We had a great weekend in Liverpool with thousands of other Catholics gathering to worship at Adoremus the Eucharistic Congress. We had the privilege of leading workshops as part of the Parallel Programme at Pauline Books and Media on Bold Street. With a great group of participants at the workshops and fantastic hospitality from the Pauline team, it was a joy to be able to share the scriptures with this faithful bunch of people.
This year has left me feeling a little hopeless. It has been a difficult year for us Westerners. It began with a series of deaths of cultural and celebrity icons to the point we were saddened and bewildered asking ourselves, 'who's next?'
I am appalled and fearful of post-truth politics and a future shaped by Brexit and a Trump presidency. Whichever side of those campaigns you were on it is impossible to have missed the political upheaval, the unrest and divisions that have been made evident through the course of those campaigns.
I find myself clinging on to a faith-informed hope in an almost desperate way. I am not alone.
It comes as no surprise to me that people have been putting up their Christmas decorations and wearing their Christmas jumpers much earlier than usual - I spotted the first ones on November 5th! It easy to dismiss this as the ever increasing power of commercialism, as some of the shops began to display their festive wares as early as August, but I think there is something deeper going on here. For many people the seasons of Advent and Christmas are symbols of hope and joy and they mark time to a new year and a new start.
Moltmann, the great theologian of hope, states: ‘It is not in our dominion that the coming God is present through his life-giving Spirit, it is in our hope. It is not in our power that the grace that raises us up is made perfect, it is in our weakness.’ These words give me courage in my weak state that I am right to cling on to hope, hope in Jesus.
Advent is all about hope. About looking forward in anticipation of the feast to come. We look forward to celebrating the Incarnation of Christ and we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ when he returns in glory.
John the Baptist is our dominant figure in early Advent. Each of the four Gospels announce John and his message in a similar way:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
His message is indeed full of hope. His first call to repentance reminds us that there is even more intimacy with God available to us. We can be restored and drawn back into God's loving embrace by the power of his mercy. Our weaknesses can be transformed and our hope in the Lord grows strong. Rudolph Bultmann said, “If we believe in him, this means that we believe that these occurrences of everyday life, these doings and sufferings, these givings and receivings, in which we stand as human beings, can and should be stamped with the mark of love.” Advent, therefore, is a great time to make your Confession.
To come close to God, to repent and have a change of heart is a central message of Advent, to prepare ourselves to be most ready for Christ’s return. Making our confession and receiving the sacrament of reconciliation is a truly joyful way to come close to Christ. From my own experience there is a certain level of dread and foreboding in the moments before actually confessing my sins. I always feel like an idiot and embarrassed to admit out loud the parts of my life I would rather leave hidden away. It is because it is so awkward to admit to my sinfulness that the experience of receiving absolution is unmatched. There is a peaceful, joyful, lightness of being that is unparalleled. Coming into the light of Christ is without question a hope-filled experience for me.
John the Baptist reminds us of the closeness of the Kingdom, the closeness of Christ. And as Isaiah prophesied he calls us to prepare the way and make straight paths. Preparation takes time and things like Advent calendars and Advent wreaths can help us mark that time and make the waiting, that is also a strong element of Advent, that little bit easier. Advent is from the Latin word adventus and means “coming” or “visit”. So our waiting is not just an arbitrary thing but we wait, in joyful hope, for Christ to ‘come’ and ‘visit’ us again.
On Tuesday, we celebrated All Saints Day, it’s also the day that the children’s group, of which I am one of the leaders, meets in our parish. Our opening activity, in honour of St Francis of Assisi, was to build churches. The children busied themselves and created quite beautiful and detailed structures. We posed this question to them, “What do you need in a Church?” Expecting answers like altars, seats, candles, the immediate response from a 9 year old girl was, “People”. She had immediately spoken a truth that hit us hard as leaders. What had been immediate and obvious to her would have taken us as adults a little while to get to. For what is Church without people?
We can answer this in part by observing what we see around us;
Former Church buildings converted into nightclubs, museums or someone’s home - these once places of worship repurposed as the people have moved on.
Church buildings that are a greater example of historical architecture or repositories for works of art rather than a living, breathing centre for people seeking unity with God.
Dwindling Church attendance and Church meetings where there is more focus on the fabric of the building than the formation of the faithful.
Surely, the gathered people is the essential element of Church?
