Thursday, May 24, 2018


Eight days after the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Octave days, the Church celebrates the great Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Except, of course, most Anglicans have never heard of this celebration and even those churches which realise the Catholic heritage of the Church of England may not recognise this Feast.  This is to our loss for, as Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the USA, preached about at the wedding of their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, love is the way; and the one symbol that speaks to all about love is – the heart.  And the Church has the wonder of the Sacred Heart to offer people – a Heart which is not just concerned with the joys of love, but also knows about passion and pain.  It was while she was kneeling in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament that Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque displaying Hs Heart, "represented as a throne of fire with flames radiating on every side. It appeared more brilliant than the sun and transparent like crystal. The wound received on the Cross appeared clearly: There was a crown of thorns around the Heart and it was surmounted by a cross."  This is the Sacred Heart of Christ’s Passion which, unlike other images of love, constantly reminds us of its true cost.  This is a gift the Church of England sadly neglects.
At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation of Love is as Love reveals His Presence among us, a Presence we celebrate in and through each Eucharist.  It’s a Presence which is Real, a Presence which we need to penetrate and which needs to penetrate us if we are to encounter the Heart of God.  At Christmas we behold Love clothed in Flesh, Flesh which suffered, died, rose from the grave and ascended into heaven.  Love left us the sacrament of that Presence, and whilst the eye of the body beheld Jesus within Crib the eye of the heart can now begin to see the wonder of Emmanuel – the Love of God with us abiding in the Blessed Sacrament.

In his book The Drawing of This Love the author, Robert Fruewirth, explores aspects of the way the 14th century English mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich, realised how that Divine Love is permeated by compassion.  In one chapter he quotes Julian saying: ‘Here I saw a great affinity between Christ and us … for when he was in pain, we were in pain.  And all creatures capable of suffering pain suffered with him … So was our Lord Jesus Christ set at nought for us, and we all remain in this way as if set at naught with him, and shall do until we come to his bliss…’ (Ch.18)  Divine Compassion lies in the depths of the Sacred Heart – indeed, is the way in which that Heart is to be understood and we can always be present to His compassion when we come before Him in the Blessed Sacrament.  So people have longed to look upon that loving compassion and can do so when the Sacrament is exposed to our gaze on the altar.   There we can be present to Him as He is present to us when the Sacrament is exposed on the altar; if only every church offered times when this practice so that all can sit or kneel in prayer in His Presence.  If churches helped people to come and adore Him who longed – and longs – to be with us!  There we can talk with Him or just rest with Him and know that He is fully present to all who come to Him.  We could just curl up before Him who opens His Heart to us in the Sacrament of Divine Love.

But even if we cannot find an open church where the brilliance of the Host shines out we can always take Him with us in the tabernacle of our heart for, as St Francis of Assisi wrote in his Rule of 1221: ‘We should make a dwelling-place within ourselves where He can stay, He who is the Lord God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ Dame Julian echoes this theme when later she wrote: ‘Then with a glad expression our Lord looked into his side and gazed, rejoicing and with his dear gaze he led his creature’s understanding through the same wound into his side within. And then he revealed a beautiful and delightful place, large enough for all mankind that shall be saved to rest there in peace and in love.’ (Ch.24)  That ‘place’ is His Sacred Heart, a Heart large enough to contain all of us, a Heart enlarged by compassion.  This is the Sacrament of Love upon which we are invited to gaze, as Julian gazed on what was revealed to her.  It is a wonderful thing that we who have been made part of His Body can gaze on that Body which is lit up with Love – as one might look on a building flooded with light both inside and out, throbbing with all the colours there are against the darkness that surround it – a darkness of both sin and a lack of recognition. This is what we are to realise as we gaze on His Incarnate Body shown to us in the monstrance.

God enables us to fashion an inner-monstrance of the heart which is to be the dwelling-place for Jesus where we can adore Him whenever we visit that place.  Few churches can offer perpetual Adoration but He can always be with us and we can always adore Him whenever we choose to make this visit to our heart.  But wouldn’t it be wonderful if more Anglican churches – cathedrals, certainly – offered this facility?  There is a wonderful Tabernacle House, for example, in Southwark Cathedral (which may come from the Convent of the sisters of the Community of Reparation to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament founded in 1869 and ended with the death of the last sister in the early years of this century).

It’s exquisitely beautiful to come to Jesus in this way and be able to just rest with Him – ‘be there’ with Him who is in all places and fills all things yet who left us this way to realise His presence.  It’s a presence that doesn’t require any words and the only effort is to focus attention on Him and Him alone.  To be able to do this in places like Westminster Cathedral and Tyburn Convent in Hyde Park Place is a joy which all would benefit from realising.  And when that is not possible we can make a virtual visit to adore Jesus through a number of websites which offer that facility.

