Friday, November 24, 2017



An Introduction

I love trees.

Especially I love old ones. In the park near where I live there are some fine ancient oaks which, by the size of their trunks, must have taken root centuries ago. I love their gnarled, pocked surfaces with their massive branches, some of which have been blown off in gales and others fallen away with age. They have stood sentient there for centuries, witnesses to ages past; through the reigns of the Charles’ and George’s, William’s and Victoria and so many more they are silent witnesses to the passage of time.
            But what I admire about them is that they are simply there; they stand still, able to bend with the wind no matter how destructive it may be. They are just – being themselves – being trees. That’s all they can be yet in being what they are they have given pleasure to generations. Their innate beauty can be looked at or ignored for they do not need our gaze, just our respect. They are supported in the air by invisible roots thrust deep into the soil from where they draw their strength and energy, from which they are nurtured and nourished. No superficial, passing life for them. They know they need to be rooted for, if they are not, they will fall yet what is essential for them is invisible to the eye, as a little prince once observed.
            You can notice so many trees, but how often do we really see a tree? When was the last time you looked at one, really looked at one? I only ask because, like trees, we can easily notice people without really seeing them – what is essential to them is invisible to the eye – just as we can take ourselves for granted. How often do we stop to reflect on the wonder of our being? Really see and value who we are? This book is intended to help you stop for a moment and wonder at this matter of being human. Millenia ago, when someone did just that, they went on to declare:

I thank you for the wonder of my being, for the wonders of all your creation

And if you raise your eye past the topmost branches of the trees and, at night, gaze on the sky above and around you I wonder if your sense of marvel might be aroused as you look upon the myriad of stars? What might you want to say as you contemplate the heavens?  Possibly the same person who realised the wonder of their being all those years ago was also the one who wrote about the way that, when they considered the heavens, the moon and the stars which are set in their places, they then reflected on humanity and wondered – why. Are we, who make such a mess of things worth wondering at, worth being cared about? And the answer, of course, was ‘yes’.

            Sadly, trees die. Sometimes of old age and, sometimes, because their tap root gets broken. I wonder if our society has become separated from our tap-root, the one reaching deep into the past which has been nourished by faith? Having traveled in other cultures where faith and belief is strong it’s interesting to hear how we are viewed by some, and how strong the poorest can be when they are rooted in faith. I recall hearing someone complain to me that westerners were worse than animals because we had lost faith – had jettisoned God. For them, to be human meant being a person of faith and to abandon that made us more to be pitied than the brute beasts.

Seeing behind the mask
            But isn’t this business of being human about discovering a depth of being which connects us with the deepest streams of life? A few years ago, after a period of solitude, a person drove into their local town and noticed the people walking down the streets in a way he had not seen them before. Later he, wrote:

‘I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which (I believe) God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the Sun.’

But how often do we let ourselves wonder at our being – and wonder, why? Why did I come into being? Am I just an accident, just the work of biological processes? Or am I the consequence of so much more – of all the care and attention, the love and compassion that has been shown me? Or not. Is my strength to be measured in how I live with weakness, my glory the way I own who I am ‘warts and all’? The wisdom of the ages tells us that to be fully human is to be able to accept myself just as I am, accept the truth of who I am when I am naked of whatever I clothe myself with and to know that I am loved with a passion that is greater than life.

What’s it all about?
            I want to explore why we’re here and of being loved; to look at brokenness and loss and the need for compassion, respect and worth. To consider the gods of our age, of bread and circuses, and what really makes us rich; what it means to have worth and the way that insecurity can cripple us. To consider pain and suffering, success and failure. In the past people have looked to religion for help but, for many in the West, the tap-root of faith has been rejected, God seems dead and religion is for dummies. But I want to look deeper and see if what religion once offered for human well-being might still have something to offer 21st century western society. And to look at how Jesus might picture God for us and how his story might be timeless, just as those oaks in the woods have so much to give if only we would look at them with the eye of the heart.

Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
(Augustine of Hippo)

Tuesday, November 07, 2017


My interest in compassion was awakened by Brexit. Not just the appalling way in which the worst aspects of our humanity became apparent – stirring mistrust and dislike of the foreigner and violence and fear of refugees, but the way in which appeal seemed to be made to our baser, selfish instincts.

Many of the popular political figures adopted an attitude of ‘us first’, which chimes with ‘me first’.  It’s not easy to change these basic instincts that appeal to our ‘selfish gene’ (if there is one) and the pull of selfishness can be strong.  But the way in which Europe seemed to be encouraging member states to set aside such attitudes and work for the common good seemed laudable. And it wasn’t as if others weren’t invited to ‘join the club’; indeed, it appears that as poorer European nations were welcomed into the ‘club ‘so people began to encourage us to fear them and have them excluded.  Any notion that our country was shaped by ‘Christian values’ was thrown out of the window and whilst the notion was appealed to, it became apparent that it was for tribal reasons. 

