What is Advent really about?

What are these four weeks before Christmas really about? And what is this ‘Advent’ thing anyway? Our shopping centres are filled with lights, christmas trees, reindeers and Fr Christmases! Is this ‘Advent’? The world’s advent is about presents, parties, gadgets and loads of food and drink!

The word Advent means ‘Preparing for what is coming!’ The Christian Advent is all about looking into the future. It is about what kind of world do we really want to live in … what kind of world do we want to hand on to our children and our children’s children. It is about looking beyond our immediate wants and desires. We can so easily get sucked into thinking about ‘me’, ‘mine’, ‘what I want’ – Advent calls us, in the words of the book of Genesis in the Bible, to become ‘people with far-seeing eyes’. Advent calls us to ‘wake up’ to what is really happening in the world around us. That is why such a large part of the Bible Christians and Jews share records the words of the Prophets – and in the Church’s worship during these four weeks of Advent we listen to them a lot. These prophets of old challenge us to reflect upon the quality of our lives, our honesty and integrity, to reflect upon the world around us, whether there is really justice and hope for the poor. They challenge us to change today so as to build for tomorrow a different, more united and just world – a world where the poor do not just get the left over scraps of grudging charity: to build a world of greater humanity for all the children of the earth.

But there are also Prophets today that challenge us – last Monday’s news was filled with two very different people. Michelle Obama speaking to people young and old to believe they can be more! To aspire (and work towards) their own inner greatness, to ‘wake up’ to all each one of us can ‘become’. And then an old man, 92 years old, David Attenborough, making the nations and leaders listen to ‘the cries of the earth’. He challenged us – all of us – to ‘wake up’ to the harm we are doing to our fragile and beautiful planet; 

to ‘wake up’ to the sheer urgency of changing the way we live so that future generations will have a world worth living in; to ‘wake up’ to our responsibility 

for the natural world around, the species we are driving to extinction, the oceans we are polluting; to ‘wake up’ to the catastrophic impact of global warming and climate change on future generations and in particular on the most impoverished people in the world – those who cannot protect themselves in the way we in the rich world perhaps can.  

Will we listen to these prophets? 

So Advent is not just about Christmassy ‘jingles’, flashing lights and noisy shopping centres and supermarkets! Advent is about the future you and I can – indeed must – make for ourselves and all those who follow after us – that we must make for the poorest of the earth. If Christmas is about anything – celebrating as we do the birth of this Child we call Jesus or ‘Issa’ – it is about making our world so much more human, struggling for peace, developing and using our gifts and potential to make a world where all the Earth’s children can live in freedom and hope, delighting in our beautiful and bountiful planet. 

So everyone – have a courageous Advent and loving Christmas!

Year of Prayer and Advent

DIOCESAN YEAR OF PRAYER Having focussed in the past 12 months on ‘Mission’, the diocese now turns to the well-spring that gives us the energy and vision for Mission – to utter necessity of Prayer. Luke’s Gospel gives us particular insights into Jesus as the Man of Prayer, constantly turning to His Father, finding quiet spaces on hillsides (often in the dark hours of night) during which He would pray, enter afresh into His Divine Communion with Abba, Father through the bond of love that is the Holy Spirit within Him and between Him and the Father. He is our model of Prayer – a prayer that that drives us (inspires us) to action (mission) a prayer that is shaped by that action/mission! Let us deepen our prayer, our contemplative union with Father, Son and Holy Spirit this coming year.

ADVENT – THE VISION OF MISSION Advent is a time for ‘people with far-seeing eyes’ – awakened to the reality of our world, ready to listen and to gaze: in order to recognise where, when and how Jesus comes in the 21st century (in the poverty, among the oppressed, disguised as an addict or as homeless, crying out for acceptance and freedom in the asylum-seeker, yearning for peace among the women and children who are the greatest victims of our wars). But you have to have courage to see and to hear – and more courage to speak and to act! The Spirit of God unfolds a vision of Mission – to transform the deserts and wastelands of our world into places of hope, rich and fertile in humanity and justice, healing and freedom. Our Mission is world-challenging and world-changing. Let our worship empower our mission, as we gaze upon bread from the fields and wine from the hills being transformed utterly in Christ by the Spirit and the Word through the ministry of the Church!

