Archive for March, 2013

The impression of the Old Testament God is that he is an avenger. He punishes those who disobey his commandments and wreaks vengeance on his enemies.

God the Father

 God the Father – Sistine Chapel – Michaelangelo 

Actually, the New Testament tells us something about the inner nature of God, and that He is Love. Over time, as the Spirit of God has worked in the Church, we have learned that God is a Holy Trinity, and we are invited to enter into the loving relationship within God, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, through our union with the Word of God, Jesus Christ. 

Again, I emphasise, over time this relationship is changing and developing within us , constantly year by year, and, as a relationship is not a static thing, I wonder whether, in God, that relationship is also alive and changing? I would like to think so. For instance, at present Christians of all denominations find Pope Francis, and his simple and human behaviour, fascinating. Today, Holy Thursday, Pope Francis is going to a young offenders’ institution to wash the feet of 12 young people, in their prison – something not done before by any Pope. I wonder if, “in the Word of God” in heaven, there is as much interest in this new development within the Catholic Church, by the Holy and Undivided Trinity, as there is on earth? Does not our union with Jesus, as human beings and as Christians, ‘affect’ the Holy Trinity in some way?  Jesus, ‘The Word of God’, necessarily, will always be intensely interested in what we on earth, in time and space, are thinking and doing, even if He lives outside time and space. It is all an intense mystery of Love that we cannot penetrate. I suppose it is akin to the mystery an unborn child might feel – before he, or she, is born – if only that unborn babe could think.  What will the world outside my mother be like?  Today, we could ask: “What will it be like, outside our world of time and space, in heaven?” 

I have been thinking of the fantastic development of our understanding of God, since the Old Testament times – a development that is still continuing, even in our present day.  It has taken all this time for us to see that ‘Revelation’, over centuries, was – and is – explaining the true nature of God; God is not vengeful, though it seemed that way, in the beginning.  Rather, God is pure Love. He cannot act – except out of Love! No wonder he taught us to live the new commandment, “love each other as he has loved us”.

groups of folk

May the Gospel shine forth again, through us personally, in our homes,
in our cities, in our nations.

Chiara Lubich wrote what follows, for those who follow her way to be a Christian, and I find it expresses my own thoughts precisely: 

“This explains today’s feast day, Maundy Thursday. Many years ago – and today too, Jesus gave the new commandment to his disciples, that commandment which is the fundamental law and basis of every other norm for each Christian; today too, Jesus prayed for unity: ‘that all may be one’; today too, he instituted the Eucharist that makes him present among us and indeed brings about our unity with Him and among us. And today too, he instituted the priesthood that makes the Eucharist possible. What would our life be like without the New Commandment, without the Eucharist, without the Ideal of unity? 

Every day is Good Friday.  Looking at the news, in front of the wars, killings and assassination attempts, one after the other we see pictures of inhuman violence and in the cry of those sufferings, resounds the cry of abandonment which Jesus cried out to the Father on the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’, his greatest trial and the darkest shadow. But it’s a cry which didn’t remain without an answer. 

Jesus did not remain in the abyss of that infinite pain, but, with a huge and unimaginable effort he re-abandoned himself to the Father, overcoming that immense suffering and in this way he brought people back into the bosom of the Father and into a reciprocal embrace. He said: ‘Into your hands I commend my Spirit’.  

From that cross Jesus, gives us the highest, most divine and heroic lesson on what Love is: a love which makes no distinctions, but loves everyone; which doesn’t expect anything in return, but always takes the initiative; that knows how to make itself one with the other, knows how to live the other; that has a measure that is infinite: it knows how to give its life. This love has a divine strength; it can produce the most powerful Christian revolution which must invade not only the spiritual realm, but also the human one, renewing its every expression: culture, politics, economy, science and communication. 

The New Commandment of Jesus,’“love one another as I have loved you,’ when it is lived-out in a radical way generates unity and brings about an extraordinary consequence: Jesus himself, the Risen One, is present in our midst, as he promised ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name,’ that is, in his love. 

‘Unity! We feel it, we see it, we enjoy it, but it’s ineffable! Everyone enjoys its presence; everyone suffers when it is absent. It is peace, joy, love, ardour, an atmosphere of heroism and utmost generosity. It is Jesus among us! And with Him, it’s a perennial Easter!’” 

