Holy Land Visit

Catenian Association Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a day to day reflectionby David Gale

The Wall at Jerusalem

On Thursday 12th April 2018, under the Spiritual Directorship of Canon Stephen Maloney of the Liverpool Archdiocese, Jenny and I, together with pilgrims from all over the country, commenced our journey to the Holy Land.  We had looked forward to a pilgrimage here for many years and we were not disappointed.

On arrival at Tel Aviv we took an Israeli registered coach, and our tour guide for the duration of our stay was a Palestinian Christian.  Travelling in an Israeli registered vehicle allowed us freedom of movement across the Palestinian – Israeli border, which we crossed many times during our stay.  

Day 1:  On the first day we visited Tiberias and went to the Church of Beatitudes. This is where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. Mass was held in the open air Amphitheatre at the Primacy of Peter.  After this we took a paddle in the Sea of Galilee and lunch of Peter fish.  We enjoyed a boat ride on the Sea and when the engine was switched off, we drifted for several minutes in prayer and reflection. Everyone agreed it was a very moving experience. Then a visit to Capernaum completed a very memorable first day.

Day 2:  By minibus we visited Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration, and in the afternoon we visited the site of Jesus’ first miracle at Cana. During Mass at Cana Church we in the congregation renewed our marriage vows and received blessing for our families.

Day 3:  This was our last in Nazareth and we celebrated Mass in the Basilica with local Catenians and their families who had organized a picnic. This proved to be a very sociable occasion and enjoyed by all.

We then had a four night stay in Bethlehem. Our hotel was situated near the Nativity Church in the centre of Bethlehem.

Day 4:  First was Mass at St Catherine’s Church. This was followed by visits to two local projects in aid of Palestinian Christians and supported by the Friends of the Holy Land. These were:

School of Joy:  a school for all ages who would otherwise receive little or no education. We were able to see the children at work in their classrooms.

Martha’s House (St Martha):  a ‘drop in’ centre for Palestinian Christian women, mostly widows, who meet at the centre daily for social interaction and support.

These projects are supported by The Friends of the Holy Lands (FHL).  Contributions also come in from The Catenian Association and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. The FHL is continually in need of financial support.

After lunch, we drove to Shepherds’ Field where we sang While shepherds watched… , before entering the nativity grotto. We returned to the Church of the Nativity, where with some difficulty, crept to the site of the manger and the Star of Bethlehem. This was followed by a tour of the town of Bethlehem and an opportunity to do some shopping.

Day 5:  After a short journey, we returned to Israel and Jerusalem and went to St Anne’s Church and the nearby Pool of Bethesda. We walked along the Via Dolorosa and experienced how it must have been for Christ struggling on the ‘Way of Suffering’. We found it a very moving experience.  The afternoon was free to visit the bazaars and markets of Jerusalem but unfortunately, the Wailing Wall was not open to visitors while we were there. We then returned to Palestine and our hotel in Bethlehem.

Day 6:  After breakfast we returned to Jerusalem. The day began with a visit to the Pater Noster Church and a view of the Holy City from the Mount of Olives. We followed the Palm Sunday route and visited the Chapel of Dominus Flevit situated on the Western slopes of the Mount of Olives. Mass was celebrated at the Basilica of Gethsemane, followed by a visit to the Church of All Nations (Church of Gethsemane) and we had a quiet period seated next to the Garden of Gethsemane (unfortunately there was no admission to the Garden).

Day 7:  We travelled to Jericho and after Mass at Bethany Church visited the Baptismal site on the River Jordan. There followed a trip to the Dead Sea with a choice of lunch or a brief opportunity to float in the Dead Sea. We decided to float, enjoyed the experience and were pleased with our choice. One has to visit and experience all that the Holy Land has to offer. For us it has really made the New Testament readings come alive!  Everyone agreed that one of the highlights of the tour was Mass held in the open air on the shores of Galilee. We believe we have more to see, so would look forward to returning sometime in the future.