PRAY FOR THE CHRISTIANS AND ALL THE SUFFERING PEOPLE OF IRAQ, SYRIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST

Lord, the plight of our country
is deep and the suffering of the Christians
is heavy and frightening us,
therefore we ask you Lord
to assure our lives, grant us patience and courage
to continue to witness our Christian values with trust and hope.
Lord, peace is the base of any life; give us peace and stability
to live with each other without fear, anxiety,
with dignity and joy, glory to you forever.

Archbishop Louis Raphael I Sako,  Chaldean Catholic Patriarch

Lord, send us the gift of peace

Watch over the people of Iraq who have been forced to flee their homes
and face violence and fear.

Lord, send us the gift of peace

Lead them to a place of safety, comfort those who grieve
and bring healing to those in pain.

Lord, send us the gift of peace

Convert the hearts of those who commit violence and wage war.
Turn them away from persecution towards peace.

Lord, send us the gift of peace

Turn hatred to understanding, and anger to compassion.
Through your love, transform horror into hope.

Lord, send us the gift of peace

And fill us all with your Spirit so that with one voice, throughout the world,
we may cry out:

Lord, send us the gift of peace

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us…              Catherine Gorman/CAFOD

Prayer for Global Healing

We very much need to continue to pray that the nations that committed themselves to work to heal the planet oppose those leaders and economies that oppose this reality and policy seeking to protect the environment, remain true to their word and bring about the changes needed to be ‘merciful’ to ‘our common home’:

“O God of love, teach us to care for this world our common home.
Inspire all political leaders and the peoples of all the nations to listen to and heed the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
Let us be united in heart and mind in responding and acting courageously.
May we seek the common good and protect the beautiful earthly garden you have created for us, for all our brothers and sisters, for all generations to come. Amen!

Pope Francis on Nuclear Weapons

POPE FRANCIS ON NUCLEAR WEAPONS
 Pope Francis stated the following last November:

‘Now is the time to affirm not only the immorality of the use of nuclear weapons, but the immorality of their possession…  genuinely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian effects of any employment of nuclear devices and the risk of accidental detonation as a result of any kind of error, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned. They exist in the service of a mentality of fear.’

Oscar Romero

Each Sunday, indeed at each Mass we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate the New Life, the Hope and Inspiration that the Easter Christ is for us. If we are looking only to remember some strange event 2000 years ago – well it might appeal to historians but it couldn’t change lives. But emphatically NO! We believe we are celebrating to power of the Crucified and Risen Christ Jesus Who is alive among us now in 2018 to change lives – our lives today. So I am going to share the story of someones who has long inspired me in my ministry! 

WHO INSPIRES ME? In 1978 I was still a young priest. I had been working living and working in Taunton in Somerset – a reasonably well-off county town. Then unexpectedly my bishop asked me to move to Knowle West here in Bristol, a very run-down impoverished community with very high inter-generational unemployment and over-crowded housing – a community with no hope! As I was struggling to adapt to an utterly different kind of environment to one I had been serving, I heard of this courageous bishop in a tiny far-off country in Central America – his name was Oscar Romero and his country, the size of Wales was called El Salvador (name after ‘the Saviour’).

He had been a very tame, timid man, with his own inner psychological problems.  He had been promoted to be the country’s Archbishop and had been immediately confronted with the realities of poverty for the vast majority of his people. Worse than simply the poverty, was the repression by the dictatorship that ruled the country for the benefit of 14 fabulously wealthy families. He had not even been installed as Archbishop when his close friend, a Jesuit priest, Fr Rutilio Grande, was murdered on Government orders – because he spoke up for and organised the poor that he served.

As Romero encountered the reality of oppression, squalor, and government brutality, the poor literally converted him to a life of Christ-like courage. He became their voice – their only voice in that repressed land. He would not be silenced, even though they threatened his own life and blew up the Church’s radio station that broadcast his sermons every Sunday. The cries of the poor and his alignment with them also healed him – he no longer needed regular visits to his psychiatrist friend and far from being timid he was a strong prophet crying out for justice, crying out for peace in his land. Indeed the British Parliament nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Finally on Sunday 23rd March 1980,preaching in his Cathedral he ordered ‘in the name of God’ the soldiers to disobey orders and refuse to kill their own people. He knew he was signing his own death warrant but felt ‘in the name of God and humanity’ he had to speak out in this way. Next day while celebrating Mass in a convent chapel, a government assassin shot him dead.

