Thursday, 25 November 2021

Our Lady of the stairwell

As we move towards Advent, we are always close to Our Lady, who joins us on the way to Bethlehem.  She has been the centre of many many great works - especially of art and music. This Advent I'll be trying to share some better and less well known of these.
Meanwhile, here is one of the best known and loved pieces dedicated to her, Schubert's "Ave Maria" sung unaccompanied, in their own arrangement and in their favourite stairwell, by the impresive King's Return, whose "Ubi Caritas" I posted a while ago.   Enjoy - and happy Advent!

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Everything is possible

Time to stir after a rest from posting! This video is one I discovered recently of a performance of the Lord's Prayer in Swahili sung at the Llangollen Eisteddfod in 2018.  What is remarkable is that it is sung by the choir of famous Stellenbosch University in South Africa, formerly a centre of Afrikaans culture. A mixed choir singing in Swahili in South Africa!

We live in difficult times, COVID is still around, people are questioning COP Glasgow, and the grey days of November are with us. Perhaps we are feeling a bit down, that we're getting nowhere. This video reminds us that everything is possible if we apply ourselves.

This choir is very, very well practised and produce a beautiful sound, and full of life. Catch them also singing the worldwide dance hit "Jerusalem" and the South African national anthem.


Friday, 17 September 2021

"Help" *****

This morning I am still haunted by the face and performance of actress Jodie Comer in last night's "Help" on Channel 4. I was not at all surprised to find it got a ***** review in this morning's paper, where the reviewer said that some government ministers should be forced to watch some of the scenes in this astonishing drama. Jodie Comer played a young assistant in a care home in Liverpool, where she finds an unexpected connection with the residents. It is set in the early months of last year. starting pre-pandemic but then showing us what happened across Britain in our care homes as Covid struck from March onwards.

One night she finds herself on duty alone, with several residents already having died. She discovers another victim and wants to turn him on his front but can't manage it.  I could hardly watch as she wanders around the darkened and silent  home, desperately trying to get help over the phone but "noone's coming". So she enlists the help of Tony, a resident played by the wonderful Stephen Graham, suffering from early onset dementia.  A fantastic script and excellent acting meant that it was easy to forget that we were in a TV drama and not a documentary.  

Admittedly it perhaps went off the boil a little in the last part. When the manager returns from sickness himself he puts Tony on strong medication, knocking him out, so Jodie Comer decides to spring Tony and takes him to a caravan on the coast. I agree with the reviewer who asks whether we can imagine this happening. It reminded me, and the reviewer, of the excellent "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". At the end we were reminded of some statistics, notably that between March and June 2020 40% of deaths were in care homes. At breakfast today Fr Andy reminded me that one of our parishioners is a resident in a home where there is only one assistant on duty at night.

A lot of the time I am dealing with "serious stuff" in my work and ministry. So in the evening I am often glad to chill with my music or something light on the telly. But every so often something serious comes along that begs to be watched. I am so glad that I watched "Help" with its 5 stars. Anyone who doubts whether TV can produce programmes that are not only great works in themselves, but social realism polemics at the same time - you need to see "Help".

Monday, 13 September 2021

Jesus and R.E.M.

Often in preaching, especially at Sunday Mass, I like to try and explore what happens in the Gospel passage from a human point of view. What was it like to be there? What was Jesus thinking or feeling? What was everybody else doing and thinking? What can we now learn from that? The great St Teresa of Avila said something about how we can only come to know the divinity of Jesus through his humanity.


Yesterday we heard Jesus ask the apostles who people were thinking he was, and then who the apostles themselves thought he was. Now as one commentator pointed out, we all want people we love to know us well. Jesus loved them, so he wants them to know him well. He loves us too, and so he wants us to know him personally too. 

Another commentator observed that "we probably all find it easier to tell people who we think they are, than to actually listen to them and find out who they really are! Finding out who the other person truly is, requires listening, walking together, sharing, helping and being open to see the other person’s fragility and hurt. In doing so, we participate in our friends’ brokenness. And that is exactly why Jesus offered Himself for us: He broke the bread for the broken people we all are…" (Patrick van der Vorst).

So much can be going on behind the eyes. R.E.M were an impressive American band who were at their most commercially successful in the early 1990s, though they only broke up ten years ago. One of their most popular songs was "Everybody Hurts", and it is accompanied by a video reflecting this theme. In some ways it was not a characteristic song of theirs, but it has touched a nerve for many people.