Luke 2: 22-40

On the face of it, nothing really interesting is happening in the story which we’ve just heard. A poor young couple, the girl probably no more than 14 years old, have come to the Temple to carry out the proper requirements of their religion; requirements which followed on after a first-born baby boy.

The little family meet, in turn, an old man and then an old woman. Like the young couple and the baby, the old people seem shabby, poor and unimportant. The only interesting thing about them is that they’re saying some weird things.

“Thank you, Lord” says the old man, “Now I can die in peace, because I’ve seen with my own eyes the baby through whom you will bring the whole world to know you. A baby Jewish boy who will show how wonderful you are, to both Jews and foreigners”.

And then the old lady shuffles up and takes over. She starts thanking God for the child whom, she says will redeem Jerusalem.

What on earth does that mean?

The gospel writers often tell us that God in Jesus was hidden and yet always there to be seen with the eyes of faith. 

Perhaps when we read or listen to those stories of the great moments of God’s appearance in Jesus we wish that we could’ve been there, because then it would have been so much easier to have faith. And yet what did Simeon and Anna actually see ?

They saw the saviour of the world indeed; but they saw him through the eyes of faith. They saw him present in the life of a tiny baby.

It’s possible to look at the great moments of God’s revelation in Jesus without seeing anything out of the ordinary. Some people saw Christ in the stable at Bethlehem; others saw an ordinary little boy, born to a poor young Jewish girl. Some people saw a failed and sad Jewish religious troublemaker on that Roman cross. Others saw the Son of God.

And so, we shouldn’t expect special insights to come to us in ways which don’t require faith. Sometimes we need to remember the words of the prophet Isaiah, who said, “You are a God who hides himself.”

If we think about these things; if we try to see how men and women in those bible stories spoke of the ways in which they saw God present in the events of their lives, we’ll begin to understand that those events were special for them, but may not have been special for the person standing right next to them. We’ll begin to see that some people, through eyes of faith, saw God in Jesus. But that many people saw Jesus in just the same way that most people see him today.

We need to let God work in us quietly, giving us the eyes and ears of faith which will allow us to see him more and more in ordinary things. We need to take time to ask him to show us Jesus in a loved one. In a tiny baby perhaps. Or maybe in an old person dying with cancer, alone in the side room of a hospital ward.

You see, I think we’re more likely to find Jesus in this kind of situation than when we try to pin him down through church services full of incense and holy water.  

Perhaps we tend to forget that Jesus died and his body was broken not to show us how to celebrate a Solemn Mass in a ritually correct way, but in order that through breaking bread at the Eucharist we can share his life with each other.

And maybe when we grasp this truth we shall be enabled to say with Simeon:  “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

Christmas 2020

Two memories from this terrible year remain fixed in my mind. One of them seems to have much to do with Christmas, whereas the other, is at first sight, unconnected. But the truth is, I think the exact reverse. Let me explain.

As I write this, I’m reminded of the endless television interviews with people who said how desperate they were to celebrate Christmas. They usually told the interviewer how much they’d suffered over the last year and that it would be unbearable not to meet up with their relatives in order to enjoy Christmas as they usually did. They wanted to eat and drink and laugh and sing with their families. They wanted to hug their grandchildren, especially at this time, and many pointed out that this was something which had been denied them by the pandemic.

On the face of it, Christmas is important to these folk. They name it as a special time which they’re not prepared to have taken away.

And then I thought of those Thursday evenings during the first lockdown. Evenings when we all stood outside of our houses and clapped for those dedicated men and women working in our Health Services, many of whom went to their death as day after relentless day, they risked their lives in order to minister to the sick and dying in our hospitals and care homes.

Never a mention of Christmas there, but which group of people do you think most demonstrated the spirit of Christmas?

You know, as we reflect on the terrible pain and suffering which people all over the world have endured over the last year, it’s hard not to ask just where God is in all of this.

And yet, without suffering; loyalty, sacrifice and love would have no meaning. If someone’s death causes you no pain, is it possible for you to care about them? If you remain unmoved by someone else’s suffering, how could you choose their good at the cost of your own hurt or disappointment?

