Archive for March, 2014

The Gospel stories have many references to “demons”, and Jesus “casting out demons”.  In fact, in Luke’ Gospel, at the end of the story of the temptations of Jesus in the desert, we see the phrase: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time”. (Lk 4: 13). It’s as though the whole story of our redemption involves a struggle between light and goodness on the one hand, darkness and evil on the other, culminating in the seeming victory of darkness over light, at the Crucifixion. The prologue of John’s Gospel, however, contains the phrase “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it”. (Jn 1: 5).

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In the time of Jesus, the activity of demons and the Devil was seen as a powerful influence on people’s behaviour and their health. Although it may be rather out of fashion, today, to speak in such terms about the Devil (Satan) and the demons, it seems the forces of evil are still very strong in our world, today, some two millennia later. 

Perhaps, the main effect of the devil is to drive wedges between people, to divide them one from another. This happens in so many different ways and leads to the vice of anger – among many other vices – a feeling in individuals that is widespread and strong.  I remember one day in the 1980′s, Fr. Tony Weber, a very experienced Swiss priest coming to visit me in Bamber Bridge. He had been in charge of forming priests in the charism of communion, and was accustomed to meeting priests from all over the world. He had been in East Germany, which in those days was in the grip of communism, and, despite the obvious dangers, used to hold secret meetings with Catholic priests. Given his presence and my involvement in one of the local prisons, I invited him to come and visit the chaplaincy and the prison. He came gladly, and we visited the prisoners’ quarters; in those days, this was quite possible. The all-male prison officers, in their enclosures on the wings, within the prison, used to decorate the walls with pictures of unclad ladies, something that never happens today, given a high percentage of women prison officers in the service. At this, my friend commented to me: “Under communism, the communist government used to divide people, one from another by spreading fear and mistrust through constant spying; in the Western world, where we have democratic freedom, we divide ourselves, one from another, by pornography”.  

It is not really surprising that the Devil does this. In the letter to the Colossians, we read about Jesus: “All things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1: 16-17. The evil one is still rampaging around in our world, today, causing his mischief, as he is: “a murderer and the father of lies”, (John 8; 44), trying to trick us that, in sin, we will find our freedom. To overcome the forces of good which always lead to communion, friendliness, trust and love, the devil will go out of his way to destroy the source of all virtue: Jesus, himself, in our time, who is still alive and with us: the Way, the Truth and the Life: Jesus is Love made present in our midst, for those who have eyes to see.

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 When Jesus spoke those marvellous words: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do”, (Lk 23: 34), he knew that this was the devil’s hour, the opportune time, and right to the end Jesus reacted with mercy, even in his agony, for in God’s mercy, lies the greatest witness to the strength of God. There is no mercy in Satan and his minions. But Jesus is full of mercy and love for each one of us, then on that first Good Friday as he was being nailed to the cross, and again today.  

Let us, therefore, rejoice in the joy of the Gospel, for when we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest forgives us in God’s name with these words: “God the father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his son, has reconciled this world to himself”. The victory is won; light has overcome darkness, and the devil is defeated. Be wary, be wise, and recognise the Devil’s powerful activity in our world today! 

In the first appearance of Satan, in the book of Genesis, we read after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God: “God said to the serpent, ‘Since you have done that, be cursed among all the cattle and the wild beasts! You will crawl on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life.  I will make you enemies, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel’”, (Gen 3: 14). Mary is our all powerful ally in the fight against evil, division, hatred and lies. She leads us to Jesus where we find harmony, beauty, fullness of joy and a lightness and goodness about life.


Mary stands on the serpent by the saving power of Jesus.

Father Jonathan


“Mother, behold your son … behold your mother……”

Then John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, is speaking: “His eyes are closed; he is still moving, but not much … still trying to breathe.  I can smell his sweat, glanded from his body by pain and terror. Now he has opened his eyes and I can see into their depths – as far as the real agony, the real pain and just how deep it goes.  His body is racked from head to toe with it, shattered by the lash and steel-tipped fronds, by the nails, by the thorns driven into his still-beautiful head – nailed to death on a cross – driven to the very end of human endurance.”

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  The Crucifixion depicted as Stabat Mater, Porto Alegre, Brasil, 19 Century

Why do we humans do such things? Why do we take pleasure in hurting others?   Though not all of us do such things there are millions of people who would never dream of such things, millions who try to love their neighbours – there is still a goodly proportion finding it difficult to love those with whom they live, because of race, colour, creed and for many other reasons, not least of which is the maxim ‘it shall be me rather than you’.  These are questions that have been crossing and re-crossing my mind for days.