Thankfully even though we may not be able to visit those places, He dwells in the hearts of all who turn aside to Him and unlock the door to this inner sanctuary.  The Sacred Heart is like a door leading into the very soul of Christ, towards complete conformity to Him.

"Devotion to the Sacred Heart has a twofold object: it honours first with adoration and public worship the Heart of flesh of Jesus Christ, and secondly the infinite love with which this Heart has burned for us since its creation, and with which it is still consumed in the Sacrament of our altars." (St. Peter Julian Eymard)


Monday, May 07, 2018


‘Cor ad cor loquitor’

Recently Fr. Richard circulated a note about how we might include lay people in the Sodality, as indicated in the Principles.  It’s a development that’s been on the side-lines but Richard has given it a kick into play and I wanted to take it up and, by God’s grace, see what emerged as I held it for a while.

I’m sure you are aware that, along with the development of the Sodality, I launched a Spiritual Association, rooted in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, offering a simple Rule of Life whose charism has been to express compassion.  It has the Approval of the Bishop of Southwark and we now have 16 Companions, most of whom are priests and including one bishop, and 14 Associates.  Alongside all this

Following writing ‘Enfolded in Christ – The Inner Life of a Priest’ I realised I could have said more about how to live with greater integrity – holiness – and to give greater attention to the call of Christ and the gospel.  Having been a Religious for many years the Franciscan charism is still present and I have been looking at various options and praying for discernment as to the possible way forward.   At present some of those associated with the Sodality have joined other, dispersed communities (Benedictine) and there are some new forms of online ‘Monastic’ life on offer, not least in the Episcopal Church as well as some in the UK (Cistercians – traditional and male and Hopeweavers – new form, for example). 

These elements seem to be related and I wonder if others wonder if the Sodality might explore whether it might provide an ‘umbrella’ under which, for example, an intentional open community might develop which gave expression to aspects of the Sodality charism, was dispersed and rich in catholic spirituality.  I have now spoken with Fr. Richard who noted that such an ‘umbrella’ is provided by the Carmelites and Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus and recommended I put a written proposal to the Sodality Council at the Annual Meeting.

That SMMS gather a group of people – lay and ordained – who are interested in developing their baptismal commitment that ‘dying to sin we may live the risen life’ through a committed form of dispersed religious life.

For some this has meant undertaking: the Benedictine vows of obedience, stability and ‘conversatio morum’, variously translated as ‘conversion of manners’ or ‘of life’, whilst non-monastics have expressed their commitment through vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  What might be appropriate?  Here are my suggestions:

            Simplicity of life

            Commitment to appropriate relationships

            Conversion of the heart

The Aim of the new Association (?) could reflect that of the Sodality which the Principles state is for:

‘the sanctification of  (Associates – lay or ordained)
through the hearts of Jesus and Mary, for the glory of God, and to nurture God’s Reign.’

Our Principles offer some clear ways for a vowed Association – here are some suggestions: which emerge form these{

Simplicity of life:

            - to contemplatively listen as Mary did (Day 6)

            - to live with generosity, rooted in simplicity of life (Day 10).  This might involve, for example, giving away 5% of one’s disposable income;

Commitment to appropriate relationships

            - we don’t include this so it would be something new to offer;

Conversion of the heart: (This feels most important and could develop Day 18 of the Principles: ‘Called to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary’)

            - to imitate Mary (Day 3) – the one who sought to live by the Divine Will;

            - to live with humility (Day 11).  This is already part of the charism of the Association of the   Hearts of Jesus and Mary but might be developed in ecological ways as well;

            - to live with repentance (Day 12).  This might involve making use of the sacrament of             Reconciliation

            - to live with mercy (Day 13).  Like members of the Association of Compassionate Hearts,       Sodalists already recognise that Compassion expresses God’s love for humanity, and is shown           especially in the hearts of Jesus and Mary.

            -  to commit to evangelisation (Day 14).  To reach out to others from the Heart of God and to serve the Reign of God in whatever way might be appropriate to the individual (Day 9).  This    might include a recognition that we are all sisters and brothers with the whole of creation.

The focus of the Sodality on Mary and her place in our life suggests that there might be an emphasis on living contemplatively.  There are few existing ‘new communities’ in the UK (I think Hopeweavers sees itself as contemplative) which are rooted in contemplative living, something which the Carmelite lay communities focus on, so this might be something a new development could be rooted in: contemplative living the gospel – something the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus emphasise. 

To spend at least 30 mins a day in silent prayer, and to make use of the Examen each day.
To take a retreat each year, either at a Retreat Centre or at home
To make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as conscience requires.

These are just some thoughts as to a way forward if SMMS wants to take up this idea of opening up to lay people, an idea which might take the working name of Solitaries of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary’.  It might also help those of us, married, partnered or single, who are looking for a way of committing ourselves to a way that’s rooted in the tradition of Christian religious life.