The argument that without significantly costly pain, there could be neither courage, nor self-denying love is very powerful indeed.

When you look at the Christmas Crib, what do you see? Does it bring back happy childhood memories of long ago? Memories of anticipation and excitement. Memories of times when life seemed somehow simpler and cleaner. Memories of school nativity plays and carol singing, and an anticipation which built up to a climax on Christmas Eve. And then the great day itself.

Now I’m sure that all of these feelings are quite close to the surface in the minds of those people who’re determined to enjoy Christmas, come what may; and of course, this is all very understandable.

But if you take all these things away, you don’t somehow “lose” Christmas. And likewise, when, in the middle of a pandemic, you encourage the gatherings of which they are a part, you don’t somehow “save” Christmas either.

Christmas has little to do with tinsel, turkey, cards and crackers. But it has everything to do with the way in which the Creator of the Universe and everything within it, is seen in total costly self- sacrificing love.

Love which makes itself fully known to us through the birth, the life and the death of a little boy, born in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago; a little boy born of a peasant girl, and who was fully and totally human. And yet, through whose humanity, as it developed, we were enabled to see the self -sacrificing love of God in the only way which would make sense to us.

A little boy formed through the interaction of the Spirit of the God of love with the humanity of Mary. An incarnation which is also timeless.

Christ, the embodiment of the love of God, can be seen in many places in our world. He can be seen in men and women of many faiths, and in those who would hesitate to profess a faith. But he is seen especially clearly in the lives and deeds of those men and women who give themselves away in self- sacrifice as they serve their brothers and sisters.

This vision, this clarity, this freedom, this Good News is what we celebrate at Christmas.

We may surround it with all kinds of festivities; but when we value the festivities above the poverty, the bleakness and the love which were such a part of that first Christmas, then perhaps we need to have a good talk with ourselves, and thank God that Christmas depends on him, not on us! May God bless you all.

LR Restoration Fundraising

By Fr. Anthony, Looking after our Lyme Regis church for the future

From the website article on our Lyme Regis Church Restoration Project, you will be aware that the exterior of our church is coming to the end of its serviceable life.  A condition survey carried out by Hosken Parks in the summer of 2017 identified that work was needed to repair and redecorate the church both internally and externally and since then Richard Salt, through the Parish Finance Group (PFG), has been engaged with what needs to be done.

Early in 2020, a firm of Historic Building Consultants, Philip Hughes & Associates (PHA), was appointed to prepare a Summary of Works and Specification for the repair and restoration works required to the church, bell tower and presbytery.  The parish has been fortunate in receiving Grants, notably £140,800 from Historic England Culture Recovery Fund but even so, in October the PFG saw there were only sufficient funds available for much of the EXTERNAL work to be done.

On behalf of the parish, PHA prepared specifications to put out to tender and a contract has now been signed with contractors Daedalus Conservation who are due to commence work on the 5th January, completing the works by the 31st March 2021.  Please see the website for an explanation of costs, but after taking into account funds which the parish has raised, the recovery of VAT and the grants awarded, the shortfall comes to £48,066.

There have been discussions with the diocese as to how the shortfall should be covered and the diocese requires that it be met out of parish investments managed by the diocese.  The problem is that the parish relies on the income from its investments to help meet the expenses of running the parish and maintaining the three churches and any realisation of the investments will result in a drop in income.  The answer is to realise the investments to meet the shortfall but set up a system to replace those investments within a reasonable time of, say, five years.

CAN YOU HELP?

What???  I don’t have that sort of money, how can I possibly help?!!!

Well – it is the little things that always count, so this is a request.  Could you give up a small thing each week, perhaps a take-out coffee, a cake or a dessert at home, or buying something you’d like but don’t need?  Or you could turn down the thermostat a notch or two and give money you save?  Or cycle or walk rather than drive somewhere and give your petrol money? Or could you sell a few things you don’t need, say on eBay?

The Pledge Plan

As a target, we need to raise a figure in the region of £50,000 but we have a three church congregation of over 100 parishioners and five years to repay the money.  By way of an example that means if everyone puts away £2.00 a week, we will repay the money on time.

Would you be able to give an extra £2.00 per week either weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually?  If each parishioner contributed in this way, repayment of value of the investments realised would be as follows:

£2.00 x 52 = £104 (one year from one person)

£104 x 5 = £520 (five years from one person)

£520 x 100 = £52,000

Of course, if you can give £520 now – or more – that would be a wonderful way to kick-start the campaign, otherwise, the payments can be made weekly, monthly or quarterly to suit you.  Payment by Bank Standing Order would directly link your payment to the Lyme Regis Restoration Fund and better still, if you are a taxpayer, your donation can be gift-aided.

There are some examples of the great generosity which many in our parish have already shown: one parishioner generously left £25,000 for our use at Lyme and another left £2,000 for Lyme church decoration in their Wills. Only last month our appeals for support resulted in £600 being donated and some of us are increasing our regular standing orders to the parish, pledging the extra money to the  ‘PRCDTR St Michael and St George Restoration Fund’.

It is really encouraging that this ‘Pledge’ initiative comes as a parish idea.  Can you possibly help?  If so, please would you contact Claire at the Parish Office to get more details or sign up for the Pledge?  TEL: 01297 32135 (10.00am to 3.00pm) or email her on axminster@prcdtr.org.uk

The Pledge commitment will end: 1. On the completion of the agreement,  2. When the £50,000 is repaid into the CIF, or 3. at the end of 5 years, whichever is the sooner.

Thank you in anticipation of your help, on behalf of the Parish of The Most Holy Trinity and thank you also for those who have already given their time and money in support of Lyme Regis Restoration Project.

Father Anthony Cockram                     19 December 2020

Advent 4

The fourth candle of the Advent Wreath is a sign to remind us of the part which Mary played in the coming of Jesus Christ.

Mary was the first person to respond to God and to have Christ formed in her, and she did this in a way that provides an example for us all. The Holy Spirit always tries to join people everywhere with Jesus, and so his dealings with Mary can help us enormously as we try to make some kind of sense of this mystery. Perhaps by thinking about the way in which Jesus was formed in Mary, we can come to a better understanding of how God has promised that the same Jesus will be formed in you and me as well.

The world, in which we live, is in the main, a pretty ordinary kind of place, where nothing especially miraculous seems to happen. We might long to be in a position where we could say that we’ve seen a miracle. And perhaps we tell ourselves that if this was so then our faith would be a lot stronger. But a part of the job of being a Christian is to try and see the miraculous in the ordinary.

We need to remember that when we look below the surface of things, we can sometimes see something much deeper going on.  If we look with the eye of faith we may see hidden truth in ordinary things.

I imagine that most of us here today will be able to point to things which have happened in our own lives in which we’ve been able to see the Holy Spirit at work. For example, a coincidence happens in which we can  see an answer to a prayer that we ’ve  made. Many of these outward visible events will be ordinary day to day happenings in which, through the eye of faith we’ve been able to see God at work. Perhaps we don’t always recognise this at the time that it happens, but often when we look back at a situation we can see how God was present in it even if at the time we were blind to his presence.

We believe that God has made us in his image, and we need to emphasise that this doesn‘t mean we look like God.

 What it does mean is that we can respond to God, enter into a relationship with him and return the love which he has for us.

And Mary is perhaps, the best example we have, of what can happen when this God of love is at work, in human beings.  When God gets to work, then the Holy Spirit draws us into his life and his plans.  So Jesus, God in human terms, was conceived in Mary, by an enormous act of God’s love.

