Thursday, 30 May 2013

God's great dancefloor!

A few days ago I posted a song by Matt Redman, an English singer and songwriter of contemporary Christian music. He often works with a similar American worship leader, Chris Tomlin. Chris is involved in an annual Christian gathering in the US aimed at students. The 2013 meeting was entitled Passion 2013 and was held at the Georgia Dome, a covered stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. It attracted 60,000 young people, and there are several videos from it available on Youtube. If you want to see 60,000 young people really enjoying themselves with no drugs or alcohol in sight, watch Chris Tomlin leading them in one of his songs with the great title "God's Great Dance-floor". Someone who saw it over my shoulder thought it was a Coldplay concert - which is fine by me!  Catch it here
These are some of the words - I like the idea of being really alive when we dance to God's music, and it reminds me of this image I saw a few years ago.

I’m coming back to the start where You found me.
I’m coming back to Your heart
Now I surrender, take me, this is all I can bring

You’ll never stop loving us no matter how far we run
You’ll never give up on us
All of heaven shouts: let the future begin

I feel alive, I come alive, I am alive - 
on God’s great dance floor.

words Chris Tomlin

Sunday, 26 May 2013

A Bede-y eye

I was up earlyish this morning, so, for the first time, I think, I'm posting this first thing on a Sunday morning. Looking out of my office window the sun is shining in a beautiful blue sky, and all the trees that face me have that green which is special to spring. Today is Trinity Sunday, and we all certainly have so much to praise God for, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Yesterday was the feast of a saint special to me as a past student of the Beda in Rome. St Bede, better known as the Venerable Bede, is the patron of the Pontificio Collegio Beda, to give it its full name in Italian. Why was this Roman seminary dedicated to Bede? He lived around 700AD, and is one of the greatest English saints. He was a monk at the monasteries of the north-east,at Jarrow and Monkwearmouth in present-day Sunderland. It's believed that he never travelled far from there, yet managed to leave behind him one of teh great classics of religious and historical writing. "The Ecclesiastical History of the English People" is a principal source for all we know about Britain after the Romans, and brought him the title of "Father of British History". A profound theologian and skilled translator, he is the only English-born Doctor of the Church.  He is also credited with popularising the use of "A.D." in our date system. He is buried at the magnificent Durham Cathedral.
You can find out more about Bede here a very good Wikipedia article. To find out more about the Beda in Rome, my seminary, visit their website here.
The pic shows Bede's shrine at Durham Cathedral

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

10,000 Reasons

My secular musical tastes are, well, catholic. In religious music, too, I go from medieval Masses to contemporary choruses. These usually come from a background that's not Catholic, and usually pentecostal, evangelical or whatever. Having had involvement in Catholic Charismatic Renewal since 1974, this music is not alien to me at all. There is nothing like a rousing chorus to get a congregation going. So I thought I'd share some from time to time here. 
One of my current favourites is Matt Redman's "10,000 Reasons"  also known as "Bless the Lord My Soul". A UK writer and singer born in 1974 and based in Brighton, catch him singing it here in a video filmed for some reason in an empty church. This song was only written a year or two ago, and won a Grammy recently for worship songs. It helps if you crank up the volume a little too!

Monday, 20 May 2013

A fire on the Earth

For the feast of Pentecost, I have lifted a meditation from one of the blogs I read, that of Msgr. Charles Pope in Washington DC.

What a wondrous and challenging feast we celebrate at Pentecost. A feast like this challenges us, because it puts to the lie a lazy, sleepy, hidden, and tepid Christian life. The Lord Jesus had said to Apostles, and still says to us: I have come to cast a fire on the earth! (Luke 12:49). This is a feast about fire, about a transformative, refining, and purifying fire that the Lord wants to kindle in us and in this world.

The Readings today speak to us of the Holy Spirit in three ways: The Portraits of the Spirit, the Proclamation of the Spirit and the Propagation by the Spirit. Let’s look at all three.

I. The Portraits of the Spirit – The Reading today speaks of the Holy Spirit using two images: rushing wind, and tongues of fire. These two images recall Psalm 50 which says, Our God comes, he does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, round about him a mighty tempest. (Psalm 50:3).

Rushing Wind – Notice how the text from Acts opens: When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.

This text brings us to the very root meaning of the word “Spirit.” For “spirit” refers to “breath,” and we have this preserved in our word “respiration,” which means breathing. So, the Spirit of God is the breath of God, the Ruah Adonai (the Spirit, the breath of God).

Genesis 1:2 speaks of this saying the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And Genesis 2:7 speaks even more remarkably of something God did only for man, not the animals: then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Gen 2:7).

So the very Spirit of God was breathed into Adam! But, as we know, Adam lost this gift and died spiritually when he sinned.