When your day is long  And the night, the night is yours alone
When you're sure you've had enough of this life, 
well hang on 
Don't let yourself go
'Cause everybody cries 
Everybody hurts sometimes
Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it's time to sing along
When your day is night alone (hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go (hold on)
If you think you've had too much
Of this life, well hang on
'Cause everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts
Don't throw your hand, oh no
Don't throw your hand
If you feel like you're alone
No, no, no, you are not alone
If you're on your own in this life
The days and nights are long
When you think you've had too much
Of this life to hang on
Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries
Everybody hurts, sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes
So hold on, hold on, hold on....
Everybody hurts

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Abba, Coldplay, holograms and a higher power

Abba are back!  Well, we weren't expecting that, were we?  Well I wasn't.  Their new single is good, high on emotion but sort of reflective too. They're gong to do a concert too?   No, actually they're not, they'll be at home, while holograms (I think) of their younger selves "perform"  at a purpose built place in London's Olympic park.

Like most people, I suspect, I don't really understand holograms. They're there but not there, aren't they? Also using holograms recently are Coldplay, one of the great bands of the last 20 years or so (in my humble opinion etc). I remember buying their first CD - I think in my Penarth phase 1997-2000. One of their great gifts is to fill and energise whole stadiums - so-called, sometimes disparagingly, "stadium rock". But don't knock it - giving pleasure to so many people can't be bad.  

Coldplay are using holograms this year in performing their single "Higher Power", so here is a video of them doing so at New York's 4th July celebrations two months ago. You can catch the same thing but at the 2021 Brits on another Youtube video, but without an audience. And it's Chris Martin's connection with the audience that is part of the phenomenon. Oh, and yes, that title - "Higher Power". Coldplay are also notable for moving from the emotional to the spiritual from time to time, not always obvious in modern music. This seems to be clearer on their forthcoming album and its video filmed in Damascus.

Enjoy "Higher Power" - and the holograms..

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Be opened!

 The man who was deaf and impaired in speech - one of my favourite Gospels, and the one for today. Watch and hear the Master at work, giving a lesson in how to be sensitive to one another. Notice especially how the way Jesus heals here seems undignified or even silly, as he puts his fingers in the man’s ears and his spit on the man’s tongue.  But first...

1. He takes the man aside in private, someone who is only too used to being looked at, laughed at etc. Thee then followsd what cane be seen as a silent show. It has to be as Jesus is trying to communicate with someone who can’t hear. In other cases, before Jesus does a miracle, Jesus talks to the person for whom the miracle will be done. In this case, he does charades.


2. Jesus' charade begins by letting the deaf man know that he is putting a part of himself into the deaf man - his fingers into the deaf man’s ears, his spit into the deaf man’s mouth. Jesus is inviting the man to accept him into himself, literally.  

3. Then Jesus looks up to heaven to show the deaf man the source of Jesus’ power. It doesn’t come from some magic in Jesus’ fingers or spittle. It comes from God, whose power is in Jesus. 

4.  Even the sighing or groaning and the speech of Jesus to the deaf man make sense if we think of them in this way. First, the deaf man sees Jesus open his mouth to make the inarticulate sound of groaning. This deaf man doesn’t speak, but even those made mute by deafness can groan. In groaning, Jesus joins the deaf man, who can see Jesus groaning even if he can’t hear him. 

5. And then the deaf man sees Jesus speaking an articulate word to him, to the man who cannot hear. In doing this, Jesus is inviting the deaf man to trust in him - to choose to hear the word that Jesus speaks to him.

And so Jesus humbles himself to share the limitations of this man. By an apparently undignified dumb show, the love of the Lord heals the deaf man’s soul as well as his ears.So we can hear and learn from the love of the Lord in this story.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Feeling love

It's already 12 years since Adele burst onto the music scene with her album entitled "19", her age at the time. She went on to become one of the biggest-selling artists in the world,with albums  "21" and "25" and the theme song from Bond movie "Skyfall", though we haven't heard much from her in recent years.  

On her first album was a song called "Make You Feel My Love", written by Bob Dylan originally, which became a favourite.   The joys and pains of love are the main themes of her songs, something we can all relate to. You can even give this one a religious application, and put the words of the song into the mouth of Jesus, as we did one year for the Confirmation class.  It takes on quite an impact then.  Try it as you listen along to a young woman aged 19. 

