Archive for January, 2013

Learning is for life

18 January 2013

Learning is for life.


As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me’. And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.

 ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’


This month of January the Word of God that gives life to me is precisely this strange short Word spoken by Jesus: Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. On Wednesday a group of 8 men in religious life met at the De La Salle house in St. Helens and after a shared meal, we shared what this might mean for an hour or so.


It was not easy to share. It takes time to know how to share what God might have done in our lives by trying to live the Word of God moment by moment. We had some discussion about different ways of translating from the original Greek text and the use of the word “desire” rather than the plainer English “want”. “I want mercy not sacrifice”. For some this was important, for others very unimportant. What struck me was that as we shared we got to know each other’s mind-set a bit better, we got to know what the other was like, and we grew in trusting each other.


But somebody pointed out that Jesus had said something before those words in the context of that meal with the tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus turned to those who did not like that sort of person and said: ‘Go and learn’…


That learning process echoes in my experience. What a journey of learning has taken place in my life to realise that in life it is not efficiency that is important, rather it is love or loving mercy that builds up relationships. Another learning point for me: it is not my way of doing things that is necessarily the best; there are other ways of doing things. Furthermore we all make mistakes in life and so all of us want (desire) mercy rather than condemnation.


Somebody also asked a question? “What do you do when you show loving mercy to another, and he or she simply refuses to respond, acknowledge or enter into any meaningful relationship with you?” That happens to me from time to time. There is no easy answer. I can only share what once happened to me.


One of my brethren who has now gone to his eternal reward found me very hard work and I did him. We got on from time to time, but often it was better to avoid each other. This wonderful man who had many skills was at work and there was no sign of any illness. But early in the day he had a brain haemorrhage and I went to see him where it had happened. He was sitting on the floor in an office where he was working, in the corner, comforted by a colleague. He could no longer talk but as soon as I saw him he gave me an engaging smile that I will never forget all my life. It spoke volumes. It said to me: ‘Jonathan, I want to be your friend. We may not have seen eye to eye, but all that is forgotten. Let us go ahead from now on caring for and loving each other as the Good Lord asks of us. Forget what happened in the past!’ I was able to be with him a short time, reassure him of God’s great love, join with him in prayer, me speaking him silent. And I felt with Mother Julian of Norwich what she wrote in her revelation of divine love. “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”


Learning is a life-time process and whoever can give you an easy answer to the mystery of difficulties in relationships is not speak the truth as we learn from experience. I shared something of this with a wonderful sister in the Carmelites in Preston. She looked at me and said: ‘Perhaps Fr. Jonathan we have lived to a ripe old age because God is still teaching us and we are slow learners!’

In Romans 1: 16 St Paul wrote “I am not ashamed of the Gospel”. I have been thinking what he might mean. He had to deal with all those Jewish converts who found it so hard really to understand that all the rituals of the Jewish religion were utterly unimportant, even rubbish, for somebody who had the freedom to be a disciple of Jesus (Phil 3; 1-8). He means “I am not ashamed of Jesus”. In ‘young people speak’ today, people might say ‘Jesus and the things associated with him, especially the Churchare not cool’. The Gospel is in fact the person of Jesus Christ who is with me and among us for as long as we want to belong to him and his “gang”.


I am increasingly aware that I should do all in my power to make being a follower of Jesus ‘cool’. But this can only happen if I have a genuine experience of Him, of Jesus in me and among ‘us’.


Nobody ever sees God and we do see our neighbour. For forty years now I have been exposed to a way of following God that is called a ‘communitarian way’. This way leads to God himself as truly as anyone who has never been exposed to it.


It is a different way to behave and act because underpinning it is the Gospel truth that we belong as disciples to ‘one body, the body of Christ’. We could say ‘we belong together to the person of Christ’. It is both to my shame and a reflection of reality that I am still, after forty years, prone to act as a man in relation to God not so much “with others” but as a man with my individual relationship with God alone. This “individualism” goes back a long way and probably the eighteenth century enlightenment was a strong supporting factor. Whether it is part of the human condition, of being a part of the fallen human race, I am not sure. I do know that the modern experience both when I am in front of my computer and when I am driving my car emphasises this individualism; unless every time I use the computer or the car it is in some way in the service of God and others. My whole life will only make sense if it is seen in service of God and others.


To this end I would like to quote again from a reflection of my friend Manfred who has an incurable brain tumour, writing soon after the tumour was first treated in May 2012. It may help to explain what I am trying to explain, and as only last Monday I had the joy of a long conversation with him, here is a photograph of him and me on that day. He insisted I wore a woolly hat-he was suffering from a severe headache and it does add something. His spirit has grown since May 2012, and he still sees everything that has happened to him in regards his terminal illness as God’s love for him.

Hi all,


Just a quick update on how it’s all progressing. First off all a big thanks for all the prayers and support. It’s been very important and great! Most importantly I am feeling actually quite well, according to the doc better than anticipated. Well, that’s from the brain perspective.


I have now completed my chemoradio therapy on the 4th May, and since then have been dealing with the after effects, which is mainly tiredness and continued loss of appetite. Both of those are getting better and last Friday I managed to have a proper full meal for the first time in a long while!! My appetite is slowly coming back.


