My August Column – A Guide on Our Journey of Faith

A Guide on Our Journey of Faith

In this series of articles we are walking on our journey of Faith. We are taking the opportunity of the Year of Faith to examine the roots of our faith and look at how we can develop and grow it. The Journey of Faith is not a simple straight road. There are many bends and forks in the road. Sometimes we can go off the path and find ourselves lost. It is then that we see the value of having a good guide.

At this point on our journey I thought it might be a good idea to find a guide. Fortunately, our guide arrived in the person of the Holy Father. Pope Francis travelled to Brazil for World Youth Day to bring his message and guidance to the young people of the world. His words are freely available to guide us on our journey.

Now, there may be some readers out there who are thinking that I am no longer a youth. They may say that the Holy Father’s words are not for me. I disagree on two grounds. First I have to point out that we are called to eternal life and that even those who have reached the age of one hundred are mere infants in the scope of eternity. We are all children. Secondly, having looked at what Pope Francis said, I can see that he actually addressed the whole Church with a focus on the youth.

So, what was his message? It was simple, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” We have heard that before. Jesus said that to the apostles, but the message was not just for the twelve, it was to all of us. We have been given the gift of faith and to make it grow within us we must give it away to others. Trying to keep it for ourselves, hidden away from the world will cause it to wither. We are urged to bring our faith out into the streets.

Now the image of standing on street corners with a megaphone, broadcasting to the shoppers and passers-by fills me with horror. I can’t imagine anything worse. Telling everyone how to live and what to believe, correcting the errors in their lives on Main Street, telling the world that they are wrong, just seems ineffective.

The Pope is encouraging us to become missionaries in our lives in a proactive way, showing how to live rather than telling others. His words in Rio were;

“Go and make disciples of all nations”. With these words, Jesus is speaking to each one of us, saying: “It was wonderful to take part in World Youth Day, to live the faith together with young people from the four corners of the earth, but now you must go, now you must pass on this experience to others.” Jesus is calling you to be a disciple with a mission! Today, in the light of the word of God that we have heard, what is the Lord saying to us? What is the Lord saying to us? Three simple ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve.

Now I was not in Rio and did not have that experience to pass on but the message is not to be avoided. If my faith is to grow then I must share it. The Holy Father said;

Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and history (cf. Rom 10:9).

Careful, though! Jesus did not say: “go, if you would like to, if you have the time”, but he said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you;

How are we to bear witness to the faith? In his talks to the pilgrims and others Pope Francis continually uses the word “Solidarity”. He urges us to look outwards to the poor, the sick and the excluded. In his visit to St. Francis Of Assisi Of The Providence Of God Hospital he said;

As Jesus says to us: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

The Holy Father is calling us back to the very basics of the Church, to the examples Christ gave us. We are called to rebuild the Church. As individuals we can become set in our ways and the same is true of the Church. We can become bogged down in the minutia of daily life and miss the big picture. Then it is easy to wander off the path. He talked of the Church as a building made of stones, living stones and the part we play.

each one of us is a living stone, a small part of the edifice; when the rain comes, if this piece is missing, there are leaks and water comes in. Don’t build a little chapel which holds only a small group of persons. Jesus asks us to make his living Church so large that it can hold all of humanity, that it can be a home for everyone!

This is no invitation to join a small faith-sharing group. This is a challenge to grasp the faith and follow where it leads. We are challenged to take on the injustice in the world and expose it for what it is. We are expected to identify what is wrong in our world, and in our Church and make changes. This is not a ‘happy clappy’ church we are being invited to. We are called to work for the coming of the Kingdom.

When I really was a youth the priest brought the sacraments to us and we received them. We were passive. The reality of the Church is that we are called to be active. Some of us may find that exciting. Other might be frightened off. How can we do this on our own? Well, as the Holy Father reminded the pilgrims in Rio, we are not on our own.

“Do not be afraid!” When we go to proclaim Christ, it is he himself who goes before us and guides us. When he sent his disciples on mission, he promised: “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20). And this is also true for us! Jesus never leaves anyone alone! He always accompanies us .

