The God of new beginnings

Taken from The Irish Times Saturday 9th January 2020 from Thinking Anew by Gordon Linney

As we take one last backward glance at Christmas, mingled with our disappointments is the hope that next year’s festival will literally be “business as usual”.

The year ended has been difficult and remains so for those whose livelihoods have been affected and especially those with families to provide for and mortgages or rents to cover.

Much attention has been given to the needs of those of us who are older, and that is appreciated, but there needs to be a watchfulness for others who are knee deep in anxiety about the future.

We often complain about the hustle and bustle of the traditional Christmas season, with some especially concerned at the commercialisation of what is essentilly a religious festival.

This year reminds us that it is all part of a piece where people find meaning and blessing at different levels.

The onetime Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Robert Runcie knew that when he wrote, “I am frankly rather tired of the tendency of Christians to berate the world for its commercialism and lack of appreciation of what the Feast of Christmas is all about. You know the sort of thing I mean. It’s those sermons and parish magazine articles, read curiously by only the most devout, in which Christmas trees are dismissed as pagan cult objects; it’s the obsessiveness which bans the singing of any carols before Christmas Eve; it’s the encouragement to Christians to challenge the surrounding culture with the ‘real message’ of Christmas. My point is not that we should lose the significance and distinctiveness of the Christian calendar but rejoice at the ‘rumours of God’ which are stirred in the spirits of all people at such times.”

Let there by light’

The Genesis account of creation reminds us of the God of new beginnings who replaces darkness with light. “Then God said; ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”

The reading from St Mark’s Gospel chapter one describes the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. It’s another new beginning but note the starting point in this the earliest of the four gospels. There is no reference to a stable, to shepherds or wisemen or any of the other details we tend to focus on at Christmas.

Instead, Mark introduces us to the adult Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us who accompanies us on our life’s journey through “all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy”.

And we are reminded in this season of Epiphany that this is a promise to all people for all time which helps us to face the future with hope, no matter how bleak things may seem right now.

Last August, a large part of Beirut, the capital of Lebanan, was destroyed by a massive explosion which killed 204 people and injured over 7,500. It left over a quarter of a million people homeless.

A local artist, Hayat Nazer, said the damage to her city and loss of life, including friends broke her heart.

Unite and rebuild

However, along with other residents, she joined efforts to clear the debris from the streets and so restore the city.

As she did this, she got an idea to use some of the debris to create a statue that would inspire people to unite and rebuild.

She collected broken glass and twisted materials that belonged to people’s homes before the explosion to create a statue of a woman raising Lebanon’s flag, her hair and dress flowing in the wind, symbolising the city’s hopes of rising from the rubble and a new beginning.

Hayat Nazer reminds us that God uses ordinary people to be signs of his promise of renewal and restoration. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland! (Isaiah 43).

Editor: to all my readers – God bless you and may you notice that he is travelling all the time with you during 2021

A reading from the Sermons of St Peter Chrysologus

He who willed to be born for us, was unwilling that we should be ignorant of him.

The distinguishing marks of the Godhead were always clearly present in the very mystery of the Lord’s incarnation. But today’s feast (Epiphany) especially shows and reveals that God came into a human body so that mortal man, who is continually in confusion and darkness, should not lose through ignorance what he merited to have and possess through grace alone.

He who willed to be born for us, was unwilling that we should be ignorant of him. Hence, he chose this way of revelation so that the great mystery of love would not become the occasion of a great mistake.

Today the Magus, the wise man, finds weeping in a crib him whom he sought for shining in the stars. Today the wise man reveres clearly revealed in swaddling clothes him whom he had long patiently awaited unseen in the heavens.

Today the wise man ponders in profound amazement over what he sees there: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, and him whom the whole universe cannot contain, confined in a tiny body. And immediately on seeing, he professes with mystical gifts that he believes and does not argue: he acknowledges God with frankincense, the King with gold, with myrrh the mortal one destined to die.