When the rain is blowing in your face    
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace    
To make you feel my love
When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love
I know you haven't made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I've known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong
I'd go hungry, I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love
The storms are raging on the rolling sea
And on the highway of regret
Though winds of change are throwing wild and free
You ain't seen nothing like me yet
I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn't do
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
To make you feel my love, to make you feel my love

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Six hours

Back after a three week break from posting.  I spent the first week away, out, gone. I went to stay with family for seven nights, the first seven that I had spent out of the house for almost two years... For me the arthritis-related problems really got going in September 2019 and soon the pandemic was added to the mix.  It was reasuring for me in those months to have the same house to find my way around, especially in the morning when the mobility is most difficult.

My wonderful sister and brother-in-law came to pick me up to whip me off to their place, a house which they had moved into since I last visited. I soon found my way around, and all in all I had a great time there. A big part of that was to meet two out of my three nephews and their children, who I also had not seen for two years. How they had grown in every sense!

We did all sorts of lovely family stuff like children's Monopoly, a pub lunch, and a drive-though coffee. However, I think the highlight for me was the barbecue. Nine of us gathered in the garden on what was the only really sunny and warm day of the week. I realised when the last nephew left with his family that I had been sitting in my garden chair for six hours. Anyone who has known me during the past two years will know how amazing that is. Six hours of sun, sausage and burger. But, far more important, six hours of family and fellowship, laughter - and love. Can't put a price on that.

Here is the little message Eva aged 6 gave me. It reads "Dear Unckle Math   I am feeling relly happy and joyful to see you XOXO  with all my love  To unckle Math  from Eva" and on the back it said over a rainbow "Friendship for everyone" with Eva and me under it. 


Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Time for a break and some Roberta Flack

Along with many other people, I haven't ventured overnight from my home during the pandemic. In addition, as I have been acclimatising to my arthritis-related difficulties, it's been good to be able to stick to one familiar house layout to get around. However, it's now time to break out! So this Friday I'm heading off to stay with family for a while.  It will be strange to be somewhere else, but it will also be fantastic to have a change.

This gives me the opportunity to thank all those who take the trouble to read these ramblings on my blog. I've discovered followers in all sorts of places. Earlier this year there was a rush in Romania, and more recently there has been a large number of viewings from Sweden! If my friend or friends there would like to share who they are in the comments, which I don't have to publish, that would be interesting.

Quite a few people have appreciated my music postings, especially those from my "early days".So here is a classic from university days: Roberta Flack singing "The First TIme Ever I Saw Your Face". This was written back in the 50s by Ewan McColl and recorded by various people in following years. But it was Roberta Flack's version that really took off, especially after it was played in Clint Eastwood's film "Play Misty For Me" in about 1972. The song was shortened a little for that, but this is the original version from 1969
See you in a while...

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

From 5000 then to us here and now

This was my message on Sunday - with acknowledgement to Bishop Barron!

These three Sundays we hear from John chapter 6. John's Gospel has no account of the institution of the Eucharist  - but it does have chapter 6 instead. This is a kind of meditation on the Eucharist.  On Sunday we heard the first part - the feeding of the 5000, a moment recorded in all four Gospels. As John tells the story, we see an account, a symbolic presentation of the Eucharist itself, but we need to decipher it, just as we do in the story of the Road to Emmaus.

First we are told that it takes place up a mountain. Mountains and hills are places of encounter in scripture between God and us. Think of Sinai, Sion and Tabor.  We go up, God comes down. What is the Mass?   It's a mountain top experience, of communion and of transfiguration. 

Secondly, we see Jesus sit down - the attitude of the teacher, with his disciples at his feet. When we have gathered at Mass, we sit down to listen to God's Word in the readings. We sit down with Jesus!

Then the Liturgy of the Eucharist follows, just as Jesus proceeds to feed the crowd. We are told  this happens before the Passover, just as the Last Supper did. The crowd will be fed by the Lamb of God himself, just as we are


But with what did he feed them? He could have fed them - and us - from nothing. He's God! But he delights in drawing on our cooperation. His desire is to feed us with his Body and blood, but in order to do so he invites us to present our little, so that he can transfigure it. This is the Offertory Procession or Presentation of the Gifts.  What do you have? Jesus asks the apostles. We present some little round breads, a drop of wine and some of our cash. He proceeds to elevate it into food for eternal life.

