Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year - A Different Resolution

As New Year approaches, this reflection by Jon Walker, struck me; I intend to make time to draw up a different kind of list!

"Imagine if God created you to be the Michelangelo of this age, but you stayed so busy doing all kinds of things — good things — that you never got around to painting and sculpting. You’d end up missing God’s plan and design for your life because you got distracted chasing lesser things.
What a disappointment it would be for God, you, and all the people who would have been blessed if you’d stayed focused on your original purpose!

Today, make a list of things not-to-do in 2012. Fill your list with things you do that don’t match God’s purpose for your life or things you think you have to do but haven’t been told to do by God.

Ask God to clarify the things he wants you to do this year, and then ruthlessly move everything else onto your list of things not-to-do. 

Then, 'press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called you' (Philippians 3:14)."

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

In Bethlehem's Light

As we believe so shall we hope. The measure of our faith is the measure of our hope. 

Every day we are bombarded with many different understandings of our lives, about what really matters, about the purpose of it all. I find that if I do not nourish and deepen my Christian vision it is bound to become feeble and ineffectual. Then I am easy prey; I can fall into the grip of anxiety and discouragement.

So, a this time, I need the truth of what we celebrate at Christmas to refresh my soul.

In the story of God’s love affair with humanity I discover who I am.

In the presence of Jesus my Brother I glimpse the meaning of my joys and sorrows, my victories and defeats.

In the light of Bethlehem I know I am invited to the unimaginable happiness of sharing God’s life.

And the most hope-filled truth for me is that whatever happens in my life can be transformed by divine goodness into a step towards that fullness of joy.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas - Beginnings of our Transformation

Avery Dulles, the American theologian, once said: “The Incarnation does not provide us with a ladder by which to escape from the ambiguities of life and scale the heights of heaven. Rather, it enables us to burrow deep into the heart of our humanity and find it shimmering with divinity.”

So Christmas celebrates the incarnation, not just the nativity. The incarnation is an on-going process of salvation, while the nativity is the once-for-all-historical event of Bethlehem. We look back in joy and gratitude for the unspeakable gift of God's Beloved. As St Francis might put it - we rejoice that "the Lord of Glory has become our brother".

But Christmas is not simply a history lesson. Guided by the light of the Holy Spirit the community of faith grows in ever-deepening understanding of the implications of the Incarnation, of the historical fact that the Eternal Word has taken on our flesh.

In this blessed season we celebrate nothing less than the beginning of the transformation of all history and creation by the presence of the divine in our midst.

Wishing you a Christmas radiant with his light and grace.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Celebrating Christmas in hope

Incarnation is not yet resurrection. Flesh in Jesus, as in us, is human flesh, vulnerable, weak, and incomplete. Christmas celebrates Christ's birth into this reality, not his removal of it. The Lord redeems limit, evil, sin and sorrow. They are not abolished. There is a definite difference.

For this reason we can celebrate Christ's birth without in anyway denying or trivializing the darkness in our world and the very real struggle we can experience in our lives and within our Church. Christmas is a call to celebrate while still in struggle.

The incarnate God is called Emmanuel,  God-is-with-us. That fact does not mean immediate festive joy. Reality has its harshness and Christmas does not ask us to make-believe.

The incarnation does not promise us heaven on earth. It promises heaven in heaven.

Here, on earth, it promises us something else – God's presence in our lives. This presence redeems because it is the grace of God-with-us that empowers us to keep on choosing the light, to not lose heart,  and to walk on together in hope.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Advent - Making Room for Love

Diadochus of Photice was a fifth century bishop and mystic. In one of his sermons he said: "The measure of a person’s love for God depends upon how deeply aware that person is of God’s love for him or her.”

D0 you want to love the Lord more? Do you want this Advent-Christmastide period to be a time of  renewal in Christian discipleship? Then let God love you more!

In Advent we speak of making space within so that the Lord can find a welcome, an openness, and thus he "rebirths" in us. What forms that space, that welcome is the experience of a love that frees us to trust, to let go, to surrender.

Angela of Foligno, the Franciscan saint,  wife and mother, felt Christ say to her one day: "You create the capacity and I will make myself a torrent within you" - a torrent of light and love and joy. Our love for God will always be a response to a love eternally present.

The key is to let that love stretch the heart and increase our capacity for God's self-giving.

Then the gift of divine love can grow and the depth of our response can expand.

God loves all his lovers first.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Mary's Total Yes to Pure Gift

I want to share with you a reflection from Richard Rohr, OFM, on the giftedness in Mary's life.

"Mary is the archetype, the personification of the one who represents and sums up the entire mystery of received salvation. In her Immacualte Conception, before she had done anything right or wrong, she is chosen.

Look at the free election at the Annunciation; there is no mention of merit or worthiness. The Annunciation story is the crescendo point to Scripture’s theme of total grace and gift. Did you ever notice that Mary does not say she’s 'not worthy'? She only asks for clarification: 'How can this happen? I am a virgin'. She never asks if, whether, or why! That is quite extraordinary and reveals her ego-lessness. Mary becomes the archetype of perfect receptivity. It takes the entire Bible to work up to one perfect vessel that knows how to say an unquestioning yes to an utterly free gift

'Mary, do not be afraid, you have won God’s favour,' declares the angel Gabriel. The word favour doesn’t say anything about the recipient. Favour says something about the one who is doing the favouring. So it’s really not an evaluation of Mary. It’s saying something about God’s election of Mary. She is one who is the absolutely perfect receiver and refuses to play the 'Lord, I am not worthy' card that had become normative in most biblical theophanies. She simply states, 'Let it be done unto me.'