Compassion for the other was undermined by an appeal to fear, mistrust and dislike.  All this seems connected to the pull of individualism and appeals to that primary individualistic motive which is connected with the pre-adult phase in human development.  People are encouraged to pursue private goals rather than the common good, promoted by those who are attracted by a certain brand of politics.  Any concern for the wider good is countered by the promise of greater wealth - something Christians in particular should beware.

There's ano obvious danger here, one that much Catholic social teaching warns us about

Wecan seethe wider implications as those driven by the this individualistic creed show scant concern for those in need unless it serves their interests.  Competitiveness trumps cooperation and our moral imperative becomes forgotten .

Saturday, November 04, 2017


From a sermon by St. Charles Borromeo (1538 - 1584)


I admit that we are all weak, but if we want help, the Lord God has given us the means to find it easily. One priest may wish to lead a good, holy life, as he knows he should. He may wish to be chaste and to reflect heavenly virtues in the way he lives. Yet he does not resolve to use suitable means, such as penance, prayer, the avoidance of evil discussions and harmful and dangerous friendships. Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into church to pray the office or to celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God. But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for the office or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain recollected?

Would you like me to teach you how to grow from virtue to virtue and how, if you are already recollected at prayer, you can be even more attentive next time, and so give God more pleasing worship? Listen, and I will tell you. If a tiny spark of God’s love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out. Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will not lose its heat and grow cold. In other words, avoid distractions as well as you can. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.

If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well. Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.

Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.

My brothers (sic), you must realise that for us churchmen nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: I will pray, and then I will understand. When you administer the sacraments, meditate on what you are doing. When you celebrate Mass, reflect on the sacrifice you are offering. When you pray the office, think about the words you are saying and the Lord to whom you are speaking. When you take care of your people, meditate on how the Lord’s blood that has washed them clean so that all that you do becomes a work of love.

This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work: in meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


A man walked into church after Mass today and, on being asked if he might return, declared himself an atheist and only believed in empirical evidence. My response was a bit fumbled (‘could have done better’) and, on reflection, I realised how shallow was his statement.

We believe in so much you can’t ‘prove’ – love, joy, happiness - we believe liars and those who offer the promise of riches, in political dogmas and promises. Yet some people say they cannot believe in God – in the notion that there might be One who invites us to live up to what we have the potential to be; One who invites us to believe that we have the potential to be ‘God-like’; One who offers a way that sets self aside for the sake of the other. One who invites us open ourselves to encounter beauty, wonder, mystery. Doesn’t science also believed in those things?

‘All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.’ 
— Albert Einstein

‘Scientists [still] refuse to consider man as an object of scientific scrutiny except through his body. The time has come to realise that an interpretation of the universe—even a positivist one—remains unsatisfying unless it covers the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter. The true physics is that which will, one day, achieve the inclusion of man in his wholeness in a coherent picture of the world. ‘
— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

‘I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing. ‘
Alan Sandage (winner of the Crawford prize in astronomy)


Thursday, July 06, 2017


Does anyone else agree that 'Broken', which ended its run on the BBC on Tuesday night (July 4th), is amongst the best programmes dealing with social and personal issues from a profoundly Christian basis?  It also appears to be a story with equally profound spiritual roots - the heart of our relationship with God in Christ and the way that affects life.  It is a real expression of the saying of St. Jean Marie Vianney, Patron of Parish Clergy: 'The Priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus'.

I know the writer professes to be an atheist - but can hardly believe that's true.  His Catholic upbringing has clearly made an indelible mark on his attitude to life.  I've rarely seen such a moving and powerful portrayal of the Christian Faith in action - and all rooted in the dynamic of the Eucharist. Might it be required viewing by theological students and bishops?  It might make an excellent Lent Course for 2018.  Thanks, Jimmy McGovern - this is a real FRESH EXPRESSION!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

23rd Anniversary of Priesting and the Heart of our Faith

Today is the twenty-third anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood in Birmingham Cathedral, a day for which I give thanks.  It seemed very appropriate that the Gospel (1) for today’s Mass, the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, included this statement by Jesus:

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt.10:37)

It is known as one of the ‘hard-sayings’ of Jesus because, at first sight, it seems both overly-demanding and exclusive.  Yet, on further reflection, it is also one of the most beautiful and inspiring.  For it is a forceful reminder that our gaze be directed to the Heart of Christ, from which every human heart takes its shape and form yet which can become so misshapen.  It is easy for us to be misled by those we love – even the most wonderful of human lovers has their faults – and we need to have our own heart, the centre of our being, constantly re-focussed and re-made.  And we who are Christians find that the Heart of Jesus has no flaws and longs to re-fashion us in Christ’s image and likeness.  So we need to love the Heart of Jesus with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. (Mt.12:30)   

And, as if offering a further reflection on the Gospel, today’s Office of Readings includes the Homily Pope Paul VI during his visit to the Philippines in 1970 (2):

