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.

Poetry and Book Club

The next meeting of the Poetry and Book club is on Wednesday 27th May at 1.30 The group will be using Zoom.

The topic is “Women Poets” Some of the members have shared their selected poems so the group can read and think about them prior to the meeting. You can read some of the selected poems here.

If you are interested and want to get involved then please get in touch with Mike using the form which you can find here.

Reflection on 7th Sunday of Easter: 24th May 2020

Oneness

“May they be one in us.”

Groups of various sizes can experience different levels of oneness linked with a variety of common interests: religion, sport, creativity, nature. Has there ever been such a global experience of oneness which COVID-19 has thrust on us? Those moments when we sense that we are at one with the joys and sorrows of others are “sacramental glimpses. They touch eternity.” [1] They remind us that “we are already one with everything. All that is absent is awareness. Awareness allows us to know this reality, and our openness to the Spirit within us allows this awareness to become transformational. To be one with everything is to have overcome the fundamental illusion of our separateness.” [2] “I’ve often said that great love and great suffering are the universal, always available paths of transformation because they are the only things strong enough to take away the ego’s protections and pretensions. Great love and great suffering bring us back to God” [3]

All over the world images of the rainbow remind us that there is hope and light to follow these days of chaos. The rainbow also reminds us of our oneness. “Everything is a facet of the one thing. Think in terms of white light shining through a prism to reveal the full spectrum of colour seen by the human eye: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Each of these colours is part of the original whole and cannot be separated from it. Turn off the light source and the colours disappear. Now apply this metaphor to the world around and within you. Everything you see, think, feel, and imagine is part of and never apart from the same Source. We call this Source by such names as God, Reality, Brahman, Allah, One, Krishna, the Absolute and the Nondual. The list of names is long; the reality to which they all point is the same.” [4]

“We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” [5] “A heart transformed by this realisation of oneness knows that only love ‘in here,’ in me, can spot and enjoy love ‘out there.’ [3] This is eternal life, experienced here, now.

Adapted : [1] Daniel O’Leary [2] David Benner [3] Richard Rohr [4] Rabbi Rami Shapiro [5] Thomas Merton

Gospel, John 17:1-11

After saying this, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said: Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you; so that, just as you have given him power over all humanity, he may give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him. And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.
Now, Father, glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world existed.

I have revealed your name to those whom you took from the world to give me. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
Now at last they have recognised that all you have given me comes from you
for I have given them the teaching you gave to me, and they have indeed accepted it and know for certain that I came from you, and have believed that it was you who sent me.

It is for them that I pray. I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All I have is yours and all you have is mine, and in them I am glorified. I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us.

Poetry and Book Club: News

The next meeting of the Poetry and Book club is on Wednesday 27th May at 1.30 The group will try to use Zoom.

The topic is “Women Poets” If you are interested and want to get involved then please get in touch with Mike using the form which you can find here.

Zoom is easy once you have done it so if you are a little concerned about that then may I suggest you have a practice first.

Reflection on 6th Sunday of Easter: 17th May 2020

Love is His Meaning

Where are you going? Can we go? Who will stay with us?

Today’s gospel passage is part of a larger text known as the Farewell Discourse, (John Ch14-16), and it is Jesus’ goodbye speech to his disciples. The preacher Fred Craddock captures today’s scene in a memorable image, likening the disciples to children playing on the floor, who happen to look up and see their parents putting on coats. Their questions are three (and they have not changed): Where are you going? Can we go? Then who is going to stay with us? [1] No doubt the disciples found it difficult to understand Jesus’ words. Even with our gift of hindsight we struggle when he talks about leaving and coming, absence and presence, seeing and not seeing. It is only when with love we hold these realities together in tension that we will experience that paradoxically they are not mutually exclusive. [2]

In her song ‘Love Always’ Carrie Newcomer sings:
It takes some starts and stops to hold a paradox.
I keep trying to understand, and to hold it in both hands
How to know what can’t be done and still envision all that can.

That ‘starting and stopping’ involves a willingness to be open to a constant dislodging of our perception of Love. It involves a growing awareness that our actions do not earn us God’s love: they help make us present to the eternal, unconditional loving presence of God within us. It involves being at the correct starting point. We are familiar with the story of the traveller who stopped to ask someone the directions to his destination. “If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here,” was the reply.

Jesus’ starting point was his awareness that ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’ (John 14:11 ) The Spirit of Truth abiding in us will help us grow in awareness of our abiding in God who is Love. Love is who we are. When we get the ‘who’ right and realise that who I am is Love, then we will love God and love all that God has created. [3]

Adapted : [1] Kelly Anne Donahue [2] Michael Marsh [3] R.Rohr

John 14: 15- 21

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

A message from the diocese

Your prayers are kindly requested for Bishop Paul Swarbrick.

On Friday 8th May, he was injured whilst exercising on his bike. He was admitted to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and diagnosed with a fractured skull and with damage to his left ear. He was discharged on Sunday 10th May so that he could continue his recovery at home. He would appreciate your prayers.

It would appear that he is well on the road to recovery but with any such injury it could take some time. We remember him by name at every Mass but especially so at this time.

Thank you all for your prayers.

Lectio Divina: News

Our growing Lectio Divina group took the Gospel reading for the 6th Sunday in Easter Year A: John 14: 15-21 “I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate.”

Some of the participants have kindly offered their reflections. You can read them here.

New members always welcome. Contact the group using the form at the bottom of this page.

Reflection on 5th Sunday of Easter: 10th May 2020

Don’t let your hearts be troubled

‘Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.’

Corrie ten Boom | MY HERO

Corrie ten Boom had plenty of cause for worry over the course of her lifetime. During World War II, she, along with her father and sister, provided a refuge in their home for a number of Jewish friends, playing a pivotal role in the Dutch ‘underground’ who sheltered Jews. Their home was eventually raided and the entire family arrested, her father dying in prison and her sister in a concentration camp. Corrie was sent to a series of camps but was released, and afterwards told her story in a book called The Hiding Place. Corrie’s heart must have been troubled, often, but her strong faith sustained her and became the lens through which she viewed her life story: ‘Every experience God gives us, every person he puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only he can see.’ None of us knows how the future is going to turn out, and that is precisely why we tend to worry.

Tríona Doherty

Neuroscience can now demonstrate that the brain has a negative bias; the brain prefers to constellate around fearful, negative, or problematic situations. Our negative and critical thoughts are like Velcro, they stick and hold; whereas our positive and joyful thoughts are like Teflon, they slide away. When a loving, positive, or unproblematic thing comes your way, you have to savour it consciously for at least fifteen seconds before it can imprint itself in your “implicit memory;” otherwise it doesn’t stick. We must indeed savour the good in order to significantly change our regular attitudes and moods. And we need to strictly monitor all the “Velcro” negative thoughts.

Richard Rohr

“Just beyond the storms of personal chaos lies the profound indwelling power of love, the Source and true Centre”

Cynthia Bourgeault

Dwelling in that Love we find a new way of being, a new way of seeing what is real and true, a new way of truly living life to the full.

Blessing in the Chaos

To all that is chaotic in you,
let there come silence.

Let there be a calming
of the clamouring,
a stilling of the voices that
have laid their claim on you,
that have made their home in you,

that go with you
even to the holy places
but will not let you rest,
will not let you hear your life
with wholeness
or feel the grace that fashioned you.

Let what distracts you cease.
Let what divides you cease.
Let there come an end
to what diminishes and demeans,
and let depart all that keeps you
in its cage.

Let there be an opening
into the quiet that lies beneath the chaos,
where you find the peace
you did not think possible
and see what shimmers within the storm.

Jan Richardson