In Luke’s gospel we’re told that an angel appeared to Mary, in order to tell her that she was to have a baby, who would be the very son of God. And Mary said “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word “ 

So we can see quite clearly in Mary, the full grace of God at work.  She didn’t earn the gift of Christ; her work, if you like, was simply to hold out her hands and accept what God wanted her to receive; that is, the gift of himself. And God even gave her the grace to do that. She said “yes” for herself, but not by herself.   Mary was, indeed hailed by the Angel as being full of grace.

Mary’s life was also to be full of trouble, and yet she was amazingly happy.  Her words are full of joy, even, whilst as a pregnant and unmarried young girl she faced the harsh criticism of village life in Galilee. And we don’t have to use too much imagination in order to guess what the wagging tongues must have said about her.

But she was happy because she believed that God was at work in her life.  Her faith allowed her to see that God hadn’t left her in trouble, but was working  to bring new life, to the world through her.  God’s presence in Mary would transform trouble into joy. The intense joy of giving birth to a baby who was God in human terms. The joy of watching this baby grow and develop and come to a full understanding of his relationship with God.

This is the way it can be for us too, and Mary becomes a model for us all.  We can use this model as we think about Jesus, the world’s future being born through Mary into the world’s present. Just as the Spirit brought, first into the time of Mary, Jesus Christ who conquered death; the same spirit brings Christ to us as well, and begins to transform us into what God made us to be; that is, images of Jesus Christ who have, through him, also conquered death.

The Christmas season brings hope and promise that God doesn’t abandon his people.  This season is all about God coming in unexpected ways.  For those who wonder how God can be present in their trouble or pain, they need look no further than Mary, because in her story we have a first glimpse of what the Holy Spirit is going to do in Jesus, and of what through Jesus, he is then going to do in us all.

May God bless us all to an understanding of this.

Funny quotes

They’re Back! Those wonderful Church Notices! Thank God for the church ladies with typewriters. These sentences actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced at church services… 

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.

Scouts are saving aluminium cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children. 

Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands along.

Don’t let worry kill you off – let the Church help.

Miss Charlene Mason sang ‘I will not pass this way again,’ giving obvious pleasure to the congregation. 

For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs. 

Next Thursday there will be try-outs for the choir. They need all the help they can get. 

Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days. 

A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow. 

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be ‘What Is Hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.

Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility. 

Pot-luck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM – prayer and medication to follow.

The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon. 

This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin. 

The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday. 

Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the backdoor entrance. 

The 6th formers will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double-doors at the side entrance. 

The Associate Minister unveiled the church’s new campaign slogan last Sunday: ‘I Upped My Pledge – so Up Yours.’

John 1: 6-8 19-28

Third Sunday of Advent

We live in a world where people often pretend to be something which they’re not.

We’ve all read stories in the newspapers or even heard television reports of men and women who’ve pretended to be a qualified surgeon or lawyer, or maybe a teacher, but who were actually nothing of the sort.  Sometimes they get away with it for a long time, and perhaps it’s not until something awful happens that they’re exposed as imposters. But of course, by that time it’s often too late, and somebody will have suffered.

On a smaller scale I guess that lots of us have probably hidden things on an application form for a job. Something which we felt might work against us if the truth were known. Perhaps our age, or the real reason that we left a job.  And so, maybe we should look at ourselves before we criticise others, or at least try to understand why men and women so often want to appear to be something which they’re not.

Now, this certainly isn’t a criticism which we could level at John the Baptist, is it? When the Jews asked him who he was; when they were thinking that perhaps he was the special person that God had promised to send, he could easily have said “Yes, that’s just who I am; so you’d better buck your ideas up and follow me.”

He could have said that, and no doubt, if he’d done so, he would have generated a big following. He would have become the leader of a very popular movement.  But John wasn’t going to claim anything which wasn’t true. He told people that he wasn’t the leader for whom they were waiting. In fact he went on to say that the leader for whom he was preparing the way, was far better than anything he could be.  John claimed to be a sign post, pointing the way to the truth; and he refused to pretend that he was that truth.