Then St John echoes the words of the Last Supper in his account. Our Lord took, and gave thanks, and gave - bringing us to the heart of the Mass in the Eucharistic Prayer. At this point the priest is operating in the person of Christ (hence vestments) as he speaks the words of the Last Supper.

The people receive as much as they needed - yes for their stomachs, but we receive for our deepest hunger too, the deepest longings of our hearts. The little bread and wine will never satisfy our bodies, let alone our spirits, but transfigured they do.

Lastly we learn that the fragments are collected in twelve baskets - 12 the number of the tribes and the apostles, the number symbolic of all the people. We also collect up what is left over, and place it in the trabernacle for those unable to be present.

In the description of this miracle from so long ago we can find the miracle of every Mass. There, in a mountain top experience we can indeed be fed at the deepest level of our souls.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Led Zeppelin 2007

So here's something different. I'm back to music from my earlier years, but this time it's not exactly Simon and Garfunkel - it's Led Zeppelin instead.  Guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist John Paul Jones, singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham got together in 1968, when I was 15 and getting into pop music big time. There followed ten years of fabulous sound that remains influential today. All four members were stars of their field. Page's guitar sound and Bonham's drums are distinctive, Plants vocal aerobatics were unique and Jones' bass and keyboards, sometimes underestimated, helped create the Zeppelin sound. Sadly Bonham died in 1979 and they disbanded, feeling they would no longer be Zeppelin without him.

They have rarely reunited since, but one very notable occasion was 2007 when they did a charity concert at the O2 in London (left). The performance I have chosen is from that night, when Plant was 63, Plant 58 etc. Drums were played by John Bonham's son, Jason Bonham. They have already been playing or about 90 minutes, hence Page's slightly dishevelled look! The song is "Kashmir" written in 1975, and often claimed to be their finest achievement. Even the band themselves claim this, it is said. The strange thing is that I remember listening to it once or twice at the time, and then leaving it aside for years as being  bit odd or complicated. Until recently. 

I realise now it is the very qualities of the song that put me off when I was younger (like whiskey or Stilton, some might say!)  For instance, it is written largely chromatically, ie not only using the normal notes of a tonic scale.  Secondly it is in (new word for me) polymeter, that is to say it has two diffferent rhythms going on at the same time. In the opening section the guitar is in 3 rhythm while the drums are in 4. At other points the musical subtelty get too technical for me, with changes of major and minor, of mode etc. As for the words, which varied sometimes according to performance, especially towards the end of the song, there is no direct meaning to the reference to the place Kashmir. In fact it was written after a drive in the desert of Morocco. It's sort of about searching, the unattainable, and companionship on the journey....  possibly!

It is a wonderfully constructed piece, slowly gathering layers and energy. At the end Jones, adding tones of organ and orchestra, underlies a climax of rising sections with Page, while Bonham goes absolutely crazy on the drums, and Plant wants to take us there... where? I'm not sure  - but I love the journey, especially as played by a band with the three survivors averaging 60!.   If you want to read some analysis of the song  look here.


Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face  And stars fill my dreams
I am a traveller of both time and space  To be where I have been

To sit with elders of the gentle race  This world has seldom seen
They talk of days for which they sit and wait  All will be revealed

Talk in song from tongues of lilting grace Whose sounds caress my ear
Though not a word I heard could I relate The story was quite clear

Oh, baby, I been blind  Oh, yeah, mama, there ain't no denyin'
Oh, yes, I been blind  Mama, mama, ain't no denyin',

All I see turns to brown    As the sun burns the ground

And my eyes fill with sand  As I scan this wasted land
Trying to find, trying to find the way I feel

Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace  Like thoughts inside a dream
Here is the path that led me to that place   Yellow desert stream

My Shangri-la beneath the summer moon   I will return again
Sure as the dust that floats high in June  When moving through Kashmir

Oh, father of the four winds fill my sails   Across the sea of years
With no provision but an open face   Along the straits of fear

Oh, when I’m on my way,  And when I see, I see the way to stay

Ooh, yeah yeah, oh, yeah yeah,  But I'm down oh, yeah yeah, oh, yeah
Yeah, but I'm down, so down  Ooh, my baby, oh, my baby
Let me take you there
Come on, oh let me take you there    I can take you there


Sunday, 18 July 2021

Our young people

I was talking about young people in Mass today, and several people said they really appreciated it.  I put it in the context of a shepherd reporting about the flock, as in today's readings.

