Archive for November, 2013

It all began for me with the Sunday before Christ the King, 17th of November. “In this little box there are 59 special heart pills for the good of body, soul and the whole of life.” So proclaimed Pope Francis, to the 100,000 people on the square in front of him, at the 12 noon Angelus, that Sunday morning. I would never have learnt about this episode had friends not told me of it.

There are 59 pills, or beads, on the rosary.

pic 2
pic 5

Pope Francis at his “window” explains the 59 little pills – All is revealed

Here at Leyland St. Mary’s, we imitated the Pope and gave out some rosaries, in Church, to mark the end of the “Year of Faith”, with an explanation of how to pray the rosary. It seems more important to do something than merely to speak, endlessly, about Faith, Hope, God, Love, Jesus and the Gospel. It was something special to see many people leaving Church, on Sunday last, and looking joyfully at the little pamphlet about how to say the rosary – and with a smile on their faces.

pic 4

Since then Pope Francis has done so many other things; they are all aspects of evangelisation, because he knows that gestures and facts count much more than words. Possibly the most important is the publication, on Tuesday 26 November 2013, of a long document on Evangelisation, called “The Joy of the Gospel”. In Latin, its name is “Evangelii Gaudium”.

It is a beautiful document; at 90 pages of A4 in length, it is too long to publish, but there is a summary of it on our website at,, under the documents and albums button; (then scroll down to documents). This summary was produced for the press release on Tuesday last. Should they wish to, anyone could download the whole long document, by using a search engine and putting in the Latin title. It is easy to read, and is full of joy at the start. (I have only had time to begin reading it).

Pope Francis points out that our whole life should be evangelical, and that Jesus, who is always new in his inspiration, provides many new ways to evangelise, that are different to preaching. These new ways may not quite be like my experience of Monday last, in Liverpool! On my day off, I walked through the ‘Liverpool One’ shopping precinct. There, on his own, dressed in a smart suit, amid a teeming busy crowd, was a young, personable man with a nice face, who was proclaiming to everyone, and nobody, that Jesus is our Saviour. As I walked past, no one paid him any attention; nobody stopped to listen. Another well-dressed man, not quite so friendly looking, thrust a small pamphlet into my hands, about how Jesus is the ‘Good Shepherd’. I wonder whether such activities do any good at all. Much better, may be some practical act of kindness, made by one neighbour to another – or a gesture, like many of those by Pope Francis.

One such gesture came to my knowledge only this week. In the secular press, it was reported that a priest, in Rome, refused to baptise a child, whose mother was a single parent and she was not a church-goer. Somehow, Pope Francis traced her ‘phone number and rang her. He then told the woman that he would baptise the baby!  What a lovely gesture!

The spirit of this new document, (“The Joy of the Gospel”), is one of welcoming everyone, whosoever and wherever, they find themselves. It begins in an explosion of joy, that should be the spirit within every Christian, because a Christian knows that he, or she, is redeemed by Jesus, and then offered a life in union with Jesus, and so with God. The Pope insists that, we Catholics, including the priests, should not make life difficult for others, but welcome them. The first pages of the document are ‘thick’ with quotes, from scripture, that resonate with joy; they show the point the Pope is making, is the same as the message of the Bible.

It contains some amusing phrases, and some of the meanings go very deep; I quote:

“There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter”.

“Thanks to our encounter with the person of Jesus, with God’s Love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human”.

“An evangeliser must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”

Once again, Pope Francis is giving us hope. We all need hope – hope that links to our inner spirit – and which brings out joy, even when circumstances might make us feel down-hearted, even broken-hearted. Thank God, for the evident signs of light shining in the darkness; the darkness will never prevail over the light.

Fr. Jonathan

Towards the end of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ there are two quite touching lines which describe the death of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.  They are spoken by his friend Horatio:

“Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight sweet prince,

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” 

(Hamlet Act V, Sc. II)


 Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet – 1887

They remind me very much of the words of ‘In Paradisum’, a quite beautiful and touching ancient anthem that we recite at the end of a Requiem Mass, usually, as the body of the deceased is being taken from church to his or her place of rest:

“May angels lead you into Paradise;

may the martyrs receive you at your coming

and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem.