Thus we see in this passage from Acts an amazing and wonderful resuscitation of the human person as these first Christians (120 in all) experience the rushing wind of God’s Spirit breathing spiritual life back into them. God does C.P.R. and brings humanity, dead in sin, back to life! The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us once again as in a temple (cf 1 Cor 3:16). It has been said that Christmas is the feast of God with us, Good Friday is the Feast of God for us, but Pentecost is the Feast of God in us.

Tongues of Fire – The text from Acts says, Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.

The Bible often speaks of God as fire, or in fiery terms. Moses saw God as a burning bush. God led the people out of Egypt through the desert as a pillar of fire. Moses went up on to a fiery Mt. Sinai where God was. Psalm 97 says, The LORD reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are round about him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him, and burns up his adversaries round about. His lightnings lighten the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory. (Ps 97:1-6). Scriptures call God a Holy fire, a consuming fire (cf Heb 12:29) and a refining fire (cf Is. 48:10; Jer 9:7; Zec 13:9; & Mal 3:3).

And so it is that our God, who is a Holy Fire, comes to dwell in us through his Holy Spirit. And as a Holy Fire, He refines us by burning away our sins and purifying us. As Job once said, But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

And he is also preparing us for judgement, for if God is a Holy Fire, then who may endure the day of his coming or of our going to Him? What can endure the presence of Fire Himself? Only that which is already fire. Thus we must be set afire by God’s love.

So, in the coming of the Holy Spirit God sets us on fire to make us a kind of fire. In so doing, he purifies and prepares us to meet him one, He who is a Holy Fire.

II. The Proclamation of the Spirit. - You will notice that the Spirit Came on them like “tongues” of Fire. And the reference to tongues is no mere accident. For notice how the Holy Spirit moves them to speak, and ultimately to witness. The text says: And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

So behold how the Holy Spirit moves them to proclaim, not just in the safety of the upper room, but also in holy boldness before the crowds who have gathered.

Notice the transformation! Moments ago these were frightened men who gathered only behind locked doors, in secrecy. They were huddled together in fear. But now they go forth to the crowds and boldly proclaim Christ. They have gone from fear to faith, from cowardice to courage, from terror to testimony!

And how about us? Too many Christians are silent, dominated by fear. Perhaps they fear being called names, or not being popular. Perhaps they are anxious about being laughed at, or resisted, or of being asked questions they don’t feel capable of answering. Some Christians are able to gather in the “upper room” of the parish and be active, even be leaders. But once outside the “upper room” they slip into undercover mode. They become secret agent Christians.

Well, the Holy Spirit wants to change that, and to the degree that we have really met Jesus Christ and experienced his Holy Spirit we are less “able” to keep silent. An old Gospel song says, I thought I wasn’t gonna testify, but I couldn’t keep it to myself, what the Lord has done for me. The Holy Spirit, if authentically received, wants to give us zeal and joy, and burn away our fear, so that testifying and witnessing are natural to us.

Note also how the Spirit “translates” for the apostles, for the crowd before them spoke different languages, but all heard Peter and the others in their own language. The Spirit therefore assists not only us, but also those who hear us. My testimony is not dependent only on my eloquence, but also on the grace of the Holy Spirit who casts out deafness and opens hearts. Every Christian should remember this. Some of our most doubtful encounters with others can still bear great fruit on account of the work of the Holy Spirit who “translates” for us and overcomes many obstacles that we might think insurmountable.

III. The Propagation by the Spirit – In the great commission the Lord said, Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Matt 28:19ff). He also said, as we have noted, I have come to cast a fire on the earth and How I wish the blaze were already ignited (Luke 12:49).

But how is the Lord going to do this?

Perhaps a picture will help. My parish church is dedicated to the Holy Spirit under the title: Holy Comforter. Above the high altar is the Latin inscription: Spiritus Domini, replevit orbem terrarum (The Spirit of the Lord, filled the orb of the earth). (See photo, above right, of our high altar).

And yet, we may wonder how He will do this.

But the walls of my parish Church answer the question. The clerestory walls are painted Spanish Red, and upon this great canvas are also painted the lives of 20 saints, surrounding us like a great cloud of witnesses (cf Heb 12:1). (See also, video below). And over the head of every saint is a tongue of fire.

THIS is how the Spirit of the Lord fills the earth. It is not “magic fairy dust,” it is in the fiery transformation of every Christian, going forth into the world to bring light and warmth to a dark and cold world. THIS is how the Lord casts fire on earth, THIS is how the Spirit of the Lord fills the orb of the earth: in the lives of saints, and, if you are prepared to accept it, in YOU.

In the end, the Great Commission (Matt 28) is “standing order No. 1.” No matter what else, we are supposed to do this. Parishes do not deserve to exist if they do not do this. We as individual Christians are a disgrace, and not worthy of the name, if we fail to win souls for Jesus Christ. The Spirit of the Lord is going to fill the orb of the earth, but only through us. The spread of the Gospel has been placed in your hands (scary isn’t it?).

