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NI leaders ought to condemn anti-LGBT mass murder in Orlando

Reacting to the mass murder of LGBT people in Orlando, Florida, Andrew McFarland Campbell, Founder of Faith and Pride called on the political and religious leaders of Northern Ireland to lead the condemnation of the atrocity. Speaking earlier, Andrew said:

“Perhaps more than most, the people of Northern Ireland know how it feels when mass shootings happen.

“I call upon all politicians and religious leaders in Northern Ireland to lead the people of Northern Ireland in the condemnation the anti-LGBT mass murder in Orlando, Florida.

“I call upon all Christians who oppose equality for LGBT people, including same-sex marriage, to prayerfully consider whether or not your opposition to our freedom helped dehumanize us, and to prayerfully consider whether that dehumanization contributed to the environment that allowed the mass murder in Orlando, Florida to take place.

“And I call upon all Christians to think about the mass murder in Orlando and pray most fervently the words that Jesus taught us: thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

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For or with? Contract or relationship?

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In tonight’s brief passage from the Gospel of St John, we heard the parable of the grain of wheat. Christ drew this parable about resurrection on the Kingdom of God from the everyday circumstances of life; it was quite easy for his rural audience to understand the principle of “resurrection produced by dead seeds sown into the earth: the image of the grain of wheat dying in the earth in order to grow and bear a harvest can be seen also as a metaphor of Jesus’ own death, burial in the tomb and Resurrection.

Using the example of a wheat seed Jesus tells the disciples that he must die. A wheat seed by itself is just one seed. However, this same seed planted in the ground dies to itself and becomes something much greater. Jesus says the time has come. His time to be glorified is approaching. He will die and through his death there will come an abundance of fruit. In the Gospel there is already evidence of the possible fruit. Who has heard this parable of the wheat seed? There are the disciples. There are some leaders of the Hebrew people. Also, among them there are some Greeks. They have come to see and speak to Jesus. People are coming to see him. Not just the Jewish people, but also the Gentiles. Jesus will die not for the few, but for the many. Jesus will die for the generation to whom he speaks and Jesus will die for the generations to come. Jesus dies for you and Jesus dies for me.

But we hear a lot of “for”. During this last week we have been spending time with Christ – so what of the “with”?

Around Good Friday in 1373, an Englishwoman was stricken by the plague, and facing what she thought would be her own death.  Much of her life is a mystery.  Her baptismal name is not recorded, but we know her better by her adopted name. She is remembered as one of the greatest of all English mystics. We know her as Julian of Norwich

In her long-ago fevered haze, Julian received a series of visions of Jesus, which she wrote down in a book entitled Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love.

The Eighth Revelation, the heart of the book, concerns the Passion and the Cross, focusing on Jesus’ pain and suffering. “Is any pain like this?” she wondered, “…Of all pains that lead to salvation this is the most pain, to see thy Love suffer.  How might any pain be more to me than to see Him that is all my life, all my bliss, and all my joy, suffer?”

Recounting the vision, she ruminated on Jesus’ mother Mary’s suffering, the one who suffered more than any other in his death; then expanding the circle to include “all His disciples and all His true lovers suffer pain” at this death.  In this community of pain, forged by the suffering of Jesus, Julian articulated one of her great theological insights: “Here saw I a great ONEING betwixt Christ and us: for when He was in pain, we were in pain.”  To Julian, the Cross was about ONEING—the complete unity of God with us and us with God; and not only us as humans, but as she relates from the vision, the ONEING of “all creatures that suffer pain, suffer with Him…and the firmament, the earth, failed in sorrow” and the planets, all the elements, and even the stars despaired at Christ’s dying.  The cosmic circle of grief, emanating from Jesus’ Passion, reveals that Jesus not only suffered for us; but he suffered with us—his death occurred for the sake of “Kinship and Love” with all this was, is, and will be.

Did Our Lord suffer for us or with us?

On many a Good Friday, I have sat in a darkened church, listening to readings and music, all focused on the first preposition of the Passion’s equation: Jesus suffered for us, for sinners, for the world, for me.  But only rarely have I heard spiritual reflection on the second preposition: Jesus suffered with us, with sinners, with the world, with me.

