Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Advent opportunity to linger a little longer in thanksgiving after Holy Communion - the COLW prayer

Advent is an oppportunity to refocus our prayers and to ask Our Lady to show us the way to Jesus as we await His birth with her.  One way to do this might be to pray the COLW Thanksgiving prayer after Holy Communion, while spending a few moments longer in thanksgiving...


O Mother of Vocation, Our Lady of Walsingham,

offer us your community as a gift to the Adorable Trinity.

May COLW be a little grapevine in your pure hands

to quench the thirst of Jesus.

Invite your spouse the Paraclete to make of our hearts a living Holy House,

where we may offer our Fiat in union with Mary’s Immaculate Heart,

in every joy and sorrow we experience today.

Help us surrender freely to the Father’s forming action and

may every person we meet encounter in us the Word made flesh in Mary.

Come Holy Spirit as you came to Mary,

recreate in our souls the likeness of Jesus,

that we may become One Body in his Body,

one blood in His Blood,

one heart in His Heart,

to be offered as a living sacrifice of love to the Father. Amen.

Sunday, 28 November 2021

A pilgrim's reflection: from cares to caresses

 "Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with [...] the cares of life." (Luke 21: 32)

So many gospel readings in the final days before the start of Advent focused on Jesus' prophesies about the end of the world, and here again today, on this first Sunday of Advent, we read once more the signs that Jesus associates with the end times. In some ways it is a curious insistence since if we bear in mind the vast numbers of Christians who live down the centuries, only a tiny minority of them will ever see that particular moment arrive during their own lives. So, why do the gospel readings remind us of this so frequently? 

I wonder if it is because while not everyone sees the end of the world, everyone sees the end of their own world sooner or later. Jesus' insistence on the end of the world is a reminder that every human being eventually closes their eyes for the last time. Death undoes us all. Nothing is certain except death and taxes. And if we ought to prepare ourselves for the end of the world and Jesus' return (which the vast majority of us will not see for ourselves), all the more should we prepare ourselves for the end of our own world. We all need to learn how to die.

But on reading this passage again today, what struck me most was Jesus' warning not to let ourselves be coarsened by the 'cares of life'. His injunctions against drunkenness and debauchery are easy to understand, but what about the 'cares of life'? Are they not more legitimate in some way that drunkenness and debauchery? Many of my own cares in this life are not ones I have chosen for myself but ones thrust upon me by my duties. If man has to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, it seems to put him in a corner even more to say that this burden is also a spiritual danger. 

Yet the dilemma is only on the surface. I don't think Jesus is here saying that those who are busy in the world at at greater danger than those who find themselves sequestered in a convent. Rather, I suspect that the 'cares of life' is a description of the way we do our duties - the manner in which we hold the world and relate to it. The challenge with the 'cares of life' is to seize on them with the right appetite: the love of God and neighbour. Experience teaches us that often enough our paper-thin resolve to follow the sentiments of the Morning Offering is torn apart by the desires that attend our daily actions: pride, vanity, selfishness, greed, laziness and all the rest of our worst selves. Some of these desires are distortions of legitimate needs in our minds and hearts, but many are also related to wayward needs that arise from the wounds of original sin and the wounds in our own characters and personalities.

All of this again brings us back to the importance of Colwelian docibilitas - our readiness to see the Father's forming action in everything that befalls us. Every wayward desire is a turning to ourselves. In contrast, docibilitas would have us turn back towards God to attend to what He is teaching us in every moment. If we could but practice docibilitas, we would then be developing the kind of loving attention that turns every 'care of life' into a caress of His providential love. If we met every duty with docibilitas, then the cares of life, far from coarsening us, would drive us forward into the caress of the Father where we hope the end of our world will bring us.


Wednesday, 24 November 2021

... a pilgrim's prayer journal...

 "...you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an elloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict.'

