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Homily for 24th Sunday Year A

SVP 12 Sept 2020

 

The readings today are all about the need to live in a spirit of pardon and forgiveness in the community of disciples and in our family life. Without this spirit of forgiveness, a community will quickly divide and split. It will fall apart and die.

But one aspect of forgiveness is the readiness of the one who has offended to ask for forgiveness and pardon. When someone who has offended another, even by mishap rather than by intention, if he or she is ready to recognise their wrong and ask forgiveness, it is so much easier to forgive.

Today is the second Sunday of the Season of Creation and I would like to offer you on this special occasion some reflections based on this gospel with its theme of forgiveness but in relation to Creation.

We often speak of creation in a rather narrow way, when we are really speaking of “Mother Earth”. In a sense we are right to do so, as this is the part of  creation we know the best and on which we live. The story of creation, as we read it in the book of Genesis, is right to say that we come from the earth. Evolution history shows that life did indeed crawl out of earth and eventually produce what we know today as homo sapiens; us. We owe our being to 4 ½ billion years of development from that first living cell found here on earth to what we are today. We are an intricate part of nature, an intricate part of creation. Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical letter, Laudato Si:

#139 When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.

Sometimes we speak of nature, or the earth, and react with it as if, somehow, we were not part of it, but were some organism living separate to it. It’s as if it were another part of creation put there for our use. We exploit it and abuse it as if with impunity. We exploit the animals, using them, killing them for our own pleasure, as if they were there purely for our use and as if they had no value in themselves. We exploit and misuse everything on the planet with total disregard and no thought for the consequences. It’s as if we were the lord of all and can do what we want, when we want and how we want and we think only of ourselves and our own pleasure.

Again, Pope Francis speaks of this in Laudato Si:    

#67 Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.

Unfortunately, the consequences of this misuse, this abuse of nature, have become apparent in the past few decades. Our selfish and arrogant behaviour has now turned against us and the ecosystems of nature are in the process of collapse. The most obvious of this is climate change. The droughts which have left vast, huge areas of forests tinder dry and vulnerable to fire, is, we are told, the direct result of the heating up of the planet, due to our activity. Last month alone an area the size of 2 million football fields were on fire in California and Colorado. Similar fires are burning in the Amazon and in Australia, destroying everything in their wake.

The rise in temperature causes fires in America and in other parts, like here in the UK, huge deluges of rain. But, it is always the poor who suffer the most. In these last couple of days, friends of mine in Burkina Faso, on the southern edge of the Sahel, have appealed to me for help because there mud-brick houses have collapsed under the onslaught of totally unseasonal and unbelievable flooding. Flooding in the Sahel, the driest area on earth!

Last week the UN nations published a report on the effects of climate change. Its predictions are dire and it insists that climate change is the result of the selfish activities of humankind, and is causing the disappearance of millions of species of animals.

In the report we read: “The bonds that hold nature together may be at risk of unravelling from deforestation, overfishing, development, and other human activities, a landmark United Nations report warns. Thanks to human pressures, one million species may be pushed to extinction in the next few years, with serious consequences for human beings as well as the rest of life on Earth.

 “The evidence is crystal clear: Nature is in trouble. Therefore we are in trouble,” said Sandra Díaz, one of the co-chairs of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis writes : #142 If everything is related, then the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life.

You will say, “this is too alarmist”. But then, John the Baptist was alarmist when he cried out in the desert “Repent, repent”. David Attenborough is alarmist when he says we are destroying nature, destroying the planet. Covid 19 is alarmist. All the evidence is alarmist.

Repent is a call to a change of heart, to turning around and away from our selfish ways. Jesus calls on us to turn back to God. It is indeed time to repent and ask pardon of Mother nature, Mother Earth. It is time to repent and change our exploitative and selfish ways. We have to take the means now, not tomorrow, to live in harmony with nature, to live in peace with the ecology of the earth. We have to modify our way of life to fit in with the life of the planet.

Today is the time for change; tomorrow will be too late.

Terry Madden

 

 

Blessed Isidore Bakanja

Posted on 12th August, 2020

    Blessed Isidore Bakanja

   Today is the feast day of Blessed Isidore Bakanja; truly a saint of     our time.

