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The X Factor

After being in Australia and India, I am back home in New Zealand. It was an incredible formative time for me, really beyond all my expectations. I got to know the brothers in Australia and had the chance to be with them in their everyday ministry. I also met people outside the community who had a great impact on me, especially during my time in India. This last experience was in fact so overwhelming that I couldn’t really find the right words to talk about it for quite a while. It was really a privilege to meet so many people who share a common Franciscan identity and vision in such a highly spiritual environment like India.

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I think it probably changed the way I looked at things. I now feel a bit more confident after having seen the depth and greatness of the Franciscan spirituality worldwide. It amazes me that something that was started by a young man in Assisi 800 years ago has now reached every continent and culture, finding every time new ways to faithfully live the Gospel.
One of the issues that came out of our meeting in India was secularism. I have to say this is almost an unknown concept to many of the participants who in fact were coming from deeply spiritual and religious Asian countries. It was relevant to us from Australia and New Zealand though. It is undeniable that Christianity is withdrawing. The numbers of practicing Christians are down, the churches are struggling to keep their congregations – whose age is increasingly higher and higher – or even find new vocations for priesthood or religious orders. Many have become so disaffected with their own parishes that don’t want anything to do with them anymore. Other say they can be Christians in the privacy of their home. After all, the message seems to be, belonging to a religion is a private and personal matter which has no role in the public sphere.

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I want to be absolutely clear that I am not advocating here for a return to church of all lapsed Christians, even though I believe in the importance of corporate worship and in the sacramental life. The Church is just a means to the kingdom of God, which is what we should aim at. Eventually, the Church is bound to disappear anyway. The problem is that, at this rate, the Church is heading towards dissolution without having achieved what was the reason of its existence. Something clearly went wrong along the way. Some are even asking if religion, and especially Christianity, has become redundant. What do we need religion for anyway?
Even the strongest opponents of any religious system or institution acknowledge the great social works that the churches do in their community but they say, yes, it is all wonderful but you don’t really have to be a Christian to do that. They are social workers who do an incredible job with great passion and determination and are not Christians. So, what is the point of being a Christian after all? This was also the title of a famous book by the English Dominican Timothy Radcliffe published few years back. But the real question maybe could be what Christians can contribute to the society that cannot be done by secular people. Do Christians really have the x factor that makes them stand out among the others?

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This is precisely the major challenge we are facing in the Western world. I believe the fault of the collapse of our credibility as disciples of Christ is exclusively ours. It is our fault if the rest of the world call us hypocrites. We preach love but, in the history of the Church, we have left a trail of blood and war. We proclaim the Gospel which teaches us about mercy, compassion and care for the poor, the needy and the marginalized and our institutions set up rules to exclude or reject entire categories of people who don’t meet our criteria. The Gospel was one of the greatest revolution in the world history but we have done all that we could to tame the real extent of its message and now it suits a respectable and dignified middle and upper class lifestyle. The life and words of Christ were meant to challenge us and set us free. Historically, we used that as a weapon to dominate others instead of serving them. Of course, not all of the Christians behaved like that and luckily there are many examples of people who dedicated their life to God by helping others and making this world a better place for all of us, some of them even died for their ideals. Certainly I am not saying that an authentic Christian life has to lead to martyrdom! What I believe is that our 21st century somehow mirrors the first centuries of the Christian era, the time before Christianity was made the official religion of the Empire and it was carried on by small communities scattered across the Mediterranean and Europe like we read in the Acts of the Apostles.

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In many ways we have gone back to that kind of environment and we live in a world who basically ignores us when it is not openly hostile. The official response of the Church institutions has been of fear. Being always too slow to read the signs of the time, they have found nothing better than to withdrawn from this hostile environment to look at their own members only, to judge and condemn the world because ”they don’t understand us” and pretend that everything is still the same when it is not while seeking refuge in practices no longer meaningful for our times. Very few Christians these days understand even the very basic tenets of Christian faith. But I don’t see the mainstream churches worrying about doing catechesis for the wider community.
People out there are still hungry and thirsty of words that speak to their heart and they will go everywhere to find what they need, even if not everything out there in the great supermarket of spirituality is helpful. However, there was someone who didn’t flee the world but blessed and loved everything in it because it was good. In his time, groups of people were saying that this material world is bad and sinful, it only deserves our hate and contempt while the Church was formalistic and almost spiritually dead. A young man and a young woman from Assisi weren’t scared at all. They felt blessed by God, by the beauty of the creation, by the love God has for all the creatures, even the smallest ones. And they wanted to live by the same kind of love, to bless it in return and celebrate it. The world wasn’t evil to them but it was the place where this love was made manifest.

