Monday, December 18, 2023

The Bringer of Good News

Last week we launched into the Gospel of Mark, reading how his story is all about the good news of Jesus Christ. It is often the case that the first line of a book is the one which must capture the attention of the reader if it is going to make any impression, and a story all about good news sounds like its well worth reading. We should keep this idea of good news at the forefront of our minds as we celebrate the liturgy this weekend because this Sunday is Gaudete’ Sunday or Joyful’ Sunday and on Monday we will begin the pre-octave of Christmas when each gospel reading of the weekday will unfold in all its beauty and majesty the mystery of the most joyful event in our history, the incarnation of Jesus.

To express this joy today, the Lectionary gives us two gospel readings to meditate on rather than one. Instead of a psalm after the first reading we are given the Magnificat from the Gospel of Luke to sing, and sing it we should, because it is one of the most joyful expressions of praise that issues from the mouth of any person in the whole of the canon of scripture. May I suggest that you take the bulletin home with you and keep it close by, so that on each day of this pre-octave week, you can pray this amazing paean of praise to God at home. I believe that if you do you will find that your spirits will be raised and that your heart will be filled with joy, just as Mary herself was. Go through each line slowly and prayerfully and allow the implications of the context of the canticle to illuminate your own circumstances. The message which Mary has been given (which will be the subject of next weeks gospel), is the good news given to her by the angel Gabriel, (a name which means Gods strength”), that she is the one chosen to bear the child who will become the Messiah. Marys response is joyous, and that joy emanates from every line of her poem as the enormity of what it all this means for her becomes clear.

As we enter this special week in the liturgy of the Church, our minds will of course be filled with so many other matters and needs, all of which are perfectly natural and understandable. But in the midst of all the turbulence and upheaval that entered Marys life, she kept that good news at the forefront of her mind. We are called to make that same commitment, to keep the good news, the joyful news of the gospel message at the heart of all we do. Remember it was Gods strength” that brought her the message and it was Gods strength which gave her the courage to glorify his name. In our joy, let that strength speak to us too.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Our Advent this year is curtailed. Last Sunday we had our celebration to launch the new parish of All Saints and our minds were perhaps more attuned to the joy of that occasion rather than doing the 1st Sunday of Advent full justice. But let us rejoice at what we did last week and congratulate everyone for the sterling efforts that went into pulling off one of the great turnarounds in managing to put it all together in the circumstances. Well done to one and all for such a memorable celebration. It just shows what we can do when we put our minds to it. But having now left behind that 1st Sunday of Advent we find that the 4th week is also gone because the 4th Sunday of Advent falls on December 24 . In reality there are only 14 days of Advent left –just a fortnight. So, as you can see that there is much to fit into these two weeks.

Todays readings however will help us to concentrate the mind and I think that the First Reading and the Gospel complement each other beautifully to provide for us a clarion call to stir us from what ever holds us back in our response to Gods call. Isaiah cries out that the time of exile is complete – her time of service is over, her sin is atoned for”. What a joyous message indeed. It rings with such fervour that its hard not to be uplifted by its vision. Obstacles are cleared and a pathway is bulldozed through the barriers and fences that otherwise stop and prevent us from acclaiming the presence of the Lord amongst us. And Mark in his extraordinary opening to his book of Good News echoes in just one sentence, the enormity of what has happened. His opening line is revelatory, declaring that what has now come about through the person of Jesus is the completion of the whole of the Biblical narrative, from its very outset in the Book of Genesis to the present day and beyond into the fulness of time. Mark implies by naming Jesus the anointed Son of God, that the powers of this world are overcome because of what his good news will relate, and it begins exactly as Isaiah prophesised. Prepare the way for the Lord” and in this preparedness we acknowledge with the psalmist that we have seen his mercy and have received his saving help”.

This is the encouragement which we dig into as we use this short time to make our own paths straight and bring us into the realm of his kingdom. We know that there are struggles and difficulties for so many people, and our hearts must not be hardened so that we fail to recognise the suffering that is shattering so many lives. Let our prayers be ones which call for peace on earth and goodwill to all at the coming of the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit and be our shepherd feeding us with his love.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Celebrating our new parish All Saints.

In the opening chapters of the prophet Isaiah, we read Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of our God”. This us” is inclusive of all the nations, called to participate in a great procession of humanity, walking in step in the light of the Lord. It is a magnificent image, one which in a real way is evoked by our gathering here today to begin our new identity as the parish of All Saints, West Nottingham. Images are important for us because they convey meaning through sign and symbol. The image that was on the overhead screen as we came into this Hall was just one artists (Fra Angelico) portrayal of the communion of saints on the move towards that great goal of the heavenly Jerusalem, but its just one image and today, I think we should make an attempt at combining the two realities we are celebrating to see what sign and symbol they create.