In the Past two years, my own parish, after a year of training, stepped out into our neighborhood, and went door to door and into the local park. And we announced Jesus Christ, and invited people to discover him in our parish, and in the sacraments. And we were in the local park and the market last week doing sidewalk evangelization.

Before we count even a single convert, this is already success because we are obeying Jesus Christ who said, simply, “Go!” “Go make disciples.” And, truth be told, we ARE seeing an increase in my parish. Our Sunday attendance has grown from about 450 to 520, a 15% increase. We are growing, and our attendance, while average for a downtown city parish, is going in the right direction. God never fails. God is faithful.

Spread the news: it works if you work it, so work it because God is worth it. Go make disciples. Ignore what the pollsters tell you about a declining Church and let the Lord cast a fire on the earth through you! Fires have way of spreading! Why not start one today? The Spirit of God will not disappoint.

I know this, my parish has a future because we are obeying Jesus Christ, we are making disciples. How about you and yours? If parishes do not obey, they do not deserve to exist and can expect to close one day, no matter how big they are today. I, in my short 50 years on this planet, have seen it: parishes once big, booming, and, (frankly), arrogant, are now declining and some are near closure. It happens to the best, if they do not evangelize, if they do not accomplish “Job 1.” The Lord wants to light a fire. Why not become totally fire? Let the Spirit propagate the Church through you (I am not talking about the person next to you, I am talking to you).

Happy feast of Pentecost. But don’t forget that the basic image is very challenging, for it means getting out of the “upper room,” opening the doors, and proclaiming Christ to the world. Let the Holy Spirit light a fire in you, and then, you can’t help but spread light and heat to a cold and dark world.

Let the evangelization of the whole world begin with you.
This video features details from the clerestory (upper window level) of my parish of Holy Comforter here in DC. Notice the tongue of fire above each saint. The paintings show how the Spirit of the Lord fills the orb of the earth, (see photo above), through the lives of the lives of the saints (this means you). It is not magic, it is grace, working in your life, through your gifts, and your relationships, that the Lord will reach each soul. The cloud of witnesses on the walls of my Church say simply, You are the way he will fill the earth and set it on fire. Let the blaze be ignited in you!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Will and Monifa

How about these two for a bit of sheer end-of-Easter season joy? I haven't smiled at a video so much for ages. 
A few years ago we held a youth event in our 3 Churches called "Refresh". Several of the kids asked if I was on Facebook, and if not, why not. So I joined and duly became a Friend of some of them. So I get to know what's going on with some late teens/early 20s. 
Well, one of them posted this video today. It just makes you smile, and rather puts "Britain's Got Talent" and "The X Factor" in the shade. Will and Monifa, a bartender and a fitness instructor, drive up to a petrol station with TV screens...   Part One is here and Part Two is here
So thanks, Rhys. Fr M approves - enjoy!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Living Church

Wow... something must be wrong - it's a lovely sunny Bank Holiday!! Obviously God forgot the holiday in organizing the weather :)  Anyway, I'm a little tired today after a very busy day yesterday, so I am, as my mother used to say, "lying low". 
Yesterday started with 9 o'clock Mass at St Paul's, but I had to move quickly to get back to St Brigid's for First Holy Communions at the 10.30 Mass. Aaaaah... only three children but what angels. It was a lovely celebration, and continued with cups of tea etc over in the Hall, complete with unbelievably sweet cake. Then it was a dash up to Corpus Christi, our High School, which was hosting "Celebrate Wales". If you've visited this blog before, I hope you will have checked out Celebrate from the right hand column >>> These are Catholic faith-filled wonderful weekends that happen all over the country. Organized jointly by local people and central Celebrate resources, they grew out of an annual Celebrate Week at Ilfracombe. So this is the third Celebrate Wales weekend, and it's of particular pleasure to me that each year a few more parishioners attend. So I spotted Haydn, Barbara, Dan, Max and Ceri among others. 
I arrived in the middle of Eucharistic Adoration, during which there is also personal ministry. Then after a relaxed lunch and time to catch up with some of my many, many friends in Charismatic Renewal, I had to prepare for Mass at 2.45 where I was principal celebrant. These Masses are great, I love them. So joyful, with loads of participation in so many different ways - little children, older children, youth etc etc.  But very demanding too, if you're going to give as much as everybody else does. So, after getting back home at 5 o'clock I just had time for a quick cuppa and sit in my favourite chair before evening parish Mass at 6. And after that, to put it simply, I flopped. But what a beautiful, priestly and fulfilling day!
So I'm just relaxing today, recharging the batteries for the week ahead, and with one eye on the four weeks beginning a week today when I'll be on my own - but that's another story... This morning Max and Ceri were in Mass so I invited them in for a coffee and we spent most of the morning the joys of "Celebrate"!
Meanwhile, it's time for a fun video that I spotted somewhere. What happens to a soaking cloth up in the space station? Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield shows you the amazing effect of weightlessness. Take a look here.
 Pic shows Chris Hadfield walking in space