John-Francis Friendship, Feast of Dame Julian of Norwich 2018

Sunday, May 06, 2018


Having read, many years ago, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ I knew it dealt with timeless religious themes and, in particular, the cycle of redemption and salvation and was impressed by the way it did so in such a compelling way.  But it wasn’t until I read an article by Nancy Enright, an American professor of English, in the present copy of ‘The Way’ (April 2018) that I discovered J. R. R. Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic.  ‘Tolkien, Middle Earth and Laudate si’, concerns, in particular, his horror at the way the world was becoming corrupted not only nationally (it was written between 1937 and 1949 against the backdrop of the rise of facism and communism) but also ecologically to the extent that he gave up owning a car because of the way he saw, even then, that motoring was contributing to the destruction of the environment.

Enright also points out the connection between Mary and Galadriel, queen of Lothlorien, the uncorrupted land: ‘She shone like a window of glass … as a crystal fallen in the lap of the land.’  Tolkien was close friends with a Jesuit in Cambridge and Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, used the characters of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins in a 2008 lecture to students in Argentina.  But it’s St Francis who inspired both Tolkien and the Pope who made his own appeal for the future of our planet in his encyclical, Laudate Si. 

If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we are intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. (Laudato si, n.11)

Saturday, April 21, 2018

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING – summary of the teaching

Lift up your heart with humble love; and mean God and not what you can get out of him. [3]

Hate to think of anything but God himself so that nothing occupies your mind or will but God himself. [3]

Try to forget all created things. Let them go and pay no attention to them.  Do not give up but work away. [3]

When you begin you find only darkness and a cloud of unknowing.  Reconcile yourself to wait in the darkness as long as necessary after him who you love. [3]

Strike that thick cloud of unknowing with the sharp dart of longing love, and on no account think of giving up.  [6]

He may well be loved but not thought. By love he may be caught and held, but by thought never. [6]

You are to reach out with a naked intention directed towards God and him alone.  Mean God who created you, and bought you, and graciously called you to this state of life. [7]

Let some such word as ‘God’ or ‘love’ or some other word given to you, be fixed to your heart so that it is always there, come what may. It will be your shield and spear in peace and war alike.  [7]

If God leads you to certain words my advice is not to let them go, that is, if you are using words at all in your prayer. [7]

If any thought should intrude itself in the darkness, asking what you are seeking, and what you are wanting, answer that it is God that you want: ‘Him I covet, him I seek, and him alone.’ [7]

Just as this cloud of unknowing is, as it were, above you and between you and God, so you must put a cloud of forgetting between you and all creation. Everything must be hidden beneath this cloud of forgetting.  Indeed, if wed may say so reverently, when we are engaged in this work it profits little or nothing to think of even God’s kindness or worth, or of our Lady, or pf the saints and angels, or of the joys of heaven.  It may be good sometimes to think particularly of God’s kindness and worth, yet in the work before us it must be put down and covered with the cloud of forgetting. [5]

When you have done all, you can to make the proper amendments laid down by Holy Church, then get to work quick sharp! [31]

If memories of your past actions keep coming between you and God, or any new thought or sinful impulse, you are resolutely to step over them because of your deep love for God.  Try to cover then with the thick cloud of forgetting.  And if it is really hard work you can use every dodge, scheme and spiritual stratagem you can find to put them away.  Do everything you can to act as if you did not know that these thoughts were strongly pushing in between you and God.  Try to look over their shoulders, seeking something else – which is God, shrouded in the cloud of unknowing. [31]

(freely translated by Fr. Robert Llewellyn form the Clifton Wolters translation)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

ENFOLDED IN CHRIST: The Inner Life of a Priest


On May 31st Canterbury Press will be publishing the book* I’ve written concerning priestly spirituality.  From my background as a Franciscan friar for twenty-five years, an interest in Ignatian and Benedictine spirituality and ten years as Rector of an urban parish, this book seeks to explore the heart of priestly spirituality.  It is not about ministry, mission, preaching, evangelisation, pastoral care etc.  but how, through our ‘abiding in the heart of Jesus’, we realise our vocation.

I've also addressed concerns that have emerged in my ministry of spiritual direction and pastoral supervision over many years and drawn on my experience as Vocations Adviser and Novice Guardian for the Franciscans.

It's different from some other books on this subject in exploring matters such as:. the place of confession in the life and ministry of the priest; life as a deacon; praying the Daily Office; Eucharistic living; spiritual direction and supervision; sexuality; letting go of our roles, detachment etc...  It also makes wide use of the Principles of the Society of St. Francis and the dynamic of the Ignatian Exercises and keeps in mind that not all priests will exercise their ministry in a parish context.  It might be summed up as an extended reflection on words of St. John Vianney said, “the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.”