 She lets God do all the giving. Her job is to receive such perfect giving.

God does not love you because you are good; God loves you because God is good. God does not love you because you are good; you are good because God loves you."

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Why Praise God?

When did you last dance before the Lord?

St Francis used to dance through the woods singing God’s praises. He understood that we adore, praise and thank God because he is more than worthy of it all. But that quality of prayer is also a wonderful blessing for us.

Adoration, praise and thanksgiving lifts us up into the wonder of who God is, of the vastness of his goodness, the depth of his purposes at work in the world and in our lives.
Praise of God opens my eyes, gives me a wider, cosmic vision, and deepens my faith in God.

What you feed your mind with comes out in feelings, emotions and actions. In prayers of praise and adoration we feed your mind with the reality of God.

Old lies have a way of creeping back. The lies we can speak to ourselves are very powerful. Do you recognise any of these thoughts?
Nothing can change. 
This situation is hopeless.
What’s the use?
I can’t go on! 
God does not care.

Those are lies and we need the light of God to expose them as false. When I enter God’s presence in a spirit of adoring praise, his light scatters the darkness of those falsehoods.

I know that I need to speak the truth to myself daily – the truth of God’s greatness and goodness. I need to celebrate that truth in prayers of praise and thanksgiving. I need to live in that truth so that I am not overcome by fear and discouragement.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Earthenware Vessels

Our Christian life is such a paradox.

On the one hand, at times so painfully aware of our failures and sin. On the other hand, already, in our union with the Lord, sharers in his fullness.

Paul expresses this fundamental paradox in an enduring image: “We are only earthenware jars that hold this treasure.”  We seem so ordinary, made of the dust of the earth, and our bodies will return one day to that dust. And yet, and yet, this human vessel is breathed into by God, filled with his life. We have been bestowed with a divine wealth and beauty we have not even begun to understand.

St Francis understood that holding in delicate balance the full truth of who we are is the way to live Spirit-filled, Spirit-guided lives. This means acknowledging I am an earthenware vessel with nothing to boast of, but also rejoicing that I carry a precious treasure, everything has already been given to me in Christ.

In my experience many don’t get that balance right. The most common fault is to be so aware of failings, sins, and mistakes - just how cracked, chipped, and broken the vessel is - that there is no recognition of, no delight in the splendour that is ours by the gift of God.

Friday, 25 November 2011

False Humility!

True humility is an attractive quality that adds beauty to the Christian life. But how it is misunderstood! So much of what passes for humility is often just low self-esteem, a turning from our God-given gifts.

It is not Christian humility when we despise what God has created good, and has made his beloved.

It is not Christian humility when we reject ourselves as useless, unchangeable, unlovable.

It is not Christian humility when we ignore all that Christ has done for us, gained for us, shared with us.

Yes, indeed, we are called to live honestly before the Lord, and not to try to hide from self and God our fragility and brokenness. But we are also asked to celebrate our God-given greatness and potential.

Look upon yourself as God looks on you – with generous, patient love.

Treat yourself as God treats you – with gentle compassion.

Speak to yourself as God speaks to the you – with words of hope and encouragement, words that speak of daily new beginnings, of possibilities, words that reveal vast interior spaces filled with grace and light.

Beware of false humility!

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Love That Heals Our Shame

Recently I have being accompanying a person who is struggling with terrible shame; the past is a ball and chain dragged behind him. He finds it so hard to accept God's pardon and to pardon himself. Until he can, he remains unfree.

My prayer is that he will hear deeply in his heart the words the Lord spoke to the woman caught in adultery: "I do not condemn you; go and do not sin again."

The solution to sin in our lives is not to beat ourselves with the stick of harsh self-condemnation, not to burden ourselves with an ever-stricter moral code, not to try to summon a fierce will power to bring about change.

The Gospel solution to sin is to know God and the power of his love. Divine love, accepted and received deep within, heals the wound of shame and self-rejection. Then we are free enough to love in return. His love experienced and let loose in our lives brings about our transformation.

Until we grasp this we do not really understand the Gospel.  We can know the law of God by heart, but not know the heart of God. As you read this you may be particularly burdened by sin, by a sense of failure, by discouragement. God already loves you as much as an infinite God can possibly love, and that will never change.

Christians in Africa have a beautiful song:  “Come to me brother, come to me sister, there is no condemnation in my heart.”  It is Christ who sings this to us. Then we in our turn, having received his mercy and forgiven yourselves, must sing it to our brothers and sisters. “Come to me, there is no condemnation in my heart!”

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Community: what we can offer

Jim Wallis, the American Christian activist and writer, believes that the Christian community needs to be very clear what dimension of the Gospel the world most needs to hear and experience in our time.

Writing in his book The Call to Conversion, he holds that the greatest need is “not simply for kerygma, the preaching of the Gospel; nor for diakonia; service on behalf of justice; nor for charisma, the experience of the Spirit’s gifts; nor even for propheteia; the challenging of the King. The greatest need of our time is for koinonia, the call simply to be church….to offer to the world a living, breathing, loving community of church. This is the foundation of all answers.”

"A living, breathing, loving community" - he is so right!  It is within a community that expresses the faith in worship, love, service and action that Christ is encountered and the Spirit is active.