   It is not every day that we celebrate a black African saint of 

   recent times. Most of the African saints go back to Roman times       and come from North and North East Africa. They are from a time     when the whole Mediterranean Basin was an area of rapid and         intense growth for the Church. They include saints like St.               Augustin and his mother St. Monica of Hippo, in present day             Algeria, Ss. Cyril and Athanasius of Alexandra, in present day           Egypt and Ss Perpetua and Felicity of modern day Tunisia.                 Africa continues to give saints to the church; often people who

   have shown great faith and resilience in the face of much   

   suffering and persecution, like St. Josephine Bakhita of the Sudan,

   like St. Charles Lwanga and his companions in Uganda.

 

 

 

 

Blessed Isidore Bakanja

1887-1909

 

Isiidore Bakanja worked as an assistant mason for white colonists in what was then the Belgian Congo and later known as Zaire. Convert, baptized 6 May 1906 at age 18 after receiving instruction from Trappists missionaries. Rosary in hand, he used any chance to share his faith; though untrained, many thought of him as a catechist. He left his native village because there were no fellow Christians.

 

He further worked as a domestic on a Belgian rubber plantation. Many of the Belgian agents were atheists who hated missionaries due to their fight for native rights and justice; the agents used the term "mon pere" for anyone associated with religion. Isidore encountered their hatred when he asked leave to go home. The agents refused, and he was ordered to stop teaching fellow workers how to pray: "You'll have the whole village praying and no one will work!" He was told to discard his Carmelite scapular, and when he didn't, he was flogged twice. The second time the agent tore the scapular from Isidore's neck, had him pinned to the ground, and then beaten with over 100 blows with a whip of elephant hide with nails on the end. He was then chained to a single spot 24 hours a day.

 

When an inspector came to the plantation, Isidore was sent to another village. He managed to hide in the forest, then dragged himself to the inspector. "I saw a man," wrote the horrified inspector, "come from the forest with his back torn apart by deep, festering, malodorous wounds, covered with filth, assaulted by flies. He leaned on two sticks in order to get near me - he wasn't walking; he was dragging himself". The agent tried to kill "that animal of mon pere", but the inspector prevented him. He took Isidore home to heal, but Isidore knew better. "If you see my mother, or if you go to the judge, or if you meet a priest, tell them that I am dying because I am a Christian."

 

Two missionaries who spent several days with him reported that he devoutly received the last sacraments. The missionaries urged Isidore to forgive the agent; he assured them that he already had. "I shall pray for him. When I am in heaven, I shall pray for him very much." After six months of prayer and suffering, he died, rosary in hand and scapular around his neck.

Source: www.ocarm.org

 

Pope John Paul II beatified him on April 24, 1994 and had the following to say about him.

In an Africa that is sorely tried by ethnic strife, your shining example is an encouragement to harmony and reconciliation among the children of the same heavenly Father. You showed brotherly love to all, without distinction of race or social class; you earned the esteem and respect of your companions, many of whom were not Christians. Thus you show us the necessary way of dialogue among men.

 

St. Isidore Bakanja, pray for us and for the people of Africa

De Foucauld, Dorothy Day, and Madeleine Delbrêl

by Madoc Cairns

 

24 JUNE 2020, THE TABLET

 

Living alone in a desert for decades, hundreds of miles away from your friends and family, and eventually being accidentally shot dead doesn’t sound like many people’s idea of a good time. Given that Charles de Foucauld is to be canonised in the near future, we have to believe that it is God’s idea of a good time. 

 

In light of the news that he’s due to be raised to the altars, it’s worth looking again at de Foucauld’s life and ministry. Christopher Lamb has adeptly summarised de Foucauld’s life story, and the lessons he can provide for inter-religious dialogue. An intriguing aspect of de Foucauld’s legacy - and one, in my view, that bears closer examination - is his influence on the two outstanding ‘social catholics’ of the twentieth century - Dorothy Day and Madeleine Delbrêl. 

Madeleine Delbrêl opened a house of hospitality in Lyon, in 1934, and lived and worked there with a lay community she founded for 30 years until her death in 1964. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, is far better known in the anglophone world. Alike in their youthful marxism, their unvowed celibacy, and their social radicalism, Day and Delbrêl are often compared to each other. Both are now in the process of being canonised. And both were heavily influenced by de Foucauld and his spiritual successors, the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus. The worker-priest movement, which owed a great deal to de Foucauld - was enthusiastically supported by Delbrêl and Day.  

 

Given de Foucauld’s poor record of winning converts - in his whole ministry he convinced only two north Africans to convert to Catholicism - he might seem an odd model for evangelisation. His location in the deserts of the Maghreb, and the solitary nature of his apostolate contrasts sharply with Day and Delbrêl’s urban missions. 

But both Day and Delbrêl saw him as someone who had navigated a situation similar to their own.