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The world is not evil today either, it only awaits men and women capable of seeing the beauty of it and of communicating it to the others. Science can explain how the world was formed and how it works but cannot give us a reason for live in it. I think we Christians can give a reason to live and to love that comes from our experience of Christ. We can do social work but the reason why we do it is different from whoever does it as a career. We felt compelled to live by the same love that we have received from God, a love that doesn’t work from 9 to 5 but becomes a reason to live for, a love that doesn’t know self-limitations or compromises, a love that doesn’t even end with death. The stakes are higher for us now. Our witness of love of Christ cannot be partial or subject to conditions. In order to be credible, we have to live what we preach. Even with all our human flaws, shortcomings and mistakes, we are called to love one another in a true, authentic boundless way. Like Francis and Clare did. Not to save the Church but to realize what we really are and only then, perhaps, we could be again a light to the world and the salt of the earth.

“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear or ignorance”. St. Francis

It’s been a while since I last posted something on this blog. I moved to our house in Brisbane few months ago and I have been rather busy in the life and ministry of this community ever since. This experience has certainly enhanced my understanding of both Franciscan and Christian life and gave me more confidence to pursue my spiritual and theological endeavors. I have had the chance to experience first-hand the parish life in the suburbs but also the rich liturgy and worship of the Cathedral of Brisbane. It was really uplifting to meet so many people who are committed to live out the Gospel in the wider community and in their own personal life. It gives me hope for the future. For what I have seen, people here are still quite aware that being Christian means more than just being a nice person. Nowhere in the Gospels is to be found the suggestion that following Christ is an easy path. In fact, we are reminded that it is actually hard and demanding: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 16:24-5)”
Being a Christian means being like Christ, i.e loving God and the world as He love us. But love is not a matter of emotions or some vague feelings. It means giving ourselves to others, taking risk for others and because of others and sometimes this involves renunciation and sacrifice.
It is for this reason that sometimes I am quite puzzled when I come across some religious groups that seem to promise an easy way to salvation, make it sound like going to a party and sell conversion like aspirin, as someone else said. According to them, it seems that believing in Jesus will make all our troubles disappear at once! In America they have found a definition for this kind of theology which is called “the prosperity Gospel”. According to some pastors, if we put our trust in Jesus, even our own business or trade will boom! But is it really so? Well, not quite. Faith is not magic.
We now live in an age when political correctness is regarded as a must and it is indeed a great achievement for our society if its aim is to guarantee a fair, honest and respectful way of dealing and interacting among the different communities that make up the social fabric of our nations. However, we are still entitled to express some dissent in the spirit of charity and respectfulness. S. Paul said:” Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive.(1 Cor 10.23).”
Few weeks ago, we read on the paper about a pastor of a Christian church in Florida who threatened to burn a copy of the Koran to mark the 9th anniversary of 9/11. Of course that stirred a huge controversy around the world all the way up to the White House and even the United Nations, concerned that such a gesture could cause a sort of revenge or retaliation in Muslin Countries against Christian communities or Western armies in places like Afghanistan or Iraq. Unfortunately, even though that initiative was called off thanks to the international pressure, some attacks did happen in India in response to that threat.
The vast majority of Christians around the world of course condemned the barbaric idea of burning a sacred text and in fact expressed their strong opposition to it. But what about the people who are not Christian and still were told – and saw on television- that a Christian minister was involved in all of that? Hopefully most of them understood that was an isolated case that by no means represents the view of the Christians worldwide. Most of them probably, but not all. I believe some people made the easy equation that being Christian means, after all, being fundamentalist and against Islam. Some people would have wondered whether that was a typical Christian behavior. Of course, it isn’t and it is our duty to affirm that. As I said before, being Christian means being like Christ, which in practical terms means many things but above all that we are called to love and affirm the value and dignity of human life, respect and serve each other, seek justice and recognize the power of self-denial and sacrifice.
Although we all live now in a post-Christian society, the Christian communities can and should still be the salt of the earth and therefore be an agent of social, moral and spiritual advancement through their work and faith in the message of Christ and never, ever be responsible for suffering, exploitation, violence or abuse. As our S.Francis taught us through his life and example, we should be windows that allow others to see Christ through us in this world, “ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20b). This isn’t certainly an easy task for us but maybe it is worth remembering next time we come across another new religious group that promises us a shortcut to God.