Some of us here are writers. They choose prepositions carefully. There is a huge difference between for and with.  For is a preposition of distance, a word that indicates exchange or favour, it implies function or purpose.  I do something for you; you do something for me.  Notice: someone does something on behalf of or in another’s place. For is a contract.  Jesus suffered for us—means that Jesus did something on our behalf; he acted on behalf of a purpose, in place of someone else.  “For” always separates the actor and recipient, distancing a sacrificial Jesus from those for whom he died.  At the Cross, Jesus is the subject; we are objects.

For or with? Contract or relationship?  Exchange or participation? Quid pro quo or friendship?

If we are honest, with is a hard preposition in the world of today.  Are you only with those who share your party or cause. We judge others on what they can do for us.  Indeed, we are for many things.  But we are sceptical of with—indeed; much of what we do in the world makes us ridicule, doubt, and even fear with. It is often safer to remain at a distance, to stay away from with.

When we come to Christ, we see the for. We understand the exchange, that God died for me, so I get baptized or confirmed or serve the church.  Jesus sacrificed his life so that I might exchange Hell for Heaven.  People sacrifice and die for something nearly every day, and it is particularly sobering–as in the case of soldiers—when someone sacrifices or dies for my freedom or safety.  Indeed, thinking that Jesus died for salvation may give pause, cause us to raise a prayer of thanks, feel sadness or relief; but ultimately, the idea that someone dies for something is theologically and spiritually uncomplicated.

But with is complicated, even frightening.  Good Friday plunges us into with. Have you sacrificed with others?  Have you walked the way of death with someone?  Felt the power of the suffering love?  Do you know, in every fibre of your being, the ONEING of God in Julian’s visions?  Do you feel Jesus dying with his Mother, his friends, with us, with all creatures, with the firmament, with the planets and the elements?  Can you embrace the truth that, at Calvary, Jesus’ Mother, friends, US, all creatures, the firmament, the planets and all elements died there with him, too?

The Cross isn’t a contract between God and sinners; the Cross is God’s definitive expression of kinship and love—that everything, everywhere, through all time, is connected in and through pain and suffering.  We are with Jesus on the Cross, not at a distance from it, standing by, watching safely from afar; those are our hands and feet nailed, our blood dripping, our voices crying out “We thirst.” And Jesus on the Cross, naked and mocked, is with us all on every broken-heartened, betrayal-laden, blood-soaked day of human history.  That is God’s Passion; that is Jesus’ Cross.  And, in the tortured Christ, we find the hope to endure, a love for others and creation, the power to enact God’s dream of love and justice for the whole world.  We are with God.  God is with us.

We are often asked if we have time in our lives for Christ. As believers we do. But what is much better in terms of our relationship with him is that we do, as we have done during this last week, spend time with Him.

the simplicity of a child

The scene that we heard about in the reading earlier has been repeated many times throughout history. There are many instances which can be seen online of children approaching great teachers, some getting through the security, others being pushed away. But in today’s Gospel, the greatest teacher of them all tells his followers that they mustn’t get between the children and him.

Children coming to great teachers and holy men is nothing new, it is a practice from antiquity. In Genesis 48.13-20 we read of Joseph bringing Ephraim and Manasseh to Israel to be blessed.

Jesus didn’t just bless the children. He used them to illustrate his message as he is recorded to have done in many other places in the Gospels of St Luke and St Matthew as well as the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. Jesus said,

“Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”

The simplicity of a child. Quite a challenge to those of us who have passed into adulthood, have grown up, and had to leave our childish behaviour and thinking behind to survive in the world in which we live.

As I was reading this passage this morning, re-reading it, time and again, to see what I should say tonight, I realised something quite special. When a person becomes a member of the Church, when a person accepts Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of mankind, that person becomes a child of God. We are all children. Thinking in another way, Jesus lived on earth as a man around two-thousand years ago. By anyone’s reckoning those of us living today are like children compared to Him.