 

De Foucuald struggled to convert the Muslim Tuareg tribes during his time in the desert. It’s not that de Foucauld’s neighbours were hostile to him - he was generally well liked. But they saw no real need to become Christian - and indeed, given the links between Catholicism and the local colonial power, were hostile towards proselytism. 

 

Decades after de Foucauld’s death in 1916, Day and Delbrêl confronted an analogous crisis; not amongst devout muslims, but in the dechristianised urban working classes of the west. These people didn’t think Christianity had anything to offer them. Worse, the Church seemed absent from the great economic struggles they faced. The desert had come to the city. 

 

In response to this, Day and Delbrêl turned to de Foucauld’s conception of Christ as “Universal Brother”. Believers are called to emulate Christ in manifesting the love of God, in practice, for everyone. Christians are called to be icons of God’s transcendent love to the whole of humanity, not only to fellow believers. Just as de Foucuald took a tabernacle into the desert, Christians are asked, not to “hide their light under a bushel”, but to bring God into the godless spaces of the world. 

 

That, of course, didn’t extend to going along with or accepting sin; but if sin excused us from loving others, no-one would be loved at all. 

 

This practical love - what Day called “fraternal charity” - wasn’t what’s called an antinomian love, the kind of sentimentalism beloved by bad television shows and worse politicians, in which real contradictions and struggles get drowned in syrup. And it wasn’t the emotivistic “love bombing” that some less than reputable Christian groups use to lure in converts. It’s a way of being in which supernatural charity is the basis of our relationship with every other human being.

 

“Supernatural Charity” is far easier to admire than to practice.  But it is, Dorothy Day claimed, the only sure means of evangelisation.

 

“...the only true influence we have on people is through supernatural love. This sanctity (not an obnoxious piety) so affects others that they can be saved by it.”

That conversion occurs more by what de Foucauld called “doing good in silence” than by a battle of cultures was an insight shared by Madeleine Delbrêl.

Delbrêl was deeply shaped by her experience, during a time of anti-christian animus in Lyon, of the Church’s withdrawal into herself. Responding to the hatred of the world, Catholics divided themselves from communists and other non-believers. 

 

Christians, Delbrêl said, tended to retreat, as her Church in Lyon did, into a “Christian mentality”, characterised by an exaggerated moralism, overt concern for rituals and symbols, and hostility to outsiders. Madeleine saw this as an equal, and in some ways a more insidious betrayal of Christianity than overt capitulation to the world. In becoming a hermetically sealed, esoteric

 

subculture, we retain the gospel - but excuse ourselves from practicing it. 

 

Delbrêl proposed, instead, that Christians go out into the world, in order to manifest the love of Christ to those most in need of it. In doing so, we convert others, and in the process, convert ourselves anew to the demands of the Gospel. 

In her house of hospitality, social activism, and work with non-believers, Delbrêl put these ideas into practice at a local scale. Across the Atlantic Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker, coming to similar conclusions, combined those ideas with a far-reaching political analysis.

Day, Peter Maurin, and their co-thinkers in the “Detacher” movement, a group of left-wing, bohemian American Catholics that included the novelist JF Powers and the politician Eugene McGovern, saw the American Church as caught in a paradox. At the same time as Catholics were overcoming prejudice and oppression to assimilate into the mainstream of society, Christianity was on the retreat within the inner cities of the U.S.

“Detachers” argued that dechristianisation was rooted in the way that secular society separates and then subordinates the spiritual to the material, reducing humans to our physical needs. The Church, ceding economic life to the secular world, accepted this distinction, underlining her marginalisation by a privatised and pietistic spirituality.  

A prerequisite to effective evangelisation of the atheists and radicals of the modern metropolis was the reversion of this baleful historical trend, and the reintegration of spiritual and material life. One of the first books Peter Maurin handed to Day after they first met was by de Foucauld. Maurin pointed to the French hermit's belief that Christians should occupy the “last place” as key to the work he and Day were about to embark upon.

In the closing decades of the 19th century, intellectuals often condemned Christianity for being a “religion of slaves”. Christianity - they said - preached the humiliation and abjection of man; exalted weakness, guilt and suffering; glorified foolishness, stigmatised genius, and called for human beings to lower themselves when they ought to be raising themselves higher than ever before. Yes, said Charles de Foucauld. That’s the point. 

