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Lindisfarne, the Holy Isle

By Peter Porteous

We had talked of going to see Lindisfarne and in one September past, we managed to get there!  It is 400 miles from Axminster so after staying with friends for the first night and a hotel in York for the next, we arrived on the North Sea coast of Northumberland for a week’s holiday.  Lindisfarne or ‘The Holy Isle’ is twelve miles South East of Berwick-Upon-Tweed and once home to the medieval monastery of St Aidan and St Cuthbert. 

The main part of Lindisfarne is about a mile square and lies a mile off-shore.  The route across the sands is a tarmacked causeway which is exposed at low tide for about six hours twice each day.  There is a population of about 200 on the island which, as you might imagine, is focused on tourism with the three main attractions being Lindisfarne Castle (National Trust), Lindisfarne Priory and museum (English Heritage) and the Lindisfarne Centre (Local Community Development Trust). In the summer it gets crowded with thousands visiting by day in the height of summer.

The Causeway

Much of what we know of Lindisfarne comes from St Bede who lived less than 100 years after the founding of the Church and Priory in AD 635.  The king of Northumbria was Oswald (634 – 642) who had been brought up in Celtic Iona and was reportedly a pious man.  The local Anglo-Saxon population had reverted to paganism and the king sent for Aidan, an Irish Monk from Iona to re-introduce Christianity.  Aidan became the first Bishop and Lindisfarne became the seat of his Northumbrian Diocese where his relationship with Oswald at Bamburgh Castle were cordial.  Aidan was an inspired missionary and the Island became an important centre for the evangelization of Northern England. Aidan died at the church in Bamburgh Castle in AD 651.

In AD 665 St Cuthbert, an Anglo-Saxon monk from Melrose Abbey arrived at Lindisfarne as the Prior. It took 4 days of walking a route now called Cuthbert’s way, a pilgrimage route of about 65 miles which apparently is very beautiful. Cuthbert was a powerful evangelist and travelled the length of Northumbria and was held in very high regard.  He became Bishop in Lindisfarne but chose to live the life of a hermit on the Farne Isles where he died. In AD 687.

Although from the Celtic church, it was St Cuthbert who accepted the dominance of the Roman tradition which was agreed at the Synod of Whitby in AD 664 and helped to settle the rift between the Celtic and Roman traditions.  After his death, the island became a place of pilgrimage and within 30 years St Cuthbert had a cult following. 

An early Viking raid on Lindisfarne in AD 793, shocking in its brutality, entirely destroyed the first community which rocked the Christian world and has unsettling parallels to our present time with the persecutions of Christians in the Middle East.  The Island was a targeted for attack by Norsemen whose own culture was under threat from Christianity in the Low Countries.

To avoid desecration by the Viking invaders, St Cuthbert’s body was removed by the monks from Lindisfarne and there it began a long and eventful journey, finally arriving in Durham, causing it was said, a Cathedral to be built. St Cuthbert was an important figure in a united England’s fight with the Danes and was said to have inspired and encouraged King Alfred.  

I became captivated by the story of The Holy Island which is well told at the Lindisfarne Centre and there is also a section on the Lindisfarne Gospels of AD 698 (the originals are in the British Museum).  One day on the island is not nearly enough!

The Castle on a basalt plug, Holy Isle

Northumberland is full of castles from the days when the English were subduing the Scots as well as protecting themselves from them.  Lindisfarne Castle, built in Tudor times (AD 1550) was no exception in the task of keeping the unruly border people at bay but in its recent history it was converted to an Edwardian family home by Lutyens and has a great feel and character about it.  Looking west from the battlements we could see the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory which was constructed in AD 1150 during the time of the Norman kings but destroyed at the Reformation.  The Priory was left a ruin and its stone plundered for the harbour defences. 

Priory Ruins from the Castle

Lindisfarne is not the same place as the Farne Islands which on a reasonably clear day you can see eight miles to the south east as a cluster of rocks that sit off the coast at Bamburgh.  The Farne Islands are an uninhabited nature reserve which can only be visited by boat from Seahouses.  The remains at Farne is a Chapel and the hermitage to which St Cuthbert retreated and eventually died but that is for another visit.  The National Trust advised us that the best visiting months for the Farne Islands are in the summer when you may be able to land and see the nesting sea birds (May to July).

