Sunday, November 19, 2017

Christ at the center of Our Mission

It is shaping up to be the kind of weekend that you need a weekend tor recover from. However in this run up to Advent and eventually Christmas there is no chance of that happening. There are somethings that I believe are worth the constant and relentless running on a tread mill (if only it was the fitness kind). I have not chosen to sacrifice my career and future to support my husband and the Church for fun, I believe in it, passionately and there is rarely a time when I go to a gathering of The Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda and/or Forward in Faith when  I am not reminded of why this is so.

The heart of Catholic Mission is the sacraments, primarily the sacrament of the Holy Mass. A daily sacrifice of Christ on the altar. A chance everyday to encounter Christ in our daily lives, the totality of his forgiveness and his love given to us, as we receive the Sacrament. It is life changing and dare I say it world changing. The passion and energy with which Society Bishops and Priests do this, in some of the most deprived and distressing places to work is astounding. Yes, there are candles, vestments, incense and glory but so there should be. It is surrounding the little earthly glimpse, the tiny window of heaven on earth, of Christ before us, redeeming us. It is awesome and it should look awesome.

We need our time of prayer and our encounters with Christ, like we need time with anyone with whom we want to build a relationship. It is that time that equips us with understanding, a closeness and a familiarity. It is only by spending those hours spent on bended knee that we can begin to take Christ out with us. It is only by experiencing the true and expansive love that God has for us that we can begin to share that love with others. It is that love, that all encompassing love that leads us into compassion for others, acts of genuine kindness and sacrifice. If we can not encounter that daily, if we can not spare the time to develop that relationship what hope have we of taking Christ's mission out with us.

That mission, the dedicated love of others, the rebuilding of fractured lives, the absolution of sinners, the sitting with the mourning families, the aiding of the desperate, the hand holding of the addicted. That mission is what our Priests do everyday, strengthened by Christ. They grow and nurture faith in the darkest of corners and on the lightest of paths. They bridge the gaps between the rich and the poor, they sacrifice themselves and  their families. Their energy and enthusiasm is born out of prayer and receiving the Sacraments. As in turn is the mission of the laity, we all have a mission, a charism given to us in Baptism. The sacraments are at the very epicenter of all Mission and Evangelism, without Christ we can not carry Christ Incarnate out in to our communities.   

Like the Virgin Mary, when Gabriel came down I feel our lives should be lived with those words "Be it done unto me according to thy words" It might not be the life you first envisaged having, but spending time in prayer often does that. It sends you of in directions you had not ever thought you would. It is hard, it is relentless and it is often thankless, but it is a life I would not swap. It is a life I believe in and it is a mission I believe in. A growing deepening understanding of our faith, found through the Sacraments and born out in our Mission and Evangelism. That is beating heart at the center of Anglican Catholic Faith. Long may it remain so.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A heartfelt plea

My first encounter with the subject of abortion was at the grand age of 14. I had to prepare the case against abortion for my English assessment at school. I had asked for the case against it,  no one else had wanted to write it. I was shocked by the level of acceptance for this procedure, especially given that I attended a Catholic girls school.

I can not say I agree with abortion. It is, us as living breathing humans deciding to make our ruling on ending another human's life. There is no point beating around the bush it is a life, whose heart is beating. A life which if we did not abruptly decide to end it has every chance of surviving to a ripe old age.  I feel that  has to be made clear at this point, this is what we are doing we are ending a life with a premeditated action. Murder is the wrong word, but the action is not far off it.

At the age of 14, I was making an impassioned plea, based on religious piety and moral judgement.  Now at the age of 36 and as the mother of three, I am making an experienced and reasoned plea that the way we deal with abortion needs to be looked at.  It is not just another form of contraception. There is a stark difference between preventing a life and a conscious choice to end a life. I can not say either makes me comfortable but surely the former is the lesser of two evils and in this day and age so simple to use.

When I fell pregnant for the first time it was not a convenient time for either of us at all. We were renting a house, we were not exactly rolling in money and neither of us were exactly at a time in our lives when having a child would be easy. It caused us both serious anguish, it would have been so easy to walk down to the doctors and ask. So easy, not to have had to change our life plans, not to have struggled financially, not to have faced the hard a difficult life we had with a challenging pregnancy, toddler and beyond. Nothing about my first child has ever been simple. However, not one day has gone past when I don't look at my child and thank God for the strength and discernment he gave us at that troubled time.

Never have I prayed more fervently than I did through the pregnancy and early years. Never have I questioned my faith more than the dark whirlwind of those months. Neither,have I been more grateful for such a wonderful blessing that was born out of our faith and trust in God.

