BLOG

ENFOLDED IN CHRIST: The Inner Life of a Priest

On May 31st Canterbury Press will be publishing the book* I’ve written concerning priestly spirituality.  From my background as a Franciscan friar for twenty-five years, an interest in Ignatian and Benedictine spirituality and ten years as Rector of an urban parish, this book seeks to explore the heart of priestly spirituality.  It is not about ministry, mission, preaching, evangelisation, pastoral care etc.  but how, through our ‘abiding in the heart of Jesus’, we realise our vocation.

I have also addressed concerns that have emerged in my ministry of spiritual direction and pastoral supervision over many years and drawn on my experience as Vocations Adviser and Novice Guardian for the Franciscans.

It is different from some other books on this subject in exploring matters such as:. the place of confession in the life and ministry of the priest; life as a deacon; praying the Daily Office; Eucharistic living; spiritual direction and supervision; sexuality; letting go of our roles, detachment etc…  It also makes wide use of the Principles of the Society of St. Francis and the dynamic of the Ignatian Exercises and keeps in mind that not all priests will exercise their ministry in a parish context.  However I hold that for all of us, as St. John Vianney said, “the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.”

It’s aimed at those considering and preparing for ordination as well as those who are ordained. It should also be of interest and help to spiritual directors, pastoral supervisors, clergy mentors, those concerned with the well-bring of the clergy – and any Christian interested in developing their spirituality.

Others have written about the ministry of the priest and some have sought to look at how ‘being’ can help ‘doing’ and I trust what I have written will complement some of these.  Apart from what one might expect in a book like this – chapters on Prayer, the Divine Office etc. it also includes material about:

⇒ Being rooted on God’s love for us;

⇒  Realising the need for constant ‘conversion of the heart’ and confession;

⇒  Issues concerning formation and formators;

⇒  Eucharistic living;

⇒  Looking at ‘being beneath the role’;

⇒  Issues of sexuality, celibacy and the single life;

⇒  Letting go.

For inspiration I take one of the motto’s of the Benedictines:

  Ut in Omnibus Glorificetur Deus:
That in all things God may be glorified

From the Foreword by Christopher, Bishop of Southwark: ‘The tradition he inherits, distils and passes on is a broadly based one, in which writers and thinkers as various as George Herbert, Maya Angelou and Paul Tillich all have a part to play. But at its heart is the deep hope of humanity this side of eternity, to take the shape which God purposes for each of us, to grow into our true selves, to become the people it is good for us to be.’ 

________________________________

*  ISBN-13: 9781786220462,  RRP £12.99 ($21)

 

OASIS DAY at St Andrew’s, Holborn, London: April 10th, 2018

‘Enfolded in Divine Compassion’

An Oasis Day led by
John-Francis Friendship SMMS
at St Andrew’s Church, 5 St Andrew’s Street, Holborn, London, EC4A 3AF

 

 Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 from 10.45 a.m. – 3.30 p.m.

_______________________________________________________

11.00-11.30       Session 1: Jesu, thou art all compassion

11.30-12.30       Time for silence and reflection *

12.30                  Lunch (1.10 optional Eucharist in church)

13.45-14.15        Session 2: Be compassionate as your heavenly father is compassionate

14.15-15.15        Time for silence and reflection *

15.15-15.30        Closing Worship

 

SPY WEDNESDAY

Spy Wednesday –
the day Judas betrayed his Master
for thirty pieces of silver.
How often have I betrayed Him
in thought, word and deed.
How often ignored His will and acted on my own. Too often.
Give me the grace to kneel and confess my sin and shame to you
through your priest
that I may hear the words of your absolution.
Strengthen me, Lord, to be faithful to you
this, and every day.

ST JOHN OF GOD

Today, March 8th, is the Commemoration of St John of God (1495-1550).  He was a Portuguese-born soldier turned health-care worker in Spain whose followers later formed the Hospital Order of Saint John of God, a worldwide Catholic religious institute dedicated to the care of the poor, sick, and those suffering from mental disorders.  He is considered one of Spain’s leading religious figures.  Here is an extract from a letter he wrote that is read during the Office of Readings:

‘If we kept before us the mercy of God, we can never fail to do good so long as we have the strength.  For if we share with the poor, out of love for God, whatever he has given to us, we shall receive according to his promise a hundredfold in eternal happiness.  That indeed is a fortunate and happy way of gaining a profit!  Who would not entrust his possessions to this best of merchants, who handles our affairs so well?  With outstretched arms he begs us to turn toward him, to weep for our sins, and to become the servants of love, first for ourselves, then for our neighbours.  For just as water extinguishes a fire, so does love wipe away sins.’