You know, there’s a lot we can learn from John. First of all we must recognise that it’s not the Church which is the way and the truth and the life. So when the Church or her children begin to think like this, well, they’re making a mistake. The Church is important because it points the way to Jesus, whom we exist to serve. Therefore, everything we do should be a signpost or a pointer to him; just like John the Baptist.

John admitted he wasn’t the way; and the Church must always do the same. You see, it’s very easy to get in the way of the Christ to whom we should be pointing, and the Church must constantly check that she isn’t doing just this.

Isn’t that awful? The Church which exists to point people to Jesus actually sometimes puts them off. And one of the ways she does this is through congregations who exclude people. Congregations who are particular about who is welcome in church and who, on the other hand, might be tolerated, but really isn’t the kind of person whom church needs!

So perhaps on this third Sunday of Advent we should remember that John the Baptist pointed beyond himself, to Jesus and called him the “lamb of God”, the one who “takes away the sins of the world.” And that means the sins of the whole world, not just our little bit of it.

The light that shines through Christ should show us that we’re all children of God. And this means that people we don’t understand or even like are also children of God. Whether they go to our church, another church, a different tradition, no church, or even a different faith, they are God’s children.

I know this is difficult. Believe me, I know how easy it is to put a label on someone and to criticise them because you feel that they’ve missed the point of their faith. I know, because I’ve done it and it makes me ashamed. And of course, the irony of being critical like this is that when you do so, it shows that you’ve also missed the point, and stand in need of God’s grace and love. So maybe the recognition is a good thing.

John the Baptist recognised a true light which was coming into the world, a light which was for everyone. Later in the glow of that light, Peter and Paul recognised that God loved people who weren’t Jews, as well.

That same light glows in our world and is teaching us that God loves the very people we love to hate, whoever they may be. Whether they’re those horrific terrorists, the noisy neighbours up the road, or that difficult person across the aisle who seems intent on making your life as complicated as possible!

God loves them; and when we try, perhaps against all the odds, to love them too, well then, by God’s grace we also become a sign that points the way to the light of the world.

A sign which points the way to Jesus. Amen.

The 21st C. Challenge

By Rev’d Ed Standhaft (Originally printed in PALS Issue 18 as ‘Christian Challenges in the 21st Century’)

You may have seen some of the episodes of the recent television drama series ‘BROKEN’ which featured Sean Bean as a well-respected Roman Catholic priest in a large inner-city parish in northern England.   In one episode, the priest, Father Michael Kerrigan becomes involved in the predicament of a member of his congregation, a police officer.

The policeman, PC Powell, has been a witness to a colleague, wrongly tasering a suspect who subsequently died.   Father Michael supports PC Powell who initially wants to give the truthful account of what happened, but under pressure from superior officers, Powell is forced to change his account of the events, now supporting the false statement given by the officer who fired the taser.    Father Michael is deeply angered by Powell’s changed account and reprimands him for not standing firm.

At Mass, PC Powell, aware he has not told the truth, and, with a guilty conscience of having let down Father Michael, comes forward to receive Holy Communion. At the end of the Mass, PC Powell says to Father Michael Kerrigan (referring to his receiving Holy Communion):

“I needed that, Father:” to which the priest replies: “I know you did: that’s why I gave it to you.” A profoundly Christian reply, yet the drama was written by an ex-Catholic, Jimmy McGovern, who retains a profound respect for the Church despite having left it.

However, there was something even more important that came to mind as I watched the series. Many of the interior shots of Mass showed very depleted congregations which reflect the state of many Catholic churches in the land, not to mention the way the series subtly depicted the pressures on clergy, both physically, in terms of the amount of work they do, and emotionally as they deal with the complex needs of parishioners under their pastoral care.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba in Southern Spain.

Recently I attended Mass in the great Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba in southern Spain, one of the great ecclesiastical buildings of the world with its Islamic architecture containing within it, a late medieval/renaissance Christian cathedral. The bishop was the celebrant but it was very evident that Mass attendance (200 people) for the main service was not as high as one might expect. Reading the Cathedral magazine, it was clear that there was a major shortage of priests in the diocese.

