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Posted by on in Don Bosco Relics

Jesus was tempted by celebrity, self interest and power for 40 days. In this culture these temptations are as lively as ever. We can all be seduced from being ourselves by these three influential forces. Often we are not even  aware that our motives have been hijacked. To be faithful to our vocation is then to have made many u turns. The path is not the hero path but a humble process of trial and error. The one who finds their way learns to trust the road rather than himself or herself. 

The temptation is to take short cuts, to avoid conflicts, questions and uncertainty. But it is precisely in these unknowns and in the diversions that our lives become shaped by events and God's touch is experienced on the faith journey.

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Posted by on in Don Bosco Relics

Today's Gospel deals with the practice of fasting recalling the comments of Jesus that fasting does not happen when the bridegroom is still around. That is an interesting connection: linking fasting with the absence of God. Perhaps that is a way to discern why and how we might fast in a secular and individualised culture.
If fasting has to be related to an absence of God the link with the Lenten period becomes stronger; fasting becomes more than just self-denial or self control, it becomes a specific way of growth on the faith journey of the individual and the world.

 

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When an awareness of the absence of God becomes a criteria for fasting it helps us as both individuals and communities to focus our fasting and link it to the paschal mystery in a more concrete way. For example a person may realise that their married relationship is a place where God has largely become absent. That then becomes the place where the "bridegroom is no longer with them" and therefore the place where fasting might be focused  In a community context a person may conclude that the office workspace where they spend much of their day is a Godless environment and that may become the focus for their fasting. A young person may look at their life and feel that God is absent because they never stop to think deeply and that absence of reflection is something that needs fasting from.
The definition of fasting that is implied by these reflections may well expand to include aspects of alms-giving and prayer, the other two disciplines of lent.  The fasting element is that of self denial "agere contra" going against one's self. So the married person may well decide that switching the television off and sitting with their partner for half an hour three nights a week might be a good way to fast from a self-centred lifestyle. This might include giving up soap operas or football matches which could be seen as a form of fasting. The person working in a Godless office space might well decide to pray quietly at their desk for five minutes at lunchtime as a way of resisting the relentless tide of gossip and back-biting sweeping through the workspace. In this situation prayer and self-control form a type of fasting that might help to change the world of the office for all concerned. The young person realising that they never stop to think might pick up the challenge of a silent face-book which +cafod is promoting at present.
If fasting was seen as focused around an absence of God in our world it has the ability to draw together the other two elements of Lenten discipline (prayer and alms-giving) into a single resolution that leads to life for the individual and the community in which people live. On a wider scale fasting has the same focus when family fast day comes around. Dorothy Day began a fast during Vatican II to raise awareness among bishops of the need for peace. Gandhi fasted in a similar way to bring God back into an increasingly Godless and unjust culture.
Choosing how to fast this lent can be the most significant choice for the whole year. It can bring God into the shadows of our lives as a messiah.  It can give us the courage to feel the emptiness and desert areas of our lives and realise that it is the only place where we can meet Christ because that is where he is waiting to heal us and our world.

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Posted by on in Don Bosco Relics

The news of Pope Benedict's resignation comes as a shock to many simply because it has happened so rarely in the history of the church. His predecessor, John Paul II, deliberately lived out the infirmity of his old age in the glare of publicity in order to highlight the importance of the struggles of later life. Pope  Benedict seems to have a very different motivation for going that is equally humble and rational. Here is what he said:

 
In today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.
 
 
Knowing when to let go of a role, especially one of high profile, takes as much wisdom as it does courage. We have seen how both Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher stayed too long in their roles. Perhaps that happens because those who fill those roles are drawn into a kind of grandiosity in their thinking that clouds the reality of their fallibility. That is not the case with Benedict, he seems to be acutely aware of his fallibility in guiding the church.