“I must bear witness to his name: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt.16:16).  He reveals the invisible God; he is the firstborn of all creation, the foundation of everything created.  He is the Teacher of mankind, and its Redeemer.  He was born, he died and he rose again for us.  He is the centre of history and of the world; he is the one who knows us and who loves us; he is the companion and the friend of our life.  He is the man of sorrows and of hope.  It is he who will come and who one day will be our judge and - we hope - the everlasting fullness of our existence, our happiness.  I could never finish speaking about him: he is the light and the truth; indeed, he is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (In.14:6).  He is the bread and the spring of living water to satisfy our hunger and our thirst.  He is our shepherd, our guide, our model, our comfort, our brother.  Like us, and more than us, he has been little, poor, humiliated; he has been a worker; he has known misfortune and been patient.  For our sake he spoke, worked miracles and founded a new kingdom where the poor are happy, where peace is the principle for living together, where the pure of heart and those who mourn are raised up and comforted, where those who hunger and thirst after justice have their fill, where sinners can be forgiven, where all are brothers.

Jesus Christ: you have heard him spoken of; indeed the greater part of you are already his: you are Christians.  So, to you Christians I repeat his name, to everyone I proclaim him: Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega; he is the king of the new world; he is the secret of history; he is the key to our destiny.  He is the mediator, the bridge, between heaven and earth.  He is more perfectly than anyone else the Son of Man, because he is the Son of God, eternal and infinite.  He is the son of Mary, blessed among all women, his mother according to the flesh, and our mother through the sharing in the Spirit of his Mystical Body.

Jesus Christ is our constant preaching; it is his name that we proclaim to the ends of the earth (cf. Rom 10:18) and throughout all ages (Rom.9 5).  Remember this and ponder on it: the Pope has come here among you and has proclaimed Jesus Christ!”

(1)  Revised Common Lectionary
(2)  Homily of the late Holy Father, Paul VI, at Mass at the ‘Quezon Circle, Manila, The Philippines, on Sunday, 29 November 1970

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Since giving expression to a spirituality that's been germinating for many years (The Spiritual Association of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary: I've become aware of a desire to write something about the priesthood.  Not about its theology or how one might express its call but about priestly spirituality as it is realised through the life and being of the priest.  A working 'title' came as soon as I allowed myself to recognise that I had this desire: Christ, the Life of the Priest. 

I have always hesitated about being proactive to express myself in this regard unsure whether I might have anything of use to say on the subject.   Nonetheless I have noticed that, over the years, I have given expression to some of this whenever I have been asked to give talks to priests or retreats I have conducted.  My involvement with the Sodality of Mary, Mother of Priests (SMMS) has also had a beneficial effect on my vocation and I was privileged to assist in its inception.  I have twice been invited to talk to clergy of the Diocese of London in the question of sustaining a healthy priestly life which seems, in general, to have been well-received.  Once the Compassionate Hearts had come to birth the need to express what has been on my own heart over these years also emerged and I could no longer avoid giving it attention.  It may come to nothing.

In essence the book would be about the way in which the particular vocation of priesthood is realised and how it is nurtured.  The idea of the priest as the alter Christus (another Christ).  As HH Pope Benedict XV1 wrote at the start of the Year of the Priest:

"As an alter Christus, the priest is profoundly united to the Word of the Father who, in becoming incarnate took the form of a servant, he became a servant (Phil 2: 5-11). The priest is a servant of Christ, in the sense that his existence, configured to Christ ontologically, acquires an essentially relational character: he is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ, at the service of humankind. Because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people: he is the minister of their salvation, their happiness and their authentic liberation, developing, in this gradual assumption of Christ's will, in prayer, in "being heart to heart" with him. Therefore this is the indispensable condition for every proclamation, which entails participation in the sacramental offering of the Eucharist and docile obedience to the Church." -  Pope Benedict XVI: 24 June 2009

At present I have considered chapters on:

1. PRIESTLY VOCATION: ‘Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent’ (The Declarations) reflections on the Personal Vocation and vocation to priesthood

2.  CLOTHED IN CHRIST: ‘To serve this royal priesthood, God has given particular ministries.  Priests are ordained to lead God's people in the offering of praise and the proclamation of the gospel.’ (Introduction to Ordination Rite)

3.  PRAYER:  ‘Priests are ordained to lead God's people in the offering of praise and the proclamation of the gospel … that we all may grow into the fullness of Christ and be a living sacrifice acceptable to God.’ (Introduction to Ordination Rite)

4.  EUCHARISTIC LIVING: ‘They are to preside at the Lord's table and lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.’  (The Declarations)

5.  THE SERVANT PRIEST:  ‘They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death. Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God's people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.’  (The Declarations)

6.  PENANCE AND RECONCILIATION: ‘Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ's name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.’  (The Declarations)

7.  PREACHING THE WORD:  ‘‘With their Bishop and fellow ministers, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and to watch for the signs of God's new creation. … They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God.’ (The Declarations)’

8.  COMPASSIONATE LIVING:  ‘With all God's people, they are to tell the story of God's love.’

9.  PRIESTLY FORMATION: The responsibility of those who form priests.

10.  CONCLUSION:  ‘They share with the Bishop in the oversight of the Church, delighting in its beauty and rejoicing in its well-being.’

