Putting the Mass back into Christmas

One day, two different meetings.

1623405-bigthumbnailThe first meeting is at work and one topic under discussion is the team Christmas card. The earnest young men I work with were very concerned that the word Christmas should not be used as it might cause offence. What about Season's Greetings? A compromise will be reached, my suggestion is that the team Christmas card, which will be sent to our colleagues in Europe should say Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in several languages. Christmas will appear on our Christmas card. And it will not cause offence. But the forces of religious fundamentalism combined with iconoclasm are at work, chipping away at our heritage.

The second meeting was later in the evening and was our local interchurch Ecumenical group. And the demand was that "Christ" should be put back into Christmas. Perhaps, I thought, we should also put the Mass bask into Christmas, but I said nothing, Ecumenism sometimes means keeping quiet about out Papist heritage.

The problem is that Christmas is a festival period that exists in several different planes. The secular festival of Christmas has Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) as its central figure. It is a non-religious festival, with parties and gift giving, feasting and carousing at its heart, culminating with New Year celebrations. All great fun and brings our society together. This is the great mid-winter festival of Northern Europe, centred on the winter solstice. If we eat enough, drink enough and burn enough fires, the sun will return. The second festival is the Christian religious festival, celebrating the birth of Christ, Son of God. A quieter occasion, with midnight Mass at its heart. The rhythm is given by the liturgical year. The Christ Mass is an act of worship. And the third festival is about our humanity, in the dark of winter, when light is failing, there is a flicker of hope. We can be noble, we can be generous, we can be good, we can long for peace. The new born child comes to represent a new start for humanity and the hope for a better world. This the festival of the domestic Christmas tree, hearth and home.

There is a movement, an aggressive form of Evangelisation, which is strident about "putting Christ back into Christmas", a movement that is going head to head with the Iconoclasts who wish to remove the word Christmas (and replace it with what – winter festival perhaps?). Both are wrong. The former alienates more people than it appeals to, and the latter is cultural fascism. Christians need to accept the non-religious claims to the festival are as valid as their claims.

And the Mass? There is nothing quite so evocative as the midnight Mass. This is a great collective act, that takes place throughout the whole of Christendom. An act of worship, an act of celebration. Candles and communal singing. The Easter Triduum (Good Friday and Easter) is the festival where we celebrate the mysteries of our faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus. But Christmas is the festival of our humanity which God shares with us, and the festival of hope in a new life.

Je Suis Charlie

So this week, after the terrible slaughter, apparently sanctioned by Al Qaeda, the stories in the press are still focused on the events in France.

Charlie Hebdo is back in production, with a record print run and cartoon of Mohammed on the cover.

The depiction of Muhammad is forbidden in Islam apparently – although this could change.

The original prohibition was to prevent idolatry, and to stop the prophet turning into a deified being.

Has this worked? Mohammad is a creature, just like us. The ban on images has had the opposite effect to what was intended. Muhammad is now a semi divine being and no longer human.


And now, prepare to be offended. Pictures of Mohammed, bare faced.

Prepare for the worst – riots in Karachi, bombings in London, extensive media speculation and the BBC will not show these images.

Or maybe not – for what is really offensive about these images?


Muhammad in Medina

"Muhammad 6". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Muhammad_6.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Muhammad_6.jpg


Muhammad and the Angel Gabriel c. 1425

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mojmal_al-tawarikh


And this is my favourite

depiction of Muhammad receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. From the manuscript Jami' al-tawarikh by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, 1307, Ilkhanate period.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad


And now for something more serious.

The mindless bullies of Islam will not like this one for they are the targets, and their pride will be pricked.

But out of respect for the Prophet, the face has been blanked out


The text is

Prophet: I am the prophet, arsehole

Jihadist: Die Infidel








Prayers for Peace on Remembrance Sunday


Today is Remembrance Sunday

We remember all those who have fallen in war, and also the deaths of countless men, women and children who have died because of war.

We pray for those, whose lives are devastated by war,

For the communities torn apart by enemy action, for the children orphaned by war


Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, comfort those who mourn

Lord hear us

Today is Remembrance Sunday

And yet the drumbeat of war grows ever louder in this troubled world, the drumbeat that is fuelled by greed and ideology and the lust for power.

We pray for all the communities that are caught up in these terrible conflicts, for Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths. We pray for those who work to bring peace to these regions


Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, may your light shine in our world,

Lord hear us


We pray for a time when civilians are no longer legitimate targets,

For an end to terrorist activity,

For an end to suicide bombings


Christ Prince of Peace,

Hear our prayer


We pray for the politicians and other leaders in the world who hold the keys to war. We pray that their hearts may be open to working for peace and justice in our world


Christ Prince of Peace,

Hear our prayer

Gay Marriage Cake Debacle

Thursday 6th November

Today the battle between the Belfast baker and gay rights rumbles on.