I was in the kitchen of the presbytery in Knowle West having breakfast and getting ready to celebrate Mass when I heard the news on the radio. At that moment, I knew God was calling me to spend my life sharing with and living for the poor – of my city, my country and my world. As a priest, a shepherd of God’s people, Oscar Romero has inspired me and changed the course of my life and my understanding of the message of Jesus. I see in him, this Shepherd of the poor and Prophet of Justice, this Voice of the voiceless, the person of Jesus, risen and alive today – and a model for me and I hope many others of how to be a priest in today’s world. 

On October 14th this year, Pope Francis formally declared him a Saint of the Church – a model pastor to follow – I was there in Rome when Oscar Romero was at last recognised as one of the great inspirations not  only for the modern Church but also for our modern world. 

Healing Prayer – Open to the mercy and compassion of God

‘At sunset all those who had friends suffering from diseases of one kind or another brought them to Jesus, and laying his hands on each he cured them’  (Luke 4: v 40)

‘…a great crowd from all parts…had come to hear Jesus and to be cured of their diseases…Everyone was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.’  (Luke 6: v17-19)

We journey through a world of beauty and pain, a world of peace and turmoil; we journey as disciples of Jesus who ‘healed all who came to Him’; we journey as a People of Hope, not only filled with hope in God but bearers of divine hope to this world.  Hope is the expectation of a better and more whole, more peace-filled world. This hope becomes a well-spring of vision and energy that will bring a measure of healing and new beginnings to our sisters and brothers, to our world.

  

We tend to think that healing is something very rare and happens in places like Lourdes or through the lives of saints (long dead!). Yet Pope Francis has famously described our parishes as ‘field hospitals where all will find welcome, love and healing.’ All the Sacraments have a healing dimension and the Church as Sacrament of Christ is to be a healing presence in our world – and so every parish is to be a healing presence in its community, the ‘field hospital’ of Christ where the broken and hurting will find hope and healing. Healing is to become the ‘ordinary’, not the ‘extra-ordinary’, experience of all communities that celebrate the Eucharist – Jesus, the Broken Bread that makes us whole!

What is ‘Healing’? Healing is a journey into the wholeness, freedom and peace that God wants for each of us. It is part of the journey into the mystery of who we are in Christ, into the reality of being a beloved daughter or son of Abba, our Father. The human person is ‘a freedom for love’ made in the image and likeness of God. Whatever limits that ‘freedom for love’, whatever wounds or scars the image of God within us, Jesus comes to heal, forgive and set us free to be our true selves in Him. Sometimes this might involve the healing of our bodies (curing or restoring health). Often it will involve the healing of inner self: the healing of hurting memories, of rejection or inner pain that leads us to inner freedom enabling us to love more fully. This is true ‘wholeness’. 

So what is healing prayer? 

Firstly, it is believing that God’s desire for us is this wholeness and peace. Therefore in the quietness of our own prayer (and especially at Mass) we confidently bring to ‘Abba’ our Father our own brokenness and pain, physical or emotional, to the God of love.

 

Secondly, it can be bringing our need to our sisters and brothers in the Christian community for their prayer through what is called ‘the laying on of hands’. Often, Jesus would touch with his hands those who came to him – a gentle touch of compassion and love – and he taught the disciples to do the same. The Word of healing is made flesh in the hands of another when our touch is caring and respectful. Of course such healing prayer 

does not require physical contact if the recipient of such prayer is uncomfortable with touching.

Thirdly, healing is a ministry that flows from the Holy Spirit given in our baptism and confirmation and therefore like so many other ministries is not restricted to the ordained among us. There are opportunities to receive simple training that will encourage each of us to be ready to pray healing with others (not just for others) and a normal part of a parish’s ministry as God’s ‘field hospital’. This is not setting ourselves up as ‘healers’ – Jesus alone is the healer! We are simply allowing ourselves as part of the Body of Christ to be used by our Good Samaritan, Jesus, to pour the wine of compassion and healing upon wounded brothers and sisters.