It’s a project for which I have decided to set aside the next six months.  At present I am reading widely – not least re-reading Bishop Ramsey’s seminal book, The Christian Priest Today and Blessed Columba Marmion’s Christ, the Ideal of the Priest, a title that has, obviously, inspired my own.

John-Francis Friendship
June 25th, 2017

Saturday, May 27, 2017


From time to time one hears people exclaim: “I can never forgive what x did to y!”  Y is often a family member, friend or associate who has hurt someone close to us.  It’s a feeling we can also experience when some atrocity is reported, especially where children or vulnerable people are concerned.  It’s said with great feeling and, in some cases, is one that stays with x for many years, unless it can be resolved.  It can become like a weight x carries and usually causes pain and bitterness when recalled.   The weight, usually, is that of anger which lies hidden within us, like some wild animal trapped in a cage which roars when approached and lashes out when released.

But the fact is that we cannot forgive x for the wrong they do to y.  It’s not in our power to do so for we are not subject to the wrong that has been perpetrated.  We are, in a sense, ‘collateral damage’.

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray he taught them to ask that their trespasses be forgiven insofar as they were prepared to forgive the trespasses done to them, not to others:
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

In Matthew the word ‘trespass’ is usually interpreted as ‘debt’ (Greek: ὀφειλήματα – opheillemata)  : “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtor” (Matthew  6: 12)

and Jesus goes on to explain to His disciples: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14)  

Luke, however, gives us this reading: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” (11:4)

The change from ‘debt’ to ‘trespass’ in the Our Father first appeared in the Greek versions of the prayer by the 3rd cent. writer, Origen of Alexandria and this wording made its way into important English translations such as the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.  Whatever the reason for the various interpretations it is clear that Jesus here is telling His disciples that they have the power to affect a change of heart for themselves.  He does not tell them that they can forgive someone the sin done to another.

In Luke 17:3 Jesus tells His disciples: “If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.”  Jesus says we are to forgive him if he repents and admits his wrong, not regardless of whether he does so.  “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”  But this concerns how to respond to someone who repents and asks forgiveness.

At the end of John’s gospel when he recounts the appearance of Jesus to His disciples on the evening of the day of Resurrection Jesus says to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”   (John 20: 22/23)   This verse has always been understood to give authority to grant forgiveness to those who repent and seek forgiveness for it needs to be held in the context of all other teachings about the matter which in the Scriptures.

But forgiveness does not cancel justice.  In his encyclical Dives in Misericordia John Paul II notes that the “requirement of forgiveness does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice. . . . In no passage of the gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence toward evil, toward scandals, toward injury or insult.  In any case, reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness” (DM 14).

Christians are called to pray that someone who has committed a grave sin will realise that they have done wrong and seek to make amends, but when the act is particularly evil then this may be almost impossible: “If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one—to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that.” (1 John 5:16)  However, when someone says: “I can never forgive x for what they did to y” they may be indicating that they cannot or will not let go of the anger they feel for what has been done and it usually concerns something that is acutely grave in character.

A helpful article states:

‘St. Thomas Aquinas tells us love is “willing the good of the other” selflessly (cf. I Cor. 13:5). In a sense, this is all God can do, because “God is love” (I John 4:8). God can do nothing other than will to share the infinite good of himself with every single person ever created or conceived—even the souls who reject his love and forgiveness, because a God not loving would be a God contradicting his own essence, which is absurd.

Thus God’s love is unconditional, because in one sense it has nothing to do with the other.  It comes from within, regardless of what happens outside of the godhead. This brings profound meaning to Jesus’ words: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). In essence, Jesus is calling us to love with that same unconditional love with which he loves as the God-Man.  Regardless of varying situations and relationships in our lives, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5) empowering us to “will the good of the other” regardless of what “the other” may bring our way.

On the other hand forgiveness is not unconditional.  It’s a two-way street.  God offers his forgiveness to all out of his unconditional love and, therefore, so must all Christians.  But here’s the rub. Because forgiveness is dependent upon the other, it cannot actually take place until there are willing partners on both sides of the divide. ‘  (Tim Staples. Director of Apologetics and Evangelization at ‘Catholic Answers’)

It might be that when someone feels they can never forgive another they are indicating that they carry a hidden reservoir of anger that erupts whenever they recall a particular incident.  It may be that the incident concerned the abuse of someone they love or inflicted pain and suffering on innocent victims and they feel angry about the incident whenever it is recalled. 