I am not too sure about what annoys me more about this story. First there is the assertion by so many that this baker was standing up for Christian values. Next is the entrapment by the gay rights organisation – that cake itself was not a wedding cake, but a vehicle for a political slogan.

First the Christian values. Jesus was remarkably quiet about gay marriage, given that so many Christians feel that making a stand on this issue is a testimony of faith. What does Jesus say? Love your neighbour as yourself – does that not encompass "accept your neighbour for who they are"? Jesus also taught "Do not condemn; and you will not be condemned. Pardon and you will be pardoned". Jesus' harshest words were often reserved for those who thought they understood the law and the scriptures "you load men with intolerable burdens and will not lift a finger to lighten the load" (Luke 11:46). Be careful, all of you who preach against the Gay community, for you may be called to judgement yourselves. Our faith as Christians does not encompass demonising others, but rather we care called to embrace and accept all for who they are. As Christians, we are called to bring the Good News of Jesus to others, not to enforce a moral code that can be tenuously drawn out from a few verses in Scripture. It would not be against our faith to bake and decorate a cake for a gay couple who wish to celebrate their marriage. Neither would it be breaking faith for a Christian Registrar to officiate at a ceremony for a gay couple. It would be against our faith to condemn whole groups of people to living in misery just because they are who they are.

Second point. The cake. It is within the gift of the state to determine what relationships can be determined as marriage. For instance, in the UK first cousins can marry. But Canon Law in the Catholic Church decrees that first cousins cannot marry. In the UK, divorced parties can remarry, in Ireland this is a comparatively recent phenomenon. And so it is with gay marriage. It is the state which decides on this matter. In Northern Ireland, the State has decreed that the only marriage recognised is between one man and one woman. To change the mind of the state is a political act. And so, the slogan "Support Gay Marriage" serves a political end, to change the mind of the state and to enable gay marriage. Should a cake bearing a political slogan, for a campaigning event be treated, in the same way as a real wedding cake or other celebratory cake that would celebrate the union between a gay couple. The gay activist was asking the baker to produce a cake with a political slogan he did not agree with. Suppose the slogan was "Support Joining the Euro" and the baker was a well known UKIP supporter. Would anyone be surprised that the bake would turn down this commission?


The modern day Scribes and Pharisees of the Catholic Church

Saturday 18 October 2014: Breaking news – Synod of Bishops reject “welcome to Gays” and also reject accepting divorced and remarried Catholics.

The conservative bishops in the Catholic Church have won, and Pope Francis’s attempt to “modernise” the Church has failed. A triumph for the old order. But only just. At stake was the acceptance of homosexual relationships and the end to the permanent excommunication for those who had divorced and then remarried. What was needed was a two thirds majority for these proposals. There was a majority, that is the good news, but not a sufficient majority to bring about change.

This though is just the start of the battle. The Catholic Church has a problem with sex and gender; the symptoms are for all to see, from paedophile priests to the bizarre ban on all forms of “artificial” contraception, as well as the issue of women’s ministry in the Church. Our bishop has resigned, a good bishop, because he could not cope with the demands of a celibate life. These bishops and archbishops and cardinals have been appointed by conservative popes – the miracle is that so many are willing to look again at Catholic teaching and practice and to vote for change.

There is another problem. An arch- conservative faction of the laity, now gathered under an umbrella called “The Voice of the Family”. There are other organisations, such as the Association of Catholic Women. A faction that sees itself as the guardians of the true Church, ready to write to the bishop each time there is a deviation from the “true” teaching of the Church.

And where would Jesus be in all this? What would he say, he who turned on those trying to trap him saying “Alas for you lawyers also! You load men with intolerable burdens, and will not lift a finger to lighten the load” (Luke 11:46 – from the Gospel read on Wednesday 15th October 2014). What would Jesus say to those wishing enforce “Church teaching” in all its rigidity? Such teaching that denounces all gay relationships, bars those who are divorced and remarried from the life of the Church, or prevents couples resorting to IVF when this is the only hope of having a healthy child and demands total celibacy from a 100% male clergy? Would a modern day Gospel have Jesus dining at the home of Zechariah and his partner? Would the marriage at Cana be between a man and a woman who have both been divorced?

Pope Francis is to be commended for his efforts to bring the compassion of Jesus back into the pastoral teaching of the Catholic Church.

And for this who oppose this, the Scribes and Pharisees of the Catholic Church? Did Jesus really say at the Last Supper “take this and eat, but only if you obey the letter of the law”?