Advent and All Saints, can they resonate? Do they resonate? Yes, they can and together they produce a powerful witness of the hope that springs eternal in the Christian message. Advent is the season of the Church which begins its new year. We look forward to the coming of Christ, not just as the infant in the manger at Christmas, but also as the Risen Lord who will come in glory at the end of time. Our hope is affirmed in this message. The story continues to unfold before us as we live the gospel in our every day lives. The life of Jesus becomes the pattern for our lives as we respond to his call and take up the challenge which he offers us from birth to death and beyond. Of course, the saints inspire and help us. Our three patrons are magnificent examples of this. St Teresa who lived to express the love of God in all things. St Thomas More whose faith was steadfast during a period of great political and religious upheaval, and St Hugh who was a pastor of deep compassion and steely resilience in times of change and re-organisation. What great models they are for our new parish of All Saints, as we begin this new phase of our Christian vocation of mission and outreach.

Perhaps we could set up a prayer space in each of our churches and dedicate it to these three saints to remind us of our unity together. We could create a special prayer invoking their intercession to help, guide and encourage us in our new project. We could have it on display, easily accessible to be read as we contemplate the work we are called to undertake. Wouldnt that be a truly appropriate sign and symbol for this day of celebration?

Monday, November 27, 2023

Coming Together

In a weeks time our parish of All Saints, will gather as one. We sincerely hope that you will be there at Trinity School to celebrate this important and momentous occasion. Our three communities of St Teresa of Lisieux, Aspley, St Hugh of Lincoln, Bilbborough and St Thomas More, Wollaton have long and proud histories, each stretching back well over half a century of catholic witness in this area of west Nottingham. We want to celebrate that proud history in the best way we know, by coming together next Sunday, to actively participate in the Mass which will inaugurate the next stage in the future of our communities. This coming together does not mean that we lose that history. On the contrary, it means that the example of those dedicated and committed parishioners who created and established the catholic presence in this area, can become the inspiration for us, as the generation charged with the task of ensuring that the presence of the gospel continues to shine forth in this place. Their example can animate us to reach out beyond our catholic community and bring the message of Christ anew to others who have not yet heard it or who have lost touch with it. This celebration is both a thanksgiving for what we have received from our forebears as well as a launchpad for what we are inspired by them to build and to hand on.

This work cannot be done without you. Your role in actively participating in the living out of your catholic faith is the only way in which it can be achieved. It means being alive in the life of the Church, showing through your witness that the gospel message continues to shine forth from our Churches, from our schools, from our homes and in our families. We know that we can do this because of what we have already achieved. Coming together as one parish is the next step in this process. Recognising each other as co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord is now our identity. We are called by Jesus to embrace the moment.

In the gospel today the challenge is laid down. Lord, when did I see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison and did not come to your help?” All we have to do is to look around and we see the issue laid out before us. This is the vineyard in which we are called to work. With Gods grace and with each others encouragement and support we can achieve so much. Together let us aspire to make this parish of All Saints a place where the kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace become the fruits of our union.

Come to our celebration!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Year's End

Were coming to the end of the liturgical year and as a result we are coming to the end of our reading of the Gospel of Matthew. Next week will be the last Sunday of the year and if there is any phrase from our year with Matthew that has impacted powerfully upon us, my hope would be that it was the phrase the kingdom of heaven is like...”. Of the last nineteen Sunday gospels, twelve have had as their main topic the theme of the kingdom of heaven. I think that we can say without much contradiction that this concept was a very important part of Jesus’ message and teaching. Often when we hear the phrase the kingdom of heaven”, we are a bit uncertain as to its meaning and its implication, but we really shouldnt be, and I think that if any gospel passage defines its meaning and relevance for us, then todays is a good one.

When Jesus said to Peter I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” we may have thought well then please show us the lock and the entrance door too” But having read todays gospel we now know where both the lock and the door are. Each of us has been given the talent to tap into the kingdom since that talent is the kingdom. In other words, the kingdom is part and parcel of who and what we are, and the key to releasing and unlocking that talent and by analogy the fruits of the kingdom, lie in each one of us recognising for ourselves the revelation that brought Peter to make his confession. You are the Christ the Son of the living God” is how Peter put it and Jesus blessed him for it. The question is can we recognise that same vision in our- selves and in each other?