Peter and Paul

Today the Eastern and Western churches celebrate the solemnity of the holy apostles Peter and Paul. According to an ancient tradition, they were martyred on this day in Rome in the year 64.
One of the readings from the Gospel related to this commemoration contains the following words: “Jesus said to him, ”Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry where you do not wish to go.” (Jn 21.18)

Since Brian had his fall(s), many things have changed in the life of the community. We have all been affected by these new circumstances but , of course, he had to carry the burden of coping with the physical problems and subsequent lack of independence. I had to ask myself many times, how I would cope in a situation like that. We all like to be independent and self-sufficient. Maybe it is part of our individualistic western culture to put such an emphasis on being able to do things by ourselves. However, sooner or later it comes a time in our life when we can no longer do the things that we used to do and we become utterly dependent on others.

Sometimes it is a physical or mental condition that set the boundaries of what we are able to do, but it is not so simple, I reckon. Even though we enjoy good health, that doesn’t mean we are totally free to do whatever we want. We all have some limitations in one way or another and after all, we all depend on someone else, even though we might not be aware of that.
Joining a religious order meant for me to give up a lot of things of my former life. It meant to rely on the community for everyday needs like food, clothing and accommodation. I am not in control of my income as I used to be when I was working. My life has become much more regulated through my daily office of prayer, my commitments and responsibilities towards the community and other people. Paradoxically I was probably freer before I joined SSF! But is it really so? Sometimes it is how we perceive things that makes our reality and not how things actually are.
To some extent it is true that I had more chances to make my own decisions before I joined SSF but at the same time I recall quite well, I felt sometimes lost and purposeless. So, the real struggle isn’t probably accepting the new limitations to my personal freedom but to adjusting to this new role and life. As I move along in my noviciate towards the day I am called to actually take the vows, I realize that I have probably given up just the illusion of freedom and that the real freedom lies in fulfilling your own’s sense of calling.

In this fast changing world, it isn’t always easy to discern our own vocation and purpose: we seem to have so many roads ahead of us, everything seems to attainable in due course and time… I have to admit that sometimes I recall choices I made in my past and find myself wondering what would have happened if I had done something else. Have I always made the right choices? I don’t believe so. I know I made many mistakes in past . I know some people say that they would do everything again if they had the chance to turn back time. I am not so sure. There are things I probably wouldn’t do again. But you never know what comes next. Maybe religious life is also there to teach you how to let go. By living this life we learn that we are not in control and as we get older, the margin of our intervention in our and other people’s lives narrows more and more. Probably we should make good use of the time when we are in good health to prepare ourselves for the time of difficulty, when even our body will seem a stranger to us, and that will almost certainly happen one day to most of us. There is a famous prayer that goes roughly like this:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference

Still a very powerful prayer that is worth remembering in good and bad times.

The God of the Earth

“…And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1.2) The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God has inhabited the Earth since the very beginning. Nevertheless, over the centuries, theologians, scholars or philosophers have striven to reconcile the concept of a God living among us but also transcending our world. In the past, some religious and philosophical systems in which the material world we live in was considered corrupted and sinful, worthy only to be despised and rejected, came out and became for some time the prevalent opinions amongst many Christians. The world that God had created became for many only a place to escape and leave behind, despite the fact that “God saw that it was good”.(Gen 1.10) Sometimes I wonder how much of this attitude is still alive among Christians today. This negative outlook wasn’t confined to the environment but become quite normative also in relation to the human body. The long standing dichotomy between the sinful flesh and the heavenly spirit has become the symbol of an inner struggle to accept our own human nature as it is.
It seems to me that we are still swinging among the two extremes of a rejection of human sexuality on one hand and an attempt, sometimes quite successful, to objectify and exploit it on the other.