A Happy Easter to all who may stumble upon this blog.

Father Jonathan


Yesterday, on my day off, I walked with a friend of mine along the banks of the River Mersey. The river was still, the sun was shining as we set off and the seagulls soared, played and scavenged, while we conversed about so many things, and walked.

walking by the river

“Have you ever met anyone who, deliberately and truly, has cut himself off from God: in other words instead of trying to journey in God’s direction, quite deliberately goes in the other?” That was one question put to me. So it got my brain cells working, and honestly, I could not think who might be like that, among people I know. “Could anyone have the true idea of God that would make it possible to reject him?” Again my brain cells whirred and I could understand the point he was making; also, I could empathise, from an intellectual point of view. After all, I am told that when we say anything about God, what we say is far, far away from the actual reality of the divine Godhead we are trying to describe and, if that be the case, then it may be that silence is best before God.  When one thinks about it, perhaps this summary is true! Perhaps, we would do well to listen to his silence!

But then another thought came to mind. St. John wrote: “How can you say you love the God you cannot see, if you do not love the neighbour that you do see?” (cf 1 John 4:20). Turn this on its head, and, if you discover a human being who hates and despises another, and actively does everything they can to destroy the physical, or moral well-being of that person, then …. what are the inevitable consequences? Would this not be a kind of atheism, at least? I could imagine a person who might even be a good ‘Church goer’, who behaves in such a way.  Analysing the point a little deeper, it too, may well, from time to time, be ‘atheistic’ in that sense.


All this brings me back to the need for change in our Church. A week ago last Monday I attended the funeral of an Anglican friend, in a country Church near Harrogate. He was 86 years old, and I have known Ian and his wife, Rosemary, for 40 years. I can personally testify that he was a generous Christian man. I wrote the following about Ian to friends last week. We like to share what God through his Word is doing in our lives: 

“Ian was an amazingly good man, having been a Spitfire pilot after the war. He gave it all up, (though he loved it), because he felt that his pacifist tendencies were too strong, and he did not want to be involved in killing people. He was a structural engineer, also having studied at Cambridge, and became an innovative leader in the use of wood, in all sorts of buildings. He was one of the first Anglicans to know the Focolare and its spirit to promote unity. There are four children, and with their wives and children they all sang and spoke at the funeral. It was amazing. One section of the family sang an evangelical ditty called, ‘If you ask me how I know ….(Jesus)’, and it was quite beautiful, especially as the youngest child has Downs Syndrome; that little girl of about 4 years old touched everyone’s hearts when her mother put a small toy mandolin round her neck and she strummed enthusiastically. Her elder brothers and sisters sang beautifully together with their mum and dad (Ian’s Son). The words are very simple: 

‘If you ask me, how I know there’s life beyond the grave,

I’ll tell you, Jesus rose again, victorious to save.

He came to me, He lives in me, He fills my heart with love.

I know Him as my living friend, who leads me on to Heaven above,

who leads me on to Heaven above.’ 

Ian was also an apostle of unity. The vicar together with the Reverend Simon Hoare, an old friend of Ian and indeed of myself conducted the ceremony which proved to be a little bit of heaven; very well done, indeed. I felt, in a new way, the beauty of the Anglican Church, and how it is, in its own way, the presence of God, for many people. Although there was no Holy Communion, it impressed as a very sincere and touching service. I think we should praise God for these prophetic moments, when we get an insight both into heaven, and how the Church on earth, might be one day.”  

In writing about this experience, I am reminded of the story Pope Francis recounted at his first address to the massive crowds of 300,000 last Sunday in St. Peter’s square.  

pope francis

Pope Francis Addresses the Crowd in St. Peter’s Square

He spoke of an elderly widow, he encountered during a Mass for the Sick, celebrated in connection with a visit of the image of Our Lady of Fatima.  