To do so we need to re-examine our values and look again at what is important and meaningful in our lives. There is no doubt that our world is changing and changing rapidly. We only have to look around to see the massive problems which we are facing. The continuing war in Ukraine, the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the economic hardships and the impact of climate change leave us all wondering where it will all lead to. Are we travelling towards the kingdom, or have we all essentially been acting like that servant who just buried his talent? Have we ignored our talent and left it well alone, such that the virtues of the kingdom which it represented simply withered away? If we have then woe betide us because we need to recover it sooner rather than later.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Love of God and Love of Neighbour

Even though the war between Israel and Hamas is tearing apart some many lives it is remarkable that in the midst of such conflict, there are still voices that are seeking to reach out and offer solutions and hope. The testimony of family members who have spoken about their loss on both sides is harrowing and tragic and so very hard to listen to, yet among all the words small gestures are seen and heard that offer glimpses of hope. As we are confronted by the images we see, our hearts are broken too. What is the answer? Where are we to find a solution that will build the trust and the hope that ensures that justice and peace will emerge from the wreckage that has been visited on so many. The path of peace is indeed a long and twisted one, which makes massive demands. It seems that whenever tentative steps are taken to explore the way of reconciliation opposing voices can easily subvert such a desire to offer a different future. But what is the alternative after so many years of hatred and mistrust?

The question in the gospel today was spoken with just such a tone of dissent. Spoken in order to generate another dispute, another angry argument about who holds authority and power. We look to our religion, our faith, not to generate anger or hate. Not to embed division or separation but to express solidarity and union with one another. Even when we differ or when we dispute with one another, our religion must not be the instrument by which we enforce our differences. Our religion must not be the vehicle which creates vast spaces between us, rather it must be the pathway through which such differences and spaces can be narrowed, overcome, and bridged.

Jesus co-joins the command to love God with the commission to love neighbour. For him they are coincident realitiesJesus later explains what this means with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Two thousand years later we are still trying to get our heads around the implications of that parable for us, so we can see just how long the path of peace takes to walk. How many times have we observed the one fallen on the side of the road and passed by. We cant claim that we love God if we go and do that to our neighbourIn other words, you cant have the one without the other and that the two must walk hand in hand, feeding our lives and guiding our steps.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Image of the Invisible God

The above title invokes the lines from the Christological hymn in St Pauls letter to the Colossians (see Ch 1 v15). I think it would be well worth reading through the whole of the chapter particularly in the light of the on-going trauma which is unfolding in Gaza. We need all the prayers our congregations can earnestly offer for a swift and just resolution to this dreadful situation.

In his letter, St Paul uses the phrase image of the invisible God” in reference to Jesus as the Christ, the one through whom we have received redemption and forgiveness of sins and have thereby been delivered from the dominion of darkness and transferred into his kingdom. A kingdom which we understand as a living experience in our minds and in our lives as disciples. In his understanding of this phrase the scripture scholar and theologian NT Wright describes the Christian as someone who has become an image bearer of Gods revealed love at work in the world. Through the incarnation this invisible image has become visible to us in the life of Jesus Christ. He is the one through whom all things can be reconciled, everything in heaven and everything on earth, when he made peace by his death on the cross.

In the gospel today to-day we have perhaps one of the most famous sayings of Jesus. The Pharisees try to trap him, thinking they are putting him on the horns of a dilemma.” Is it permissible to pay tax to Caesar or not?” they ask. In answering, Jesus throws the argument back to them. Whose image is on the coin?” he asks them, and in doing so, he turns the tables on them. Whose image is on the things which we most value in our lives? If we believe that we are Gods image bearers, then the answer should be very clear to us, and we must respond accordingly. We must begin to do the work which Jesus asks us to do. What then is that work?

We look around us and maybe ask ourselves what it is that I can do? I cant alleviate world poverty or establish universal peace, but in one sense that is not what we are here to do, because the one who came from God as the first born of all creation has already set in motion those realities by his victory on the cross. Our task is to live our lives with the image of that victory firmly embedded in our outlook in respect of everything we do. The incarnation is the breaking into our lives of the pathway towards resurrection into the new creation. Jesus, as the first born, opens the way and we, in the fulness of time, will follow. What we are to do here in the world is to proclaim the message and to express the expectation of our hope in his truth. It means working with those alongside us for the justice and peace of the kingdom to become accessible to all. It means working to make the image of God recognisable and tangible through our deeds and words. St Paul puts it like this: It is for this I struggle wearily on, helped by his power driving me irresistibly. May it be the power that drives us too.