Archive for February, 2014

Enya, as many of you may know, is a beautiful Irish lady; a composer, song-writer and arranger, she has a unique way with a song – especially with music of her own composition and arrangement – and most especially with music that is essentially Celtic in character; she is easy to listen to and her music is quite charming.  You can tell I am a fan! 

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The other afternoon I was listening to an album containing some of her very best songs, and was suddenly struck by the words of one song entitled, “Only Time.”  The lyric contains the following verse:

‘Who can say when the roads meet
That love might be in your heart
And who can say when the day sleeps
If the night keeps all your heart
Night keeps all your heart.’

The questions asked by the words of this verse, and by the other three verses are difficult, if not impossible, to answer.  Questions which ask about the future, about many things that touch the emotions, and about those aspects of our lives founded other than on the reality and the physical, often occupy our minds and cause us frustration when we cannot come up with a solution.

We human beings do not have the powers to see into the future; we do not know what the next minute, hour or day may bring.  Often, we do not know what causes us to act in a particular way towards another; the results of our action may be good, or bad; furthermore we do not know how the other will react to the stimulus of our actions – again, they may be good or bad.  There are so many things we cannot foresee, or control, when it comes to our relationships with other people – but often the good, or bad, will depend on whether our actions – or those of the other – were initiated by love in our hearts – that, or the lack of it.

Turning away from the problems we have with our lack of knowledge – even understanding – on subjects related to our lives in this temporal world, matters are set to become even more uncertain when we begin to look at the spiritual world – at God’s world – and all the things we have been taught by the Gospels.  I was at Mass the other weekend, and was suddenly struck by a passage in the second of the readings – St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:9-10):

“… we teach what scripture calls: the things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard, things beyond the mind of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him.  These are the very things that God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit reaches the depths of everything, even the depths of God.”

I think it is true that we are often puzzled by the Spirit of God – and what He does.  We believe, from faith, that He is the third person of the Blessed Trinity.  Christians all over the world are constantly repeating prayers to ‘God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit’.  The last named is intriguing!

We can, perhaps, more easily accept the role of God the Father, for he is the creator of all that was ever made; he had no beginning and will have no end.  He IS, and always will be.  His existence lies in infinity – something we cannot understand – but, through faith, again, we know He has the ability to do everything, and to know everything; there are no limits to His powers.  We can readily relate to God the Son, for He became man and lived the life of a human on the planet, just as we do.  We believe that He suffered and died in a monumental sacrifice for the sins of mankind.  We also believe that He rose from the dead and eventually returned to heaven, with a promise to be with us for all time, and to return to us on the Last Day.  We then come to the Spirit, and are told that He is the very Spirit of God, that He breathes love and understanding into what we lovingly call the Holy Trinity – three persons – equal, individual, in every way – yet unified in One True God – always and forever.

The words of St. Paul remained in my mind for a good few hours and I then decided I would look up the reference.  I cannot pretend to understand fully what Paul was driving at.  What he was concerned with was to explain that the Holy Spirit is a driving force – profound, and at the very amoebic creation of everything – with infinite understanding of every idea, every thought, every creation that was ever conceived – even to the depths of God the Father and God the Son.  He is all knowledge – and hope, and faith, and love.

I was still giving thought to these matters – my mind often in turmoil – and sometime later, the same mind turned to Pope Francis and his ‘Joy of the Gospel’, again asking questions as to whether he had any ‘pearls of wisdom’ to help with all my questioning.

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Taking us through the Gospels and, in so doing, giving us an explanation of God’s role at the centre of all creation, then setting out for us the part that Jesus played in his incarnation, crucifixion and death, his resurrection and later his ascension, Pope Francis goes on to describe our roles as pastors and lay persons, all of us relating to the world of God in what we do – and what we fail to do – especially the roles we all have concerning evangelisation.  In paragraphs [279] and [280], he makes reference to the actions we take, what inaction means, and then makes special reference to the Holy Spirit, and his overall care for all that is going on.  He is there, looking after things, when we are many times in confusion:

279. ‘Because we do not always see these seeds [… seeds referring to Christ's resurrection calling forth new seeds of a new world], growing, we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7). This certainty is often called “a sense of mystery”. It involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit (cf. Jn 15:5). This fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive and unquantifiable. We can know quite well that our lives will be fruitful, without claiming to know how, or where, or when. We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force. Sometimes it seems that our work is fruitless, but mission is not like a business transaction or investment, or even a humanitarian activity. It is not a show where we count how many people come as a result of our publicity; it is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement. It may be that the Lord uses our sacrifices to shower blessings in another part of the world which we will never visit. The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we entrust ourselves without pretending to see striking results. We know only that our commitment is necessary. Let us learn to rest in the tenderness of the arms of the Father amid our creative and generous commitment. Let us keep marching forward; let us give him everything, allowing him to make our efforts bear fruit in his good time.