Once again, I believe Franciscan spirituality has a lot to teach us about that. Not on sexuality especially but on how we regard the world and ourselves in it. We have probably lost a sense of wonder and therefore of respect towards the nature. Science and technology have dramatically improved the human condition (even though not in the same way throughout the world) in the last few centuries and we should be thankful for that. But also we have come to the point of believing that we have now the right to use and abuse everything to our own interest. We seem to have no boundaries whatsoever and we keep wanting more and more. We think to be in control and we can do whatever we like. But the frailty and contradictions of our human nature are still there. We are not invincible and sometimes we have a rude awakening in our life.
I have spent some time at the hospital to assist Br Brian through his post-surgery recovery. Living in a world desperate to erase any trace of illness, old age and death, it was quite a strong experience to get in touch with suffering and pain. I saw in there how really vulnerable we are and how important is to face up the reality of our own human nature. Our society has created new idols to worship instead of God: physical appearance, sex, money, power, success, youth. But when the reality catches up with us all these illusions fall apart and for some people mean really a nose-dive into the most sever desperation and depression. No-one is really helping us to learn how to let go of things, how to cope with our own limitations, how to be real and honest to ourselves. That is when spiritual guidance would be most needed. And this is why spiritual discipline is still so important even in this century. Because it puts things in order and in perspective. We realize that we are not self-sufficient but we are creatures who are born, grow and eventually die. This thought is not meant to depress us but ,on the contrary, to encourage us not to waste time, to look at ourselves and our world with gratitude, to live life to the full, to enjoy everything without attachment and to keep our eyes on Christ, our source of life.
Franciscans try to see this world as a sacred space. We do not run from it, we embrace it. There’s always a degree of risk in it,because we expose our own vulnerability: to touch the world we need to be touched by it. We can also experience disappointment, loss, fear like everyone else. But that is what we pray every day when we say “Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done”. Acceptance of what may come. We can express the joy of living by being open to the grace of God, by holding everything in great respect and taking care of what is in this world, which is not, by the way, “ours”. It can be hard for us  to go through our own demons and trials and sometimes we can get lost along the way. We know we can’t get back on track  through our own efforts but we need to follow the light of Christ, who reminds us who we really are,  just like the ships in the open sea used to follow the stars to find their way in the darkness of the night. Illuminated by this grace, it will be possible to us to experience real beauty behind all illusions and deceptions. Through love and compassion, the greatest gifts from the Spirit, we’ll see the matter and spirit are not in opposition but form a unity in God.

the Lotus and the Dove

We’ve had some very busy days lately, especially since Brother Brian returned from Australia with a broken shoulder and a broken rib. He’s now doing much better after the surgery he had few days ago. As well as assisting him through his recovery, we are also trying to continue our daily life as usual. That includes our prayer and sacramental life but also the various ministries to the people of the wider community. Yesterday I was invited for lunch with pastors and ministers from local churches and Christian groups. To me, it is always funny when it comes the time to explain who I am and what I do. Apparently, words like “religious order” or “Franciscan friar” don’t ring any bell to most people. Even after telling people about my life, I always get asked: “Are you married?” or “Have you got any children?”…
Nevertheless, it is a useful exercise for me too, because it keeps me focused and helps me remind me the reasons that make me want to be a Franciscan friar. I don’t ever have to wait too long before I meet someone new and I start explaining all about my life all over again. The interesting thing is that every time it gets clearer to me that there’s a huge part of my story which is still a mystery to myself.
I believe God is still calling people to a life in communion with Him. But that’s all I am sure about. I don’t know why God has called me to this. I have to admit I tried everything I could to avoid it. I chose to ignore it as long as I could. So, yes, I can give reasons why I am a Franciscan brother but there’s also something I can’t explain.
What can I compare this experience to? Maybe it is like being in love with someone. We might be attracted by some specific characteristics of that person but there’s also a whole lot of that attraction we can really identify or explain. So, we might not know why that person but we know we are in love with him/her.
The more I think about the St Francis’s experience of God, the more I realize it looks like a real love story. I do not want to sound too sentimental, but the longing and the desire for God that Francis had before the crucifix of S.Damiano reminds me of someone longing to be re-united with his lover.
When we study S.Francis and his writings, we tend to focus on some “themes” like peace, environment and so on but we forget about his mystical side and his deep devotion to God. Likewise, it was his intense love for Christ that led him to the point of wanting to imitate the object of his love in all that he was and did. In order to do that, he gave up everything he had: money, clothes, status and even his own family! One day I was watching an Italian TV movie on S.Francis – not “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”, a more recent one – and the scene of Francis stripping down in front of his own community made me think of another famous man who renounced everything he was and had: Buddha.
Now, I don’t want to draw easy comparisons between two different traditions and cultures with their own sets of values and historical features. Nevertheless, they both impressed me for their courage to walk away from the security of a good life and embrace the unknown. They both became mendicants. And they both found out what they were looking for. Through incredible hardship and pain, they went from darkness to light, from illusion to reality and laid down a path for millions of men and women around the world. They lit up a fire that has been passed on ever since. As I hear Francis’s last words: “I have done my duty. Now may Christ let you know yours”, I feel compelled to give my contribution to keep this flame of faith, hope and love alive for the generations to come.

