The Folly of the Cross

There is the story of the man who wakes up from an operation in hospital to be greeted by the doctor, who says to him, “I have some good news and bad news for you.”
The man says, “Give me the bad news first.”
The doctor replies, “We had to remove both your feet!”
Distraught the man begins to weep and after a few minutes asks, “And what was the good news?”

To which the doctor replies, “The man in the next bed wants to buy your slippers.”
(Sorry! I can hear you cringing from here….but bear with me!)

We’ve all told or heard those jokes or played the game “Do you want the good news or the bad news?”

Do you want the good news or the bad news? It is exactly what our faith is!
The Good News is that Jesus has liberated us from sin and shown us the way to life eternal.
The bad news is he had to suffer and die to do that!

This is the paradox of Christianty. The reason we call the day of Christ’s suffering and brutal death – “Good Friday”

It’s what is known as the “Folly of the Cross”
This comes from St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians…
“The language of the cross is folly for those not on the way to salvation, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The readings today ask us to reflect on the “Folly of the Cross” with the examples of Jeremiah and Peter, and wisdom from Paul, himself.

1st Reading

Jeremiah shares his experience of the cross.
Seduced by the Lord and, putting his whole life at the service of God, the prophet has become a laughing stock, the butt of everyone’s jokes.
But the fire in his heart is too strong, even amid his own personal crisis and suffering, he has to carry the cross of being the prophetic voice.

2nd Reading

The theme continues as Paul urges the faithful to “offer your living bodies as a holy sacrifice pleasing to God.” This is the worship pleasing to God, in taking up the cross and dying to self.

Gospel.

Here Jesus announces his passion to the disciples and tells them that their path is the same.

Peter, who was the hero in last week’s Gospel professing Jesus as the messiah and Son of God, doesn’t get it.

“Get behind me Satan, this is not the way of God and if anyone wants to follow me they must renounce themselves and take up the cross and follow me.”

These are the two ways of true Christianity – renouncing self and taking up the cross.
But what does that mean?

Renouncing is dying to self, to self interest, selfishness and self dependency.

Taking the cross is not just about accepting life’s difficulties but it’s an expression of complete and total love for the other, which in its most radical form, is the complete gift of self… even to death.

Jesus then explains the folly of the cross in a more logical way.

  • Whoever gives their life, will gain life eternal.
  • This life is merely transitory.
  • The eternal reward should be all the concerns us.

In today’s world where “it’s dog eat dog, be all that you can be, look after number 1…” Jesus’ logic is alien to the world but we are called to renounce that attitude, that mind set, that ideology and practice.

The COVID 19 pandemic has shown the world up for the selfishness that reigns, for the greed that abounds, for the inequalites, with which each, day get worse.

At a time when we are called to be in solidarity with those worse off… we batter down the hatches. We circle the wagons. During this pandemic…

  • The Government abolishes the Department of International Development and reduces its aid to the developing world.
  • 36,000 people’s universal credit has been reduced.
  • Landlords, hoteliers, councils can now put the homeless back on the streets.
  • Companies prefer to make redundancies rather than reduce profits.
  • WHO admits that the pandemic reveals systematic injustice and calls us to act.
  • The USA withdraws funds from the WHO during the biggest crisis in our lifetime

And we could go on!

“Renounce ourselves and take up our cross” demands that we act differently, that as Christians we say to the world “You’ve got it wrong! There is another way” And it’s the way of love, of solidarity, of compassion.

And the alternative model of Jesus is in renouncing our own selfish ways our comfortable ways and look at the other with love, not disdain or fear.
This is the folly of the Cross!

  • So what am I called to renounce in my life ? The sacrifices I need to make?
  • What are those things that make me selfish instead of selfless?
  • What are the crosses that I need to embrace to make me love more?
  • Who am I called to love more? And how can I do that?
  • What am I asked to do to follow Jesus more faithfully?

The Pandemic can be the cross which brings us hope and a better, more just life.
We can stand beating our breasts feeling sorry for ourselves at the foot of the cross or we can run with hope, faith and love to joy of the empty tomb!

The choice is ours!

Let’s pray that we choose to run from the scandal of the cross to the glory of the tomb… and you don’t need slippers for that!

If you want to make God laugh… Tell God what your plans are for tomorrow!