My experience has been that people who have experienced the church in their lives, at a local level, as a vibrant, loving church, are the people who "catch" what it is all about. This experience of church as communion can take place in a dynamic parish, a prayer group, a bible study group, a social justice group, or any of a myriad such small communities.

Ron Rolheiser, OMI, puts it bluntly: "In the end, people are as agnostic about faith, Christ, and the church as they are about the experience of community. When there is a strong experience of community there is generally a strong faith... Christianity, in the end, is a communal endeavor. We believe in it when community works, we stop believing in it when community and family break down.  Our primary task today is to live community. If we can do that, then the visible body of Christ, the Church, will have an incredible resurrection." 

Sunday, 30 October 2011

No Hair Shirts!

 The most quoted passage from the Gospel in the writings was not any of the famous hard sayings of the Gospel about poverty or renunciation. Seven times Francis cited the “golden rule” of human relationships: “Whatever you would wish a person to do you to do, do you also to them” (Matthew 7:12). Francis did not present an ascetical system for his friars.

Jordan of Giano was a novice at the Pentecost Chapter of 1221 in Assisi. He tells in his Chronicle how Francis he went among the friars removal of the instruments of penance from among them. The saint knew it was easier to wear a hair shirt than live in patient kindness with others. Francis went straight to the Gospel. In his writings, love, humility, meekness, forgiveness, mutual service and courtesy were exalted to priority while programmes of ascetical exercises were lacking.

The friars’ approach must be to draw by attraction. In an exhortation to the friars Francis told them: “Since you speak peace, all the more so must there be peace in your hearts. Let none be provoked to anger or scandal by you. But rather may they be drawn to peace, goodness and unity by your gentleness. We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and bring home those who have lost their way.”

They were to be brothers who make credible in their lives the truth of the Gospel, who manifest in their deeds, great and small, the compassion of the God Jesus has made known and the beauty of the Christian, Catholic faith. 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Carrying the Message

Throughout the month of October I am reflecting on the life and message of St Francis. As I wrote in the last post this is not an exercise in nostalgia. Yes, we look back with gratitude but we look forward with hope. The purposes of God, the faithfulness of Christ and the presence of the Spirit have not changed.

Pope John Paul was definite that the particular Franciscan experience and understanding of Christ and the Gospel are still more than relevant. Speaking to a Chapter gathering he said: “Franciscanism has much to say to contemporary civilisation, especially to those who are seized by consumerism and neglect the suffering of millions who die in hunger, to those, who, instead of building peace, are preparing for war, and to those who, rather than defending nature, of which Francis sung so wonderfully, contaminate it. It falls to you Franciscans, in the first place and because of who you are, to give an answer to the people of today, educating them to a correct vision and a proper use of things. You are the best interpreters of the message given by Francis to the people of his age, a message which is still relevant because of its capacity to renew consciences and society. It is up to you to proclaim it once again with Franciscan courage and daring.”

When we Franciscans celebrate the gift of Francis -  it means rejoicing in the Gospel calling that has blessed our lives, responding to that call ever-more deeply, and recommitting ourselves to share joyfully this Christ-centred vision with others.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Franciscans With No Nostalgia!

One of the risks in trying to live the Christian life as a Franciscan friar is indulging in a form of Romanticism about St Francis and the ''Franciscan Spring". This can lead to a certain nostalgia about the past, and a failure to see how God is working just as definitely in our own day.

Eight hundred years is a long time. Franciscans can look back with thanksgiving for the grace of God manifested in our story. But the story goes on and we are invited to continue that open-ended story. What was once, cannot be relived.

We are faced with our own choices and decisions. We cannot afford a rose-tinted nostalgia for the past. Our time is as much a time of the Holy Spirit as any previous age. So to copy slavishly the ways and methods of the past is to fail the people and Church of our day.

We want to go into the future with fire not with ashes. We are not caretakers of a Franciscan museum. Francis himself gives us this freedom. At the end of his life he told his brothers: “I have done what was mine to do – may Christ teach you yours.”

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A New Pentecost?

The questions asked of the Franciscans by a recent Minister General, Hermann Schaluck, get to the heart of living with hope in turbulent times.  Indeed, they could also be asked of the Church in Ireland and many other parts of the world at this time.

“The present situation of crisis can be seen as a threat of death or as a test of faith in the Lord of history and in His unfailing presence. In a time of great transition and rapid change, the need is all the more urgent to read the sign of the times.  Are we seeing the signs of collapse or the signs of a New Pentecost?  Or both? Is a New Pentecost still possible today in the Church, in our communities or in ourselves?" 

"Of one thing I am certain: if we are able to read these signs, to contemplate them from a perspective of faith, we shall discover many tracks of life – footprints of God and of the living Spirit. And we shall finally realise that the signs of crisis can be transformed into invitations to a new beginning and harbingers of new life. By placing the person of Jesus Christ at the centre of everything, by seeking above all to live the Good News of the Kingdom of God and its justice, we wish to reiterate our conviction that the following of Jesus Christ will open our eyes to a new vision, to new values, new priorities and new criteria. Our achievements will never exhaust the splendour and potential of the Kingdom of God.”

 I am reminded of the Jewish Hasidim definition of hope: “Living joyfully when there are no easy answers.”

