Archive for December, 2013

We Saw His Glory:

This Madonna and Child, shown below, has been produced by the famous Sister Anthony Wilson SND, who is well known in Liverpool, for all her artistic work for the Metropolitan Cathedral – “Paddy’s Wigwam” as it is ‘affectionately’ known by the “Scousers”.

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I like the image very much, because Jesus is shown with a typical English face, (grown up, he might be an English football star, probably playing for one of the Liverpool teams).  Mary is a young, vibrant woman; her glory is shown in her gold dress, adorned with the cross motif, while she carries Jesus in red swaddling clothes – a foretaste of his martyrdom – looking intelligent, alert and ready to grow in wisdom and age, for his great mission of redemption.  Above is the Holy Spirit, hovering, and Jesus is clearly the Holy One of God, for he has the halo. Mary, his mother, holds him, at once protecting him, whilst almost giving him away; Jesus and Mary are clearly under the protection also of the Holy Spirit – under the shadow of His wings, whilst Jesus, with his outstretched arms, demonstrates where those arms will be on the cross.

God’s Glory! What is this? The Angels sang; “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will”. Whatever God’s glory is, it always remains the same; it is not affected by what goes on in creation. However God is not an impassive prime-mover; he is our loving Father, merciful and kind, knowing us through and through, like our human fathers, and he wants us to know something of his glory. St John’s Gospel says that the Cross of Jesus is his Glory – self-giving love.

God’s glory is unshakeable and not dependent on a human way of looking at things! It need not boast, or seek praise from anyone. Jesus, born in obscurity, amid troubles and suffering, the Word of God made flesh, shows his glory according to the Gospel on the Cross; birth, death, life’s ‘ups and downs’, are all one in his glory.

Our understanding of God’s Glory comes when “I abide in Him as He abides in me”. I love the English hymn “Abide with me” of the 19th century Anglican priest, Henry Lyte. One verse strikes me as so realistic and entirely apposite: “When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”  The Word of God is born again in us, each day if we let him. Every day is Christmas Day. Its fruit, in us, is peace. May peace reign everywhere – and not just at Christmas!  

A Happy and Holy Christmas to Everyone.

Fr. Jonathan

My friend Manfred Kochinky has died at about the age of 55. I have known Manfred since 1979, when this tall 6 feet 6 inches German man, from Hanover, arrived in the UK to be a part of the small group of focolarini. A focolarino is a lay person who is dedicated to God, and who lives the spirit of communion with God and with each other. This is the charism, (a gift from God to help be a disciple of Jesus) that people who know, or belong closely to the Focolare movement, follow.

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Most focolarini live in a house of four or five companions, and do an ordinary job. Manfred’s work was connected with the Criminal Justice System, especially working with young offenders on the edges of society. In the end, he was employed by the Home Office, and became a Prison Manager.


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Manfred lived in Edinburgh for 13 years and loved the Scots who reciprocated his love.

In their small communities, the focolarini live out their vocation for the glory of God, and the good of many others, including others of the Focolare family, and the majority of people who have no knowledge of such an ‘ideal’ of communion. Manfred, however, was not the type of person you would take for a deeply religious man, (and I know many monks in our monastery like that – others too, who are priests, or dedicated lay-people). Manfred was, and remained till the end, so human, earthy, moody, cheeky and, sometimes, hard to understand; the kind of person you would want to call your friend on a good day. Then, with the onset of his illness his life developed, and changed.

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About April 2012

In February 2012, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour; since then, culminating in his death last week, 12th December 2013, he has lived knowing that he had an incurable and fast growing cancer. God gave him 18 months, and in that period, not only did he enter into a new phase of the holy journey of life himself, but he helped many others to face up to the challenges of their personal journey, including myself.

In November 2012, he gave an interview published in the ‘New City Magazine’. This outlines the change that occurred in him. In that interview Manfred was asked to share his reflections about his illness covering the past seven months:

“I think my illness has profoundly changed my life! Firstly it has shown me that I am totally in God’s hands. Whilst I may previously have lived an active life which gave me the illusion that I was actually doing something, now I realised that it was not the ‘doing’ that was effective but the ‘being’. I became aware of how much God loves me and has always loved me as I am. He does not want me to be perfect: he just wants me to love him above everything else. Suddenly the illness makes sense: it is there to make me love more, to be there for the others and to give my life to God, moment by moment. I realised the only thing I had was the present moment. I could worry about the future; I could regret the past but could change neither. My only chance was to live the present. It does not make the illness nice! It turns it into an opportunity.”

Manfred lived in communion and had many friends, some of whom share the spirituality that he entered as a young man. He explains in the same interview about why he dedicated his life to God in the Focolare community.