There is the story of the avid golfer who goes to the fortune teller desperate and curious to know if there are golf courses in Heaven. So, Rosie Lee gazes into her crystal ball and announces: “I have good news and bad news!”
“What’s the good news?” asks the enthusiastic golfer.
“There are loads of beautiful courses in Heaven…lush greens, gorgeous fairways, luxurious settings and 5-star club houses” she answers.
“Wow that’s brilliant” replies the golfer and then asks, “What’s the bad news.”
“You tee off on Wednesday morning!” comes the reply.

No one can predict the future! Last year we Xaverians in Preston were planning big things. We had organised the calendar for the year ahead and one of our initiatives, in line with the Church in England and Wales, was a series of talks on “the God who Speaks”. We were hoping to develop sessions each month where we could identify where and how God speaks to us today, and what is it that God is saying. “The God who Speaks” was the theme for the year 2020 and, rather than it being torpedoed, I believe, it probably has become a more poignant and relevant theme than anyone could have imagined. No one could foresee in December where we find ourselves today individually, communally and globally. Where is the “God who speaks” in all of this?

A familiar phrase from scripture, found in Matthew 16:3, Luke 12:56 and one which was used by Pope John XXIII when he convoked the Second Vatican Council, in the statement Humanae Salutis (1961) and also in Pacem in Terris (1963) is the command to read the “signs of the times”. It came as a rallying call for the Church to be more attentive to the world if it wants to remain faithful to its mission and to be relevant to all God’s people.

In both Scripture passages Jesus remonstrates with the crowds and with the Pharisees for failing to “interpret the signs of the times” and in “failing to understand the present times.” The same message “read the signs of the times” is found in four Vatican II Documents and was the revolutionary motto at that Council. Pope John XXIII called the Council in order to place the Church into the modern era and to make Christ’s mission more meaningful in “these present times.”

So, what are some of the signs we must read in these present times? Well, I have come across certain references to the pandemic as God’s retribution! This is not reading the signs of the times and certainly not reading the God manifest in the person of Jesus. It is myopic madness and let us put that partially sighted viewpoint, that blind spot… where it belongs.

With Pentecost we end the Easter season, and leader who has tried to read the signs, Pope Francis, likens the pandemic to the stone that sealed the tomb of Jesus that “threatens to bury all hope.” However, like the women at the tomb, we cannot allow fear, anxiety, sadness and loss to rob us of hope. And, like them, we too are asking: “Who will roll away the stone?” It is God’s love that will! But the Pope insists that “an emergency like Covid-19 is overcome also by “the antibodies of solidarity.” It’s God’s love and our love working together! Pope Francis expresses the hope that, in the light of the resurrection, “we would encounter the necessary antibodies of justice, charity and solidarity” to change the world. He calls for the building of “a civilization of love,” which he described as “a civilization of hope,” contrary to one marked by “anguish and fear, sadness and discouragement, passivity and tiredness.” The pope continues that this civilization “has to be built daily” and requires “the commitment of everyone.”

So Covid 19 calls us to see the need for solidarity…the only way forward. All of us, I am sure have witnessed great signs in the coming together of so many to do so much for others. It does indeed gladden the heart! But this global emergency has also shown us more and evermore clearly the blatant signs that we are living in an ill-divided world, an unequal society, an unjust reality. Daily we read of the infections and deaths and it stares us in the face. In the UK we see greater death rates among the poor, higher risk among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities (BAME), key workers, dubbed heroes, on basic wages and forced to use food banks, a sudden realisation that “we need immigrants”, clear evidence of “one rule for the privileged and one for the plebs”…and so it goes on! If we look globally, especially the “developing world” this disparity stares us in the face. If the virus has done anything it has opened our eyes to this reality that we have to create a different normal, to denounce unashamed injustices of our time and to build that civilization of love and hope that is inherent to our faith and intrinsic for our future.

So, let’s not concern ourselves with opening of Churches but rather the opening of the Church to these present signs. Let our worship cease to be comfortable but confrontational, let our liturgies be more than faith motivation but faith in action, let our participation of the sacraments, where we open ourselves to God’s grace, lead us to be God’s grace, and let our Church services become real service in the proclamation of God’s Kingdom and the rebuilding of a better world.

And that better world calls us to see the signs of the times and read the messages coming from our world. Pope Francis has also said that nature is responding to how we have maltreated her and says that nature never forgives; “if you give her a slap, she will slap you back!” I am sure we have all seen pictures of the difference the global lockdown has made to our planet! Unblemished skies, clearer rivers and seas, smog less cities, a re-sighting of wildlife, an increase in endangered species… all evidence that we have been slapped. However, the crowded beaches strewn with litter, the fly tipping, the unnecessary travel… have also been familiar sights and evidence that we need to open our eyes wider and let the slap sting us into action.

