Christ the King

Surprisingly I love this Feast! It is surprising because I am a feminist and in no way a Royalist. It also goes against my Irish roots and my liberal tendencies.

But perhaps it is because of the line that ‘My Kingdom is not of this world’ that I can so easily buy into the image.

Christ as King is so counter to the world’s idea of Royalty that the sense of other, the rule breaker, the questioner, inside of me can rejoice.

I also have a deep seated need to belong, to be known, to be loved in my entirety, which it is not something to be shouted from the rooftops in today’s society: a society that prides itself on privacy and independence, and values individuality most highly.  This was brought in to sharp relief this week at work.

Over the last week my work has enabled me to connect with just under 90 families as the Sacramental preparation programmes all begin.

For many of these families an extra ‘activity'(which is often how catechesis is viewed) causes a dilemma: what to give up, how to make room in an already overcrowded schedule. Our families buy into the ‘having it all’ ideology. The parents’ want their children to ‘belong’ to all forms of clubs and groups. They gladly pay into the demands and constraints that this brings in belief that these activities will enable their children to be all they can be. Yet the preparation for the Sacraments of Communion and Confirmation, which lead to full initiation into being part of the family of God, do not hold the same weight in decision making. Many of these parents implicitly question the need for catechesis…why so many sessions? Do we have to go to all of them? How many can we miss? My child can’t do that evening, can you move the sessions?

The understanding that of all the activities we could sign our children up for, nothing is more essential than Catechesis is lost. Catechesis reminds us that it is through Christ that we become the fullness of who we are called to be. That we are nothing if we do not depend on the Lord, on the God who created us. We are to centre our life on Christ our King. And therein lies the rub.

Christ the King Tapestry

Naming Christ as my King means that I willingly everyday offer my life for Him. As His citizen I answer the call to work for His Kingdom: to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned. And when I fail to get it right being able to claim Christ as King means I can bow before the One who loves me. One, who as King does not force my allegiance through fear or coercion, but to whom I can give willingly my respect and reverence simply because of all that He has done for me, as a response to the way that I am loved, because I belong.

Catechesis does not yield worldly benefits which is difficult to justify to busy parents who want the best for their children. The catechist, modelling Jesus can not force attendance. Catechists desire the community to want to come closer to the Lord. But like Jesus, sometimes we have to watch as they walk away, as they are not ready to fully choose Christ, to allow Him to answer the need to belong to Him.

As catechists there is much work to be done because of course Christ is not MY King but the Universal King. We do not worship in isolation. As the Universal King, we are reminded that we are all children of God and there is nothing or no one that does not belong to Him. After the events of last week in Beirut, Kenya, Paris and Syria it is easy to encompass the victims into that idea.

Harder to see that those instigating the attacks are also loved by God, known to Him in their entirety, just as we are.

 

P.S.

I am listening to the radio as I write and the singer sings…

‘And I don’t want the world to see me,

Because I don’t think that they’d understand.

But when everything seems to be broken

I just want you to know wh0 I am’

Add to fade…

(Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls)

Living the Word
  • Where does Christ’s kingship make a difference to you this week?
  • What, for you, is the reason Jesus was handed over to Pilot?
  • Where does your life ‘testify to the truth’ this week?
For Children
  • Jesus says that His Kingdom is not of this world. What do you imagine His Kingdom to be like?
  • How might you show reverence to Christ your King this week?
For Families
  • When we pray the Our Father we pray for Christ’s Kingdom to become a reality on earth. What does that mean to you?
  • If you choose not to bow down before the Lord – what or who has your allegiance?
 

‘It is absolute fidelity to the principle defined in his own preaching that condemns Jesus. There is no other cause for his death than the love of one’s neighbour lived to the very end.’ (Rene Girard, Theologian)

Prayer

Our Father, Who art in heaven…

 

 

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Your will…

And again this week the Lord asks us what we would like Him to do for us.

So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus

If we are in any doubt that the Lord our God has only our bests interests at heart this should quell them. God does not look down from on high, deciding for us what is best and intervening in our lives. Rather God waits until we come and articulate our needs.

God waits.

God the Awesome, God the Ineffable, God the Immanent, God Who is and was and is to come, God the Uncreated Creator waits for us, waits for our approach, waits for us to realise our dependence. This God we can be sure will listen to us while we pour out our hearts, stand in all vulnerability and call on the Lord to come to our aid. For as we are told in the response to this week’s psalm ‘The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.’

Some friends and I have been praying the Novena to St Jude

Many of us know St Jude as the patron Saint of Hopeless cases.

Yet this novena was called St Jude the Saint who does the impossible and indeed I was invited to pray it for someone whose prayers are for the seemingly impossible. But she is not without hope and neither are our prayers so I rejoiced in this seemingly insignificant change of name.

Today is day 3 (Yes I know today is day 4!) and part of the prayer says

Pray for the impossible if it is God’s will.