So what do we do now? What is this passage saying to us gathered here today in our time and place?

To me, it is a reinforcement of the central message of Jesus – a message of a God of Love. A God who does not push people away, but welcomes them in and blesses them. As members of the Church, it is our duty to share this Love to all that we meet.

pope-john-xxiii-during-ecumenical-council

John XXIII, Bishop of Rome 1958–1963.

Tomorrow, many people will be walking in the Belfast Pride Parade as it winds its way around the city centre and back to Custom House Square for a huge party. Some of us from Faith and Pride will be standing as a witness of God’s Love for all of his children just outside the gates of St George’s in High Street, just as we did at last year’s parade. Everyone on that parade and everyone in the whole world is worthy of our respect and our love, for as Blessed John XXIII – whose imminent canonisation was announced today – said,

“We were all made in God’s image, and thus, we are all Godly alike.”

Surely we must all work within the Church to ensure that all are welcomed, not pushed away. We’re all children, and like little children we will be welcomed, and blessed by Jesus, when we approach Him now, and when we reach the end of our life, we can safely ask Him,

“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Friday 5 July 2013.

Nothing will be impossible with God

In Nazareth, an unimportant village in a remote region of the Roman Empire, the angel Gabriel descended from heaven to ask a young, recently engaged girl to become pregnant with God’s son Jesus and usher in salvation for the world. But Mary was given a choice, she could have said no. She could have allowed her fears to overcome.

The ancient world could be vicious towards women and especially women who became pregnant out of wedlock. Mary’s imagination must have been running wild with possibilities. Joseph would leave her, she would never marry, she would struggle to find shelter and food, she would be shunned by friends and family. She would bear the stigma of shame and scandal for the rest of her life.

God had great plans for Mary, but would not force her to accept them. Like us, and like all people, God gave Mary freedom of choice. And yet God also gives comfort and reassurance to those who say yes to Him. He wouldn’t just ask great things of us and abandon us. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God,” the angel Gabriel says to calm the terrified girl. “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Having the courage of faith to trust her life with God, Mary surrenders: “Let it be with me according to your word.” And so Mary, letting God into her to bring birth to his Son, becomes the first disciple.

In the poem “Annunciation,” the Roman Catholic poet Denise Levertov meditates on the courage and model faith Mary shows as she assents to God’s will for her life.  The poem asks us to to consider where God has introduced a journey before us, a plan for our lives and God’s redeeming story for the world, and challenges us to not turn away, in a moment of weakness or despair, from taking the “roads of light and storm”—the often difficult paths of the life of faith.

Annunciation

Denise Levertov

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’

From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Tuesday 2 July 2013.

Can we make space for God revealing himself?

The small scripture passage in Matthew chapter 13 that is provoker of our thoughts and mediation this hour is a curious one. It is another example for me of the integrity of the gospel writers to include some of the flaws and complexities to Jesus’ reputation and ministry. What we find here is a an experience for Jesus, for his neighbours and family and his followers that cautions, hesitates and hinders his activities and words but also, I would suggest, enhances the incarnation and the gospel. In taking time to consider the interactions of divinity with dust in Christ as well as the people around him, we as followers and/or the curious can consider our own interactions as the incarnation and with the incarnation of Emmanuel- God with Us.

The first interaction the gospel writer reports is the locals amazement at Jesus’ teaching, knowledge and most likely his confidence. They are in no way ignoring or dismissive of his wisdom and powers. However in the second interaction they are very quick to strip back Jesus’ reputation to what they know- ‘this is who we say he is’ ‘this is who he is’ – a putting him in his place, a clipping of his wings, a containing of his power, potential and person. The third interaction is where these people ‘take offense’ – I like to imagine other words like ‘disgruntled’ ‘noses out of joint’ where he is not fulfilling the roles assigned or expected of him and undermining the family and community expectation of honour. Lastly we note Jesus’ response both in his statement that ‘a prophet is not without honour except in his own town or home’ and in the gospel writers observation that Jesus did not do many miracles here because of people’s ‘lack of faith’ – I understand the phrase ‘lack of faith’ here to describe an attitude and lack of receptivity and warmth to Christ’s words and actions.