“I don’t really know to be honest! I don’t think I ever had a vocation in the ordinary sense of the word. It was a continual saying “yes” to what God proposed in each moment that brought me to here. I feel very strongly that I am not here because of my own merit, but because I had God’s help, through others, and through circumstances, to say yes to him in each moment. I realised that he, God, loves me, a creature, enormously! Well, to be loved by God, there really isn’t anything better”.

He also was asked why he had shared his experience on Facebook and through other social media.

“Very early on in the illness I understood I could not live this on my own. It all happened very publicly, it was something serious, and I tried to live communitarian spirituality, the spirituality of unity. So it was a logical step to communicate my experience on a daily basis on Facebook to all those who know me. I was keen not to exclude anybody and was careful about the language I used. I was convinced that ‘he who has ears to hear, let him hear’. Nobody was left out. I have the impression it created a community.

At the same time I was able to provide a blog for those who shared my own way of life. It was a sharing on a deeper level. It is a rich experience for me and I believe for many, because it allows me to show how much God is at work in us. It has allowed us to focus on what is really important and live with him in the present moment.”

(The whole interview with Manfred is still available on the Parish website: as a document that can be read; go to ‘Documents and Albums’, then scroll down to documents.)

 One thing that really impressed me about Manfred, that I find a daily help, was his discovery of ‘diamonds’ during the day. In other words, the special moments when there is a moment of love and joy, beyond the normal in some event, some encounter, some good moment. He found these very helpful moments with God. I have found these happening to me, too, each day; they can be found in so many ways. Today, for instance, I found myself preparing for the Christmas liturgy with a member of the music group. We shared about so many different things and got on with the task of preparing joyfully for the Christmas services. It was a joyful, happy, ‘diamond’ time.

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Manfred in the later stages of his illness with his mother

The last time I saw Manfred was on November 8th 2013. He was in bed permanently: his eyesight had gone, he was cared for by carers, who came in to see him four times a day, and by a wonderful companion focolarino, who had come over from Italy for the task, together with others in his house, who continued with their work, as best they could. It was a mammoth task, caring for him, as his needs were numerous; his personal hygiene, food, companionship, fear, prayer, loneliness, the unknown ahead … and the fact that he was so big and so heavy.

We were assembled there, and it was a good moment, for me, to give him the Sacrament of the Sick. Manfred was keen to be anointed, and as he was lying there, hardly able to see, he smiled, joked and, most certainly, it was another ‘diamond’ moment for me. I think, now, he will find that his life will be one of light and joy, in the company of so many others, in Jesus, with God the Father, the Holy Spirit and with Mary. May he continue to pray for each one of us, as love for him, from many still in this world lives on.

Father Jonathan


Today, Thursday, 12 December, is the Feast of Our lady of Guadalupe.

Christians worldwide are very well acquainted with the many beautiful feasts arranged annually in honour of Our Blessed Lady, but one of the most charming, in my humble view, is that of Our Lady of Guadalupe – largely speaking, I think, because throughout all of the events occurring in 1531, on the road to Mexico City, it is Mary who takes charge.  She has a message for us!

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It is She who approaches a poor peasant on his way to Mass; it is She who asks that a church be built in her honour at that place; it is She who convinces a very sceptical bishop of her appearances and her wishes; it is She who works miracles of healing; it She who implants her most beautiful image on a humble peasant’s tilda (cloak); it is She who makes a promise that leaves no doubt She is in charge:

“Hear me and understand well, my son the least, that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything.”

All this happened in the winter of 1531, on the road to Mexico City.  Juan Diego, a very poor 57 years old peasant, who lived about five miles from the City, was on his way to morning Mass when he heard music coming from above him on the hill, called Tepeyac Hill; even more surprisingly, a female voice was calling to him from out of the music.  Juan climbed a little higher and he then saw a lady, dressed apparently as one of his own people, at which point the lady told him she was the Virgin Mary, and that she wished him to go and see the bishop and ask that a church be built on the Tepeyac, in her honour, to assist in the conversion of the people of that country, and to be a source of consolation to all the people.

Juan, still flabbergasted, no doubt, did as Our Lady asked, but the bishop was not impressed.  Recognising Juan as a poor, but devout Catholic, he was not prepared at that point to believe in the Virgin’s appearance – or her request for a church – and Juan was forced to return to the Teypeyac, and the ‘Lady’, ‘empty-handed’.  She told Juan to go back to the bishop and repeat her request, and at this, the bishop told Juan he should ask the Lady for a sign that she was the Mother of God, and that she wished a church to be built there.  When he returned to the hill, Mary gave Juan Diego the sign that was needed. Quite miraculously, roses appeared, blooming on the hill in the middle of winter, and Juan gathered the blooms in his tilma, or cloak; Our Lady then arranged the roses, in his tilma, with her own hands, and Juan returned once more to see the bishop. When Juan opened his tilma, allowing the flowers to fall to the floor, it was revealed that a miraculous image of Our Lady had imprinted itself on his tilma.