Pray that I may have the grace to accept God’s holy will even if it is painful and difficult for me.Pray for the impossible if it is God’s will.

Pray that I may have the grace to accept God’s holy will even if it is painful and difficult for me.

I was struck by the connection of God’s will and Jesus asking us for the last 2 weeks what we want from Him. Of course you and I know that we pray for God’s will not ours, but somehow there was a newness to this knowledge when I was at prayer this morning. There was a deeper awareness that the Lord really wants to grant our prayers for us.

Praying for God’s will, not mine, makes the praying easier. I do not need to feel unworthy if my prayer is answered in a way that I do not want (for all prayer is answered) but I can accept that the lord knows best and only works from love.

I do not believe in an interventionist God. I do believe in a God who only wants the very best for us, that we are called to be the best we can be, and that when we pray to align our will with that of the One who loves us our prayers will be answered. This of course requires us to understand, to see, that we need to trust the Lord our God in all things. To have faith that the Lord knows us better than we know ourselves.

Which is perhaps why Jesus answers Bartimaeus’ prayer but not that of James and John!

Living the Word
  • Where will you cry out to the Lord this week?
  • And again Jesus asks ‘What do you want me to do for you?’. How do you answer Him this week?
  • What is the blindness in you that needs the ‘Master’s’ healing touch this week?
Living the Word for Children
  • If Jesus asked you what you would like Him to do for you, what would you say?
  • How will you follow the Lord this week?
Living the Word for Families
  • ‘…your faith has saved you’, how does knowing you are saved change the way you live this week?
Prayer
Master,
Son of David, have pity on us.
Help us to see more clearly and follow you more nearly this week.
Amen

Living the Word
  • Where will you cry out to the Lord this week?
  • And again Jesus asks ‘What do you want me to do for you?’. How do you answer Him this week?
  • What is the blindness in you that needs the ‘Master’s’ healing touch this week?
Living the Word for Children
  • If Jesus asked you what you would like Him to do for you, what would you say?
  • How will you follow the Lord this week?
Living the Word for Families
  • ‘…your faith has saved you’, how does knowing you are saved change the way you live this week?
Prayer
Teacher,
Son of David,
have pity on us.
Help us to see more clearly and follow you more nearly this week.
Amen

What’s in a name?

4th Sunday of Easter; Good Shepherd Sunday; Vocations Sunday.
Last Sunday is called by all of the above, all are true and all shine a light onto a different aspect of this feast.

It is only the 4th Sunday of Easter!

As we feast longer than we fast we still have the 5th and 6th Sundays of Easter to party! There is also a 7th Sunday but since the Feast of the Ascension was moved from the Thursday to this Sunday some years ago we lose this final Sunday. Which I think is a great pity. It makes me feel short changed as suddenly we only have 6 weeks of Easter rather than 7. Also I like gathering with my worshipping community outside of Sundays and Holy Days of obligation offer us this opportunity. And lastly I grew up with the Feast being inextricably linked with the day on which it was celebrated…Ascension Thursday and for me it will be for ever so.

Whether we are in the Liturgical Year A (Matthew) B (Mark) or C (Luke) we hear the Gospel of John proclaiming Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In fact we hear Jesus Himself proclaim that He is the Good Shepherd, for He says ‘I AM…’ just one of the seven I AM statements that John has Jesus speak. As a woman who loves metaphor these seven I AM statements speak straight to my heart but for the purposes of this particular post they stand in evidence that one name does not fit all.

I-am1

Throughout the world this Sunday is also Vocations Sunday. Whilst the term Vocation has taken on a myriad of loosely connected meanings today, for the Church it had a very particular meaning. Vocations are about one’s state of life. Thus Marriage, Priesthood (including the Permanent Diaconate) or Religious Life are all Vocations to which God can call us. The main difference in these Vocations and a vocation (for example to teaching) is that through their Sacramental nature the Church sees these states of life as permanent, irrevocable and in self- giving to others. Although all states of life are deemed to have equal importance, in reality priesthood is upheld as THE Vocation. As a mother of boys I still feel a failure as neither of them has been called to the priesthood. Yes I know that I would rather die than give either of them to an institution which I see as abusive of our secular priests, but somehow, somewhere, despite everything I have swallowed the insidious belief that a good catholic mother is one who raises her sons for the priesthood. (When I quieten this voice, I am profoundly grateful that they still believe in the Lord and live lives of faith.)

This Sunday also invites us to raise money through a second collection for the training of those in Priestly formation. According to the latest figures it costs in the region of £26-27,000 per year, per man in formation. When I worked for a charity that trained lay people for parish ministry, the diocese refused to support us to the tune of £10,000 per year to help with admin costs and bursaries. The students, who gained a Foundation Degree, paid their own fees, but as a charity we still needed to pay rent and normal overheads. So yes this is a personal gripe but it also leads to wider questions of how we form our priests.

