GOD WILL PROVIDE


People of the 1980’s will be familiar with A-ha and their ground-breaking video of ‘Take On Me’ – which children of this generation might think of as dated or something like that. In the video Morten leaps into a comic-book story that he’s reading and becomes part of the action in it. Sometimes I find myself going into a picture that I’m looking at, though maybe not as vividly as Morten.

Yesterday, while celebrating Mass, a memory opened up in front of me right in front of the altar. I stepped into it and have been moving around in it ever since. It’s a memory of the Camino that began in the small village of Hornillos del Camino.

I got up at 6.30am. It was a Sunday and I really wanted a place, a church in which I could celebrate Mass because I was frustrated by the number of churches that were locked along the way. I told this to God and an inner voice suggested "the Lord will provide!" It's the word that came to Abraham when young Isaac wondered where they would find a sacrifice - the Lord will provide was Abraham's reply. He did! And Abraham is part of this particular journey of mine so I trust!

Along the way I stopped to watch the morning sky and prayed the rosary sitting on a rock. It was beautiful. Further on up the hill I came on Becky & Mark who were sitting eating oranges which they shared with me. Then came the young man Bilal with his long stride. His name means "clear water" and he was doing the Camino on a shoe-string which might not last as far as Santiago and if he runs out of money he said he would have to give up. I said to him "God will provide!"

In the village of Hontanas at 11.30 the people were emerging from the church after Mass and I thought I've just missed my chance because they lock the churches immediately after Mass. But a bold streak came into me and I walked up to the sacristy where the priest was preparing to leave and when I asked if I could celebrate Mass he said "of course". A very welcoming, kind man who had great respect for the pilgrim. It meant he had to tell the sacristan to keep the church open which she wasn’t too pleased about because she probably wanted to get home to cook the dinner.

Bilal was standing at the back of the church and asked if he could stay. He explained that he was neither Christian nor Catholic and I said he was welcome but asked him to go back up the road to call the others – especially Mark and Becky who are committed Christians and I felt they would welcome some form of worship on a Sunday.

When the group arrived, we made an interesting congregation - a Moslem, a Jew, two Episcopalians, two or three Catholics, a Scotswoman, Hungarian, American, Israeli, Dutch, Irish. A nice mix of humanity! I said to them that they probably wouldn’t understand what I was doing in the Mass but they could pray in their own way.


Bilal told me later that, while he was waiting outside the church for the others, a woman came up to him and gave him bread and he thought of the promise "God will provide!" For him the bread of the woman was the fulfilment of the promise; for me Mass in a church was the fulfilment of the same promise of God.

Bilal and I met maybe a couple of other times along the way but the great thing is that he made it all the way to Santiago, didn’t have to abandon his pilgrimage because Providence looked after him in different ways through different people along the way.

Last night I sent him a message to say I was thinking of him. We might have contacted each other two or three times in the intervening seven years. He wrote back to speak of the pure beauty and the everlasting mark that we have been in each other’s lives.

God will provide! This is what we witness with Jesus and the blind beggar man in Mark’s Gospel chapter 10. And I’m thinking of the old hymn – reach out and touch the Lord as he goes by. You will find he’s not to busy to hear your heart cry. He is passing by this moment!

But Jesus is not passing by. He is on a journey, on the road that leads into our lives and He stops on the road in the place where we are and He is attentive to the cry that emerges from us. Jesus Son of David have pity on me!

Jesus is God providing. In Him God is looking after our life situations but we encounter obstacles. For Bartimaeus, the people in front of him are obstacles. They tell him to be quiet. They try to silence the cry.

Who or what in my life, in yours, is trying to silence the cry, the genuine prayer that we are trying to make to God. Who or what is blocking my way to Jesus? We have to deal with these because Jesus is our destiny and we should not allow anyone or any thing block our way to Him. And it is important that we try as much as we can to keep or focus on Jesus rather than on the people who may be making life difficult for us.