“I went to confession during the Mass, and near the end – I had to go to do confirmations afterward, an elderly lady approached me – humble [she was] so very humble, more than eighty years old. I looked at her, and said, ‘Grandmother,’ – where I come from, we call elderly people grandmother and grandfather – ‘would you like to make your confession?’ ‘Yes,’ she said – and I said, ‘but, if you have not sinned…’ and she said, ‘we all have sinned.’ [I replied], ‘if perhaps He should not forgive [you]?’ and, with great certainty she replied, ‘The Lord forgives everything.’ I asked, ‘How do you know this for sure, madam?’ and she replied, ‘If the Lord hadn’t forgiven all, then the world wouldn’t [still] be here.’ And, I wanted to ask her, ‘Madam, did you study at the Gregorian (the Pontifical Gregorian University, founded in 1551 by St. Ignatius Loyola, the oldest Jesuit university in the world)?’ – because that is wisdom, which the Holy Spirit gives – interior wisdom regarding the mercy of God. Let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us, but we sometimes tire of asking Him to forgive us. Let us never tire of asking God’s forgiveness.”  

My prayer is that we, as Catholics, can shake off any sense of superiority over others; that we can learn to be more flexible, remembering that ‘ritual is for man’, not ‘man for ritual’; that we can be open to the simple wisdom of ordinary people, many of whom are not religious in the ordinary sense of the word, and that we never forget the poor. Of course, we remain thankful to God for all the great tradition of our Catholic Church, but the way we have lived out our Catholic Faith, at least in Britain, often has not been pitched at the level of ordinary people, and we forget that it is not much use going to Church, Sunday by Sunday, and having no influence on the local community in which we live. That too, might be a kind of atheism, as would Catholics, whether they be Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Sisters or lay people, who live lives not in accordance with the Gospel.

Father Jonathan

When a Pope dies, there is a sense of great loss in those of us who love our Catholic Church. We have lost our beloved friend, a friend who is at the centre of the Unity of the Church, our spokesman, our channel (in one sense) to God, and there is a real bereavement.  I remember when Pope Benedict XVI came to the UK, in September 2010, that the excitement in the air was tangible, and the whole four days were very ‘special’; people “felt better” for attending with him, or watching on Television, and it did not matter who one was, or to which denomination (or none) that one belonged.  I would say it was a ‘Moment of God’.  No wonder, when a Pope dies, people feel sad at the loss. It is different, of course, in the case of retirement.

Pope Bendedict

 Pope Benedict embracing a child on his visit to the UK 

During his visit, Pope Benedict XVI was on his way from his (temporary) Wimbledon residence, to one appointment. As he came to his car, he spotted a lady with a small child. His helpers asked the lady if the Pope could bless her child, and she was delighted. The incident touched the hearts of everyone who saw it. The BBC TV presenters went out of their way to try and find the lady; they did so after about half an hour, and there with the child, she was interviewed. “How did you feel when the Pope was given your child?” “Proud as anything; it will go down in our family story as one of the most important moments ever”. “Is he your child?” “Oh no; I am grandma. I mind the child for my daughter, and we live close by, so I thought it would be lovely to see the Pope on this historic occasion”. “You must be very happy as a Catholic to let the Pope bless your grandchild?” “I am not a Catholic, I am an Anglican, and I am delighted that the Pope blessed him”.  I could not help smiling, and again, feeling a sense of great joy. The Pope is, for many people, a very important person. But time marches on … … 

When, on the evening of Thursday 13 March, I was told there was “white smoke”, and the cardinals had done their job of electing the Pope, I stayed glued to the television to watch the amazing story unfolding, about who would be the new Pope. I felt the exultation and joy that the people in the Piazza, in front of St. Peter’s, felt.  It was described as “tangible” and everyone present, a vast crowd, felt it. That sense of being without the leader of the Church was being taken away; something new and great was happening. 

Pope Francis 1

 Pope Francis 

When eventually, it emerged that Pope Francis was Cardinal Jorge (George) Bergoglio, I had no idea who this person was. But, his posture, and first words, were striking and remarked upon: with his hands at his side, looking calm and a little awkward, he said: “Brothers and sisters good evening.” Then a very short speech in which came the humble words: “I would like to give the blessing. But first I want to ask you a favour. Before the Bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence.” I was touched deeply by these events, and felt a huge joy and sense of pride inside me, as I watched with Fr. Theo, in his room, in our Priory House.

