Archive for April, 2013

These words hit me recently; if anyone is doing good and making the world a better place, then they are certainly reflecting the power of God, for God wishes to build people up, to become more whole, more complete. The words that soon follow are: “Abide in me as I abide in you”.

bombed church

 St Mary’s Orthodox Church in a Syrian town, destroyed. 

In Syria, where there is a terrible civil war, the Christians are suffering severe persecution. Churches are being destroyed; Christian people are being killed or kidnapped; their homes are being destroyed.  In an interview, this week, with a Catholic priest in Aleppo, Syria, the priest replied like this to the question: “What can the Church now offer, concretely, to Syrian Christians?” 

“We look at things with realism: we are more than grateful for the support of all Christians and particularly to Pope Francis with his repeated appeals in favour of his ‘beloved Syria’. We are also grateful for the aid that arrives. However, the truth remains that a basket of food aid isn’t sufficient. The Christians of Aleppo and of Syria want security, prospects, hope. Through aid, if we are not killed, we can manage for a week, a month, perhaps even a year, and then? That’s why each one must give his own answer (about what he, or she, as a Syrian Christian should do, to stay in Syria, or leave the country even for a period of time) according to conscience and the possibilities for the person or family.”

Every sensible person in Britain wants security, prospects and hope. If we are able to spread, and share these qualities, then according to Jesus, we will be pruned so that more fruit may grow.



Pruning is what any person who tends roses does: each year he cuts back the rose bush to make sure it produces the most beautiful roses. The apple grower does the same with the apple tree, so as to produce a greater crop of luscious apples.


Luscious Apples 

Any faithful, persevering Christian, in other words, who abides in the Lord, as he abides in them, is bound to suffer in some way. It should not come as a surprise to us. Jesus told us this is what would happen. Let us prepare ourselves for this – in whatever way it comes – and remain, by God’s grace if possible, joyful and at peace within. That high aim is more likely to be achieved in England, where we have more of a kind of peace, than in Syria. The likelihood is that, if I, in England, am sad and anxious within, then the fault lies within me, for the most part, and so I need to be converted once again. In Syria, the fear-factor may be so high that the same criteria cannot apply in the same way. Our Christian life, everywhere, is not a plateau of heaven, but a continual daily conversion, that will bring salvation in the end.

The Syrian priest was asked another question: “In the face of all the mixture of horror, fear, courage, resistance and surrender, what word resounds the loudest?”

Father N: “The answer I give for the loudest word that remains is this: abide in Christ. This abiding is not based on weakness in face of the strength of the aggressor, but is built on daily Mass, in which every day we are conformed to Christ, crucified in the hope of resurrection. He is our daily food and our bulwark in this storm. In the face of all this desperation, we cry out: Christ is our hope.”


Fr. Jonathan


The annual Marathon races, run in many cities throughout the world, are organised to celebrate one of mankind’s greatest sporting achievements.  They are certainly testing events – testing the fitness, strength, passion and will, perseverance and courage, of all those taking part – but they are much more than this, in that they bring populations and cities together in peaceful competition – people of good-will in a common cause, that is.  They are also responsible for the raising of very large amounts of money for charities, benefiting many of the disadvantaged in societies.  At least, all this was the reason for, and the design and purpose of, such events – that is until Boston USA, and Monday, 15 April 2013.

At around 4.10 pm on Monday afternoon, two bomb explosions were detonated near to the Finishing Line of the Boston Marathon, the second coming some 15 seconds after the first, and organised in such a way as to kill and maim many of those trying to escape – in panic – the effects of the first.  To date, three people were killed in the blasts, and over 170 injured – many of them seriously.  It is thought that the death-toll will, inevitably, rise.

On hearing the news of this atrocity, and like many others, I suspect, I felt saddened by the whole panorama of what happened in Boston that afternoon – saddened by the fact that many people had been killed and injured, many very seriously, in the two bomb blasts, constructed and designed to cause fear and havoc, together with maximum suffering and death to runners and spectators.