Finally, healing is not just about our individual journeys into love’s freedom, but is also (even primarily) about being a Church not afraid to reach out and touch the wounds of our world, of the communities where God has placed us. When Jesus healed the lepers he ended their exclusion from society and reintegrated them. When Jesus healed the woman with the issue of blood (constant periods) he challenged his society’s attitude to women and illness. When Jesus healed the centurion’s servant and praised his faith he challenged our attitude to ‘the enemy’. When Jesus raised up the Samaritan as an example of compassion he challenged racial and religious discrimination. What are the wounds of our society we need to touch and heal? Working for justice, struggling against poverty, being a voice for the excluded, welcoming the immigrant – all are part of the Healing work and prayer of the Body of Christ.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?  There are a number of parishes in the diocese who hold Healing Services and have small teams trained to offer healing prayer. Many prayer groups also pray healing in this way. If you wish to receive healing prayer or learn more about this ministry, then please contact:

The Bishop’s Committee for Health and Healing 

(email:  richard.mckay@priest.cliftondiocese.com )

Clifton Committee for Charismatic Renewal  (email: ann08.bevan@gmail.com )

The Eucharist and Healing

Let me begin with three short extracts from the Word of God, for the Word of God is our Bread of Life:

The night before Jesus died, ‘He took Bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying “Take and eat – this is my Body”. Then he took a cup of wine, gave thanks and shared it, saying “Take and drink – this is my Blood”.’

On the first Easter evening, the two disciples at Emmaus ‘recognised Him in the Breaking of the Bread.’

Those converted on the first Pentecost day ‘devoted themselves … to the Breaking of Bread.’

For over 46 years now as a priest I have ‘broken bread’ and ‘shared the cup’ with God’s people almost every day. Over those years I have pondered more and more this first name given to what we now commonly call the Mass or the Eucharist – the ‘Breaking of Bread’. Breaking is a dramatic word – and it is a powerful action at the central moment of our worship of God. 

Jesus Christ is alive among us as the ‘broken one’, ‘by whose wounds we are healed’. He comes to us in broken bread to heal our brokenness, the wounded one who heals our wounds. Jesus the Good Samaritan ‘pours out His Blood’ into the wounds of a world beaten up by the shedding of too much blood by our wars and injustices. In the parish community I serve, each time I ‘break the bread and share the cup’ I am very conscious that so many of my sisters and brothers gathered around the Table have fled places of torture, political imprisonment, genocide and persecution: so many scars of body, mind and memory, so much trauma is brought to our Table, to our community. It gives new meaning to ‘the Breaking of Bread’. 

So I passionately believe the Eucharist is the great Healing Sacrament. When we gather as a community to share the Mass, to break bread together, to share the cup among us, we bring all that we are, all that the world around us has shaped us to become. In the words of the hymn ‘we come to share our story, we come to break the bread, we come to know our rising from the dead’. So we bring, each one of us, our particular story of joy and sorrow, our gifts and our wounds, uniting it with THE STORY of Jesus suffering on the Cross, his redeeming death and life giving and transforming resurrection. We unite our pain – bodily illness,  mental anguish, hurting hearts, painful memories – with the wounded broken Christ we encounter in the Eucharist. 

And in the Eucharist we meet the suffering and dying Christ whose love transforms those very wounds of the Cross into wellsprings of healing and new life in his Resurrection. Indeed the first disciples recognised that He is risen because He shows them his wounded hands, side and feet. Those wounds of human brutality become wellsprings of healing and peace. Just as bread and wine are transformed into the dying and Rising Christ, so the wounds of human suffering are touched by the loving power of Resurrection and we find healing and wholeness. That is why the Church’s liturgy invites us to say those powerful words before receiving the Communion – ‘say but the Word and I shall be healed!’. We need to utter these words with faith, with the expectation that God is touching us with healing and enabling us to grow into a deeper wholeness. 