Pope Francis 2

 Pope Francis receives a blessing from the Roman People (mainly) in St Peter’s Square 13 March 2013 

In his first short sermon, as Pope Francis on Thursday 14March, he included these words: “When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.” Notice he includes himself in the words; he is a Pope who is “one of us” – a pilgrim Bishop on the way, and the Bishop of Rome – also known as the Pope of the Catholic Church. 

Pope Francis, like his different predecessors, is living in the realm of God, of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was involved in his election, and this had nothing to do with the speculations of the media or the machinations of anything of this world. His choice by the Cardinals was quite unexpected. God has chosen him, and it happened so quickly. Now, all together in the Church, we will face the quiet breeze of necessary change in our Catholic Church, that may well come with this humble man, who has described inequality as “a social sin that cries out to Heaven”, and has emphasised the Church’s duty to serve the poor and disenfranchised. I think that emphasis is hitting exactly the right note. 

Fr. Jonathan


  While Jesus was teaching in the temple, the Scribes and Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught in the act of committing adultery. They said to Jesus, ‘In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women.     Now what do you say?’ (Jn. 8: 5). 

woman in adultery

All human beings are utterly interdependent. It has always been so and is more evidently so in our day, when we can see the effects of a breakdown of some part of the human network. I well remember the strike that affected our hospitals when hospital cleaners decided not to work. It more or less paralysed the entire working of the hospitals. These men and women were the least well paid amid all the echelons of staff, but their work was essential.

This interdependence affects everything we do. We cannot pretend that we are not a part of the injustices of this world. The fact that such a small percentage of human beings has the wealth and comfort that, probably, all who read this blog enjoy, is something to which all of us are a part. When I eat chocolate, for example, I am told that those who produce the chocolate, at source, are often virtual slaves, working for a pittance. Is my eating of the chocolate not a contribution to the misery of others?

My contention would state that, in the realm of morality, we also are interdependent; that it is not possible to ‘opt out’ of our one human family, and pretend that we were not, or are not, also a part of the horrors of moral evil, which appear to be everywhere in our world today.

There is also moral evil in our Church, today, and some is to be found among a small proportion of its clergy. Of course, the scandals caused by this small proportion are huge, and should not be minimised. Unfortunately, interdependence means that lay persons cannot just opt out of this mess. Take a person who might have been judgemental, unfriendly or not caring enough for his, or her, neighbour; this will make him, or her, not as compassionate as they might have been, and this has a ‘knock-on effect’ on the soul or spirit. Multiply this 60 million times for the population of the UK, and we come to something approaching what we today observe – a Britain in which there is a distinct lack of love. Priests and Bishops – and even a Cardinal – may have behaved badly because they did not receive the example of love and mercy that ought to be manifest throughout the human race – the love and mercy  taught to us by Jesus. In other words the lay person may not have been, fully, the disciple of Christ that he or she should have been.

It is true that, in one sense, I was not directly responsible for the famous “Moor Murders”, when in the 60’s, children were killed by evil people and buried on the moors: however, I think there is another sense, in which all human beings are responsible to a degree, because we do not see the beauty that is in each human being, whatever they have done. Therefore, we do not love enough, going out of our way to be loving to even the worst person, continuing to love as Jesus did right to the end, even when he was hated and tortured by others. Jesus is the model of what it is, or should be, to be human. When will more of us begin to understand that, even in the wicked sinfulness of some, we are all called by God to love each and every other?

pope leaves rome

The Pope Leaves Rome and Flies to Castelgandolfo 

In recent days, with the resignation of Pope Benedict and the many scandals reported by the media that have happened in the Church, a reporter in a national paper wrote like this:

“One of the more unsettling moments of the Pope’s UK visit in 2010, for me, was when he called on “the whole church” to atone for its crimes. But those were not my crimes, Pope Benedict: I am not one of the ordained men who has abused children or helped cover up their abhorrent behaviour, and I resent being treated as one.

In fact, all around me, I increasingly hear these words from my fellow Catholics: not in my name. These crimes that have been committed, this power that has been abused, this trust that has been betrayed: not in our name, Your Holiness, has it happened. Guilt has dogged my church through the centuries, and it’s a guilt that has often been planted most deeply among the lay people.