COLLECT
O God, who filled Saint John of God
with a spirit of compassion,
grant, we pray,
that, giving ourselves to works of charity,
we may merit to be found among the elect in your Kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

GOD OF COMPASSION AND FORGIVENESS

In his book Confession: Looking into the Eyes of God (The Columba Press, Dublin, 2013) Paul Farren writes about the way we are all caught up in a wen of sin and comments on the way we need to confess our sin against those who are made poor in our society. ‘Exclusion of the poor’; he writes, is the sin that Jesus speaks about most. It goes totally against the compassion of God – the Father who waits for and loves his broken son in his fragility. (p.57)

‘God is compassion. So what better way of revealing that God is compassion than by ushering into the Kingdom all those who were made to suffer here on earth, all those who were unwanted, rejected, cast out, despised.  They enter the Kingdom of God, not because they lived better lives than the rest of us, not because they were more moral than the rest of us – but because God is compassion.

And the rest of us?  We will be lefty scratching our heads and wondering if we, too, might get n.  We will get in if we have made friends with the poor. If we have reached out to the poor and tried to relieve their pain, then they will turn around and invite us into their Kingdom. If we have simply ignored the poor, then how can we expect them to0 invite us into their Kingdom? They will – through forgiveness.’ (Fr. Peter McVerry SJ,’ Jesus, Social Revolutionary?’, Dublin, Veritas, 2008, p.123)

“You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.” (from the Jean Anouilh’s screenplay for the 1947 film, “Monsieur Vincent.”)

DRAFT LETTER TO SUPERMARKETS CONCERNING PLASTIC PACKAGING

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you as a major producer of plastic waste to ask that your company take seriously your need to substantially reduce the amount of non-biodegradable packaging used in your stores.

Like thousands of others I share a deep concern at the growing amount of such goods damaging our environment and the long term effects for future generations. During this holy season of Lent many of us are trying to use less plastic but it is clear that supermarket chains are not helping in this effort. From products unnecessarily packed in plastic to packaging that is almost impossible to break into you must be aware that you, like other chains, are a major cause of such waste. Could you not do far more to reduce the use of this product? Take some simple examples: cucumbers don’t need to be wrapped in plastic. Why can’t cheese bought from the counter not be wrapped in grease-proof paper as it used to be? Why do many vegetables and fruit need to be wrapped in plastic? And if you really need to use plastic why is it not always recyclable?  Is there any ethical argument as to why, by now, you still use non-biodegradable plastics? And why not use cardboard or paper packaging which provides a traditional, degradable means of wrapping goods? For centuries we did not need over-wrapped products but everywhere I look in your stores and elsewhere plastic has a strangle-hold on the products sold.

So I am asking you to organise a survey of the non-degradable packaging you use; to ask your suppliers to do the same, and to think about and do your part to reduce this dangerous tsunami of plastic which is endangering our environment and, in places, killing it. Why not, for example, offer paper rather than polythene bags? It’s only recently that you’ve felt it necessary not offer such bags for people to place fruit and vegetables in.

I am sure you want to be known as an ethical retailer who takes your responsibility to the environment seriously but until you are clearly committed to stemming this awful tide that is flooding our world your commitment cannot be taken seriously. What steps will you take to protect our future?

Yours faithfully,

(A downloadable version available here)

________________________________

SOME SUPERMARKET CONTACT DETAILS:

John Allan (Chairman), Tesco PLC, Tesco House, Shire Park, Kestrel Way, Welwyn Garden City, AL7 1GA

David Potts (CEO – david.potts@wmmorrisons.co.uk), Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC, Hilmore House, Gain Lane, Bradford, BD3 7DL

Michael Coupe, (CEO), Sainsbury’s Store Support Centre, 33 Holborn, London, EC1N 2HT

PLASTIC-LESS LENT 2018

Lent is the time when we remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, facing challenge and temptation. It is a time when we reflect on God’s purpose for our life. This year we’re invited to join others who are promising to try and live a PLASTIC-LESS LENT – to reduce the actions which damage God’s Creation. Over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. That’s enough plastic to cover every inch of the UK ankle-deep more than ten times over. Just 9% was recycled.

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth’ The Anglican Communion’s Fifth Mark of Mission. Share your journey with others on the Plastic-Less Lent Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/148636355799566/

 

THE COMPASSION OF CHRIST – A sermon for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

‘This Sunday’s Gospel passage (Mark 1: 29-39: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2012) gives us a glimpse into the compassion of God.  God is not distant.   He is not a stranger to us.  Our compassionate God is made visible to us in Jesus Christ.  “A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’  Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it.  Be made clean.’  The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean” (Mark 1: 40-42).

