As I am now taking a break over the summer holiday period, Lydia and Kate wrote some blog posts for us prior to their going back on furlough. In today’s post, Lydia helps us to reflect on what the “new normal” could look like for us.
There is no question that this has been a strange and, at times, a difficult time. But I think it is important to remember that it hasn’t all been bad. There have been moments of joy and it has been a time where we have had no choice but to slow down. So my question to you is what are you going to keep, as lockdown eases and we return to a new normal and what will you take with you from lockdown?
We have seen communities come together like never before, neighbours checking in on one another, doing shopping for people who had to isolate themselves. People became kinder, showing random acts of kindness to friends and family and even strangers.
Families have come together and spent a lot more time together, talking, sharing food, playing games. We have discovered new ways of connecting with friends and family and made an effort to keep those connections up.
We clapped for the NHS appreciating more than ever our health services and frontline workers. We have homeschooled and come to really appreciate our teachers and all that they put into our children and young people.
We have had a slower pace of life, more time to sit and reflect, less time commuting, less time filling our diaries to the brim. That rest and slower pace has given our brains time to refresh.
So what will you take forward? On the way back to a normal or a new normal let/s not forget to appreciate our teachers and front line workers – and show that appreciation. Let’s stay connected to our communities, looking out for the vulnerable and the isolated. Let’s make time for friends and family. Let’s keep making time for our brains to refresh, leaving moments in our weeks where we can enjoy a slower space. Let’s not rush to a new normal and forget all the lessons that we have learned during lockdown.
Because I think if we take forward these lessons from lockdown, we will have a happier new normal with space to breathe and a new normal where no one feels isolated or alone.
We welcome back Kate from Youth for Christ with today’s post! Thanks Kate!
A few years back I had an amazing opportunity to go on Safari in Uganda. Murchison Falls National Park is around thirty-five times the size of Liverpool. So, it’s fair to say it’s MUCH bigger than Knowsley Safari Park and of course another huge difference…the animals are wild!
On our first drive out and just a couple of minutes away from our lodge, the driver stopped the van and we were face to face – and I mean face to face – with an elephant. I wanted to embrace the beauty of this magnificent creature and hold tight to how privileged I was to be in this moment, but I was actually pretty overwhelmed with fear and was keen for the driver to get going. I was torn between not wanting to miss out on seeing this giant, but also the reality of this being a wild animal and that anything could happen.
For the duration of the time I spent at Murchison Falls I went between these two feelings. Fascination and fear. One evening, trying to get to sleep, I could hear the not so distant sounds of all sorts of wildlife and my thoughts raced as to the potential arrival of a hippo or lion outside of our bedroom window at any point. Why did our room have to be on the ground floor? Somewhere higher would be safer! In the end I put my headphones in and cranked the music up to drown out the animal calls. If I can’t hear them, they’re not there.
Do you ever have those times in life were you try to shut everything out or pretend it doesn’t exist?
The stand out encounter of the trip for me was a few days in to our safari experience. We stopped to watch an elephant mum and her children plodding along in a line trunk to tail. It was really sweet, like something out of The Jungle Book. However, this scene was rapidly about to change and resemble something not too far off Jurassic Park. There’s a part in the film were a T Rex storms after a car (maybe check it out on YouTube if you haven’t seen it). Little did we know that ‘Dad’ wanted to join the line and we were in the way.
Elephants are loud. Elephants are big. Elephants are surprisingly fast. This HUGE bull elephant charged towards us. Our driver floored it and the elephant gave chase. Honestly, I thought we might not be coming out of this. Hakuna Matata means “no worries” – yeah right!!
Fear is a real thing and being unable to control the circumstances around us, in front of us and, for me in my safari encounter, behind us can be really hard. It can be terrifying.
In the middle of fear we look for security, assurance and hope.
In our van were friends who had been on safari before and a guide who had been out there a million times. Our vehicle was speedy and the odds of us escaping were high…and of course, we did, but for those seconds (it felt like minutes!!!) I was really afraid and there wasn’t anything anyone could say or do, to make it any better.
Throughout my life, I have had non-wildlife encounters that have have caused me to fear, too. Situations with friends and family, illness and circumstances beyond my control.
Throughout my life I have had God.
He is bigger than all my fears, doubts and worries. He is with me. He never leaves me.
My questions of what and why aren’t always answered but I choose to put my trust in Him.
Some people say Christianity, belief in God is a ‘crutch’. It makes you weak and you don’t need to rely on God to get you through.
Well, I’ll choose that ‘crutch’ every day. I can’t do everything in my own strength. I can’t get through pain, grief and loss without God. As I run from fear, I run to Him.
What are running from and who do you run to?
God is always there.
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Looking at this photo, you might think it is two friends having a chat with each other. Or maybe a mother and son deep in conversation.
It would probably shock you to know that this photo is of a woman sitting with her daughter’s murderer – many years after the murder took place. You might now think that she didn’t know that he was her daughter’s killer at the time? Nope, she absolutely knew that it was.
The man’s name is Alessandro Serenelli. The woman’s name is Assunta Goretti. And her daughter’s name was Maria Goretti or, as she is popularly known as today, Saint Maria Gorelli.
I only learned about Saint Maria a couple of years ago. I was preparing a session for our students about saints and I came across this incredible story. However, I was shocked by it and I didn’t fully believe all the facts. I did some research and couldn’t believe that it was true. But something else happened that prompted me to use St. Maria as part of my session. I was in Arnold Hall one day and there is an alcove behind the curtains, in which there is an altar and some statues. I looked in the corner and there was a statue of a young girl holding lilies. I immediately knew it was Saint Maria Gorelli. The statue had always been there and I had not noticed it until that moment – the moment I needed to see it. And it confirmed for me that I needed to tell the students about this young girl. And they were completely amazed at this story.