May a choir of angels receive you,

and with Lazarus, who once was poor,

may you have eternal rest.”

By now we are well into November, the month of All Saints and of All Souls.  It is the month when, traditionally, we remember all those who have died, and gone before us to their place of rest, and in this, I refer to all those who have died in war, and in many other ways, together with our own relatives and friends.

The Book of Wisdom makes the point that there is just one way to enter into this world – and only one way to leave it – and it is as well that we remember this throughout our lives.

We remember the dead in our prayers, for it is not given to everyone to live such a life of holiness as to be able to expect that, once life is finished for them on earth, they should be welcomed into heaven, without a stay in Purgatory.  It is not necessary that we should pray for those who have achieved their goal – paradise for all eternity – as they are the saints who pray for us.  However, “it is a holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead, that they may be released from their sins,” and so we pray for all those others who suffer some period of separation from God, before being united with him in heaven.

Father Jonathan, who follows the activities of Pope Francis assiduously, adds a rider at this point – a rider in the words of His Holiness, on the subject of sinning, repentance and forgiveness:

In St. John’s first letter chapter one verse eight we read: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”. Pope Francis asks a good question on this point:  ”But what is the difference between sin and scandal?” The difference, he said, is that “whoever sins and repents asks for forgiveness, he feels weak, he sees himself as a child of God, and he humbles himself and asks Jesus to save him. But the one who gives scandal does not repent and continues to sin and pretends to be a Christian”. It is as though he leads “a double life,” and he added, “The double life of a Christian causes great harm … it is hypocrisy”. (Sermon at Santa Marta, 11 November 2013). We need to make sure we are humble children of God and not corrupt sinners who defy God.

golden carpet_2

Some time ago, I remember sitting quietly, at home alone, and without the often disturbing company of the television, and it was then that I was arrested by the thought of that walk along ‘Sunset Lane’.  Perhaps the name will ‘give the game’ away, but Sunset Lane is inevitably a ‘One Way Street’; there is no carriageway in the returning direction.  And, there is one further restriction on travel along this road, for one must travel along it alone. People travel along it every day – many times in their thousands – but, essentially, they travel this road as individuals, one person, one heart, one spirit.

Men, women and children, of all ages, from all sorts of stations in life, young and old, rich and poor – it makes no difference once they are on this road – all heading in just one direction. And, they only ever travel this way once in their lives.  There may be many times when a person may think he has reached Sunset Lane, but then at the last minute, he finds that he was on a different route and not actually on the Lane as first thought.

Where does it lead?  Who waits for us? What future is there when we get to the end of the Lane? No one really knows and though many travel this way trusting and believing that they know who, and what, is waiting, they do so in faith alone, for no one knows for certain.  Unfortunately, many travel this lonely road without caring, with complete disregard and utter contempt – throughout all of their lives – refusing to believe they would ever meet anyone at the end of this Lane.  I shudder at the thought of the fate that may be awaiting some of these – and pray for them – for some saving grace that may help them.

Now, readers of this short blog may be starting to think that they could have been reading something not quite so dark – not quite so depressing – and I can readily understand their feelings.  It is not easy for one to ‘dig a little of his own grave’ every day, though different orders of monks – Christian and many others, have been recorded over hundreds of years as doing just that, and St. Benedict, the father of monasticism in Europe, foretold his own death by six days, and instructed his monks, secretly, to dig his grave.  On the sixth day, Benedict fell ill, died, and was buried there.


St. Benedict with Cross and Rule

On Ash Wednesday we are told to ‘remember that thou art but ash and unto ash thou must return’, and so, within our faith(s), we are reminded frequently that life on this earth will come to an end, one day, and there is nothing we can do about it. Even Jesus and Mary, His Mother, had to face death.  So, what can we do in the face of that walk along ‘Sunset Lane’?

Physically, we can do nothing, but mentally, we can prepare – and the saving graces in all of this are faith, hope and trust in God’s goodness.  When created, God never intended that we should have to face death.  He created us to live – and it was only through envy and pride that mankind was tempted to challenge God’s power.  Human kind has faced death ever since, and the Book of Creation explains and tells us why.  But, in being expelled from that perfect life in ‘The Garden’, God made us a promise – to give us Mary, who would crush the serpent’s head under her heel – by being mother to God’s Son – our redeemer, and the only one able to save the human race from utter devastation.

