Coming Home

queue-of-peopleDid you know that whilst it’s estimated that there are about 1 million Catholics attending Mass regularly in England & Wales, there are at least another 3 million who for one reason or another don’t come to church.

Probably all of us have brothers or sisters, sons or daughters, nephews or nieces, or grandchildren (and perhaps even great grandchildren) who no longer practise their faith. To many of us it can be a real source of sadness. We might even wonder what we’ve done wrong!

The reality is we’ve probably done nothing wrong. People live their own lives and make their own choices and in today’s society there is an awful lot competing for our attention which can squeeze church-going out of mind.

imagesA better question – but another one for which it’s hard to find an answer – is what can we do about it? Should we say something to our lapsed friends and family or should we say nothing? Should we pester them or ignore the fact that they no longer come to church?

One thing we can do is talk to one another in the parish about it: to share our own experience. Perhaps some of us have had success in encouraging loved ones back.

Perhaps some of us ourselves lapsed once and yet found our way back. The interesting question there is what brought us home?

Unknown-1To mark the last phase of our Year of Faith, we plan to have a prayer campaign for those who no longer come to church, running from Home Mission Sunday (15 September) until the start of Advent.

We will prayer together each week during our Sunday Mass intercessions for those who are not with us.

We will be invited to take a copy of the prayer home with us, on small business-size cards. It’s up to each us what we do with them.

Some may choose to say the prayer daily, making it part of their usual prayer routine. Others might just decide to stick it on the fridge or leave it lying about the house.

Perhaps it will start a conversation which in turn might be the beginning of something more. At the very least, family and friends who see it will know we’re praying for them.

What’s most important in this time is that we each value the prayer we make: that we believe God will hear us and will answer.

Our Home Mission Prayer, ‘Crossing the Threshold‘ can also be found on the Prayer page of the website.

 

 

 

‘I have a dream’

406This year marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s inspirational ‘I have a dream’ speech.

Given on 28 August 1963 at a rally of over 250,000 people in Washington, Martin Luther King called for a world where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers, ‘when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’

His dream for a society united and based on justice for all was drawn from the last book of the Bible, Revelation. His commitment to non-violence in promoting this dream, and in securing an inclusive future, was ridiculed by some who saw only violent methods as having any chance of success. There were even some who saw racial justice only in terms of one group ‘overthrowing’ another.

Today, and in our own country, we still have racial tensions. We face the challenges posed by living in a multi-cultural society with the added complications of differences of language, ethnicity, and country of origin being ever present.

In the world there is conflict and injustice based around prejudice, racism, and the struggle for one religious or ethnic or racial group to secure superiority over another.

There seems little we can do about the global situation. Nor even, in our little section of the Fens, about problems faced by inner cities and areas of high racial mistrust.

However, this Sunday 8 September is Racial Justice Sunday and we are invited to think again about Martin Luther King’s speech. We can ask ourselves how we contribute to making our own towns and villages places where ‘freedom rings’ and where everyone irrespective of colour or creed can feel secure and included.

We can pray for a just and peaceful environment which begins with, and springs from, our own attitudes and actions.

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Prayer for Justice

Merciful Lord,
we consider your wonderful world
and its beautiful people created in your image,
and we ask for forgiveness for behaviours and attitudes
that devalue or demean those who are different.
Forgive us for our tacit acceptance of a society
where privilege, partiality and advantage
are often the passports to success and wealth.
Have mercy on us for ignoring the reality of racism and bigotry,
which deny or curtail the rights and opportunities
of those of different ethnicities and cultures.
Give us the courage, determination and honesty
to fight for a society governed by justice, equity and compassion,
and underpinned by the belief that each person has an inherent worth,
and has been afforded the dignity and respect they deserve.
Enable us to value diversity, as you do, and encourage it in all forms.
This we ask in your precious name. Amen.

Mary Untier of Knots

Mary-Untier-of-Knots-1When Pope Francis was a student in Germany, it is said that he came across this picture by Johann Schmidtner entitled: Mary Untier of Knots.

Schmidtner was a seventeenth century artist and his work depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary standing on the moon and surrounded by angels as she patiently unties a series of knots in a long strip of material.

Above her head is a dove, the sign of the Holy Spirit, and Schmidtner uses typical Marian symbols such as twelve stars forming a crown and Mary’s foot upon the head of a snake. These are biblical references to be found in the Book of Revelation and the Book of Genesis.

The inspiration behind this picture, however, is thought to be a piece of writing by the second century theologian, St Irenaeus, rather than the bible.

In his work, Against the Heresies, St Irenaeus wrote that “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith”.

This emphasis on the role of Mary in the history of salvation is meant to highlight the importance of the way God works with and through human beings. He only ever invites our co-operation; he never forces our hand.

By co-operating with God in saying “Yes” to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, Mary assists humanity by letting God work in her and allowing the Son of God to be made flesh of her.

The story goes that the painting was commissioned and donated to a monastery in Augsburg by Hieronymus Langenmantel. His grandfather had been on the verge of separating from his wife and sought advice from a Jesuit priest. The priest prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to look upon the couple’s marriage and untie all knots and smother them. From that moment on, peace was restored to the couple and their marriage survived.

Pope Francis obviously liked this painting because he introduced devotion to Mary the Untier of Knots into Argentina and from there it has since spread to other Latin American countries.

As Cardinal Bergoglio, he even had the image engraved onto a chalice which he presented to Pope Benedict XVI on behalf of the people of Argentina.

Perhaps we can pray, in the spirit of the story behind the painting, that the Blessed Virgin Mary will intercede for all those who face difficulties in their relationships and married life: that she will untie any knots that might disrupt their lives together and bring Christ’s blessing upon their families.