The Goretti family shared a residence with the Serenelli family, who consisted of Giovanni, a widower and his son Alessandro. Maria had a traditional Italian religious upbringing and was very faithful in her practice. She knew her catechism very well and would go to Mass daily. We are told that Alessandro was quite the opposite – he was an angry youth and spoke crudely to Maria, often in a sexual way. This became constant and he often threatened her with violence.
One day, in July 1902, Maria was once again threatened by Alessandro and he tried to rape her. Maria responded to him by shouting: “No it is a sin! God does not want it!” Alessandro, filled with rage, took out a knife and stabbed her nine times. Thinking she was dead, he went into his room and locked himself inside. But Maria regained consciousness and began to crawl towards the door. Alessandro came back out of his room and stabbed her a further five times. Maria was 11 and Alessandro was 20.
When Maria was found, she was taken to hospital. The doctors tried to save Maria but she died the next day as a result of an agonising infection. But her final words were shocking and, for many, unbelievable:
“I forgive Alessandro Serenelli…and I want him with me in heaven forever”
However, Alessandro was unrepentant. When he was on trial, he tried to blame Maria, stating that he was protecting himself from her attacking him. Alessandro was found guilty and, because he was a minor, only sentenced to thirty years in prison. Even whilst in prison, Alessandro would not accept responsibility for his actions. He was often violent towards other inmates and spent much time in solitary confinement as a result of his fighting. But one night, six years later, he had a dream which changed his life forever.
In his dream , he saw Maria and, without saying a word to him, she was handing him fourteen white lilies (the symbol of purity), one by one. The fourteen lilies symbolised the number of times that he had stabbed her. Alessandro saw this as an act of forgiveness and that Maria was indeed in heaven. He woke up and called for the local Bishop. He confessed his crime and experienced a complete change of heart. In fact, his transformation was so dramatic that he lived out the rest of his sentence as a model prisoner. Gone were the rage, the fighting and the denial. He was actually allowed out of prison three years early due to his behaviour.
Alessandro sought out Maria’s mother, Assunta, and he begged her to forgive him for murdering her daughter. Incredibly, Assunta forgave him with the words: “”If my daughter can forgive him, who am I to withhold forgiveness?”
Alessandro went to live with a Franciscan religious order and became a lay brother, doing odd jobs around the monastery as a porter and a gardener. He lived a quiet, peaceful and, many would say, a holy life.
In 1950, the Pope declared that Maria was a saint. In the ceremony in St. Peter’s Square, both Assunta and Alessandro were present together. After leaving prison and throughout the rest of his life, Alessandro prayed to and remained devoted to Maria Gorelli until his death in 1970. He wrote a letter for the world, a kind of spiritual testament, which you can read here:
Now I have worked as a chaplain in HMP Liverpool and I have come across many Alessandro’s (before he changed his life). I have witnessed first-hand how hardened many of them were to any kind of therapy, psychological intervention or even common sense. Their anger, hatred, addiction and sin ran deep within them. I saw up close their violence in the segregation unit and the hospital wings. I also heard their excuses, their stories of how it was someone else’s fault and how their upbringing made them do it. And how it wasn’t them.
That is why the events I have described above are remarkable. And that is why I had to double-check the facts about Saint Maria and her killer, Alessandro. But his conversion was real and lasting. And it came about through an intervention of a young girl, whose holiness, purity and refusal to allow a man to treat her as an object, were truly incredible. But what was even more incredible was her desire to forgive him.
Not to let him off the hook. No, he served his sentence and rightly so. But, as he told someone later in his life, it was her forgiveness that saved him. When he experienced this forgiveness, it completely transformed him. This wasn’t human forgiveness – this could only have come from the one who utterly forgives. And Saint Maria was following the example of Christ in doing what she did. And, having seen the impact of crime on people through my experiences in prison, her forgiveness would have saved other women and men from experiencing Alessandro’s rage and depravity upon his release.
God’s forgiveness completely heals. It can make the impossible become possible. It is that powerful. And thankfully I have seen how God’s forgiveness has transformed many lives.
It goes beyond finger pointing or arguments about whether someone should be forgiven or not. Both then and now, many would say that what Alessandro did was unforgivable. “An eye for an eye!” “He should have been given the death penalty!!”
But while we debate and try to come up with our moral judgements, a young girl totally cuts through all our expectations and arguments. Maria’s forgiveness brings a healing, a wholeness and a peace that we would never be able to bring about by all our moral wrangling.
Today is the feast day of this young saint. Take some time to get to know her. She is truly an inspiration.
Our daughter Niamh is now ten months old. Having two older children, we have returned to the stage of parenthood that involves being unable to sit still for any length of time. Niamh is crawling so fast around the house, climbing where she can, grabbing at anything that she shouldn’t and leaving us breathless trying to keep up with her. Our default posture over the weekend has been one of bending over, with our hands hovering over her as she scrambles around on her hands and knees.
And she loves nursery rhymes. Her all time favourite is “Wind the Bobbin Up” with Mr. Tumble. She screeches with glee and fist pumps the air with excitement when he starts singing it on YouTube. I’ll be honest, he sometimes gets played more than once a day – it is a way of getting a breather! The other nursery rhyme which brings a big grin to her face is “Two Little Dickie Birds” – she loves the actions and the words.
But I always wondered at the line “Fly away Peter, fly away Paul, come back Peter, come back Paul.” The names didn’t seem to fit for me somehow. So yesterday, I decided to look this up. I went on Google and, sure enough, the names had been changed. The rhyme comes from a book that was published in 1765 and the original names of the birds were Jack and Gill. They were changed to Peter and Paul in the 19th century to reflect the names of the two apostles, St Peter and St Paul.
Now, you know that I am not writing this post to explore the history of nursery rhymes! But what prompted me to look deeper into this was yesterday’s feast day in the Church – the feast of Ss Peter and Paul.