Luke 21:21-19

In today's Gospel Jesus tells his hearers that they will be persecuted by the authorities and betrayed even by family members, because of his name.  We are reaching the very end of the liturgucal year and as always at this time, we are reminded of death, pestilence and the end times.  Along with these things we are reminded that the cost of discipleship itself can be very dear indeed.

In the early Church martrydom was always a likely possibility for any known follower of Jesus.  It was very much part of their reality and new members were only granted Baptism if they were prepared to die for their faith.  We know of so many places in the world even now where persecution is still the case.  Colleagues, neighbours and family members could still prove risky to the safety of a Christian who draws the attention of an oppressive regime.

However, Jesus says anyone facing such persecution for His sake shouldn't worry about what they are to say in self-defence, answering the charges.  He promises to provide an 'elloquence' noone will be able to resist.  We can see this elloquence at work each time St. Paul was arrested, imprisoned or tortured - so we know it can happen!

What about us?  Will we face persecution?  Does this really apply to us here and now?  

What about in small ways where we are called to die to ourselves for Jesus' sake?  Every time someone ridicules us for going out of our way to get to Mass on a Holy Day?  When we are ignored by colleagues because our beliefs contradict what they think is a right freedom of modern life?  Maybe we weren't promoted at work because of the preception that we're not the right sort of team player.  Could it be that lifestyle choices we make due to our faith mean we have less to live on, or we don't 'fit in' on the street or in the classroom.  Do people laugh when we try to keep a holy Lent?  In some places, as soon as it becomes known you're a Catholic - people will turn against you even if they appeared to like you the day before.

This isn't the red martyrdom with blood that became the seeds of the Church - but it isn't far from the warning by Jesus that we may well become hated in His name.

Remember Our Lady and the persecution she must surely face once her pregnancy became public knowledge.  She didn't contradict the angel or refuse the heavenly request but she could have been tempted to rehearse in her mind what she would say to her parents, her neighbours, to Joseph...  How would she survive their anger, disappointment and the hatred she would provoke.

But that's not how it happened.  She didn't need to explain herself to Elizabeth, or Joseph.  We know how those encounters went.  If Mary had been preparing a speech to deliver to them in her self-defence, it wasn't necessary.

Mary trusted - the perfect disciple, well trained in scripture, knowing that God was in charge, relying on His intervention  - and we can trust too.  Mary didn't look for security anywhere else than in God.

That's all we can do too.  We need to take Jesus at His word, do what Mary did and trust.  We can pray and ask for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to give us words to say if words are needed.   Otherwise we can pray for our detractors and trust the whole thing to God's love.  He is in control.  He is our security.

Anything else we seek to gain in this life just withers away anyway!

Sunday, 21 November 2021

A pilgrim's reflection: what are we doing here anyway?

 "For this was I born, and for this came I into the world." John 18: 37.

We read in today's gospel the tense conversation between Pilate and Jesus. It is not quite an argument, but neither is it a friendly exchange. Pilate begins by interrogating Jesus about whether he is king. Instead of answering directly, Jesus responds by asking his own question of Pilate: ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate might be the procurator but Jesus is in charge of the conversation. I wonder if Jesus deals with Pilate as He deals with other souls He loves but who do not know Him or want to know Him. He offers Pilate a paradox: His kingdom is not of this world. Thereby, he does not confront Pilate. He throws him a lifeline. 

What is striking about this exchange, however, is that Jesus follows it up by explaining:  'I was born for this, I came into the world for this'. We often hear these days that this feast of Christ the King is eschatological - pointing towards the conclusion of history - but the feast makes no sense without also being at the same time historical. Jesus came into the world and was born at a particular time; like any human being, he is an actor in history - the history of his time and the life stories of his neighbours and relations. Whatever purpose he came for, his actions were inscribed in a particular historical chapter. For all of us - followers of Jesus or imitators of Pilate - the drama of the end will be shaped by our here and now or indeed by how much we embrace the task for which we were born and for which we came into this world at this precise time. 