This wasn’t masochism on de Foucauld’s part, but a lived conviction that God is love; that we don’t find God except through love. And being willing to love means, in this world, to be willing to suffer, to serve others without thanks, to take up “the last place”. St Faustina once commented (somewhat acridly, I always imagine) “The greater the suffering, the greater the love”. The lower we place ourselves in regards to the world, the more we make, in de Foucauld’s words, “a total oblation of ourselves”. And the more we abandon ourselves to God and to others, the more capable we are of participating in God’s sacrificial love. 

 

This cruciform spirituality - the willing and conscious pursuit of “the lowest place”- defined de Foucauld’s ministry in the Maghreb, and cast a long shadow over the work of the urban pioneers that followed him. Manual labour and voluntary poverty, alongside prayer, was considered by Day and Maurin as fundamental pillars of the Catholic Worker. Delbrêl, writing on de Foucauld, related it as essential to retrieve the spirit of the early church:

 

“The Apostles preached and lived their message and the whole of their message: the beatitude of poverty as well as the others. Our own failure to infect the world with the gospel message is due to our separation preaching from life, our word from our example.”

Neither Day nor Delbrêl were sympathetic to those who, even in their own time, thought that a radical Christianity had to separate and counterpose the gospels to the Church. They thought that the demands of the Gospel were imperatives exactly because of the Church’s claims to absolute truth. And for all their - sometimes bitter - struggles with Church authorities, both Day and Delbrêl had a profound, even visceral, conception of the church as the Mystical Body of Christ. Day and Delbrêl’s social radicalism was the fruit of living out the mysteries of the faith, rather than a divestment from them. 

Nonetheless, the characterisation of Dorothy Day in particular as a traditionalist avant la lettre is specious. Both Day and Delbrêl were, and in many ways still are, theological radicals. One aspect of that radicalism is found in their appropriation of a major theme in de Foucauld’s life: the centring of contemplation in the Christian life. 

That ordinary Catholics should pursue a spiritual life in a similar way to vowed religious is fairly commonplace today. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, things were quite different. The reaction of the average ecclesiarch on seeing a lay Catholic pursue a contemplative spirituality was roughly the same as if he had seen a dog driving a Mercedes: unusual, unnatural and likely to end in disaster. 

Most Latin Christians, if asked, would assume monasticism to be essentially communal. But the root word for ‘monk’ is the latin ‘monachus’, ‘alone’. Monasticism began in Christianity, in the third and fourth century as a retreat into the wilderness, away from civilisation, and into silence. And in that silence, monastic pioneers - the ‘desert fathers and mothers’ - listened for the voice of God. 

De Foucauld, a former Trappist, was heavily influenced by these monastic traditions. And his urban successors saw a reflection of their own struggles in the people that Thomas Merton called “spiritual anarchists”: the desert fathers and mothers.

For Delbrêl and for Day, it was necessary to go into the internal deserts - to “find solitude,” and so, in Delbrêl’s words, “to find God” - in order to then venture into the external desert of humanity’s separation from God. A constant theme in Day’s writing is the call to direct, individual prayer and adoration, beyond daily mass and group prayer. As much as both thinkers stressed the importance of community, their spirituality was - ironically - first concerned with the experience of the solitary believer. 

An intimate relationship with God, an intentional entering into the mysteries of the faith, was the obligation of every Christian, and not just the right of a selected few. Every Christian ought to be a mystic; that is, one who enters into mystery. Christians travel, wrote Delbrêl, between the “measurable abyss of the world’s rejections of God” and “the unfathomable abyss of the mysteries of God.”

Fraternal charity; the opening of the contemplative life to lay people; and the taking up of the last place, not simply with regard to the church but in relation to the whole human community. These themes were all taken up by the second Vatican Council. We can see the theological fruits of Day, Delbrêl, and de Foucauld’s work in documents like Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, and Apostolicam Actuositatem, the council's decree on the lay apostolate.

It’s harder to pin down an organisational legacy for the two “urban mystics”. Delbrêl’s community, the “équipes”, no longer exist. And although the Catholic worker has continued to grow over the years, the decatholicisation of the movement - that Day noted with dismay in the last decade of her life - accelerated after her death in 1980. Western societies have continued to move towards a world where, in Delbrêl’s words, “creation has taken the place of the creator”. In a “post-christian” era, the tendencies that the two “Servants of God” opposed - assimilation on the one hand, and subculturalism on the other- have not lost their appeal. 

But one figure in the contemporary Church seems appreciative of the ideas that de Foucauld wrote about, and that Day and Delbrêl put into practice. Pope Francis’s penchant for attacking a whole range of targets in the church - rigorists alongside semi-pelagians; those who want to proselytise along with those who want the Church to act as a humanist NGO - has been interpreted by some as a cunning political strategy; a “peronist” divide-and-conquer routine.