5 years ago, this week the Pope penned his beautiful encyclical “Laudato si” and in it he illustrated our connectedness with the earth and our duty to care for our common home. He has also said that “a Christian who doesn’t safeguard creation, who doesn’t make it flourish, is a Christian who isn’t concerned with God’s work, that work born of God’s love for us.” Perhaps during the sacrament of reconciliation, amid our many sins, it is time to reflect on this individual and communal transgression. I know I need to!

Covid 19 is calling us to recognise the signs of the times and challenges us to be in solidarity. Solidarity with our brothers and sisters, especially the “least of these” and solidarity with our Mother Earth. As we get through this “vale of tears” may it soften our hearts and open our eyes to see where, when and with whom, we need to be in solidarity. May it give us real 2020 vision.

The opening little joke reminds us that we cannot predict the future, but we can reshape it and surely that’s good news!

Jim Clarke, s.x.

“I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18)

Today I received an Easter message from our Superior General in Rome that I want to share with you. He writes…

Mary of Magdala loved the Lord, she was grateful for the good she had received from him. When Jesus dies, it is she who, ” early in the morning,” on that first day of the week, ” goes to the grave while it is still dark .” In this woman’s readiness, we see the deep desire residing in her heart: she wants to see the body of Jesus. But she cannot find it. In her desperate and somewhat confused search, it is eventually Jesus who comes to her calling her by name: ” Mary! “

When she returns to the disciples, Mary of Magdala sums up all that she has experienced in a small sentence: “I have seen the Lord!” Well, our Christian faith begins from and is based on these simple words. We believe in the Lord Jesus because a woman, Mary of Magdala, had first experienced the resurrection of the Lord.

In these days when we celebrate the central event of our faith, the Easter mystery, the kerygma , we remember that faith in Jesus is a gift, as it was for Mary of Magdala. A gift that must be desired from the depths of our hearts and sought with all our might. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mt 7,7-8). “Those who put their hope in you, oh God, will never be disappointed; those who abandon you for no reason, they will be disappointed.” (Ps 25.3).

We celebrate this Easter 2020 in the very special and completely unexpected world context of the Covid-19 pandemic. So many people have been directly affected, so much suffering all around us, so many victims everywhere, so much uncertainty! We too have been badly hit, particularly in the Community of the Mother House . For this reason, in these days it is our duty to remember in a special way the brothers who left us. We thank the Lord for having had them as members of the same family here on earth, knowing that one day we will be together in our eternal home. Let us pray for their perpetual rest.

Easter tells us that the last word is not death but life. We are its witnesses. What we need today is to be people who look to the future with God’s eyes. The missionary disciple, each of us, knows how to say the word that is appropriate at the appropriate time. He can read the reality we live in with the wisdom of the Spirit. He can employ always-new keys to interpret what is happening. Being filled with the Life of God, he is capable of implanting hope in whatever place or situation he finds himself in. The night, its darkness is behind us. In front, we have only God’s promise.

I then wish to thank each of you for the closeness and fraternity you have manifested, in different ways, towards me. This last week, in fact, my mother left us physically and began her journey to eternity. She was a woman of great faith. ” I want my soul for God, “she used to say in particular moments when it was necessary to be honest and tell the truth. This phrase certainly expresses well the attitude that accompanied my mother throughout her life. For her, there were no half-truths. She always spoke what she thought and believed was right and true. All through her life, she had a particular concern for being honest and true, while having, at the same time, a great sense of God’s presence in her life. It was precisely this felt presence of God, which led her to live in that way. May she rest in the peace the Lord gives to the good and faithful servants.

I really wish each of you, and all friends and acquaintances, a very happy Easter! May the joy of the Lord’s living presence accompany you every day and fill your hearts with the gifts of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control ” (Gal 5:22) .

Fraternally Yours,

Fernando García Rodríguez

Nearly Distancing

Disappointed man leaving ‘The Clangers Arms’ car park.

You remember the joke of the man who built a pub on the moon?

It closed within a week.

There was no atmosphere! (Oh dear … sorry! Blame the isolation!)