Having recently watched the BBC's documentary "Abortion on Trial" , I found it tough watching. I totally identify with Anne Robinson's sense of shame. I have felt that deep shame, even admitting that I considered it, seems a sin. A terrible wrong, I thought about ending a life. I feel like I might as well have considered stabbing someone. I understand the turmoil that sexual abuse and rape brings, this is the one grey area where I really struggle with objecting with abortion but still can not reconcile it in my mind as the right course of action either. What concerned me more was the mother who freely admitted to having three abortions. I would have loved to ask her what forms of contraception she had tried to prevent those pregnancies, rather than ending a life so freely. But the program neglected to even discuss this idea. More distressing than that, was the willingness to accept abortion pills to be taken at home. There was no real discussion or acceptance to the very real danger of death or serious illness to women who did this without proper support. Of these I am sure there would be plenty. Especially those young vulnerable teenagers, possibly even underage girls, who would take these tablets home. In adequately informed as to what they would see, the pain they would experience, that the reality of what you have done is there in your hands. To allow those vulnerable girls home to do that alone is, I think, criminal. The idea that the welfare of women on that level did not appear to register to anyone in that room, after being shown an emotive film about a woman with agoraphobia. Who I think with all reasonable medical judgement should have been allowed to do so at home with medical support. Something that could be considered in such radical and distressing circumstances.It would however be impossible to fund this level of support for all woman wishing to take abortion pills at home and to do so without could so easily be fatal in a few cases.

What frightens me most is that abortion is seen as just another form of contraception. As discussed earlier there is a subtle but definitive difference. The ease at which society accepts the ending of a life is terrifying. I would not argue that it should be criminalized again , as much as I think abortion should never happen. Life is not clear cut. It is better that in those extreme cases where it could be genuinely argued to be required, it is better to have it done safely. However, I do not genuinely think doctors would seriously refuse anyone coming to them. In fact on turning up with my whole family to discuss my third pregnancy. I was asked in front of my children "If this was a happy pregnancy and was I keeping it?"! Why would I bring my husband and children to discuss a subject like that.I would have at least left the children at home. We were there to celebrate with joy, a new blessing on our lives. Such a casual attitude to abortion is wrong.

The discussion of abortion for gender or disability, should not even be tabled. We are not God, it is not for us to decide who should have the right to live. Anymore than I have the right to tell you how to live your life. God gave us free will, he lets us decide. It is his judgement that we will all have to face sooner or later. God also gave us the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. He tells us in the commandments it is wrong to murder Therefore I draw the conclusion it is wrong to take any life. Maybe one day I will face him and he will tell me I am wrong. I struggle with that idea though, that he would be comfortable with us freely disposing of his creations. Us who can not understand fully or replicate with certainty that creation of life. Even with IVF we can not guarantee life, we can not force it, there is a touch of the divine to reproduction. We have found ourselves in a world where we think we have the right to decide to end that life, to not give it a chance. To not find out that even in the most distressing of circumstances that a life we end may have been a blessing. I will not judge, that is not my task. It is your decision and you have the gift of free will to make it. I am not in your shoes, nor are you in mine. But I urge you  with that impassioned plea, man and woman alike to consider deeply and honestly what you are doing when you have an abortion. If at all possible look at contraception, so you are not faced with the choice to end a life. Above all I pray for God to be with you in all you decide. May he offer you comfort and strength. For if you seek him, he will never leave you to walk alone.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Pendulum never stops

On Friday evening I found myself at the Tate Modern's new exhibition in the Turbine Hall. The normally vast and largely empty space has been filled with a gigantic playground of swings, all adult sized. To the forefront of this play area, is a metal ball pendulum, swinging back and forth with a faint swish marking the relentless passing of time.

On our occasional visits to art exhibitions with children in tow, I have got used to not reading the explanations of said works of art. This time I stood even less chance. They eagerly embarked upon swinging back and forth, mirroring in miniature the pendulum. After a while they tired and we all went and lay on the vibrantly coloured carpet admiring the reflections caused by the changing people on the floor. The swinging of time a constant, only the changing masses of people causing the art to be always unique. As I lay, slightly hypnotized by the pendulum I contemplated how we pass our time. Can we as adults pass our time with a child like innocence? Do we allow ourselves the time to asses  where we are, where we are going? Do we make time to listen to the silence? Do we listen to the voice of God in our Lives? Or do we constantly rush around, so we do not notice the constant swish of time and before we know it our clock has stopped.

