Sunday, 17 February 2013

A Last Word from the Pope!

On Shrove Tuesday the community here came together to reflect on the Pope’s Lenten Message. Little did we realise when we decided on this topic some weeks ago that we would be gathering a day after the Pope’s shock announcement of his resignation. So in our reflections the friars viewed the text as one of Pope Benedict’s last messages, one of his final words to us. Seen in that light we read the text even more closely!

For a man who has been portrayed so often as severe in his understanding of the Christian faith the message is wonderfully positive and attractive - “affirmative orthodoxy” at its best, emphasising  what our Christian belief says yes to and rejoices in. Even though it is a “word” for the Lenten journey there is no mention of sin or evil. These realities are not denied, but our eyes are turned toward the light of God’s love, not to the darkness.

Recently I heard a priest share who had given some time to read the Pope’s writings and talks. Like so many he has a jaundiced view of the Pope so he was very surprised to discover just how positive and attractive his teachings were, and that joy (in the Lord, in believing, in the experience of grace, in service) was such a constant theme throughout.

In his final Lenten Message, Pope Benedict writes of how faith leads to love in action. But the origin of faith is the response “to the revelation of God’s gratuitous and ‘passionate’ love for us, fully revealed in Jesus Christ.” The Church is hopefully being formed by “people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love” serve their brothers and sisters. The time of Lent is meant to renew “the first and indispensable contact with the Divine” that makes us “fall in love with Love.” As we enter more and more into this dynamic of Love, “we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others.”

This message, one of Pope Benedict’s last to us, is well worth reading!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Reading that Nourishes Faith

I have finished reading The Duty of Delight, an abridged version of the diaries of Dorothy Day (1897-1980), the founder the Catholic Worker and Houses of Hospitality. Her diaries span her entire adult life and they reveal the story of her spiritual path. Reading them I was struck by how serious she took her own “faith formation”. There are frequent references to reading on her faith and how it sustained her. As a young woman struggling with poverty, she realising “with intense joy, I will always have the torrents of pleasure promised by the psalms, the joy that come from reading, from study, from association with noble minds.”

Amid all the difficulties and loneliness she experienced in her pioneering work among the poor, she writes: “I do plenty of spiritual reading to refresh myself and to encourage myself. Reading is the oil that keeps the lamp burning.” Her reflection on the psalms was a constant blessing: “There is never a time when it is not balm to me for an aching heart.” Towards the end of her life: “Even with all the symptoms of old age and decrepitude my heart can still leap for joy as I read and assent to some truth of the faith enunciated by some great mind or heart.”

But none of this was dry intellectualism – she wanted to live the truth that enlightened her. “The difference between a dead-weight knowledge and a living rich experience can never be enough expressed. I must keep praying that great thoughts will click and pass into life!” As her faith grew stronger, so too did her confidence in God’s love: “Humanity went astray, but Jesus Christ was born and we are richer by that Fall. What a great mystery. The worst has already happened and has been repaired.”

Her desire to grow deeper in living faith meant that she listened to sermons with eagerness – not a very common attitude! “St Teresa said she so loved to hear the Word of God preached that she would listen with enjoyment to the poorest preacher. I know what she meant.” Dorothy writes of a parish mission she was attending in New York in 1939: “It is an exceptionally good mission and my heart is filled with gratitude that God has so blessed us this Lent.” The Jesuit priest preached “in a popular fashion yet dealing with profound ideas”.

We are called to love God “with our whole mind”. Countless times I have experienced that solid reading and Spirit-filled preaching have provided nourishment for my faith and a new energy for the Lord and His service.