I started on Monday with a Zoom marriage preparation for a lovely couple living in London, but where the bride-to-be comes from Christ the King and is known well here. So I was in my office and they were in their respective flats. And they were great - great young people, switched on to life and faith. I'm really looking forward to their wedding in a month's time.

Next on Tuesday Andy and I celebrated a funeral, with the deceased mum beng remembered by husband and family. Family life, good example, passing it on...

Thursday evening and Saturday morning I confirmed twenty of our young 12 and 13 year olds. Their whole preparation programme has been via Zoom with three catechists and myself. They have been, and I'm sure will be, fantastic, again very switched on... We will meet again with them in September to talk about where they go from here.

In between the two Confirmation Masses, on Friday, was our first weding for two years.  Another lovely couple, this time both former pupils of Corpus Christi, our Catholic high school. Loads of other past pupils there. Great.

 Then tomorrow we drop a year to the school leavers of Year 6 in Christ the King Primary, with their Leavers' Mass.  I've been missing Mass with kids for too long during the Covod stuff. They have something very special, to do with chidren's spontaneity, directness, and, yes, innocence and simplicity. Again, I'm really looking forward to tomorow.


So - children, young people, couples - family life, parish life, school life.  We can get fearful about the future based on the present, but how well do we now the real situation?  I've been so impressed by these diffferent age groups this week.  And so my faith in the future is strengthened. 

Monday, 12 July 2021

Celebrating together


So here we are, or were, back in 2013 at one of our 3 Churches Masses. This was one of the last of several that we celebrated at Corpus Christi High school in July. Each was on a theme, and that year it was "People of Faith", centred on the Sacraments. Look closely and you will see the symbols of the seven sacraments on the wall behind the altar. I was joined by Fr Tomy and Deacon Rob Coyne in the sanctuary. As you can see, helped by the rousing hymn "10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord my Soul)" participation was very active!

Holding these celebrations was part of my plan to bind our 3 Churches together in my first years here. The planning and running of the day, which orignally included a shared lunch and even afternoon activities, was entirely shared among people from the churches. It wasn't without some strife, but on the whole these celebrations were successsful, with everyone getting along great.  After some years we transfered the idea and method to Holy Week, notably celebrating some Maundy Thursday evening Massdes tigether followed by Watching until late in the garden at the centre of the school. 

I very much enjoyed these Masses, and allowed myself some pride in how we all planned and worked together, and, more important, celebrated together.


Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Acapella peace

A while ago I shared a piece sung by Kings Return from America.   They have just released another song, a spiritual called "Motherless Child". This was made famous in a version sung years ago by Odetta. Find that here This was used by Italian film director in his "Gospel According to St Matthew".  Here the a cappella group sing it very beautifully in their inimitable style.  Relax and let it wash over you... 
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
A long way from home, a long way from home.
Sometimes I feel like I'm almost done,
Sometimes I feel like I'm almost done,
Sometimes I feel like I'm almost done,
And a long, long way from home, a long way from home.
True believer,
True believer,
A long, long way from home,
A long, long way from home.

Monday, 5 July 2021

All kinds of angels

At this stage in the pandemic saga, some happy news...

Last Tuesday I enjoyed my first meal out for a long time, when I met with three old friends at the local Manor Parc hotel. It was wonderful to get together, and the service and presentation of the meal was first class. Looking forward to another meal out at another restaurant this Friday evening... 

On Wednesday I had a phone call from the Wound Clinic to check on how my legs are. Sinceone or two cellulitis attacks I usually get a check-up every six mionths, but they have been completely shut down during the pandemic.

Friday evening we celebrated Fr Andy's 40th annniversary of priest ordination. Up to 90 gathered for Mass and then for pizza and ice cream afterwards - all socially distanced of course. 

And Saturday evening we welcomed 30 something years old Lee into the Church through Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist at evening Mass at Christ the King.

All very different events, but all good signs of movement. And also reminders of how much I a) love my friends, b) appreciate the care I have received from medics and nurses, c) am grateful for the presence here of Fr Andy, and d) love parish life. 

Talking of Fr Andy... he was telling us about the Angel of Knives that he saw on the green outside Hereford Cathedral.  This is a statue made out of thousands of knives handed in across Britain. It is being shown at different places, but alas not in Cardiff. Here it is... 


Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Searching for our Peter and Paul

On the Feast of Sts Peter & Paul today, and courtesy of, I came across this wonderful painting by an artist I've never heard of called Cavarazzi (1587-1625), a follower of Caravaggio.

We can see the two saints meeting and apparently discussing a text, maybe from the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament.  Paul is pointing and, I think, has just given his opinion, presumably with some force.  Peter is not so sure. Head in hand he ponders the question. We know from Paul's writing that they did not always agree, at least not at first, so there is scriptural basis for this theme.  I love the contrast of the two faces, and how Paul is determined and almost fierce, yet at the same time is awaiting Peter's opinion.
St Paul represents the "centrifugal force" in Christianity, always pushing towards the edges, whereas St Peter is the "centripetal force" holding things together. The balance of these two forces keeps the Earth spinning around the Sun, and has echoes throughout creation. As Christians we also must have both - we must be hinged into the centre, to Jesus, the Church, the Sacraments and so on, but we must also go out, engage, get involved and in our own way spread the Word. 
We must all find the Peter and the Paul within us.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Talitha kum

"Talitha kum"  These words are taken from this Sunday's Gospel, and they are translated as "Little girl I tell you to get up". But scholars tell us that the language is more intimate than that. It's like the "Our Father", where "Abba" is more intimate than simply "Father" or "Our Father".  The words of Jesus to the dead girl Bishop Robert Barron translates as "Honey, get up" in Americanese. It's the words of a dad to his little daughter.

This is one of only three occasions when we have Jesus' words in their original language. One is addressed to the deaf and dumb man "Ephphatha" meaning "Be opened". The third and last are Jesus words on the Cross "Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani"  "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me". So these words of Jesus to Jairus' daughter must have struck the onlookers and the compilers of the Gospels as very special, capturing something of the essence of Jesus.  Can we sense that tone of warmth as he gives back the gift of life to this twelve year old, that touch of intimacy? Indeed, it surely takes us into the Sacred Heart of Jesus,  and perhaps we all can, and should rest awhile in that most sacred of spaces.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Rock me mama like a waggon wheel!

After Pope Francis' beautiful address at St Peter's, something on a lighter level...

A while back (February 3rd this year) I posted  a song by Darius Rucker, former leader of the wonderful Hootie and the Blowfish.  He went on later in a more Country music direction, very unusual for a black singer. Here he sings "Wagon Wheel", a song whose chorus was a scrap written by Bob Dylan. The verses were added by C & W group Old Crow Medicine Show, and Darius did his version in 2013. The song tells of a man travelling down the east coast of America to see his lady. Turn it up, sing along to the chorus, and clap along to the last chorus. Yee-hah!


Headin' down south to the land of the pines
I'm thumbin' my way into North Caroline
Starin' up the road and pray to God I see headlights
I made it down the coast in seventeen hours
Pickin' me a bouquet of dogwood flowers
And I'm a-hopin' for Raleigh, I can see my baby tonight
So, rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama any way you feel
Hey... mama rock me
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a southbound train
Hey... mama rock me
Runnin' from the cold up in New England
I was born to be a fiddler in an old time string band
My baby plays a guitar, I pick a banjo now
Oh, north country winters keep a-gettin' me down
Lost my money playin' poker, so I had to leave town
But I ain't a-turnin' back to livin' that old life no more
So, rock me mama like a wagon wheel...
Walkin' to the south out of Roanoke
I caught a trucker out of Philly, had a nice long toke
But he's a-headin' west from the Cumberland Gap
To Johnson City, Tennessee
And I gotta get a move on before the sun
I hear my baby callin' my name and I know that she's the only one
And if I died in Raleigh, at least I will die free
So, rock me mama like a wagon wheel...

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Francis on the Gospel

This weekend instead of preaching I am reading a wonderful reflection by Pope Francis. He gave it on the evening of Friday 27th March last year, 2020, based on what is this Sunday's gospel . He was speaking to an empty St Peter's Square at the begining of the pandemic, and the address was followed by a time of eucharistic adoration in the porch of St Peter's and then a blessing "urbi et orbi" with the host.  It was raining heavily.  I watched it live and was mesmerised.  Here are his words translated from the Italian.

“When evening had come”. The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing”, so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he is in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”.

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the fa├žade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”?Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”?Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7)