Saturday 28 November 2020

Advent "Waiting in Joyful hope" - and how we need it!

This weekend we begin the season of Advent. Advent is a time for hope. We all need Hope: in a time of pandemic and political divisions, hope, it seems, is needed more than ever.

Advent is a time for hope and promise. We need hope, fundamentally because we live in an imperfect world and divided world.  Hope moves us past this imperfection. Hope is a vital part of human life. Hope is to the human spirit what food is to the human body.

Now to be clear, hope is not some kind of vague optimism.  Hope doesn’t mean sitting back and expecting things to happen. Hope is more than a generally good feeling, hope spurs us on to action, drives us forward. Hope motivates us to build a better world. An important cousin, if you like, of hope is waiting. The process of waiting helps us to build hope. Hope and waiting go together and are important aspects of our Advent journey. In fact, waiting too, is an important part of life. Waiting builds expectation and desire, waiting heightens awareness. When we wait, we slow down, we notice things, we can get our priorities right and focus on the right things as well as getting rid of those things which are not helpful to us.

Waiting builds hope and hope spurs us onward to action. It is precisely because we have hope that we can work so hard to change things. We believe our efforts are worthwhile, that the waiting is worth it, that we can make a difference. Our strength, our commitment, depends to a great extent on the degree and quality of our hope. If we do not have hope, then we tend to give up.

So, if hope is not the same as optimism what is it? Well, Hope, Christian hope is a gift it’s something given to us from God that perfects us as human beings. Hope is essential for the Christian life – in fact, Pope Francis says, our salvation depends on the quality of our hope! It depends on it because hope is the trust that God will fulfill the promises, he has made to us. Our hope is not in a political ideology or a vague notion of a better world, our hope has a face, our hope is a person, our hope is Jesus Christ. Our trust is the God who comes to save us and transform our lives. Christian hope is founded on the God who enters our mess and raises us up.

This season of Advent is a season of hope which expresses in symbol and ritual important and profound truths of the Christian life. In advent we hope and we wait, we hope for the Lord to come and we do so in a three-fold way. Firstly, we hope for the second coming of Christ. The first Christians lived in this expectant hope, a hope that meant that Jesus might return at any moment - this hope created an urgency in their living out of the gospel, they did not hang about, but lived life to the full and shared the gospel message to all whom they met. We need this hope as well, this kind of hope wake us up and make us work for the gospel.

Secondly, we hope and wait to celebrate the first coming of Christ 2000 years ago. We prepare ourselves to receive the Christ child who made himself so small as to be born in the poverty of a stable. The God of the universe became a baby for us so that we could know and love him the way that he knows and loves us – this is an awesome mystery  - that the God who created the universe, the God who keeps all things in being the Eternal and infinite God burst into our world to act out the drama of our salvation. This is a beautiful truth – we have hope because we can have a real and lasting friendship with the author of hope – Jesus Christ.

Finally, Advent, has a third and often overlooked dimension. As we wait for Christ who is to come, and as we prepare to celebrate the Christ who came 2000 years ago, our spiritual senses are, as it were, heightened and we are alerted to the daily coming of Christ. The Christ who stands at the door of our hearts and knocks, each moment of each day, waiting for us to let him in and enter into a deeper more beautiful, more lifechanging friendship with him. Advent alerts us to the daily presence of the God who makes himself small so that he can raise us up.

Advent this year looks very different for most of us. Our worlds have been turned upside down by the coronavirus and the traditional reference points of living have been stripped away. This advent there will be few if any, carol services, nativity plays and the usual Christmas preparations will be, this year, very unusual.  Yet in all of this we are still invited, challenged  to rediscover those things which are essential, those things which are good and lasting. In this advent time, it our duty and our joy as Christians to live as a people of hope. It is our task to keep hope alive and set an example by the hopefulness of our lives. Our hope transforms us, our hope makes us a new people - Christians are to be a people of hope. we do this by living the gospel message, by loving our neighbour as ourselves, by pointing with every fibre of our being to the Christ, to the light of the world, to the hope which chases away fears and helps us to become evermore the people that God has created us to be. As Christians we are reminded that this world will never fulfil our deepest hopes only God can do that. Meanwhile we live in this realm of hope -  a hope which enables us to keep one foot in the world as it is and the other in the world as it should be, a hope that helps bursts through into the brokenness of our lives and makes into agents of God’s Kingdom. As Christians we are to build hope, build unity and communion, build  justice and peace in our lives and in the lives of all around us. In the words of the liturgy we are called to “Wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”



Thursday 19 November 2020

The Problem with Live Streaming Masses

Readers of my blog will notice that it has been many months since I last blogged. Much has happened in the last few months including two lockdowns. One might of assume that the lockdown provided ample opportunity and reason to blog. The problem is, however, that despite keeping oneself busy with all kinds of activities I must admit to suffering from writers’ block. Only now, please God, do I sense that I am moving out of this rather peculiar period.