I am in awe of these two men. Whenever we hear the word “saint” we tend to think of people who were perfect. But in the early church, “saints” was the name given to all Christians. However, over time, people who lived extraordinary lives of holiness and faith were singled out as “saints.” And for me, they have often seemed like distant figures, living lives of such virtue and holiness that can make me seem inadequate and, well, unholy. But we have got the wrong idea of our saints if we think this.
Let’s look at these two men.
Firstly, Peter. A fisherman. He probably did not have a great education and, like many fisherman of his day, was surely a hard-working man, toughened by his experiences on the Sea of Galilee and, more than likely, someone not to be messed with. Jesus seems to have seen in him the qualities of a natural born leader. When he had an incredible catch of fish, because he followed the request of Jesus to go back out fishing after a long night catching nothing, he got down on his knees, claiming that he was a sinful man. One can only guess what he was getting at with this admission.
Leaving his wife and home for long periods, he follows Jesus for two or three years and witnesses incredible events. Life-changing events. He was the first out of all the disciples to recognise Jesus as the Messiah but, at the same time, he didn’t really get what Jesus was doing. When Jesus predicted that he would die at the hands of the religious leaders, he basically told Jesus he was talking rubbish and, at the Last Supper when Jesus announced that someone would betray him, Peter proudly and passionately proclaimed that he would go to prison and die for him.
But the night Jesus was arrested and was standing trial in the High Priest’s house, Peter was questioned as to whether he knew Jesus. Panic struck him. He too could be arrested. He had seen lots of crucified bodies in his lifetime – he had seen the pain, felt the horror at such a death. He did what most of us, if we are really honest, would have done. He remonstrated, protested, cursed and denied knowing this young rebel upstart from Galilee. And he got away. And cried.
Fly away Peter.
Then there is Paul. A tent-maker. Unlike Peter, Paul (or Saul as he was known) was a very educated man and knew the Hebrew scriptures inside out. He was proud of his Jewish heritage and faith and he was a member of a very strict religious group called the Pharisees. He thought of himself as the best Jew and the best Pharisee.
Due to his conservative views, he was not happy at all with a sect in the Jewish faith claiming that a crucified carpenter from Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah. This infuriated him. And this led him to actively persecuting Jesus’ followers wherever he could find them. He went from town to town, hunting them down and making sure they were punished for their blasphemy. He was even seen as overseeing the death of one of the first saints of the new sect, Stephen. Paul did not want to know who this Jesus was. He just wanted his name wiped from people’s memories and their lips. And he would stop at nothing to make sure this happened.
Fly away Paul.
But how is it that these men became two of the greatest leaders of the early Christian faith? How is it that Peter went from denying Jesus to preaching in front of thousands of people, being arrested multiple times, being whipped and beaten on many occasions and finally being executed by the Roman Empire, for proclaiming and believing that Jesus was the Son of God?
How can someone like Paul, who chased down and mercilessly persecuted followers of Jesus, become the person who changed the course of Christianity, travelling 10,000 miles throughout the Roman Empire on foot to tell people about Jesus, giving us not only some of the profoundest pieces of early Christian writing in his letters, but also some of the finest, most quoted writing in history?
One word. Grace.
Both these men, despite what they had done in their past, encountered the risen Jesus and experienced complete forgiveness and love. And it changed their lives forever. These weren’t just any little sins that were forgiven. Denying Jesus completely when promising him that you would be by his side is pretty serious. Hunting down the believers of Jesus to stamp out his name and memory is also a pretty big deal. Especially if the said person is God in human flesh!
But what they did was forgiven and forgotten. The slate was wiped clean. This gift of complete and total acceptance and love was such good news that they had to tell others. And that’s exactly what they did and it cost them their lives. But both were happy to give their lives for him.
The lives of these two saints tell us something important. Despite popular opinion, you do not have to be perfect to follow Jesus Christ. In fact, you need to be the opposite. There is nothing that you can do to make God accept and love you. You cannot earn this love. You don’t have to be clever, intelligent, morally upright or really successful. Status does not matter. Your volunteering at the local charity shop does not matter. How often you try to pray or fail to pray does not matter. What you have done in the past won’t count against you. The shame you carry, the guilt you hold, the addiction you fight, the anger that bubbles within you, the separation that hurts – all these things don’t disqualify you from God’s love; they qualify you for it!!!
And if you are thanking God that you are not like that or have any of those “hang-ups”, then look again at yourself. Look hard.
In our popular culture today, we are constantly being told to be proud of ourselves, to love ourselves, to accept ourselves, to make our way to the top (wherever that is!), that our addictions and mistakes can be our strength etc. Fine; in principle, I get all that. But what Peter and Paul and so many other Christians will tell us is that when we know that we are sinners, when we realise that we can be too proud, when we admit that we are weak, it is then we will discover that we need something more than us. Self-belief, self-confidence, self-esteem are great but they constantly lead back to one person – our self.
Ss Peter and Paul discovered that God’s grace meant that they didn’t have to do anything to experience complete acceptance, love and meaning in their lives. Jesus offered grace to them in the lowest and darkest moment in their lives, precisely when they had nothing to offer. Instead, they just needed to be humble enough to accept what was being done to them. And they discovered that God’s love was greater than self-love, God’s acceptance was more powerful than self-acceptance and God’s belief in them was more life-changing than self-belief.
We need these saints more than ever today. We need to remember their message and their lives. And we need more people like them in our Church too. Come back Peter. Come back Paul.
And if anyone has told you they have left the Church because it is full of hypocrites, tell them that the Church isn’t full and that they would be welcome too.
I love the slogan for CAFOD’s Summer of Hope appeal; “Hope is contagious.”