Boston Bomb_4

  Smoke and Flames Set the Scene of the First of the Marathon Bomb Blasts – Boston – 15 April 2013

As I write this short article, it is not known who, how many, individuals or groups, home grown or foreign, perpetrator(s) lie behind this ‘terrorist’ attack – defined as such by President Obama – or for what reason the bombs were detonated, other than to cause maximum terror amongst the population of Boston – and the greater world.  But one thing is clear – this is bad medicinemedicine of the very worst kind.  When I mentioned the event to Father Jonathan, his reaction was one in line with all good-thinking people, I am sure.  The following is a quotation from his note:

“I am sure that there are underlying problems for this scourge in today’s world, which is the work of the devil in my view. But it is fostered by the great difficulties that, wittingly or unwittingly, we have created in this world and the greatest of these is the massive divide between rich and poor. The worst aspect of this is not in Britain, where large numbers of men women and children die while we are living in relative luxury. I am told 8 per cent live like us: 92 per cent have quite a different style of living.  But the poverty gap is also in our own country.  And it would be unwise to pin all the blame for terrorism on poverty!! It is much broader than that and yet this is an area that must be “addressed” and “resolved” if we are to help to undermine terrorism ….. I think, sadly, there will be more ‘terrorism’ and ‘dreadful events’ like the recent Boston event. They are going on all the time in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere, but don’t affect us in Britain so closely so are not so ‘important for us’”.

Certainly, I am in agreement with what Father says.  Many of the points he makes ring true: they are evil and the work of the devil.  There is nothing about God (or any Supreme Being of whatever belief), or of brotherly love, in any of these dastardly and cowardly acts.  The disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is also a very important factor, as are the great differences between the many cultures of this world.  But, I am sure that religious extremists also play a part – though this cannot be said of the Boston attacks, as no motive has yet been identified.

Boston Bomb_1

 Officers of the FBI Painstakingly Search the Scene of One Blast

Politics, in its pure sense, is all about the study of human behaviour and the influences that govern choices made by human beings – beings endowed with free will.  It includes the influences that act on people making such choices. Terrorism, on the other hand, is all about the efforts to use violence and fear in order, systematically, to influence by coercion, the choices made by the people of the world, whether for political, religious or ideological ends.

And as Father Jonathan rightly points out, the reasons that underlie terrorism are many and quite varied.  Religious fanaticism and intolerance are factors often blamed – perhaps, today, amongst the most common – but the ways in which the very poor and disadvantaged are treated by the rich nations and peoples of the world cannot be discounted.  Then we have racism, and feelings born out of anger, hatred, revenge – to say nothing of colour prejudice.  All of these are negatives, and all are ‘enlivened and seasoned’ by evil, quite the opposite of God’s Commandment to ‘love one another – as I have loved you’.

Some decades ago, I seem to remember, one never heard the word terrorism, but then, life was much simpler (and happier), in my view.  Today, things have become much more complicated, with the advancement, worldwide, of communications, technology, etcetera, so that populations of the many nations are much better informed of all that is going on in nation states ‘next door’ or many thousands of miles away.  Many are much more widely travelled, especially in those coming from the ‘better-off’ sections of international society, and when one throws all this into the ‘mix’, then what comes out is not always for the better.  Evil travels just as quickly as good, and perhaps the lessons are easier to learn!

 As time has moved on, therefore, we have had more and more heinous events, such as the one in Boston, to swallow, and the taste left behind is worse than bile.  In the last twenty years, the practice of blowing people to ‘kingdom come’ has become much more common, so much so, that, since the USA and the Twin Towers of 9/11, acts of terrorism are being practised in the many nations of today, and with increasing persistency; sad to say they are much too common today.  The UK, Europe, the many states of Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan), Indonesia, the Middle East (Iraq, Syria), are areas that spring readily to mind – never free from that latent – and many times explicit – threat of evil actions designed to alter the course of a nation’s history.


 1)  A Boy of 8 years Killed in the Blasts.  2) The Boston Reaction – in Lights – to the Blasts

 The outrage and fears are enough, I would suggest, to result in feelings of hatred and the need for revenge amongst otherwise right-minded people, who see themselves always on the receiving end of these acts of terror – an understandable reaction!  However, thank God and Christianity, for pointing out that this is not the way.  Against all the negatives created by terrorists and their acts of horror, our answer should not be written likewise, but rather in terms which recognise hope – as opposed to despair – in love – as opposed to hatred – and in forgiveness – as opposed to the need for revenge.  The ‘Our Father’, as taught to us by Jesus, His Son, should be our guide; it is the only way.

Father Jonathan’s note began with the words: “I pray every day for the underlying problems of injustice and poverty in our world; for good dialogue between word religions, especially Islam and Christianity and an end to terrorism.”  If we were to add such prayers as this to the ‘Our Father’ in our daily prayers to God – millions and millions of us – then it might just be enough to turn, perhaps, all of this, the world and its problems, on its head.  If it made the difference of only one such heinous act, then lives would be saved.  But, God only knows, it may make a huge difference and rid the world of this scourge.