In Christian terminology the Church is often referred to as, ‘the bride of Christ’, we are Christ’s beloved, drawn into loving intimacy with him and yet, Sherry Weddell’s research on parish discipleship in the USA in her book Forming Intentional Disciples discovered that only 48% of Catholics believed it possible to have a personal relationship with God. If this is an accurate picture of Western Catholicism, almost half of Catholic churchgoers have a theologically distant understanding of God. If this is true then surely this limits, for us all, what is possible as Church.
This is not how the Church at an institutional level understands itself. In the writings of the Catholic Church we clearly read of an intimate and dynamic relationship between God and his people. Pope Francis in Evangelli Gaudium speaks of the Church as, ‘first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God’, he goes on to say, ‘God has found a way to unite himself to every human being in every age. He has chosen to call them together as a people and not as isolated individuals.’ Here he echoes Lumen Gentium, one of the major documents of Vatican II which states, ‘The Church has been seen as “a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”’.
This intimacy and unity is a challenge for us in a Postmodern, Post-Christendom Britain. We live in a diverse and fragmented society with diverse and fragmented relationships. The advantages of social mobility and mobility in general, alongside the rise of technological advances that has enabled our virtual connections via the internet, has created a greater number of people experiencing loneliness and isolation - quite the opposite of a united people.
As Weddell’s research explains, our experience of Church is no longer the community and social hub of any settlement that we may have had in earlier times, nor is it the experience we read of in Acts 2:44: ‘All who believed were together and had all things in common;’. We need to reclaim, re-energise and re-imagine this intimacy of relationship with one another and with God for our own time and place. How we go about this is another challenge for another blog!
Pope Francis said, ‘Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love.’ We need to unite, under that banner of fatherly love and pray for wisdom and discernment of God’s plan.
In 1 Peter 2:9-10 it says, ‘But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people;’ It is our identity in God, as his people, that can unite and inspire us, it is certainly what inspires me. We need to have the same revelation that St Francis had, that building the Church is not so much about the buildings but about building the people.
Warning: contains spoilers
If you’ve seen the trailer to the film Nine Lives you have, in essence, seen the entire film. You miss a few cute and funny cat videos (if you like that sort of thing) and a couple of subplots that give the central narrative more substance but that’s about it.
Kevin Spacey plays Tom Brand a business executive who spends so much time at work that his family relationships suffer; so far, so unoriginal. Indeed, as storylines go there is little here that will come as a surprise. Tom has an accident and, through the magic of movies, his body is left in a coma and his consciousness (his soul?) inhabits his pet cat, who he dislikes.
Like all movies of this style he resists his new reality until he at first, sullenly accepts it, then comes to terms with it, realises the error of his ways and finally performs a sacrificial act that ensures his redemption and reunites body and soul with the film ending on a note of “and they all lived happily ever after”. The film does play out like a modern day fairy-tale and is likable and humorous as a piece of entertainment.
Whilst watching Tom go through his transformative journey of self-reflection and discovery it lead me to consider what have been those transformative moments for me? Some are very easy to pinpoint, they are the very high and low moments of my life: my falling in love with and marrying my husband; my becoming pregnant and being a parent; the death of my dad and my miscarriages; all these things are easy to bring to mind and to see their transforming effect and all without having to inhabit a cat’s body!
These events that force change upon us, (moving house, losing a job, starting school or university to add a few more) can be opportunities for positive change. We can reflect on our own “journey” so far and the way ahead. The Strictly celebrities, Bake-Off and Sewing-Bee contestants often speak of their journey and the transformation that takes place the longer they stay in the show. When an event dominates your life for an extended period in a dramatic way it must change us.
When we read St Paul’s writing in the New Testament and the accounts of Pentecost for the Apostles it is clear to see how these dramatic encounters with God have a profound transforming impact upon them. So, when we consider our own faith lives, what have been those transformative faith experiences for ourselves?
It may be that you create the same list as before, and that would partly be true for me, but I also add to the list those moments of prayer when I have bared my soul before God and felt his presence, when I have witnessed miracles performed and being part of a vibrant, faithful, charismatic community. These too have shaped and formed me.
In the film, for Tom to be redeemed he has to sacrifice himself, to put himself last instead of first. All transformation demands some sacrifice, but as Christians we know that our flawed, imperfect existence cannot be redeemed through our own effort, no matter how noble or generous it may be. Ultimately it is Jesus’ sacrifice alone that can redeem us, his action on the cross that allows our ultimate transformation to be possible.
