Reflection on 30th Sunday: 27th October 2019

The prayer of the humble

“God, I thank you that I am not like….” How would we end that sentence? Jesus’ parable sets a trap for us, a trap that stops us and brings us face to face with the reality of our life and our relationship with God. Who is the Pharisee trying to convince – God or himself? His prayer is directed not so much to God but to himself. He is not describing his faith or spiritual practices. He is keeping score. Anytime we begin keeping score of our own life or the life of another we need to know that something deeper is going on. Score keeping can be a way we either deny or try to overcome the feeling of emptiness, the loss of meaning, the brokenness of our life. We use it to deny what is dead within us, as a way of convincing ourselves that we are okay and our life is fine. The problem is that when we think we have everything – answers, doctrine, law, piety, reputation, stuff, success – when we think we have the requisite number of points, then we have no need of God. We have no need of resurrection and we choose to remain dead.

From the outside the Pharisee and tax collector seem very different. They are not, however, as different as we might think, for on the inside they are both dead; lost, broken, and in need of God. The difference is not their place in society. The real difference is that the tax collector knows he is dead and the Pharisee does not. The difference is that the Pharisee keeps score and the tax collector cries out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner! One who is missing you. One who is in need of you. One who is and has nothing apart from you.” This parable is the invitation to stop keeping score, to acknowledge and hold before God the dead places of our life: the failures and disappointments; the break ups and break downs; the emptiness, sufferings, addictions; the places of our life where we no longer dream dreams, have visions, or prophesy. That is what the tax collector did.

The tax collector went home justified, not because he was good or better than the Pharisee, but because he offered God a dead life not a scorecard. God did not withhold anything from the Pharisee. We don’t know what happened after he got home but we know this: a choice now lay before him, the choice to walk into his own resurrection. That does not tell us how the story ends. It tells us, rather, how it might begin.

Michael Marsh

Reflection on 29th Sunday: 20th October 2019

Prayer

Today’s first and third readings give the impression that God can be manipulated, that if we yell at Him long enough eventually He’ll give in. We can’t talk God into things. Prayer is not to change the mind of God. It’s to change our mind.

Perhaps today’s readings are telling us that what we say, feel and think is heard by God. There is a dialogue going on. The important thing from our side is to stay in the dialogue, to believe that what we say, feel and think matters to God. Do we really believe this? Prayer matters when we know we are in a dialogue, that we are being heard by a sympathetic, empathetic ear on ‘the other side’. When we wholeheartedly enter into that dialogue, we change. And the very thing we first of all prayed for is re-assembled, re-directed and if we persist in prayer our intention, motivation and understanding changes. We reframe the question and little by little we learn to trust that God who is infinitely good, infinitely loving, infinitely merciful is hearing our prayer, holding it in an infinitely loving way. With our finite minds we cannot understand so he has to lead us to the trust we read about in the final sentence of the gospel. Do we want to be one of those people who little by little are edged into a bigger frame, a bigger picture, a more in-depth understanding of what we are praying for.

What is clear in today’s gospel is that the people who pray well are those who keep praying, those who keep the channels open. When we keep the lines open, we will grow in awareness of God’s Spirit within us filling us with the energies of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, trust, faithfulness, gentleness, forgiveness, compassion, understanding and the deep healings that we all need. Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us. This will always happen if we rest calmly in this utterly safe Presence, allowing the Divine Gaze to invade and heal our unconscious, the place where 95 percent of our motivations and reactions come from. All we can really do is return the gaze.

Richard Rohr: Homilies. Adapted
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Reflection on 28th Sunday: 13th October 2019

Thanksgiving

Anne Voskamp writes the following: As I reflected on Luke 17, I remembered my Sunday School teacher Mrs Morrison and could hear her voice asking, “Do you always remember to say thanks?” Yes, I think I know this one, so I skim through the passage. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” Wait. I trace back. Hadn’t Jesus completely healed him? Exactly like the other nine who were cured but hadn’t bothered to return to thank Him. So what does Jesus mean, “Your faith has made you well”? Some translations read, “Your faith has saved you.” Saved you? I dig deeper. It’s ‘sozo’ in Greek, the original language of the New Testament. Sozo means salvation, true wellness, complete wholeness. Jesus came that we might live life to the full. And when did the leper receive the saving to the full, whole life? When he returned and gave thanks. Our wellness, our wholeness is intimately related to the giving of thanks. Mrs Morrison hadn’t said that.

Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life. Thanksgiving –giving thanks in everything- always precedes the miracle.

In Luke 22:19 we read: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them.” In the original language ‘he gave thanks’ reads ‘eucharisteo’. The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning ‘grace’. But it also holds the derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning ‘joy’. St Augustine says that without exception, all try their hardest to reach the same goal, joy. That has always been the goal of the fullest life – joy. And my life knew exactly how elusive that slippery three-letter word, joy, can be. But where can I seize this holy grail of joy? Is deep chara joy to be found only at the table of thanksgiving? Is it that simple?

As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. Joy is always possible: whenever, meaning now; wherever, meaning here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in this piercing ache of now, joy might be – unbelievably – possible! Is the height of my joy dependant on the depths of my thanks?

Ann Voskamp. One Thousand Gifts: A dare to live fully, right where you are

New calendar event: Journeying in Prayer

The Diocese of Blackburn will be holding a 10 week course at the Centre in the first half of 2020. The course is entitled “Journeying in Prayer: Travellers on the Way”

The course is open to all who wish to deepen their experience and knowledge of prayer and to explore the journey of prayer with others. Members of all denominations (and none) are welcome to apply.

For more details look at the calendar entry. The closing date for applications is Friday, 6th December 2019.

Reflection on 27th Sunday: 6th October 2019

Quality not quantity

Like ‘prayer’, ‘religion’ and so many other words, the word ‘faith’ means different things to different people. Our understanding of Biblical faith has been very limited. What set us on the wrong path was making ‘ideas’ or ‘doctrines’ the object of religious faith, instead of a person. Our faith is not a faith that dogmas or moral opinions are true, but a faith that Ultimate Reality/God/Jesus is accessible to us – and even on our side. Jesus was able to touch and heal people who trusted him as an emissary of God’s love, not people who assessed intellectual statements and decided whether they were true or false. Such faith does not usually change our heart or our lifestyle.

We often interpret faith in terms of quantity. The apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. We think we should have more faith. Jesus is not talking about quantity but about quality, the quality of our perception towards the moment.

Faith is an opening of our heart space or our mind space. Initially and foundationally, this is all that faith is but its effects and implications are enormous. Faith is our small but necessary offering to any new change or encounter. Such an opening of the heart and mind is entirely necessary to help us make fresh starts or break through to new levels. We normally have to let go of the old and go through a stage of unknowing or confusion before we can move to another level of awareness or new capacity. People of great faith often suffer bouts of great doubt (which is really fear) at many levels because they continue to grow at new levels.

Faith is a quality of seeing that allows us to expand our vision, to see things in bigger circles, in bigger realms and to know that at the centre of it all is a good and gracious and benevolent God. With such faith we can do impossible and wonderful things.

Richard Rohr: The Naked Now; Daily Meditations; Homilies

Reflection on 26th Sunday: 29th September 2019

The Chasm Within

There are many questions that arise when we interpret parables literally, turning them into a story of historical fact. When we do that the questions are usually endless and unanswerable. Neither can we, however, treat parables as merely metaphor or symbolism that have no real life implications for how we live. So what about today’s parable? What is it saying to us and what is it not saying to us?

Image result for lazarus gulf rich

At some point in our lives we have probably all been both the rich man and Lazarus. We can all name times when life has been good, full, and easy. Likewise we can name times when it has simply left us destitute, broken, and in sorrow and suffering. I don’t think this parable is asking us to make judgments about who is the rich man and who is Lazarus. Instead, it is asking us to acknowledge and deal with the gates and chasms that separate us from each other. The gate and the chasm are the same thing. The chasm that separates Lazarus and the rich man in the next world is simply a manifestation of the gate that separated them in this world. The rich man carried it with him into the next world. It was a part of him. The gate is a condition of the human heart. The gate that becomes a chasm always exists within us before it exists between us.