Pizza Party

The friary here has had a traditional pizza oven for quite a number of years. It was donated to us from our neighbors and we keep it outside in the garden. We don’t really use it very often because it takes a lot of work to get it going and it is just not worthwhile for just the three of us. But it comes handy when we have a big group of people staying with us for lunch or dinner. So, on April 6th, we had a big pizza party with some of our friends, neighbors and supporters. What was the occasion? Well, franciscans don’t usually need a special occasion to celebrate but this time the main reason was the presence of Brother Clark, our minister general, here with us for until Sunday 11th. It was a great night but unfortunately a very rainy one! I helped out to cook the pizzas in the oven ( after all, I am always Italian), and together with a friend of mine, we got totally soaked in the rain because there’s no roof above the oven in the garden. But I don’t complain about that at all because it was really a great fun. Also, we had quite a diverse group of people and it was a real pleasure to see everyone getting along very well together – or at least, that’s what I hope it happened! Due to the heavy rain, we had to move inside but that didn’t stop the party, we also had some very good music from a great musician playing the accordion. I would like to thank all the people who were there for making such a special night and hope to see you all and maybe more next time!

Easter

Today, Easter day we celebrate this truth: that each one of us is precious in the eyes of God. We were reminded of it by the evangelist John on Maundy Thursday when, before washing the feet of his disciples, “Jesus knowing that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to end” (Jn 13:1).
Whoever we are, whatever situation we are in, once again the Resurrection of Christ is telling us God loves us and his love for us is so great and so real, that he did not hesitate to send his Son , his only Son for our sake.
It was the experience of this incredible love thing that often made St Francis of Assisi cry before the Crucifix of San Damiano. As Francis said, he was there almost touching the love of God but realizing with great sadness that too many times this love wasn’t mutual. But what made him strong was the certainty that despite the fact that love of God is not always understood by men and women, this love doesn’t stop loving!
And so that this strength, the strength of love, becomes a source of new life, the source of the Resurrection, but still the question that is asked today comes to us: “Why do you see the living among the dead? Remember what he told you ² when he was still Galilee” (Luke 24:5-6).
This is what we are asked to believe, that is, even when love is crucified cannot die. “Remember what he told you he was still in Galilee …” in the light of this invitation how can we not recall, in this day the gospel that the Lord Jesus told his disciples when he said: “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24)?
. This is the logic upon which Christ founded his preaching, a preaching that is not limited to words but that has gone through the reality of his life, through his passion and resurrection.
We, too, every time we celebrate Easter, perhaps we are just as the apostles, full of questions before such an extraordinary event, eager but at the same time fearful to believe.
We would like the Gospel to give us evidence, scientific data, some analysis. On the contrary, it doesn’t offer any of this. What it offers us instead is the witnesses, men and women who have announced from that Sunday on, that Jesus is risen!
And we also have had all over the world witnesses of the Risen Christ for 2000 years that have shown the truth of their testimony with their lives, the strength of their faith through own forgiveness, the power of their love through the gift of themselves. This is also evidence, maybe not the kind we want, but it is proof that always leaves us amazed and moved. On this bright and vibrant day of new life, we are also sent to proclaim today, the announcement that we have received, that announcement that has traveled through time, that announcement that changed the world history and can change the history of each person, now and forever. It is a simple announcement, a sentence that has an unlimited power: Christ is risen!.
But it is the proximity of these men and women with Christ, their concrete knowledge of Jesus and his teachings, the only thing that opened the way of the faith to them. And men and women of this day and age are also receiving the gift of the Spirit, promised by Jesus to his disciples to give them a new heart and new eyes, to allow them to be witnesses of the love of God to the four corners of the earth.
We, too, the day we were baptized, when we were made one with Christ in the mystery of his death and resurrection, we received that same Spirit, and in light of this gift, like the first disciples, we are called to live as resurrected , as new men and women. Celebrating Easter will then mean to enter with Christ the mystery of a love that goes to the end, without reserves, starting from those people who are close to us. This is resurrection: love. Love yourself, other people, the world , and above all, love Jesus Christ.