So it is that the Gentile, who was last, has become first: for then the belief of the nations began from the faith of the Magi.

Today Christ entered the riverbed of the Jordan, to wash away the world’s sin. John himself bears witness that he came for this: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.’ ‘Today the servant holds the Lord, man holds God, John holds Christ: holds him, as about to receive, not to grant forgiveness..

Today as the prophet says: ‘The Lord’s voice’ is ‘on the waters’. What voice? ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased ‘

Today the Holy Spirit floats over the waters in the form of a dove, so that by this sign it might be known that the world’s universal shipwreck has ceased, as the dove had announced to Noah that the world’s flood had subsided. Nor does this dove carry a branch of the old olive, but it pours the whole richness of the olive on the head of the author of the new anointing, in order to fulfill what the prophet foretold: ‘Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the old of gladness above other kings.’

Today Christ gives the beginnings of the signs from heaven, when he changes water into wine. But water was to be changed into the mystery of the blood, so that Christ, from the goblet of his Body, might give pure draughts to those who drink, to fulfill that saying of the prophet: ‘My chalice which inebriates me, how good it is.’

Reader, this is a wonderful reading from the Office of Readings. The Office of Readings contains such treasures. Editor

The Birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace

A reading from a Sermon by pope St. Leo the Great

The infancy which the Son of God did not think beneath his glory, grew over the years to mature manhood. When the triumph of his passion and resurrection was completed, all the actions of humility which were undertaken for us ceased. However the feast of Christmas renews for us the holy infancy of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary. And as we adore the birth of our Saviour we find that we are celebrating our own beginnings.

For the birth of Christ is the origin of the people of Christ, and the birthday of the head is the birthday of the body.

It is true that each of those who are called is allotted a particular place, and that all the children of the Church are separated from each other by intervals of time. However, just as all the faithful together, born of the waters of baptism, are cruified with Christ in his passion, raised with him in his resurrection and given a place with him at the Father’s right hand in his ascension, so to, with him they are born in this his birth.

Throughout the world, everyone of the faithful is reborn in Christ, and leaving the path of his old origins passes by rebirth into a new person. No longer is he reckoned among his human father’s stock but among the seed of the Saviour, who became the Son of man in order that we might have the power to be the children of God.

If he had not come down to us by this humility, no one could have come to him by any merits of his own.

Hence the very greatness of the gift conferred demands of us reverence worthy of its splendour. As the blessed Apostle teachers, ‘we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.’ He can in no other way be rightly worshipped, except by offering him what he himself bestowed on us.

But, in the treasury of the Lord’s generosity what can we find more suitable to honour the present feast than the peace first proclaimed by the angels’ chorus at the Lord’s nativity.

Peace it is that gives birth to the sons of God. Peace is the nurse of love, the mother of unity, the repose of the blessed, and our eternal home. The real work and special blessing of peace is to join to God those whom it sets apart from the world.

Let those then who are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God, offer to the Father the oneness of heart of peace-loving children. Let all the members of adoption come together in the first-born of the new creation, who came to do not his own will but the will of him who sent him. The grace of the Father has not adopted as his heirs those who are divided among themselves and at odds with each other, but those who are one in mind and heart. Remodelled according to the one image, they should have a spirit in conformity with it.

The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace. As the Apostle says, ‘He is our peace, who made us both one.’ For, whether we be Jew or Gentile, ‘through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father’.

The birthday of Jesus is our birthday too. Happy birthday to us and may we grow into Christ as we live each day on earth and be well and truly united to him when we pass out of this world into the next. Editor

St Bernard on Christmas

Reader: you will not be sorry to read the following. It is worth meditating on at length. Believe me. Editor

‘The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared.’

Thanks be to God, through whom our consolation overflows in this pilgrimage, in this exile, in this distress.

Before his humanity appeared, his kindness lay concealed. The latter indeed existed first, because the mercy of the Lord is from eternity. But how could people know it was so great? It was promised indeed, but not yet experienced: hence many did not believe in it. ‘The Lord’ indeed ‘spoke in fragmentary and varied fashion through the prophets’ saying ‘I know the thoughts that I think towards you, thoughts of peace and not of affliction.’