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 The bishop, Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga, fell to his knees when this happened and came to believe in Juan Diego’s message. A church was built on the site of the apparition, as Mary had requested, and millions of people became converted to Catholicism, upon hearing the accounts of what had taken place at Tepeyac; the news concerning an ordinary peasant, the appearances to him of Our Lady, the erection of a church in her honour and all this plus a ‘miraculous’ image of Our Lady, took that part of the Americas by storm.  In time, the importance of the events was to take the story to a worldwide audience, and all of this many decades before the later appearances of Our Lady at Lourdes and at Fatima.  Again, similar to the two aforementioned Holy Places, to Our Lady of Guadalupe are attributed an incredible number of miraculous cures and interventions, worldwide, but especially in the Americas; she is honoured and venerated by Catholics – and Christians – millions of them in every continent.

The tilma worn by Juan Diego was an ordinary peasant garment, over six feet in length and almost four feet wide, woven out of coarse cactus fibre with a life-span of no more than, perhaps, 20-30 years; experience says it should then have fallen apart, through age, but today, almost 500 years later, it is still intact and shows no sign of disintegration. Superimposed thereon is the exquisite and delicate figure of Our Blessed Lady, an image of almost 5 feet in height.  It has been examined using all the modern techniques, and here it bears remarkable similarities to the Shroud of Turin, in that no paint was used, and chemical analysis has not been able to identify the colour imprint, or how it was applied to the cloak.  Perhaps, even more remarkably, it is said that the pupils of Mary’s eyes, in the picture, reflect the people present at the time of the first sight of the image, and that the stars on Our Lady’s mantle match exactly the stars of a Mexican sky of December, 1531.

Today it hangs above and behind the High Altar, in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, a place of honour visited by millions of pilgrims, annually, to venerate and to pray before Our Lady, “Santa Maria de Guadalupe” – a title chosen by Mary, herself, and her Sanctuary has been visited officially by many, many, Holy Fathers as one of those most ‘Holy Places’, significant in the annals of Christianity. 

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The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City

In 1895, by decree of Pope Leo XIII, the Image of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe was crowned with great solemnity. In 1945, on the 50th anniversary of that crowning, Pope Pius XII proclaimed her Patroness of all the Americas.  Pope John Paul II travelled no less than four times to visit Our Lady at the Sanctuary, the first in 1979 – his first outside Rome – and then again in 1990, 1999 and 2002.  In 1999, he declared Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day, 12 December, to be a Liturgical Holy Day for the whole of the Continent of South America, at the same visit, entrusting to her care, the ’cause of life’, the innocent lives of children throughout the world, especially those in danger of not being born.  The picture below portrays her patronage beautifully:   

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 Our Lady of Guadalupe – Pray for us.


Why Christians Are Meek:

In the novel, “The Afghan” by Frederick Forsyth, there are ruthless killings by those involved with ‘Al Qaeda’ of anyone who may stand in the way of their fanatical ideals. Basically, the novel is about an attempt to perpetrate even a greater atrocity than the destruction of New York’s ‘Twin Towers’, aiming at the deaths of thousands of Western people; in this, the fanatics hope to include many Christians.

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The book is well written and well researched, and is a chilling read. Fanatical hatred, involving the suicide of Islamic extremists – in their hope for many deaths – is woven into the story. The ‘glorious’ deaths of these Islamist ‘martyrs’ will mark, for them, an entry into a supposed paradise, and their “glorious” self-sacrifices will be remembered in the annals of the Muslim world by fellow extremists for hundreds of years. Thank God, the book is fiction!

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 A Group of Orthodox Sisters 

Daily, the world hears about such things in real life, usually not at such a dramatic level, but not that far removed. One of the latest incidents happened in Syria this week; armed men forced their way into a convent and kidnapped a group of helpless, Christian Orthodox nuns. People in the Christian world, and I dare say, many true peace-loving Moslems, are praying for their safe release, unharmed. During his Wednesday audience, yesterday in Rome, Pope Francis asked people to pray for the sisters.