For the last number of months, we have been protecting ourselves from the very contagious Covid-19 virus. As a nation, we have been keeping our distance from others, shielding, self-isolating, wiping every thing we touch with disinfectant and, in general, making huge sacrifices to not become infected with the virus. The reality is that it is a very contagious virus – worldwide there has been 9.2 million cases of infection and, in the UK alone, we have had 308,000 confirmed infections. And, as we only know too well, so many people have tragically died as a result of this virus.
There seems to be some light at the end of this tunnel. The Prime Minister is announcing more easing of restrictions as the weeks pass, giving us the indication that we have come through the worst of this virus. Undoubtedly, scientists are warning us that we cannot be too complacent; we are seeing evidence of a second wave in other countries at present. And with marches, protests, people swarming to beaches, this can make us somewhat nervous of what the future may hold.
Over the last number of months we needed to focus on our own families, our own communities and our own country. And rightly so. The only times that I found myself focusing on the world’s struggle with the virus was when I feared that it would impact on our own country’s infection rate. In other words, my concern about the rest of the world was mainly because of my concern for where I lived. The rest of the world was, at times, a statistic. Yes, I looked on with horror at the death toll in countries like Italy and Spain but my main thought was “Will it happen here?”
But CAFOD’s campaign is now asking us to see the bigger picture. As we begin to ease our restrictions, make the first attempts to get our economy back on track and to look ahead to the future, we realise again that the world’s poor “are always with us.” (Matthew 26:11).
Whereas we have managed to stem the tide for the NHS through our sacrifice, other countries aren’t so lucky. CAFOD’s website tells us that the impact of the coronavirus in countries with poor health systems is devastating. Added to this, families without enough to eat and without access to clean water, living with HIV or in cramped refugee camps, are very vulnerable to the virus.
And the role of Church and faith leaders is critical. CAFOD can deliver clear and accurate information via trusted faith and traditional leaders, and promote good hygiene practices, which are both key to keeping people safe. These leaders are so important in making sure life-saving messages are acted upon and also in breaking down the prejudice that can be shown to sufferers and survivors of a disease.
So what are CAFOD asking us to do? Basically, to have fun!! This summer, so many events that we may have taken part in or watched – sports days, summer fayre’s, music festivals, marathons, football competitions, summer camps – have been and will be cancelled. So CAFOD are asking us to recreate these events in our own unique way with family and friends. And while we are having all this fun, raise some money as we are doing it!
You could create your own family sports day, have your own version of Glastonbury in the back garden, do some footy challenges, have a family summer fayre – you name it, you could do it. And the wonderful thing is that it will also impact on our own sense of hope about our own situation.
That is why CAFOD are right. Hope is contagious; it can spread just as quickly and as effectively as that horrible Covid-19 virus. The great news is that we don’t need to protect ourselves from hope – we need people to be impacted, affected and “infected” by it .
So I would appeal to you to find out more about CAFOD’s campaign this summer – the links below will offer you more details. As a school, I would love to see us respond. But wherever you are – get involved and let’s spread some hope!!
A prayer (from CAFOD):
Lord God, we entrust to you the families and communities, affected by Coronavirus, wherever they may be.
We pray especially for health care workers, that you may guide and protect them.
We pray that your Spirit might inspire those researching new medicines and treatments.
And in the midst of this, keep us strong in faith, hope and love. Grant us the courage and perseverance to be good neighbours.
May the words of your Son Jesus Christ in the Our Father,
be our prayer as we entrust ourselves and all of us who are affected
There was a terrible shipwreck and only one man survived, cast ashore on a tiny island with nothing but the clothes on his back. For a while he hoped for rescue. But in time he knew he had to make a life there on the island. And that is what he did. He taught himself to fish and hunt, to garden and cook, and he built himself a charming little cottage overlooking the bay. He even carved a tiny flute which he played every night after supper.
One day he hiked to the top of the mountain at the center of the island to see what he could see. As he reached the top, what he saw was a tower of smoke and his little cottage going up in flames.He ran down the mountain as fast as he could. But it was too late. The cottage was in ashes — and his flute, his garden, his tools, his bow and arrows — everything he’d made with his own hands was gone, all gone!
He wept. He raged. He cursed God. He despaired. And finally, as night came, he collapsed on the sand and fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning he was awakened by sailors who had rowed ashore from a great ship to rescue him. “But,” he exclaimed, “how after all this time did you know I was here?”
“Ah,” said the captain, “we saw the smoke from your signal fire.”
It is very common to hear the phrase: “Everything happens for a reason!” It is often used when something unexpected has happened, which might initially be seen in a negative light but turns out to have more positive consequences.
And in one sense the statement is a no-brainer. Everything does happen for a reason. If there was no reason, nothing would happen!! But that is not what people tend to mean. Instead, the statement is getting at something deeper. People may be referring to some cosmic laws that are making events occur in some way, others might be thinking about the Buddhist law of karma ( oh, how we love that idea!) while many might be referring to the belief that God has a plan for their lives.
We live in a culture and a society that values speed. Everything is so quick now. At one press of a button, we can get most things delivered to our doors within a couple of hours through an Amazon Prime delivery. What happens when something is taking too long to download on our laptop or phone? Well, if you are like me, you will huff and puff, give out about the network provider and lament about having to live in these terrible conditions!!!! And yes, this is leading to a fast paced world that is often hard to keep pace with. (Interestingly, one of the benefits that people have found with lockdown has been the opportunity to slow down).
But there is a greater worry. This fast paced culture can lead people to dismiss the importance of waiting and the value of perseverance. Some want the perfect career now. They want to find the “right person” as soon as they can. They need to have the perfect body now – no need to do all that exercise or to go through the pain. Get the newest and fastest diet! People may want to be the best dancer, artist, musician…now. Shows like The X Factor were great entertainment but promised a fast track to success which rarely lasted.