The last the last nine months or so have been challenging times for all of us in many ways. The reality of the worldwide pandemic and the subsequent restrictions placed upon our day to day life has been extraordinarily difficult for all of us. As a Catholic and as a priest I would like to take the opportunity to reflect, albeit briefly, on a phenomenon that has become in recent months very much the norm: Live Streamed Masses.  I do this as someone who live-streamed Masses 7 days a week in the last lockdown and continues to stream 5 times a week now. There are many fruits and blessings that have come out of live streaming. Broadcasting the Mass over the internet has helped to keep our Catholic Communities together and connected during this most challenging period in recent history. Furthermore, the live streams have reached people who ordinarily would not come through the door of the Church. To be clear, live streaming has its place and has been a necessary lifeline for many people’s faith. There is, however, another side to the live streaming which if goes unchecked could be problematic in the future for the faith and life of the Church.

Talking to my brother priests, it is noticeable how live streaming can give rise to several phenomena that may not be conducive to faith development. I would like to reflect on these in turn: Clericalism of the Eucharist, Commodification/consumerism  of the Eucharist, Spiritual Idleness concerning the Eucharist


Clericalism and the Eucharist

The pandemic has given rise to peculiar way of celebrating the Eucharist, which is at odds with the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist. Put bluntly, the Mass has become all-priest focused. The priest presides, reads the readings, sets up and cleans up before and after Mass, performs any servers’ duties, and is the sole communicant (when in lockdown).

The Mass is the action of Christ and as such must always be the action of his whole mystical body: the Church. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was clear on this, encouraging full, active, conscious participation. It is worth quoting here at length:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism. In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14)



Whilst it would be wrong and far too simplistic to read this paragraph as meaning: everyone should have a role at Mass, indeed, all people should actively and consciously participate with the source and summit of the Christian life and faith – the Eucharist. The admittedly necessary situation of curtailing lay liturgical ministries, as well as removing singing, has placed all the emphasis back onto the priest. The Mass becomes, therefore, a clerical thing – something the priest does, and the priest does alone. What is more, the level at which one ‘consciously’ participates in a virtual celebration on a phone, tablet, or computer is debatable. It potentially takes more effort and is open to distractions. One can easily watch the Mass, rather than participate in it. Admittedly this risk always exists - even if one is in church but viewing Mass on a screen, if not careful, can simply become that: viewing Mass on a screen.


Commodification/consumerism of the Eucharist

This brings me to my next area for reflection: live streaming can easily turn the Eucharist and specifically, Holy Communion, into a commodity that one simply consumes. The live streaming of a Mass where people are unable to receive Holy Communion risks separating the act of Holy Communion from the rest of Mass. Communion: Communion with Christ and communion with one another, is the fruit of the Eucharistic celebration. In every Eucharist, the whole Church is present, the Church on Earth, the Church in purgatory, and the Church in Heaven. In every Eucharist, the one eternal sacrifice that Christ made is re-presented and we are reconciled to God and to one another. Holy Communion exists because of the Mass to separate Holy Communion from the Mass risks turning the Holy Communion into something that we “go and get”, it risks turning the fruit of the Mass into a commodity that we can give out at will. To be clear, we need Holy Communion and I am not advocating that people do not come to Communion, however, due prudence needs to be observed. Communion is not a “magical product” and it certainly is not a right…Holy Communion is a gift that flows from the source and summit of the Christian faith – the Eucharist. When at all possible the celebration of the Eucharist and the reception of Holy Communion should go hand in hand.

As I have hinted previously, the way in which we now ‘consume’ the Mass on our digital devices is also something to be aware of. It’s possible to pause and watch a recorded Mass at our own convenience, it’s also possible to shop around until we find a Mass we like – vigilance is needed, if we are not careful following Mass online can become little more than watching a spiritual video that we watch on our own terms and consume in our own way.


