Reflection for Good Friday

Normally, I do not preach on Good Friday. I allow the readings and the moment to speak for themselves but today I thought I would share something on the website which you can take or leave.

Hebrews hits the nail on the head – ‘it is not as if we had a high priest incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us, but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though He is without sin’.

This takes us back to the First Sunday in Lent where we encountered the Lord struggling with temptations to live His ministry in a way that could be in opposition to His Father’s will. In Gethsemane – “let this pass me by but not my will but thine be done”. And in Nikos Kazanztakis’ “The Last Temptation of Christ”, the writer has Christ being tempted on the Cross. There is no evidence whatsoever in the Scriptures for this moment but as the first two are real and genuine it does not seem ridiculous that this third moment might also have happened.

As I have said so often, the temptations were real, they were not some tick box exercise which, when completed, the Lord could put on the  ‘iwastemptedandcamethrough’  t-shirt. If we ignore the fact that the Lord would have continued to be tempted then we belittle and cheapen His humanity, we also cheapen His triumph. It seems to make perfect sense to me that the Lord would have continued to struggle with temptations and difficulties, doubts and worries. It is this that makes the Hebrews quote so central to who we are and who God is for us.

It is when I am tired, lonely, angry, feel misjudged or misunderstood that I am most drawn to throwing out bitter words, cruel jibes, saying things that I don’t mean. My loss of control if I bite my tongue or cheek is ridiculous and that is a momentary spasm of pain. Christ underwent agony and not just physical. Where were His family or friends, His Father, His hopes?  Yet in all that He only speaks words of consolation, healing forgiveness, intercession, welcome.

He understood all our temptations but gives in to none of them.  When all He might have wanted was for an end to people pulling and demanding of Him, even on the Cross they still come, and He prays ‘Today, you will be with me in Paradise!’

He thinks to bring Mary and John to support each other even as He might have hoped His disciples would have been there to support Him. As He is hated and belittled and humiliated – still He prays- ‘Forgive them’ and even in the agony of losing sight of God He still cries ‘Into Your hands, I commend my spirit.’

Even in the darkness and fear and isolation, even then, He never loses His trust in the God He can no longer see. In our struggle, in our isolation, maybe in our loss of the sense of God’s presence, In our lack of closeness to family and friends, of physical touch and love….if there is one who can fully understand and appreciate that struggle it is Him. When we cry ‘I thirst’…..well, let’s be open to receive what He can provide.

A reflection for Holy Thursday

Two things always make me think on Holy Thursday. Why He did what He did and why like that.

There is that phrase, ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ or ‘if you don’t walk the walk, you shouldn’t talk the talk’. All the way through Christ’s ministry two central messages, Forgiveness is open to all, the invitation is made to all.  Nobody is outside it; we can fail to respond, we can ignore the offer but it doesn’t get taken back.

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus cures the leper (Mk.1:40-45) and asks him to tell nobody about it but to go and show himself to the priest. Perhaps understandably, the leper ignores him and begins telling everyone about it, after all he is now made clean and able to rejoin living with his family and friends whereas before he had to stay outside where nobody lived. However, as a result of this disobedience ,‘Jesus could no longer openly enter a town but’, and here is the wow moment, ‘ had to stay outside where nobody lived’.  Here we have a central part of the Lord’s mission. Firstly, even after disobeying, the leper still remained cured, it was not withdrawn. Secondly, Jesus took on, because of the other’s disobedience, the punishment that previously the other had suffered…..does this sound familiar.

It is, of course, a wonderful echo of what we look towards tomorrow. Christ taking on the punishment due to us because we had failed to love but He restores this by loving all the more. He tells us, throughout His ministry, of the centrality of the selfless love of the Father. In this act of love, He shows it far better than any words could ever have communicated. At the meal, he points to this too. He washes the disciples’ feet, He shares with them his own self. However, notice something really important – every person present in that room has their feet washed, every person in that room receives His very self. The Apostles too thick and too scared to either understand or to stay faithful, Peter, the loud mouthed buffoon, who in an astounding act of arrogance declares how he will never desert or deny and then does just that and Judas, who, at that moment, was probably working out when he could best slip away. All of these, He serves; all of these he loves; all of these, are the ones for whom He dies.