In 1999, I decided I wanted to study for the priesthood. I applied to the Bishop of my diocese and I was not accepted as a candidate. My world came crashing down around my feet. It had been my dream and my whole focus was on the priesthood. I licked my wounds and, eventually, I applied to join a religions order to study for the priesthood and I was accepted. However, after two years I began to realise this was not where I was meant to be. Again, I asked a lot of questions of myself and God and often wondered to myself what was next! This period of time crushed me. I got a job as an RE teacher in a secondary school but I was not fully satisfied. I had no clue as to where I was going in life.
However, when I was in the religious order, I had completed a placement in Liverpool with the parish priest of St. Albert’s. Move forward two years – I have left the order but this priest phones me up and offers me some summer work in his parish and the local secondary school. I need the money so I jump at the chance! I come over to Liverpool in the summer of 2005 and I then meet…my wife! She was working in the school as a teacher and the rest, as they say, is history. I am now living in Liverpool, have three amazing children and I am chaplain in Maricourt.
In other words, if I had never experienced the crushing rejection to be a priest in my diocese, if I had not left the religious order and experienced that confusing time in my life, I would never have been contacted by that priest and I would never have met my wife. But there is more – all those experiences have made me the person I am today and have impacted on how I am as a husband, father and chaplain. Like the man in the story, all the events led to something greater. If you had asked at the time how I felt about what was happening to me, my answers would have been very negative.
And this is often how God works. You might not like it but it is. There is a Greek phrase kairos and this word means “God’s time.” The idea of kairos is that God’s time is different to our time, which is called chronos. Sorry about all the Greek words! So chronos is measurable – our clocks, days, months and years all follow chronos time. Chronos is busyness, routine, timetables, deadlines and is often stressful!!
But kairos is different (but can be stressful too!) – it is mentioned in the Bible to refer, not to the length of time but, to the quality of time. It is a time that is right, that is leading somewhere and has great potential. In that time, it can be hard to know what is going on and, quite often, it is only hindsight that helps us to fully appreciate that time in our lives.
The Bible contains lots of examples of these kairos moments, which seem too late or too long in our understanding of time. Why did God wait until Abraham was seventy-five years old to call him to be the father of the Jewish nation? Why did God allow Joseph to be sold to slave-traders and separated from his family for twenty-two years? Why did God wait until Moses was eighty years old to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt? Why was David anointed king as a teenager and not actually crowned king until 15 years later, after being on the run from the reigning king for nearly all that time? And why (this has always got me!) was Jesus about thirty years old when he started his ministry? Why couldn’t God have started his ministry earlier and for longer (he died 2-3 years later!)?
My chronos thinking wants these people to have been younger and to have started earlier! It would have been better!! But that was not God’s purpose for them and it was not God’s time. In each example, their experiences – whether it was heart-rending and crushing disappointments or moments of joy and peace – were preparing them for something greater and something more important. They were learning endurance, resilience, patience and, most of all, learning how to trust God. And the result was, especially in the case of Jesus, life-changing and history-making.
I don’t know what your situation is at present. You may be wishing the lockdown was over tomorrow, you may be desperate to find the perfect job, you may by recovering from an illness or an accident, you may be struggling to cope with a mental health issue or your heart may have been broken by a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Just like the man in the story and the people in the Bible, you may have wept, raged and cursed God until you had nothing left in the tank.
But I invite you to trust kairos – God’s time. I am not saying that God makes the above things happen so you will learn a lesson. What I am saying is that whatever experiences you are having that make you doubt your direction or place in the world, these can be part of a greater whole, a bigger picture and a journey that God will lead you through. None of these experiences are meaningless – they will form a part of your greater story.
Jesus reassures us with these words from the gospel yesterday: “For only a penny you can buy two sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows!” (Matthew 10: 29-31)
“The world is a mess!” Have you ever said it? Ever thought it?
“What is going on?” I breathed these words through my teeth earlier this week as I looked at Google News. Another news story began to eat away at my slowly declining positive outlook on life at that moment. I also had been chatting earlier on the phone to a friend who had stated: “The world has gone mad, it’s falling apart!” I caught myself slowly nodding my head.
So what happened? Well, the increasing death toll from Covid-19 had been playing on my mind and, when I saw the statistic that we had more deaths here in the UK than in the whole of the EU, my heart sank. Not only was I disappointed – I was angry. I was looking for someone to blame and, of course, my first thought was Boris.
Then there was the whole Dominic Cummings saga. I looked at the press conference in disbelief and shook my head with complete bafflement at his explanations and lack of apology. I wasn’t angry that he did not resign – only because I knew that he wouldn’t.
Then, in the US, the death of George Floyd occurred and I watched with mixed feelings as people took to the streets to protest against police brutality and the nature of his death. I say mixed feelings because (a) I was delighted to see people of all colour and creed take to the streets all over the world to exercise the civil right to protest but (b) we were still in the midst of a pandemic and my worry was these protests would contribute to a second wave of the virus.
Then President Trump decided to take a walk from the White House to a nearby church, whilst getting the security and police to violently remove peaceful protesters from the path he would walk. What does he do then? He holds up a Bible and says “We have a great country.” No quote from Jesus about love or peace or forgiveness or standing up for the poor. Just a: “We have a great country.”
I also got caught up in the twitter storm about J. K. Rowling’s comments regarding gender identity and transgender, reading the bile and venom that was being poured on her for expressing an opinion. Then I read about China and India beginning to make preparations for war due to border issues, a conflict that could have nuclear ramifications. Next, I read that North Korea had blown up the embassy shared with South Korea, putting an end to any relationship between the two countries. And finally, the UK government made a massive U-turn on their policy about free-school meals due to a letter that was written by Marcus Rashford (or Daniel as one minister called him!) to Boris Johnson ( I was annoyed that the government had even thought to not give free meals to our most vulnerable young people!) And don’t get me started about the rave in Kirkby!!!