Before becoming pope, Benedict XVI spoke of a very different Catholic church in future years: “Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterised more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intense struggle against evil and bring good into the world……”

Prophetically, Benedict was saying that the days of looking to large-scale institutions is coming to an end, and the church that has existed for 1200 years is dying and the signs of death are very apparent. To undergo such a radical transformation will be painful for many Christians who have ‘taken shelter’ in an institution and structures which have, hitherto, conveyed stability and immutability.

In her book ‘Forming Intentional Disciples,’ the American Catholic writer, Sherry Weddell believes that the key to the future is in evangelism, evangelising the Catholic community so that the Gospel again becomes something vital we shall delight in communicating. In an age where people distrust institutions and sadly, the church in particular, we may have to learn the message of discipleship anew.

Questions: What is the future of the church?

What part do you have to play in its future?

Knock

By Maggie Stead

Our visit in 2018

The story of Knock began in August 1879 when fifteen people, aged from 6 years to over 70 witnessed an apparition at the gable end of the parish church. They all gave testimony to seeing Our Lady, St Joseph and St John together with the Lamb of God on an altar surrounded by angels and brilliant light.

The witnesses described Our Lady as dressed in white with a golden crown and a rose on her forehead, St Joseph and St John were also all in white with the greatest light coming from the Lamb and angels. All the testimonies were scrutinised and after the initial verification a final validity was given in 1936.

Since then, many have visited the area but it was not until the 1960s that the Parish priest at the time, Father James Horan, felt that the world should know about Knock.  He set in motion the building of the Basilica and the creation of the Mosaic (see main photograph) which hangs within.

The mosaic depicts the Apparition and the witnesses and is made from a million and a half pieces of hand cut glass and marble. It was constructed by a team in Tavisanullo  in Italy and then transported to Ireland in 350 sections. The Mosaic was donated by one man in memory of his wife and family.

The Basilica was completed in 1976 when Father James decided to visit Rome and ask the Holy Father himself to make a pilgrimage to Knock. His wish was granted with a visit in 1979.

At that time Knock had no airport and distances would have been difficult for the Pope so Father James decided to build one.

The land was obtained and building began and when the press asked Father James how it was to be paid for he replied.

” I have no idea but the money will come…”!

And of course it did from all over the world.  The airport was completed by 1979 for Pope Paul II  to make the pilgrimage.

Pope Francis is to make the pilgrimage to Knock this year where Monseigneur James Horan is now buried and revered by many as a Saint.

There are 139 acres at Knock where you can enjoy the peace and tranquillity, visit the Apparition Chapel and museum and of course attend mass daily We heard Mass in the Basilica where we all received a blessing with oil on forehead and on the palms of our hands, and listened to beautiful singing all under the magnificence of the Mosaic.

We felt privileged and humbled to be there with hundreds of other pilgrims.

The Apparition was a silent one so each one of us is invited to find it’s meaning for ourselves.

We also made pilgrimage to Ballintubba Abbey where we celebrated mass beneath a crucifix dating back 500 years and where Mass has been celebrated since St Patrick first baptised druids to Christianity in AD 450. 

We also went to Attymass to visit the Memorial Centre to Father Patrick Payton.  Fr Payton was the Rosary Priest because he had travelled the world encouraging people to say the rosary and coined the slogan  “the family that prays together stays together”.  Father Patrick was in Indiana on his travels where he met Father Stephen Gibson and suggested he came to Ireland to work.

Father Stephen celebrated Mass for us and also played his guitar which offered much joy and fellowship.  He smiled at us and said “And I am still here after 35 years”.

On our last morning we attended mass in the Parish Church at Knock, where the strength of love and faith are all round, and again, the feeling of humility is strong.

At every mass, be it at Knock, Ballintubba or Attymass the message was the same…” Be good to one another”.

For anyone interested, the tour operator contact is: Knock Pilgrimages. Knockpilgrimages@gmail.com Telephone. 44(0) 1268 762 278

Mark 1: 1-8 Advent 2

We all know people who say they stand for this or that but then deny the truth of what they say by their actions.