Monday, 10 October 2011

Francis and the Pardon of God

St Francis knew that men and women cannot be harangued or bullied into the Kingdom of God. Rather Francis knew that people cannot only be loved into the Kingdom. What condemnation and accusation cannot do, gentle kindness, courtesy and understanding can achieve.

G.K. Chesterton said that Francis “walked the world as the Pardon of God.” It was as if,  in him, their little brother, people could glimpse the smile on the Father’s face, see how much they were accepted and cherished, and so felt free to come home. This is the approach of redemptive compassion that Francis wanted the friars to adopt – revealing a compassion that lifts people up with the hope of change, that life can be different.

The Rule told how the friars are to go among the people as humble brothers. “I counsel, admonish and exhort my bothers in the Lord Jesus, that, when they go about the world, that they do not quarrel, or fight with words, or judge others. Rather, let them be meek, peaceful and unassuming, gentle and humble, speaking courteously to everyone, as is becoming.”

Francis, in choosing to side with the outcasts, the lepers, ascended low enough so as to discover the Incarnation writ everywhere. The Franciscan vision is about the dignity of the human person. It is about making the language of the human community a language of “brother and sister.”

Francis called us to bend low in love, to find the humble goodness of God in the simple and oftentimes broken hearts in the world.

Friday, 7 October 2011

St Francis - Herald of the Great King

In one of his admonitions to the friars St Francis described evangelisation as using “the most holy words and deeds of the Lord” to lead “people to the love of God in joy and gladness.” Francis’ experience of Christ flowed with great energy into mission. He told the friars that they had been called by the Lord “not for themselves alone but for the sake of others.” God had sent them “into the entire world for this reason that in word and deed you may give witness to his voice.” 

The way Francis viewed Christ had an impact on how he and the friars exercised their ministry of evangelisation.

Francis knew that the friars were in the communication business, meant to be bearers of Good News, as is the whole Church. We forget that at our peril. The friars were called to be “heralds of the Great King” and “troubadours of the Lord.”

God’s pastoral strategy was Francis’ guide. He recognised a progression whereby God enters into ever deeper communion with men and women, accommodating himself to our needs:

- The image and action of God impregnates all creation
- The Son of God took upon himself our flesh
- The glorified Christ becomes Bread for the life of the world.

Francis saw that the Eucharist is the last step in the long path of God’s humble “condescension” towards us  – creation, revelation, incarnation, Eucharist.

Francis wanted the way of ministry, of witnessing to the Gospel, to be rooted in how God works among us - drawing close to us, adapting to our needs.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

St Francis - Experiencing God

Over the centuries St Francis has often been co-opted by different causes and projects. On his feast day it is good to recall to the core of his experience and message.

At its heart, the origin of the Franciscan movement is a rediscovery and revitalisation of the Christian experience. Inspired by his own life-changing encounter with the Risen Christ, Francis sought to meet men and women in their own milieu with a joyful witness to God who has come to us in Jesus. He wished to make the faith present in an explicit and visible way, without fear or calculation, in all the spheres and situations of life.

With overflowing joy in God, Francis expressed the goal of all life and service in the following passage from the Earlier Rule:
'Let us desire nothing else,
let us wish for nothing else,
let nothing else please us
and cause us delight
except our Creator and Redeemer and Saviour,
the one true God who is the fullness of good,
all good, every good...
Let all of us
wherever we are, in every place,
at every hour, at every time of day,
everyday and continually
believe truly and humbly
and keep in our heart
and love, honour, adore, serve,
praise and bless, glorify and exalt,
magnify and give thanks
to the most high and supreme eternal God,
Trinity and Unity,
the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Creator of all, Savour of all
who believe in Him, and hope in Him and love Him.'

Saturday, 1 October 2011

St Therese - Little before God

St Therese of Lisieux, whose feast day is celebrated today, is one of my favourite saints; her message continues to be as relevant as the Gospel.  Unfortunately, her 'little way' is often presented in a pious manner that robs it of its depth.

St Therese’s approach to the Christian life could be named as a spirituality of imperfection. She was a woman who experienced profoundly her own powerlessness, the reality of human brokenness. Therese suffered not only great physical pain during her short life, but also mental anguish coming from her sensitive personality. She could so easily have ended up an obsessed neurotic.

Persistent experiences of her weakness put her in the position either to despair of wholeness and holiness or to surrender herself entirely to the Lord. In the light of God’s mercy, she came to grasp the truth that God is not concerned about the limitations of being human, but about love.

As she sought to open herself fully to love, Therese was ruthless in recognising religious vanity. She resisted the narcissism of self-absorption. To a novice who spoke of her desire for more strength with which 'to practice virtue' Therese answered: 'And suppose God wishes to have you as feeble and powerless as a child? Do you think that would be less worthy in God's eyes? Be content to stumble, or even to fall at every step; consent to bear your Cross feebly. Love your weakness. Your soul will draw more profit from that than if, sustained by grace, you vigorously performed heroic deeds which would fill your soul with self-satisfaction and pride.'

For Therese her imperfections became an essential part of her life with God. Instead of being obstacles, they were a privileged place to experience the powerful compassion of Christ. She was content to be little, vulnerable and open before the living God.

There is no despising or belittling of weaknesses in self or others because God does not belittle or despise.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

With a Shepherd's Heart

I love that scene in the Gospels when the crowds follow Jesus and his disciples who had tried to go away for a quiet time. We are told that when Jesus saw the people he felt deep compassion for them for "they were harassed and dejected like sheep without a shepherd."