Bartimaeus has his own obstacles, things in his life that are a hindrance in his approach to Jesus. These are represented by his cloak – “throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus!”

So, what is it within myself that I need to throw off in order to get to Jesus, to that particular blessing that He is providing for my life right now?

There are of course the positive voices, people and situations that encourage me towards Jesus. “Courage”, they said, “He is calling you!” These we need to acknowledge, ponder and treasure. They are the amazing grace of God in our lives.

And then, when we come face to face with Jesus, He asks the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” The honest answer lies differently within each one of us, an answer, a cry that we have to uncover in order to move forward or if we can’t uncover it at least allow it to surface under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

And within each of us there exists another obstacle – that of our expectations. Something in us usually wants all of it now but the lesson I learned with Bilal is that God doesn’t usually give the whole lot all at once. He gives piece by piece, day by day, a step at a time and this requires trust on our part as well as the capacity for surprise.

God will provide in one way or another. Jesus comes in one way or another and, even though Bilal is not a Christian, I believe that we were Jesus to each other in that moment along the road. 

As a priest I have come to understand that my place in life is what is written in the letter to the Hebrews - to live in the limitations of weakness and act on behalf of people in their relationship with God by hearing their cry and pointing them in the direction of Jesus. (Hebrews 5:1-6)

SINGLE FEATHERS FALLING




I'm not looking for signs. I trust! Mostly! But feathers fascinate me. The disembodied single white feather that floats from the sky and lands at my feet. It is said that such a feather is the sign of an angel. But you couldn't take that too seriously here in Hastings, given the multitude of white feathered seagulls that populate our skies and rooftops and streets. There are bound to be feathers - lots of single feathers falling.

And I'm cautious about angels. They're not all to be trusted and the Bible tells us that the devil can disguise himself as an angel of light. I stick to the Angels of the Lord - Archangels and Guardian angels.

Still a feather has what it takes to demand my attention. Like the other night on the homeward leg of my daily walk. There was a stiff breeze and I felt a sudden light sting on my mouth and realized that a small white feather had lodged itself right between my lips. As precise as the seagull who nicked the flake out of my ice cream a few months ago. Had I just been kissed by a passing angel? That was the thought that occurred to me.

Further on up the seafront when the rain came in, an Angel enfleshed fell upon my breast with burdens too heavy to bear and mine was the gift to lift some of its weight, though not all.

Later still in my sleepless solitude the torment of other people's hell came to me. I saw its darkness and felt the cold of its flame and my own inability to rescuse a child from unspeakable horrors. Not a mythical spiritual realm but a reality of this world inspired by the prince of darkness and executed by mankind.

It was a homeless angel who met my desolation in the morning and kissed me twice for my one small act of kindness, holding me in a tight embrace that I could not escape. It was the grace that kept me going a little while longer.

"Angel of God, whom God has appointed my Guardian, enlighten, protect, direct and govern me this day.  Amen!"

CONSECRATION (On The London Underground)



I am indifferent
To the crush of rush
Hour on the Underground

Unconcerned by time
Having no particular
Interest in arrival

At peace with what is
Incomplete
Imperfect

I do not ask
For anything now

No particular favour
Blessing or grace

Not even the removal
Of that sin for which
I am truly contrite
With Love's own sorrow

This is a Consecration
Of all that I am
To the Providence
Of your Mercy
One Omnipotent God

Jesus Christ
My Lord
My Life
My Love

In whom I am
Given
Surrendered
Offered

Without reserve
Wholly consumed
In You

Nothing wasted
Nothing lost
Every broken bit

Harvested
Gathered
For the feeding
Of other hungers


A SOLITARY STAG



I sit near a solitary stag in the long white grass. We look at each other and, for a while, he seems not to care until he stands up to his full stature sniffing the breeze between us and turning his back to me he bellows into the sky. I dare not put his tolerance of me to the test, so I leave him his space. Alone.