The COLW Book of Life underlines this purpose as our vocation. COLW itself was a response to St John Paul II's agenda for new vocations for Europe. What was I born for? What did I come into the world for? Pilate's difficulty is not just that he does not know the answer to that question; he simply does not believe there is a reason out there to find. His retort to Jesus (which we do not hear in today's gospel) is dark and terse: 'What is truth?'  He might easily have said, 'I was born for no reason and neither were you, Jesus.' 

So, what am I doing here? For what purpose did I come into the world? We can only answer these questions by putting them to Jesus.  We need to dialogue with Jesus, although not like Pilate did. As a disciple of Jesus, I know that the answer for me will be similar in some ways to Jesus' answer: I was born to bear witness to the truth. Yet, we are not mere carbon copies of Jesus; we are formed in his image of course, but our lives are only a fragment of the mosaic formed by his Mystical Body. This is yet another reason why we need to discover our docibilitas - our readiness to learn. We might miss the answer about what our purpose is if we have no urgency about asking the question in the first place.

Thinking there is no real purpose to things, Pilate cannot learn. That is his tragedy. In contrast, we are called to endure the darkness of believing there is a purpose to things, even when we do not know what it is. Our readiness to dialogue with Jesus in that darkness is docibilitas in action. 

Saturday, 20 November 2021

A pilgrim's afterthought

Yesterday's gospel saw Jesus thundering against the traders in the temple and hurling at them this accusation, "My Father's house is a house of prayer. You have made it a den of thieves."

It might be easy for us to think this has nothing to do with us - we would never be so crude and sacrilegious, would we? But then my thoughts turned towards the fact that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. If any man loves me, Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper, my Father and I will come to him and make our home with him. This spiritual reality is reflected in so many icons and in early religious paintings in which the nose and eyebrow of the saint depicted take the form of a Romanesque column, evoking those very words of Jesus. God dwells within. Maybe the story of the traders ejected from the temple does have a meaning for me after all!

How, for example, do I keep this temple within me? Is it actually a place of prayer? How many tables for trading have I built in my imagination, memory, mind and will? Is my temple also spoiled by the din of constant exchange, as I imagine or remember the good or the ill my neighbours have offered me?

I wonder also if these questions becomes even more complicated in the age of social media which multiplies the channels of information that disgorge themselves in our inner temple of God. Poring over our ever-present phones, we are filled with the din and clamour of a thousand irrelevant or malicious debates. God dwells within us, but do we even reflect on this reality? Or are we keeping our inner temples like the money changers kept the temple of Jerusalem? Ultimately, are our souls full of sound and fury, signifying only our own carelessness - the neglect of those who bury their treasure and let it lie sterile?

If our souls were returned to being the dwelling place of the Trinity, then I wonder also if it would be easier to recall the purpose of God's indwelling. My delight, says the Lord, is to be with the children of men. And when we contemplate the joy that the Lord has in us, we can begin to grasp, as Colwelians must, what the inner joy of Mary must have been like. 

O Mary, teach us always to say 'yes' to the Lord. O Mary teach us always to rejoice in the Lord, to rejoice and return to God the joy that He intends to share with those He comes to dwell in.

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

"Walsingham exists because of Mary" (pg. 16)

In Catechism lessons all over the world, children often ask, 'Would God have sent Jesus if Adam and Eve hadn't sinned?', would God have changed his plan?

We could spend a long time pondering a similar question ourselves, Would Jesus have become incarnate if Our Lady hadn't said yes?  What if she ahdn't actually believed the Angel in the first place?

Mary's cooperation with God's will for her opened up His will for humanity in its entirity.  Her cooperation also gave us a wonderful example of how to cooperate in our turn.  We will study in the Book of Life exactly how Mary is the perfect disciple, the one to be immitated.