The Roman Catholic Centre on Lindisfarne comprises a youth hostel belonging to the Society of St Vincent de Paul where groups of children can come and enjoy their summer holidays.  The Parish church of St Mary the Virgin (C of E) is built on the site of St Aidan’s early monastery and well worth a visit to see Fenwick Lawson’s large sculpture of six monks carved in elm carrying the body of St Cuthbert on a journey across the North during the time of the Viking raids.

First Sunday in Lent

Matthew 9: 14-15

Fasting

When I was a seminarian, I remember being advised to watch television soaps. “If you do this” we were told, “you’ll always have a topic of conversation for any pastoral visit which you might make.”

I’m not sure the advice was good, but I am able to blame the adviser for the fact that I do watch both “Coronation Street”, and, I’m ashamed to say  “Emmerdale.”

And I’m continually amazed at the way in which the residents of Emmerdale live. Murder, robbery, rape, deceit, lies and sexual immorality is the lifestyle in which I think, every villager is immersed And this includes the lady Anglican vicar who’s just condoned the murder of the man with whom she was having an affair, before secretly burying him in a fresh church yard grave and subsequently digging him up for reburial in a local wood!

And yet, would you believe it, in one episode this week, I heard a particular villager claim that she was giving up chocolate, for Lent!

I’m glad I saw that episode because it reminded me just how common it is for people to say that they’re giving something up for Lent. Often when they have no idea what they’re talking about.

And it was with these thoughts going through my mind that I began to reflect anew on the whole business of “giving something up “for Lent. What does it mean? Why does anyone do it? How necessary is it? And should we perhaps bring a fresh look at the whole practise of fasting? Because “Giving something up for Lent” is just that. It’s the practise of Fasting as a part of your religious commitment.

Now, the Gospels recount how the followers of John the Baptist came to Jesus, in the earlier part of his ministry, and asked him why his disciples didn’t fast in the same way as they did. They also pointed out that the Pharisees practised fasting as well.

Jesus replied that wedding guests didn’t fast whilst the groom was present, but he went on to say that when the groom was taken away, then they would begin to fast.  Jesus was saying that after his death, those who followed him would fast, and in the next part of the conversation he pointed out that this was a new time and called for a new approach. You’ll probably remember his teachings about new skins for new wine.

So; should we practise fasting?

The answer is “yes”, but we need to be very clear about what fasting is and why we should do it.

We don’t do it just because it’s the kind of tradition often practised in Lent.  We don’t give something up in order to tell other people what we’re doing this year. That would put us right back into Emmerdale, and who wants to go there?!

We do it because Jesus said that his followers would fast after he’d been taken away, and the only reason this makes any kind of sense to me is that fasting is a way of drawing closer to the Lord whose historical bodily presence was taken away by his death, and whose presence we long for.

It means going without something in order that its loss will be a way into a greater awareness of the presence of Jesus in those new ways which God has given us.

There’s a strong tradition in the church which advocates the pain of fasting as being a sign that we put God before the hunger for physical food, and that therefore in some strange way, prayer in this condition is somehow more valid. I don’t personally find that particularly helpful. I don’t think that hunger for food would bring me any closer to Jesus, but I do think I could get up a bit earlier and start to say the morning office without convincing myself that I should first read my emails and look at the news headlines. And in this case, the giving up of the pleasure of an extra half hour in bed and the luxury of an early cup of tea and a biscuit whilst flipping through my iPad, would indeed help me to get a bit closer to Jesus.

This would be a Lenten Fast for me and `I’ve no doubt that you could think of Fasts which would suit your own particular journey as well. You see, I think we need to listen carefully to what Jesus is saying. We fast in order to get closer to him and it might be good to begin to think how this understanding of fasting fits into the story of fresh skins for new wine.

And perhaps we might also consider what other bodily habits we might deny ourselves in order to get closer to Jesus. Maybe we might consider a fast of speech when we meet someone whom we feel needs to be put straight with a few well-chosen words.

Or indeed, maybe a fast of the eyes from viewing Emmerdale would draw us nearer to the Lord by giving us some extra time in which we might reflect more deeply, on just what God has done for us through his Son.

May God support you all through your Lenten observances.

Lentern Resources 2021

NATIONAL

Parousia: The Bible and the Mass.