Sadly Rev Jim Graham died recently. As many of our long term supporters know Jim was a long-term and faithful speaker at many of our Scripture Saturdays in the South of England. Jim always attracted a big crowd as he always spoke with integrity, passion and a liberal dose of the Holy Spirit. A faithful man and friend to many, he will be missed. We pray that he can be united with his beloved wife Ann and his beloved Lord in heaven. Rest in Peace Jim, we will miss you.
This year it was Molly's turn to represent the Catholic Bible School at a local Women's World Day of Prayer event in Pagham (near Bognor Regis).
It was a fantastic celebration in a full Church which was hosted by the community at St Ninian's URC. The service this year was put together by the women of Cuba and as usual reflected their cultural heritage.
Molly took one of seven speaking roles to lead the service and was a maraca playing child (which was a fun role to play). Her she is pictured with the other women who had speaking parts.
As you can see Molly was quite a bit younger than the other participants! It was a fantastic opportunity to be asked to be part of and, unsurprisingly, Molly was the star of the show! The Women's World Day of Prayer is a great ecumenical movement in the church to be part of - maybe get involved with your local group in time for next year! The services usually take place on the first Friday in March.
Catholic Bible School.
On Saturday 30th May we welcomed the Catholic Bible School to St David's Priory Swansea. David Beresford, Director of the Bible School, was our Speaker. He gave us a lively and very vivid overview of the OT in the morning . After lunch break, having given some input on the NT, David had us sitting on the edge of our seats as he literally walked on eggshells dramatising Jesus and Peter walking on the water.
All 19 of us were very happy with our Taster day and were encouraged and inspired by David's natural ability to animate and bring the Bible alive. We are looking forward to the 27th June in Bridgend to be inspired by Sarah Beresford, Co Director with David, as she presents "What it Means to be Called by God Today".
We would encourage you to come to Bridgend if at all possible and experience a very lively day on the most important book in the world The Bible -The Inspired Word of God.
There is no fixed charge for the day, however the suggested donation for the day is £10 -£15 to cover costs. Anyone needing a lift, please message us on Facebook.
Saturday 30 January was the day when Sarah made the short trip here:
If you're not sure where this is, it is the lovely Cathedral Centre for the parishioners in Arundel. Sarah spent the day with the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion doing an overview of the Bible, a focus on Luke's Gospel and a range of ways to prayerfully engage with the scriptures - looking particularly at some texts that have relevance for Eucharistic Ministers.
The day involved lots of chatting, lots of prayer, some colouring, tasty soup and cheese and a balloon! Around 30 ministers came to the day and there was a good energy in the room. Speaking to one participant on the day they said, "I had never realised that about Jesus before." This was just one of many, "penny-dropping" moments during the day. I think most who attended the day felt refreshed at the end and with renewed confidence to get stuck in to the scriptures to enable their faith to deepen and grow.
We spent a lot of time in December preparing our Reflection magazine for you to enjoy. It's been a change of format for us as we have published it online rather than printing and posting out thousands of copies. Charities are often under fire for not spending their donations as their supporters might want them to, so we took the decision to spend less on stamps and envelopes and be both economically and environmentally friendly. We have produced only a few printed copies that we can hand out to new supporters to inform them of our vital work helping people to bring the Bible to life. You can read Reflection here.
Today is Women's World Day of Prayer and I (Sarah) was invited to lead the service at our local Catholic Church in Bosham. As these services always are, it was an ecumenical venture and included the participation of a number of people in leading the prayers, the singing and the responses and, of course, the tea and cake. The service was put together by the women of the Bahamas and they prepared a joyful liturgy for us all to celebrate.
A challenge to us Brits was the final line of the service where the congregation was encouraged to process out of the church "waving their hands, simulating the waves of the sea". As you can imagine this was not a typically British thing to do so we adapted it into our photo-shoot at the end of the liturgy (and had a good giggle whilst doing so).
Praying with thousands of women (and men) around the world is a humbling experience and I was honoured to have led those gathered together in Bosham. Thank you Lord for your grace.
Our first weekly Lent Group of 2015 takes place this morning - here are the notes from the group to help us all reflect on Mark's telling of the temptation of Christ.
Catholic Bible School : Lent Group 2015 : Week 1 : Mark 1:12-15
A bit of context:
Mark’s Gospel was written approximately AD 66-70. Mark wrote to a gentile (non-Jewish) audience. There is a persistent theory that, although the Gospel is anonymous, that the writer is the Mark who is found mentioned in the New Testament (sometimes as Mark, sometimes as John Mark, sometimes as John). He was a companion of Peter and did some missionary travel with Barnabas and Paul. This is not accepted by all Biblical scholars.