And anger, if not addressed appropriately, can have a corrosive effect on the person who carries it and those connected to them.   People who have reflected on this matter have noticed that it takes less energy to love and forgive than it does to stay angry and hold a grudge.  Forgiveness brings peace to your life.   We need to forgive someone, not for their benefit, but for our own peace of mind.  The burden of anger we can carry can be enormous and our anger often only affects the person who carries it – not the person towards whom the anger is directed.  Someone has suggested that we should “Shift the focus, feel the pain and think of the thousands of others in the world who are also feeling the same pain, then send a loving-kindness message to everyone to be relieved of this suffering.”

One of the ways that this can be done is to direct a prayer, such as this, towards the object of our anger: “May … be filled with your compassion, O Lord.  May your Mother’s love enfold them.”  The danger of holding anger have long been realised.  S. Jerome said that “Anger is the Door, by which all Vices enter the Soul” and S. James had observed that: “anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1:20)  But ‘anger’ against sin is may be ‘zeal’ and zeal is not a sin but is sometimes a duty. Zeal at its core is an expression of love; anger is an expression of hatred.  So S. Paul tells us to ‘Put away from all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.’ (Eph.4: 31)

Righteous anger – or zeal – does not consume us but enables us to seek justice and mercy for all.  As human beings we need to cultivate a forgiving spirit for the contrary spirits of anger, pride, bitterness etc… can easily find a home within us.  Yet whilst we can cultivate a forgiving spirit we cannot forgive unless someone seeks to be forgiven, promises to refrain from sin and accepts the appropriate penance.  Even then ‘Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1450)  

The Catechism goes on to observe that absolution concerns the: ‘remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. (CCC 1473)

In the end it is God alone who forgives sin (CCC: 1440).  Yet the path to our sanctification requires us to practice God-like acts and to learn how to cultivate a forgiving heart:

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?   For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.   If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6: 27-38)

Fr. John-Francis Friendship SMMS
May 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


at the Midday Eucharist
March 29th, 2017

+ In the name of God, the All-Compassionate, the All-Merciful.  Amen.

Today is a momentous day in the life of our nation and it would be wrong to ignore what is happening, possibly even as we celebrate this Eucharist.  For our Prime Minister is to send a letter to the European Commission to announce that we wish to withdraw from the Union.

It is a day when we are divorcing from a relationship that has lasted 44 years.  For some this is the ending of a marriage made in heaven; for others it is the opposite.  Some will lament the death of a dream – of the hope for a more united world.  Others see this as the dawn of a new age when we take back control of our laws and borders.  And there are those who see this as a second Reformation – in the first we separated from Rome; in this from Brussels.  It certainly heralds a paradigm shift:

‘As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—‘

So wrote T.S.Eliot in his poem, ‘East Coker’.  And he prefixed those words by saying: ‘I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you Which shall be the darkness of God.’ 

Whatever the outcome of this movement we hold to Christ who is our hope.  Whose life-giving Passion, Death and Resurrection we proclaim as we celebrate this Eucharist.  Of Him in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.  For we are all one in Him. 

Perhaps, in a way, we are entering upon our own Holy Saturday, that time of waiting as the old order passes away, yet we know not the new which is to come. 

Later on in ‘East Coker’ Eliot wrote these words which emerged from his own Christian faith: “I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”    


Wednesday, March 08, 2017


Many of us are aware of the presence of hate, fear, bigotry and anger in our society – and see a growing lack of compassion, not least for those who some perceive ‘don’t belong’.   And we might even be aware of the way these feelings can begin to fill our own hearts.  It’s not always a virtue that’s easy to express.

But if you sense that we need to be more compassionate towards each other, then you might be interested in a new online, ecumenical Spiritual Association that’s in formation.  It’s called Companions of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary (CCHJM) and it seeks to enable members (Companions) to express compassion by nurturing this virtue.

Compassion lies at the heart of all the world’s great religions and forms an essential aspect of the Christian Faith.  As the well-known writer and theologian, Henri Nouwen, wrote:  ‘When Jesus was moved to compassion, the source of all life trembled, the ground of all love burst open and the abyss of God’s immense, inexhaustible and unfathomable love revealed itself.’ *   Compassion is not the same as feeling sorry for people but is an active being-alongside.  And it all begins with having self-compassion. 

Companions adopt a simple Rule.  They seek to:
Ø to spend time each day in the presence of Compassionate Heart of Jesus;
Ø express compassion in a practical way;
Ø make a compassion Examen (reflection) each day;
Ø recognise the value of the Sacrament of Confession in seeking to fulfil the psalmist’s plea: ‘Make me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.’

If you don’t feel you can take on this Rule but would like to be connected it's possible to become and Associate.  Associates accept the Aims and Purpose of the Association and promise to seek ways of fostering compassion in their hearts and living out of that charism.  They will also receive Compassion Quarterly, the publication of the online Association.