Earlier this week the death was announced of Margaret Thatcher, Baroness, former Prime Minister, ex Member of Parliament, wife, mother and grandmother.  As regards the plaudits, I could go on and on.  Since her death was announced, at the age of 87, the political pundits, politicians from the various parties, former statesmen and women, peers of the Realm, union leaders, union members and many people from all walks of life – especially commoners – have been voicing their opinions on television.  When watching the news programmes, etcetera, it has been impossible to escape the political winds of opinion that have been advanced – and, to say the least – the immediate conclusion to which one is forced is that they are all very widely at variance, one with another.


Many experts have said that Mrs Thatcher, if nothing else, exerted a very divisive influence on the Nation, and this is certainly one of the big impressions one is left with, after listening to all the reports.  By many, especially the past and present members of her own Conservative Party, she was a very strong Prime Minister who, to some extent, restored Great Britain to something of its former glory; they would argue that her influence and legacy is still apparent today.  There are millions, I would suggest, holding firm to quite the opposite point of view.  To the unions and many of the union members, she was hated for the policies she adopted, forcing these through Parliament and into legislation in the teeth of virulent opposition; millions of working class people still blame her Thatcherite policies for the effect they had on them, their families and their working lives.

In this short blog, I have no wish to join the debate, one way or another; I do not consider myself qualified to judge the lady who was re-elected three times to the highest office in the land.  I am quite sure that, just as we are all less than perfect, so was Margaret Thatcher. She will have introduced many things into this United Kingdom that were good.  Equally, I am quite sure that, in some areas, she made mistakes; in all of us, there is good and bad, correctness and error – and sometimes it takes time and distance in order to assess, correctly and with prudent detachment, the rights and wrongs of a person’s life – especially, one in high office – the highest in the country.

But, there is one point I wish to make – and to make it forcefully.  Since her death was announced just a day or two ago, many of her supporters have heaped praise on her as a person and on the politics she followed.  Many have disagreed with such opinions and have decried her and her policies, and they, to be sure, are entitled to their opinions.  But, already, we have heard many heaping shame on her and her life.  I have heard at least one say she should have died 60 years ago and then the damage she did to this country would not have happened.  There have been ‘malodorous’ celebrations of her passing in Scotland, in some areas of the North of England and some politicians have voiced their view that she was the most divisive person ever to have held political high office and that the population will never recover from the disastrous things she did in the name of Britain. What has not so much surprised me, rather confirming in me the lack of good values in our British society is the apparent hate, that did not take long to come to the fore, in some sections of the population. Some exhibit the most disgraceful lack of respect for a person that has just died, but this does not seem to matter to the people who are calling her by every infamous name conceivable.


In my humble opinion, a woman, ostensibly a Christian, who served the country as a ‘patriot’ for many years, wife, mother and grandmother, has died and gone to meet her Maker.  I believe she will have to account for her actions when she meets her God in heaven, and in such circumstances, demanding the proper level of respect from ordinary people everywhere, is the least we should be doing.

Our Christian values are not to pour scorn and hatred on her and her life, when her body lies inert in its coffin. The negative values may be understandable, as she may have hurt some classes of people – in whatever way.  But, the values we should live by, and the only ones that will bring peace and harmony to our country, include that we should forgive those who have ‘trespassed against us’. There is no real alternative: it is the only way to live out our human existence. The laws of the Gospel are not so much remote laws from on high; rather, they set out what is true for the inner spirit of the person and therefore of the community or common good. What is presently going on in this country of ours, from some sections of the population, is nothing to do with love or forgiveness:  the message is simply one of hate, hate, hate!

I write this, not judging those who engage in this futile exercise, but pointing out the objective facts. It is well known that hate does more harm to the hater than the hated. This does not mean that we should not have opinions that we passionately believe in; rather it is the hate, itself, that is in question.

So, just what are so many of our fellows in Britain playing at in 2013? It seems to me that whatever it is, it has nothing to do with Christianity; yet, it has a lot to say about our British people of today.  I have a feeling that there may be more balanced feelings for her in foreign lands.  I wonder!


Easter tide, the resurrection of Jesus, and the Eucharist are closely linked, and this threesome achieves its ultimate culmination in heaven. The Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass is a fascinating Prayer. It is intended to be our contemplation of heaven; more than that, it is our participation in the life of heaven. Every Mass we celebrate links heaven and earth, and if for some, it may be thought rather dull, repetitive and boring, what could – needs to change, essentially – is what that bored parishioner feels in heart and mind. It is possible to enter the reality of heaven when anyone, lay person or ordained priest, is ‘celebrating’ Mass. We can engage in our heart and mind, linking our felt experience of life, of prayer, or forgiveness and salvation, to what we hear. The good and bad things of life, all that is part of the heavenly journey for each one of us and all of our experience is linked for each person with the presence of God.

