FRANCIS

PRAY FOR ME – the first request and the first gift of the new Bishop of Rome – the “Eternal City” – twelve months ago today.

Of all the marvellous and extraordinary qualifications that this humble pastor brings to his gargantuan task, the one that is most conspicuously present, in his every action, is this great gift: the perpetual willingness to imply “I cannot do this in my own strength. I really need YOU to pray for ME”.

And this constant request is a gift for people everywhere because it gives honoured place to the contribution of ones, twos, tens, hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, towards the Franciscan “rebuilding and restoring” that is the vocation of “all men and women of goodwill” – not just Roman Catholics, not just Christians, but billions of good and perfectly ordinary people, of all ages, of every race and language, all over the world.

Pope Francis seems to suggest that “if mine is an important task, then yours is too. Pray for me, as I pray for you.”

The beautiful sight of Blencathra emerging from mist this afternoon was a suggestive one on this first anniversary. Inspired by the Christ who climbed mountains and hills before him, Pope Francis must, nonetheless, feel himself faced by a long haul. May the prayers he requests every day sustain him. The summit emerges in good time – revealing light and warmth and hitherto unimagined glories.

A year after his first Papal request I’m still celebrating – and acting upon – the gift of the Pope’s having invited me to pray for him. And I’m the more grateful for others’ prayers – throughout my life – for me.

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ACCIDENT-PRONE

Francis

IT WASN’T JUST Time magazine that named Papa Francesco “Man of the Year”. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, did too. And I was so deeply touched by the sight of thirty-five thousand people waiting upon the Pope’s Gospel reflection (“Don’t be afraid”) in St Peter’s Square, one Wednesday morning last October, that I now hope to spend a sabbatical term, in the last quarter of 2014, a 2 minute walk from that same Square, right there in sunny Rome.

Pope Francis has continuously articulated a new vision for a dynamic, “accident-prone”, poor and compassionate Church – especially in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. In order to ensure that this takes shape locally, he will have to appoint bishops that share his aspiration.

Robert Mickens
‘Can Francis of Rome … answer the summons of Christ to rebuild his Church?’
The Tablet, 2 January 2014

Francis is an epiphany – a modern-day manifestation of Christ. Next Sunday, when the Church celebrates the Feast Day of The Baptism of Christ we’ll hear of the Spirit descending upon an anointed and commissioned man “like a dove”. Jesus didn’t set about changing religious doctrine; Francis hasn’t done, to date, either. Instead, Jesus set about changing people’s hearts; Francis too, with the same message – “Don’t be afraid”.

For me, one of the most moving scenes in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, has Winnie Mandela, newly released from sixteen months imprisoned in solitary confinement, in appalling conditions, powerfully telling a crowd of her supporters

I was very young when I married Nelson. I’m not young anymore. And I’m not afraid anymore.

Another Archbishop of Canterbury, the late and great Michael Ramsey, spoke, gleefully, of the then twentieth century Church as “the early Christians”. We’re yet very young and have a lot to learn! The visionary Francis, and the visionary Christ came to mind as I heard Winnie Mandela – television coverage of her former husband’s funeral fresh in my mind: “I’m not young anymore. And I’m not afraid anymore” …

So I’m stirred and challenged and delighted by a modern-day vision for a dynamic, “accident-prone”, poor and compassionate Church. This, indeed, is what “the joy of the Gospel” is supposed to be about. And it’s ordinary people, stirred by the vision, that Papa Francesco knows will make it happen. That’s the revelation and the manifestation. Sure, the maintenance of the Church as a vehicle for Gospel proclamation is important – and it’s the rather doctrinally conservative Church that’s given us another Francis. But rebuilding a vision of the reign of God in people’s lives primarily involves an invitation to poor persons, to watchers over sheep, to the would-be-wise – not just to hear a vision, not just to worship a vision, but to BE the vision – the body of the Anointed – a humankind that’s manifestly “not afraid anymore”, a body that takes the rap from the religiously conservative but carries on, albeit “accident-prone”, anyway. A body that welcomes outcasts and sinners, a body that refuses to judge people because of their colour, creed – or lack thereof, gender, sexual orientation or ethnic origin. A body, a somebody, that sits down to birthday breakfast with the homeless, with outcasts and with (for a million different  reasons) refugees.