It doesn’t cost anything to join (except to work on being a compassionate person!) and there aren’t any meetings to attend.  You can find out more from the website: where there’s a simple form to complete if you wish to ask questions or join, together with prayers and reflections and articles about compassion that might be of interest.

Visit our website:, follow us on Twitter: #cchjm123 or like our Facebook Page


*  ‘ Compassion – A Reflection on the Christian Life’. DLT. 2008

Monday, February 13, 2017


Since the country voted for Brexit and Donald Trump was elected President of the USA I have found, in my work as a spiritual director, many people speaking of an ‘existential angst’ they, or their friends, are experiencing.   Feelings of anger, disgust, fear and emptiness seem to exercise a greater hold and the dread of division has entered their – souls.  And I hear (and recognise something) of the way some are almost addicted to exploring news stories concerning these two subjects which are exercising a hold over them that seems unhealthy.  

As I have reflected on this phenomenon I have noticed a remarkable similarity between the effect that focusing on the effects of Brexit and Trump have with some of the teaching of S. Ignatius in what he described as ‘discernment of spirits’.  Ignatius pointed out that the ‘evil spirit’ (ad if someone has a problem with such a term, think of ‘negative life-force’) will seek to “move (a person) toward lack of faith and leave one without hope and without love” (The Spiritual Exercises, n. 317).  Ignatius goes on to say that when this occurs the person who is seeking to live as God would have them live should ‘confront those things that hold us back from such freedom’ - and act against those behaviours which are not life giving (Contra Agere).

For many years I have been attracted by the Sacred Heart of Jesus, finding in that image and devotion a real sense of God’s passionate love for all creation.  More recently I have become conscious of being drawn to explore practicing Compassion and how developing this deep aspect of our humanity can undermine the consequences of being drawn by the hatred, fear and division present in our world. It has also been realised that developing compassion can be a means of growing in personal well-being.  To that end I have been working on developing an Association of Companions of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary

The idea of such an Association is to provide a means whereby people can commit to live out the compassionate love of God in their lives.  Jesus and Mary reveal aspects of compassionate love – Jesus responded to the world with Divine Compassion and Mary was warned of the pain compassion can bring when, in bringing the child Jesus to the Temple, Simeon prophesied that her soul would be “pierced” by a sword as she bore Jesus in the world.  

The purpose of such an Association would be to encourage and nurture compassion in the lives of all Companions.  Its aim would be to provide a means of commitment with others in developing a compassionate heart for the sake of the world.  And the charism of Companions would be to:

+  seek to be living lives whereby the love of God, realised in the Compassion of Jesus, might be fully realised;

+  recall that the heart of Mary was pierced by a sword as she remained in union with her Son.   Companions recognise that their hearts will also suffer as they seek to love with the heart of Jesus and Mary;

+  know that they cannot do this by their own unaided efforts, rather they seek to turn to Christ’s Compassionate Heart as the Divine well from which they will drink;

+  value the rich resources that come from all religious traditions that seek to cultivate a Compassionate heart;

+  look to the Sacrament of Confession (Reconciliation) as a means of cleansing and for renewing their own hearts.

At present this is an ‘idea in the working’ and I have sought advice as to whether to take this forward. But it seems to me that there is a great and increasing need, not only to act with compassion, but to live out of the Heart of Compassion.

SS. Cyril and Methodius, Patrons of Europe
February 14th, 2017

Friday, January 27, 2017


Having listened to Mrs. Emily Thornbury MP being questioned by Evan Davis on Newsnight recently I began to understand the Labour Party’s position on Brexit.  Unlike the Tory Party (which seems to have wholeheartedly embraced a ‘hard’ Brexit) or the Liberal Democrat Party (which clearly opposes it) the Labour Party, containing as it does large numbers of both Leavers and Remainers, recognises it needs to be a Broad Church.  Whilst the country voted by a margin of less than 10% to leave the EU, it needs to accommodate members of both camps.  And, in that, I see clear parallels with the Church of England.

Whilst I am not a Church historian I recognise (as I am sure others do) the similarities between Brexit and the age of Reformation.  Until the 16th cent. the Church in England had owed allegiance to the Roman Church and many of the laws of this country were dependent on decisions in Rome.  Both the separation of the Church in England from the Church of Rome and Brexit were preceded by many years of agitation.  Popularist preachers, like John Wycliffe and the Lollards, stirred up anti-Catholic feelings and prepared the way for the Acts of Supremacy which gradually made English law supreme and led to the declaration that ‘the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England’ (Article 37)

In spite of this formal separation there was a substantial minority who objected and wished to remain part of the Roman Catholic Church.  It is a fact that Henry VIII (1509 – 1547), inspite of initiating the separation of England from Rome did not intend to adopt Protestantism in its entirety and religious doctrine didn’t change (1).  Whilst Henry persecuted extreme Protestants there were many views as to what separation meant.  As has sometimes happened in the aftermath of Brexit those who wanted to remain part of the Roman Church were abused and persecuted and some were killed.