For now though, just a thought to ponder - Mary believed the Angel's word.  She had been waiting for the Messiah and recognised immediately what was being said.  Though the Angel's greeting caused initial confusion, she straight away caught up with his train of thought and recognised the moment as being that of the advent of the long awaited Messiah.

Even in our own little ways and everyday events, if we don't believe that God is interested in us, that He loves us especially and cares how we are and what we do, then it will be even harder to respond to Him.

Over the last couple of months we have been practicing listening, pondering and asking Mary to teach us to say 'Yes' and 'Thank you' to the Lord always and every day.  If we don's feel addressed by Him, or that He is offering anything to say yes to - our task will be so much harder.

The thought that Mary believed the Angel might seem a tiny detail, but its an important one.  She was already on the alert, already waiting for the Messiah.  She was already awake to the fact that God  intervenes in people's lives.

Let's try again, as we prepare for Advent, to consider this tiny shift on our thinking.  God really loves us especially and wants the fullness of life, love and joy for us.  He is leading, calling, teaching and addressing us every day, in all the little moments of our lives.

In and through the little moments He can teach us how to love Him better, how to become more ourselves, how to heal and grow, where He is leading us and what deeper way He is calling us to.  But we have to believe.  

Walsingham exists because Mary believed and then said yes.  We are appraoching Advent because Mary believed.  As impossibly and improbably as the Angel's message sounded, Mary believed.

We need to believe too.  As we read the daily Gospels on the run up to Advent, let's not be afraid but believe!

Sunday, 14 November 2021

A pilgrim's reflection: the darkening sun and the dimming moon

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness (Mark 13:24)

Today's gospel sets out yet another paradox in Jesus' teaching. On the one hand, Jesus speaks of signs that denote the coming of the end of the world and His return. On the other hand, He also tells His apostles that nobody knows the day or hour of His return.   

Jesus' use of paradox is surely a reminder that we cannot immediately grasp God's mysteries in the same way we grasp knowledge of the world. There are so many paradoxes in the Faith: for example, the Eucharist as sacrifice and meal, Mary as Mother and Virgin, and of course God as three and one. Jesus's paradoxes seem to be an invitation to be docile - to foster our docibilitas, as the COLW Book of Life calls it. Do I let my mind be formed by the mysteries? God's being is simple but of infinite mystery to our human minds. Once we begin to reduce God down to a philosophical formula, we risk losing the balance that our minds must keep between what we can say about God (creator of heaven and earth, eternal, omnipotent, etc - all the natural truths that the Church teaches are open to our reason) and what we cannot say - the depth and height and greatness of the mystery of God, as St Paul says.

If I come back now to the paradox in today's gospel, Jesus seems to be calling us to accept the reality of seeing darkly (as St Paul again puts it). While we discern certain signs of the times, this process is fated to remain a very imperfect science. If we are honest, we will admit there is something deeply frustrating in this limitation of the dark knowledge of faith. History shows how many people down the ages of the Church decided in favour of only one side of this paradox, at the expense of the other. In the run up to the year 1000AD, groups of Catholics held that the end of the millennium would mark the end of the world and the return of Jesus. Later in the Middle Ages, others thought that the corruption was so great that the signs of the end had surely been given. In nineteenth century France the apparitions of Lourdes and La Salette were surrounded by other visions and messages promising the imminent end of all things.

Jesus' prophecy in today's gospel is further complicated when we consider that many scholars believe He imbricated His prophecies of the end of the world with prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem. Does He do this to teach us about the dangers of reducing his mysteries to a human plan of history? Jesus deliberately delivers His teachings in parables, and their inner meaning is not always immediately apparent, nor is it given to all to understand, as He tells his disciples. Must we not wait for understanding and be humble before the mysteries? Jesus is not an information service. He is our captain and our master, as well as our teacher. His revelation remains free but we are not entitled to some kind of free and unproblematic download. We're in a relationship with the Almighty; not a service contract with a data provider.

