Waiting in the Upper Room – the Great Novena

NOVENA TO THE HOLY SPIRIT This is the first and greatest Novena of Prayer in the Church’s tradition, opening ourselves and the Church to the mighty wind of the Spirit – the energy for Mission; opening to the Living Water of the Spirit welling up to Life in all its fulness; opening to the Flam and Fire of God’s Spirit that transforms us into flames of Divine Love in the heart of the world. Without the Spirit of God in us we can do nothing for God, without the Spirit of God we have no real life, without the Spirit of God we have no vision for our mission, no energy to serve the Gospel and the Kingdom. COME HOLY SPIRIT!


WHO IS THIS WHO ASCENDS INTO GLORY?   Ascension? Some kind of medieval throw-back – a myth that belongs to a ‘flat earth’ past? As if Heaven was up there somewhere! Can we believe in the Ascension in our modern world of Hubble telescopes and deep space exploration?

Yet this is our brother, our flesh, our humanity, gathered up into the Divine, carrying us and all that is human into the very inner life of God, of the Trinity. His ascension is ours, for He carries us with Him, in Him. Ascension is not some weird and divine form of space travel, but rather the wonder of our transformation into a divine humanity. This is the Feast of our human dignity, for we are being ‘divinised’ as the great saints and mystics have dared to say, following the teaching of St John and St Paul. 

Forever our flesh is now ‘seated at the right hand of the Father’, sharing the throne of God, utterly caught up in infinite and eternal loving that creates the Universe! No wonder He sends us out with this Good News to tell all the world, all creation!


Even if Christians struggle to recognise him with his “torn clothes (and) dirty feet,” Jesus is present in the migrants and refugees who seek safety and a dignified life in a new land, Pope Francis said.

If Jesus’ words, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,” are true, the pope said, then “we must begin to thank those who give us the opportunity for this encounter, namely, the ‘others’ who knock on our doors, giving us the possibility to overcome our fears in order to encounter, welcome and assist Jesus in person.”

Francis spoke about overcoming fear and welcoming others during a Mass he celebrated that was part of a conference titled, “Welcoming Communities: Free of Fear,” 

In his homily, Francis noted how the ancient Israelites had to overcome their fear of crossing the Red Sea and trust God in order to make it to the promised land. And, when the disciples were on the lake in a storm, Jesus told them to not be afraid and assured them he was there with them.

“The Lord speaks to us today and asks us to allow him to free us of our fear,” the pope said. “Fear is the origin of slavery,” just as it was for the ancient Israelites, he said, “and it is also the origin of every dictatorship because, on the fear of the people, the violence of the dictator grows.”

Of course, the pope said, people naturally are afraid of what they don’t understand and of strangers who speak another language and have another culture. The Christian response is not to play on those fears, but to educate people and help them turn strangers into friends.

“We are called to overcome fear and open ourselves to encounter,” he said. “The encounter with the ‘other,’ then, is also an encounter with Christ. He himself told us this. It is he who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted.”

Francis asked Catholics who have had “the joy” of assisting migrants and refugees to “proclaim it from the rooftops, openly, to help others do the same, preparing themselves to encounter Christ and his salvation.”


At our Good Friday Liturgy twelve small crosses were brought up and placed in the sanctuary alongside the large Cross that we reverenced. These words accompanied each of the small crosses:

1.   Jesus is being crucified today when families and communities are victims of barrel bombs and gas and chemical attacks; when barbaric war is waged in Afghanistan, in Syria and Yemen; when in the land of His birth Palestinian rights to freedom and a homeland are violently repressed and walls of division are built between between Palestinian and Israeli; when Rohingya Muslims are massacred and ethnically cleansed from Myanmar.

2.   Jesus is being crucified today when we refuse to change our life-style but continue to abuse our beautiful planet, exploiting the earth rather than living in joyful communion with creation; when 20 million people are on the verge of famine because of climate change, war and corruption and 66 million sisters and brothers are forced to flee their homeland and live as refugees

3.   Jesus is being crucified today when our young people have no hope, no jobs and turn to drugs and alcohol; when addiction drives young and old into the dark world of crime and violence; when the poor of our nation have to pay for the excesses of the rich, as benefits are cut for the poorest and most vulnerable, essential social services are reduced, and health care diminished, while we spend £100 billion on nuclear weapons. 

4.   Jesus is being crucified today when, like Jesus, women and men are wrongfully imprisoned; when others are tortured for their religious beliefs or political aspirations; and when developed nations like the United States and China keep thousands on death-row awaiting execution, and when our own nation imprisons in our Detention Centres the innocent and vulnerable who seek safe asylum among us.

5.  Jesus is being crucified today whenever survivors are haunted by memories of Genocide and massacre in Rwanda, the Darfur, Serbia, the Congo, Cambodia or Myanmar, knowing this evil continues today; and minds and hearts are scarred as well as their bodies; when millions die unnoticed in the Congo because we want their minerals for our computers, when both Moslems and Christians live in fear of muder and abduction by extremist groups.

6.   Jesus is being crucified today when children and the vulnerable are hurt or abused, especially by members of the Church; when children are deprived of the love they need to grow whole and happy; when adults do not act to protect them from all harm; when people live for decades with inner pain because of past abuse.

7.  Jesus is being crucified today when children are raised in a culture of violence, learning to be violent and aggressive to each other; when children and young people are perpetrators and victims of knife crime on our streets; when they are used in ‘County Lines’ or as cheap labour or child soldiers, or for sexual exploitation; when the rights of child refugees are not recognised and respected.