So is the world in a mess? No, it is not. Why not?
Here are my reasons:
Firstly, if you read the above again and look at the photos in the main picture, they are mainly referring to events that happened in five countries. That is not the world. First lesson for me is perspective.
Comments like “The world is not what it used to be!” or “”The world is worse than ever!” are generalisations. We generalise when we want to express extreme emotions. We clump everyone and everything together so we have a nice big target to aim all our anger, rage and disappointment. Poor young people come out the worst: “Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They…have no self-control.” That line was written on a six-thousand-year-old Egyptian tomb!! Even then, people generalised!! We often think there was a golden age of respect and tolerance and great moral values. Nope, not in this life!
Secondly, a number of studies over the last number of years are pointing out that the world is healthier, richer, safer, more equal and generally better off than it was at any other point in time. Poverty and child-mortality is declining. The number of wars and armed conflicts have fallen. Democracy is increasing. The average life expectancy today is 72.23 years — double the number than a hundred years ago! There is incredible progress in technology, science and in medicine. But most of us may not be aware of these facts. Why not?
This leads to my third reason. Our media thrives on bad news and we can’t help but keep watching and reading it. Think about it – when you read a post on Snapchat or Twitter that involves everyone insulting and slagging each other, don’t you just want to get the popcorn, make yourself comfy and enjoy the back and forward between the warring parties? Or when an event happens that is shocking or awful, do you find yourself watching and re-watching videos, twitter feeds, checking different news sources for more information, so much so that you get dragged down emotionally and mentally? We are interested in gossip and dramatic stories and this craving for drama causes misconceptions and helps create an over-dramatic worldview. We just love drama!!
So what can help us to be more balanced in our outlook on the world? The following have really helped me.
Firstly, just as mindfulness has now become popular in helping us deal with anxiety and stress, some commentators are proposing “factfulness” in regards to the news. We need to be more cautious with what we watch and what we read. There is a lot of selective reporting and invested interests in reporting today. Headlines are often misleading. Pope Saint John Paul II once said: “Great, also, is the responsibility of all those who work in this field, called to provide always accurate information, respectful of the dignity of the human person and attentive to the common good.” Hmmmm.
So I have tried to be more careful about what I read and watch. Reading Google News during the week was a mistake – I had stopped using it as it was giving me the most dramatic and ridiculous news items to read. Instead of watching the news or reading lots of news websites, I had decided some time ago to just use Associated Press (AP) news – it is more factual and a lot of news agencies use it as a source and then add their own frills to it.
Secondly, I had to ask myself “Why do I need to know what is going on in the world all the time?” What difference does it make to my life that Prince Harry and Meghan are having trouble living in Canada? How will my life be impacted greatly by countless investigations into Dominic Cummings trip up north? What difference will it make to me if I miss out on the next ridiculous gaffe by Donald Trump? The answer is very little. If it is important enough, I will hear about it. Often, getting caught up in news feeds and news stories can lead to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, worry and pessimism. Why? Because we can’t change anything about these events. So why worry about what we cannot change!! And why worry about a future we don’t even know! As Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)
Lastly, I believe in the goodness of people. One of the questions my atheist friends would often ask me was: “Why is there so much evil in the world if God exists?” I would ask a question in return: “Why is there so much good in the world if God doesn’t exist?” They thought I had to explain the problem of evil but they had to explain the “problem” of good! It is very hard to explain why we have a moral sense of good and evil without making some reference to God. So when I stopped keeping track of all the news, I began to notice that I was looking at life differently. Since my head wasn’t taken up with world politics or the threat of nuclear war, I could see people and situations in a different light. My mood was lighter and more positive because I began to notice the incredible examples of good in my life that were all around me – in my family, my community, my school and amongst my friends.
And in this period of lockdown, we have seen it in buckets! We have seen amazing generosity and kindness in our local communities and in our country. There is so much good out there! And there is so much good news too! Just today I was speaking with a parent who is in a desperately tragic situation and she told me how overwhelmed she has been with people’s goodness and love. People are good!
But I am realistic. I am not denying that there is a lot of evil and terrible suffering in the world. There is. But we must keep some perspective. We must accept there is great good too. The illustration below by Charlie MacKesy gets across this point nicely. Perspective.
One of the advantages of lockdown for us as a family has been the extra time we have to prepare, cook and enjoy different types of food. I have to confess, this food has not always been of the healthy variety!! We have made our own fudge cake, rocky road, chocolate brownies, cupcakes, millionaire shortbread and even our own bread. But when it comes to our basic meals, we have tried new things and made our healthy food more tasty and enjoyable.
We all love good food and there is nothing better than enjoying food with others. Whether it is a cheeky mid-week McDonald’s, a take-out on a Friday night because you are too tired to cook or a meal out with friends as Nando’s, eating food offers us both great pleasure and a great way to socialise.
Today, more than ever, we are hearing about the importance of eating healthy food, watching the carbs and how a healthy diet is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. Good food nourishes us, gives us the strength and vitality that our bodies and minds need.
Yesterday, the Catholic Church (and some traditions with the Anglican communion) celebrated…well…food! A completely different kind of food. It is sometimes called eucharist, the blessed sacrament or it is more commonly referred to as communion. The feast is known by its Latin name “Corpus Christi”, meaning body of Christ. It celebrates the belief that the bread, when consecrated at the Mass, actually, truly and really becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Not just a symbol of Jesus or representing him. But it actually is him.
Think about that for a moment. It just sounds too good to be true you might think? I get that. Really I do. Take a look at the picture below.
Well, it looks…er…round and white you might say? There is a cross in the middle. That’s about it. Nothing special.
