrificial offering for the sins of mankind.  But there is one crucial difference here in that Jesus offered himself, knowingly and willingly; he chose to suffer and to die at Calvary, in accordance with the will of His Father. The animals offered by the Jews, in sacrifice to God, had no choice in the matter. 

Quite differentially, there are many references in the Book of Revelation to a ‘lion-like’ lamb, and at first, one may find difficulty in reconciling the meekness of the lamb, with the lion-heartedness of the lion.  On this point, it may be that the strength of the lion is there to remind us that there was a victory over sin and death, and that Jesus, having laid down his life, overcame both in his Resurrection from the Dead.  On this point, we may take instruction from St. Augustine; in the year 375, this great theologian and doctor of the Church, wrote the following: 

“Why a lamb in his passion? Because he underwent death without being guilty of any iniquity. Why a lion in his passion? Because in being slain, he slew death. Why a lamb in his resurrection? Because his innocence is everlasting. Why a lion in his resurrection? Because everlasting also is his might.”

 Adoration of the Mystical Lamb – detail from the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck.

“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us!


 All that is written above fits in well with this Advent season. We are called by the liturgy of Advent to be watching, praying always for the coming of Jesus in his glory at the end of time. In other words the teaching of John the Baptist is very relevant: John’s first teaching was “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” (Mt 3; 2). Now that Jesus, the eternal High Priest has come, proclaimed as the Lamb of God by John the Baptist, I have the guarantee that my sins will be forgiven. That is the redemption that Jesus came to share with us, and in the Catholic Reconciliation rite (Confession), you will hear the priest saying: “God the father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ has reconciled this world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins”. 

The beautiful prayer, explained here by Socius, is said just before Holy Communion: it contains the essence of our attitude of mind in Advent, because our sinful state is such that many people are not even aware of their own self-preoccupation and pride. The roots of Original Sin are very deep indeed.  

The Church, in its long reflection through faithful Christians, has come to understand this, and so puts onto our lips this prayer, the Lamb of God, at every Mass so that what we say with our lips will eventually penetrate our hearts and help us to grow to the maturity of getting the beautiful relationship, between a redeemed sinner and his God, right. This will guarantee our freedom, our joy, our trust and our hope in the Lord, that he came to give us in proclaiming to us the Good News of our Saviour’s first coming, his second coming at the end of time, and in the present time of the Church, when we are privileged to live in a state of union with God, through the Word and Sacraments.  

Father Jonathan.