The words ‘moved with pity’ appear throughout the gospels and they help us to understand the compassion of the Lord.  Moved with pity expresses a movement of the heart much more profound than simply a feeling sorry for someone.  Instead, what is being expressed here, is a movement of the heart that goes to the very depths of one’s being.  “When Jesus was moved to compassion, the source of all life trembled, the ground of all love burst open, and the abyss of God’s immense, inexhaustible, and unfathomable tenderness revealed itself”(Henri Nouwen, Compassion– A Reflection on the Christian Life, p15).

Jesus raises from the dead the only son of the widow of Nain because of this profound movement of his heart (Luke 7:11-17).  The Good Samaritan stops and takes care of a man in need because he was moved with compassion (Luke 10: 29-37).  This same movement of the heart drives the father to run toward his returning prodigal son, embracing and kissing him (Luke 15: 11-32).  “As soon as we call God, ‘God-with-us,’ we enter into a new relationship of intimacy.  By calling God ‘Immanuel’, we recognize God’s commitment to live in solidarity with us, to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us, and to suffer all of life with us.  The God-with-us is a close God, a God whom we call our refuge, our stronghold, our wisdom, and even, more intimately, our helper, our shepherd, our love.  We will never really know God as a compassionate God if we do not understand with our heart and mind that ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us’” (Compassion, p13).

This is why we need to meditate over and over again on the mystery of the Incarnation until all of its consequences penetrate our entire being.  We must be convinced, existentially, that Jesus is real and that I can have a personal relationship with him.  As Saint Augustine so beautifully affirms, “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; to seek him, the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”

When Jesus is just as real to us as he was to the leper that he cured, our frustrations, discouragements, fears and loneliness will vanish.  We are never alone, because our God is a God of unconditional compassion.  Our God is a God who is always with us.  The compassion of Jesus calls us to live our lives in the same way.

Something in our modern society is causing us to be broken and separated from one another.  Neighbourhoods filled with cheerful children playing in the streets have been replaced by the silence of isolation.  Perhaps the on-going exposure to every crisis in the world has caused many to become numb and angry.  “Massive exposure to human misery often leads to psychic numbness” (Henri Nouwen, Compassion, p51).  Community is the answer.  Left alone, modern man remains powerless.  Wherever the Christian community is formed and developed, compassion should be the result.  “Jesus Christ is and remains the most radical manifestation of God’s compassion” (Compassion, p50).

Throughout the history of the Church, visible reminders are given to us in the lives of the saints who strove to imitate the Lord within the daily circumstances of their practical existence.  Contemporary man is moved more by witness than by argumentation.  Such is the case of Mikhail Gorbachev who made a private visit to Assisi in order to pray at the tomb of St Francis.  According to a March 19, 2008 article in ‘The Telegraph’, Gorbachev said,   “St Francis is, for me, the ‘alter Christus’, the other Christ.  His story fascinates me and has played a fundamental role in my life. … It was through St Francis that I arrived at the (Russian Orthodox) Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb. I feel very emotional to be here at such an important place not only for the Catholic faith, but for all humanity.”

Both Jesus and Francis embraced a man afflicted with leprosy.  Perhaps we will never have an opportunity to do the same thing.  Nevertheless, we are surrounded with people with all sorts of needs.  Our family members, our co-workers, our friends at school, our neighbours and our parishioners; these are the people that are in need and these are the people that need our compassion each and every day.’

Fr. James Farfaglia, February 2012

ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT AND SILENT PRAYER

Many people do not know of the riches that are to be found in periods of silent adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood.  The small, white consecrated Host placed in the monstrance contains the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph.1:23) and saints down the ages have adored Him who is present to us.  “What wonderful majesty!” declared St Francis of Assisi, “What stupendous condescension! O sublime humility! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble Himself like this under the form of a little bread, for our salvation … In this world I cannot see the Most High Son of God with my own eyes, except for His Most Holy Body and Blood.” (Letter to a General Chapter)

ADORATION OF JESUS
When we place ourselves in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament we place ourselves before the gaze of Christ who loves us and wants us to know that love.  As St John says, ‘This is what love really is: not that we have loved God but that he loved us.  We love because he loved us first.(1 John 4:10f)  When we celebrate the Eucharist we are taking the first step to being caught up in the divine life.  As with the Prodigal Son, as soon as God sees us coming home and, a long way before we even get home, God comes rushing up to welcome and embrace us and we need to let our heart welcome His extravagant, self-risking love that flows from heaven.

In the silence of the Eucharist we taste and enter the silence of the Father from whom the Word eternally springs.  In Andre Rublev’s icon of the Trinity the three Persons are gathered around the Eucharist and we, who gaze upon it, are the fourth.  We are enfolded into the silent, loving gaze of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit upon each other uniting each to the other and to the one who is before them.