Those of you who know me, know too well that I enjoy the pub. Apart from draught lager, which I am partial too, the attraction of the pub is its people. The pub, or give it its full name, the Public House, is a place to meet others. From the gregarious to the grumpy, the rowdy to the reserved, the loud to the lonely, the random stranger to the rampant regular, the oddity to the overbearing … there is room for all … and believe you me some of my haunts do have them all! (Freud would have a field day!)

This pandemic has highlighted our need for people. We are social beings. We were created by a relational God to build relationships. “Let us make humankind in our own image…” we are told in Genesis and then “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are born from the Godhead, the perfect community, and we yearn that perfect community on our earthly pilgrimage, till we return to it.

I am sure these days have made us get in touch with this innate aspect of our humanity… our need, our dependency, our desire for others. We are missing each other, we may be even experiencing the unfamiliar feeling of loneliness, we are looking forward to being united with those we love and can’t be with, we reminisce on those warm “together moments” that have shaped our past and our lives.

But it has also been a chance to deepen our time collectively with our immediate families and those in our households. I am old enough to remember the “winter of discontent” in 1973 where at 10 pm we all sat in the living room with our playing cards as a happy family, playing happy families! As the candles started flickering before they died in a little plume of smoke, we’d eventually finish by saying the rosary together and then reluctantly trudge to bed. Simple but salient times. Indelibly marked in my psyche as I recall the human warmth, the laughter, the love, the intimacy, the security in being together. If any good comes from these uncertain times, I pray for those things – that we return to experience and value human warmth, laughter, love, intimacy and security in being together. Yet oddly, there was a comfort in knowing everyone was experiencing the same thing, a strange solace in the reality “we are all in the same boat”, a deep-felt solidarity.

Crisis brings out the best and the worst of our human condition. As we approach Holy Week, we are confronted with the paradox of human nature. On Palm Sunday we will hear the crowds filled with joy and hope hailing Jesus as their King with “Hosanna, hosanna ” and, in the space of a week, the same crowd will be fuelled with anger and hate, condemning Jesus with “Crucify him, crucify him!” A week is a long time in politics, goes the adage…how true.

Our dark side has been all too readily documented…greedy shoppers, selfish non-essential motorists, clandestine house-party goers, individuals who see themselves as above the law, reckless egoists who ignore the big picture and fail to acknowledge the consequences of their actions.

But as we approach Easter let us dwell rather on the attitude of the handful at the empty tomb and in the small crowd gathered in the upper room. Let us model ourselves on them and focus on the blessed side of our humanity. Let’s have before our eyes the sacrifices of our committed health personnel, the dedication of those essential workers keeping us fed and warm, the kindness of the neighbour checking on the elderly and vulnerable, the generosity of the shopper dropping donations in the food bank trolley, the smile of the stranger we pass by (albeit at two metres), the queues where people now talk to each other, the myriad messages of hope bombarding us on social media, the collective acknowledgement that we are all in this, together. Let us concentrate on ‘what could be’, the possibilities, the potentiality of our shared situation.  

As sons and daughters of God, social distancing is alien to us, it goes against our being. Yet as necessary as it is at this time, it makes us long for the social nearness which we have taken for granted, which is part of our DNA, which is our God-given origin.

As we approach the Easter Triduum, imagine the distancing the disciples were forced to make as their companion was taken from them, isolated in custody, condemned by the authorities, sentenced to death, nailed to a cross, brutally murdered and put in guarded grave in an “out of bounds” area.

Yet, in their isolation, their brokenness, their darkest moment … their faithfulness was rewarded, their relationships enhanced, their lives transformed. From fear-filled followers in despair to powerful proclaimers of hope … God’s love did not disappoint, God’s covenant was not broken, God’s promise was kept, God’s essence was maintained.

Yes, there may be physical, geographical, behavioural “out of bounds” at this moment but as we celebrate God’s boundless love at Easter may our own love also come to know no bounds. And as we relive Holy Week, I pray that, like the disciples, our faithfulness be rewarded, our relationships enhanced, and our lives be transformed… let’s drink to that!

Jim Clarke, s.x.

Pope Francis’ address: Urbi et Orbi

Pope Francis meditated on the calming of the storm from the Gospel of Mark during the prayer service over which he presided on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica on Friday evening. Here is the full text.

“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 pre-packaged 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). – www.vaticannews.va/en.html

Random Thoughts at Random Times

There is that old gag – “If priests went on strike…would anyone notice?” Now you don’t have to answer that…but it is now closer to being fact than being a funny.

The announcement this week by the Episcopal Conferences of both Scotland and England/Wales to suspend all public worship brought home, to those of the Catholic faith, the seriousness of this pandemic. The Eucharist, “source and summit” of all we are is now being denied to the faithful. We can’t go to Communion nor be in communion with each other. This is true also in the other Christian traditions when similar announcements were made and to other faiths when Mosques, Synagogues, Temples, Gurdwaras…also closed their doors to the faithful. It starkly brought home to us what we take for granted.

It is true that we don’t fully appreciate things until we are denied them. We only think of water when we are thirsty, we long for light when we are plunged into the dark, we crave food when we realise that we are hungry. As human beings we too easily take things for granted and it is sadly when we don’t have them that we learn to appreciate them. Or when we see someone worse off than ourselves… “I complained because I had no moccasins until I saw a man with no feet.” (Native American Proverb)

And so to social distancing or self-isolation. I am sure this has been met with… “How will I cope?” or “I can’t do that.” or “I need to see them” – if you are an extravert! For those of the introversion preference it may come as a welcome relief to the rigours of socialising or a chance to get ‘time to myself’ or the opportunity to work away quietly at completing all those things needing to be done. We suddenly realise we have taken our need for others for granted.

The last time I self-isolated was when I did an 8 Day Silent Retreat before my final vows. By day two I was talking to myself in the mirror whilst shaving! We all find our ways to cope.

And it is in our coping that we display who we are. Some have gone into selfish mode, stockpiling things they will never need nor use! Others in denial that this is nothing more than something from a Dan Brown novel and it’s all been exaggerated. Some others are convinced they are invincible and that ‘it will never affect me!’ I hope these are just from a faction of humanity. For most of us there is a breadth of emotions ranging from caution to fear, from anxiety to concern, from common sense to contrived non-sense.

I think the underlying fear is of the unknown. Like the original sin of Genesis, we don’t like not knowing everything, we crave full knowledge. But, this is something we have never faced, it is new, it is unseen, it knows no boundaries. It also reminds us of the downside of globalisation, the adverse aspect of living in a global village. I believe our fear is compounded by our inability – our inability to give answers, to explain, to see the whole picture, to know what to do and, ultimately, our inability to be in control.

In the face of this, the last thing we can do is despair. Despair is the antithesis of being a Christian, the antagonist of or faith. There is never an opportune time for a pandemic but the trials of Lent leading to the triumph of Easter could indeed be deemed a fairly appropriate time. We are approaching the great feast of victory over evil, of the Divine authority over human frailty, of limitless over limited, of life over death. This is the feast where we acknowledge and celebrate that nothing can stand in the way of God’s all-powerful love, not even the tomb. However, before we get the balloons and the bubbly ready, we need to pass through the passion. The suffering of Jesus reminds us that our sins have consequences be it personal sin, social sin or ecological sin. Our present day sufferings may well be the result of our sins too, (and that demands due reflection and action) but we celebrate the fact that God’s love is omnipotent and it’s that belief that gets us through the “vale of tears.”

So, as we endure our present passion, let us not forget where it can lead us, if we but open our hearts to that transforming love of the Father. We can stand beating our breasts, tear-filled and petrified at the foot of the cross or run, hearts bursting, joy filled and glorified at the empty tomb.

The choice is ours.

I pray that as we live these uncertain times, we take certainty from the Easter message, and place our hope in God’s unfathomable love. The angel Gabriel told Mary at the annunciation “Do not be afraid…Nothing is impossible to God.” This is our faith and as we move through these times may we be comforted from that phrase uttered many times by Jesus “Do not be afraid…your faith has saved you.”

May the Passion give strength to us and Easter pour blessings on us.

Jim Clarke, s.x.

Oh what a Night!

Rabbie Burns walks into a bar and the Barman says “Am not serving you, you’re Bard!” (That’s poor!!)

Last Saturday, February 1st, more than 90 people came to the Xaverian Centre for the Annual Burns Supper. This was the first time we had hosted it here at our new place and it was a great success.

The tradition of Burns’ Supper go way back and it was an attempt to keep the songs, poems and writings of Scotland’s National Bard, alive, relevant and vivid.

As Xaverians in the UK, we have used this opportunity to generate funds but, more importantly, to have a little bit of a cultural night where we could bring people together and share laughter, friendship, joy and love.

The format of the evening is steeped in tradition. And we tried to adhere to it, if only loosely!

We began with the welcome, the Selkirk Grace and then proceeded to enjoy the first course of ‘Cock a Leekie’ soup with Scottish bread.