This is a journey through scripture, hosted by Scott Hahn to uncover why all God’s action, in creation and redemption, is ordered to the mass.

https://stpaulcenter.com/studies-tools/journey-through-scripture/parousia-the-bible-and-the-mass/

              Lenten Bible Course

6 weekly sessions to break open each Lenten Sunday Gospel…..before you go to Sunday Mass. Led by Mauro Iannecelli

https://comeandsee.org/lent.html

              Sycamore

A 6 week Lent course for practising Christians, or for people with some Christian  background, who wish to renew their faith in the season of Lent.

             CAFOD

CAFOD’S ON LINE Lent Calendar which has a daily scripture, chance to reflect, pray and take justice action with the worldwide family.

https://cafod.org.uk/Pray/Lent-calendar

             Prayer 1

This Lent course in Christian spirituality is intended as an introduction to some of the themes found in living the Christian spiritual life. Some of these themes might make us feel uncomfortable. For example, the theme of obedience. Our desire to be in control of every aspect of our own lives is often considered normal and good in today’s world. Yet, for those who have taken their pursuit of God seriously, it is clear that a willingness to be obedient to God is a necessary attitude if we are going to make progress on that journey. Jesus, himself, says that this is necessary (Luke 11 : 28, John 14 : 23) and makes it clear that he chose to live a life of obedience to his Father’s will (John 8 : 55).

Youth2000

            Follow the Sunday Gospels throughout Lent

https://www.jesuit.org.uk/bbc-and-jesuits-britain-bring-you-special-lent-retreat

            Jesuits in Britain (in conjunction with the BBC)

This Lent, BBC Radio 4 will explore aspects of Ignatian spirituality and point listeners to ‘Knowing Jesus’, an online retreat being offered by the Ignatian Spirituality Centre in Glasgow. This retreat is available to anyone in the world with access to the Internet who wants to immerse themselves in the spirituality of St Ignatius.

https://www.jesuit.org.uk/bbc-and-jesuits-britain-bring-you-special-lent-retreat

DIOCESAN

               For Youth: Your Faith in Action.

A series of talks 22nd February – 22nd March, 7.30 – 8.30pm through zoom. Age 13 plus. Organised by Saskia Hogbin our diocesan youth ministry events coordinator.

             youth@prcdtr.org.uk

             Fr. Ian Hellyer

             Lent reflections on the theme of worship through a scriptural approach.

             www.Peverell-st-edward.blogspot.com

             Fr. Brian Kenwrick

Tuesday 16th February at 6.30 pm – Presentation by Fr Brian ‘Jesus Outside of the New Testament’

             Tuesday 23rd February at 6.30pm – second presentation by Fr. Brian

             www.falmouthcatholicchurch.org.uk ,

             Fr. Mark Skelton

            Week One.

Mon 22nd Feb              Gerard Barry

“The Freedom of Lent”

How celebrating Lent in Prison can be a guide to our reflection in Lockdown

Wed 24th  Feb             Sarah Kate Adams.

“Transforming and Healing the wounded soul”

Week Two.

Mon 1st March           David John

“A Lenten walk in the mountains with Thumper”

Thurs 4th March           Peter Coxe.

“Empowering Our Relationship with God, Ourselves & Fellow Creatures”

Week Three.

Mon 8th March            Mark Nash.

“Mending the Nets”. Preparing for Mission.

Thurs 11th March       Peter Montgomery

“Guilt and Shame in a Post modern world”

Week Four.

Mon 15th March         Ned Wall

“A radical Jesus in Lent”

Wed 17th March         Jonathan Stewart.

“Vice or Virtue -the Path to Holiness”

Week Five.

Mon 22nd March         Anthony Hodges.

“The Ecology of Lent – a call to Life”

Wed 24th March          Karen Cortes Foong.

“The Black Madonna’s Invitation to honour the Other”

            Canon John Deeny Series of talks which can be found on the St. Cuthbert Mayne RC Parish YouTube page.

Forde Abbey

by Peter Porteous

A hooded boy stands in front of the Cistercian wall painting of the crucifixion in the North Undercroft.  We were sheltering from the humidity and fierce July sun during the Forde Abbey Summer Fair in what may have been a chapel for the novice monks built more than 700 years ago.

The frieze was discovered in 1990 during renovations and is thought to be the earliest Cistercian figure painting in England.  It is on the East wall of the Eeles’ pottery shop, in buildings that have been radically altered since the Reformation and the visitor must look hard and use imagination to understand the history and the original layout of the old Abbey.