Somehow to me the above writing in italics does not ring quite true, well written though it is, and in some ways I sympathise with its import: rather, I would side with Pope Benedict, in that the whole Church should atone for its crimes, because all Catholics are in the one Body of the Catholic Church. I would say that nobody, who belongs to the Church, can stand outside it and say “I am completely innocent or uninvolved in the crimes mentioned by the reporter above”. It could be that I have sinned by omission as the “I confess” in the Mass states: “I have greatly sinned….in what I have done and in what I have failed to do”. If I did not ‘do’ something about the sins of our day – including the moral evils – then I, too, am guilty by omission; in other words, if I have failed in my ‘loving’. For instance, do I really love, even my enemies? The mystery of being ‘non-judgemental’ about others, is that I should not judge those with whom I totally disagree, even about their moral judgements. A good example is the debate between those in favour of “Pro-Life”, and those in favour of “Abortion”, or those who favour “Gay Marriage”, and those who oppose it. A Christian involved in these debates, should never judge the opposite person who holds a different view, as that would not be the way Jesus taught us.

It is in this context that I would like to consider this phrase of Jesus ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’ (Jn.8:7), with its commentary by Chiara Lubich, written in 1998. It seems to me to be helpful to us in 2013 as we enter this ‘rocky’ time for the Church.  I say ‘rocky’ with good reason, as we await the election of a new pope, and while we do so we can be sure that there will be more scandals affecting our Church, and more accusations against it, particularly in Britain and Ireland They may well be based on some evil events that have happened.

“WORD OF LIFE – March 2013

(First published in March 1998)

We are in no position to condemn anyone. We too are sinners. We need to treat each person with the tenderness and mercy that Jesus displayed.

‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’ (Jn.8:7).

While Jesus was teaching in the temple, the Scribes and Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught in the act of committing adultery. They said to Jesus, ‘In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ (Jn. 8:5).

      They wanted to set a trap for him. If Jesus had shown himself to be against the stoning, they could have accused him of going against the law. According to the law, the eye-witnesses had to begin stoning the one who had sinned, to be followed by the rest of the people. If, instead, Jesus had confirmed the death sentence, they would have made him contradict his own teaching about God’s mercy to sinners.


jesus writes in the sand

      But Jesus, bending down and writing on the ground with his finger, showed how unruffled he was. He straightened up and said:

‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’

     When they heard this, the accusers went away one by one, beginning with the eldest. Jesus then turned to the woman and asked, ‘Where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again’ (see Jn. 8:10-11).

‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’

With these words, Jesus certainly doesn’t show himself as permissive in front of evil, such as adultery. His words: ‘Go your way, and from now on do not sin again’ clearly state God’s commandment.

      Jesus wishes to unmask the hypocrisy of those who set themselves up as judges of a sister who has sinned, without recognizing that they too are sinners. Like this his words underline his famous declaration: ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make, you will be judged’ (Mt 7:1-2).

      Speaking in this way, Jesus is addressing also those who totally condemn others, with no consideration of the penitence that can well up within the heart of the guilty. And he clearly shows how he treats those who fall: with mercy. When all had gone away from the woman taken in adultery, ‘Two were left,’ as Augustine of Hippo wrote, ‘misery and mercy.’ (Homilies on the Gospel of John 33:5.)

‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’

      How can we put this word of life into practice?

Let’s remember, as we come before each brother or sister, that we too are sinners. We have all sinned and, even though it seems to us that we’ve not done anything seriously wrong, we have always to bear in mind that we may not realize the heavy circumstances that caused others fall so low, making them stray from God. How would we have done in their place?

      We too, at times, have broken the bond of love that ought to unite us to God; we’ve not been faithful to him.

      If Jesus, the only man without sin, didn’t throw the first stone at the adulteress, then neither can we at anyone whoever it may be.

      And so, have mercy for all, react against those impulses that drive us to condemn without pity—we have to know how to forgive and forget. No harbouring in our hearts any lingering judgement or resentment, where anger and hatred can breed and alienate us from our brothers and sisters. See everyone as new.

      Having in our hearts, rather than judgement and condemnation, love and mercy for each person, we will help each person begin a new life, we will constantly give courage to start afresh.”

I would suggest that the above reflection on that phrase ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’ (Jn.8:7) may throw light on the painful circumstances in which the Catholic Church finds itself at this time, especially in Britain and help one or two at least to find some light in the darkness that surrounds us.

Jonathan Cotton