One further thought strikes me about the paradox of today's gospel. Discernment of the times ought not to lead us away from the tasks in front of us. The fig tree in today's gospel is used by Jesus as a sign of the seasons, but elsewhere He uses it as a sign of the dangers of failing to bear fruit. I wonder if there is some connection between these two metaphors. What if focusing too much on the signs of the times leads us away from our duty to bring forth fruit in due season? Does looking towards the end actually place at risk the attention we should be giving to the tasks that lie immediately before us? 

If we hope to say a Colwelian 'yes'at the end of the world, maybe we should be working on our habit of saying a Colwelian 'yes' to God in every moment of our daily lives now. None of us know after all if today might be the end of our own world. We remain in darkness about the end of all things and even about our own end.

In a way, the sun is always dark and the moon always dim in our lives and in our histories.  But - another paradox! - our faith tells us we have no end of light that shines on our next step. For that,  we only need to say 'yes' to the Lord.  


Sunday, 7 November 2021

A pilgrim's reflection: of widows and anawim

 "The poor widow has put in more than all" (Mark 12:43)

I have many questions about the poor widow of today's gospel. We tend to think of Jesus' language about this widow - and about the scribes whom he also again criticizes today - as a generalization, like 'Blessed are the poor'. But what if Jesus' allegation that the scribes are those who 'swallow the property of widows' is actually a moment in which he reveals his knowledge of a particular injustice committed against this very widow who comes to give her last few coins to the temple? After all, Jesus shows often enough that he knows the wicked secrets of his listeners. I like to think of the scribes within earshot of Jesus, wondering if he was actually pointing the finger at them...

Then, in a dramatic counterpoint, we see her arrive in the scene, this poor women wrapped no doubt in a widow's mourning clothes. In my mind's eye, she is actually quite young; there must have been many young widows in Israel, for this was a period where men often died young. And now, this woman,  wronged, as we can suppose, by dodgy scribes and lawyers, places her last pennies in the treasury, as the embarrassed passersby hears the resonant clunk of two wretched coins in the box ...

If Jesus's first words in this gospel are not a generalization - if they are in fact a denunciation of some secret injustice against this very widow - then the widow of the gospel is someone akin to Job. Like Job, she has suffered loss and her personal life has been devastated. And, like Job, her final actions are not to curse the God of the universe, but to offer to Him her very last threads of human hope. What, I wonder, am I clinging on to in my life that makes me unable to follow this widow to her appointment with utter poverty? How do I hang on to the coins of material stability, or the immaterial treasures of esteem and human regard?

Whoever she was, this widow is undoubtedly one of the true anawim of the Sacred Scriptures. As the COLW Book of Life explains, the anawim are the 'poor ones' of the gospel, the marginalized and the outcasts. Their greatness is only evident through the lens of eternity. The widow is not dressed in the fancy robes of important people; she has none of the reassuringly ostentatious badges that pious folk like to pin on their models of holiness. She speaks no words of wonder; she moves nobody but Jesus. 

Why don't we revere this woman as a great hidden saint of the New Testament? How can we not wonder if she was not herself a follower of Jesus, or perhaps one of those who heard and embraced the gospel after his Ascension? Could she even be - and here I am in a full flight of fancy - could she even be his own mother, a widow of little wealth and even less regard in the eyes of the world? Mary offered her own few coins to God in her fiat. And, in the moment of her Annunciation, she was in essence too great in the eyes of God to come to the notice of important people, preoccupied with checking their credentials against the consensus of other important people. 

May we who read the COLW Book of Life see Mary's humble greatness. May we likewise attend to the hidden magnificence of the widow of today's gospel. To taste their humility is to become less blind to the path that Jesus calls us to walk. And, lastly, may we follow both Mary and the widow into the night of God's mystery, away from the judgmental eyes of those who know so much better than we do. Or, as St Teresa of Avila puts it:

Let nothing disturb you,

Let nothing frighten you,

All things are passing away:

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things

Whoever has God lacks nothing;

God alone suffices.