What we are identifying here is the complexity of people in both the humanity of Christ and the humanity of the family and neighbours that Jesus grew up with. Despite Jesus’ radical teachings, actions and miracles he is unable to move these people to see a different side to him or a different revelation of him. Despite their amazement these people are unable to move past their original knowledge and understanding of who Jesus was and therefore is what an example of the ways that we can try to limit the potential of the incarnation in Christ and within us!

As this week of Pride activities closes may our minds, hearts, souls and bodies turn over the events, words and moments that have occurred this week. Where have we been challenged to look at things differently, remove old assumptions and knowledge and replace it with new revelations and amazements? Those people whom we had decided held certain views or would say certain things or in a certain way – have they surprised us? Can we make space for God revealing himself in them? As we are called to treat them as our neighbours have we learnt from them and nurtured them or should we consider the more we could have done? As we come to faith from an affirming perspective regarding sexuality and gender and liberation are there restrictions and limit we place on our theology, our worship and our divine encounters? What more can we do to recover the incarnation and allow Christ to work without being offended or harbouring a poor attitude to God’s movement.

Let us focus on the moments where we have experienced the incarnation in ourselves, in each other and in God – let us consider our bodies as bearers of divine image with all the complexity of human interaction as we walk tomorrow to show Pride as created beings seeking liberation and flourishment for all people.

Amen.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Friday 3 August 2012.

We must be content to go on like pilgrims.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen touched the lives of millions worldwide with his warmth, wisdom and humour. A master communicator, he had the great gift of preaching and teaching the Gospel in a way easy to understand. He is mostly remembered for having been one of the first great television evangelists. However, he also wrote many books on the spiritual life as well. His thoughts on prayer continue to be as relevant today for all Christians not just the Catholic priests to whom he was writing when he wrote his The Priest Is Not His Own1. We should remember that all Christians are members of the Royal Priesthood: in that sense Venerable Fulton J. Sheen addresses us as well today in his Aids to the Breviary2

Read the office of the day in the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, a practice for which a plenary indulgence is granted. Furthermore, since the breviary is the Body of Christ praying, it is read with more faith when closely united with the Head, Who “lives on still to make intercession on our behalf’ (Heb 7.25).

Advert to the fact that most of the psalms confront us with two figures: one is the Sufferer; the other is the King. It helps us to interpret the suffering psalms as the Church, and the kingly psalms as Christ. That long Psalm 118 [RSV 119] would thus become the Church pleading its love for Christ, the New Law. And when we come across “cursing psalms’, it may be well to remind ourselves that, of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst and that the Judge takes sin seriously

Often appeal to the Holy Spirit during the recitation. As a mother first prays for her child even before he can know what she is doing, then teaches him to pray so that later she may pray with him, so does the Spirit pray in the breviary first in us and then through us.

Go on praying in the power of the Holy Spirit; to maintain yourselves in the love of God, and wait for the mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ, with eternal life for your goal. Jude 20–21.

Offer certain hours of the office for specific intentions. How seldom is a priest not asked to pray for someone: a boy taking an examination, a mother before childbirth, a father going on a trip, or a young couple about to be married? The breviary, the Church’s prayer, gathers up all these intentions of the parish, the diocese, the nation and the world. It helps to offer a particular psalm for a predetermined person.

The breviary can never be properly read while the priest is listening to the radio or watching television or has one ear and half his mind concentrated on a baseball game. Magna abusio est habere os in brevario, cor in foro, oculus in televisifico.

No need for Me to prove thee a guilty man, thy words prove it, thine own lips arraign thee. Job 15.6

This people does Me honor with its lips, but its heart is far from Me. Matthew 15.8

Moments of mental soaring may occasionally accompany the recital of the breviary, but in general the vision of the Mount of the Transfiguration is followed by the descent to the plain. Moments of exaltation are few and far between. We must be content to go on like pilgrims, usually on foot, sometimes with broken boots.