I read somewhere last week that more than 7.2 million have flocked to Rome to feast their eyes and ears and hearts and minds and souls and bodies upon such a proclamation being LIVED in a twenty-first century apostle. As of old, thousands want to touch the hem of the garment. Yes! – every child and woman and man upon earth, every human person  – we’re all walking on a Long Walk to Freedom – all of us accident-prone, all of us, to some degree or another, “poor and needy”, all of us learning the Christ-like business of compassion, forgiveness and grace. Certainly Pope Francis will need to appoint one or two bishops “who share his aspiration” but, thank God, the tide has already turned. We’re younger than we think we are, more life in us yet. And at any rate the ageing process – the eventually having survived our being so very humanly accident-prone – will prove to be, for each of us,  the bearer of an eternal invitation to sing: “I’m not afraid anymore”.

So we may LIVE joy then – in, and with, and through, and for, and all around everyone, everywhere. We may LIVE and love in the joy of such a gospel.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ – Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2

WAY TO GO …

HOLINESS

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DON’T BE AFRAID OF HOLINESS said Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square, Vatican City this morning –

Let us not be afraid to respond to Christ’s call, to trust in the working of the Holy Spirit and to pray and strive for that holiness which brings true joy to our lives.

And in company with 35,000 pilgrims, from countless faith traditions and from all around the world, gathered peacefully around this most charismatic of pastors, I greeted him and was greeted by him.

But I am a sinner, Father, you may say. Brothers and sisters, I say to you, the Pope is a sinner too. And the Church’s doors are wide open, for me and for you.

I prayed for the Universal Church and for my own beloved St Michael & All Angels Bramhall  – thanking God for the angels in my own life, some of whom know who they are and of how dear they are to me, and some of whom perhaps don’t.

And I thanked God for his servant Francis. And for my own bishops and colleagues. And for all women and men and children of goodwill in all the world. Blessed be God!

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More slides here

PAPA – ii

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I WAS RATHER TOUCHED, a day or two ago, to read of a mid-August report, from the Zenit News Agency in Rome, about an unnamed visitor to Pope Emeritus Benedict in his new seclusion and home:

“Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy because “God told me” to. Zenit reported on Monday 19th August that Benedict had told his visitor he’d decided to step down as a result of what he described as a “mystical experience”. That experience sparked an “absolute desire” to dedicate his life exclusively to prayer, in a solitary relationship with God, Benedict reportedly said. The first pope to resign in more than 600 years, he told aides he intended to live out his life “hidden from the world.”

When he announced his resignation, Benedict told the gathered cardinals, in Latin, that his “strengths” were no longer sufficient “to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me” because of old age. According to the report, Benedict also praised the “charisma” of his successor, Pope Francis, saying that his actions persuaded him fully that Francis’ election, and Benedict’s own retirement, were “God’s will.” Asked about Benedict’s living nearby, Pope Francis has smilingly replied “it’s like having your grandfather at home.”

As, back then in February, I watched the helicopter carry Papa off to Castel Gandolfo, this Liberal Catholic Anglican was spurred, by a measure of unexpected affection and gratitude for the long service of this most conservative yet patently prayerful Roman Pontiff, to pen the following

Eighty-five years and resigned to
Breathe my last in harness
For six centuries there’s
Never been another way to
Launch a Conclave –
Papa’s last breath
Silver hammer to Seal and Ring a
Funeral rite to sing
Only One Way to go We know

But Our vineyard compels in this
Heart and mind and soul and frame
Acknowledgment of origins – the
Dust from whence I came, and any
Son of Adam’s pilgrim destiny
Pontiff and Barque now ache for renewal
For Son of Man’s own strength and prayer
Serenely then to pray for both
I am We are newly resigned

SRM 28 ii 2013

THE COMPASSION QUEST

CompassionQuest

TRYSTAN OWAIN HUGHES opens chapter 3 of his The Compassion Quest with this exquisite quote from Rilke

Only one space extends
Through all beings: innerworldspace.
Silently, the birds fly within us.
and I, who wants to grow, I look outside,
But find within me grows the tree.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Nearly everything calls us to connect

What a joy and a relief to me, and a challenge too, that Trystan Owain Hughes has offered the world what Tony Campolo calls “a book that was waiting to be written”. Some books baptise us with both tears and smiles. And make us stop, look, listen. And make us turn around.