280. Keeping our missionary fervour alive calls for firm trust in the Holy Spirit, for it is he who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26). But this generous trust has to be nourished, and so we need to invoke the Spirit constantly. He can heal whatever causes us to flag in the missionary endeavour. It is true that this trust in the unseen can cause us to feel disoriented: it is like being plunged into the deep and not knowing what we will find. I myself have frequently experienced this. Yet there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he wills. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place. This is what it means to be mysteriously fruitful!’ 


The Joy of the Gospel:

In the third and final leg of the trilogy, Fr. Frank Johnson takes a close look at the Pope’s pronouncements on the Role of Women in the Church, and The Church in relation to the poor of the world.  Both subjects are given special mention in Pope Francis’ ‘Joy of the Gospel’, and, because of this, they deserve special consideration. Please read on.

Fr. Jonathan

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The Role of Women: 

Pope Francis also addresses another hot potato, i.e. the role of women in the Catholic Church, he says:

The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood. I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace[72] and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded. The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general. It must be remembered that when we speak of sacramental power we are in the realm of function, not that of dignity or holiness.


The poor:

Right at the start of his papacy, Pope Francis, even by the very choice of his name, has said the Church ought to be Church for the poor, and he dedicates a long section of the document to the question of poverty. ‘In all places and circumstances,’ he says, ‘Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor… The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.’


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Francis also issues a warning: ‘Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down… It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.’

Evangelii Gaudium is a long and detailed document which I would recommend you to read in its entirety. It is a meditation, a call to conversion and deep reflection on the signs of our times.


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Pope Francis does not mind using public transport – what positive changes he is wringing!”  


The Joy of the Gospel (i) :

In the second part of the trilogy, Frank Johnson takes us to Pope Francis’ first official document, Evangelii Gaudium and (i) Concentration on What is Most Beautiful (ii) The New Commandment.  I commend his analysis to all readers.

Father Jonathan

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 Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Francis’ first papal document “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), covers almost every aspect of the life of the Church. It goes from the life of the parish to the problem of world poverty, from how to construct a homily to how to engage in dialogue with those of other faiths, and of none. It is clearly a blueprint for Francis’ papacy and is written in the direct, ‘no holds barred’ way, to which we have grown accustomed, since his election to the See of Rome. It is not a comfortable message, in the sense that it examines the life of the Church, from the viewpoint of the Gospel. What Pope Francis is intent upon is reforming the Church, so that it can fulfil its prime purpose, that is, to spread the Good News and expand the Kingdom of God, here on earth. He says: ‘There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s “fidelity to her own calling”, any new structure will soon prove ineffective.’ 

Concentrate on what is most beautiful: 

Like all true reformers, Francis realises that reform starts with oneself: ‘Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion.’

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Judging by what the media has chosen to highlight over the last few decades, the impression given to the world is that the Catholic Church is concerned mainly with affirming dogma, with teaching on sexual ethics and with preserving tradition. It is an impression that is not too far from the truth, and Pope Francis advocates a different approach: ‘Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed. When we adopt a pastoral goal and a missionary style which would actually reach everyone without exception, or exclusion, the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing.’ 

The New Commandment: 

Pope Francis insists that spreading the Good News cannot be done simply through doctrinal formation. He says that: ‘It has to do with “observing” all that the Lord has shown us as the way of responding to his love.’ Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn15:12).

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Clearly, whenever the New Testament authors want to present the heart of the Christian moral message, they present the essential requirement of love for one’s neighbour: “The one who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the whole law… therefore love of neighbour is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:8, 10). These are the words of Saint Paul, for whom the commandment of love not only sums up the law but constitutes its very heart and purpose: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Gal 5:14). To his communities Paul presents the Christian life as a journey of growth in love: “May the Lord make you and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Th 3:12). Saint James likewise exhorts Christians to fulfil “the royal law according to the Scripture: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (2:8), in order not to fall short of any commandment. 

This week we begin a trilogy – all three articles, you will see – are directly connected with our own, Pope Francis.  In the first of the trilogy, Socius describes  many of the very human, humble and simple traits of His Holiness, especially those aspects that make him so very approachable, down to earth and a man of the people. 

In the second and third parts of the trilogy, focus is shifted to that more serious side of the Pontiff, especially to those aspects highlighted by Francis, himself, in his foundational work, “The Joy of the Gospel”, in which he discloses his thoughts on many matters concerning today’s world, the Church and how these can, and should, relate to one another.  It was written for the ‘New City ‘ magazine by a great friend, Father Frank Johnson, who many will recall was ordained at Leyland St. Mary’s some six years ago.  I very much hope and trust you will enjoy reading what follows over the next three weeks, and may God bless.

Father Jonathan

Father Jonathan, in his weekly blogs, has often written about Pope Francis and about what a new ‘breath of life’ he is breathing into the Catholic Church – and not just into the church –but into our world of today.  Father has, on more than one occasion, drawn our attention to the ordinariness, modesty and humility of Francis, who has been our Pope for rather less than a year.  What an impact he has had – and in a very short time.