It seems to me much more likely that the present Pope - who handed over Rome’s seminary to a Little Brother of Jesus last year - has been looking to de Foucauld for guidance on how to be a “missionary without a boat”. Francis, like Day and Delbrêl, is interested not in a Christianity made “effective” - to paraphrase Henri de Lubac - but a Christianity that is lived effectively.

Seeing the desert of the world that excludes God for what it is is more difficult than pretending that no such desert exists. And going out into that desert - “pitching our tents” (John 1:14) there - is much more challenging than taking refuge in culture-war fantasies or self-referential sectarianism. The only plausible evangelisation is to live out the commands of the Gospel as fully as we can. If the Church wants to follow Christ out of the tomb, she has to be prepared to follow Christ into the desert too. 

 

Preparing to open our church

Posted on 27th June, 2020

You can find here the proposed instructions from the Offices of the Archdiocese of Liverpool for the necessary safeguarding instructions for the opening of our churches on the 6th July. We know that the corona virus is still a danger to the health and wellbeing of all. No one is immune. So, as we return to church practice, let us follow the safeguarding advice carefully. 

 

Charles de Foucauld Canonisation

Posted on 6th June, 2020

Martyrs of Uganda

Posted on 3rd June, 2020

This is the Article in the Tablet 9th May 2020 which inspired the Corona Thoughts in this week’s newsletter.

 

 

SOUTH AFRICA

 

We cannot go back to what was normal in the past.

The Church faces two tasks, to help those suffering in the present crisis and to look to a different future

 

SOUTH AFRICA, even after 26 years of independence, still remains one of the most unequal societies in the world. The immediate need to respond to the health crisis cannot obscure the urgent need to create a more just and equitable society once the pandemic passes. The Church must be involved in both struggles, writes Bishop Kevin Dowling.

 

The number of infections and deaths recorded so far has been lower than expected. The peak will perhaps arrive only in September, and a long, uncertain road lies ahead. The prevention strategies being implemented only highlight the reality of life for most people here. Since 1 May, everyone who goes to work in a taxi or a car, anyone in the public domain, has to wear a face mask – but they are responsible for making these masks themselves. Social distancing is regarded as essential for diminishing the rate of infections – in that sense it is the right thing to do – but it is simply not always feasible.

 

Thousands of very poor families in the huge shack settlements around the platinum mines in my diocese live in one room. Social distancing in such conditions is virtually impossible. How can they stay at home and wash their hands frequently, when there is no readily available water?

The same often applies in the overcrowded townships. People are doing their best, but in my once a week trip to town for food I have seen a lot of people moving around outside their homes, including children playing with their friends.

 

Many people here are desperately hungry. NGOs, the government’s social service departments and ordinary people are responding. But there have been examples of unrest, as thousands of desperate people are not able to find enough to feed their families. We are facing a serious crisis. The Church leadership in Southern Africa, under the bishops’ conference and its president, Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, has encouraged us to respond as creatively as possible to the needs of the people, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable.

 

A religious community which lives next to me at St Joseph’s Mission, called Tsholofelo Community (“a place of hope”), works in some of the poorest shack settlements. The community supplies over 500 adults and children with food parcels once a week. One sister, a highly qualified nurse, is running a primary health care and ARV clinic in a converted shipping container; other sisters had been running education and training programmes until they were shut down when the lockdown began because they were not considered a “essential service”.

I hope that as time goes on, we can start to discern what the experience of this pandemic calls for from the Church in terms of its vision, mission and ministry. We are living a primarily sacramental model. The closing of churches and the suspension of public Masses is challenging us to become a different kind of Church. We cannot go back to what was normal in the past. We must be a Church which is much more inclusive of the destitute and of those who are suffering in so many ways: the victims of violence against women and children, all those who are stigmatised or suffer discrimination.

 

This requires addressing honestly the systemic issues in the political fabric of the nation, the massive corruption, mismanagement, and incompetence. But it also requires of us as Church to reflect on and discern what the signs of the times call us to be and do, what model of Church we need to create and develop. I hope and pray that this crisis will bring out the treasures of who we are called to be as disciples of Jesus, and to be the field hospital that Pope Francis dreams of. This means building on what we have achieved in the past – but then, to be creative in imagining something new for the future.

 

 

Tomas Halik's essay: "On the way Down".

Posted on 26th May, 2020

 As we begin to ease lock-down measures, this is worth a read.