That Redeemer came, lived and showed us how to live, then suffered and died for the sins we men, and women, have committed, will commit.  He rose from the dead, thus proving his divinity, and God’s favour for all humanity.  Therein lies our source of hope – and we must never forget it.  If we believe in God’s goodness, and in his favour, we shall die – yes – but then live for all eternity, in God’s goodness and majesty.

It seems there may be ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, after all.


Many Streams – One River:

On Saturday 9th November, history was made at the meeting called, “Many Streams – One River”, a gathering of 1,600 people, involved in 20 different Church (Ecclesial) movements, all meeting at Westminster Hall, from 10.30 am – 5.00 pm. The event came less than five months after the world meeting of ecclesial movements, and communities, with Pope Francis at the Vatican, on Pentecost Sunday. By the grace of God, I was able to be present. Most certainly, this week-end, there will comments in the Christian Press – for us the Catholic newspapers. It was a new, first step, on a long road for the Church, I suspect, because this event has been awaited for years; at last, it has taken place. To be doing something, together with members of other movements, each with its own charism, is not easy. It is very similar to the getting of religious orders together, to support and help each other, with no other aim but God’s glory, the good of the Church and of humanity.

pic 1

Background Picture on the Stage Screens

Participants on the day – described as ‘An A-Z of New Life in the Church’ – included: Ascent, Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Chemin Neuf Community, Faith Café, Focolare, Jesus Youth, L’Arche, Madonna House, The Maranatha Community, Mothers Prayers, Neo-Catechumenal Way, Schoenstatt, St. Egidio, Sword of the Spirit, Sion Community, Teams of Our Lady and Youth 2000.

Archbishop Nichols opened the day and thanked everyone present for the way they enrich the life of the Church, concluding: “I do hope that the Church may ever grow from the gifts given to you and through you passed on to so many others”.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor said it was significant that Pope Francis’ first visit, outside Rome, was to meet the asylum refugees from Africa, on Lampedusa, many of their colleagues having died at sea, on their ‘escape to freedom’. The Cardinal said: “He sees God as you and I should. He sees God everywhere. Pope Francis is a witness before he is a teacher.” He said Pope Francis has challenged the Church and each Christian to go out, beyond themselves, because the world needs to meet God in order to find its identity, to find justice, peace and unity.  He ended by saying: “I want to assure you how much the Church values you. The Movements are a vital part of the Church … And we are very blessed in our country to have all of you. It gives me encouragement.”

pic 2

Inside the Hall

To summarise the meeting, in brief: Every movement leads people to have a personal encounter with Jesus; to meet him, in different ways. The ideal of unity was manifesting with almost every movement – each one, almost without exception, being ecumenical in its expression. Twenty ‘Movements’ were present; the organisation was splendid and took place in a ‘seamless’ way without a hitch; it was as though some unseen hand was directing, quietly, silently, from behind the scenes. The 1600 present represent others who could not come so easily, all of whom love the Church, and want to further its mission, as God is leading us so to do.

pic 4

 Many from different groups sing together “We Believe in Love”

For me, a very ‘bright light’ came from L’Arche, and their Service users, who are very severely handicapped – much more than those we might see at Church on Sundays. Some might say that such men and women should be quietly looked after and kept out of normal circulation; that would really put them on the edges of normal society. During the day, there was one lad in a wheel-chair, who shouted out during the whole day, loudly, filling the hall with noise. It was not constant, but intrusive and, at first, I wondered how the speakers would cope; I found myself resenting his presence. Then the ‘penny’ slowly ‘dropped’ for me – he was joining in, doing so in the only way he could, knowing from his L’Arche experience that he was loved and cherished – and my attitude began to change. His total inadequacy was saved by the knowledge that he loved, and was being loved, and this helped me to appreciate the totality of my own real worth and value. What a constant conversion it is, truly, to know that I am loved, not by God alone, but by the others who are trying to live, and love me, in God!