8.   Jesus is being crucified today when LGBT+ people are not embraced with love by the Church or are discriminated against and their lives threatened around the world – and blasphemously in the name of God!

9.   Jesus is being crucified today when women and men are abused, trafficked and used for sex or slave labour; when women are refused equality and dignity,  whether in marriage,  in society or in the Church.

10.  Jesus is being crucified today when parents grieve the loss of their child, when children die in the womb for whatever reason, when hopes for the future lie shattered through separation or bereavement.

11.  Jesus is being crucified today when in a wealthy country like ours we cannot value and care adequately for our elderly, and the homeless are given no hope of proper shelter and housing in which to build their lives and raise their families with dignity.

12.    Jesus is crucified today when peaceful change is violently repressed by brutal regimes using terror and massacre, and when refugees and asylum-seekers are harshly treated by host countries like our own, detained without trial while innocent of any crime,  or perish in the waters of the Mediterranean and crossing mountain ranges or locked out of freedom by razor-wire border fences; when nations build walls of hostility rather than bridges of welcome; when racism goes unchallenged and the victims of racial violence go unheeded.


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 2018, 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. 


Last year we marked the ‘Year of Mission’ by preparing for two new missions in our parish community – combatting Trafficking and Modern Slavery, and a ministry to the Catholic LGBT+ community. Both were launched earlier this year. We are listening to Luke’s Gospel and one of his many themes is prayer. His Gospel begins with the people of Israel at prayer at the Temple as John the Baptist’s birth is announced to Zechariah the priest; his Gospel ends with the New Israel, the disciples of Jesus  praising God at Jesus’s Ascension (our birth into eternal life) and gathering in the upper Room waiting for ‘power from on high’ – the Holy Spirit. If we are to fulfil the challenges of Mission, we are called to be a people of prayer, open to the Spirit, whose gifts and charisms will empower the Mission of Unconditional Love which Jesus entrusts to us: Come, Spirit!  


Please keep the people of the Yemen in your prayers as they are living in a desperate situation. Their suffering is one of the gravest humanitarian crises in the world today. After nearly 4 years of war, more than 14 million people are facing starvation and 85,000 children may have already died from extreme hunger since 2015. 

There is some hope in Yemen with a ceasefire brokered last month promising to restore the Hodeida Port and allow food and medicine in to Yemen.

 A prayer for Yemen

 Giver of Life,
Who hears the cries from Yemen;
of mothers choosing between medicine or food,
of parents grieving children lost to starvation,
of those who have given up everything in hunger.
Hear our cries for hope, for change, for peace
In your mercy,
Break political deadlocks,
Soften hardened hearts,
Change closed minds,
Open unhearing ears.
Let people come before power
Let life be holy again
Let your justice and peace
Shape the nation of Yemen
And the lives of all people 




“Fast from hurting words and say kind words. Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude. Fast from anger and be filled with patience. Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope. Fast from worries and trust in God. Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity. Fast from pressures and be prayerful. Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy. Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others. Fast from grudges and be reconciled. Fast from words and be silent – so you can listen.”

WHY LENT? We enter this privileged time of personal and community renewal which we call Lent. We join with Christ Jesus’ 40 Days in the desert to journey with Him through the desert of silence and prayer, of deprivation and hunger, of thirst and yearning. Why? To grow to become more like Jesus in generosity of spirit, openness of heart, deeper communion with God, a readiness to give of ourselves to the Mission of the Gospel. These 40 Days express our communion with all catechumens of the Church journeying to the great moment of Baptism (or reception into Full Communion with the Church; these 40 Days are our journey to the renewal of our Baptism at Easter when we say again our ‘YES’ to being plunged into the Mystery of Christ and become truly Christ People, filled with His Spirit and knowing ourselves to be ‘Beloved of the Father’. Let us embrace these most precious days of renewal.

Praying about the crimes abuse by clergy and religious


Today in Rome, Pope Francis has gathered bishops from around the world to confront our failures as a Church, especially as the pastors and leaders of the Church, to deal appropriately with the crimes of child abuse. As Pastors we have failed the People of God, we have failed our children, young people and families, we have failed the Gospel of Christ.  I do not ask you to repent as the sin is not yours as God’s People, it is ours, priests and bishops, as your shepherds.  And so in communion with the Shepherds of the Church, I repent of these failures and sins and beg the mercy of God to purify the shepherds so that we can bind up the wounds of the flock of Christ.


A CALL TO PRAYER FOR THE BISHOPS’ ‘ABUSE SUMMIT’ IN ROME   Cardinal Vincent Nicholas, Archbishop of Westminster, is representing the Bishops of England and Wales and the Church in our two countries at this incredibly important meeting, called together by Pope Francis. I am sure we are all aware of the great publicity surrounding the failure of the Catholic Church to deal appropriately with the crimes of child (and vulnerable adult) sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and religious over the last 50 years or more. Public enquiries in USA, Australia, and here in UK have uncovered a catalogue of abuse and the attempts to minimise and/or cover up these crimes. We have comprehensively failed the victims and survivors. And so this ‘Summit’ of our bishops from around the world must face up to these searching questions and open to the challenging truth of the Holy Spirit for our times 







So let us all pray for the outpouring of the wisdom and courage of the Holy Spirit at this pivotal and crucial meeting of our pastors, as Cardinal Nichols and Bishop Declan have asked us. Let us all recommit ourselves to building safe and loving communities where our children will be valued and protected, where the wounded will find safe places to recover and be healed, where there will be transparency, honesty and integrity. COME HOLY SPIRIT!