Pope Francis, thank God, calls humanity to “go out into the world”. Yes! Absolutely. But with what?

Rilke, Francis  and Trystan Owain Hughes bring something OUT into the world that has grown, and is forever growing, WITHIN them and us.

Interconnectedness. Thank God. There’s God. There’s the future.

CONFLICT TRANSFORMED

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Letter for Bramhall, April 2013

ARCHBISHOP JUSTIN BLOGS here

Here’s a recent paragraph from his blog about the work of reconciliation:

The journey of transforming conflict is a long and hard one (by the way that is how I understand reconciliation in the church: not agreement, but conflict transformed from being destructive). It is also always a necessary one – and essential if our preaching of the good news of Jesus is to have any credibility. It does not mean compromise – that was clear in what we heard at Coventry – but it does mean allowing the Spirit of God to warm our hearts towards those whom we too easily classify as to be hated.

POPE FRANCIS TWEETS here

And speaks to thousands from the window of his apartment on Sundays. I’ve just heard him (in Italian) speaking of a “grandmother”, an elderly lady in Argentina, telling him ‘The Lord forgives everything’:

I asked, ‘How do you know this for sure, madam?’ and she replied, ‘If the Lord hadn’t forgiven all, then the world wouldn’t [still] be here.’ And, I wanted to ask her, ‘Madam, did you study at the Gregorian (the Pontifical Gregorian University, founded in 1551 by St Ignatius Loyola, the oldest Jesuit university in the world)?’ – because that is wisdom, which the Holy Spirit gives – interior wisdom regarding the mercy of God. Don’t forget this: God never tires of forgiving us.

So looking ahead to warm Spring days in April, the heady days of papal and archiepiscopal installations belonging now to “last month’s news”, I am full of hope.

Archbishop Justin isn’t asking that everyone agrees with one another, but rather that conflict be transformed, that people who disagree may yet live reconciled lives. Pope Francis is widely reckoned by others to be a Roman Catholic conservative, unlikely to be favouring the ordination of women, or marriage for priests, let alone gays, anytime soon. Some of us will disagree with him on some if not all of these matters – but we’ll love his warmth, respond to his smile, be delighted by his gracious words to gathered journalists:

I told you I was cordially imparting my blessing. Since many of you are not members of the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I cordially give this blessing silently, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each, but in the knowledge that each of you is a child of God. May God bless you!

Some of us will disagree on some issues with Archbishop Justin. But we’ll remember how we’ve regularly agreed that the job facing any Archbishop of Canterbury must be “well nigh impossible”. We’ll remember to ‘allow the Spirit of God to warm our hearts towards those whom we too easily classify …’

We’ll remember with thanksgiving that the bishops Francis and Justin have both shown us a more excellent way. Both have shown us that we don’t need to agree on everything in order to be reconciled. Both have signalled their willingness and intention to preach the very heart of the Gospel: forgiveness. Both have honoured the labours of their predecessors, Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan. Both have reached out to people possessed of opinions and traditions quite other than their own.

GOD FORGIVES

‘Don’t forget this: God never tires of forgiving.’ So neither should we. Laudate omnes gentes. Praise God all the nations of the earth. It’s Springtime and we’re a Resurrection people. Eucharistically thankful, let ALLELUIA be the song of the New Life. Christ’s real presence is in precisely such forgiving, in precisely such eucharistic thanksgiving, in precisely such resurrection. Christ’s real presence is in conflict transformed.

BLESSED BE GOD!

A VISION OF PEACE

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NEW BEGINNINGS – for Pope Francis and the world’s Roman Catholic Christians; for Archbishop Justin and millions of Anglicans; for children, women and men of goodwill all over the world; for Noah Eric, baptised in Bramhall this morning. At the outset of this Holy Week, prayer for the peace of the world is on our hearts and minds …

Audio: Fr Simon at 10am – Palm Sunday – “A Vision of Peace

Audio: Tracy Ward at 8am – Palm Sunday – “New beginnings