Kevin, from L’Arche, emphasised the same point. He spoke of his encounter with Edith, a person with multiple disabilities, whose life had been devoid of love. The movement’s founder, Jean Vanier, says that to love someone, is to reveal to them that they are precious. Over the years, Kevin revealed to Edith, that she was precious, that she was valued and loved. He said: “What is remarkable and life-changing, and potentially world-changing, is that Edith had become someone whose respect I needed, someone by whom I measured myself.  Edith had revealed to me that I was precious, that I was loved.”

pic 3

L’ Arche Community Mime

The L’ Arche Community also did a mime: it was beautiful to behold, as they passed love from one to the other, and then to everyone. During this mime a lady who was severely mentally handicapped, and yet as free and happy as a bird, walked and danced around the stage. She was only very gently led away, with much love and no comments, when she rather interfered with what was going on. Nobody minded, and everyone continued their simple acting; it was a moment of peaceful love, without anger or rancour – and it was beautiful.

Celia, from Focolare, said: “Sometimes the movements are looked upon with scepticism or suspicion. Are they ‘happy-clappy’? Is it a ‘frothy’ faith? Are they ‘right wing’? Or ‘left wing’? Do they take people away from the parish? In reality they enable people to walk in the normality of life in God, and to find their role in the parish or anywhere else.”

Gary, from Schoenstatt, said: “We aren’t traditional, we aren’t progressive – we are Christians in a modern world. We want to help to build the Church we love, to support people in their faith, in their hope and in their love. We want to show that Christianity is more than a ‘decoration’. It is a way to live, a different quality of life. I stopped being the person that took the odd collection at Church to being fully active and doing my bit. I learnt that it’s not just about doing the massive things, it’s doing a lot of small things that have the biggest impact.”

This wonderful day lasted from 10.30am to 5.15pm and it was over in a ‘flash’. It has left me pondering; reflecting and praising God in my heart; realising that God is working away, even in Britain, and this despite all appearances!

Fr. Jonathan

It isn’t often that a short reflection from another is one that I so fully agree with. This one comes from my friend Costanzo Donegana, a rangy, bearded, loveable and thoughtful Italian missionary priest who has worked for years in Brazil. He is also a journalist and has written many articles, but his little book of short thoughts entitled “A God who drives on the wrong side of the Road” is strikingly good. The one below has the title “Living dangerously”.

‘“Woe to you who are rich!” (Lk 6: 24) “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10, 25)

Pic 3


Is Jesus hard on the wealthy? Yes in regards to riches, but he has the greatest compassion for rich people. “Greatest”, because they live on the edge of a precipice and run the risk of plunging into it. Their lives are based on a misconception; the foundation stone of their lives is very fragile; indeed it contains in itself deadly poison. “In his riches, man lacks wisdom: he is like the beasts that are destroyed”, Psalm 49 declares about human beings in the carnal language of the Old Testament. Jesus shouts out against the wealthy to wake them up from their hypnosis to try, (with the greatest compassion), to move them away from the precipice.

Wealth makes them blind and they are unable to see Lazarus at their door: it is not that they are evil; they simply do not notice him, they ignore him. He has no part to play in their lives. They cannot see that Lazarus is worth much more than their possessions, precisely because he does not own them. He is a person, not an empty dummy as they are.

pic 4

 Lazarus at the Rich Man’s Door

The lie about wealth is dangerous for everyone because it is so bewitching. A poor person may be rich at least in his longings. It is a contagious virus that spreads and devours those who have caught it, emptying them of their humanity. To counter this Jesus proclaimed: “Blessed are the poor in spirit – right into their deepest fibres – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, (Mt. 5: 3) and the rich cannot enter that kingdom. The poor are blessed, i.e. fulfilled, whole, true, happy, without the need of anything, save that their humanity is from God, the only one they trust.

Jesus said all this, and moreover he lived like this, radically. Who knows why Christians and the Church (permit me the distinction) often think, and act so differently.

Pic 2

How courageous, fatherly, manly and loving Jesus is, if you think about it!  If you know anything of Pope Francis, you would find he would agree 110% with what is written above!

Father Jonathan