Richmond park is dotted with herds of deer of every age and size - the graceful, elegant and cute, each herd having one stag as far as I can work out. All of them are beautiful, captivating and I feel I could just lay down among them finding a belonging there. Not that I could become one of them, I just feel a closeness to them inside me. 

You couldn't say that the lone stag is either elegant or graceful but he is beautiful, majestic and I love him more than all the rest.

I'm curious about his solitude. Why is he out there on his own? Has he been driven out by a younger, stronger stag? There's no way of knowing but I have an affinity with him. He has become the symbol of my retreat.

Joe and I walked here the other evening. We've known each other for 35 years and spent many years together in community but haven't seen each other since before I left Shankill, so there is great delight in our meeting. Ours is a friendship that is easily picked up from where we left off. He's one of those who has seen me close up, warts and all as they say, and with him I feel safe. I can be myself.

Now he too is living in England, having taken up his appointment to Greenford parish a few weeks ago. Little did we think two years ago that we would both be in this country, walking in this lovely park.

Walking here with Joe or alone and in quiet prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament – these have been the singular blessings of the retreat. And I have come to a clearer awareness - best expressed in words of Scripture that occurred this week. "This I know, that God is on my side.” (Psalm 56) “He makes me leap like the deer, He guides me to the high places." (Habakkuk 3:19) and "After my awaking, he will set me close to him, and from my flesh I shall look on God. He whom I shall see will take my part: these eyes will gaze on him and find him not aloof." (Job 19:21-27) My "homeland is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transfigure the wretched body of ours into the mould of his glorious body, through the working of the power which he has, even to bring all things under his mastery." (Ephesians 3:20-21)

God is on my side, He sets me close to Him and takes my part, a reminder of what I know but need to learn again in the experience of the thorn in the flesh. Humbling and humiliating is the cross that penetrates my very essence, the cross that will transform and even change my identity just like the identity of Jacob was changed when he wrestled with God through the night. Injured, blessed and changed!

Like Thomas Merton my sleepless bed is my altar of sacrifice but there has come a point where it doesn't matter much whether I sleep or not and there is yet to come the point when suffering and ease will be the same thing; joy and sadness, success and failure. Nothing will matter as long as I have Christ.

"I have learned to manage with whatever I have. I know how to live modestly, and I know how to live luxuriously too: in every way now I have mastered the secret of all conditions: full stomach and empty stomach, plenty and poverty. There is nothing I cannot do in the One who strengthens me."(Philippians 4)
As Pallotti would say - Not suffering but God, not success but God!  God first and last in all things. Alpha and Omega!

I’ve loved being on this retreat and I’ve loved being with the community but it also tested me – the constant chatter and laughter when we were together when I would occasionally have liked other kinds of conversation. But I’m too serious and too solitary. Still I needed to be with them, felt the need to be with them and turned up at every community gathering, except breakfast. After the first day breakfast became a bridge too far so I stayed in my room every other morning, drinking my coffee there – peacefully.
Leaving the retreat was difficult or at least I felt reluctant. A bit like Peter and his companions after the Transfiguration of Jesus, not that this was as dramatic as that but I had settled into its blessedness.
Using his antlers and hoofs the stag carves out a groove in the earth about the length of his own body and into that groove he settles. It’s a kind of resting place, a place of hiding which is aided by the long grass. The retreat was the groove that I had carved out for myself and leaving it didn’t come easy.
The journey home from London didn’t do much to ease the pain. Wrong turns, doubling back, Friday traffic, an accident on the M25, a broken-down van on the A21 all added an extra hour to my return.
But I dropped in to Morrisons supermarket in Hastings to get a few bits and there in the middle of an aisle I bumped into a young Mum from the parish with her two young children who looked a bit mesmerized at the sight of me, so much so that they didn’t utter a word. They just look up at me with their beautiful faces and smiled. I said, “you’ve never seen me dressed like this before!” All they ever see is me in vestments on a Sunday morning. We high-fived and I moved on feeling revived, knowing that I had come home. It takes a child or two to turn the world around!