All of these thoughts seem to pale into insignificance before the fact that Benedict is already 85 years old. He should be tucked up by the fire with a blanket and some good reading. Above all he should not be exploited by a curial system that seems resistant to change and at times insensitive to individual needs. There is a danger that the curial system in the Vatican will be the rock on which the church will founder unless the next pontiff organises a good re-fit of the whole curial system. Perhaps that will be Benedicts greatest legacy; that if the church can develop its thinking in regard to the resignation of a pope what else might be able to change?

 

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 This week the house of commons passed the next stage of a bill permitting marriage for same sex couples. This is a triumph of common sense in a secular state and a disaster for the word marriage.  A word that has been consistently used over thousands of years to describe the commitment to a biological partnership that has the diversity to create new life as a single unit, a word that has described the foundational unit for all societies in every time, that word has now been stretched out of shape.

Perhaps we need to invent new words like heteronuptial or homonuptial to describe these radically different realities. Using the same word to describe the two relationships is papering over the cracks of too many fundamental differences; the potential of a heterosexual relationships, the unity of heterosexual relationships, the complementarity of heterosexual relationships are all radically different from same sex relationships. They may be equal in value but they are radically different. Simply labelling them the same way does not remove the diverse nature of the two relationships so much so that other language will have to be created to make that distinction with much confusion as a result.

As a Christian I have little problem with gay relationships and recognise the hierarchy of values in the catholic church especially which places love right at the pinnacle of that hierarchy. St Augustine put it simply "love and do what you will." Many other Christians would disagree with this approach but I am not sure that Jesus would. His approach was one of compassion and encouragement to the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. The woman who was a sinner  and wept at the feet of Jesus was not forgiven because of her moral strength but because "she had loved much."

Same sex couples cannot simply throw a switch and disconnect from the genuine love that holds them together. That love is as much part of God's love as is heterosexual love. Otherwise why would a consistent 11% of the human race, made in God's own image, be born with this orientation?  Christians cannot pick and choose to recognise one love and not another, bless one kind of love and evict  the other from public life. As a catholic church we have a lot to learn about sexuality. We are male, celibate and caught up in a clerical culture for millennia. We need to be a church that listens in this area and say little, perhaps for a hundred years or more. Listening will make us humble, perhaps even wise in this area and the Gospel may emerge with a greater clarity than ever before when we recall the words "God is love"
But the word +marriage- that is in for a difficult time +dictionary writers will already be scratching their heads and creative types will be dreaming up new, and hopefully better, words for heterosexual contracts.

 

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Posted by on in Don Bosco Relics

The discovery of the remains of King Richard III under a car park in my home city of Leicester has made the news today. The historians were apparently acting on a hunch!

The identification of the remains involved a lot of investigation and crucially included DNA matching with DNA from Richard's sister. The amazing thing about this story is the scientific identification that can be so accurate after so long. The blue print of our lives is unique and yet it overlaps with so many others. The freedom we have to be ourselves is built upon a communal foundation written into the DNA of our lives. 
In a culture that glorifies independent and solo heroes it is easy to overlook the interdepenedence that is built into our genes and our stories. When the individual dimension is over-stressed the sense of community is diminished and governments need to work harder at social cohesion and try to invent a "big society" where one no longer exists.
The truth is that DNA means that we are all spiral bound not only individually but also as a community. Our lives spiral through community to the point that we cannot say clearly where we end and another person begins. That is why, in the book of Genesis, Cain asks the question "am I my brothers keeper" in an attempt to cover up his brother's murder. Cain's punishment was to wander as a marked man and never enjoy community or prosperity in God's presence.

The DNA that binds us together is an image of the way that God's life weaves through our own making sense of each person's story and giving meaning to the shared journey we are making together. To plough our own furrow at the expense of others, to refuse to get engaged in the common good or to reach out in compassion is to share the mark of Cain.  To realise that we are all interconnected in God's love is to recognise that we are not so different from the bones of Richard dug up today in Leicester. At least that is my hunch!

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Spring 2019

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