It’s aimed at those considering and preparing for ordination as well as those who are ordained. It should also be of interest and help to spiritual directors, pastoral supervisors, clergy mentors, those concerned with the well-bring of the clergy – and any Christian interested in developing their spirituality.

Others have written about the ministry of the priest and some have sought to look at how ‘being’ can help ‘doing’ and I trust what I have written will complement some of these.  Apart from what one might expect in a book like this – chapters on Prayer, the Divine Office etc. it also includes material about:

            v Being rooted on God’s love for us;
            v Realising the need for constant ‘conversion of the heart’ and confession;
            v Issues concerning formation and formators;
            v Eucharistic living;
            v Looking at ‘being beneath the role’;
            v Issues of sexuality, celibacy and the single life;
            v Letting go.

For inspiration I take one of the motto’s of the Benedictines: Ut in Omnibus Glorificetur Deus:
That in all things God may be glorified

From the Foreword by Christopher, Bishop of Southwark: 'The tradition he inherits, distils and passes on is a broadly based one, in which writers and thinkers as various as George Herbert, Maya Angelou and Paul Tillich all have a part to play. But at its heart is the deep hope of humanity this side of eternity, to take the shape which God purposes for each of us, to grow into our true selves, to become the people it is good for us to be.’ 

This is a very welcome and insightful addition to the corpus of books on vocation and priesthood, bringing John-Francis’ depth of wisdom and experience for reflection for those preparing for ordained ministry and in their early years. Further, though, I was personally delighted and challenged by his insights after many years of ordained ministry. Thank you, J-F.
                                             - The Rev. Canon Neil Evans (Director of Ordinands, Diocese of London)

Although John-Francis Friendship’s book is written specifically with priests and ordinands in mind it is also a book for every Christian person called, in John-Francis’s words, to 'live out their Baptismal promises; to deepen the conversion of their heart to Christ’. This book reflects hard won and faithful experience and offers itself as a valuable companion to all who choose to walk that narrow and blessed way.
- Dr. Meg Warner (Author of Abraham: A journey through Lent, London: SPCK, 2015)

John-Francis Friendship’s deep thinking and reflection in these pages will help those who seek to journey and grow in their relationship with God.
            -  Bishop Ric Thorpe  (Bishop of Islington; previously Bishop of London’s Adviser for Church Planting)                                            

Father John-Francis has given us a gift as he speaks from the heart and with gentle wisdom about the joys and challenges facing those who consecrate their lives to Jesus as his priests.
- Bishop Lindsay Urwin OGS (Vicar of Christ Church, Melbourne and member of the Council of Bishop’s for The Society)

As someone who doesn't go to church, I found it a fascinating insight into the life and journey of a priest/vicar. I also found it an 'accessible' read!
                                                                                 - Chris Marlowe (TV and Film Costume Designer)

*  ISBN-13: 9781786220462,  RRP £12.99 ($21)


Sunday, April 08, 2018


'Lift up your heart to God with humble love: and mean God himself, and not what you get out of him.  Indeed, hate to think of anything but God himself, so that nothing occupies your mind or will but only God.  Try to forget all created things that he ever made, and the purpose behind them, so that your thought and longing do not turn or reach out to them either in general or in particular.  Let them go, and pay no attention to them.  It is the work of the soul that pleases God most.  All saints and angels rejoice over it, and hasten to help it on with all their might…. The whole of humankind is wonderfully helped by what you are doing, in ways you do not understand…. Yet it is the easiest work of all when the soul is helped by grace and has a conscious longing.  And it can be achieved very quickly. Otherwise it is hard and beyond your powers. 

Do not give up then, but work away at it till you have this longing.  When you first begin, you find only darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing.  You don't know what this means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast reaching out towards God.  Do what you will, this darkness and this cloud remain between you and God, and stop you both from seeing God in the clear light of rational understanding, and from experiencing his loving sweetness in your affection.  Reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after the One whom you love.  For if you are the feel the Presence and see God in this life, it must always be in this cloud, in this darkness.  And if you work hard at what I tell you, I believe that through God's mercy you will achieve this very thing….

This work does not need a long time for its completion.  Indeed, it is the shortest work that can be imagined!  It is no longer, no shorter, than one atom…. It is so small that it cannot be analysed: it is almost beyond our grasp.  Yet it is as long as the time of which it has been written, ‘All the time that is given to thee, it shall be asked of thee how thou hast spent it.’  And it is quite right that you have to give account of it.  It is neither shorter nor longer than a single impulse of your will, the chief part of your soul.'