But what reply did people make, people who felt the affliction, and knew nothing of peace ? How long will you keep saying, ‘Peace, peace, when there is no peace’? Therefore ‘The angels of peace were weeping bitterly’ saying ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ But now let people believe at least their own sight, because ‘the testimonies of God are become exceedingly credible’. ‘He has set his tabernacle in the sun’, so that it cannot escape even an eye that is troubled.

Behold, peace no longer promised, but conferred; no longer delayed, but given; no longer predicted, but bestowed. Behold, God the Father has sent down to earth as it were a bag filled with his mercy; a bag to be rent open in the passion so that our ransom which it concealed might be poured out; a small bag indeed, but full. It is indeed a small child who is given to us, but in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead.

After the fulness of time, had come, there came too the fulness of the Godhead. He came in the flesh, so that at least he might make himself manifest to our earthly minds, so that when this humanity of his appeared, his kindness might also be acknowledged. Where the humanity of God appears, his kindness can no longer be hidden. In what way, indeed, could he have better commended his kindness than by assuming my flesh? My flesh, that is, not Adam’s, as it was before the fall.

What greater proof could he have given of his mercy than by taking upon himself that which needed mercy? Where is there such fulness of loving-kindness as in the fact that the Word of God became perishable like the grass for our sakes: ‘Lord, what is man, that you make much of him or pay him any head?’

Let man infer from this how much God cares for him. Let him know from this what God thinks of him, what he feels about him. Man, do not ask about your own sufferings; but about what he suffered. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you, so that his kindness may show itself to you from his humanity.

The lesser he has made himself in his humanity, the greater has he shown himself in kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more powerfully he engages my love. ‘The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared’ says the Apostle. The humanity of God shows the greatness of his kindness, and he who added humanity to the name of God gave great proof of his kindness.

I was trying to use inclusive language but was afraid of inaccuracy so gave up. editor

Ghana News: Rev. Fr. Andrew Campbell receives Honorary Doctorate from University of Health and Allied Sciences

The University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ho, has conferred an Honorary Doctorate on Rev. Father Andrew Campbell, Parish Priest of Christ the King Parish, Accra.

The award is in recognition of Fr. Campbell’s decades of humanitarian service and his dedication to health and development in Ghana, especially in the field of Leprosy control and management.

The University also intends to name a proposed Infectious Diseases Research Centre after him in recognition of his humanitarian work.

Fr. Campbell received this recognition for public service at the University’s 5th Congregaton held on Friday November 6th, 2020 at Ho.

Born in 1946, Fr Cambell volunteered to come to Ghana as a Missionary Priest and arrived in Ghana in 1971. Since then, he has worked in various roles in his quest to serve humanity, including opening a Middle School, Sacred Heart Parish, in 1978, and founding Sacred Heart Vocational Institute for poor and needy students in Accra Central in 1980. Over 2000 needy students have passed through the school since its inception.

His work with cured lepers and street children over the years has gained him local and international recognition and helped to highlight their sorry plight.

Speaking at the ceremony, Fr Campbell shed more light on his dedication to making life better for cured lepers.

One day, when I worked at the Holy Spirit Cathedral, I met a cured leper who gifted me with a bag of mangoes. I took the mangoes, but I did not eat them because I was afraid of getting infected.

But I decided to visit them. I was shocked and disturbed by their fate, and over the years I have done everything in my power to knock on every door and call on anyone who can help them.”

He singled out his “brother and friend”, Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia for his special dedication to the cause of helping cured lepers and street children.

I have received lots of help over the years, but I would like to especially thank our Guest of Honour, my brother and friend, Vice President Bawumia, for his tremendous support. His doors are always open, and I have seen the love and care he has for humanity, especially cured lepers and street children. Through his efforts and some others, the Christ the King Soup Kitchen has provided over 400,000 meals to the needs. This is truly remarkable” Fr Campbell stated.