Spiritual Idleness concerning the Eucharist

Clericalism and commodification of the Eucharist can potentially lead to a lazy attitude towards the Mass. If we can just log on anytime and access the Mass on our terms then there is a danger of taking the Eucharist for granted. It doesn’t mean we will, but the danger exists in a way that it didn’t exist before.  One of the more worrying features of Masses after the first lockdown is the people who haven’t returned to Mass. Whilst it is understandable that a number have to still isolate, there sadly exists a smaller, but no less significant, amount of people who simply don’t. Or at least, are not consistent with their isolation, i.e. they have returned to the shops, the garden centers even pubs and restaurants but still haven’t returned physically to Mass, preferring it would seem to watch from their own homes. If Church has become something to watch on TV, which can  be consumed at one’s own leisure then why bother coming to Mass? One would hope that Holy communion would be the draw to get people back to Church, but sadly this has not always been the case. With the resurgence of the practice of spiritual communion (which is a good and holy thing) some people, it seems,  believe that a spiritual communion is virtually the same (or at least nearly as good) as a Holy Communion. To be clear, it is not! If people are going out and mixing then Mass should be the first thing that people return to, not the last.


To conclude, the pandemic is throwing all kinds of challenges at us but with these challenges have also come great opportunities. I believe in live streaming. Live streaming Masses has its place and it is an important way to keep the people of God together and to reach one another with the Eucharist in these uncertain times. Nevertheless, live streaming also poses some very real challenges, and great care and prudence will need to be exercised to ensure the Eucharist remains in reality the source and summit of the whole Christian life.



Saturday 6 June 2020

Trinity Sunday.....and Dr Who??

Karl Rahner once commented that “we must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain unchanged.” Now, Rahner believed passionately in the Trinity, indeed he recognized it as fundamental to Christian belief, but what he was acknowledging and lamenting here, was that for the most part – in day to day Christian life -  people don’t ‘get’ the Trinity and behave as if God was either One or Three but not Three and One.

Tardis - Wikimedia Commons (aussiegall 2015)

How can God be three and one at the same time? Admittedly if we try to get our heads around it we struggle, but this doesn’t mean we cannot say some important things about the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is God and God is so far above our understanding that we only ever really glimpse fragments of the mystery – but these fragments are enough for us.  There are, however, certain pointers in nature and in our world that help us to understand something of the vast mystery of the Holy Trinity.  When we think of water, for example, the same substance, H2O can be a liquid: water, a gas: steam and a solid: ice. This is not exactly like the Trinity, because we are not saying that God changes into different forms. If we could somehow have the same molecules of water, molecules of steam, and molecules of ice together at the same place at the same time this would be a better image for us. When we are talking about the Holy Trinity sometimes it is helpful for us to say what it isn’t:

-        The Holy Trinity is not One God who appears as different beings. So it’s not like God wears different hats when he is doing different things. He doesn’t wear the Father hat when he is fatherly and creating, the Son hat when he is being obedient and serving and the Spirit hat when he is loving. This is a wrong understanding of the Holy Trinity.
-        The Father and Son and Holy Spirit are not parts of God. They are all fully God, fully perfect, and fully individual.

Sometimes when we are trying to think about things that are outside our everyday experience, it can be helpful to draw on stories and analogy. Modern science fiction and fantasy can often give us a language and a way of talking about the eternal mysteries of God. Understanding the Holy Trinity poses us with a fundamental problem: how can the same being be different persons?

 The longest-running science fiction program Doctor Who can perhaps help us to think about the Holy Trinity. Whether you have watched the show or not you will probably know that the main character is an alien, a ‘Timelord’ called the Doctor who has been played by several actors.  He is particularly fond of earth and saves our planet and the universe on numerous occasions. Timelords are an interesting race of people. Although they look human and reproduce sexually as humans do, they have very long lives. They can regenerate. A Timelord normally can regenerate twelve times. This means that when a body is old, injured, or dying, every cell in the body regenerates and the Timelord becomes a different person.  The same being, the same Timelord, with the same memories and the same history, but with a completely different body, mannerisms, temperament, voice: a new person. So how does this help us? Well, the character of the Doctor remains the same being, the same Timelord throughout the close to sixty years that the show has been on air, but he becomes literally a different person.

You could say that this is very similar to our ‘One God with three hats scenario’ which I said was wrong and you’d be correct.  So we need to go further than this.  There are times when for complex and not always clear reasons the laws of time are suspended and the Doctor meets up with other incarnations of himself to face off some evil together. On these rare occasions we get a glimpse of a fantasy world which can help us to think about the Holy Trinity.   Most recently in the Fiftieth anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ the actors Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt all played different doctors in the same adventure. These men were all the Doctor, they were the same Timelord.  They had the same memories, a shared history and identity. But they were of course very different from each other. They existed in relationship to each other; they could talk, hug, cry and argue with each other. What is more, David Tennant’s Doctor was not anymore the Doctor than Matt Smith’s and John Hurt’s Doctor, and their Doctors were no more the Doctor than David Tennant.  In that particular episode we saw one being, and three persons, and all were very much the Doctor!