St Jean Marie Vianney, the Cure of Ars in France, tells of asking an old farmer why he came into the church every day to sit before the tabernacle: “I look at Him” he replied “and He looks at me and we tell each other that we love each other.”  This is the prayer of loving regard which seeks to fulfill Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart and mind and strength. And, in order to realise this command, we need to be still, silent and attentive on God.

SILENCE BEFORE GOD
Silence is a rare gift in today’s world. Those who live alone can experience enforced silence and crave for communication with another human being. T. S. Eliot recognized the emptiness that we can know when silence suddenly descends:

As, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too
long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness
deepen.

But there is another type of silence, a silence we can long for, when all those competing voices cease, the silence that comes at the end of a war or when two lovers let go of each other’s bodies and rest.  Silence can provide the space in which we realise what is present, the silence that is sought by those who desire to prevent themselves being distracted from attending to the great silence in which God is present.  As St Teresa of Calcutta wrote:

‘We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness.  God is the friend of silence.  See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.’ (‘Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta)

This is a reminder of the way Elijah encountered God in silence after he had fled to the cave on Mt. Horeb to escape his persecutors: ‘God said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.’ (1 Kings 19:11-12) 

PAYING ATTENTION TO THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST
St Benedict, who also sought out desert places, used two words for silence: quies and silentium.  Quies is quiet, physical silence, an absence of noise – not banging doors, not coughing or unwrapping sweet papers.  It is a physical self-restraint that respects the presence of other people.  Silentium, however, is not an absence of noise but an attitude of consciousness turned towards others or to God.  It is attention, and what greater attention can we pay to God than that which we give in the presence of the Eucharistic Presence. As Mary Oliver wrote:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed. (The Summer Day)

To listen deeply, to give oneself in the act of attention is in fact not to judge, or fix or condemn but to love.  There is indeed nothing so much like God as silence because God is love. Meister Eckhart, the 13thc. German mystic, knew how God is clothed in silence: ‘It is the nature of a word to reveal what is hidden.  The word that is hidden still sparkles in the darkness and whispers in the silence.  It entices us to pursue and to yearn and sigh after it.  For it wishes to reveal to us something about God.’

This silence is not the absence of noise but the abode of God.

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation my fortress; I shall never be shaken
Psalm 62 : 1 – 2

Religious, especially contemplatives, have always recognised the importance giving themselves to long periods of silence, a silence that is lovingly welcomed and which interweaves the rhythm of their days, weeks and months. These act as reminders of the importance of giving loving attention to God and remind us of Jesus’ words to Martha when she complained about the way her sister was simply sitting at his feet: “you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41f)

Eckhart doesn’t say God likes silence or likes silent worshippers but that God is like silence.  St Teresa of Avila said that ‘silence is God speaking to us.  It is like God as nothing else is. When we pay attention to God we come to know that God is paying attention to us. Indeed it is God’s attention to us that allows us to pay attention to God.

Prayer is like watching for the
Kingfisher. All you can do is
Be there where he is like to appear, and
Wait.
Often nothing much happens;
There is space, silence and
Expectancy.
No visible signs, only the
Knowledge that he’s been there
And may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
You have been prepared
But when you’ve almost stopped
Expecting it, a flash of brightness
Gives encouragement.  (Ann Lewin)

__________________________

‘The tree of silence bears the fruit of peace.’  Arabian proverb

‘The heavenly Father has spoken one Word: It was His Son. And He speaks it eternally in an eternal silence. And it is in silence that it can be heard by the soul.’  St John of the Cross, Watchword 217

‘Preserve spiritual peace by lovingly gazing upon God. If you must speak, do so with the same calm and peace.’  St John of the Cross, Watchword 198

‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’  Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY 2018

18TH – 25TH JANUARY 2018
____________________________________

Pray for the unity of all the Christian Churches:

Thursday, Jan. 18th     Chair of St Peter                                 Orthodox

Friday, Jan. 19th          St Wulfstan, Bp                                   Roman

Saturday, Jan. 20th     Ss Fabian Pp & Sebastian, MM         Oriental

3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME                                          Anglican

Monday, Jan. 21st       St Vincent DcnM                                 Lutheran

Tuesday, Jan. 23rd      Feria                                                      Methodist

Wednesday, Jan. 24th St Francis de Sales BDr                     Reformed

Thursday, Jan. 25th     CONVERSION OF ST PAUL               Protestant

____________________________________

Eternal Father,
we praise you for sending your Son
to be one of us and to save us.
Look upon your people with mercy,
for we are divided in so many ways,
and give us the Spirit of Jesus to make us one in love.

We ask this gift, loving Father,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen