Sunday, 31 March 2013


Happy Easter everyone!
We had a fantastic climax to our Holy Week last night at the Easter Vigil and this morning at Easter Sunday Mass. Last night we were baptizing three adults - Ceri, Dan and Tia. Everything went very well and there was a lovely happy atmosphere. One of the highlights was that when I gave a kiss of peace to the new Catholics I received a lipstick imprint which remained on my right cheek throughout the rest of Mass - much to everyone's amusement! 
This morning 10.30am was a Family Mass, which Christ the King do very well - thanks to the kids' caring direction by Marie and her team. Well, it was excellent imho (that's "in my honest opinion" for those who don't know). Below is a picture of the altar cloth that was brought up at the Preparation of the Gifts.  One ex-teacher commented as he left "11 out of 10 for getting 400 people smiling as they leave Church". Alleluia!
Many, many thanks to all in our 3 Churches who have worked so hard together to make this a very special Holy week and Easter!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Exciting times

This is Holy Saturday. This morning I wandered into St Brigid's Church to find it buzzing with cleaners, flower ladies, people to do with the liturgy etc. I made my way around them, trying to encourage and thank as I went.
One lady spoke to me before I could say anything. "I love it", she said, "I love all this", looking around her, as she prepared her contribution to the beautiful Easter flowers. "It's exciting..."
And so it is. There was a real buzz in the church building. Easter is the most exciting thing in the Church and its year. What could be more exciting than waiting to celebrate the fact that God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, raised his Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, from the dead?

But, for now, the tomb and its body are cold, the stone is unrolled. We wait - in excitement!
Somewhere, someone had soaked a cloth in the blood of Jesus, so the tradition says. By a circuitous route, that cloth found its way to Bruges in Belgium, where it is kept in the Basilica of the Precious Blood. My picture shows a custodian there holding the casket that holds the relic (which unfortunately you cannot actually see in my pic, so I found the one below on the net). I joined a few dozen people in August going up to touch it. Do I believe it is the blood of Christ? Probably not - but it might be, and in any case it reminds me that it's not a story. He must have lost an enormous quantity of blood, and then really did die. 

Friday, 29 March 2013

I Thirst

A homily I preached in St David's Cathedral, Cardiff, two weeks ago as part of a series "Seven Words for the 21st Century."
Over these weeks of Lent we are hearing the extraordinary words of Jesus from the Cross. This Friday, we are invited once more to stand there at Calvary with Our Lady, St Mary Magdalen and the other women, and St John. It is John who tells us in the nineteenth chapter of his Gospel that at this last stage of his Passion Jesus was now fully aware that “everything had been accomplished” (Jn 19:28). He had wrestled with the will of his Father at Gethsemane and carried his Cross, he had reached out to the criminals and taken care of his Mother and John himself. He had even asked his Father to forgive “them” – and that them includes you and me – for we know not what we do.  He had followed his Father’s will to the letter.
Having taken care of everyone else, he now cries out, “I thirst.” So what are we to make of this cry? Isn’t it a little shocking to think of our God-Man being thirsty? In order to help us, St John points out that these words were uttered “to fulfil the scripture perfectly”, and the notes in my Bible referred me to Psalm 22. There we read
I am like water draining away,
my bones are all disjointed,
my heart is like wax melting inside me;
my palate is drier than a potsherd
and my tongue is stuck to my jaw. (Ps 22:14-15)
“My palate is drier than a potsherd” – the top of my mouth feels like a lump of dry old clay pottery. These graphic words remind us how desperately thirsty Our Lord was, and that is surely our first problem with this dryness of Jesus. Because it is quite likely that we have never been really thirsty. Yes, we have the odd dry moment. There is that long, difficult wait of several hours before or after some operations when we are “nil by mouth”, forbidden to drink anything. But that is probably the nearest most of us get to the terrifying thirst that Jesus was experiencing as his Passion came to its end. So, first and foremost, this cry is deeply human, and therefore understandable, the gasp of a human being at the end of his tether, stretched to the utmost limit of endurance, hung up to die. And if we imagine that Jesus felt all emotions with a divine depth, then what he was experiencing at that moment becomes, well, unimaginable.
But the Church has always seen much more in these two simple words, “I thirst”. As Jesus speaks them out over Jerusalem, and over the world, we can ask for what is he thirsting, beyond the obvious something to drink? Is he thirsting for more than water, more than the vinegar which he is offered? Traditionally we have indeed understood that he was calling for a lot more, that his thirst was for something much deeper.
Many have said that he was thirsting for our souls, that he was desperate for our salvation, for people to seek and find him. He had said “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest”(Mt 11:28). Others have sensed rather that it was our love for which our Saviour was crying out. It is at this thirst that I would like to look a little more closely - this thirst of Jesus for our love. I want to open up this understanding of the thirst of Jesus by seeing it in the light of some of his most famous words about love. You will remember the Pharisee who asked Him, “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” In answer, Jesus said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” To this first commandment he quickly added a second, which he said resembled it: “You must love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22:34f). So Our Lord’s commandment to love appears to be in two parts – first our love of God, and then our love of our neighbour. But if we look more closely we can see a third part, a hidden love if you like, because Jesus commands us to love our neighbour “as ourself”. So we are to have a healthy and appropriate love for ourselves too. This, then, makes three commandments, three directions for our love - in our relationship with God, with our neighbour, and with our deepest selves. To me, it seems Jesus is thirsting for our love in all three of these places, so let’s have a look at them.
First, Jesus thirsts for our love of God. As he nears his death, he is profoundly aware of his dependence on the Father.  He has already been pushed to a place of desolation by  experiencing the sum total of the sins of the world. From that place he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34). Now he is preparing to proclaim that everything is ready, all is accomplished, and only then will he finally commit his spirit into the Father’s hands. So, here we witness him crying out in thirst for God, his Father. Perhaps we could say that he is desperate for a return to the fullness of that divine communion and intimacy with the Father and the Spirit, which he never lost, but which must have been affected by his thirty three years here on earth. In human terms he can do no more, in divine terms he wants to go home. So in this first thirst for love, love for God, I imagine Jesus being alongside us, urging us, with him, to thirst for God, for the unconditional love of our Father. Like him, we too need to yearn with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind for the will of the One for whom he himself sweated blood at Gethsemane. This thirst we can see so beautifully summarised in the opening words of Psalm 41: "As the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God."
Next, I imagine Jesus thirsting for us to love our neighbour. In fact, we can go further and say that he thirsts for our love as our neighbour. What do I mean? Not long before his Passion, he gave us the challenging image of the separation of the human race into sheep and goats. He told us “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me"(Mt 25:31f). So when we reach out to the least of his brethren, we reach out to him. The hungry and the thirsty, the sick and imprisoned, the lonely and suffering, poor and needy show us what Blessed Mother Teresa called the distressing face of Jesus. Those gaunt eyes staring out from the posters of charities or television documentaries, the hidden face of the prisoner, the pale face of the patient, and the more familiar brokenness of those with whom we share our lives – in all of these we are to make out the face and voice of Jesus. In and through all these people and situations, Jesus thirsts for our love.
Lastly, Jesus thirsts for our love from within ourselves. Perhaps this is the one that we are least likely to acknowledge. When we look at ourselves in the mirror each morning – not always a pretty sight perhaps – who is that staring back at us? In fact, as Christians we have quite a lot to say about ourselves as human beings. We know that we are created by God, and that we were created in his image and likeness. We know that we ourselves, too, are part of all that God declared to be “good.” We know, however, that the one in the mirror is a sinner. Like the Prodigal Son in Sunday’s Gospel we have wasted the inheritance we have received from our Father. Sometimes we have ended up in the pigsty that is the result of sin, or we have made pigsties out of other people’s lives. And yet, and yet, as soon as we make that decision to leave the pigsty, Jesus tells us that our Father-God still insists on running out to meet us. He wraps his strong gentle arms around us and holds us to his chest, to his heart.   No matter what we feel about ourselves, we too are his child, his beloved daughter or son. Somebody once said that when we contemplate Jesus on the Cross, we must remember that if necessary Jesus would do all this again, just for me. Just for me. Yes, somewhere in that face in the mirror I am to find a beloved son or daughter of the Father, redeemed by Christ. There too I am to find the voice and face of Jesus – and to love that face, love that person, love myself.
To me it is clear that Jesus was thirsting – is thirsting - for our love. He calls out from within ourselves – to find him and love him there. He calls out to us through the voice and eyes of our neighbour. And he calls out as the Son of the Father, and our brother – to love the one who is his Father and ours. In order to hear and answer that cry “I thirst” – from whatever direction it may come - let us ask the help of the Holy Spirit, who is the love between the Father and the Son, poured into our hearts.
The four images of the Crucifixion are: a drawing by St John of the Cross; the "Volto Santo" or Holy Face in Lucca, Tuscany, that we visited in September; an ivory from the National Gallery of Wales, Cardiff; and a medieval Deposition in the cathedral at Tivoli, outside Rome.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Like Jesus, like Francis, like Francis - decide!

Just come in from church after the beginning of Watching at the Altar of Repose. A good number at Mass...
Gethsemane is the place of decision. In the Upper Room Jesus laid out his Plan: we are to wash humanity's feet and we are to do wonderful things "in memory of me", whereby He remains with us until the end of time. Now we are invited into the Garden, the place of decision. Will we play our part?
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's assuming of Francis as his new name as pope has given rise to much discussion. He confirmed that it was the saint of Assisi that he had in mind. My picture today comes not from Assisi however, but from the nearby town of Spoleto, where we stayed on our September pilgrimage. The sacristy of the cathedral there houses a precious relic - one of a tiny number of autograph manuscripts, in this case a letter to Brother Leo (right). This was written by one who came as close as anyone to living out the events of the Upper Room.
Pope Francis washing the feet of  young offenders, including men and women, and also including 2 Muslims.

Let downs and blessings

This is so-called Spy Wednesday, when we remember the betrayal by Judas. To be let down, betrayed is surely one of the worst human experiences. The closer the person, the worse the sense of betrayal. We need faithfulness in our lives - to God first and to one another, and faithfulness is cemented in commitment. So my picture for today is of Joan and John in Florence Cathedral during our September pilgrimage. That's me giving them a special blessing as they were celebrating 50 years of marriage - 50 years of commitment and faithfulness.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Gathering clouds

Today's picture is one that I took on holiday this summer. I visited the Belgian city of Ghent, where I saw these beautiful old houses alongside what was the town quay. It was a very pretty sight - until suddenly some very dark clouds appeared and slowly covered the sky.
The liturgy of these three weekdays of Holy Week is full of such dark clouds hovering over the beauty that was the person and ministry of Jesus. A sense of foreboding grows as we draw closer to Thursday and Friday. 
In the photo even the dark clouds on the left cannot completely block out the blue sky which is peeping through on the right. Even Good Friday is enlightened by Easter. We are to bring Easter wherever we meet Good Friday. 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Palm Sunday

I had an idea to observe the days of Holy Week by sharing a picture each day from the last year, especially perhaps from September's pilgrimage. So here is Palm Sunday's picture. It's the pilgrims at the Carceri or Hermitage outside Assisi, but it reminds me of the happy crowd greeting Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. We were so happy to be there and started to clap as we sang a song. When have you been happy these last twelve months? When have you welcomed Jesus as he passes by?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Young feet

Pope Francis continues to challenge us in different ways. Today I read that he is going to celebrate the Maundy Thursday evening Mass of the Lord's Supper in a youth detention centre at Casal del Marmo in Rome (picture left). It was his custom in Buenos Aires to do so every year at a prison, hospital, clinic or similar. Usually this Mass has been celebrated in the Pope's cathedral in Rome, St John Lateran, so this is another departure from previous practice.
The Mass of the Lord's Supper centres on three themes - the Eucharist, priesthood and the call to service. Its central images are bread and wine and the washing of the apostles' feet. So Francis will take his priesthood and the Eucharist to the young prisoners of Rome, and there wash their feet. 
I am coming to the conclusion that Pope Francis will challenge us bot so much in our image of what a Pope is like, but rather in what we should be like. And that is a much, much bigger challenge indeed...

Monday, 18 March 2013

No cufflinks!!

People are enjoying spotting all the many indications that Pope Francis is sailing into new waters. I enjoyed watching some of his Sunday Mass at St Anne's, the Vatican City's parish church. Well he is a parishioner! His homily on the Woman Taken in Adultery was beautiful, and, like the one in the Sistine Chapel with the Cardinals, I think delivered without notes, sending the media people wild.  Then he greeted every emerging parishioner on the church steps and went out through the gates to greet the crowd outside the Vatican boundary. 
Here is one of my favourite photos so far.
So what, you may say. Well look closely - no cufflinks! Oh, my goodness...
Look below his cumerbund thing - you can see his white shirt isn't tucked in very well....

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Francis, our Pope

Well, if we didn't see Benedict's departure coming, we certainly didn't see Francis's arrival either.
"Habemus Papam" - those famous words led to a look of surprise on the faces of most of the crowd when the name was announced. I suppose in retrospect we should have at least thought it possible, a sit is believed he was "runner-up" in 2005. The reason he hasn't been on most people's radar is his age - 76. But it makes sense - he's from the developing world, from the continent with the largest proportion of Catholics. 
He's a Jesuit - a first, but he's taken the name Francis, when the Jesuits and Franciscans have been traditional rivals. Watch the detail too. He appeared on the balcony with just the plain white cassock - no mozzetta, the little red and ermine cape. Word is he sold the archbishop's residence in Buenos Aires, and that he used public transport to get around the city.
Rocco Palmo has written this evening in his blog that with these factors Pope Francis "has signaled three things: his desire to be a force of unity in a polarized fold, a heart for the poor, and his intent to "repair God's house, which has fallen into ruin"... that is, to rebuild the church. These are the words that St Francis of Assisi heard from the Crucifix at San Damiano in Assisi. What better way to describe a new pope's ministry...
Statue of St Francis at prayer, San Damiano, Assisi

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Shots in the dark

I've just been watching the beginning of the Conclave to elect a new Pope in the Sistine Chapel. When I switched on, the Cardinals were just taking their oath of secrecy, and so you were able to see each of them approach the Bible, one by one. 

A few folks have asked if I have any hot tips. No!  I tell you what, some of the names being mentioned looked pretty severe to me. Anyway, just to throw out a few, keep an eye open for Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila in the Philippines (left). 
An American Pope has always been discounted in the past. This time Cardinal Dolan of New York was being mentioned, but seems to have been overtaken by Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston. I've always been aware of him, not least because he keeps a very interesting blog. Admittedly, it's mostly about him - but I like its tone. You can find it here.
Of the Italians, Cardinal Ravasi has just given the Lenten reflections in the Vatican, and went down well. He manged to mention St Thomas Aquinas and Amy Winehouse in the same talk, which can't be bad (above right).

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Someone missing...

So Tuesday sees the beginning of the Conclave to elect a new Pope. In the morning the Cardinals will celebrate the Mass "For the Election of the Pope" in St Peter's Basilica. In the afternoon, they will process from the Pauline Chapel (a private Chapel of the Popes) through to the Sistine Chapel. After some preliminaries the traditional proclamation of "Extra Omnes" (Everybody out) will be made, and the doors shut. The Cardinals will then probably proceed to a first vote, carried out in silence, in an almost liturgical style. There is no discussion in the Sistine - that takes place before and between the voting sessions. On the following days there can be four votes, two each morning and two each afternoon. The Cardinals eat and sleep in the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican, cut off from the outside world. 
The voting continues until there is a two-thirds plus one majority (this time around 76 or 77). Then the individual is asked if he accepts the vote (he can say no, I suppose!), and on his acceptance, the white smoke goes up and the bells start to ring out. The new Pope retires to a side room to be fitted with one of three prepared white cassocks, and is then led out to the balcony over the door of St Peter's. "Habemus Papam" (We have a Pope) a senior cardinal proclaims, and then lets the world know who it is. And so we take off on another phase of the Church's journey through time. 
About 50 years ago, far beneath the great dome of St Peter's the bones were found of a shortish stocky man in his 60s or 70s. The election of a Pope puts us directly in touch with Simon Peter and his calling by the Sea of Galilee. We belong to the Church of this weak, strong, sinful, faithful, denying and affirming man. And through him of course, we are in profound and mystical unity with Jesus, the Light of the World. 
We are not just all one as Catholics across the world because we believe the same things (hopefully) or live the same way (even more hopefully). Our bonds are very concrete, through the unity we have with our Bishop, and the unity he has with all the other Bishops, gathered around the Bishop of Rome. So whoever the next one of those is, the next Pope, I will have a lump in my throat as the smoke goes up. Without someone occupying the See of Peter there is something missing, like a dad away at sea. We will have a new Father, and somehow the family will be complete again,

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Mothers and malaria

When I got home yesterday evening after giving a talk, I switched on the TV while having some supper, to find "Mary and Martha". I had read a little about a Rednose Day film about two mothers whose sons died of malaria, and nearly switched over, fearing it might be too heavy or slushy or both. I was very wrong. 
Immediately the brilliant acting of Hilary Swank, mother of a young boy, and Brenda Blethyn, mother of an older son in his early twenties, drew me into this great drama. Locations in Africa and America were beautifully filmed, music is used very appropriately, but it was the humanity of grieving mothers that grabbed me, particularly that of Hilary Swank in the hospital in Mozambique. 
Slowly we learn of the enormous scale of children's deaths from malaria. The two mothers bond together, marital difficulties are encountered, and in the end together they make a difference. Blethyn ends their pleas to the Senate Committee, with photos of children victims of theh disease laid out,: "Would you like us to make an appointment to come back next year. and bring another half million photographs?" 
We can make changes in our lives and in our world. Fr M approves bigtime. Catch this excellent film on iPlayer here