Monday, July 29, 2019


I'VE RECENTLY HEARD a number of people talk about feeling utterly defeated by the way the government is pursuing a hard, ‘no deal’ Brexit.  The petitions they’ve signed, marches they’ve attended and letters they’ve written seem to have proved useless and they now view severing ourselves from the EU as inevitable, unnecessary and toxic. And all over the world they see demagogues and dictators stirring up strife and damaging the planet to the benefit of a few rather than the good of future generations.  Others complain that the 'democratic mandate' is being ignored; that it's people vs. parliament, or the judiciary or media. Anger stalks the land and there seems a darkness moving over the face of the earth that’s clouding people’s hearts and minds.

Clergy and spiritual crisis
St. Ignatius Loyola taught that desolation was the consequence of  the heart being overwhelmed by 'evil spirits'.  Sadly that’s become a term associated with fundamentalists, but the loss of such an insight into the way we are influenced – for good and ill – by the movements of spiritual forces beyond our control means we can become affected – subjected – by those which are not life-giving.  I don’t think we should be shy of reclaiming the term.  Of course  we also need to be aware of the ease with which we can project the ‘darkness’ which exists in our own hearts on to others – something which is usually indicated by the strength of our negative feelings about an individual or group who differs from us.  We need to own our sin – that darkness which exists on our hearts – and seek to love the other.

Unfortunately at a time when we need to look more deeply into our hearts I'm aware that the church seems to ignore the spiritual dimension of this crisis.  Clergy, in particular, rather than being advised to give priority to the development of their relationship with God are often encouraged to consider 'well-being' divorced from any religious or spiritual teaching.  This ignores the need to give priority to their relationship with God as they seek to cope with the pressures of life and the effects of that ‘darkness’ which can permeate their hearts.  And if clergy aren’t being taught and encouraged to attend to their spiritual life, if courses designed to help them neglect this essential dimension, then no amount of secular 'well-being' can address our deepest needs at this or any time of crisis.  In my book 'Enfolded in Christ' I pleaded for the church to take the spiritual life of priests seriously and give priority to its development, a matter that continues to need attention as diocese's organise 'resilience' courses for clergy but often seem to ignore what is often, at heart, a spiritual matter.  No wonder, then, that when we are faced with such an existential malaise ordinary Christians don't look at the spiritual roots of such desolation. Unless priests are relearning the basics of being rooted in Christ it's likely they won't be helping the laity in this vital task.

Spiritual warfare
There is a spiritual warfare going on which requires us (as it always has) to embrace faith in the power of the Incarnate, Crucified and Transcendent Christ.  We're called to keep our heart fixed on Him lest it become the victim of anger and rage or ceases to return to the Fountain of Life.  If we are not being refreshed by those streams then we'll become exhausted – drained of the grace offered by God.  Whilst we should not cease from opposing corruption we need to do so because we are rooted in Christ, who has conquered the powers of darkness.  We need faith that this darkness has ultimately been overcome and then face life with the compassionate love of God – with faith and hope and love.  To deepen our prayer, meditate on the scriptures and realise the need to Retreat from time to time from the ‘battleground’ of life and immerse ourselves in places of prayer.  There’s no doubt that we are, as always, facing a time of warfare and we need to tools which will help us:

‘Take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’ (Eph. 6.9ff)

We will need the support of a spiritual director, the grace of the Sacraments and a deepening of contemplative prayer.  That's why I developed the Spiritual Association of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary  - to try and offer some on-line resources to nurture the heart as we face hard times.  The Church of England needs to remember the importance of the spiritual tools she has but which are turning rusty and to reclaim our spiritual heritage.

God of reconciling hope,
look with mercy upon us
and guide us through the turmoil of the present time.
Protect us from the snare of the Evil One
and from the forces of darkness.
As we give you thanks for all that has been
so we commend the future into your hands,
that we may live together in righteousness and peace,
in bonds of love and mutual respect.
We ask this in the power of the Three in One.

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