-The Cloud of Unknowing


Friday, April 06, 2018


Fifty-five years ago, or thereabouts, I found myself asking the question that I posed at the beginning of this book – “What’s it all about?” It’s a question that’s echoed throughout my life, one which was addressed early on when I joined the Franciscans in 1976 – ‘Why have you come?’  It’s a question, of course, that Jesus posed in different ways: of some young fishermen he asked ‘What do you seek?’ or to some women ‘Who are you looking for?’ Maybe it’s the kind of question that you find rolling around in your head at odd moments when you’ve nothing else to think about. And it can come in different ways. The poet, William Henry Davis (1871-1940), famously wrote:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

and declared, at the end, that -
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

But, so often, we don’t. Instead we spend our time working out how we can get what we think we want, or what we’re told we want – more of this, some of that, a holiday in a remote location where we can live for a while as if we were in Brighton but with sun.  Or we bury ourselves sin our latest electronic or computer gadget which will take us away from reality. Is that what life’s about? That can’t be why we’re here, can it? So I, probably like you, wonder what it’s all about and whether ife has any meaning or whether it’s just some vast inter-galactic joke. Then, a few years ago, a friend introduced me to Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning.  After surviving Auschwitz Frankl wrote from his experience as a Holocaust survivor and pondered on the meaning of life. What he noticed, in particular, was that it was those who held onto a reason beyond themselves who managed to survive through the horrors on the Camps. Something bigger than themselves.  T. S. Eliot wrote, in The Four Quartets, that what we think we’re here for is always having to burst out of the shell that contains it; that the purpose of our life is always greater than what we think it to be and is altered as we encounter it.
            All that leads me to recall the old Catechism, something I was never introduced to when preparing for Conformation all those years ago but which I am drawn to. There are a number of different forms and St Ignatius Loyola adapts one for the opening of his Spiritual Exercises. He says that the meaning of life is:
Man is created to praise, reverence and serve our Lord God,
and by this means to save his soul.’
So what does he mean by that? 

Monday, April 02, 2018

"Lord, increase our faith!"

The days of the Triduum Sacrum, the three holy days known as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, offer a powerful doorway into the mystery of the Christian faith. What they tell us is that new life comes at a cost, it's not something that comes whenever you choose as you might decide on a makeover or somewhere different to go for your holiday. Nor will new life come by singing more choruses or screwing yourself up. It comes as we decide to die to live.

The Triduum outlines all that our faith is about – service through love, Christ known beneath the outer forms of creation and life through death. I'm dying to live might be the motto of these days. Christianity is the costly antidote to so much superficiality which masquerades as offering a better life. But you need to embrace and participate in those three days rather than avoid them if you’re to understand this faith. Is there any other way to deepen it?

Saturday, March 31, 2018


Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
            Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son. 
            The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
            ‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise. 
           'I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
           'For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
            'Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine in-breathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image. 
            'See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
            'I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
           ' But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would Go
            'The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages."


Almighty, ever-living God
whose Only-begotten Son descended to the realm of the dead, 
and rose from there to glory, grant that your faithful people, 
who were buried with him in baptism,
may, by his resurrection, obtain eternal life.  
Through Christ our Lord.  Amen

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Spy Wednesday –
the day Judas betrayed his Master
for thirty pieces of silver.
How often have I betrayed Him
in thought, word and deed.
How often ignored His will and acted on my own. Too often.
Give me the grace to kneel and confess my sin and shame to you
through your priest
that I may hear the words of your absolution.
Strengthen me, Lord, to be faithful to you
this, and every day.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

HOLY SATURDAY – Christ descends into our depths to draw us into Life.

From time to time I notice comments concerning Holy Saturday which refer to it as a “day of rest” or one of “waiting and watching” – an “empty liturgical day” or as the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said in a Pastoral Letter in 2018, a day of “dead science”.  This may be the understanding of the western churches but it is not the Orthodox understanding of this day as is made clear in this Homily by St. Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373), quoted in the Office of Readings:

‘Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross; but when by a loud cry from that cross he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it. Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat … It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man…. He came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong room and scattered all its treasure.’

This theology/spirituality of the anastasis or ‘harrowing of hell’ emerges from a number of scriptural references.  For example, in 1 Peter 3: 18b: ‘He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison’ and 4:6 that ‘… the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does’.  This doctrine seems, in part, a response to the statement in Job: ‘As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep. O that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!  If mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.’ (14: 11-14) 

There is a rich liturgical observance of this work of Christ amongst the dead found in The Festal Menaion, translated into English by Mother Mary and Bishop Kalistos Ware.  It has always seemed sad to me that, liturgically, we leave Christ on the Cross on Good Friday so some years ago I used aspects of Orthodox Vespers of that day and the Liturgy for Great and Holy Saturday to create a short Night Office of the Deposition and Burial of Christ.  It includes aspects of Tenebrae and concludes with the Blessing of Graves and can be celebrated on the evening of Good Friday thus offering a service for those who may not be able to attend the afternoon Liturgy of the Day (Anglicans seem to have ignored the fact that some people are unable to attend services during the day!). 