In a Mass dedicated to Healing we have a special opportunity to ‘come and share our story’, to speak of our pain and anguish and receive prayer and ministry directly into our wounded self. I believe we need more opportunities to come together as communities of healing, communities of wounded healers in THE WOUNDED HEALER, JESUS CHRIST! As Pope Francis has said, each parish, each Christian community, needs to be a ‘field hospital’ where the wounded of our world know they will find welcome and non-judgemental acceptance, a willingness to listen to the wounds that are brought to us (to Christ among us), and an enduring love that will hold them until they experience healing, inner freedom and hope. When Jesus invited Thomas the apostle to reach out and touch His wounds, the Lord was challenging us, the Apostolic Church, never to be afraid to reach out and touch our wounded world, our pain-filled brothers and sisters so as to bring them healing. Remember that Jesus also said ‘whatever you do to these sisters and brothers of mine, you do to Me!’ Touching their wounds is for us to touch His with a love that can make whole!

The Eucharist is not some magical presence – no! it is the gathering of a loving community that is the Body of Christ, and grows as such by sharing the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist we celebrate becomes healing for each other and others as we allow ourselves to become ‘Living Eucharist’ – as the great African bishop, St Augustine, said – ‘may we become bread in God’s hands to be broken and given for the life of the world’. The Healing power of the Eucharist is the Healing power of an authentically Eucharistic community. The Bread we break around the Table of the Lord is Bread of Healing, Bread of Freedom, Christ’s Bread of Love for the world. Will we become that Living Bread for others? The Cup that we share is the Cup of the Lord’s suffering, which is the suffering of the world He welcomes into His opened Heart – will we who drink His Blood open our hearts to the suffering of others as He does and, like the Good Samaritan, pour ourselves out as the Divine Wine into the wounds of those who come to us, who have so often been ‘beaten up’ by the world? We are not a Eucharistic Community if we too ‘pass by on the  other side’. We are called by the Eucharist to be (again in the words of Pope Francis) ‘a messy church’.

And we must not forget – or neglect – the enduring Presence of the Eucharistic Christ in the tabernacles of our churches. The still Presence of such blessing waiting lovingly for us to ‘come and watch one hour’. Gently He cries out to us ‘Come to Me all who labour and burdened, and I will give you rest, peace, healing.’ To rest in the still gentle Presence of Divine Love in the Eucharist reserved in our tabernacles or in Exposition for Adoration is truly a ‘healing balm’ that can quieten our troubled minds, still our hurting hearts. Regular times of Adoration in our parishes can be power houses of prayer and intercession serving the mission of our communities, the healing ministry of our parishes. For me personally as a priest, spending time each day in the silence of Adoration before the Eucharistic Christ, this Sacrament of Blessing, is the source of energy for my ministry, and for healing for my life.

My hope is that the Eucharistic Congress will not only deepen our experience of and love for the Christ we meet in ‘the Breaking of Bread’, but will also challenge us to be missionary and healing Eucharistic communities – places where Jesus will be recognised as truly alive and life-giving among us – authentic Eucharistic Communities, called, blessed, broken and given for the healing of our world.

Questions to help reflection:

[1] Do I experience Jesus alive, healing and strengthening me through my sharing in the Eucharist?

[2] How can I help my parish become more deeply a Eucharistic community of Healing?

[3] How can the Mass we celebrate in our parishes enable people to ‘come and share their story’ more effectively and so find healing?

[4] How is the pain of the world embraced in the Mass I experience and share?

Charismatic Prayer – Letting the Holy Spirit pray in us

‘When Pentecost day came round, they has all me together… and were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues’  (Acts of the Apostles 2: v 1-4)

‘All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of and daughters of God, for you received the spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out “Abba, Father!”… The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness, for when we do not know how to pray properly, the Spirit makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words.’  (Romans 8: v14-16 & 26)

In preparation for the Second Vatican Council, Pope St John XXXIII called upon us all to pray to the Holy Spirit, that Spirit might ‘renew the Church with signs and wonders as like a New Pentecost’. That great Council of the Church re-affirmed the charismatic character of the Church and the many charisms and ministries of lay people flowing from the Spirit’s gift in Baptism and Confirmation. 