“He has opened his house every year to us. Every year he hosts a party in his home for just cured lepers, no one else, to also have a sense of belonging. We are so so grateful Mr Vice President” he disclosed.

Dr Bawumia commended the University Council and Management for recognising Fr. Campbell’s humanitarian support services directed at giving hope to the vulnerable in society thereby alleviating their plight.

Building a healthy society with a touch of compassion, humility and integrity of service is the goal all of us should aspire to. There can be a bit of Fr. Campbell in all of us”

Where are our beloved dead?

Taken from The Sacred Heart Messenger October 2020 written by Fr Brian Grogan SJ, author of Creation Walk – The amazing story of a small blue planet. He is reflecting on his experience of COVID-19 which reminds us of the great Christian hope of resurrection that we can offer our troubled Nworld.

The recent ever-mounting global death-toll haunts us, and the pain of our own losses is still raw: I feel that pain personally: over Easter I lost six good friends to COVID-19.

Never before in our lifetime has the spectre of death loomed so large in our collective consciousness, but our corporate silence about where the dead may be is deafening. Catholic belief in the ‘afterlife’ is being silently eroded. The faith-filled phrase, ‘they’ve gone to God’ is being replaced by ‘they’ve passed’. Surveys show that many Christians have little that is distinctive to say about their dead: for some, the promise of eternal life is reduced to hope that their beloved ones will at best live on in cherished memories.

With November close at hand, when we remember the dead in special ways, it is important to clarify and strenthen our belief in the final statement of the Creed, ‘the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’.

Doubters can be invited to explore the ‘afterlife’ in a respectful setting, but our culture, fixated on the affairs of this world, makes it bad form, even at a funeral, to start a conversation with ‘Where do you think so-and-so is now?’ The legendary saviour of Irish soccer, Jack Charlton, died recently. In all the column inches of appreciation there was not a word on his present state.

Why this decline in religious belief among Christians?

Ernest Becker argued in The Denial of Death that while many deny the reality of death, the success of the Christian world-picture lay in its ability to offer to ‘slaves, cripples, the simple and the mighty’ a sense that their lives were of eternal significance.

The Sescond Vatican Council updated many dimensions of Catholic belief, but not that of eschatology – the study of what were then termed the ‘last things’. The joke was that on the door of the Department of Eschatology a sign read: ‘Sorry, closed for repairs. Come back later!’

Matching the silence of our culture about the fate of the dead is silence from the other side. My devout but struggling mother used to say, ‘No one has ever come back. Even one word would help so much…Why are the dead so silent?’ Raymond Moody’s Life After Life appeared in 1975, and its vivid accounts of near death experiences offered her a whisper of hope. ‘Maybe’ she’d say and would leave it at that.

Since Ernest Becker wrote in 1973 about the success of the Christian world-picture of the past, our generation has been given a revelation of a new world-picture; our universe is unimaginably vast – 93 billion light years in diameter, and expanding. Such facts make it ever more reasonable to believe that this universe is not a cosmic accident but is born out of infinite love and leads on to the fullness of divine companionship. We can rightly interpret this glorious cascade of the material world as being authored for our ultimate joy. We can reasonably decide to accept that our amazing planet has made yet one more impossible leap in the emergence of Jesus Christ, one indeed like us but risen gloriously from the dead as the first fruits of the great harvest of all humankind.

The audacious hope of believers is that the Author of the galaxies welcomes everyone home to the Great Banquet, to the enjoyment of divine beauty and of human transfiguration. We rightly hope that in a universe destined for glory we can anticipate ecstatic reunions with those we have mourned. This is the Christian hope that we can offer our troubled world.

Everyone should go on retreat for three days a year

By Robert Porter (Rite and Reason) The Times 13th October 2020 in the Opinion & Analysis page

When I was a student at Cambridge I went on a retreat with some friends. It was a silent affair, and we were still very young, so we spent most of the time tittering from the tension induced by the silence. Although it was in some ways a moving experience, my overriding memory of the retreat was all that tittering.