The Descent of the Ego and Union with God
But there is more, it seems to me, than simply re-enacting the physical events of this movement from Cross to grave.  Something of deep significance in Christ’s journey into the realm of Death and Hades.  For the effect of His redemption works at both a conscious and unconscious level, affecting the whole cosmic order.   As one write has observed: ‘As a phase of individuation, Edinger* points to the descent as having “the greatest importance to depth psychology” in that it represents “the ego’s deliberate descent into the unconscious.”  The light of the ego is temporarily extinguished in the upper world and is carried into the lower world where it rescues worthy contents of the unconscious and even conquers Death itself.

‘The imagery of the descent into hell is analogous to the ego’s fall into the unconscious for a prolonged time and to a depth from which it emerges as one reborn, and as a result now seeks to serve the Self who serves the All.  Jung views this prolonged encounter as the psychological equivalent of the integration of the collective unconscious and as forming “an essential part of the individuation process.”(Jung, ‘Aion’, CW9ii, par 72). 

Similarly, St John of the Cross speaks of “the cleansing fire of the dark night.” when, Divine light . . . acts upon the soul which is purged and prepared for perfect union in the same way as fire acts upon a log of wood in order to transform it into itself.’ (Soul Afire, op cit. 258-259)’

Far from Holy and Great Saturday, lying as it does at the heart of the Paschal mystery, being a day when ‘nothing happens’ it is, arguably, the great day of salvation.  For whilst western artists have portrayed the glory of resurrection as the appearance of Christ to humankind, orthodox iconography knows nothing of this but, rather, presents us with the image of Christ drawing Adam and Eve, our archetypal ancestors, from their slumbers into the Mandorla of His divinity.  This action symbolizes that his victory redeems all humankind, even back to the beginning.  This resurrection scene is taking place in the past, present, and future.  And our ceaseless task is to open ourselves more and more deeply to Christ’s gracious, compassionate invitation into life.

“When in the new tomb you, the Redeemer of all, had been laid for the sake of all, hell became a laughing stock and, seeing you, quaked with fear; the bars were smashed, the gates were shattered, the graves were opened, the dead arose ...When you went down to death, O immortal Life, you slew hell with the lightning flash of your Godhead”
: The Good Friday Matins of Great Saturday)

(*Edinger, op cit, ‘Christian Archetype’, p 110) 

Friday, March 09, 2018

THE SCENT OF HIDDEN SPRINGS – Some Thoughts About Roots and Flourishing


 “What’s it all about, Alfie?”
So sang Dionne Warwick in a famous song, which became a major hit for Cilla Black way back in 1966.  It was written for the film of the same name – Alfie – and she went on to ruminate about life: what was all about? A moment’s pleasure? Making more than you give? And then asked if it’s it foolish to be kind, wise to be cruel? Does life only belong to the strong? The turning point came when she admitted that she believed there was a heaven above, that there’s much more to life and that even non-believers can believe in love. In one poignant line she sang:

‘Without true love we just exist, Alfie. Until you find the love you've missed you're nothing, Alfie.’

            The song may have been written over fifty years ago but the question remains: what’s it all about? It’s the kind of question that we’re suddenly faced with at times of crisis. Teenagers, when they hit upon that existential phase, often stumble upon it. Lovers wonder at it. As we gaze on nature we find it can ask us – what meaning does life have …? Is it really all summed up as ‘eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die’?

‘Love is our true destiny.
We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another.’
Fr. Thomas Merton (1915-1968), monk and writer. From: 'Love and Living', Houghton Mifflin, 2002
This book isn’t meant to be a deeply philosophical tome or intellectual or theological critique of modern Britain but a reflection – a meditation, an exploration – into some of the fundamental questions about life and death each of us can find ourselves facing. Many of the fundamental questions about the nature of our being touch on the religious dimension of life and yet many have no time for religion and many of the questions which we have always asked – ‘Who am I?’, ‘Is there any purpose to life?’, ‘Why does there have to be pain and suffering?’, ‘What does it mean to be human?’ ‘Who is God?’ – all these and more were and are matters with which Christianity has struggled.  But the wisdom gained by that struggle is no longer accessible to a generation cut off from its ancient roots as it loses interest in religion, a generation which has little sense of having a soul in need of nurturing and nourishing, a soul which bears the image of divine beauty. That is what we are – women and men who bear such beauty within us that needs to be revealed. So that is what this book concerns.