If the Cistercian monks and lay brothers returned today, they may still recognise their quarters, their kitchen, refectories and their chapter house but their abbey church and many other buildings are gone with the stone reused to build the English Baroque architecture of the main house. 

Today, those monks might have been amused to see people of the 21st century watching the ferret racing, the falconry displays and their participation in archery and fly casting (all leather and prunella), but no doubt would be bewildered by the display of classic cars and people’s mobile phones!

It was by happy chance in 1141 that a small group of dispossessed monks on foot and carrying a lofty cross were spied making their way over the ford on the old Roman Road by Adelicia de Brionne.  Adelicia lived at nearby West Ford (near South Chard) and was none other than their former patron’s sister and heir.  She offered the monks land by the River Axe on which to build a monastery which, after much prayer and fasting they dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Adelicia’s descendants were the Courtenays, Earls of Devon whose bones still moulder in the earth about the house and were the abbey’s munificent benefactors.

Forde Abbey flourished as a monastery for four hundred years during which time it became one of the richest and most learned institutions of its kind in England. By the end of the 13th century, around 30,000 acres were owned by the abbey.  During its 400 years, Forde had 32 abbots, some achieving greatness like Bishop Baldwin who became Archbishop of Canterbury and who is thought to have accompanied Richard the Lionheart to the Holy Lands.

The last abbot was Thomas Chard, born near Awliscombe in 1470 and educated at Oxford. Though a man of influence under the Bishop of Exeter, he resigned his various duties to become a monk at Forde Abbey and was then elected Abbot the following year.  Abbot Chard devoted himself to a comprehensive overhaul of the abbey and much is owed to him for how it appears today, in particular, the Great Hall and Chard’s Tower.

But the times were troubling and would have kept Abbot Chard in a constant state of alarm with the unscrupulous character of Henry VIII.  The Reformation in England was driven by the rise of the new English middle class with its disaffection with Church authority but the catalyst for upheaval was the Henry’s petulance with Pope Clement over his marriage difficulties.  His attack on the Church led to the theft and redistribution of its wealth. In 1536, the first Act for the dissolution of the monasteries was passed and within two years, over 3000 religious’ buildings, colleges and hospitals were annexed to the Crown.

To win over the population amidst this destruction, the people were promised to be relieved of their taxes and that there would be raised and maintained new earls, barons and knights for the better provision of the poor with new preachers to proclaim the new religion. Needless to say, these promises were wholly unfulfilled and led to great mischief and extreme poverty, particularly in Devon, not seen before.  There was great increase in domestic hardship by the oppression of poor tenants at the hands of new landlords who were as harsh and exacting as the monks had been kind and generous.  The Reformation brought with it, widespread poverty and wretchedness.

On the destruction of ‘the old religion’ and dissolution of the monasteries, John Bale said at the time: “…that neither the Britons under the Romans and Saxons nor yet the English people under the Danes and Normans, had ever such damage of their learned monuments as we have seen in our time. Our posterity may well curse this wicked fact of our age, this unreasonable spoil of England’s most noble antiquities”.

It was also said Abbot Chard had “built himself a dwelling on a scale to justify the reformation and dissolution”. He succumbed to fate and surrendered Forde to the Crown in 1537. For the next 100 years the Abbey had various owners who dismantled the Abbey church.  In 1649 it passed to Edmund Prideaux, Esq., but that’s another story!

Mark 1: 40-45

The leper came to Jesus and asked for healing and he believed that Jesus could heal him.

The faith of the leper and the compassion of Jesus allowed Gods healing love to work the miracle.

And have you noticed that pretty much every healing through Jesus involved this same combination of compassion and faith? Sometimes the faith was small and frightened, and sometimes it was simply the faith of someone close to the sick person.

Think of the lady who crept up behind Jesus and just touched his cloak. Think of Zacheus who climbed a tree in order that he might just see Jesus. Think of the men who broke through the roof of a house in order to let their paralysed friend down into the presence of the Lord. And think of the Syro-Phoenecian lady who approached Jesus on behalf of her troubled daughter.

It seems that where faith was lacking Jesus was unable to bring the healing love of God to bear. His own people at Nazareth just couldn’t accept him and we’re told that he could do very little there.