The death of a liberal – Cardinal Martini (1927 – 2012)

As the Synod of the Family is underway in Rome (October 2014), perhaps the words of Cardinal Martini should be remembered by all the Bishops in an interview just before his death:

“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up. The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the Pope and the bishops. The paedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation” (‘ADDIO A MARTINI, “Chiesa indietro di 200 anni”, L’ultima intervista: “Perché non si scuote, perché abbiamo paura?” Corriere della Sera, 1 Settembre 2012)

Like Pope Francis, Cardinal Martini was a man who was in touch with ordinary people.

Carlo Mario Martini was born in Turin in 1927, he joined the Jesuits at the age of 17 and was ordained 8 years later. Carlo Martini was primarily an academic, a world renowned biblical scholar and later Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1979, Pope John Paul II appointed Martini as Archbishop of Milan, one of the largest diocese in the world, a post which he held until he retired in 2002. Martini became a cardinal in 1983. For several years after his retirement, Martini battled with Parkinson’s disease, the same illness that incapacitated PopeJohn Paul.


Cardinal Martini was regarded by some as a liberal (and therefore, it is sad to say, suspect). However, I found that he spoke with a great deal of common sense. For instance, on the debate on where does a human life begin. The absolutist position of official Church teaching is that human life begins at the point of fertilisation. Martini begged to differ, that a distinct human life comes later. As you can see, Martini was verging on the point of heresy against today’s orthodox Catholic teaching.

The reason why the death of Cardinal Martini hit the headlines is because of his last interview recorded just weeks before his death and published the day after in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, saying “Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous..”

Martini was a good man, and deserves our prayers. May he rest in peace.










The resignation of Bishop Kieran Conry

Today it was announced that Bishop Kieran Conry was resigning as our Bishop, because, as he put it, he had been unfaithful to his calling as a priest.

As his letter was read out, the church was silent. There had been no warning, jut this, a resignation. For most people, Bishop Kieran was a good bishop, approachable, a man of faith, human… And it is that humanness was seems to have led to his downfall. Another priest has been sacrificed on the altar of perfection. And the swivel-eyed loons of an austere, ungiving Catholicism are dancing in ecstasy on the grave of Bishop Kieran’s reputation. Who is next in their sights, Cardinal Vincent Nicholls? Perhaps Pope Francis? Would even the Lord himself have passed muster, with his dangerous, liberal ideas that floored the Pharisees with their emphasis on “right” teaching and living? Would St Peter, that flawed individual, or St Paul, riddled with angst, be good enough? Today’s gospel challenges all of us who think we know what makes a good Christian. The true followers of Jesus are those who know they need to be forgiven, the tax collectors and prostitutes.

This should be a wake-up call to the whole Catholic Church, to stop denying the humanity of our priests, to stop crucifying our priests by expecting them to be “in persona Christi” all day and every day. Sadly, for Bishop Kieran, there may have been no other course of action, he had to resign. We know not the details behind his resignation. But many of us wish he did not have to go. Cannot a flawed human being, truly contrite, make a good bishop?

It is time for the Church to change, to concentrate on the mission of the Church, to bring the Good News of God’s love for us to the world. It is time for the Church to realise that blanket priestly celibacy is counterproductive and does not sustain the Church’s core mission.

Belief or Nonbelief by Carlo Martini & Unmberto Eco

This was originally published August 2012

What are the dividing lines between Catholic Christians and secularists? Eco (author of Name of the Rose) and Cardinal Martini (in the Catholic corner) discuss four issues: abortion, why women cannot be ordained, hope and the future of mankind and the basis of ethics. Perhaps not the burning issues that many today would think need to be answered, but this book was written in the context of the impending millennium where some predicted this would bring in the end of civilisation as we know it. Today the burning issues would be child abuse, homosexuality, Darwinism or even the environment. Perhaps another age (not too long ago) would have included the just war or nuclear weapons.

The discussion is in the form of correspondence and the reader is left with the impression of two men with deeply held beliefs who are compassionate, sincere and humane. Both represent the good qualities of good men. What divides them, apart from faith in God? This question is of supreme importance, for not only does it address issues of common ground in the public arena but also a much more interesting question – what drives altruism? Why would one human being lay down his/her life for another?

The problem that Eco faces is that he was a Catholic, he grew up in a Catholic community, that he is inheritor of the great panoply of Christian thought and ethics just like most of us from the western European world (including North America and other corners of the English speaking world). We share a common set of values that includes the concept of human dignity. And what are the ultimate values, the values that one would lay down one’s life? There are surely two questions that need to be answered, what constitutes the values of the philosopher’s good life – and the second, why should I sacrifice my life for these values? Eco cannot distance himself sufficiently from his Catholic heritage to answer these questions.

For our society, as inheritors of Western European culture, the ultimate values are arrived at as a dialogue between the Christian tradition and the humanist/secularist challenge. Both challenge and refine each other. This book is one part of that dialogue.

eBook: from BooksOnBoard, publisher SkyHorse Publishing Inc.