Lent

In the old days some people used to give up something during Lent: for some it was a matter of renouncing their favorite food, for others it meant giving up a bad habit like smoking. Sometimes the sacrifice to be made was much more demanding. In any case, Lent was seen as the time of the year one can start over in their christian life. However, some people don’t need to give up anything intentionally, because life is taking something out of them anyway. And quite often that can be the most painful experience. The experience of loss is of course not limited to Lent. We might suffer from it any time of the year. But during this time our attention is especially drawn to the spiritual and emotional impact that such an event has on our life by the liturgy and the scripture readings of the Church.
This is not meant to make us feel depressed or hopeless, because the focus is not on the loss itself but on what comes next. However, following Christ is not a dinner party. We are really called to carry our own personal cross, meaning that we are not to run away and hide but face up and understand the things we are going through. We don’t know why bad things happen but sooner or later, we’ll all have to experience that sense of loss, despair, frustration or darkness that are part of our human existence. This is why I am sometimes amazed by some contemporary religious groups which offer an easy solution to all our problems when they say: “Believe this or do that and you’ll be happy!”. I wish it was that simple!
I do not see any shortcut or easy way to the life and joy that Jesus has promised us. In order to enjoy the fruits of his resurrection, we’ll need to be with him during his passion. We are not guaranteed in life: the same freedom that makes our human life possible also opens up the door to a wide range of other possibilities, sometimes utterly pleasant and sometimes not so. But there’s one thing we are guaranteed about: the love of God for us. Even though the Bible doesn’t provide us with a clear explanation on suffering – I am thinking of the book of Job, wonderful and dramatic story that represents our human conditions but doesn’t give us any ultimate answer – we are invited over and over again to put our trust in God, who knows what we need even before we ask Him and is the only one who can save us, sometimes even from ourselves. I believe that it is only when we embrace our human nature with all its shortcomings and weaknesses that we really understand how much we need the compassion of God and through that, we realize how much we need to be compassionate and forgiving towards others. And sometimes towards ourselves too.
So what to do in our darkest hour? First of all, we need to be careful that our own pain doesn’t shut us down from God and the rest of the world. God is always present in our life even when we feel His presence the least. And that’s the time when, more than ever, we needn’t turn away but keep listening to that sudden silence, looking at that thick darkness and offering all that we have and are to the only One who can heal us. Let us think of the gospels story of the sinner woman with the ointment, who, during an important dinner, washes Jesus ’ feet and anoints them with the perfumed oil. That is one story that is told in all four gospels. Mark’s gospel also tells us “And truly, I say to you, whenever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her”(Mk 14.9). What is it that needs to be told throughout the world? It is this gesture of love that brings up new life. Other people present at that encounter didn’t understand why she used the most precious oil ( “Why was the ointment thus wasted?.” Mk 14.4), or even why Jesus didn’t turn her away (“If this man were a prophet, he would have know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Lk 7.39). Luke also tells us that she was washing Jesus’s feet with her tears (Lk 7.38). Far from being judgmental, Jesus once again defied the common thinking by forgiving her because “she loved much”(Lk 7.47)and thus deserving to be healed from her pain. Sometimes our pain can help us to wipe out our illusions and false perceptions while at the same time can enable us to reconnect to our own deepest and real self and by doing that it can open up our heart so that the love of God can fill it just like the fragrance of this precious oil filled the house (Jn 12.3).

In Varietate Concordia

On 6 March 2010 New Plymouth’ St.Mary pro-Cathedral became a Cathedral. Please see here for more info: http://www.stmarys.org.nz/

Brian and I went there from Hamilton and it was certainly a great celebration for all the people who attended. Now, there would be so many things to say about today’s event that I don’t even know where to start. However, there is one thing above the others that struck me today: the great variety and diversity that make up the Anglican Church in New Zealand. It is like a mosaic of colours, a rich tapestry of languages, cultures and traditions. Today the intense Maori spirituality merged with the grandiose style of celebration of English heritage, bible passages were read in languages of Polynesia, senior members of the community prayed alongside little children, female and male clergy together with a congregation of different backgrounds and ethnicity offered an authentic and superb act of thanksgiving and worship to God. And in the midst of it all I thought how extraordinary this Church must be to welcome such diversity and offer it as a gift to glorify God who has created such a variety.