Today, healing in response to faithful prayer is more common than we might think. And yet you will know from your own experience that you will have prayed for someone with as much faith as you can muster and healing hasn’t taken place. But all faithful prayer is answered. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane that he might avoid the suffering which was to follow his betrayal “Father”, he said, “Take this cup from me.”

But he also prayed that God’s will, not his, might be done. The cup wasn’t taken away, and Jesus endured not only the suffering, but also the terrible sense of God forsakenness which was a part of it. His prayer in Gethsemane asked that his will be subjected to God’s will and this was the answer.

God’s Will was that Jesus should suffer and die and we know the reason why. The prayer of Jesus was answered and he passed through death into a glorious life which his death made available to us all.

Sometimes our prayers are answered in ways which we think might be best, but sometimes God answers them in different ways which often puzzle and confuse us.

We see such a small part of the overall scenes of our lives, but at all times we need to remember that “All things work together for the good of those who love God” and that in the end “All things, all manner of things, will indeed be well”.

Even when it seems to us that perhaps God just doesn’t understand. May God bless us all to a deeper acceptance of this.

Rome

By Peter Porteous

I had never been to Rome so it was about time I matched the ancient ruins and heavenly basilicas in my head with the reality of a modern city aware of its extraordinary heritage.  For a stay of less than a week, we knew we would only see a fraction of what we wanted, so my wife Prue and I decided to settle for enjoying the cultural challenge of two or three tourist destinations between some relaxed dining.   It was November 2017 that with our Lonely Planet guidebook, we flew EasyJet to Fiumicino Airport to go exploring.

On the way to the Colosseum

Our B&B was just ten minutes from the Vatican and called ‘Sweet Dreams in St Peter’s’.   Behind its quirky name it was impeccably run by Ivanca Corlone, whose English was better than our Italian and she helped us to decide what to do and where to eat.  Our first restaurant was the Osteria dei Pontifici which is close to the walls of the Vatican and the two of us had a bottle of wine and a meal for less than 40 Euro.  The atmosphere inside was of Toulouse Lautrec, except that here there were large oil paintings of popes in their red robes staring down at us from the walls. “Bless me father ….!”

Security in Rome this year was extraordinarily tight with armed soldiers at street corners leaning on their Landrover Defenders and watching the crowds.  It was the week an Italian politician had warned the public against shouting ‘Allah Akbar’ in public so we were careful to remember not to do this.   We arrived at St Peter’s Basilica before ten o’clock our first morning and were fortunate to join a queue of only 50 to be checked for explosive devices. And then at last we had arrived on the portal steps of St Peter’s in Rome.

The basilica is a delightful assault on the senses and it is hard not to be in awe of the centuries of craftsmanship to be found in every corner.  As an Englishman I felt for the tragic destruction in our own country of the centuries of craftsmanship during the Reformation.  And then the Anglo Saxon in me baulked at our guide’s explanation of the corporal incorruptibility of some of the dead Pontiffs as they lay in their tombs.  But otherwise what was before us was quite sumptuous and beautiful.  Inside St Peters we found the chapel of St Joseph where we went to Mass, celebrated in Italian behind white ropes which separated tourist from worshiper.

St Peters: the nave showing the gilt bronze baldachin standing 29m high

In the north east corner of St Peter’s basilica is The Pieta (meaning piety), carved out of a marble block by Michelangelo in 1500.  This quite amazing piece of work is now displayed behind a thick glass screen after the hammer attack in 1972 by a 33 year old madman who broke off the Virgin Mary’s left arm and damaged her face.

Later in the Vatican Museum complex, I had booked to join a party of 35 English speakers wearing radio receivers to be welcomed by our young Italian guide who carried her green chiffon scarf aloft on a bamboo cane.  She chided us for the Protestantism of our little northern country on the edge of the world and after the telling off, we were away down the long exquisite marble corridors with what seemed like the history of the world travelling past us.  We were just a tiny group in the 20,000 visitors in the museum that day and for two hours inside those 20 miles of corridors; we followed the history being given below the green chiffon scarf.  There was no time to stand and stare as our guide had to get us to the Sistine Chapel on time.

A pre Covid scrum in a museum passage

Rome is small enough for us to visit The Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon , the Piazza Navona and buy a piece of Italian Leather in a span of a few hours. The Navona is shaped as a long oval and is the old open air chariot racing stadium of Domitian (AD 51-AD 96 and son of Vespasian) where we sat at a pavement trattoria on a cool afternoon having lunch and watching people of different nationalities walking by.  Everywhere touts were selling selfie camera sticks and everywhere they were being unselfconsciously used by their owners. 