It was under the Regency Council which governed during the minority of his successor, Edward VI (1547 – 1553), that Protestant teaching began to change the faith of the English Church and eroded much of the Catholic heritage which Henry VIII had desired to retain.  This resulted in unrest and a number of protest marches including the Western Rebellion (1549).

Mary I (1553 – 1558) was declared Queen by popular demand (clearly not a Referendum but something similar) after people re-acted against the perceived excesses of Edward.  Many realised she would reverse most of the previous legislation that had separated England from Rome and those who had financially benefited from the break were determined that would not happen. (2)  This only caused greater division, persecution and disorder in the country which lasted until her death.

The genius of Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) was to unite a divided country.  This she did by enabling the Church of England to be broad enough in its doctrine to hold various views whilst maintaining the separation that had occurred.  The ‘Elizabethan Religious Settlement’ was a response to the religious divisions in England.  A series of Acts and revisions to the Prayer Book intended to avoid adopting any one theology to the exclusion of another with the intention of enabling people with many different theological perceptions to belong to the one Church.  The Church of England was not part of the Roman Catholic Church (thus fulfilling the desires of the Leavers) but nor was it wholly Protestant and its teaching was still rooted in much Catholic theology.  Thus, hopefully, appealing to remainers. 

It seems to me that the present difficulties faced by the Labour Party are not dissimilar to the situation in England in the late 16th cent.  Both leavers (Protestants) and remainers (Catholics) were struggling to dominate society and Catholics were hated for wanting to remain united with Rome.   Is it overly simple to say that whilst ‘Leavers’ have a clear home with the Tories and ‘Remainers’ with the Liberal Democrats the Labour Party is, like the Church of England, seeking to offer a place for all.  And, like the Church of England, is accused of not knowing where it stands?  Or not having any clear teaching?  It seemed to me that Mrs. Thornbury was saying that the Labour Party was trying to find a way for people with different views to live together realising that if we don't we may be eternally divided or dominated by one view.  It is not an easy choice – to try and be broad enough for all – it won’t satisfy those seeking a clear choice and it might anger those who can’t cope with difference.  It is not easy to create a home where those with different views can live together.  But, like the Elizabethan Settlement, it may offer an umbrella under which many can shelter and the Labour Party might take heart from looking into this period in the history of England which occurred almost exactly 400 years ago.

(1) ‘The Religious Policy of King Henry VIII’; Jeff Hobbs
(2) ‘The Church 1553 to 1558’; C. N. Trueman

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


  • CHRISTMAS – John Betjeman

    The bells of waiting Advent ring,
    The Tortoise stove is lit again
    And lamp-oil light across the night
    Has caught the streaks of winter rain
    In many a stained-glass window sheen
    From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

    The holly in the windy hedge
    And round the Manor House the yew
    Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
    The altar, font and arch and pew,
    So that the villagers can say
    'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

    Provincial Public Houses blaze,
    Corporation tramcars clang,
    On lighted tenements I gaze,
    Where paper decorations hang,
    And bunting in the red Town Hall
    Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

    And London shops on Christmas Eve
    Are strung with silver bells and flowers
    As hurrying clerks the City leave
    To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
    And marbled clouds go scudding by
    The many-steepled London sky.

    And girls in slacks remember Dad,
    And oafish louts remember Mum,
    And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
    And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
    Even to shining ones who dwell
    Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

    And is it true? And is it true,
    This most tremendous tale of all,
    Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
    A Baby in an ox's stall ?
    The Maker of the stars and sea
    Become a Child on earth for me ?

    And is it true ?  For if it is,
    No loving fingers tying strings
    Around those tissued fripperies,
    The sweet and silly Christmas things,
    Bath salts and inexpensive scent
    And hideous tie so kindly meant,

    No love that in a family dwells,
    No carolling in frosty air,
    Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
    Can with this single Truth compare -
    That God was man in Palestine
    And lives today in Bread and Wine.


    (The following is from a Christmas radio broadcast by John Betjeman, 1947)

    "I have now to speak personally because I can think of no other way of saying why Christmas means much more to me than my birthday. The greatest reason of all will take some putting across – even to anyone who has listened so far. It is this.

    I cannot believe that I am surrounded by a purposeless accident. On a clear night, I look up at the stars and, remembering amateur astronomy, know that the Milky Way is the rest of this universe and that the light from some of the stars has taken years to reach this planet. When I consider that the light from the sun ninety million miles away takes eight-and-a-half minutes to get here, the consequent immensity of this universe seems intolerable. And then I am told that some little clusters seen beyond the edge of the Milky Way on certain nights are other whole universes in outer space. It is too much, though believable.  And then on any day about now I can turn over a piece of decaying wood in our garden and see myriapods, insects and bugs startled out of sluggish winter torpor by my action. Each is perfectly formed and adapted to its life. From the immensity of the stars to the perfection of an insect – I cannot believe that I am surrounded by a purposeless accident.