Diversity makes us all better, stronger and wiser in our Christian life. It is really sad that the Anglican Communion is going through such a hard time and it seems to have forgotten one of the main feature of Anglicanism, i.e. “comprehensiveness”. Maybe sometimes it can appear confusing to some people. Some people might even miss a rigid structure or hierarchy where everything is in order. But why should the Church resemble more a military organization than a family? Families are not perfect and are sometimes very stressful, frustrating, chaotic or even dysfunctional. But it is still the place that is supposed to nurture us, let us grow and where we learn to give and receive love. I believe that the Church should be the place where everyone feels and is welcome as they are and people are helped to grow in their relationship with God and with the community, are supported to live their gifts and talents out in the world.

I appreciate that the Anglican church retains traditions that come from the earliest days of the Church but I also appreciate the fact that it is ready to engage with the modern world. Also, many ways of worshiping are acceptable in the Anglican Church: I personally feel close to a particular strand of Anglicanism called Anglo-Catholicism and sometimes to me it is quite challenging to come to terms with some strong Evangelical expressions of faith among some groups of Anglicans. But this is all part of the process of growth and development in faith and also a chance to learn and move beyond my personal limits and prejudices. We don’t all think the same things and this is challenging as well as exciting. I believe the key is mutual respect, humbleness and a willingness to keep talking and listening to each other.

As the Archbishop of York said in his sermon today: “We are to be stones built into one another, committed to one another. The unity of this spiritual building is vitally important. Party spirit, or some other sin can destroy it. If we are divided we can’t join in Christ’s work of making all people God’s friends.” And as we pray just before the communion ” We who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread” so I pray that we’ll never forget this important characteristic of Anglicanism worldwide, that there can be Unity in Diversity.

Ash Wednesday

Wednesday 17th  February was Ash Wednesday. We started the period of Lent with a combined service by the Cathedral Communities of The Blessed Virgin Mary and our own Saint Peter’s. Of course, the choir was outstanding as usual and the service was magnificently led by the Catholic Bishop and the Dean of S. Peter’s. The homily was about Lent being a time of prayer. As Christians, we are all called to a life of prayer but this is the season to enhance our efforts and look for a deeper relationship with God through our prayer. It’s not always easy and sometimes we cannot find the right words even though we feel the need to express our feelings and thoughts to God. The homily tonight made me think of a prayer, which I found in a literature magazine long time ago,  by a French priest, whose name I don’t remember, that expresses quite well the feeling of being inadequate or speechless before God. But it is our desire of Him the first and most important prayer we can offer (my apologies for my poor translation from the original French):

Lord, I meant to tell you I don’t want to pray tonight. I am too scared: I don’t want to run the risk of waiting for you. It would take me so much effort, again effort. And I don’t want to make that effort. Not tonight, honestly.
This long stream of days when nothing really happens… I really get bored…. All these days going by without realizing if I have made any progress or if I am a little bit better.

It’s getting dark, and I think tomorrow is getting near. And when I wake up –if I get to sleep at all- I’ll know I am still the same. Neither better, nor worse, ahead of me another day and the same opportunities to do something good, which I’ll miss out, as usual.
Sometimes I have asked you for perfection : Be perfect as Your Father in Heaven is perfect. I didn’t get there yet. And as I get older, I wonder if I ever will. Or if I should keep trying. I wonder, O Lord, if this perfection, I have sought it in a very pure way. I would have liked to adorn myself with it, to decorate me with it… Be a saint for the others and for me.
I had to give it up. And to admit once for all that I am what I am.
After all, this might well be what you mean, Lord, when you call us to be like little children: to simply admit that you have accepted us just as we are and to accept the fact that we are sinners, the ones you have come for and to whom your Gospel was written.
(…) Lord, you have shown your preference towards all those who fall, the lonely, the rejected, the poor who believe they are not worth much. No doubt I’m starting to realize I am one of them…
It is for people like us that you have come.
But, Lord, tonight, don’t ask me too much.

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