The Colosseum showing the hypogeum below the arena floor

On another day we visited the Colosseum built by Vespasian in the years before 80AD and had a sunny walk around the historical Palatine Hill, one of Rome’s seven hills with its towering pine trees and old Roman buildings, once the home of Emperor Augustus.

The statue of St Peter stands 4.7m tall

Fr Michael Koppel used to talk about the basilica of St John, Lateran and we resolved to see it.  It is still Rome’s official cathedral dating back to the 4th century AD and sits on the south east boundary of the city.  It was the principal pontifical church until the papacy moved to Avignon in 1309 AD. As with St Peter’s basilica, there has been approaching a thousand years of building without any reforming destruction, so from the gilt ceiling to the ancient marble floor, the sense of wonder is profound.

The wide central nave of the Lateran with the baldachin above the main altar said to contain the relics of Ss Peter and Paul.

On our last morning the city transport was on strike so we took a taxi to visit Trastevere.  This is a very old part of West Rome below the heights of Pza Garibaldi and outside the old Roman walls.  The Basilica Di Santa Maria in Trastevere is yet another amazingly beautiful church but where isn’t in this extraordinary city?  I slide my camera on its back across the floor to look straight upwards at the dome in the Lady Chapel and capture the ‘Assumption of the Virgin’ by Domenichino (1616).    

S.Maria Trastevere – The Lady Chapel ceiling

Outside in the Piazza we have a delicious brunch omelette billed for 16 Euros but by some mysterious legerdemain which is so common in Rome, we end up paying our smiling waiter 24 Euros and a tip.  We catch our taxi and before long we are at the airport which is right next to Ostia, Rome’s ancient port.  Inshallah, we will return to Rome one day, perhaps having learnt some Italian but not before having read more about this fascinating city.

Mark 1: 14-20

What kind of reaction do you think you’d meet if, on Monday, when you get to work or to the shops, you suggested to whoever you might bump into, that they should repent and believe the Good News?

My guess is that you wouldn’t want to repeat some of the answers which would probably come your way.

But, for Christians, this is one of the most important things that we’re called to do. So, if we want to be taken seriously, where do we start?

Well, some of you might have heard of a Church of England Bishop called Tom Wright. Bishop Tom was the Anglican Bishop of Durham and he’s now retired; but earlier in his church life he was chaplain to one of the Oxford colleges, and he used to make a point of meeting every new student at his college, just after the start of each academic year in October.

Bishop Tom was usually politely received, but he says that many students, after the pleasantries had been exchanged, would tell him that he wouldn’t be seeing much of them because they didn’t believe in God.

Tom would move the conversation on by saying something like :

“That’s interesting, which god don’t you believe in?”

And most of the answers would involve some kind of reference to an elderly man sitting on a cloud, surrounded by angels, and generally spoiling everybody’s day.

Tom would nod wisely and reply that this interested him because he didn’t believe in that god either. The way was then open for him to explain that the God he believed in was the God who was made visible through Jesus from Nazareth.

You see, it’s very difficult to talk about God in terms which can make sense to us with all of the limitations which are part and parcel of being a human being. How can we, as finite human beings, even begin to think about an infinite God, who must be beyond anything which we can imagine? What does that hymn say? “Immortal, invisible, God only wise; in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.” That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it?

But we can understand another human being; and if that human being, in a wonderful and mysterious way, shares the life of God, we can begin to see what God is like as far as he can be revealed through a human life.

And that’s where Jesus comes in. If we want to know what God is like, in terms that we can understand, well then, we only need to look at Jesus.

Jesus was patient, gentle and kind. He accepted men and women just as they were. He didn’t turn his back on them because they came from the wrong side of the tracks. He didn’t look down on them because they mixed with the wrong people and got themselves into all kinds of bad situations.

Of course, he didn’t want men and women to stay in those situations, but he always accepted them, loved them and wanted to move them on. The New Testament is crammed with stories like this. Think of the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. The Holy people wanted to put her to death and they tried to use her predicament to trap Jesus. But Our Lord didn’t condemn her; instead, he saved her and gave her back her dignity. Think of the stories which he told as well. The story about the prodigal son and the good Samaritan are just two.