    But can I believe this most fantastic story of all: that the Maker of the stars and of the centipedes became a baby in Bethlehem not so long ago. No time ago at all when you reckon the age of the earth. Well, it’s asking a lot. If I weren’t such a highbrow it would be easier. No man of intelligence can believe such a thing. A child of Jewish parents the Creator of the universe? Absurd.  But if it is not true, why was I born? And if it is true, nothing else is of so much importance. No date in time is so important as Christmas Day, the birthday of God made man. And carol singers and Salvation Army bands and Christmas cards (yes, even Christmas cards from ardent unbelievers, who always seem to observe Christmas) and cathedrals and saints and church bells and hospitals and almshouses and towers and steeples and the silence and present-giving of Christmas Day all bear witness to its truth.

    Beyond my reason, beyond my emotions, beyond my intellect I know that this peculiar story is true. Architecture brings it home to me, I suppose because architecture is, with poetry, my chief interest.

    Last week I was in the most beautiful building in Britain – King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. You know it. It is a forest glade of old coloured glass and between the great windows columns of shafted stone shoot up and up to fountain out into a shower of exquisite, elaborate fan vaulting. It is the swansong of Perpendicular architecture, so immense, so vast, so superbly proportioned, so mysterious that no one can enter it without gasping. All the schoolchildren of Cambridge had filed into a carol service and there they were in the candlelight of the dark oak stalls. We stood waiting for the choir to come in and as we stood there the first verse of the opening carol was sung beyond us, behind the screen, away in the mighty splendour of the nave. A treble solo fluted up to the distant vaulting “Once in Royal David’s City”.  It was clear, pure, distinct.  And as I heard it I knew once more – knew despite myself – that this story was the Truth.  And knowing it I knew that, because of the birth of Christ, the world could not touch me and that between me and the time I smashed Mrs Wallis’ Christmas present hung the figure of God become man, crucified in the great east window."

    (from Trains and Buttered Toast (2007), pp.323-324, John Murray)

Sunday, December 04, 2016


It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and  no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

In our neglect of the Word,
our dismissal of its Incarnation,
have we lost awareness of its power
to destroy as well as save?
Have we, in our new world, put such things away and become
deaf and blind?
Forgotten that this guest requires our hospitality,
lost respect for its savage beauty?
The Word became Flesh -
we, children of wordsmiths,
can venerate or ignore it.
Will the Word find a home in us?

Thursday, December 01, 2016


The following letter has been sent to the Prime Minister having been signed by 97 Religious, Deacons or Priests of the Church of England and in Wales: 

The Rt. Hon. Theresa May, MP
House of Commons

Feast of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, 2016

Dear Prime Minister,

We, deacons, priests and Religious of the Church of England and the Church in Wales, are writing to you as someone who publicly affirms that they are a Christian and a practising member of our Church. 

It has come to our attention that, as Prime Minister, you are not prepared to support the rights of EU citizens who will live in the UK post-Brexit.  We find your support of this denial of rights deplorable and call on you to review your decision in the light of your membership of the Church, the Body of Christ.  It is clear that your refusal to guarantee these basic rights indicates you have not rejected using human beings as bargaining chips in the political games concerning Brexit.  It is increasingly apparent to us that we are losing our national sense of being part of a common humanity and are allowing ourselves to be dominated by those who espouse the least admirable – if not deplorable – aspects of human nature.  However, we believe that the majority of our people are better than those voices suggest, as loud as they may be in the nation and in your own Party, voices which call us to embrace a spirit of selfishness rather than compassion.    What makes a country great is not the power it wields but the humanity by which it seeks to govern – and this is equally true of national leaders.

As we begin to prepare for the coming of our Saviour and proclaim His gospel of peace and goodwill we are only too aware that when He comes He will encounter fear and hatred, greed and selfishness which stalk our towns as they have not done for many years.  In preparing for Christmas, if the heart of that Faith which proclaims God among us is to be more than a charade but, as many say, is still important to the identity of our Nation, then we urgently call on you to consider your own calling as an Anglican and a Christian. At this time to whom do we lend our ears? To the voices of extremism or to the Gospel of God?

You are playing with the lives of thousands of our fellow human beings – and that is wrong.  We call on the Government to do the right thing and unilaterally declare that, no matter what other countries might fail to do we, as a nation conscious of its civilised heritage, will grant all members of the EU living in the UK at the time of Brexit equal rights with our own citizens.

Yours faithfully,

Fr. John-Francis Friendship SMMS

cc.        The Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn PC MP
            The Rt. Hon. Tim Farron MP

“You and I, we are the Church, no? We have to share with our people. Suffering today
is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing.  Jesus made it very clear.
Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.”  

St. Teresa of Calcutta