Shortly after the Council ended in 1965 a group of professors and students at a Catholic University in USA experienced a rich outpouring of the Holy Spirit accompanied by spontaneous joyful praise, the gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing, and a deep love for the Word of God and desire to witness to Jesus. For them it was a life-transforming experience, literally a ‘being born again’. Remarkably quickly, like fire spreading through the brush, other groups caught this ‘fire of the Holy Spirit’ and formed small communities of spontaneous prayer, open in a new way to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. An international movement was born in the Catholic Church that we know as the Charismatic Renewal.

So what is ‘Charismatic prayer’?     All real prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Just as the Holy Spirit is the eternal dialogue of love and life flowing between the Father and Son in the Trinity, so our prayer is in reality a sharing in that same eternal dialogue: for we are reborn as sons and daughters of our Father, co-heirs with Christ  and filled with the same Holy Spirit as filled Jesus at the Jordan river. Our prayer is the breathing of the Spirit deep within us. Whether our prayer is in words uttered, tears shed, or the silence of contemplation, it is by nature charismatic for it is the Spirit of God praying within us who are Temples of the Holy Spirit. 

What we call Charismatic Prayer (as experienced by Prayer groups and individuals who have experienced the so-called ‘Release of the Holy Spirit’) is the re-emergence of ways of prayer familiar for many centuries in the life of Church, but seems to have got lost in the excessive formalism of prayer and worship in more recent centuries. Its re-emergence today is part of the renewal of the Church in our present age. Charismatic prayer is characterised by an ease and a joy in spontaneous prayer, coming together in groups to pray and sing with another, an emphasis on the prayer of praise (rather than solely intercession), an openness to charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit such as healing, inspired teaching, prophecy, discernment, the prayer of tongues etc. 

For many people this ‘experience’ of the Holy Spirit with its new-found gifts of prayer, praise and ministries, comes after participating in ‘Life in the Spirit Seminars’ during 

which individuals have an opportunity to be ‘prayed over’ (with the ‘laying-on-hands’) in small groups for a fresh out-pouring of the Holy Spirit in their lives. For some their lives are changed dramatically, for most there is a gradual change that leads to deeper intimacy with God, a thirst for prayer and the Word of God, a hunger for the Sacraments, a desire to pray with others, to witness to their faith (or give testimony) more publicly and a willingness to be more involved in the life and ministry of their parish communities. They experience ‘coming alive in Christ’.

This form of prayer also helps us to heal some of the divisions that have afflicted the Body of Christ over the centuries. We can enter more easily into prayerful fellowship with our Evangelical and Pentecostal brothers and sisters and find new ways of witnessing together to the Gospel of Christ before our world. The Charismatic Renewal has given new impetus and heart to the Ecumenical movement.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?  There are a number of prayer groups meeting around the diocese and a few parishes who sponsor from time to time the 6 week course known as ‘Life in the Spirit Seminars’. In addition the Charismatic Renewal Movement both nationally and in our diocese holds ‘Days of Renewal’ and ‘Celebrate’ Conferences. If you wish to make contact with a prayer group or to know more about these events then please contact:

Clifton Committee for Charismatic Renewal  (email: ann08.bevan@gmail.com )

Celebrate Bristol  (email:  bristol@celebrateconference.org )

On Priesthood: Priest – Prophet and Shepherd

The priest is the servant of the Eucharist, who gathers the People of God that the Spirit might form us as the Missionary Body of Christ, and then sends us out into the world to work with God – co-creators with the Father, bearers of healing Salvation with Jesus and renewers of the face of the Earth with the Spirit.
The priest is our brother who walks with us and helps us listen together to the Voice of the Spirit in our times – to see ‘the Sign of the Times’ that we the Church might be God’s radical love poured out with abundant generosity into the hurting heart of the world..
As a brother he is our shepherd who needs us all to be shepherds; he is a prophet who challenges us – and wants to be challenged by us! He is a leader who knows how to serve, a preacher who knows how to listen, a prophet who has the courage both to challenge and be challenged.
The ordained priest and the Priestly People – journeying with one another in faith and love, forming each other as a People of Hope, a People of Love, a People of Mission – God’s People!