As far as tiredness and fatigue is concerned it was hitting me quite badly, but I have to say that the last two days in May things have actually been quite good. Had good nights sleep and by and large felt great. Even managed to watch the whole of Champions League Final!


Then I had a bit of a scare on when I seem to loose part of my sight in the left eye. But to my relief my brain docs were not worried about it from the tumour side but sent me last Tuesday to Moorfields Eye Hospital. There the extent of God’s love became clear again when I was diagnosed with a detached retina. The following day I was again under the knife for 1 hr and 20mins. Now I have to lie on my right side for a week for 50 mins of each hour, practically always. Had to cancel my holiday in Scotland as I was literally otherwise detained!!!


What can I say other than, God is great all the time and all the time God is great! His love sometimes feels overwhelming, but it is so good, because all these occasions are a real eye opener (good pun, eh!!) for me. More and more I understand what it is that he is trying to do: To free me from anything that is in the way of loving him and to guide us to live with him in our midst offering all our big or small gifts. I thank him for being in our midst in focolare and in the zone. I thank him for the peace and joy he gives me. I thank him for his love. I offer all so that there is always Jesus amongst us in this focolare of the zone, for the Mariapolis and for the young people. I couldn’t begin to list the gifts I have received from God during this period! He is simply great and most of all he is really Love!


Next steps: Tomorrow back to brain hospital for treatment. Then on the 6th the first MRI scan after all the treatment to see how my brain looks after all the pounding. Then chemo increase from 150mg to 550mg for the first week of each month. If my blood count is ok in June then …waiting what God wants next!


Always meeting each one of you in the pact of unity





Just the other morning whilst enjoying my first cup of coffee, two thoughts came into my mind – and very important ones at that!  The first was of a baby lying cradled in a manger.  The second, was of a man, hanging on a cross.  And, I was immediately drawn into considering the connection between the two.  Of course, there is just one connection – LOVE

The way in which the Church organises  its year can sometimes cause us confusion; I refer to the much fore-shortened time scale, of course.  Already, this last week-end has seen the Child Jesus, born for us on Christmas Day, grow to a boy of 12 years of age, and there he is in the Temple, conversing with the Elders and asking them questions.  They were amazed at his understanding.  Also, we hear, that his mother, on finding him there after searching for three days, is told that he was attending to his Father’s affairs.  In this, we have a foretaste – a prophecy – of his mission in life.  In just three months time, we shall have moved on to Jesus at the age of (circa) 33 years, and the end of his mission, to his passion and death, then to his glorious resurrection, and, virtually, to the fulfillment of all that God the Father required of him.

But, to return to the main theme of this blog, LOVE, is the one thing that is driving all.  It is the motive force behind God’s decision to send his beloved Son to earth, to become mortal, just like us, (whilst still retaining his divinity), and to be born of a young Jewish woman.  It is God’s way of organising the supreme sacrifice that will reconcile, once again, God and humankind, after the sin of Adam and the sin of every man and woman who follow in Adam’s footsteps.  Faith leads us to understand that this sacrifice of love – the incarnation leading to death on a cross – gives us hope for the future. That future no longer leads, inevitably, to eternal enmity with God – as it once did – but to the promise of eternal happiness with him in paradise. 

We should never doubt God’s love for us – each and every individual – a promise that is true for all time.  It behoves us to realise this, to accept it and to do our best to return that love with every fibre of our being. 

There is another aspect to this love for God and here, Father Jonathan makes a very strong point with God’s second Commandment. In his words:

“The invitation we have to love God fully is also to love our neighbour, especially making a pact of mercy with anyone with whom we need to start again. We should forgive all that others might “owe” us, for example an apology or even something material like money or goods that they have belonging to us. This year if we make our relationships with all others better we will find that the love for God himself will grow. He will speak in our hearts and make us see what to do in regards to God. It is mercy that hopes all, covers all, trusts and believes all, and if that is what we do in response to God’s immense love for us, then we will have done something really worthwhile for his Kingdom, and it could spread to others and become something that grows very widely.”

If only this could be so in our world today, what a change there would be to life as we know it.


Post-Script: Readers will know that, in past issues, attention has often been drawn to the thoughts and writings of Manfred, who has a terminal brain tumour.  The following – again touching on LOVE – was written by him on the final day of 2012. (He refers to ‘LOVE’ as a nice voice because it overcomes all negatives for Manfred. For instance the fears he may have about his incurable brain tumour, and when it will strike which so preoccupies him that he has failed to love his neighbour in the house where he lives. Also his mistakes, sins, lack of love in the past year or even that morning. When he loves again and is in communion with others, then “the returning to live in communion with the others the subtle voice of love inside is amplified through the love of the others.”):

“What a nice voice which is so clear and brings peace. But the most amazing thing is that even in (that) apparent failure there is God’s love! Because Jesus died on the Cross he transformed pain and suffering into love. Where I see suffering and joy God sees love in both. I can begin again now in this present moment and every moment because God never ceases to love me. What a wonderful gift to receive, because it means that all those moments of pain and suffering in the past year I can fill with one act of love making a parcel of all those things and give them as a gift to Jesus on the Cross. My year becomes his and it is a year full of the God’s love for us. Today I dedicate to giving all my past year to Jesus on the Cross as a gift of love.”

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year, with every blessing for 2013.