The breviary is, however, not only a yoke and a burden; it is also a duty—a duty of love. The two aspects seem almost contradictory, but the test of love is self-sacrifice, not emotion. Besides, the duty itself is a good. When we lose faith, we lose a sense of duty. How this duty is performed will depend upon the level of behavior. If a priest is egotistic, the breviary will be said out of duty alone; if he is conscious that it is the prayer of the Church, the duty will have love in it; if he is a priest victim, love will fan duty into an ardor that feels no obligation. Jacob had to toil seven years for Rachel, yet “they seemed to him only a few days, because of the greatness of his love” (Gen. 29.20).

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Wednesday 1 August 2012.

Notes
  1. Sheen, Fulton J., 1963, The Priest Is Not His Own, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2005. ISBN 1-58617-044-9.
  2. Op. cit., pp. 146–147.

Can we remember our lines?

 

It’s always nice to get an explanation, especially when something is confusing. The Parables of Jesus are usually presented at face value with the responsibility for making sense of them resting with the hearer. In Matthew 13 it’s the only example we have of anyone asking for an explanation, and here Jesus obliges.

The explanation given reads like an ancient play – a Middle Eastern melodrama. The scene is set – the world is the stage, and on this stage are the righteous, the evil doers, devils and angels, and the burning of all the causes of sin and those who perpetuate them. Sounds great! Except………….it’s supposed to happen at the end of the age.

What about now!?

What about all the suffering that people are enduring now? And what about those who are inflicting that suffering on others? People can be so cruel, even unintentionally so.

Maybe the best we can say is that stuff will be dealt with…eventuality….at the final curtain….but until then we have to live with the reality, believing that it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

A recent report about homophobia in Northern Ireland doesn’t make very positive reading. During this Pride week homophobia, or at best distrust and suspicion, will be to the fore in many people’s minds as they watch the news reports of the events here. The reality for LGBT people in Northern Ireland is unfortunately a grim reality, and there’s no getting round that. So what should the response be from people of Faith?

I’d hope that for many Christian people they would make a ‘Jesus approach’ rather than have a ‘Church reaction’. Jesus was very good at meeting people, and accepting them, way before he asked them anything about their background – and certainly I don’t ever remember him asking people about their sex lives! ‘Zacheus…..come down from that tree, let me go with you to your house for something to eat, and while we’re there you can walk me through your bedroom gymnastics.’ I don’t think that was quite his style.

I love Gandhi, because for me Gandhi embodies the Spirit of Christ – he’s a modern reflection of Jesus in a loin cloth. In a speech to the Suppressed Classes Conference in 1921 he said,

I do want to attain Moksha (salvation, merging with God). I do not want to be reborn. But if I have to be reborn, I should be born an Untouchable so that I may share their sorrows, sufferings and the affronts levelled at them in order that I may endeavour to free myself and them from that miserable condition.

While we have faith that God will sort things out eventually, we still have a responsibility to do whatever we can to end the injustices and prejudices that pervade our society, and, sadly, infect our churches. And that will take time. But more than that, it will take courage. Courage from the LGBT community to restrain from the easy, aggressive retaliation that seems such a natural, justified response – and that’s not easy to do because it requires a level of graciousness beyond that which is expected from the average person. But I suppose it’s Grace that takes us beyond average. It also needs courage from the Churches – courage to stand up for, and stand with, LGBT people, no matter what the consequences. And believe me, there will be consequences. No-one likes change, especially those for whom issues are ‘settled’ and roles precisely defined. The opinion of the majority is more often than not a source of comfort, but as Irene Peters has said,

Anyone who thinks there is safety in numbers obviously hasn’t looked at the stock market pages recently.

And so the scene is set. The house lights go down and the stage lights come up. The actors are ready and standing on their marks. The drama is about to commence. Can we remember our lines!? Are we ready to each play our part to the utmost of our abilities!? And may God give each of us the Grace, that where we are wrong, may we be willing to change, and where we are right, may we be easy to live with.

Amen.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Tuesday 31 July 2012.

 

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