About the passage:
The Spirit drove Jesus
As Mark tells it, Jesus’ temptation takes place after his baptism. His encounter with the Holy Spirit in both stories is significant.
What does it mean to be “driven” by the Spirit?
Have you had any experiences of being “driven” by the Spirit to do something you didn’t want to do because you knew it would be hard?
into the wilderness
What is the nature of wilderness?
What does a contemporary wilderness look like to us?
Tempted by Satan
Mark is very aware of spiritual powers and spiritual battle.
Mark often presents Jesus as confrontational and combative when facing evil spirits - what do we read in the text here?
What do we understand by temptation? What things tempt us into sinful behaviour and thoughts?
with the wild beasts
What is the nature of the dynamic between Christ and the wild beasts? Are they a dynamic for threat and danger to Christ or is it more the “lion lying down with the lamb”?
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”
Mark uses Jesus words to announce him as the fulfilment of prophecy and to summarise the message of his Gospel.
Lent is a season of repentance and turning back to God full of joy in the knowledge of his mercy.
Let’s have a look at Luke’s version - Luke 4:1-15
The differences are worth having a look at …
Some articles you may find useful/interesting:
These articles offer further commentary on the text
This secular article offers some useful ideas and tips on dealing with temptation (although we would want to add 'prayer' to their suggestions)
Some videos on Lent
Download this to print here
We've been quite taken by this infographic:
Apart from liking the design (I must admit to a rather huge liking of infographics), I felt encouraged reading the texts they had chosen. This was something to live by, something that was possible. It also served to remind me of God's almighty greatness and enormous, abounding love - which is never a bad thing! So I will work hard for your glory Lord, because your love is amazing and, after all, life is all about you. Amen.
I have been listening to some of the great recordings of past Scripture Saturdays, the most recent one to fill my car journeys was by Kathleen O'Gorman. Kathleen was teaching about John's Gospel and two things really stuck out to me in what she said. The first was that she said that John uses the word believe 90 times in his Gospel and she suggests that for John, the only sin is unbelief. I will now of course be re-reading the Gospel to see how this is so and to explore this focus on belief. She said it is not a Gospel about faith, which is a noun, but about believing which is a verb. I wonder, how active is my belief? Is it simply a part of who I am, or is it reflected in all that I do?
The second point that struck me was when she explained the way that the beautiful prologue, In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God....., was written in the form of Greek poetry, and as such the key verse was verse 12. This verse says...
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. (NRSV translation)
Kathleen drew her listener's attention to the encounter of Mary with the risen Jesus, in chapter 20 when Jesus tells her...
Go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' (NRSV translation)
This is the first time that Jesus refers to the disciples as his brothers, indicating that through his death and resurrection, his purpose of enabling us to become children of God, is fulfilled.
These two insights are very profound and will impact on my prayerful reading of John's Gospel for years to come. I just need to decide which recording to listen to next.
PS - All of our recordings are for sale, just email us if you want to know more.
The first of our Scriptures Saturdays at Nutbourne this year was a great day led by Sarah, one of our Directors. Sarah guided us through the whole Bible and really helped us to make sense of the big picture of God's plan of Salvation. We also had lots of time to read, explore and share our own thoughts on different passages from the Bible and learn't some useful techniques for making sense of different texts. All in all a really good day - bring on the next one!
There's a double meaning in today's title, this will be our last post of 2014 and we are putting the last stamps on our envelopes for our Christmas mailing so that they make it to the last post deadline tomorrow! It's been great fun designing and writing the material for Reflection 2015 - we hope you enjoy it. If you didn't get a copy and would like one then email us and we'll pop one in the post to you - although it won't get to you till some time in the new year!
The Advent Group has been great so far. Really nice bunch of people, coffee and mince pies and some interesting input on Mark's Gospel and loads of time to share ideas together. Looking forward to the last one on Tuesday.
A select group of fella's gathered for bacon butties, prayer, fellowship and encouragement. The day was a fantastic day of deepening in faith, encouraged by David's creative story-telling; Chinese food for lunch; and lots of reflection on Matthew's account of Jesus and Peter walking on water. What keeps you in the boat? What's your "walking on water", what do you aspire to?
It was a great day and we look forward to the next one.