That means we must each examine our own heart to find the gates that separate us from ourselves, our neighbours, our enemies, those we love, and ultimately God. What gates do we live with: fear, anger, greed, pride, prejudice, loneliness, sorrow, addiction, busyness, indifference, apathy, hurt, resentment, envy, cynicism. Gates destroy relationships. Every time we love our neighbour as ourselves, every time we love our enemies, every time we see and treat one another as created in the image and likeness of God, gates are opened and chasms are filled. It is something we must each live our way into. It’s a choice set before us every day. It can happen in our marriages and families, at work and school, on the corner of parking lots, and in our prayers for the world. It can happen in the most intimate of relationships, or with strangers, and even with our enemies. It is not easy work but it possible. Jesus demonstrated that in his life, death, and resurrection. Gates were opened and chasms were filled. Christ’s love, mercy, grace, and presence make it possible for us to open our gates and ensure they do not become chasms. He is the image of our opened gates and our filled chasms, the image of who we most truly are and who we are to become.

Michael Marsh

If you know your history…

There is a famous Celtic song sung with gusto by the legions of wonderful fans of this great club at every game (No prizes for guessing which team I support.) and it has the words…

“Sure it’s a grand old team to play for; sure it’s a grand old team to see. And if you know your history, it’s enough to make your hearts go oh, oh, oh, oh!” (I don’t think it will win any awards for it’s lyrics or tune or be the next Eurovision entry, but it grabs the sentiment and the importance of never forgetting where you have come from.)

Last Saturday we dipped into the history books as we gathered to have our first Xaverian Day. About 30 of us spent the day discovering the roots of the Xaverian Family, its charism, mission, spirituality and implications for us today.

In the morning Angela led us in a beautiful welcoming liturgy and then we explored the life of the Founder Saint Guido Maria Conforti, the birth of the Xaverians and the characteristics of this Missionary Family.

In the afternoon Phil presented Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium” – The Joy of the Gospel and facilitated input and discussion on the relevance of being missionaries today. Rose then helped bring the day to an end with a closing liturgy helping us to be reminded of what we had learned and what was shared.

Below is a part of the presentation I gave which hopefully might give readers a glimpse of who we are. We hope the day is the start of a journey where we can discover together our missionary vocation and how to live it.

The Xaverian Family.

The Origin and Charism

“The Spirit of the Lord animates the Church and constantly renews her awareness of her mission in the world. The same spirit inspired Bishop Guido Maria Conforti to dedicate himself to the evangelization of non-Christian, and to gather into one missionary community those called to consecrate their lives to God for the same ideal. Following our Founder, and reliving the same charism, we Xaverians respond to the Lord’s mandate “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.” The life and the words of the Founder are a singular source of inspiration for our apostolic life.” (Constit.#1)

Who are we?

Presently we are a small family of priests, brothers, (700) sisters (200) and lay members/collaborators/ associates working in 20 countries throughout the world, founded in 1895.

Conforti’s Testament Letter, which he wrote in 1921 whilst presenting the new Constitutions for approval, is clear on the vocation of the Xaverian.

The Xaverian is to be apostolic.

“Our vocation draws us closer to Christ and to the Apostles, who leaving behind everything pledged themselves entirely to following Christ.”

So that dimension of Christ rooted but sent is essential for us.

The Xaverian is to be Religious.

Conforti saw that the Apostolic Life must be inseparably untied to the Religious Life. He said, “The Apostolic Life combined with the Religious life is the most is in itself the most perfect life possible according to the Gospel.”

His Institute was to be a religious-missionary one or none at all. Which was quite different from other Orders and Congregations emerging at that time.

Conforti saw the purpose of the vows was to focus the Xaverian completely on the proclamation of the Gospel.

The vows.

 “Poverty is the first sacrifice Christ demands of those who aspire to perfection or of following him more closely” characterised by Moderate Lifestyles.

Chastity is the vow which is seen as the total gift of self and gives a better witness in announcing the Good News.

Obedience, Conforti saw as the sacrifice to God of the greatest gift of freedom. It is there to make the missionary become solely an instrument in proclamation of the Gospel.

Mission and Community.