Never in the life of the Church has there been such persecution of Christians, and those who know Church history, are aware that the ‘Blood of the Martyrs is the Seed of the Church’. Martyrs, in the true sense of the word, are those who die for love – love of God, and others – for that ideal. They come from all religions, and none. Most certainly, they are not diabolical, ‘imposter suicide’ martyrs, who die for an ideal of hatred, and the killing of other human beings. A large number of those who are murdered for their beliefs are Christians in today’s world. We know there are many others, too – innocents killed of all religions; fellow Muslims are often known to have killed others of their own faith, for example. Similarly, there may be fanatical Christians, who cannot be called true disciples of Jesus, involved in such evil deeds, somewhere on our earth.

It is true that some Christians do, ruthlessly, kill.  One only has to look at the Mafia, or the IRA movement. Then, take the very rich people, especially those of the world-wide conglomerates, who uphold economic systems that lead to perpetual inequalities of life, especially in the ‘Third World’ and which result in the dying of simple, innocent people from lack of water, food and medicines. These economic systems have built-in structures, often supported by the ‘Western Christian World’ in collusion with those of non-Christian religious persuasions, in the Middle and Far East.

Christian teaching states clearly, and consistently, that it is a grievous sin to kill others; digging just a little deeper, it is true that there are many different interpretations of the teachings of Mohammed, for the Islamic world, where, I suspect, one finds the very same parallel teaching about murder, within that Faith, too. Our Pope Francis, previous Popes and others in the Christian world, condemn unjust economic systems that, more or less, allow the wealthy countries to live so well, while millions in the undeveloped world are dying of disease, hunger and thirst. Things could be very different, and it is not an impossible, or idealistic dream that, one day, all human beings might live in a more united world. We have to do something about it but it will be impossible on our own. We must obtain the help and support of like-minded people. Such people are the silent majority, in our world, but it is surely time to get organised and so overcome the evils around us.

The title for my blog attempts to explain why, in general,  Christians are so meek? We are disciples of Jesus, the ‘Word of God’ made flesh, as we will celebrate, once again, at Christmas with awe and thanksgiving.  That’s fine, BUT, it is not enough just to remember that ‘baby’ and then continue in our self-centred ways, enjoying the good things of life, not living as disciples. The fact is that Jesus, risen from the dead, is alive with us today, sharing his Holy Spirit with us, to lead us on our journey through this world to God the Father. It is the same journey Jesus made, two thousand years ago, and it is lived again, by each one of us, personally, and in our togetherness in the Body of Christ. As we await, joyfully, the celebration of Christmas, day-by-day, we let the risen Lord guide us in the detail of our life, so that we may be made worthy to celebrate, with friends and family, the wonderful mystery of the Incarnation.

After the glory of the resurrection, Jesus, the Word of God, through whom all things are made, has taken unto himself the whole of creation, everything in the heavens, in the earth and in the underworld. In the very beautiful ‘Alleluia Chorus’ of the ‘Messiah’, the composer, George Frederick Handel created some of his most wonderful music, expressing this truth in words of Scripture:

“Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever. Revelation 19:16 16. . . . KING OF KINGS, LORD OF LORDS …”

Should anyone feel the need to prepare, properly, for Christmas, I recommend no more profitable way than to spend an afternoon, listening to, and taking in, Handel’s Messiah. It is an exceptional piece of music, a meditation that outlines, in a wonderful way, the plan of God for humanity, in which each disciple participates.

Through our baptism and our faithful discipleship, we Christians share in the glory that Handel’s music proclaims. Christians have a dignity that could never have been invented, save by God himself. We have the life of the risen Jesus already with us. Our lives, and deaths, contribute to the same plan of God, as fulfilled by Jesus and in which we share already, albeit ‘as in a glass, darkly’ through the majestic dignity of Jesus himself. Our life, as Christians, is hidden with Christ, in God. Within us, in Him living in us, is also the whole of humanity, the whole cosmos, all that was ever created. This is why we have the mark of joy, and love, and hope, as Christians.

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The key to this life of love, leading to the unification of the world, is the Cross, the glory of Jesus, as man, on this earth. It means the loving acceptance of all that brings the cross into my life today, in me, in others, in our families, our country and our world. Suffering, though it does not feel like it, has a loving purpose.

The words written by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians take on a new meaning in this light:

“Though being divine in nature,

he did not claim in fact equality with God,

but emptied himself,

taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness,

and in his appearance found as a man.

He humbled himself by being obedient to death,

death on the cross.

That is why God exalted him

and gave him the name which outshines all names,

so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend

in heaven, on earth and among the dead,

and all tongues proclaim that Christ Jesus is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.”     (Phil 2: 6-11)


If all this is ours, is it any wonder that Christians are pro-actively meek, doing all they can to follow their Master and accepting all the challenges of life, from youth to old age joyfully.  A Very Happy Advent to all.

Father Jonathan