This beautiful passage gives us a glimpse into the very soul of Jesus.

The Lord looks at our broken world and his heart is deeply moved.

There is no bitterness at our messy and confused lives. 

Instead we find compassion for those who struggle with suffering, loss and pain; patient goodness for those who are searching for love and meaning in all the wrong places; kindness for those living in silent despair, a despair often cloaked by the rush and glitter of today’s life.

Christ’s love does not necessarily mean approval for everything in our lives.  But the experience of his goodness and acceptance gives us the courage and grace to make the journey back. 

He is not waiting till we have got our act together before he love us.

Would that all who struggle and fail and fall might find within the Christian community the lived reality of the Lord's constant compassion!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Spacious Sanctuary

Killiney Beach looking towards Dalkey Island

Our Summer is over. During July and August I was able, most early mornings, to sit and pray on Killiney Beach. As Autumn begins, and the days shorten and cool I know the memory of  praying, surrounded by sea and sky, will stay with me .

These few lines attempt to capture the gift of those Summer mornings.

My spacious sanctuary
Stretches north to
Dalkey Island, south to
Bray Head,
Sand for floor
Cloud and blue dome.

Looking east the soft sounds of sea
Accompany my psalms.
Murmuring waves bless the Lord,
Weaving gulls and preening
Cormorants sing His praise,
Morning light give Him glory.

When November days
Creep in
Dank and dark
I will recall my dawn-facing
Space, sacred and wide, and be
Wrapped again in Summer.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Pause as Autumn Begins

The schools have reopened, full work schedules have begun, and the leaves are displaying their glory before sinking to earth.

St Francis constantly said: "Let us begin again!"

The beginning of Autumn can be a moment to pause, review our lives with a gentle gaze and recognise what choices, what possibilities lie before us. 

Sarah Ban Breathnach writes in Simple Abundance:

 "It seems to me that January resolutions are about will; September resolutions are about authentic wants.... The beauty of autumnal resolutions is that no one else knows we're making them. Autumnal resolutions don't require singing, confetti and champagne. September resolutions ask only that we open to positive change."

As the year moves on, the days slip by, what positive change can I make?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Remembering September 11th - Francis shows us the Way

Friar Mychal Judge, Fire Department Chaplain, dies at the Twin Towers
As the world marks the tenth anniversary of September 11th, I share with you a reflection from American friar, Frank Jasper.

9/11/2001: Twenty friars gathered around Friar Gene Mayer’s six-inch television at Cenacle Retreat House in Chicago. We were trying to comprehend the tragedy that was playing out before our eyes. We were shocked and stunned, as was everyone in our country. That night Chicago was eerily quiet as I viewed the skyscrapers that I was so familiar with from my time there. I prayed for the victims, tried to imagine the extent of the devastation and wondered what would happen next.

St. Francis calls us to be peacemakers. But how can we take that stance in the face of such hatred, death and destruction? How can we hate the senseless tragedy without letting our reactions spill over to all Muslims? Francis showed us the way by crossing the enemy lines and meeting face-to-face with Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil. He forged a respectful relationship to avoid the violence of the Fifth Crusade. They parted with reverence for each other.

We are called to cross what some consider “enemy lines” to forge relationships with our brothers and sisters of the Islamic faith who acknowledge Abraham and Jesus as great prophets and Mary as a very special woman. We can avoid the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists when we see they have the same dreams and desires as we have. We avoid violence by focusing on relationships, understanding and diplomacy.

As we observe the 10th anniversary of the tragedies of 9/11 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, we pray along with St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Right Questions are Keys

Asking the right questions is a basic element of the spiritual journey. Questions can be keys that open doors to our deepest truths and desires.

Though-provoking questions help me look honestly at the unknown and unresolved dimensions of my life now.

Jesus asked questions: What are you looking for?  Who do you say I am? Will you also go away?

In different ways St Francis constantly encouraged his followers to ask themselves what fills, guides, and governs my heart now?

Here are some of the questions that have helped me live life at a deeper level:

Given that spiritual growth is intentional, requiring energy and choice - am I will to pay the price for this growth?

What do I need to surrender in trust to God at this time?

What is keeping me from falling in love with my life now?

At this stage in my life what is it too late for, too soon for, just the right time for?

The right questions are keys that allow the secret doors to swing open leading to a deeper self-knowlege, to clearer insight into what n0w is hindering or helping me on the path of discipleship.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Trust in Suffering

More and more I am seeing in my own life that the troubles I experience can deepen me and draw me closer to the Lord in trust.

The Franciscan Richard Rohr has defined faith as “the security to be insecure”.

Insecure in not knowing how things are going to turn out.
Insecure at times in situations beyond my abilities.
Insecure in my experience of my own sinfulness and weakness.

Yet, in all this,  secure in God’s everlasting faithfulness.
Secure in trust in God’s providence,
God’s provision,
God’s protection for his unique child,
knowing in faith that all that we see is not all that there is!

Surrender to Christ does not weaken me, it strengthens me.

The news of the Gospel is good, wonderfully good, good beyond all our hoping.

This same Gospel encourages me: never give up, never despair of God’s grace, never stop trusting and praying and placing all in his safe hands.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Church Crisis - A Rebirth in Pain

On 4 July 1994 Vaclav Havel, poet, playwright, and peace activist,  then President of the Czech Republic, was award the Liberty Medal by the American government in a ceremony in Philadelphia.