To have a financial collection for only one third of what the Church sees as a Vocation, which in itself is not open to all the baptised, seems unjust which is perhaps why in my parish the collection for these men was announced as raising funds for future Leaders of the Church. Except of course by denying the real reason for the collection my pp exposed how he and many others see their Vocation. Rather than see themselves as shepherds or pastors they see themselves and only themselves as leaders. They can not distinguish governance and authority with priesthood. Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium calls for priests to be more like shepherds, shepherds who not only know but live in such close proximity that they smell like their sheep. That is often a far cry from the image presented as a leader.

Yet it should come as no surprise that some priests see themselves as Leaders. The way in which they are trained is elitist and expensive. Sent to seminaries, often away from the world, protected from real life, they are taught in very small classes, in very large, cold and financially crippling buildings.

I believe that we need priests. I believe that good education and formation is essential. I believe that we need to model priesthood not as cult but as servant. And I believe that governance and priesthood are not forever and inevitably linked. Thus I believe that the way we train our priests needs to change. Rather than separating these men from the world, they could get their theology degree at a university which at the moment costs considerably less than what it costs in a seminary. They could live together in small communities under the supervision of a parish priest which would again bring the cost down but more importantly enable them to model base communities and be spaces of prayer for those who could join them. They would see at first hand the needs of those to whom they are called to serve; they would see how hard parents work to bring their children up in the faith, the damage caused by some of the rules of our church, how often a Catholic education is the tail that wags the catechetical dog. They might begin to understand and they would indeed smell like sheep.

What vibrancy they could bring to our parishes and what vibrancy and places of formation our parishes could be to them.

However disparate these names for last Sunday appear, they are, without doubt to me, linked. We live as an Easter People, we know the end of the story and we are called to live as a saved and redeemed people. This is possible because of Jesus the Good Shepherd who knows us intimately and whose voice we learn to recognise through Scripture, prayer and one another. We can dare to live our Vocations as we know that the Risen Lord only calls us to good things. And of course we have the Good Shepherd on which to model our Vocation which must be one of service not leadership.

icon Good Shepherd cappa magna 1

 

 

Viaticum

This week’s post has been difficult to pin down. Glimpses if ideas floating just beyond my reach and I wonder, again, why I have set myself this task.

A message popped up on facebook a couple of days ago from a friend, a woman of faith whose presence blesses my journey. One of a group of women with whom I pray more often online than face to face as distance and life means we only get together every few months.
We know that we are held in prayer by one another and yet it is easy to take this for granted.

Many years ago the headteacher of my children’s Primary School, gave us a talk as part of our children’s Holy Communion preparation.
Although I have forgotten much of the talk and can only vaguely recall the topic (something about being a Catholic Parent), well over a decade later I still carry with me one of his remarks: the power of offering to pray for someone.

In the face of someone’s suffering we can often feel helpless, wondering what we might do to help, wanting to take away their pain, fill the space of their loss, needing to fix their demise. Often of course we can do none of these things.
But there are things we can do. We can accompany them, walking with them over this painful terrain. We can listen to them process their pain through the telling and retelling of their story. And we can pray for them.

Offering to pray for someone is often said with the feeling that it is not quite good enough, or practical enough, (or maybe even embarrassment),  to be of any real help, ‘I wish I there was something I could do but all I can offer is a prayer’ or some such phrase that speaks loudly of our feelings of inadequacy.

And yet holding another in prayer is so very powerful.  When we offer to pray for someone we show that we take their concerns seriously, so seriously that we recognise that we can not rely on ourselves. When we are in the midst of illness, heartache, grief, worry, stress or anxiety, prayer is often our last resort. When all else fails…

I do not think that is what we mean to do but rather in the midst of the messiness of life we turn to ourselves rather than God. I know from my own messiness that I try to fix it first and only when I fail do I offer it to God. Not that I am espousing an interventionist God, far from it. But I do think that offering up what ever troubles us to God before we do anything can help us to see things differently. I know that  when I (eventually) remember to come into His Presence I change. As CS Lewis says ‘Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us’

Recalling how loved I am, how the Lord’s grace is ever present and abundant enables me to place myself in His trust, letting go of the outcome even if it is painful and difficult.

To offer to hold in name someone’s life and worries before the One who loves them is to trust that the Lord will and does concern Himself with them and their lives. Offering to pray for others when they are least able to pray for themselves is a great gift.

It is also a great witness, a gentle reminder that we are not alone, that the Incarnate Christ is our constant companion even if familiarity can sometimes breed contempt. Offering to pray for those we know is an explicit expression of our faith, of our trust in the Lord and a reminder that we are held and loved beyond measure.

‘Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the child of her womb?

Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. 

Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands’ Isaiah 49:15

And to know that you are being prayed for when the messiness is not as messy as it has been? Well that makes the heart soar and fills one with joy.

Oh and the message…’Thinking and praying for you’. Thank you my dear friend, thank you.

prayer