The passage of time happens whether we want it to or not. It marches constantly on, never am I reminded of this more than when I walk along the route of a pilgrimage. The footsteps of people, their many reasons always unique, always different but still the pathway followed throughout the passages of time the same. The culmination of the journey always the same, us reaching out to Christ aiming to deepen our relationship with him. What once may have been an eroded muddy path constantly walked on by bare feet or sandals, is now invariably a hardened surface most commonly walked on by modern shoes. The numbers over the years may have swelled and dwindled, only for their numbers to rise again with time. But these places still stand, the roads to them still exist and many still walk to them contemplating their place in the continuity of the Christian Faith.

When walking a pilgrimage it is easy to feel daunted by the sheer number of people who have come before you and those who will come after. Each one of us a tiny,molecule in the vastness of Christian history. What difference can one make, when some many others can and do make such world changing differences. It is easy to forget that the simple things change the world too, starting with the Mass. Each and every Mass that is said changes the world bit by bit. Each sacrifice brings God closer to us. So it is too, with every act of kindness, generosity, tolerance, charity and prayer.We change the world for the better, maybe not on a global scale but locally we do. Each person who comes to faith through our actions, our kindness, our Christian example can  go on to change the world. Then action by action we can start to change the world into a better more Christian place.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Christ is calling, will you follow?

Where I am now is a long way from the green college fields of Oxford, the quiet city life of Durham or the vast silence of the Yorkshire Moors. Here there is a constant cacophony  of noises embedded in a constant multitudinous assault of changing landscapes.  As I walk down the street there is always some new aspect to a development, a shop changing or new building peeping up over the edge of fence. London is constantly evolving. There are so many elements mixed in a huge pot, that when you step out for a moment you realise just how slow and quiet the world can be.

From the first week we were here, I knew it would be different when on walking to Church we encountered a man wearing nothing more than a towel standing in the street. A far cry from the stray sheep that periodically attempted to attend Church or School in Yorkshire. The quiet middle class suburbs of England this is not. It is a vibrant community, bursting at it's seams to get out and be heard. In a few short months I have learnt about and experienced a whole wealth of new cultures, languages and social situations. However, I have also seen the effects of desperation, witnessed the distressing effects of addiction and encountered those who have no where to turn. It is a community in need of mending, healing and above all charity.  It is a community in need of love.

You and I could and probably would argue over whether the state is responsible for fixing this or not. Their money (whether in large sums or not) and policy is only half the answer though. We need to put love at the centre of these communities, where that love should come from is without refute. Christians are called to love one another, to treat our neighbour as ourselves. We are not a wonder cure either, we can not and we will not fix all the problems on planet earth. It is our calling though, Christ called us to this service.

We have these buildings in our communities, often towering over their streets, looking watchfully on those who pass under them. These buildings should be beacons of hope, sanctuary, friendship and love. All to often they are a beacon of the establishment, a club where we can all meet our friends have coffee and be nice to one another. As a christian community it is important that our mission becomes more than a cosy coffee after Mass. We need to move past our comfort zone and be an example and witness of Christs Sacrificial love in our communities. Not turn away those who are different, not frown upon those who discomfort us or jump to conclusions about those attempting to reach out. A church is for all, we should welcome, feed, aid and comfort all who cross our thresholds. Beyond that we should take that mission out into our damaged and broken communities,  because we are all broken in one way or another. We should not need a government to tax us into helping, we should already be giving and changing all that we can.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The echoes of Silence

The silence of remembrance is deafening in a city usually bursting with a cacophony of noise. During those moments of remembrance, if you happen to be out on the streets, in a supermarket, the sudden cessation of activity, the pausing of the daily clamor is tangible and moving.Stopping to focus on the lives lost this time and the lives lost before, so many echoes of  silenced souls flooding forward to fill the void.  The only disturbance being the gentle automatic pokes of modernity from the self service tills, the message tones of phones, the technology that has no understanding of loss. We remember lives pointlessly lost at the hands of tragedy or evil and other lives given for us in the fight for justice and freedom. Then creeping into my mind at the height of the silence the remembrance of the one life that meant all lives lost have a meaning. Those brief seconds can seem like an eternity, as my heart heaves with the weight of what is lost, what has been sacrificed and  then also what has been received.
Yesterday was Corpus Christi, a time when we focus on the Body of Christ. We take Jesus out onto the streets, process him through the community so people can see hope in the middle of all the despair. The hope that Jesus brings us is desperately needed at the moment. Society is hungering for a meaning to the utter evil unfolding around us. It is easy to forget that before us there was a darkness, there has always been a darkness permeating our societies. Despite this encroaching darkness there is a light burning in it's midst to strengthen us in the disorder to guide us through the confusion. The tears of weeping, the weight of loss, can be transformed by love. The darkness can be washed by the blood of sacrifice and reveal a new world of unity. Each time the darkness comes knocking, love comes answering even stronger, the sacrifice is not meaningless and in the loss we can see the hope Christ has given us.
Walking Jesus through the streets in the burning sunshine seemed somehow so appropriate.We needed a time of hope, even though it was followed by more tragedy, it gave us a reminder of the burning light that will carry us through. The procession may have been challenging in the heat and the weight of his sacrifice weighed down on those clergy who carried him. It was never meant to be an easy path to follow. True love is hard, involving real sacrifice, tears and pain, but through it all, he holds us and guides us with his love. He summons us all to the call of his love. He summons us to share his body and his blood, to consume it, to take him into our very being. That we might walk out today and show him in all we say and do. Then we can ensure every action we make today is one of love, hope, tolerance and reconciliation. Then we can stand together and stifle the darkness.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Painful Love