In his speech he reflected on the extraordinary changes taking place on a global scale, changes that have only increased in the intervening years.

He spoke of death and new birth.

He said: 'Today, many things indicate that we are going through a transitional period, when it seems that something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born. It is as if something were crumbling, decaying and exhausting itself, while something else, still indistinct, were arising from the rubble.'

I was very struck when I came across these words recently.

They speak powerfully to the situation we are experiencing within the Catholic Church here in Ireland and in many parts of the world.

Something is 'on the way out' - a whole model of Church rooted in clericalism and authoritarianism. Before our very eyes we see it 'crumbling, decaying and exhausting itself'.

Something new is being 'painfully born', arising from the 'rubble'. But what is being born is as yet  'indistinct' for we live in a 'hinge period' in Church history.

Such a time demands courage and hope from courageous souls. We are being asked to hold firm in the trust that, despite signs to the contrary,  the same divine Spirit who brooded over the dark waters at the dawn of history drawing creation out of chaos, watches over this new work of God's creative goodness.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Waters of Mercy

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Polish-born American rabbi, writes beautifully of the spiritual path that is the God-given potential of every person. 

In his book, The Insecurity of Freedom, he speaks of the act of prayer as - not so much a dialogue with the Eternal - but an immersion in the "waters of mercy".

It is certainly true that as our prayer deepens it grows in simplicity. We become less active, more still and receptive to the action of the Spirit of God.

This makes for hard going. We have an innate and strong desire to be in control, even of our relationship with God.  This growth in simplicity in prayer can mean letting go of particular ways of praying that have nourished our souls in the past.

The rabbi writes: "I am not ready to accept the ancient concept of prayer as a dialogue. Who are we to enter a dialogue with God!

The better metaphor would be to describe prayer as an act of immersion, comparable to the ancient Hebrew custom of immersing oneself completely in the waters as a way of self-purification to be done over and over again.

Immersion in the waters! One feels surrounded, touched by the waters, drowned in the waters of mercy."

Monday, 15 August 2011

Summer Sabbath

During these Summer days I am still reflecting on the gift of knowing how to let go of the haste and stress that can mar my daily living.

Wayne Muller in his beautiful book, Sabbath, Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, speaks of our need for a healthy, spiritual balance in our lives. Sabbath is not so much about a particular day as about an attitude we bring to life.

"Sabbath is not dependent upon our readiness to stop. We do not stop when we are finished. We do not stop when we complete our phone calls, finish our project, get through this stack of messages, or get out this report that is due tomorrow. We stop because it is time to stop.

Sabbath requires surrender. If we only stop when we are finished with all our work, we will never stop--because our work is never completely done. With every accomplishment there arises a new responsibility.

Every swept floor invites another sweeping, every child bathed invites another bathing. When all life moves in such cycles, what is ever finished?

The sun goes 'round, the moon goes 'round, the tides and seasons go 'round, people are born and die, and when are we finished? If we refuse rest until we are finished, we will never rest until we die.

Sabbath dissolves the artificial urgency of our days, because it liberates us from the need to be finished."

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Year of St Clare

This year the feast of St Clare on 11 August is of particular importance for the Franciscan Family spread throughout the world. At this time we are celebrating 800 years since that night when this noble woman, eighteen years old, secretly left her family home and went to join Francis and his first few followers. In the little chapel of the Our Lady of the Angels in the woods below Assisi she handed her life over to God.

Clare did not know it but that simple ritual in which she knelt before Francis and consecrated herself to her Beloved was the beginning of a new way of life within the church. Before she died 42 years later there would be 115 communities of sisters in Italy and 50 outside living her Gospel vision.

That night Clare was following her heart's deepest desire. She allowed herself to be drawn by the Spirit. This woman, strong in faith and love, said a full Yes to Christ.

In time Clare was to discover, as many have before and since, that when we let God have his way with us his love works in us and through us far beyond our hoping.

Pope Benedict, speaking of Clare, wondered about the paradox of her life. Hidden within the cloister, her light shone; Clare was silent but her influence was profound.

He goes on to say: 'And this is exactly how it was, dear friends: those who change the world for the better are the holy ones, those enraptured by God's love. They transform our world permanently, instilling in it the energies that only love inspired by the Gospel can elicit. The saints are humanity's great benefactors; God's gift to the world!'

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Less Rush: Summmer Slow Down

During these summer days I am sensing even more the invitation to slow down, live in the now and enjoy all that is around me.

I know from experience that the tranquil soul savours life more deeply. 

The blessings are always there, even on difficult days. The grace is to be present so that I can taste each day's sweetness.

A little poem by Eva Merriam speaks to this desire in me.

A Lazy Thought

There go the grownups
To the office,
To the store.
Subway rush,
Traffic crush;
Hurry, scurry,
Worry, flurry.

No wonder
Don't grow up
Any more.
It takes a lot
Of slow
To grow.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Norway's Response to Hate

Norway's Prime Minister (centre) at bomb site.
 'We are going to answer hatred with love.'

Who was the speaker? Not some Norwegian religious leader but the Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg speaking at a memorial service for the victims of the terror attacks that shocked us all.

In a remarkable way the people of Norway, led by their Prime Minister, have given the world a lived example of the saying of concentration-camp survivor Viktor Frankel: 'The last and greatest of the human freedoms is the freedom to choose one's response in any given circumstance.'