I stop and think about this challenge. It seems immense. I don’t even know where to begin. Pope Francis was there before me. To the pilgrims at his Mass on the beach at Copacabana he said;

Some people once asked Mother Teresa of Calcutta what needed to change in the Church, and which wall should they start with? They asked her, where is the starting point? And she replied, you and I are the starting point!

There was so much more in the Holy Fathers talks in Rio. I have tried to convey something of what he said that will guide us in our journey but it is worth reading all of what he said. The whole text is available on the internet, on the Vatican website. You will find a link to it here.

So, you and I are the starting point. Let’s get out there and grow the faith.

Joseph McGrath

Ready for War?

The use of chemical weapons in Syria has shocked and appalled the world, well, some parts of the world. America and Europe blame the Syrian regime, probably correctly. Something must be done! But what?

Military action seems to be the preferred option now. We are heading for war. Not ‘boots on the ground‘, you understand. We will not be putting our soldiers at risk. Just as we were not putting soldiers at risk in Iraq and Afghanistan. This will be limited. This will teach Assad a lesson. He will learn from this.

It’s a pity we never learn. There is talk of bombing, using cruise missiles from ships in the Med, keeping things at arms length. Then what? A quick burst of bombing has never solved any situation. The sad thing is that when you bomb people they rarely just sit back and wail. They usually have the timerity to shoot back.

When they shoot back there will be casualties, captured airmen, dead heroes. Once blood has been spilt there is no going back. A blood sacrafice has been made and we can not dishonour the dead by walking away and making their sacrifice all for nothing.

Remember Afghanistan? Why not just bring our troops home? Because the sacrifice of the dead would be for nothing. So what will be the point of the dead and maimed? What will we achieve? What will be the limit of our involvement?

What about the men, women and children who will be killed and maimed by our actions? Remember Iraq? Remember the ‘surgical bombing’ that cut out civilian casualties? Don’t forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraquis killed there.

And, while on the subject of Iraq, look at the state of things there now, chaos. We caused it and we left it there.

Make no mistake, the politicians find it very difficult to walk away. Syria is well armed and will not be a sitting duck. Once you go to war it takes on a life of its own. You become a prisoner of the war. Try as you might, it is very difficult to get away.

Where are we to find the resources for this action? We have cut back on the airforce – no Harriers. We have scrapped the last of our carriers and literally smashed up the almost finished Nimrods. Who do we think we are kidding?

Threatening war when we are cutting back our forces, making soldiers redundant is just a joke. Nobody is going to tremble at our threats. Better not to make them.

Time to wake up and recognise that we can not and should not go to war. That does not mean we should stand by and do nothing. We complain that we can not bring diplomatic pressure to bear because of Russia and China. Why not bring some pressure to bear on them?

China’s economy is booming because we buy the goods. We could easily stop that. Perhaps we could even make them ourselves. If we want to take action then we must see there is no easy course. Face up to the hard reality and face up to Russia and China.

In Praise of League Tables

When I was a teacher I despised League Tables. I thought they distorted the curriculum and moved focus away from the needs of the children to the fetishes of the politicians. Today I have to reconsider.

I still think that school league tables are, at best, a distraction and, at worst, a disaster. A recent article in the Independent, however, has shown me that they can have real value in highlighting real problems.

This article

UK most unequal country in the West

shows us that we ar sliding down the league table of equality.  According to Geoffrey Lean and Graham Ball the gap between rich and poor in the Uk is as great as that in Nigeria. The poor in the UK have an overall better income than the poor in Nigeria but the gap is similar.

We come below Jamaca, Ghana, the Ivory Coast and are twice as bad as Sri Lanka or Ethiopia. That’s a depressing picture, but does it constitute a problem?

Well Michael Bruno of the World Bank believes that inequality hinders growth. Reducing inequality would boost growth. We have a government that claims to be trying to boost growth. They are simultaneously increasing inequality.

Now, either the government do not know what thy are doing and our growth is being restricted by incompetence or they are perfectly aware of the consequences and still plough ahead with policies that boost the rich and depress the poor.

Which do you think it is?

Loyalty Melts Away – Both Ways?