Thursday, 28 October 2021

"This is thy dowry, sweet Virgin; do thou rule over it, O Mary!" (pg. 14)

The Book of life explains the traditional understanding of a dowry and how England was 'set aside' by King Richard ii as such a gift to Our Lady, making us all heirs to this legacy of being dedicated to her in a special way.  He claimed our Lady as heavenly queen in the hearts of the people too in exchange, giving us the opportunity to claim in our turn, a special place in her heart.  Only in very few places on earth is the Hail Mary included in the Prayer of the Faithful at every Mass, as a sign of our place in her heart as her dowry.

This exchange is translated beautifully in terms of the Divine Will.  We can explore the deeper ideas around the Divine will of God later in the book but here there's a gentle introduction to what God means to give us, through looking at Our Lady and seeing what she can help us to understand in that important line of the Our Father, 'Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven'.

While claiming Our Lady as heavenly queen and protector of our land, we can ask her to do the same in our lives too, as the Book of Life says, we can: "ask Our Lady to rule over our minds, hearts, wills and bodies so that we offer ourselves in union with her to God... through Mary, we offer our human will (our dowry) as a gift to the Lord God, in exchange for his Divine Will." (pg. 14)  His Divine Will is His kingdom He wishes to share with us, so it becomes such a natural part of our life as it is to God Himself.

If we live with that attitude of mind and heart as being someone 'set aside' as a gift to Our Lady (as St. John Paul ii considered himself entirely consecrated to her - 'Totus Tuus' all yours), as actually forming part of her physical dowry, we will be embarking more fully on the journey to living in the Divine Will and offering our own will to the Father.  

By saying our 'fiat' in the little things of every day, with an attitude of not belonging just to ourselves but set aside for Our Lady to offer to God's Holy Will, we are firmly on the royal road first trodden to Walsingham a six hundred years ago.

Sunday, 24 October 2021

A pilgrim's reflection: praying poorly in the dark

 "When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and to say, ‘Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.’" Mark 10:47

Blind Bartimaeus in today's gospel gives us one of the tenderest prayers uttered in Jesus' hearing. Not only is it tender, it is also filled with faith, as Jesus observes when he cures Bartimaeus, saying, "Your faith has saved you." 

Could Bartimaeus be the patron saint of those who sit in what feels like total darkness in our sorry world? Our own blindness, or at least the limitations of our vision, seems to make beggars of us all. As the French writer Fabrice Hadjadj says, we are so poor that we must also beg our voices from God to offer him our prayers. 

But it strikes me that this is not a sad recognition but a liberating one. I have been thinking a lot lately on that line from the sequence of Pentecost, "Come, thou Father of the poor." To realise we are poor and dependent, like blind Bartimaeus, is not to become poor but to step out of our self sufficiency. At the end of the gospel, Bartimaeus is told to 'Go', but in fact he interprets that command by following Jesus along the road. Jesus granted him his freedom and he spent it instantly on following Jesus.

Yet what does Bartimaeus's shouting mean? No doubt he hollered loud to be heard over the crowd. But, this phrase has an excess about it, rather like in the parable Jesus tells of the man who eventually gives in to his neighbour's repeated request for help in the night (Luke 11:5-8). 

Some people pray loud (and fast), like Irish grannies or Bartimaeus. Some pray with minimal fuss and movement, like the Roman centurion. I wonder if what they have in common is the shared universal need to pray with both faith and poverty - with belief in Jesus and a sense of one's own indigence. Then, when Jesus restores to us our freedom, we can spend it extravagantly on him in gratitude, like the newly sighted Bartimaeus.   

Advent opportunity to linger a little longer in thanksgiving after Holy Communion - the COLW prayer

Advent is an oppportunity to refocus our prayers and to ask Our Lady to show us the way to Jesus as we await His birth with her.  One way to...