Next the Haggis was piped in by our two pipers, Justin Halpin, who never got a note wrong and Fr. Willie Hattie, who never got a note right! We all then recited “Address to the Haggis” before toasting the haggis with a wee dram of whisky – and as the knife stabbed the Haggis, so our rendition of Burns murdered his works!

Next up was the Fayre itself! Haggis, with whisky sauce, neeps, tatties, roasted stirk (square sausage) and then followed by Tipsy Laird and shortbread. The food was excellent and our thanks go to Alex and Kathy Possamai who worked tirelessly all day in its preparation. Thanks also to the servers, our volunteers who ensured the food arrived piping hot and on time to the tables, under the watchful eye of Tina McGrath, our maître d’.

The speeches then followed the usual pattern of “The Immortal Memory, the Toast tae the Lassies and The Lassies’ Reply.” And thanks to our speakers…but we will be looking for volunteers for next year!

The bar, staffed by the Belles from the Sun Hotel, ensured all present were well watered and then the “sangs and clatter” was led by two of the members of Celtic Fringe. All seemed to enjoy the evening which ended with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, after which some went home, and some didn’t!

So you may ask, “Why celebrate the life of a notorious womanizer, a constant critic of the Church, a father of 13, mainly illegitimate children, and a mason?”

Well, there is no denying the man was a genius who could see the big picture. He had a love for justice, a hatred for hypocrisy, a dream for a better world and voice for the equality and dignity of all humanity.

His poem/song “For a’ that and a’ that” should not only be Scotland’s National Anthem but the Anthem of all Nations. Universal brother/sisterhood is how we ought to live and what we ought to promote with our lives. And its final verse is indeed reason alone to raise a glass and raise our hopes.

Then let us pray that come it may, 
As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

A Happy Missionary Christmas from the Xaverians

Heard the one of the wife on the eve of their wedding anniversary reminding her husband by stating “Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary and I want a lovely gift. Something shiny, metallic and goes from 0 to 100 in seconds.” … So he bought her some bathroom scales. (Ouch!)

This time of the year gifts abound. Be it socks, aftershave and boxers for the men or perfume, jewellery and chocs for the ladies … Christmas is the time when we show our love through gifts.

That’s exactly the meaning of this feast. God loved us so much that he gave us his beloved son. He loves us so passionately, unconditionally, overwhelmingly, that he becomes one of us. This is the total gift that love demands…becoming one of us. This in turn demands a response from us. When you receive a gift, you respond positively…even if it may end up in the Charity Shop later!

Our response is to show our love in return. God’s love, so immense that becomes incarnate, must be mirrored by our love so intense that it becomes our mandate. “Love the other as I have loved you.”

As God comes to share our broken condition, we are called to enter into humanity’s brokenness. Emmanuel means God with us, and indeed God is with us especially in the broken… the poor, the marginalised, the victims, the forgotten, and the voiceless. There is no point in singing “Emmanuel, God is with us” if we don’t reach out to touch the God who is with us every day. God comes to offer hope, to set out a new vision, to encourage us, to care, to show compassion, to heal, to take away our despair, to show there is a different way… and we are called to do the same.

Christmas is a missionary feast. The angel is sent to the hill country of Nazareth, the Word is sent to the Virgin, Mary goes to Elizabeth’s, the shepherds get up and go, the Kings travel afar… Jesus is sent into our world, into our reality, into our lives. Jesus is the Missionary of the Father.

The story is full of going, being sent, journeying… and we too, in turn are to be heralds of the Good News, messengers of the Word which brings life, bearers of the love of God incarnate. We are to make Jesus born anew in our hearts, in our lives, in our world. We are to make God’s love become flesh, to become real, to be present again in our world. How? Amongst the tinsel and trappings, the turkey and the TV, the merriment and mayhem… each of us must make the time to pause, to pray and to plan.

  • What does Jesus mean to me?
  • Where is his light needing to shine?
  • How can I be God’s love for others?
  • Who am I being sent to?
  • Why am I waiting???

We used to use the phrase to mock someone who thought they were it… “So you think your God’s gift?” Well we are God’s gifts and if we show love through gifts, then this season must be the time to make of ourselves a gift to others.

We cannot delay, we must hasten, we cannot stand still. Our world needs urgently to feel the love of God and we must birth him with speed … yes, as fast as 0 to 100 in seconds!

Happy Missionary Christmas from the Xaverians.