But from the earliest days of the Christian faith, there was a belief that the bread was the real person of Christ. Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch (died 107 AD), who would have known those who were close to Jesus’ disciples, wrote in one of his letters about people who denied “the Eucharist to be the real flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ.” This is very early evidence considering the last gospel was written around 90-100 AD. And this belief, though challenged in many ways throughout the history of the Catholic church, has never changed.
When we really think about what this means for you and me, it is quite incredible. But so many do not grasp the great gift this is for them.
When I have attended Mass, either in school or in a parish, as people are filing up the aisle to receive communion, I have undoubtedly heard someone whisper to another in the seats: “Are you going up for communion?” Perhaps you have said it! And I have often tried to wonder what is going through their minds. Could it be as simple as worrying about walking up in front of so many onlookers in the church? Is it the need for someone to go with them rather than them going up on their own? Or is it that they know it is something really important and they are looking for reassurance that it is ok to go up? For a number of young people, they sometimes don’t like the taste of the host. Or it can be the fear they might do something embarrassing when they get to the priest.
Unfortunately, communion can often give rise to feelings and emotions such as fear, embarrassment, awkwardness, discomfort and sometimes conflict. Sometimes, communion is viewed as being something that you receive only if you are a really committed Catholic or you are a really good person. It is like a reward of some kind.
What would I say to anyone who has these feelings, emotions and thoughts? This is what I would like to say.
Firstly, I know this is hard to believe. It requires faith. Faith is often believing in something that we cannot see. Yes, the host looks like a host (what we see) but a profound change has taken place (what we cannot see). There is something happening despite what appears in front of our eyes. I can’t prove it to you. All I can do is pray that you can see it with the eyes of faith.
Secondly, it is one of most incredible acts of love that God could possibly give us. The amazing and incredible events of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and the event of Pentecost can seem so distant from us. And we struggle as humans to experience God because God is so utterly different from us. But what if God wanted us to experience his presence every day if we wished? What if we had something real and tangible that would help us know God’s presence in a deep way? What if God became…food? Crazy isn’t it? It really does seem too good to be true! That you can actually experience God’s presence, compassion, healing, comfort and love through eating food; that he actually becomes food for us.
Almost as crazy as God, the all-powerful and all-knowing creator of the universe becoming a…baby? A baby born in a feeding-trough surrounded by animals? As ridiculous as God, the all-powerful and all-knowing creator of the universe being arrested, mocked, beaten and dying like a common criminal on a cross? As unbelievable as being told that God’s great revolution in the world can be compared to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds? That to live is to die? To be strong is to be weak? To be poor is to be rich?
You see, much of what God does can be described using the words “It’s just a…” or “It was only…” or even “It’s nothing but…” It has always been that way. David was just a shepherd. Jeremiah was only young. Paul was nothing but a murderer. So it is with the bread that is consecrated by the priest at Mass. It can “just look like” or “can only be” or is “nothing but” a wafer of bread. But it is more than that. Taking this bread will mean that you actually take the presence of God within you in a way that no other form of prayer can match. It will give you nourishment and strength to live your life in a way that you have never lived before. Could God be any closer to you?
Lastly, especially if you are feeling that you have to be perfect or very holy to receive the body of Christ, Pope Francis has said that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
Powerful medicine. Nourishment. Whatever shame you carry, whatever guilt you are holding onto, if you are struggling and simply existing in life instead of living it, if you have no self-confidence, if you are suffering with an addiction, if you are fighting a mental illness, if the pain of losing a loved one is too much to bear, if the wounds from your childhood won’t heal, if the bully’s insults still ring in your ears, if your lack of faith makes you feel unworthy, then this medicine is for you. It was meant for you and for any of us who have the humility to admit we are weak. And this medicine lasts.
So are you going up for communion? When our churches open for Mass again, I think you should.
Lydia has written today’s blog post. She has been furloughed by her organisation and wrote this blog before her furlough started. We will miss her input over the next number of weeks and look forward to when she can get blogging again!
As I wrote in my last blog, lockdown has at times felt like being on a roller coaster of emotions. Every week, sometimes every day, brings different emotions, some happy emotions and some that bring sadness, fear and worry. But as I look back at lockdown so far, in the midst of these hard times, I see moments of joy, moments of people helping one another, moments of kindness and generosity.
In this time of self isolation people are reaching out to loved ones and members of their community. Offering services, sharing resources, showing their gratitude for our health and social workers. This week I have had two cards from friends just saying that they are sending love and prayers and those cards have brought so much joy into my life.
I was recently talking to another youth leader who said ‘although we are socially distant, the connection remains’. In this season we are in isolation but we are not isolated. Communities of all shapes and sizes are coming together in a way they haven’t before and connecting with each other; people have each other’s back.
Wouldn’t it be great for this to continue once this pandemic is over? What if communities continued to come together, continued to lend a helping hand, that random acts of kindness remained and we looked out for each other so that no one needs to feel like they are alone?
Dr Vivek Murthy describes loneliness as a global pandemic that affects people in every age category. But we can play a part in tackling this pandemic.
The Bible tells us in John 13:34, that we should love as God has loved us. This is how we can tackle loneliness and isolation.
This can be as simple as sending a text, ringing someone or sending them a letter – everyone loves a bit of happy post! So who can you reach out to not just during this time but after this pandemic is over? Who can you send some joy to?
I remember the day I started teaching the new RE GCSE curriculum to my year 10’s. My intention was to ease them in on the first day. So what better way to start than to begin with the first topic of the curriculum: the Trinity!! The looks on their faces throughout the lesson – complete confusion, skepticism and pure bafflement- was a sight to behold. (In case anyone from OFSTED is reading this, yes, I had a starter, made my objectives clear, the class was pupil-led, higher order questions were used, I constantly checked their progress etc). But what happens when you are teaching a class about a mystery? How can progress be made in a class where 1+1+1 equals not 3 but 1!
Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, a day that celebrates the nature of God as three in one: Father, Son and Spirit. Three persons in one God. Not three gods in one God but three “persons” in one God. Each person is the same substance as each other (consubstantial – remember when we had to start saying that in the creed!!!) but they are not the same person.
Before you throw down the phone or ipad in total dismay, the best example I can compare it to is the three forms of H2O – ice, steam and water. Each of them are still H20 but they are obviously completely different. Steam is not ice or water, ice is not steam or water and so on. So the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (just like ice, water and steam) are different to each other but they are one God (just as ice, water and steam are H2O no matter what form they take).
Now, you may still be tempted to switch off from this blog but the question I always ask about any mind-bending, head-bursting, brain-teasing divine doctrine is this – what difference does it make to our every day lives?? And I have asked it many times and I did not come up with an answer. Instead, it was answered for me. Let me explain.
We are told in the Bible that God is love (1 Jn 4:8). I think this is the single most important definition of the essence of who God is. God is love; not has love, not shows love, not gives love but IS love. John also tells us that love is from God. So love, its nature, its expression and its desire originates from God. The butterflies in your stomach, the quickening of the heartbeat, the deep desire to spend the rest of your life with someone whom you love, the vows spoken on your wedding day, the constant commitment to the other, the deep sharing between a parent and their child, the selfless actions to ensure a child will grow to be who they truly are meant to be; the emotions, feelings, desires, cravings, longings and commitment that are the essence of love have their origin in God.
But not in an aloof, far-off and distant God somewhere “up” in heaven “looking down” on us. No, in a triune God – three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who live in, move in and have their being in constant and complete love. They exist for each other and with each other. Their very existence is to love each other and to love us.
John’s letter also tells us that the Father sent the Son into the world so that we might live through him. The Son was sent in love to love us. So the Son became a human in Jesus, whose every action and word was love – the poor, the outcast, the prostitute, the beggar, the sinner all encountered this love. But in a shocking and incredible event, the Son (in Jesus) gave his life in total love by dying on the cross.
But love didn’t stop there. The Father lovingly raised the Son to new life showing us that love conquers everything; the very worst that we can do as humans and even death itself.
But love still didn’t stop there! The Son, Jesus, promised his followers the third person, the Holy Spirit, to be with them and help them bring the Gospel of love to all whom they met. Then the Son returned to the Father (what a welcome that must have been!) so as to allow the Spirit to come.
Then on Pentecost, as we saw in last Sunday’s blog, the Spirit poured out gifts (what else do you do when you love someone??) to give the disciples everything they needed to carry Jesus’ message of love to the world. But why?? Why all this loving??
Well, let’s look at another truth in the Bible. We are told in Genesis 1 that we are made in the “image and likeness” of God. In other words, we are made like God. We have been created by love to love. Think about it – what is the one thing at the heart of so many of our songs, so many poems, so many films, so much of our culture? Yes – love. If what I have just mentioned in the list are not about love, they are often about the absence of love: falling out of love, being cheated on by someone who we thought loved us, the longing to love someone who does not love us (Adele would have no albums without this!!) and so on. As humans, love takes up a lot of our thinking, feeling, believing and living. Why? Because we are made in the image of true love. Why did everyone love Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s funeral? Because it was about love!!
As well as this, we have another deep need – to belong. We are not meant to be alone – nobody is an island. Deep within the very essence of our being is the deep desire to belong – whether it is with another person, to a family, to a group of friends, social grouping, whatever it may be. Regardless, this need lies within us because we have been hardwired for it by the Trinity – the three persons belong to each other and for each other. They cannot exist apart from each other – they are not God if they do. The live in a communion of love. So we want the same in our own lives.
So why is this all important? Well, I think for two reasons.
Firstly, the teaching about God (Father, Son and Spirit) reminds us that we have been created out of love and our very nature is to love. Don’t be offended – God does not need you. God did not create you because God was lonely or bored or needed something to do. You were not created by God to see if you would live a good moral life, if you would say the right amount of prayers or go to Mass every Sunday. No, you were created because you were wanted by God, you were deeply desired by God so that you could be loved and so that you would be able to share in the love between Father, Son and Spirit. They wanted you to be in on it. They wanted you to know this life-changing love.
Please think about this. Really think about it.
If a parent has let you down or has betrayed all your turst – know that you were deeply loved before they even thought about you. If you have been hurt by a friend or a partner and the pain just won’t go away – remember that you are worth more because of this first love. If you hold a secret that you are ashamed to tell others, know that this love knows your secret and loves you nevertheless. If you constantly compare yourself to others and wish you looked like those in the pictures you pour over on social media, know that this love made you unique and delicately put you together like a work of art.
You see, this love is the basis of your whole being, your whole identity and your whole reason to live. If we could truly believe in this love, if we could dare to be open to this love, our lives would never be the same again. No insult, hurt, pain, slander, slagging or person would even come close to getting at us.
Secondly, the Trinity is important because they help us to know what the true meaning of life really is. And you know what it is. Look at two recent examples from the news. How many thousands are taking to the streets to protest against the death of George Floyd? Have you also noticed the resolve of people throughout the Covid-19 crisis to support each other, reach out to each other, raise money, clap the NHS staff and pray for each other? Where does this come from? From our deep-down belief that the real meaning of life and the essence of true humanity is togetherness, community, unity, oneness. That everyone should be treated equally. That people matter, whether it is black lives or white lives. We are one.
That brings us back to the main belief about the Trinity. The three persons, even though they are different, are one. The live in a communion, a unity and a oneness of love. We really are made in their image. What we want, they want. Where there is injustice, racism, prejudice, homophobia, poverty, human trafficking, suffering, starvation or addiction, our objections and protests and right actions is a reflection of their love crying out for community, unity and oneness.
Next time you pray, bless yourself slowly in the name of the Father, the the Son and the Holy Spirit and allow yourself to be surrounded by and to be part of that incredible love.