The other day one of the members of the congregation stopped me and said " I have been thinking about what you said the other day, you know the bit about everyone deserving a little bit of love. It really got me thinking" I had said it in passing, not really stopping to think about the full implications. Someone else had, so it forced me to stop and think a little more on what I had said.

It is all to easy to love those I have chosen to love, my family, my friends and our Parish. It is easy to give a passing impression of love and kindness to those with whom I agree. It is easy to demonstrate charity to those I see as good, deserving and one of us.

It is however much harder to sit round a table with those whom I have recently disagreed, those whom I believe to be sinful and those who I perceive to be at odds with what I believe. However, Jesus dined with the tax collector, and then he sacrificed his life for those he knew to be sinners and rose again that we might be saved.

His love, his grace and his mercy is unlimited. It flows down on us no matter how many times I stumble, fall, turn away or deny him. When I pick myself up and turn back to him, he forgives me. Welcomes me in to his flock and gives me a new chance.

There have been many occasions since my husband has been in ministry when I have met challenging people. People who challenge who I am, where I am, what I believe and my ability to give a second chance and sometimes many chances. It would be so easy to shut them out, ignore them or judge them. Love is not an easy path. Charity not a journey that comes without sacrifice. Tolerance is not achievable without sacrifice on both sides.  Salvation was not possible without Crucifixion.

In the wake of so much violence, so much pointless death and injury, it would be easy to condemn those committing it. But condemnation breeds hate, resentment and anger. Though much harder to kneel in prayer for those who take away lives so freely, it is only right that we pray for them. That we show them how to love by loving the communities around us. That forgiveness, though painful and hard, can be given. That through this harder path we can pull together with those we find ourselves at odds with, that we can heal ourselves and our communities. We must be a beacon of Christ's love in all that we do, knowing that such love comes at such a high price, but the rewards are eternal and priceless.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

When it all gets too much

Since moving to London almost every local paper I pick up contains some violent attack or murder. Combine these with repeated stories on the threat of terrorism and the impending doom of Brexit, I am surprised I make it out of the house. Sometimes it feels as if the best scenario would actually be to shut the door, make hot chocolate and hide with the multitude of books and films we own. I would certainly be safe, but I suspect that even I could get fed up of comfort food and books.

There is always a thought nagging at me when I feel like retreating permanently into safety. Christ did anything but keep himself safe. He did not retreat, he stood in the line of danger, stood by his faith in his Father and ultimately sacrificed his life for us. He did so peacefully and with love.

It is so easy when you feel at threat to retreat, build the barricades and judge those who threaten you, sometimes even lash out. All are acts born out of fear, we all feel it sometimes. Even Christ had moments when he paused, questioned and pleaded to be removed from dangers way.

" Luke 22:  42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. "

The whirling chaos of fear sometimes paralyses us, causing a cacophony of thoughts that hinders us praying. Sometimes we feel totally abandoned by God, unable to find him in among the swirling sandstorm of threats. It is only when we stop for a few moments, take a deep breath and like Christ find away of putting ourselves anew into God's hands that the seething seas begin to calm and peace is restored. This is not a process without risk, it ultimately means sacrificing ourselves to God and trusting everything we are to him. Then and only then can we turn to those who have caused our angst with courage, peace and love.

Christian life was never an easy one, Christ suffered, was persecuted and crucified, however he received strength from his Father. Living a life where I attempt to love all and abide by the morals of a Christian life will always provide me with challenges. Often leave me out on a precipice with many staring and judging. Living in a community that has it's own struggles before you add yours is always going to require adjustments.  But it is only when I leave my house, with prayers in my mind, love in my heart, ready to share Christ's peace with all, that I can ever find my own sense of inner peace. Just like Christ sometimes I need a few moments to retreat from the world, to question and replace myself into God's hands. However it is vital that I then go out of the house, that I become a living breathing example of Christ's love. I may not always get it right, sometimes fear may get the better of me (I am only human) but it is vital that I learn embrace that which makes me feel vulnerable with love and peace.