'The bullets struck dozens of our young people but they were aimed at the entire nation,' Stoltenberg said, speaking in Oslo Cathedral. 'I think 22 July will be a very strong symbol of the Norwegian people's wish to be united in our fight against violence, and will be a symbol of how the nation can answer with love.'

He quoted the words of a young woman who had survived the shootings: 'If one man can create that much hate, you can only imagine how much love we can create together. Violence creates violence, hate creates hate.'

In another speech the Prime Minister refused to use the 'war on terror' rhetoric, language that only increases fear and hate, and has been used to enact repressive legislation and restrict freedoms in other countries. Instead he spoke of how it was 'absolutely possible to have an open, democratic, inclusive, multi-political society, one that is not fearful and afraid of violence, and one that can still be secure.'

'In the middle of all these tragic events, I am proud to live in a country that has stood firm at a critical time. I am deeply impressed by how much dignity and compassion I have seen. We are a small nation, but a proud people. We are horrified over what has happened. But we will never abandon our values. Our reply is: more democracy, more openness, and more humanity. But never naivety.'

Speaking in parliment Mr Stoltenberg said that Norwegians need to reflect on the tone of debate within the country, on 'what we have thought, said and written.... We all have something to learn from the tragedy.' He told MPs: 'We can all have a need to say "I was wrong" and be respected for it.'

The Scriptures tells us: 'Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good' (Romans 12:21 ). In the St Francis Peace Prayer we ask for strength to sow love where there is hatred, light where there is darkness.

What a gift to the world to see a nation that has suffered from such dark evil and yet responds by turning resolutely toward the light.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Standing Steady

Any human being who is alert is conscious of the tension, the conflict that goes on between light and darkness around them and within their own hearts. St Francis de Sales said the border line between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light passes through every human heart.

For members of the Catholic community in Ireland and in many other places in the world these are very difficult days when the awareness of that struggle is hard and painful. The church is being purified and that work has to go deep. We are called to live out our Christian commitment in a time of darkness and uncertainty.

The struggle is real but so is the strength and courage that comes from the good Christ at this time.

As Christians we are not meant to downplay the reality of this struggle with darkness within our church and in our very hearts. We experience it; we see the consequences of it all around us. But if we are not meant to deny the darkness nor are we meant to be overwhelmed by it.

The Lord  knows what he is doing. I do not need to know how his grace is working as he purifies and brings healing. He alone can bring light from darkness, grace from sin and sorrow and shame, good from mess and failure.

Only his light can drive out darkness. And that is what he is doing now.

So now is the time for us to stand steady in that light.

Now more than ever we are called to hold firm, take heart and open ourselves as a faith community to receive from the Risen Christ the compassion that heals and frees us from the past, the trust that gives us courage in the present, and the wisdom and integrity that will enlighten our future path.

Friday, 22 July 2011

After the Cloyne Report

Last week the report on the handling of allegations of clerical sexual abuse within the Cloyne Diocese was published. Since then there has been a great outcry over  the mishandling of some cases, and especially about what was seen as interference by the Vatican.

Some politicians have demanded that the Papal Nuncio be expelled, and the Minister of Justice has spoken of bringing in legislation that would require priests to break the seal of confession if they learn of any sexual abuse.  The hard-hitting speech given by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dail has received almost universal praise, including from many clergy.

Much of this anger is justifiable and very understandable.

But, writing in The Irish Independent, David Quinn asks some questions:

"How many people in Ireland know that the clerical abuse scandals peaked in the 1970s and 1980s? How many know that of the several hundred allegations received by the church in the last two years, almost none relate to incidents that happened in the last 10 years?

How many know that a large section of public opinion grossly overestimates the number of child abusers in the priesthood, as a Royal College of Surgeons survey ascertained?

How many know that Catholic priests are no more likely to abuse children than comparable groups, which is what 'Newsweek' magazine discovered when it contacted US insurance companies to determine whether they charged a higher risk premium for Catholic priests than for other clergy?

How many know that the Cloyne Report itself acknowledges that the church's child-protection guidelines are better than the State's guidelines? It says that compared with the church's guidelines, the State's are 'less precise and more difficult to implement'."

Quinn continues: "It would be safe to bet that only a small proportion of the public could correctly answer the above questions. The reason for this is that our media have no interest in making the answers known so instead we have a public that believes the phenomenon of child abuse is a particularly and peculiarly Catholic one."

In an atmosphere of hurt and outrage it is very difficult for the full truth of an issue to be held. This is especially the case when different agendas are at work.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Drawing by Attraction

Last night I read an interview given by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in the Guardian Weekend. Since taking on the role some nine years ago I have been impressed with him as a thoughtful man of faith.

He was asked about the current trend among militant atheists led by Richard Dawkins to attack vehemently the very notion of religion, the Christian faith in particular.  

In responding to this situation the archbishop does not set much store by confrontation. "Arguments have the role of damage limitation. The numbers of people who acquire faith by argument is actually rather small. But if people are saying stupid things about the Christian faith, then it helps to say, come on, that won't work.'

He has a fondness for quoting St Ambrose: 'It does not suit God to save his people by arguments.'  This echoes the guidance that Francis gives his friars in the Franciscan Rule. 

Francis wrote: 'I counsel, admonish and beg my brothers that, when they travel about the world, they should not be quarrelsome, dispute with words, or criticize others, but rather should be gentle, peaceful and unassuming, courteous and humble, speaking respectfully to all as is fitting.'