Religious abuse
Perhaps your memory of being taken to church as a child and the words or actions of those who call themselves ‘Christians’ has left you cold or scarred you for life. I remember, when I was a child and had been taken to church, thinking that I never wanted to go there again.  Or you or someone close to you has been deeply hurt – physically, emotionally or spiritually – by the church. This is tragic and anyone who has been abused in this way will rightly feel anger, bitterness even hatred. And when, so often, what is reported is the way Christians have exercised power for their own ends, denied people their sexual or gender rights or refused to accept minority’s people rightly become disillusioned. Whilst many faiths can be narrow-minded, bigoted or homophobic it is Christianity that is seen to be offering simplistic answers to life’s deep and complicated questions. And the kind of worship offered in many churches doesn’t really appeal to the soul, doesn’t nourish it. Rather some churches seem to offer ‘candy-floss’ worship – appealing to the senses but having no substance – and even prayer has too often been taught as a means to achieve what you want; it’s about asking for things, celebrating success and God’s apparent ‘power’ rather than offering a means to encounter the deep mysteries of God or provide us with anything more than a five-minute after-glow.
            Christianity, like any religion, isn’t exempt from corruption, misuse or a fundamentalist interpretation. Something which offers a way of life that can unite us with that which is most noble and creative in our humanity can be, and has been, abused and used as a means of control over others. Of course, we are all ‘fallen’, broken people but it would not be wrong to say that Christ weeps at the inhumanity some in the church exercise and which can prevent people from encountering His compassion. Thankfully God is not limited to the churches and the knowledge that a person is held in the mystical love of a higher power can still be realised. Those who practice the 12-step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, will know the importance it places on a deity – ‘God’, ‘Him’, or ‘a Power greater than ourselves’ — or to religious practices such as prayer. And the ultimate goal of sobriety, as the final step states, is to achieve a “spiritual awakening”, a goal that is set before all of us but discovered by few.

“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity.
Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Pope John-Paul II (Inaugural Homily)

Spiritual, not religious
Because there are some who will say “I’m spiritual, not religious” this book will try to re-connect us with some of those spiritual roots of that faith which nurtured and nourished our society for two thousand years yet now seems irrelevant (what an over-used word!). We’re detached from faith – or semi-detached at best. But the house we inhabit has forgotten cellars containing vast hordes of wisdom for us to explore. We’ve hidden springs for refreshment, caves containing treasures, yet the doorway to these can have become ignored and covered in cobwebs – “we don’t want to go there, what’s the point?” But if we lose touch with our roots – with our soul – we’re in danger of becoming destabilised, a shallow generation satisfied by superficialities. And always, when we descend sufficiently, is a still, small voice which says:

LORD, you search me and you know me.
You know my resting and my rising;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
Behind and before, you besiege me,
your hand ever laid upon me.
O where can I go from your spirit,
or where can I flee from your face?
If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn
or dwell at the sea’s furthest end,
even there your hand would lead me;
your right hand would hold me fast.
If I say, “Let the darkness hide me
and the light around me be night,”
even darkness is not dark to you,
the night shall be as bright as day,
and darkness the same as the light.
For it was you who formed my inmost being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you who wonderfully made me;
how wonderful are your works,
which my soul knows well!
(Ps.139 – extracts)

In depth living
Much of my life these days involves sitting and listening to people who are trying to make sense of God in their lives and explore all the movements that happen within them as they try to give attention to God – it’s called ‘spiritual direction’ and if you want to know more then there’s some notes at the back. Many of the issues that people want to explore and which seem to be around in society, both sacred but mainly secular, concern matters that the great Traditions of Christianity, for want of a better term, have always addressed: ‘Am I simply re-acting to life?’  ‘Life’s so full I don’t have a chance to slow down.’ ‘Why is X having to suffer?’  ‘What will happen when I die?’  ‘I’m doing so much but life seems empty.’ Just because someone may have jettisoned religion, faith, God etc. these questions don't go away. Getting rid of God just means we’ve blocked off a source of wisdom and insight; ignoring Christianity might mean we don’t have to bother with deeper questions but it also means that we’ve lost the ability to access that ‘wisdom of the ages’ which has helped people to live and not just survive.  As someone wrote to me:

            ‘As you know I am one of your acquaintances who does not have a faith, is not a believer. Neither am I an intellectual in anyway shape or form. However, I do question where our humanity has gone, I love the wisdom of the ages from those spiritual leaders, be it religious or pagan. I think the past has so much to             teach us; so much in this modern age is being forgotten. Everything is so shallow and meaningless.’

So this book sets out to look at matters such as what it means to be human and why we’re here; why the God questions don’t go away; what gives meaning and purpose to life; why we resonate with ‘spiritual’ things; why people suffer; how we can become more beautiful and, perhaps most poignant of all, aging and death. And throughout I’ll try to look at what that ‘wisdom of the ages’ might have to offer us for religion, down the ages, has looked at all these matters, and more, and tried to make sense of them. At its best religion doesn’t attempt to provide answers but to shine a light on the path that leads into the heart of our being, into the heart of that which we call God, where we can discover the truth of who we are and how we connect – and realise ourselves, with our unique wonder, as part of a vast whole which finds itself embraced in a mystery.  The mystery of God.