English: Cadbury Wharf, Knighton, Staffordshir...

English: Cadbury Wharf, Knighton, Staffordshire This building and the wharf were operated by Cadbury’s between 1911 and 1961 to process locally collected milk and produce “chocolate crumb” which was transported to Cadbury’s in Bourneville (Birmingham) along the Shropshire Union Canal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is an interesting article on the Telegraph Website by Rosa Silverman about Cadbury cutting out a traditional Christmas gift to members of its Pension scheme. For years the pensioners have recieved a Christmas gift of a small parcel of chocolate. The company says it has to stop to plug a hole in the pension fund.

The cost of the gifts is about £210,000 and the gap is thought to be £320,000,000. By my calculation that will take 1524 years to plug. The UK President of the holding company Mondelez, Maurizio Brusadelli says they have to cut costs. Interestingly, Maurizio has had a pay increase from £14,400,000 to £18,900,000 a 31.5% rise.

When the company was simply Cadbury there was a sense of tradition and loyalty between company and workers. The company had built a model town for the workers, Bourneville, and was a fine example of Victorian philanthropy.

The loyalty extended to the customers who tended to stick with Cadbury despite the rising competition. I remember my uncle Matt who, late in life, emigrated to California. He had regular parcells sent out from Scotland containing unobtainables such as ‘Cherry Blossom’ shoe polish and Cadbury’s chocolate.

Loyalty seems to have hit the skids with the takeover by Mondelez. The chocolate bare are changing. As a long time consumer I noticed a change in the taste and constituency of the old brand. I contacted the company who assured me that nothing had changed.

Now I am not one to protest at change. Change can be a good thing. Companies can change their products to cope with changing markets. The danger coes when your customer base is tied to the traditions and history of the company. Customers may see change as a good thing. Ther are other brands of chocolate out there and once customers feel that something new is the order of the day they may just find that new taste somewhere else.

When the company makes it plain that they want shot of the oldies then the oldie customers mught just shuffle off to anothe brand. I’m sure Mondelez would agree that’s a good thing too.

What the Coalition Sees Fit

I read, with considerable interest, the Daily Mail account of how Joan Edwards’ bequest to the nation was , somehow, diverted into the coffers of the two parties that form our Coalition Government.

Miss Edwards lef about half a million pounds to “whichever government is in office at the date of my death for the government in their absolute discretion to use as they may think fit.” There is no mention of a political party which is in power (in contrast with the account given by party spin doctors). The executors of the will sent the money to the coalition.

What did they consider using the money for? What did they, in their absolute discretion, do with the money, the whole of her estate? They divided it between the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Presumably miss Edwards made the will before the last election and assumed that a British Government, in their ‘absolute discretion’, would put the money to good use, for the benefit of the nation they are pledged to serve. Unfortunately, that’s not the sort of government we have in power at the present time.

Critics of the government can make all sorts of arguments about the economic policies of the government, dismal as they are, or comment on their treatment of the poor. Nothing they say can condemn this shallowexcuse for a government so completely as their own actions in this matter. What sort of people are they? This sad episode exposes exactly the self-obsessed, money grabbing, untrustworthy politicians who give the profession such a bad name.

Politics in the UK has sunk to an unfathomable low today. What are people to think of anyone in politics? A dark shadow of mistrust has been cast over the whole of Westminster by a crowd of pickpockets. What do you think the chances of retrieving the money are? I don’t give it much hope.

My July Column

My July column in the Scottish Catholic Observer has been out for more than a week now.

The full text is shown below. My theme this year has been “A Journey of Faith”. I’m examining how we get the Faith and how it grows. This month I looked at doubt.

Faith and Doubt

I’m writing this article on the feast of Saint Thomas, Doubting Thomas. Doubt is often thought of as the opposite of faith. Parents tend to panic when their children express doubts about Catholic belief. Sometimes we have doubts and wonder why God allows doubts to creep into our heads. Is it the Devil putting these thoughts in my head?  Is doubt so bad? If so, what about Thomas? Was he less of an apostle than the others because he doubted? Perhaps he was the one who voiced the thoughts that some of the others had but were afraid to say.

