Saturday, 21 November 2009


Our first meeting with the great prophet Elias has always fascinated me and as the rooks and jackdaws swarm around the nearby fields in their thousands, I am reminded again of this tale.

And Elias the Thesbite of the inhabitants of Galaad said to Achab: As the Lord liveth the God of Israel, in whose sight I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to the words of my mouth. And the word of the Lord came to him, saying:Get thee hence, and go towards the east and hide thyself by the torrent of Carith, which is over against the Jordan, 4 And there thou shalt drink of the torrent: and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. 5 So he went, and did according to the word of the Lord: and going, he dwelt by the torrent Carith, which is over against the Jordan.

6 And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening, and he drank of the torrent.
3 Kings 17

It is the ravens* in the tale that gnaw away at my thoughts.

The prophet had given the wicked king Achab (Ahab) a terrifying prophecy and no doubt the prophet’s life was in danger. God tells the prophet where to hide. The place had a welcome supply of fresh water but was obviously in a barren bit of country. The absence of food is relieved by God commanding the ravens to feed him there.

Was ever a bird more vilified? He is a nasty brute, he waits for lambs to emerge from their mother and will peck their eyes out so that they die a horrible, slow death. The destroyed newborn is then the raven’s food.

The raven, being a lover of carrion, would have been about as unclean as an animal can get to a God fearing prophet. Did Elias secretly say to himself, Oh Lord, why couldn’t you have chosen some other creature to provide me with sustenance?

But God never does anything without a firm purpose. The raven is absolutely necessary to the tale, methinks.

God needed his prophet and loved his prophet dearly. In order to do the miracles he performs in the future like raising the widow’s son to life and smacking down the prophets of Baal, Elias needed to be totally humble and submissive to the will of God. Receiving food from ravens would be a test of total humility. Any speck of righteous indignation that may have been driving Elias to counter the plans of queen Jezebel in the past would be erased in this one penitential act.

Is it not the case that sometimes we must acknowledge we are sustained by creatures we may find repugnant? Is it time to ditch our indignation? Could this in some way be a necessary part of our growing calling towards the Lord? Remembering our own need for humility and remembering too that it is ultimately it is God who is the source of our daily bread.

Do you have ravens?

* I have read that the Hebrew word for Arab is very similar to the word for raven. The story works just as well with Arabs however.

Saturday, 14 November 2009


We’re trying to get up to Oxford for as much of the 40 Hours at the Oratory as possible. Last night, the opening Mass took place. The sermon was sombre, and so was the Gospel. Both highlighted the contrast between Our Eucharistic Lord in the silence, humility and nakedness of His death (and in the silence, humility and nakedness of His presence in the Eucharist) to the finery lavished upon the sanctuary for the occasion.

It has been so many years since Exposition left me with a warm and cosy glow and left me feeling good. Back then, going to Exposition was a sort of affirmation of how great it was to be a Catholic. I’m sure I felt a sense of superiority and smugness amongst the beauty and the candles.

Having spent many years in the wilderness of Clifton, I have craved the 40 Hours devotion. Now I have access to it again, I find not the consolation I remember from my days in the North when every parish would put it on and it was so much part of the liturgical landscape.

The truth is that Our Eucharistic Lord is silent and humble. At the Oratory, I’m afraid nearly invisible too, I can only assume the nuns are using unbleached flour when they make the altar breads but to my eyes the monstrance could have been empty. He does not speak to us from the monstrance, just like He makes no audible comment about the atrocities taking place all over the world and the countless sufferings of the poorest amongst us. We want God to speak out and condemn the vile acts committed against innocent souls all over the world, we want God to stop the sufferings of those daily faced with famine, flood and disease. We want Our Lord to love us by placing a cosy fleece blanket over us and hushing up the world.

However as adult Christians the reality is different, the love of God shows itself in the crosses to be taken up, the gaping holes in our hearts to be acknowledged, the inadequacies in our witness to the Gospels to be rectified. Our prayers never seem good enough and essentially they are not. We find it hard to pray because comfort can be missing from those prayers and we feel the absence of comfort means are prayers are worthless.

At times like these it is right to drag your body to its knees and pray before the Blessed Sacrament in pain and discomfort. Show Our Lord the chaos that surrounds your being and remember that he cannot remove this veil from us too swiftly as we are not yet ready to reveal our very nakedness before Him when it is removed.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Dear Bishops......

So treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets
Matt 7:12

I used to have a suspicion about this saying, that after Our Lord had said all the hard stuff about planks in your eyes, He uttered this by way of saying, OK if you are not up to the difficult bits of my teaching, I can atleast appeal to your selfish nature to get you to behave nicely to each other, because nobody wants to be treated horribly by others. Interpreted in this way, the saying is bland and this contradicts all Our Lord is teaching us. This saying is primarily NOT about being nicey nicey because Our Lord always appeals to our higher nature.

Treat others as you would like them to treat you.

Replace self interest with caritas and the saying becomes significantly more profound. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we want to be treated as members of the same body, therefore the saying can be interpreted as being about the care of our bodies and souls.

Care for the spiritual and physical needs of your brothers and sisters as you would expect them to care for your spiritual and physical needs.

My dear Bishops, this has profound implications and it means that if we truly care about the souls of our fellow men, then we have a duty to point out instances where the caritas may not have been felt to be flowing as freely as it ought. In such cases all our souls are weakened as the nourishment that Christ gives us through the Church is not as effective. So, please excuse my presumption as I speak out about something I care very strongly about.

Let me provide you with a highly theoretical example. Let us suppose that there is a church in your diocese that is facing closure. You have done all the sums and the Church simply isn’t viable. The building and its presbytery are crumbling and need millions spending on them urgently. The population of the area is over 50% Muslim and the number of Catholic families is falling fast. There is a sizable Catholic population of migrant workers, none of whom contribute significantly to the collection and none of whom can be relied upon to be there year after year. What do you do. How do you go about the closure of the church?

Would you fail to meet up with the stable members of the parish to discuss the matter with them face to face? I’d hope not. Would you keep them guessing using false hope and carefully planted rumours? Surely not. Would you drop the bombshell that the church is definitely closing by announcing it at a deanery meeting without ever seeing the members of the parish concerned? No, you would not.

As we are all agreed about what not to do. Let’s now turn to what could be done.

A Catholic church is not just a building where a religious service takes place. Primarily it houses the Blessed Sacrament that is the source and summit of all we are and do. This home for the Blessed Sacrament has been lovingly cared for over the years by armies of members of the Church Militant. The have invested their care, love and income into making it a fitting place. Many of these souls can be of very modest means and devote a disproportionate amount of time and money into this sacred place.

As a Bishop, naturally you should be seen to be praying for these souls. You should be meeting with the current parishioners to decide where precious artifacts could be rehoused, and deciding what will happen to plaques in memorial chapels and such like. You would lovingly involve your brothers and sisters in Christ with the difficult and painful process of letting go but making sure that the souls of those who came closer to God through the sacraments performed in that building would long be remembered and celebrated. You would be a father to them in difficult times.

I’m glad you agree.

My dear Bishops, we have a problem. So many of us feel the weight of your paperwork more than we feel your love. We do so very much need to feel your love. At each and every Mass we pray for you, let those prayers storm heaven, let those prayers be truly heart felt rather than glib responses. We must all pray harder for you and love you more and love you unconditionally. You need our love more than ever.

I’ll finish with one quick point; nobody is likely to get to heaven because of a pronouncement a Bishop makes about Climate Change, but someone may very well come closer to heaven through the loving instruction and faithful teaching of their Bishop, their successor to the Apostles.