We have no trouble in seeing the love, compassion and care which Jesus had for men and women everywhere; and of course, the Good News, the Gospel, is that this is just what God is like. Jesus forgave, accepted and loved. God forgives, accepts and loves, because just as Jesus said: “I am one with the Father.”

Religious people often try to gain brownie points with God by doing good deeds. They act as though God is some kind of stern Judge who can’t wait to punish us if we fail to step up to the mark. This is a tragedy because God just isn’t like that. We don’t need to be frightened of God. We don’t need to try to impress him with countless acts of charity and hours of religious observance. All we need to do is to accept that he loves us and has done everything that’s necessary in order that we can live with him for ever. And, of course, once we reach that conclusion, we begin to do those charitable things not because we want to be rewarded, but because we have accepted God’s love and just have to love him back.

Jesus announced this Good News to those Galilean fishermen two thousand years ago. It took a long time for them to grow into a full understanding of what he was telling them, but even at that early stage they were sufficiently attracted by his magnetic personality to begin the journey in faith.

Very few things in life happen out of a clear blue sky and I rather expect that the first followers of Jesus, had already heard him and seen him at work, perhaps for some while before they made a commitment to the request which we’ve just heard.

And it was as they followed him, as they listened to him and as they trusted him and tried to do as he asked, that they moved into a deeper understanding of the truth. The truth which Jesus spoke when he said:

“To have seen me is to have seen the Father”

Good News indeed. News which calls us to turn away from our false beliefs of what God is like and to realise that in Jesus the Kingdom of God is really made present. Good News which needs to grow more deeply within us, and which will enable us in our turn to become fishers of men too.

John 1: The Word made flesh

We don’t know at what time of the year the miracle at Bethlehem actually took place, but the Church Fathers were very wise. In their efforts to teach the faith to our heathen ancestors of this cold Northern Hemisphere they connected the birth of Jesus with the warmth and the goodwill which already existed in the midwinter pagan celebrations.

But no celebration can really explain the coming of God into the world of human beings. Only the Spirit-given words of St John, can tell of the eternal God, entering into human life with all of its difficulties.  So we need to look through the tinsel, and the nostalgia, in order to see the basic, yet amazing truth.

The time of waiting is over. God has come to his people as one of them.

St John spent a lifetime looking at, and thinking about, what he’d seen in the life of Jesus, his friend and his master, and he summed it up like this:

“The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

This Word, this power of God, that was responsible for the Universe, became embodied in a human being named Jesus. And John and others had known him not only as a builder, a friend and a prophet, but also as someone very special indeed. To be with him was like being in the presence of God. He was Immanuel, which means “God with us “.

Now, it might seem perverse if I remind you that Christmas will soon be over, almost before it’s yet begun. But that is indeed the case, and we shall soon move back into our daily routines.

Thoughts of Jesus, for many people, will be discarded with the used wrapping paper , and it will be all too easy to think that God has retreated back into the heavens where he  will remain, all boxed up, until we bring him out again in next December’s nativity scenes.

But St John tells us to remember that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us. This Word, this Christ that was with God in the beginning, became something that we could grasp.

Christ the Word is certainly “up there “in heaven, but we must never forget that he is also “down here” on earth. And so we can see that Christ is dwelling with us still, if only we ask the right questions and look in the right places.  We can still see the Word made flesh for us today, but we must find ways of transforming our ordinary daily routines into channels of God’s truth.

Most of you will value the sacraments of the church, and if that is so then it’s but a simple step to see that we live in a universe which by its very nature is sacramental.  A sacrament brings into effect that of which it’s a sign, and because we’re created in the image of God, we should most clearly be able to see God in each other.

Just imagine how life would change if we made a special effort to treat all with whom we had to do as the image of God that they really are. Then we really would see the Word made flesh, and they would see the same Word made flesh in us too. Sometimes in human encounters of love, we experience special moments when something of God touches our life in a way which leaves us deeply moved. These sacred times are examples of Christ in heaven touching earth in our daily lives, and when we experience him “down here” like this, then we can say with St John that we have seen the Glory of God.

This Word, the glory of God is continually being made flesh and revealing God to us.

The darkness has not overcome the light and the Son who is close to God’s heart, continues to make himself known to us in the flesh.

May God bless us all with this revelation of his love for us this Christmas.

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.”