Doubt is not the same as refusal to believe. When Thomas expressed doubt about the identity of the risen Lord he was being cautious. He was not willing to accept everything he was told. He gave Jesus the opportunity to show the proof of His identity. He gave us a good example to follow. The Church is cautious. Reports of miracles and apparitions are not accepted readily. Only after close examination of the evidence will the Church eventually recognise such incidents. When someone is canonised it is the last stage of exhaustive examination. Thank God I’ll never be canonised; imagine having every aspect of your life scrutinised.

I visited the tomb of Saint Thomas in India and saw the spear head that reputedly killed him. There was some doubt about this. Some claimed that this was a different Thomas but Pope John Paul II had been there before me, so I thought it must be ok. My visit was just after the Tsunami that made the headlines here. The tomb is in a basilica in Chennai. At the time of the tsunami the water came up into the town, causing a great deal of damage but stopped at the Basilica. That banished the doubts of many people about this being the tomb of the saint.

So, what role does doubt play in developing our Faith? When doubts creep in we are forced to think seriously about our Faith. Edward DeBono, a writer on educational psychology, declared that we only think when we don’t know. For example, we can do long division without thinking about it because we know how it’s done. If we are asked to do a long division in roman numerals, that’s a different story. We have to think about that. Having doubts can make us think more deeply about our Faith and make it stronger because we have deepened our understanding.

When I was growing up we were taught about mysteries of faith. As one teacher, I remember, put it “That’s a mystery and you’ll never understand it.” That seemed too simple to me. If we just accept things without trying to understand then faith does not grow. Why would God give us the ability to recognise a problem without giving us the ability to learn from it? It is in recognising our doubts for what they are and trying to solve them that we deepen in faith.

But, what if we can’t solve the problem? Is that our faith declining? I don’t think so. It’s just the same as any other problem, if I can’t sort it out myself I ask for help. Turn to someone who has some expertise. We are lucky to have priests who are well trained and know what they are about. Being asked for help with a doubt that bothers me will be a welcome change from some of the questions priest are asked.

Priests can have their doubts too. A few years ago I was visiting Ecuador (I wasn’t looking for political asylum) and staying with a missionary order there. One of the priests told me about a problem he had recently encountered. Their cook had a little boy who became seriously ill. She could not afford medical treatment so the priests arranged for him to go to hospital. Despite the best medical care he was getting worse and the doctors offered no hope.

The founder of the order had been recently canonised and this priest found himself in the little chapel, praying for the boy’s recovery. He looked up at the statue of the founder and, in a fit of anger, said “How could you let this happen? Ach I never believed you were a saint anyway. If you really were a saint you would do something about this.”

Next day the word came that the boy was sitting up in his bed; on his way back to full health. Now the priest never really understood how that had come about but he felt that his problem with doubt had sparked some action.

So how should we handle the situation when our children express doubts? We could just tell them that they are wrong and they should put aside their doubts and believe. I don’t think that will do much good. Perhaps we are better to see this as opportunity to get them to think more deeply about questions of faith. When we don’t really understand ourselves, we should be honest and admit that. Encouraging them to find help to get the solution might help them to see that our Faith is not blind faith. It is through engaging with questions of faith that we can grow in Faith.

Sometimes I think God could have come up with an easier way for us to deepen our understanding of our faith. Why do we have to suffer the anxiety that doubts bring? Could there not be an easier way? Perhaps there could, but it seems to me to be the story of our lives. Nothing comes easy. I was watching my wee grandson via the computer link from Vancouver the other day (I know, I’m too young to be a grandpa). He was dribbling away and shoving his hand in his mouth. He has just cut his first tooth and others are on the way. His sore mouth is just a symptom of growing.

Our anxieties about doubts are just symptoms of our growing in Faith. If we look at it that way then we should be happy when we are in doubt. That is evidence that we are still in a process of growing in Faith. If we had sunny days all year and no rain the garden would dry up and there would be no growth. If we see our doubts as a challenge from God rather than temptation from the Devil then we can happily get on with deepening our understanding and strengthening our Faith.

Joseph McGrath