For Conforti there was also another dimension to the Religious-Apostolic Life and it was that of Mission. It was a fourth vow where the Xaverian must be prepared to commit to going to others (ad gentes) outside of his own culture (ad extra) for life (ad vitam) to “win as many as possible for Christ.”

Also Conforti wished that the religious community be the agent of mission. This would be a much better sign and a model of mission. Community is where the Xaverian tries to model the very Kingdom that is being announced. Harmony and fraternal love are indispensible…

“Let each one carefully protect the bonds of this sacred unity and avoid anything that could weaken it …Everything should be generously offered on the altar of fraternal harmony which makes the communal life of any institution strong and prosperous.” (TL)

He constantly insisted on this and one of his well known phrases was; “Love one another as brothers, but respect each other as Princes.”

Xaverian Spirituality.

Xaverian Spirituality derives from the spiritual experience of its founder, Saint Guido Maria Conforti. As the founder of it, he passed on his spiritual life to his “children” as the spirituality they should follow. At least, there are three main elements of his spirituality that are very remarkable in the Constitutions;

  • Christ-centered spirituality,
  • the love of the community/family,
  • the spirit of mission towards the poor, the marginalized and especially those who have not known Jesus yet.

Recent happenings.

April 2018, we celebrated our XIII Regional Chapter.

We set ourselves these objectives for those 4 years.

  1. Develop a mission spirituality
  2. Mission on the margins (Particularly interfaith dialogue.)
  3. Lay Participation and Formation

In October 2018 we took part in the first European Study Forum where for the first time we accepted that now Europe is a mission territory and the non-Christians are on our doorsteps.

We are in the process of developing how we respond to this paradigm shift in mission and may St Guido bless us with wisdom and courage.

Reflection on 25th Sunday: 22nd September 2019

Wise Management

“Give me an accounting of your management.” It may not have been those exact words but at some time in our life, probably many times, an accounting has been demanded eg from our loved ones, HMRC, our boss, our examination of conscience. Giving an accounting can be an uncomfortable and even a fearful time. We review our words and actions wondering, “What have I done? What have I left undone? What will happen to me? What will I do?” No one likes to have to give an accounting. We’re pretty private about our books. Not only do we not want others to see the balance, sometimes we do not want to see the balance ourselves. We do not want to face and deal with that reality. But that’s what this accounting asks of us.

Today’s gospel calls us to account for our management of all that we are and all that we have. The demand for an accounting often sounds like someone is in trouble. That’s how today’s parable begins. The manager has been charged with squandering his master’s property. He is going to be fired. He will lose his job, income, reputation, and status. A part of him is dying. At some level he will lose his life as he now knows it. We would expect the manager to get what he deserves. But that’s not how the kingdom of God works and parables rarely give us what we expect. So we ought not to be too quick to come to a final or definitive interpretation of this parable. The parable offers ambiguity and tension, not a neat resolution and that feels a lot like real life. The accounting that should have been the manager’s ruin became the starting point for a new life, new relationships, and a new home. The accounting demanded of this manager was both an ending and a new beginning, a death and a resurrection.

What if accounting is not about finding wrongdoing but new life? What if it’s about grace rather than punishment? That certainly changes our usual understanding of an accounting but isn’t that what parables are supposed to do? They change the way we see and understand. If a parable makes sense we’ve probably missed the point. The accounting of our management isn’t about numbers, wrongdoing, or punishment but about helping us see and orient our lives in a new direction. It enables us to respond to Jesus’ invitation: “Make your home in me as I make mine in you.” (John 15:4)

Michael Marsh

Fr Jim calls on the Church to lead on climate change

Our very own Fr Jim was interviewed recently by the Scottish Catholic Observer. They published an article based on the interview on the 6th September. You can read the article here.

Jim spoke out both for the indigenous population and for mankind in general. The wanton destruction of the rainforest affects us all. We may be distant but we are complicit by our carelessness. A quote from the article shows our connection to the problem “Fr Clarke said deforestation was taking place in the region when he worked there in 1987, as large companies such as McDonald’s were ‘using the land to farm cattle for their burgers.’” Even taking our children or grandchildren to McDonalds has consequences.