Although this might seem to some (who are not Dr Who fans) a little silly, I think it is a useful illustration of how the Holy Trinity can be both three persons and One God.  For the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of the same being, the same substance, but they are three different persons at the same time.  The Dr Who image is not perfect, it is just an image to help us to try and think about things that are beyond our normal experience.  It is important not to get confused and think that the persons of the Holy Trinity are like avatars or incarnations, they are not different versions of God!  Rather, each person of the Holy Trinity is unique, perfect, and complete. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always existed - there was not a time when they did not exist!  

Now all of this might seem all well and good, but we may be tempted to ask: what does it mean to me? What difference does the abstract and inner life of God make to my life? The answer: Everything! To believe in the Trinity is to believe in a God of love and to believe in God who exists in a relationship. Because we are made in the image of a loving and relational God, we can have a relationship with him. Through baptism we regenerate! We become new creations and we share the very life of the Triune God. The God who comes to live in us and with us is the God who dances in an eternal dance of love. As Christians, we are invited into the dance of love. We are to learn the movements of the Spirit, to partner with God and share in the dance of love for Eternity.

To dance with God for eternity – that’s what the Trinity means for us, and that is everything!

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Mass in the Time of Lockdown: Fr Luke's Top Ten Tips for Participating in a Virtual Mass

This week the country has gone into complete lockdown and Catholic communities everywhere have discovered a new phenomenon: live-streamed Mass. In many ways, we are so fortunate that this pandemic and subsequent lockdown is happening in the 21st Century where many of us have access to high-speed broadband, computers, tablets, and smartphones. It is sad of course that we are in this situation at all,  especially as we prepare to celebrate the Easter liturgies.
Never-the-less technology enables us to maintain a degree of communion in our communities that, at other times, would be incredibly difficult. Sadly, of course, this is not true for all people. I am deeply aware that there a significant number of parishioners in my parish who are at a technological disadvantage. It’s important that within the constraints that we find ourselves in we continue to support them the best we can.

Concerning live streaming the Eucharist (broadcasting via the internet) I think the first thing to be said is that it is not and can never be a full substitute for being physically present at Mass. Being virtually present is not the same as being physically present. Having said this, of course, it is perfectly possible to be physically present at Mass and be so pre-occupied that you are not actually present. What is of crucial importance always when we attend Mass, however that happens, is that we try to be present to God and each other. We take time to stop and remind ourselves that we are in the presence of God and participating in the act of sublime worship.   Virtual Masses are not the solution to everything, but in the situation, we find ourselves in they are the next best thing, at least they can be - if we allow ourselves to enter fully into the celebration.

The Mass is always the action of the whole Church, so wherever it is celebrated, whether that is with one or a million people it is the whole Church, in communion with each other, that is offering the Mass.  This is true with or without live streaming the Mass. What the streaming does, of course, is bring a degree of virtual proximity to a specific celebration which can help the members of the Church to engage more fully, even remotely, with this central mystery of our faith.

The Eucharist (Mass) remains the source and summit - the beginning and end of our faith because it is the re-presentation of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice on the cross.  Jesus died, reconciling us with the Father and this event happened once in time, but through the Eucharist the Holy Spirit allows us to transcend time and space and be ‘plugged-in’ as it were, to Jesus’ eternal sacrifice.  Whether we can receive communion or not we experience the grace and fruits of Jesus' sacrifice in our world and in our lives. This is why the Mass is continually being celebrated for the Church and for the world, every Mass is, a sense, like a portal, a floodgate opening up from Calvary and allowing the grace, mercy, the power of God to flood out and transform us. Priests across the world are offering Masses continually and the fruits of Jesus' death on the cross are continually flowing out from these altars and communities.

Taking part in a virtual Mass can help us to keep the Eucharist, and thus Christ at the center of our lives. Like anything, however, the extent to which it will be fruitful in our own lives depends in no small part on us, so here are my top ten tips to help you participate in Virtual Masses!