My limited experience of the Orthodox Liturgy has led me to realise that they are excellent at making a celebration in Church feel like a moment of heaven. The emotive and repetitive singing, the incense (used quite a lot), the appearances (and disappearances) of the priest, the many candles burning, the choir responding, all of these different factors contribute to the experience; their services are not so functional, and matter-of-fact, as our liturgy. For me, the most memorable event comes from an occasion 40 years ago, when a friend, Fr Symeon Piers, celebrated the Orthodox liturgy in the chapel contained in a caravan, just outside the hostel for Orthodox boys, attached to Ampleforth College. I still have a vivid memory of the sense of ‘the sacred’. But, be warned: their Sunday Mass is not three quarters of an hour long – it is sometimes three hours long!

Mass at St. Mary's

It is possible to enter the reality of heaven when anyone, lay person or ordained priest, is ‘celebrating’ Mass. 

I find it helpful to realise, and to try and imagine, at Mass, what heaven is like. I see it as a combination of many things – a kind of vortex of dynamic fire, a wonderful ‘court’ where all are focussed on glorifying the One who sits on the throne, at the heart of it all, a huge ‘Ocean of Love’, a continuous and changing relationship with others who are there, all united in Love who is God, within the vortex of the dynamic fire; in that vortex there is always more to be understood, enjoyed and shared in. Each person may well elaborate their own ‘pictures’, possibly ‘images’, of just how the scene is portrayed. My image, or picture, of heaven is influenced by the well documented and famous experience of Paradise that was given to Chiara Lubich in 1949. (If you want to read more about this, please go to the website of the Parish, to documents and albums, scroll down to documents and you will find an English translation of a talk given by Chiara Lubich, herself, on 30 June 1961 in Switzerland).


 Andres Rublev’s Holy Trinity

In heaven, God the Father is the focus of the dynamic joy of all, because all comes from Him, and returns to Him. This is made possible by the Word of God – through whom all things were made and who is the risen Jesus Christ – and in the power of the Holy Spirit, through whom we gain the graces that enable us to be one with Jesus, whilst on the journey to the Father for his glory.

The Preface that begins the Eucharistic Prayer is the ‘give away’:

‘It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God through Christ our Lord…’ 

This is followed by the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, which proclaims the glory of God the Father, and the blessedness of the ‘One Who Comes In The Name Of The Lord’. Here, right at the start, all is focussed on the holiness, the glory of God the Father, and our thanksgiving to be at one with Him, united with Him – inserted into Him – and His Love.

Focussing on the second Eucharistic prayer, the shortest of them all, it begins in relationship to God the Father.

‘You are indeed Holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness…’

abott says Mass

 Abbot Cuthbert Madden presiding at the Funeral Mass

of Bishop Ambrose Griffiths in St Mary’s Leyland  

Here, we implore the Holy Spirit to use his power to make present in the bread and wine, the person of Jesus Christ. We enter heaven only through the experience of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus; no wonder that we have the account of the institution of the Eucharist in each Eucharistic prayer. The Eucharist makes present, for us, this once and for all, redemptive event of Calvary and the Resurrection, here in our own time. This event, and all the graces that flow from it, is what brings all the inhabitants of heaven, to their home there. It is central to the joy, and thanksgiving, of heaven; it is pure, self-giving Love, that each lives to the fullness of the differing capacities of everyone present.

shroud image

Image of Christ on the Holy Shroud 

Within the Eucharistic prayer, there are prayers of request, as it were, realistically introducing the idea that we, on earth, need the help of God, the Holy Spirit, to be worthy of Paradise: 

‘Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit’.

Then, after more prayers for the living and the dead, the prayer ends with the wonderful Doxology to the Holy Trinity, proclaiming the utter majesty, goodness and glory of God; the prayer ends as it begins:

‘Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours for ever and ever’.  

There follows the ‘Great’ AMEN, and one can readily understand just why the congregation is asked to put heart and soul into that ‘massive’ response.

Potentially, in the Mass, everyone present has simply brought their poor and weak selves into Paradise; there, and together, all are united in the One Body of Christ; all thus share a moment of heaven.

Fr. Jonathan