Quite naturally, Father Jonathan has also dwelt on the religious aspects of his personality and the effect these are having on the populations of the world – two populations – one Catholic, the other quite divorced from Catholicity and very much belonging to the non-religious echelons of world society, and here Father has drawn attention to the quite mind-boggling effect Francis is having in terms of his evangelising – bringing a ‘new’ Christ to all of those prepared to accept Him.

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Pope Francis – with Gesture – and Beaming Smile

Certainly, in my view, it would be well nigh impossible to compare Pope Francis with any previous pope – though it may be right to draw attention to the fact that many of his predecessors have brought great and powerful new ideas to the Church’s message to the world; it is, however, right and just to point out their messages were very much in keeping with past traditions, though they may have been breaking new ground.  The slight, grey haired man from Argentina, once known to South America, as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, however, has torn up all the many hide-bound ‘do’s and don’ts’ and scattered them to the four winds – and it has not taken him very long to achieve this – bringing with his achievement a complete new idiom.

In a newspaper article, published in the Daily Mail, 26 December 2013, Guy Adams, wrote a very interesting couple of pages on the subject of Pope Francis, and, having read the whole of the article, I have to say that I was quite surprised by many of the changes to the papacy that Francis has introduced – as I see it a new wind blowing through the Vatican – and a winnowing wind of change, at that. 

Guy Adams sub-headline reads – and I quote:

“He lives in a ‘B and B’, uses a second-hand Ford Focus and even makes his guards sandwiches. Yet many believe Francis could be the greatest Pope ever – the man who’s taught the world the meaning of humility.”   

Seemingly, Pope Francis is not averse to using ‘Twitter’ on the ‘Net’ and on Christmas Day just a few weeks ago, he tweeted: “Christ comes among us at Christmas.”   His messages are read, daily, by Presidents Obama, Putin, David Cameron and many other world leaders.  Weekly, he draws massive crowds – into the 100,000′s – to St. Peter’s Square to his ‘Angelus’ meetings and to listen to his addresses, charismatic speeches, many times illustrated by colourful public gestures which undoubtedly belong to him, alone.  He seems to shun any suggestion of ostentation and shies away from pomp and ceremony, preferring instead to do things in a much more simple fashion – and this even in his public duties at the Vatican.

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Pope Francis kisses the feet of a disabled young person

On Maundy Thursday, he knelt to wash and kiss the feet of young offenders – girls – one of them a Muslim.  In July, 2013, he invited many of the homeless to dine with him in St. Peter’s Square.  He has been known to put on a ‘red nose’ posing for comic photos with a newly-wed couple.  He has been observed to publicly embrace a man suffering from the ‘Elephant Man’s’ disease.  He lives in a small, sparsely-furnished apartment, sleeps in a single room, has breakfast in the canteen, together with other guests, pays his own bills, carries his own gear about, refuses to wear the traditional garments of a pontiff – hand stitched, in white, gold and red; instead he wears a simple white cassock, makes his own phone calls, uses public transport, and likes to be seen out and about as an ‘ordinary man.  What an extraordinary man he is – what a pope!

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 Pope Francis joins in the fun at a wedding

The effect of all this – Pope Francis and his total change of style – has been electrifying on the world’s media.  And don’t they just love him!  He makes headlines and sells newsprint.  He is often on television – all over the world – and again, making the headline news.  The press – Catholic and non-Catholic – just can’t get over the differences he has brought – and in such a short time.

On my part, I am sure that much of this is just his humble persona coming through, and he seems to have no difficulty at all in relating directly to the people, over every nation and faith.  But, I am also sure, that there is another much more serious side to all of this – and this has to do with God and his loving provenance.  With no previous tradition to guide him, Pope Benedict XVI decides to retire from the papacy, perhaps understandably with advancing years, but without precedent, and this brings the first massive shock to Catholics and the world.  The second shock comes with the election of Pope Francis, in March of last year, and what a shock this has proved to be – to all of us – but, not to God. 

At this point one is forced to ask the question – “Why the complete change?” and all of this without decrying Pope Benedict, and the many pious and holy men holding this highest office, by even one iota.  Perhaps, God perceived the need to bring the papacy more into line with modern thinking, modern methods, modern ideas, but without losing any of the Church’s tradition, in terms of faith and morals.  We do not know God’s mind and so do not know the answers to some of these questions – only time will tell.

And, as I said earlier in the blog, there is another side to Francis that is making a massive difference – though not perhaps the headlines, two inches high in the world’s press.  I refer to his ability to communicate and to evangelise – to get the message of Christ across to those who most need it.  He is already proving himself to be a great friend of the poor and the disadvantaged – constantly urging the nations of the world to do something about this very grave problem – and I am sure that the message is beginning to get through.  People – decision-makers – are beginning to take notice and to act.   As always, his message is very simple, and it surely is just as Jesus, Lord of All, would ‘call it’.  I am with you – now – always – follow me, and I will lead you to God, Our Father. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life!”

Thank God for Pope Francis.