1.      Read the Sunday readings beforehand and pray with them during the week. Many people do this already and this is good to do anyway if you were coming to Mass physically on a Sunday or joining us through the internet.
2.      Make a Spiritual Communion – Jesus can’t be received sacramentally via the internet but he can always be received in spirit  (I lead this prayer at Communion at the Masses I stream and invite participants to say the prayer along with me at home)
3.      Keep the Eucharistic Fast: The Church asks that we prepare for Holy Communion by not eating or drinking anything (except water) for a minimum of one hour before Holy Communion. Although you will be making a spiritual Communion and so technically this fast is not needed, it might be a fruitful way of preparing yourself, ahead of time, for spiritual participation at Mass.
4.      Set up an altar/focus for prayer in your house. If possible, prepare a space where you can drape a cloth over a table, light some candles - if you are streaming to a portable device (laptop, phone/tablet) you could put this near or behind the altar
5.      If you have space in your house (corner of a room/spare bedroom) set up a prayer space and ‘go to Mass’ in this room
6.      If you have young children, consider doing your own children’s liturgy with them during the liturgy of the word.
7.      Turn off phones (that you are not using to stream!) set notifications to silent turn off radios and TV’s on other parts of the house
8.      Make sure you participate: i.e. don’t just watch but say the responses at the correct points
9.      Send in Mass Intentions and ask for prayers to be included in the Mass
10  Invite friends (virtually) to stream along with you and participate in the Mass at the same time. Knowing that your friends and family in their own houses are participating in the same Eucharist and watching the same live feed can be enormously encouraging, especially in this time of social isolation.

Hope these are helpful. I stream Mass daily at 10 am and 11 am on Sundays via Hope to see you (albeit virtually!) at Mass! 

Saturday 21 March 2020

Coronavirus: Corona Catholicism and Corona-opportunities - A personal Reflection

Well, a lot has been happening in our world and in our country especially in this last week. If you told me a week ago that I had a week of public ministry left before we go on lockdown, I would have struggled to believe you. “Not in Lent surely!” It’s not that I didn’t think it wasn’t coming eventually, I just didn’t really want to think about it amid the daily pastoral demands and there was certainly enough to keep me busy!

Friday morning came of course, and I celebrated the last public Mass for the immediate and foreseeable future – it was painful, to say the least. It was moving to have a fuller church for a Friday morning Mass, but that Mass will go on my list of the handful occasions where I felt that I would nearly not get through the Mass. The people of God were, as ever, encouraging and the reverence and prayerfulness of Friday’s Mass were beautiful, never-the-less it was a sad and painful occasion for all of us.  

Now, however, we have to get on with things. The period that our Nation has moved into is unchartered territory. It seems to me, at least, that we have a choice: we can either moan, get angry and depressed and complain about the situation or we can learn to live with our new reality, accept it for what it is and learn how to flourish in these difficult times. Everyone will suffer in some greater or lesser way in the foreseeable future - this is happening to all of us. We need to let go of things that we thought gave our lives security, direction and meaning and use this time well to rediscover what is important and what is essential.

It’s not all doom and gloom: families will be forced in many cases to spend more time with each other. There is only so much TV and the Internet (if the broadband holds up) that people can cope with so at some point, people will have to relearn how to sit around a table and talk to each other, play games and read books! Of course, there will be many of us who are isolated, the sick, the elderly and those who, like me, live alone. So, it’s important that we connect with each other using all the technology and resources that are available.

As a priest I am struggling and will continue to struggle with the inability to do what my very life is given over to – the public celebration of the Eucharist and the public administering of the other sacraments, pastoral visits and generally all pastoral contact. It’s going to be difficult to be a shepherd to a virtual flock. Yet these are difficulties and struggles which all my brother priests and ministers are going to struggle with during this time and I feel a strange and new solidarity with my brothers already beginning to blossom.

As Catholics and as Christians the coronavirus time can be a real opportunity for us if we allow it. A time to foster a contemplative heart and re-discover and deepen our relationship with Jesus. A time to learn the value of silence, immerse ourselves in the Word of God and do all those spiritual things that we have “put-off” because we are just too busy.

There are lots of resources and courses online that can help us form our faith and nourish our relationship with Jesus, many are now being offered for free and at heavily discounted prices. Dr. Scott Hahn has put together The Quarantined Catholic Hub:  

And David Payne at Café (Catholic Faith Exploration) is offering lots of courses at discounted prices
I am also streaming live Mass and prayers and content from our Facebook page
(10 am daily and 11 am on Sunday)

These are going to be different and difficult times for all of us, but let’s stay positive and most importantly let us keep our eyes fixed on Christ! Jesus is everything! In this time of isolation, I pray that we can relearn the important lesson that all our hope and trust should be placed in Him! We have been overly-comfortable and self-reliant as a people and a nation for a long time – may we learn and re-learn dependence on each other and dependence on God.  The coronavirus pandemic can be a great opportunity for all of us, and God will if we let him bring great fruit out of what to human eyes look like a disaster – and this, of course, is the substance of our faith. God brings hope out of despair, light out of darkness and resurrection out of death.