And Jesus said: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

Consider, if you will, the bullying of others – nothing very much in comparison with a Roman crucifixion – but think about the principles that are involved.  Essentially, bullying is all about power, the exercise of power over others, when the strong are ‘taking it out’ on the weak.  Big is best! Small and weak cannot resist – they are powerless against the bully.  It may be just ‘bullying’ but all too often, these days, the young – even children – are driven to self-harm and suicide by such activities – at school and on the ‘infamous’ World Wide Web.

And, was there not an awful lot about Jesus’ suffering and death that was about bullying, about taking pleasure in seeing another human being suffer – in many cases just for the ‘hell’ of it – but always in front of an audience.  Yes, other factors were at work in Jesus’ case, but, what is certain is that he was being made to suffer so that others could see his suffering, take pleasure from it and to serve as a lesson for all who came to watch.  Do not bullies do the same?

As a race – the human race – we may begin by bullying others at school, and in other walks of life, but then, don’t we invariably move on and make use of this sort of ‘education’.  We become adults and then use all the tactics we have learned, so assiduously, by inflicting even worse on our fellow men and women.  We injure, we main, we torture and we kill in order to get our own way.  In some areas, not worth the mention, we commit such acts for pleasure; one has only to think of the sadomasochists.  The danger is that bullying among the young transmits itself to adulthood – to aggressive behaviour – to gangs and their cultures – and to extreme violence among the young and not-so-young.    

But, let us move on a little further.  Take a glance or two at human invention and the myriad ways in which mankind has used his intelligence to invent and manufacture diabolical methods of control, enabling people to take charge, hurt, terrorise, maim, injure and kill those less able than themselves.  Think for a moment about the weaponry that has been invented, from the sword and the spear, to the gun and the rocket – indeed to all the modern weapons of mass destruction.

And Jesus said: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

Thinking about man against man – and the way in which we treat others, I have to ask the question: “Does this come from all the instincts of the animal kingdom, – the law of the jungle –where ‘lion is king, and everything depends on the survival of the fittest.”  Well, yes, to some extent, but, mostly the ‘law of the jungle’ is about food, about survival – not hurt and pain, caused for the sake of causing it; we human beings seem to have taken such processes to a higher degree, another level altogether – to conflict between men and women, between societies, between nations.

I wonder if it can be that man has learned the law of the jungle, then taken it to the ‘nth’ degree, all because he can – because he is able – and because, it seems, somewhere therein lies a source of pleasure; pleasure arising out of a sense of power over others – power to make him, or her, do what he, or she, would otherwise not do.  Beware the old adage, however, that “… power corrupts, and absolute power, corrupts absolutely”.

And Jesus said: “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

Against all of this Jesus says: “Love one another,” and then just look at what could happen if we did – peace and justice would reign once more – the poor and disadvantaged would be taken care of – poverty and strife would be eradicated – we would be ‘guilty’ only of putting others first and getting rid of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Little do we fully understand what Jesus’ commandment is all about? ‘Love conquers all’ would be the great maxim and selfishness would disappear out of the window.  Oh, if only – if only we could be rid of self, of self-centredness, of ego, what a different world it could, and would be!


The New Creation of Jesus:

Increasingly, I come to realise that the events of life are how God actually shows himself to us. He is teaching us by what actually happens to us, and what happens, includes my relationships, my thoughts, joyful times, sadder times, praying, going to Church, my family, my temperament – in fact, everything. That is where peace and joy come from – from the living God of life – not from the God of theories and ideas, important as those are.

I then found myself thinking, how hard I personally find it to share the “joy of the gospel” with others! I know how much God and the gospel mean to me, but I am incapable of helping others to find God and his love for themselves. I do not seem to have much success in spreading the good news of Jesus. The reason I think is that for me it is impossible but not for God, because it is God alone who can help people to know God. If I did have success in this regard it would probably not do any good, as I would easily become big headed, attributing success to myself when only God can give the gift of faith to a person. I would destroy the very precious gift I was trying to share!

What does God want from me? Not me to work his miracles but to create the possibility that God himself will do so. This means with others belonging to the one body of Christ, which means seeing my neighbours as my allies in this enterprise. For the Body of Christ is Christ himself; together we make up the one person of Christ where God lives among us. This is a hard task! It means truly caring for each other, truly loving each other, and there being no strings attached to my “loving”. How hard that is to do when the other may not have the same ideas, or temperament and might even be somebody who is lazy or has different priorities or may even be actively working in a way that undermines the gospel values. Our Lord in his humanity always chose to live the Word, the Word who is Love,even when his enemies crucified him: “Father, forgive them they know not what they do” (Luke 23: 24).

I do not see God, but I see our neighbour, and if I am pure in heart then I do see God, with my heart and my spirit because I can see God is alive in me, making me patient, docile, merciful, including all the other virtues that do not come to me “naturally”.