And why in that way ? The meal and the feet washing.

Well, food is that very basic necessity. (I know wine isn’t a necessity ….although these last few weeks one might argue the toss…..) but we all eat, we all gather, we all share and Christ therefore placed at the very centre and normal running of our lives this remembrance of Him. Every candle can point to Christ, the light of the world, if we are alive to that. Perhaps every meal should point to Christ, the food of life.

And the washing – As I mentioned on Monday – Christ had experienced this action and had seen in it an amazing expression of His service. A woman who was a sinner (Lk.7:36 ff) had, in an act of love, knelt and washed and dried His feet. Her action, genuine and heartfelt, was taken up, transformed and made central to His commission to us. Her action, a failure, a sinner, an outcast, was welcomed, blessed, transformed and laid upon us. The God we worship takes whatever we have to offer, no matter how imperfect, confused or muddled and makes of it something which may inspire, challenge and enable in equal measure.

Take this bread and eat, take this cup and drink; take this bowl and serve.

Sacred Triduum

We are just entering into the most important days in the Church’s Year in which we celebrate the three days which are the climax of the Lord’s Ministry culminating in His sharing His last meal with His friends and commissioning them to continue His ministry of service and healing, His Passion and sacrificial Death for all the world, including those who condemned Him and His glorious triumph through His Rising to New Life.

There are many ways in which people will be marking these days and as families and individuals you will no doubt have your own means of prayer and reflection. Nevertheless the beautiful triptych of the Liturgy will be celebrated in Our Lady and St Patrick’s and you would be more than welcome to join with Fr Mark and other parishioners as we pray this lovely service together.

Maundy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. 730pm

Good Friday. A Liturgy of the Passion. 3pm

Holy Saturday. The Easter Vigil. 8pm

Easter Sunday. Easter Mass. 10am

Please note, if you are hoping to join for the Vigil then it would be great if you could read the Vigil of Readings before hand. See below.

Gn.1:1-2:2; Gn.22:1-18; Ex.14:15-15:1; Is.54:5-14;Is.55:1-11; Bar.3:9-15, 32-4:4 Ez. 36:16-28

Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-7. Psalm 21. Philippians 2:6-11. Matthew 26:14-27:66

As you might expect, all of our readings today are powerful. There are several homilies worth in each one, but I’d like to continue with my theme this Lent of the human story, both ours and that of Jesus.

Because our Gospel reading, the Passion of Christ, is a catalogue of human failure. It all starts well; the disciples must have been excited and looking forward to spending the Passover feast with their friend and master. The room was booked, the preparations in place and the meal started.

I would imagine that the conversation was that of most celebratory gatherings, small talk, with the occasional more profound conversation, simply enjoying each other’s company. But then, Jesus speaks these words;

“I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me”.

Talk about a conversation killer. There must have been a stunned silence, perhaps just time to vaguely recall something that Jesus had told them several times on their travels…something about ‘the Son of Man is going to be put to death’? How do you respond to a statement like that? Well, the disciples responded with the first and perhaps keenest of human failures…’Not I Lord, surely’.

We’re told that to a man, this was their response. Peter, who was to deny Jesus not once, but three times. Judas, who did the deed. And the others, all except John, were nowhere to be seen at Calvary. This must have cut Christ’s humanity to the core. These were not sworn enemies of Jesus, but his friends. Friends who Jesus had taught to call God their ‘Father’ and himself a brother. And yet, friends who could so easily betray, deny, and abandon him as well as any adversary.

A little later, with the kiss of Judas, the failure continues; spat on, beaten and ridiculed. The crowd bought by the chief priests and elders to shout for Barabbas, condemnation by a man who thought that the simple act of washing hands would exonerate all guilt, scourging, mocking and finally, execution.

Jesus was subjected to the very worst that humankind has to offer. Surely his words from the cross “My God, My God, why have you deserted me?’ must, in part, have been a cry from the very heart of Jesus’ humanity. Fully human, he must have been tempted beyond belief to ask his Father for the twelve legions of Angels that he talked of at Gethsemane. But he didn’t. Instead he fulfilled his mission; he died for us. And in so doing, he gave us a gift. A gift that we didn’t earn, and we didn’t deserve.