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Excerpt from the Prayer to Mary, untier of knots

Mary, our mother,
God has charged you with untangling the knots
in the lives of his children;
into your hands we place the ribbon of our life.
There is no knot that cannot be untangled by your fingers.
Compassionate mother,
by the power of your intercession with Jesus,
your dear Son and our Redeemer,
take into your hands today this knot.

[name the knot that is troubling you]

I beg you to untangle it forever,
for the glory of God.

Another Story of Creation

Here is an alternative version of the creation story . . .

1362048364_bible-adamAdam said: “Lord, when I was in the garden, you walked with me everyday. Now I do not see you anymore. I am lonesome here and it is difficult for me to remember how much you love me. “

And God said: “No problem! I will create a companion for you that will be with you forever and who will be a reflection of my love for you, so that you will know I love you, even when you cannot see me.

“Regardless of how selfish and childish and unlovable you may be, this new companion will accept you as you are and will love you as I do, in spite of yourself.”

And God created a new animal to be a companion for Adam. And it was a good animal. And God was pleased. And the new animal was pleased to be with Adam and he wagged his tail.

And Adam said, “But Lord, I have already named all the animals in the Kingdom and all the good names are taken and I cannot think of a name for this new animal.”

imagesAnd God said, “No problem! Because I have created this new animal to be a reflection of my love for you, his name will be a reflection of my own name, and you will call him DOG.”

And Dog lived with Adam and was a companion to him and loved him. And Adam was comforted. And God was pleased. And Dog was content and wagged his tail.

After a while, it came to pass that Adam’s guardian angel came to the Lord and said, “Lord, Adam has become filled with pride. He struts and preens like a peacock and he believes he is worthy of adoration. Dog has indeed taught him that he is loved, but no one has taught him humility.”

And the Lord said, “No problem! I will create for him a companion who will be with him forever and who will see him as he is. The companion will remind him of his limitations, so he will know that he is not worthy of adoration.”

images-1And God created CAT to be a companion to Adam. And Cat would not obey Adam. And when Adam gazed into Cat’s eyes, he was reminded that he was not the supreme being.

And Adam learned humility. And God was pleased. And Adam was greatly improved. And Cat did not care one way or the other.

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Source of story unknown

 

Living our prayer

1069800_570169316355419_585056357_nI knelt to pray, when day was done,
and prayed: “O Lord, bless everyone!
Lift from each saddened heart the pain
and let the sick be well again.”

 

And then I woke, another day,
and carelessly went on my way.
The whole day long I did not try
to wipe a tear from any eye.

 

I did not try to share the load
of any sister on the road.
I did not even go to see
the sick man just next door to me.

 

Yet once again, when day was done,
I prayed: “O Lord,  bless everyone!”
But as I prayed, into my ear
there came a voice that whispered clear:

 

gods-hand-in-life.jpg.crop_display“Pause now, my child, before you pray:
whom have you tried to bless today?
God’s sweetest blessings always go
by hands that serve Him here below.”

 

And then I hid my face and cried,
“Forgive me, God, I have not tried!
But let me live another day
and I will live the way I pray.”

 

(Author unknown)

Jeremiah & the King

imagesA besieged city, political intrigue and weak leadership are the back-drop to this Sunday’s first reading from the prophet Jeremiah.

The setting is Jerusalem under threat from an expanding Babylonian Empire. The leader is Zedekiah, essentially a puppet-king put in place by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon.

The intrigue is the tussle between the various court factions, each trying to sway Zedekiah into one direction or another.

The events being described took place sometime between 588-587BC. The twelve tribes of ancient Israel which had once formed a single nation under King David had long ago split into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah based around the capital city, Jerusalem, in the south.

Neo-Babylonian_EmpireIsrael had fallen to the then world power, Assyria, back in 721BC. However, a century later, Babylon (which would today be in Iraq) had taken over from Assyria as the major threat to the region, and this new empire was quickly expanding south and west, threatening Egypt which needed allies, as well as a buffer zone between the two empires.

Some at Zedekiah’s court urged the king to unite with the Egyptians in their fight against the Babylonian Empire. Others argued that he should stay in alliance with Babylonia and remain a ‘vassal’ state.

In today’s excerpt, Zedekiah has thrown his lot in with the Egyptians and brought the wrath of the Babylonian Empire upon the city. A weak king, he is paralysed by what to do next: fight on or surrender.

The beginning of the reading has the Egyptian faction at court gaining the upper hand. They demand the execution of Jeremiah, who has been urging surrender to the Babylonians as the only way to avoid bloodshed.

Jeremiah saw the total dominance of the Babylonian Empire in the region as inevitable and believed the fall of Jerusalem to be a punishment from God for the people’s readiness to abandon their faith and worship other gods from the region.

He urged the people not to fight, to accept deportation if necessary, and to trust in the Lord whatever came, rather than rely on politics.

So King Zedekiah has Jeremiah thrown into a well, or water cistern, which has become clogged up with mud.

The second half of the reading sees the intervention of Ebed-melech, a Babylonian supporter and ally of Jeremiah. Note how easily he persuades the king to change his mind and save Jeremiah from drowning in the mud.

Zedekiah is chained and brought before Nebuchadnezzar

Zedekiah is chained and brought before Nebuchadnezzar

Ebed-melech cleverly puts the blame for Jeremiah’s predicament on the king’s advisors, neatly overlooking the fact that it was Zedekiah who had ordered it. He also plays on the king’s fear that Jeremiah is truly a prophet of God and that harming him in any way will bring down terrible retribution on his family and his reign.

In the end, Zedekiah refused to listen to Jeremiah. His policy of flirting with an Eqyptian alliance ends in disaster and leads to the sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the deportation of many of the people as slaves in Babylon.

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JEREMIAH 38: 4-6, 8-10

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C