Has religious faith any appeal?
The transcendental appeal of religion remains and still tugs at the hearts of many, in-spite of a chorus of cynical disapproval. It’s certainly not cool to be a Christian, or even to talk about Jesus, God, the Saints, prayer (spirituality is OK), worship and so on.
            But Christianity has rarely been popular; as G. K. Chesterton wrote: ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.’1 (1‘What’s Wrong with the World’, Part I, Chapter 5). Yet the heroic lives of saintly men and women continue to have an appeal; they are like beacons shining in the dark. Of course, sportsman and women and ‘celebrities’ can have an instant and greater glow about them, but have you noticed that their appeal is often passing? And many of our ‘gods’ also turn out to have feet of clay. But true holiness, that which takes us out of ourselves so that we are living in the light of the Other, lasts and we can continue to savour it long after a holy one has disappeared from this earth.

‘Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life even in its temporal phase.’ 
Pope John-Paul II (Evangelium Vitae)

Religion re-invented    
What I find so fascinating is the way that so much of our religious past hasn’t actually disappeared but has been taken over – Advent calendars now offer us chocolates rather than insights into waiting for the birth of the Man who can lead us to life in all its fullness; All Saints now offers fashionable clothes rather than being men and women clothed in holiness; Halloween isn’t a way of lovingly remembering the dead but a chance to go a bit mad. Incense is now a costly perfume to enhance our bodies rather than a mystical aroma which announces the presence of holiness, of God; and the ability to make your Confession is now rewarded with an invitation to appear on some ‘reality’ TV programme rather than the ability to find real absolution. And we’ve drained the great mysteries of the Faith – the birth of Christ and his death and resurrection – into times of excess governed by the gods of commerce, holding out nothing more than a plastic Santa or chocolate bunny. Can these satisfy our real needs, our deepest needs? Or are they part of a culture which has to make us feel we need ever more and more to make us happy and find … contentment … but is basically about making a profit for shareholders and never satisfying our needs for fear we won’t spend our money? Yet all the while, dimly maybe, behind it all and almost masked by the deafening clamour of commerce and entertainment can you hear that quiet voice asking: ‘What do you seek? What do I seek?’
What do we seek – what’s it all about?
Have you ever thought of that?  Isn’t it such an important question and doesn’t it often get ignored – what do I seek in life? It’s another way of wondering ‘what’s it all about’? Does my life have any meaning or purpose or am I just a creature of evolution waiting to disappear off the face of the earth, to be forgotten in a generation or so (if that)? Those aren’t the sort of questions that often get aired on TV or discussed in the pages of the tabloids (or, come to that, the broadsheets) but aren’t they important questions to ponder? But where do I go to explore them? And do I want to?

‘The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate,
to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
            It has been the task of religion to help us do that, to open us to those questions and explore the meaning and purpose of life. For some, that purpose is to be happy; no one, normally, wants to be un-happy. For others it might be to live in a close and loving family or find a satisfying career (which is OK until that comes to an end. Then what?) But, and here is the question again, is that all I seek? There's a famous affirmation by someone called St Augustine, who was born in what is now Algeria, north Africa in the 4th century AD which somehow seems to get at the nub of all this: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
            Now if the real task of religion is to help each of us grow into this fullness of life something’s got in the way and managed to palm us off with thinking all we need is a better car, bigger house or a win on the Lottery. That a make-over will, somehow, answer our needs. Surely, unless we’re re-making the heart of who we are anything else is like playing with the deckchairs on the Titanic.

"Love is a one-way street.  It always moves away from self in the direction of the other. 
Love is the ultimate gift of our-selves to others.  When we stop giving we stop loving,
when we stop loving we stop growing,
and unless we grow we will never attain personal fulfilment;
we will never open out to receive the life of God.  It is through love we encounter God.”
 (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Where there is Love, there is God, p. 26)

 Do I realise that I am made for love and to be love for others? As one of Jesus’ closest friends said: ‘let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.’ (I John 4.7) So, might love be the way whereby sacred and secular find common ground? Might it be that it is as we learn more about love that we are drawn out of ourselves to encounter the mystery of the other – and of the Other (the greatest Other)? Well, there’s nothing new in that reflection: "We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become” declared St Clare of Assisi way back in the 13th century, “If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others." And St Thomas à Kempis, who lived just over a hundred years later, wrote in his famous book ‘The Imitation of Christ’: ‘Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger or higher or wider; nothing is more pleasant, nothing fuller, and nothing better in heaven or on earth, for love is born of God and cannot rest except in God, Who is above all created things.’  So we come to the point, I hope, where believer and unbeliever can discover a language which communicates a divine narrative and agree with what that remarkable woman Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), the first of her gender to write in the English language, said in her book, ‘Revelations of Divine Love’: ‘Understand (this) well: love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Hold yourself in this truth and you shall understand and know more in the same vein.’ (Ch.86)

So let’s begin by turning to the vexed question – just what do we understand by that three-letter word: God?

‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.’ (I John 4. 16)