What does all of this mean for us today. It’s tempting to go down the route of personal examination. How often have WE betrayed, denied and abandoned Christ? How often have WE unjustly condemned, coerced, and mocked? How often have WE symbolically washed our hands of our responsibilities? Although this is worth thinking on now and then, we must remember that there is more to come. The story hasn’t finished with the death of Christ; in fact, it’s only just begun. It’s a story of hope, of reconciliation, of enlightenment, of joy. If we dwell on personal examination at the expense of the ongoing story, then perhaps we’re missing the point; perhaps instead of accepting the gift of the Resurrection with gratitude and love, we’re trying to earn it and convince ourselves that we deserve it.

The fact is, that even in his agony, Christ still died for us with all that that entails. He subjected himself to the very worst of humanity in order to free us; to offer us a better way. Although, with human thought, it might be difficult to understand why Jesus did this for us when he was so barbarically ill-used, nonetheless, he did.

The wonder of this is, that even had the Resurrection not followed, the Passion would still give us a hope that we have no right to expect. Because Christs willingness to die for us proves beyond doubt that when we are feeling unloved, we are loved. When we are feeling unlovable, we are loved. When we struggle to love others, they are loved. When society rejects those that it feels cannot be loved, they too are loved.

When we doubt God’s unconditional love for us, especially when we think that we’ve failed him, then think of the Passion, failed by all and yet Jesus still died for us out of nothing else but love.

So as Christian disciples called to imitate Christ, our job is not to wonder why, but to love.

With my love and prayers for you all, may God bless you. Deacon Anthony

The Holy Father

Here is a translation of the Holy Father’s Homily at the Holy Hour earlier today in Rome

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7)

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Fifth Sunday of Lent, year A.

Ezekiel 37:12-14. Psalm 129. Romans 8:8-11. John 11:1-45.

Today’s readings are nothing less than triumphant. There are still two weeks to go until the great feast of Easter and yet today, all of our readings point to the Resurrection. Not the Resurrection of Christ, but to the Resurrection that he’s won for us on Calvary and by his glorious resurrection. They also reinforce something that I preached on a while ago; the indivisibility of the human and the divine.

I have said many times that the season of Lent is THE opportunity in the Church’s year to walk with our Saviour as a man. To walk with him to Calvary in solidarity, to accompany him as a fellow human, ill-used and unjustly condemned, and to help carry his cross as we recognise our failure in his hurt and stumbling. But above all, we walk with him as our friend. And yet, as we watch our friend in his Passion, we realise that this is all for us. Why? Because the love that the Father has for us overspills in Christ. The human and the divine join in a way like no other and this is what we find in our readings today.

We don’t have to look far either, it’s all pretty much on the surface. In Ezekiel, God promises not only to raise us, but also to put his Spirit in us and settle us ‘on our own soil’; or perhaps in other words, to allow us the freedom to be who we are meant, and want, to be. Our psalm responds beautifully; ‘If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive? But with you is found forgiveness’. Not forgiveness because we deserve it but the forgiveness that Christ has won for us, total and absolute forgiveness.

In our second reading, Paul says it like it is; ’the Spirit of God has made his home in you’. The human and the divine are joined. Yes, as we walk with our friend to Golgotha, we are moving ever closer to the unity of God and humankind.

This, of course, is evident throughout the ministry of Jesus. And in todays Gospel reading we have, in my opinion, one of the most profound sentences to be found anywhere in Holy Scripture;

‘Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart’.

 What did that sigh contain? Did it contain every single one of our names? Did the endless mercy and compassion of God flow from that single sigh? Was it at this point that our Salvation was assured? Through the humanity of Christ spills forth the divine, touching each one of us to leave us changed; changed through the gift of Hope.

We are in times that we hoped we would never have to live through, but it is this gift of Hope, offered through the unity of God and humanity, that can lighten the darkness. More than that, it is a gift that we can share with, and pass on to, others.

This is the God we worship. A God who intimately knows what it is to be human, not because he created us, but because he walked with us. A God who won for us our freedom, our dignity, and our Salvation. A God who loves us more deeply than we can ever contemplate. And above all, the sure Hope that whatever happens, God is with us, now and always.