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Eleanor Farjean


I get a help each day to try to live better the Word of God for the month: this month the Word I am trying to live along with many others is: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (Jn 15:10)” On Tuesday last 11 March I got this short motto to help to live the Word of God; always see each other new. That is do not allow yesterday’s thoughts and feelings infect the new day; when I can see my neighbour in a new way. The song, “Morning has broken expresses the same idea:  

“Morning has broken like the first morning, Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird. Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning! Praise for them, springing fresh from the Word! Sweet the rain’s new fall sunlit from heaven, like the first dewfall on the wet grass …Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning born of the one light Eden saw play! Praise with elation, praise ev’ry morning, God’s recreation of the new day”.  

Each day is a new day: and it struck me this old chestnut of a song is a better one than ever I thought. It is so easy to put my neighbour into a category, often negative, and become complacent and let situations take over rather than God the Risen One who makes all things new.  In his newness each day I discovered the author of “Morning is Broken” is Eleanor Farjean (1881-1965) and is clearly somebody thoughtful and great. It is worth looking her up in the internet. 

Father Jonathan

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” ( Luke 11: 1)

It is a lovely scene. I can imagine the disciples, probably the twelve with some others, and they might have had a picnic in the sun; some might have been sucking on pieces of grass, others resting in the shade of some bush, or tree; others chatting while Jesus was praying, perhaps sitting quietly, or standing – even kneeling. If one goes to the site of the presentation of the ‘Our Father’ it is on the Mount of Olives, and the place where Jesus was praying, is in a kind of cave.

What it was like two thousand years ago must have been very different. Nowadays, it is in the compound of a large Carmelite Convent, and there is a huge Church, on the walls of which, is the famous ‘Our Father’ written in almost every language imaginable.  Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to eradicate the image below from one’s mind and go back to the pastoral scene in which Jesus prayed and taught.

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Some of the examples of the Our Father in different languages at the spot

where Jesus taught his disciples how to pray.

Those disciples were impressed by Jesus praying, and so they asked him: “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” I think one of them might have been Andrew, as he was a disciple of John the Baptist, before knowing Jesus. I think John the Baptist and Jesus were probably very similar – even though John is often portrayed as ‘fierce’, as he deliberately dressed like a prophet, wearing clothes of camel hair tied with a leather belt round his waste. John used strong language to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came for baptism: “You brood of vipers!” (Mt 3:7). Jesus also used the same phrase to the Pharisees (Mt 12: 24). I think both John, and Jesus, were very straight-forward, uncomplicated, highly intelligent men, whose hearts were pure and ‘straight-to-the-point’ as both knew God was with them. They saw the hypocrisy of these Jewish leaders and had the strength to criticise them openly. I wonder if Jesus was helped to formulate the extra-ordinarily full, yet succinct prayer, the ‘Our Father’, with the help of John the Baptist’s prayers.

I also wonder at Jesus on the cross and ask: “How did he pray that prayer?” It is such a calming and satisfying prayer. I remember, once, feeling in turmoil, spiritually, and going for a walk, alone along the River Mersey from Otterspool to the Albert docks, and back, a walk of over an hour and a half; in the process, I found myself praying the ‘Our Father’ once only. Each phrase took many moments to absorb and to fill out with meaning. I was at peace by the end of that walk.

On the cross, Jesus, we know, was at the end of his tether. We know he spoke seven last words, so we can get a glimpse into his mind. I want to take only one of those phrases: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27: 46). (Perhaps on another occasion this blog may look at the other phrases.)

Throughout the experience of generations, the spiritual masters of the time, who have pondered, and lived, this phrase, realise that Jesus, in his humanity, felt that God, his Father, was no longer there present to him. ”The Father and I are one”, (John 10: 30), Jesus had uttered, but now, that relationship, which was constitutive of Jesus’ existence, was utterly broken. So, he could not call God the Father, his Father; in that moment, the relationship was broken and so came the sense of utter despair, failure and loss of everything constitutive of his being. Actually St Paul makes a shocking statement about Jesus in this regard: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”. (2 Cor 5: 21)


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 Jesus seems to be crying out his sense of being utterly forsaken

Interestingly, just after this, Jesus said something that comes from the depth of his being – something that, perhaps, leads back to that faith which is hope beyond all hope: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46).

My conclusion is that, in the single person of the Word of God on the cross, is the unfathomable mystery of our humanity. That is why it is our redemption. More importantly than pondering and understanding, it calls for loving – loving Jesus – loving God in all his unfathomability – perhaps a good exercise for Lent? Certainly, it leads us to the Kingdom of God prayed for in the ‘Our Father’, where creation lives in harmony and union with God.

Fr. Jonathan