Francis gave this exhortation when the community of faith was struggling with various popular teachings that went counter to the Gospel. Good Catholics were expected to join in the fight!  But Francis had little trust in the power of argument to win hearts. Rather he called on people to live our faith in Christ with generous love.

In the end we must draw by attraction.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Leadership: He gives me strength

Hugh, our new Provincial Minister, and Cletus at Chapter
After several full days gathered together our Chapter drew to a close on Friday.  At the end of the concluding Eucharist the Book of the Gospels and the Rule of St Francis were placed on the altar. 

Each of the nearly 90 friars present approached and placed his hands on the sacred texts, silently rededicating himself to live the Franciscan life and mission that is our calling. Then he received a Tau Cross, so beloved of St Francis,  from Hugh McKenna, our new  Provincial Minister. It was a simple moment of grace for each of us.

Hugh was chosen by the friars with a resounding majority. He begins with a great deal of prayerful good will. Many friars commented on the heavy burden this cheerful, outgoing man now takes on. Leadership is never easy and in the Church today has its own particular challenges.

But speaking to his brothers Hugh was clear that while aware it would not always be smooth sailing ahead he was not fearful. He told us that during a particular dark period of his life he was sustained by repeating the promise of  Scripture: 'I can do all things in the power of him who gives me strength.'  With that trust in God's goodness and grace at work in our lives and Church he  takes up his task.

St Francis prayed often that the grace of  the Spirit of the Lord be especially active in the 'ministers and servants' chosen by the brothers. May Hugh experience the reality of that empowering presence.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Gathering for Chapter

On Sunday 3 July over 90 Irish Franciscan friars will gather in Gormanston College, Co Meath, for our Provincial Chapter. This week-long gathering takes place every three years.  On Monday we elect the person who will lead us as Minister Provincial. Then we choose a Vicar Provincial and  Definitors, men who will assist the Provincial in his role.

During our time together we will reflect on the past three years, discuss the reality of the Church and society in Ireland today and, in light of that reality, plan for the future. It will be a full week. I am hoping the rain stays away so that we can get some fresh air between sessions walking the wonderful grounds.

The most positive part of the week  for me, I expect, will come from just being together. When we gather in such numbers there is a real sense of brotherhood - in the common prayer beautifully celebrated, and in the good craic,  lots of chat and banter.

We simply enjoy being together. Francis would be happy about that. He said the friars should love each other more than a mother loves her child since our bond is formed by our unity in the Spirit - we are brothers in the Lord. Looking back on his life the saint wrote: 'The Lord gave me brothers.'

So when the friars start gathering tomorrow from all over the country I know in faith these men are the brothers God's providence has chosen for me. It is God's call on our lives that unites us.

May the Spirit of the Lord be our light and encouragement during the coming days.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Justice in a Time of Cutbacks.

The Greeks are very angry! As I write there are riots on the streets of Athens, violence and tear gas.  The people protest as the government bringing in even more severe austerity measures.

We Irish are very tame in comparison even if this country is in a similar situation. Many more harsh cut backs are coming down the line.

The heaviest burdens are being imposed on the weakest among us. As always the powerful, the wealthy are able to protect themselves and their interests only too well.

I am not advocating riots on the streets. But I have been disappointed by the silence of our Church leaders in all of this. Surely in this situation there is something to say from the Gospel perspective.  Communion with Christ and his Holy Spirit helps us view the world in the light of the Gospel. That perspective presses us to accomplish God’s will, to work for the truth and justice of his Kingdom.

This was something Archbishop Romero, the martyred archbishop of San Salvador, admitted he had to learn. In one of his sermons he said: 'I am a shepherd who, with his people, have begun to learn a beautiful and difficult truth: our Christian faith requires that we submerge ourselves in the world.'

We pray to see the world with God’s eyes, and then in communion with God’s Spirit we are emboldened and motivated to act. There is a need for a clear Christian voice that calls for justice and fairness in a time of cutbacks.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Eucharist as Poultice

Some years ago I came across a quote from a medieval English writing, The Epistle of Privy Counsel. The faith-filled message has stayed with me.

It speaks with beautiful simplicity of our encounter with God as healing and life-giving. The image of the poultice is used.  A  poultice is a home-made remedy that is laid on a festering wound to draw out the poison.

'Take good and gracious God, just as he is,
and without further ado
lay him on your sick self  just as you are,
for all the world as if he were a poultice.
For touching God is eternal health.
You are touching his very being,
his own dear self, no more, no less.'

Particularly, when sharing in the Eucharist, I recall this image if I am aware of being burdened in some way. 

Just before receiving we pray: 'Only say the word and I shall be healed.' We are invited in simple trust  to bring ourselves with all our needs to the Lord, to 'lay him' on our wounded selves, and allow him to draw from our hearts and minds and bodies all that is not life-giving, all that is not of him.

The feast of Corpus Christi celebrates with joy the gift of healing and fresh hope given us in the Eucharist.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Goodness and Greatness

Continuing my ponderings on the vast mystery of God as Trinity.... This prayer, composed by the American friar, Richard Rohr, speaks to my heart.

God for us, we call You Father
God alongside us, we call You Jesus,
God within us, we call You Holy Spirit.

You are the Eternal Mystery
That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
even us,
and even me.

Every name falls short of your
Goodness and Greatness

We can only see who You are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing.

As it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be.