Perhaps this is why some politicians are so unpopular, and maybe some clergy too.

You see, what we say doesn’t always match what we believe, whereas what we do, usually speaks volumes.

When I worked with difficult kids, they used to tell me all kinds of things. Usually in an attempt to keep out of trouble, I must have said to various children, many times over:

“I’ll believe what you do, not what you say.”

And so it was with John the Baptist.

The religious authorities of his time came out to ask him why he was preaching and baptising people. They knew who he was, but what they were interested in, what they really wanted to know, was what his actions said about him. What did he mean by them? How was he defined by what he did?

Well, we heard just now how the author of Mark’s Gospel claimed that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah. He was the voice in the wilderness, crying out for a way to be made for God to visit his people, and the meaning behind that is this:  Eastern roads weren’t surfaced, they were mainly tracks, and when a king was about to visit his provinces, the roads were smoothed over, straightened out and put in order.

So what John was saying was: “I’m nothing.  I’m only a voice telling you to get ready for the coming of the king”.

And most importantly, he was doing something about it.  He was baptising people.

Now here was something strange. Baptism at the hands of men wasn’t for the Jews.  It was for people who converted to the Jewish faith.  The Israelites believed they already belonged to God.

So John was making Jews do what converts to their religion had to do.  He was suggesting, in action, that the chosen people were dirty and had to be cleaned up to meet the king who was coming.

There’s an old saying which suggests that wherever the Queen goes she smells fresh paint.  John the Baptist was like the messenger going ahead of royalty; getting everybody ready for the coming one.  Each individual Israelite needed smartening up.  Someone was coming who would put John in the shade.  What John did with water, this coming one would do with the Holy Spirit. 

In the Exodus story, we’re told that God lived personally, with his people in the picture language of the pillars of fire and cloud. But this time, said John, through Jesus, God’s spirit would live with his people; in them, becoming the air they breathed; the fire in their hearts.

And not only did John the Baptist say this promise was coming true now; he also asked the people if they were ready for it. They weren’t; and John was delivering a wake-up call.

And guess what? Many of the religious people didn’t like it.

“How dare this scruffy preacher tell us that there’s anything wrong with us?” they said. “We go to the Temple, we do things right.  We offer the proper sacrifices, and what’s more we do it all decently and in order, according to the Regulations which we follow pretty well, thank you very much. Just who does he think he is?”

Does this sound familiar?

Do you know any modern day Christians who don’t like it when they hear the Gospel preached and bits of it hurt?  People who find fault with others, but who get angry when reminded that we’re all in this together? People who find it hard to accept that in God’s eyes we all fall short?

I know people like this, and I have to confess that one of them is me. I frequently feel ashamed of myself when I listen to the Gospel and realise that the bad behaviour described is very often mine. Perhaps this is true of you as well, and if that’s the case then you should thank God, because, it’s this painful knowledge which can bring us to the understanding that our only hope is to wake up and to be washed by Jesus.

Many Jews at the time of John the Baptist believed they were OK with God just because they were Jewish by birth. John certainly put them right and told them that God could make Jews out of stones if he wanted to.

There must be many people alive today who have a passing relationship with the Church. Births, marriages and deaths are attended to with religious ceremony, but that’s about it. And are these people really any worse than those regular churchgoers who feel confident that they’re in God’s good books and yet ignore the needs of a neighbour, or the effects of their bad tempered or rude behaviour, on someone else’s life? 

What would John the Baptist say to them if he were to meet them?  And what might he say to all those church -going people, who never say it, but feel superior to their neighbours who never darken a church door?  What might he say to me? What might he say to you? What might it take, to wake us up?

May God give us the grace to see how much we need to be made ready, to be washed and prepared. May we also come to know that in Jesus, God himself washes us and makes us ready for his Kingdom.

All we need to do is to recognise our failings, turn to him and let him do this for us. And isn’t Advent a good time to begin? 

Amen