With my love and prayers for you all, may God bless you richly. Deacon Anthony

Church Closure

Following the address by the Prime Minister yesterday the Bishops of England and Wales have taken the sad but responsible step of saying all Churches and places of Worship must be closed with immediate effect until further notice. The Divine Office will, of course, continue to be prayed by laity and clergy alike and we can join in prayer knowing that we are not praying alone. In Our Lady and St Patrick’s, Morning Prayer will be prayed at 8am and Evening Prayer at 6pm, The Mass will be offered every morning at 9am and every day Fr Mark will pray before the Blessed Sacrament for all those who are struggling and selflessly working for the well being of our communities. Let us hold each other in love and never lose sight of the God who is our refuge and strength. Even if we feel alone let us remember

‘The Lord of Hosts is with us: The God of Jacob is our stronghold’

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Our first reading today is a comfort for two types of people; those who never seem to learn from their past experiences but keep making the same mistake and those who are overlooked and ignored. Samuel, even after his having chosen Saul on the back of his physical magnificence and had seen this choice ‘go to the bad’ still homes in on Eliab, seeing, in his height and musculature, the next King. Yet the comfort is, even when he keeps making this same mistake, God does not give up on him and continues to use him until finally the penny drops and Samuel, listening to God, makes the right decision and chooses the ‘runt of the litter’, David. This same David who becomes such a force and pivot in the history of Israel and indeed our salvation that it is from the House of David that the Messiah comes.

 Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind is another wonderful example of the Lord’s at work. His gentle encouragement and healing of the man enables him to not only gain his independence but gain a confidence and self respect which someone in his situation in C1st Palestine would probably not normally have had. He speaks before the Jewish Authorities with confidence and courage, he defends Christ against his attackers and is belittled and rejected for his pains.

Compare him to the three other ‘types’ we encounter in the story. Firstly the observers of the newly healed man. They do not want to face up to the reality of the situation, this would necessarily involve them making changes in their own lives. If this man now seeing is the one who was blind and begging then something amazing must have happened and that would demand a response. So they obfuscate or argue about details rather than looking deeply at the thing.  As CS Lewis once put it, they spend their time straining out fernseeds and swallowing elephants. 

 Secondly we have the Authorities, arrogant and in control. When something happens which does not tie in with their normal way of thinking, their accepted view of the world…then rather than reflecting on what it might have to say, allowing it to speak to them and transform them and make them look at their place in the world or their understanding of that world, they attack .  Can that be me? Losing the argument  I shout, or insult or belittle and thus miss the lesson there may be waiting for me

 The third type are the parents, not indifferent or disinterested, not arrogant and controlling but afraid. Unwilling to raise their heads above the parapet. Instead of standing up with their son they leave him to fend for himself, casting him adrift. ‘He is old enough, let him speak for himself’. This is the coward’s way. All his life he would have relied upon their support and help and suddenly he is left to speak for himself and defend a man he knows nothing about before people who would be far more articulate and powerful than himself. Is this my way sometimes, preferring to keep quiet and unnoticed whilst injustice grows ?

All his life he will have been overlooked and dismissed yet he rises to the occasion magnificently. He is the ‘runt of the litter’ writ large and yet shows himself to be a man of courage, nobility and, at the end, faith and that is rewarded. The Lord Jesus very rarely reveals His fullness to anyone and yet here, in the climax of the story He does just that.  

The Lord Jesus came, in part, so that we might see the world, our role and those around us more clearly. Through His grace, it is our choice whose example we will follow. The indifferent bystander, the arrogant bully, the coward or the person of courage although, if you are like me, it could well be an assortment of all four but whatever and whichever one it is…remember Samuel. He kept getting his choice wrong but God simply gave him another chance and finally, because Samuel kept trying to listen…he got it right.

Over these weeks and perhaps months there will be all kinds of opportunities to help and encourage each other, to be alert to the most vulnerable and needy. With God’s help we will not miss those opportunities but will respond with the generosity and joy with which He responds to us.

God bless you and all whom you love and indeed all who love you.