So, I was surprised when I was recently moved to book myself on a three-day retreat at Glenstall Abbey in Co Limerick. Glenstal is a Catholic Benedictine monastery, and I am an Anglican living in London (although I am originally from Belfast), so I was initially a little bemused that I had been guided there.

Thinking about it, it’s not so strange. First, I have always been fascinated by the Celtic Church. It seems to me it has generally instinctively known what really mattered. At the Synod of Whitby in 663-664, the Celtic Church surrendered its position on, among other things, the timing of Easter and the monastic tonsure to preserve the integrity of the church as a whole.

True, there were arguably political forces at work, since in return for that the Celtic Church was allowed to maintain a degree of independence for a time, but the point remains good – the Celtic Church sacrificed some of its most treasured practices to maintain the coherence and unifying strength of the church as a whole. And of course, the Irish monasteries were the selfless repository of classical and Christian learning in the dark days after the fall of Rome.

Beyond this academic attraction, the monks at Glenstal are renowned for their plainchant (you can listen on Spotify) and I felt that would infuse a healthy mystique into the services. Apart from anything else, I greatly appreciate music and, in this context, the institution of music in church as an aide to worship (one of the reasons why as a young man I made the jump from Presbyterianism to Anglican Church), and I felt that plainchant would wonderfully enhance my retreat. Equally, I am drawn toward the Benedictine ethic of “Work and Pray”. That seems to be a healthy balance and doesn’t leave everything up to God: we must also bear our own responsibility.

Finally, I have some very fine friends who in their time went to Glenstall Abbey School, and I felt if it was good for them it was good for me. Just for the record, I do not regard myself a Holy Joe or some sort of reconstructed (or unreconstructed) evangelical. I am lucky to have been born with a quiet, yet profound and determined, faith.

In this regard I have generally had a very “easy” relationship with God, which sounds wonderful, but perhaps when it has been too “easy” it has caused its own problems such as complacency. Nevertheless, for reasons I choose not to delve into here, I recently recognised I had a lot to be thankful for in my life, and felt I needed to give thanks in a more prolonged and formal way than merely quickly “beaming one up” to the Big Guy Upstairs. The retreat itself was everything I could have hoped for. I will not go into it in depth; it’s between me, God and the monks. Suffice to say I was made to feel a most welcome part of the community.

I will say the schedule of services was rigorous, although you could pick and choose which to go to; a palate of Lauds (6.35am), matins, Mass, vespers and compline. That lot kept me going – and all with that beautiful plainchant ringing in my ears!

Worldly cares

At its best a retreat is not a withdrawal.  It is an engagement. While you do on one level withdraw for a while from worldly cares, on another your mind, heart and soul reach out to engage with the divine. It is rigorous, demanding, uncompromising and ultimately – for me at least – utterly stimulating. In that light, “retreat” is a complete misnomer.

It should, rather, be described as something along the lines of an “assault course for the soul“.  Ultimately, you come out of it feeling as if you have run a marathon (which I have done several times): knackered, but elated, exhilarated, fulfilled and enriched. Of course, I can only speak from my own experience.

When I returned home, one of my friends asked me where I had been. As I explained, his eyes widened incredulously. “Are you taking Holy Orders?” he gasped facetiously.  I chuckled. “Nothing could be further from my thoughts,” I remarked. “But if everyone went on retreat for three days a year, the world would be a better place.” I was quickly taken aback at what I had said. First, it was true – the world would be a better place if everyone went on retreat for three days a year. And it wouldn’t need to be Christian, it could be a retreat (or the equivalent) of any religion where love and compassion were the driving force (that’s most of them, it seems to me, when all is said and done).

It would arguably amount to a balanced, pragmatic and practical striving for engagement without the necessity of casting oneself as a Holy Joe.

Second, I had said it: it was a firm date – family permitting, I would be back again next year. As St Benedict said, the sleepy like to make excuses. Lucky for me I’m an early riser.

Robert Porter is from Belfast and a former solicitor who lives in London

Editor: Do it.  You too will find that you are actually looking forward to those three days every year.  

Mission Sunday 2020

by Fr P. J. Hughes

It’s been one of those years that most of us will never forget. Due to the coronavirus, churches were closed and the mission of Christ looked as though it was put on hold. But thanks to Facebook and webcams, this mission continued with Mass and prayer services broadcast to people’s homes. It was a new way of living one’s faith.

Wherever a priest or religious is placed on mission they are workers in the vineyard, called to animate the baptised faithful in using their talents and gifts to communicate the message of Christ and his church.

As the prophet Isaiah says about those chosen: ‘though you do not know me, I arm you that people may know from the rising of the sun to the setting of the sun that, apart from me, all is nothing’ (Is 45:5-6)

Saint Paul says about missionaries: ‘They give their lives because they have received power from above and the Holy Spirit is leading them.’

Jesus is praying for the success of his mission, that the world may come to know God though the efforts of every missionary.

Working with the poor who have very little worldly possessions, one encounters a humility that they display before God and others. I had the privilege of working in Ecuador, in South America, as a missionary for eight and a half years. The people were so welcoming and lived simple lives, without even basic facilities. Living among the poor, I came to realise that in the end the most important thing to have is faith in God.

No achievements, no wealth, no honours placed upon me in this world can win me eternal life. Only one thing that matters:

to know Christ Jesus and believe in him who is praying for us as we proclaim the gospel.

The poor taught me that faith brings true happiness.

The Parable of the Two Sons

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I will go, sire’, but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

This is an extract from a reflection from Bible Alive for the 26th Sunday 27th September and the above Gospel reading

The message of the parable of the Two Sons can be boiled down to the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ (but words and actions would have pleased the father more). We profess our faith and say ‘yes’ at Sunday Mass, but do we live out our faith in our daily lives? Modern Western society likes to try and remove religion and faith from affairs of state and day-to-day living. St John Henry Newman taught that there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives. Neither of the two sons responds well to their father in today’s reading. One says ‘no’, but then has the strength of character to change his mind and do what he knows is right. The other pays lip-service to his father, but doesn’t do his will.

Dear Jesus, give us courage to respond to your call and challenge. Help us to make a positive contribution to society in your name. Amen

Seeds of God’s Word

Taken from Bible Alive September 19th (

The potential within a seed for new life is one of nature’s miracles. Seemingly small and insignificant in itself, it contains all that is necessry to produce a plant, flower or crop. Jesus compares the word of God to a seed. So how does it cause new life to grow within us? Just as a seed brings a whole new order of life to the soil, so God, through his word and his Spirit, enters into a conversation with us that changes us within. ‘In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children and talks with them’ (Dei verbum 21).

Jesus said: ‘my words will not pass away’ (Luke 21:33). He is in glory in heaven, but through the Holy Spirit he continues to speak to us. ‘These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit…will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’ (John 14:25). Jesus’ word has the power to change us as it changed the disciples. But he warns us that there is a battle, that we need to strive to be good soil. Which type of soil are we? Do we resist or welcome the seed of his word? We are called to accept the word, to grow, to choose life. ‘Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls’ (Jas 1:21).

Lord, may the seed of your word bring forth abundant fruit in me.

Comment from the editor: I have a garden. I planted strawberries into a patch. Tomato seeds from last year started to go there. Someone said let them grow among the strawberries and they soon showed themselves to be superior and took over the strawberry patch. Second thing was I noticed potato plants coming up in another part of the garden. I did not plant them and if I had potatoes in previous years they were never planted there. I got about 20 potatoes and I had not done anything. I pray that whatever soil I have that God plants the seeds of his word into my soil (soul) and that they grow and flourish and bring me into a state of goodness that cannot be overcome.